1 Cor 15:50-57 - Thanks be to God! Victory through Jesus!
Translation and Sermon by Nate Wilson for Christ the Redeemer Church, Manhattan, KS 10 Jan 2010
50. Now, this is what I’m bringing to light, brothers,
that flesh and blood is not able to inherit God’s kingdom,
nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
51. Look, I am telling a mystery to you:
We all will not be asleep [in death] but we all will be made different,
52. in an instant,
in the glance of an eye,
in the final bugle-call,
for it will bugle, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be made different,
53. for it is necessary
for this perishibleness to invest itself in imperishableness,
and this mortality to invest itself in immortality,
this perishableness invests itself in imperishableness
and this mortality invests itself is immortality,
then the written word will come into being,
“Death was drunk down into victory.”
“Death, where is your victory?
Death, where is your sting?”
56. Yet the sting of death is sin,
and the power of sin is the law,
57. but thanks be to God, the Giver of the victory to us through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58. Therefore my dear brothers, continue becoming steadfast, immoveable,
abounding in the work of the Lord always,
knowing that your labor is not empty in the Lord.
“There are only two things in life that are
certain: death and taxes!”
Death is God’s punishment for sin, and taxes are the consequence of being governed by finite mortals.
· But for the Christian, death is the passageway into a new life with our infinite, personal God.
· We have spent the last few sermons meditating upon the resurrection of our bodies after they are dead.
· But what happens to those who are still alive and have not fallen asleep when the point comes in God’s timeline to resurrect the dead and glorify their bodies? I think that is the question that Paul addresses in v.51.
· It’s a question that the Old Testament doesn’t really answer, so it was a mystery to God’s people exactly how it would work, and so God revealed the details in this New Testament passage.
· “Not all of us will be asleep” in other words, “Not all the Christians will be dead when the dead are raised; there will be some brothers (and sisters) in Christ who will be alive at that time in history.”
· The “all” in this case is defined by the second phrase: all who will be changed/glorified. Since this “all” refers to all Christians, the first “we all” also refers to all Christians and is not a mistaken teaching that some of the Christians living at the time of Paul would be alive at the last trumpet.
· Paul didn’t know if it would come in his lifetime, and we don’t know if it will come in our lifetime or in a generation to come, but it will come.
· Will those who haven’t died miss out on the glorified bodies and have to make do for eternity with their natural bodies?
· Verse 51 says NO. We will ALL be changed. (cf. Heb 1:12)
· The root meaning of the Greek verb rendered “changed” is to be made different or other from what it currently is.
· This evidently refers back to the changes outlined in verses 42-44, “sown in perishableness, raised in imperishableness; sown in dishonor, raised in glory; sown in weakness, raised in power; sown a soulish body, raised a spiritual body.”
· So we all will get those changes, whether we are dead at the time or not.
· Those who are still alive will experience an instantaneous change while their natural body is still functioning. This quick change of glorification will be different from the slow, gradual change toward Christlikeness we experience over our life on this earth called sanctification.
· The test run for this instant glorification of someone who wasn’t dead was at the transfiguration, where Jesus, in His natural fleshly body was transformed into a radiant, glorious person for a time. Those alive at His next coming may experience a similar experience themselves!
1) It will happen (v.52)
2) it is necessary (v.53)
and 3) Scripture must be fulfilled (vs. 54-55)
The first two reasons are introduced by the little word “for.” Why will we all be changed?
1. For this reason: The trumpet/bugle will sound.
o Matt. 24:31 He shall send forth His angels with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other.
o 1 Thess. 4:15-17 For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we that are alive, that are left unto the coming of the Lord, shall in no wise precede them that are fallen asleep. For the Lord Himself shall descend from heaven, with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the bugle of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first; then we that are alive, that are left, shall together with them be caught up in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
o Rev 11:15 And the seventh angel sounded; and there followed great voices in heaven, and they said, ‘The kingdom of the world is become the kingdom of our Lord, and of His Christ: and He shall reign for ever and ever.’
2. For this reason: It must be so, “it is necessary for the perishable to put on imperishable and the mortal to put on immortality/deathlesness.”
a. Why would that be? Back up to v.50 for the answer: “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God” Our natural bodies MUST be changed in order to inherit the kingdom of God.
b. N.T. Scriptures on Inheriting the kingdom of God:
· Matthew 5:5 "Blessed are the gentle/meek, for they shall inherit the earth.
· Matthew 19:29 "And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or farms for My name's sake, will receive many times as much, and will inherit eternal life.
· Matthew 25:34 "Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. [Showing kindness to the poor.]
· Mark 10:17/Luke 18:18 "Good Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" [Jesus’ answer: Keep the 10 Commandments and give your possessions to the poor and follow me. Similarly in Luke 10:25, Jesus answered another man to keep the two great commandments.]
· 1 Corinthians 6:9 Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, 10 nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God. [cf. Gal. 5:21 “envying, drunkenness, carousing… those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God]
· 1 Corinthians 15:50 Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.
· Hebrews 6:12 so that you will not be sluggish, but imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.
· 1 Peter 3:9 not returning evil for evil or insult for insult, but giving a blessing instead; for you were called for the very purpose that you might inherit a blessing.
· Revelation 21:7 "He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. 8 But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."
c. Look at your hands – “this body” How is it going to launch into eternity? Our heavenly life will be forever, and God will give you a glorified body that is gloriously suited for that new phase of existence.
d. The picture in v. 53 & 54 is that of changing into a new set of clothes.
· 2 Cor 5:4 …we that are in this tabernacle groan, being burdened; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be clothed, that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
· Rom 6:12-14 Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey its lusts, neither present your members unto sin as instruments of unrighteousness; but present yourselves unto God, as alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness unto God. For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under law, but under grace.
· Rom 8:11-14 But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies through His Spirit that dwells in you. So then, brothers, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh (for if you live after the flesh, you must die), but if by the Spirit you put to death the deeds of the body, you shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, these are sons of God.
So, the change to a glorified body must happen to all of us because 1) there must be an ending point to our natural bodies and 2) a change is necessary to be able to enter the heavenly kingdom. Now we get to the third reason, which is introduced in v. 54 with the word “then” Why will we all be changed?
3. Then the saying that is written will be brought to pass; It will come about; the scriptures will come true! He quotes two passages that will come true:
a. “Death is swallowed up in victory” This is a quote from the Hebrew text (not the LXX) of Isa 25:6 “On this mountain Jehovah of Hosts will make for all the peoples a rich feast, a feast of aged wine, of rich things full of marrow, of refined, aged wine. 7 And he will swallow up on this mountain the face of the covering that is covering all the peoples and the veil that is spread over all the nations. 8 He has swallowed up death for always; and Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from all faces, and the shame of His people He will take away from over all the earth, for Jehovah has spoken. 9 And one will say on that day, "Look, this is our God; we have waited for Him, and He saved us. This is Jehovah; we have waited for Him; let us be glad and rejoice in His salvation."
1. In both the Hebrew text of Isa 25:8 and the Greek quote of it here, the tense of the verb indicates an action that took place in history, a time when death was swallowed or literally drunk down and it resulted in the defeat of death forever (although in the original Hebrew it is in the active voice, and in Paul’s Greek it is in the passive voice).
2. In the Lord’s Supper, we remember the cup of Redemption from the traditional Passover meal, when the bread that was broken, buried, and brought back was also eaten, but before the cup of Redemption was the cup of curses and plagues, where God’s wrath against sin was remembered by reciting the 10 plagues that fell upon Egypt. That was the cup that Jesus said He wanted to pass by when He was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane after His Passover meal.
3. But Jesus drank that cup of suffering; He died on the cross, and by drinking down death Himself, He overcame sin and ultimately death too!
a. Heb. 2:14-15 “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself [Jesus] likewise partook of the same things [flesh and blood], that through death [His death on the cross] He might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, (15) and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.”
b. “Whoever believes in me shall not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16, cf 5:24)
c. Death finally swallowed up at Jesus’ 2nd coming: 1 Cor. 15
b. Hosea13:14 LXX= “Out of the hand of Hades, I will rescue them, and out of death, I will ransom them. Where is your penalty, death? Where is your sting, Hades? Comfort has been hidden from my eyes.”
i. The context here is God’s agonizing over the faithlessness of the northern kingdom of Israel, seeking to carry out His plan of redemption while also disciplining His people for their rebellion against Him.
ii. Paul apparently did not like the word Hades-the netherworld or region of the dead; he never used the word in all his writings, so he changed the original word Hades used in the LXX for his quote to the word “death.” (There was a medieval tradition of re-inserting the word Hades in this particular verse, however, so that is why it appears in the King James Versions.)
iii. Here in Hosea it says that Hades/Death has a sharp point or a sting:
iv. Death generally involves pain, grief, and loss. But the worst of it is to experience the wrath of God in utter separation from Him and from all the good things that He gave to us that we take for granted. This is the sting that Jesus took for us when He died on the cross. He took upon Himself the punishment from God that was the just punishment for our sins and said that if we believe in Him and follow Him, we will not have to experience the wrath of God and eternal death and separation from Him.
v. WASP ILLUSTRATION: We’ve had problems with wasps in our meeting place before. I’ve seen some of you utterly distracted with the fear that one of those wasps would descend upon somebody and sting them. A lot of stinging insects can only sting once, however; they have barbs that anchor their stinger in the skin of their victim, and once they’ve injected their venom through the stinger, they fly away, ripping the stinger out of their abdomen, never able to sting again. I don’t know if these particular wasps are like that or not, but assuming they were, would it have changed your thinking at all if I had held out my arm and let the wasp sting me, then let the wasp fly around the room some more? You might find it unnerving for that nasty insect to land on you, but you wouldn’t be deathly afraid of it stinging you anymore. The sting has been taken.
vi. This word for “sting” occurs in Prov. 26:3 and also in Acts 26:14 as a cattle prod, a sharp stick that was used to poke a cow or sheep to make it go in the right direction. In this sense, death is a threat that God hung over mankind back in Genesis 2 to prod them away from disobedience to Him, and the fear of death still today holds angry people back from committing murder and careless people from getting themselves killed in accidents. We don’t want to die, and a fear of death has a certain controlling factor in our lives. But those of us who know that this life is not all there is and that after we die we will be resurrected cannot be controlled by the threat of death. Death can’t really hurt us anymore now that Jesus has taken the sting out of it.
vii. When I lived in Denver, my pastor’s wife became sick with cancer while in the prime of life. It seemed like the wrong time to die, so she fought that cancer with everything she had, taking chemotherapy as well as all kinds of alternative treatments and radical diets and even going to Mexico to get treatments not available in the USA, but none of it worked. As she was dying, she said, “If I had only known how easy death can be, I would not have fought it so hard.” And when the doctors told her she had only days left to life, she started ordering junk food just because she felt like it. She lost her fear of death. She is a believer, and death could not control and influence her behavior through fear of pain and loss.
So these are the three reasons given here in 1 Cor 15 for why there must be a change: There must be an end, we can’t make it into heaven without the change, and the scriptures must be fulfilled.
· Man’s transgression of the law gives death its power (JFB)
· The question in v.55 “Death, where is your victory” is answered by the theological truths in v.56 – where there is sin and lawlessness, death is victorious and it stings!
· The law reveals what sin is, and death is the punishment for sin. If sin is removed, however, death is no longer a punishment. Forgiveness of sin is victory over death!
The book of Romans is Paul’s theological treatise on all this. In Romans he wrote:
· Rom 3:20b through the law comes the knowledge of sin – God’s law is how we know what sin is.
· Rom 5:13 until the law sin was in the world; but sin is not imputed when there is no law – Even when people don’t know God’s law in the Bible, they are still sinners, they just have less accountability
· The law in the Bible nevertheless remains a good thing to show us God’s ways: Rom 7:13b sin, in order that it might be shown to be sin, by working death to me through that which is good; so through the commandment sin might become exceeding sinful.
· Romans 6:23 the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ
· Rom 6:14 sin shall not have dominion over you: for ye are not under law, but under grace.
· 1Jn 5:4 whatever has been born out of God is conquering the world, and this is the victory which has conquered the world: our faith.
I tell you, that
should cause us all to sing out and leap for joy like David did:
Psalm 98:1 Oh sing unto the LORD a new song; For He has done marvelous things: His right hand, and His holy arm have won the victory for Him!
PICTURE THIS: You step into a boxing ring. The spotlight turns on and the referee rings the bell. You take a swing at the referee and he calls in a giant of a man into the ring with fire in his eyes! The giant decks you, boom, and you’re out cold on the mat. But the fight isn’t over. Another man vaults over the ropes and starts fighting the giant. He’s pretty good and lands some vital punches that will end up killing the giant several years down the road, but the giant is still fighing mad and he knocks your teammate out cold on the mat next to you. Then, wonder of wonders, the referee then rings the bell, resuscitates your teammate and you, raises you to a standing position and declares YOU the winner of the match and hands you the golden belt!
The referee is God and the giant is death. Our victory came through Jesus taking a beating from death.
It’s like the songwriter Steven Bigger put it:
Is this what it’s like to be the winner when you lose the race?
Is this what it’s like to be a sinner who is saved by grace?
Is this what it’s like to get mercy when you know you deserve disgrace?
Is this what it’s like to be the winner when you lose the race?