Unless the Rapture happens before we die, death is one thing that we all have to face. Even children will think about death from time to time.
I still remember the first time I was scared because of death. I woke up screaming in the middle of the night.
My mom came in and asked what was wrong. I told her, “I don’t want Grandpa to die.” Well, Grandpa wasn’t sick or anything like that—he didn’t die until many years later, but I was bothered for some reason.
Chronologically, the events are fuzzy to me, but somewhere around the same time, my cousin, who was the same age as I was, drowned in the reservoir on their farm.
So perhaps that event started me thinking about death and that people die. I had just realized that one day Grandpa would die.
Even as a Christian, death is still a painful thought—and it’s more so as a pastor—I’ve buried many friends and family members.
But, as a Christian, death is defeated for me. Jesus has, through his own death and resurrection, given me and every believer victory over death.
In this passage, we will learn about this victory over death. We begin with…
I. THE ASSURANCE OF THE VICTORY
It might seem incredible or even silly to us today, but some of the Corinthians thought that they might miss the resurrection if they were still alive at the time it happened. Paul says,
1 Corinthians 15:50 Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption.
1 Corinthians 15:51 Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed,
In the Bible a “mystery” isn’t a good detective story. A “mystery” is something that cannot be known apart from God telling us.
For example, there’s no way for us to know that God is three persons—Father, Son, and Spirit—without him telling us that in the Bible.
What is the “mystery” here? It is that “We shall not all sleep [or die], but we shall all be changed.” There’s no way we could have guessed that or figured it out by ourselves. The Corinthians certainly didn’t.
And when they did get a little information about the resurrection, they jumped to wrong conclusions, like thinking that if they weren’t dead at the time of the resurrection that they would miss it.
Paul corrects them and says, “we shall all be changed.” By “all,” he is referring to fellow believers, not all humanity.
Every believer will be “changed” (ἀλλαγησόμεθα, ἀλλάσσω, VFPI1P)—their natural body will be exchanged for a resurrection body because, “…flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” We must have a new body. We will have a new body.
Whether you are dead or alive at the time of the resurrection of the dead, you can be assured that you will receive a new body. It’s a done deal and a sure-fire thing—“we shall all be changed.”
When does this happen? Let’s look at…
II. THE TIMING OF THE VICTORY
1 Corinthians 15:52 In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
I think this is the same event described in 1 Thessalonians; what we call the Rapture of the church.
16 For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: 17 Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. (1 Thessalonians 4:16–17)
We have a trumpet and we have the dead being raised, so 1 Corinthians 15:52 is describing the Rapture. The timing of the Rapture and our resurrection is…
1. At The Last Trump
This “last trump” gives us a bit of a headache. The middle portion of the book of Revelation describes the Great Tribulation. There are seven trumpets blown during the Tribulation.
If the Rapture occurs before the Tribulation, then how can this be “the last trump?”
We need not to assume, however, that this is the last trumpet ever blown. Is God going to ban all trumpet playing for all eternity?
It’s better to say that this is the last trump of the church age. It marks the end of an era. The Rapture removes the church from the earth. The Rapture will occur at the last trump of the church age and…
2. In The Twinkling Of An Eye
The Rapture and the resurrection of our bodies occurs, “In a moment, in the twinkling (ῥιπῇ, ῥιπή, NDSF) of an eye.”
The Greek word here refers to rapid movement, like when someone blinks or winks.
I like to think of it as the thing that happens so fast—like a shooting star—that you don’t have time to tell someone else to look. All you can say is, “Hey, look!” followed by “Oh, never mind.”
The Rapture is going to happen so quickly that unbelievers won’t even notice what happened.
You’d think that God would have it happen in slow-motion so that unbelievers would see that it’s all true. But that isn’t how God works. He wants people to have faith in him, not be forced into believing against their will.
Besides that, even if unbelievers clearly saw the Rapture happening, they’d explain away by saying we were abducted by UFOs. “Look! Those people are being abducted!” Maybe that’s why there’s so much interest in UFOs today—Satan doesn’t want people to believe it was the Rapture. Or maybe they’d say it was a strange weather phenomenon.
As believers, we will receive resurrection bodies at the Rapture whether we are dead or alive at the time. We can have a confident assurance in that fact. Let’s now look at…
III. THE OPPONENT OF THE VICTORY
One description of our great opponent reads:
There is a preacher… [who] is not popular, though the world is his parish and he travels every part of the globe and speaks in every language. He visits the poor, calls upon the rich, preaches to people of every religion and no religion, and the subject of his sermon is always the same. He is an eloquent preacher, often stirring feelings which no other preacher could, and bringing tears to eyes that never weep. His arguments none are able to refute, nor is there any heart that has remained unmoved by the force of his appeals. He shatters life with his message. Most people hate him; everyone fears him. His name? Death. Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text, and someday every one of you will be his sermon. (MacArthur, 441-442)
1 Corinthians 15:53 For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
1 Corinthians 15:54 So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
1 Corinthians 15:55 O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
Death is an opponent of humanity because we were never meant to die. God, after he created Adam from the dust, told him that he would have freedom to eat of any tree of the garden except for the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17)
Sadly, Adam and Eve did eat of this tree, and sinned, and death became their opponent.
Death entered the world as a punishment for sin. The Bible is very clear about the connection between sin and death:
12 Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (Romans 5:12)
The same truth is expressed in our passage here—
1 Corinthians 15:56 The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
What does it mean that the “sting of death is sin?” Sin is what gives death it’s power. If Adam and Eve had never sinned, death would have no power. Sin is the source of death.
Then Paul says something surprising, “the strength of sin is the law.”How can that be? Isn’t the law a good thing from God? Yes, it is, because, among other things, it shows us God’s character. Yet the law also shows us our sin.
7 What shall we say then? Is the law sin? God forbid. Nay, I had not known sin, but by the law: for I had not known lust, except the law had said, Thou shalt not covet. (Romans 7:7)
Letʼs clarify something. This does not mean that if you donʼt know the law, you can say that you didn’t know that you were sinning. Try telling a highway patrol officer that you didn’t know it was a 45 mph speed zone and you’ll see what I mean.
What is meant here is that the law names our sin and holds us accountable to it. A sin is a sin whether you know it or not. What the law does is explain to us that what is wrong is wrong because it is a sin against God.
The law shows us our sin, but it also activates sin in us—
9 For I was alive without the law once: but when the commandment came, sin revived, and I died. (Romans 7:9)
Paul said that the law is not sin, yet there is a way that the law activates sin in us. We see a sign, “Do not touch,” and what do we immediately want to do? We want to touch it. Wet paint? Really?
That’s not to say that, if there were no law, we wouldn’t think of bad things to do, but “the strength of sin is the law.”
Death is the opponent of the victory, and death was brought on by sin, and sin is shown to us and activated in us by the law. Now let’s look at…
IV. THE NATURE OF THE VICTORY
What is the “victory” over death? I mean, we die, don’t we?
Earlier in this chapter, we learned that, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). That means that up until that time, death will be around. So, yes, even as Christians, we will suffer death. But, what we learn here is:
1. Death Is Swallowed Up
First, “Death is swallowed up in victory.”
This is a quote from Isaiah 25:8, “He will swallow up death in victory; And the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces…”
It’s an interesting image—“death is swallowed up in victory”—because, now, it appears that death has the victory.
Remember what happened with Jesus:
- He was killed on the cross—death, Satan appeared to have won.
- He was placed in a tomb.
- A massive stone was rolled in front of the door.
- The priests had Pilate seal the tomb and post a guard.
- Satan celebrated his triumph over Jesus.
But then on Sunday morning, the tomb was empty, the grave clothes were empty, Satan’s triumph was empty. It was swallowed up in victory like Jonah was swallowed by the great fish.
This is also true for us. We will die, unless the Rapture happens first, and our bodies will be placed in graves. But one day, we will rise first and, with the living believers of that day, meet the Lord in the air.
Our death will be swallowed up in a victory so great that we will wonder why we ever worried about death at all.
2. Death Loses It’s Sting
Second, death loses it’s “sting.” Verse 55, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Again, this is taken from the Old Testament, in Hosea 13:14 where it says, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death…”
Now, death has a sting, doesn’t it? Many people hope that they die in their sleep so that the sting of death isn’t felt.
However, death’s sting is more than just our own physical pain in dying—it’s the emotional pain of our loved ones losing us and for us, leaving our loved ones behind. It’s the fear of dying that stings, like what I had as a child.
But this victory will remove the the sting of death. Death will strike, like a rattlesnake, and bite us, but it’s venom will be gone. We may very well experience death. But a moment after we close our eyes in death, we will wake up and find that death has no sting.
In the song, The Power of the Cross, by the Getty’s, we sing, “Death is crushed to death.” That is exactly right. How is this victory possible?
3. Death Destroyed By Jesus
1 Corinthians 15:57 But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
To quote another song we sing, we have “Victory in Jesus.” This victory is not just because Jesus died for us, it’s because he rose again from the dead. We have victory over death only because Jesus had victory over death.
Do you know what will happen to you after you die? You can know, if you have a confident faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus said:
25 …I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: 26 And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this? (John 11:25–26)
Do you believe this? Do you believe in Jesus?
CONCLUSION—OUR RESPONSE TO THIS TRUTH
As Christians, how are we supposed to respond to this amazing truth about victory over death in Jesus? Paul tells us in the final verse of chapter 15:
1 Corinthians 15:58 Therefore, my beloved brethren [See Note #1], be ye stedfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
1. Don’t Move From Your Belief
Because of the resurrection of our bodies from the dead, we are to be, “stedfast, unmoveable.”
Other forces in this world will try and convince you that this resurrection business isn’t real. It’s not scientific. Or they will try to convince you that, if it is real, then it’s a horrible thing like depicted in zombie movies.
But you must be “stedfast, unmoveable” in your belief that Jesus has risen from the dead and that every believer will receive a new, glorious resurrection body.
2. Always Be Working For The Lord
Then we are to be “always abounding in the work of the Lord.” The word “abounding” (περισσεύοντες, περισσεύω, VPAP-PNM) has to do with giving yourself whole-heartedly to something or being enthusiastic or excessive about it.
If someone else, even another Christian, thinks that you are a bit excessive or too enthusiastic about your faith and work for the Lord, then you will know that you are the right track, for you be truly “abounding in the work of the Lord.”
What motivates us to be “abounding in the work of the Lord”? Only that we “know that [our] labour is not in vain in the Lord.”
If we have confidence that Jesus’ resurrection is real and our future resurrection is real, then we will abound in the work of the Lord. All of it will be rewarded one day. It won’t be done in vain.
It will be like the soldiers who fought on the shores of France during the D-Day invasion on June 6, 1944. Their work and sacrifice was difficult that day, but it was all rewarded less than a year later with VE Day—Victory in Europe Day.
Don’t give up on the faith. Don’t give up working for the Lord. It will all be rewarded one day because we have victory in Jesus.
NOTES AND WORKS CITED
MacArthur, John F., Jr. 1 Corinthians. MacArthur New Testament Commentary. Chicago: Moody Press, 1984.
Note #1—After all his correction and rebuke that he has given to the Corinthian Christians, Paul calls them “my beloved brethren.” It was love that motivated him to so roundly criticize them; he did not want them abandoning the gospel.