By Mike Willis
We grimly face the reality of death. One who has died has “gone the way of all the earth”; the “silver cord” is loosed; the “golden bowl” is broken, the “pitcher” is broken at the fountain, the “wheel” is broken at the cistern, “the dust” has returned to the earth as it was and the spirit has returned to God who gave it (Ecc. 12:6-7). As we contemplate one’s passing we grapple with death and observe these truths.
The Reality of Death
1. Death is in the world because of sin. The Bible reveals that death came into this world because of Adam and Eve’s transgression in the Garden of Eden. Paul said, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom, 5:12). We are reminded of the reality of sin and death. “It is appointed unto man once to die” (Heb. 9:27). “To everything there is a season, and a time to every purpose under the sun: a time to be born, and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:1-2).
Death is certain for every man. “There is no man that hath power over the spirit to retain the spirit; neither hath he power in the day of death” (Eccl. 8:8). The psalmist asked the rhetorical question, “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?” (89:48)
2. Death has man under its power. In the face of the possibility of death, David said, “The terrors of death are fallen upon me” (Psa. 55:4). The author of Hebrews confessed that they “through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14). This is the reason that a doctor’s diagnosis of “cancer” strikes fear in the heart of man.
3. Earth life can involve so much suffering that death is a relief. There are some things worse than death. Job was in so much misery that he cursed the day of his birth and prayed to die. He asked, “Wherefore is light given to him that is in misery, and life unto the bitter in soul; who long for death, but it cometh not; and dig for it more than for hid treasures” (3:20-21). Like Job, many sufferings become so intense that the prolonging of life just lengthens suffering and death relieves one from his suffering. Such a person is in a similar condition as Job who said, “When I lie down, I say, When shall I arise, and the night be gone? And I am full of tossings to and fro unto the dawning of the day. My flesh is clothed with worms and clods of dust; my skin is broken, and become loathsome” (7:4-5). Lamenting man’s frailty, Job said, “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble. He cometh forth like a flower, and is cut down: he fleeth also as a shadow, and continueth not” (14:1-2). There are some things worse than death.
The Darkness of Death
Death which comes to all men is clothed in darkness. Upon death, man passes from this life, never to be seen again. Earth life is over at death (Eccl. 9:4; Psa. 146:4). Men of every generation must cope with the fact of death. Whether one believes in God or is an atheist, whether one believes in Christ or rejects him as a false teacher, whether one lives for the moment or prepares for eternity, death is a fact of life. Men must cope with the fact of death. Death is not a problem for Christians alone; it is a problem for all of mankind. However, in the face of death, Christians find reason for hope which those who reject Christ do not have.
To atheists and other infidels, death is not only the end of earth life, it is the end of all life. Death is the termination of all existence. Nothing survives the death of the body. Unbelievers face death with no hope for the future of any sort. They can only speak of a “living memory” or the dead person “living” in those who remain because he has touched their lives. There is nothing beyond this to comfort those who reject the revelation of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament era, what occurred at and beyond death was shrouded in darkness. The realm of the dead in the Old Testament was known as Sheol. It was “the grave . . . the unseen world, the state or abode of the dead.”
Glimpses of Life After Death in the Old Testament
Despite gloomy descriptions of death, occasionally the curtains of revelation were briefly opened to Old Testament saints, giving them a glimpse of life beyond the grave.
For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth: and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes shall behold and not another; though my reins be consumed within me (Job 19:25-27).
As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness (Psa. 17:15).
But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me (Psa. 49:15).
Though shalt guide me with thy counsel, and afterward receive me to glory (Psa. 73:24).
The wicked is driven away in his wickedness: but the righteous hath hope in his death (Prov. 14:32).
Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it (Eccl. 12:7).
No doubt the Old Testament saints pondered these passages and longed for more knowledge of what lay for man beyond the grave.
Jesus Brought Life and Immortality to Light
When Jesus Christ came, he “brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). He revealed to us in greater detail what happens to the wicked and righteous at death, told us what awaits us in the future, and gave reason for hope in the dismal hour of death.
1. The soul survives the death of the body (Matt. 10:28; 2 Cor. 5:1-4; Phil. 1:21-24). The soul continues to be conscious of what is occurring both on earth and in the place where it is placed. The soul is able to enjoy bliss or suffer punishment after death.
2. There is a separation of the wicked and righteous in death (Lk. 16:19-31). Jesus told of the death of the rich man and Lazarus. The wicked rich man went to a place of torment, a place where the flames of his punishment were so intense that the small amount of liquid which clings to a finger dipped in water would bring him relief. On the other hand, righteous Lazarus was taken to the bosom of Abraham where he found relief from the sufferings of earth life.
3. The righteous go to be in thepresence of God at death. Contemplating death, Paul said, “I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better; nevertheless to abide in the flesh is more needful for you” (Phil. 1:23-24). For the Christian, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). We take comfort in the knowledge that a brother who is now absent from the body has gone to be with the Lord, relieved from all of the suffering associated with his disease.
4. There will be a general resurrection of the dead. Both the righteous and wicked dead will be raised, reunited in body and spirit. Jesus said, “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation” (Jn. 5:28-29).
The resurrection of all men is guaranteed by the power and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus claimed, “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (Jn. 11:25-26); to prove his claim Jesus raised Lazarus, his friend who had been dead four days, from the dead.
Jesus’ own bodily resurrection is the first fruit of the dead (1 Cor. 15:20), the guarantee that the rest of us shall also be raised from the dead (Acts 17:30). Jesus has promised to come again, at which time the dead shall be raised and we who are alive at his coming will join them to forever be with the Lord. Paul wrote the following to the Thessalonians:
For I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
At death, we gather to face the reality of death, fully aware that we are placing a corruptible, mortal, natural body in the grave, but fully convinced that “it is sown in corruption; it is raised in incorruption: it is sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness; it is raised in power: it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body” (1 Cor. 15:42-43).
Even in the face of death, we have hope. “Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:54-57).
Paul asked, “Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” (Rom. 8:35). He responded that not even death can separate us from Christ and his love. We take comfort in the knowledge that a brother who has passed from this life and is now in the presence of the Lord will one day have the body which is laid in the grave raised from the dead and reunited with his spirit.
5. There is victory in death. Man’s purpose on earth is to “fear God and keep his commandments” (Eccl. 12:13-14). A brother who has “died in the Lord” (Rev. 14:13), having spent his years of life faithful to the Lord and having died in full possession of his faith in Jesus, has won a victory through Jesus. Such a man has overcome the temptations of the devil, the attacks on his soul, maintaining his faith in God to the end. Listen to these precious promises which God has given to those who overcome:
To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God (Rev. 2:7).
I am not the judge of my brother. I cannot decide his eternal destiny. Only God can do that. However, I can know that he had faith in Jesus and devoted his life to his obedience. Based on this knowledge, I find reason for comfort and hope in the hour of death that he has won the victory over sin and has the living hope for “an inheritance” which is “incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time” (1 Pet. 1:4-5).
Be thou faithful unto death, I will give thee a crown of life . . . . He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death (Rev. 2:10-11).
To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it (Rev. 2:17).
And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations: and he shall rule them with a rod of iron; as the vessels of a potter shall they be broken to shivers: even as I received of my Father. And I will give him the morning star (Rev. 2:26-28).
He that overcometh the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before the angels (Rev. 3:5).
He that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name (Rev. 3:12).
To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne (Rev. 3:21).
A person who dies in Christ does not live longer than his faith. Some people outlive their faith, living many years after their faith has died in disobedience to God and facing an eternity of damnation at their death. Not so with a faithful Christian. His faith remained intact to the end. He has lived his life, triumphant over sin and death through the grace of God manifested in Jesus Christ our Lord.
A faithful Christians can join the apostle Paul in describing his confidence in the face of death by saying,
For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
Our hearts are heavy in sorrow when a faithful Christian dies. We have lost a brother and friend to death. But do not misjudge our tears to be the sorrow of them who have no hope. We cry because of our loss, not that of our brother, for his death was a gain to him, leaving the pain and agony of his diseased body to go to the with God.
Guardian of Truth XXXIII: 4, pp. 98, 117-118
February 16, 1989