The gospel holds our pain in tension with God’s promises. It permits honesty in the face of grief yet assurance that God will resolve our sorrow one day. We still wait for death’s final defeat. Until then, its sting runs deep. Yet the empty tomb of our risen king declares that the sting won’t last forever.
Perhaps you’re familiar with these hopeful and defiant questions: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?” You may have sung them on Easter Sunday to revel in Jesus’ triumph and deliver death a lyrical one-two punch. Or maybe you have stood silent as others around you sang victoriously—you believe that Jesus overcame death’s power, but you have felt defeated by death’s pain.
Whatever your experience is with these questions, they reverberate with hope. Jesus conquered the grave. The tomb is empty. We’ve been set free.
But could our taunting of death be premature?
Context matters. When we learn to read the Bible as it is—not merely as an archive of lyrics for happy songs—we may find our most cherished verses to provide even deeper hope than we imagined.
These rhetorical questions come from 1 Corinthians 15, one of the most important chapters in your Bible. Some believers were saying Christ did not rise. So Paul realigns their history and theology.
If there is no resurrection then we have some serious issues: preaching is pointless (1 Cor 15:14), faith is worthless (1 Cor 15:14), we’re still in our sin (1 Cor 15:17), and the dead have perished forever (1 Cor 15:18). If Jesus did not rise then we have no hope beyond the grave and Christians are “of all people most to be pitied” (1 Cor 15:19). So we should just party hard until we die (1 Cor 15:32).
Christian faith rests entirely on Jesus’ resurrection. If it did not happen, we are magnificent fools. But Paul establishes the historical fact of the resurrection, verified by hundreds of eyewitness accounts (1 Cor 15:1-11). The empty tomb changes everything.
Jesus’ resurrection reverses the curse of sin. Death is mere sleep for those who are in Christ—just as he rose, so will we (1 Cor 15:20-22). We will exchange our broken frames for glorious bodies (1 Cor 15:35-49). Jesus’ resurrection means life has purpose—what we do matters. Instead of indulging every craving, we ought to live holy lives (1 Cor 15:34) driven by the grace of Jesus’ victory (1 Cor 15:57). Preaching the gospel is not pointless, but is “of first importance” (1 Cor 15:3). So we should “always [be] abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord your labor is not in vain” (1 Cor 15:58).
This brings us to our refrain of questions, which occur in Paul’s crescendo at the chapter’s end.