The Theology of Death (Part 1): Informing Our Perspective by Gary Chaffins

It was June of last year when my family received the dreadful news that Dad had been diagnosed with Renal Cell Carcinoma (Kidney Cancer). Unfortunately, the discovery itself came too late for treatment as it had already spread throughout his body and was considered to be at Stage 4. Although I knew things were serious, I never dreamed that I would be preaching his funeral about 5 weeks later.

Up to this point, I had experienced the deaths of other family members and personal acquaintances. I had also conducted a handful of funeral services for deaths related to our church. With that said, I had a general idea about death and how it worked, how it felt, how I was to think about it. However, it was not until the death of my father that I really had to deal with death at such an intimate level.

Through the death of Dad, God has helped me to think differently about life, about death and about how to care for those who are grieving. I have also come to see the great responsibility that we have as under-shepherds to help our congregants prepare for, think about and respond biblically when God allows death to enter into our world.

The purpose of this post is simply to help provide us with a birds-eye view of this all-so broad and difficult topic of death. It is my prayer that this will serve as a helpful resource for you.

As with any other topic, we want to think like Christians about the topic of death. This means that we want to derive our understanding from the scriptures. Although I do not plan to exegete the scriptural references, I do hope you seek to further examine the references listed and the affirmations that I am making.

What do Christians think about death?

My guess is that each person will have a different response to this question. However, it seems that there is a fundamental understanding that, deep down in the heart of every person, is a sense of fear and uncertainty when it comes to this issue (Heb. 2:14-15). Yes, I believe that this even resonates with those of us who are informed by the hope of the gospel.

Although we know the rest of the story, death is one of those events we like to put off. We don’t like to think about it, we seek to hide from it and we do what it takes to postpone it. This is not only true in regards to our own death, but we even struggle to bear the thought that those who we love could be stripped from us at any moment. All of his serves as a reminder that there is a deep-rooted fear of death within all of us.

While I’m not sure if that deep-rooted sense of fear will ever be completely eradicated, I do believe that we can properly inform our fear in such a way that we are able to live without despair and do so in such a way that even our thoughts of death will bring glory to God (Rom. 12:2).

How should Christians think about death?

1) Death is an enemy.

The Bible speaks very clearly to the fact that although death is normal to the human experience, it is still to be viewed as an enemy. In 1 Cor. 15:25-26 Paul says “For he (that is Christ) must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” As clearly as he could, through the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Paul identifies death as an enemy.

Why is death an enemy? 

  • Death comes to us as the result/consequence of sin.
  • It severs relationships. We are created to be relational beings. We spend our days developing relationships that death tears apart.
  • It distorts the created order. Man is, by design, material and immaterial. Through death, the immaterial part of us is [temporarily] separated from the material part of us.

2) Death was conquered by Christ

Although we know that death is an enemy. We also know that death was personally conquered by Jesus Christ through His bodily resurrection from the dead (Rom. 6:9, 2 Tim. 1:10, Rev. 1:18).

3) We have nothing to fear.

Although death is to be viewed as an enemy. The death-conquering resurrection of Christ informs me that death is truly a defeated enemy for all of those who believe the gospel (1 Tim. 1:10). This means that we really don’t have to fear death.

I love the way Paul expresses it 1 Corinthians 15:54-55:

54 When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: “DEATH IS SWALLOWED UP in victory.”

55 “O DEATH, WHERE IS YOUR VICTORY?

O DEATH WHERE IS YOUR STING?”

We can face death with joy and confidence because the sting of death has been removed. Death is not final for us! In Revelation 1:18 Jesus said “I died, and behold I am alive forevermore”. What an encouragement this is, those who die in the Lord do not simply cease to exist, they are more alive today than they have ever been in the presence of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:8)

4) God is sovereign over death.

We would do well to embrace the biblical reality that death is in the hands of the Lord. Listen to God’s declaration to Moses: See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.” (Deu 32:39)

Jesus makes this very clear when He declared that “I have the keys of Death and Hades.” He’s saying, I control death. It is helpful to embrace the reality that, in the sovereign plan of God, our death and the death of our loved ones are under the complete and perfect control of a God who loves us and who continually works all things for our good and for His glory. While this may not take away the pain, it does help us to view death in the proper context (Job 14:5; Psa 39:4; Psa 139:16).

5) Death will ultimately be destroyed.

While it’s true that death has been conquered by Christ and that we will ultimately receive the benefits of His victory over death, the very fact that we still experience death at all reminds us that, for now, death remains. For this reason, we long for the day in which 1 Corinthians 15:26 becomes a reality “The last enemy that will be abolished is death.”

There is coming a day when death itself will die, under the word and authority of Jesus Christ, and the enemy will really and finally be defeated. On that day we can rejoice and say that “death shall be no more” (Rev. 21:4).

Next time we will look at how we should respond to death in light of these theological realities.

Gary Chaffins, is co-pastor at The Grace Community Church at Bigelow in Portsmouth, Ohio. He has a beautiful wife, two rotten kids, a big-white dog, and carries a large NASB.

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  1. […] “The Theology of Death” by Gary […]

  2. […] our first post, The Theology of Death (Part 1): Informing our Perspective we outlined a biblical view of death. That is how we as Christians should think about death. In […]



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