The Biblical View of Death: Death and the Believer

Yeshua the Messiah conquered death.[1] Hebrews 2:9 states that Jesus tasted of death for every man, then in verses 14‑15, that He passed through death (= victory over death, see Rev 1:18) into resurrection-life. By doing so, He was able to conquer death after tasting death for every man. This means that Satan is no longer the lord of death for the believer. Prior to the death Jesus, Satan was lord of death for all (e.g. Job 1-2), believers and unbelievers alike. But when Yeshua passed through death and gained victory over death, He took away the keys of death from Satan. However, Satan is still the lord of death in cases of unbelievers, but not for believers (Gal. 1:4; Col. 1:13).

The Messiah Causes Death for the Believer

Rather, Yeshua the Messiah causes death as far as believers are concerned. The main passage for this truth is 1Thessalonians 4:14. The Greek text literally reads, “The believer has fallen asleep through Jesus.” The key word is “through.” Again, when the Bible uses the term “sleep” in relationship to death, it is not teaching soul-sleeping but physical-sleeping, in that it is the physical body that sleeps during death, not the immaterial part of man, the soul-spirit. Furthermore, whenever the Bible uses the term “sleep” in relationship to death, it only uses it to speak of believers, never of unbelievers (Mat. 27:52; Jn. 11:11‑14; Acts 7:60; 13:36; 1 Cor. 15:6, 18, 20, 51; 1 Thes. 4:13‑14; 2 Pet. 3:4). Then he states: fallen asleep [through] Jesus. What this means is that Yeshua the Messiah causes death for a believer. When a believer dies, it is the Messiah who has put him to sleep as a means of bringing that person home to be with Him.

As mentioned, Satan does not have the power of death over believers, but there is one exception to this. Believers who have undergone church discipline and have failed to respond to the four stages of Matthew 18:15‑20 are therefore excommunicated. This means that the believer is placed back under the authority of Satan as far as his physical life is concerned. Satan then has the power to destroy the flesh, the physical part of him; but the same passage teaches that Satan cannot destroy his spiritual life. That person is still saved (1 Cor. 5:4‑5). This is the sin unto death of 1 John 5:16‑17.

The Messiah Consecrated Death for the Believer

Yeshua the Messiah also consecrated death. For the believer, the Messiah has changed the whole content of death. While death is a product of the Fall and not a blessing (1 Cor. 15:26), the believer does go into the very presence of God at the moment of death (2 Cor. 5:8; Phil. 1:23). While the believer’s body goes to sleep, his soul goes immediately into God’s presence. So there is no need for a believer to fear. The proper attitude the believer should have regarding death is brought out in the Scriptures (e.g. Psalm 116:15; 2 Cor 5:1, 5:6-8; Phil 1:21-23; 2 Tim 4:6-8). There is a place for weeping for the loss of a loved one, as Jesus wept over the death of Lazarus in John 11:35, but not the type of sorrow that expresses hopelessness or despair.

Suicide

What about believers who commit suicide? It has already been pointed out that Yeshua puts most believers to death, and Satan can put excommunicated believers to death. If suicide has occurred in the case of an excommunicated believer, it can be deduced that Satan was the cause of that death. But what about believers who have not been excommunicated who commit suicide? The Bible is totally silent on the theological implications of suicide. However, from the context of the biblical record of those who committed suicide, two things can be known: first, those who do commit suicide are out of fellowship with the Lord; and secondly, suicide is always out of the will of God.

However, believers are capable of any and every sin when they are out of fellowship with the Lord, and one of these sins which they are capable of performing is the sin of suicide. Having said this, what is the spiritual status of the believer guilty of suicide? Because of the silence of Scripture, we do not know all that we would like to know about this particular subject. But there are certain things that can be surmised.

Suicide is Not the Unpardonable Sin

First, and very importantly, suicide is not the unpardonable sin. The concept of suicide being the unpardonable sin actually originated with Roman Catholicism, which teaches that suicide is one of the seven deadly sins for which there can be no salvation. Unfortunately, many evangelical believers have been stuck with this same concept in mind. As a result, they view suicide as an unpardonable sin and, therefore, feel that a believer goes to Hell if he or she commits suicide. But remember, if eternal security is true for other believers, and the Bible teaches that this is so, it is also true for the believer who has committed suicide. The salvation of the person who has committed suicide is assured, and the believer who has committed suicide is in the presence of the Lord.

Does Not Effect God’s Word

A second thing that can be known about the believer who is guilty of suicide is that Romans 8:28 is still in effect: [to those who love God] all things work together for good, [to those who] are called according to his purpose. Just how things work out for the good of someone committing suicide may not be known in this life; but it will be understood in eternity.

God Allows It to Happen

A third thing that can be realized about suicide is that God does allow suicide sometimes. God has been known to stop others, yet He chooses not to stop it in the case of believers who successfully commit suicide. This, too, may not be understood in this life, but it will be in eternity.

There Will Be No Condemnation

The last thing that can be known about the believer who is guilty of suicide is that, even for him, Romans 8:1‑2 still stands: there is now no condemnation; there will be no condemnation for him at the Judgment-Seat of the Messiah, because he was forgiven of all of his sins when he believed on the Messiah. There will certainly be a loss of rewards, but no condemnation.

In the next installment of this study, we shall look at death and the eternal state of people, both believers and unbelievers.

[1] This post is a modified version of Dr. Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s original Messianic Bible Study. The full version may be obtained here.