When God warned Adam that should he sin and eat the forbidden fruit that he would die, God the Father knew also that it would mean the death of His unbegotten and eternal Son. This might give us the clearest picture that death was not God’s intention for humanity, but rather something which humans brought into creation through their own rebellious sinfulness.
“Do not invite death by the error of your life, or bring on destruction by the works of your hands; because God did not make death, and he does not delight in the death of the living. For he created all things so that they might exist; the generative forces of the world are wholesome, and there is no destructive poison in them, and the dominion of Hades is not on earth. For righteousness is immortal. But the ungodly by their words and deeds summoned death; considering him a friend, they pined away and made a covenant with him, because they are fit to belong to his company.” [Wisdom of Solomon 1:12-16 (NRSV)]
That death is the final enemy of God and that God worked to destroy death is the Gospel. We can see God’s own attitude toward death in the New Testament. One need only read John 11, the raising of Lazarus, to see Christ’s own reaction to death – both weeping because of it, and then overcoming it. Ultimately it is Christ, not only in His own death and resurrection, who destroys the power of death, but also in His very person, for being the incarnate Son of God, He is life giving and thus the very enemy of death. Here are three passages from St. Paul on this topic:
“… our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel.” (2 Timothy 1:10)
“For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him.” (Romans 6:9)
“Lo! I tell you a mystery. We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we shall be changed. For this perishable nature must put on the imperishable, and this mortal nature must put on immortality. When the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, then shall come to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’ ‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” [1 Corinthians 15:51-57 (RSV)]
Christ came to destroy and abolish death. Death is the enemy of humanity and of God. In the book of Revelation, it is Christ, not Satan who ultimately holds the keys of death and Hades. “Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive for evermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades” (Revelation 1:17-18). And when God’s Kingdom is established, death is completely overthrown and is shown to be a temporary condition. It’s powers were limited by space and time and thus get swallowed up in God’s eternal victory.
And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Also another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, by what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. … Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. … and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” [Revelation 20:12-14, 21:1-4 (RSV)]
This power over death Christ offers to His followers in this world through the Church.
“And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the powers of death shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)
All of these words against death are the witness of the Gospel regarding God’s own attitude about mortality. Edna St. Vinent Millay’s poem CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR brought all of this to mind. Being pro-life is in line with the Gospel, and thus on one level is easy for Christians to embrace. Millay’s poem suggest that we should never willingly betray any human to death – not through murder, war, capital punishment, abortion, neglect, greed, hatred or any intention. Jesus standing at the tomb of Lazarus, confronted by death, weeps for His friend, weeps for humanity. Then calls His friend to life, showing His power over death, revealing the temporary nature of death itself. We are back to the first day of creation, when all things were new and life unending.