We saw in the last blog that death is the penalty for sin and that though Christ suffered that penalty of death for us, we still have to follow His example and die to sin and our selfish nature even as He did. The point being is that this is what the Lake of Fire which is also called the Second Death portrays – a death of the soul or evil self nature (vs. the body). But that is only half of the story; the other half is that after death comes resurrection. Lets take a look.
Death and the 1st Resurrection
Jesus makes a very peculiar statement related to this, He said,
“The sons of this age (aion) marry and are given in marriage, but those who are considered worthy to attain to that (next) age (aion) and the resurrection from the dead (the 1st resurrection), neither marry nor are given in marriage; for they cannot even die anymore, because they are like angels, and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” (Luke 20:34-36)
Jesus refers here to those who attain to the 1st resurrection as those who “cannot die anymore,” this is b/c they have already died! For years I have always jokingly pointed out that one cannot be raised from the dead if they haven’t died! But Jesus isn’t just referring to a physical death, for we will all die physically. He is referring to those who died to their old man, the selfish nature – the soul as we looked at in the last blog. That is why Jesus clarifies that those who will get this privilege must be “worthy” to attain to that resurrection. They are “worthy” b/c they suffered the death of their soul (the self and its will) as well as their body.
Paul confirms this in his epistle to the Philippians when he declared that,
“…whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…and know Him and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection out from among the dead.” (Philippians 3:7-11)
Paul says here that he must be conformed unto Christ’s death in order to attain to the resurrection. Paul does not merely mean that he has to die on a cross, b/c he didn’t die on a cross, he was beheaded. Rather, he is referring to that “denying yourself and taking up your cross daily” that Christ told us was the qualification for following Him (Matthew 10:38,39, 16:24,25; Mark 8:34,35; Luke 9:23,24, 14:27, 17:33; John 12:25). Obviously the cross that Christ refers to here is not a literal one, but a mystical one. Nevertheless, as you can see Christ mentioned it quite a bit! Therefore it must be important. In fact, it is the only teaching that is found in all 4 gospels! So we would do well to pay attention to it.
Getting back to Paul’s declaration; he also says that he counts all things as loss for this purpose of attaining to the resurrection. He is dying to himself in order to be “worthy” to attain to that first resurrection that Jesus spoke of. He is referring to the 1st resurrection b/c he qualifies it as being “out from among the dead.” In other words he is not referring to the general resurrection where everybody is raised; this is also called the 2nd Resurrection. So this death to self is the qualification for resurrection.
This is why Paul elsewhere states,
“I affirm brethren, by the boasting in you which I have in Christ Jesus our Lord, I die daily. If from human motives I fought with wild beasts at Ephesus, what does it profit me? If the dead are not raised, let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.” (1 Corinthians 15:31)
Notice how he once again connects death to self with the resurrection? He is obviously referring to a daily death to self, b/c you cannot physically die daily! Therefore Paul is referring to that daily taking up of his cross and the denial of himself as Jesus said we must do if we would follow Him. It is that obedience which puts the soul to death.
This is further confirmed in the book of Revelation where John wrote,
“I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony of Jesus and because of the word of God…and they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years. The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were completed. This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the First Resurrection; over these the Second Death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4-6)
This is not merely referring to those who lost their heads for Christ, it means much more than that. It is symbolic of those who gave up the life of their old man by denying themselves, taking up their cross and becoming obedient; even onto death. Doing so is what it means to follow Christ and walk the same path that He walked.
It further says that the Second Death has no power over such people. This is b/c they have already endured that death. Once you have died, death has no more power over you – you are free. In fact we will see here shortly how it is through death that death is rendered powerless. But first we need to see how death leads to new life.
Death is the Birthing Process to New Life
You see, Christ became a man in order to die to our nature and in doing so raise it to a newer and highly life. Paul words it marvelously in his epistle to the Philippians saying,
“Do nothing from selfishness or empty conceit, but with humility of mind regard one another as more important than yourselves; do not merely look out for your own personal interests, but also for the interests of others. Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus, who, although He existed in the form of God, did not regard equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, taking the form of a bond-servant, and being made in the likeness of men. Being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. For this reason also, God highly exalted Him (raised Him from the dead)…” (Philippians 2:3-9)
As we have been noticing all along this is all about dying to self and being obedient to God’s will rather than our own – even unto death. For that is the point of obedience, it puts our will to death b/c we are denying it in order to do God’s will.
But doing so leads us to a higher and newer and better life than we could ever have in our fallen nature. It is a Resurrection Life! Which is why Paul says at the end of that section of verses that “For this reason also, God highly exalted Him.” It was b/c Christ was obedient onto death that He was raised to a higher life. Scripture communicates this very truth many times over,
“For we who live are constantly being delivered over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.” (2 Corinthians 4:11)
“The Lord kills and makes alive, He brings down to Sheol and raises up.” (1 Samuel 2:6)
“Except a grain of wheat fall into the ground and die, it remains alone. But if it dies, it bears much fruit.” (John 12:24)
“That which you sow does not come to life unless it dies; and that which you sow, you do not sow the body which is to be, but a bare grain, perhaps of wheat or of something else. But God gives it a body just as He wished, and to each of the seeds a body of its own…So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown a perishable body, it is raised an imperishable body; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural (Psuche – soul) body, it is raised a spiritual body.” (1 Corinthians 15:36,37,42-44)
Death is the process by which we are born into new life! We die to this life and to our sinful, selfish fallen souls and we are born into a perfect, glorified life! Jesus’ humanity was only perfected through death, and so is ours.
“In the days of His flesh, He offered up both prayers and supplications with loud crying and tears to the One able to save Him out of death, and He was heard because of His piety. Although He was a Son, He learned obedience from the things which He suffered. And having been made perfect, He became to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:7-9)
Jesus was saved “out of death” or “through death” not from it. It was b/c He suffered that He was made perfect. Peter addresses this same idea from a different angle. He was preaching to the crowds on the day of Pentecost when the Spirit was poured out and he said,
“this Man (Jesus), delivered over by the predetermined plan and foreknowledge of God, you nailed to a cross by the hands of godless men and put Him to death. But God raised Him up again, putting an end to the birthing pains of death, since it was impossible for Him to be held in its power.” (Acts 2:23,24)
Notice that it refers to death as “birthing pains.” The reason, as is becoming redundantly clear, is b/c death leads to life. We sow this fallen earthly life in death and through it we are born into a better world, a heavenly world. Thus the death process is a birthing process. Even as an unborn child must pass through that dark narrow channel called a birth canal in order to enter a new world, so we too must pass through the dark and constrictive channel of death in order to be born into a new world – a heavenly and spiritual world.
It is also curious to note that this relates to Jesus Christ as being the Head and we the Body. In birth, the head always comes out first, and then the body follows. So Christ was the first one to be resurrected from the dead, to come out of that birthing process of death. And His Body will naturally follow! Its just a matter of time! Paul mentions this in Colossians saying,
“He is also head of the body, the church; and He is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead,” (Colossians 1:18)
It is also mentioned elsewhere,
“Jesus Christ, the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead,” (Revelation 1:5)
A firstborn, (obviously) implies more to follow. He is the Head, we are the many membered Body!
“For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He would be the firstborn among many brethren;” (Romans 8:29)
The Wisdom of the Cross
This process of being born into a New Life through death is considered a mystery in Scripture. It is a mystery b/c dying in order to rise to a higher life seems foolish to our fallen nature, to our carnal minds, which are blinded by our instincts for self preservation. But it is not foolish it is genius; it is the secret, mysterious wisdom of God.
“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God…[so] we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God… [For] we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away; but we speak God’s wisdom in a mystery, the hidden wisdom which God predestined before the ages to our glory; the wisdom which none of the rulers of this age has understood; for if they had understood it they would not have crucified the Lord of glory…” (1 Corinthians 1:18,23,24, 2:6-8)
Mankind is on a mission to find a way to live as long as possible, b/c we don’t want to die. We view death as weakness, loss, humiliation. B/c we are weak, we are drawn to strength, we think it is the solution to our failing state. We fear and loathe weakness. We think enough strength will keep us from death, but it is weakness and weakness alone that will conquer death! That is the wisdom of God, that is the wisdom of the Cross.
“Therefore we do not lose heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day. For momentary, light affliction is PRODUCING for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison,” (2 Corinthians 4:16,17)
“I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that will be revealed IN us.” (Romans 8:18)
Death is the one appointed way out of the bondage and darkness of this present fallen age/life.
“Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless (Katargeo – destroy) him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives.” (Hebrews 2:14,15)
It is through death, that death loses its power! This is the wisdom of the Cross! It’s terrible and beautiful at the same time; and it will set us free. Once this is accomplished, death will be no more!
The End of Death
“But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’” (1 Corinthians 15:54,55)
It is through death that death is defeated! The sting of death is destroyed b/c death leads us to New life. When this is accomplished in all men then death itself will be done away.
“For He must reign until He has put ALL His enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be abolished (Katargeo – destroyed) is death. For [God] has put all things in subjection under [Christ’s] feet…and when all things are subjected to Him, then the Son Himself also will be subjected to the One who subjected all things to Him, so that God may be all in all.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-28)
When Paul says here that, “the last enemy that will be abolished (katargeo) is death;” he is using the same word (katargeo) that he used when he mentioned that it was “through death that he who had the power of death was destroyed (katargeo).” (Hebrews 2:14,15) It is through death that the last enemy (death) is destroyed, (rendered powerless, abolished, done away with). B/c once the last person is dead there will be no more death. Death is not a constant, it is an end; so once its finished with the last living thing it will cease to exist and that will be left is life.
Therefore, the end of death is life and life more abundantly (John 10:10)! And this will be for all men, for all will endure the 2nd Death, the Lake of Fire. And through it they will be delivered from the bondage of their sin; b/c sin will not survive past death.
“Sin reigns unto death,” (Rom. 5:21)
“the sting of death is sin,” (1 Corinthians 15:56)
“he who has died is freed from sin.” (Romans 6:7)
“Therefore, since Christ has suffered in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same purpose, because he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin,” (1 Peter 4:1)
I need not point out that the phrase “suffered in the flesh” is referring to death, b/c it is used to describe Christ’s suffering – which was death on the cross.
Though this may not yet be our experience, we have the certainty that it eventually will be. And not just those who follow Christ in this life; but all men. For Scripture declares that,
“One died for ALL, therefore ALL died.” (2 Corinthians 5:14)
All mankind died in Christ when He died in our place. This process of death will eventually become everyone’s experience when they receive that baptism of the Spirit and fire. Some will experience it in this life, the rest will experience it when they receive their part in the Lake of Fire, which is the Second Death.
Death is simply another picture of that process by which we are delivered from this present bondage to sin and our evil self nature. Death is both the judgment for sin and its remedy. The Second Death is therefore not referring to a state of endless living torment, but an end of the old man within us and the process by which the new man is birthed.
In the next blog we will look at “destruction,” and how like fire and death, it is yet another picture of the way to full salvation and new life.