1 Corinthians 15:25-26 “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
When I was in grade school, someone gave me a model of the Battleship Missouri to build. In the box was a picture of the signing of the terms of surrender that brought WW II to an official end. Members of the Japanese delegation are dressed in their dress uniforms, or even suits with top hats. They stand dignified at the table quietly signing the documents. Though they were signing terms of unconditional surrender, there is no trace of humiliation apparent from the old photograph. Their emperor Hirohito retained his life and his title, continuing as a symbolic leader of Japan until 1989, forty-five years after the surrender.
Contrast that picture of those defeated with the one here. Ancient kings stood on the necks of their defeated enemies, literally putting them under their feet, usually before having them executed. For the ancients it communicated to people on both side the absolute powerlessness of those who lost. It signaled the utter end of their resistance, unconditional surrender. Jesus rules until he achieves just this end–all his enemies absolutely powerless, unable ever to raise any opposition, unconditional surrender.
Do you see why Jesus does not stop short of such an end? Our life in this world has been a struggle. It is a struggle caused by great opposing powers. Every physical pain we suffer, every indication that we are slowly aging toward death, is the result of the first sin introduced to our first parents by the devil. Every strained relationship in which we are involved–every broken friendship or disintegrating marriage–is the result of clashing sinful natures, unable to lay aside self to serve and love.
And how often isn’t the world right there throwing gasoline on the fire? If the devil, the world, or our own sinful nature continued on in any capacity after the Last Day, could heaven possibly be heaven? So long as some vestige of these defeated dominions might rise to power and authority again, could eternity possibly be secure? Jesus secures unconditional surrender from his enemies so that he might truly be king. Then heaven can provide all the freedom and joy he has promised. Then our faith can be confident the world to come will not be a repeat of the sin and heartache we know now.
For all of this to be so, there is one last enemy Jesus must destroy. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Contrary to a growing body of opinion, death is not your friend. Death is an enemy. That’s what the Bible says. I read a humorous and imaginary interview with death in a magazine once. Death said that it was trying to remake its image. It didn’t want to be seen as scary, gloomy, or depressing anymore. It was getting a new wardrobe, taking up some new interests, apologizing for some of its past bad behavior. Sometimes it seems like death has actually hired a marketing firm to fix its broken reputation. People champion the “right to die,” as though you had to be afraid that somehow you might miss out on the opportunity. Believe me, you don’t have to fear that you are not going to die. It’s going to happen. Sometimes death is advertised as part of the great “circle of life,” as oxymoronic as such a statement is. Becoming dinner for something else on the food chain is not a part of living. It is the end of living. Death is not your friend. It’s your enemy, because it is the enemy of Jesus.
Sometimes even Christians become a confused about this. Christians don’t live in fear of death, not because death isn’t scary, but because we can overcome fear with faith. We believe that Jesus’ own death and resurrection have defeated death. We believe that death opens up the door to the life to come. That doesn’t make death itself your friend. You wouldn’t want to take it with you to heaven. It is still the wages of sin. It still takes some people away before we have the chance to lead them to faith. It still creates pain and loneliness. It still deprives us of the love and presence of friends and parents and siblings, and sometimes even children, if only temporarily. Death doesn’t play nice.
But Jesus rules until the end, when he will destroy even this enemy: death. Already his saving work at the cross and in our hearts has placed in us a new life death can’t touch. Already he has transformed death from a permanent and incurable condition to a temporary one. Soon, his rule will banish death from existence altogether, and everything he set out to do for us will be complete. That is Jesus’ end, his goal, his purpose.
Then the end will come. Then begins a new life that knows no end.