“Death Is Swallowed Up Forever”
IMAGINE reading a newspaper with the above headline instead of reading about a young girl who has taken her own life. Of course, no newspaper has ever been able to make such a statement. But the above words do appear in a book that is thousands of years old—the Bible.
In the Scriptures, death is clearly explained. Furthermore, the Bible not only reveals why we die but also explains the condition of the dead and offers hope for our deceased loved ones. Finally, it speaks of a momentous time when it will be possible to report: “Death is swallowed up forever.”—1 Corinthians 15:54.
The Bible explains death in familiar rather than mysterious terms. For example, it repeatedly likens dying to ‘falling asleep,’ and it describes dead people as “sleeping in death.” (Psalm 13:3; 1 Thessalonians 4:13; John 11:11-14) Death is also identified as an “enemy.” (1 Corinthians 15:26) More important, the Bible enables us to understand why death is like a sleep, why death afflicts mankind, and how this enemy will finally be defeated.
Why Do We Die?
The first book of the Bible relates how God made the first man, Adam, and settled him into a paradise home. (Genesis 2:7, 15) When starting out in life, Adam received work assignments, along with one strict prohibition. Regarding a certain tree in the garden of Eden, God told him: “You must not eat from it, for in the day you eat from it you will positively die.”* (Genesis 2:17) Hence, Adam understood that death was not inevitable. It was the direct result of violating a divine law.
Tragically, Adam and his wife, Eve, disobeyed. They chose to ignore the will of their Creator, and they reaped the consequences. “Dust you are and to dust you will return,” God told them when he outlined the results of their sin. (Genesis 3:19) They became seriously defective—imperfect. Their imperfection, or sinfulness, would lead to their death.
This defect—sin—was also passed on to Adam and Eve’s offspring, the entire human race. In a sense, it was like a hereditary disease. Not only did Adam lose the opportunity to live a life free from the scourge of death but he also transmitted imperfection to his offspring. The human family was taken hostage to sin. The Bible states: “That is why, just as through one man sin entered into the world and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men because they had all sinned.”—Romans 5:12.
“Sin Entered Into the World”
This hereditary defect, or sin, cannot be seen under a microscope. “Sin” refers to a moral and spiritual deficiency that has been transmitted to us from our first parents, and it has physical consequences. However, the Bible reveals that God has provided a remedy. The apostle Paul explains: “The wages sin pays is death, but the gift God gives is everlasting life by Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Romans 6:23) In his first letter to the Corinthians, Paul added an assurance that was very meaningful for him: “Just as in Adam all are dying, so also in the Christ all will be made alive.”—1 Corinthians 15:22.
Clearly, Jesus Christ plays a key role in eliminating sin and death. He said that he came to earth “to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.” (Matthew 20:28) The situation is comparable to a kidnapping, in which release of the hostage can be obtained only by a specified payment. In this case, the ransom that can free us from sin and death is Jesus’ perfect human life.*—Acts 10:39-43.
To provide the ransom, God sent Jesus to the earth to sacrifice his life. “God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might . . . have everlasting life.” (John 3:16) Before dying a sacrificial death, Christ ‘bore witness to the truth.’ (John 18:37) And during his public ministry, he took advantage of certain events to reveal the truth about death.
“The Little Girl . . . Is Sleeping”
Jesus was no stranger to death while he was on earth. He felt the grief of losing people around him, and he was fully aware that he himself would die prematurely. (Matthew 17:22, 23) Evidently some months before Jesus was executed, his close friend Lazarus died. That event provides us with an insight into Jesus’ view of death.
Soon after receiving word of Lazarus’ death, Jesus said: “Lazarus our friend has gone to rest, but I am journeying there to awaken him from sleep.” The disciples assumed that if Lazarus was merely resting, he would get better. So Jesus said plainly: “Lazarus has died.” (John 11:11-14) Obviously, Jesus understood death to be like sleep. While death may be difficult for us to comprehend, we do understand sleep. During a good night’s rest, we are unaware of the passage of time and what is going on around us because we are in a state of temporary unconsciousness. This is exactly how the Bible explains the condition of the dead. Ecclesiastes 9:5 states: “As for the dead, they are conscious of nothing at all.”
Jesus also compared death to a sleep because people can be awakened from death, thanks to the power of God. On one occasion, Jesus visited the home of a distraught family whose little girl had just expired. “The little girl did not die, but she is sleeping,” Jesus said. Then he approached the dead girl and took hold of her hand, and she “got up.” In other words, she rose from the dead.—Matthew 9:24, 25.
Jesus likewise raised his friend Lazarus from death. But before performing that miracle, he consoled Martha, Lazarus’ sister, by saying: “Your brother will rise.” She confidently replied: “I know he will rise in the resurrection on the last day.” (John 11:23, 24) She evidently expected all of God’s servants to be resurrected at some point in the future.
What exactly does a resurrection imply? The Greek word for “resurrection” (a·naʹsta·sis) literally means “standing up.” It denotes a rising from the dead. This may sound incredible to some, yet after saying that the dead would hear his voice, Jesus said: “Do not marvel at this.” (John 5:28) The resurrections that Jesus himself performed on earth give us confidence in the Bible’s promise that the dead in God’s memory will awake from their long “sleep.” Revelation 20:13 prophesies: “The sea gave up those dead in it, and death and Hades [mankind’s common grave] gave up those dead in them.”
Will these dead ones be resurrected back to life only to grow old and die again, somewhat like Lazarus? That is not God’s purpose. The Bible assures us that the time will come when “death will be no more,” so no one will be growing old and then dying.—Revelation 21:4.
Death is an enemy. The human race has many other common enemies, such as sickness and old age, which likewise cause much suffering. God promises to vanquish them all, finally passing sentence on mankind’s greatest foe. “As the last enemy, death is to be brought to nothing.”—1 Corinthians 15:26.
With that promise fulfilled, humans will enjoy perfect life, unmarred by sin and death. Meanwhile, we can take comfort in knowing that our dead loved ones are resting, and if they are in God’s memory, they will be resurrected in his due time.
Understanding Death Helps Give Meaning to Life
A clear understanding of death and the hope for the dead can change our outlook on life. Ian, mentioned in the preceding article, was in his 20’s when he learned about the Bible’s explanation of death. “I always had a vague hope that my father was somewhere,” he says. “So when I learned that he was just asleep in death, I felt dejected at first.” Nevertheless, when Ian read of God’s promise to resurrect the dead, he was overjoyed to know that he could see his father again. “For the first time in my life, I felt at peace,” he recalls. A proper understanding of death brought him a peace of mind that calmed his spirit.
Clive and Brenda lost their 21-year-old son, Steven, in the fatal crash mentioned in the preceding article. Although they knew what the Bible says about death, they were still heartbroken by their sudden loss. After all, death is an enemy, and its sting is painful. Their Scriptural knowledge about the condition of the dead gradually cushioned their grief. Brenda says: “Our understanding of death has allowed us to pick up the pieces of our lives and move on. Mind you, not a day goes by when we don’t think about the time when Steven will wake up from his deep sleep.”
“Death, Where Is Your Sting?”
Clearly, comprehending the condition of the dead can help us have a balanced view of life. Death does not need to be an enigma. We can enjoy life without a morbid fear of this enemy hovering in the background. And realizing that death need not extinguish our lives forever eliminates any urge to live for pleasure, in the belief that “life is so short.” Knowing that our deceased loved ones in God’s memory are asleep in death and awaiting a resurrection can give us solace and kindle our desire to carry on with life.
Yes, we can confidently look to the future when Jehovah God, the Giver of life, will bury death forever. What a blessing it will be when we can rightly ask: “Death, where is your victory? Death, where is your sting?”—1 Corinthians 15:55.
This is the first Bible reference to death.
The ransom price was a perfect human life because that was what Adam had lost. Sin contaminated all humans, so no imperfect human could serve as a ransom. Thus, God sent his Son from heaven for that purpose. (Psalm 49:7-9) For more information on this subject, see chapter 7 of the book Knowledge That Leads to Everlasting Life, published by Jehovah’s Witnesses.
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Adam and Eve’s disobedience led to death
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Jesus took the dead girl’s hand, and she got up
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Many await the time when their dead loved ones will awaken from sleep, as Lazarus did