Beyond all dispute, death plays a powerful role in human history. The fear of death is arguably our most powerful emotion. The drive to survive, to live, is a seemingly essential instinct. That and the apparent finality of death lead us to view death as perhaps the ultimate transformative agent.
For students of the Bible death becomes transformative in a number of ways. Firstly, death transforms mankind from eternal to temporal as God’s punishment for original sin. Then, ironically, death becomes the ritual practice, through animal sacrifices, to deal with the sin of disobedience. Then God attempts to deal with sin another way, by killing most of humanity in a flood. This served to reinforce the idea that death consciously and properly administered by a righteous agent was potentially transformative, bringing about that which is good. The many capital offense outlined in the Law of Moses certainly suggested that killing for the good of society was mandatory. The subsequent history of Israel and Judah in the Old Testament are full of stories of God ordained conflicts and killings, either initiated by Israel or suffered by them.
To this point in the Bible story, inflicted death is shown to be transformative in these two ways- it caused fear which restrained some people and it eliminated others who were not sufficiently transformed by fear alone. In either case death served to advance the cause of righteousness by motivating people to change or causing others to change (kill) them. This Old Testament view of death was described by the writer of Hebrews as a state of bondage for Israel, one from which Jesus brought deliverance through his own death.
Thus the New Testament introduces mankind to the idea of a metaphysical, transformative death, one which brought mankind into union with God through Christ. Instead of separating one from a union with humanity, the death (or deaths?) of Jesus established, or perhaps simply revealed, the complete solidarity of the individual human with the infinity divine. The death(s) that Jesus experienced and endured served as pointers to transformation through a death experience vastly different in power and magnitude from how death supposedly worked in the Old Testament.
Jesus’ greatest work involved redefining death and in the process redirecting the human mind and heart way from working righteousness through the power of physical death. In that process he introduced mankind to the death, or end, of the OT concept of establishing and maintaining righteousness by inflicted death and the fear thereof.
Some mistakenly assume that Jesus’ new death was instead the new idea of eternal fiery torment which became an even greater fear inducer than physical death alone. The simple fear of physical death had evidently not transformed mankind sufficiently so Jesus doubled down on the OT picture of fear and retribution as the Bible message. Obey or else, same story with greater “or else”.
The metaphysical death of Jesus and its power as been transformed by traditional theology into the very mindset which caused Jesus to suffer and die in the first place. Christ’s sacrificial death has itself been sacrificed on the altar of religious tradition and its emphasis on threats as essential to God’s plan to transform mankind.