The Death of DeathRelated Media
I have entitled this message “The Apple and Adam,” but I can just hear someone say: “Don’t you know that it wasn’t an apple that Adam ate?” Well, I want to tell you right now that I do not know at all that it was not an apple Adam ate. Scripture does not say it was an apple—but Scripture also does not say it wasn’t an apple. It was some kind of a fruit tree, and it could have been an apple just as well as it could have been a peach.
But if you are against Adam eating an apple maybe you would like,
“The Avocado and Our Ancestor”
“The Date and Our Dad”
“The Fig and Our Forefather”
“The Grapefruit and Our Grandfather”
“The Peach and Our Parent”
“The Prune and Our Progenitor” or
“The Cherry and the Chief”
There is no indication whatever that this fruit tree ceased to exist after the fall and that it did not perpetuate itself on earth, as was true of the tree of life. Therefore you may make it any fruit you want. The point is that it wasn’t the fruit of the tree that was bad, but Adam and Eve’s disobedience to the known will of God.
The Lord had specifically told them in Genesis 2:16 and 17, “And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
The Hebrew of “thou shalt surely die” is “dying thou shalt die.” It is a Hebrew idiom that makes the statement very emphatic. Adam understood this else Adam would also have been deceived. Since he was not deceived (1 Tim. 2:14) it follows he did understand. However, he may not have fully understood all of the ramifications of his act of disobedience.
Death was something totally foreign to God’s creation. God is life and He had constructed the world in accordance with His own nature of being. The world that God had made was “very good”—a statement that could not be made when death entered upon the scene. What a change was brought into the world by man eating the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil! God has said, “in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” “At the moment in time that you do what I have commanded you not to do, dying you shall die.” Death was the instantaneous result of disobedience.
I. The Immediate Consequence of Death to Adam and Eve
A. Psychological Anxieties and Fears
What are some of the consequences that came upon the scene as a result of this judgment that immediately fell upon Adam and Eve? Death is a terrible thing, and one of the first results of sin entering into the world and death by sin was that Adam and Eve feared God. The whole gamut of ‘fear’ entered on the scene beginning with Adam and Eve hiding themselves from the presence of the Lord among the trees of the garden (Gen. 3:8).
And they heard the sound of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and the man and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God among the trees of the garden (Genesis 3:8).
Man had known no fear before, but now he was full of fear. He was fearful of his Creator; he feared judgment; the whole area of guilt entered with all of the anxieties of life. All of the problems of hostility, anxiety, fear and perplexity entered immediately when Adam sinned.
B. Substitutional Sacrifices
Adam and Eve began to realize something of the consequences of sin when God made for them coats of skins. In order for this to be done innocent animals—animals that had done nothing—gave their life in order to provide an acceptable covering for the man and the woman. Adam and Eve saw the first physical death when these innocent animals died to provide for them “coats of skins.”
The consequences of sin coming into the world are not fully understood until one sees the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus Christ as “the lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” He died that we might be clothed with His righteousness (2 Cor. 5:21).
Here is the sacrifice of the innocent One who knew no sin, did no sin, in Him was no sin, for us who are sinful. He died as our substitute, in order to provide an acceptable covering for us before God. The full consequence of sin entering into the world is understood only in the light of Calvary.
C. Hostility in the Animal Kingdom
As the curse fell upon mankind and the world, the animal world was also greatly affected. Adam and Eve would realize something of the further consequences of sin in the world as they visualized the hostility in the animal world.
When the animals passed before Adam, he named them all, but at this time there was no hostility at all. The animal kingdom was one big, happy family. No animal was carnivorous. No animal would hurt or kill another animal. Their food was, just as man, the produce of the earth.
Then God said, “Behold, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree which has fruit yielding seed; it shall be food for you; and to every beast of the earth and to every bird of the sky and to every thing that moves on the earth which has life, I have given every green plant for food”; and it was so (Genesis 1:29-30).
With the fall of man there was a change in the animal world. The whole of creation found itself in the bondage of decay and corruption together with man. Moreover without exception every creature experienced groaning and pain. Their very existence was in jeopardy and survival was a fight. Each animal had its enemies as it sought to exist in a hostile world. Animals were killing and eating other animals. What a contrast with the world as God had made it, and with the state of things as they will yet exist on earth in the millennium.
God says in Isaiah 11:6 and 7:
The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid; and the calf and the young lion and the fatling together; and a little child shall lead them. And the cow and the bear shall feed; their young ones shall lie down together: and the lion shall eat straw like the ox.
D. Deterioration and Infirmity in Body
Another way Adam and Eve would have realized the consequences of death in their life was the physical condition of their own bodies. Instantaneously with their sinful act their bodies began to deteriorate. Their teeth developed cavities, they had aches and pains, sickness and infirmities. They were living in a body that was dying and doomed to destruction in the dust.
E. The Loss of Loved Ones
But Adam and Eve only experienced the full significance of their act when Eve, the mother of all living, held in her arms her own son (Abel) who had been killed by her other son (Cain). The awfulness of death was brought fully home at that time to Adam and Eve.
Death is the great enemy of mankind. Few people even want to talk about it; they do not even want to think about it. They seek to push it out of their mind and keep on living as if it will never happen. Some have even deluded themselves into thinking there is no such thing as death, that death is only an illusion, a lie, that it does not exist. How wrong can you be. If there is no such thing as death, then God lied to Adam right from the beginning. But He did not lie.
Death, and the fear of death, holds many all their life in bondage (Heb. 2:15). Yet the Lord Jesus Christ became a man specifically so that He could die, and “that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death” (Heb. 2:14). Death has been conquered by Jesus Christ. Death was swallowed up in victory because the grave could not hold the Lord Jesus. His resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. Someday death will be completely conquered, yet it is the very last enemy on God’s time schedule to be defeated. “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Cor. 15:26).
II. The Meaning of Death
Death means “separation” regardless of the type of death involved. Death is never cessation of existence, nor is it cessation of consciousness.
James 2:26 says: “the body without the spirit is dead.” Whenever there is a separation of the spirit of a man from his body, at that moment death takes place. Just as long as the spirit of a man inhabits the body and is not separated from it, there is life.
In Luke 16 we read the account of the rich man who died and went to Hades. There in Hades (i.e. his soul was in Hades and his body was buried in the ground) he was in torment. He realized also that the beggar that sat at his gate and ate the crumbs from his table was in Abraham’s bosom. He could reason and think. He desired water and someone to return back from the dead to warn his brothers of this place. There was full consciousness of being, thinking, feeling, and remembering.
III. The Three Important Types of Death in Scripture
There are three important types of death in the Word of God: spiritual death, physical death and eternal death. Each death is separation, is the result of sin, and has its remedy in Christ.
A. Spiritual Death
Spiritual death is “separation from God in time.” The moment Adam and Eve sinned they died toward God. Adam and Eve died spiritually right away and this is seen in the fact that they hid themselves from God. They had a nature that was contrary to God’s nature and that nature, now fallen, found no fellowship with God. The life Adam and Eve possessed did not respond to the life possessed and enjoyed by God. God had not died. Man had died spiritually. No longer did he have spiritual life; he was spiritually dead.
Because this was Adam and Eve’s permanent nature as a result of their sin, this nature is passed on to each child born of the seed of man. We are all born spiritually dead toward God. Thus in Ephesians 2:1 we read: “And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” This is why Scripture says: “There is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Rom. 3:11-12).
The natural man being spiritually dead would never seek after God; he would always seek to hide from His presence. The reason is because he is spiritually dead. The message of the gospel is that God seeks after us and finds us. The Lord Jesus is come “to seek and to save” that which is lost.
God’s work is to undo the work of sin and death, and the remedy for spiritual death is spiritual life. The word “quickened” is an old English word meaning “to make alive.”
Ephesians 2:1, “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.”
Ephesians 2:4-6, We who were dead, have been “made alive.” Salvation is the work of God. Only God can give spiritual life in the place of spiritual death.
John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation: but is passed from [out of] death unto [into] life.”
Once we were in the state of death, but by believing on the Lord Jesus Christ we leave that sphere once and for all and we enter into life with God and all that it entails.
Many individuals who have been born once never realize that they are dead toward God. But whether they feel it or not, they are—and God says they are. If you place a weight on a corpse, he does not feel it at all. Thus the unsaved man may not feel separated from God, but he is.
B. Physical Death
Physical death is the separation of the spirit and/or soul from the body. James 2:26 says, “the body without the spirit is dead.” Whenever the soul leaves the body, physical death ensues.
“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” (Romans 5:12).
Physical death in the world is the result of the sin of one man—Adam. To be “in Adam” is to be under the sentence of death. The genealogy of Adam is given in Genesis 5. “This is the book of the generations of Adam” (v. 1). As we read on in this book we read over and over that short phrase: “And he died.” This is the book of death.
But there is another book. In Matthew 1:1 we read the only other time the same phrase occurs: “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.” To be “in Christ” is life and peace. As in Adam all die; in Christ all shall be made alive. Listen to these words of Paul: “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (Rom. 5:17). Because Jesus Christ lives, we shall live also (John 14:19). Even though we may die, we await that future day of our resurrection or the complete redemption of our body (Rom. 8:23). God’s remedy for physical death is resurrection.
C. The Second Death or Eternal Death
This death is spoken of in Revelation 20:12-15, and it refers to “eternal separation from God.” This state is spoken of as that of perishing.
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up; 15 that whoever believes may in Him have eternal life. 16 For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14-16).
1. It is spoken of as hell or gehenna. It is a place of torment prepared for the devil and his angels—a lake of fire—where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched.
2. It is spoken of as a place of utter darkness (Jude 13).
3. It is a place where in eternity will be found “the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, [all of these] shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death” (Rev. 22:8).
I have heard men say in a joking way: “Well, if I go to hell, I am surely going to have a lot of company.” Beloved, this is a fallacious statement. It is correct that there will be many there, for the Lord Jesus Christ Himself said, “broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat” (Matt. 7:13). But Scripture says it is a place of utter darkness, “the blackness of darkness for ever.” Even though it is a lake of fire, it is not something that is light; it is something that is darkness. God is light and His kingdom is a kingdom of light; this is a place of utter darkness. There is no light there.
I do not know whether you have been in total darkness, but if you have, you realize that you can be standing right next to another person and yet there is no help, no feeling between you and them. There is nothing that satisfies you. You are alone! You can be in a crowd, but you are alone! This is the place that is called the second death.
Eternal death is the result of rejecting the Lord Jesus Christ, and failing to believe that He is the Savior of the world.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotton Son of God” (John 3:17-18).
What do you have to do to be lost? Nothing! Absolutely nothing! But you do have to do something to be saved. And the person who is born once, if they do not do anything, will die twice. There is a second death. If we are going to escape this second death we must have a Savior. If there is no second death, there is no need for a Savior. If we are going to escape this second death and dying twice, we are going to have to be born twice—we must be born again (John 3:7). This is the message of the gospel.
The Lord Jesus Christ spoke to those who rejected Him and said: “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).
The issue between life and death is the person of Jesus Christ. What think ye of Him?
The Lord said the Holy Spirit would be sent into the world to “reprove the world of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment: of sin, because they believe not on me” (John 16:8-9).
There is only one sin that will take a person to a Christless eternity, and that is failure to believe on the Savior of the world. There is salvation in no other: for there is no other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved (Act 4:12).
The Word says we are to save some “with fear, pulling them out of the fire” (Jude 23). When we talk about the second death, we certainly are not talking about something that is a wonderful subject—but it is a reality. This is why the Lord Jesus Christ came, “that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:15).
Do you know you have eternal life? Do you know that if you should die today you would go to heaven because the blood of Jesus Christ has saved you? Do you know that you have been rescued, redeemed, taken out of the kingdom of darkness and translated into the kingdom of His dear Son?
If you don’t, you’d better, for this is real. These are not my words, but God’s. This is God’s revelation; I am merely the mailman. There is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun, and there is only one way unto the Father. Jesus Christ said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Do you know you are saved? If not, why not, and why not settle it right now?
“He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him” (John 3:36).
“This is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life” (1 John 5:11-12).
The decision is yours. The issue is life and death.
The greatest parade that the world has ever seen is the parade of death. It started with Adam and it has continued from that day to this. The largest cities in the world are not Tokyo or New York but they are the cities of the dead.
In the words of Paul, death has reigned as a king over mankind: “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” (Rom. 5:12). “By one man’s offence death reigned by one” (Rom. 5:17).
Death reigned as king over the whole human race until Jesus Christ came and conquered death.
I. The Distinction Between Restoration and Resurrection
The very first thing that must be understood is the difference between restorations to life and resurrection. Twice in the Old Testament people were restored to life. Elisha restored to life the Shunammite’s son in 2 Kings 4:32-37. Then after Elisha’s death, a man was restored to life when his body touched the bones of Elisha in 2 Kings 13:20-21. These are the only two occurrences of restorations to life recorded in the Old Testament.
In the New Testament there are three recorded occurrences, and these are but samples of many that occurred in the ministry of Jesus Christ. One was a little girl 12 years old, another was a young man, and the third one recorded was an older man, Lazarus by name. In the first instance death had just occurred; in the second case the funeral procession was in process; in the last situation Lazarus had been dead four days.
In each of these cases the person was restored back to life again, only to die at some other time. Their restoration was to physical life. Not one of these had gone through death into life so that they could not die again. But Jesus Christ did. He was not restored to life. He was resurrected to life. The life He enjoyed as a resurrected being was not a life subject to death. He came out of death into life. Death had no more power over Him.
Thus we read in Romans 6:9, “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him.”
And in 2 Timothy 1:10, “Our Savior Jesus Christ … hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.”
How did Christ abolish death? He did so by going ‘through death.’
“Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; and deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
We may diagram it thus:
The only One who ever passed “through death” into eternal life is Jesus Christ. In doing so He conquered death. He has the keys of death. It is for this reason that the Lord Jesus is called “the firstborn from the dead” (Col. 1:15,18; Rev. 1:5).
II. The Deaths Christ Died
We’ve observed that Scripture speaks of three kinds of death: spiritual, physical and eternal. When Christ died, He took care of the problem of death. He dealt with spiritual, physical and eternal death. In order to do so, He died twice; or He experienced two separate and distinct deaths. He experienced physical death, but He also experienced spiritual death.
Because He was an Infinite Being, He went through physical death, and today there is a man with a body in eternity. Physical death is conquered. There is a man in glory who is the guarantee that all believers will also be there someday in the presence of the Father.
But it is also true that because He was an Infinite Being, the Lord Jesus Christ experienced in spiritual death what a finite person would take an infinite number of years to experience. Thus the Lord, by experiencing spiritual death, took care of eternal death for the believers. He tasted death for every man. No man need die eternally. Provision has been made for his salvation. The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels, and the Lord takes no pleasure in man being involved in the condemnation that is due the devil. To stay in the City of Destruction is to perish with the ungodly (cf. Gen. 19:15-26). To remain in the kingdom of darkness is to become involved in the judgment that will be given those who oppose God and His gospel (cf. 2 Thess. 1:7-9). Salvation is available for man; it is not available for the devil or his angels. It is available because of the deaths Christ died.
It is striking that in the Hebrew of Isaiah 53:8 and 9 two plurals are used. It says: “He was cut off out of the land of the living [plural]: for the transgression of my people was he stricken. And he made his grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death [plural, ‘deaths’].” It is often true that the Hebrew uses abstract qualities in the plural, but it is also true that the Lord Jesus Christ was cut off from the land of the living both Godward and then manward. The living God was separated from the Son in the darkness of the cross; He was cut off for the first and only time in all eternity from the living God. Then He was cut off from those living on earth. This would signify He died twice—and that is exactly what the next phrase says.
In the first death he made His grave with the wicked for He hung between two thieves. His second grave, (that which was physical) was with the rich. He was buried in a rich man’s tomb. Thus the prophet prophetically sees both His grave with the wicked and His grave with the rich in the deaths He died. Only God could write it so exactly.
A. The Spiritual Death of Christ on the Cross
The Lord Jesus Christ hung on the cross for a total of six hours. It was not by accident that three of those hours were in light and three were in darkness. The darkness was a supernatural darkness. It was not due to an eclipse of the sun because this day was the Passover. It was full moon, and an eclipse of the sun can only take place when it is new moon. The moon was 180 degrees wrong for there to be an eclipse.
It was not dark because of there being storm clouds in the sky, for there was not a cloud in the sky this day. The Prophet wrote of this day: “I will cause the sun to go down at noon, and I will darken the earth in the clear day” (Amos 8:9). God did just that. It was noon when darkness fell over the land. It was a supernatural darkness from the Lord.
During the first three hours the sufferings of Christ on the cross were at the hands of men. During the last three hours, He suffered at the hands of a righteous and holy God.
From 9 a.m. until noon, man was at the cross pouring out his worst—mocking, reviling, deriding—while during the very same time God was offering up for man His very best. From noon until 3 p.m., man was offering up his best—the only sinless one who had ever lived—while at the same time God was pouring out His worst.
During the first three hours our Lord was the “sinless” Son of God (Heb. 7:26); during the last three hours He was “made sin” (2 Cor. 5:21), and He became the accursed thing. Because God cannot look on sin, neither did He allow man to look on the Lord during this time. God, for the only time in eternity past or future, was separated from the Son, and a veil was hung over the light of the sun in order that man might realize the gravity of the moment.
During the first three hours, Calvary was only a hill outside the city of Jerusalem where the Son of Man was crucified; during the final three hours, Calvary became the brazen altar of God where the Son of God was slain for our sins.
During the light, Christ bore the weight of His own body on the cross; during the last three hours He bore the sins of the whole world.
During the period of light at the cross, we see God’s day toward which everything had been moving in time, but we see man’s night in which the blackness of the fallen human heart was manifest toward Christ. During the period of darkness, we see God’s night when His wrath was poured out on His own Son and which was the only time in eternity in which there was separation between the Father and the Son. But during this same period we see man’s day when salvation is now available to sinful man by grace through merely looking by faith to the cross and the work that Christ did in this moment in time.
In the first three hours, Christ bore the fires of man’s wrath against Him. All the torture man could give was poured out. Death by crucifixion was the greatest torture man had ever devised. In the last three hours, the Lord bore the fire of God’s wrath in His very being, manifesting that He was an acceptable sacrifice—truly “the Lamb of God which taketh away the sin of the world.” In these last hours Christ endured all the sufferings of hell.
The fourth cry of the Lord upon the cross, which took place near the close of the final three hours, was: “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” This forsaking of the Son by God the Father and God the Holy Spirit had taken place the moment sin was imputed to Him. God is “of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Hab. 1:13). This was the cup of wrath that Christ anguished over in Gethsemane.
The fifth cry on the cross was “I thirst.” Here the fires of God’s wrath were burning within Him.
In the sixth cry on the cross Christ said: “It is finished.” He had completely accomplished redemption. He had “paid in full” the requirement of holiness and righteousness. Nothing more could be done. The Father is satisfied with the sacrifice of Christ for sin.
The seventh cry on the cross finds Christ saying once again “Father.” He is now back in fellowship with the Father. Spiritual death or separation is over. A complete satisfaction spiritually has been made. Christ died for our sins. He bore the wrath due us in His own body on the tree. He tasted death for every man.
Remember that it is the death Christ experienced on the cross of spiritual separation from the Father which provides eternal salvation for us. It is not the physical death of Christ that saves anyone, but His spiritual death. Our message is about a cross—this is what we preach—-not a tomb.
Christ said He had the power to lay down His physical life at any time and to take it up again (John 10:18). Had Christ laid down His life at another time before finishing the work of redemption and propitiation on the cross, not one of us could have been saved. Even after spending three hours on the cross, had He laid down His life, yet no one would have been saved. The physical death is not the important death. Christ had to go through physical death even as He went through the incarnation and birth. Yet He came out of death being raised from the death. Nevertheless the death He endured and tasted that is significant to our salvation is His spiritual death with the Father and the Holy Spirit. His passing through physical death was then only the logical outcome of His being a perfect sacrifice for sin.
Next we want to consider what happened as the Lord passed through physical death and was raised by the power of God.
Let us never forget that Christ “once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust” (1 Pet. 3:18). He bore “our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). “Christ hath suffered for us in the flesh” (1 Pet. 4:1). He hath made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21). “Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us” (Gal. 3:13). Christ … “who loved me, and gave himself for me” (Gal. 2:20). “Christ … hath loved us and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweet-smelling savour” (Eph. 5:2).
B. The Physical Death of Christ on the Cross
Besides the Lord’s death of spiritual separation, there occurred after this experience physical death. The soul and human spirit of the Lord Jesus Christ were separated from His body, and physical death occurred. We want to spend this lesson looking at what occurred when Christ died physically on the cross.
John records: “When Jesus therefore had received the vinegar; he said, It is finished: and he bowed his head, and gave up the ghost” (John 19:30). Luke adds another significant detail. “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost” (Luke 23:46). The expression, “he gave up the ghost” is an old English way of simply saying, “He expired”; “He gave His last breath.”
Here is a man laying down His own life. No one had ever done this before. Men have no power over their own life, but their times are in the Lord’s hands. However with Christ, He had the authority or right to lay down His own life and to take it up again (John 10:17-18). The fact that Christ did not lay down His life until the sin problem was finished which makes salvation possible for mankind, and makes His death efficacious.
We want to follow first the physical body of Christ after death, and then follow the soul and human spirit of Christ following death.
1. The physical body of Christ
After the death of Christ on the cross, John gives a detailed description of what happened to the body of Christ,
John 19:31-42 The Jews therefore, because it was the day of preparation, so that the bodies should not remain on the cross on the Sabbath for that Sabbath was a high day, asked Pilate that their legs might be broken, and that they might be taken away. 32 The soldiers therefore came, and broke the legs of the first man, and of the other man who was crucified with Him; 33 but coming to Jesus, when they saw that He was already dead, they did not break His legs; 34 but one of the soldiers pierced His side with a spear, and immediately there came out blood and water. 35 And he who has seen has borne witness, and his witness is true; and he knows that he is telling the truth, so that you also may believe. 36 For these things came to pass, that the Scripture might be fulfilled, “Not a bone of Him shall be broken.” 37 And again another Scripture says, “They shall look on Him whom they pierced.”
38 And after these things Joseph of Arimathea, being a disciple of Jesus, but a secret one, for fear of the Jews, asked Pilate that he might take away the body of Jesus; and Pilate granted permission. He came therefore, and took away His body. 39 And Nicodemus came also, who had first come to Him by night; bringing a mixture of myrrh and aloes, about a hundred pounds weight. 40 And so they took the body of Jesus, and bound it in linen wrappings with the spices, as is the burial custom of the Jews. 41 Now in the place where He was crucified there was a garden; and in the garden a new tomb, in which no one had yet been laid. 42 Therefore on account of the Jewish day of preparation, because the tomb was nearby, they laid Jesus there.
In this account John gives us the evidence for actual death. We may be assured that Jesus Christ physically died for the following reasons.
(1) The appearance (19:30). Christ cried out; it was a cry of relief. He bowed His head and He expired for the last and final time. His actions signify death.
(2) The expert announcement (19:31-33). The very fact that the Lord’s legs were not broken was because legal experts on the subject of death knew He was dead already. They witnessed to this fact by not breaking the Lord’s legs.
(3) The absolute certainty (19:34). Since these soldiers dare not make a mistake, and since it would not hurt a dead body to have a sword thrust into His heart cavity to make certain He was dead, the Roman soldier did just that. Now there can be no question about it. Life as we know it could not function in a body with a gash into the heart sac large enough for a man to thrust his hand.
(4) The visible fact (19:34-35). John himself says that he was a witness to the fact that he saw both blood and water pour forth from the spear wound. Here was the postmortem performed upon the body of Christ. Since the blood had already separated or coagulated into the red clot (“blood”) and the limpid serum (“water”), it proves that Christ had not only died, but He had been dead some time.
(5) The handling of the body (19:38-42). The final proof that Jesus Christ was dead was the handling of His body. Anyone who has handled a corpse knows what I mean. There is no guesswork involved as to whether they are dead or not. There are two valid witnesses in Israel, both members of the Sanhedrin, who handled His body and they can witness to the fact that this man was dead.
Now by the mouth of two or three witnesses, the truth may be established. Here are many witnesses. All who were there at the cross saw how He died. The soldiers witness to His death by not breaking His legs. The crowd again can testify as to the spear piercing His side. The writer of the Gospel is an eyewitness of the blood and water coming from His riven side. Finally, Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus are witnesses that they prepared a corpse for burial.
Before the cross, men did whatever they willed to the Son. In fact, Christ had said in the Garden: “When I was daily with you in the temple, ye stretched forth no hands against me: but this is your hour, and the power of darkness” (Luke 22:53). Whatever man willed he did to the Son of God, but after Christ died, no unbeliever ever touched the body of Christ. Both Joseph of Arimathaea and Nicodemus were believers, and their claiming Christ’s body forced them to expose themselves as His followers. This caused the Lord’s body to be buried in a rich man’s tomb in a garden that was close to Calvary.
With the body in a tomb “that was hewn in stone, wherein never man before was laid” and with a stone rolled over the entrance and sealed with the seal of Rome, let us now follow the story of the soul and human spirit of the Lord.
2. The soul and human spirit of Christ
It is most unfortunate that otherwise excellent teachers have stated that Christ’s body went into the grave, His soul went to paradise, while His human spirit went into the presence of the Father. In support of this, the passage of Luke 23:46 is given: “And when Jesus had cried with a loud voice, he said, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit’: and having said thus, he gave up the ghost,” or expired.
That Christ had a body, a soul and a human spirit is very factual. He was perfect man, and so likewise all believers will be forever glorified in body, soul and spirit (1 Thess. 5:23). Furthermore, it is true that the physical body of Christ went into the tomb, but the soul and human spirit are never divided so that one goes one place and the other goes another place. The soul and human spirit are the immaterial part of being. My soul and human spirit are the real me, and they inhabit at this present time my body. The real person of the Lord was His soul and human spirit, and these were commended into the hands of the Father. For what purpose? That the Father might perform His wishes and desires. Here is a committal, not of place, but of purpose—of accomplishment. The Father could do as He saw fit. Redemption was over. The Son knew where He would be and had just mentioned it, namely in paradise (Luke 23:43). But whether He rose again, He committed to the Father to perform even though He had the power to raise Himself from the dead. The Son wanted the Father to vindicate Him by the resurrection from the dead if His work was acceptable to Him. Thus into the Father’s hands He committed His spirit.
a. Where did Christ go?
This brings us to the question: Where did the soul and human spirit of Christ go at death? The person of Christ was together in one place. He said to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43, “Verily I say unto thee, Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Did Christ and the thief on the cross go to heaven when they died, or did they go somewhere else? In order to answer this question it is necessary to understand what is spoken about the place of the departed spirits both in the Old Testament and also in the New.
The place where the soul or spirit of man went at death was called by the Hebrews ‘Sheol.’ It meant simply, “the place of the departed spirits.” The Greeks had the word Hades for identically the same concept. Hades was the abode of the dead. Neither the term Sheol nor Hades designated anything concerning the righteousness or unrighteousness of the person involved. All—righteous and unrighteous—went to Sheol or Hades.
We learn further in both the Old and New Testaments that Sheol and Hades were within the earth itself. One passage in both Testaments will suffice. In Numbers 16 we have the rebellion of Korah. Moses said in reference to these who rebelled;
29 “If these men die the death of all men, or if they suffer the fate of all men, then the LORD has not sent me. 30 But if the LORD brings about an entirely new thing and the ground opens its mouth and swallows them up with all that is theirs, and they descend alive into Sheol, then you will understand that these men have spurned the LORD.”
31 Then it came about as he finished speaking all these words, that the ground that was under them split open; 32 and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men who belonged to Korah, with their possessions. 33 So they and all that belonged to them went down alive to Sheol; and the earth closed over them, and they perished from the midst of the assembly (Numbers 16:29-33).
From this it may be seen that Sheol is in the earth. The Lord Himself verified this, and was even more specific. He said: “As Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40). Thus Sheol or Hades is not only a place in the earth, but it is in the heart of it.
From the teaching of the Lord in Luke 16 concerning the rich man and Lazarus (vv. 19-31) we learn that there are two compartments to Hades. There is an upper portion where the righteous go which is a place of bliss, and a lower portion for the unrighteous which is a place of torment. In this place where there is full capacity of personality with intellect, emotion and will, the righteous and unrighteous sections are divided by a great gulf fixed so that none can traverse from one to the other.
With this background we are ready to consider where Christ went when He died. He went to Sheol or Hades which was in the heart of the earth. But He went to the upper portion of this place. It may be called “Abraham’s bosom” (Luke 16:22) because it is a place of endearment and blessing. It was called by Christ, speaking to the thief on the cross, “paradise.” The Lord told this man: “Today thou shalt be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). This again signifies a place of bliss. Paradise is a word of Persian origin signifying “a royal park or garden.” Paradise, then, is equivalent to Abraham’s bosom or the upper portion of Sheol or Hades.
Now we can understand why Peter said on the day of Pentecost, quoting what David said of the Messiah,
“For David speaketh concerning him, I foresaw the Lord always before my face; for he is on my right hand, that I should not be moved: Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption” (Acts 2:25-27).
The word hell here is very unfortunate. The Greek word is ‘Hades,’ not ‘gehenna,’ and should be so translated here and many other places in the New Testament. Peter is quoting from Psalm 16 which speaks of the Messiah, and there the Hebrew word is ‘Sheol.’ The soul of Christ did go to Sheol or Hades, but it was not left there.
29 “Brethren, I may say to you confidently of the patriarch David that he both died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. 30 Being therefore a prophet, and knowing that God had sworn with an oath to him that he would set one of his descendants upon his throne, 31 he foresaw and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption. 32 This Jesus God raised up, and of that we all are witnesses” (Acts 2:29-32).
This is the reason the Apostles’ Creed says: “He descended into hell.” It also is the word Hades, and very definitely Christ descended into Hades when He died on the cross (cf. Rom. 10:6-7).
b. What did Christ do?
This brings us to what did Christ do there in Hades? The Lord never went anywhere but that He did something. He had a purpose and a plan, and He accomplished it. We find that there was both a proclamation and a liberation performed by Him. He both spoke a message and did a work.
(1) His words.
“For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison” (1 Pet. 3:18-19).
It was by His death He went and proclaimed a message to the spirits who were in prison in the upper portion of Sheol or Hades. This verse has nothing to do with offering salvation a second time to the lost. This verse does not teach this and neither does any other verse in Scripture. The word “preach” means to make a proclamation, to proclaim something. Christ told them that the sacrifice for their sins had been made. He had made it on the cross (cf. Rom. 3:25). All through the Old Testament sins were only “atoned” or covered over temporarily. Now there had been a complete taking away and remission of sins that are past. Even though these in the righteous portion of Sheol were “unjust” and had been once “disobedient” yet they were saved by grace through faith, and Christ’s death had made their salvation complete.
(2) His work.
The passage that tells us about what Christ accomplished when He died and went to Hades is Ephesians 4.
7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore it says, “When He ascended on high, He led captive a host of captives, And He gave gifts to men.” 9 Now this expression, “He ascended,” what does it mean except that He also had descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10 He who descended is Himself also He who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things. (Ephesians 4:7-10).
Verse 7 states that the church, the body of Christ, has received grace gifts from the head of the church that ascended on high. Verse 8 then states that when Christ ascended, He did two things. First He led captivity captive (we will come back to this in a moment), and second, He gave gifts unto men. These gifts given to the church on earth are enumerated in verse 11 as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors-teachers. Completing the passage we find in verse 9 that before Christ ascended He first descended. Furthermore, His descent was into the lower parts of the earth. It was not into the lowest parts for He did not descend into the lower part of Sheol or Hades, but was in the upper portion. Verse 10 gives the wonderful truth that the Lord’s ascending was not half way from Sheol, but all the way above all heavens. Christ ascended, not just to the earth’s surface after being in the heart of the earth, but He ascended to the highest heaven, even to God’s throne where He sat down. He assumed His original position in the trinity.
With this background, let us consider the phrase, “He led captivity captive.” Literally, “He captivated captivity.” When an Old Testament believer died, he could not go into heaven because the way had not yet been provided. The blood was not on the mercy seat. Christ had to die and be resurrected and He has provided a new and living way whereby we may approach the Father on the basis of the blood of Christ (Heb. 10:19). But more than this, Christ had to be the firstfruits of death. No one could enter in God’s presence through death before the Son did. He is “the forerunner” (Heb. 6:20), and the leader of many others being their Captain (Heb. 2:10).
Thus believers in the Old Testament died in hope of a future day of victory and of resurrection (cf. Heb. 6:2), yet they had to wait in the upper portion of Sheol until the blood was on the mercy seat and until Jesus Christ led the way. The Old Testament believers were held captive then in Sheol, but Christ came and proclaimed that they were able with His resurrection to go free from their prison house, and when Christ rose from the dead He took all those held captive in the upper portion of Sheol to heaven with Him. He captivated captivity.
Thus the Lord’s ministry was not only on earth, but under the earth. With this in mind we can understand what we read in Isaiah 61:1, “The Spirit of the Lord God is upon me … to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.” This is exactly what Christ did. He first made the proclamation and then He captivated captivity. When He ascended, He took with Him into God’s presence all of those that were held captive in the upper or righteous portion of Sheol. He emptied it completely of any inhabitant.
But this is just the beginning. Not only did Christ empty the righteous portion of Sheol or Hades, and lead them all to heaven, but He closed down Hades from receiving any more righteous souls when they die. He changed the place where the righteous go at death.
When a righteous person dies, he no longer descends into Hades, but he immediately goes to be with Christ. The moment the believer is absent from the body, he is present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul was “in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ; which is far better” (Phil. 1:23). Furthermore, he was one who was caught up into paradise and this was none other than God’s throne or the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:24). Paradise was no longer a place in the heart of the earth, it was up in heaven (cf. Rev. 2:7). Christ had changed its location by His work in death and His work through death.
This is why Christ said: “I will build my church; and the gates of hell [Hades] shall not prevail against it” (Matt. 16:18). Not one person will ever be saved and descend into Hades where the gates of Hades will open to receive this person. The Lord will not lose one. Thus through death Christ destroyed both the power and the fear of death.
Thank God for the deaths Christ died. He tasted death for every man. He through death has conquered death, and stands the Victor over death. He is the One who could say: “I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:25-26). He said: “Verily, verily, I say unto you, If a man keep my sayings, he shall never see death” (John 8:51). Christ has changed death for every believer.
If the Lord tarries, each of us will someday come face-to-face with death. For each couple, one will be buried, the other will bury, one of us will be in the casket, the other will stand beside the bier. At that time all the emotions of the human heart will be strained and stretched to the fullest capacity until it would seem that the heart would break. As a couple should be prepared for marriage before the wedding, so should we also be prepared, as much as is humanly possible, for separation before it occurs.
Albert Kennedy Rowswell’s poem, “Should You Go First” seeks to express this anticipated separation.
Should you go first, and I remain
To walk the road alone,
I’ll live in memory’s garden, dear,
With the happy days we’ve known.
In spring, I’ll wait for the roses red,
In summer, lilacs blue;
In autumn, when the brown leaves fall,
I’ll catch a breath of you.
Should you go first, and I remain
For battles to be fought,
Each thing you’ve touched along the way
Will be a hallowed spot.
I’ll hear your voice, I’ll see your smile
Though blindly I may grope;
The memory of your loving hand
Will buoy me on with hope.
Should you go first, and I remain
To finish with the scroll?
No dark shadows shall creep in
To make this life seem droll.
We’ve known so much of happiness,
We’ve had our cup of joy;
The memory is one gift of God
That death cannot destroy.
Should you go first, and I remain,
One thing I’d have you know,
Walk slowly down the path of death,
For soon, I’ll follow you.
I’ll want to know each step you take,
That I may walk the same,
For some day, down that lonely road,
You’ll hear me call your name.
Some unknown author, realizing that the true Spirit-filled believer has much more to look forward to, rewrote the last stanza to read:
Should you go first, and I remain,
One thing for sure we know;
We’ll meet again in that bright land
Beyond the golden shore;
God’s great salvation we’ve received
Through Jesus’ matchless Name,
And there in Heaven united be,
We’ll never part again!
I would like to have us realize what Jesus Christ has done to death. He has changed death for every believer. He has done so for three reasons. First of all death is completely changed for the believer because Jesus Christ conquered death.
I. Jesus Christ Conquered Death
From Adam until Christ came and died, death reigned as a king over mankind (cf. Rom. 5:14, 21). In all of this time only two escaped dying—Enoch and Elijah—yet for all who died, they were held captive by this reigning monarch we call death.
When Jesus Christ went to the cross, He did a perfect work in reference to death. His death was to ultimately be “the death of death.”
First of all by partaking of the death of separation from God, He tasted death for every man. No man need taste the fires of hell. The lake of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Second, Christ went through death in order to be the victor over death.
While everyone else was a slave to death, He conquered death so that death was subject to Him and not He to it. Death is now the Lord Jesus Christ’s servant, and He is its Master and Lord. This was not always true. This is why we read in Hebrews 2:14, “Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Heb. 2:14-15).
A few comments on this passage are pertinent. The only way that God the Son could die would be to assume the nature of man. God cannot die, but someone who is both God and man could die. But being both God and man, the Lord Jesus Christ could not only die, He could conquer death and so become its new master. The old master and lord of death was the devil. This is why we see in the Old Testament that the devil had the power of death in his possession, and would oftentimes use it as he did in Job, chapters 1 and 2. In this passage, the only reason that Satan did not employ it in reference to Job himself was because the Lord had, in his case, specifically restricted him. However it was Satan who was responsible for the death of Job’s servants who were tending his oxen and asses, the servants tending his sheep, the servants tending his camels, and all of his ten children.
Satan’s power of death over all mankind is illustrated by Pharaoh’s rulership over the children of Israel in Egypt. Even though the Israelites were God’s children, they were under the domain and power of Pharaoh. Pharaoh had and exercised at times death over his subjects, and did so in order to keep them in fear and in bondage. Though Pharaoh had the power of death over the Lord’s people as well as his own, he did not exercise it to annihilate the Israelites because he wanted them as his slaves to do his work. Dead slaves would profit his kingdom nothing. Yet Pharaoh’s power of death kept the Israelites in a state of fear and bondage.
However, with the death of the lamb at Passover and the blood applied to the dwellings of the Israelites, everything changed. No longer were the Israelites under the bondage of Pharaoh, and no longer were they to be in fear of death. Now the Lord was the one they were to fear, not Pharaoh (cf. Matt. 10:28). Just so this is exactly what happened when Jesus Christ died. He took death out of the hands of Satan for the saved, and death is controlled today by nail-scarred hands.
So we read in Revelation 1:18, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” The word “hell” here is Hades, and the best manuscripts read death first followed by Hades: “I have the keys of death and of Hades.”
When a person has keys he has authority over what the keys fit. Whoever dies and whoever enters heaven and Hades is in the Lord’s power. He has the keys and He has not delegated this authority to Peter, or to anyone else. It is not Peter who stands at the gate of heaven to decide who enters therein, but the Lord.
In order to complete the picture, it is necessary to realize that Satan still has the power of death at this present time over those who are in his kingdom. While the child of God has been rescued out of the kingdom of darkness and from the power of the prince of this world (Gal. 1:4; Col. 1:13), this is not true for unbelievers. They still are in the bondage of Satan.
When Paul commanded that the Corinthians excommunicate the person who had sinned from fellowship with all believers, he said this: “In the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, when ye are gathered together, and my spirit, with the power of our Lord Jesus Christ, to deliver such a one unto Satan for the destruction of the flesh, that the spirit may be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus” (1 Cor. 5:4-5). Here is the truth that Satan has the power of death in his kingdom. In this case the believer, who is saved, by the power of God is put back into the sphere of Satan, and outside the ministry and the prayers of the church, outside the high priestly ministry of the Lord Jesus Christ at the Father’s throne, outside the ministry of the angels who minister to those who are heirs of salvation. He is placed in this sphere so that Satan may operate and even physically destroy his life. This is the sin unto death which only a believer can commit.
II. Jesus Christ Causes Death
Death has been completely changed for the believer, not only because Jesus Christ conquered death, but because now, in the life of the believer, Jesus Christ is the cause of death. You may ask: “How can this be such a wonderful truth?” First let us see that it is true in Scripture, and then contemplate why it is so very precious.
This truth that the Lord Jesus is responsible for the death of believers is verified not only by His having the keys of death but also by what we read in 1 Thessalonians 4:14. We read in verse 13 that we are not to sorrow for those who have fallen asleep in Christ as others do which have no hope, “for if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.” The phrase that is so important is “sleep in Jesus.”
The Revised Version margin reads: “through Jesus” and does so because this is the literal rendering of the phrase in the Greek. Paul knew the preposition for “in” and he could have certainly used it here if that was what he intended, but he did not. He plainly said these who are believers “sleep through Jesus.” This signifies causative action. Jesus is the one responsible that they fell asleep before He returned. He is, moreover, not just indirectly responsible, but directly responsible for their death.
This is the way all of the early Greek writers understood the phrase, and they certainly knew their language. Later in church history men wanted to find some other way of rendering this Greek construction, because to understand it as “through Jesus” made Jesus Christ responsible for the believer’s death. Yet it is a parallelism: “God will bring with Him—those who have fallen asleep through Jesus.”
What men have failed to realize is that if Jesus Christ is not responsible for the believer’s death, then there is only one other who can be, and that is the devil himself. While the devil was responsible for causing death at one time, this is no longer so for the Lord’s child. By the authority of the Word of God, any believer who dies, regardless of how he dies, dies because “Jesus” took him home to be with Him.
This precious truth should give us a whole new understanding of death for the child of God. Satan is not responsible for the death of believers. Fate is not the cause for a person dying. “Jesus” is.
The very fact that Paul here uses the human name for the second person of the Trinity, Jesus, is significant. “Jesus” is used by itself very sparingly in the epistles, and I feel it should also be used, accordingly, very sparingly in our speech. Paul uses it only a total of twelve times; seven times it is used in Hebrews; and six times in the book of Revelation, making a grand total of twenty-five times in all the Word of God.
“Jesus” is the Lord’s human name. It signifies the Lord as one who can “be touched with the feelings of our infirmities.” Here is the one who wept over the death of someone He loved dearly. He knows what we experience because He also experienced the same. We are not to sorrow as others who have no hope, but we still do sorrow—and He knows and cares.
The sting of death will someday be completely removed. If someone tells you that the believer should have complete victory over the death of a loved one because it no longer bears any sting, he is out of touch with reality, and also he does not know the Scriptures. The Word says the sting is removed only when death is swallowed up in victory through resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:54). Then we at that time will be able to say: “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” (15:55). Until that time death has a sting and the grave is victorious for a season.
We still sorrow, and we should. God does not want us to repress that sorrow. But we should not sorrow for believers as others who have no hope.
III. Jesus Christ Consecrated Death
This brings us to our third consideration. Jesus Christ has changed the entire content of death. Even though it is still appointed unto men once to die, yet death is no longer the same thing for believers. The Lord changed its nature by His resurrection and ascension.
He said, “Because I live, ye shall live also” (John 14:19). The Lord stands as the firstfruits of the coming harvest of resurrection (1 Cor. 15:23). Jesus Christ’s resurrection is the guarantee of our resurrection. Furthermore, it is the guarantee of our acceptance before the Father for all eternity. Jesus Christ “was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification” (Rom. 4:25). The Lord, through suffering and death, is doing a work of “bringing many sons unto glory” (Heb. 2:10). He is the Captain of our salvation; He is our forerunner, and the guarantee that someday we will also be bodily in the presence of the Father just as Jesus Christ Himself is now (Heb. 6:19-20).
Not only did Christ change death for the Old Testament believers by leading captivity captive to heaven when He ascended, but He has changed death for all believers today who die. We need never fear death as an experience. Paul was one who was caught up into paradise to the very throne of God (2 Cor. 12:2, 4). There he “heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter” (12:4b). After this Paul faced death at Rome and he actually preferred death if this was the Lord’s will. For him death was to gain, not lose (Phil. 1:21). His own personal desire was “to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better” (1:23). To remain behind was what was hard.
Now the only way that there could be blessing in death for Paul and for any believer was that the soul went immediately to be with the Lord. New Testament Scriptures speak about a person who is a believer and has died as sleeping, but it is never the soul that sleeps. Sleep is only used of the body. The analogy is that just as the body sleeps, it pictures but a temporary situation. Soon there will be an awakening, and the mind and body will again function as one. This is a picture of the believer whose body sleeps but his soul is with the Lord. Later the Lord unites both together at the rapture, and the believer will be body, soul and spirit before the Lord.
13 “But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, and remain until the coming of the Lord, shall not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trumpet of God; and the dead in Christ shall rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and thus we shall always be with the Lord. 18 Therefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thess. 4:13-18).
“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete, without blame at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thess. 5:23).
The Son prayed to the Father in John 17, “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory, which thou hast given me …” (v. 24). This has been answered in part, and today the souls of all the righteous are with the Lord. Moreover, whenever a believer dies now, he goes immediately to be with the Lord. Paul said,
“Therefore, being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord—for we walk by faith, not by sight—we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:6-8).
Paul was confident about this; it was a settled issue for him and he knew for all believers at Corinth. For all believers he says, we are well pleased, we take pleasure in rather our being away from home out of the body and to be at home with the Lord.
Our Savior Jesus Christ has “abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). He has destroyed death. Jesus Christ’s resurrection was the death of death. “How is this possible,” you say, “when men still die?” Here is how.
When Adam sinned in the garden, spiritual death was immediate. Physical death came later as a consequence of that act. Just so when Christ died on the cross, the provision for eternal life was immediately available. Physical life or resurrection life followed later in God’s program as a result.
John 3:16 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish [should never experience eternal death], but have everlasting life.” When I believed, I had at that moment everlasting life. Everlasting life does not begin at my death, but when I received Jesus Christ.
“He came to his own home, and his own people received him not. But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God; who were born, not of blood nor of the will of the flesh nor of the will of man, but of God” (John 1:11-13).
Death at that moment was abolished. I will never be separated from God the Father, God the Son, or God the Holy Spirit. Even though I may go through a state of physical death, there is no separation from the Lord.
“For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:38-39).
Where there is no separation from the Lord, there is no spiritual death. I have life, then, and immortality right now through believing the gospel concerning Jesus Christ, and someday I will have also incorruption.
“… in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality” (1 Cor. 15:52-53).
The believer, then, may die physically, but there is no spiritual death. The believer is at no time separated from the Lord, even at the instance of physical death. The person who suffers at the time of death is never the believer who dies, for he goes immediately to be with the Lord. Those who suffer are the ones who are left behind. As the Lord has dealt with spiritual death and abolished it by offering life and immortality to all who will believe the gospel, so the Lord will someday abolish physical death. It is, however, the last enemy that shall be destroyed (1 Cor. 15:26).
After this comes eternal death which is called in Scripture, the second death. We have seen that God has a remedy for spiritual death. It is to believe the gospel concerning Jesus Christ. We have seen that God has a remedy for physical death. It is resurrection by Jesus Christ that will take place in God’s future program. Now what is the remedy for the second death? When and how is it destroyed?
Beloved, it is not destroyed—ever. There is no remedy for eternal death once it is entered into. There is no escape from this torment that was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41; 2 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; Rev. 14:10-11; 20:10; Isa. 66:24). It is everlasting, never-ending punishment which was never meant for man, but which he receives when he fails to flee to the only person in all the world who can save a sinner from destruction. Jesus Christ is the Savior of the world. If He is rejected, there is no other (cf. Acts 4:12).
Jesus Christ, through His death, has provided escape from eternal death, but once eternal death is entered, there is no escape. It is a place where “the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” It is spoken of as a place of “everlasting contempt” (Dan. 12:2), and stands in contrast to “everlasting life.” As the one is eternal, so is the other.
Since there is no escape, this is why Paul wrote: “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). There is no salvation, no escape, in that day. Our Lord said: “Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: But strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it” (Matt. 7:13-14).
The broad way ends in “destruction.” The narrow way ends in “life.” Each man chooses which way he will go—the way of the Lord or the way of the multitude. The one starts out broad, but it ends at a point—destruction.
The other starts out narrow—Christ is the only way unto the Father (John 14:6)—but it ends in life.
What way are you going?
Dwight L. Moody was once asked if he had dying grace. His reply was “No, I don’t. The Lord has not called me to die. When He does, He will give me dying grace.” His point was this: the Lord does not give grace until we need it. When He calls upon us to go through an experience, He then gives us grace equal for the occasion.
A few hours before D. L. Moody’s home-going, he awakened from sleep and said: “Earth recedes, Heaven opens before me. If this is death, it is sweet! There is no valley here. God is calling me, and I must go!”
His son who was standing by his bedside said: “No, no, father, you are dreaming.”
“No!” said Mr. Moody, “I am not dreaming: I have been within the gates: I have seen the children’s faces.” A short time elapsed and then, following what seemed to the family to be the death struggle he spoke again: “This is my triumph; this my coronation day! It is glorious!”
Dying grace is a term or expression that we use to express what happens just before a believer dies. It may be a longer or a shorter period of time, but it refers to that peace and elation which is experienced just before death. It may be something experienced when the person himself knows nothing about his home-going, but the Lord did. It may be when death is certain, as in the case of dying with cancer, that dying grace is extended to the believer over a long period of time. Even though there may be great pain and suffering, yet in the midst God gives rest and peace. Thus the believer is enabled to have a wonderful testimony and perhaps the most productive period of witnessing of God’s power in all his life.
In this lesson we want to look at this dying grace, and see what is involved.
I. Dying Grace: The Ministry of the Holy Spirit
We who are saved so often take all of the blessings we receive from the Lord for granted. This is very unfortunate and inconsiderate.
“Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Ps. 103:2).
“Many, O Lord my God, are thy wonderful works which thou hast done, and thy thoughts which are to usward; they cannot be reckoned up in order unto thee: if I would declare and speak of them, they are more than can be numbered” (Ps. 40:5).
“How precious also are thy thoughts unto me, O God! How great is the sum of them! If I should count them, they are more in number than the sand” (Ps. 139:17-18).
Here is just one of those great blessings: when we die, we receive from the Lord dying grace.
In order to see what dying grace is, we need to begin at the beginning. When we trusted the Lord Jesus Christ as our personal Savior, we were given eternal life. It is God’s gift to all those who believe on His Son (John 3:14-16; 1 John 5:11-12). God’s word says: “Whosoever believeth in him [His Son] should not perish, but have eternal life.” We are part of the whosoevers. We have believed; we cannot perish; we have eternal life.
What is so wonderful is that we are not promised eternal life at some future date, but we have it right now in time. It is not a case that we may not make it; it is a situation where we already have it. Moreover it is impossible to have eternal life and then suddenly not have it. If such could happen then we never had eternal life, because you cannot have life that never ends and then suddenly have it end. This is a contradiction. It is an impossibility. But God says we who are the “whosoevers” have it.
Because every believer has eternal life, and has it in time in a human body, he has life that never ends. There is a sense, then, where the believer will never die. In fact the Lord Himself said: “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die” (John 11:26). How is this possible?
Death in Scripture speaks of separation. But the believer will never be separated from the Lord. Therefore the believer will never die.
No one ever died in the presence of the Lord Jesus because He is the Lord of life. No one could die in His presence. His very presence is life (cf. 1 John 5:11-12). Thus the believer may change his abode from earth to heaven, but he will never die because he will never be separated from Him. Paul said: “I stand persuaded that death shall [not] be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 8:39).
As we have seen, to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Cor. 5:6-8). Since we live with Him here and go on living with Him there, we never die. We are continually in His presence.
Now it is the work of the Holy Spirit to take the Word of God and lead the believer into its full blessings. It is the Spirit that “searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God … [and] we have received … the Spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God” (1 Cor. 2:12).
What the eye has never seen, what the ear has never heard, what has never been understood in the experiences of man, God reveals them to us through the Spirit (1 Cor. 2:9-10). This is very true at the time of death. As the believer approaches death, the Holy Spirit within shows him something of the glories of the other side. In seeing what is ahead, he desires to depart and be with Christ which is exceedingly the better thing. This is dying grace. It is the desire to go on living on the other side in the Lord’s presence.
Some may say: “Well, I am certainly not looking forward to dying this year.” This is good I am glad you are not. We have many things we want to do. We have families to raise, and work for the Lord that is unfinished. It is right that we have things to live for, and that we are not ready to leave. The point we need to remember is that we will not be given grace to die until and unless it is our time to depart and be with Christ.
Some of us may wish the Lord would come for us, or that He would call us home. We desire this not really because we love Him, or love His appearing, but we would just like to escape the pressures and trials here below. This is a most unfortunate state. It means that we have not been appropriating His grace for the situations we are in. God is able to make all grace abound both in life and in death. For some of us, we would much more appreciate the Lord giving us dying grace and taking us home, than what He is doing. His will for us is to appropriate living grace and be more than conquerors right here on earth in time. Whatever may be our need for grace, let us appropriate it.
II. Dying Grace: The Actual Experience
There is a great contrast that is seen between the death of a believer and the death of an unbeliever. This is something that is not seen so much today because of all of the modern drugs that are given people. So often today the individual who is dying is so drugged that the difference between the death of a person who is a believer, and the death of a person who is an unbeliever is not distinctly seen. But this was not true in previous generations.
I want to give you death-bed statements made by both unbelievers and believers. Remember in listening to these that “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh” (Matt. 12:34).
These receive no dying grace. They have no grace because they have spurned the grace of God which is found only in Jesus Christ (cf. Tit. 2:11). You will notice that sometimes these are just words and phrases, and not complete sentences.
Talleyrand Perigord: “I am suffering the pangs of the damned.”
Merabeau: “Give me laudanum that I may not think of eternity.”
Francis Newport: “Oh, that I was to lie upon the fire that never is quenched a thousand years, to purchase the favor of God and be reunited to Him again! But it is a fruitless wish. Millions of millions of years will bring me no nearer to the end of torments than one poor hour. Oh, eternity, eternity! Forever and forever! Oh, the insufferable pangs of hell!”
Thomas Hobbs (a skeptic): “If I had the whole world, I would give it to live one day. I shall be glad to find a hole to creep out of the world at. About to take a leap into the dark!”
Thomas Paine (a noted American infidel and author): “I would give worlds if I had them, that ‘The Age of Reason’ had never been published. O Lord, help me! Christ, help me! O God, what have I done to suffer so much? But there is no God! But if there should be, what will become of me hereafter? Stay with me, for God’s sake! Send even a child to stay with me, for it is hell to be alone. If ever the Devil had an agent, I have been that one.”
Francis Voltaire (the noted French infidel): He was one of the most fertile and talented writers and strove to retard and demolish Christianity. His cry in health concerning Christ was, “Curse the wretch!” He said once, “In twenty years, Christianity will be no more. My single hand shall destroy the edifice it took twelve apostles to rear.” Some years after his death, his very printing press was employed in printing New Testaments.
The Christian physician who attended Voltaire during the last illness, has left a testimony concerning the departure of this poor lost soul. He wrote to a friend as follows:
“When I compare the death of a righteous man, which is like the close of a beautiful day, with that of Voltaire, I see the difference between bright, serene weather and a black thunderstorm. It was my lot that this man should die under my hands. Often did I tell him the truth. ‘Yes, my friend,’ he would often say to me, ‘you are the only one who has given me good advice. Had I but followed it I would not be in the horrible condition in which I now am. I have swallowed nothing but smoke. I have intoxicated myself with the incense that turned my head. You can do nothing for me. Send me a mad doctor! Have compassion on me—I am mad!’”
The physician goes on to say:
“I cannot think of it without shuddering. As soon as he saw that all the means he had employed to increase his strength had just the opposite effect, death was constantly before his eyes. From this moment, madness took possession of his soul. He expired under the torments of the furies.”
At another time his doctor quoted Voltaire as saying:
“I am abandoned by God and man! I will give you half of what I am worth if you will give me six months’ life. Then I shall go to hell; and you will go with me. O Christ! O Jesus Christ!”
Charles IX: This cruel wretch, urged on by his inhumane mother, gave the order for the massacre of the Huguenots in which 15,000 souls were slaughtered in Paris alone, and 100,000 in other sections of France, for no other reason than that they owned Christ, and not the Pope, as their master. The guilty King died bathed in blood bursting from his own veins. To his physicians he said in his last hours: “Asleep or awake, I see the mangled forms of the Huguenots passing before me. They drip with blood. They point at their open wounds. Oh! that I had spared at least the little infants at the breast! What blood! I know not where I am. How will all this end? What shall I do? I am lost forever! I know it. Oh, I have done wrong. God pardon me!”
David Strauss: Outstanding representative of German rationalism, after spending years of his life trying to dispense with God: “My philosophy leaves me utterly forlorn! I feel like one caught in the merciless jaws of an automatic machine, not knowing at what time one of its great hammers may crush me!”
Sir Thomas Scott: “Until this moment I thought there was neither a God nor a hell. Now I know and feel that there are both, and I am doomed to perdition by the just judgment of the Almighty.”
M. P. Rich (an atheist): “I would rather lie on a stove and broil for a million years than go into eternity with eternal horrors that hang over my soul! I have given my immortality for gold; and its weight sinks me into an endless, hopeless, helpless hell.”
Here is the contrast. Here are believers who have accepted the grace of God for salvation and have received all of the immediate benefits as well as all of the myriad of subsequent ones. “He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all, how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8:32). God has given us all things, and one of His provisions to us is dying grace.
Jordan Antie: “The chariot has come, and I am ready to step in.”
Margaret Prior: “Eternity rolls up before me like a sea of glory.”
Martha McCrackin: “How bright the room! How full of angels!”
Dr. Cullen: “I wish I had the power of writing; I would describe how pleasant it is to die.”
B. S. Bangs: “The sun is setting: mine is rising. I go from this bed to a crown. Farewell.”
John Arthur Lyth: “Can this be death? Why, it is better than living! Tell them I die happy in Jesus.”
Trotter: “I am in perfect peace, resting alone on the blood of Christ. I find this amply sufficient with which to enter the presence of God.”
Mrs. Mary Frances: “Oh, that I could tell you what joy I possess! I am full of rapture. The Lord doth shine with such power upon my soul. He is come! He is come!”
Philip Heck: “How beautiful! The opening heavens around me shine!”
Sir David Brewster (inventor of the kaleidoscope): “I will see Jesus: I shall see Him as He is. I have had the light for many years. Oh, how bright it is! I feel so safe and satisfied!”
Charles Wesley (author of over 4,000 published hymns): “I shall be satisfied with Thy likeness. Satisfied!”
John Wesley: “The best of all, is, God is with us.”
Abbott: “Glory to God! I see heaven sweetly opened before me.”
Augustus Toplady (author of “Rock of Ages”): “The consolations of God to such an unworthy wretch are so abundant that He leaves me nothing to pray for but a continuance of them. I enjoy heaven already in my soul.”
John Quincy Adams: When John Quincy Adams was eighty years of age a friend said to him, “Well, how is John Quincy Adams?” “Thank you,” he said, “John Quincy Adams is quite well. But the house where he lives is becoming dilapidated. It is tottering. Time and the seasons have nearly destroyed it, and it is becoming quite uninhabitable. I shall have to move out soon. But John Quincy Adams is quite well, thank you.”
At death he said: “This is the last of earth. I am content.”
Mrs. Catharine Booth (wife of the general of the Salvation Army): “The waters are rising, but so am I. I am not going under, but over. Do not be concerned about dying; go on living well, the dying will be right.”
Elizabeth B. Browning: an English poetess who had said: “We want the touch of Christ’s hand upon our literature.” At death’s door, she said: “It is beautiful!”
John Bunyan (author of “Pilgrim’s Progress”): “Weep not for me, but for yourselves. I go to the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who will, through the mediation of His blessed Son, receive me, though a sinner, where I hope we shall meet to sing the new song, and remain everlastingly happy, world without end.”
John Calvin (the French Protestant Reformer at Geneva): “Thou, Lord, bruisest me, but I am abundantly satisfied, since it is from Thy hand.”
Adoniram Judson (American missionary to Burma). He wrote: “Come, Holy Spirit, Dove Divine,” and other hymns. He died at sea and his body was committed to the great deep. He said: “I go with the gladness of a boy bounding away from school. I feel so strong in Christ.”
A. J. Gordon: As he lay in the chamber in West Brookline Street, Boston, looked up and with one radiant burst of joy cried: “Victory! Victory!” and so he went home.
Dr. William Anderson (of Dallas, Texas): He seemed better though still very ill. His mother was sitting in the room with him. He gently called to her, “Come over here a minute.” As she approached his bed he said, “I want to tell you something. I am going to beat you to heaven.” And with a smile he shut his eyes and was gone.
Dr. Sewall (an old Methodist): When dying he shouted aloud the praises of God. His friends said, “Dr. Sewall, do not exert yourself; whisper, doctor, whisper.” “Let angels whisper,” said he, “but the soul cleansed from sin by the blood of Christ, a soul redeemed from death and hell, just on the threshold of eternal glory—oh, if I had a voice that would reach from pole to pole, I would proclaim it to all the world: Victory! Victory! through the blood of the Lamb!”
From Spurgeon’s sermons: A Welsh lady, when she lay dying, was visited by her minister. He said to her, “Sister, are you sinking?” She answered him not a word, but looked at him with incredulous eye. He repeated the question, “Sister, are you sinking?” She looked at him again, as if she could not believe he would ask such a question. At last, rising a little in her bed, she said, “Sinking! Sinking! Did you ever know a sinner to sink through a Rock? If I had been standing on the sand, I might sink; but, thank God, I am on the Rock of Ages, and there is no sinking there.”
Samuel Rutherford: When he was dying said: “I am in the happiest pass to which man ever came. Christ is mine, and I am His; and there is nothing now between me and resurrection, except—Paradise.”
A Moslem said: “What did you do to our daughter?” This Moslem woman’s child had died at sixteen years of age. “We did nothing,” answered the missionary. “Oh, yes, you did,” persisted the mother. “She died smiling. Our people do not die like that.” The girl had found Christ and believed on Him a few months before. Fear of death had gone. Hope, giving birth to joy, had replaced it.
Tom Roth was a member for a number of years of Reinhardt Bible Church in Dallas, Texas. My wife and I knew him and his family well. He died after an extended illness with cancer, having moved to Orange, California. The following letter was written by him three days before his death to Lowell Wendt, Pastor at Reinhardt.
Dear Brother Lowell:
Greetings in our Savior’s Name! Thank you for your fine letter received yesterday. Since I am not sure you have the most recent information concerning me, the gist of the matter is that the doctor concedes my condition very grave, and humanly speaking, he does not consider recovery possible. For that reason we have made arrangements for a funeral service to be held here at Orange Villa Bible Church with Dr. Feinberg and Dr. Bach as speakers. My main desire is that the service be a triumphant one, with hymns that will bring honor and praise to our wonderful Lord. We are asking the pastor to announce that no flowers be given, that those who would like to make a spiritual investment to the Lord donate money to the local building fund.
Therefore, we are asking any of our friends at Reinhardt who are like-minded, should give their money gift to the missionary program of Reinhardt Bible Church.
You will be notified as to my GLORY GRADUATION which seems to be immanent. See you up there one day!
Sincerely, your brother in Christ, Tom
What is heaven like? I do not know, and, furthermore, I do not care. The New Testament in speaking of the death of saints not once mentions the thought of their going to heaven. It only speaks of their going to be with a person. Where that person is, is incidental.
“Today shalt thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:13).
“Having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ” (Phil. 1:23).
“Absent from the body, present with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8).
“The time of my departure is at hand … There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing” (2 Tim. 4:6, 8).
The reference here to those “that love His appearing” is not a reference in context to the Lord’s second coming, but to the believer being welcomed home by the Lord Jesus Christ at the time of death (cf. Acts 7:56).
Not one of us knows when we will be called upon to depart to be with Christ by death rather than by the rapture. It could be this year, yet “our times are in His hands.” It is our business to occupy until He comes. If He does call us to Himself, He will give us dying grace.
There may be someone reading this who is not ready to die. If you are not ready to die, you are not prepared to live. The Lord Jesus Christ came that men might have life and have it more abundantly (John 10:10). The grace of God is extended to you today in the person of Jesus Christ.