We often fear what we don’t understand. We fear what we have never experienced before. A common fear nearly all of us struggle with is the fear of death. No one ever comes back from the grave to tell us about their death experience so it remains a great mystery.
My six year old son was about to drift off to sleep the other night when he called out to me, “Daddy, there is a face staring at me from my closet.” I looked in his closet and sure enough, there was an Iron Man mask staring outward. So, I shoved it deeper in his closet and covered it up with some of his other toys and my son drifted off to sleep. The fear of death is the monster in every closet. We don’t want to talk about it or think about it. We prefer to shove it back in the dark recesses of our mind and pretend it’s not there.
We were visiting our friend’s house recently. My wife, Shannon, and I were talking to his elderly mother. Shannon has an uncanny ability to discern when others are troubled. I was surprised when she asked ‘Gran’ if she was alright. Gran replied, “Oh, I’m a little discouraged.” “Why, what’s wrong,” my wife asked. “Well, I took my friend shopping yesterday and she just wasn’t doing so well, you know, forgetful and tired acting.” So I asked her, “How old is your friend?” “Oh, she is 95”, she said in a matter-of-fact manner. “How old are you,” I asked. “I’m only 92,” she boasted. I sensed Gran was denying old age and she seemed to be unfettered by the fear of death.
Death is the shadow in everyone’s future. There are many things we don’t know in life. Some people dedicate their entire lives to the discovery of things we know nothing of. There are so many uncertainties in life, but we are all certain of one thing; “for the living know that they will die.” (Ecclesiastes 9:5) But “no man knows when his hour will come.” (9:12)
Man’s first experience with death was perpetrated by Cain. Imagine the pain and horror the first family felt as they witnessed the death of their son, their brother. They were stunned by the solemn realization, as they looked on the dead body of Abel, that “it is appointed unto man once to die.” (Hebrews 9:27) David wrote of this universal fear when he penned Psalm 23:4 “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; For you are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.”
When a Christian fears death he is being irrational. A Christian’s belief in the deity of Christ eliminates his fear of death. Jesus didn’t mince any words when it came to proclaiming that he was divine. The Jewish leaders came to him and asked, “Who do you think you are?” (John 8:53) “Aren’t we right in saying that you are a Samaritan and demon-possessed?” Calling Jesus a Samaritan was the equivalent of using the “N” word in today’s culture. Jesus was willing to risk his life to tell them the truth.
“I am not possessed by a demon,” he said. (John 8:49) “I tell you the truth, before Abraham was, I am!” (John 8:58) He was declaring to them that he and the Father were one in their eternal nature. They were enraged by this truth and commenced to pick up stones and tried to kill him but he escaped.
Jesus said something even more shocking earlier in this passage. He clearly proclaimed his divine nature to them. “If you knew me you would know my Father.” (John 8:19) Jesus had made very plain to them that he and his Father were in perfect agreement as to what his purpose was when he took on humanity and came into this world. “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him”. (John 3:17) His enemies were shocked that Jesus would claim to be God, they were astonished that he claimed power to bring salvation to their souls. This was a day for them to remember because they had never heard any man utter such outrageous things.
Perhaps most shocking of all, Jesus told them that if they believe in his divinity, if they accepted the fact that the only path to salvation was through Jesus Christ, the son of God, “I tell you the truth, if anyone keeps my word…(long drum roll here)… he will never see death!” (John 8:51) What? “Did they hear him right?” Yes. Jesus told them that his divinity qualified him to be their Savior, if they would believe, confess their sins and accept his gift of righteousness, they would never see death.
Keep in mind Jesus didn’t say, “You will never die,” he said, “You will never see death.” When his opponents were trying to clarify what they had heard they changed it a bit by asking him, “Are you saying that if we keep your commandments we will never taste death?” They substituted the word ‘taste’ for ‘see’ but Jesus never corrected them.
While they were speaking of physical death Jesus was speaking of spiritual death. Jesus didn’t deny that all men would die physically. Nevertheless, he was teaching them that at the point of physical death the soul leaves the body and ascends to another dwelling place. The life of the soul continues uninterrupted by the physical death of the body. This is all possible because Jesus laid down his life down for the sheep. He arose from the dead, thereby, eliminating the sting of death for all those who believe in him. He provided us an opportunity to be righteous. He satisfied the cry of his Father’s pure heart for justice and he permanently shut the gates of hell to those who are stamped with his image.
Therefore, it is irrational for the Christian to fear death when Christ himself has taken away the sting (fear) of death and promised us eternal life.
Kevin Probst - Teaches History, Government and Apologetics at the high school level in Columbus Georgia.