What is Biblical Death?

If we lived in the 18th to 19th and even the early 20th century, your pastor would frequently be conducting funerals. The infant mortality rate alone was above 10 percent per 1000. That means 100 of every 1000 born, or more died. To live to be 60 meant you were strong. To live to 80 you were a super hero.

Take a look at Hebrews 9:27 please. Death in scripture is multifaceted. It can come in many forms (people can die in many different ways), just as we could see it here in our world today. It can also take upon it some different forms (people can die figuratively, spiritually and physically). Today many die via car accidents; but in the first century and earlier you obviously would not find that happening. In the first century and before you find descriptions of death that involved stoning. In our society today you would not find that. You may discover that in third world countries one can die from a variety of things that you would not find here. For instance in tropical regions and areas heavily infested with mosquitoes you find malaria. I believe our missionary, Miss Beverly Bidwell stated she has suffered from that disease three times or so. You would not find someone dying from “AIDS” long ago. At least it would not have been diagnosed as such. You also would not find someone suffering death from a gunshot wound in the first century or before, so we would not expect to see those types of things in scripture. We suffer death from disease, accident, murder, or old age. Many of the things that we suffer today, they did suffer in years past. Equally, we have moved on from many of their ailments and found some new ones. What is the point I am trying to make? People die, we will die, things die, plants die, bugs die, and animals die. Therefore, what is this aspect death in this passage?  What does it mean? It does not apply to plants, animals, or bugs but to us.

What happens in this situation? What happens to people at death? We know from scripture some of the answers, but if death is not the end, then why is it so scary, so final, so complete, so absolute? We read this verse, Hebrews 9:27, and we should instantly know that death is not an end of life. After all, how can someone be judged if they are not alive? What would it matter if the judge threw my carcass in jail for 30 years as judgment for armed robbery? I have a movie in my library about John Wycliffe. Do you realize that the Catholic Church actually took the time to dig up his bones and burn them 30 years after his death because they were so mad at him? That is just plain foolish. Why would he care? Would that judgment by men mean anything to him in his present location? No, it would not; and this verse cannot mean judgment here on earth.

We should first endeavor to study the word and how it is used. We should try to get a definition from the uses of the word.

Death Defined

Here are some bare bones facts about death in the Bible. “Death” or “die” is mentioned about 1300 times in the Bible. In comparison, “life” or “live” is mentioned only 1000 times. This analysis does not include all forms of these four words, but it does represent most. Death, in the New Testament, is most frequently mentioned in Romans (38), John (32), and Revelation (23). In the OT, we find it mostly in Numbers (70), Genesis (68), Jeremiah (53), and Deuteronomy (48). Another comparison – the Old Testament mentions death about 878 times and the New Testament about 413 times. Interestingly, the frequency of use is not close between the two testaments. Death is mentioned about once every 3.7 verses in the Old Testament and about once every 5.1 verses in the New Testament. Therefore, death is discussed or mentioned about 28 percent more in the New Testament than in the Old. There are only about six different Hebrew words for death or describing death in various forms. Most stem from one word. In the Greek, it is much more involved and complicated with about 20 uses and words describing death. Greek complicates the issues with descriptions of “giving up his spirit” being a way to describe death. This is how Jesus, and at times other individual’s deaths are depicted. There are many descriptions to choose from for our definition.

Enough of the broad perspective, what about some specifics.

Various Old Testament Words

The word “mût” in Hebrew is the base word for death. It is used to derive most of the terms we find describing death in the Old Testament. According to the Theological Word Book by Harris, Archer, and Waltke, we find it used as die, kill, have one executed, death, dying, and when referencing a place “realm of the dead.” This death can be either natural or violent. Further, this root word is not limited to humans, but is mostly used in the fashion that describes death in general. The Canaanites used this term to name their “god of death,” Mot.

The use of the word varies. We find it used metaphorically (Job 12:2), and it is used in terms that tell us God has greater pleasure in our life being sustained in Ezekiel 18:32. Then we find the base instruction all biblical scholars point to when referencing death in Genesis 3:3, where God informs Adam and Eve they will now suffer it because they have brought it into the world. Clearly in this instruction, and the warning that preceded it, the word did not mean immediate, but rather consequential death. God said, if you eat of this tree, you will die. In rebellion against God, they ate, but they did not immediately die. Their death, physical and spiritual, took place on another plane altogether. This directs us to the first point of the term death – a consequence as a result of sin, transgression, or rebellion. This is the first part of our definition. The Hebrews had a term that associated the fall with man called “the sons of death.”

Another Hebrew word associated with this is the word “māwet.” This is the term we find associated with a realm or an area. It is also used to indicate the condition “death.” We find this in Job 38:17 where we read, “Have the gates of death been opened unto thee?” We also find this in Isaiah 28:15 and 18 where he discusses the gates of death and covenants with death indicating mans proclivity to cling to the temporal life and its pleasures instead of looking to God and His eternal provision. The realm of death is either abiding here, or abiding in a place not focused upon God and without God. This gives us another piece of our definition – a realm.

Therefore, death is not an end of living; it is a separation from the living. In our first section we find death results in sin, and sin separates us from the living God as in Genesis 3:3. Death can also result, through choice, in permanent separation from the living God. We find this in Isaiah 28:15 and 18 where the prophet chastises Judea because they have chosen the things of the world over God. This he calls their covenant with death, the pact with Sheol. A righteous Savior who will not tolerate sin will destroy these pacts and establish His own kingdom.

The Old Testament holds great truths and there are many more uses of these words. However, we have another testament that is equally important and provides us more information for our definition.

Various New Testament Words

The predominant word in the New Testament is the word “nekrós” where we get many of our words that describe death. It is used about 128 times in 120 verses. There are a number of words we receive from this Greek word. For instance, necrosis is death of all the cells in the body; necrology is an obituary or list of deaths. This is the common noun for a dead person or dead body in Greek. We see this used in Acts 5:10 describing Sapphira as she lied concerning their gift to God. In Revelation 1:18 we find Christ describing Himself at the cross, and His resurrection thereafter. The word also describes inanimate things which may be referred to with this word such as in James 2:26. James compares our works being void or uneventful just as a body is separated from the spirit when physically dead. He tells us that just as faith without evidence of this faith (works) actually displays a separation from faith. In this connotation we could say, a body without a spirit is without life.

We also have scriptures that show death as separation from the living more clearly such as Romans 14:9, where we are told Jesus will judge the living and the dead. We discussed before the reason the dead can be judged is that they exist in another realm. Here we find evidence that not only do we look forward to another life outside this body, we have to face Christ whether we live or die. Clearly, there is a separation between the living and the dead if both exist. The dead in our world do not exist with us.

This word also frequently describes those in Hades such as in Revelation 20:13. Hades is a place where those who are undergoing judgment reside. They are separated by a great gulf from those in the place of comfort (Lk 16). In fact, this word is not only associated with Hades, but with the place of comfort as well. In Luke 16:30 we find the rich man attempting to convince Abraham to raise Lazarus from the “nekrós” where he resides in order to speak to the rich man’s brothers and convince them of salvation. This then indicates a separation from those living in the body. This death results in individual’s spirits departing (Acts 5:5) and therefore their separation from the physical world, as we know it. When individuals are separated from this physical world, they go to either a place of comfort (Lk 16:22) or a place of torment (Lk 16:23; Rev 20:13). There is one other main word associated with death or dying in the New Testament.

The word “thánatos” is used in a variety of forms – over 120 times in 106 verses. Nekrós is normally a noun; thánatos is used both as a noun and a verb. We find this word used in Revelation 20:13 where we see, “death and Hades gave up their dead.” Literally it reads “thánatos” and Hades gave up their “nekrós.” The indication here is the dead souls were joined with their bodies to be taken to judgment. Resurrection of the dead occurs at this time in the eschatological process where Christ sits on the Great White Throne of judgment, which takes place in this very same verse. Clearly, these verses indicate the individuals did not cease to exist, they did not simply disappear. They are in a place. All these individuals are associated with a place either on earth, in the place of comfort with Abraham or in a place called “death,” (in torment in Hades). No matter where they are, they are separated from this life on earth if they are dead. We should consider where we anticipate we are going when we are separated from the living. Will we be given to Hades, or to Abraham’s bosom? That is the question each individual must come to terms with, then find out how to achieve the place where they wish to reside. This is the theological question of all eternity. We believe the answer resides in the blood atonement of Christ for the redemption of our souls and reconciliation to God which provides us the ability to reside in heaven.

Therefore, we can produce our definition, which should appear something like:

“Death is a consequence of sin that results in separation from an existence on earth (death of the body), from God by choice on earth (the choice to reject Him for the world), or permanently from God for eternal judgment. Therefore, man is also considered spiritually dead (Ephesians 2:1) when he has not accepted Christ’s salvation.”

Death – the reality

With a working definition of death, we can now begin to apply this to life, as we know it. In order to apply this to our lives, and do it faithfully and honestly, we should consider a few issues. First, we probably should consider some definitions of death that the world offers. In doing so, we can find what it means to so many others. This provides a multitude of opportunities for us to understand them and witness to them. Second, we should look at the first death. What did it entail? In fact, we should consider whether that death is what we would normally associate with our temporal view of death. Third, we should probably consider how this affects us now.  How should the Christian look at death, and how should we view these things in the world around us? How can we help others with death when we have a healthy view of this event? Let us begin with the world’s view to lay a good foundation for many misconceptions.

Worldly death

On the outside it at first appears that death to the world means the same as it does to us. According to the dictionary on my computer, death is “the action or fact of dying or being killed,” or “the end of the life of a person or organism.” According to the New Pocket Oxford English Dictionary, death is defined almost exactly the same. In Webster’s Dictionary we read, “the act of dying or the state of being dead,” and “extinction” or “destruction.” This definition lends itself to annihilationist beliefs. The Thorndike Barnhart Dictionary of the World Book Encyclopedia records death as “the act or fact of dying; the ending of any form of life in people, animals, or plants.” Three different and well respected chroniclers of words and data have indicated a finality to the event. We see this especially in Webster’s Dictionary – and Noah Webster, the original publisher, was a devout Christian man.

More often than not, the world sees death as the end product, the end of life for all, the end of all possible life in all things. The world lumps man in with animal, plant, and insect. The world sees these other creatures as no more or less important than themselves. This is why organizations such as PETA are so dangerous. Their idea of life is based not upon God, His word and real history, but upon an evolved animal called man. Even good theological dictionaries tend to push the envelope and go past scripture. A book I used to research this sermon called Theological Dictionary of the New Testament by Geoffrey W. Bromiley defines the death of the New Testament saying, “Death destroys life; the shadowy existence of the dead in Hades is no true life.” However damning his words may be to the sinner, the fact is that death has nothing to do with eliminating life. It simply means separation. You will either exist with or without God. Your choice is either eternal torment (the place of those who will be separated from God); alternatively, you may have eternal life, the place where those separated unto God will go. Yes, separated unto God. More on this later.

How specifically does the Bible therefore speak of death as it relates to us?

The First Death

If we therefore have identified death as a separation, then we should look at death from a completely different perspective. For instance, the first death that ever occurred was when Adam and Even were separated from the presence of God and the Garden of Eden. Turn with me there in that verse in Genesis 2:17.

We discussed that God said, in Genesis 2:17 that man was not to eat of the tree in the midst of the garden or else he will die. We should first note that the scripture says “in the day.” The Hebrew word used there is “yom” and is the same word we rely so heavily upon meaning the six 24-hour periods for creation. This is no less true here. Second, we should note that the word for death here is “mot” and it is in the verb form meaning the act of dying. Here we receive a little indication of God’s foreknowledge. He said, “In the very day that you eat of that fruit.” The word eat is in the imperfect tense. This indicates an action that has already started but is not yet completed. In other words, God knew this event was going to take place and He said that during that day, the day of the fall, they would die actively.

What happened at the fall? We read on starting in Genesis 3:10. Adam and Eve, because of their sin, hid themselves. They separated themselves from God. This was an act that they knew was going to get them into trouble. They did not know what death meant necessarily, but they knew it was not good. It is like a child that has never had spinach. They do not exactly know what it is, but they know they do not want it. Adam and Eve knew they had done wrong and did not want to face God. That is the first part of the separation. When we have to face something we dread, we shun it, we hide from it, we attempt to get out of the chore for as long as we can. It is called procrastination. We do the same for death – separation from the living – because inherently we know that the next step is to see Him. Many of us strive to prolong our lives in every way possible just to do that – prolong a life that is not very pleasant anyway, in order to avoid what we know comes next. In the case of Adam and Eve, they knew they had disobeyed God and were afraid of death, whatever it was, and did not want to suffer it. They knew that there was something different about them. They had changed. They sought to cover themselves because they saw things differently than they had before. There was nothing but innocence and purity in their lives before their death. Now there was sin and they were laid naked before one another. Their sin exposed them. They hid from the inevitable – God’s judgment for their sin. We, then, take the first act of separation, not God. We, knowing we are unworthy, make the first efforts to remove ourselves from God’s authority, community, and presence. The sinner should note, regardless of where they would have hidden, God found them, and judged them.

The second part of the first death comes in verse 3:22. We read that God separated Adam and Eve from the garden so that they could not live forever, so they could not be with God. They now have a finite life in the bodies they currently occupy. This is the first death instituted by God. This is where Adam and Eve are separated from being able to walk and talk with God in the garden. This separation is maintained by two cherubs at the opening of the garden. Further, as we know Adam and Eve would from that day forward begin to die, begin to decay, begin to slowly move toward bodily death, they experience a change in physical existence. Before this point, this degradation was not realized.

The only one that can walk past those two cherubs is Jesus Christ the Righteous, who can go into this garden and commune with God on our behalf. This is how we now connect to the Father – through the Son. In Him, we have the opportunity to live again. Before the Son, the pattern of physical separation from the animals we care for was set. A perfectly unspotted lamb had to be sacrificed for our sins. The pattern was such that this lamb is kept pure, kept separated from the flock in order to keep it pure. This one lamb therefore gathered attention and love as it was cared for in the life it would lead unto sacrifice. This again displays repeatedly the separation of death from a loved one. Someone recently asked me if animals would be in Heaven. The only one I know of is the spotless Lamb of God (Jesus).

Have you therefore accepted this Lamb of Life to re-connect you with the Father; to eliminate that separation from Him, which you have so long perpetrated? This is how we prolong the first death. We are born to this world steeped in sin, that is the initial separation from God. Then, knowing we do not meet His expectations, we attempt to live without Him, shun Him, hide from Him, and do all we can to deny Him. We live life in the first death and many times drive ourselves deeper into and crave a greater separation from God. What we need to be concerned with now is moving from this first death to a position where we can live. We escape the second death when we make this decision. What about the second death? I do not find the “first death” spoken of; but I know there is a second death.

The Second Death.

The actual phrase “second death” is found four times in scripture – all in Revelation. We also find death referenced in Hebrews 9:27. In Revelation we find:

  • Rev. 2:11 ‘He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’
  • Rev. 20:6 Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.
  • Rev. 20:14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
  • Rev. 21:8 “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

In all cases, this death is the “thánatos” or purely separation, not “nekrós” or physical bodily death. In other words, each of these references details a further or second level of separation from those that live. We learned from Ephesians 2:1, 5, and Colossians 2:13 that our souls are dead without the quickening of Christ Jesus and the removal of our trespasses and sins:

  • Eph. 2:1 And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins;
  • Eph. 2:5 Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;)
  • Col. 2:13 And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
  • Rom. 6:8 Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:

We should therefore understand that we live currently in the first death after Adam and Eve, we live outside the garden. Our souls are dead, we are dead, separated from God. This is the first death. Further, we fall prey to the second death, a permanent separation from God to eternal punishment, judgment, and torment in the lake of fire. This is the second death.

We are already suffering the first death. Will you suffer the second, or will you take Christ to get back into the garden and fellowship with the Father? Take Christ to quicken your spirit and enliven it where it was dead before.

If unbelievers are separated from God, what about believers?  What of the death for them?

Believers Death

So now the big question: what of the believer? What happens to the believer? You should know this. We find these references in Luke 16:22 and 2 Corinthians 5:8, which reads, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.” What a glorious day that will be. We are then separated from this world and unto God, unto our Savior, unto Glory with Him and with His love always permeating our lives and souls for all eternity. Our bodily separation from this world, whether it is because our body runs out of gas, or we are taken up at the rapture, will result in our life anew.

Physical death for the believer therefore, does not end something; it is a beginning. It begins a new life, a new chapter in things to be. It is a new beginning in Heaven which is our real true home (Heb. 11:13, 1 Pet. 2:11).

We should have this strength and confidence. Do you feel comfortable concerning these things in your life? Do you have any trepidation concerning this possibility with respect to your death? If you have any questions concerning your terminal habitation – separation from God, or life in His presence, do not leave this blog without positive knowledge of and a heart turned over too and filled with Christ Jesus. Please click here to find out how you can trust Christ as your Savior.

What will it be for you then, eternal life with or separated death from God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son?

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