By Elton Higgs
Hebrews 2:14 states that Jesus “through death [destroyed] the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” thereby turning the Enemy’s chief weapon against himself and delivering from spiritual bondage “all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery” (v. 15). In the context of the passage, this is the climax of Jesus being “made like his brothers in every respect,” including experiencing the fear of death. But Jesus’ fear of death was significantly different from the terror of death experienced by every other human being, for He alone of all mankind knew the full measure of not just physical death, but spiritual death as well. The reason that Jesus sweated blood in the anguish preceding His crucifixion was not, I think, just His anticipation of the excruciating physical pain that attended that mode of execution, but His knowing that he would experience the spiritual death that was the penalty assessed for sin, that is, complete separation from God. By enduring that penalty in His innocence, as a voluntary sacrifice, He wrenched away from Satan his control of death, so that the Adversary could no longer threaten mankind with it, and thenceforth only through deceit could he make people believe that he was still master of death. How wonderfully ironic that what Satan intended as defeat for the mission of the incarnate Son of God should become instead the very instrument by which death was overcome.
How then is this delivery from the fear of death to become effective in our lives as disciples of Christ? Of course we have the sure hope of our bodily resurrection to eternal life, but we live out a life of bodily decay before we reach the threshold of that life, and in that process we are subject to the fleshly desires that the Adversary takes advantage of: he induces inordinate concern with our mortal bodies, which leads back to the fear of death. Here again is an irony: the more we hold on to maintaining life as we know it now (seeking to avoid facing physical death), the weaker becomes our ability to appreciate and be comforted by the deliverance from death that Christ accomplished for us. In order to profit from Christ’s redemptive death, we must embrace not only His death, but our own physical death as wrapped up within it. And thus, embracing the cessation of our present physical existence is the only avenue to experiencing the life that never ceases. As Jesus Himself said, “…unless a grain of wheat falls into the earth and dies, it remains alone; but if it dies, it bears much fruit. Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life” (John 12:23-25).
Here are the facts: Through the unique death of His Son, God has banished death as the inevitable penalty for sin. The death of our mortal flesh, rightly regarded, has become an avenue to eternal life, rather than (literally) a dead-end street. The Devil, the Death Enforcer, has been routed. Against these divine facts, he now has only lies to use against us. Kyrie eleison! Christe eleison!
Image: “Bonnat01” by Léon Bonnat – http://www.histoire-image.com/site/oeuvre/analyse.php?liste_analyse=299. Licensed under Public Domain via Commons – https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Bonnat01.jpg#/media/File:Bonnat01.jpg