The apostle Paul has been explaining how the resurrection will take place. In 1 Corinthians 15:35-49 the apostle has described that we must be given different bodies that are prepared to live in the spiritual realm. These bodies that we have now are created by God to live in this world. But just as a seed dies but becomes grain, so we will die physically but will be raised with an imperishable body. This brings us to the conclusion of Paul’s discussion concerning the resurrection.
Change Is Necessary (15:50-53)
Verse 50 is a summary of Paul’s point. Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. The phrase “flesh and blood” was a way the Jews spoke of the frailty of human creatures. It speaks to the corruptible nature of our bodies. It is not possible for this body to inherit the imperishable. Our bodies now are not ready for the spiritual world. We cannot stay the way we are. We need a spiritual body. Earthly dress is unfit for heavenly habitation. Paul is explaining a mystery. The resurrection is not something that had previously been explained but concealed. Now we have the answer. The mystery is revealed.
Not all will die. Remember that the word “sleep” is the nice way to speak of being dead just as we use the phrase “passed away” to speak of death. Notice the point Paul makes: not all will die but all will be changed. Back in verse 23 Paul said that the resurrection would occur when Christ returns. Some will be alive when Christ returns. Therefore, not all will die. But there is no difference between those who are alive and those who have died. All will be changed. The change will be instantaneous. “In the twinkling of an eye” is the same as saying “in a flash.” The change will happen at the last trumpet (cf. 1 Thessalonians 4:16). Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that the trumpet of God will sound and the dead will be raised. The dead are going to be raised imperishable and we shall be changed. Paul continues to emphasize that a transformation will occur. Notice his careful wording. This perishable body must put on an imperishable body. This mortal body must put on an immortal body. The body God has given to us will be changed, transformed to live in the spiritual world.
Receiving The Victory (15:54-57)
Verse 54 is very important to the understanding of the victory we will be given. There are two words I want you to highlight in your text: “when” and “then.” Paul begins, “When the perishable puts on the imperishable.” Paul has already told us that our perishable bodies will put on imperishable bodies when the last trumpet sounds (15:52) which is when Christ returns (15:23; 1 Thessalonians 4:16). When we receive our resurrected, glorious, imperishable bodies, “then shall come to pass the saying that is written: Death is swallowed up in victory.” This is a quotation from Isaiah 25:8. Then the words of Isaiah will be fulfilled. It is not now in the Christian life but then. The resurrection is when death will be swallowed up in victory. Death still possesses power over us because we still die. Death will be swallowed up in victory when our perishable bodies put on the imperishable. The resurrection of the dead is pictured as the ultimate destruction of death.
Death’s victory will be snatched away when God raises those who belong to Christ. It is at the resurrection that we will see death swallowed up in victory. It is at the resurrection that we will see that death losing its sting. Verse 56 explains that the sting of death is sin and the power of sin is the law. When sin was overcome by Christ, death was robbed of its sting. What looks like victory for death and defeat for us as every person in Christ dies will be utterly reversed. Because Jesus was victorious over death as seen by raising from the dead, so we know that death will be conquered and we will be raised from the dead when Christ returns. Dying in our sins is devastating. But the sting of sin has been removed through the death and resurrection of Jesus. Listen to how the writer of Hebrews explained the same concept.
Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil— and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death. (Hebrews 2:14–15 NIV)
The writer of Hebrews declares that we have been set free from our slavery. We were enslaved to the fear of death because the devil held the power of death over us. But Christ came and shared in our humanity, taking on flesh and blood, to be able to break that power so we no longer are enslaved to the fear of death. This is the message that Paul is giving to the Corinthians. Christ has come and he has dealt with sin. By dealing with sin, the sting of death is removed. His victory over sin is also the victory over death. When Christ overcame sin, he robbed death of its power. Now listen to what this means for us in verse 57.
But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. (1 Corinthians 15:57 ESV)
God has given us this victory. Jesus defeated sin through his perfect life, dies for our sins, and raises from the dead, destroying the power that death has. God showed that he has victory of death through Jesus and he gives that victory to us. Underline the word “gives.” If you believe Jesus rose from the dead, then your faith is that he has accomplished this victory over death and gives the victory to everyone who belongs to him.
The Resurrection Driven Life (15:58)
The final verse of this section on the resurrection begins with “therefore.” The hope of the resurrection motivates our actions and is our necessary foundation for Christian living. The knowledge that God has given us the victory over death, though we die, through Jesus must change our lives. There are three things he says he must adopt for the resurrection driven life.
Be steadfast and immovable.
“Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast.” The word means to be “steady, constant, settled.” “Immovable” carries the same idea of being firm and sure. Do you remember how this section of the resurrection started? Go back to the first verse of chapter 15. Paul was going to remind them of the gospel. We noted that the heart of the gospel is the resurrection. Paul would remind them of the gospel “in which you stand.” The resurrection is the hope that gives us our legs to stand. The resurrection is our strength to endure, to be steady and settled in the Christian life. The resurrection is why we are immovable in our trials and suffering. The resurrection is why we are not shaken concerning our own death or the death of our loved ones. Nothing should knock us off our foundation because of the hope of the resurrection. God will reverse what looks like victory for Satan, sin, and death. God will reverse it. God proved it through his Son who suffered unjustly, lived for God wholly and completely, and was tempted, tested, and killed. God reversed it all, raising him from the dead and exalting him. Satan cannot knock you over. Stand in the gospel.
Always abounding in the work of the Lord.
Underline the word “always.” Not most of the time or some of the time work in the Lord. Notice that he does not say that we always work in the Lord. Rather, we are always abounding in the work of the Lord. For something to be abounding means that it is in abundance and excess. Because of the resurrection we will always be overflowing in excess in the work of the Lord. Paul lived that way. Go back to verse 10: “But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” The grace of God drives us to always overflow in the work of the Lord. There is no stopping and there are no excuses. We do not take a vacation from the work of the Lord. We do not work for the Lord only Sundays. There is no such thing as saying that “I have done my part.” There is no such thing as thinking that I have accomplished the minimum requirements or what is necessary. We do not stop working for the Lord because we have trials or problems. We do not stop overflowing always in the work of the Lord for any reason. Paul says that nothing stopped him from working hard because he understood the grace of God at work within him. If we have stopped overflowing with excess in the work of the Lord, then we have stopped appreciating the grace of God seen in the resurrection of Christ. God has given us the victory over sin and death and will raise us to life again with imperishable bodies. Therefore, we must always overflow in the work of the Lord! We will not always overflow in the work of the Lord if all we are hearing and thinking is that we need to do more work. The way we overflow always in the work of the Lord is capturing the grace of God in our hearts and keeping the hope of the resurrection in our minds. Always overflow in God’s work.
Knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.
Your work in the Lord is not a waste of time. Your service is not useless. Your worship is not a waste. Your giving is not empty. The apostle Paul states this in the negative but I would like to state it in the positive to help us feel the weight of what he is teaching. The giving of your life to the kingdom has meaning. Your work in the Lord has value. This work in the Lord will be rewarded by God. What do you value in life? What do you think is important? Paul says this work in the Lord has value. This work in the Lord is important. Your work in the Lord is not for nothing. Therefore, in the hope of your resurrection from the dead, be steady and constant in life. Overflow in the work for the Lord always. Knowing your work in the Lord is valuable and will be rewarded.