The Last Enemy - Part 1
The Last Enemy
"For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished is death" (1 Corinthians 15:25-26).
Death has been explained to many people as simply the result of a natural process, or nothing more than the ultimate biological reality. Yet, according to the Bible, death is an enemy. In the early chapters of Genesis, we find that death was one of the physical consequences for Adam and Eve’s transgression in the garden, "By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, because from it you were taken; for you are dust, and to dust you shall return" (Genesis 3:19). The New Testament endorses this truth, "For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die..." (1 Corinthians 15:21-22). "Skeptics ridicule the biblical narrative regarding the commencement of death. It is viewed as an absurd myth that belongs to the Stone Age. But no infidel can explain why death occurs. If ‘life’ had the ability to ‘jump-start’ itself, as evolution’s theory of spontaneous generation asserts, why can’t it sustain itself within the individual?" (False Ideas Regarding Death, Wayne Jackson p. 2). Hence death is viewed as something unnatural, an intruder into this world.
Helps Explains Some Things
- If death is simply something natural, then it was God’s will that people die, suffer, get all sorts of lingering and painful diseases and so on. But if death is an intruder, a consequence of sin entering into the world, then God did not create man to die or suffer. And God is not the author of cancer, and other diseases. Jesus plainly noted that if we are going to blame someone for the aches and pains in this world, then we need to lay that blame at the feet of the devil, "He was a murderer from the beginning" (John 8:44). God is pictured as the giver of life and the One who has devised a way to be liberated from spiritual, eternal and even physical death (1 Corinthians 15).
"For the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will, but because of Him who subjected it in hope"
There is some question as to what the word "creation" includes in this set of passages. A common view is that the term "creation" includes the entire creation excluding man. Because of Adam’s sin, the physical universe was put under a curse (Genesis 3:17). The physical creation, including the animals have often paid the price for man’s rebellion (Genesis 8:20-22; 7:21-23). The physical world, including all the animals is pictured as longing for release from the earthly cycle of birth, struggle, pain, and death. And this release will happen at the Second Coming when the physical creation is put out of it’s misery and the children of God have been resurrected in glorified bodies(8:23). Notice the term "in hope", God never intended that the creation remain in a permanently cursed condition. At the present time the physical creation is enslaved or shackled to corruption and decay. We live in a world where nothing continues in one state, and in which death and decay claims everything. Notice, we don’t long to die or be put out of our misery, rather Paul says, "we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body" (8:23). What we long for is a body that no longer dies or suffers any of the consequences of this sin-cursed world. It’s all right to be tired of seeing so many people die, it’s all right to long for a place where there is no more death, where the body that you possess is immune from death, decay, illness and pain (Revelation 21:4; 1 Corinthians 15:42-49).
"By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death".
This verse would seem to answer the question, "If man had never sinned, how would he then get to heaven?" This verse reveals that God had a method of moving people from earth to the spiritual world without the suffering, agony, pain and discomfort which is so frequently associated with death. The Bible makes it clear that death started with Adam (1 Corinthians 15:21). Thus, we must reject the idea that prior to Adam, there had on this earth existed millions of years of struggle, pain, suffering and death. The fact that God gave Adam permission to eat from any tree of the Garden except one (Genesis 2:16), informs us that God doesn’t view picking and consuming fruit or vegetables as being the "death" of that fruit or vegetable. I believe that Genesis 3:16-19 helps us understand the "corruption" and "vanity" which the creation longs to be released from. Since Adam sinned, the very way that we enter this creation has become far more difficult and at times dangerous (Genesis 3:16). The earth no longer easily yields its abundance, it now takes hard work, even with man-made chemicals. The creation no longer cooperates with us, we must fight thorns and thistles, pests, various plant and animal diseases, drought, unpredictable weather and so on.
- If death is simply natural, then are we being unspiritual for not being really eager to die? But if death is a penalty, then our natural dislike for it makes sense. The Hebrew writer said, "Since then the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil; and might deliver those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives" (Hebrews 2:14-15). Note, righteous people in the Old Testament had a fear of death. David and other Psalmists often cried out to God for Him to deliver them from an early death, (Psalm 88 "A Petition to Be Saved from Death"; 116 "Thanksgiving for Deliverance from Death"; 116:3 "The cords of death encompassed me, and the terrors of Sheol came upon me; I found distress and sorrow"). It’s all right if you aren’t gung-ho about wanting to die right now. Paul really wanted to see the Lord, but at the same time he realized that he was greatly needed here too, "For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better; yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake" (Philippians 1:21-24). There is nothing wrong for the Christian to have two equally strong desires, one to see Jesus and the other to remain here and raise their children, love their spouses, help fellow Christians, serve others, spread the gospel and so on.
- Notice in the above passages the only thing which makes death "useful" is the fact that Jesus died and arose again, and that we have become a Christian. Anyone who is not a Christian should view death as a horrible thing, for the Hebrew writer says, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Death is the end for any opportunity to make yourself right with God. Death ends all second chances, at death your fate is sealed for eternity. Luke taught this truth inLuke 16:22-26 and 12:4-5 "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who after He has killed has authority to cast into hell". Paul echoed the same truth, when he wrote, "But we do not want you to be uninformed brethren, about those who are asleep (dead), that you may not grieve, as do the rest who have no hope" (1 Thessalonians 4:13).
Even the Old Testament made clear that God is in control of death (Deuteronomy 32:39 "It is I who put to death and give life"; Psalm 9:13; 30:2-3; 139:8). In addition, it seems clear that the devil didn’t have the inherent power to inflict death upon people at will, for if he did have such power, then why didn’t he kill men and women right after they sinned and hence cut off any opportunity for repentance? The devil here is said to have the "power of death", probably in the sense that he was the cause of death being introduced into the world. In addition, the devil gained the upper hand over most people by using death to enslave them. Carefully note: this liberation from the fear of death is only available to those who come to Christ. To this day, the devil still uses death has a tool to enslave people:
- Many people are so afraid of death that they simply refuse to talk about the subject and hence they never make the preparations needed, especially the spiritual preparations. How many people to this day continue to tune out the preacher at a funeral? Yet, in the gospel we are told what to do so we can face death with confidence (Philippians 1:21-23; 2 Timothy 4:6-8).
- People fear death because they fear the unknown. But what lies beyond death is no mystery for the person who overcomes their initial fears and starts reading the Bible (2 Timothy 1:10 "and brought life and immorality to light through the gospel").
- People fear death because they fear the pain and suffering which is often associated with dying (Psalm 73:4; Hebrews 2:9 "because of the suffering of death"). Note: God doesn’t promise an easy death or painless death, even for the Christian. John the Baptist, Jesus, and Stephen all experienced unpleasant deaths. Many of the early Christians experienced very painful deaths. But the Christian realizes that even such pain is very temporary compared with eternal life (Romans 8:18; 2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
- People fear the corruption of their body, the darkness, and the loneliness that is so often linked with death. But Jesus revealed that the separation from our body is only temporary, and our body, one day will be raised immortal and imperishable. As far as darkness and loneliness are concerned, when Lazarus died, the angels were present to escort him to a place of absolute comfort and warmth(Luke 16:22). Paul pointed out that death can’t end the relationship you have with God (Romans 8:38-39), and that dying is simply going to be with the Lord (Philippians 1:23).
- People fear death because they fear the punishment or consequences for how they have lived or not lived in this life. The apprehension of future woe, the condemnation that awaits the guilty. Sadly, the typical secular answer and even the typical answer from the religious world concerning the fear of punishment is the false assurance that God will save whoever asks this question. Or, that such a punishment doesn’t even exist, when was the last time you heard a religious seminar on the topic of hell and eternal punishment? The only way to escape the wrath that sin merits is to obey Jesus (Mark 16:16; John 8:24; Acts 4:12; Romans 5:92 Thessalonians 1:7-9; Romans 2:6-11; Hebrews 5:9 "He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation").
- People fear death because they have accepted the idea that death means a cessation of existence, that it is truly the ultimate end of one’s existence. But Jesus pointed out that an eternal existence lies beyond death, and that the dead are very conscious (Luke 16).
Mark Dunagan/Beaverton Church Of Christ/(503)644-9017