The subject of death is very often an unpleasant topic. Most people would just as soon never have to think about it. Nevertheless, things like funerals and sicknesses tend to force one to give serious thought to the issue. There are many different ideas on just what death is. In recent years, there have been several movies offering scenarios of what death, and dying, might be like. Literature, both the classics and popular books, have also addressed the subject of death. In this article, we will look at what God’s Word says about death.
The Bible Speaks of Several Types of Death
The word ‘death’ shows up in the Bible with several different meanings. Some of these meanings are metaphors for different aspects of the spiritual life:
- The Bible speaks of the Christian being ‘dead to sin’ (Romans 6:2, 11, 7:6; Colossians 2:20; I Peter 2:24). This means that the Christian, empowered by the indwelling Holy Spirit is able to resist the temptation to sin. The forces that formerly would have overpowered him are no longer irresistible. Although he may stumble from time to time, the believer has been given the grace to never sin again, “No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it” (I Corinthians 10:13 ESV).
- The Bible also says that the Christian is ‘dead to self’ [must die to self] (cf. Matthew 16:24-25; Mark 8:34-35; Luke 9:23-24, 14:27, 17:33; John 12:25). The most basic definition of sin centers on humanity’s selfishness and self-centeredness. Therefore, being ‘dead to self’ signifies a release from the inherent tendency in man towards self-will. It is a companion metaphor to ‘dead to sin’ and it has the same basic meaning. Romans 6:11 says that the one who is ‘dead to self [sin]’ is now ‘alive to God in Christ Jesus’.
The two meanings of the word ‘death’ we will focus on in this article are ‘physical death’ and ‘spiritual death’. Many times, they are connected in the biblical record. Physical death is when our mortal bodies cease to function. Spiritual death is when our spirits are separated, temporarily or permanently, from the life-giving presence of God’s Holy Spirit. Adam and Eve experienced both types of death when they listened to the serpent and disobeyed God. Spiritual death was instantaneous and they began to die physically when their access to the tree of life was cut off (Genesis 3:22-24).
Neither Physical Nor Spiritual Death Was Part of God’s Creation
“And God saw everything that he had made, and behold, it was very good” (Genesis 1:31 ESV). Death was not part of God’s original creation. The Bible calls death an ‘enemy’:
The last enemy to be destroyed is death (I Corinthians 15:26 ESV).
It is reasonable to assume from the biblical record that, had Adam and Eve not sinned, they would have continued to live forever (Genesis 3:22). The biblical record indicates that man was intended to maintain the kind of relationship with God that would facilitate man never having to die. God presented man with a choice; he could continue to trust God or he could disobey God.
“And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)
As long as Adam and Eve were faithful to God, God provided them with source of life. However, if they disobeyed Him (sinned) they would be separated from that source. Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought both physical and spiritual death to humanity.
Everyone is Spiritually Dead Without Jesus
The Bible tells us that everyone is affected by the disobedience, often referred to as ‘The Fall’, of Adam and Eve.
Therefore, just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned...(Romans 5:12 ESV). It is a dangerous fallacy to believe that one is unaffected by the Fall, and therefore sinless, when this passage clearly says that no one is excluded from sin’s effects. Every person needs forgiveness and salvation that only comes from the Savior, Jesus Christ.
We are figuratively said to be ‘dead in sin. The apostle Paul, writing to the church in Ephesus, reminded them of what they were before they were saved, “And you were dead in the trespasses and sins…even when we were dead in our trespasses…” (Ephesians 2:1, 5 ESV). This is strong language concerning an unbeliever’s lost condition. The ‘dead’ cannot help themselves; they need help from an external source. That source is God, reaching out to a lost world through His Son, Jesus Christ.
Not only are unbelievers dead in sin, but they are already under condemnation; and will remain so if they continue to reject Jesus Christ, “…but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18 ESV).
After Death Comes Judgment
The biblical record is clear that God is going to judge every person, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (Hebrews 9:27 ESV). The news of judgment is good news for some, but bad news for others. Believers will be ushered into an eternity with God. There they will experience the kind of relationship that was only hinted at while here on earth. No heartache, no tears, the kind of existence for which we were created (cf. I Corinthians 15:35-55).
However, the news of God’s judgment should strike fear into the hearts of those who are in rebellion against Him. Eternal punishment, or the second death (cf. Revelation 2:11, 20:6, 14, 21:8), is the destination for those who reject Jesus. Jesus himself said about those who did not live for Him, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46 ESV). Even though both believers and non-believers exist after the death of their bodies, only believers will enjoy eternal life. Unbelievers will persist in a state separated from God. Their spiritual death will continue beyond the grave, except there will be no opportunity for repentance or salvation. The time for the unbeliever to turn to God is now. No one is guaranteed a next breath. One day it will be too late.
“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world…” (Acts 17:30-31 ESV).
Jesus Conquered Death
“For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive” (I Corinthians 15:21-22 ESV). Sin is the cause of both physical and spiritual death. The good news is that Jesus has overcome both of them. The moment we are saved, we receive spiritual life as we are forgiven of our sins and empowered to live a holy life. In addition, the hope of the future bodily resurrection promises us physical life once again, in a new body that will never die, at the end of this age.
The Bible also tells us that the minute one becomes a follower of Jesus, he or she is no longer under God’s judgment. ”There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1 ESV). Believers are no longer looked upon by God as “children of wrath” (Ephesians 2:3), but are now considered “children of God” (John 1:12; Romans 8:16, 21; I John 3:1, 5:2). Instead of fearing God’s judgment, the believer enjoys a close, loving, personal relationship with the Creator of the universe, from Whom all love originates.
Therefore, barring divine intervention, death will come to everyone. Unbelievers, who remain in their unbelief, have only judgment and condemnation as their destiny. However, the Christian has a completely different destiny to look forward to. For the believer, death is the beginning of a wonderful new existence with God. The death of our mortal bodies is simply the door through which we must pass to gain entrance into this heavenly realm.
Someday, Jesus will come back, with the believers who have already joined Him in heaven, for the believers still on earth, “…so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him” (Hebrews 9:28 ESV). Then we will be able to say with the apostle Paul,
“When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written:
“Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is your victory?
O death, where is your sting?” (I Corinthians 15:54-55 ESV)
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
“Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”
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