In 1 Cor 15:51, why does Paul use “we” when both he and those he’s writing to are dead and none of them will be living at the beginning of the kingdom when this happens?
It is true here that Paul and his co-author, Sosthenes, use the pronoun “we” to describe this company of people. In I Thessalonians 4:15, the word “we” there means that Paul and his co-authors expected to be those who would be alive and remaining at the parousia of the Lord. Yet what of the use of the word “we” here? Is Paul in this passage likewise indicating that he and Sosthenes would be among those who will not sleep and yet who will be changed? For if this is so, then either Paul and Sosthenes must still be alive somewhere and somehow, or else the event described here must have happened in Paul’s lifetime, perhaps shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD, as some amillenialists claim.
Yet I think if we examine this passage more closely, we will see that what it is saying is not at all the same thing as what was said in I Thessalonians 4:15. There, Paul positively identified himself as one of those who would be alive and remaining by the words “we” to describe those who are alive and remain and “them” to describe those who will be raised from the dead. Yet that is not what is done here, for here it is stated that “we” shall not ALL sleep. And though it is stated that “we” will all be changed, whether or not Paul and Sosthenes will be changed without sleeping is not clearly stated. They could die and be changed after they are “raised incorruptible,” or they could be alive and be changed without sleeping, but either way what happened to them would fit the pronouns used here.
Thus, though two thousand years have passed and both Paul and Sosthenes are dead, they will both be changed in this upcoming resurrection, and at the same time some who never slept will likewise be changed. Thus, I believe that this passage is talking about a resurrection prior to that in I Thessalonians 4:15, and is the reason that Paul will be alive already when that resurrection occurs to be one of those alive and remaining at that time.