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    watercolor illustration of milkweed pods

    Death Is Swallowed Up in Victory

    Jesus came to abolish death. So we don't have to die and go somewhere else to experience eternal life.


    May 25, 2023

    This article is excerpted from Make Way for the Spirit.

    It has not been granted to us to see the details, but this much is obvious today: this conviction of the resurrection of all life, which was the basic premise for everything the apostles of Jesus Christ and the early churches talked about and did, was later abandoned. After Jerusalem was destroyed [in AD 70], the apostles’ testimony falls silent; we do not know whether they were still living or not. It was then that the believers’ burning expectation for the great goal of God’s kingdom began to cool. This apathy spread so far that, from that time on, the only fire or fervor we can detect is on behalf of the church. The church no longer regarded death as an enemy but rather as a friend. The church also no longer regarded the flesh in the form of human power and authority as an enemy but as a friend. Christians no longer longed to experience the kingdom of God on earth, but instead worked zealously to develop a Christian religion and thereby gain worldly power in order to compete with heathen religions. In the process, the goals God had revealed through the Holy Spirit were forgotten. Instead everyone rejoiced when they realized that the Christian religion now had the conquering sword of the world on its side.

    In the same way, this enemy – death – also sneaked into the inner circles of believers as a friend. The inner circles, as a quiet and peaceful people of Zion, should have been fighting against death at all times with the weapon of eternal life. In the beginning it may well have been in a good sense that believers welcomed death as a deliverer from all pain in the midst of persecution and temporal distress, but gradually this turned into disastrous stupidity. They did not realize how this posture more and more exiled the essential truth of Christ – the fact that he is risen from the dead. As though they were partially stupefied, the believers transformed the grave from a place where decay prevails to a sacred place. So now a believer lies in the grave and sleeps the sleep of death, and not many Christians have any inkling how much damage this attitude (which idolizes death as holy and splendid) has brought for God and his kingdom.

    Where Redemption Is Found

    Instead of looking to Christ, the one who rose from the dead (and to whose grave no one gave a second thought), people started to look to death [for redemption]. To be sure, when cruel death snatches a loved one away people cannot hold back their tears of grief in spite of all their Christian faith. To be sure, millions of people break into heart-wrenching wails when grim death drags old and young into darkness. But the strength to counter death with eternal life was spent. Gone was the impulse for life that could lead toward a wisdom which thwarts death as much as possible even in our normal physical life. On the one hand people don’t want to die, yet on the other hand they stagger toward death both figuratively and literally drunk. People who through their own fault have been sucked into the darkness of death comfort themselves with the idea that at the grave death will bring “redemption” to them.

    In light of this situation, in which most of the world bows to the inevitable (as they see it), it is all the more difficult to defend the kingdom of God and the resurrection of life. Another harmful idea that has become generally accepted is that a person will be saved and fully satisfied through death without resurrection. It has gotten so bad that you can hardly touch on this subject without arousing touchy and resentful feelings. People fight for death like they fight for their own lives because they think salvation (meaning the fulfillment of their desire for happiness) is linked to death. I am very sorry to say that I have lost many friends in far-reaching circles since I seriously researched and zealously witnessed to the fact that we are justified in holding on to Christ while we are on this earth – to a Christ who is not to be equated with death and who does not promise salvation in the darkness of death but in the abolition of death.

    watercolor illustration of milkweed pods

    Illustration by Christina Maendel.

    The Bible is full of this hope. Wherever God reveals himself, eternal life shines forth on earth: already in Paradise; then at the time of Noah, when God made a covenant with the earth; at the time of Abraham, when God made a covenant for the benefit of all nations; at the time of Moses, with whom God made a new covenant for a new land, where streams of blessing and life were to flow if the people would understand [and obey] the guidelines of truth; at the time of the prophets, in the midst of terrible misfortunes for God’s people, in the midst of sin’s anguish and death’s misery. Every figure who brought forth fruit for God on earth gave witness to the Creator’s power for life in the body and on earth. If we remove these forerunners of resurrection and of life from the testimony of scripture, and if we separate the apostles and prophets from the life-giving miracles of God Almighty (miracles that foreshadow the kingdom of God, in which there will be no death), then we might as well put the Holy Bible on a shelf with other books and ask ourselves if we still want to read it. This is what we have come to. Who looks for answers in the Bible anymore? Most people are content as long as the Bible serves to uphold the viewpoints and traditions that have been passed down to them – for which they subscribe to the most contrived interpretations. Beyond that, no one is interested in scripture. People are satisfied with a religion that promises help against sin, death, and the devil when they die, but meanwhile sin, death, and the devil are free to rule as they have since time immemorial, and no one cares. And because no one can figure out how to square this with what shines out from Christ, and from the prophets and the apostles, anything reported [in the Bible] about eternal life and its appearance on earth (any example of death being abolished in the kingdom of God) is either dismissed as a fable or subjected to contrived exegesis to pacify our consciences. We act just like someone once said, “We who have the church do not need the remarkable results that the spirit of God can bring about in our bodies and in our lives as recorded in scripture.”

    Without most people realizing it, the traditions of death have snuck into our human culture and have laid claim to us who are overcome by grief and despair.

    Yet the fire of the living God continues to burn in secret. Even though they are coated with the dust of death, there are secret supporters of life in Jesus who walk among us unnoticed and rejected. However, they have been solid in their testimony to life throughout the centuries. The thread of life and resurrection that proceeds from Christ, the risen one, had to go underground because it could not be connected to the masses in present-day Christianity. Still, this thread has come down to us. It did not get broken. Christ – he who is, and was, and is to come (Rev. 1:4, 8) – died in order to deliver God’s creation and the masses. In the masses, no one can find the strength anymore to believe in Christ’s great beginning of the new creation, let alone summon up the strength to actually join this new creation with body and soul. Nonetheless Jesus does live, and he does raise up his witnesses …

    There would have been no point in Christ entering into human history and human flesh if in the end we have to give up on account of an irrevocable “law of death” (Rom. 8:2). Now that Christ has risen from the dead, and the prospect of death being overcome is in view, do you really want to say that Genesis 2:17, “You shall surely die!” is an irrevocable law? That would annul the Word of life in creation! Granted, for anyone squeezing himself into a deadly existence – bound by darkness and his carnal flesh – this law holds true. But Christ is exalted far above the history of all flesh. Those who reject the flesh, both in themselves and in their surroundings (no matter what form the temptations take) will be lifted up into eternal life even here on earth. Here on earth is where the last battle will be fought for the abolition of the curse of death …

    The appearance of Jesus Christ, in and of itself, will not be enough to lift the blanket of death. We have to go hand in hand with Jesus by denying our flesh. This battle is not spared anyone who is looking forward to the abolition of death. It is remarkable, but the forces of death come to us looking like charming angels who wield the scepter over our whole being, body and soul. In this sense, maybe, those people are right who tip their hats to the “majesty of death,” while it hardly ever occurs to them to stand in awe of the justice and truth of the majesty of God.

    Without most people realizing it, the traditions of death have snuck into our human culture and have laid claim to us who are overcome by grief and despair. Then we cry out to God to save us. But we ourselves have opened wide every door in support of death. These charming, death-bringing customs infect our life at every rung, from the bottom to the top, from the physical life of the body to the mental activities of the soul. In the end even our spirit yields, giving up its defenses and letting itself be made into an advocate for inherently pernicious practices.

    Who looks for answers in the Bible anymore? Most people are content as long as the Bible serves to uphold the viewpoints and traditions that have been passed down to them.

    Death-bringing customs have crept into everything. This process starts with bad habits at the physical level, for example with the taste buds of people who eat and drink only what they like. It continues at the social level, where unreasonable demands are made on people so that they go to pieces before their natural time. It shows up in a mind-set that makes people chase after external happiness and freedom. This mind-set traps people by making them lust, body and soul, after the apparent necessities of a cultured life. Finally, this process ends with a confusing philosophy in which the more intellectual person winds up intoxicating himself in order to avoid feeling the realities of hardship. So we see that the traditions of death enter into everything and control our generation, whereas God should be the light of our lives.

    No one can start thinking about resurrection and life – and certainly no one can expect to see any fruits coming from Jesus Christ’s resurrection – if they have not learned to distinguish at each of these levels in human life what comes from God and what comes from death. For some people (and sadly this is the case for many) God and death have merged into one point. And because death predominates, the God of life gets lost from sight. In this situation anyone who talks about the abolition of death will be laughed at.

    But when death and God are seen to diverge and never to be united, then a light dawns on each stage of life. Beginning with the lowest level, the physical life, right up to the level of our highest spiritual impulses, this light divides between the claims of God and the demands of death, between the traditions of truth and righteousness (which are cradled in God’s eternal creation) and the contemptuous habits of the flesh (which emerge from below). A battle ensues between these two, and this battle immediately makes demands on our whole life. This is where self-denial comes in. We have to turn away not only from stark habitual sin but also from aspects of life that are generally considered fine. In this way we can discern what is true and what is false. Even when what is false masquerades as an angel (2 Cor. 11:14) we can recognize it and reject it.


    Of course, in this battle we will often be humiliated. We will have to ride out many a temporary standstill. We will often be misunderstood, and people will be annoyed at us. Things we all thought were good and holy will have to be smashed by the mighty blows of truth, since our physical sensations and our intellectual accomplishments are all entangled with sin. This is most likely the reason why the whole world would rather turn down what could be achieved through the resurrection of Christ. Instead, they merely hope to get out of this mess at death. But anyone fighting for God’s justice, his kingdom, and his life cannot accept this. They cannot settle for a faith that is dead since the works of God are not manifested in it (John 9:3–4, 14:12–14). The works of God cannot be given to a faith where there is no struggle – a faith that is merely the hope to be suddenly relocated to a happy life in heaven. Mind you, no one can even imagine what this happy life in heaven will be like until they have experienced a happy life [on earth] when body and soul are in harmony with God’s justice and truth.

    Therefore, we dare not wait only for the general abolition of death with the return of Jesus Christ. Rather, we are aware that we are called to join in the work for this salvation in fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12) and not grow weary in the race for this prize (1 Cor. 9:24). I earnestly dare to hope and ask God to restore the light that can finish off the deadly deception within us. I dare to look forward to the abolition of death in the hope that at the right moment we will be able to renounce whatever we recognize as leading to death. We dare this by preparing ourselves for any sacrifice and any change. I hope for God’s almighty working and for the victory of justice given in Christ. Christ will not abandon us to our folly. Rather he will give us the insight to recognize the perfect virtues of him who has called us into his wonderful light (1 Pet. 2:9).

    I dare to hope – but not for our own sakes. I look to Christ, the risen one, not because I want to shine in the eyes of others but for God’s sake, for creation’s sake. I turn my attention to this world – here, where the Creator said, let there be light in the darkness (Gen. 1:3) and where he created life; here, where he created man in the image of God, as son of the Most High, equipped with the breath of life and appointed to be God’s representative for all living creatures (Gen. 1:26–28, 2:7, 2:15); here, where the Sabbath-rest for all living creatures beckons to us (Heb. 4:1, 9). As the indwelling of God in all forms of life that came from him, this [final] Sabbath beckons to us as the crowning of creation. Here on earth, where the Almighty works and moves, exulted above the unfolding of our sinful human race, we also see Jesus, the crucified and risen one. For the sake of God and his creation, we dare to put a spoke in the wheel of death’s advance. We dare to raise our heads to honor God in his creation. This will give us the strength to persevere beyond the end of this world age – in which it almost seems as though the rattle of death were the signature of the living one. Zeal for God’s honor, for justice, and for the life of God will equip us to carry on in this struggle in which our goal is the abolition of death.

    Contributed By ChristophFriedrichBlumhardt2 Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt

    A German pastor and religious socialist, Christoph Friedrich Blumhardt influenced theologians such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Eberhard Arnold, Emil Brunner, Oscar Cullman, and Karl Barth.

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