As one who is allergic to bee venom, I have a real appreciation for this word “sting.” The sting of a hornet (yellow-jacket) has the potential to kill me and the only safe bee, for me, is a dead one, or one whose stinger has been removed.
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption,
and this mortal shall have put on immortality,
then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written,
Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God,
which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
1 Corinthians 15:54-57
When Adam sinned, death entered the world and the sting of death, sin, began its deadly infection of God’s very good creation. Sin has consequences and every individual sin generates a new chain of more sin…when lust hath conceived, it bringeth forth sin: and sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death and the sting of death is sin and on and on it goes, defiling, killing and destroying everything it touches.
Sin crucified the Lord Jesus. Sin – my sin and yours – is why our Savior came to die. As our Substitute, He took the death we deserve and gave us life in its place.
For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness.
What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed?
for the end of those things is death.
But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God,
ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.
For the wages of sin is death;
but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: 1 Corinthians 15:3-4
Because of Christ’s resurrection, the lethal sting of death has been removed, conquered, destroyed, rendered powerless. All my sin has been atoned for by Jesus, who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree. (1 Peter 2:24) So, for the believer, victory over death and over death’s sting (sin), is an accomplished fact.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,
which according to his abundant mercy hath
begotten us again unto a lively hope by
the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead,
To an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled,
and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you,
Wherein ye greatly rejoice, though now for a season,
if need be, ye are in heaviness through manifold temptations:
That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than
of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire,
might be found unto praise and honour and glory
at the appearing of Jesus Christ:
Whom having not seen, ye love; in whom,
though now ye see him not, yet believing,
ye rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory:
Receiving the end of your faith, even the salvation of your souls.
1 Peter 1:3-9
We live in a fallen world. People sin and people die. Yes, death and sin are still buzzing around but they are in their death throws. Because I belong to Jesus, neither death nor sin have power over me. By God’s grace, I can flee sin and pursue holiness. I still sin, but I am no longer the slave of sin. My flesh is still subject to physical death but, as a child of God, sin and death are but temporary problems, for God gives, has already given, the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
“Sin gives death all its hurtful power. The sting of death is sin; but Christ, by dying, has taken out this sting; he has made atonement for sin, he has obtained remission of it. The strength of sin is the law. None can answer its demands, endure its curse, or do away his own transgressions. Hence terror and anguish. And hence death is terrible to the unbelieving and the impenitent. Death may seize a believer, but it cannot hold him in its power.” –Matthew Henry
When a believer dies, he attains the ultimate victory over sin and death. When temporal life claims its last moment, the believer leaves death, and its sting, behind and immediately enters into fulness of joy in the presence of the Lord. What was accomplished on the cross so long ago, is realized in all its splendor at the very moment we draw our last breath.
And because Hans belongs to Jesus, he claims this victory, too. He is today, right now, in a place where there is no sin, no sting, no death. His body rests in the grave but death has no power over him. What may look like defeat – a short life ending in a car crash – is, in reality, a victory in Jesus. What looked like defeat – a short ministry in Galilee followed by a Roman crucifixion – was a victory over death and its sting.
The “saying” referred to in verse 54, Death is swallowed up in victory, comes to pass when we put on incorruption and immortality, exchanging our old vile body for our new glorious body. Though the ultimate fulfillment of this promise is yet future, it has already been secured for us in Christ at His resurrection. It is the fulfillment of Isaiah 25:8 and Hosea 13:14 which look forward to the Messiah, Jesus.
He will swallow up death in victory;
and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces;
He – Christ will by his death destroy the power of death, take away the sting of the first death, and prevent the second. In victory – so as to overcome it perfectly; which complete victory Christ hath already purchased for, and will in due time actually confer upon his people.
I will ransom them from the power of the grave;
I will redeem them from death:
O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction:
Though, in Christ, this victory is an accomplished fact, the full and final consummation of the victory over death will not occur until the Lord’s return when death will be destroyed forever. What a joyous, dazzling day it will be when we get our new forever-perfect bodies. Our old worn out death-bodies will be transformed and death itself will be abolished, forever swallowed up in victory just as light swallows up darkness, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Although they do not yet have their new glorified bodies, our departed, believing loved ones are enjoying the untainted blessings of incorruption and immortality right now. Is this not thrilling to think about?
The joyous outburst of the apostle, when he quotes the present passage (1 Corinthians 15:54), is the natural thanksgiving song of reassured humanity, on recognizing its final deliverance from the unspeakable terror of death and annihilation. Pulpit Commentary
But, meanwhile back here on old planet Earth, until the day comes when we join those who have gone to Heaven ahead of us, we groan with grief, longing, disappointment, loneliness and sorrow. Our hearts are especially heavy if we have no assurance of our loved one’s eternal state. These wounds are real and there is no shame in bearing them.
But, they are not the sting of death – sin is. Yes, sin brings forth death, however, that’s not the end of the story. Death hurts for those who are left behind and sin seems to rule the day but, for the believer, death in no way gains a victory. Its sting has been removed. Death, at its worst, serves only to usher us into the presence of God; it can do no more.
Death, at its worst, serves only to usher us into the presence of God;
it can do no more.
Where is the sting in that? At the cross, sin and death are defeated enemies – the empty tomb proves it. These Truths are real and there is no shame in declaring them.
“…the Messiah shall by his death, and resurrection from the dead, obtain such an entire victory over death, not only for himself, but for all his people, that in the resurrection morn, when they will be all raised from the dead, death will be so swallowed up, that it will be no more…
“The prophet expresses it actively, it being a prediction of what was to be done by the Messiah; the apostle cites it passively, as being accomplished by him after the resurrection, and considered as a part of the song sung by the risen saints;
“But thanks be to God which giveth us the victory,…. Over sin the sting of death, over the law the strength of sin, and over death and the grave; and which will be the ground and foundation of the above triumphant song in the resurrection morn, as it is now at this present time of praise and thankfulness to God: and it is all through our Lord Jesus; he has got the victory over sin; he has put it away by the sacrifice of himself; he has finished and made an end of it; for though it reigns over his people before conversion, and dwells in them after it, yet in consequence of his atonement for it, it loses its governing power through the Spirit and grace of God in regeneration, and entirely its damning power over them, and in the resurrection morn will not be so much as in being in them; the view of which now fills them with joy, thanksgiving, and triumph.” –John Gill
I don’t use the word “sting” to describe the effect Hans’ death has had on our family. I use the word “pain” because that seems more accurate to me – it is what I actually feel. When reflecting on the phrase “sting of death” it is a powerful bolster to the hope of my heart to focus, not so much on the pain, the sting, or even on death, but on the victory and on the Victor.
When I sit at Hans’ resting place, where this portion of Scripture was read on the day of his burial, I have an acute awareness that this piece of ground is not just his grave site but is his resurrection site. From this very spot of earth, Hans will someday come forth. He will have the same body – glorified. And, not only that, right now, our Hans is incorruptible, sinless, victorious. Sin and death cannot touch him much less sting him. This is the victory I rejoice to sing about.
At the burial service, though I was engulfed by the lacerating pain of loss, there was for me a clear moment of defiant victory when those words of triumph were proclaimed over Hans’ vacant tent:
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
These words take on new life when you hear and believe them while staring down into the cold hole that is your son’s grave. When my husband, our remaining sons, and the other men reached for their shovels, these are the words that kept me standing.
On that day of staggering grief, as they lowered our Hans’ body into the frozen ground, my heart was overwhelmed with the immensity of this new gulf fixed between me and my boy and by the overwhelming pull I felt (and still feel) to go to him.
But, on the basis of trust in the shed blood of Christ and His atoning and substitutionary victory over death, I sing, knowing I will go to him someday because the sting of death has been annihilated.
That is the victory I possess in Jesus – right now.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Therefore, my beloved brethren, be ye stedfast, unmoveable,
always abounding in the work of the Lord,
forasmuch as ye know that your labour is not in vain in the Lord.
1 Corinthians 15:58
“How many springs of joy to the saints, and of thanksgiving to God, are opened by the death and resurrection, the sufferings and conquests of the Redeemer! In verse 58, we have an exhortation, that believers should be stedfast, firm in the faith of that gospel which the apostle preached, and they received. Also, to be unmovable in their hope and expectation of this great privilege, of being raised incorruptible and immortal. And to abound in the work of the Lord, always doing the Lord’s service, and obeying the Lord’s commands. May Christ give us faith, and increase our faith, that we may not only be safe, but joyful and triumphant.” Matthew Henry