© Copyright 2002 by Tony Capoccia. This updated file may be
freely copied, printed out, and distributed as
long as copyright and source statements remain intact, and that it is not sold. All rights reserved.
Verses quoted, unless otherwise noted, are taken from the HOLY
BIBLE: NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION
Approximately 5000 B.C., God said to man, who was created to live forever, "You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die." (Genesis 2:16). Man and woman ate from the tree and the death process began.
Approximately 7,000 years later we read the headlines of various news articles from the local newspaper:
"Paranoid man shoots, kills paper carrier."
"Israeli air raid kills one, injures two at Palestinian base."
"Woman's suicide leads to deaths of spouse, 4 children."
"Father, son charged in girl's slaying."
"Girl, 2, dies in mobile home fire."
"Killer of parents gets 30-year term."
"Fatal accident closes interstate highway."
Death has been a part of man's existence from the very beginning. Every age and society has had to face the reality of death on a continuing basis. It is a subject that everyone must deal with because it is an experience we must all share in. Most people avoid the subject of death because they have no answers as to the origin and meaning of this enemy of life. Man fears death because it is an unknown to him. He does not know when it will occur or how it will take place. Most people fear death because they do not know what happens after death.
Each person has an attitude about death that will affect nearly every activity of their life. These attitudes can be grouped into three basic types; one is to fear death to such an extent that we become a slave to our emotions. Another attitude is to ignore the thought of death by becoming engrossed in living. The third attitude one can have towards death is to accept it as a reality and to be prepared for it, both emotionally and spiritually. Having the proper attitude towards death is a result of understanding its various aspects.
ORIGIN OF DEATH
As was stated earlier, death was not always a part of mankind's experience. For in the beginning when God created man and woman there was no death. Neither man nor animals experienced the termination of life. Death was introduced as a sure consequence for sin, should man so chose. God had to establish a punishment that would equal the offense of disobedience to His Holy Word. Some would say that death was too great a price to have to pay for simply eating forbidden fruit, but the fruit was not the issue. The issue was the Holiness of God. We cannot begin to understand how Holy God is unless we realize that the slightest offense against God cost man all that he had--life, both physical and spiritual.
EXTENT OF DEATH
When man first sinned against God, death entered the human race. So vast was this death that the entire universe began to die, "The creation was subjected to frustration, not by its own choice, but by the will of the one who subjected it [God--because of man's sin], in hope that the creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay." (Romans 8:20-21). So the entire universe came under under the curse of death because of the sin of one man, "...sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men..." (Romans 5:12). Again, it is through death that we get a glimpse of the holiness of God, noting that one offense [the eating of the forbidden fruit] caused not only the offender's death but also all of his offspring,
to include us!
But even the physical death of the entire human race cannot make amends for the insult to our Holy God by disobeying His command. In fact, the one offense warranted something beyond mere physical death, it demanded a "Second Death!" The physical death of the human race still left the insult to God unpaid, so God called for a punishment after death. This second death is a living death where the individual suffers in great torment for an "endless" time in the fiery lake of burning sulfur called the "Lake of Fire"...The Lake of Fire is the second death." (Revelation 19:20; 20:14).
This death after death is what every human deserves, but God in His great mercy and love offers "life" to a sin-cursed race. Often times we question God about the death of a baby, a young child or some "good person." But we are wrong to ask God, "Why did you let them die?" Our question should be, "Why do you let any of us live?" We all deserve "death after death," but God offers "life after life."
SOVEREIGN OF DEATH
God is absolutely sovereign over death. We have just as much control over our death as we had over our birth--none! Man does not decide who will live and who will die--God does. Man cannot live one second beyond the time God has determined, nor can he live one second less, "From one man He made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and He
[God] determined the times [birth, life, death] set for them and the exact places where they should live." (Acts 17:26, Matthew 6:27). The Psalmist expressed God's sovereignty over death in this way, "Show me, O Lord, my life's end and the number of my days; let me know how fleeting is my life.....All the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be." (Psalm 39:4,139:16).
When I was living in California, going to seminary, there was a woman who lived in my apartment complex who had tried to commit suicide numerous times. Once it was drug overdose, another time she slashed her wrists, and she even tried electrocution. Each time she should have died, but she could not. God would not allow it. Yet another person is a jogger and eats all the right foods and is in excellent condition according to the medical experts and suddenly dies of a heart attack. God determines the day and means of death.
Today in our society we have some TV preachers who are teaching the lie that God wants all Christians "healthy and wealthy," and if you just have enough faith you can avoid disease and die quietly in your own bed at an old age. They even claim that any Christian who dies a violent type of death has failed to call upon the "power" of God in their lives.
God does love His children very much but He still uses all types of deaths to "bring us home." The Bible is full of godly men and women dying agonizing and untimely deaths. For example, we have the greatest man who ever lived--John the Baptist, being killed by having his head cut off. (Luke 7:28, Mark 6:27). Also, in the Book of Hebrews we see numerous Christians suffering terrible deaths, "They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword...the world was not worthy of them." (Hebrews 11:37,38). Most Christians today don't suffer these type of deaths but that does not mean that God is obligated to give us a quiet death in bed. God will chose the type of death for a Christian that will bring Him the most Glory.
God must bring every Christian home to heaven through some type of death. If all Christians died at home without any suffering then the churches would not be able to hold all the people who would want to be a Christian. The unbelievers would flock to the churches, but for the wrong reason. They would come to get the type of physical death they wanted instead of wanting to love and adore Jesus Christ! Now I do believe that the Bible teaches that, in general, Christians will live longer and have more peaceful lives than the wicked. And the death experience for most Christians will be a peaceful one of natural causes. But we must never put God "in a box" by thinking that He is not allowed to pick the exact time and manner of our deaths.
I once knew a sweet vibrant Christian lady who was very active in the church helping other Christians grow in the Lord. One day her father showed up at my door to tell me that Barbara had been raped and murdered the night before in Pasadena. I was shocked and dismayed, for I too had put God "in a box." My thinking did not allow God to take a Christian home through the hand of a rapist and murderer. I slept with the lights on for the next week until I read in the Bible, "Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints." (Psalm 116:15). God was saying that no matter how a Christian dies it is a precious moment in His sight. You see, God loved Barbara so much that He had determined that she should be in His presence. He did not cause the murderer to kill her, but rather put Barbara in the path of one who was bent on rape and murder, thus allowing the sin of the person to accomplish God's will (to bring Barbara home). (Proverbs 16:4). One will say, but what a terrible way to die, especially for one of God's beloved.
In the Scriptures we find many statements about the deaths of Christians as being likened to "falling asleep." History has shown Christians dying rather peaceful deaths in the midst of violence. For example, we have the martyrs, during the Roman Catholic Inquisition, when Christians were killed for their belief in salvation by faith and faith alone in Jesus, singing songs of joy as the fires of the stake consumed their bodies. During one such burning at the stake, the dying Christian cried out that he was in a "rose garden" and had great peace and joy--despite the fact that his skin was already on fire!
There have been many modern-day testimonies of Christians who have experienced great joy and bliss during rather painful deaths. I do believe that victims like Barbara actually are given what I would call a "dying grace"--a great sense of peace from God as the time of their death began. In my own life when suddenly faced with sudden crisis situations I have often felt the "rush" of the presence of God that assured me that it "was of Him!" I believe that when Barbara first saw her attacker in her room, that she was given a sudden peace from God, ("dying grace") that assured her that God was calling her into His presence. This is similar to the account of Stephen when he was stoned to death, in which he was full of the Holy Spirit, and in peace prayed that God would not hold this sin against those who were killing him (Acts 7).
RESULT OF DEATH
What exactly happens when we die? First, we must understand that the concept that there are people who have died and then returned back to life, after having seen heaven or hell is just not true. I am not talking about the Biblical accounts of miraculous raisings of the dead. These miracles were done for a specific purpose of God, which normally was to validate the giving of new revelation from God to man. But since the closing of the Canon of Scripture, we find no one else being raised back to life. In this age when a person dies--he stays dead (at least until Jesus resurrects him to eternal life or to eternal judgment). In fact the Bible tells us that, "...man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment." (Hebrews 9:27). People who really die do not return to live for a few more years. The idea that you can die and go to heaven or hell and then return to live some more, is a lie straight from the "Pit of Hell."
I have read the accounts of those who claim to have died, went down the "tunnel," heard the "buzz," and saw the "light." But something beckoned them back to earth and they returned. These people will testify that they can tell you what was occurring in their hospital room or even "down the hall," during their "out-of-body" experience. Who could argue that they did not have an "out-of-body" experience. How else could we explain the fact that they knew what was occurring in various parts of the hospital, while they were "clinically dead" on an operating table? The answer is
rather simple. First, look at the result of the whole experience. It tells the world that you can live any way that you want, then die, see heaven and experience peace and then return. This makes the Bible a lie, for it claims that after we die we go either to Heaven forever, or to eternal torment. A new twist to the lie comes from those who claim that they died and went into Hell, thus validating the Bible. This is equally not true, because the big lie is that you can die, go into Hell, and then get out of Hell! (Luke 16:19-31).
Where do these experiences come from? The answer is easy--Satan has tricked them! You see he has great power and can give false visions to people (Joseph Smith--Mormons; Fatima--Catholics, etc). The details about what was occurring around the hospital is easy when you have demons everywhere; they just make it part of the vision and feed the information to the person laying on the operating table. The person experiencing it all, really is being used by the forces of evil to help deceive both unbelievers and the saved. Know very clearly that after real death comes
eternity, either in Heaven or in Hell.
Death is often described as a door to Heaven, or a door to Hell. For the Christian, death is like walking through a door. One moment you are on the outside looking in, and then "swish" you go through the door and are inside. One second, you are driving your car listening to a Christian tape or CD, and then "crash," you are through the door and into the arms of Christ!
It is the the same way when the wicked die. But for the wicked,
death is a terrifying experience, because suddenly they are confronted with the
reality of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is not their Savior waiting with open arms;
rather, He is their judge who will throw them into torment, into the Lake of
Fire. (Revelation 20:15).
I recall once when I was in pilot training, watching an Air Force film about tornados in the Base Theater, suddenly, the lights came on and the Commander came in and announced that there were several tornadoes spotted in the vicinity of our Northern Texas base, and that we needed to go to a shelter. For the unbeliever death is like that, an interruption in a movie. The lost person thinks he has everything figured out, but is really living in a dream world. Suddenly, the lights will come on, and he will be made aware that the fantasy is over and that Jesus Christ is truly the God of the Universe who called him to believe in Him by faith--and faith alone. But then it will be too late, for he had to have made the decision for Christ before he died--there is no second chance.
So the believer goes to be with the Lord, and the unbeliever goes into the fires of Hell. But what about babies, young children, and those who are retarded to a point of not being able to reason. Are they condemned to the Lake of Fire because of the sin of Adam? The Bible indicates that there is a special grace that God gives to allow them to enter heaven because they had not reached the "age of accountability" and age where they are responsible for their rejection of Christ. We see this with King David in the Old Testament who prayed for his infant son who was dying. God took the life of the little boy, and David said, "But now that he is dead...Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me" (2 Samuel 12:23). David spoke under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit and indicated that he, David, would someday go to be with his little son. David was a believer who was redeemed and upon death went "non-stop" to Heaven. Thus we can draw the obvious conclusion that those who have not matured to the point of being able to make a decision for or against Christ are covered under the Blood of Christ. Note that the sin of the baby (original sin) still had to be "paid for" on the cross of Christ by the shedding of His blood--His death.
What should be our attitude and action based on the proper understanding of death?
A. For the Believer
Death is determined by God and we can rest assured that He will remove us at the proper time that will bring Him maximum glory. We are not to live in a constant state of anxiety about the possibility of death, for us or our loved ones. As a father and husband I am sometimes prone to think about a sudden disaster striking my family, and this brings on anxiety. But at that point I recall a powerful Bible verse, "Have no fear of sudden disaster or of the ruin that overtakes the wicked." (Proverbs 3:25). God has called us to live a life of peace, so that the unbelieving world around us will see our joy and seek it for themselves. If we fear death, then what hope can we give anyone? Yet, there should be a certain fear in our hearts concerning death--the fear of death due to the discipline of the Lord. We find in the New Testament that God has taken some Christians off of the earth because of their willful, unrepentant continuous sins. Remember the account of Ananias and Sapphira, who in their hearts and with their mouths lied to the Holy Spirit, and God struck them dead before the church as an example of His demand for personal holiness. (Acts 5:1-11). In 1 Corinthians 11:30 we also have the deaths of some Christians, due to their unworthy manner of receiving the Lord's Supper. The point is that our behavior as Christians does have a part in the decision God makes about the "number of our days."
One important note to remember, is that if we are removed from the earth because of our continued disobedience, the very next moment will find us in the loving arms of Christ. He will not remind us of the fact that we left the earth because of sin, rather He will pour upon us His sweet gentle love, "I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more." (Hebrews
8:12). For the Christian, death is the beginning of an eternal bliss. When the Lord takes away one of our dear Brothers or Sisters in Christ, or takes our little child, we can rejoice in our tears, that they are happier in Heaven then they ever were here on the earth. We will miss their presence, but can look forward with confidence to sharing all eternity with them.
B. For the Unbeliever
If you have allowed the Holy Spirit to speak to your heart, then your response should be one of repentance. Without Christ your sins have not been dealt with and you are liable for not only physical death but also the second, spiritual death in the Lake of Fire for all eternity. Do not delay falling on your knees and confessing to Jesus that:
1. Repent of Your Sins: Confess to God that you are a sinner who is rightly condemned to hell for your sins against a pure and holy God, and that you desire, in your heart, to turn away from all known sins by the power of the Holy Spirit.
2. Believe that Jesus is who He claimed to be: Jesus said, "If you do not believe that I am the one I claim to be, you will indeed die in your sins." (John 8:24). You must, in your heart believe that Christ is the only way of salvation; that He is God Himself; that His death was a payment for your sins; that His resurrection is evidence of the Father's acceptance of the sacrifice of Jesus for the sins of all those that believe by faith and faith alone in Christ for salvation.
3. Submit to the Lordship of Christ: You submit complete control of your life to Jesus, being willing, in your heart, to do all that he will command you to do.
Please note: You must be "willing" at the very first opportunity, to be baptized by immersion, being aware that the the act of baptism does not save you; it is simply an outward sign of the inward reality of your conversion. And, very importantly, it is the first step of obedience Christ calls you to make as a follower of His Lordship. If a person is not "willing" to be baptized at the first opportunity "after" salvation, then that may be evidence that they are not truly saved since they are not willing to follow the very first command of Christ--to be baptized.
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