The Fear of Death

By Jonathan Michael Dean

Death is the inevitable and final outcome of life. Its approach is felt ever so slowly. It stalks us, haunts us and leaves the human soul in fear. To some it’s an unseen enemy hiding in the shadows, to others it’s a mountain that cannot be scaled, and to some, it’s a rapid that cannot be navigated. No matter how much courage one has this enemy is terrifying. It has never lost a match.

The Bible calls this the fear of death (Heb.2:15). Everything about death is unsettling: the pain of old age, the tragedy of an unexpected loss, the uncertainty about what awaits one on the other side. Instead of facing this fear we hide from it. We keep ourselves preoccupied so that we do not have to think about it. We push out any realistic thoughts about our final death. We tell ourselves we will be okay. But at the end of the day, we still fear.

God “has set eternity in the heart of man” (Ecc.3:11).

This unsettled feeling is legitimate. We are a spiritual being that possesses an eternal soul. God created us to live forever. We know that though death is normal, it is unnatural: it is unnatural for an immortal, eternal, and spiritual being to recede in a body of death. It feels unnatural because though your body will die your spiritual being has an eternal soul that will continue.

Where Does Death Come From?

God created the world. In the world, He placed Adam and Eve whom He had made. He gave them everything, including and perfect a peaceful relationship with Himself. He made them stewards of the garden and commanded them to subdue the earth. But He gave them one restriction: Do not eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil in the midst of the garden. He warned them that if they ate the fruit they would die. What happened? Eve was deceived and Adam rebelled. They ate the fruit. And they died?

How did they die?

  1. Spiritual Death

Spiritual Death was the result of their sin. God is holy and He created Adam and Eve in that same moral image. They were holy. But when they sinned they fell from the moral image of God. They were no longer morally perfect. From now on, sin would spread like a cancer through their heart, mind, and will. They would no longer be like God and they would no longer know God because God refuses to look upon evil (Isa.59:2; Hab.1:13; Rom.6:23a).

  1. Physical Death

Physical death was the result and punishment for their sin. God created them as spiritual beings who had a soul residing in an immortal body. Their body would now die. But God tempered His Justice with Mercy: He extended their life. Death would become a process of the body slowly aging, decaying, and eventually dying. (Ps.89:48).

  1. Eternal Death

Their one sin was an act of treason against God, His kingdom, and the whole created order. One sin threw the world into chaos and death. The punishment for their sin would be an eternity under the wrath of a Holy and Just God. “This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev.20:14b-15).

“It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” (Heb.9:27).

We can run and hide from this reality but we know there is a God. We know that this God is Holy. We know that we have sinned. And we know that those who sin “deserve to die” (Rom.1:32). This truth haunts us: we have broken God’s law and have committed treason against Him. How could we ever face God in Judgement? We live I the fear of death.

How did Christ defeat death?

God is the only Sovereign. Death never had any ultimate power. Anyone or anything that has power only has it because God permitted it. Death and the Devil must submit to God’s authority. So when Adam sinned God didn’t lose a battle against death. God could have extinguished death at the outset. But He permitted death to enter the world through sin. And He permitted the devil a temporary kingdom. In this, He provided for Himself an opportunity to manifest His glory exceedingly…

When a football team travels to the competitors city, the odds sway more in favor of the home team. If the visiting team beats them on their home court, it’s considered more victorious. Though the home team had the support of the crowd, the familiarity of the court, and the comfort of home, the visiting team triumphed in the face of those odds. There’s a greater degree of glory in the victory.

God gave the devil home court advantage. And Christ defeated death against a crowd of hostile sinners. He came to the earth and defeated the devil on his turf. He never had to accept the challenge. He could have squashed the Devil without engaging in any battle. Instead, He played the Devils game. And He defeated death by His death. He secured eternal life with His life.

In coming to earth, Jesus took God’s wrath against our sin upon Himself. He was an acceptable substitutionary sacrifice. He could apply His death to our account. And since He was holy, death had no hold on Him. Though He died in the place of sinners, He had no sin and the grave could not win. Three days later He rose again!

When we come to understand that God is holy; that He demands that we be holy; that we cannot be holy; that we are sinners; that our sin has brought forth death; that there is a judgement, and that if we have committed sin we deserve to be punished, then we are in the right place. From that vantage point, you can see Jesus hanging on the cross. You can see Him paying your debt and taking your punishment. You can see God’s opinion of sin in the gruesome crucifixion. But you can see God’s love for humanity in that He would send His Son to take our place under His judgement.

His mercy is your only hope. God has promised that if you repent of your sin, believe the gospel, and put your full trust in Jesus Christ that He will deliver you from death. He will deliver you from spiritual death by placing the love of Christ in your heart. He will deliver you from eternal death by giving you a place in heaven with His Son. And He will deliver you from physical death by resurrecting your body on the last day and transforming it into an eternal spiritual body. You will have no reason to fear death.

A relationship with God through faith in Jesus Christ can free you from all fears. God offers you peace with Himself through the blood of His Son. That peace can assure your heart that you are safe. That death is not only the end but the beginning. That as Christ lives you live.

Heb.2:14-15: Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.