1 Corinthians 15:50-58
50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality. 54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass 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.
58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain. 
What does the reality of the resurrection say about humanity? What does it say about our present circumstances, our failures, and our future? Paul answers these questions with the language of victory. “Having argued both for the reasonableness of a resurrection body (through the analogies of vv. 36–44) and for its certainty (on the basis of Christ’s heavenly body, vv. 45–49), he now emphasizes: (1) the absolute necessity of transformation in order to enter the heavenly mode of existence (vv. 50, 53); (2) the fact that both the living and the dead must be so transformed (vv. 51–52); and (3) that the resurrection/transformation, which will take place at [Christ’s return] (v. 52), will signal the final defeat of death (vv. 54–55). …Paul concludes on the high note of Christ’s present victory over sin and the law as well (vv. 56–57), which leads to a concluding exhortation to work in the context of hope (v. 58).”
We normally reserve the word “victory” for official contests or battles. But we also tend to unofficially assign the word “victory” to our own personal contests and struggles. If a person overcomes an addiction or defeats an unreasonable fear, we use the phrase personal victory. If we believe our lives are going well, if we are achieving, earning, climbing, buying things we want, then we are “winning.” The concept of victory has two ingredients.
First, there’s an enemy. It can be other people, an economic or political power structure, or our own personal limits (bad habits, physical limitations, mental limitations). The second ingredient is that winning is always better than losing. How many of us would ever choose to lose? By nature, we are all competitive. We are all playing a game, regardless of who we believe sets the rules, and we are all striving to win. The apostle Paul addresses 3 issues regarding victory in this text: the need for victory; achieving victory; describing victory.
NEED FOR VICTORY
Why do we long for victory? Wouldn’t it be just as good to receive a participation trophy? We need victory because we feel our limitations. We feel like we are losing. We sometimes express that with the phrase, “I’m only human.” Paul acknowledges our limitations in verse 50, “50 I tell you this, brothers: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable.”
This world and our current sinful, degrading hardware are not compatible with the Kingdom of a holy and eternal God. This sin-cursed world and our physical bodies are decaying. The new heavens and earth are sinless and eternal. The way things are now is opposed to the way things shall be. The perishable opposes the imperishable. In our current state, humanity is cursed with mortality. Verse 54 says, “the mortal puts on immortality.”
One of our greatest, often unspoken, desires is to achieve victory over the perishable. Simply observe how terrified the world has become over a virus. We strive to be faster, stronger, smarter, richer, prettier than others to assure ourselves of our relative importance and permanence. We know we are human and imperfect, but if we can make ourselves the best or the most important then we believe we are assured of our indispensability. Highly competitive people invent things to conquer. They are addicted to winning in an attempt to stave off mortality with horizontal approval.
We try to capture imperishability by transforming and modifying ourselves in a quest for perfectionism. Perfectionism arises from our false belief that if we work carefully enough, crushing each goal, we won’t have to die. The bitter truth is that, whether we are perfectionists or not, we will die anyway. Some people turn physical fitness into a religion, loading themselves down with guilt when they don’t work out, and shame about how they look, a feeling of being judged by others, and a desperate need to justify ourselves for how we look.
There’s also the religion of diet that can consume our lives. It is certainly wise to eat healthy, but people are now concerned about the origin of their food and its relationship to the environment. They question whether animals have been raised and slaughtered ethically. There’s certainly nothing wrong with diet and exercise. But when we view them as a means of self-salvation, we are lying to ourselves about our inevitable end. A workout regimen and a healthy diet cannot save anyone from death.
We could follow all of the rules, listening to the gurus and experts, we can even feel self-righteous about our obedience to these little “l” laws under which we have placed ourselves. But all of our efforts and our self-righteous feelings will not make us less perishable. One out of one die. We prefer the thrill of victory at any cost over the agony of defeat because defeat is an appetizer of death, an echo of the future reminding us that we are all perishable.
We fight decay, disintegration, deterioration, and loss because they are all road signs leading to death. We rebel against limitations in an attempt to fight the current inexorably moving us toward the big sleep. We kick against the goads of death because all human beings sense that death is not natural! We innately understand that death is the ultimate enemy.
There is no ancient myth or legend in any culture with all of its gathered wisdom and teaching that says that death is simply a part of the great circle of life. Only Disney teaches us to sing that. Death is always traumatic. It is hurtful. It is obscene. It is counter to every living thing. It is ugly, sad, brutal, painful, and terrible. It is absolutely UNNATURAL. It is monstrous. It presents you no options. And it is coming for each and every one of us. If we all know that death wins in the end, then why fight it? If we believe that death does not win in the end, what’s the basis of our belief? If victory over death is possible, how do we obtain it?
The greatest athletes and the healthiest people in the world meet the same end as the unhealthy and the lazy. How do we get victory over death? We need to go to the source of its power. Paul says in verse 56, “56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” Human death came into the world through sin. Without sin, death has no power. Without sin, death would be a scorpion without a stinger. But since our union representative, Adam, rebelled against God, we have all been stung. Everyone is born into the condition of sin. Sin is the instrument of death, and death is the needle with sin as its poison. God’s holy Law is the environment in which the poison spreads.
There are two approaches to God’s Law that ignore the problem of death. In the first approach, people simply ignore the Law because we are all lawbreakers by nature. If we think any law is unnecessary, we will surely break it. But God’s Law is righteous, revealing his perfect nature. It actually increases transgressions because it points out all the areas where humans attempt to be the rulers of their own lives.
The second wrong approach to the Law is to strive to follow all the rules to earn the right to defeat death on one’s own. Even those who do not trust in keeping God’s Law, create their own little “l” laws as a measurement of their goodness to escape death. People sin against God when they trust his Law to be a way of overcoming death. The Law can only manage and temporarily delay the inevitability of death.
So how do we gain victory over death, the ultimate enemy? “51 Behold! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall 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 shall be changed. 53 For this perishable body must put on the imperishable, and this mortal body must put on immortality.” When Paul uses the word “mystery,” he is not writing about something humans cannot understand. He is speaking about God’s revelation of himself in the person and work of Christ Jesus. Paul is claiming to have divine revelation about the way to beat death.
In this instance, Paul is claiming to have new information about the future that, until that moment in history, had been hidden. Something must happen outside of us, not inside of us! A change must happen (v. 51). The dead must be raised by someone else. They cannot raise themselves (v. 52). What is perishable must put on the imperishable that comes from outside of us (v. 53).
So many people spend their lives trying in their own power to put on the imperishable. But they do not, and cannot, find it within themselves. The mortal must put on immortality (v. 53). It is an instantaneous transformation that will happen at the end of time — in the “twinkling of an eye” (the blinking of an eyelash). Not one of us can add even one nanosecond to our lives. The phrase, “at the last trumpet” is Old Testament language that describes the consummation of time and the transition into eternity for our new hardware, and a new earth upon which God will dwell with his people.
“54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ 55 ‘O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’”  Ultimately, death will be completely vanquished. There will come a day when this really takes place. Perishable and mortal human beings will put on imperishability and immortality. Those trusting into the perfectly lived life and sacrificial death of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ will be raised from the dead.
We will put on new, sinless hardware. Physical death itself will die. Paul mocks death by singing a song taken from Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14. No sports fans would sing the song We Are the Champions until the final seconds of the game when victory is absolutely assured and secured. Death does not become less powerful; it literally disappears never to be seen again.
In our experience, the disappearance of death is something we all long for, but it’s absolutely nothing we can imagine from inside of us. So how can Paul have such confidence in this great transition from death to life? He answers in verse 57, “57 But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ secured the victory over death for us.
He put on flesh and blood. For a brief moment in real time and actual history, Heaven came down to earth as it once had in the Garden of Eden where God dwelled with his people, Adam, and Eve. Christ, the immortal one, became mortal and absorbed the sting of death on behalf of all those who trust into him. He absorbed the venom of death and overcame it by rising from the grave. God owns death and at the consummation of all things he will wad it up and throw it in the eternal trash can.
There is no law – either little “l” law or big “L” Law – that we can keep to receive or earn imperishability. Jesus fulfilled God’s Law perfectly and completely on our behalf. The solution to death is entirely outside of us. The problem of death has been solved by our new union representative, Jesus. Believers inherit the Kingdom of God, imperishability, and immortality because of his work alone.
Jesus’ victory over death has present-day significance. The victory is not merely something Jesus will give, it is something we who trust into Christ already have. We no longer need to live an anxiety-filled life in an attempt to win life. Life has been won for us. We can rest in the finished work of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ. What are all the things we continue trying to win? What keeps us up at night – security, money, relationships, health?
We don’t have to win! We are completely free to lose! And that is what scares most of us most of the time. We curve inward on ourselves and worry about our motivations, our little “l” laws, the big “L” Law of God. Are we doing enough? Are we trying hard enough? Do we really intend to do good? The worst possible thing we can do to anyone else, much less ourselves, is assign motives. It is poisonous to our relationships and poisonous to our soul.
Once we leave the realm of Law, we get anxious. We enter a new and unfamiliar kingdom. We enter a world where “do” has been changed to “done!” It is a realm where we are not the authors of our own story. It is a realm where we can no longer manage our own flesh to achieve our own desired results.
It is a realm where we are free from worrying about other people and what those people need to do to make us happy. That kind of freedom does not come from within us, it comes from the Holy Spirit testifying to us about the person and work of Christ. Strangely, it is this freedom that allows believers to work hard, to work well, and to work with hope.
That is why Paul adds verse 58 to this text. “58 Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” Paul is saying that everyone who trusts into the perfect life and sacrificial death of the risen and ascended Lord Jesus Christ is already living “the victorious Christian life.” Paul encourages them to live in the context of their gospel community and “be steadfast.”
Steadfastness is not something we do for our own winning, but because Christ has already won. We don’t have to be moved by the things that would ordinarily throw us off course when we’re focused on our own winning. It is like watching a recorded sporting event. We already know the outcome. We can enjoy it. And we are free to pay even more attention to the details. We can watch without anxiety or fear. Steadfastness is trusting the gospel Paul first delivered to the Corinthians, rather than polluting it. Paul’s first and greatest concern is doctrinal rather than behavioral. If they return to his gospel then they will be steadfast and immovable.
Jesus loves you so much that he created an unshakable foundation of redemption from sin and death. That makes the church immoveable. The joy of victory can overcome the agony of defeat. We can know that our labor counts for something because it is “not in vain.” In 15:10, Paul wrote, “10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” We can stop playing the game of winning. We can live life as if we’ve already won because we have already won.
Psalm 112:6 says, “For the righteous will never be moved.” Because Christ, the Righteous One, is never moved, you who trust into him can be immovable because the Spirit of Christ dwells in you. We don’t have to be afraid of bad news. We don’t have to be afraid that something is not going to go right. We don’t have to fear that someone will say something to ruin our day. The more we trust into Christ, the more immoveable we can be because of his victory over death. As one commentator writes:
The person next to us, who might seem dull and uninteresting, we will one day in the new heavens and new earth be tempted to worship. Even though we are weak, we will be strong. Even though we are foolish, we will be wise. Even though we are useless, we will be missional. Even though we are slaves, we are of royal blood.
Our victory is not merely future, we own it now as an inheritance in Christ. If we trust that life has already been won, that death has been defeated, that life has been secured, that life has been given to us, we can live with great confidence, joy, and victory.
As Paul will later write to the Corinthians in another letter:
16 So we do not lose heart. Though our outer self is wasting away, our inner self is being renewed day by day. 17 For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison, 18 as we look not to the things that are seen but to the things that are unseen. For the things that are seen are transient, but the things that are unseen are eternal. 
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 15:50–58.
 Fee, 797.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 1 Co 15:54–55.
 Um, 286. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), Ps 112:6.
 Um, 288. Kindle Edition.
 The Holy Bible: English Standard Version (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016), 2 Co 4:16–18.