Our Final Victory
1 Corinthians 15:53-58
The fifteenth chapter of the book of First Corinthians is the great "resurrection chapter." Paul begins the chapter by talking about the gospel which he had preached and by which the Corinthians were saved. The basic facts of gospel were death, burial, resurrection, and post-resurrection appearances of Christ. However, some in Corinth were apparently denying the resurrection of the dead, so Paul argues that if there is no resurrection from the dead, the Christ could not have been raised. But he affirms that Christ was raised from the dead and thus became our assurance of a future resurrection from the dead. After discussing the nature of the resurrected body, in verses 53-58 Paul talks about our final victory.
"For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: 'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?' The sing of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."
To begin, he says that this final victory involves this mortal putting on immortality (vs. 53-54). Basically, the word "immortality" means that which is not subject to death. Of course, the word "death" is used in different ways. Often it refers to physical death, or separation of spirit from the body (1 Cor. 15.21-22). Sometimes it means spiritual death or separation from God by sin (As. 1.15). And other times it denotes eternal death or everlasting punishment in hell (Rev. 20.14). In the context of 1 Cor. 15, which discusses the physical resurrection, the idea of immortality suggests that which is not subject to physical death.
There are some who teach "conditional immortality," saying that soul or spirit is not immortal of itself but only becomes immortal for the righteous in the resurrection. However, while it is true that the soul who sins will die spiritually, the soul or spirit that God made in each of us is not subject to physical death but survives the death of the body (Eccl. 12.7, Matt. 10.28, Jas. 2.26). Furthermore, here in 1 Cor. 15, Paul is not even discussing the nature of the spirit but of the body. "But someone will say, 'How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come?'" (1 Cor. 15.35). The whole idea is that each of us is a spirit which is clothed with a physical body. At death we become "unclothed," but someday we hope to be clothed with a new spiritual body as Paul writes in 2 Cor. 5.1-4.
Next, Paul says that this final victory involves the end of death (vs. 55-56). Physical death passed upon mankind because Adam and Eve brought sin into the world. "In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground. For out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return" (Gen. 3.19). Therefore, death is an appointment that all of us will keep (Heb. 9.27). However, when Christ returns, death will be completely conquered. "Then comes the end.....The last enemy that will be destroyed is death" (1 Cor. 15.24-26). And, of course, this will be accomplished by the resurrection remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air" (1 Thess. 4.16-17).
Again, Paul says that this final victory involves Jesus Christ our Lord (v. 57). It is Jesus who made this victory possible by His death on the cross. "Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage" (Heb. 2.14-15). Also, it is Jesus who will bring this victory about when "all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth..." (Jn. 5.28-29). However, in order to be given this victory through Christ we must have faith. "And whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world--our faith" (1 Jn. 5.4). Yet we must remember that this faith is not just a mere acknowledgement of Jesus. Rather, it is an active principle that controls our minds and guides our daily lives.
This brings us to the last thing that Paul says, which is that this victory involves our working for the Lord (v. 58). No, we cannot earn this great victory by our own works. It is "the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast" (Eph. 2.8-9). It is "not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy" (Tit. 3.5). Yes, it is a gift. Paul calls it the victory that God gives to us. Yet like many other gifts, there are conditions attached to receiving it, and these conditions demand our obedience (Rom. 6:17-18, 2 Thess. 1:7-9). The point that Paul is making is that in view of this final victory that God promises to the believer, we need to be as diligent and faithful as we can in doing the work of the Lord because "You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (Jas. 2:24). To gain victory over sin through the forgiveness of Christ, we must obey the terms of pardon revealed in the gospel. Then to gain the final victory over death we must continue to be steadfast and immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
By Wayne S. Walker
From Expository Files 15.7; July 2008