Death is the most appalling evil that can come upon man. It is the most heartless and horrible act which one man can inflict upon another, and it is the severest sentence which the law of a country can hand down to a criminal. Satan has said that a man will give all that he possesses for his life (see Job 2: 4), but the best doctors and the latest medicines can only delay the inevitable. Those who enjoy a fair share of the comforts of the present life, and to whom death seems far distant, may be found discussing the subject with a certain amount of calmness, but let its dread shadow fall across their own threshold, and you will find their tranquillity brought to an abrupt and speedy termination.
We seem never to become accustomed to its ravages. Familiarity with its silent footfall has not enabled us to hold its presence in contempt. It is today the same hideous invader of hearts and homes as it was at the outset of its reign on earth. The advances of science have not made it more tolerable, and the progress of civilisation has done nothing to diminish its horror. He who brings it upon his neighbour is branded as wicked, and he who invites it to his own embrace is held to be insane (or was at least until recently). To the appeal for mercy it is deaf and as to why it strikes it is dumb: it is oblivious to the unhappy and broken–hearted mourner. Death strikes out from impenetrable darkness, and is only known by the certainty of its aim, and the violence of its blow. It has no more respect for the king upon his throne than it has for the peasant in his shack, and it is equally dreaded by both. It is swifter than those who flee from it, and stronger than those who stand up to contend against it. It is the monarch of all evils.
In order to relieve it of its hideous and repulsive character, death has been designated by every name that the ingenuity of man can invent, from “a bend in the road” to “annihilation”. However, call it what you will, it is still the “king of terrors” (Job 18: 14). Why? Because it is the just conclusion of a life of rebellion against God: “the wages of sin [is] death” (Rom. 6: 23). Why should human life be so beset with sorrow, and why should the way out of it be so fenced with terror? Because “in iniquity was I brought forth, and in sin did my mother conceive me” (Ps. 51: 5).
Is death then, a foe which has never known defeat? Has it proved itself victorious in every engagement? Has no one risen up on behalf of man with enough power to grapple with this monster and to lay in ruins his apparently impregnable fortress? Has no one been able to track him to his lair, and heap destruction upon the head of the destroyer? Is there no one to deliver us from this ruthless enemy of mankind? Here the Scriptures come to our relief, and set before us the Son of God as our almighty deliverer. In grace He goes down into death to break its power. That He might be able to die He took on flesh and blood: “Since therefore the children partake of blood and flesh, he also, in like manner, took part in the same, that through death he might annul him who has the might of death, that is, the devil; and might set free all those who through fear of death through the whole of their life were subject to bondage” (Heb. 2: 14, 15). Again we are told: “For since by man [came] death, by man also resurrection of [those that are] dead” (1 Cor. 15. 21). It is impossible that such a person as the Son of God could be held by the cords of death. That Christ came into death is a matter of profane history; that He came out of it is not. If He was compelled to remain there then He was no stronger than any other of the human race. When Moses smote the waters of the Red Sea they became parted hither and thither, and their power was broken and when the man Christ Jesus smote the waters of death in His own death at the cross the power of death was broken. His resurrection is witness to this stupendous fact. Thus when the last trumpet shall sound, the dead in Christ will be raised incorruptible, and we who are alive shall be changed, and as “we have borne the image of the [one] made of dust” so “we shall bear also the image of the heavenly [one]” (1 Cor. 15: 49). Thanks be to God then, “who gives us the victory by our Lord Jesus Christ” (v 57)!