Getting to Know God Meditations: 40. God of Death (& Life)
Gen 2:17 you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”
Rom 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Eccles 3:2 (There is) a time to be born and a time to die
Eccles 7:2 It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, for death is the destiny of everyone; the living should take this to heart.
Heb 9:27 people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment,
Mt 20:18 the Son of Man will be delivered over to the chief priests and the teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death
Death? Death is one of those things that postmodern man tries to reject. Some speak of science extending and extending life and maybe even eventually denying death completely. How terrible a picture! In Ecclesiastes 7 Solomon confronted death declaring, “The heart of the wise is in the house of mourning, but the heart of fools is in the house of pleasure.” (Eccles 7:4) Both there and in the earlier verse above, he is saying that a wise person thinks about death because it helps bring a right and better perspective to life. It is often the person who has been confronted with their own death who truly appreciates the wonder of life.
Death at the Beginning: However we view the early chapters of Genesis (fact or parable) there is a challenging picture portrayed because when God warned Adam against taking the fruit of one particular tree else they would know evil (which happened), He warned that that evil would produce death which implies that up until then the potential for Adam and Eve was that they could have everlasting life. Now the separating of the couple from God (by being banned from the Garden) suggests that the life of God was what conveyed life to them and while they were in close relationship with Him, they would have that same life source. Being separated from Him meant being separated from that life source and so physical death would follow eventually.
Death Now: The testimony of Scripture accords exactly with reality: death comes to every living being without exception. It is the only thing of which we can be sure. Solomon, in the Old Testament, testified to it – “There is a time for dying” – and so did the writer to the Hebrews in the New Testament – “people are destined to die”. Why? Because of the presence of Sin – “the wages (or payment or consequence) of sin is death.” And yet for us today, that need not be the end for there are numerous references to eternal life, a life that will continue on after physical death.
Eternal Life? Let’s let the truths of Scripture sink into us: “they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Mt 25:46) “Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life.” (Mt 10:29,30) “God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (Jn 3:16) “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” (Jn 3:36) “whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” (Jn 4:14) “Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” (Jn 5:24) “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day….. Very truly I tell you, the one who believes has eternal life.” (Jn 6:40,47) “Anyone who loves their life will lose it, while anyone who hates their life in this world will keep it for eternal life.” (Jn 12:25) “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” (Jn 17:3) “When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honoured the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed.” (Acts 13:48) “To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honour and immortality, he will give eternal life.” (Rom 2:7) “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Rom 6:23)
There are just some of the references to eternal life but even from these we can see that this is not some periphery doctrine but something that is at the very heart of the Christian Faith. We see it set off against eternal punishment (a punishment that is always there waiting for unbelievers and which cannot be withdrawn only replaced by eternal life). Eternal life, these verses add, is the life yet to come for us, the life that follows this one, or continues it! The message is quite clear, it is granted to those who believe Jesus and believe in Jesus.
Death at the End: Death was not there at the beginning; it only came with the Fall. Having come with the Fall it is now the experience of every single human being. Yet in the present age for those who will believe in Christ it is supplanted by eternal life, the continuation of the life that has been granted here on this earth, a life that goes on and on, a life outside the limitations of time. But what about death? “For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Cor 215:25,26) Jesus is now reigning in the midst of his enemies (Psa 110:1,2) and will continue to reign until he returns in triumph (see Rev 19). As we read on in Revelation we see an ultimate judgment before God and then we read, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:14,15)
Hades? Sheol, a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, is normally simply defined as ‘the state or resting place of the dead.’ When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, ‘Hades’ was substituted for ‘Sheol’. Hades is similarly ‘ the state or resting place of the dead’. However we view this Jewish belief of ‘the place of the dead’ at the end, any place, location or existence (apart from the Lake of Fire containing the banished spirit beings) is utterly removed so death or any other potential area of concern is removed. Fire, as I have commented previously is always seen as a means of complete destruction. The fact that ‘death’ is consigned to the fire means the end of it.
Death appears the end but ‘the first death’ is merely a doorway out of this existence on earth. The ‘second death’ (Rev 20:14) is the end from which there is no return. This leaves us speculating further about Hades, ‘the resting place of the dead’. Our problem when considering these things is that we cannot comprehend the absence of time. Possibilities appear to be that the redeemed pass immediately into God’s presence (“Today you will be with me in paradise.” Lk 24:43) but all others pass into a timeless zone, ready to be raised again later (Rev 20:5,13) for final judgment. Don’t think in time and space.
The Beginning of the End? After this, all that is left is the New Heaven and the New Earth and the New Jerusalem (see Rev 21:1,2) This is the dwelling place of the people of God with their God for eternity. (Rev 21 & 22) The past experience of time-space history, of limited-term-lives, brought to an end by death, is now all past. Material life is past and now all (all?????) that is left is timeless eternity and the wonder of all that means, that will only become clear when we experience it. A word we have avoided but which arises a number of times in the above contexts, is ‘resurrection’ and so we will consider that in the next study.