Is Physical Death the Enemy of the Child of God?
✦ We are constantly told that physical death is the enemy– the last enemy.
✦ We are told that physical death is the Curse of Adam. It is the condemnation that is the result of “the law of sin and death.” That means, you sin, you die- that is the condemnation. (It is to be noted that in an incredible aberration Edward Stevens with whom I am involved in a seemingly unending written debate, is on record as claiming the physical death was the Adamic Curse. However, he claims that the work of Christ was not for the purpose of overcoming– in any way– physical death: “I deny that [GENERIC] physical death was included in the DoA or that it will ever be abolished for anyone while we are in this physical life on earth and separated from the Tree of Life which is in heaven.” (His 4th Negative Presentation paragraph #23)! Folks, if physical death was– in any sense- part of the “Death of Adam” which Stevens has repeatedly affirmed, then to say that Christ’s work was not for the purpose of overcoming that Adamic Curse of physical death is specious in extreme! But I digress!
✦ We are told that physical death is the death that entered on the day Adam sinned.
✦ Thus, we are told that physical death entered through Adam and then, “passed to all men because all men sinned” (Romans 5:12).
✦ We are told that this means that “the wages of sin is death” means that physical death is the direct result of our sin.
✦ We are told that physical death is to be destroyed at the (imaginary) end of time.
Furthermore, the opponents of Covenant Eschatology insist that those who believe that Christ kept his promise to return in the first century- and thus, conquer death – are heretics, blasphemers, false teachers, etc., for denying these long held, historical beliefs of the church.
There is no need for me to document each of the points above from the literature. Each of the points above are so called “orthodox” Christian. And I might note that on a private FB page I have been attacked repeatedly recently for denying these so called fundamental doctrines of Christianity. The real question however, is not what the historical church has believed and taught. The true issue is, what does the Bible actually teach about this question: Is physical death the enemy of the child of God?
To answer this question, ever so briefly, consider the following issues and questions:
Is the Christian Truly, Objectively Forgiven of Their Sin Through the Work of Christ?
This may seem like a simple question. The reality is that it strikes at the very core and foundation of the controversy. William Lane Craig lays out the case for the power of forgiveness, but does not deal with the dilemma it presents:
Divine forgiveness has as its effect not (merely) God’s laying aside feelings of anger or indignation (or what have you, according to ones favorite analysis of forgiveness), but rather the removal of the liability to punishment that attends sin. AS a result of divine forgiveness, a person who formerly deserved punishment now no longer does so. Because of the forgiveness that is to be found in Christ, those who are united with him through faith are no longer held accountable for their sins, ‘There is therefore now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 8:1). (William Lane Craig, Atonement and the Death of Jesus (Waco, Tx; Baylor University Press, 2020), 72).
Craig’s book has a great deal to commend it. He defends the doctrine of the substitutionary death of Christ, without ever answering the question: If Christ died in our place- the substitutionary death – then why do we as Christians – ostensibly under the power of that substitutionary death – still die? The reality is that you cannot posit Christ’s physical death as substitutionary, without logically demanding that those “in Christ” should never die physically.
This is likewise the dilemma of (so-called) full preterist Edward Stevens, who assails and condemns me for denying that Christ’s physical death was substitutionary. He says this is heresy and “unorthodox” – as if his own preterism, and strange AD 70 rapture doctrine is “orthodox”! Edward’s problem is exacerbated by the fact that on the one hand he claims that Christ’s physical death was substitutionary, while on the other hand he says: ““I deny that [GENERIC] physical death was included in the DoA, (Death of Adam-DKP) or that it will ever be abolished for anyone while we are in this physical life on earth and separated from the Tree of Life which is in heaven.” (Stevens in his 4th Negative Presentation, paragraph #23 in our formal written debate).
Reader, you must catch the power of this! If Christ’s physical death was truly in our place, (as Stevens affirms) it is specious in the extreme to deny that Jesus’ physical substitutionary death delivers us from physical death. Yet, that is precisely what Stevens teaches! Christ’s supposedly substitutionary physical death does not deliver the Christian from physical death- period! That hardly qualifies as “substitutionary physical death.”
Furthermore, if physical death is, in any way, part of the Adamic Curse, then to deny that Christ’s death and resurrection ever delivers us from death is as unorthodox as you can get.
Stevens tries to escape this by talking about “generic” or “natural death.” He says that physical death (what he calls Penal Death) was the original curse and is no longer applicable. In other words, we today are supposedly not under the threat of “in the day you eat you will surely die.” And yet, get this, Stevens says that we should die the very day that we sin, but we don’t do so because of the death of Christ! (Actually, in his second negative of our written debate, Stevens actually says that the original animal sacrifice prevents us from dying the day we sin– (2nd Neg-#56). To say that this is “unorthodox” is a huge understatement! Stevens may well be the first and only person in history to affirm that the original animal sacrifice prevents a person today from dying they day they sin!) Thus, Christ’s substitutionary physical death DOES deliver us from physical, but only one time- the day we sin!
Then, Stevens says that “natural” death is the death that comes as a result of being separated from the Tree of Life. And why are we separated from the Tree of Life? Simple: Because “we are all sinners,” says Stevens! What is “natural” or “generic” about that? Clearly, Stevens has a confused, confusing and un-Biblical view of Adamic Death. But let’s move on by looking closer at the issue of forgiveness.
If sin is what brings physical death– and this is one of the fundamental beliefs of “orthodoxy,”
And if the Christian is forgiven of sin (that alone which brings physical death),
Then why do Christians still die physically?
I have asked this question repeatedly of those who take the cherished “orthodox” position. The answers I have gotten are nothing less than astounding– to say the least. Sam Frost, former full preterist, but now a bitter, vitriolic opponent, answers the question by telling us that the reason we still die as Christians, even though we are ostensibly forgiven, is:
In order to bring this grace to the nations, this salvation, a man had to go before us and accomplish everything needed for this grace to begin its work among the nations. This means that being in the world, we still have to die. Being in this body means that we still have to undergo the effects of sin and death, even though the condemnation of sin is removed, which is the Gospel. This Gospel must go forward to the nations in the form of jars of clay, confronting them with their sin, their judgment, and their death. If they do not accept such a message of life, then it becomes a message of death– ultimate eternal death (2 Corinthians 2:16). (Samuel M. Frost, Why I Left Full Preterism, (Powder Springs, GA; American Vision, 2012), 61).
One will seldom find anything more confused, confusing and un-Biblical. Consider the following:
The condemnation of sin is death– Romans 6:23. Or to express it another way, death is the condemnation that comes through sin (Romans 5:16-18).
The Christian, although ostensibly forgiven of that which brings physical death still must “undergo the effects of sin and death.”
But, the effect of sin IS condemnation and death!
Therefore, the Christian is most assuredly under condemnation.
Frost does not attempt to explain how or why it is that the Christian, “Being in this body means that we still have to undergo the effects of sin and death” and yet, are NOT under the condemnation of sin. He made no attempt to justify his comments because there is no justification- or truth – in his comments. I will allow Frost to refute Frost on this, by citing words that he wrote while still teaching the truth of preterism. In his Essays on the Resurrection, Frost considered the issue of forgiveness, sin and continuing death of the Christian:
The question of Christ’s substitutionary Death, the Atonement, the reality of forgiveness, etc.. are all issues that press in on us when we deny the reality of present life in Christ - or the lack thereof. Simply stated, if sin brings death - physical death per modern Christianity - but, forgiveness removes sin, then it must be true that forgiveness delivers from physical death. Thus, the child of God should never die physically. The reality that even the most faithful child of God dies physically falsifies the idea that physical death is the death that Christ came to defeat.” (Samuel M. Frost, Essays on the Resurrection, (Ardmore, Ok; JaDon Management Inc., 2010), 78, n. 84).
Frost also says, on page 77:
If resurrection is resurrection of physical bodies and if that ‘victory has not happened in the least, then how can victory be claimed? The ‘victory’ comes when ‘the death’ is swallowed up in victory at the supposed resurrection of corpses. If the ‘death’ here means ‘physical death’ then we cannot at all claim victory since we still die physically. Jesus has not yet put that under his feet. He is still waging war. In war, a victory can be claimed, but it cannot be something that is gained until the war is over and the enemies are entirely defeated. Then why does Paul use an active participle rather than a future for ‘he is giving us the victory’? Over what? Has God been giving the victory over physical death for 2000 years to the church? That’s absurd. So far, God has lost every Christian since Peter to physical death! Not one of them has been raised and not one of them can claim the victory ‘over the death.’ How is this winning the war? (Frost’s book on Essays on the Resurrection is available from my websites, Amazon and other retailers).
So, while a preterist, Frost recognized the problem of the continuing death of the supposedly redeemed, saved, forgiven Christian. He realized that this makes no sense and is a massive problem for the “orthodox” position. But since departing from preterism, he says that although we are forgiven we continue to suffer the effects of sin and death. Furthermore, he says that we continue to die because of the sin of Adam and our own sin. He affirms that death is still our enemy. Little wonder that Frost and those like him consider physical death the enemy of the child of God! After all, sin is described by Paul as “the sting of death” and according to the “orthodox” view, sin still dominates the life of even the most faithful Christian, we all die because we are sinners, so much so that the Christian continues to suffer the full effects of sin- which is death!
We have the right to ask: WHY is death the enemy of the child of God if the Christian is forgiven of sin (thus has no “sting of death”) on him and / since, upon death, the child of God goes directly to heaven and the presence of the Lord? And it is important to note that all of those – or at least the great majority of those– who say that death is the enemy of the child of God, also believe that when the faithful child of God dies physically, they go directly to heaven. (It should be noted that in some Amillennial circles, it is believed that when the faithful child of God dies, they go to Abraham’s bosom in Hades).
The question is: Is going to heaven when we die, through the portal of death, a bad thing? This is our enemy? When I have asked the opponents of Covenant Eschatology to explain the “bad side” of death in light of these facts, I have yet to receive a response.
So, upon death, the child of God goes directly to heaven and the presence of the Lord. How is this possible? After all, they are dying under the power of sin, and under the power of “the last enemy” which, it is claimed, is physical death. They (we) are clearly submitting to “him who had the power of death, that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14). They are experiencing the full power of “the law of sin and death,” which says, “You sin, you die.” They are experiencing the full “effects of sin and death.”
How in the name of reason can it be said that the Christian is forgiven, redeemed, justified, sanctified, if we still suffer the full effects of sin and death? Remember, the effects of sin is condemnation (Romans 5:16-18)!
I would submit that death is only the enemy of the Child of God if:
✘ There is no forgiveness of Sin. If, and only if sin is not forgiven and thus dominating the life and fate of the Christian is death the enemy of the child of God.
✘ Satan still controls death.
✘ The Child of God remains under the Curse and condemnation of Adam. And let’s not forget that many futurists, those in the Reformed camp especially, insist that the Christian dies today because of the sin and death of Adam and because of their own sin.
It is specious in the extreme to suggest that the Christian is still under the power of the law of sin and death, is still under the power of the devil, still receives the wages of sin, still experiences the full effects of sin and death, and yet, is not under condemnation.
To reiterate the previous point: when the Christian dies, they are paying “the wages of sin”– meaning no forgiveness. And if the Christian receives the wages of sin when they die, are they not “paid in full”? What does the “substitutionary death of Christ” do for the Christian if the Christian pays the full penalty of his own sin?
Now, if physical death is the enemy of even the child of God, is it the enemy of the infant and the young person that has not arrived at the “knowledge of sin”? If sin brings physical death, as “orthodoxy” claims, then one is forced to one of two positions:
☛ An infant that dies has committed some sin.
☛ The infant has inherited the sin and the death of Adam. This is the Reformed / Calvinistic view, and in fact, we are told that infants are actually born as sinners. I reject that view, categorically, but will not discuss it here. But simply put, Paul said death only passes on man because man sins (Romans 5:12). An infant has no understanding of sin, no capacity or ability to sin.
Now, if an infant cannot sin, has not sinned, but if sin is what brings death, why do infants and innocent children die? If children are those that Jesus blessed for their purity and sinlessness (Matthew 18:1f) how is it that physical death is their enemy? Is physical death the enemy of the infant that dies? Exactly how so?
Sin according to Paul, was, “the sting of death.” So, where is the sin in the infant to give their death its sting? And if death has no sting for a sinless infant, then all arguments about physical death being the enemy of the (forgiven) Christian are moot and false.
In spite of all of the evidence above, (and there is much, much more that could be said) those who hold to the traditional “death is the enemy” construct like to respond (and have): “Well, if you don’t think that physical death is the enemy of the child of God, are you eager to die?” This is supposed to be a “knock out” argument, when in reality it is nothing but a straw man, ad hominem, diversionary argument.
Do I, as a human being, eagerly look to die? No. Does that mean that I consider physical death my enemy? No. Here is why.
As humans, the only life that we know is here on earth. The relations that we know and cherish are our family relationships. We enjoy our friends. We enjoy our hobbies. Do we eagerly look forward to abandoning all of these relationships and activities? Clearly not. And yet, we are not like those that Paul spoke of in 1 Thessalonians 4:13f who have “no hope”– actually, we have full assurance!
Consider what Paul said in Philippians 1:20-23.
According to my earnest expectation and hope that in nothing I shall be ashamed, but with all boldness, as always, so now also Christ will be magnified in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. But if I live on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I cannot tell. For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better.
Ask yourself: Did Paul love life here on earth? Did he love his associations with the churches that he established? Did he love Timothy, his protégé? To suggest that Paul did not love his life on earth- even with all of its hardships as an apostle– would be untenable. He clearly did! And he even knew that for him to continue to live on earth, ministering to the churches that he had established, was helpful for them and a positive thing. Yet, nonetheless, he said that he had a “desire” to depart and be with Christ (which would be at the Day of the Lord- 2 Timothy 4:8).
The word translated as “desire” is epithumia. It means a strong, powerful desire. (It can be used in a negative way, translated as “lust,” of evil desires that control a person’s life). Did Paul, like Ignatius a good while later, beg the Romans to kill him? No. But it did mean that when Paul placed the continuing existence on earth in comparison with the “joy set before him,” to borrow a phrase, that he knew what was “far better.” Consider those two words!
Paul said that to die and to be with Christ was “far better” than even the sweetest relations that this life has to offer. If Paul was married, as many believe, he said that going to be with the Lord (at the Day of the Lord) was “far better” than even that marital happiness! How incredible is this?!? Those two words “far better” carry with them a world of suggestive thought!
I can tell you that as someone who has been married for 52 years, in what can only be described as a relationship that has (and does) bring incredible happiness, that it is difficult, from a human perspective, to image saying that it is “far better” to depart than to stay on earth in this marvelous relationship!! However, a little over a year ago, my sister died. She and my brother in law were married for 63 years. From the time of the funeral until his passing last week (July 2021), all he could talk about was “going to be with her.” But according to the futurists, that reunion is not a good thing. It is in fact a horrible thing, since he had to experience death to join her in the arms of the Lord! So, we are to believe that physical death, that takes us into the eternal realm of life with the Lord and reunion with our cherished and loved ones– is our enemy!
We have the assurance that life with the Lord is unending. It is indeed far better than anything we can imagine, or experience, here in this realm / sphere. Do we know fully what it is like? No, we do not. We know it is in heaven, it is with the Lord, it is a reunion with all of the faithful saints and loved ones who have ever lived! And yet, futurists tell us that death, which is the portal / doorway, into that “far better” existence is our enemy!
In a recent internet exchange with a futurist, who adamantly claims that physical death is the enemy of the child of God, who is supposedly forgiven of sin, standing justified and redeemed before the Lord, I pointed out that his position, and that of futurists as a whole demands that in fact, we are not forgiven. We are not redeemed. We have no salvation. Here is what I offered:
The Christian is absolutely still under the law of sin and death- because futurists believe that sin is the cause of death.
The Christian is still under the condemnation that comes through sin, because futurists say that sin beings death– which is the condemnation of the law of sin and death.
Futurists have and DO, therefore, deny the current reality of objective forgiveness for the Christian.
According to futurists, the Christian is:
✘ Still doomed to die– as a result of sin.
✘ Still under (subject to) the law of sin and death.
✘ Still under the condemnation of sin.
✘ Still not sanctified.
✘ Still not truly forgiven.
✘Still has to experience the sting of death.
✘ Still, therefore, under the law that was the strength of sin.
The objector never responded, except to castigate me as a false teacher and insist that in spite of any of this, physical death is in fact the enemy of the child of God. To say this is less than convincing is an understatement.
So, on a purely physical level– with no consideration of the spiritual realities of Christ – none of us cherish physical death. We don’t want to experience cancer, heart attack, a fatal car crash, even random violence that might take our life. But that is not walking by the faith like Paul. It is ignoring the spiritual realities that are our’s in Christ!
Hebrews 2:14– as noted- says Christ was manifested to destroy him who had the power of death, and to deliver all those who “all their life” were subject to the bondage of fear– the fear of death. It is specious to say that Christ conquered and destroyed the works of the Devil on the cross, as futurists like to say, and then turn around and claim that Christians are still held in bondage to the fear of death! That is not the victory of Christ! I cite again the words of Sam Frost, given earlier, and ask that the reader give it careful thought:
If resurrection is resurrection of physical bodies and if that ‘victory has not happened in the least, then how can victory be claimed? The ‘victory’ comes when ‘the death’ is swallowed up in victory at the supposed resurrection of corpses. If the ‘death’ here means ‘physical death’ then we cannot at all claim victory since we still die physically. Jesus has not yet put that under his feet. He is still waging war. In war, a victory can be claimed, but t cannot be something that is gained until the war is over and the enemies are entirely defeated. Then why does Paul use an active participle rather than a future for ‘he is giving us the victory’? Over what? Has God been giving the victory over physical death for 2000 years to the church? That’s absurd. So far, God has lost every Christian since Peter to physical death! Not one of them has been raised and not one of them can claim the victory ‘over the death.’ How is this winning the war?
The fact is that physical death is not the enemy of the child of God, forgiven through the atoning work of Christ. Through Christ, he has “abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the Gospel” (2 Timothy 1:10).
Praise be to God that while we do not have to cherish passing from this life and from our loved ones, we can nonetheless say, with Paul, that to depart and be with Christ is “far better!”