There are some specific things that Paul says in his letter to the church in Corinth that we don’t give as much attention as we probably should.
And this relates specifically to how we think about death.
I want to issue you a specific challenge: If you disagree my reading of these teachings, how do you read them differently?
Don’t just default to whatever you were told or taught or think. Try to discern what this passage of scripture is saying.
“Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.1 Corinthians 15:24-26 NIV
Read through those verses a few times. Ideally open a bible and read the whole chapter.
What does Paul say about death here?
Does he say it’s just something that’s a natural part of God’s good creation?
Does he say that it’s no big deal because believers will be in Jesus’ presence at death?
He says directly that death is the enemy.
Death is that terrible reality in the fallen world. Not a feature of God’s initial good creation but the tragic result of the sinfulness and brokenness of our fallen world.
Death is an enemy and God, through his Son Jesus is out to destroy it.
Another significant feature of Paul’s teaching here is the relationship between the reign of Jesus currently and the presence of death in our world.
We often make the assumption that because Jesus reigns-
because he is Lord,
because he is on the throne,
that everything that happens including death, is under his specific direction.
But this teaching specifically says that this is not so.
“For he must reign UNTIL he has put ALL enemies under his feet.” 15:25
Are all ememies totally and completley under his feet yet?
“The last enemy to be destroyed (future tense) is death.”
The outcome of victory is sure, but there is still rebellion against the total rule of Jesus. When his kingdom fully comes and his will is fully done.
Now let’s add more teaching from this chapter in 1 Corinthians 15 to our thoughts.
When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.”“Where, O death, is your victory?1 Corinthians 15:54-56
Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.
According to this scripture, the destruction of death will only be fully true, manifest, fulfilled and completed in the future.
When? When Christ returns and we – all those in Christ – are resurrected with new, imperishable bodies. (See 15:52)
Only then – in the future – will death be totally swallowed up in victory.
Going to heaven now is not the ultimate defeat of death, but rather the wonderful confort for believers until this day comes.
Only then, Paul says here, will it come true that death is swallowed up in victory.
So our struggle with death.
Our hatred of death.
Our screaming out in the face of death is NOT a lack of faith.
It is a feature of robust Christian faith – so long as it is in the hope of victory yet to come.
And here is the good news: we are assured of that victory because of the real, bodily resurrection of Jesus as a historical reality.
He is the firstfuits – the tangible reason for our hope. It’s not a pipe dream.
And so the earliest Christians were less asking the question ‘why did my friend die at this particular time, age or cause?’ and instead crying out, “Come Lord Jesus!” Put an end to this.
Because death is a feature of this fallen world, not of the reign of Christ.
When his reign is full and complete, death will be no more.
Yes, believers were to be comforted by the word that their loved ones would not miss out on this future event, nor would they be without the presence of Christ until that day.
But that Day was the focus of their hope.
When death -the last enemy – will finally and fully be defeated.
Come Lord Jesus.