By Randy Blackaby
Do you fear death? Perhaps all of us do to some degree. However, a dread fear of that common facet we all will share shows a weakness in Christians. Such fear can show a lack of faith and understanding of what death means to a Christian. Physically, death’s definition remains a mystery. Students of medicine still question the immediate point when life leaves our body. Once thought to be when the heart stops pumping and later tied to brain function, recent medical discoveries show it is less than simple to determine. The Bible, however, though not pinpointing this medical quandary, tells us when a person is dead. James said, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” James’ point concerned faith and works but in explaining that he shows that life is gone when the soul or spirit departs from the body.
The origin of death is traceable to the first chapters of the Bible where Adam and Eve transgressed God’s singularly simple legislation regarding the fruit of the tree in the midst of the Garden. He said they would surely die. Paul added, “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). The writer makes clear that death is a fact common to us all, a happening that must be faced because of our sins.
Even Christ, in assuming the body of a human, suffered death for sin (not His own sin but for ours). “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that hath the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who though fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14, 15).
That bondage again is a reference to sin, which has caused our required physical deaths and also our spiritual deaths, if sin continues unabated and unforgiven. Christ’s death was like ours, yet ‘he overcame physical death to set the precedent and the means for us to overcome the second death, referred to in Revelation, which is spiritual death.
If a Christian has such a terrible fear of death that he fears to even discuss the subject, he fails the test of faith. The writer of Hebrews noted Christ’s death and resurrection were for the purpose of destroying Satan’s power-not physical death, for it remains-but the fear of death which keeps men is bondage for a lifetime.
Lest we think it is impossible to face death without fear, the Bible gives us examples of men who calmly and righteously watched the moment approach with all godliness of attitude and action. In the Old Testament, David stands as such an example. The account of impending departure from this life is recorded in 1 Kings 2:1-11. David did not fear death. He said to his son, Solomon, “I go the way of all the earth. . . ,” possibly quoting the Death words of Joshua, who is recorded to have said, “And, behold, this day I am going the way of all the earth: and ye know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one thing hath failed of all the good things which the Lord your God spake concerning you; . . .”
As David’s words indicated a calm acceptance of what he understood happens to all men, it is supported by God’s own words. In Gen. 3:19, God said, “In the sweat of thy face shah thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it writ thou taken: for dust thou art and unto dust shalt thou return.” Those are not inspiring words for sinners but remains a fact. David understood. That is what helped him be strong even when his body was so weak it would not stay warm.
David’s understanding of death and its implications, even in a time when God’s full plan of redemption was yet a mystery, is revealed in his psalms. One in particular notices that, “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his saints” (Psa. 116:15). Even if David lacked an appreciation, because of lacking knowledge, of eternal reward, he knew death was God’s plan and not something to be dreaded. David was a man who lived in the midst of death, brushed with it often and was delivered, often miraculously. We can learn from him to be mindful of death’s uncertain coming. It is important not to dread death but likewise important to keep knowledge of its implications in a handy place in our minds.
When he saw his physical condition evidencing his approaching departure, David did not cry or withdraw from life. He prepared. It was no last minute attempt to clean up a sinful life but a putting in order of his house and kingdom. With the power that a king’s words on his deathbed would elicit, he exhorted Solomon to walk in the ways of the Lord.
He instructed his son to carry through promises made, to clear up matters of administering justice in the kingdom and warned of potential problems that only the wisdom of years and experience could tell. He used his last days profitably, not just for himself but for others. He saw to it his debts, whether of gratitude or others, were paid.
In the New Testament we find another example. It is in the life and teaching of the apostle Paul. His discussion in Phil. 1:20-24 stands as a model of faith. There Paul speaks of being “in a strait betwixt two,” the desire to live and serve the Lord longer and his desire to die and reap the rewards of his labor. For the apostle, unlike David, the future was much clearer. He had a genuine desire to depart, not simply to escape the harshness of a first century preacher’s life, but in expectation of heaven.
A simple lesson Paul teaches from this passage is in his readiness for either eventuality. Ready to magnify Christ in his life and teachings, which he realized would benefit others, he was prepared and willing to do so. Yet, he was prepared also if life left him. This is the key principle-being ready to live, or to die.
Paul’s calmness in contemplating death is explained further in his teaching. He says, “But as it is written, Eye hath not seen nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him” (1 Cor. 2:9). While like us, Paul thought of what his death would take from loved ones, he was ever cognizant of God’s superior promises. And, if like David, we set our house in order and instruct our children to be righteous, the transition from this life to the next is yet made easier.
A student of God’s word realizes that death is a blessing of God. It is an end to labor, temptation, disease, sorrow, all the things that sin introduced to our lives. A place with God in heaven means what the writer of Revelation described this way: “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away” (Rev. 21:4).
But a few people are able to contemplate death as a blessing, or like Paul, to determine that death was the better course if he considered only his personal well-being. Few can say as Paul, “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 me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6-8).
The ultimate question of this study is: Are you ready to die? Are you prepared like David and Paul? If not, an effort needs to be made to strengthen faith in the promises of God. Christ died to eliminate the necessity of a saved believer fearing the realities of death and existence beyond the grave. Paul wrote in 1 Cor. 15:53-57, “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, 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.”
Truth Magazine XXIII: 17, pp. 283-284
April 26, 1979