As we experience the news these days, it seems like we are the generation that has death stalking us. Apart from the soon return of Christ, we will all pass through death, so the fact that we die is not extraordinary. What seems extraordinary is the way death surrounds us in increasingly unexpected ways. In the past week we have witnessed a raging gunman in Texas taking lives with seeming randomness. We have seen a raging fire on a diving excursion kill the 34 below deck in berths that became fiery tombs. We have seen a raging hurricane in the Bahamas all but obliterate buildings with a death toll that seems certain to rise into the hundreds. These events make us realize there are no safe places and no ways to protect ourselves or our loved ones from death that seems to be stalking us.
The Lord Jesus and the Bible warned us it would be like this in the times immediately before the Lord Jesus takes His church home, beginning the seven years of the Great Tribulation. Jesus said that the time between His first and second comings will be marked by wars, diseases, famines, and earthquakes and other natural disasters. However, He said that it will be like birth pangs; the closer to the end, the more rapid and severe the labor pains. He said in Matthew 24:8, “All these are but the beginning of birth pangs.” The Lord Jesus specifically mentioned nations perplexed at the roaring and tossing of the sea and a feeling of distress and helplessness over our powerlessness to change it. Certainly we experienced this the past week with hurricane Dorian.
As Christians living in this season of history, the Lord Jesus wants us to live in His peace. As we consider the reality of death, we realize in the Bible there is an enormous difference between dying and perishing. Christians pass through death into the presence of the Lord Jesus, while those without Christ perish, held in torment in Hades awaiting the final Day of Judgment and eternity in torment separated from God.
The Lord Jesus drew the distinction between dying and perishing in a teaching in Luke 13:1-5. The teaching came from the news that some people from Galilee had been killed by Pilate as he offered their blood in pagan worship. In another recent event, 18 people had been killed by a tower of Siloam falling on them in Jerusalem. It is here that the Lord Jesus drew the distinction between dying and perishing. Here is the account:
There were some present at that very time who told him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And he answered them, “Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans, because they suffered in this way? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them: do you think that they were worse offenders than all the others who lived in Jerusalem? No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5
Why did Jesus use the word perish? Perish means to be destroyed. Jesus didn’t use it to mean the ending of existence. He used it to describe being forever separated from God and assigned a place of eternal judgment. He put it this way in Matthew 10:28, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell.”
The Lord Jesus left no question of eternal torment as He said in Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The Lord
Jesus stated there is an equivalence of eternity both for judgment and for eternal life with God and the Lord Jesus.
What does the Lord Jesus mean when He calls us to repent? To repent is a total turning of direction in life. It is turning from sin and a self directed life to trusting in the Lord Jesus for the forgiveness of sin and following Him as the Lord of life. It is the promise of John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” Notice the promise of Jesus that those who believe in Him will not perish. The word I love in this verse is the word “whoever” because I know I can put my name in that truth. I am one who is fully trusting in the Lord Jesus for salvation and seeking to follow Him, however imperfectly, as the Lord of my life. How important it is for you to make sure you are fully trusting Jesus for salvation and following Him in loving worship, trust, and obedience as the Lord of your life.
Thus a Christian does not fear death though it seems to be stalking this generation. A Christian is confident that nothing, including death, will separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39). A Christian is confident that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord (2 Corinthians 5:6-7). A Christian is confident that death is not random for a Christian, but that all our days are already measured out by God (Psalm 139:16). A Christian is confident in the face of death because we know He will not leave our side, and His grace is always enough (2 Corinthians 12:9).
It is the reality of people perishing if they don’t have faith in Christ that compels a Christian to go into all the world and proclaim the Good News of the Gospel to all who will listen. It is why Christians today in many places go to share the Gospel even at risk of imprisonment or death. The real tragedy is not that people die from gunmen or fires or storms, but that people die without the Lord Jesus, heading into eternal judgment. The Lord Jesus wants us to understand this because the reality of death stalking us as a generation would lead to fear if we didn’t have confidence that our lives are safe in Jesus. The Lord Jesus wants us to know so that we will with urgency proclaim the Gospel to all we can while still there is time. We can live with fearless abandon to the cause of Christ because our future is secure, and yet we know that God is not willing that any perish, and that He wills that all people groups and nations will have a chance to hear and respond to the Gospel (Matthew 24:14, 2 Peter 3:9).