by Issa Haddad
In one of his lighter moments, Benjamin Franklin penned his own epitaph. He didn’t profess to be a born-again Christian, but it seems that he must have been influenced by Paul’s teaching of the resurrection of the body. Here’s what he wrote:
The Body of B. Franklin, Printer:
Like the Cover of an old Book
Its contents torn out,
And stript of its Lettering and Guilding,
Lies here, Food for Worms,
But the Work shall not be wholly lost:
For it will, as he believ’d,
Appear once more
In a new and more perfect Edition,
Corrected and amended by the Author.
The Bible presents death as separation: physical death is the separation of the soul from the body, and spiritual death is the separation of the soul from God.
Death is the result of sin. “For the wages of sin is death,…” (Rom 6:23a). The whole world is subject to death, because all have sinned. “By one man sin entered the world, and death by sin, and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (Rom 5:12). In Genesis 2:17, the Lord warned Adam that the penalty for disobedience would be death—“you will surely die.” When Adam disobeyed, he experienced immediate spiritual death, which caused him to hide “from Lord God among the trees of the garden” (Gen 3:8). Later, Adam experienced physical death (Gen 5:5).
On the cross, Jesus also experienced physical death (Matt 27:50). The difference is that Adam died because he was a sinner, and Jesus, who had never sinned, chose to die as a substitute for sinners (Heb 2:9). Jesus then showed His power over death and sin by rising from the dead on the third day (Matt 28;Rev 1:18). Because of Christ, death is a defeated foe. “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (1 Cor 15:55;Hos 13:14).
For the unsaved, death brings to an end the chance to accept God’s gracious offer of salvation. “It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” (Heb 9:27). For the saved, death ushers us into the presence of Christ: “To be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord” (2 Cor 5:8;Phil 1:23). So real is the promise of the believer’s resurrection that the physical death of a Christian is called “sleep” (1 Cor 15:51;1 Thess 5:10). We look forward to that time when “there shall be no more death” (Rev 21:4).
Erickson speaks of “individual eschatology” and “cosmic eschatology.” One is the future of the individual and the other of the human race and the entire creation. Individual eschatology occurs at death; the cosmic eschatology is at the second coming.
This essay will discuss death in the Scriptures, the origin of physical death, and the meaning of physical death.
DEATH IN THE SCRIPTURES
The word death is used in the Scriptures with reference to three experiences.
Spiritual death is the separation of the person from God. It is the spiritual separation of a person from fellowship with God. Because of God’s omnipresence, there can be no ultimate metaphysical separation from God at any time.
A spiritually dead person is insensitive to the things of God. He is unable and unwilling to initiate any kind of overture or response to God. To be helped, he must be acted upon because he is incapable of helping himself in any way. Isaiah write in 59:2 “Your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God.” Furthermore, Paul writes in Ephesians 2:1“And you were dead in you trespasses and sins.” In verse 5 of the same chapter “even when we were dead in our transgressions” (Eph 2:5). Also Paul further says in Ephesians 2:12“Remember that you were at that time separate from Christ.”
The only remedy for spiritual death is regeneration—the impartation of spiritual life to the spiritually dead.
The Second Death
The second death is the permanent and final separation of the person from God. It is an irrevocable continuation of spiritual death. John in Revelation 20:14 write, “This is the second death, the lake of fire.” Also in Revelation 21:8“…and all liars, will have their part will be in the lake of fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
There is no remedy for the second death.
The Physical Death
Physical death is the temporary separation of the body from the soul and spirit. We read in Genesis 35:18 Moses says that Rachel’s “soul was departing, for she died.” Also James writes, “The body without the spirit is dead” (Jam 2:26). The remedy for physical death is the resurrection.
Physical death involves the whole person. In describing physical death, the Bible always indicates that the person dies, not just his body. Death brings about the dissolution of the parts of the person. The body goes to dust and the soul and spirit continue on in the intermediate state in conscious existence. Moses writes in Genesis 2:17“you shall surely die.” Also we read in Luke 16:22“the poor man died…and the rich man also died.”
In the intertestamental period there developed that the whole person did not die, only the body died. “The soul lives on either to await resurrection (1 Enoch 102) or to enjoy its natural immortality free from the body (Wisdom 3:4; 4:1; 4 Macc 16:13; 17:12), which was an essentially Greek idea.”
Spiritual death is the experience of all men. Physical death is the experience of all except Enoch, Elijah, and those Christians living at the time of the Rapture of the church. The second death is the experience of all who have not received the new birth or spiritual life.
THE ORIGIN OF PHYSICAL DEATH
Death was not a part of the original creation. In Genesis 1:31“and God saw all that He had made, and behold, it was very good.” Adam’s body was apparently neither strictly mortal nor immortal. It was not liable to death nor was it incapable of death. It had the capability of death only after the seeds of sin were sown in it.
Death came as a result of Adam’s sin. God told Adam in Genesis 2:17“In the day that you eat from it you shall surely die.” Because Adam disobeyed God’s command, God pronounced a curse on him.Genesis 3:19 the curse on man: “By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground.” Paul write in Romans 5:12 to summarize the conclusion saying, “Just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, so death spread to all men.”
THE MEANING OF PHYSICAL DEATH
Here the discussion will cover the meaning of death to mankind in general, death to the unsaved, death to the Old Testament saints, and death to the New Testament saints.
Death to Mankind in General
First of all, death is something that is inevitable to all mankind. Salomon writes in Ecclesiastes 3:2 there is a time to die. In context this may refer more to God’s decree than the mere inevitability of death. Also in Ecclesiastes 3:19“For the fate of the sons of men and the fate of beasts is the same. As one dies so dies the other” (see also Eccl 9:5).
Second, death is an enemy. Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:26“the last enemy that will be abolished is death.”
Death to the Unsaved
First of all, death mean to the unsaved is the loss of all good. The world philosophy says that the supreme good is pleasure or happiness. Paul quotes a saying in 1 Corinthians 15:32 which says, “let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.”
Second, death mean to the unsaved is an escape from the evils of life. In 1 Chronicles 10:4-5 Saul asked his armor bearer to kill him. In Revelation 9:6“and in those days men will seek death and will not find it; and they will long to die and death flees from them.”
Third, death mean to the unsaved is the precursor to divine judgment. In Hebrews 9:27 writes “It is appointed for men to die once, and after this comes judgment.”
Death to the Old Testament Saints
Death to the Old Testament saints, in general, was a gloomy and darksome experience. Job writes in Job 10:20-22“before I go…to the land of darkness and deep shadow; the land of utter gloom as darkness itself, of deep shadow without order, and which shines as the darkness” (cf. 17:13;1 Sam 2:9; Ps 88:10-12; 143:3;Lam 3:6). We reads in Psalm 6:5 “For there is no mention of Thee in death; in Sheol who will give Thee thanks?”
For Sheol as a place of silence (see Ps 31:17; 94:17; 115:17). There may be figurative language in some references to Sheol, expressions of distress and the like.
However death was a gloomy to the Old Testament saints, there was a partial Amount of light to alleviate the gloom. This light was concerning the resurrection of the body. The doctrine of resurrection is not developed very fully in the OT, but it is the offsetting factor to all the gloom surrounding death. The intermediate state, however, remained a mystery.
Death to the New Testament Saints
First, death mean to the New Testament is no longer feared. Paul writes in Romans 8:2 about Christians that they are “free from the law of sin and death.” Also in Romans 8:38“Neither death…shall separate us from the love of God.” Further, Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:56, 57 that God gives Christians the victory over death through Christ.
The writer of Hebrews writes in Hebrews 2:14-15 that Christ “rendered powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” Christ has conquered the power of death and has taken away its sting. Some Christians may still be in bondage because they haven’t comprehended Christ’s work.
Second, death is no longer a mystery. Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 5:8 that Christians “prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.” Further, in 1 Thessalonians 5:10“whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” Death is not a mystery because the truth about the intermediate state has been revealed. Death actually becomes a gateway into the presence of Christ Himself (Phil 1:23—“having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better”).
Third, death can be an instrument of chastening. God can discipline believers by death. In Hebrews 12:9“shall we not much rather be subject to the Father of spirits, and live?” (See also 1 Corinthians 11:27-32 especially v. 30: “…a number sleep”).
Fourth, death is still an enemy to the believer of the New Testament saints. Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:26 it is the “last enemy.”
Fifth, death is not inevitable. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 15:51“we shall not all sleep.”
In conclusion, we covered topics in physical death such as, death in the Scriptures, origin of death, and the meaning of death.
When Lymann Abott wrote the following he was 80 years old:
I enjoy my home, my friends, my life. I shall be sorry to part from them. But I have always stood in the bow looking forward with hopeful anticipation. When the time comes for me to put out to sea, I think I shall still be standing in the bow and looking forward with eager interest and glad hopefulness to the new world to which the unknown voyage will take me.
The believer in Christ should have that assurance that one day will be with the Lord forever.
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Erickson, Millard J. Christian Theology.Grand Rapids,MI: Baker Academic, 1998.
_____________. Contemporary Options in Escatology.Grand Rapids,MI: Baker Academic, 1977.
Harris,MurrayJ. From Grave To Glory.Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 1990.
____________. Raised Immortal.Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 1983.
Hoekema, Anthony A. The Bible and the Future.Grand Rapids,MI: Eerdmans, 1979.
Hoyt, Herman A. The End Times.Chicago,IL: Moody, 1969.
NIV Study Bible.Grand Rapids,MI: Zondervan, 2002.
Thiessen Henry C. Lectures in Systematic Theology.Grand Rapids,MI: Williams B. Eerdmans, 1949.
Millard J. Erickson, Christian Theology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 1998), 1173.
P. H. Davids, “Death,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology, 300.
See the NIV Study Bible on Ps 30:1 (p. 813).