Friday, 20 March 2015
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. 1 Corinthians 15:26
Considering the Greek here will shed light on what Paul is thinking. The verb for “will be destroyed” is in the present indicative middle or passive voice. And so rather than “will be” the action has already begun and is on-going until a fixed point.
A good way to understand this would be to consider a major league baseball team which has no chance of winning the pennant. They have lost the right to play in the World Series, and yet they continue to play because other teams still have a chance. Until the series is ended they continue in order to meet a set plan which was initiated at the beginning of the season. Though they are defeated, their defeat will continue until it the plan is finished.
As the Pulpit Commentary notes, it is “already begun and continuing by an inevitable law.” Therefore, Paul is thinking “is being destroyed until it is finished.” Further, there is a definite article in front of “death.” Therefore, “death” is being personified and capitalizing it is more appropriate. As Tyndale’s version renders this –
“Lastly, Death the enemy shall be destroyed.”
In support of the on-going (and yet inevitably completed) nature of the action, we can review several pertinent verses from the New Testament which concern the work of Christ. These are only a few among many which show us that Death is defeated, but that it will continue in this defeated condition for a set amount of time. First, from Paul’s second letter to Timothy –
“…but has now been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who has abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…” 2 Timothy 1:10
Paul shows that in Christ’s first appearance death was abolished. However, death still exists as is quite evident from the world around us. To understand this, again think of the baseball team that has no chance of winning the pennant and yet, it still plays during the regular season. And so even though this action is done, it is awaiting a future fulfillment.
Next, From Hebrews 2, we see that it was through Christ’s death that this came about. In this, “death” is tied in with the devil, showing that it is the devil who had “the power of death” –
“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, 15 and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.” Hebrews 2:14, 15
Next, in John’s first epistle, he shows that death is tied to sin. This takes us back to the very beginning when the devil deceived the man. In so doing, man sinned and death entered the world. As the wages of sin is death, it shows that the work of the devil is what brought death about –
“He who sins is of the devil, for the devil has sinned from the beginning. For this purpose the Son of God was manifested, that He might destroy the works of the devil.” 1 John 3:8
Jesus Christ came to undo this. He accomplished it at the cross, destroying the power of the devil in all who believe. But why didn’t He just toss the devil into hell right then? The answer is that He is building a church out of the redeemed of the world. If He simply destroyed the devil at that time, there would be no church and thus no “living temple.” Instead, the victory was won, but the devil has been allowed to continue in the world until a time determined by God. In this, we can think of the team which will eventually win the pennant. It is comprised of people who are winners, but they are not winners until the end of the season.
Those who come to Christ are “in Christ” and can never die again. But those who are not will both physically die and they will be eternally separated from God in the process, because Death continues to reign over them. Thus, we see why there is an on-going nature to the work of Christ. But some wondrous day, even Death will be eliminated forever. This is noted in Revelation 21 and it fits perfectly with Paul’s words of verse 26 which we are evaluating –
“Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:14, 15
Life application: In Christ, Death is defeated. If you are in Christ, don’t be fearful of the Death which surrounds us; he has no mastery over you.
Heavenly Father, even though death continues on in the world today, I know that it is already defeated because of the work of Christ. Of those who have called on Him, You are building a temple of living stones to serve and worship You for all eternity. Death can no longer harm them. My prayer today is that those who have not yet called on Christ will understand that because of sin, the devil is their master. I pray that eyes will be opened and that they will long for You. Eternal life is possible because Jesus has defeated the enemy. Open eyes and change hearts, O God. To Your glory I pray this. Amen.