Death in light of Sacred Scripture

by Mike Ratliff

1 Καὶ ὑμᾶς ὄντας νεκροὺς τοῖς παραπτώμασιν καὶ ταῖς ἁμαρτίαις ὑμῶν, 2 ἐν αἷς ποτε περιεπατήσατε κατὰ τὸν αἰῶνα τοῦ κόσμου τούτου, κατὰ τὸν ἄρχοντα τῆς ἐξουσίας τοῦ ἀέρος, τοῦ πνεύματος τοῦ νῦν ἐνεργοῦντος ἐν τοῖς υἱοῖς τῆς ἀπειθείας· 3 ἐν οἷς καὶ ἡμεῖς πάντες ἀνεστράφημέν ποτε ἐν ταῖς ἐπιθυμίαις τῆς σαρκὸς ἡμῶν ποιοῦντες τὰ θελήματα τῆς σαρκὸς καὶ τῶν διανοιῶν, καὶ ἤμεθα τέκνα φύσει ὀργῆς ὡς καὶ οἱ λοιποί· (Ephesians 2:1-3 NA28)

1 And you were dead in the trespasses and sins 2 in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience— 3 among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. (Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV)

The fallen nature of man does not understand death. Depending on culture, some fight to stay alive with their all. The correct understanding of death comes to us from God’s Word. The word death is used in three different ways in Sacred Scripture. The first is spiritual death, which is separation from God (Ephesians 2:1,1). Then, of course, there is physical death (Hebrews 9:27). Then there is eternal death, which is referred to as “the second death” in Revelation 20:11-15). While many would consider the topic of death to be a subject to be avoided, it is vital for us to have a clear understanding of all three manifestations in biblical terminology so that we will have a better foundation for sharing the Good News.

23 τὰ γὰρ ὀψώνια τῆς ἁμαρτίας θάνατος, τὸ δὲ χάρισμα τοῦ θεοῦ ζωὴ αἰώνιος ἐν Χριστῷ Ἰησοῦ τῷ κυρίῳ ἡμῶν. (Romans 6:23 NA28)

23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23 ESV)

The Greek word translated “death” in this passage is θάνατος. It is pronounced thanatos. It refers to either physical or spiritual death. On the other hand, the word he used for death in Ephesians 2:1 (above) is νεκροὺς, which is pronounced nekros. This word also refers to either physical or spiritual death so we must determine Paul’s meaning from the context. At the fall, Genesis 3, all three aspects of death came with it. Before the fall, Adam was not subject to any form of death, but through his sin, death became a grim reality for the entire human race. The death Paul refers to in Romans 6:23 are spiritual death as well as eternal death, but not physical death. The wages of sin is separation from God both in the temporal and the eternal. However, Paul also gives us two absolutes about the reality of death and life in God’s economy. The first is that spiritual death and eternal separation from God are the wages for every person’s slavery to sin. However, the good news is that we have a second absolute, which is that eternal life is a free gift God gives undeserving sinners who believe in His Son (Ephesians 2:8-10).

Physical death is something none of can quite get our minds around. I have been to plenty of funerals of relatives and have lost friends to this enemy as well. This also entered into the world at the fall.

27 καὶ καθʼ ὅσον ἀπόκειται τοῖς ἀνθρώποις ἅπαξ ἀποθανεῖν, μετὰ δὲ τοῦτο κρίσις, 28 οὕτως καὶ ὁ Χριστὸς ἅπαξ προσενεχθεὶς εἰς τὸ πολλῶν ἀνενεγκεῖν ἁμαρτίας ἐκ δευτέρου χωρὶς ἁμαρτίας ὀφθήσεται τοῖς αὐτὸν ἀπεκδεχομένοις εἰς σωτηρίαν. (Hebrews 9:27-28 NA28)

27 And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, 28 so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him. (Hebrews 9:27-28 ESV)

The Greek word the writer of Hebrews used that is translated here as “to die” is ἀποθανεῖν, pronounced apothanen. In this context, it must refer to physical death. Therefore, this death takes a person from the temporal into the eternal.

The last form of death is the worst, for those who enter in to it will be there eternally.

11 Καὶ εἶδον θρόνον μέγαν λευκὸν καὶ τὸν καθήμενον ἐπʼ αὐτόν, οὗ ἀπὸ τοῦ προσώπου ἔφυγεν ἡ γῆ καὶ ὁ οὐρανὸς καὶ τόπος οὐχ εὑρέθη αὐτοῖς. 12 καὶ εἶδον τοὺς νεκρούς, τοὺς μεγάλους καὶ τοὺς μικρούς, ἑστῶτας ἐνώπιον τοῦ θρόνου. καὶ βιβλία ἠνοίχθησαν, καὶ ἄλλο βιβλίον ἠνοίχθη, ὅ ἐστιν τῆς ζωῆς, καὶ ἐκρίθησαν οἱ νεκροὶ ἐκ τῶν γεγραμμένων ἐν τοῖς βιβλίοις κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν. 13 καὶ ἔδωκεν ἡ θάλασσα τοὺς νεκροὺς τοὺς ἐν αὐτῇ καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἔδωκαν τοὺς νεκροὺς τοὺς ἐν αὐτοῖς, καὶ ἐκρίθησαν ἕκαστος κατὰ τὰ ἔργα αὐτῶν. 14 καὶ ὁ θάνατος καὶ ὁ ᾅδης ἐβλήθησαν εἰς τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρός. οὗτος ὁ θάνατος ὁ δεύτερός ἐστιν, ἡ λίμνη τοῦ πυρός. 15 καὶ εἴ τις οὐχ εὑρέθη ἐν τῇ βίβλῳ τῆς ζωῆς γεγραμμένος, ἐβλήθη εἰς τὴν λίμνην τοῦ πυρός. (Revelation 20:11-15 NA28)

11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:11-15 ESV)

The word John used for death in v14 referring to the “second death” is θάνατος, however, when describing “the dead” in vv12-13 he used νεκροὺς. The key for us my brethren is v15. Who is thrown into the lake of fire, which is the second death? Those whose names are not written in the book of life were thrown into the eternal flame. On the other hand, those not thrown in do have their names in this book. This book of ζωῆς or zoes or life contains all of the names of those who have believed God like Abraham, and who have believed in God’s Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Until we too succumb to physical death, let us eagerly share our faith with all who will hear. We should gently lead them to see their sin and separation from God as well as the only way out from under His wrath, which is the way provided by our Lord Jesus on the Cross.

Soli Deo Gloria!

2 thoughts on “Death in light of Sacred Scripture

  1. Lord, I thank you that you have set us free and wrote our names in the book of life!

Comments are closed.