DEATH OF DEATH N THE DEATH OF CHRIST
When death takes from you the person you loved most in this world, you should be able to understand why Paul called death an "enemy" (1 Cor. 15:25-26). Death is a hateful enemy. I despise death because it took from me my beautiful wife of more than fifty-three years. I strongly suspect that every one of you in my audience today has experienced the loss of significant people in your life: Parents, children, brothers, sisters and other family members and friends. I know that death is inevitable for all human beings (Heb. 9:27), but I have no doubt I shall grieve over the death of my Molly until my dying day.
During the early years of the twenty-first century, Dave Hunt, an internationally known author and lecturer, and James White, director of Alpha and Omega Ministries, conducted a written debate on Calvinism. Their debate was published under the heading, Debating Calvinism: Five Points, Two Views (Sisters, OR: Multnomah Publishers, 2004). In one of his chapters, Dave Hunt refers to a book that was written in the mid-seventeenth century. The book has the unusual title, The Death of Death in the Death of Christ (p. 373). The title of that book will serve as the basis of our lesson today.
The apostle Paul explains how death came into God's perfect creation and how God has been so gracious in providing the way of salvation to all who believe and obey the gospel. "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned: (for until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed (or counted) when there is no law. Nevertheless death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over them who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's transgression, who is the figure of him who is to come. But not as the offense, so also is the free gift. For if through the offense of one many be dead, much more the grace of God, and the gift of grace, which is by one man, Jesus Christ, has abounded unto many. And not as it was by one that sinned, so is the gift: for the judgment was by one to condemnation, but the free gift is of many offenses unto justification. For if by one man's offense death reigned by one; much more they who receive the abundance of grace and the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ). Therefore as by the offense of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification. For as by one man's disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous. Moreover the law entered, that the offense might abound. But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound. That as sin has reigned unto death, even so might grace reign through righteousness unto eternal life by Jesus Christ our Lord" (Rom. 5:12-21).
We know that death was not in the world until Adam and Eve sinned and brought death on the entire human family. We also know that God is so loving, gracious and merciful that he wants all men to be saved. Both the apostles Paul and Peter make that truth too plain for anyone to doubt. "For this is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (1 Tim. 2:3-4). "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Pet. 3:9).
What did that mid-seventeenth century author mean by the expression, "the death of death in the death of Christ?" We know he could not mean that Christ's death on the cross eliminated physical death for anyone, including Christ's most devoted followers. I have already given you two verses about the universality of death. The following verse from Hebrews probably is the best-known verse on that topic. "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment" (Heb. 9:27). And how can anyone miss the import of these words from the book of Romans? "Wherefore, as by one man sin entered the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned" (Rom. 5:12).
The death that the death of Christ removed for those who believe the gospel and obey it is the "second death." Do you remember the promise Christ made to his faithful church in ancient Smyrna? "He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches; he who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death" (Rev. 2:11). The word "overcome" is from the Greek nikao and means to win the victory. The Lord also promised: "Blessed and holy is he who has a part in the first resurrection: on such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign a thousand years" (Rev. 20:6). But what will happen to those who reject the gospel and live for the devil? "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).
Frankly, I do not look forward to the first death, do you? But I know both by reading the scriptures and by observation that no one escapes this world alive, except those who will be alive when Christ returns. Surely no reasonable person wants to experience the second death, although many of our fellowmen may not even believe in it or have probably not given much thought to it. Since we cannot avoid the first death, how can we escape the second death, that is, the lake that burns with fire and brimstone? Will you please give your undivided attention to what the Bible teaches on the topic?
I must begin by emphasizing what God has done to give us the opportunity to enjoy eternal life. We know we cannot earn salvation. So God took the initiative to provide the means by which we can be forgiven and have the promise of eternal life. "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously and godly in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works" (Tit. 2:11-14).
An analysis of this text should help us to understand what the grace of God has done and continues to do for fallen men. Paul insists that the grace of God has appeared unto all men. We know that men did not and do not deserve salvation. But "God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through him might be saved" (John 3:16-17). Do the facts that the grace of God has appeared unto all men and that God sent his only begotten Son to save us mean that all people will be saved? The truth is: There are conditions we must meet to access the grace of God. For some Calvinistic theologians to argue that salvation is unconditional flies in the face of hundreds and hundreds of scriptural passages.
Paul teaches that the grace of God brings salvation. That the grace of God brings salvation cannot be doubted, that is, if we believe what the Bible so plainly says. But how does the grace of God bring salvation? God has given us his Son as a sacrifice for our sins. Jesus himself taught his disciples: "Even as the Son of man did not come to be ministered unto, but to minister, and to give his life a ransom for many" (Mt. 20:28). The word "ransom" is a noun form of the word translated "redeemed." Christ's death on the cross redeemed us from our alien sins. If we continually walk in the light, as Christ is in the light, his death continues to cleanse us from our sins (1 John 1:7). The apostle Paul added: "For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that, though he was rich, yet for your sakes he became poor, that you through his poverty might be rich" (2 Cor. 8:9).
Have you ever thought of the Bible as being a gift of God's grace? You do not believe we deserve to have God speak to rebellious and sinful men through the prophets, through his Son Jesus Christ and through his apostles, do you? In his farewell address to the elders of the Lord's church at Ephesus, Paul warned: "Therefore watch, and remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn everyone of you night and day with tears." Please listen carefully. "And now, brethren, I commend you to God, and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up, and to give you an inheritance among all them who are sanctified" (Acts 20:31-32). Were it not for the grace of God we would not know who God is, how to become Christians and how to so live as to have God's approval.
Fortunately for those who accept the Bible as God's inspired and inerrant word, we know how to avoid the second death. Our Lord does not mention the second death in the following passages, but we know what he had in mind. "And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the-world through him might be saved" (John 3:14-17). What did Jesus have in mind by using the words "perish" and “condemn?" He certainly was not speaking of our physical deaths. Faith in Christ and obedience to his word means we shall not perish in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.
Our Lord accused some of the Jewish leaders of being of this world, of not thinking as God wanted them to think. He then told them: "I said therefore unto you that you shall die in your sins: for if you believe not that I am he you shall die in your sins" (John 8:23-24). The Jews were going to die physically even if they believed in Christ and obeyed his gospel. There was nothing they could do to avoid that death. But if they wanted to avoid eternal punishment—the second death—they had to believe in Christ and to obey his gospel. Did not our Lord affirm: "If you love me, keep my commandments" (John 14:15)? How can we claim to love the Lord if we do not keep his commandments? Can men go to heaven if they do not love the Lord?
Tragically, there are preachers and teachers who insist that men are saved by faith alone. If that were true, the Bible writers deceive us by insisting that we must do the will of God. What did Christ mean when he asked his disciples: "Why call me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things that I say" (Lk. 6:46)? If we must do what the Lord says, we are not saved by faith alone. James teaches very plainly that we must do the will of God. "But be doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves...But whoso looks into the perfect law of liberty and continues therein, he being not a forgetful hearer, but a doer of the work, this man shall be blessed his deed" (Jas. 1:22, 25). And why did Paul criticize some in Rome for not obeying the gospel (Rom. 10:16)? If we are saved by faith alone, we do not have to obey the gospel.
On one occasion, there were some people who told Christ of some Galileans whose blood Pilate mingled with their sacrifices. Jesus asked them: "Do you suppose these Galileans were sinners above all Galileans because they suffered such things?" The Lord answered his own question. "I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish." Christ mentioned eighteen people upon whom the tower of Siloam fell and slew them. He asked: "Do you think that they were sinners above all men who dwelt in Jerusalem?" Again he answered: "I tell you, No: but, except you repent, you shall all likewise perish" (Lk. 13:1-5). Is our Lord teaching in these verses that alien sinners must repent if they want to avoid the second death, that is, eternal punishment?
Both the Galileans whom Pilate killed and the Jews on whom the tower of Siloam fell died. But will they also experience the second death? It all depends on whether they were walking in the Lord's way. If they were faithful to God's commandments, they had to die only one time, just as all of us have to die one time. But there is a great lesson Jesus taught in these verses, and that is, we must repent or perish. Paul taught the Athenians the same lesson. "The times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commands all men everywhere to repent: because he has appointed a day, in the which he will judge the word in righteousness by that man whom he has ordained; whereof he has given assurance unto all men, in that he has raised him from the dead" (Acts 17:30-31). When God judges the world in righteousness, does that mean that some will be cast into outer darkness? If you are a committed Bible student, you know the answer to that question.
What do you want to hear the Lord say to you in the final judgment? Can you imagine anything more beautiful than to hear him say, "Enter into the joys of thy Lord?" Do you believe he will say that to every human being, as the Universalists so blatantly teach? If he will, most of the Bible has precious little meaning to us. Our Lord demanded that we confess him on earth so he will confess us to the Father in heaven. "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess before my Father who is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father who is in heaven" (Mt. 10:32-33). Do you believe that those who deny our Lord on earth will escape the second death?
The apostle Peter indicted the Jews on Pentecost for having crucified and slain their own Messiah. He climaxed his great sermon by arguing: "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God has made this same Jesus whom you have crucified both Lord and Christ." The Jews were cut to the heart and asked Peter and the other apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Were they asking what they had to do to stay out of prison or to escape physical death? There was no threat of imprisonment. After all, the Jews had the permission, if not the blessing, of the Roman government when they crucified Christ. They knew physical death would be their lot whatever their belief about Jesus. They wanted to know how to be forgiven of their sin so they could inherit eternal life.
Peter's answer could hardly have been plainer. "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all who are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward (or crooked) generation" (Acts 2:38-41). Why were the Jews on Pentecost to repent and to be baptized? So they could enjoy the remission of sins. Since sin cannot enter the heavenly city, the Jews had to be baptized to have the promise of life eternal. By obeying the gospel, they would not experience the second death.
When believers repent and are baptized, is there any possibility they still might be lost eternally? I am fully aware of the Calvinistic doctrine of eternal security or once in grace always in grace. But there are some really serious problems with the doctrine. What did the author of Hebrews mean when he wrote: "Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God" (Heb. 3:12)? The Greek word translated "departing" is apostenai from which we derive our word "apostasy." Of course, a child of God can apostatize or fall from grace. That fact should not even be debatable.
I conclude our study today on the topic, "The Death of Death in the Death of Christ," by pointing out what all serious Bible students already know, and that is, the death of Christ would be of no particular value were our Lord not raised from the dead. A few words from Paul's great chapter on the resurrection should be a great comfort to all faithful children of God. "If Christ be not risen, then is our preaching vain, and your faith is vain also. Yea, and we are found false witnesses of God; because we have testified of God that he raised up Christ: whom he raised not up, if so be that the dead rise not." Paul concludes that great chapter by affirming: "Thanks be unto God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ. Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as you know your labor is not in vain in the Lord" (1 Cor. 15:14-15, 57-58).
May our heavenly Father help us to be faithful so we may receive the crown of life!
The International Gospel Hour
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Fayetteville, TN 37334
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