What Do We Know About Death?
© C. O. Bishop 10/13/15 THCF 10/18/15
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:
We have already seen our old condition and our old position as lost sinners, separated from God; and we have seen how God saved us. We already have seen that we were once enemies of God by nature: But how did we get that way? How did the world get to be such a mess?
We can see the beauty of the creation in the world around us, but there is a cruel reality hidden in all that beauty: virtually every living thing depends on the death of some other living thing, in order to survive. In fact, with the exception of green plants, which are capable of photosynthesis, thus making food from sunlight and water and mineral nutrients, all living things are utterly dependent upon the death of others to survive; in fact, even those green plants grow better with some dead things under their roots. And there are even carnivorous plants, which, though they can carry out photosynthesis, still consume insects as part of their diet.
Death is simply a stark reality for every living thing. Everything dies. We try to avoid death as long as possible, clinging to life, calling it self-preservation: in fact, every living thing strives for self-preservation, some more vitally than others. There are some plants, which, if cut off, both the root and the upper plant will die—neither can survive without the other, and neither can regenerate the lost part. Others may spring up from the roots, but the upper part, once severed, will die. Still others will aggressively seek to create roots, if they can reach the ground.
Years ago, I was given some willow logs, with which to make violin blocks and linings. A large limb had fallen during a storm, and the homeowners were happy to have me take it away. I didn’t have time to process it immediately, so I cut it into sections a few feet long, and tossed it on the ground, near my shop, expecting to get back to it soon. This was not a pile of green twigs; it was heavy sections of log, perhaps 10-12” in diameter, with rough, thick bark. But a few weeks later I noticed that it looked as though grass was growing all over those logs, so I went to see what it was. Every square inch of the upper half of each log, exposed to air and sun, had sprouted tiny willow leaves, processing sunlight and water. And when I turned the log sections over, the whole underside of each was covered with white roots, reaching for the soil. That is real vitality! The plant was doing its best to survive the twin catastrophes of the storm and my chainsaw.
But, if life is so precious, and if every living thing strives to stay alive, how did death come into the world? And why? Perhaps we need to answer some general questions concerning death, before addressing the specifics:
What is Death?
What is Death? (And what is it not?)
We have seen earlier, that spiritual death is the separation of the human spirit from God, and that physical death is the separation of the human spirit from the body. That is a nice, clinical definition, but it doesn’t really answer all the questions surrounding death. Besides, there is a third kind of Death, called “the second death”: it is eternal separation from God in eternal judgment, in the Lake of Fire. We don’t like talking about that, or even thinking about it, but that is separation, too…of the permanent sort. Now, let’s consider what Death is not:
- Death is not “cessation of existence.” We tend to see death as the “cessation of life”…and in some sense, that is true…but in reality, the human spirit does not cease to live, any more than the angelic spirits cease to live. They, like we, are created beings, and, like them, we have a beginning point somewhere in time, but no real end…just a destination in eternity. We have a choice about that destination…they did, too. Some chose to rebel, and are eternally separated from God. Everything that was good in them withered away, leaving only the sin. We call them fallen angels, evil spirits, or demons. They were not offered the grace of God, because they sinned while knowing God face to face. We sin ignorantly, never having seen God, and knowing virtually nothing about Him. That does not relieve us from responsibility; it only makes us eligible for God’s Grace, if we choose to accept it. Grace is a gift from God. It cannot be earned, and is never “deserved”. But it can be actively sought, and willingly received.
- Death is also not “natural”. It was not God’s original intent, nor was it a necessary part of the “cycle of life”, as the popular saying is today. We were created to be with God and like God throughout eternity, in fellowship with Him. Our real nature is eternal…and we can choose to be eternally with God, transformed into His likeness; or we can choose to flee from God, deny His existence, or even to actively, deliberately rebel against Him, maintaining our separation at all cost: and that can become our eternal state—separated from God.
- Death is not a “friend”. 1st Corinthians 15:26 says Death is the last enemy that God will destroy. But, for us, Death is a powerless enemy: God says “Death has lost its sting.” For believers, Death is “graduation day”…we leave our body and go directly to be with Him. The Grave has no victory over the believer’s life. We do not go down to “dusty death”, as Shakespeare wrote. Death, for us, is a shadow, at worst. Psalm 23 speaks of “walking through the valley of the shadow of death”…Notice: walking (not “falling”) through (not “into”) the valley (not “the pit”) of the shadow (not the “harsh reality”) of death. Death is not a friend, nor is it comfortable, but it has lost its ability to harm the believer.
So: How did Death Begin?
Romans 5:12 is a critical doctrine because it clears up several errors in human thinking:
For one thing, there are folk who believe that there was an earlier creation in scripture, before the one detailed in chapters one and two of Genesis, and that it was destroyed by God. They claim that to be the origin of all the fossils. They use this notion to try to reconcile what they think is scientific evidence with what seems to be scripturally obscure truths. They are saying that there was once a whole world of animals and people that all died before Adam was created, and that world was destroyed, so that the Creation we read about in Genesis 1:1-3 is a “start-over” rather than a real “Beginning”. But, if that were so, then Romans 5:12 is not true. Do you see why?
Romans 5:12 states unequivocally that Death came into the world through the sin of one man…Adam. That one man, a created individual (with no parents, just a Creator), was given the authority to make a decision, in Genesis 2:17—he was told that he must not eat the fruit of a certain tree, and that if he did so, then he would die on that day. He did eat, and he died spiritually that very moment—fellowship between God and Man was broken…Man was spiritually separated from God. Later, his spirit was separated from his body, as well, which is what we call physical death.
I am reasonably certain that he did not understand (nor do we) the incredibly diverse and horrible results that would spring from his decision to disobey. The whole human race was plunged into sin, and Death entered the world, as a part of the curse. Prior to the curse, there was evidently no necessity for death at all.
But, how could all the death that supposedly happened in the destruction of the earlier creation have occurred, if there was no death in the world until Adam’s sin? The two ideas cannot be reconciled. There either was death before Adam, or there was not. There cannot be a world full of dead things, and the fossils of dead things, etc., and never have been any death.
But: if the “old world” that was overthrown in 2nd Peter 2:5 was specifically, and simply, the world before the flood (which is exactly what it says it was), then it all makes sense—and the fossils everywhere are the result of that cataclysm, not a separate, much older creation.
As a race, we are far too anxious to try to “reconcile the Bible” to modern science. Why should we do so at all? Why not do the reverse? Recognize that God is true and every man a liar by nature, then try to reconcile the science to the Bible. The people who study geology and paleontology with that idea in mind consistently discover that the Genesis Flood answers the questions of the Geologic Clock very satisfactorily. People who go with the reverse in mind have already decided the Bible is not true, and are looking for “proof”, so of course, they will find it.
There will always be those who reject the account of the Genesis flood out of hand, but, as a rule, those same individuals consistently reject ALL Biblical truth as fable. Unfortunately, the fact is that a “natural, random-chance, evolutionary, Mother Nature and Father Time” world-view and the Biblical Creation view, with a sovereign God and a fallen Creation are mutually exclusive. They cannot both be true…they could both be false, or the first could be true and the second fable or the first a lie and the second the truth. But they cannot both be true. You have to choose. It has never been a case of the “geologic clock” lying…it has only been a case of people consistently (and/or deliberately) misreading the “clock.”
Why did Death happen?
One thing we find out in Ephesians 3:10, 11 is that God had a purpose when he began the creation…actually, probably several purposes; but one thing we are told is that the entire “human experiment”, for lack of better term, is specifically intended to demonstrate the manifold Wisdom of God to the angelic hosts, for all eternity, and (Ephesians 2:7), throughout eternity, to show the riches of God’s Grace to all created beings, in his kindness toward us through Christ.
Perhaps to some folk that won’t mean much, but it did, to me. Knowing that God is using my life to demonstrate His own Wisdom to the angelic beings all over the universe makes all my inept muddlings seem a little more worthwhile. It seems to somehow add some eternal purpose to life.
We see the tragedies in life, and they are very difficult to reconcile with what we know as the Goodness of God. But we are less than toddlers, in terms of comprehension: we have no idea what is really going on in life. The harder things get on this Earth, the more important it becomes to know the God who holds the future, and to not lean to our own understanding, desperately hoping that we can somehow stave off disaster. God clearly says that disaster is coming. For example, we are commanded to “pray for the peace of Jerusalem”, and yet we are told that at the end, when Jesus returns, Jerusalem will be under siege as never before, and ready to be destroyed, overrun by its enemies.
We are commanded to spread the Good News of the death and burial and resurrection of Christ—the Gospel of salvation through His blood…but we are also told that few will believe it, and that the majority will choose to ignore the message or attack the messengers.
We can see, both scripturally and experientially, that the World, as a whole, is an Enemy of the God who created it. We can see that things have not improved over the ages—that the crucifixion would be just as likely today as it was 2000 years ago.
The coming Judgment is completely just and righteous…as a race, we deserve the coming destruction. As a race, we have emulated the sin of Adam, and followed in the steps of Cain, Esau, and Balaam. And, true to form, sin never affects only the sinner—there are always those who suffer the consequences of our sins, who were not the perpetrators…collateral damage, if you want to call them that. Our children, though guilty of their own sins, will also suffer the results of ours. A drunk driver doesn’t destroy only himself, but people in other cars, or pedestrians, or his own children, who are in his car and are destroyed with him. This is an eternal principle: while no one is punished for someone else’s sin, we are all affected by it.
The fact of the matter is that, spiritually speaking, the whole race was “in Adam” when he chose to sin. We all sinned with him. We didn’t just inherit his sin nature; we fell into sin with him, and have proven it on an individual basis, ever since. “Death passed upon all for that all have sinned.” Notice that the sentence is past tense: “…for all have sinned….” It does not say (present tense) “for all sin…”, though that is also true. The fact is, we sinned with him. But, what else can we learn from this passage? (There is a good side to this story:)
It was Adam, not Eve!
The other (less important in some ways, but still common and destructive) doctrine unseated by Romans 5:12 is the idea that Eve brought sin into the world: She absolutely did not. Was she involved? She absolutely was. But did she have the authority to make a decision for the whole human race? No! Only Adam had that authority. This passage, along with others, states clearly that Adam’s sin, not Eve’s, brought the destruction we see around us. (So don’t blame women!)
In fact, if we go back and read the record in Genesis 3:1-7, we see that nothing at all happened until Adam ate the fruit. It does not say that Eve sinned, and ran off to cover her nakedness with leaves, and then Adam followed her example. It says that after Adam ate, “then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they saw that they were naked”…etc. Why is this important?
Two Races of Man: “In Adam”, and “In Christ”
Perhaps it is a small point, to some, but Adam became the father of a fallen race—the whole human race. It was strictly his doing that brought about the fall. The theological term for this idea is called the doctrine of “Federal Headship.” Adam is the “Federal Head” of our fallen race. Jesus eventually headed up a new Man. The old Man is fallen: the New Man is not. So those who are born again through Christ are part of that “new Man”. And the new man did not come through the old man, but through the Woman.
The woman was physically separated from man before the fall…and, though she was affected by the fall, and involved in the fall, the “Seed of Woman” (from Genesis 3:15) was to be the Savior of the World. I don’t know whether that connection is theologically important, but it is there, and it seems worth pointing out. Jesus, as the only human without a human father—truly virgin-born—is the “Seed of Woman”, in the fullest sense.
In 1st Corinthians 15:22, the distinction between the two races is made clear: “all in Adam died…all in Christ shall be made alive.” The issue of position—location—is before us again. There are two possible positions for a human: to be still “in Adam”, where they were born, or, having been born again (also called “born from above”), to be “in Christ”. If they are in Adam, they are still dead in their sins, and separated from God: if they have been born again as a child of God, they are “in Christ” and alive forever. That is a pretty sharp separation, there! It is literally the difference between life and death.
What about You?
If you have chosen Jesus as the blood-sacrifice for your personal sin, and placed your faith in His finished work at the Cross, then you are “in Christ”. The facts of Romans 5:12, though completely true in you, have also been set aside forever. God has imputed to you the righteousness of Christ, you are sealed in Him, and you will spend eternity with Him.
If you have doubts about where you stand with God, please speak to anyone here in the church. The Scripture is abundantly clear: you do not have to wait until you die to find out whether you have eternal life: You can know today.
Jesus said, “He that hears my Word, and Believes on Him who sent me, HAS everlasting life!” You can choose to place your trust in His blood this moment, and know that you have eternal life, because He promises that it is so.
Please choose life!
Lord Jesus, give us Your Grace for salvation; Your Grace for living; and Your Grace for day by day Service: for the sake of your Glory. Amen