Okay ladies, we’ve reached the final installment of our Bible Study on 1 Corinthians 15. It’s been a thrilling study, but today’s section might well be the most exciting part of all! So let’s look at this closing passage of our chapter and see what gems we can excavate from the Holy Spirit’s words through Paul.
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, 52 in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
55 “O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?”
56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. 57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. ~~1 Corinthians 15:50-58 (ESV)
Last Monday we learned that the Christians who haven’t died when Christ returns will receive transformed bodies when the dead receive their resurrection bodies. Now, in verse 54, Paul turns to the topic of the new heavens and the new earth. When the perishable body puts on the imperishable and the mortal puts on immortality, we will at last witness the full accompaniment of God’s plan.
He paraphrases Isaiah 25:8, which promises that the Lord will swallow up death forever. Hebrews 2:14-15 illustrates this triumph over death. And Revelation 21:4 proclaims that when Christ finally establishes the new heavens and new earth, death will be permanently abolished.
Moving to verse 55, we see that Paul quotes Hosea 13:14 as evidence of Christ’s victory over death. (So much for Andy Stanley unhitching the resurrection from the Old Testament!) Death had been victorious over mankind since Adam’s sin, as we’ve seen earlier in this chapter, but Christ’s resurrection and its consequent assurance of our resurrection supplanted death’s victory with an infinitely greater victory!
Paul elaborates on this point in verse 56. Death stings because it is the full consequence of sin. It brings us all before God’s judgment throne. Those who die apart from Christ suffer the eternal pain brought about by sin.
Sin has such tremendous power because it violates God’s law. Romans 2:14-16 demonstrates that all people, whether they’ve read the Bible or not, instinctively know His law. Furthermore, as Paul testifies in Romans 7:8-10, knowing the law has a funny way of increasing our desire to sin.
God alone deserves thanks for this victory over death. With verse 57, Paul makes sure his readers never lose sight of the Lord’s centrality in salvation.
God doesn’t give this victory to just anyone; He reserves it for Christians. He gives us the victory, as Barnes makes clear. Notice that he never bothers to address the eternal bodies of unbelievers in this section, preferring to concentrate on the wonderful hope we have as believers.
Regarding this wonderful hope, Jamieson, Fausset and Brown point out the present tense of the word here translated as “gives,” calling the victory “a present certainty.” More than the cherished hope of believers, this victory is an accomplished fact.
Most importantly, God gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Going back to verses 3 and 4, we remember Christ’s atoning death that paid the penalty for our sin and His triumphant resurrection. Our resurrection happens only because of what He did.
In conclusion, Paul urges them to stand fast in the doctrine of resurrection, not allowing skeptics to sway them from their faith. Verse 58, in fact, provides the practical application of everything he’s said in this chapter. He wants them to be firm in their faith so that false teachers (such as those who deny bodily resurrection) can’t sway them from the Gospel.
Further, he encourages them to abound in their work for the Lord. Since Colossians 3:23 tells servants to work as if they’re serving the Lord, I believe we can infer that all our work is for Him. Yet there’s a special sense of work in furthering the Gospel. The promise of resurrection assures us that such work isn’t wasted.
Whew! We’ve made it through 1 Corinthians 15! I don’t know about you, but I have a much richer understanding of both Christ’s resurrection and ours as a result of this Bible Study. We’re going to take an indefinite break from Monday Bible Studies while I rest and reevaluate whether or not to keep writing these studies (very few people read them). If we do another study, however, I have my eye on Colossians. Tell me what you think.