Sjolander Road Fellowship




Declaring the God of Unconditional Love

the meaning of death

2/28/12

The Bible and subsequently the church have a lot to say about death. The following scriptures are a few examples for immediate consideration:

Gen 3:3 But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said , Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

Romans 5:10-12 For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled , we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement. Wherefore , as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned

Romans 6:4-10  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection: Know in this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed , that henceforth we should not serve in. For he that is dead is freed from sin. Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him: Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him. For in that he died , he died unto sin once: but in that he liveth, he liveth unto God.

Hebrews 2: 14-15 Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil; And deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.

Hebrews 9:27 And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment:

Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

 

It should be fairly obvious that not every reference to "death" or "dying", particularly in the New Testament, points to physical demise. Therefore, the Bible reader is challenged to understand the concept of death metaphorically or symbolically in some portions of the Bible. That requires an ability to differentiate between the different meanings of "death".

If one considers the word "death" used metaphorically in our own language, we see a  couple of different meanings or connotations:

            A powerful, dramatic and perhaps painful change or transformation. In this regard,  many things which bring about pain, sorrow, fear, anger, or disappointment would qualify as a metaphorical death. Workers who have lost jobs describe that loss as a type of death, for example. It is the death or end of a former way of life with the associated security and personal identity.

 

            In a slightly different vein, the existence of a state of ignorance, unconsciousness, unawareness, or loss of memory can qualify as a metaphorical death. The expression "dead to the world" to symbolize a state of unconsciousness to one's surroundings is a perfect example used in the English language.

 

In an even broader sense, death can mean anything which detracts from the ability to live fully, which makes life a mere existence devoid of meaning, purpose, and fulfillment.

Given the scriptures quoted and the English language examples of metaphorical deaths, the Bible student should recognize the need to carefully consider each Bible reference to death to determine the kind of death under discussion. When a text such as the Bible, with its ample use of symbolic language, is under consideration, the reader is wise not to presuppose a particular meaning for death in any context or passage, because we should know that "death" can and does mean many things besides physical expiration, both in the Bible and in our common vernacular.

Too often, I believe, people incorrectly assume that physical death is under discussion in the Bible when a metaphorical death is actually the subject. I am personally not convinced that the death of Genesis 3:3 and Hebrews 9:27 speak of physical demise, though that has been the traditional understanding in both cases. Given passages like Romans 6 and Revelation 20, I see ample evidence of extensive scriptural reference to metaphorical death. Additionally and very significantly, the ultimate fulfillment of God's purpose in Christ is closely associated with the defeat of death (I Corinthians 15:54). The evidence that the death defeated there is physical is totally unconvincing in view of Romans 6 and its comments on death with Christ.

A misunderstanding of death is a critical problem in interpreting scripture. A re-evaluation of the subject of death in every biblical context should be a high priority for those seeking a fuller understanding of God's work in Christ. The subject of sin and the associated sin death are the essence of the Bible. To miss what death means in this context is to miss everything.