“The last enemy to be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:26 ESV)
Death was born in a garden.
The offspring of Satan and the hubris of humanity.
It came as an unstoppable invading force indiscriminately laying waste to all that stood in its path (Ecclesiastes 9:1-3a).
The world God made was free from the tyranny of death. It was a world in which humanity would live in continuous joyful community with God and one another, world without end.
To perpetuate this ongoing life of joy all that was required of Adam and Eve in their garden paradise was trust and obedience:
“And the Lord God commanded the man, saying, “You may surely eat of every tree of the garden, but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”” (Genesis 2:16-17 ESV)
God asked them to trust him. He wanted Adam and Eve to trust him just because. So he gave them an opportunity to express their love and gratitude for all he had graciously done for them by obeying what likely seemed a light and arbitrary rule. One which would not even be difficult to obey because God had generously provided them with so many other fruit trees from which to feast.
When they were tempted by Satan to eat of the forbidden tree Adam and Eve broke faith with God and in disobedience ate from the tree of which they were told, “in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.”
Immediately the life of joyful community, with one another and with God, died.
In shame they covered themselves up, in effect hiding themselves from each other, and, in a laughable attempt, tried to hide themselves from God himself behind the very trees God had made (Genesis 3:6-8).
Because they had broken faith and disobeyed him God exiled them from their once garden home to the wilds of the yet untamed land east of Eden. To save them from further self-harm he placed a guardian with a fiery sword to stop Adam and Eve from eating of the tree of life lest they live in a perpetual state of death (Genesis 3:22-24).
They were cut off from God. Their relationship with one another was deeply fractured. And creation itself was cursed because of them; subject to futility and corruption, groaning as in the pains of childbirth (Genesis 3:17-19; Romans 8:19-22).
The effects of death were far reaching and the man and his wife had yet to taste the worst of its bitter dregs. They had yet to feel it’s full sting.
As the seasons came and went, and years passed, the man and his wife, by the grace of God, rebuilt what was broken. They began, once again, to trust God and one another. With toilsome effort and an abundance of sweat they made a living cultivating the cursed ground from which they came. And then, into a world inherently pervaded by death, new life was born.
“Now Adam knew Eve his wife, and she conceived and bore Cain, saying, “I have gotten a man with the help of the Lord.” And again, she bore his brother Abel.” (Genesis 4:1-2a ESV)
God blessed them with two sons. One to work the ground and the other to tend their flocks (Genesis 4:2b).
“In the course of time Cain brought to the Lord an offering of the fruit of the ground, and Abel also brought of the firstborn of his flock and of their fat portions. And the Lord had regard for Abel and his offering, but for Cain and his offering he had no regard. So Cain was very angry, and his face fell.” (Genesis 4:3-5 ESV)
Seeing Cain’s anger God asks, “Why are you angry? Beware of the sin lurking in your heart or it will devour you.”
Turning a deaf ear to God’s warning Cain, consumed by his sinful anger and jealous, turns a closed fist upon his innocent brother, Abel, whose spilt blood called out to God for vindication (Genesis 4:6-10).
In a heated moment the sting of death was felt, signifying the end of a life, and not for the last time.
The reign of death was only beginning.
The world was soon plunged into the darkness of savage bloodlust and the earth irrevocably dyed a deep violent red.
It’s rule over humanity uncontested, for,
“just as sin came into the world through one man, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all sinned… because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man… [and] led to condemnation for all men,” (Romans 5:12, 17, 18 ESV)
Death reigned because there was none for whom death was not the end.
But God had a plan to save us from our dreadful fate, a plan in which death was not the last thing:
“The gospel is the announcement that in one person’s history death is no longer the eschaton, but was only the second to last thing. It has now become past history. Death lies behind Jesus, qualifying him to lead the procession from death unto new life. Since death is what separates persons from God in the end, only that power which transcends death can liberate humans for eternal life with God. This is the meaning of salvation in the biblical Christian sense. It is eschatological salvation, because the God who raised Jesus from the dead has overcome death as the final eschaton of life.”
Carl E. Braaten
For Jesus death was not the end, instead, he is the end for death; that is, in his death he has put an end to death.
Likewise, in Christ death is no longer our end, as Braaten concludes,
“Our final salvation lies in the eschatological future when our own death will be put behind us. This does not mean that there is no salvation in the present, no realised aspect of salvation. It means that the salvation we enjoy now is like borrowing from the future, living now as though our future could already be practiced in the present, because of our union with the risen Christ through faith and hope.”
Through his death Jesus has brought about the death of death, for,
“God raised him up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it… that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil… our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel… saying, ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one. I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of Death and Hades'” (Acts 2:24; Hebrews 2:14; 2 Timothy 1:10; Revelation 1:17-18 ESV)
And in the end when he returns triumphant, victorious to make all things new, “Then Death and Hades [will be] thrown into the lake of fire… and death shall be no more.” (Revelation 20:14, 21:4 ESV)
Quotes from Carl E. Braaten, “Who Do We Say That He Is? On the Uniqueness and Universality of Jesus Christ,” Missiology 8 (1980): 25-27