• Matthew L. Tinkham Jr.

God's Last Enemy DEFEATED and DESTROYED!


"He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation'" (Isa 25:8–9, ESV).


The current global pandemic of the novel Coronavirus or COVID-19 has brought the reality of death way too close to all of us. According to data reported by the World Health Organization (WHO), there have been 113,989,973 confirmed cases of COVID-19 with 2,531,542 deaths worldwide, as of the time of writing.1 The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) of the United States has reported that there have been 28,405,925 confirmed cases in the United States alone with 511,839 deaths nationwide, as of the time of writing.2 These are not only a bunch of statistical facts and figures; these numbers represent real people whose lives have been profoundly impacted by this deadly virus. Sadly, it is very likely that most, if not all of you who are reading this, are acquainted with someone who had contracted the virus at some point over the last year or so; perhaps, you know someone who is suffering from COVID-19 right now. It is also highly probable that many of you know someone who has passed away as a result of some kind of complication caused by the virus.

With a sad heart, I share that I have had family members and members and friends of the two churches that I pastor contract the virus. Thankfully, most of them have survived, but some of them were not as fortunate, experiencing complications and lost their lives. In fact, I recently participated in a memorial service for one of my church members who passed away from complications with the Coronavirus and will be dearly missed. My heart aches for those whose loved ones have become a tragic victim of COVID-19 and its fatal partner-in-crime, death.

You know, death was never God's intention for this planet. He planned for humanity to live forever in perpetual relationship with him. The state of this world, and the entire universe for that matter, was "very good" in the beginning at the time of its creation (Gen 1:31); death was unheard of and nowhere in sight. However, the devastating fall of humanity into sin gave rise to death in our world, and so it "spread to all" (Rom 5:12) because "the wages of sin is death" (Rom 6:23) and "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Rom 3:23, ESV; cf. 3:9–18; 5:12–21). As a result, at some time following our births, there will be "a time to die" for every one of us (Ecc 3:2). Death has cut us off from what God had planned for us in the glorious original state of the world. Therefore, death is the archenemy of humanity, the ultimate intruder and interruption of God's ideal will and purposes for his beloved creatures.

Since that time, thousands of years have passed. Death has been a part of human experience for so long now that many of us no longer perceive its true insidious nature. In fact, to cope with the reality of death, many throughout the years have attempted to ignore it altogether or to minimize it in the way that they speak about it. "That is just how things are. It is just a natural part of life," some have said. As Billy Graham once pointed out, "We even try to change the appearance of death with word games. We change undertaker to mortician, coffin to casket, cemetery to memorial park. We want to soften the reality of death."3

Fascinatingly, for many systems of thought, death has increasingly become to be viewed as an ally rather than an enemy. In secular "historical" science, death has been understood to be an important part of evolutionary development, the survival of the species, and the progress and advancement of human nature and its capacities. Furthermore, many of the world religions, intriguingly, hold large ceremonies and practice various kinds of elaborate rituals to help them through their emotional distress over one who has succumbed to death, all the while believing that death is the liberator who delivers the deceased into the perfect and tranquil state of nirvana. Should they not celebrate death in place of mourning over it, if that be the case?

Oddly enough, it has become quite popular within Christianity to see death as the deliverer who frees the believing soul from its sinful body-prison so that it may ascend to heaven and experience eternal bliss with God. Paradoxically, in the article titled "Death the Enemy," the popular evangelical leader, Billy Graham, wrote that death "brings freedom," ushering the Christian "immediately into the presence of Christ, into a new world that is free from the pull of sin and pain and care and anxiety."4 Moreover, Graham asserted that death is what "conforms us to Jesus ... that the believer will be like Jesus. Death brings a final perfection to that sanctification of the believer that is begun on earth."5 If that is the case, then should not Christians celebrate a believer's death rather than hold lengthy funerals characterized by mourning, wailing, and grief? Our common, lived experience of the reality of death does not seem to match how many have tried to think about it.

I believe that this incoherence between belief and practice is a direct result of the contrastive tension that exists between the devil's clever but lying deceptions (Gen 3:4–5) that many (even well-meaning Christians) have unfortunately embraced, and the enmity against the serpentine enemy that God placed within human hearts at the time of the fall (Gen 3:15). We know that something is just not right about death. Every fiber of our being cries out that things are not supposed to be this way. Our experiences with death are nothing but pain, suffering, sorrow, and loss. But, strangely, we have accommodated Satan's deceit about death (Gen 3:6–7) in order to help us cope with the reality of it, to make that reality more bearable.

A better approach to coping with death is living with a radical acceptance of the truth that death really is what it is—the archenemy of God and his creation. No more ignoring, minimizing, softening, or glorifying death in order to ease our uncomfortable feelings about it. Death is our great adversary! It seeks nothing but to harm us and cause suffering and anguish in our lives. It has severed us from a peaceful relationship with God, and it has turned this world entirely upside down. It causes pain and agony, separates loved ones, and constantly threatens us to fear for our own lives. Would a liberator or deliverer really do all of that antagonism? Death is no ally or friend; death is our worst nemesis.

An important part of that aforementioned radical acceptance of the truth about death is to adopt the fact that death is a defeated foe! Jesus Christ came as the incarnate Son of God in order that he might defeat death! The writer of Hebrews declared, "Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself [that is, Jesus] likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil" (Heb 2:14, ESV). Through his life, his death, and especially his resurrection from the dead, Jesus gained victory over this most fatal enemy. The apostle Paul declared to his "son" in the faith, Timothy, that God's grace "now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel" (2 Tim 1:10, ESV). Christ has abolished death on our behalf! Similarly, the apostle John recorded the resurrected Christ as saying, "'Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades'" (Rev 1:17–18, ESV). Jesus has triumphed over death through his life, death, and resurrection, and, as a result, has opened up the way of eternal life with the symbolic keys of Death and Hades that he holds in his hand. Now, because of his ascendancy over death, "whoever believes in him" who is "'the resurrection and the life'" (John 11:25, ESV) "may have eternal life" (John 3:16, ESV)—"though he[ or she] die, yet shall he [or she] live" (John 11:25, ESV). Thus, while "the wages of sin is death, ... the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Rom 6:23, ESV).

While our enemy, death, is indeed a vanquished foe, it still "roams" the earth, seeking to take down as many as possible into its own defeat. Obviously, death continues to claim many lives today. Hence there is a need for an enduring hope to accompany our radical acceptance of the truth about death—that is, a persevering anticipation of the soon eradication of death from the universe. When discussing the end of the world and the second advent of Jesus Christ, the apostle Paul noted that "[t]he last enemy to be destroyed is death" (1 Cor 15:26, ESV). While death is defeated, it is not yet destroyed. Nevertheless, there is coming a final day when death will be put to death. The prophet Isaiah foretold of this time in this way:

"He will swallow up death forever; and the Lord GOD will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, 'Behold, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the LORD; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation'" (Isa 25:8–9, ESV).

When Jesus returns to this world again, he will come to annihilate, once and for all, his archenemy of death. In the words of Elizabeth E. Hewitt from her traditional hymn of 1898, "When We All Get to Heaven," we will proclaim together:

"What a day of rejoicing that will be! When we all see Jesus, We’ll sing and shout the victory!"

On that day, the dead in Christ "will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed" (1 Cor 15:52, ESV). At that time, "shall come to pass the saying that is written:

'Death is swallowed up in victory.' 'O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?'" (1 Cor 15:54–55, ESV).

At the παρουσία or "appearing" of Jesus, "the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we will always be with the Lord" (1 Thess 4:16–17, ESV; cf. Rev 19).

Then, after a millennium of time has passed and comes to its end, as described in Rev 20:1–10, "the devil who had deceived them" will be "thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur ... and will be tormented day and night forever and ever. ... Then Death and Hades" will be "thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire" (Rev 20:10, 14, ESV). At that time, death will be no more—swallowed up forever—and will never more torment God's beloved people—you and me.

After describing the destruction of death in the final lake of fire, John wrote, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, 'Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the form things have passed away.' And he who sat on the throne said, 'Behold, I am making all things new.' Also he said, 'Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true'" (Rev 21:1–5, ESV).

While we live in this time between the two advents of Christ, let us remember the true identity of death as the archenemy of God and humanity. And, when we experience the reality of death in our lives on this side of heaven, whether by COVID-19 or some other cause, let us take comfort in the accomplished defeat (the "already" in the "here and now") and the soon-coming destruction (the "not yet" in the "there and then") of this lethal antagonist in disguise—death. Furthermore, let the Holy Spirit be your παράκλητος (paraklētos) or "Comforter" and "Helper" who will hold you and wipe away the tears from your faces through challenging times of loss and grief.


Notes

1 World Health Organization (WHO), "WHO Coronavirus (COVD-19) Disease Dashboard," World Health Organization, 02 March 2021, 11:44am CET, https://covid19.who.int/.

2 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), "COVID Data Tracker," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 01 March 2021, 12:26pm ET,

https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#cases_totalcases.

3 Billy Graham, "Death the Enemy," Decision: The Evangelical Voice for Today, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, 05 October 2009, https://decisionmagazine.com/death-the-enemy/.

4 Ibid.

5 Ibid.

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