Death is universal in its scope. Fourth, death is universal in its scope. Experience tells us that all people will die. So does Scripture: “It is appointed for man to die once” (Heb. 9:27). This is graphically demonstrated in the genealogy of Genesis 5, just a couple of chapters after Adam’s fall into sin. Early in the chapter we read, “Thus all the days that Adam lived were 930 years, and he died” (Gen. 5:5). The phrase “and he died” becomes a lamentable refrain throughout the chapter. All of Adam’s listed descendants die. The one exception in Genesis 5 proves the rule: “Enoch walked with God, and he was not, for God took him” (Gen. 5:24). Enoch did not experience death, but God removed him all the same from the face of the earth.
Scripture is plain: no one escapes death. Neither rich nor poor. Neither powerful nor downtrodden. Neither beautiful nor ugly. Neither strong nor weak. Neither pious nor wicked. Death strikes at all ages and stages of life—the aged, people in their prime, youths, infants, even children in the womb. There are, of course, all the precursors to death that afflict people in this life—disease, injury, illness, bodily weakness, mental decay. These are not merely “part of living” or “growing old” but hints of death and precursors to death.
Why is it that all die? We will explore this further in the article ahead. For now, it is enough to say that if all die, it is because all have sinned (see Rom. 5:12b). God is a just God. Death is the penalty of sin. God would not inflict death for no reason at all. He does not treat the innocent as though they were guilty. The universal reign of death testifies to the universal reach of sin in humanity.
Death is cosmic in its reach. Fifth, death is cosmic in its reach. We often think of death in terms of individual human beings. And that, of course, is right. But the Bible tells us that accompanying the infliction of death as the penalty for sin is the curse of God upon the creation. Listen to what God tells Adam after Adam has sinned against God, “Cursed is the ground because of you; in pain you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field” (Gen. 3:17–18). The world will continue on, and Adam will continue to work the ground, just as God had commanded him at his creation. From now on, however, the world lies under God’s curse. It will be marked and marred by frustration, pain, suffering, and death. The Apostle Paul gives eloquent testimony to this sad reality: “For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. For we know that the whole creation has been groaning together in the pains of childbirth until now” (Rom. 8:20–22).
The creation did not ask God, as it were, to be the way that it now is. It has been brought into “bondage to corruption” and has been “subjected to futility.” Animals suffer and die violent deaths. Earthquakes, wildfires, and hurricanes ravage the landscape. With one voice, then, the creation “groans together.” But that groan accompanies the “pains of childbirth.” This points to a greater, blessed reality that lies ahead—new heavens and new earth. For the present, the creation is enslaved to decay and futility, as the result of the entrance of sin, and with it death, into the world through Adam.
It is never pleasant to think about death. Yet death is real. It is not something we can afford to ignore, to wish away, to sentimentalize, or to trivialize. Scripture owns up to the reality of death and does so from its opening pages. Issues of “life and death” importance mark the first three chapters of the Bible. If God wants us to think about death, then what does He want us to know? In the first place, death is loss. It is something to grieve and lament. It is not the way things are supposed to be. Therefore, it is the “last enemy” (1 Cor. 15:26). It is right to weep in the face of death.
Death is even worse than we may have imagined it to be. It is the penalty for sin. In the next article, we will see what happens when people die—they immediately enter into the presence of their Creator and Judge. For sinners, this is bad news. The loss that death brings to everyone, however great, pales in comparison with what awaits those who die as God enemies—eternal punishment and misery (what the Bible calls the “second death”; Rev. 20:14).
There is, however, good news. God does not reveal these things to taunt or torment us. He reveals these things to help us grasp our need for the Savior whom the gospel offers to all sinners. Christ came into this world to live, die, and rise again for sinners. He has “taste[d] death for everyone” (Heb. 2:9), so He knows what it is to face death and experience death. But He does more than sympathize with us in the hour of death. He has conquered death. He has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1:10). Through death He destroyed “the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). He died on the cross and was raised from the grave for sinners and their salvation. This victory belongs to all of those (and only to those) who put their trust in Him.
If we trust Christ, the “Author of life” (Acts 3:15), then we have the sure hope of eternal life. Death may lie ahead of us, but in God’s hands death brings us into eternal life. There, death will be only the stuff of memory, “and the ransomed of the Lord shall return and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain gladness and joy, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away” (Isa. 51:11). In glory, “God will wipe away every tear from [our] eyes” (Rev. 7:17). So we may weep in the days of our pilgrimage, but the day will come for us when tears of sorrow will give way to tears of joy. As Samuel Rutherford reminds us, “It were a well-spent journey though seven deaths lay between . . . glory, glory dwells in Emmanuel’s land.”
Editor’s Note: This post is part of a series on death. Next post.