By Gary Ray Branscome
The words, Do not fear those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell, tell us that our existence does not end with physical death (Matthew ). And, the words, It is better for you to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than to be cast into hell fire having two eyes: Where their worm does not die, and the fire is never put out, tell us that there will be no end to the suffering of those in hell (Mark 9:47-48).
Through the words, The hour is coming, in which all who are in the graves will hear His [Christs] voice, And will come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of damnation, Christ tells us that even though the bodies of the dead return to dust, they will rise to face Gods eternal judgment (John 5:28-29). The words of Daniel, Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt, teach the same thing (Daniel 12:2).
The words, You fool, your soul will be required from you tonight: then who will own the things you have prepared? tell us that physical death takes place when the soul is separated from the body (Luke ). The same doctrine is also taught in the words, Jesus, having cried again with a loud voice, yielded up His spirit, (Matthew 27:50). And, in the words, When He had received the vinegar, Jesus said, It is finished: and He bowed His head, and gave up the ghost, (John ).
The Death of a Believer
The words, Then Abraham gave up the ghost, and died at a good old age, an old man, and full of years; and was gathered to His people, portray the death of a believer as a reunion with those who have gone before (Genesis 25:8 see also verse 17). The words, Let your servant now depart in peace, tell us that there is no terror associated with the death of a believer (Luke ). The words, The righteous dies, and no one cares: kind men are swept away, and no one realizes that the righteous is taken away from the evil to come. He will enter into peace, tell us that those who die in faith are delivered from the the evil to come (Isaiah 57:1-2). The words, The girl is not dead, but asleep, describe death as a sleep (Matthew ). However, the words, To be absent from the body, and present with the Lord, tell us that it is the body not the soul that is being described as asleep (2Corinthians 5:8). [See also 1Thessolonians -14.] For a believer, death is the gateway into eternal life (John ).
The Death of an Unbeliever
On the other hand, the words, Woe to that man by whom the Son of man is betrayed! it would have been better for that man if he had not been born, portray the death of the wicked and unbelieving in terms of horror and dread (Matthew 26:24). The same goes for the words, Where their worm does not die, and the fire is never put out (Mark ). As it is written, It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Hebrews ).
The Reason Death is in the World
The words, In the day that you eat of it you will surely die, and the words, Just as sin entered the world by one man, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, because all have sinned, tell us that death is not in the world because God created it that way, but because of sin (Genesis 2:17; Romans 5:12). As it is written, The wages of sin is death, (Romans ).
Because death came into the world as a result of sin, all instrumental causes of death such as murder, disease, storms, famines, floods and war are only in the world because of sin. And, the world rightly fears all of those things, and should be calling on God for deliverance. However, the words, What shall separate us from the love of Christ? tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? As it is written, For your sake we are killed all the day long; we are accounted as sheep for the slaughter. Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him that loved us, tell us that as believers we have nothing to fear (Romans -37). I am not saying that such things are not unpleasant, or that we should desire them. But, the words, All things work together for good for those who love God, for those who are the called according to His purpose, assure us that all that happens works together for our good in Christ Jesus.
As Christians we must constantly remember that death is only in the world as the wages of sin (Romans ). Those who deny that death is a punishment for sin cannot rightly understand or properly appreciate Christs atoning death on the cross. In fact, those who deny what the Bible says about sin being the sole cause of death quite consistently also deny Christs vicarious atonement.
The Sentence of Death
The words, Death passed upon all men, because all have sinned, tell us that all of the descendants of Adam are under the sentence of death (Romans ). Those words as well as the words, The wages of sin is death, also tell us that if infants were not sinners they would never die of natural causes, and that every attempt by man to find a cure for death will end in failure. However, the words, Jesus Christ, who has abolished death, and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, and the words, If a man keeps my word, he will never see death, tell us that there is one way in which sinful man can be freed from death, and that is through faith in Christ (2Timothy 1:10; John 8:51). And, Christs promise to all who believe is, I am the resurrection, and the life: he who believes in me will yet live, even though he is dead: And whoever lives and believes in me will never die (John -26).
The fact that we are freed from death through faith in Christ raises the question: Why then must believers also die? And, the Scriptural answer to that question is that we who believe are also sinners according to the flesh. So even for believers, The wages of sin is death, (Romans ). However, the words, O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who has given us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ, tell us that for a believer death is not joined with a sense of divine wrath (1Corinthians -57). On the contrary, through faith we have assurance of Gods mercy and forgiveness. And, the words, I do not want you to be ignorant concerning those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do those who have no hope. For as we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring those who have fallen asleep in Jesus with him, describe the death of the believer as a blessed sleep (1Thessalonians 4:13-14). However, the words of Stephen, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit, remind us again that it is the body, not the soul, that is described as being asleep (Acts ). For to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord, (2Corinthians 5:8). And, to be with the Lord is to be in paradise (Luke ; 2Corinthians 12:4; revelation 2:7).
The words, He who believes on Him is not condemned, tell us that there is no condemnation for those who trust in Christ (John ). Even though we were, dead in trespasses and sins and by nature the children of wrath, God has raised us up together with Him [Christ] (Ephesians 2:1,3; Colossians -13). And, having risen with Christ, // the second death has no power over us (Colossians 3:1; Revelation 20:6 and 14). Therefore, temporal death holds no terror for us. As it is written, Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on: Yes, says the Spirit, that they may rest from their labor (Revelation )