The Apostle Paul’s first letter to the church in Corinth reveals the church was struggling with some key issues, from spiritual immaturity and the basics of the faith to how to live their lives in accordance with the ways of Jesus.
One of these basics has to do with resurrection — that is, the fact that the resurrection of the dead is not only a crucial tenet of Christianity but of fundamental importance to their entire belief system.
If Jesus was resurrected, and Jesus died for our sins, then we who are believers are resurrected, too, Paul argues throughout 1 Corinthians 15. If not, he says, the whole point of faith in Christ is pointless.
But rest assured, Paul declares toward the end of this chapter: resurrection is real. “In a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet” (v. 52) we who belong to Christ will be transformed from a natural, perishable body into a resurrection body, a new spiritual form that will last for all eternity.
At that moment, Paul writes, the prophecies of old will be fulfilled, and death will be “swallowed up in victory” (v. 54).
Paul follows this with the rhetorical, “‘Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:55-57).
Why does the Bible ask, “Death, where is your victory,” what did this mean for Christians then, and what does this mean for us today?
What Does ‘Death, Where Is Your Victory’ Mean?
In this section, the Apostle Paul is referring to Scripture from the Book of Hosea, when God tells His prophet, “I will deliver this people from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction?” (Hosea 13:14).
The verse from Hosea indicates that although God’s people were rebellious and had strayed from the Lord, and surely would endure terrible punishment, God would ultimately make a way for their redemption.
They would escape the grave and the finality of death, escape being forever separated from God. Redeemed, they would be delivered from this fate.
Paul links this statement in with his wider point: that even though humans are weak and condemned to death because of our sinful natures, God has provided a merciful and generous path for those who wish to follow. This path comes in the form of His son, Jesus Christ.
Without Jesus, death wins. We sin and turn from God, offend our heavenly Father by straying from Him, and our deserved consequence is the absence of God — death. In death, our earthly bodies return to the dust from which they came, and God’s breath in our lungs ceases to flow.
But when we choose Jesus, death doesn’t get to win. Jesus is stronger than death and reigns victorious, and those who belong to Him get to share in that victory.
What Does He Mean by ‘Sting’ of Death?
But it is not just the victory of death that we dread. Death also brings a sting. The Greek word used by Paul here is kentron, which refers to the sharp, painful jab of a bee or a scorpion. Death hurts — it hurts us, and it hurts those who love us. And yet it is the natural course for us all.
God told Adam and Eve, the first people, what would happen if they ate of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil — they would die (Genesis 2:16-17). Yet they disobeyed and ate the fruit of that tree anyway, so God drove them from the Garden of Eden.
Through them, sin — and death — began its onslaught on the world, carried on from parent to child and passed down through generation after generation.
God tried to give them guidelines — the Law — through His prophet Moses, which would enable them to live righteously and find their way back to Him, but time and again we failed. Over and over, the sting of death had its way, and death stole God’s children deep into the grave.
Finally, God sent Jesus Christ to show us the way and to die on the cross as a sacrifice for our sins “once for all” (Hebrews 10:10). When Jesus resurrected, Jesus created the means for us all to resurrect with Him.
As He explained in John 11:25-26, “I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die; and whoever lives by believing in me will never die.”
The painful sting, the tears, and despair, the hopelessness that used to wait for us all when death was victor, this is no longer the only option, Jesus was saying. And Paul echoes this hope in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57.
Because of Jesus, we have another way.
Why Does Jesus Give Us the Victory?
John 3:16 is a much-beloved verse for its straightforward claim of the promise we have in Jesus: whoever believes doesn’t die but has eternal life.
But the two verses that follow elaborate in much the same way Paul does in 1 Corinthians 15:55-57.
“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:17-18).
Indeed, it’s what Paul reminded the early church: the point of Jesus, the point of the resurrection, is to save the world. Jesus saves His believers by cleansing us of our sin and its inevitable penalty, death. Instead, we escape condemnation and get eternal life in its place.
This is why Paul follows his statement with immediate praise for the Father, who provided this victory. God didn’t have to do this, but God loves us and clearly wants us to choose to as His own.
He offered a part man, part divine pathway who would straddle the boundary between heaven and earth, pointing the way to salvation.
By following Jesus, we have a role model, showing us how to act and pointing us to the Father. We get the opportunity to be part of Him, included in the body of Christ that is ultimately resurrected.
Resurrection is the point, Paul is saying; the promise of resurrection is what we have to look forward to and why we must willingly endure torture, ridicule, and persecution on this earth, knowing we escape ultimate spiritual death in the end.
What Does This Mean for Us Today?
Today, Christians need to understand that being a Christian isn’t rooted in how much we tithe, where (or whether) we go to church, how many good deeds we do, etc.
Being a Christian means following Jesus — believing in Him, repenting of our sins, dying to our old life and embracing the new path to the resurrection we get once and for all when we align our hearts, minds, bodies, and souls with the glorious and eternal will of God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth.
Death doesn’t get to claim us. Instead, Jesus — indeed, God’s Kingdom — is the real victor.
And we blessed souls are mercifully carried along in the wave that washes us all clean, one in the Lord, now and forever.
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Jessica Brodie is an award-winning Christian novelist, journalist, editor, blogger, and writing coach and the recipient of the 2018 American Christian Fiction Writers Genesis Award for her novel, The Memory Garden. She is also the editor of the South Carolina United Methodist Advocate, the oldest newspaper in Methodism. Learn more about her fiction and read her faith blog at jessicabrodie.com. She has a weekly YouTube devotional, too. You can also connect with her on Facebook, Twitter, and more. She’s also produced a free eBook, A God-Centered Life: 10 Faith-Based Practices When You’re Feeling Anxious, Grumpy, or Stressed.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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