Elizabeth Kubler-Ross was a therapist who worked with people who were facing death. In one of her books, Kubler-Ross mentioned the story of a child, an 8-year-old boy, who was dying with a brain tumor. She asked him to draw a picture that would describe his situation.
The boy drew a picture of a house, some trees, and the sun hiding behind a mountain. The events in the picture reflected what was taking place at sunset. In front of the house there was an army tank and in front of the tank there was a sign with the word: “STOP.” This picture reflected the child’s fear of death and his inability to stop it.
Many years ago, when I was the pastor of a church in California, a faithful and committed member of my church died. That aged woman had been a member of the church for many years and was loved by all. The wake service was a time of celebration: people were singing and praising God for her life.
The grandchildren of the woman were very upset. They were angry because the members of the church were singing and not crying. They just could not understand the real meaning of the death of a believer.
At the cemetery, after the brief service of Scripture reading and prayer, the grandchildren demanded that the casket be opened so they could say good-bye to their grandmother one last time. The reason for their action was because, they said, they would never see her again.
Why are so many people afraid of death? Some people are afraid of death because they are not sure whether there is life after death. They want to enjoy life now, as much as possible, because they do not know what will come next.
Some people are afraid of death because they know that there is life after death and they are not prepared to meet God. Other people are afraid of death because they know there is a judgement and they know they will be found guilty.
A study was conducted about religion and people’s attitude toward death. The result of this study is very revealing. The study revealed that if a person is religious, the less religious that person is, the greater the fear of death. The study also revealed that the more religious a person is, the less fear that person has of dying. The study showed that most atheists do not fear death because for them life ends at the time of death.
The resurrection of Christ is the good news that God in Christ has conquered death. Hebrews 2:14-15 says: “Since the children have flesh and blood, he too shared in their humanity so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death–that is, the devil–and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.”
The work of Christ was to free those who were held in slavery because of their fear of death. The resurrection of Christ is the believer’s victory over death.
Although Christ conquered death, people today are still afraid of death. To deal with this fear, people have developed different reasons to dispel the fear of death. These are some of the reasons people give in dealing with the fear of death:
“There is no life after death, so I don’t have to fear death.”
“There is no God, so I don’t fear death.”
“There is no hell, so I don’t have to fear death and judgment.”
“In the end God will save everybody, so I don’t have to fear death.”
But death is real. God told Adam about the consequence of disobedience: “You must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Genesis 2:17). It is sin that has made death so frightening. It is disobedience that gave sin its destructive power and created the fear of dying. People who understand the frailty of their lives and are confronted with the reality of their mortality, fear death.
According to Hebrews 2:9, this is the reason Jesus became a human being. The writer says that Jesus suffered death so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone. This is the same message of Hebrews 2:14-15: Jesus became a human being and died so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death and deliver all those people who fear death. And here is the irony: Jesus destroyed the power of death by dying on the cross. The death of death came through the death of Christ.
The Bible portrays death as an enemy. Death entered the world because of sin. Death was never God’s purpose for his creation, thus, the presence of death shows the reality of sin. But death is contrary to God’s will. God wants every individual to have life, eternal life.
Jesus came to break the power of death, he came to deal with the fear of dying. Jesus died to overcome a common enemy: death. It is the resurrection of Christ that breaks the power of death. Death came through one man. The death of death also came through one man: Jesus. As Paul said: “In Adam all die, in Christ all will be made alive” (1 Corinthians 15:22).
In 1 Corinthians 15:50-57 Paul teaches that human nature cannot lead people into the kingdom of God. Every human being, sooner or later, must die. But Paul describes something wonderful. He speaks of a mystery that even today, many people cannot fully understand. He says that one day those who have died in Christ will get up from their graves, free from the reach of death, never to die again.
“Then the saying will come true: Death has been swallowed by triumphant Life! Who got the last word, oh, Death? Oh, Death, who’s afraid of you now?” (1 Corinthians 15:55).
“Where, O death, is your victory?”
There is no more victory for death, for the death of Christ brought the death of death.
This posted was originally published on May 9, 2007.
Emeritus Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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