Death is like someone passing through a curtain opening to a world unknown. In general, people are afraid of the unknown. Stories of judgment and punishment loom large in the minds of those who will surely die. Without a Savior, it is a perfectly rational response to fear death. The Bible is very clear, “And in as much as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment (Heb 9:27).” Knowing that Christ Jesus has been appointed the Judge of the living and the dead (2 Tim 4:1; 1 Pet 4:5), He declares, “My judgment is just (Jn 5:30b).” The judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10) is the judgment seat of God (Rom 14:10), who is the Judge of all (Heb 12:23).
The events of the Day of Judgment were taught on the Mount of Olives, by Jesus (Mt 24–25; Mk 13; Lk 21). First, no one knows when Jesus is coming again to judge; but a day has been appointed for God to judge the world in righteousness, through His appointed man, Christ Jesus (Acts 17:31). Second, the angels will gather the elect. Third, a separation of sheep (righteous) and goats (unrighteous), from all nations, will occur (Mt 25:32). The goats on His left will hear, “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41)…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life (Mt 25:46).” Death is the doorway to just judgment, before a holy and offended God. Unbelievers should be afraid…very afraid.
Hell is eternal. Eternal death, eternal judgment, eternal bonds, eternal fire, eternal punishment, eternal home, eternal destruction, hell, fiery hell, unquenchable fire, pits of darkness, second death, lake of fire are some of the terms the Bible uses to describe the eternal dwelling of the unrighteous ones. The Bible is very clear that this is for the great majority of people in the world. Ask any number of people in the world, today, and few, if any, would identify this eternal home as their own. This proves how much of humanity is deluded and deceived by Satan (2 Cor 4:4).
Death is assessed in the Bible, as the last enemy (1 Cor 15:26). Death has its origin in the Garden of Eden, where God warned Adam and Eve of the consequence of disobedience. God spoke the Word of truth, regarding the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Our first parents had never experienced death, so they were not fearful of the consequences to their sin. They experienced their first taste of death in the fall of Creation. They experienced a severe spiritual separation from God, and their bodies began to die. The spiritual death of the soul could only be reconciled to God through animal, blood sacrifice, as a temporary solution. This type of atonement would later be permanently established, in the one-time blood sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, on the Cross of Calvary.
Because all people are born with the inherited sin of Adam (original sin), all are born into the world, spiritually dead (Eph 2:1). Spiritual death obviously persists through the life span of most people. At the point of carnal death, the body and soul of the person is united in death. The judgment of God comes, following the resurrection of the dead bodies and reunion with dead souls. Therefore, eternal punishment is both in body and soul. Jesus clearly affirmed this in the real account of the Rich Man and Lazarus, the Beggar (Lk 16:19). The rich man died and went to hell, where he was tormented incessantly. He pleaded for Lazarus to come and quench his agony. There was no possibility of relief because of the great chasm that separated hell from Abraham’s bosom (heaven). There is no salvation after death.
The natural man is oblivious to his being spiritually dead in trespasses and sins. The reason he is so dull about an eternity of punishment from God, is that he does not believe the biblical account of these realities. Only one who has been born again of the Spirit of God (1 Pet 1:3) — he that is spiritual (1 Cor 2:15) — can understand the truth of total depravity (Gen 6:5; Rom 3:10–12; 8:7; 1 Cor 2:14; Eph 2:1–3).
Life in the Spirit of Christ can only be established, as a work of God, spiritually resurrecting the soul from spiritual deadness. This is called, “regeneration (Jn 3:1–8; Eph 2:5; Col 2:13).” God has chosen a people before Creation, and He has appointed a time for their regeneration, during their physical lives. For some this is appointed during childhood, and for others, it occurs in adulthood. Regeneration occurs according to the will of God and not all people are chosen for regeneration.
When a soul has been resurrected from the dead (new birth), the doctrine of the resurrection of the body (1 Cor 15) is believed by the one born, spiritually. In fact, an evidence of conversion to Christ is one’s belief in the whole Bible and all of the doctrines found therein. This includes what the Bible teaches about death. Natural man is aware of the death of the body, and he concocts schemes to explain what happens when a person dies in the body. Maybe the person ceases to exist. Maybe the soul heads for purgatory. Maybe hell is experienced for a time, before the body and soul are annihilated. Speculations abound, but the Bible is clear on the teaching of death and its everlasting consequences.
The Law of God exposes sin (1 Cor 15:56), and the wages of sin is death (Rom 6:23). Death is the antithesis of life, and as noted, it is our enemy. Death separates. The first death is the body, and the second death is the body and soul into eternal damnation in the lake of fire (Rev 2:11; 20:14). Technically, it is death and Hades being thrown into the lake of fire, but hell includes the souls of un-redeemed sinners.
Death of the body is visible to us. It often comes as a result of elongated illness or disease. Sometimes it visits with great violence in war, accidents, or natural disasters. Cain, the first murderer, was warned that sin was crouching at the door, and we can see death was also near. Men, who intentionally cause the death of others, have little concern for the value God places on life. This is why murderers are excluded from heaven (Rev 22:15) and consigned to the lake of fire (Rev 21:8). If death comes with such anguish and consequences, men should fear dying and causing death.
When the apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in southern Greece, he wrote jubilantly about the issue of death (1 Cor 15; 2 Cor 4–5). The same conclusion could be drawn from his letter to the Philippians (1:21–23). If death is such a solemn issue, then Paul must have understood something about death, beyond what most people know. His sentiment almost taunted death, as he quoted the prophet Hosea (13:14), “Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting (1 Cor 15:54d-55).”
Jesus Christ defeated death at the Cross of Calvary, evidenced through His burial and resurrection (1 Cor 15:3–4). Death has not yet been abolished, however (1 Cor 15:26), but some have overcome sin and death. God has given His people victory over death, through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:57). This victory is our faith in Christ, who has overcome the world, causing us to become overcomers, too (1 Jn 5:4). Jesus overcame death, proved by His resurrection from the dead. He is the first fruits of those who are dead, but who shall be made alive in Christ (1 Cor 15:20, 22). It has already happened for Christ (1 Cor 15:23), who was raised with a glorified body, and it will happen for those who were made alive in the Spirit, and who will be resurrected in the body at His coming (2nd Advent).
Paul’s confidence in God’s providence, pertaining to the apostle’s life and death, was expressed to the church at Philippi, while Paul was imprisoned in Rome, under the shadow of death, “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake (Phil 1:21–24).” To die is gain is a most remarkable statement. Paul had received a glimpse behind the curtain of death, and behind the veil was the third heaven, where Christ reigns in glorious Paradise (2 Cor 12:1–6). The cure for the fear of death is a vision of eternal heaven.
Church history offers a fascinating study of persecuted martyrs, who suffered for their faith in Christ. Many of their final words, and even sermons from the burning stake, are recorded. What is scintillating in these accounts, is the martyr’s bold confidence, of his imminent departure to be with Christ. One must consider observers of such magnificent displays of grace, offering more pity to the witnesses than to the victim of persecution. Glorious home-goings, by Gospel professors, leave others in the state of this fallen world. It is a stunning juxtaposition, a notable paradox. Men do everything they can to avoid death, but Christians yearn for relief from the pangs of life, in this hostile world that is not their home. Pilgrims are ever ready for rest in Paradise.
Fearless in the face of death, our enemy, shows the mark of the true believer. The sins of God’s people lead them to the Cross, where Christ has died in our place (1 Pet 2:24). Our sins are forgiven, and there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus (Rom 8:1). There is nothing to fear from our God, who has demonstrated His love toward us that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8). We have died with Him in our baptism (Rom 6), and our life is hidden with Christ in God (Col 3:3). We were dead in sin (spiritually dead), but now we have been made alive in Christ (spiritually). As a result, we are now dead to sin (Rom 6:2, 11) because Christ died to sin (Rom 6:10), once for all of His people, and we are in Christ. Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ (Rom 8:35), including death (Rom 8:38).
Why no fear in death? We have considered a number of reasons. First, God has done something regarding death. Second, acceptable, substitutionary sacrifices foreshadowed the permanent solution to death. Third, Jesus Christ came into the world, to defeat death at the Cross, where the cause of death, sin, was dealt with in perfect sufficiency. Fourth, the resurrection of Jesus Christ proves that God is reconciled to man, through the redemptive work of Jesus Christ. Fifth, the regeneration by the Holy Spirit in God’s elect, grants them life in Christ, resurrecting their souls, first, and anticipates the resurrection of their bodies, by the promise of the first fruit, Jesus Christ, raised bodily from the dead. Sixth, if Christ has overcome death, and we are in Christ, then we have overcome death, by faith in Him. Seventh, we can join the apostle Paul in living with no fear in death.
My dear reader, has the fear of death been removed from your heart and mind? Examine yourself regarding this test of the Spirit. The Spirit-filled believer hates this world, and longs for the day of her departure to return home to her Father in heaven. Is that you? Or do you labor to prevent and avoid death? Death is your enemy and destiny, if you have not been conjoined in Christ’s victory over death. Victorious believers are those who have been baptized into Christ, by the Holy Spirit. Do you have the Holy Spirit affirming these truths to give you the confidence of a martyr? O victory in Jesus! No guilt in life, no fear in death!
David E. Norczyk
Spokane Valley, Washington
November 30, 2020