Death is an overwhelming tragedy. It is so different from other calamities of life. When other misfortunes strike, there is hope that things will get better. If poverty comes, one works harder, and hopes for better times. When sickness occurs, there is hope that health will soon return. But death is the supreme tragedy. It seems so hopeless, so very final, the end of everything. The loved one is gone beyond recall, beyond our help, beyond our reach. The tender ties of a whole lifetime are abruptly broken. The family unit, so tightly knit, is rudely shattered.
A wife loses her husband, or a husband loses his wife, in death. It is as painful as though a part of one’s body was torn away; which it has been, in a sense. Did not God say, “they shall be one flesh”? (Genesis 2:24) Or, a father and mother lose their child, the one upon whom they have lavished their love and for whom they had such great plans and high hopes. And children lose their parents, upon whom they have so long depended for love and counsel. In every event of death, the survivors are left sad and lonely, with a great aching emptiness, with a sense of tremendous loss.
It is hardest on those who are left behind. The dead are at rest. They are at peace. They are no longer troubled by the evil and wicked things of this world. In the Bible, Job describes the condition of death thus: “There the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest.” (Job 3:17) But those who remain are not at rest. Their hearts are torn by grief because of their loss. Every scene and event of their daily lives haunt them with memories of their departed loved one. And they often tend to reproach themselves, that perhaps they had not been so kind, considerate and loving as they should have been, that somehow it might have been because of their fault or neglect that the person died. Such thoughts torment them and greatly add to their grief.
What consolation can we give to those who are thus left behind? What comfort can we impart which will stop their weeping and dry their tears? Human philosophies and reasonings will not do. They are void and empty. Traditional and sectarian views of the hereafter are most unsatisfactory and painful. They hold no real comfort. But in the Bible, the word of God, there is great consolation, and wonderful comfort and hope. There is balm for the soul. There is healing for broken hearts. Every perplexing question concerning life and death and the hereafter is fully and lovingly answered. Some of these questions are: Why do people die? Why does a loving, all-powerful God permit death which brings such terrible sorrow? Why did he take my beloved away from me? What did he do wrong, to deserve death? What did I do wrong? Where are the dead? Are they happy? Are they suffering? Will I ever see my loved one again?
Why do we Die?
The human race was not designed to die, but was made to live forever in health and happiness upon the earth. Adam was created perfect, in God’s image, and was commanded to multiply and fill the earth with a race of perfect human beings like himself. (Genesis 1:27, 28) A beautiful garden home was given to him, planted with many fruit-bearing trees, providing perfect food capable of sustaining his life forever. But Adam’s continued life was made dependent upon one simple condition: God required obedience of him, just as any father rightly requires obedience from his child. So God applied a test of obedience. He merely required that Adam must not eat the fruit of just one of the many trees in the garden, saying, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, dying thou shalt die.” (Genesis 2:17) Adam failed in this test of obedience. Satan, the devil, prevailed upon Adam’s wife, Eve, to eat of the forbidden fruit, and she persuaded Adam to also eat of it. Thereupon God justly passed the sentence of death upon Adam, by driving him out of the garden, thus depriving him of the perfect food necessary for continued life. (Genesis 3:17 to 24)
This is how death started in the world. It was because of Adam’s sin of disobedience. And it was after Adam and his wife sinned, and were expelled from the garden, that they had their children. For this reason their children were born imperfect and dying. And these were our ancestors. As it is expressed in Romans 5:12, “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.” So do not reproach yourself over the death of a loved one. It was not because of anything you or he had done. It was not your fault. You are in no way responsible for death in the world. It was solely because of the sin of Adam, and our natural inheritance of its consequences. We were all born sinners, as the Psalmist declares in Psalm 51:5, “Behold, I was shapen in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” It is because of sin that we were all born dying. As Psalm 89:48 expressed it: “What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave?”
An Escape from Death
But God did not abandon the world of mankind in such a hopeless condition. He has provided a glorious escape from sin and death. In his great love for his human children, God has provided a Ransom whereby they may be redeemed and return to life again. Thus we read in John 3:16, “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.” And in Hosea 13:14: “I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction.”
What does God mean when he says, “I will ransom them from the power of the grave?” “Ransom” means “a price to correspond,” or “equivalent price.” Because of his disobedience, Adam forfeited his life; and his entire race, born sinners, shared his condemnation to death. Jesus Christ came to earth as a perfect man, physically an exact equivalent of Adam before Adam sinned. But, unlike Adam, Jesus was obedient to God. He died without deserving to die. As Philippians 2:8 states it, “And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross.” He sacrificially gave up his perfect, unforfeited life as a “corresponding price” or ransom, in offset for the forfeited life of Adam. This free gift canceled the death penalty, not only for Adam, but also for all of Adam’s race who were condemned because of being made sinners by his disobedience. Thus we read in Romans 5:18 and 19, “Therefore, as by the offence of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one, the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” And in Romans 6:23 it is written, “For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life, through Jesus Christ our Lord.” The “corresponding price” of the Ransom which Jesus gave, and the promise that, as a result, all mankind will be raised from the dead, is stated in 1 Corinthians 15:21 and 22, “For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” And Romans 14:9 tells us “For to this end Christ both died and rose and revived, that he might be the Lord, both of the dead and living.” After Jesus died as a man, God raised him from the dead; not as a man, but a mighty spirit being, with power and authority to call all mankind from the grave.
A Firm Basis of Hope
This doctrine of the Ransom is the grandest and most meaningful doctrine taught in the Bible. It is the basis of the only true hope and consolation for the world of mankind, because it provides for the return of the dead to life, the joyful reunion of families parted by death, and their living forever in health and happiness upon the earth.
To some it may seem incredible that our beloved dead will actually live again, and be with us once more, never to part. But in the language of the Apostle Paul, in Acts 26:8, “Why should it be thought a thing incredible with you, that God should raise the dead?” Cannot the mighty God who originally created man, re-create him if he wishes to? Does he not have the power to do so? Viewed in this manner, the resurrection of the dead is nothing to be surprised about. As we read in John 5:28 and 29, “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.”
A Demonstration of Resurrection
Jesus gave a wonderful demonstration of this when he was on earth; a preview, so to speak. The account is found in the eleventh chapter of John. A man named Lazarus, and his sisters Mary and Martha, were special friends of Jesus. On one occasion when Jesus was away on a trip, Lazarus took seriously sick. His sisters immediately sent word to Jesus, expecting that he would return and heal Lazarus. But Jesus did not return at once, and Lazarus died. When this happened, Jesus knew it, and told his disciples, “Our friend Lazarus sleepeth; but I go that I may awake him out of sleep.” Here Jesus likened the condition of death to sleep, from which there will be an awakening. But his disciples misunderstood him, taking his words literally. We read: “Then said his disciples, Lord if he sleep, he shall do well. Howbeit Jesus spake of his death; but they thought that he had spoken of taking rest in sleep. Then said Jesus unto them plainly, Lazarus is dead.”
When Jesus returned, Lazarus had been dead for four days. His sister Martha met Jesus, and sadly said, “Lord, if thou hadst been here, my brother had not died.” She was seeking comfort and consolation of the Master. And what comfort and consolation did Jesus give her? He simply said, “Thy brother shall rise again.” He pointed to a resurrection in the future. But Martha missed her brother. She missed him then and there, just as you miss your loved one now. She knew he would be resurrected in God’s Kingdom on earth in the future. She believed this; but she yearned to have him back then and there. We read from the account: “Martha saith unto him, I know that he shall rise again, in the resurrection at the last day. Jesus said unto her, I am the resurrection and the life. He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live. And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believeth thou this? She saith unto him, Yea, Lord, I believe. . . . ”
Then Jesus went to the tomb of Lazarus and had the stone that sealed it rolled away. And then, after he had prayed to his Heavenly Father, we read: “He cried with a loud voice, Lazarus, come forth! And he that was dead came forth.” Lazarus walked out of the tomb alive! You can well imagine what a great joy it must have been for Martha and Mary to have their dead brother back, alive and well. They still wept, but their tears were now tears of joy instead of sorrow. And that is just the way it will be in Christ’s Millennial Kingdom soon to be fully established on earth. Then will be fulfilled the prophecy of Jesus in John 5:25, “Verily, I say unto you, the hour is coming when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God; and they that hear shall live.”
This demonstration by Jesus, the raising of Lazarus from the dead, is recorded in the Bible for the sake of those who are sorrowing because of the death of a loved one. As Jesus said to Martha, he now says to you, “Your loved one shall rise again! I am the resurrection and the life. I will call him forth and give him back to you, just as I gave Lazarus back to his sisters. Then your sorrow will also turn to joy, just as theirs did.”