Victory through Jesus Christ. 15:50-58
This passage forms part of Paul's teaching on the resurrection of believers at the return of Christ, Ch.15. In v50-58 he concludes his argument for a bodily resurrection of the dead and assures his readers of the coming triumph.
v50. Paul begins with the proposition that transformation is necessary (essential, v53) for a person to enter heaven.
v51. He then lets them into a "mystery" (a secret once hidden, now revealed). The living too will be transformed, even the spiritual elite in Corinth who assumed they had already reached spiritual perfection.
v52. He then explains when transformation will occur. It will be at the Parousia, 1Thess.4:16. He even gives us a picture of that wondrous event, particularly the sounding of the last trumpet to announce the coming of the Lord, Zech.9:14.
v53. To enter heaven, the mortal must become immortal.
v54. Paul explains the consequence of the resurrection. It is victory over death. In the transformation of the living and dead in the day of Christ's return, there will no longer be any way death can tyrannize us or hold us in fear. He makes the point by quoting Isaiah.25:8 "God will swallow up death forever" on the great day of God's salvation. Although the text is fulfilled in Christ, it is yet to be realized, but the reality of its realization allows him to assert that the victory is already won.
v55. The present fulfillment of the text allows him to taunt death in a rewrite of Hosea 13:4. He mocks the enemy whose doom is sealed by Christ's own death and resurrection. In this sense he is looking to the "then" when the living and the dead will rise and thus put death to no effect.
v56. This thought leads him on. Death will be shown to be powerless, yet death is also powerless for the living at this very moment. The victory "then" takes the sting out of the "now".
Not only has death been overcome by the resurrection of Christ, and in the age to come our own resurrection, but so also have the enemies which brought death - sin and the law.
v57. Paul moves to a doxology of praise. God is victorious over death through the resurrection of Christ, praise be to God. We are freed from the partnership of sin and law and its end, death. We are now faithful children of God. Alive to God in Christ. God sees us that way, we are that way eternally, and we are being shaped that way through the power of our risen Lord. Thus we are victorious over sin and death, eternally so, and even in our day-to-day living (albeit imperfectly).
v58. Paul concludes with an exhortation:
i] Stand firm. Let nothing move you. Here Paul is obviously referring to gospel truth - to good teaching.
ii] Work. "Give yourselves fully to the work of the Lord". He is probably thinking here of gospel ministry.
Victory over death
Although crematoriums were originally designed to display the coffin moving away at the committal, these days there are curtains, fading lights, dimming glass... anything to hide the reality of what's going on.
Out of sight, out of mind. We fear death. It debilitates us. Our lives slowly slip away before our eyes with little achieved. Our dreams are great, but the limitations of our shell seem to undermine all we ever hoped for. Unrealized dreams, shattered expectations, compounded by the inevitable decline in energy and the ever gathering cloud of death. Always a powerful victor with the sting of a deadly serpent. Always driving us to possess life, as though the passing of time was something that could be possessed. Like grasping at the wind, we deny our mortality in the flitting fancies of a fading light. But says the Lord, "Death has been swallowed up in victory". No longer victorious, now death is stingless.
If dying is no longer for us the cessation of our being, if death is but a stage, a passing through, a moving on, then no longer are we faced with the need to "get it all in" now. Life becomes but a moment in eternity, a first stage, a schooling for the age to come. Our expectations may be great, but there is no importance in what we have not achieved, rather in what we have achieved within our little moment - small though that may be. It is then that our perspective need not be shaped by what we have not done, or achieved, of all the lost opportunities, rather our vision becomes focused on the moment that remains. There always lies before us new lessons to be learned. This is particularly so in that we are always changing and our environment is always changing. We grow older, we feel differently, see differently. Shapes about us change, the cycle of life moves on. Given that death is not the end, then every moment has purpose, every day an eternal shape.
The substance of that victory over death is experienced in the present through our victory over death's cause. Sin is no longer victorious over us. We are forgiven, no longer condemned, rather we have risen with Christ and experience his renewing work within. So we sense the mercy of God in our forgiveness. We seem to know his acceptance and love. And also, we sense his inworking renewal. We see ourselves being remade into the likeness of Christ. This but confirms that death is now no longer the end, rather it is no more than a momentary rest in our journey to Christ. This further confirms that every moment has purpose, every day an eternal shape.
1. Why must the body be transformed to enter heaven?
2. Why would the Corinthians find the "mystery" of v51 a little offensive?
3. Why has death lost its sting?