The Last Enemy That Will Be Destroyed Is Death

In the seventh and final novel of the Harry Potter series, one of the pivotal moments of the plot occurs when Harry Potter and Hermoine Granger go to Godric’s Hollow and find the tomb of Harry’s parents, which has on it the following scriptural quote:  “ The last enemy that will be destroyed is death,” taken from 1 Corinthians 15:26 [1].  Upon seeing this epitaph, Harry Potter becomes obsessed with the question of the guarantee of eternal life that can be be found in the titular Deathly Hallows, and nearly derails the quest for destroying the Horcruxes so that the perversion of eternal life that Lord Voldemort has can be ended.  It is perhaps little to be wondered that Harry Potter did not understand the significance of this biblical verse, for he had not been raised up with any knowledge of or familiarity with scriptural exegesis or Christian religion.  And for all of her book knowledge, Hermoine Granger is equally ignorant about such matters, since the truths of God cannot be found in the textbooks for any Hogwarts classes, for all of the love of history and tradition that fictional educational institution has.  That said, we do know that this scriptural citation was not meaningless, for it occurs at a pivotal moment and J.K. Rowling herself happens to be a liberal Christian for whom the message of the passage is undoubtedly important.

What does the enigmatic statement of 1 Corinthians 15:26 have to do with the death of Harry Potter’s parents in that fictional series, and what point was J.K. Rowling (apparently unsuccessfully) trying to get across by using this scriptural reference?  As is often the case in the Bible, the point is more clear when we look at the context, specifically 1 Corinthians 15:12-26:  “Now if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead?  But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty.  Yes, and we are found false witnesses of God, because we have testified of God that He raised up Christ, whom He did not raise up—if in fact the dead do not rise.  For if the dead do not rise, then Christ is not risen.  And if Christ is not risen, your faith is futile; you are still in your sins!  Then also those who have fallen asleep in Christ have perished.  If in this life only we have hope in Christ, we are of all men the most pitiable.  But now Christ is risen from the dead, and has become the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep.  For since by man came death, by Man also came the resurrection of the dead.  For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive.  But each one in his own order: Christ the firstfruits, afterward those who are Christ’s at His coming.  Then comes the end, when He delivers the kingdom to God the Father, when He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power.  For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet.  The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.”

From this we can see that the enigmatic statement that the last enemy that will be destroyed is death is a reminder of the cosmic importance of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Indeed, we may safely see 1 Corinthians 15:26 as bearing a strong relationship with that most familiar of Gospel verses, John 3:16:  “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”  While John 3:16 focuses on the aspect of sacrifice in both God and Jesus Christ in having Jesus’ life given as a substitutionary payment for the sins of all mankind, 1 Corinthians 15:26 and its immediate context are about the repercussions of the resurrection of Jesus Christ as being the first among a series of resurrections that are to bring that everlasting life to those who believe and follow Christ Jesus.  Indeed, both the sacrifice of Jesus Christ on the cross and the resurrection of Jesus from the grave three days and three nights later are essential for believers to receive eternal life.  Without the death of Jesus Christ, we would still be in our sins and would be subject to the death penalty for those sins, and without the resurrection of Jesus Christ, death would not be under the death sentence itself, for Jesus’ own victory of death is necessary for the rest of us to have a future victory over death ourselves.

And from this we can understand what J.K. Rowling was trying to get across through her citation of 1 Corinthians 15:26.  After all, Harry Potter’s life was due to the sacrifice of his mother as an infant, as the love of the mother for her son protected him from the killing curse that Lord Voldemort put on him.  Harry’s use of the resurrection stone shortly before walking to his own self-sacrificial death in the Forbidden Forest gave him the courage to face his own (potential) death to destroy the last piece of soul that Voldemort had accidentally placed in him at that moment when his killing curse rebounded upon him.  Some theologically inclined readers have noted the similarities between Harry Potter as a self-sacrificial figure and Jesus Christ, and these similarities are likely not accidental, even if J.K. Rowling is not a particularly good example of someone whose beliefs and practices are in line with the biblical standard.  In Harry Potter, as in the Bible, life is sometimes the result of death, and sometimes what appears to be a terrible defeat is in fact a glorious victory.  This is a subtle point, and a difficult one for people to relate to, and it is noteworthy that J.K. Rowling sought to use a (very rare) scriptural citation in her novel as a way of conveying that truth to her readers.

I wonder how many of J.K. Rowling’s readers understood this connection.  I also wonder how many readers of the Bible understand the ramifications of this passage as well.  After all, the power of God over death is connected with the authority of God and Jesus Christ to judge mankind.  Death is destroyed when all power and all authority on this earth that is in opposition and rebellion to God’s authority has also been destroyed, and when all mankind that has ever lived has bowed to those in the Family of God either willingly or unwillingly and has been subject to eternal judgment.  The reality of eternal life, and therefore the temporary phenomenon of death for humanity, and the reality of divine judgment are thus combined and amount to two sides of the same coin.  On the plus side, those whose sins are paid for by the blood of Jesus Christ and who gain eternal life by having Christ’s perfect righteousness imputed to them enjoy eternal life.  Phrased negatively, this granting of eternal life to those who repent and believe means that death will be destroyed because it ultimately has no power over believers.  But how many people are ready to repent and accept the authority of God to define right and wrong and to enforce those standards upon humanity here and now, before we face Him in judgment?

[1] It should be noted that this particular essay is one of a series that relates biblical truths to the fiction of the Harry Potter series.  See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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