The Last Enemy
February 5th, 1956 @ 7:30 PM
1 Corinthians 15:24-34
THE LAST ENEMY
Dr. W. A. Criswell
1 Corinthians 15:24-34
2-5-56 7:30 p.m.
Now, the message tonight is a most meaningful one. We left off this morning at the twenty-third verse of the fifteenth chapter of First Corinthians. Now, we begin at the twenty-fourth, and the text is the twenty-sixth verse: First Corinthians, the fifteenth chapter, and the text is the twenty-sixth verse; and I’m going to read with it the fifty-fifth verse:
Then cometh the end, when Jesus shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father, when He shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
For He must reign till He hath put all enemies under His feet.
And the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
[1 Corinthians 15:24-26]
Now, that’s the text: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" [1 Corinthians 15:26].
Now, the verse in 54 and 55:
When this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: "Death is swallowed up in victory."
"O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?"
[1 Corinthians 15:54-55]
On some unfallen planet into whose bowers death had never entered from the lips of their holy inhabitants, I could imagine that this cry here in the fifty-fifth verse would create no astonishment. But here in this world where the sting of death is everywhere and where the grave has an illimitable and commanding victory, how could a man cry this cry, "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]
But, you see, it’s not the first skirmish in a war that is of consequence. The victory is decided by the final and ultimate battle, and that’s what Paul is looking forward to here in this chapter. Not now, but then, for some of these days, he says, that enemy shall be destroyed. And the words of my text: "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" [1 Corinthians 15:26].
Now, death is an enemy. He’s an alien. He’s an interloper. He was not in the original design when God created this infinite universe [Genesis 2:15-17], but he came in undesired and unwanted, unasked, unwelcome, unbidden [Genesis 3:4-6; Romans 5:12-14]. He’s a wolf that destroys and kills. He’s not a member of the flock of the Great and Good shepherd. He’s a lion that destroys the herds in the plain. He’s a scythe that cuts down the beautiful flowers. He’s the cold, bitter wind that buries the sear autumn leaves. He’s not – he’s not an original member of God’s plan in this world and this universe. He’s an enemy. He’s born that way. He’s the child of sin: ". . . for sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death" [James 1:15].
Another thing: he’s a universal enemy. He’s everywhere. "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55] Alas and alas, where is the sting of death not and where is the victory of the grave not? The sting of death is here and now, and the victory of the grave is everywhere. Even proud princes and mighty monarchs and the great heroes of the earth, they’re brothers to the worm [Hebrews 9:27]. The scepter and the spade are side by side.
I read this week an old Eastern legend. It was of a dervish – that’s a Moslem mendicant who takes vows of poverty and austerity. This dervish going through a certain land was overtaken in his journey by the night, and he turned into what he thought was an inn to spend the night. Really, it was the palace of the king; and in the nighttime, not knowing, he laid down himself to sleep.
The guards arrested him, and they took him into the royal presence. And the king, astonished by that unheard-of intrusion, said, "Why are you here? This is not an inn. This is the palace!"
And the dervish replied, "Sir, who lived within these walls before you did?"
And his majesty replied, "My father."
And the dervish says, "And who before your father?"
And he said, "His father."
And he said, "Who before his father?"
"Why, his father."
"And who before that father?"
The king replied, "A long list, a succession of illustrious ancestors."
"Well," said the dervish, "then I’m not mistaken. I’m right. I’m right. For any house that has as many inhabitants different as this house has had is not a palace; it’s an inn. It’s an inn."
That’s where you are. That’s where we are. No matter what the house – the succession of generations that live in it – you just occupy for a while, and that’s universal, I say. It’s not just the king. It’s not just a pauper. It is you, and it is I, and it is everyone. And there’s not any land – there’s not any field – without its graves, and there’s not any city without its cemeteries.
There’s not any old that do not face it. He has no regard for the cries of the aged, and he cuts down the good and the beautiful. There never was a Hun, there never was a Tartar, a Mongolian, there never was a Goth that slayed as mercilessly as does this pale horseman [Revelation 6:8]. He’s universal. He’s victorious everywhere.
Another thing about this enemy, this last enemy. He’s the most formidable of all the enemies of the world. Job calls him the king of terrors [Job 18:14]. These great men – the Belshazzars [Daniel 5:1-31] and the pharaohs [Exodus 1:1-14:31] and the mighty men of valor [Joshua 6:2] – they all turn ashen pale at his presence, and their joints are loosened and their knees smite together. In bondage the whole human race has been and is because of the fear of death, and that fear is rational and reasonable. All of us have cause to fear him. It’s only the madman – it’s only the man without reasoning and understanding – who would not be aghast at his awful presence for, I say, the most formidable enemy in all of this world is death himself.
For example, does power make an enemy formidable? Then how formidable is death? Take these books that you read in school and read about Napoleon, and read about the Caesar, and read about Alexander the Great. And there are their tremendous exploits. Then, turn the page. There’s his mausoleum. Go to that mausoleum and lift up the lid. My soul, how death doth mock the great and the mighty! The most formidable enemy is your most powerful enemy, and the most powerful enemy we have is death. Take the light out of the eyes, take speech from the tongue, take activity and labor from the hand – that’s death!
Does cruelty make an enemy formidable? There never were cruel and merciless conquerors but sometime could be appealed to for pity. Not so this enemy of death. His music is the wail of the orphan and the sob of the widow and the cry of the bereaved. Tears and lamentations and supplications move him not – cruel and ruthless and merciless: Joseph cried so over the death of his father, Jacob, that they called the place in Egypt "Abel-Mizraim" [Genesis 50:1-11]; David, following after his son: "My son, my son, would God I had died for thee" [2 Samuel 18:33]; or Rachel weeping for her children and would not be comforted because they are not [Jeremiah 31:15; Matthew 2:16-18]. That’s the music of death.
Does subtlety make an enemy formidable? Then how subtle and how formidable is death? He lurks everywhere. In the car that you ride, he’s there – on the train, on the airplane, in the street, in the bed. He lurks in the water that you drink, in the food that you eat. He’s everywhere: behind every door, in every house, down every street, in every country. There’s no fleeing away from him. Climb up to those highest Alps and there you’ll find him. Go down into the depths of the earth in the mines, and there you’ll find him. Death lurking everywhere.
Does illimitable and immeasurable and inevitable success and triumph, does that make an enemy formidable? Then how formidable is death? Every other conqueror in this world, somehow, somewhere, can be stayed. He never wins forever. And when he does conquer, he’s a predator of the brick and the stone and the buildings and what mankind has built. But not the victor we call death. When he rides and he rides and he rides, the Revelation says – and hell, the great fellow behind him [Revelation 6:8] – and he not only destroys what man has done, but he attacks man’s self. This most glorious of all God’s handiworks does he mock and trample into the dust. Every other victor and every other enemy we have stops at the grave, but not death. He enters the grave and he mangles the form. He corrupts it, and he feeds it to the worm.
The enemy: he’s an enemy, and he’s the last enemy. That is, he’s the ultimate enemy. I may overcome ten thousand foes, but I still have him to face. Rake after rake I may slay them and smite them, but somewhere, at an appointed time, in a field chosen by him, I must meet that last and ultimate and final enemy. The last enemy is death.
Now, this is the preaching of the Word. This is the announcement of the gospel of Christ: the last enemy that shall be destroyed! [1 Corinthians 15:26] Death is going to be destroyed! God is going to obliviate, take away forever and forever, our last and our final enemy, death [1 Corinthians 15:54].
Now, spiritually, he is destroyed already. He is destroyed in the Person and in the majesty and in the power of the Son of God. When the Lord lived in the days of His flesh, there died a little twelve-year-old girl, the daughter of a man named Jairus, and he came and pled with Jesus to come into his house [Mark 5:22-24; Luke 8:41-42]. And the Lord went into the home of Jairus, and He raised that twelve-year-old child from the dead [Mark 5:35-43; Luke 8:-56]. That’s our Lord. That’s God in Christ.
He saw a funeral procession passing by out of a little town called Nain, and a poor widow was weeping [Luke 7:11-12]. Her only son had died. He stopped the funeral procession [Luke 7:13-14]. He raised back to life and gave back to the bosom of his mother that boy that had died [Luke 7:15]. That’s Jesus our Savior! Lazarus in the tomb four days dead. Mingling His own tears with the tears of Lazarus’ sisters and He raised him from the dead [John 11:1-45]: that’s Jesus! When He was – when He was resurrected, there was resurrected with Him some of the saints who appeared in the holy city of Jerusalem [Matthew 27:52-53].
Already He has conquered spiritually. It’s in His hands. "O Death, where is thy sting? O Grave, where is thy victory?" [1 Corinthians 15:55] Jesus Christ went down into the realm of the grave, of the tomb, of the sepulcher, of death, and there He wrestled with our final enemy, and He broke the bounds and the bonds! It’s not anymore.
"The sting of death is sin" [1 Corinthians 15:56]. Sin weaves every shroud. Friends, sin shapes every casket and coffin. Sin digs every grave. Sin has a sting. That is, it has a penalty [Romans 6:23], but that penalty has been received in the body of the Son of God [1 Peter 2:24], and he doesn’t have a sting anymore! He looks like a dragon, but his sting is gone! [1 Corinthians 15:55] He looks like a lion, but his teeth are broken! Jesus Christ has taken away the sting of death, taken away the penalty of death [1 Corinthians 15:57], and now, death itself belongs to the realm of the Son of God [1 Corinthians 15:54]. The grave is in the kingdom of our Savior:
And I looked to see . . . and there was one like unto the Son of [Man].
And I fell at His feet as dead. And He laid His right hand upon me saying, "Fear not . . . I am He that was dead, and behold, I’m alive forevermore. And I have the keys of Hell and of Death."
"They’re in My hands. Death is mine," says Jesus Christ [Revelation 1:18]. You don’t have to be afraid any longer. No more. The sting is gone. The penalty’s gone. The triumph is gone. The victory of the grave is gone. Jesus has broken the bonds and the power of death.
But that’s not all. There’s something else. "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" [1 Corinthians 15:26]. Jesus is going to do something else, something else. The power’s broken now. The bonds are broken now. We just fall asleep in the kingdom of Jesus now, but there’s something else and other and over and beyond and beside. Some of these days, death itself is going to be abolished. It’s going to be destroyed – going to be taken completely away. There’s coming a time when there’ll be "no more sorrow, and no more crying and no more tears, and no more death for the old former things are passed away" [from Revelation 21:4] and death and hell are going to be cast into the bottomless pit, into the flame of fire, there to burn forever and ever! [Revelation 20:14] "The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death" [1 Corinthians 15:26].
But look at my text. He’s destroyed last, last – the last enemy destroyed last. Ah, you’re just like I am. You’re just like I am. We want him destroyed now. We want the victory now, and sometimes, some of us who are the most pious and prayerful and given to the faith of the Lord, we tremble at the pale horseman [Revelation 6:8]. And we think, "And I’m not a good Christian because my nature shudders at the thought of death and I withdraw, and I’m afraid and I tremble."
Ah, no. What you’re trying to do is overcome him now. What you’re trying to do is to destroy death now. No, he’s last. He’s last [1 Corinthians 15:26]. What we need now is living grace, and then when that time comes, dying grace will be given us [Psalm 23:4]. But that’s last. That’s last. Let’s take our foes as they come. Let’s smite our enemies as they arise. Let’s live our life, day at a time! [Matthew 6:34] Then, at the end – last – there’ll be grace given us to meet death [2 Timothy 4:6-8]. And then comes that final and ultimate end when we can shout: "O Grave, now where is thy victory? O Death, now where is thy sting?" [1 Corinthians 15:55]
Why, I thought they were questions. I started off saying they were questions. No, that’s a defiance! That’s a challenge! "Now, Death, where’s your sting?! Now, Grave, where’s your victory?!" [1 Corinthians 15:55] Those aren’t questions. Those are standing up, looking into his face! The victory’s ours. We’ve won it. We’ve won it by faith in Christ Jesus. Paul says in that passage I preached on in the third chapter of the first Corinthian letter – do you remember it – "All things are yours whether life or death" [From 1 Corinthians 3:21-22]. Death is yours. Death is yours. He’s yours. Do you remember the eighth chapter of Romans: "For I am persuaded that neither life nor death . . . shall be able to separate us from Christ Jesus our Lord?" [From Romans 8:38-39]
And then that great and final and ultimate day: the same voice that said, "Lazarus, come forth, come forth" [John 11:43] – that same glorious voice shall say, "And arise. And arise. And arise. And arise." And we shall live in His sight. This old earth will quake. These graves’ll be opened, these sepulchers torn asunder [John 5:25-29]. And where there’s death, there’s life. Where there’s weeping and sorrow, there’ll be gladness and rejoicing [Revelation 7:17, 21:4]. Where there’s bereavement and separation, there’ll be the glory, happy meeting with God and one another again [1 Corinthians 15:52; 1 Thessalonians 4:13-17].
That last enemy, death, shall be forever and ultimately destroyed – abolished [Isaiah 25:8-9; 1 Corinthians 15:26]: nothing but life and the glory of God in Christ Jesus [Revelation 21:1-22:5]. That’s the gospel. That’s the faith.
Now, let’s sing our song. Somebody you, give his heart to Jesus. Somebody you, put his life in the church. As the Lord shall say the word, as the Lord shall bid you come, would you make it now? Somebody you, anywhere: "I take Him tonight. I give Him my life tonight, put my life in His church." As the Lord should make the appeal, would you come? Would you do it now? Into the aisle and down here by me – would you come while all of us stand and while we sing?
I. Death, where is thy sting? Grave,
where is thy victory?
some unfallen planet where death has never entered, this language would create
no astonishment(1 Corinthians 15:55)
what a question to utter here
Paul looking forward to last battle, beyond what we see(1 Corinthians 15:26)
An enemy, an alien, interloper – not in original design
legend, the dervish
formidable enemy(Job 18:14)
A reasonable fear
makes an enemy formidable – death mocks the mighty
Cruelty makes an enemy formidable – death inexorable
Subtlety makes an enemy formidable – death lurks everywhere
illimitable success makes an enemy formidable – death tramples into dust
The last and ultimate enemy
enemy to be forever and finally destroyed
Spiritually destroyed already
a. Christ Jesus is
Himself Lord of life, King over death
Sting, penalty of death taken away in Christ’s death(Revelation 1:13, 17-18)
be destroyed last