Death

God’s plan of salvation included a provision for everyone to be reconciled to him through the death of his son Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). In order for there to be a level playing field, God provided salvation by grace, as a free gift, so that no one would be left out. Paul stated, “Therefore we conclude that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law” (Romans 3:28). Paul’s comparison of the wages of sin to God’s free gift of salvation showed that there was no logical reason why a person should choose to live a life of sin. He stated, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). The Greek word translated death, thanatos “has the basic meaning of separation of the soul (the spiritual part of man) from the body (the material part), the latter ceasing to function and turning to dust…Death is the opposite of life; it never denotes nonexistence. As spiritual life is conscious existence in communion with God, so spiritual death is conscious existence in separation from God” (G2288).

Paul used the analogy of a woman that was freed from the law of marriage by the death of her husband to explain how a believer is dead to sin as a result of receiving God’s free gift of salvation. Paul stated, “But now we are delivered from the law, that being dead wherein we were held; that we should serve in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter” (Romans 7:6). Paul’s primary concern was that believer’s understand that freedom from sin was something that had to be dealt with apart from the sinner’s justification by faith. Although the guilt of sin is removed instantaneously when a person is born again, the desire to commit sin does not go away. Paul admitted, “I do not understand myself. I want to do what is right but I do not do it. Instead, I do the very thing I hate” (Romans 7:15, NLV). The Apostle Paul, who is considered by most to be a model Christian wasn’t exempt from the natural human tendency to rebel against God. His description of the believer’s struggle to overcome sin (Romans 7:13-25) is thought by some to be a personal testimony to the weakness of his flesh.

Paul suggested that sin is a powerful force that operates in believers and unbelievers alike. He argued, “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me. I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me” (Romans 7:20-21). Rather than giving believers an excuse to commit sin, Paul’s identification of the sin nature that dwells in everyone was most likely meant to explain why Christian’s are not made perfect when they are reconciled to God. Paul stated, “For we know that the law is spiritual: but I am carnal, sold under sin” (Romans 7:15:14). The point Paul was trying to make was that his human body or flesh was still subject to sin as evidenced by the physical death he would eventually experience. It was only his spirit that was regenerated when he accepted Christ. Paul stated, “But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members” (Romans 7:23). It seems likely that Paul was thinking of his own physical death when he exclaimed, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” (Romans 7:24).

Transformation

Paul talked about the death of believers’ physical bodies in the context of moving to a new home. He said, “For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” (2 Corinthians 5:1, ESV). Paul continued his discussion of the believers’ transformation by explaining to the Corinthians how the transformation process takes place. Paul described life after death as being clothed with immortality and said, “For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven: if so be that being clothed we shall not be found naked” (2 Corinthians 5:2-3). Paul’s idea that we will put on our eternal bodies like a new set of clothes may have come from his understanding of spiritual transformation. The Greek word Paul used that is translated clothed, enduo comes from the two words en which has to do with a fixed position (G1722) and dumi which means “to sink into” and is used of the “setting” of the sun. In Paul’s time, “the sun, moon and stars were conceived as sinking into the sea when they set” (G1416). Paul might have been thinking about the fact that when the sun sets, we can’t see it, but it still physically exists and will return at an appointed time.

Paul made it clear that our heavenly bodies are not the same as our earthly bodies. He said, Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold all things are become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17). Paul’s comparison of old things and new things was probably meant to explain the change in material structure that would be necessary for a human body to go from a temporal to an eternal existence. Paul went on to say, “Now all things are of God, who has reconciled us to Himself through Jesus Christ, and has given us the ministry of reconciliation, that is, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not imputing their trespasses to them, and has committed to us the word of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:18-19, NKJV). The Greek word translated reconciliation, katallage (kat-al-lag-ay’) means to exchange (G2643). What I believe Paul was talking about here was the exchange of our old bodies for one like Christ’s. In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul talked about the church collectively as the body of Christ and indicated we are all members or particular parts of Christ’s body (1 Corinthians 12:12). When believers get to heaven, it appears that all the parts get put together so that a single unit exists instead of the individual pieces our human bodies now represent.

One of the keys to understanding the transformation that takes place when a believer’s body and spirit are separated from each other at death is the process God uses to reconcile us to himself. The Greek word translated reconciling and reconciled in 2 Corinthians 5:18-19 is katallasso which means “to change mutually” (G2644). What Paul was saying was that the sum total of the propitiation of everyone’s sins to Christ’s account of righteousness will result in a balanced account. In other words, there will be no discrepancies when we all get put together, somewhat like a completed puzzle that has no missing pieces. On the day we received salvation, Paul said we were given the Holy Spirit as an earnest or down payment on the heavenly bodies we receive when we die (2 Corinthians 5:5). At the time of our death, a transaction takes place that Paul described as being absent from the body and present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:8). What I believe happens is that we leave our physical bodies behind and take on a new appearance that reflects our place in the body of Christ; one that is completely suited to the work we have been designed for in God’s eternal kingdom and one that fits perfectly with the spiritual schema that was developed during our lifetime on earth.

Lazarus

Lazarus was the only man outside of Jesus’ intimate circle of disciples that was referred to as his friend. Because of their personal relationship, it says in John 11:3, “Therefore his sisters sent unto him saying, Lord, behold, he whom thou lovest is sick.” The Greek word translated lovest, phileo (fil-eh´-o) means to “have affection for (denoting personal attachment, as a matter of sentiment or feeling)” (G5368). Jesus’ attachment to Lazarus may have been a result of them spending a lot of time together, but it could also be that Jesus’ feelings stemmed from his compassion toward this man’s unfortunate circumstances. Lazarus lived in the town of Bethany, a short distance from Jerusalem where the cost of living was likely very high. There is no indication that Lazarus was married or had any other family members besides his two sisters Martha and Mary, who also appeared to be unmarried. It is possible Lazarus was about the same age as Jesus and had never been married because he was too poor to support a family.

When Jesus heard that Lazarus was sick, he told his disciples, “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God might be glorified thereby” (John 11:4). The Greek terms translated glory and glorified have to do with the reputation Jesus gained through his self-manifestation (G1391/1392). In other words, how people interpreted his actions. It says in John 11:5-6, “Now Jesus loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. When he had heard therefore that he was sick, he abode two days still in the same place where he was.” Jesus’ reaction to the situation showed that he was in complete control of his behavior in spite of his feelings about what was going on. Jesus knew Lazarus was already dead (John 11:14), therefore, he refrained from going to Jerusalem because it wasn’t necessary for him to be there right away. The problem was that Jesus’ presence in the city would have ignited the wrath of the Jews that had already tried to stone him (John 10:31). He may have avoided this by waiting to go to Bethany until after Lazarus’ burial.

The key to understanding Jesus’ decision to go to Bethany in spite of the danger that awaited him was his determination to do the will of his Father. We know it was God’s will for Jesus to raise Lazarus from the dead because he stated “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God” (John 11:4), but in order for him to do God’s will, Jesus had to put his own life at risk. Jesus’ motivation for doing what was expected of him was likely the love he felt for not only Lazarus, but also for his sisters Martha and Mary. When John stated that Jesus loved Martha, Mary, and Lazarus (John 11:5), he wasn’t talking about the same kind of love that Martha and Mary identified when they asked Jesus to come to Bethany (John 11:2). John used the Greek word agapao (ag-ap-ah´-o)which is an expression of God’s love. “In respect of agapao as used of God, it expresses the deep and constant love and interest of a perfect Being towards entirely unworthy objects, producing and fostering a reverential love in them towards the Giver, a practical love towards those who are partakers of the same, and a desire to help others seek the Giver” (G25).

Jesus’ disciples expected him to be killed when he returned to the area in and around Jerusalem (John 11:16). Their trip toward Jerusalem had already been filled with numerous warnings of Jesus’ imminent death (Matthew 20:18, Mark 10:33). When Jesus told his disciples that Lazarus was dead, he added, “And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, to the intent ye may believe; nevertheless let us go unto him” (John 11:15). Jesus’ miracle of raising Lazarus from the dead was likely meant to be a preview of his own resurrection in order to demonstrate his power over the grave. Jesus wanted his disciples and everyone else to know that he had the ability to bring someone back to life that had been dead for several days.

Alive again

Jesus’ ability to raise someone from the dead was demonstrated three different times during his ministry. The first occasion is recorded in Luke 7:11-17. This miracle was performed by Jesus in the presence of many witnesses. Luke tells us, “And it came to pass the day after, that he went into a city called Nain; and many of his disciples went with him, and much people. Now when he came nigh to the gate of the city, behold, there was a dead man carried out, the only son of his mother, and she was a widow: and much people of the city was with her” (Luke 7:11-12). The circumstances of the situation were such that Jesus decided to act without any request or intervention from anyone that was involved. Jesus saw the dead man being carried out of the city and discerned within himself that his help was needed. Luke said, “And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her, and said unto her, Weep not” (Luke 7:13).

The focus of Jesus’ attention was the mother of the dead man, who also happened to be a widow. Because her only son was dead, and she no longer had a husband to take care of her, the woman would have quickly become destitute after her son’s death, and likely would have herself died within a short period of time. Jesus’ command to the woman, “weep not” indicated that the woman was deeply distressed. The Greek word translated weep, klaio (klah´-yo) means to sob that is wail aloud (2799). It is evident from Luke’s account that the dead man himself had nothing to do with Jesus’ decision to raise him from the dead. In fact, it can be assumed from his command, that Jesus was invoking his will upon the dead man. Luke states, “And he said, Young man, I say unto thee, Arise” (Luke 7:14).

The Greek word Jesus used egeiro (eg -i´-ro), which is translated “arise” (Luke 7:14), is the same word he used in John 5:21 where it says, “For as the Father raiseth up the dead, and quickeneth them; even so the Son quickeneth whom he will.” It is possible that Jesus intended his action of bringing the dead man back to life to be an object lesson for his disciples of what he meant by rising from the dead or being alive again after death. Even though this was the first time Jesus had performed this type of miracle, it was not the first time such a thing had ever happened. In the Old Testament, prophets had the ability to raise people from the dead (2 Kings 4:34). What Jesus was demonstrating was his authority to raise from the dead anyone he chose to. It is likely that the woman’s dead son was not a believer. After Jesus spoke the command, “Arise” (Luke 7:14), Luke tells us, “And he that was dead sat up, and began to speak. And he delivered him to his mother” (Luke 7:15).

Individual responsibility

God’s covenant with Abraham was based on collective treatment of all who descended from him. In his promise, God said, “I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee” (Genesis 12:2). The Hebrew word for nation, goy (go´ – ee) represents a group of individuals who are considered as a unit (1471). In God’s eyes, the blessing of Abraham was given to all who would believe in him, not just the individual man he was speaking to at the time,

In the same way that Abraham’s blessing was transferred from generation to generation, so was the curse of sin that began with Adam in the garden of Eden (Genesis 3:17-19). In his ten commandments, God clearly stated that the punishment for sin could be transferred from father to son for as many as four generations (Exodus 20:5). A proverb that originated in Jerusalem expressed self-pity, fatalism and despair because people believed they could not escape from the curse they inherited from their fathers. The proverb stated that corporate solidarity was responsible for the captivity that was about to consume God’s people (Ezekiel 18:2).

God argued that everyone had a chance to be saved under the law. He said, “Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). Perhaps, the greatest misunderstanding that resulted from God’s second commandment was the idea that a person could be punished even though he had committed no sin. In actuality, what God was saying was that he would do everything he could to break the cycle of hereditary sin, but ultimately, it was up to each person to take individual responsibility for their soul’s well-being and eternal destination.

The human soul is referred to in Hebrew as nephesh (neh´ – fesh). In simple terms, the soul is what makes us alive. It is the inner person, separate from the flesh or human body. When God said, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4), he was basically saying that sin was the cause of death in every person. If there was a person that did not sin, then that person would not die. God said, “But if a man be just, and do that which is lawful and right…he is just, he shall surely live” (Ezekiel 18:5,9). The Hebrew word translated live, chayah (khaw – yaw´) means not only to live, but also to revive. In other words, a righteous soul cannot be killed, if it were, it would come back to life, just as Jesus did after he was crucified.

Final destination

The Bible often portrays life as a journey that involves traveling along a pathway that leads to a particular destination.  Although there may be several stops along the way, we eventually reach our final destination, which we usually associate with death. Jesus taught that death is not the end of life, but a point in time when the final destination of our lives will be determined or reached. Talking to his twelve apostles about true discipleship and life after death, Jesus said, “if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-44).
King David talked about his hope of resurrection after death in Psalm 16. He said, “My flesh also shall rest in hope, for thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thy Holy One to see corruption. Thou wilt show me the path of life: in thy presence is fullness of joy; at thy right hand there are pleasures for evermore” (Psalm 16:9-11). At the time of David’s death, salvation was not yet available. That’s why he said, “Thou wilt show me the path of life” speaking in the future tense. According to David, everyone who died went to hell, including himself. Even though David believed in the Messiah, his sins had not yet been forgiven.
The path of life David referred to was a marked-out, well-traveled course to salvation (734/2416). The Hebrew word David used for path, “orach represents a race course rather than a highway or a primitive snake-laden path.” The apostle Paul also used the analogy of a race course for the life of a believer (I Corinthians 9:24). Even though king David never became a Christian in the sense of being born again, he expected to receive his salvation by faith (Psalm 16:9). For David, that meant he would be released from hell, a place where the dead reside. Hell or sheol is “contrasted, in regards to locality, with heaven, the one being regarded as down and the other up. It is spoken of as an abode for those who have departed from the way of life, and have chose the path of evil” (7585).
Isaiah indicated that those who sin against God “have chosen their own ways” (Isaiah 66:3) and will one day have to face the wrath of God (Isaiah 66:16), but his judgment won’t take place until God’s plan of salvation has been communicated throughout the whole world (Isaiah 66:19). The final result of rejection of God’s free gift of salvation is being “cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). This is what Jesus was talking about when he referred to hell as  “the fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:43).
In the final words of his prophecy, Isaiah depicted the final destination of those who rejected Christ as one that is visible from Jerusalem. After God creates the new heavens and the new earth, Isaiah declared, “And it shall come to pass, that from one new moon to another, and from one Sabbath to another shall all flesh come to worship before me, saith the LORD” (Isaiah 66:23). Then, as if punctuating the close proximity of heaven and hell, Isaiah went on to say, “And they shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, and neither shall their fire be quenched: and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).

The power of the grave

In the book of Hosea, God used the analogy of a marriage to depict his relationship with the nation of Israel so that his people would understand he wanted a personal relationship with them. The prophet Hosea was chosen to model that relationship and was told to marry an adultress because Israel had been unfaithful to God and did not deserve his mercy. The only way Hosea could model God’s love effectively was to forgive his wife and redeem her from a life of prostitution.

The story of Hosea’s wife was meant to portray God’s redemption of his people, but it also showed his people that God’s love was not dependent on their behavior. In spite of their wickedness, God intended to fulfill his promise to king David that he would establish David’s throne for ever (1 Chronicles 17:12). In order to do that, God had to not only forgive his people, but provide a way for them to live eternally. Through Hosea, the LORD declared, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave: I will redeem them from death” (Hosea 13:14).

As when Hosea bought his wife Gomer for fifteen pieces of silver and a homer and a half of barley (Hosea 3:3), God planned to ransom his people. The Hebrew word translated ransom, padah indicates that some intervening or substitutionary action effects a release from an undesirable condition…When God is the subject of padah, the word emphasizes His complete, sovereign freedom to liberate human beings” (6299). Rather than taking away his children’s freedom to choose sin, God intended to take away Satan’s ability to punish them for it.

The power of the grave was the power of Satan to separate someone from the love of God. Sin was the key that enabled Satan to lock a person in the prison called hell, or the grave. Satan was given the key to hell when Adam and Eve ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 3:5-6), but God told them he would one day take that power away (Genesis 3:15). The message God communicated through Hosea was that the day of their redemption was about to arrive.

Although Christ’s birth, death, and resurrection was still hundreds of years away when Hosea spoke to Israel, the events were relatively close compared to the thousands of years that had transpired since Adam and Eve sinned in the garden of Eden. As if Hosea had a clear picture of the process of salvation, he stated, “O Israel, return unto the LORD thy God; for thou hast fallen by thine iniquity. Take with you words, and turn to the LORD: say unto him, take away all iniquity, and receive us graciously” (Hosea 14:1-2).

The Resurrection

In the midst of Isaiah’s description of God’s judgment of the world, was a bright spot that appeared as if it were a silver lining to the cloud of doom that hung over God’s people. Speaking of the Messiah, Isaiah declared, “He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces” Isaiah 25:8). Isaiah portrayed the Messiah in that passage as both God and man. It was clear that Isaiah saw the Messiah as one who would arrive on the scene after God’s judgment was completed.

The belief that the Messiah would triumph over death may have been why his disciples were confused when Jesus said he would be crucified (Matthew 26:2). Jesus stated plainly that his victory over death would not come through avoidance of death, but through his resurrection (Luke 18:33). In spite of his explanation, Jesus’ followers were unaware of his impending resurrection at the time of his death (Luke 18:34). It wasn’t until the apostle Paul wrote about the transformation of believers that would occur when Christ returned, that the resurrection was finally understood (1 Corinthians 15:51-54).

Isaiah’s depiction of the resurrection implied a separation between the lost and the saved. Referring to the enemies of God, Isaiah said, “They are dead, they shall not live; they are deceased, the shall not rise: therefore hast thou visited and destroyed them, and made all their memory to perish” (Isaiah 26:14). The Hebrew word translated perish, ’âbad (aw – bad´) “represents the disappearance of someone or something. In its strongest sense the word means ‘to die or cease to exist'” (6).

In contrast to those whose memory would cease to exist, Isaiah said of God’s people, “Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Arise and sing, ye that dwell in the dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isaiah 26:19). Isaiah spoke of dead bodies coming back to life. His reference to the earth casting out the dead implied a restoration to normal life (7496).

The context of the resurrection Isaiah depicted was what is now referred to as the great tribulation. It is possible that Isaiah was actually describing the event known as the rapture which is expected to occur immediately prior to the great tribulation. After stating that the earth would cast out the dead, Isaiah went on to say, “Come, my people, enter thou into thy chambers, and shut the doors about thee: hide thyself as it were for a little moment, until the indignation be over past. For behold, the LORD cometh out of his place to punish the inhabitants of the earth for their iniquity” (Isaiah 26:20-21).

It’s not the end

“The LORD said to my Lord, sit thou at my right hand, until I make thine enemies thy footstool” (Psalm 110:1). Jesus specifically used this verse to refer to his divine origin (Matthew 24:41-45). In his message about the resurrection of the dead, Paul used this verse to conclude that Christ had defeated all enemies, including death (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).

The issue that I believe David was trying to resolve in Psalm 110 was the eternal nature of God’s kingdom. David had spent most of his life establishing God’s kingdom on earth. In the end, I think he realized that ruling over people was a divine act that only Christ, God in human flesh, was capable of doing.

Part of what makes eternity unfathomable to us is the concept of death. Paul labeled death the last enemy because he wanted us to understand that Satan uses death to change our perspective of life. He wants us to think of life as temporary, something that comes to an end.

David’s view of death is revealed in 2 Samuel 12:20-23. After his child died, David knew he would see him again:

Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the LORD, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat. Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread. And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether God will be gracious to me, that the child may live? But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

The word translated go in 2 Samuel 12:23 is hâlak (haw – lak´). Halak means to walk. “Essentially, this root refers to movement without any suggestion of direction” (1980). David expected to go somewhere after he died and that he would be able to reconnect with people he had known during his life on earth. David did not perceive death to be an ending, but a continuation of some sort to the life he already had.

The sleep of death

The title of Psalm 57 indicates that it was spoken by David when he fled from Saul in the cave. Psalm 57 is a prayer and it is possible that David prayed it on multiple occasions, but didn’t record it until the end of his life. It is clear from David’s language that he believed he was near death and even spoke as if he was already dead when he said, “My soul is among lions: and I lie even among them that are set on fire” (Psalm 57:4).

The word translated lie is shâkab (shaw – kab´). “An emphasis of shakab is ‘to die,’ to lie down in death (7901). David’s reference to being set on fire suggests that he was expecting to go to hell when he died and to be among the wicked men that were seeking to kill him. David described them as, “the sons of men, whose teeth are spears and arrows, and their tongue a sharp sword” (Psalm 57:4).

Thinking about the prospect of dying and going to hell, David said, “My heart is fixed, O God, my heart is fixed: I will sing and give praise” (Psalm 57:7). The word translated fixed, kûwn (koon) means to be readied or to be prepared. Kuwn can also mean to be established or unchangeable. The sense is that David was ready to die as his fate had already been sealed. He knew that he could not avoid what was coming.

When David said, “Awake up, my glory; awake…I myself will awake early” (Psalm 57:8). he was referring to waking up out of the sleep of death (5782). David said, “I will praise thee, O LORD, among the people: I will sing unto thee among the nations” (Psalm 57:9). David’s use of the words people and nations indicates he was talking about a time in the future when God would be worshipped by everyone, not just the Israelites.

At the end of Jesus’ ministry, he instructed his disciples to, “go ye therefore, and teach all nations…teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Matthew 28:19-20). Regarding signs of the end of the age, Jesus said, “the gospel must first be published among all nations” (Mark 13:10). It appears that David was talking about worshipping the LORD at the end of the age, after the resurrection of the dead.

David’s insight into the future made it possible for him to accept death as a temporary waiting period. Although David knew that he would live for ever, his soul would sleep until it was awakened at the dawn of a new day, a day when Jesus would be king.