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Death is swallowed up in victory
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 Paul’s epistle to the early Greek church beautifully explains the core of our Christian beliefs.
“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
1 Corinthians 15:54-57 NASB1995
Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians is quite long, comprising 16 chapters while many epistles have only two to five chapters. In the early verses of chapter 15, Paul describes the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus. This is the earliest account in the New Testament of Jesus appearing to His followers after his resurrection, and — since Paul was not converted to Christianity until after this time — is thought to be an early Christian creed that Paul had learned and is passing on to the church in Corinth.
1 Corinthians 15 is structured in three major parts, all of which focus on the resurrection of Christ:
The Fact of Christ’s Resurrection
The Order of Resurrection
The Mystery of Resurrection
As mentioned in the first paragraph of today’s devotional, the beginning of this chapter finds Paul writing about what he knows by faith and has learned from the creed. The second part describes how like a dead seed brings forth a living plant, the perishable body of a follower of Christ brings forth an imperishable body. Paul knows that this is hard for most people to understand or believe, so he uses logic and analogies to explain.
About the mortal human body becoming an immortal spiritual body, he wrote “it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body. If there is a natural body, there is also a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:44). After his explanation, Paul goes on to the third part of this chapter — the mystery of resurrection.
This is a beautiful set of verses, often quoted at funerals and memorial services. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:50-52,
“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 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 will be changed.”
This is the hope we have in Jesus, neatly wrapped up in two sentences. We then go on to the verses we’re studying today, where Paul triumphantly mocks death. He knows that thanks to Jesus’s work, death has been defeated forever and has no power over those who been born again in Christ.
How about non-believers? Charles H. Spurgeon described their eternal fate this way:
“The sting of death lay in this, that we had sinned and were summoned to appear before the God whom we had offended. This is the sting of death to you, unconverted ones, not that you are dying, but that after death is the judgment, and that you must stand before the Judge of the quick and dead to receive a sentence for the sins which you have committed in your body against him.”1
So, what’s all this about the sting of death and the power of death? Resurrection proves we’re no longer under the law, so we’re no longer subject to the penalty of the law (which is death) and we’re set free from sin. Way back in Genesis 2:17, we are told that sin is the cause of death. When the cause of death — sin — is defeated by living in Christ, death itself is defeated.
Let me repeat this important truth — the defeat of death only happens for those who live through our Lord Jesus Christ. Quoting David Guzik from Enduring Word, “For others, there is resurrection and eternal life, but unto damnation. If you are an unbeliever, death is not your friend; it is your enemy.”
Heaven On Wheels Daily Prayer:
Father in Heaven, today and every day I offer You my praise and thanks for Your wondrous plan which came to fruition in Christ. Thanks to Jesus’s resurrection victory, the power of death has been vanquished. You are worthy of all praise and glory! AMEN.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. lockman.org.
Commentary from Enduring Word used with permission of the author.
Spurgeon, Charles Haddon "The New Park Street Pulpit" Volumes 1-6 and "The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit" Volumes 7-63 (Pasadena, Texas: Pilgrim Publications, 1990)