We have many enemies in our Christian walk. They are dedicated, relentless, and purpose our destruction physically and spiritually. They became our enemies when, as a race, we rebelled against God through Adam and Eve. The Good news of the Gospel is that Christ, our Victor, has dealt with our enemies! Sins, which condemn us, have been dealt with and removed by His Cross! (I John 3:5, Colossians 2:13-14) Self, that persistent rebel that leads us astray, has been buried with Him. (Romans 6:3-4) The world itself is dealt with by the cross as well, as the Apostle Paul celebrates in Galatians 6:14. “But God forbid that I should glory save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me and I unto the world.” In addition, I John 3:8 tells us that the Son of God appeared in order to destroy the work of the devil. All enemies that we face in life are now conquered but one, which is what the scriptures call the last enemy. I Corinthians 15:26 tells us what this enemy is. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death.”
Death looms before us as a specter which draws closer with each passing day. Unpredictable as to its cause and timing, it is declared to be an enemy. It separates us from our work, our plans, our friendships, and our loved ones. It thrusts us from the known into the unknown. It is the separation of the body from the spirit. Its nearness produces grief in those who approach its gates and those who mourn with them. Job describes death in these terms. “The land of darkness, and of the shadow of death; a land of thick darkness, as darkness itself; a land of the shadow of death without any order, and where the light is as darkness.” The shortest verse in the Bible, “Jesus wept,” reminds us that even our Designer and Creator wept in the presence of death. Our tears, our loss, and our grief as our loved ones pass is felt in His heart as well as in ours. Being fully human as well as Divine, He understands and joins with us in our grieving, but He also wants us to know the scriptural truth about death.
The Lord desires us to understand first of all that the approach to death, including the particular illness, event or situation that produces death will not be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 8:38-39) All the days ordained for us were written in His book before one of them came to be. (Psalms 139:16b) This is the assurance that the days of illness, confinement and travail as we near the end of our lives are administered with His perfect control, His unfathomable knowledge and Infinite love. We are His inheritance, His handiwork and His home. We will find when we are with Him that He has omitted nothing that is needed for our perfection for His work through us in the ages to come, nor has He permitted anything to touch our lives that was not needed for His perfecting of us. John 14:2-3 reminds us that He is preparing a place for us. He is also preparing us for that place. When we are ready and our place is ready, He will take us to be with Him! It will not be like a sign I saw in a restaurant earlier this week. “We regret to inform you that your assigned seating is not available. Please wait in your vehicle until you are called.”
The Lord wants us to realize that the exact details of our coming to Him are under His control. He states in Revelation 1:18 that He is the one who holds the keys of death. For some, the Lord will give them a ”heads up,” so to speak. He informed my mother that she was going to go home to be with Him in four more days, which came to pass as He said it would. My last visit in the nursing home to see my step brother was characterized by a smile on his face saying, “I am going home in three days!” The Lord took him home three days later. One patient of mine, a Christian, was told by the Lord that he was not ready to leave until he had returned to his friends and family and been a witness to them. This man made a tape of his testimony and distributed it freely before He went to be with the Lord some months later. Perhaps the most remarkable event describing the Lord’s control of His timing was a patient I was called to see in the Intensive Care Unit years ago. She had been unresponsive and near death for several days. A rattly noise and wheezing became evident to the relatives and I was consulted to order medication that would ease her respiratory distress. I visited her late in the evening, and to my surprise, she sat up in bed and started a conversation! My immediate thought was that there was only one reason that she regained consciousness and that it was because she needed to hear the Gospel. She listened carefully, prayed to receive Christ and I visited a little longer with her before prescribing treatment for the wheezing. When I returned to her room the next morning on rounds, I was informed that she had passed away during the early morning hours. Truly, our Lord holds the keys of death!
We have seen how the cross of Christ has dealt with all of our enemies except one, our last enemy, which is death. This enemy our Lord has dealt with by His resurrection. II Timothy 1:10 states that He has “abolished death.” (KJV) What does it mean to “abolish?” Websters dictionary states that it means “to do away with wholly,” or “to annul.” To understand what this means more completely we need to look at what death is. Death is separation. Physical death is separation of the spirit from the body. Spiritual death is separation of the spirit from God. To “annul” or “to do away with wholly,” then, implies that separation is non existent. Death, having been made of no effect, then, become the portal by which we are united with Christ. The moment we accepted Him as Savior, he was imputed to us as righteousness. Throughout our lives, He is imparted to us as our Holiness and when we see Him, He will be implanted at our redemption! I John 3:2 says that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (KJV) To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. (II Corinthians 5:8) My mother’s last words on earth and her first ones in heaven as she entered the presence of the Lord were “Oh Glorious!” I have known others who have entered the Lord’s presence in Heaven even while their body was still partially functioning! I was called to the hospital to see a patient of mine who was admitted with a tentative diagnosis of a massive stroke. She was totally unresponsive and unable to move her extremities. Her blood pressure and pulse were normal but there was absolutely no response or movement. As I stood at the end of her bed all of a sudden both ams shot up in the air and she said “Jesus!” I immediately knew two things. Number one was that she was not talking to me! Number two was that I was going to have a difficult time bringing her back! Her body “lived” another day before respiratory and cardiac functions ceased.
Christ has also abolished death as to its effect on separation of the body from the spirit by exchanging the old body for a new one! “Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal home in heaven not built by human hands.” (II Corinthians 5:1) “For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality. When the perishable has been clothed with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality, then the saying that is written will come true: “Death has been swallowed up in victory.” (I Corinthians 15:53-54)
There is also another aspect of death which is “made not to be,” and that is the separation that death produces among believers. In the view of some, there is no time lapse before this reunion occurs! Ray Stedman related the following thoughts in Authentic Christianity. “We are all locked into time. At our physical “death,” we leave time and enter the eternal NOW. But what is even more amazing is that in the experience of that believer he does not leave anyone behind. All his loved ones who know Christ are there too, including his Christian descendants who were unborn when he died! Since there is no past or future in heaven, this must be the case. Even those who, in time, stand beside his grave and weep and then go home to an empty house, are, in his experience, with him in glory.” Discovery House Publishers, 1996, pages147-148. The above comments are beyond my comprehension, but they do introduce the certainty that in eternity in God’s timing, there will no longer by any separation experience among believers. Christ will have fully and finally dealt with our last enemy. We will be like Him, with Him, and with others who have placed their trust in Him. We will join a mighty throng, bringing glory to Him forever and ever. “Unto him be glory in the church by Christ Jesus throughout all ages, world without end. Amen” (Ephesians 3:21) (KJV)
In Christ, Richard Spann