11 Soon afterward he went to a town called Nain, and his disciples and a great crowd went with him. 12 As he drew near to the gate of the town, behold, a man who had died was being carried out, the only Son of his mother, and she was a widow, and a considerable crowd from the town was with her. 13 And when the Lord saw her, he had compassion on her and said to her, “Do not weep.” 14 Then he came up and touched the bier, and the bearers stood still. And he said, “Young man, I say to you, arise.” 15 And the dead man sat up and began to speak, and Jesus gave him to his mother. 16 Fear seized them all, and they glorified God, saying, “A great prophet has arisen among us!” and “God has visited his people!” 17 And this report about him spread through the whole of Judea and all the surrounding country.Luke 7:11-17
The Tragedy of this scene is intense. A mother is weeping over the tragic loss of her only son. Her sorrow is rightfully displayed. Her friends are not pictured here trying to tell her, “it will be ok.” Not at all. Her friends are following her and desperately weeping along with her. Why? Because in that first-century culture, they were not afraid to feel the pain that death brought into their lives. They would not dare cheapen the loss of a mother’s son by giving her platitudes and good vibes. Weeping was the appropriate response, and this sorrowful mother had friends to cry with her.
When Jesus sees her weeping, does He try to stop her from weeping because He views suffering as something to control and suppress like some Stoic. In John 11, Jesus wept alongside those who wept about the loss of death. I imagine Jesus had tears in His eyes too as He said, “Do not weep.” He tells her not to weep because He will, by His own power, do the only thing worthy of stopping that mother’s tears. Jesus raised that young man from the dead, and in a moment, Jesus transformed her tears of sorrow into tears of unimaginable joy. Don’t you wish Jesus would perform this miracle for you? Christian, He has promised that He will.
The Origin of Death.
Paul called Death humanity’s final enemy (1 Cor 15:26). That statement isn’t shocking, but maybe it should be. How could death break into God’s creation that He called very good? Was death somehow God’s design? These are a few questions that need answers. Responding to these fundamental questions isn’t questioning God. As Christian people, we ought to be people of the book (Acts 17:11) who are consistently seeking God through His Word. Let’s briefly answer those two questions as we give a few minutes to thinking about death’s origin.
Those two questions that I will attempt to answer will be handled as practically one. How could death break into God’s creation that He called ‘very good’ unless death was somehow part of God’s design? We will answer this question as we make sure to hold together two truths that seem to be in tension with each other. First, I affirm that death was part of God’s plan because God could not possibly have made a mistake. Second, I deny that death was part of the original ‘very good’ order (Gen 1:31) because death is viewed everywhere in scripture as humanity’s enemy.
As we think about death being part of God’s plan, we need to think in terms of the overarching plan of Redemption. The metanarrative of scripture helps us to see death was part of God’s plan. Peter, Paul, and John all speak about Jesus being the Lamb of God slain before or from the foundation of the world. What is meant by the phrase “the foundation of the world”? The Greek word that stands behind the English word “foundation” is used eleven times in the NT, and ten of those eleven times, translators chose to use the word “foundation”. Only once did translators use a different word in translation, and the passage is Hebrews 11:11, where the Greek word usually translated “foundation” is translated here as “conceive.” The relevance is that “before the foundation of the world” seems to refer to John 1:1-3. In John 1, we learn that before the world began, the Father and the Son were co-equal, co-eternal, co-creators, and would be co-redeemers. When Peter, Paul, and John all describe Jesus as the ‘Lamb slain’ before/from the foundation of the world, the obvious conclusion is that death was always part of God’s plan. Death was part of God’s original plan, but death was not part of the world’s original design.
God’s original design, creation, was described as very good. Death was not yet part of the world’s order because death would, as it were, break into God’s design, but by permission. God established Adam and Eve as King and Queen reigning over the rest of the created order. God commanded Adam not to eat the forbidden fruit. God explicitly stated the consequence as “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” Therefore, we recognize death had the potential to enter into God’s created order through the fall of man. Do you sense the tension I spoke about earlier? The two truths that seem to be in tension with each other are not contradictory but complementary. God’s plan included death, but death enters into the created order through man’s rebellion. The good news is that God’s plan for death was to overcome death and redeem His people.
The Reign of Death.
The Apostle Paul has a lot to teach us about the current state of our fallen world. He describes death as reigning like a king. Death’s reign resulted from Adam’s sin (Rom 5:17), and there is no escaping the tyrant king’s judgment until now.
The good news is that Jesus’ sinless life and sacrificial death have dethroned death for His people. Paul explained Christ had overcome the reign of death because death’s sting and victory have been removed (1 Cor 15:55). From before the foundation of the world, God planned to allow death to enter the created order and redeem Himself a people through the Son’s sacrificial atoning death. The Spirit resurrected Jesus (Rom 8:11), and because we are united to Christ by faith, we too will be raised to life. Death will come for us, but Christ has already removed its sting and victory for us. We are subjects of a better king. That old tyrant Death has no claim upon our souls. We are redeemed and wait patiently for our true King’s glorious return.
The End of Death.
When Jesus returns to judge the world, He will destroy death once and for all (Rev 20:14). Remember, death was not part of the original design. Death entered by permission and Adam’s rebellion. Through death, Jesus overcomes that great enemy of humanity with His resurrection. All who truly believe Jesus is the Son of God who died for them upon the cross are united to Him by faith and will, in the end, overcome death through God resurrecting them too. That final resurrection will be the end of death. There will be no more dying, no more tears, no more sickness, no more sorrow, no more sin, and no more night. God’s final design for the world will be like the original design in that death has no part, but it will be unlike the original design in that we will be changed and forever dwell with God in eternal bliss. The fall, our wretched sinful nature, the devil our tempter, and the tyrant king Death will forever be a distant memory that does nothing but cause us to sing praise to our Redeemer.