But someone will ask, “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body do they come?” You foolish person! What you sow does not come to life unless it dies. And what you sow is not the body that is to be, but a bare kernel, perhaps of wheat or of some other grain. But God gives it a body as he has chosen, and to each kind of seed its own body.
I once did a study of what Paul had to say about death in chapter 15 of 1 Corinthians. I found it interesting that he mentions death even more than he mentions the resurrection. The word death or dying or dead occurs twenty-five times in the chapter. And the word resurrection or raised, or anything related to that, occurs twenty-four times–just about equal, but actually the words for death occur more often. There are other terms that are related to it that increase those totals even more. That is interesting because when you talk about a victory, the greatness of your victory depends upon the greatness of your enemy. If you are part of a great armada that wins an attack against an army of fifty-three people, it is not a very great victory. But if a great enemy comes against your army and you win, that is a great victory. That is what Paul is saying here. Death is really an enemy, and a great enemy at that.
There has been a tendency in religious thinking to minimize death, evil, sin, and other unpleasant things. A particular sect of Christianity, which really is not Christianity at all–Christian Science–makes a major point of this. That sect simply denies the reality of anything bad. It is all a figment of our imagination, according to Christian Science, whether it be death, evil, suffering, hunger, or anything else bad that you can think of. They say such suffering is just all in one’s mind. So, in order to banish the negativity, controlling one’s thoughts is the key.
But there is also a tendency in some branches of the evangelical church to do a similar kind of thing. Some avoid talking about bad things or, in a sort of super pietistic kind of way, assume that the bad things are always transcended by the blessings of the Gospel. There is a certain sense in which evil is transcended by the blessings of the Gospel. Christians have been able to go through very difficult things and be triumphant because of their faith in Christ. But you do not really gain anything by denying the reality of evil. Some people think that a denial of evil preserves the honor of God, because if there is an admission of evil, they believe it tarnishes God’s reputation.
God does not seem too bothered by that himself, however. Through the prophet Isaiah, God said, “I form the light and create darkness, I bring prosperity and create disaster; I, the Lord, do all these things” (Isa. 45:7). God is not afraid to acknowledge that. Through this verse, God is saying that bad things come, yet, not only does he permit them, he actually brings them into the lives of his people to accomplish certain things. So God is not embarrassed to mention evil, so neither should we be. The Christian way is not to deny the reality of evil, but to point to the victory that we have through Jesus Christ.
There is a certain sense in which the flow of this chapter is seen between verse 26, at about the middle of the chapter, and verse 54 towards the end. Verse 26 says, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” It acknowledges that death is an enemy and a real enemy at that. Then the verse that comes at the end says, “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” This is through the work of Jesus Christ. It is through Christ that we have the victory. Verse 57 develops that theme: “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” How so? We have the victory through the Lord Jesus Christ because by grace we are united to him. So when he rose, we rose in him, just as when he died, we died in him, his death atoning for our sin.