THE GRAND PURPOSE OF THE ETERNAL SPIRIT (6)
The Purpose of Death
In the previous articles of this series, we have considered various principles involved with the outworking of our Creator’s Purpose with His Earth. In this study, we propose to examine the purpose of death—something which is important to comprehend if we wish to understand the death of our Lord Jesus Christ.
Genesis chapter 3 describes how that death was introduced into the world as a consequence of, and punishment for committed sin:
Notice that there are two aspects to the curse that came as a consequence of sin: cursing of the ground, and death to the sinners. So we read in Romans 8 of the curse upon the creation: “ … 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 …” (Rom. 8:20-21). All of Creation was affected by the sin that had entered into the world, and the harmony that had hitherto been present was disrupted. Death entered into the world of men and women, and dying, the first human pair did surely die.
But the Christadelphian Statement of Faith (the BASF) teaches that the sentence of death did not affect the first sinful pair only, but it extended to their progeny also. Clause 5 states:
The Scriptures are clear then, that because of the original offence “judgment came upon all men to condemnation”. This is in harmony with the BASF, that the sentence of death was a condemnation, a physical principle, or law of our being, inherited by all the descendants of Adam.
But the Scripture cited above also teaches that “by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners” – how was that so? There are those who claim that men and women inherit a legal guilt from Adam, that they are regarded as sinners by being descended from him, irrespective of their own sins. But this cannot be so, for Yahweh does not hold men morally accountable for the sins of another. As it is written:
We are not legally accountable for Adam’s sin any more that the rest of the groaning Creation is accountable for its hapless situation. We do not bear the iniquity of our first father, but we do bear the physical “condemnation” that has befallen the entire human race. In short, Adam and Eve became mortal and subject to death, and we inherit their mortal nature by heredity, not in a legal sense. But in addition, we also inherit a natural predisposition to transgress, and in Scripture both aspects are described in terms of a single law of our being, “the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). We are “made sinners” in the sense that due to the inheritance of the Law of Sin and Death, we are placed in the position whereby we inevitably commit sin ourselves.
Sometimes in response to this question, folk respond that we die because we sin. But whilst (as we shall see) we do become worthy of death by committed sin we actually die because we inherit the law of sin and death from Adam—in short, we die because our bodies are mortal. So Scripture describes “our mortal body” (Rom. 6:12), “our mortal bodies” (Rom. 8:11) and “our mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11). We die, because we inherit a physically mortal constitution from our first father. So we read: “… in Adam all die” (1 Cor. 15:22), and “by one man’s offence, death reigned by one” (Rom. 5:17).
We can see this in a number of illustrations. Why do babies sometimes die, – sometimes in the womb even before they are born? Not as a punishment for committed sin, for babies cannot commit sin (Rom. 9:11). They die because they are “mortal flesh,” physically inheriting a condemned and dying nature.
Another question is, Why do those who are not under the laws of God die? It is a Scriptural principle that “sin is not imputed when there is no law” (Rom. 5:13), and again: “where no law is, there is no transgression” (Rom. 4:15). How can they die as a punishment for committed transgression and sin, if they have “no transgression” and no imputed sin? Yet we can readily understand how that men and women die because they have a mortal nature.
Again, the believers in Christ Jesus also die, like all of humankind. But our sins are forgiven for Christ’s sake: they are cast behind Yahweh’s back, as it were, to be mentioned no more: “I, even I am he that blotteth out thy transgressions for mine own sake, and will not remember thy sins” (Isa. 43:25, also Jer. 31:34). How can the holy ones of Yahweh be punished for their sins, when those sins have been forgiven and forgotten? Their death is not a punishment for forgiven sins, but rather because they inherit “mortal flesh” by descent from a dying sinner.
The essence of what we have seen, is that the reason for death is sin – in the first instance, because of the sin of Adam and his wife. So Brother Robert Roberts wrote in The Law of Moses:
In harmony with this statement, is the Apostle’s declaration of the natural man: “the body is dead because of sin” (Rom. 8:10). Notice, he does not use the plural sins, but singular sin, in a clear allusion to the “sin” of the previous chapter. That is, the body is dead because of our inheritance of sin in our members (see the context, and chapter 7). Sin, AKA the diabolos is that which has the power of death, and was destroyed by Messiah through his death, and subsequent resurrection:
Here, the emphasis is on the physical nature of the Messiah: he himself likewise took part of the same flesh and blood as his brethren, so that he could destroy the resident evil within it by taking it to the grave.
From these words, we find that the Apostle Paul in his natural state had “no good thing” within him, but he had “sin dwelling” in him. He refers to this “sin” again, in verses 23 and 25, where he calls it “the law of sin”, and again in the next chapter, “the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:2). What is this “sin”? It would be an absurdity to speak of an act of transgression dwelling in him! Brother John Thomas provides a very succinct explanation:
We find then, the reason why human nature is mortal: it has a physical law of sin dwelling within it, which must be put to death. Again, speaking of the sin of Adam and Eve, Brother Thomas writes:
“But when they adopted the Serpent’s reasonings as their own, these being at variance with the truth, caused an “enmity” against it in their thinkings, which is equivalent to “enmity against God”. When their sin was perfected, the propensities, or lusts, having been inflamed, became “a law in their members;” and because it was implanted in their flesh because of transgression, it is styled “the law of sin”, and death being wages of sin, it is also termed, “the law of sin and death;” but by philosophy, “the law of nature” (Elpis Israel, page 91).
In the passage from Hebrews which we cited above, we saw that it was the mission of Messiah to “destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Heb. 2:14). An equivalent phrase is used in chapter 9, which teaches that he “put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (Heb. 9:26). And again, in Romans chapter 8: “God sending his own son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh” (Rom. 8:3). And also as we have seen, “the body is dead because of sin” (Rom. 8:10)
Notice the similarity of the language of Romans 7 which we observed above: Paul had Sin dwelling within him: Messiah destroyed that Sin in his flesh. That is, Sin in it’s secondary application: that which has the power of death, the diabolos, or devil. It existed in the “flesh and blood” of Messiah’s body, hence the importance of him having to be in the “likeness of sinful flesh” in order to possess and destroy it. He destroyed it by bringing it to the grave, and through his resurrection and transformation to eternal life, he had the victory over it – for we know that “Christ being raised from the dead dieth no more; death hath no more dominion over him” (Rom. 6:9).
We have seen from the above, that we die because we inherit from Adam the Law of Sin and Death. The purpose of death is to condemn Sin to destruction, as can be plainly seen in the sacrificial death of our Lord and Master. He did not yield to the enticements of his own nature, and so overcoming the diabolos, he destroyed it as part of the basis for our own forgiveness. In our earlier quotation of Brother Robert Roberts, we read:
But in this article, we have emphasised the aspect of the physical law of sin and death, because that is what is being denied and misunderstood in our day. Yet although we die because we inherit a mortal nature, we all become worthy of death through our own committed sin—with Jesus the Christ being the only exception. We therefore are liable to “the second death” (Rev. 2:11), or rejection at the judgement seat of Christ, unless we repent. The apostle Paul wrote that:
We find then, that works of sin make us liable to the payment of death—as wages for work done. But it is also clear that this passage is describing the ultimate end of believers and unbelievers at the Judgment Seat of Messiah. The gift of “Eternal Life” will only be granted through acceptance at his merciful seat of Judgment, and likewise eternal death will also be granted then. All men and women are condemned to die naturally, but those who reject Messiah, and are responsible for judgment, they will be rejected by him, and so be condemned to what the Bible calls a judicial “second death,” – which will not hurt those who overcome (see Rev. 20:6)
There is an interesting expression used in Numbers chapter 16, speaking of the condemnation of the sin of Korah, Dathan and Abiram:
Here, there is a distinction made between the judicial rejection of these men by Yahweh, and “the common death of all men”. The point being, that Yahweh’s judgement would be demonstrated by the earth opening up and swallowing the offenders, as opposed to them growing old and dying like all other men. Even so, death will be the ultimate end of unrepentant sinners at the Judgment Seat of Christ.
Another passage which carries a similar theme is Ezekiel 18, which we have already cited above:
Notice the two points highlighted in this passage:
1. A sinning soul will die.
2. A wicked man who repents and does righteousness shall live.
It is self-evident that this is not describing the natural process of growing old and dying—both the just, and the unjust still grow old and die whatever kind of lives they live. It matters not how contrite a man is, or how repentant he is, he still has the law of sin and death as part of his physical make up, and he will surely die – unless he is living at the time of Messiah’s return (1 Thes. 4:17). As I say, this chapter is not speaking of growing old and dying naturally, but of a judicial sentence issued upon the basis of a wicked man’s repentance or lack of repentance. This is something that will be determined at the Judgment Seat of Christ, and not before. Likewise, Life will only then be given to repentant men and women, as before then they do still die.
James chapter 1 describes the process of temptation thus:
Here, “sin” is that which is brought forth by yielding to the enticements of our own nature. In other words it is committed sin, which will bring forth death at its completion. This seems to be a parallel passage to Romans 6:23 which we considered above, and confirms that the end result of transgression is condemnation by the Lord. This passage can be understood in the sense of Galatians 6:8, which states:
Here, the end result of sowing to the flesh is “corruption”. Notice, it is sin “when it is finished” that brings forth death: the word “finished” signifying an end to the process. But by contrast, righteousness has an end which is everlasting life:
Quite plainly, this is again speaking of the bestowal of life at the Judgment Seat of Messiah: if we commit sin and do not repent, we will die “the second death”, but if we sow to the spirit, the end for us will be everlasting life.
The Sacrifice of Messiah was efficacious not only because he did no sin: it was also because he did do righteousness. Speaking of our Master, the Apostle wrote:
Part of this declaration of righteousness was the declaration that Yahweh was right to condemn the law of sin to destruction by death. Brother Robert Roberts explained the situation thus:
In the sacrifice of Jesus, we see the devil destroyed (Heb. 2:14), sin in the flesh condemned (Rom. 8:3), and put away (Heb. 9:26). We see that God was declared to be right to require this, and in the offering up of Messiah, we behold how that that God is right, and human nature is sinful and to be condemned.
The problem of sin and death finds its solution in the sacrifice of Jesus. In Romans 8, we read of our own position before Yahweh as a consequence of what has been accomplished for us:
The righteousness of the law of Yahweh is that “sinful flesh” (Rom. 8:3), also styled “mortal flesh” (2 Cor. 4:11) must die. As we have seen above, the purpose of death is to condemn sin—in both it’s acceptations. In Baptism, we also accept and declare that Yahweh is right to require this. We enact a death and resurrection (see Romans 6), and identify ourselves with what has been accomplished in the sacrifice of Christ. So it is that the righteous requirement of God is fulfilled in us—we still die—yet there is a hope of rising from the grave to an unending life, if we believe in the hope which is set before us.
Through the absorption of the Word into our minds, we become “renewed in knowledge”, and therefore, morally, and mentally, we begin to reflect the likeness of our Heavenly Father. But yet this is but the beginning of the work – we still need to undergo a physical change of nature, as well as a change of mind. The diabolos must be destroyed in us, also. And this will be so; for in the day of our Lord’s return, as the apostle declared “he which hath begun a good work in you will finish it” (Phil 1:6, marg). Only then shall we truly be in his Image and Likeness, for he shall “change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body” (Phil 3:21), as “death shall be swallowed up in victory” (1Cor 15:24). May that day come quickly.