When we talk about someone’s life, we frame his life in this world around the twin poles of death and life. One powerful representation of these twin poles is Gustav Klimit’s 1916 painting Death and Life. On one side of the painting is a collection of human beings wrapped in a tapestry. The colors are bright and hopeful; one’s eye is drawn immediately to a baby who sits in the center of the collection—life in all its potency.
On the other side of the painting is a skull holding what appears to be a bone or death rattle; the rest of the skeleton’s body is wrapped in a dark cloth of crosses. The skull leers at those who have life—a symbol of death in all its reality and power.
The message of the painting? Death and life stand together—even as we enjoy life in all its possibility, death stands to the side as the great enemy, the one who claims his victory, the one who will sting and harm us all.
Why is this the case? How did this happen that death became the great enemy of humankind? 1 Corinthians 15:22 tells us: “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” What does it mean, “In Adam all die”? The two words in Adam take us back to the garden of Eden; Adam’s disobedience was not for himself only, but for all his posterity after him.
The result is that “in Adam, all die.” Genesis 5 reports with the drumbeat refrain, “So and so lived for so long, and then he died.” No one escapes death because no one escapes sin: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23). Death is only natural in that it is the natural result of being born in Adam; it is the continued sting of sin and continued threat against human life.
But the good news of that verse is that there is a comma, not a period. “As in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.” In Christ, there is life. How does someone come to be in Christ? We believe in Him, trust Him, belong to Him (1 Cor 15:23). As we receive Jesus and rest in Him alone for our salvation, we are united to Him in such a way that God sees us in Him.
What is the result? We shall be made alive. Not just the spiritual part of us—our immaterial parts that we often call our “souls”—but our bodies—our physical parts—shall be as well. All those who are “in Christ” will be raised from the dead, physically, literally, at the last day.
That gives us cause to shout and sing, to rail at death itself: “Death is swallowed up in victory! O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” (1 Cor 15:54–55). Though death may leer at us, we can mock him—because God has given us and will give victory over death through our Lord Jesus Christ. Thanks be to God.