1 Corinthians 15:20-26 – But now Christ has been raised from the dead, the first fruits of those who are asleep. (21) For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. (22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. (23) But each in his own order: Christ the first fruits, after that those who are Christ’s at His coming, (24) then comes the end, when He hands over the kingdom to the God and Father, when He has abolished all rule and all authority and power. (25) For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. (26) The last enemy that will be abolished is death.
1 Corinthians 15: 51-57 – Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, (52) in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. (53) For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality. (54) But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory. (55) “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY? O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR STING?” (56) The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; (57) but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Thessalonians 4:14-17 – For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. (15) For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. (16) For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. (17) Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.
The description of the resurrection in 1 Thessalonians has been dealt with in another study. However, the three passages show us the following:
- Jesus’ own resurrection paved the way to our own. Through it, He demonstrated His victory over death, in which we as His heirs may share.
- Before Jesus’ return, those who were ‘asleep’ had only a promise of resurrection (1 Cor 15:52, 1 Thess 4:14,16)
- Upon Jesus’ return, those who were ‘asleep’ would immediately rise.
- Although those alive upon Jesus’ return would not be resurrected as such, they would be changed.
What does it mean to be changed?
The word is used to describe a transformation, but also changing as clothes are changed.
Hebrews 1:12 – Like a garment they will also be changed.
The Hebrews passage refers to the heavens and earth, and describes not destruction, but replacement, consistent with other passages that talk about the new heavens and earth.
Christians are to receive a change of clothing, a ‘putting on’ of imperishable clothing. That is, they receive immortality. Death is abolished.
So where are our imperishable bodies?
2 Corinthians 5:1 – For we know that if the earthly tent which is our house is torn down, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. (2) For indeed in this house we groan, longing to be clothed with our dwelling from heaven, (3) inasmuch as we, having put it on, will not be found naked. (4) For indeed while we are in this tent, we groan, being burdened, because we do not want to be unclothed but to be clothed, so that what is mortal will be swallowed up by life. (5) Now He who prepared us for this very purpose is God, who gave to us the Spirit as a pledge.
Now Paul was writing to pre-resurrection Christians, so remember that they did not have their immortality just yet. If they were to die, they would sleep until the resurrection. If they remained alive, they would change then and there. The Holy Spirit was God’s pledge to them in the meantime. Once the resurrection came, their immortality would be complete.
Are we mortal or immortal (in the sense of unending life)? As Christians, we are immortal, yet in perishable bodies. Our imperishable ones will be given to us when we shed this ‘tent’.
So in what sense is death abolished?
Note that ‘abolished’ does not mean destroyed, but nullified, removed, made powerless, or brought to an end – katargeo, Strong’s ref 2673. It is not that there is no physical death, but that the power of death no longer applies to the Christian.
Remember, from vv55-56: O death, where is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law;
Romans 3:19,20 – … Whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law… for through the Law comes the knowledge of sin.
Romans 5:20 – The Law came in so that the transgression would increase; but where sin increased, grace abounded all the more,
Romans 7:8 – But sin, taking opportunity through the commandment, produced in me coveting of every kind; for apart from the Law sin is dead. ( 9) I was once alive apart from the Law; but when the commandment came, sin became alive and I died;
With the destruction of the Old Covenant law (through which men were condemned and had death as their heritage), the power of death was also abolished, or nullified, or made ineffective.
At ‘the end’, when all rule and all authority and power are abolished, so too is death abolished (1 Corinthians 15:24). The end of what? The end of the ineffective, weak covenant of the Law:
Romans 8:3 – For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh…
Hebrews 8:13 – When He said, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. But whatever is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to disappear.
We don’t die and then become immortal. Our immortality is real when we are saved.
Can we really possess an eternal, perfected self while still occupying our imperfect bodies?
Ephesians 4:23-24 – and that you be renewed in the spirit of your mind, (24) and put on the new self, which in the likeness of God has been created in righteousness and holiness of the truth.
Colossians 3:8-11- But now you also, put them all aside: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive speech from your mouth. (9) Do not lie to one another, since you laid aside the old self with its evil practices, (10) and have put on the new self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to the image of the One who created him– (11) a renewal in which there is no distinction between Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave and freeman, but Christ is all, and in all.
Clearly, this did not guarantee that this new self was physically perfect while they were yet alive.
In conclusion, the immortality we have received, we received at and subsequent to the resurrection. With the power of sin removed at the destruction of the Old Covenant, the power of death was made ineffective for Christians.
Hebrews 2:14 – Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil;
2 Timothy 1:10 – but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel…
The abolition of death was (past tense) accomplished by Christ as the firstfruits of the resurrection. At the destruction of the Old Covenant, the power of the law was nullified, and so was the sting of death. Those who had already fallen asleep would receive every benefit of the resurrection immediately, while those who were yet alive would nevertheless be changed into a new creation. Not just the owners of a promise, with the Holy Spirit as a pledge, but owners of a new, imperishable body in heaven with the Lord.
Revelation 14: 13 – And I heard a voice from heaven, saying, “Write, ‘Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on!’ ” “Yes,” says the Spirit, “so that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow with them.”