The Last Enemy

One of the more interesting narratives associated with the recent pandemic of Coronavirus/COVID-19 is the approach of labeling it as a war with the virus serving as the targeted enemy.  While on the surface, we may perhaps understand what is meant by this terminology, it also indicates an underlying error leaving one to wonder who or what the real enemy is. 

It is somewhat odd to identify an enemy that is unseen and inanimate, and among scientists even questionably alive, all the while the effects from it are easily felt and seen. However, this seems to be the approach that is being freely taken with respect to the virus.  Maybe this language is meant to “rally the troops”.  Or maybe it’s a way to focus resources.  Regardless, it has been termed an enemy and we’ve made the declaration that we will be victorious over it.  Yet, what is the measure of victory?  How can one determine if the “war” against a virus has been won?  Is it a certain number of cases or deaths?  What is an acceptable level and who makes that determination?  Parallels may be drawn with another battle or war against an unseen or inanimate enemy, namely death.  With all of the discussions going on, I can’t help but wonder if what we are really fighting against is the inevitability of death.  While the narrative, “We’ve got to save lives” is a noble one, it misses the point that God is the Author and Sustainer of life; and death, because of sin, is an inevitable fact.  Scripture declares that this enemy is the last one to be destroyed and the death of death was, is, and will be only secured by Almighty Christ. In 1 Corinthians 15:22-28 we read the following:
22 For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.  23 But each in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, then at his coming those who belong to Christ. 24 Then comes the end, when he delivers the kingdom to God the Father after destroying every rule and authority and power. 25 For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy to be destroyed is death. 27 “For God has put all things in subjection under his feet.” But when it says, “all things are put in subjection,” it is plain that he is excepted who put all things in subjection under him. 28 When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him,that God may be all in all.”

1 Corinthians 15:22-28
As we have studied elsewhere, verse 22 (and those immediately preceding it) frame for us the origination of sin through mankind’s universal union with Adam, while contrasting it with the particularity of life for those in union with Christ.  Following this, verse 23 and 24 supply a timeline of events for bringing life (resurrection) to all those who have been united with Christ in His death.  Here we see specifically that Christ is the firstfruits of that harvest, followed by those who belong to Christ at His second coming (parousia).  By this declaration we learn immediately that death is not the end, rather it is the beginning of everlasting life.  Subsequent to this, in verse 24, we read what sounds like a culmination of events, then comes the end, which is marked by the destruction of every rule and authority and power, then the deliverance of the kingdom to God the Father.  As some commentators have pointed out, these terms of a trio of control were often used in Jewish expressions as a reference to demons.  A similar phrase is used in Ephesians 6:12 and Colossians 1:16.  Essentially, what we have described in this passage is the reign of Christ as King between His own resurrection and the resurrection of believers – then, the destruction of His enemies, followed by the handing over of the Kingdom to the Father, thereby perfectly completing the work that He had been given. After setting the context, we move now to the subject of this post, found in verse 25 and 26.  In these verses, the inspired author returns to comment on the previously mentioned period of Christ’s reign, He must reign, followed by further comment on the conclusion of this reign, until, He puts all enemies under His feet.  Rather than simply repeating himself, Paul here is reemphasizing points he has already made through the use of a literary device known as a chiasm.  By using this, it narrows the focus to a particular point and highlights supporting thoughts.  Examining this structure we find that the central point of the chiasm is verse 26, “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” In order to build up to this, the passage makes allusion to Psalm 110:1, though here it is phrased differently
The Lord says to my Lord, ‘Sit at my right hand until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet.’ Psalm 110:1
This use of this most commonly quoted OT passage in the NT clearly establishes and supports the concept for the duration of Christ’s reign reaching its eschatological conclusion at the conquering of all powers and authority – described as enemies.  As the passage transitions into verse 26, we find further definition of the enemies, now to include death, which is called the last enemy. At the cross, our Lord died for our sins.  He died because sin had entered into the world which He had created (John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:2).  He died to redeem a people for Himself from slavery to sin, restore in them the image of God, and reconcile their relationship with the Father.  At the cross, it appeared to those who were witnesses and likely to every rule and authority and power, that death had claimed yet another victim.  But, death did not have the final word.  Our Lord rose victoriously on the third day, thereby defeating death.  He took His throne at the right hand of the Father, ushering in the inauguration of His reign as King and let us not forget His session as the Great High Priest.  Death was defeated by the Son of God.  Now, as we learned in our passage above, at His return, death for all those united to Him will likewise be defeated.  Death, this last enemy will no longer have a stronghold on humanity, and specifically all those who have repented of their sins and placed their grace-given faith in Christ will be resurrected victoriously over death.  Fast forward to 1 Corinthians 15:54-57 and is it any wonder Paul can quote Hosea in such a way that sounds like a triumphant song,
“Death is swallowed up in victory.”     O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law.  But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. 1 Corinthians 15:54-57
There is a war going on, an unseen war, but it is not an arbitrary war against a virus.  We are not in a battle to save humanity from the inevitability of death.  That battle has already been fought and won.  The problem is that humanity, as a whole, is unable to see the temporary nature of this life; unable to see beyond into eternity.  Therefore, their only hope is this life and they will make all efforts to hold onto it.  Fear of entering the unknown, and fear of standing before the One to Whom they must give account will cause man to spend all of his riches to hold onto what no one apart from Christ has been able to defeat, death. Let us conclude with a final word from the Scriptures “Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain.” 1 Cor. 15:58    Soli Deo Gloria

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Christian saved by grace through faith.

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