Scripture’s take on death and resurrection
By Frank M. Hasel
Death is a deadly serious thing. Anyone who has experienced the death of a loved one knows the intense pain and sadness that goes along with it. Death affects us all, regardless of age, gender, race, or social status. It is universal. And it has an aura of permanence. It is irreversible. That makes the loss of a loved person so intensely painful and sad. For death is the opposite of relationship and life. It is the opposite of love. The Bible tells us that the origin of death is sin: “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), writes Paul—and we are all sinners. The eternal God, however, is love (1 John 4:8, 16), and He is immortal (1 Tim. 6:16). The Greek word for immortality, athanasia, literally means “deathlessness.” God is incorruptible. Because God is love, there is no death in Him. Because God is love, He will conquer death and give life—even eternal life!
Immortality is not something we created beings possess or that exists in us. It is rather a divine quality. The Bible is clear: Immortality is God’s prerogative (verse 17). Immortality belongs to Him. For God is uncreated. He is love. He has life in Himself (John 5:26). He lives forever. This divine characteristic has sparked countless desires in human beings who also want to live forever, who seek eternal youth. Immortality is something that even Satan envies and does not have. It is interesting that in the very first devilish temptation, through which Satan gained entrance into this world in the Garden of Eden, he insinuated to Eve that she would surely not die, but be like God, i.e., live forever. God had told her differently (Gen. 2:16, 17). The disobedience of Adam and Eve led to a fateful separation from God, the source of all life. Independence from God, however, did not bring everlasting life, but endless death—and suffering and pain on top of it!
As human beings Adam and Eve were created to depend on God. Their life was contingent on the condition of their loving obedience to God. The devilish insinuation that human beings will not die has brought forth many alluring occult and spiritualistic practices, in which people are deceived to believe that there is an existence after death and that it is possible to get in contact with the dead. God strongly warns against any such practice (Deut. 18:10, 11). The Bible clearly states that the dead know nothing (Eccl. 9:5, 6, 10). Death is like an unconscious sleep (Ps. 115:17; Job 14:12). In creating the unbiblical belief in an immortal soul that is liberated from our fleshly body at death, Satan has succeeded in downgrading the worth of our bodily existence. He has also masterfully usurped a divine attribute—immortality—for the endless existence of sin. If sinners will be tormented in hell forever, without ending, a divine quality is attached to sin: unending existence. But this distorts the loving character of God, who has no pleasure in the death of the wicked (Eze. 33:11), nor does He enjoy the torture of His enemies. With the concept of an immortal soul the problem of sin and evil in this world is intensified, for sin continues to exist forever. The Bible, however, tells us that sin ultimately will be eradicated. Sin will not endlessly continue to exist. This earth will be cleansed from all traces of sin, and a new earth will be established where there will be no more death and pain and suffering and tears (Rev. 21:3, 4).
Despite all our scientific sophistication and skills, we human beings still have not mastered death. The sorrow and pain it brings is too great for any human solution. Death needs a divine remedy. In the resurrection of Jesus Christ God reverses the annihilation of life and conquers death. Death is not part of God’s good creation. It is no friend, but is called “the last enemy that will be destroyed” (1 Cor. 15:26).
Death brings permanent separation from loved ones. Being separated from life, we are unconscious. But God is conscious of us. He does not forget those who are asleep in the grave. He remembers. In His love He longs to see us again. Even when we are surrounded by death, and do not know where we are, we are secure in God’s love. The heart of God yearns over His children with a love stronger than death. And because of his divine love there is hope. Hope for a resurrection from the grave. Hope that God’s life-giving love will bring us back to new life and grant us eternal life in Jesus Christ. Jesus is God’s love in person. That’s why Jesus is the source of our resurrection hope (Rom. 6:23; 2 Tim. 1:10; 1 Cor. 15:22). For in the end, love will triumph! In the end, love with win! How do we know? Because God has powerfully proven it in Jesus Christ: Jesus did not remain in the grave. The tomb is empty. Christ is truly risen (Luke 24:34), the disciples joyfully proclaimed. He is alive! Death could not hold Him. Even the disciples were surprised to realize that He lived. They did not expect it. They could not imagine it. But God was stronger than death. For God nothing is impossible. Miracles are His currency.
When That Great Day Comes
Just as our human existence is always a bodily existence, the resurrection is a bodily event. We will not float ghostlike through space but will receive a new resurrection body, just as Jesus did (Luke 24:39, 40). That’s why we believe that He will come back the same way He ascended after His resurrection (Acts 1:11).
Without Jesus’ resurrection our faith would be in vain (1 Cor. 15:14). If Jesus were still dead, He could not intercede for us in the heavenly sanctuary to apply the power of His forgiveness so that we can live victoriously. If Jesus were still dead, our Advent hope would vanish. He could not come back again in glory! If Jesus were still dead, He could not hear our prayers. If Jesus were still dead, we would not have His help in times of trouble. If Jesus were still dead, there would be no forgiveness for our sins, because He Himself would need a Savior (1 Cor. 15:17). If Jesus were still dead, we would have no hope for our resurrection (1 Cor. 15:17, 18). But the good news is: He is alive! He is the way, the truth, and the life! (John 14:6). He has conquered death and is the source for our hope in a divine resurrection. Praise be to Jesus!
BIO: Frank M. Hasel, Ph.D., is dean of the Theology Department at Bogenhofen Seminary, Austria. In 2009 his wife died of cancer. Since then he is learning to trust God’s love in new ways, and looks forward to the resurrection morning, when God’s love will prove to be more powerful than death.
PULLQUOTE: Satan has succeeded in downgrading the worth of our bodily existence
Sidebar: Death and Resurrection
The wages of sin is death. But God, who alone is immortal, will grant eternal life to His redeemed. Until that day death is an unconscious state for all people. When Christ, who is our life, appears, the resurrected righteous and the living righteous will be glorified and caught up to meet their Lord. The second resurrection, the resurrection of the unrighteous, will take place a thousand years later. (Rom. 6:23; 1 Tim. 6:15, 16; Eccl. 9:5, 6; Ps. 146:3, 4; John 11:11-14; Col. 3:4; 1 Cor. 15:51-54; 1 Thess. 4:13-17; John 5:28, 29; Rev. 20:1-10.)