How Has Jesus Conquered Death?
How Has Jesus Conquered Death?
Many Christians proudly proclaim that Jesus Christ, through his life, death and resurrection, has conquered death. Generally they will point to 2 Timothy 1:10 as 'proof' of this claim. The verse says "But is now made manifest by the appearing of our Savior Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death, and hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel". Often they will also point to Isaiah 25:8 to show that this act has been prophesied as one of the things that the Messiah would accomplish. But what exactly does this mean?
Just how has Jesus conquered death? People still die, some tragically, unexpectedly and/or gruesomely while others die peacefully. Some die as a result of trauma, illness or simply old age. But the common factor is they died. So how can Christians claim that Jesus has conquered death? Is it possible these people, as many Christians like to say, were not saved (i.e. they hadn't 'accepted' Jesus as their savior)? But wait the scripture doesn't say that Jesus conquered death for a select few. And besides all of Jesus' original apostles have been dead a very long time, shouldn't they at the very least have obtained this reward? Again the question must be voiced; just how has Jesus conquered death?
Some may simply shrug their shoulders and proclaim their ignorance and that they just believe. Is this a valid excuse; as our legal system informs us that ignorance of the law is no excuse can similar demands be placed on our faith? Is it a legitimate excuse to claim ignorance regarding the promises of God and dimply hope our faith is correct? How can we be a useful witness to the world if when asked why we believe something we just lamely shrug our shoulders and say, "I don't know, You just have to believe." The simple answer to this point is a definite no. Paul clearly directs us to "...be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear" (1 Peter 3:15) So the question before us is how has Jesus conquered death and our answer shall be...
Understanding the Claim
Some may point to Paul's statement in 1 Corinthians as an explanation to how Christ has conquered death. Paul, while speaking of the return of Christ says that those in Christ at the moment of his return, will be "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed." (1 Cor. 15:52) So is that the answer, that Christ has conquered death, but it won't be until he returns that it is effectively ended? There is some possible support for this contention in the Book of Revelation; specifically in chapters 7 and 21. There one reads that "They shall hunger no more, neither thirst any more; neither shall the sun light on them, nor any heat. 17 For the Lamb which is in the midst of the throne shall feed them, and shall lead them unto living fountains of waters: and God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes" (rev 7: 16-17) and "God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away" (Rev 21:4). Obviously a fulfillment of the promise made in Isaiah, but one needs to carefully examine these two scriptures, essentially their context, before announcing this is the answer we seek.
While the two scriptures in Revelation clearly denote a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah we need to see where in the timeline of prophesied events, detailed in Revelation, this occurs. While it is impossible to determine any kind of a date, even an approximate one, we can see that this glorious happening does not occur until well after the return of Christ at some indeterminate time after the Millennium. One might also claim that Paul himself offers support for this belief, citing his statement in 1 Corinthians where he writes, "Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power. 25 For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. 26 The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death." (1 Cor. 15:24-26) So does this then confirm the assertion that Christ's conquering of death is way off in the future?
Looking at Paul's statement would tend to nullify this claim; that it has happened but not yet. Notice that Paul says that it has happened "Jesus Christ, who hath abolished death" not that he will but has. Further the word rendered as abolished in Greek is katargeō and it means "to reduce to inactivity" (kata, "down," argos, "inactive")" So Paul tells us that death has been (presently; right now) reduced to no effect; not will be but already has. But how does this statement coincide with the undeniable fact that people are still dying?
Death from the Beginning
Seeing that Paul claims that Christ has abolished death and how we have seen that the term rendered as abolished essentially means to render inactive and that through one man (i.e. Adam) death now comes to all (1 Cor. 15:21-22) one may wonder if death is something that was added to mankind. In other words, is it unnatural for humans to die; at least as originally planned?
Was mankind created as an eternal being and death was added to his existence as a punishment or has mankind always been a mortal being, with a limited life expectancy? Recall what Adam was ordered after God had placed him within the Garden of Eden; "Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: 17 But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die. " (Gen. 2:16-17) And what was Satan's deception to the Eve as he tempted her to eat of the forbidden tree? That they would not die (Gen. 3:3). Further what was the Lord's concern when Adam and Eve's disobedience was discovered, that "he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever." Gen. 3:22) So it would seem that from the beginning mankind was created as a physical mortal being with a finite lifetime, albeit of variable length.
So once again we return to the question, just how exactly has Jesus conquered death, if death (the cessation of life) has also been part of the human existence? And besides aren't we told that it is slated for all men to die (Heb. 9:27). If then Adam and Eve's act of disobedience isn't the reason we die, that it was slated to happen to all mortals, then why was it necessary for Jesus to die so that death can be rendered inactive? There would appear to be three possible explanations to resolve this dilemma; one, Paul and therefore the written word of God is either wrong or at best hopelessly vague about what Jesus' death accomplished. Two, Paul simply misunderstood and therefore unintentionally incorrectly wrote that Jesus has abolished death, when he should have said that he will. Or three, Paul is totally correct, but it is our understanding or rather assumption about what he meant when he said death has been abolished.
This Thing Called Death
Could it be possible that maybe we have misunderstood what Paul meant when he said that Christ had abolished death? Could it be possible that he meant something other then death (i.e. the cessation of life)? But what else could he be referring to, besides the end of life, what else could death be? Death is death and that's it or is it? Recall what God tells us; "For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the Lord. 9 For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways, and my thoughts than your thoughts." (Isaiah 55:8-9)
Let us return to God's directive to Adam about eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil; he quite clearly told Adam that "in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die." (Gen. 2:17) Notice God said that on the day he ate of it he would die; not eventually, but that day. But if we examine the account detailed in Genesis about what happened after Adam and Eve disobeyed God some confusion as to what God meant may begin to stir. We read that; one, they heard the voice of God walking through the garden and they hid from him (Gen. 3:8). Two, God called to them, they came out of hiding and spoke with God and revealed their disobedience (Gen. 3:9-12) Did they drop dead? No. we read that God placed a curse upon them, on Adam he said that "cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life; 18 Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field; 19 In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread" (Gen. 3:17-19). Upon the Eve he declared "I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee." (Gen. 3:16)
The next thing God does is create a coat of skins to clothe Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21). Let us pause here and consider, isn't this strange; why did God create clothing for Adam and Eve if they were suppose to die? However, after clothing Adam and Eve, God banished them from the garden "to till the ground from whence he was taken." (Gen, 3:23) After being banished from the garden Adam and Eve had two sons, Cain and Abel, (Gen, 4:1-2) A very perplexing scripture then follows; confusing if God's warning that upon the very day that Adam took of the forbidden tree he would die, for we read that "And in process of time it came to pass, that Cain brought of the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord" (Gen. 4:3, emphasis added); it surely can be assumed that there was a number of years for this to have happened. Then after one hundred and thirty years after Cain killed Abel Eve bares another son, Seth (Gen. 4:25; 5:3). The Bible then tells that after Seth Adam fathered "sons and daughters" (Gen. 5:4). Finally we are told "that Adam lived...nine hundred and thirty years" (Gen. 5:5).
Obviously Adam did not die the very day he ate of the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. So how do we respond to this? Did God lie to Adam when he said he would die the very day he took the forbidden fruit? Was it like some parents will tell little children in an effort to literally scare them into behaving; if you keep frowning like that your face will stay that way. Is the Bible wrong in that God really didn't say or mean it; if we accept this contention how can we believe anything we read in the Bible? Or is it possible God had something else in mind when he said death besides our concept of the end of life?
Dead While still Alive
While it is the writing of Paul that appears to have created this confusion a careful examination of his writing will provide us with the answer we seek. A scan of Paul's letters reveals he used the word "dead" 30 times; obviously he had more then just a passing comment regarding the subject. If one groups these statements by subject one will end with four such groups; actually depending on how you wish to categorize the statements it can either five or six. The subject of these statements are; one, being physical dead (Rom. 6:4: 7:2-3: 8:10-11; 1 Cor. 15:29; 2 Cor. 1:9), two, being dead with or in Christ (Rom. 6:8; Col. 3:3; 2 Tim. 2:11). three, being dead to sin (Rom. 6:2,7, 11). The next group can possibly be included with the prior one or considered separately and it is being dead to the law (Rom. 7:4,6,8). Four, being dead in sin (Eph. 2:1,5; Col. 2:13; 1 Tim. 5:6) and last, the ever present miscellaneous category (Rom. 5:15; 6:13; 11:15; 14:9; 2 Cor 5:14; Eph. 5:14).
Let us recall that it was Adam and Eve's disobedience towards God that resulted in their banishment from the garden and God also said it would result in their death. Disobedience towards God is also called sin. But to be guilty of sin or disobedience there must be some standard or rules established. In Adam and Eve's case they were not to eat of the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil. And we find Paul has some insight to how one may be alive and yet still dead.
This point is clearly made in his letter to the Ephesians where he says that "you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." (Eph 2:1; emphasis added) He reiterates this concept, that while in our sinful state we are dead, in his other comments; "Even when we were dead in sins" (Eph. 2:5), "And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh" (Col 2:13) and "that liveth in pleasure is dead while she liveth." (1 Timothy 5:6)
Back From the Dead
So we, while in an unrepentant, sinful state, are considered as dead how does Christ's death abolish this? First we need to ask what is the main effect that sin has upon us? We find that the main effect is that "your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear." (Isaiah 59:2) Think back to the incident in the garden, while Adam and Eve's lives did not end the day they ate of the forbidden fruit, their personal, direct association with God did end however. They no longer were able to converse directly with God; not only were they expelled from the garden, they no longer had that face to face relationship.
Would it shock you to learn that, according to the Bible, we are not saved by Christ's death. No, Paul tells us quite clearly that we are in fact saved by Jesus' sinless life. (Rom. 5:10) So what does his death achieve, besides somehow abolishing death or our spiritual separation from God? In the very same verse Paul tells that through Jesus' death we are reconciled unto God. Reconciled, in simple terms, means to restore someone to favor. So that is how Christ has conquered death, he has returned us to a place of favor, cleansing our sins from the record books and allowing God to accept us. Think about the scriptures that speak of God's grace and forgiveness that is how Jesus has abolished death. He, in a sense, reopened the garden so we may reestablish a close, personal relationship with God. As the writer of Hebrews tells us, we may now "come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need." (Heb. 4:16)
 All scripture, unless otherwise noted, is from the King James Version.
 He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from off all faces; and the rebuke of his people shall he take away from off all the earth: for the LORD hath spoken it.
 "our Savior, Christ Jesus, who abolished death" World English Bible
 I. to render idle, unemployed, inactivate, inoperative A. to cause a person or thing to have no further efficiency B. to deprive of force, influence, power II. to cause to cease, put an end to, do away with, annul, abolish A. to cease, to pass away, be done away B. to be severed from, separated from, discharged from, loosed from any one C. to terminate all intercourse with one
 Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words
 While it is beyond the scope of this piece to discuss the intention God had and still has for us a possibility is that the Garden of Eden was intended as a proving ground. A place where mankind could be taught God's ways and to see if they would obey God's directions. Possibly the original intent was that if they proved their obedience to God they would have been given a spiritual body; i.e. immortality.
 However the first thing he did was to curse the serpent Genesis 3:14_15)
 If is any comfort even some of Paul's contemporaries found his writings hard to understand; see 2 Peter 3:15-16.
 While in this section Paul is speaking about widows that are using the local church's charity in an improper manner, hence the pronoun "she", the concept applies to all that are living in pleasure
reconciled -- katallassō I. to change, exchange, as coins for others of equivalent value A. to reconcile (those who are at variance) B. return to favor with, be reconciled to one C. to receive one into favor