Resurrection is good news for us because it affirms that death does not have the final say. Just as death was not the last word for Christ, death is not the last word for believers. Because Jesus is the firstfruits of the resurrection of the dead, all who trust in Him alone will also be resurrected at His return. If we die before then, we will live consciously in heaven while our physical bodies lie in the grave. But when the final trumpet sounds, our bodies will be raised and glorified, and our spirits will be reunited with them. On that day, everything will be as God originally made it to be. In fact, it will be better because decay and death will never again enter creation (1 Cor. 15:1–52; Rev. 21:1–22:5; see Phil. 1:23).
Paul tells us in today’s passage that the resurrection on the last day will fulfill the prophecy of Isaiah 25 that death will be swallowed up forever (1 Cor. 15:53–55). Death, after all, is the final enemy that Christ will defeat (v. 26). In any case, the citation of Isaiah indicates that God’s people have been looking forward to resurrection and to the end of death for millennia.
After the reference to Isaiah, Paul alludes to Hosea 13:14 in what may be seen as a mockery of death (1 Cor. 15:55). Basically, he is pointing out that death no longer has any power to strike fear in the hearts of believers. Although we may rightly not wish for the physical pain associated with death, death itself cannot finally hurt the Christian. Paul expands on this point in verses 56–57 to explain why death has no victory or sting, presenting a very concise form of his teaching on the work of Christ and the law that appears in a more extended form in Romans 7 and Galatians 3. The sting of death comes from sin, for death exists only because sin warrants death. And the power of sin is the law because our fallen natures take God’s good law and twist it into something that encourages us to break it. Yet Christ, in His death and resurrection, has removed death as the penalty for sin for Christians and has set us free from sin and from enslavement to the law as something that condemns us and that is used to incite even more sin. We have the victory because we have been moved from being in Adam to being in Christ, where we receive power to love and obey God. Puritan commentator Matthew Henry writes: “Christ, by dying, has taken out this sting. He has made atonement for sin; he has obtained remission of it. It may hiss therefore, but it cannot hurt.”