The Great Triumph
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. 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. (15:54–56)
Christ’s resurrection broke the power of death for those who believe in Him, and death is no longer master over them because “death no longer is master over Him” (Rom. 6:9). But death is still the enemy of man. Even for Christians it violates our dominion of God’s creation, it breaks love relationships, it disrupts families, and causes great grief in the loss of those dear to us. We no longer need fear death, but it still invades and torments us while we are mortal.
But one day, when Christ returns, the perishable that “must put on the imperishable” (v. 53) will have put on the imperishable, and the mortal that “must put on immortality” will have put on immortality. Then will come the great triumph that Isaiah predicted, when death is swallowed up in victory. The Isaiah text reads, “He [the Lord of Hosts] will swallow up death for all time” (Isa. 25:8; cf. v. 6). When the great transformation comes, the great victory will come.
The well-known commentator R. C. H. Lenski writes,
Death is not merely destroyed so that it cannot do further harm while all of the harm which it has wrought on God’s children remains. The tornado is not merely checked so that no additional homes are wrecked while those that were wrecked still lie in ruin.… Death and all of its apparent victories are undone for God’s children. What looks like a victory for death and like a defeat for us when our bodies die and decay shall be utterly reversed so that death dies in absolute defeat and our bodies live again in absolute victory (The Interpretation of St. Paul’s First and Second Epistles to the Corinthians [Minneapolis: Augsburg, 1963], pp. 744–45).
Quoting another prophet (Hos. 13:14), Paul taunts death: O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting? To continue with that metaphor, Paul implies that death left its sting in Christ, as a bee leaves its stinger in its victim. Christ bore the whole of death’s sting in order that we would have to bear none of it.
To make his point, the apostle reminds his readers that the sting of death is sin. The harm in death is caused by sin; in fact, death itself is caused by sin. “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Only where there is sin can death deal a fatal blow. Where sin has been removed death can only interrupt the earthly life and usher in the heavenly. That is what Christ has done for those who trust in Him. Our “sins are forgiven for His name’s sake” (1 John 2:12). Death is not gone, but its sting, sin, is gone. “For if by the transgression of the one, death reigned through the one, much more those who receive the abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17).
It is not, of course, that Christians no longer sin, but that the sins we commit are already covered by Christ’s atoning death, so that sin’s effect is not permanently fatal. “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). But for those who do not believe, death’s sting tragically remains forever.
Paul continues to explain the sequence leading to death by mentioning that the power of sin is the law. God’s law reveals God’s standards, and when they are broken they reveal man’s sin. If there were no law, obviously there could be no transgression. “Where there is no law neither is there violation” (Rom. 4:15). But men die because they break that law.
What about those who do not know God’s law, who have never even heard of, much less read, His Word? Paul tells us in Romans that when “Gentiles who do not have the Law do instinctively the things of the Law, these, not having the Law, are a law to themselves, in that they show the work of the Law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness, and their thoughts alternately accusing or else defending them” (2:14–15). Anyone, therefore, who goes against his conscience goes against God’s law just as surely as anyone who knowingly breaks one of the Ten Commandments. That is the reason men are doomed to die (Rom. 3:23; 6:23).
54 When this grand event of Christ’s return and of our putting on new, incorruptible bodies takes place, then what the prophet wrote in Isaiah 25:8 (in the Hebrew) will be fulfilled: The Lord “will swallow up death forever.” Or to use Paul’s earlier words, this will be the time when the last enemy, death, will be destroyed (15:26). At this time God will also wipe away all tears from our eyes and death shall be no more (Isa 25:8b; cf. Rev 21:3–4). Once again, as in 15:23–28 (see comments), Paul does not demonstrate here how his thoughts relate to the day of the Antichrist, the binding and loosing of Satan, the millennium, the judgment day, and so on.
15:54 / Paul uses a stock formula to introduce the citation of Scripture, although nothing in the formula signals that Paul intends to blend different texts in the quotation. Here, he refers to Scripture, and he begins to quote Isaiah.
 MacArthur, J. F., Jr. (1984). 1 Corinthians (pp. 444–446). Chicago: Moody Press.
 Verbrugge, V. D. (2008). 1 Corinthians. In T. Longman III &. Garland, David E. (Ed.), The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Romans–Galatians (Revised Edition) (Vol. 11, p. 404). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
 Soards, M. L. (2011). 1 Corinthians (p. 355). Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books.