"We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed," (1Cor. 15: 51).


It is often urged that this passage declares that though "we shall not all sleep," but some be alive at the decent of the Lord, yet "we shall all be changed," and surely, says the objector with emphasis, all means all. Truly; but in  verse 22, "For as in Adam all die, so also in the Christ shall all be made alive," "all" means all of mankind, for every child of Adam will at some time be raised by Christ (John 5: 28, 29).  But not all at the first resurrection (Rev. 20: 5).  Therefore in this very chapter "all" means different things, and in verse 51 requires limiting, since it refers to a smaller company than in verse 22.

The last and immediate context in verses 48, 49, which speak of those who are to "bear the image of the heavenly," that is, are to share with the Lord in His heavenly form, glory and sovereignty.  Now the more difficult, and therefore the more probable reading here is in the Revised Version margin: "As we have borne the image of the earthly, let us also bear the image of the heavenly."  It is evident that one copying a document is not likely to insert by mistake a more difficult word or idea than is in the manuscript before him; so that, as a general rule, the more difficult reading is likely to have been the original reading.  Moreover, in this case "let us also bear" is so well attested by the manuscripts as to have been adopted as the true reading by Lachmann, Tischendorf, Tregelles, Alford, and Westcott and Hort, and is given as the text in the latest editions of the Greek Testament, those of Nestle and Von SodenEllicott prefers the common reading, but on subjective and internal grounds only, and his remark on the external authority is emphatic: "It is impossible to deny that the subjunctive phoresomen is supported by very greatly preponderating authority."  Alford (on Romans 9: 5) well says, "that no conjecture [i.e., as to the true Greek text] arising from doctrinal difficulty is ever to be admitted in the face of the consensus of MSS. and versions."  Weymouth gives the force well by the rendering "let us see to it that we also bear."

By this exhortation the apostle places upon Christians some responsibility to see that they secure that image of the heavenly which is indispensable to inheriting "the kingdom of God" (verse 50).  In this Paul is supported by Peter, who also writes of that "inheritance which is reserved in heaven" (1 Pet. 1: 4), which he describes by the latter statement that "the God of all grace called you unto His eternal glory in Christ" (v. 10).  But Peter goes on to urge the called to "give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Pet. 1: 10), thus showing that this calling to share the glory of God has [by diligence on the part of the regenerate believer] to be made sureHe is not at all discussing justification by faith or suggesting that it must be made sure by works done after conversion.  Justification [by faith] and eternal life are not in the least his subject.*  He writes expressly to those "who have [already] obtained like precious faith with us on the righteousness of our God and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2Pet. 1: 1). The calling of grace is to share in God’s own eternal glory, or, as Paul expresses it, to share God’s "own kingdom and glory," and he tells us that he exhorted, encouraged, yea, and testified, to the end that his children in faith should "walk worthily of God" Who had called them to such supreme dignity (1 Thess. 2: 11, 12).

[* We must distinguish between justification by faith and justification by works (James 2: 24).  The former gives eternal life as a “free gift” (Rom. 6: 23); the latter qualifies the regenerate believer to inherit life in the coming age.  After being justified by faith, Abraham “was considered righteous for what he did” (justified by works), by obeying God’s command, “when he offered his son Isaac on the altar” (Jas. 2: 21, N.I.V.)]

Since therefore this most honourable calling must be "made sure" by "walking worthily," in order that we may be "couunted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer" (2 Thess. 1: 5), the reading "let us also bear the image of the heavenly" becomes consistent and important.  Thus 1 Cor. 15: 41, 52 is addressed to those who are assumed (whether it be so or not) to have responded to that exhortation, and it will mean that "we [who shall be accounted worthy to bear that heavenly image] shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed."  Of that company it is strictly true that all means all.

Further, the primary antecedent to verse 52 is in verse 23: "But each [shall be made alive] in his own order: Christ the first-fruits; then they that are Christ’s in His Parousia: then the end ...”  Does not the whole sentence, in the light of other passages, carry the force: But each shall be made alive, not all at the same hour, but each in his own class or company (tagma); first-fruit, Messiah; then, next, those of the Messiah, i.e., in the character as first-fruit, at His Parousia; then, later, the end of all dispensations, involving the resurrection of all, saved and unsaved, not before raised?  Here is additional reason for R. C. Chapman’s view that the first resurrection is one of "first-fruits," and not of all who will be finally raised in the "harvest" of eternal life.

It has been accepted above that "all" means "all," but what does "all" mean?  It is not always used absolutely, in its universal sense.¹  Thus the Lord, speaking of the last days of this age, said, "ye shall be hated of all men for My name’s sake" (Matt. 10: 22; Luke 21: 17); yet later, speaking of the same period, He showed that there will be then some, the "sheep," who will befriend His persecuted followers (Matt. 24: 33-40).  The explanation is found in the other report of His words: "ye shall be hated of all the nations" (Matt. 24: 10); that is, the hatred will affect all the peoples everywhere on earth, though not every individual as the other use of "all" might by itself suggest.

Again; of the trial of Christ before the Council of the Jews it is said that "all the chief priests and the elders of the people took counsel (sumboulion) against Jesus" (Matt. 27: 1); yet Luke 23: 50 tells that one of the Council, Joseph of Arimathea (a bouletees), had not assented to their counsel (boulee); and John 19: 39 shows that Nicodemus dissociated himself from their act; and he also was one of the Council (John 7: 50-52).  Acts 1: 1 speaks of Luke’s Gospel having narrated "all that Jesus began both to do and to teach," yet we know that the world could not contain the books that would be required for such a full account (John 21: 25).

These instances suffice to warn against rashly taking "all" in its fullest sense.  They call for careful consideration of each use of the word.  The [Holy] Spirit took up the natural habits of human speech!  No one is misled when he hears one say that "all the world was there."

Passages which deal with a matter from the point of view of God’s plan and willingness use general, wide terms to cover and to disclose His whole provision.  But these must be ever considered in connection with any other statements upon the same subject which reveal what God foresees of the human element which, by His own creation of responsible creatures, He permits to interact with His working.  Out of these elements, through self-will in the [regenerate] believer, arises the possibility of individuals not reaching unto the whole of what the grace of God had offered in Christ.