WHAT IS DEATH ?
How do you explain death and dying to a little child? How do you explain it to anybody? Job asked, "If a man die, shall he live again?" But everybody asks the same question. Are we born only to die? No. . .something inside tells us there must be more. But if there isn't, then there really is nothing. But there must be something. . .something more beyond death.
For thousands of years, questions about death have bothered the minds of people. Must the cycle of death and life and death go on forever? Is death the end of each man and woman's story? What happens after the grave? Will we ever be reunited with our loved ones? Can we face the possibility of our own death with hope and confidence?
Searchers have turned everywhere for answers. But the answers can be found in only one place. They can be found in the One who said, "I am the resurrection, and the life!" (John 11:25) He is the One who conquered the power of death. Through him we can discover what the Bible says about death.
The first question we should consider is, How was man made? We have the clear explanation in God's Word, which says, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground." (Genesis 2:7) Not from stardust. . .not from some elements from outer space. . .but from the earth. God formed man's body from the elements of the earth. But something must give life to that body. Again the Bible gives the answer. "God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7) Notice that the Bible says that man became a living soul. He did not receive something called a soul.
According to Genesis 2:7, we have an easy-to-understand equation of what makes up man:
Dust of the Earth + The Breath of Life = A Living Soul
First, the dust of the earth makes up the lifeless body. The breath of life from God is added to the body. As a result, we have the living soul, or living being. The Bible is plain on this point; the soul is not something separate in a person. It cannot go on living somewhere outside the body.
Then what is death? The Bible is straightforward on this question, too. It says that when a person dies, "his breath goeth forth, he returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish." (Psalm 146:4)
God himself said something similar to Adam Eve after they sinned. He said, "Dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return." (Genesis 3:19) Death is the reverse of life. At death the body is once again just lifeless elements in the earth, no more. The breath of life goes back to God who gave it in the first place. The Bible describes it this way: "Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it." (Ecclesiastes 12:7) (The words "spirit" and "breath" are both translations of the same Hebrew word "ruach" and so are often used interchangeably in the Bible.)
Let's illustrate life and death with an electric light bulb. Without electricity passing through it, the bulb itself gives no light. The body of man, without the breath of life, is like that--no light, no life. But when an electric current passes through the bulb's element, light is produced. Even so, when the breath of life passes through man, the body lights up with life.
When the breath leaves man, he dies. The light is gone. The living soul is no longer living. The brain and intelligence no longer function. The Bible says, "In death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?" (Psalm 6:5) "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything." (Ecclesiastes 9:5) Repeatedly the Bible is plain on this point: those who die are not someplace else.
They are not in heaven, for the Bible says, "The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence." (Psalm 115:17) They are not in hell fire, or in purgatory, for the Bible says, "Man dieth. . .and where is he?. . .till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep." (Job 14:10,12) So, that is the state of the dead--nothingness, a dreamless sleep, a state where all emotions and thoughts disappear.
Is this the way God meant it to be? Is he some sadist who gives us life. . .who plants within us a deep desire to live. . .and then ends it all? Wouldn't he be a cruel diabolic God who would allow us to live just long enough to get a taste of life's loveliness. . .and then dash all our hopes. . .our dreams. . .our friendships? The truth is that God meant us to live forever. He did not mean for Adam and Eve to die. He did not mean for anyone to ever face death. Death comes from another source--sin. "For the wages of sin is death." (Romans 6:23) And sin is rebellion against the perfect way of God. "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." (Ezekiel 18:20)
Death is not the vengeful act of God. Throughout the Bible we see that God is gracious, pleading with people not to rebel, not to sin, not to cut themselves off from the way of life. "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth." he declares. (Ezekiel18:32) While on earth Jesus showed us the true heart of God. For instance, when he came to the tomb of his friend, Lazarus, he was heartbroken. The Bible says, "He wept." In Gethsemane he wept over a world that was rebelling against its creator.
Then who was at the bottom of sin and death? Where did these twin plagues come from? The Bible clearly points out that Satan, the Devil, brought sin and death into the world. His unwavering plan was rebellion and death. He started with Adam and Eve, our first parents. Because God is a God of love and freedom, he created Adam and Eve with free will and the power of choice. He told them, "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Genesis 2:17) The word "die" as used here means "to begin to die." At the point of disobedience the law of death would begin to work.
Satan, who is called in the Bible "the father of lies," then came into the garden. He said to go ahead and eat of that tree and don't listen to God. "Ye shall not surely die." (Genesis 3:4) Adam and Eve chose to disobey God and listen to Satan. At that point, they also chose to dig a chasm between themselves and God, the lifegiver. They brought death to all mankind, for "in Adam all die." (1 Corinthians 15:22)
But that is not the end of the story! God does not forget the dead. In his mind remains a complete picture of everyone, whether dead or alive. God does not forget a single one of his created beings. Job in the Old Testament had this confidence in God's unforgettable memory. Job expected to live again. He said, "For I know that my redeemer liveth, and that he shall stand at the latter day upon the earth." (Job 19:25) Job knew that his redemption would come some day. He went on to say, "In my flesh shall I see God: whom I shall see for myself, and mine eyes behold." (Job 19:26,27)
Daniel, too, had this same confidence. He said, "Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake." (Daniel 12:2) David the Psalmist sang out his confidence in these words: "I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness." (Psalm 17:15)
Often the Bible calls death a sleep. Jesus referred to it in that way. One day he told his disciples, "Our friend Lazarus sleepeth, but I go, that I may awake him out of sleep." (John 11:11) But his disciples did not understand that Jesus meant Lazarus was dead. So Jesus told them plainly, "Lazarus is dead." (John 11:14) He was not only dead but already had lain in the tomb for four days. He was already starting to decay. But Jesus commanded, "Lazarus, come forth!" And Lazarus, in perfect health and restored to life, came out of the tomb.
In that resurrection we have a picture of Christ's power and his promise to give us life. He said, "I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live." (John 11:25) In these words we have a promise of eternal life. With Jesus Christ as your Savior and Redeemer, you can face death unafraid. Death is an enemy, there is no doubt about that. It robs us of loved ones. It ends our plans and dreams. But death is not the final word. The promise is that "the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1 Corinthians 15:26) Jesus has the keys to unlock the tomb and raise the dead.
As you trust Jesus and live for him, you can have confidence in his resurrection power. You can be sure that even though you die, you shall live again. Jesus promised this. He said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." (John 14:19) You can also rely on the grandest promise made in all the Bible. It's found in John chapter three, verse 16: "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." What a wonderful promise! We can be sure that God will keep it. For he did give us his Son, Jesus Christ, to die for us.
Another important question we must consider is this--How and when will we receive eternal life? Jesus himself told us when this would happen. Speaking of himself, he said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth." (John 5:28,29) "The hour is coming. . ." It is a future event. The resurrection shall take place in a short span of time. . .at a definite point in the future. It will also happen in response to Christ's command. "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live." (John 5:25)
This resurrection shall take place when Jesus comes again. "When Christ, who is our life, shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory." (Colossians 3:4) What a glorious day that will be! The followers of Jesus Christ who have died will see him face to face. They will be rewarded with eternal life. Christ will be fulfilling the warm promise he made so many years ago: "In my Father's house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. . .And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also." (John 14:2,3)
Whether we are living or dead at the time of Christ's return, we will be changed and united with our Lord. The apostle Paul described the event in these glorious words: "For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together withthem in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord." (1 Thessalonians 4:16,17)
Friend, the promises of God are comforting and true. He will keep them. Jesus will return. He will bring his loved ones back to life. You can be one of those who go back with him to heaven. You can have eternity to fulfill your talents, your dreams. You can see your Savior face to face. What a life that will be! A life without end, both in time and joy! No wonder the apostle Paul exclaimed, "For me to live is Christ!" (Philippians 1:21)
What must you do? Take Jesus as your friend and Savior now. For "he that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." (1 John 5:12) Jesus wants you to be with him forever. He wants you to have a life of joy and without end. And he has provided a way for you to have that life. Won't you accept his way to life everlasting now? Won't you listen to him speaking to you? Won't you open your heart and life to him. . .now?
Face to face with Christ my Savior,
Face to face, what will it be,
When with rapture I behold Him,
Jesus Christ, who died for me?
Face to face shall I behold Him,
Far beyond the starry sky;
Face to face in all His glory
I shall see Him by and by!
-Mrs. Frank A. Breck, 1898-