50.) Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption.
51.) Behold I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we all shall be changed
52.) in a moment, in a twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
53.) For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.
54.) So when this corruptible has 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.”
55.) “O Death , where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?”
56.) The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law.
57.) But thanks be to God, who gives us victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
58.) 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.
As we continue our study in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, Paul completes his argument for the resurrection of the dead and the spiritual body. He tells us that the carnal, the things of this world, cannot inherit the kingdom of God. What does he mean by this? First of all, the kingdom of God is not of this world. I think that there is a mistaken belief that just because Jesus said the kingdom of God is near you, that the kingdom of God is of this world. It is not. It is the heavenly kingdom which became present on this earth in the presence of the heavenly Man, Jesus. It remains present through the power of the Holy Spirit in those of us who are His disciples. Thus, the only influence the kingdom of God has in the affairs of this world is through the body of believers, the church. Secondly, the kingdom of God is eternal. Revelations chapter 21 lets us know that this world is not eternal, and that there will be a new Heaven and a new Earth. There will be a new, eternal Jerusalem which will come down from Heaven. So those that are to inhabit this new world must be as eternal as it is. As Paul says, corruption cannot inherit incorruption.
Paul further states, “Behold, I tell you a mystery.” The Greek word there is musterion, pronounced, moos-tay’-ree-on. It means a learned secret into which one must be initiated or instructed before it can be known. Paul uses this same word in the 3rd chapter of Ephesians where he talks about his calling from Christ to preach the Gospel to the Gentiles. In that passage, he is saying that Jesus personally instructed or initiated him in the gospel of grace and faith. Here in Corinthians, Paul is telling us that he is ready to instruct us in the mystery of eternity. When Jesus comes back, not all believers will be alive; some will be asleep. (Remember Paul does not use the word dead or death for the believer, rather, they have fallen asleep.) Yet whether dead or alive, when Jesus comes back, we will all be changed. I love the Greek word used here for ‘changed’. It is allasso, pronounced al-las’-so, and means to be transformed from one nature to a different nature. Thus, we as believers will be transformed from that which is subject to ruin and decay to that which has everlasting existence!! We as believers will be transformed from that which is subject to the power of death to that over which death has no power. Also, when the trumpet sounds, this will all happen in a mere moment, in the twinkling of an eye. To modernize it, we could say ‘in an atomic second’. This is a must: To inherit the kingdom, the corruptible must put on incorruption, and the mortal must put on immortality.
Now, Paul really gets excited, because once the trumpet blows and the transforming of natures occurs, the final the greatest promise of God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ happens. Death is totally defeated! Paul quotes (actually, paraphrases) from two texts, Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14: the victory over Death. Notice that ‘Death’ is capitalized. In the Greek, this means the extinction of life. The extinction of life has been swallowed up by resurrection life. Death no longer has any power. Death no longer has any power because sin no longer has any power. Sin no longer has any power because its strength, the law, has been fulfilled.
The word Paul usually uses for sin translates as “missing the mark”, but here sin translates as “straying from right teaching”. So how has Death lost its sting if its sting is sin, and sin here translates as straying from right teaching? And how has Death lost its sting if the power of the sting, the power of the sin, is found in the Mosaic Law?
Paul returns to a major theme he carries throughout all of his letters, but especially in Romans and Hebrews. First is his belief that the law is perfect, but that it can’t make us perfect. The law is holy, but it can’t make us holy. The law is righteous, but it can’t make us righteous. The law tells us what we must do to be all these things, but it can’t make us or help us to do the works it takes to be holy, perfect, and righteous. Second is his belief that the law gives strength to the power of sin. Paul said that he would not have known what sin was if it wasn’t for the law. The law told him he shouldn’t covet, but he didn’t know what coveting was and wasn’t tempted to do it until he was told not to…..We are powerless to fulfill the law. We might be able to keep some for awhile but never all ten; and if we break even one, we have broken them all. I mean – how often do we truly love the Lord our God with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength? And do we keep EVERY sabbath holy? We may desire to keep the law, but we can’t; it is not humanly possible. And if this is something that we are really striving for, it creates guilt. Guilt brings condemnation, and condemnation causes us to focus on our sins, our shortcomings, and our failures. These come about because we have been focused on the wrong teaching. The major theme is that we are saved by grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
Jesus came, and He fulfilled the law. By the life He lived in total submission to the will of the Father, He fulfilled the law. By the suffering of His passion, He purchased our healing. By His death on the cross, He secured our eternal, unconditional forgiveness. By the shedding of His precious blood, the provision was made, and the ransom was paid for our sins. His resurrection proves our justification, and His ascension to the right hand of the Father means that all the work that needs to be done is complete! When we believe that God has taken all our sins, shortcomings, and failures and placed them with Jesus on the cross; when we believe that God has taken all Jesus’ perfection, holiness, and righteousness and imputed it on us; when we believe, trust, and place our faith in grace, the unmerited favor of God through the finished work of Christ on the cross; when we believe that through that finished work on the cross, Jesus fulfilled the law for us, then sin has no sting, because it has no strength. It has no strength because it can no longer create in us guilt and condemnation. It can no longer create in us guilt and condemnation because we are no longer straying from the right teaching. Because we believe these truths, when the trumpet sounds, our corruption will become incorruption, and our mortal will become immortal – and the extinction of life will become extinct through the power of resurrection life.
Paul, still excited, wants us to continue to walk in that resurrection power. He wants us to understand that the promise is sure. Because the promise is sure, we should remain steadfast and immovable in the work to which the Lord has called us. And what is the work that Christ has called us to do? Well, there are many positions in the modern church, many offices to be filled, just as there were many positions in the early church. Remember, Paul talks about them in chapter 12. But positions and the work that goes into them, I believe, is different than the work Paul is mentioning here in verse 58 – because the word translated “work” here in the Greek literally means, a “work one has been called to do”. So, what work have all of us who are followers of Jesus Christ been called to do? We’ve been called to make disciples!! Paul tells us that because we know our promise is sure, we should be strengthened to share the good news to anyone and everyone we can. And just as God’s promise to us is not empty, neither will our labor in making disciples and sharing the Good News of God’s love and Christ’s grace be empty.
The good news of the resurrection – the power of the resurrection – is that the only places that are empty are the tombs, Christ’s and ours!
Remember to read daily Psalm 91 in the first person and continue to claim for yourself its great assurances about your relationship with Almighty God, your loving heavenly Father….
BLESSSING – May the love of the Father, the grace of the Son, and the presence of the Holy Spirit equip you to do the work you have been called to do. Amen.