54b"Death has been swallowed up in victory." 55 "Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" 56 The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.” (1 Cor 15:54b-56 NRSV)
We preterists know that “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” This occurred at Christ’s Second Coming in AD70 when He destroyed old Jerusalem. But what significance does that have for us today?
We know that “sin came into the world through one man, and death came through sin, and so death spread to all because all have sinned” (Romans 5:12). This one man, Adam, introduced death to the mass of humanity, through no choice of their own. Some would argue that they had a choice, but that is not indicated in the text of scripture. The context points out that death reigned from Adam to Moses, even though the Law had not been given during that time. But through Moses came the Law. In Romans 5:13, it says, “sin was indeed in the world before the law, but sin is not reckoned when there is no law.”
Paul further describes the result like this:
7 What then should we say? That the law is sin? By no means! Yet, if it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, "You shall not covet." 8 But sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, produced in me all kinds of covetousness. Apart from the law sin lies dead. 9 I was once alive apart from the law, but when the commandment came, sin revived 10 and I died, and the very commandment that promised life proved to be death to me. 11 For sin, seizing an opportunity in the commandment, deceived me and through it killed me. (Rom 7:7-11 NRSV)
In this we know that the sting of death is sin. Sin resulted in death indiscriminately. Death’s sting is removed when sin is eliminated. But, man could not choose life, for whoever was guilty of breaking one commandment was guilty of the entire law. All it took was one infraction, and death was the result. Therefore, as it says in the scripture, “all died” because “all sinned”.
The opening scripture makes a tremendous claim of the law. While Paul again and again tells his first century audience that the Law is good, he does not hesitate to point out that it was the Law that brought the consciousness of sin, and thus death. Paul’s plea in Romans 7 was “o wretched man that I am, who will save me from this body of death?” The body of death he spoke of was the “body of Moses”, and it was Jesus, and his death, burial, resurrection, and second coming in AD70 that saved us from it.
But the question that most of us don’t seem to know the answer to is: “How comprehensive was God’s grace?” Necessary to answering this question is to answer the question of how comprehensive death was? Did it extend to all men?
Some may object that if man died through the Law, then what about those non-Jews who were not “under the Law”. Paul makes it clear that if a man who is not under the Law does the works of the Law, he is justified by those works. This would imply that if he did not keep that Law, he would experience the kind of death spoken of in the scriptures – spiritual death, separation from God. All humanity was separated from God in death, although their sins were not held against them, since there was no law.
But if all sinned, and all died, does the Law indeed have anything to do with that? The opening scriptures state that “the power of sin is the Law”. Is anyone besides me here seeing a connection? Death reigned, and when the commandment came, it brought death. Man was unable to please God, even when trying to be good.
Jesus told his followers that he came to fulfill the Law, not to destroy it. Yet, how was Jesus going to destroy death, as is stated in the 1 Cor 15 scripture quoted above, but leave the Law intact? The Law was what brought death. Part of the problem in the understanding here has to do with the English words chosen to translate the Greek words in the text. When Jesus said that he was not going to destroy the Law, he used the word kataluo, which means to “disintegrate”. But when Paul says that Jesus would destroy death, he uses the wordkatargeo, which means “to render useless”. And this is what Jesus did in AD70: he destroyed, rendered useless, the Law. With the destruction of the Law, sin was rendered powerless, and death was destroyed. Death was dead.
We are living in the post-Parousia (Second Coming) world of what some call “The Messianic Age”, or “The Age of Grace”. It would also rightly be termed, “The Post-Death Age”. But if we are post-death; if death has been rendered useless and the Law no longer condemns, what is it that Jesus “saves” us from today? Death is dead. All who were dead in Adam, are made alive in Christ. This is the completion of the promise.
While the firstfruits (the believers before Jesus’ Second Coming) had a specific purpose in the first century, through which that purpose was fulfilled through faith, today’s people have a different purpose. Our good news that we share is no longer “live lives pleasing to God”, but “God is pleased with you, live in that reality”. Is it not ironic that the more religion preaches how much God does not like us, and how much we are failing to keep his Law, the more the society sinks into the depths of despair? This must change.
Death is dead. Jesus has brought life. It is imperative that we get that message out. All people should live in that reality, for death is dead. It is nullified. It has been destroyed. Glory be to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.
By Ed Burley