1 Corinthians 15:55 ‘O death, where is thy victory?’

April 23, 2017 by David Farmer 0 comments

Posted in: Weekly Commentary

This Weeks Focus Passage: 1 Corinthians 15:55

 ‘O death, where is thy victory?’

These words of the apostle Paul in 15:55 of his first letter to the church of God at Corinth are citations from a pair of Old Testament prophets. Isaiah, in his twenty-fifth chapter had written, many years before Paul, these blessed promises from God to His covenant people for their faith and encouragement:

And in this mountain will Jehovah of hosts make unto all peoples a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. And he will destroy in this mountain the face of the covering that covereth all peoples, and the veil that is spread over all nations. He hath swallowed up death for ever; and the Lord Jehovah will wipe away tears from off all faces and the reproach of his people will he take away from off all the earth; for Jehovah hath spoken it.     —Isaiah 25:6-8.

And, through Hosea, the word of the Lord came to His folk; these additional words quoted by the apostle to the Gentiles:

I will ransom them from the power of Sheol; I will redeem them from death: O death, where are thy plagues? O Sheol, where is thy destruction? repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.        —Hosea 13:14.

Surely, these promises were welcome blessings to the Lord’s people in the days of Isaiah and Hosea, as they were much later to the church of Corinth, and to ourselves. Death is feared by all mankind; death is not natural; death is the last enemy for those who are in Christ. These realities brought the author of Hebrews to utter thoughts related to this matter when he spoke of all them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage. (Hebrews 2:15).

It is the folly of many to assert that they do not fear death. As there is, in all mankind, an innate fear of serpents and snakes, so there is of death. Death is that which has confronted all but a select few, such as Enoch and Elijah, and will not need to be confronted by those who are alive at the coming of our Lord. For the rest of us, it shall be faced. It is an unknown. It is feared. Robert Candlish, a preacher of the gospel in Scotland of the nineteenth century, had this to say about death, as he has very interestingly personified it in a rapid succession of statements which each speak of Death as the ‘King of terrors.’ Please bear with a rather lengthy quotation from this Scottish preacher. We believe that it points to a relevant truth about death:

“Death, in this world, is the great devourer. He swallows up all living things. He has an insatiable stomach. No nicety of taste, no fastidious delicacy of palate, has he. Indiscriminately, promiscuously, one equally with another, his voracity swallows up all. He is a ruthless, pitiless monster of prey. Neither man nor woman will his horrid appetite spare. The tender babe; the fair youth; the blooming maid; the strong man in his prime; the veteran, tough and scarred; the feeble cripple, tottering under the weight of years;—all come alike to him. He swallows up them all. Hungry and greedy, he prowls in all streets and lanes; in all highways and bypaths; in every city, village, hamlet; throughout all houses. He has servants by the hundred who are keenly catering for him; insidiously and unscrupulously catering for him; always, and in every place. Diseases, a multitude whom no man can number; accidents that no man can prevent; wars, plagues, pestilences; poverty and famine; lusts, passions, sins, crimes;—what troops of ministers has he incessantly doing his pleasure! And with all he gets he is never gorged; he craves for more. Like the devil whom he serves, he goes about seeking whom he may devour. Bribes, entreaties, tears, alike fail to move him from his purpose. Beauty has no charm—love no spell—to mitigate his rage. Oh! how he riots as his cruel fang pierces the loveliest form, and chills the warmest heart. Power has no weapon to resist his onset. Worth has no protection against his rancour; nor wisdom against his wiles. None are humble enough to be overlooked and pitied. None are good enough to be reverenced and spared. None are high enough to have the right to bid him stand at bay. The king of terrors, formidable to all, is himself afraid of none. He seizes and swallows up the whole family of man.”

Yes, Death, in this world, is the great devourer. Death swallows up all living things, as Candlish affirmed. But Paul, drawing from Old Testament prophets, and the promises contained in their prophetic utterances, is reminding his readers that this is not the conclusion of the matter. Death may swallow up all living things ‘in this world,’ namely, in this time, yet the time is coming when death shall have to give up; to vomit out, all that it has swallowed up. And how is this going to come to be? Paul has, in excited fashion, told us that ‘death is swallowed up in victory!’ Here he alludes to the prophetic words from Isaiah 25:8; He hath swallowed up death for ever. He, of course, being God in the Person of the God-man, our Lord Jesus Christ has, in victory, swallowed up death for ever. How ironic. Death that swallows up all the living; that thought to swallow up the Savior of the world; was himself swallowed up in the victory of the Cross. What beautiful language; what glorious irony! It is wonderfully joyous to imagine, as one so graphically portrayed it, Death attempting to swallow up the Son of God; the Holy One of Israel, but he couldn’t do it; he must give Him up. That absolutely holy One was not digestible to this fiend. It is as though he could not tolerate the holiness, the absolute purity, of Emmanuel. This hitherto never before tasted Perfection of holiness could not be swallowed, but instead tickled the throat of the monster, causing him to vomit out the Son of God. Death is no longer the victor, but Christ is the Victor. The sting of death is sin, but Christ was He who is without sin, One that hath been in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. His sinlessness removed Death’s stinger. As Jesus told His disciples, The prince of the world cometh: and he hath nothing in me. As He, the Head, was victorious over death, so we the body of Christ shall be victorious as well.

David Farmer, elder

Fellowship Bible Church

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