In our brief study of the Doctrine of Death, we will treat three aspects of the Biblical teaching:
1. The Nature of Death,
2. The Decisiveness of Death, and finally,
3. The Christian's Conquest of Death.
1. The NATURE of Death
The Bible uniformly describes death, not as a passing out of existence, but as a separation of two things.
Physical death is described as the separation of body and soul:
Genesis 35:18 – And as her soul was departing (for she was dying), she called his name Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin.
1 Kings 17:21 – Then he stretched himself upon the child three times and cried to the LORD, “O LORD my God, let this child’s life (נֶֽפֶשׁ־ - soul) come into him again.”
Matthew 10:28 – And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
Spiritual death is a separation of man from God:
Isaiah 59:2 – but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God, and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear.
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
Revelation 21:8 – the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.
2 Corinthians 5:1-9 For we know that if the tent that is our earthly home is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this tent we groan, longing to put on our heavenly dwelling, if indeed by putting it on we may not be found naked. For while we are still in this tent, we groan, being burdened—not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, for we walk by faith, not by sight. Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So whether we are at home or away, we make it our aim to please him.
We will come back to the implicit victory/conquest of death described in this text, but let us notice for the meantime how death is depicted. It is a separation; it is a leaving behind; it is a putting off; a temporary nakedness. Perhaps the unpleasantness of this temporary unclothedness which Paul describes here is the NT counterpart to the several passages of the OT cited by folks showing the sense that OT saints had that death would issue them into a state of diminished closeness with God.
While we will live forever because we have immortal souls, we do not possess eternality in the sense which God does. The 6th century theologian Boethius, describes God’s eternity as an “eternal present.” God’s eternity is not an infinite succession of moments. Our eternal life will be that way. This is the primary essential difference between our “eternal life” and God’s “eternal life.” Hence, it is completely understandable that the OT saints sensed a pang or longing for the closeness to God that would ultimately come when Christ’s mediatorial work was accomplished. Although they died in the grace of God, their existence in the state of death still entailed a lengthy wait for this work to be accomplished. Only then would they be ushered into the full “joy of the Lord,” that NT saints enter into immediately upon death.
This is why, although Christians do not fear death in the abstract, we all fear dying. The severing of body and soul is not pleasant regardless of the amount of physical pain involved in the actual process. Granted, dying “peacefully” in one’s sleep is less daunting than a slow agonizing death due to a deteriorating disease, nevertheless, no one relishes the actual “act” of death.