It’s not that I’m afraid to die,” filmmaker Woody Allen once remarked. “I just don’t want to be there when it happens.”Who does? However, I believe death is highly overrated and doesn’t deserve as much of our attention as we give it. Why? Because death has met its match.
I’m reminded of the story of a father and son traveling together by car. Suddenly, in through an open window flies a bumblebee. The boy, highly allergic to the creature’s sting, becomes hysterical with fear. Quickly the dad reaches out and grabs the insect in mid flight, holds it for a moment, then opens his hand. The bee flies out again, and the son screams in terror. “No! Don’t be afraid!” the dad calls. “See?”
There, jutting from his open palm is the bee’s stinger. The intruder is no longer a threat because his weapon has been removed by a loving father.
Sound familiar? Directing his readers to focus on the return of God’s Son, the apostle Paul writes: “Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” (1 Corinthians 15:55). Seems fathers, both earthly and heavenly, possess the amazing ability to remove stings.
Deathless in Eden
There was a time when death was an unknown threat. No one had ever had any experience with it. No leaf, blade of grass, animal, or human had ever died. Adam and Eve lived in this world and reveled in its flawless perfection. Death and the fear it engenders were as foreign to them as disease and pain.
That’s why, when the Creator announced, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:17), the two newly minted humans wondered what on earth He was talking about. It would be like telling a two-year-old child, “Don’t run out into the street or you will be hit by a car and die.” The toddler will hear your words, but he or she surely can’t comprehend their full meaning.
I’d like to suggest that we may not be fully grasping the Creator’s full meaning either.
Biblically, death is a confusing condition. When Christ was on earth, He usually referred to it as “sleep.” “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth” (John 11:11, KJV),* He told His disciples on news of His friend’s passing.
Matthew, referring to what happened soon after Christ was crucified, writes: “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves” (Matthew 27:52, 53, KJV). Time and time again, throughout both testaments, death and sleep are used interchangeably.
The ease by which God is able to interrupt death should not be taken lightly. It should serve as the foundation for a wonderful hope. Just because we sin and die doesn’t mean that we’re out of the reach of our heavenly Father. There’s a stinger jutting from His powerful palm. And there’s a devil buzzing around, separated from his favorite weapon.
When the Creator said, “You will surely die,” He knew full well that death is nothing more than a sleep from which He can gently awaken us. So why the dire warning to Adam and Eve? Because there’s another death from which God won’t awaken us, and that’s the death to which the Creator was referring.
A different path
Adam and Eve’s decision to place appetite over obedience was a decision to change paths. They willingly stepped off the perfect corridor of God’s leading and headed merrily down the road of sin. In doing so, they changed direction, leadership, road conditions, and most important, destination. Their new path led them right out of the Garden of Eden and into a world of pain, suffering, weeds, disease, danger, and death. Can you image what it was like when they watched the first flower fade or the first songbird flutter lifeless to the ground? Can you even comprehend their confusion and heartbreaking sadness as they held their slain son Abel in their arms? They had known nothing but life. But here, along this path, they found a new horror—one over which they had no control.
Four thousand years later, the very Creator who’d delivered the warning, “You will surely die,” emphatically proved the point. In doing so, He also revealed its most terrifying element. Just before He breathed His last, He moaned words written by the shepherd-boy-turned-king: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46; see Psalm 22:1).
There it was: the root horror of death about which He had warned Adam and Eve. To those who reject God, death represents a separation not only from life but from the Life-Giver. Because Christ had become “sin” for us (“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us” [2 Corinthians 5:21]), He could see no further than the cross. To His agony-clouded mind, there was nothing beyond the grave. He was dying the way any unrepentant sinner would die—without hope.
Thankfully, the apostle Paul didn’t stop there. His very next words pull back the curtain to reveal the most wonderful truth this world will ever know. After explaining that Jesus was made “sin for us,” he writes, “So that in [Christ] we might become the righteousness of God” (verse 21).
The righteousness of God! A person so identified, so aligned, so connected to the source of all life can’t be held in Satan’s grip for very long, even if that person dies. The proof? Early Sunday morning, two days after Christ breathed His last, He walked triumphantly from the tomb.
Those who choose the path of sin face a separation from God that will stretch throughout eternity. However, those who choose to turn their backs on Satan’s lies and follow the path on which God intended them to walk will face a very different death. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:38, 39).
To someone who is doing the very best he or she can to remain on the path that leads to a new life in Jesus, death becomes exactly what Christ called it: a “sleep.” That person’s righteousness is immortal, even if his or her body isn’t. According to Romans 6:23, when the wages of sin—death—kicks in, the gift of God—eternal life—waits patiently in the future.
God’s warning to Adam and Eve became a reality. But so will His promise. “On this mountain [the new earth] he will destroy the shroud that enfolds all peoples, the sheet that covers all nations; he will swallow up death forever” (Isaiah 25:7, 8).
“You will surely die” is certainly true. So are the words that were spoken two thousand years later by those very same lips: “For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day” (John 6:40).
Death is sad. Death interrupted is a very different story.
Charles Mills is a professional freelance writer who lives in Berkeley Springs, West Virginia, USA. He is a frequent contributor to Signs of the Times®.
* Bible quotations marked KJV are from the King James Version.