How did Jesus ABOLISH Death? #111
Happy Saturday, Brothers and Sisters! Today’s Bible passages include Leviticus 22. Psalms 28 and 29, Ecclesiastes 4, and 2nd Timothy 1. Sharp-eared listeners probably noticed yesterday that we skipped over Ecclesiastes 4, and went straight for 5. Today, we rectify that mistake by reading chapter 4, and tomorrow we will go to Ecclesiastes chapter 6. I know that is confusing, and I feel like if Robert Murray M’Cheyne were alive today, he’d be quite disappointed in my performance.
Our focus passage is from 2nd Timothy 1, which contains all sorts of wonderful nuggets of Scripture. We could focus on vs 12, which is fantastic and was made into a song that I sang much in my youth:
But I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that he is able to guard what has been entrusted to me until that day.2nd Timothy 1:12
We could tie into our discussion yesterday on fear with verse 7
7 For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but one of power, love, and sound judgment.2 Timothy 1:7
We could talk about holding on to sound teaching and guarding it by the power of the Holy Spirit:
13 Hold on to the pattern of sound teaching that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 Guard the good deposit through the Holy Spirit who lives in us.2 Timothy 1:13-14
Or, we could talk about how Paul imparted a spiritual gift to Timothy by the laying on of his hands:
6 Therefore, I remind you to rekindle the gift of God that is in you through the laying on of my hands.2 Timothy 1:6
But as great as all of those might be, we’re actually going to focus on verses 9-10, which is one of those short passages in the Bible that are miles and miles deep. This is one of the briefest yet deepest and most theological summaries of the Gospel/Good News in the entire Bible:
9 He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began. 10 This has now been made evident through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and has brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.2 Timothy 1:9-10
Let’s go read the whole chapter in total, even though we just read several chunks of it. It’s quite helpful to read it all fully in context to understand what’s going on.
So – here are some giant diamonds of truth from just verses 9-10. #1 God Has Saved us and CALLED. He didn’t save us because of our good deeds, or our goodness, but by His intentional choice and grace. Salvation begins in the heart of God not the mind of man. When did God decide to extend grace to us – BEFORE TIME BEGAN. HOW did God decide to extend grace to us? In the person of Jesus! His plan, which Paul says was a mystery in past times, was made realized and obvious by the appearance, ministry, death and resurrection of Jesus. What did Jesus do?
#1 He ABOLISHED death. Interesting Greek word there – it means Jesus rendered death inoperable, ceased it, destroyed it, caused it to no longer function. How did He do this? By Himself overcoming death! Remember the promise of John 14:19 “Because I live, you too will live!” Yes, believers in Christ will still die if He doesn’t return soon, but that death doesn’t work anymore – it doesn’t end things – it doesn’t cease!
Progressive revelation is a principal of hermeneutics (or, Bible interpretation) that shows how the Bible truths, covenants, commands, etc, progress over time from Genesis through Revelation. Remember Luke 24 – Jesus with Cleopas and his friend on the Emmaus road, and then Jesus with the disciples in the locked room? In that chapter, Jesus explained to the disciples all of the Scriptures that were written in the Old Testament concerning Himself. The appearance of Jesus brought the Old Testament messianic prophecies into much clearer understanding as He fulfilled each prophecy. New Testament believers knew more about the nature and character of God – and His commands – and the future because of the ministry of Jesus and the teachings of the apostles. This is especially true of life after death, and the eternal fate of those who have trusted in Jesus. There is definitely hope for an afterlife in the Old Testament, but because Jesus had not defeated death yet, it was a foggy and unclear hope. Maybe you remember two days ago when we read Ecclesiastes 3 – perhaps you noticed that Solomon’s conception of the afterlife was not what you might have expected? The reason for this is, of course, that he was unfamiliar with what Jesus would do, and how Jesus would overcome death and provide eternal life in Him:
19 For the fate of the children of Adam and the fate of animals is the same. As one dies, so dies the other; they all have the same breath. People have no advantage over animals since everything is futile. 20 All are going to the same place; all come from dust, and all return to dust. 21 Who knows if the spirits of the children of Adam go upward and the spirits of animals go downward to the earth? 22 I have seen that there is nothing better than for a person to enjoy his activities because that is his reward. For who can enable him to see what will happen after he dies?Ecclesiastes 3:19-22
Solomon was one of the wisest in the Old Testament, but he had no idea what happened after death. Once Jesus came and ABOLISHED death, it became much clearer.
Not only that, but Jesus also brought a much clearer focus on what is meant by eternal life and immortality. For instance:
“Don’t let your heart be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. 2 In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I am going to prepare a place for you? 3 If I go away and prepare a place for you, I will come again and take you to myself, so that where I am you may be also.John 14:1-3
So, in sum – Old Testament believers in God knew very little about what we call the afterlife. Yes, God revealed to them many things, but the coming of Jesus and His abolishing of death revealed FAR more, and shined light on eternal life, eternal hope, and the Heavenly Kingdom of God. Spurgeon has a great answer to the question of how Jesus abolished death, so let’s close out with that:
Let us remember that death is AN ENEMY TO BE DESTROYED. Remember that our Lord Jesus Christ has already wrought a great victory upon death so that he has delivered us from lifelong bondage through its fear. He has not yet destroyed death, but he has gone very near to it, for we are told that he has “abolished death and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” This surely must come very near to having destroyed death altogether.C. H. Spurgeon, “Christ the Destroyer of Death,” in The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, vol. 22 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1876), 702–705.
In the first place, our Lord has subdued death in the very worst sense by having delivered his people from spiritual death. “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Once you had no divine life whatever, but the death of original depravity remained upon you, and so you were dead to all divine and spiritual things; but now, beloved, the Spirit of God, even he that raised up Jesus Christ from the dead, has raised you up into newness of life, and you have become new creatures in Christ Jesus. In this sense death has been subdued.
Our Lord in his lifetime also conquered death by restoring certain individuals to life. There were three memorable cases in which at his bidding the last enemy resigned his prey. Our Lord went into the ruler’s house, and saw the little girl who had lately fallen asleep in death, around whom they wept and lamented: he heard their scornful laughter, when he said, “She is not dead but sleepeth,” and he put them all out and said to her “Maid, arise!” Then was the spoiler spoiled, and the dungeon door set open. He stopped the funeral procession at the gates of Nain, whence they were carrying forth a young man, “the only son of his mother, and she was a widow,” and he said “Young man, I say unto thee arise.” When that young man sat up and our Lord delivered him to his mother, then again was the prey taken from the mighty. Chief of all when Lazarus had laid in the grave so long that his sister said “Lord, by this time he stinketh,” when, in obedience to the word, “Lazarus come forth!” forth came the raised one with his graveclothes still about him, but yet really quickened, then was death seen to be subservient to the Son of man. “Loose him and let him go,” said the conquering Christ, and death’s bonds were removed, for the lawful captive was delivered. When at the Redeemer’s resurrection many of the saints arose and came out of their graves into the holy city then was the crucified Lord proclaimed to be victorious over death and the grave.
Still, brethren, these were but preliminary skirmishes and mere foreshadowings of the grand victory by which death was overthrown. The real triumph was achieved upon the cross,—
When Christ died he suffered the penalty of death on the behalf of all his people, and therefore no believer now dies by way of punishment for sin, since we cannot dream that a righteous God would twice exact the penalty for one offence. Death since Jesus died is not a penal infliction upon the children of God: as such he has abolished it, and it can never be enforced. Why die the saints then? Why, because their bodies must be changed ere they can enter heaven. “Flesh and blood” as they are “cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” A divine change must take place upon the body before it will be fit for incorruption and glory; and death and the grave are, as it were, the refining pot and the furnace by means of which the body is made ready for its future bliss. Death, it is true thou art not yet destroyed, but our living Redeemer has so changed thee that thou art no longer death, but something other than thy name! Saints die not now, but they are dissolved and depart. Death is the loosing of the cable that the barque may freely sail to the fair havens. Death is the fiery chariot in which we ascend to God: it is the gentle voice of the Great King, who cometh into his banqueting hall, and saith “Friend, come up higher.” Behold, on eagle’s wings we mount, we fly, far from this land of mist and cloud, into the eternal serenity and brilliance of God’s own house above. Yes, our Lord has abolished death. The sting of death is sin, and our great Substitute has taken that sting away by his great sacrifice. Stingless, death abides among the people of God, but it so little harms them that to them “it is not death to die.”
Further, Christ vanquished death and thoroughly overcame him when he rose. What a temptation one has to paint a picture of the resurrection, but I will not be led aside to attempt more than a few touches. When our great Champion awoke from his brief sleep of death and found himself in the withdrawing-room of the grave, he quietly proceeded to put off the garments of the tomb. How leisurely he proceeded! He folded up the napkin and placed it by itself, that those who lose their friends might wipe their eyes therewith; and then he took off the winding sheet and laid the graveclothes by themselves that they might be there when his saints come thither, so that the chamber might be well furnished, and the bed ready sheeted and prepared for their rest. The sepulchre is no longer an empty vault, a dreary charnel, but a chamber of rest, a dormitory furnished and prepared, hung with the arras which Christ himself has bequeathed. It is now no more a damp, dark, dreary prison: Jesus has changed all that.
The angel from heaven rolled away the stone from our Lord’s sepulchre and let in the fresh air and light again upon our Lord, and he stepped out more than a conqueror. Death had fled. The grave had capitulated.
Well, brethren, as surely as Christ rose so did he guarantee as an absolute certainty the resurrection of all his saints into a glorious life for their bodies, the life of their souls never having paused even for a moment. In this he conquered death; and since that memorable victory, every day Christ is overcoming death, for he gives his Spirit to his saints, and having that Spirit within them they meet the last enemy without alarm: often they confront him with songs, perhaps more frequently they face him with calm countenance, and fall asleep with peace. I will not fear thee, death, why should I? Thou lookest like a dragon, but thy sting is gone. Thy teeth are broken, oh old lion, wherefore should I fear thee? I know thou art no more able to destroy me, but thou art sent as a messenger to conduct me to the golden gate wherein I shall enter and see my Saviour’s unveiled face for ever.