The Reality of Death
How do we deal with death?
It seems as I get older, the reality and impact of death become more and more clear in my mind. Several events have spurred to this thinking and have force me to consider the ultimate fate of all people. These include:
- About six years ago, my mother (age 89 at the time) suffered a severe stroke and has been in a care facility ever since (she is now 96 year-old).
- A couple of years ago, my brother-in-law (in his 40’s) died of cancer.
- Over the past year or so, I have had several aunts and uncles die.
- My brother has had a couple of surgeries to remove cancer from his body.
- In July, I was diagnosed with cancer.
- Just this past weekend, a young man (my past student, friend) died tragically.
In discussing this last-event, one of the men in our church observed, “Death is the only exit to this world.” Well, I believe there is another way, i.e. the rapture of the Church. We pray for that blessed event; and there will be a generation participating in the rapture. Yet, I am not certain that we will necessarily be part of that. Thus, we should all prepare to die at some point. The question of course is whether or not we are prepared to stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10).
The death of this young man was so tragic because his death was self-inflicted. Such an event is always difficult to understand. At least for me, my mind begins to ask all sorts of questions. For that reason, I would like to consider several facets of death and our preparation to hold discussions with our friends and family regarding death.
What is death?
We generally just see the suddenness of death. We see the person as gone! But there is more to death than that. Death is appointed for all people (Heb 9:27). Death is not the cessation of existence or consciousness; rather, physical death is the separation of the material and immaterial part of humans (Eccl 12:7; Jas 2:26).
Spiritual death is separation from God in time (John 5:24; Eph 2:1; 4:18-19) and is the penalty for sin (Gen 2:17; 1 Cor 2:14). The Bible also speaks of the second death, which is eternal separation from God for the unrighteous (Matt 10:28; John 3:17-18; Rev 20:11-15; 21:8).
At the time of death, the dead enter into an intermediate state. Thus, believers go to a place and condition of blessedness, i.e. “Abraham’s bosom” or paradise (Luke 16:19-31; Luke 23:43; 2 Cor 5:8; Phil 1:23) and unbelievers to an experience of misery, torment, and punishment, i.e. Hades or hell (Mark 9:43, 48). The place for the unrighteous is next to paradise, but separated by an impassible chasm (Luke 16:26).
There is a difference between heaven and hell and how we respond to Jesus Christ determines where we will spend eternity. Heaven and hell are real; both exist. Following the intermediate state, the righteous and the unrighteous will receive resurrection bodies. The righteous will spend eternity in the presence of God, i.e. in heaven (Rev 21:3). Those in heaven will receive perfect knowledge (1 Cor 13:9-12; 1 John 3:2) and they will live in an environment completely devoid of evil (Rev 21:4). Heaven will be a place of great glory (Luke 2:14; 19:38; Matt 24:30; 25:31; Mark 8:38; Rev 21:18-21). Heaven has no need of the sun or the moon because the glory of God and the Lamb are its light (Rev 21:23; 22:5). Though little teaching regarding the community in heaven, the believer can expect to enter God’s rest (Heb 4:9-11), to worship God (Rev 19:1-8; Isa 6:3), to serve God (Matt 19:28; 25:14-30; Luke 22:28-30), and to fellowship with others (Heb 12:22-24).
Unbelievers will enter into a place of eternal judgment, i.e. Gehenna (Mark 9:47) where they, along with Satan and his associates, will undergo eternal punishment with “fire” (Matt 24:41). Since it is a real place of eternal, conscious suffering (Mark 9:48; Rev 19:20; 20:10), residents will face eternal punishment (Matt 25:46), torment (Rev 14:10-11), the complete wrath of God (Rom 2:5), the second death (Rev 21:8), and eternal destruction and exclusion from the presence of the Lord (2 Thes 1:9).
I am glad that the young man I mentioned above has a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. He put his faith in Christ and he will be with God in Heaven. For that, we can be so very grateful. Though we lost a friend, He is indeed in a better place.
What does it take to be saved?
Consider the following scenario:
Bob, a golfing neighbor, stops with you at Starbucks, and over coffee begins asking you about spiritual things. You bring up the term “salvation,” and immediately his interest picks up. What verses would you outline the basic plan of salvation? In what order would you present them to Bob?
Let’s just consider responding to this from the book of Romans. Perhaps you can respond to Bob in this way.
Bob, you first you need to know that all men have sinned (Rom 3:23). Because of this sin, man has become the enemy of God (Rom 1:28). This includes all men, whether they are ignoring God and living a godless existence (Rom 1:18) or if they are religious people (Rom 2:5) or even if they are good, moral people (Rom 3:10). Because of this sin, man is separated from God. The Bible speaks of this separation as “death” (Rom 5:12). The result is the same for all of people, i.e. they will all face the judgment of God (Rom 2:5). You must come to a point in your life that you understand and acknowledge your sin.
Now, you must understand two important characteristics about God. On the one hand, God is loving and merciful, but on the other, He is holy and just. God has carefully designed a way to bring sinful man back into a relationship with Himself without jeopardizing His character. First, He sent His Son to bear the penalty of our sin (Rom 3:24; 5:6). Second, God is satisfied that His standard has been met in Jesus (Rom 3:25-26). So, Christ died for you and your sins; He acted as a substitute for you.
Yes, God loves you and He demonstrated that love by sending His Son while you were still a sinner (Rom 5:8). Let’s consider Rom 3:28. We see that only by faith can any man be justified before God…it is not by your works. You can be saved only by believing that God sent Jesus to bring you back into a relationship with Him (Rom 5:10-11). Only then can your sins be forgiven (Rom 4:7-8); only then can God give life to the dead (Rom 4:17b).
By receiving this gift that God offers:
- You will be dead to sin (Rom 6:11)
- You will no longer be an enemy of God (Rom 5:9)
- You will be at peace with God (Rom 5:1)
- You will receive a new life (Rom 4:17b) filled with hope (Rom 5:2; 15:13)
- You will be given eternal life with God (Rom 5:21; 6:23) and will not be condemned (Rom 5:16; 8:1).
Bob, God has taken the first step by encouraging you to ask your question (Rom 5:10); now it is your choice to believe that God has provided all this for you…only then can you enter into a correct relationship with Him (Rom 5:11) and be saved (Rom 5:9).
How about you?
At some point, everyone you know must face the reality of death. You can help them understand the meaning of death. Death is not merely a way out of this life; rather, it is the movement into the next phase of life. Eternity begins at death; there is no change of course after death. Your eternal destiny is determined in this life.
Your friends and family need to know that they can and most enter into a reconciled relationship with God now. We don’t know when we will die.
I am thankful that many people, including me, had an opportunity to make sure this young man, even though his death was premature and self-inflicted, did not affect his eternal destiny…he will be with God in heaven for all eternity.
Whom do you need to speak to regarding this important topic?
Can you think of at least one person with whom you can have a dialogue similar to the one with Bob cited above?