A Death That Brings Gain
GAIN by dying? How can that be? A person losing life loses everything he has. However, some persons have felt that their death would mean gain when they were dying for a cause. Not that they gained anything for themselves, but with the view that promoting the cause by their own death would help others.
But is it possible to die a death that actually brings gain to the one dying as well as to others? Not a death in which he gains only a name for himself, but one from which he is raised up, actually living again to see what his death accomplished? If so, how?
The wise writer of the Bible book of Ecclesiastes said: “A name is better than good oil, and the day of death than the day of one’s being born.” (Eccl. 7:1) This is not the case, however, if one merely makes a good name with men. The apostle Paul wrote: “If I give all my belongings to feed others, and if I hand over my body, that I may boast, but do not have love, I am not profited at all.”—1 Cor. 13:3.
The death that brings gain, then, must be a death that takes place in service to God, making a good name with him. In fact, the Bible shows that there are certain persons God has selected who must die, but who in so doing gain the greatest reward possible. Who are these?
CHRIST AN EXAMPLE
For the answer we turn first to the example of Jesus Christ. His death brought incalculable gain to mankind and the greatest reward to himself. For it not only provided a ransom sacrifice for mankind’s salvation; it also resulted in his resurrection to immortality, and his being raised to a position of far greater power, with authority over all God’s creation.—Eph. 1:20-22; Phil. 2:9-11.
Now, this mightiest of God’s sons had to die in order to attain to these things. To provide the ransom price for mankind, God transferred his Son’s life from heaven to the womb of the virgin Mary. He became human and was known as Jesus the Messiah or Jesus Christ. (Luke 1:34, 35; Gal. 4:4) Then, in order to return to the heavens he had to undergo a change of nature, which necessitated his death. Jesus likened his sacrificial death to the planting of a grain of wheat, which has to die in the ground in order to sprout and produce fruitage.—John 12:24.
When he was baptized with holy spirit at the Jordan River, Jesus started the course that ended in his sacrificial death. He spoke of this course as a “cup” or portion handed to him by his Father, saying to his disciples: “The cup I am drinking you will drink, and with the baptism with which I am being baptized you will be baptized.”—Mark 10:39.
THE CHRISTIAN CONGREGATION
When Jesus died, he certainly did not die as a sinner. What, then, about those of the Christian congregation, the spirit-begotten sons of God, anointed by his spirit? (1 John 2:27; 3:1) These, according to the Scriptures, number 144,000 and are joint heirs with Jesus Christ, to be kings and priests in the heavens with him. (Rev. 14:1-4; 5:9, 10) At their death they likewise do not die as sinners. Why not?
To answer this question, it is helpful first to consider the death of the rest of mankind. They are all dying due to sin. The apostle says that “through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.” (Rom. 5:12) Also he tells us, “The wages sin pays is death.” (Rom. 6:23) Since death constitutes “wages” for sin, the Bible principle is, “He who has died has been acquitted [justified] from his sin.” (Rom. 6:7, Kingdom Interlinear Translation) He dies because of the sin that is in him, but his death acquits him of the acts of sin he has committed. Nevertheless, there is no gain in this for him, for, “as for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all, neither do they anymore have wages.”—Eccl. 9:5.
It is different with the spirit-begotten brothers of Jesus Christ. Why? Because, as the apostle Paul explains:
“Do you not know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we were buried with him through our baptism into his death, in order that, just as Christ was raised up from the dead through the glory of the Father, we also should likewise walk in a newness of life. For if we have become united with him in the likeness of his death, we shall certainly also be united with him in the likeness of his resurrection; because we know that our old personality was impaled with him, that our sinful body might be made inactive, that we should no longer go on being slaves to sin. For he who has died has been acquitted from his sin.”—Rom. 6:3-7.
These, then, have figuratively “died.” After they have the benefits of Christ’s sacrificial death for their sins applied to them, they are declared or ‘counted’ righteous. (Rom. 5:1, 18; 8:30) Their fleshly bodies, with their old personalities, are counted as impaled with Christ. They are then spiritually begotten by God, giving them hope of life in the spirit. (John 3:5-8) Their hope is no longer set on earthly things. Of course, they need the material necessities of life, but they are no longer going on “being slaves to sin,” doing the “works of the flesh.” They are cultivating the “fruitage of the spirit.”—Gal. 5:19-23.
Since they realize that the old personality is counted as “dead” by God, they exert themselves vigorously in keeping it under subjection. They realize they must keep continually in mind this important fact: “By relationship with [Christ] you were also circumcised with a circumcision performed without hands by the stripping off the body of the flesh, by the circumcision that belongs to the Christ, for you were buried with him in his baptism, and by relationship with him you were also raised up together through your faith in the operation of God, who raised him up from the dead.”—Col. 2:11, 12.
God views and judges these spirit-begotten Christians according to what they are spiritually, just as they view one another. The apostle expressed this truth to the Corinthian congregation when he wrote: “[Christ] died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up. Consequently from now on we know no man according to the flesh. Even if we have known Christ according to the flesh, certainly we now know him so no more.”—2 Cor. 5:15, 16.
The apostle Peter wrote in the same vein: “Therefore since Christ suffered in the flesh, you too arm yourselves with the same mental disposition; because the person that has suffered in the flesh [taking up the torture stake of Christ (Luke 9:23)] has desisted from sins, to the end that he may live the remainder of his time in the flesh, no more for the desires of men, but for God’s will. For the time that has passed by is sufficient for you to have worked out the will of the nations when you proceeded in deeds of loose conduct . . . In fact, for this purpose the good news was declared also to the [spiritually] dead, that they might be judged as to the flesh from the standpoint of [worldly] men but might live as to the spirit from the standpoint of God.”—1 Pet. 4:1-6.
These, as ‘new creatures,’ are allowed to live on for a while in the flesh to carry out a ministry on earth and to prove their integrity under test. (2 Cor. 5:17) Their bodies are not healed, because their hope of life is heavenward, so these fleshly bodies continue to deteriorate as they grow older, until death. At the end of their course they do not have to be acquitted of their sin by death. This acquitting has already been done by Jehovah when he declared them righteous, accepting them into the new covenant.—Heb. 8:10-13.
Consequently, these anointed ones are not viewed or counted by God as sinners, and are not living and suffering as sinners. They win the conflict that they wage against the sin in their fleshly bodies by reason of the sacrifice and help of their great High Priest, Jesus Christ. Paul explains: “Those in union with Christ Jesus have no condemnation. For the law of that spirit which gives life in union with Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death.”—Rom. 7:21–8:2.
Christ’s spiritual brothers, therefore, die a death like Christ’s. Not that it supplies a part of the propitiatory sacrifice for sins. Only Christ’s perfect sacrifice could do that. But they give up all human things in order to serve as vindicators of Jehovah’s name. The apostle Paul said: “Daily I face death.” Whether fighting temptation, opposition, misrepresentation and persecution, and yet maintaining faithfulness to God, it is all a suffering for righteousness’ sake as integrity keepers.—1 Cor. 15:31; 1 Pet. 5:9, 10.
In view of these things, then, these spiritual brothers of Christ undergo a death that brings gain. Paul said: “In my case to live is Christ, and to die, gain.” (Phil. 1:21) In his discussion of the resurrection, Paul illustrates the necessity of their death in order to gain the glorious reward of immortality in the heavens with Christ, saying:
“What you sow is not made alive unless first it dies; and as for what you sow, you sow, not the body that will develop, but a bare grain, it may be, of wheat or any one of the rest; but God gives it a body just as it has pleased him, and to each of the seeds its own body. . . . So also is the resurrection of the dead. It is sown in corruption, it is raised up in incorruption. It is sown in dishonor, it is raised up in glory. It is sown in weakness, it is raised up in power. It is sown a physical body, it is raised up a spiritual body.”—1 Cor. 15:36-44.
The apostles and their fellow Christians in past centuries died and thereafter waited for Christ’s second presence for their resurrection. (Phil. 3:10, 11, 20, 21) When that time arrived, however, the spirit-begotten ones then on earth who thereafter died would not have to wait ‘asleep’ in death. They would receive an instantaneous resurrection to the heavens at the time of their death. This was indicated by the apostle when he told fellow Christians: “You died [while still alive, counted as impaled with Christ], and your life has been hidden with the Christ in union with God. When the Christ, our life, is made manifest, then you also will be made manifest with him in glory.”—Col. 3:3, 4; Gal. 2:20; 1 Cor. 15:51, 52; Rev. 14:13.
CHRIST’S “OTHER SHEEP”
What, though, about those who, in this time, are the companions of Christ’s spiritual brothers, namely, the “great crowd” of “other sheep,” who have hopes of everlasting life on earth under the heavenly government of Christ and his associate kings and priests? They are shown in the Scriptures to be dressed in robes that they have made white because of their faith in the shed blood of Jesus Christ. (John 10:16; Rev. 7:9, 10, 14, 17; Matt. 25:31-34, 46) They are not following a course of sin as they did when involved in this world’s wicked system of things. Through prayer to Jehovah God in the name of Christ they can get forgiveness for the sins they commit day by day.—1 John 2:2.
However, these members of the “great crowd” are not called by God to be joint heirs with Christ. They are not counted as ‘impaled with Christ.’ Their being “declared righteous” as perfect human creatures must wait. But, should they die faithful now, they will receive a resurrection with the opportunity to be made perfect on earth during Christ’s reign. (Heb. 11:6; Rev. 20:12, 13) So, if they make a good name now with God, ‘the day of death is better than the day of birth’ for them too. They have a reward to which to look forward.
Moreover, their death can be one of satisfaction to them and of gain to others, if it is met in faithful integrity to God. God can use it to his glory. This truth is emphasized by the incident involving one of the faithful “other sheep” in Nigeria, Africa:
“A young man who had been raised a Presbyterian was persuaded by his parents to join the Biafran army during the Nigerian civil war. While at a camp awaiting deployment, a number of young men were brought in for conscription. Among them was one of Jehovah’s witnesses who refused enrollment for military training. He was severely beaten, yet would not change his mind. The officers in charge tried to pressure him into renouncing his faith. He refused, and was taken before a firing squad for public execution. He was tied to a pole and informed that, after the count of four, he would be shot. As the officer called out each number, he would pause to allow the Witness to change his mind. He still refused. At the count of four he was executed.
“In the audience watching the execution was the young soldier. Seeing this outstanding example of faith and integrity, his mind was moved to examine his own position. Whereas before he used to think that all were worshiping the same god, now he knew Jehovah’s witnesses were different. He decided that if God would spare him through the war, then he would worship Him fully. He decided never to handle a gun and arranged to work in the kitchen. As soon as the war ended, he started attending the meetings of the local congregation of Jehovah’s witnesses and studying the Bible. Before long he requested baptism. He has now completed his first period of ‘temporary pioneering,’ which is a devoting of full time in preaching the good news of God’s kingdom.”
The Scriptures say: “Precious in the eyes of Jehovah is the death of his loyal ones.” (Ps. 116:15) This is especially true of those whom God calls to undergo a death like Christ’s. It is also true of all those who give their lives in faithful service to Jehovah. Their death is not wasted. They provide a witness to the rightfulness of Jehovah’s sovereignty, and God can use even their death in helping others to see the truth and be moved to serve Him.