Since the beginning of time and throughout the world in every corner of civilization a common picture is found. Scattered on hills and mountains and filling the valleys of earth scenes of memorials declare the lives of the countless millions who walked as mortals but now repose in the shadow of death. Markers bear the names and dates of a life lived and concluded in the arms of mortality. Millions more lie undiscovered through the ages as death reigns among the legions of men. The apostle Paul reminds humanity that “death spread to all men” (Romans 5:12) and from the pen of the Hebrew scholar comes the declarative cry that “it is appointed for men to die” (Hebrews 9:27).
Death is a common part of life that no one has ever escaped regardless of age, gender, wealth, power or fame. George Herbert said, “Old men go to death; death comes to young men” (Jacula Prudentum 1651) declaring the uncertainty of death to all ages. A man does not choose to be born and he cannot dismiss the call of death. The frailty of life is summed up as a “vapor” in James 4:14. The first man Adam lived a remarkable 930 years and had a descendent who lived 969 years called Methuselah (Genesis 5:5,27). The lesson of Genesis 5 is the oft repeated phrase “and he died.” Living over nine hundred years means nothing because death came to them all.
The spirit of death is portrayed as dark and menacing with evil intent and purpose. A cloaked image of a skulled being carrying a sickle brings fear and torment to the imaginations of men who paint the presence of death of horrific and full of dread. This comes from the mystery of death and how overwhelming the touch of death invades the lives of all men and buries them deep within an ocean of despair. The finality of death cannot be reconciled in man’s wisdom. Throughout the centuries philosophy attempts to encapsulate the borders of death and dying into a realm of understanding and falls short of explaining its nature to man. Death cannot be understood in the halls of man’s wisdom. He builds great pyramids to embrace a false hope of an afterlife and finds nothing more than dust and corruption. Marble edifices dot the landscape that fade in time to a distant memory.
To understand death one must understand life. The Creator of life is the only one who can help the creation see the mortality of his existence. Death does not happen because the body ceases to function. The end of life comes because the Creator of life has determined the habitation of creation with limitations. Death is designed in the cords of life as birth is the beginning. When God formed the man from the dust of the ground and created the woman from the side of man He ordained the body at that moment to be mortal. Death is not a mystery. “And out of the ground the Lord God made every tree grow that is pleasant to the sight and good for food. The tree of life was also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil” (Genesis 2:9). The tree of life was taken from man “lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever” (Genesis 3:22). Paul shows that death came as a consequence of sin (Romans 5:12).
The Bible is the only book that explains the nature of life and death. With the exception of Enoch (Genesis 5:24; Hebrews 11:5) and Elijah (2 Kings 2) all have suffered at the hands of death – including Jesus Christ. Many died and were resurrected (2 Kings 13:21; Matthew 10:8; Hebrews 11:35) but only one died and was raised to never die again. “Which He worked in Christ when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places” (Ephesians 1:20). The death of Jesus was in the fashion of all men and He went to Hades where he lay in the bosom of Abraham. It was the third day that everything changed. “Now when they had fulfilled all that was written concerning Him, they took Him down from the tree and laid Him in a tomb. But God raised Him from the dead” (Acts 13:29-30). Death has always been for man a final departure and without understanding. The resurrection of Jesus takes away the finality of death and completely fills the void of understanding with the love of His Father.
Through the sacrifice of Jesus and the power of God to raise Him from the dead, man has the answer to death. “’Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your sting? O hades, where is your victory?’ The sting of death is sin, and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Corinthians 15:54b-57). Because of God’s love there remains no longer a fear of death and the world of death (Hades) will no longer have dominion over man. “For if by the one man’s offense death reigned through the one, much more those who receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness will reign in life through the One, Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). What a joy to know that death is not a horrible and unknown beast filling us with fear. “Death would be terrifying if there were not alongside it, resplendent immortality” (Adrien-Emanuel Roquette, 1882).
All men must die and whether accepted or not it is a reality (save the coming of the Lord Jesus). Our loved ones will die and our friends will suffer the pains of death. The world is still held under the sway of bereavement with wails of sorrow and remorse in the separation death brings. For the child of God death is not a finality but a beginning of an eternal presence with the Father. Francis of Sales wrote, “We must die! These words are hard, but they are followed by a great happiness: it is in order to be with God that we die” (1567-1622). The greatest joy we share as promised children of the covenant of God is the knowledge that death also is mortal. The mortality that we fear has its own mortality. “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” (1 Corinthians 15:20-26).
Death is our enemy but Jesus Christ has conquered death and conquers death every day the world exists. There is coming a day when the enemy of life will be destroyed and will never inflict its sting upon man. “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Revelation 20:14). Victory! Overcoming! Finality! Destruction! Death is no more. Praise God He takes away the fear of death. “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him” (Romans 6:8-9).