What God starts, God finishes. And the question for us is this: if we truly believe that God will be completely victorious over sin and death in the future, will it help us live more victoriously ourselves in the present?
As Paul made clear to the believers in Corinth who were questioning the resurrection, God has a plan. No one expected a crucified Messiah, but Jesus had to die for our sins then be raised to new life by the Father, the “first fruits” of a whole harvest of resurrection. Only after his return will believers who have died be raised, and living believers transformed. Christ must reign until all God’s enemies have been defeated — and the “last enemy to be destroyed is death” (1 Cor 15:26, NRSV).
Resurrection isn’t just about us, it’s about God. New life signifies the final, glorious defeat of death itself, and Paul exults in the victory:
And when the rotting body has been clothed in what can’t decay, and the dying body has been clothed in what can’t die, then this statement in scripture will happen:
Death has been swallowed up by a victory.
Where is your victory, Death?
Where is your sting, Death?
(Death’s sting is sin, and the power of sin is the Law.) Thanks be to God, who gives us this victory through our Lord Jesus Christ! (1 Cor 15:54-57, CEB)
Here, Paul loosely quotes the prophets. In Isaiah 25:8, it’s God who swallows death forever, but Paul is focused on the victory this represents. Similarly, he thinks of the words of Hosea — “Death, where are your diseases? Grave, where is your destruction?” (13:14, CEB) — but again capitalizes on the prophet’s words to taunt death itself (is there an expression in Greek for “neener, neener”?).
And in his aside, we see the hints of ideas he will develop in later writing (e.g., Rom 7:7-12) — it is through God’s holy law that we come to know sin for what it is, and sin produces death (in the passage above, I might have expected Paul to say, “The sting of sin is death,” but that would ruin the parallelism).
But it all comes down to this: God’s victory is our victory. After all the back and forth of Paul’s letter, wrestling with the Corinthians’ questions and concerns, scolding them for certain behaviors and beliefs, he brings the letter to its climax with a praise-filled exhortation: we have the victory in Christ, so live like it!
More on that in the next post.