A Christian View of Death

the-light-of-christ     Once, when I was working in jail ministry, I met a Christian man who told me about his older brother’s death. The incident, he said, had occurred several years earlier. He and his brother were drinking and arguing one afternoon when a fist fight erupted and the older brother fell backwards onto a metal pipe that pierced his heart. The man did all he could to save his brother, but the wound was fatal. His brother, whom he loved, was suddenly gone, and for years he carried the image of his brother’s lifeless body, held in his blood-soaked hands. Tears rolled down his face as he recalled the event. Over time he was able to resolve some of his grief, but while talking with me, he expressed a lingering concern about his brother’s eternal destiny. He was not sure if his brother would spend eternity in heaven or hell. Though his brother claimed to be a Christian, and family and friends spoke well of him at the funeral, the reality was that his brother’s life never reflected the virtues of Christ. Though I could not offer any assurance about his brother’s eternal destiny, I encouraged him to live his life in such a way that when he died, he would not leave his loved ones with any question about the place of Christ in his own life.

     As Christians, we will leave this world either by death or rapture. Excluding Enoch and Elijah (Gen 5:21-24; 2 Ki 2:11), human mortality is 100%. However, like Enoch and Elijah, we too may be spared the experience of death, if we are part of the generation of Christians that are caught up to meet the Lord in the air at the Rapture (1 Thess 4:13-18).

     Death is an uncomfortable subject, but for those who trust in the Lord, it need not be. God knows how frail we are, “He is mindful that we are but dust” (Psa 103:14). David courageously asked the Lord, “Make me to know my end and what is the extent of my days; let me know how transient I am. Behold, You have made my days short in length, and my lifetime as nothing in Your sight; surely every man at his best is a mere breath” (Psa 39:4-5). Job too perceived the brevity of his life and declared, “I will not live forever…for my days are but a breath” (Job 7:16), and James wrote, “you are just a vapor that appears for a little while and then vanishes away” (Jam 4:14b). Leaving this world is inevitable; where we spend eternity is optional. God loves us and sent His Son into the world that He would provide eternal life for us. “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him” (John 3:16-17).

     Death was introduced into God’s creation when the first human, Adam, sinned against God. Adam’s sin immediately brought spiritual death (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-7), and later, physical death (Gen 5:5). Though Adam was made spiritually alive again (Gen 3:21), his single sin introduced death, in every form, into the world (Rom 5:12-14; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Death means separation. Three major kinds of death are mentioned in Scripture:

  1. Spiritual death, which is separation from God in time. Spiritually dead people continue to live until they die physically (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-7; 5:5; Eph 2:1-2; Col 2:13-14).
  2. Physical death, which is the separation of the soul from the body (Eccl 12:7; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23-24; 2 Tim 4:6). Though the body ceases to function, the soul moves to a new location, consciously awaiting the resurrection of the body.
  3. Eternal death (aka the “second death”), which is the perpetuation of physical and spiritual separation from God for all eternity (Rev 20:11-15).

Christ-on-the-cross     All persons born into this world are physically alive, but spiritually dead, separated from God, because of Adam’s sin. The Bible reveals, “through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned [when Adam sinned]” (Rom 5:12), and “in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Cor 15:22). Though we are all dead in Adam, God offers new life when we turn to Christ as Savior, reconciling us to Himself through the death of His Son (Rom 5:1-2). Adam’s sin brought death, and Christ’s death brings life.  In Adam I am guilty, in Christ I am righteous. For the Christian, death is not the final victor in eternity. Every person, whether saved or unsaved, will receive a resurrection body that will live forever. Believers will enjoy eternal union with God, but unbelievers will suffer eternal separation from Him. Only those who are born again—by the Spirit of God—have eternal life and will spend forever in heaven (1 Pet 1:3, 23). Eternal life is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone (John 3:16; 14:6; Acts 4:12; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8-9; Tit 3:5). It’s a free gift from God, paid in full by the Lord Jesus (John 19:30), who died for us on the cross and paid the penalty for all our sins, so that we don’t have to pay for them ourselves.

     Scripture reveals God is sovereign over all His creation, either causing or permitting whatsoever comes to pass. God is sovereign over all creation, which means there are no accidental people or events in history. God creates life (Gen 2:7; Job 1:21; Psa 100:3; Acts 17:24-25; Rev 11:11) and controls death (Gen 2:16-17; 3:1-8; 6:17; 2 Ki 5:7; Luke 12:20; Rev 1:18). The Lord declares, “See now that I, I am He, and there is no god besides Me; It is I who put to death and give life. I have wounded and it is I who heal” (Deut 32:39). And, “The LORD kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up” (1 Sam 2:6). God holds final control over our lives, from beginning to end, and preordains our days on the earth. David wrote, “In Your book were all written the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them” (Psa 139:16). God’s sovereign control over life and death includes our choices and the choices of others. He desires that we think and act in conformity with His revealed will, but in many cases, He permits us to act, either good or bad, and to reap the consequences of our choices. At physical death, all of life’s decisions are fixed for eternity, and what we do with Christ determines our eternal destiny (John 3:16-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9). It has been said that procrastination is the thief of time and opportunity, and when one procrastinates about the gospel, it becomes the thief of souls. Please don’t delay. Trust Christ as Savior today and receive eternal life, believing the gospel that He “died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Cor 15:3-4). And, like the thief on the cross who trusted in Jesus, you can be assured your soul will immediately go into the presence of God at death (Luke 23:43; cf. 2 Cor 5:8).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Audio Lesson:

Related Articles:

The Biblical Resurrections

As for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last He will take His stand on the earth. Even after my skin is destroyed, yet from my flesh I shall see God; whom I myself shall behold, and whom my eyes will see and not another. My heart faints within me! (Job 19:25-27 NASB)

       When God originally created Adam and Eve, He created them in His image (Heb. tselem), to have personality, consciousness, self-consciousness, intellect, volition and emotion (Gen 2:16-27). God formed Adam’s body from the dust of the earth and created his soul (Heb. nephesh; Grk. psuche) and breathed it into his body (Gen 2:7; 1 Cor 15:45). At that moment Adam became a living being. 

       When Adam sinned through disobedience and brought sin into the human race, he also brought death, both spiritual and physical (Gen 2:15-17; 3:1-8; Rom 5:12; 1 Cor 15:21-22). Death means separation. Spiritual death refers to separation from God, and physical death refers to the separation of the soul from the body. The unbeliever who is alive on the earth is separated from God in time, and should he continue his entire life rejecting the Gospel message (John 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Eph 2:8-9), will be separated from God for eternity in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). At physical death, the soul is separated from the body. Solomon states, “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Eccl 12:7). God gives life, and He takes life (1 Sam 2:6; Psa 100:3; Luke 12:20).

       Death is not the final victor in life. God created the soul to be forever united with the body. Therefore, God will resurrect (Grk. anastasis) each body that has died and will reunite it with every human soul. It is necessary to distinguish between resuscitation and resurrection. There were times when God raised, or resuscitated, a person back to life, but that person was subject to death, and eventually died again (John 12:9-10). When a person is resurrected, they never die, but live forever (John 11:25-26). 

       Concerning resurrections in general, the OT prophet Daniel wrote, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt” (Dan 12:1-2). Daniel is writing in general and referring to the resurrection of believers and unbelievers. The resurrection of believers means the body and soul will be reunited and spend eternity with God in heaven. The resurrection of unbelievers means the body and soul will be reunited and spend eternity separated from God in the Lake of Fire. We learn from other biblical passages that there are several resurrections mentioned in the Bible:

  1. The resurrection of Jesus (Matt 28:1-7; Mark 16:1-11; Luke 24:1-12; John 20:1-18; 1 Cor 15:3-4; Rev 1:5).
  2. Unidentified Old Testament saints were resurrected after Christ’s resurrection (Matt 27:50-53). There is some question as to whether these people were resurrected (to live forever and translated into heaven) or resuscitated (brought back to life and died again).
  3. The resurrection of the church at the Rapture (1 Cor.15:51–53; 1 Th 4:14-17).
  4. The two witnesses who are killed and resurrected during the tribulation (Rev 11:8-11).
  5. The Tribulation saints (Rev 20:4-6).
  6. Old Testament saints at the Second Coming after the Tribulation (Job 19:25-27; Isa 26:19; Ezek 37:12-14; Dan 12:1-2, 13).
  7. The resurrection of all unbelievers at the end of the Millennium who stand before the Great White Throne before being thrown into the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:11-15). Those who are part of the second resurrection partake of the second death (Rev. 20:14).

       The first resurrection occurs in several stages starting with Christ, and involves only believers who will live with Christ during His millennial reign and for all eternity (Rev 20:4-6). According to John Walvoord, it is called the first resurrection, “not in the sense of being number one or prior to all resurrections, but in the sense that it occurs before the final resurrection, the resurrection of the wicked.”[1] The final resurrection is for unbelievers only who will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, which will occur after the millennial reign of Christ. Charles Ryrie states:

The resurrection of the just is also called the first resurrection and will occur in several stages, not all at once. The dead in Christ will be raised first at the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 4:16). The redeemed of the tribulation period who die during that time will be raised before the millennium (Rev 20:4). The redeemed of Old Testament times will also be a part of the resurrection of the just. Expositors are divided over when they will be raised, some believing that it will happen at the rapture when the church saints are raised, and others holding that it will occur at the second coming (Dan 12:2—the writer prefers the latter view)…all unsaved people of all time will be raised after the millennium to be judged and then cast into the lake of fire forever (Rev 20:11–15). At their resurrection they will apparently be given some sort of bodies that will be able to live forever and feel the effects of the torments of the lake of fire.[2]

The following illustration may be helpful:

The Number and Order of the Resurrections.png

     As a special note, all children who die before reaching God consciousness have heaven as their home. They are given resurrection bodies and will spend eternity in the presence of God. Robert Lightner states:

In the Bible, infants, little children, and others who cannot believe are neither told to believe nor expected to do so.  They are not classified as wicked evildoers and rejecters of God’s grace.  It is always adults who are addressed, either directly or indirectly, regarding these matters.  Because the Bible has so much to say about those who cannot believe and yet says nothing about their being eternally separated from God because of their inability, we conclude that they have heaven as their home.  They die safely in the arms of Jesus.[3]

       Those who reach the age of God consciousness are accountable for their own lives. How each person responds to God determines his eternal destiny. Man cannot save himself, as he is severely damaged by sin and totally depraved (Rom 5:6-10; Eph 2:1-3). Today, the Gospel message of Jesus Christ is clear. The good news is, “God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16; cf. 1 Cor 15:3-4). Salvation is as simple as, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

Dr. Steven R. Cook

Related Articles:

[1] John F. Walvoord, Major Bible Prophecies (Grand Rapids: Michigan, Zondervan Publishing, 1991), 379.

[2]Charles C. Ryrie, “Resurrections” A survey of Bible doctrine (Chicago, Ill.: Moody Press, 1995), 182-183.

[3] Robert P. Lightner, Safe in the Arms of Jesus (Grand Rapids, Mich., Kregel Publications, 2000), 15-16.