What Does the Bible Say About Death?

Kevin Zuber
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The notion of death is not the cessation of existence so much as it is a separation in three senses.

Bodily Death

James 2:26a
“For just as the body without the spirit is dead.”

The first separation is the spirit from the body at physical death. In this context James is making the argument that a living faith must demonstrate itself by works. He compares faith to a person’s body and works to the person’s spirit. This comparison assumes his readers will grant that a body is dead when a person’s spirit has departed. Furthermore, James’s comparison assumes the notion that a person’s spirit lives on after the body dies.

Ecclesiastes 12:7
“Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it.”

When the author of Ecclesiastes refers to “the dust,” he means a person’s body. In Genesis 3:19b, in the curse laid on Adam by Yahweh, the man was told “For you are dust, And to dust you shall return.” Adam’s body had been formed from the dust, that is, the inanimate materials of the ground or earth (see Gen. 2:7). The statement “will return to the earth” speaks of the death and decay of a body. On the other hand, the spirit does not die and decay as does the body, but “returns to God.” The spirit lives on and faces judgment (see Heb. 9:27) that leads to heaven or hell.

Spiritual Death

Ephesians 2:1
“And you were dead in your trespasses and sins.”

Colossians 2:13
“When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions.”

The second separation is the separation of the sinner from God. This separation is indicated by expressions such as “dead in your trespasses and sins,” and “dead in your transgressions.” It is obvious that this does not refer to physical death, for in this death a person is still animated by and actively engaging in sin. The “death” here is an existence in a sphere or realm that is of “this [fallen] world” and under the sway of “the prince of the power of the air” (i.e., Satan; see Eph. 2:2). It is the realm in which, “the desires of the flesh and of the mind” are indulged and it is a realm under the wrath of God (see Eph. 2:3). It is a realm from which those who are by faith united to Christ are delivered by the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ (see Rom. 6:3–7). Those who are in Christ are now no longer dead in this sense but “alive together with Him” (see Col. 2:13; Eph. 2:5; Rom. 6:8–11).

Eternal Death

Revelation 20:6
“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with Him for a thousand years.”

2 Thessalonians 1:9
“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

The third separation is the eternal separation of the unredeemed from God forever. In John 5:29 Jesus referred to two resurrections—one of life and one of judgment. Believers will experience the (first) resurrection of life and will not face “the second death,” but unbelievers will experience the resurrection of judgment and they will face “the second death.” This “second death” is the eternal conscious existence away “from the presence of God” in the lake of fire (see Rev. 20:14; 21:8).

For Further Reading:

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