As many of us recall, there was only one thing that God prohibited Adam from doing in the garden of Eden: Eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil: “for when you eat of it you will certainly die.” (Gen.2:17, NIV) Adam knew the consequence would be bad, but I am sure he was also a little bit unsure of what exactly God meant. For a brief period of history our human race lived free from the consequences of death and had no full knowledge of what it meant to die. It was a foreign concept.
When Adam and Eve sinned, they were given the punishment that God warned of: death. (Remember, in Reason #12 we saw that God is always true to his word.) It was the most tragic event in all of human history, and for this reason it is often referred to simply as “The Fall.” It is impossible for us to fully understand what happened to us at the Fall, but we are not totally ignorant on the subject, for the uneasiness of death, the reality of death, and the sadness of death constantly remind us that all is not totally fine and dandy and the world is not as it should be.
From Adam’s time and forward, to use the words of Paul, “death reigned” (Romans 5, NIV). Now what does this mean that death reigned and what exactly is death?
To answer the first question, the fact that death reigns means that we have no power over it. There is no solution for it and there is no way to escape it. It is a fact of the matter, a consequence of our disobedience.
The second question requires a little bit more space to answer. I believe there are several different dimensions or ways in which we experience death.
Firstly, death is physical. Our bodies decay and we know that one day our physical bodies will die. We will say a final good-bye to everyone we know, whether that be when our body experiences death or theirs. Additionally, we suffer the consequences of living in an environment that itself is broken and under a curse.
Secondly, death is spiritual. Spiritual death is simply being isolated, estranged, and distanced from God, who is the very giver of all life and all things good. We can no longer fully enjoy his presence among us because we are spiritually dead. Consider the evidence of what happened when Adam and Eve sinned: they hid from God, were ashamed and felt guilty, were afraid, and were kicked out of the garden, for God could not dwell with sinful men. Our spiritual death leads to the third and fourth dimensions:
Thirdly, death is intellectual. Our minds are not capable of being fixed solely on the things of God. We have warped thinking. We constantly try to rationalize or give excuses for bad behavior. We see this in Adam as he pointed his finger at both Eve and God, saying that it was their fault and he had nothing to do with it.
Fourthly, death is social. Read the Genesis story a little longer and you will find all accounts of social evil: lying, jealousy, murder, etc. If you don’t recall the stories of sin in the book of Genesis, simply open your daily newspaper and you will see that socially we are a mess. Christopher J. H. Wright describes the social dimension of death this way: “every human relationship is fractured and disrupted – sexual, parental, familial, societal, ethnic, international – and the effect is consolidated horizontally through the permeation of all human cultures, and vertically by the accumulation throughout the generations of history.”1
Now time for the good news: Jesus came to put death to death. He knows that we have no way to defeat death so he defeated it for us! Although we still sin and thus must experience physical death, death is no longer our end and it is no longer victorious over us! We may also be freed from the spiritual, intellectual, and social dimensions of death. When we believe on Christ, his Spirit enters us and enables us to live a new life.
Consider Romans 8:11 (NIV): “And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in you, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in you.”
Jesus’ enemies sought out to get rid of him once and for all. They had him killed, yet having him killed was at the same time the act that brought about Jesus’ ultimate victory over them.
Athanasius is one of my favorite theologians and he is considered to be one of the greatest theologians all time. I tried to get my wife to consider the name Athanasius for our son, but that thought didn’t last long. At any rate, I conclude with some precious words of Athanasius regarding Jesus’ victory over death:
“He, the Life of all, our Lord and Savior, did not arrange the manner of his own death lest He should seem to be afraid of some other kind. No. He accepted and bore upon the cross a death inflicted by others, and those others His special enemies, a death which to them was supremely terrible and by no means to be faced; and He did this in order that, by destroying even this death, He might Himself be believed to be the Life, and the power of death be recognized as finally annulled. A marvelous and mighty paradox has thus occurred, for the death which they thought to inflict on Him as dishonor and disgrace has become the glorious monument to death's defeat.”
“You know how it is when some great king enters a large city and dwells in one of its houses; because of his dwelling in that single house, the whole city is honored, and enemies and robbers cease to molest it. Even so is it with the King of all; He has come into our country and dwelt in one body amidst the many, and in consequence the designs of the enemy against mankind have been foiled and the corruption of death, which formerly held them in its power, has simply ceased to be. For the human race would have perished utterly had not the Lord and Savior of all the Son of God, come among us to put an end to death.” (from On the Incarnation)
Questions to consider:
How sure are you that Jesus has given you victory over death?
How does victory over death affect the way you live today?
For further reading:
A Conversation with Death on Good Friday, and article by John Piper. You will be encouraged by this!
Note 1 – Christopher J. H. Wright, The Mission of God’s People: A Biblical Theology of the Church’s Mission, page 40.