|CHRISTIAN LIFE AND DOCTRINE||October 2010|
The Last Enemy
“The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.”
SINCE THE BEGINNING OF man’s history on the earth, death has preyed upon everyone—young and old, rich and poor, healthy and diseased, doers of good and doers of evil—it has made no distinction. Sooner or later, all have faced its reality. None of us have been able to escape its clutches.
One of the most all-encompassing examples of this theme of death is that which is associated with war. In war, death is pervasive and indiscriminate. Those who fight on all sides of war, along with innocent men, women, and children, see death every day, and many experience it themselves. No one knows how many people have had their lives ‘snuffed out’ by war during the course of human history, but the number is likely hundreds of millions, and perhaps a billion or more. Whatever the number, it is staggering to the human mind. Yet, one of the most disturbing things about man’s reaction to wars is that most people seem to be resigned to the belief that they will always exist. Notice these quotes from a recent newspaper survey:
“There have always been fistfights, and there will always be wars.”
“The only way there will be permanent peace on earth is if no one survives.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever live to see peace in the world.”
“War is inevitable; world peace is a delusion.”
Are we doomed, as so many people think, to a continued endless cycle of wars, to say nothing of all the other causes of death which surround us?
The Bible gives us the assurance that God indeed not only can, but he will do something about man’s seemingly unending experience with death. Our opening scripture speaks of a time when the great enemy, death, will itself be destroyed. It is God’s great plan of the ages which will bring an end to all wars, killing, disease, and this enemy—death.
MAN’S DESIRE TO LIVE
Man desires to live as long as possible, not to have life cut off by disease, accident, war, murder, age, or in any other way. Medical science tells us that the average life span in the United States is about 80 years, up substantially from the average of just a few decades ago. Scientists tell us further that medical breakthroughs in coming decades may make it possible for man to live as long as 150 years. As promising as it may sound, however, all of this pales in comparison to what the Bible teaches was God’s intent for man. God’s purpose concerning man was for him to live forever. It is true that Christians have hoped for everlasting life in heaven for centuries, and certainly the Bible contains many promises to that end, the Christian’s hope. However, the Bible also holds out a hope of life—perfect and everlasting—right here on earth. This was, in fact, God’s design and purpose in the creation of our first parents, Adam and Eve.
In the book of Genesis, after the creation of Adam and Eve, God told them to “Be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish [fill] the earth, and subdue it: and have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the fowl of the air, and over every living thing that moveth upon the earth.” (Gen. 1:28) The Bible account further states that “The Lord God planted a garden eastward in Eden; and there he put the man whom he had formed. And out of the ground made the Lord God to grow every tree that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food.” (Gen. 2:8,9) Eden was to be a model for the whole earth, a dominion for its king—man. God’s intent was not for life to be cut short, nor for man to live merely three score and ten, eighty, or even one hundred and fifty years, but for his life on earth to continue forever.
DEATH THE RESULT OF DISOBEDIENCE
The reason God’s purpose of giving everlasting life was not realized is that our first parents transgressed God’s law. The promise of everlasting life depended on obedience. This was an absolute requirement from God, and is evidenced by his command concerning the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, that the fruit of it not be eaten, else “thou shalt surely die.” (vs. 17) When man disobeyed this command, the sentence was pronounced and began to be carried out. God said, “For dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.”—chap. 3:19
When God drove man out of the Garden of Eden, he made special provision so that he could not return, indicating that in the garden the sustenance was there to continue life everlastingly, symbolized by the tree of life. Genesis 3:22 says, “Lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.” That was God’s purpose for man—to live forever. The only reason this purpose was not attained was that man sinned. Having sinned, he was taken out of the garden condition which would have otherwise continued his life.
Man fights the idea of death. He wants to live, still having this inborn desire with which he was created by God. In spite of illness, injury, and disease, man’s determination to live is indomitable. For this reason, man has fallen easy prey to Satan’s deceptions. Satan asked Eve about God’s command that they would die if they ate of the forbidden fruit. She said that was true, confirming what God said. Satan, though, said through the serpent, “Ye shall not surely die.” (Gen. 3:4) I Timothy 2:14 states that Eve was deceived, and so also has much of the human race succumbed to the same deception. Eve wanted to believe she wouldn’t die. She wanted to live so much that she believed Satan’s lie, ‘Ye shall not surely die,’ rather than God’s command.
As the reality of death eventually made itself evident to our first parents, and as death actually began to take place among man, Satan expanded upon his lie. He thrust upon man the idea that what he was seeing and experiencing was only the appearance of death. He put forth the notion that man does not really die at all, that death is not what it seems to be, that, in reality, it is just a door into another part of an immortal existence. This erroneous thought is the basis of most religions of the world. It is the basis for the teaching of reincarnation, and many other ‘no death’ theories and religious doctrines. Even many professed Christians believe and teach that there is a part of you that does not die—an immortal soul—when by all other appearances death has claimed another victim. Thus the majority of people of all religious faiths claim that really there is no death, unwittingly giving silent consent to the statement made so long ago by Satan, ‘Thou shalt not surely die.’ This, all for the underlying reason that no one wants to die.
The Bible, however, says death is a reality. The Apostle Paul states, “The wages of sin is death.” (Rom. 6:23) The prophet in Ezekiel says, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.”(Ezek. 18:4) Notice that this verse makes no reference to the soul being immortal at all, but that it is subject to death if found guilty of sin. The condition of death can simply be described as the absence of life, that is, complete nonexistence or oblivion. Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “The living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing.” Here no distinction is made between the wicked dead and righteous dead, just that the dead, all of them, know not anything.
A HOPE FOR LIFE
Man’s hope for everlasting life, based on God’s promises, lies in a restoring of life by God through the resurrection of the dead. In I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul states, “If there be no resurrection of the dead, … your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.” (I Cor. 15:13,17,18) Paul is talking about Christians here. If there is no resurrection of the dead, then even Christians ‘are perished’ when they die, to say nothing of the remainder of mankind. Paul, however, assures us in this same chapter that there is to be a resurrection. “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.” (I Cor. 15:21,22) This resurrection, for all, is based on the redemptive work of Jesus, which will make this hope a reality.
THE GOSPEL OF CHRIST
Paul says in II Timothy 1:10, speaking of Jesus as our Saviour, “[Jesus] brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” Adam and his race were given life, and every provision for its continuance, if obedient, forever. Adam, though, did not have, nor was ever promised, immortality. What then is meant by the statement that Jesus ‘brought life and immortality to light through the gospel?’ To answer this, we must first know what the gospel is that is mentioned in this verse. Briefly stated, gospel means good news, or glad tidings. The Greek word translated gospel in this scripture is the same as is used in the familiar words recorded in Luke 2:10,11, “The angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings [gospel] of great joy, which shall be to all people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.” Those were indeed glad tidings—good news. However, this was not the first time the gospel had been preached. The Apostle Paul states in Galatians 3:8, “The scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the gospel unto Abraham, saying, In thee shall all nations be blessed.” What Paul refers to here took place over 2,000 years prior to the proclamation made by the angels to the shepherds. He quotes the words spoken to Abraham by God as recorded in Genesis 28:14, “In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.” We notice God did not say, ‘In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be taken to heaven.’ No, all the families of the earth shall ‘be blessed.’ This, so many centuries before the angels’ announcement, was the gospel of Christ preached to Abraham.
All the families of the earth are to be blessed through a promised seed, that seed being Christ. This theme is developed throughout the Old Testament by the prophets, and is also associated with the thought of a future earthly kingdom which will bless all mankind. Speaking of this, Isaiah states, “Of the increase of his government and peace there shall be no end.” (Isa. 9:7) We notice the phrase, ‘Of the increase,’ thus indicating that this kingdom will expand, or increase, to include all nations—‘all the families of the earth.’ This progression of thought and prophecy continued until the birth of Jesus, culminating in the words stated earlier as recorded in Luke 2:10. The Old Testament promised that the seed would come. The angels said the seed is born. Truly this was glad tidings to all people—all the families of the earth—spoken of throughout the Old and New Testaments.
THE PROMISED SEED
The Apostle Paul, in Galatians 3:16, states, “Now to Abraham and his seed were the promises made. He saith not, And to seeds, as of many; but as of one, And to thy seed, which is Christ.” Later in this same chapter, verse 29, Paul adds, “And if ye be Christ’s, then are ye Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.” In other words, those who belong to Christ—the seed—those who are true Christians, are also counted as additional members of Abraham’s seed and inheritors of the same promise, ‘In thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’
“For as the body is one, and hath many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body: so also is Christ.” (I Cor. 12:12) Here Christ is likened to the human body, with Jesus as its head, and the church—all true Christians—as the other body members. The one body—head and other members—constitutes ‘the Christ.’ This Christ class, head and body together, is the one seed which Paul speaks of and which the Bible, in both the Old and New Testaments, states will eventually bless all people. These facts help to explain why the blessings of restitution could not start immediately after Jesus’ death and resurrection, and why his kingdom could not then be established. The intervening work of this present age has been to select and develop the body, the seed class, the members of the Christ, as they are to be the ones to share in the future work of blessing mankind with their head, Jesus. Those prospective members of this special class must be proven, they must take up their cross, they must be baptized into Jesus’ death. “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?” (Rom. 6:3) These must be beheaded, figuratively speaking, having only Jesus as their head, and must follow the Lamb, whithersoever he goeth. Truly, as Paul said, “If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”—II Tim. 2:12
THE REWARD OF THE CHURCH – IMMORTALITY
Jesus, the night before his crucifixion, made a wonderful promise to his disciples, those who would be true Christians. “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” (John 14:2,3) There are many spheres of life which exist in God’s universe: the lower animals, humans, angels, principalities, powers, many different planes of life—many mansions. However, Jesus here is saying that none of these ‘mansions’ will be the dwelling place of his church, his bride. Notice, he says, ‘I go to prepare a place for you,’ a new place that never existed before. Apostle John states further, “It doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” (I John 3:2) Jesus, when he was resurrected, was highly exalted. “God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name.” (Phil. 2:9) The church—his body members—will also receive a similar glorious resurrection, and be with him. They are spoken of by the Apostle Paul as those who “seek for glory and honour and immortality.”—Rom. 2:7
Recalling the verse quoted earlier that Jesus brought ‘life and immortality to light through the gospel,’ we understand that ‘life’ herein mentioned is the future hope of the world here on earth in the times of restitution, whereas ‘immortality’ is the reward of faithfulness for those who truly follow Jesus, even unto death—his faithful body members. “Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life. To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Rev. 2:10; 3:21) The difference between life and immortality in the above verse is that life is dependent on outside sustenance for its continuance, but immortality has no such requirement. Immortality was first possessed only by God. He exalted his son Jesus to this high position upon his faithfulness as man’s Redeemer. The faithful church—Jesus’ body members, the remainder of the seed class—will also be exalted to this same divine, immortal nature possessed by God and Jesus. “Whereby are given unto us exceeding great and precious promises: that by these ye might be partakers of the divine nature.”—II Pet. 1:4
The purpose of the present Gospel Age has been to search out those truly willing to follow in Jesus’ footsteps, to lay down their lives in sacrifice as he did. Even among professed Christians, relatively few have been willing to live a life of complete consecration to God. “Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto [this immortal] life, and few there be that find it.” (Matt. 7:14) “Fear not, little flock; for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Luke 12:32) Nearly twenty centuries have passed and the selection of this faithful class is not yet complete, but ere long it shall be finished. Then the blessings of life and restitution will flow to mankind, blessings to all the families of the earth, through the promised kingdom of the Christ, the promised seed.
DEATH TO BE SWALLOWED UP IN VICTORY
The Apostle Paul speaks concerning the coming kingdom that will be established by Christ, the seed, to bless all mankind. He says, “He [Christ] must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet. The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.” (I Cor. 15:25,26) Later in this chapter, a sequential order is given to the entire matter. “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” (vs. 49) That is, there is to be a change of nature for the church, from the earthly to the heavenly. In verse 54, Paul continues, “So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.” This verse reminds us that humans are not immortal, because one cannot have immortality ‘put on’ if they already possess it. The faithful church will have immortality ‘put on’ by the power of God. The phrase in this verse ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’ is speaking of the result of the sequence of events talked about earlier in the verse. In other words, once the faithful church is complete and receives its reward, the sum total of all the other promises of the Bible concerning the coming earthly kingdom, restitution, and the time of the blessing of all the families of the earth, will be found to be fulfilled in the statement, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’
This statement is a quotation from Isaiah 25. In that prophecy, Christ’s coming kingdom is pictured as the mountain of the Lord. “In this mountain shall the Lord of hosts make unto all people a feast of fat things, a feast of wines on the lees, of fat things full of marrow, of wines on the lees well refined. … He will swallow up death in victory; and the Lord God will wipe away tears from off all faces. … And it shall be said in that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, and he will save us: this is the Lord; we have waited for him, we will be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isa. 25:6,8,9) Once the work of gathering the true church is complete, when they have put on immortality, it will then be time for this prophecy, and so many others like it, to be fulfilled here upon the earth.
CHRIST’S EARTHLY KINGDOM
Christ’s kingdom will be a time of peace, not war. “I will break the bow and the sword and the battle out of the earth, and will make them to lie down safely.” (Hos. 2:18) “I will cut off the chariot … and the battle bow shall be cut off: and he shall speak peace unto the heathen: and his dominion shall be from sea even to sea, and from the river even to the ends of the earth.” (Zech. 9:10) “The desire of all nations shall come. … And in this place will I give peace, saith the Lord of hosts.” (Hag. 2:7,9) “My people shall dwell in a peaceable habitation, and in sure dwellings, and in quiet resting places” (Isa. 32:18) It was the psalmist who wrote, “He maketh wars to cease unto the end of the earth; he breaketh the bow, and cutteth the spear in sunder; he burneth the chariot in the fire. Be still, and know that I am God: I will be exalted among the heathen, I will be exalted in the earth.”—Ps. 46:9,10
Many things will change in Christ’s coming kingdom on earth. Today we often ask others, how are you? The response is many times, I have this or that ache or pain. These are common topics of conversation in today’s world. Notice, though, what the prophet says concerning that kingdom, “The inhabitant shall not say, I am sick.” (Isa. 33:24) This is what the times of restitution will bring. Everyone who obeys the righteous laws of the kingdom will be able to live, not having their life cut off by war, disease, killing, or any other malady. Life will not be merely to the age of 70, 80, or 150 years as the scientists predict, but forever to all who obey the kingdom’s righteous laws.
GOD’S WORD IS SURE
The Apostle John gives many beautiful pictures of the coming kingdom. Among these are the following words, “I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 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. And he that sat upon the throne [God himself] said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful.” (Rev. 21:3-5) Thus we have the eventual destruction of the last enemy—death—guaranteed by God’s own sure Word.