But now Christ is risen from the dead… For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive… For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. (1 Cor. 15:20,22, 25,26)
I have been to too many funerals where death is celebrated as a “Graduation Day” for saints, a celestial “homecoming” for the dearly departed. We are sometimes told that God “took” a person because His purpose for them on earth was fulfilled; or, that God needed another angel for His heavenly choir, or another flower for His heavenly garden, or some other such nonsense.
Why do we make God responsible for “taking” people in death? It seems our problem is not so much with God as with our religious conceptions of Who we think God is and what we think God does.
Death is not part of God’s perfect plan, but is the result of man’s rebellion against God’s perfect plan. Death is an alien intrusion into God’s perfectly good creation. God warned Adam that death would result from disobedience, and so it did. Adam “died” spiritually the day he chose an independent path from his Creator. But Adam’s failure did not change God’s love for him, and did not hinder God’s ability to reach out and provide a way of escape to Adam. God is against death.
In Christ we see the end result of that “way of escape.” God demonstrated His saving purpose by raising Jesus from the dead. Resurrection Life triumphed over Death because “God raised up [Jesus], having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it” (Acts 2:24). It was not possible then, and it is not possible now, that Death should continue on forever. Life must overcome Death; Light must overcome Darkness; Love must overcome Fear; Good must overcome Evil.
What God has done in Christ, raising Him from the dead, is what God wishes to do for all people. No one disputes the fact that “in Adam all die.” It is a known fact. We see the effects of sin and death on all Creation. Nevertheless, “as in Adam all die, so in Christ will all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22). Death, that seems to prevail now, is not a permanent, irreversible state. Jesus declared, “The dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live” (Jn. 5:25). God will not permit death to go on forever, but has defeated it in Christ, and through Christ, will eventually destroy it altogether.
While the Psalmist declares that “precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15) this can hardly mean that God delights in the death of His saints when Scripture treats death as an enemy. The “preciousness” here might be better understood if translated as weighty, important, noteworthy, or significant. The meaning is that God sees and cares about the death of His saints and will one day restore everyone death has stolen from us.
Death and evil are regarded within the same breath in the Shepherd’s Psalm: “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me (Ps. 23:4).” That God is with us even in death, and that we have nothing to fear from evil, does not mitigate the evil of death and destruction. That God is praised for His mighty acts of deliverance from these things shows that God stands together with us against these evils.
Scripture considers death an enemy: “The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26). There is nothing intrinsically “good” about death, no matter how much we may be comforted by notions of a better hereafter. If death is an enemy then we ought to resist it just as we would resist sin, sickness, or satan. Death brings sorrow, pain, and grief to everyone it touches. We may choose to “celebrate the life” of a loved one who has passed on, but it is a conscious and sometimes difficult choice we make as a way to cope with the seeming finality of death.
Death and sin are linked together in Scripture: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23a). It makes sense, then, that God Who delivers us from sin will also deliver us from death – and so, “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23b).
Death and the devil are also linked together in Scripture, and both are equally regarded as enemies. Defeating death, then, goes hand-in-hand with defeating the devil: “Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14,15).
Death brings separation and grief. It is the devil (not God) who comes like a thief to “steal, kill, and destroy;” but Jesus has come that we may have “life, and life more abundantly” (Jn. 10:10). Jesus never accepted evil as a righteous punishment for sins, or as something impossible to overcome, even in a fallen world. The simple truth is that Jesus represents the heart, mind, and will of God for full and complete deliverance from evil in all its forms. It makes no difference whether the evil comes in the form of a devil, disease, death, or disaster. Jesus discerned evil and dealt with it decisively.
Jesus did not accept death as inevitable and irreversible, but resisted death as an enemy. Jesus wept at the tomb of His friend, Lazarus – the perfect Man shed perfect tears, even after proclaiming Himself as the Resurrection and Life. Was this a sign of weakness? Certainly not. Was He disturbed by the people’s lack of faith? Perhaps, but Jesus tended to be more frustrated with unbelief than grieved by it. Why then did He weep at the tomb of Lazarus? Because everything within His Holy Nature resisted death. He was groaning and travailing for the deliverance of all Creation from “the bondage of corruption” of sin and death (Rom. 8:21). In the heart and mind of Jesus, death is unacceptable and ought not to exist at all.
Accordingly, Scripture declares that Christ has “abolished death” (2 Tim. 1:10)! What a wonderful thing! In what sense did He abolish it? First, He has abolished eternal separation from God. He calls all to repent, to believe, and to inherit eternal life. The Good News is that the Way to God is now open in Christ for all who believe. “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hell and of Death” (Rev. 1:18). This is the power of His Resurrection!
Jesus indeed defeated death in that resurrection, but that is only the first part of defeating death. What about the rest of Creation? Our earthly bodies, being mortal, will eventually succumb to sickness, or old age. But even as we face this reality we also believe that we will one day receive glorified bodies that will never die. The unimaginable promise is: “in Christ will all be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22)! When that wonderful Purpose of God is completed, “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Rev. 21:4). No more death! Death and hell will be destroyed and the devil will be bound. There are limits to evil, limits to Death, Hell, and the devil; but there are no limits to unfailing love because “His mercy endures forever.” Praise God!
Death is the last enemy to be defeated, an enemy be overcome. Every death is a momentary loss, a temporary defeat; but one day, God will destroy death, and all who have died will live again. How will God do it? Perhaps the Scottish author George MacDonald understood it best when he wrote: “God is a consuming fire that destroys all that is not beautiful in the beloved. Towards this end God works in all ages and in all people, so that eventually even the death that is in them will be consumed.”
And so, “Death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54). Amen! May it be so!