Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”
“O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?”
The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. – 1 Corinthians 15:51-58 ESV
Paul lived with a sense of eminence, an eager expectation and anticipation of the Lord’s return. He fully expected to be alive when Jesus returned for His bride, the church. This attitude of expectation, coupled with his strong belief in the resurrection of the body, is what drove him to live his life to please God and make the most of the time he had on this earth. He wanted to be doing the will of God when His Son returned. And he told the Corinthians, “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:58 ESV).
All that he talks about in these closing verses of chapter 15 concerns, as he calls it, “a mystery.” It has been hidden from view, remaining unrevealed and unknown as to the day of its occurrence. No one knows the day of the Lord’s return. But just because we are ignorant of the timing of His return does not mean we should doubt its validity. And the events surrounding that day, including the resurrection of our bodies, while mysterious and unknown as to exactly how they will occur, are to be believed and eagerly anticipated. Paul says that not every believer is going to die. Some will be alive and well when the Lord returns. And both the living and the dead will experience the resurrection of their earthly bodies. Paul does not explain how this will happen, because he does not know. He simply reveals that it will happen unquestionably and instantaneously – “in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye” (1 Corinthians 15:52 ESV). He says, “the dead will be raised imperishable” and those who are alive on that day, “shall be changed.” Both groups will receive their new spiritual bodies, made in “the image of the man of heaven” (1 Corinthians 15:49b ESV). The apostle John tells us, “Dear friends, we are already God’s children, but he has not yet shown us what we will be like when Christ appears. But we do know that we will be like him, for we will see him as he really is” (1 John 3:2 NLT). Instantaneously, we will all undergo a miraculous transformation, receiving our new resurrected bodies, made for our new home and designed by God to exist for eternity. “For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Corinthians 15:53 NLT). And when that happens, Paul says, it will be a slap in the face to death. Death is the wage or payment for a life of sin (Romans 6:23). When sin entered the world at the fall, it brought with it death.
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT
For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. But even greater is God’s wonderful grace and his gift of righteousness, for all who receive it will live in triumph over sin and death through this one man, Jesus Christ. – Romans 5:17 NLT
Because of Jesus, death has lost its sting, its power over us. Those who have placed their faith in Jesus no longer need to fear death. That does not mean that we are immune from death. Even believers die. But the real “sting” of death, its power to separate men from their God, is no longer valid. All men die, but not all men will experience eternal separation from God. Those who have placed their faith in His Son, at death, find themselves immediately transferred into the presence of God the Father. Paul alludes to this reality in his second letter to the Corinthians:
So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. – 2 Corinthians 5:6-8 ESV
Well-versed in the Old Testament, Paul paraphrases Hosea 13:14, and uses it to taunt death. Because of Jesus, it no longer has any power over us. It is like a toothless, declawed lion – intimidating and with a scary roar, but devoid of any real power to do us harm.
But the real message Paul seems to be trying to convey is that the future assurance the Lord’s return and the certainty of the resurrection of our bodies should embolden us to live godly lives here and now. We are to remain “steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.” Rather than wasting our time arguing about spiritual gifts and debating over who follows who, we need to be sharing the good news of Jesus Christ with the lost and the love of God with our brothers and sisters in Christ. Rather than worrying about death, we need to concentrate on living for God, making the most of every moment He gives us on this earth. We exist for His glory. We are His servants, called by Him to do His will and to spread the message of salvation made possible through His Son’s death on the cross.
But now you are free from the power of sin and have become slaves of God. Now you do those things that lead to holiness and result in eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:22-23 NLT