The Universal Sentence Of Death

June 2, 2002 / No. 3100

Dear radio friends,

Death is a universal reality. It is one which every member of the human race must face sooner or later. The rich and the poor, the old and the young, the healthy as well as the diseased must die. Science and medicine help promote quality and length of life, but death at last will strike. The worldling who cares not for God, but also the most godly must face the jaws of death.

Why? Why is there death? What really is death? And why is death so painful, so sorrowful? These and many other questions are often brushed aside till we or someone we love faces death. It is striking, on the other hand, that the Bible, the Word of God, addresses the subject of death so frequently. This is not surprising, of course, since the book of life is God’s revelation over against death.

We wish to begin our series by considering “The Universal Sentence of Death.” The Word of God in Romans 5:12 reads: “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.” This Word of God not only points to the reality of death, but also explains for us the reason why death has passed upon all men. At the same time, however, Romans 5 shows that the only hope of restoration from death unto life is in Jesus Christ and in His atonement.

We begin, then, “Preparing to Die Willingly” (that is the theme of our 12-part series) by considering the “Universal Sentence of Death.”

In order to prepare to die willingly, we must, first of all, face squarely, in the light of God’s holy Word, the reason for death. “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world,” we read here in Romans 5:12, “and death by sin.” The apostle Paul here states the real reason for the universal sentence of death. Let it be clear, without any shadow of doubt, the first reason for death is sin.

The text, no doubt, refers to the fall of man in the Garden of Eden as recorded in Genesis 3. Because Adam and Eve disobeyed God at the instigation of the devil and by their own willful rebellion, death came upon the human race. For God had clearly declared in Genesis 2:17, “In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die.

My dear friend, please remember this – the real cause of death is sin. If you think that sin is not the cause of death, but death is just natural, you will not be prepared to die. If you think sin is not the cause of death, but that disease and old age and accidents will bring forth your death someday, then I say to you, “Your death will truly be awful.”

You must know, first of all, the real reason for death. It is sin. The wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). Everywhere the Scriptures make plain that this is the reason for death. Ezekiel 18:4, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” That is the universal law of death. It is clearly declared in I Corinthians 15:56, “The sting of death is sin.” You must deal with this so that you can prepare to die. Death is only as real as sin is. In heaven, where there will be no more sin, death will also be no more – a glimpse of which we will surely catch when we consider Revelation 21:4 in this series.

But this Word of God, in Romans 5:12, points also to another reason for the universal sentence of death. I am referring to the last part of the verse, which says, “for that all have sinned.” How can that be? How can Adam’s sin be said to be sin committed by all? The answer is simple. Sin is never committed in isolation. Sin always affects others. When one part of the body is affected, for example, by cancer, the entire body suffers. When the president of a country declares war against another country, the citizens of that country are affected. So also when Adam sinned, the whole human race sinned; for Adam stood as the legal head. Adam stood not only as the first parent, together with Eve, but as the head of the entire human race. What he did, he did not only as an individual, but as a king, as a representative of all men. That is why the text says, “By one man sin entered into the world, … for that all have sinned.”

We live in a day and time when individual rights are emphasized over against corporate responsibility. While it is true, of course, that every man, woman, and child is responsible for his or her own sins and cannot blame anyone else for his or her own sins, yet it is equally true that one cannot sin without bringing consequences upon others. The iniquities of the fathers will be visited upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate God (Ex. 20:5).

Here we arrive at the third cause of death, really the ultimate reason why the human race must face death: God’s righteous judgment. The first, we said, was sin. The second, the corporate unity of the human race with Adam as its head. Now the third: death is, according to the Bible, the punishment of God. The text noted how such death passed upon all men. It is true that in the spiritual sense death also passed upon all men. Death entered the bloodstream of the human race as a disease. It passed on. Psalm 51:5, “I was shapen in iniquity; and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Every child is born a sinner. There is no human innocence, as Pelagius taught. You see, death is not only a condition, it is also the righteous judgment of God. It is God’s verdict against sin: In the day thou dost disobey Me, O man, thou shalt die. Adam and Eve did not fall to the ground and die. But death, the sentence of death, immediately passed on the human race.

Death is not only a condition,
it is also the righteous judgment of God.
When our text tells us that all have sinned, it does not mean that all will one day be born, then they will live, then they will die. No, it is in the past tense. “For that all have sinned.” That is why the sentence of death universally came upon all men. This means that in God’s sight every man, woman, and child, yes, even the unborn child, is a sinner worthy of death and under the condemnation of death. It is simply unbiblical to teach, as some do, that all children who die in infancy go to heaven. Death passed on all who are in the line of Adam, for that all have sinned. The truth is, only elect children, washed in the blood of Christ, the covenant seed, those whom God everlastingly has loved in Christ, go to heaven, for there is no other way to be saved.

I submit to you, it is crucial for the believer to understand this universal sentence of death. Failure to understand this leads to many false ideas about life in general and about death in particular. Then man refuses to see corporate responsibility in the home and in the church and in society. Then man walks selfishly, imagining that he is better than others, since he is not of the same stock. Then man closes his eyes to sin in the family and church and denomination and says, “I didn’t do it. It’s not my fault.”

But more importantly, failure to recognize this sentence of death upon all will also blind one to the holy gospel. You see, if you refuse to see Adam as the representative of the human race, how can you accept the fact that Jesus Christ, two thousand years ago, represented you, took your curse on the cross, and saved you from death? Many, in fact, have no idea of the true meaning of Christ’s atonement because they fail to understand this biblical truth of corporate unity and the headship of Adam in that when he sinned the whole human race fell in him. And now, in Christ, the atonement becomes the way for restoration from death unto life.

If you refuse to see Adam
as the representative of the human race,
how can you accept the fact that Jesus Christ,
two thousand years ago, represented you,
took your curse on the cross,
and saved you from death?
Allow me to show this point to you which the inspired apostle Paul is making here in Romans 5. In verses 10 and 11 he says, “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life. And not only so, but we also joy in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom we have now received the atonement.” The verses that follow our text make this clear, too. “For if by one man’s offence death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ” (v. 17). And again, in verse 19: “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” On and on this passage of Scripture makes that abundantly clear.

We want, briefly, to consider the reality of death which, of course, we will enlarge upon in the weeks to come.

First, we consider physical death which is for us, usually, the most fearful thing. All men must die. Yes, I mean that painful thing called in the Scriptures the last enemy. Hebrews 9:27 declares “it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.” We will deal with what is meant by “after this the judgment” in a moment. But here consider death itself. True, there have been exceptions noted in the Scriptures, like Enoch and Elijah. I submit to you, they were types of Christ. In general, every sinner must die, must physically take his or her last breath and leave this world. That fact uncovers the absurd teaching that Christ heals in the atonement so that we are delivered from disease and suffering. Physical suffering is not removed. Physical death is a reality. All must suffer and die. Dust thou art, and to dust thou shalt return. All must face the reality whether a worldling or a child of God.

I want you to know that I decided to preach this series when I faced the reality of the death of a dear friend. Facing the reality of death again through this dying friend, I read the Form of Consolation for the Sick which is found in the back of our Psalter (which the Protestant Reformed Churches use). There I found more than one hundred verses on the subject of death. Ecclesiastes 3:1, 2, “To everything there is a season; a time to be born, a time to die.” Psalm 90:10, “The days of our years,” the wise man writes, “are seventy years, maybe eighty. But they are all filled with sorrow and then soon cut off.” James 4:14, “What is life but a vapor which endures for a while and then vanishes away.” Of course we will not be able to deal with every passage in this series. But we hope to consider several.

The Lord willing, next time we will consider Christ’s parable of the rich fool, because that parable particularly shows how we need to prepare ourselves to die. The prophet Isaiah in chapter 40, and again the apostle Peter quoting from the prophet, declared this reality: “All flesh is as grass, all the glory of man as the flower of grass which must wither away and die.”

But we must also face the reality of death which is not only physical but is also spiritual. Fact is, physical death is only an outward, tangible sign and reminder of that more awful, spiritual death that we ought really to think about, to be conscious of, and to fear.

Although Adam did not fall dead to the ground, death immediately entered the bloodstream of man. Literally, the warning of God in Genesis 2 was “dying you shall die.” Adam and Eve may not have physically died, but the sentence of death passed upon them immediately. Immediately there was the guilt of sin. They hid from God. God announced that the ground was cursed, that they would now work under the sweat of their brow, and they will multiply in sorrow. Immediately man came under the wrath of God and faced the judgment of death.

Many do not want to hear and believe this clear teaching of the Bible. Many teach that God still has some kind of general grace or common grace by which He extended life to man. But I submit to you, death is the proof that there exists no such thing. That is why spiritually man is dead by nature. He is totally depraved. This is contrary to the foolish notion of human goodness, as if man still seeks after God.

The Bible tells us here in Romans 5:8, “God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” More than that, in verse 10 we read, “When we were enemies,” yes enemies! “God commended His love towards us.” This means that man is not only drowning and needs a life-line, but is dead and needs a new birth. This is the clear teaching of all of God’s Word. Ephesians 2:1, “And you hath he quickened who were dead in trespasses and sins.” And again in that passage we are reminded that we were dead in sins but God hath raised us up. This is the meaning of Jesus’ well-known declaration in John 3:7, “Ye must be born again.” Jesus did not mean, as Nicodemus thought, go physically again into mother’s womb and be born. Of course not. But He meant that you have to have a new life from above, a spiritual life, a rebirth, because man, by nature, is dead. He cannot hear. He cannot lift up his hands. He cannot ingest. All the shouting and all the persuasion cannot cause him to believe.

This means that man is not only drowning
and needs a life-line,
but is dead and needs a new birth.
This reality of spiritual death must be faced. And it can be removed only by regeneration, that highly celebrated doctrine of Scripture that salvation is wonderfully and mysteriously the gift of God. He speaks and then the dead rise again – even as Ezekiel in vision saw Israel with its dry bones in the valley, and God, by His Spirit, quickened them. Or as when Jesus called Lazarus, “Arise,” and Lazarus came forth. So also we, with the apostle Peter, confess, “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead” (I Pet. 1:3).

Yes, when one is delivered from spiritual death, one need not fear that third aspect of death so clearly taught in the Scriptures: eternal death. Scripture speaks, finally, of that other death. Not only physical and spiritual, but that eternal death of judgment in hell. The fearful, the unbelieving, will enter into that second death. Death and hell will be cast into the lake of fire. That is the second death (Rev. 21:8; 20:14). I know that, too, is not popular nowadays. But it has to be preached in this series. To be prepared to die willingly, one must know he has passed from that awful death. Not only physical death; not only spiritual death; but eternal death is reserved for all those who are not in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Beloved, unashamedly, we must acknowledge through this series that Jesus is the way, the truth, and the life, that no man can come to the Father but by Him. It is not the case that those who do not have Christ will be given a second chance. Immediately at death the sinner enters hell and then at the judgment day the bodies will be joined with the spirit to enter into that eternal death.

It is not the case
that those who do not have Christ
will be given a second chance.
On the other hand, those who are in Christ go to be with God immediately. Their bodies are in the grave, but they await the resurrection, and the second death can never touch them. They are passed from death unto life. These can live and die happily because these are prepared to die willingly.

Are you? Do you know and confess Jesus Christ who died on the cross, arose the third day, ascended to the Father’s right hand, and will return again one day on the clouds of glory? Do you know your death is not a curse but an abolishing of sin and a passage way unto eternal life? Yes, there is restoration from death unto life in Christ. That is why Romans 5:12begins that way: “Wherefore,” since this is true, this universal sentence of death, then consider the glorious truth of the gospel. In other words, the contemplation of sin, death, and judgment are the means by which we turn to the living God. They are not said to frighten and leave you in sin. They are not said to take away assurance so that you cringe at death. They are said to prepare you to die willingly. They are said so that by the grace and Spirit of God your heart may be opened to the holy gospel.

And what is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that God sent His Son, the last Adam, to represent His people by His death on the cross. By His atonement He took away death once and for all. Then you understand the argument of this entire passage of Romans 5. It begins with verse 1, “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” Christ died for the ungodly, for the death-worthy sinner. No, Paul does not mean Adam represented all men so that Christ atoned for the sins of all men head for head. If that were true, then all death is removed for all men and no more death and hell can come upon any individual. Rather, the truth is that Adam represented all natural men, but Christ represented all His spiritual body. And all for whom Christ died on the cross have passed from death unto life.

Those who know and believe the gospel are prepared to die, to die willingly and cheerfully. These confess, because the sting of death, that is sin, has been removed, the cause of death has been dealt with, now I am willing to die cheerfully. For I am no more His enemy, but His friend. And so I am ready to meet my blessed Creator. In Christ I have eternal life. And death itself is removed once and for all, so that eternal life, the gift of God, abides in me by the grace of almighty God.

Although all men must die, the Christian’s death is not punishment, but blessing. He has been delivered from spiritual death and, most definitely, from the second death. That is why Jesus says in John 11:26, “He who liveth and believeth in me shall never die. Believest thou this?”

Do you? Then you are passed from death unto life. And the sentence of death has forever been removed from you in Christ. Amen.

Father, as we face these issues of life and death in the light of Thy Word, the book of life, lead us by Thy Spirit into all truth that we might walk in the everlasting way, through Jesus Christ. Amen.