1 Corinthians 15:55-57, “‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through Jesus Christ.”
I finished reading 1 Corinthians this morning and once again paused on these climactic verses to Paul’s teaching on the resurrection in chapter 15. For today’s picture I wanted to work through the chain of reasoning that Paul gives in verse 56-57. In these verses it seems that Paul is explaining why the sting of death is missing for those who are in Christ.
Paul explains that the “sting” (a word used for ox-goads or–and this was the reason for today’s imagery–the scorpion tails in Revelation) of death is sin. Death “stings” only when it damns….and the stinging power of death is nothing more and nothing less than sin. Sin is what makes death damning, sin is what makes death a black mamba rather than a garden snake…..but why? Why does sin give death it’s stinging power?
That comes next. The power–which I take to mean the stinging / damning power–of sin is the Law. That is to say, sin makes death venomous because the Holy God–whose law is pure love–WILL see sin condemned. He will not allow what is opposed to Him to endure. And so, in light of His sin-condemning law, if we die as sinners (that is, as those stubbornly opposed to Him) we will bear the damning “sting” of death which is nothing other than the just judgment of God’s law against our sin.
How then can we join in the refrain of verse 55? The answer comes in verse 57….we can pass through Death’s sting-less shadow into the unending light of eternal day only because God has given us the victory through Jesus Christ. And how has He done that?
He has done it by exhausting the sting of death in the sin-bearing Son. Jesus bears in His own veins, as it were, all the sin of His Bride on the cross so that when He dies, He drains every drop of Death’s Law-empowered venom into Himself. Where sin is removed, the law has no power to condemn and death is turned to a sting-less phantom, a hand-maiden to the Bride, tasked with ushering the ransomed queen into the presence of her Lord.
It’s interesting that the victorious boasting over death that we read in verse 55 is actually quoted from a section describing the judgment of Israel in Hosea 13 (v.14). We can sing the words of verse 55 as a blood-bought boast over death only because our Lord and our God bore our sin and the accompanying sting and plagues of death–and, indeed, of the Second Death–in Himself for our sake.