Death to Death
In the apostle John’s first letter he writes, “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked at and our hands have touched, this we proclaim concerning the word of life. The life appeared; we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us.” (1 John 1: 1-2). Here he is saying that eternal life is not just a concept: it is a living, breathing reality embodied in the man Jesus Christ. Looking at him is the same as seeing eternal life. The question is then: “What is eternal life?” The answer we see in Christ is the bond of love, connection, intimate knowledge shared between the Father and the Son through the fellowship of the Holy Spirit. That is, what John and the other disciples “heard and saw” in Jesus Christ.
Love and connection is really what constitutes life. Think of it: what makes your life worth living? Surely the answer is love and connection? Being connected in love with our family, friends and community is what provides meaning and depth to everything we do. Little wonder that John continues in his letter to say, “We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard so that you may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and his Son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make our joy complete.” (1 John 1: 3-4). He is saying that if you connect with us then you will be connected to the Father and Son, and then you will know and experience the fullness of joy. For that is life – eternal life.
It stands to reason then that our greatest pain and despair comes from that which is in direct opposition to life and connection, i.e. – death. The eternal bond of love between the Father, Son, and the Holy Spirit is the exact opposite to the bond-breaking power of death. If life is all about connection, then death is about disconnection. At a purely physical level death breaks the bond between body and spirit, husband and wife, parent and child, and an individual and their community. However, physical mortality is only one form of death and we all experience its bond-breaking power long before the demise of our mortal bodies.
In the garden of Eden, God said to Adam, “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2: 17). It was not that the tree had poisonous fruit, rather it would represent a deliberate disengagement by man from God. As we know, when Adam and Eve were tempted by the serpent, and they were persuaded to doubt God and followed their autonomous aspirations toward a pathway that leads to disconnection. The very moment that Adam and Eve relationally disconnected from God they ‘died.’ That does not mean they physically dropped dead, but death entered the world and we have all since assimilated and been complicit in disconnection.
Now we live in a deadly world and experience its power every day. ‘Death’ can affect marriages, families, friendships, partnerships, and fellowships by contaminating them with disconnection, discord, disloyalty, dishonesty, distrust and disintegration. Ultimately death, in all its forms, makes a mockery of all our human ambitions, and crushes our hopes to dust. No one in history has successfully stood against death. That is, until death attempted to break through the bond of eternal life between the Father and Son. Finally, death met its match in Jesus Christ and its power was outmatched by the eternal connection in a human being, Jesus Christ, on behalf of all humanity.
With this in mind, the apostle Paul was able to write, “Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death is your victory. Where, O death is your sting? The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 15: 54-57). When death tested the eternal life in Jesus Christ it could not find an outer edge to the limitless love of God. It was doomed to fail.
The gates of Hades (i.e. death) have finally fallen to the unbroken bond of love between the Father and Son. The resurrection is, therefore, a new beginning for humanity and the whole of creation. For the first time ever, the grave has been denied as Jesus has triumphed over death as a representative of Adam’s race and now we all share the spoils of the battle won.
In the words of T.F. Torrance,
He stood in our place, taking our cause upon him, also as Believer as the Obedient one who was himself justified before God as his beloved Son in whom he was well pleased. He offered to God a perfect confidence and trust, a perfect faith and response which we are unable to offer and appropriated all God’s blessings which we are unable to appropriate. Through union with him we share in his faith, in his obedience, in his trust and appropriation of the Father’s blessing: we share in his justification before God. Therefore, when we say we are justified by faith, this does not mean that it is our faith that justifies us, but we in faith flee from our own acts even of repentance, confession, trust and response, and take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ.”1
Now, our place in the family of God is secured and assured. The New Covenant has been permanently guaranteed by the blood of Christ (Hebrews 10: 12-18). He has done what none of us could do. All we can do is “take refuge in the obedience and faithfulness of Christ.”
1 T. F. Torrance – Theology in Reconstruction (London 1965) pp. 159-160