1 Corinthians 15:26
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
1. Death is represented in Scripture under very different, aspects; at one time he is the king of terrors — at another a slave; now in full possession of all his power — and then spoiled and abolished. In one place you will find the inspired writer speaking of it as a gainful thing to die, whilst in another he seems to shrink from dissolution. There is no great difficulty in understanding why these opposite representations should thus be given. If he still reign, it is by sufferance, no longer by right, as a minister employed by God in the effecting certain purposes, and not as a ruler exercising undisputed supremacy.
2. But whilst there is this variety we may safely say that death is never represented as desirable in itself. Death may, in some sense, be made to perform towards us the part of a friend; but, nevertheless, death is never set before us in Scripture as a friend, but invariably as an enemy. It came into the world with sin, constituting the burden of the curse which sin had provoked; and though, through the interference of Christ, provision has been made for the complete removal of the curse, death still retains so much of its original character that it cannot be regarded as anything but a foe. Consider —
I. WITH WHAT JUSTICE DEATH IS STYLED AN ENEMY.
1. Coming into households and filling them with mourning, marring the might and withering the beauty of man, snatching away the wise in the midst of their searchings after knowledge, and the useful ere they have half perfected their benevolent plans, what enemy is so destructive as death? What conqueror ever made such ravages? Whose progress ever caused so much terror? Witness the tears of orphans and widows; witness the rapid pains which attend the taking down of the "earthly house of this tabernacle"; witness the dishonours of the grave. And if we consider that death sends the immortal part to the judgment-seat of God, cutting off all opportunities for repentance, no language can exaggerate this enemy's office.
2. But death is an enemy even to the righteous. Is it nothing that the soul has to go alone into the invisible world, without that body, through whose organs it has seen and heard and gathered in knowledge while a sojourner below? We do not dispute that the soul will have great enjoyment in the separate state. The saint has exchanged labour for repose, danger for security; but in making the exchange he has laid aside his weapons as well as his anxieties, and must rest in comparative inactivity till the voice of the Son of Man revivify his lost members. Then count it not strange that we suppose the souls of the buried saints crying out like those which St. John saw beneath the altar. "How long, O Lord, how long?" These souls do not feel that every enemy is yet trampled under foot, though they do feel the final conquest to be as certain as though already were the last foe annihilated.
II. WHY IS THE DESTRUCTION OF THIS ENEMY DEFERRED?
1. Certainly this does seem strange. We cannot but feel that so complete was the victory won by the Redeemer that death might have been at once annihilated. The original curse was exhausted when that sinless One who made Himself our substitute expired on the Cross, and it would only be allowing the consequences of Christ's work to take immediate and continued effect, had He been the last human being who died. We know that numbers are to be living on the earth at the time of Christ's second appearing, and that these are to escape death altogether, and to become instantaneously what they would have been had they undergone dissolution, and we may certainly learn from this that there might be universally the "swallowing up of mortality in life."
2. And it is very interesting to consider why this is not the case. Were it so —
(1) Men would still have to live a period of probation; but the difference would be, that when the period of probation came to a close, there would be no intermediate state. The righteous and unrighteous would disappear altogether from the scene, the one entering immediately body and soul into heaven, the other into hell. But now there is something so humiliating about death and the grave, something which so demonstrates the evil of sin, that we feel as though it would be to take from us what is most wholesome and instructive to substitute the process of translation for the process of dissolution. It is hardly possible now to put away altogether some such thought as this — What must sin be, which could bring such a doom on a creature that was made in the likeness of God!
(2) There would be no resurrection, and a resurrection is just that article of faith which lays a vast demand on our submissiveness and belief. We can afford to spare nothing which tends to show the nature of transgression or to lead us to the simply taking the Almighty at His word.
(3) Survivors would miss much comfort, and be liable to great errors. We appear not to have lost all connection with the dead, so long as we have their graves. And over and above all this the vanishing away of matter would be very likely to induce a persuasion that man was actually annihilated, or give rise to theories as to the nonentity of matter.
(4) There could be no general resurrection, and of all the wonderful proofs of Divine almightiness, probably none is to be compared with this: and this besides will constitute the majestic triumph of Christ. He who was a "Man of sorrows" and refused a resting-place shall speak the word and bid Himself be attended as a conqueror by multitudes. And shall we doubt that the spirits of the righteous in the separate state thankfully forego the being advanced at once to their summit of happiness, inasmuch as the delay is to contribute to the splendour of His final manifestation.
(H. Melvill, B.D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.