“And as it is appointed unto men once to die,
but after this the judgment.”
“In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” (Genesis 2:17). “There shall be no more death” (Revelation 21:4). Between these two statements in the Scripture lie all the efforts of science to increase the life span, the consummation of civilization, the endeavors to build a better world, and all the joys and sorrows of billions of individuals that eternity alone has the record of. Hidden between the covers of this record book is the story of the whole human race cursed by the fall of the first parent Adam. The surging, aimless mass of lost humanity has been impelled by fear--fear of the dark, fear of disease, fear of the supernatural, fear of the unknown, fear of death. The fear of death is but the apogee of all fears. Men avoid it, hate it, fight against it. The undertaker uses every artificial means at his disposal to cover the fact of it. Yet the fact of death remains and will remain until that day when, through the glorious power of Christ who was triumphant over death, the scroll of heaven will be rolled back, the saints of God shall enjoy the blissful ages of eternity, and “there shall be no more death.”
The Certainty of Death
The valley of the shadow of death is the longest valley in the world. It began with Adam and has continued through six thousand years of human history. Men like to postpone that dreadful moment when they must pass through the dark valley, but death underscores each life and refuses to accept the person of any man. Death does not take into account whether we have been profitable or detrimental to society. Every step that we take brings us nearer to the grave, and it is but a matter of time until we must bid farewell to every earthly tie. With all of the wisdom of the medical profession and the use of scientific discoveries, we must agree with the wise preacher of old who said; “For the living know that they shall die” (Ecclesiastes 9:5).
The Bible contains much warning about death, speaking as frequently on this subject as it does about any other. In the garden of Eden where death had never entered, Adam and Eve were instructed by God to refrain from the forbidden fruit with the accompanying warning:
In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:17).
We know that they did eat; and at the very moment the judgment of God passed upon them, their bodies commenced the process of death and decay. “And all the days that Adam lived were nine hundred and thirty years: and he died” (Genesis 5:5).
On one page of our Bible we have the genealogy from Adam to Noah and with only one exception, Enoch, the man who walked with God and was translated, the refrain is repeated-- “and he died.”
And all the days of Seth were nine hundred and twelve years: and he died (Genesis 5:8).
And all the days of Enos were nine hundred and five years: and he died (Genesis 5:11).
And all the days of Cainan were nine hundred and ten years and he died (Genesis 5:14).
And all the days of Mahalaleel were eight hundred ninety and five years: and he died (Genesis 5:17).
And all the days of Jared were nine hundred sixty and two years: and he died (Genesis 5:20).
And all the days of Methuselah were nine hundred sixty and nine years: and he died (Genesis 5:27).
And all the days of Lamech were seven hundred seventy and seven years: and he died (Genesis 5:31).
The Patriarchs, Prophets, and Apostles did not hesitate to declare that death is certain. Noah preached righteousness and the judgment of God. He warned men that if they would not repent, the Lord would destroy them from the face of the earth (Genesis 6:7). Men only mocked at the old preacher’s sermon, and then God struck the whole earth with death and destruction. The divine record has it that the waters prevailed for forty days on the earth until every hill was covered. And then we read:
And all flesh died that moved upon the earth, both of fowl, and of cattle, and of beast, and of every creeping thing that creepeth upon the earth, and every man (Genesis 7:21).
Abraham faced the grim reality of death when he offered Isaac as a sacrifice to the Lord. Though Isaac was spared, a ram died in his stead. Then we read: “And Sarah died” (Genesis 23:2). “And the Lord said unto Moses, Behold, thy days approach that thou must die” (Deuteronomy 31:14).
Isaiah said to Hezekiah: “Set thine house in order; for thou shalt die, and not live” (2 Kings 20:1).
Jeremiah warned Hananiah: “This year thou shalt die” (Jeremiah 28:16).
Ezekiel preached the Word of the Lord: “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezekiel 18:4). “That wicked man shall die in his iniquity” (Ezekiel 33:8).
When Jesus told the story of the rich man and Lazarus, He said: “The beggar died . . . The rich man also died” (Luke 16:22).
When Christ was brought before the multitude, the Jews said: “We have a law, and by our law He ought to die” (John 19:7).
Of Dorcas, Luke writes: “She was sick, and died” (Acts 9:37).
How full the Bible is of the subject of death! We cannot study the life of any Bible character, save Enoch and Elijah, without being reminded that they all died. Life insurance companies become rich simply by pointing out that all men must die, and the agents have little difficulty in selling a policy by merely saying that death may come suddenly and unexpectedly. Any undertaker who conducts a respectable business is assured of a comfortable living with those values that money can buy. Even architects and builders take death into account when they plan a structure. Dr. John Rice tells that when his congregation in Dallas was preparing plans for a new church building the architect insisted on discussing the stairways, for, said he: “One rule we architects try to remember is that every stairway and every bedroom door must be large enough to admit a coffin!”
It was said of seventy-five-year-old billionaire, William Randolph Hearst, that people were forbidden to mention death in his presence. We admit that death is an unpleasant subject. Yet no man can rule it out of his future. Refusing to talk or to think about death does not alter the fact of death. We call our cemeteries “memorial parks.” Still they are the abode of the dead.
The Bible speaks of: “The law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2).
The Apostle Paul says: “We had the sentence of death in ourselves” (2 Corinthians 1:9). “So then death worketh in us” (2 Corinthians 4:12).
The Epistle to the Hebrews speaks of men “Who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (Hebrews 2:15).
There is no escaping death. Try as hard as we can, the rider on the pale horse will pay his visit to each of us. He is blind to all tears and deaf to all prayers and pleadings. He must come to us, for he is sent by appointment. “It is appointed unto men once to die.” It is the judgment of the Almighty, it is by divine appointment. The death-bed, the crepe, the funeral, the grave, and the broken-hearted sighs and tears of the bereaved all tell us that “man dieth.”
The Cause of Death
Where did death originate? We acknowledge the sovereignty of God, but must we accept the theory that every event of man’s life, including the manner and time of his death were minutely fixed by God before creation? We answer that we can find no sound basis for such a dogmatic view. (God is sovereign to be certain, but He created man a free agent with the will to decide for himself. In his primitive state in the Garden of Eden, man had never seen anyone die. He never looked on while another gasped for breath and failed to find it.)
The first time that the subject of death is mentioned in the Bible is given as a warning to our first parents. There man in his primitive state was enjoying blissful communion with God:
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 (Genesis 2:16-17).
Adam knew that he was alive, but he was a stranger to the subject of death until he heard this word from the Lord. Now he is on his own. He has a knowledge of what is right and what is wrong. He knows that to obey God will mean continuous and unending life and to disobey will bring the sentence of death. The power of choice and the right to decide is now left with man. However, Satan would not allow the situation to go unchallenged. Though he taunted and tempted Eve he could not force her to eat the fruit. Both she and her husband partook of it by their own choice, and in so doing they incurred the displeasure of the Lord. The warning He gave was plain: “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.” Being holy and righteous in all of His judgments, God could do nothing other than pass the sentence of death. Hence Adam listened to what the consequences of his own wrong-doing had brought upon himself:
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return (Genesis 3:19).
God never acts in judgment nor does He allow anything to come to pass unless there is a just cause. So when He pronounced death upon the human race it was because Adam and Eve had disobeyed God and turned from the truth. Though the warning of the Lord had come in soundness and simplicity man chose to sin, knowing all the while that it meant death. Man cannot plead innocency on the ground of the sovereignty of God. He is appointed to die because he has transgressed the Law of God, and the Lord’s justice in the sentence of death is so undeniable that every mouth is stopped and all the world is guilty before Him. Man can offer no legitimate reason why the death sentence should not have been passed, for:
The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
The soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:4).
Sin, when it is finished, bringeth forth death (James 1:15).
By one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin (Romans 5:12).
So then death worketh in us (2 Corinthians 4:12).
For all have sinned (Romans 3:23).
Every time that death strikes and a loved one is suddenly taken away, it is as if we hear the cachinnation of sin and Satan. Sin plays with man for a time just as a cat plays with a mouse. Sin will allow us to run here and there, to pursue happiness, worldly pleasure and power; but the game of life is brief. In the end sin has tracked down each of us, and each pays with his life. Inasmuch as “all have sinned” (Romans 3:23), we search in vain in our efforts to discover the secret of victory over death, for “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death?” (Psalm 89:48).
Death is still in our midst holding the whole world in fear and subjection. The reason men shrink from it is because “the sting of death is sin” (1 Corinthians 15:56). Because our nature is sinful and our hearts wicked, death continues to prick us and drive us toward the grave as the goad drives an ox to slaughter. Jesus said that ours is a wicked and an adulterous age. Until Christ comes back with His Church to rule the earth, “the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26). Even to the end of the millennium death will hold within its grasp all the wicked dead. Until Satan and all unbelievers are cast into the lake of fire, death will have a vise-like grip upon sinners. But how comforting and consoling for the Christian when he looks for Him, even our blessed Lord Jesus who, when He comes the second time with His own, will subdue all things, even the power of death!
The Course of Death
Death does not affect all men in the same way simply because it does not lead all men in the same direction. We realize that here we are assuming that death is not the consummation of all existence. Furthermore we are aware of the fact that there are a great many people in the world today who do not believe in an existing consciousness after death. Only recently I talked with a gentleman who believes that death is the cessation of man’s existence. He compared the death of a man to a leaf falling from a tree in October. Disregarding the positive proof of immortality, we will content ourselves with a brief consideration of one of two courses that death must take.
In one hospital ward two patients may die at exactly the same moment. While the root cause of these deaths may be the same in each case, the dying of one can be something altogether different from the dying of the other. We have seen how that death was the only real satisfaction for sin. It was the only punishment for sin that could satisfy the righteous demands of God. Since all men, who were at one time in the loins of Adam, possess Adam’s fallen nature, it stands that all must die the physical death of the body. However as Abraham Kuyper has said: “In the valley of the shadow of death, the great highway on which people walk divides itself, and continues on one side upward unto eternal life, and on the other with a declining path downward into eternal death.”
We can understand this only as we know something of the true purpose of the death of Jesus Christ. Since sin must be punished by death, Jesus went to the cross and died as the punishment for sin and thus at the same time offered Himself as the satisfaction for sin. Peter declares that “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” (1 Peter 3:18). Here we are told that Christ was put to death for sins “that He might bring us to God.” Those who fall asleep in the Lord take the upward course to Heaven and to God. Having accepted Jesus Christ as their Sin-Bearer and Saviour from sin they are brought to God by virtue of His sacrificial and vicarious death. Believers are able to say: “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). As Jesus hung dying upon the Cross, He was the true sin-offering for His people. We were, by nature, on the downward course, doomed to be separated from God; but Jesus, by virtue of His death, provided a new destiny. Dr. Harry Rimmer has said, “When Jesus died to change the trend of human thought, He also died to change the road of human history. Through a false philosophy, mankind was pursuing a fatal destiny. The impact of the cross bent human history out of the course in which it was flowing, and directed mankind toward God.” Whenever a true believer dies he is said to have fallen “asleep” (1 Thessalonians 4:13, 15; 1 Corinthians 15:6), and immediately his soul takes the upward course to be with the Lord.
But what course does death pursue in the case of an unbeliever? We have already stated that the only other course remaining is the declining path into eternal death. Once again we must make an assumption, that of belief in a literal place of endless torment for all who reject the atoning work of Christ when He died on Calvary’s Cross.
Since the death of Christ paid for the believer the punishment of sin, and death to him is a pleasant ascension into the Father’s presence, it follows that the death of the unbeliever is an unpleasant descent away from the presence of God. When the unbeliever gives up the ghost, breathing his last breath, he passes from this world into a spiritual and eternal death and Hell. Both are conscious, but death was forced to pursue a different course for each. Both the rich man and Lazarus died in the story told by our Lord. Lazarus was carried into Abraham’s bosom while the rich man was sent to Hell (Luke 16:19-24).
Dear Reader, where are you? Yes, you are still alive in this world; but remember, death is slowly but surely overtaking you. Soon you must say farewell to every earthly tie and enter into an endless eternity. Since Christ died to bring you to God, it is self-evident that you are far from God, and unprepared and unfit for Heaven. Will you trust the Saviour now? “He that believeth not shall be damned” (Mark 16:16).