The Spiritual Man, CFP, Vol. 3, Part 10 THE BODY, Ch. 4, by Watchman Nee
THE EXPERIENCE OF OVERCOMING death is not unusual among saints. By the blood of the lamb the Israelites were protected from the hand of the death angel who slew the first-born of Egypt. In the name of the Lord David was saved from the paws of the lion and the bear and also from the hand of Goliath. By casting some meal into the pot Elisha drove death out of it (2 Kings 4.38-41). Shadrach, Meshech and Abednego suffered no harm in the fiery furnace (Dan. 3.16-27). Daniel witnessed God shutting the mouths of the lions when he was thrown into their den. Paul shook off a deadly viper into the fire and experienced no harm (Acts 28.3-5). Enoch and Elijah both were raptured to heaven without tasting death—perfect examples of death being overcome.
It is God’s aim to bring His children through the experience of overcoming death now. To triumph over sin, self, the world, and Satan is necessary; but victory is not complete without a corresponding triumph over death. If we wish to enjoy a complete victory we must destroy this last enemy (1 Cor. 15.26). We will leave one foe unconquered if we fail to experience the triumph over death.
There is death in nature, death in us, and death from Satan. The earth lies under a curse; it is therefore ruled by that curse. If we desire to live victoriously on this earth, we will have to ovecome the death which is in the world. Death is in our body. On the day we are born it begins to work in us; or which of us from that day onward does not commence traveling towards the tomb? Do not view death merely as a “crisis”; it is pre-eminently a progressive matter. It is already in us and is gradually and relentlessly devouring us. Our release from this earthly tent is but the crisic consummation of the protracted working of death. It can strike at our spirit, depriving it of life and power; it can strike at our soul, crippling its feeling, thought and will; or it can strike at our body, rendering it weak and sick.
In reading Romans 5 we find that “death reigned” (v.17). Death not only exists, it also reigns. It reigns in the spirit, in the soul, in the body. Although our body is still alive, death already is reigning in it. Its influence has not yet reached its zenith, but it is reigning nonetheless and pushing its frontiers so as to engulf the whole body. Various symptoms which we discover in our body demonstrate how much its power is upon us. And these lead people to that ultimate demise—physical death.
While there is the reign of death, there is also the reign of life (Rom. 5.17). The Apostle Paul assures us that all who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness “reign in life,” a force which far exceeds the operative power of death. But Christians today have been so occupied with the problem of sin that the problem of death has virtually been forgotten. Important as the overcoming of sin is, the overcoming of death—a related problem—should not be neglected. We know Romans Chapters 5 to 8 deal very distinctly with the matter of overcoming sin, but it gives equal attention to the question of death: “the wages of sin is death” (6.23). Paul deals with the consequence of sin as well as with sin itself. He not only contrasts righteousness and trespasses but also compares life and death. Many Christians stress overcoming the various manifestations of sin in their character and daily life, yet they fail to emphasize how to overcome the result of sin, namely, death. The Apostle, however, is used by God in these few chapters to discuss not so much sin’s manifestations in daily life as sin’s consequence which is death.
We must see clearly the relationship between these two elements. Christ died to save us not only from our sins but from death as well. God is now calling us to subdue both these phenomena. As sinners we were dead in sins, for sin and death reigned over us; but the Lord Jesus in His death for us has swallowed up our sin and death. Death at first reigned in our body, but being identified with His death we have died to sin and been made alive to God (6.11). Because of our union with Christ “death no longer has dominion over him (us)” nor can it bind us anymore (6.9,11). The salvation of Christ replaces sin with righteousness and death with life. Since the main objective of the Apostle in this portion of Scripture is to deal with sin and death, our acceptance cannot be complete if we absorb only half the theme. Paul describes the full salvation of the Lord Jesus in these terms: “the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death” (8.2). Granted we have a great amount of experience in overcoming sin, yet how much have we experienced the overcoming of death?
Having received the uncreated life of God in our spirit, we who have believed in the Lord and are regenerated undeniably have as a result some experience in triumphing over death, but must our experience be limited to just this little measure? How much can life overcome death? Unequivocally most of the Lord’s saints have not enjoyed the full extent of this particular experience which God has provided for them. Must we not confess that death works more potently in our body than does life? We ought to be as attentive to sin and death as is God. We must overcome death as well as sin.
Since Christ has conquered death, believers need not die though they may yet die. It is the same as the fact that Christ condemned sin in the flesh so that believers need not sin any more even though they may yet sin. If a Christian’s goal is not to sin then not to die should likewise be his goal. As his relationship with sin is regulated by the death and resurrection of Christ, so must his connection with death be regulated by them. In Christ the Christian has conquered completely both sin and death. Hence God now calls him to triumph over these two experientially. We usually assume that since Christ has conquered death for us we need not pay any further attention to it. How can we then exhibit the victory of the Lord experimentally?
To be sure, there is no basis for our victory apart from that of Calvary; yet to not claim what Calvary has accomplished for us is certainly not the way to victory. We do not conquer sin by being passive, neither can we conquer death by disregarding it. God desires us to be serious about overcoming death; that is, through the death of Christ we actually must overcome the power of death in our body. We heretofore have subdued many temptations and also the flesh, the world, and Satan; now we must rise up to defeat the power of the last enemy.
If we determine to resist death in the same way we have resisted sin, our attitude towards the former will be changed completely. Mankind is marching towards the tomb, and because death is the common lot of the entire fallen race, we naturally tend to adopt a submissive attitude. We have not learned to rise against it. Despite our knowledge of the soon return of our Lord and the hope of not passing through the grave but being raptured to heaven, most of us still prepare to wait out death. When the righteousness of God works in us we abhor sin; but we have not allowed God’s life to so work in us that we equally begin to hate death.
To overcome death believers must alter their attitude from one of submission to one of resistance towards it. Unless we cast off our passive approach we will not be able to overthrow death but will be mocked by it instead and finally come to an untimely end. Numerous saints today misapprehend passivity for faith. They reason that they have committed everything to God. If they ought not to die, He verily shall save them from it: if they ought to die, then He doubtless shall allow them to die: let the will of God be done. Such a saying sounds right, but is this faith? Not at all. It is simply a lazy passivity. When we do not know God’s will, it is fitting for us to pray: “not my will, but thine, be done” (Luke 22.42). This does not mean we need not pray specifically, letting our requests be made known to God. We should not submit passively to death, for God instructs us to work together actively with His will. Except we definitely know God wants us to die, we must not passively permit death to oppress us. Rather, we must actively cooperate with God’s will to resist it.
Why should we adopt such an attitude as this? The Bible treats death as our enemy (1 Cor. 15.26). Consequently, we must resolve to oppose it and subdue it. Since the Lord Jesus has faced and overcome death on earth for us, He wants us personally to conquer it in this life. We should not petition God to grant us strength to put up with the power of death; we should petition instead for might to overthrow its power.
As death has come from sin, so our victory over death has come from the work of the Lord Jesus Who died for us and saved us from sin. His redemptive work is closely related to death—“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same nature, that through death he might destroy him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb. 2.14-15). The cross is the basis for victory over its power.
Satan has this power, which power he derives from sin: “as sin came into the world through one man and death through sin, and so death spread to all men because all men sinned” (Rom. 5.12). But the Lord Jesus invaded the domain of death and through His redemptive act removed its sting which is sin, thus disarming Satan of his power. By Christ’s death, sin lost its potency, and so death was deprived of its power too. Through the crucifixion of Christ we henceforth shall overthrow the power of death and lift its siege around us by claiming the victory of Calvary.
Three different ways are open for Christians to overcome death: (1) by trusting we will not die until our work is finished; (2) by having no fear of death even should it come because we know its sting has been removed; and (3) by believing we will be delivered completely from death since we shall be raptured at the Lord’s return. Let us ponder these one by one.
Death after our Work is Finished
Unless a Christian plainly knows his work is finished and he no longer is required by the Lord to remain, he should by all means resist death. If the symptoms of death have been seen already in his body before his work is done, he positively should resist it and its symptoms. He should believe that the Lord will undertake in what he has resisted, for He has work for him yet to do. Hence before our appointed task is discharged we can trust in the Lord restfully even in the face of dangerous physical signs. In cooperating with the Lord and resisting death we will soon see Him work towards the swallowing up of it by His life.
Notice how the Lord Jesus resisted the jaws of death. When people tried to push Him down a cliff He passed through the midst of them and went His way (Luke 4.29-30). On one occasion “Jesus went about in Galilee; (but) he would not go about in Judea, because the Jews sought to kill him” (John 7.1). On another occasion the Jews “took up stones to throw at him; but Jesus hid himself, and went out of the temple” (John 8.59). Why did He thrice resist mortality? Because His time had not yet come. He knew there was an appointed hour for the Messiah to be cut off; He could not die in advance of God’s appointed moment nor could He die at any other place than at Golgotha. We too must not die before our time.
The Apostle Paul likewise had the experience of resisting death. The powers of darkness pressed for his premature departure; yet he overcame them in each instance. Once when he was imprisoned with death as the possible outcome, he confessed as follows:
If it is to be life in the flesh, that means fruitful labor for me. Yet which I shall choose I cannot tell. I am hard pressed between the two. My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better. But to remain in the flesh is more necessary on your account. Convinced of this, I know that I shall remain and continue with you all, for your progress and joy in the faith. (Phil. 1.22-25)
Paul was not afraid to die, nevertheless before the work was done he knew by faith in God he would not die. This was his victory over death. And towards the end, when he said “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith,” he also knew that “the time of (his) departure (had) come” (2 Tim. 4.7,6). Before our race is fully run we must not die.
Peter knew the time of his departure too: “I know that the putting off of my body will be soon, as our Lord Jesus Christ showed me” (2 Peter 1.14). To concede—by a sizing up of our environment, physical condition, and feeling—that our time has come is an error on our part; we instead need to possess definite indications from the Lord. As we live for Him, so must we die for Him. Any call for departure which does not come from the Lord ought to be opposed.
In reading the Old Testament we find that all the patriarchs died “full of years.” What is meant by this phrase? It means they totally lived out the days appointed them by God. God has apportioned each of us a particular age (John 21). If we do not live to that age we have not conquered death. How are we to know the span appointed us? The Bible offers a general yardstick—“the years of our life are threescore and ten, or even by reason of strength fourscore (Ps. 90.10). Now we are not suggesting that everybody must live to be at least seventy, for we cannot encroach on God’s sovereignty like that; but in case we receive no registration of a shorter period, let us accept this number as standard and repulse any earlier departure. By standing on the Word of God we will see victory.
No Fear in Death
In speaking of overcoming death we do not mean to imply that our body shall never die. Though we believe “we shall not all sleep” (1 Cor. 15.51), yet to say that we will not die is superstitious. Since the Bible suggests the common span of life as seventy years of age, we can expect to live that long if we have faith. But we cannot hope to live forever because the Lord Jesus is our life. We know God frequently has His exceptions. Some die before the age of seventy. Our faith can only ask God that we do not leave before our task is finished. Whether our life be long or short, we cannot perish like sinners before half our appointed days are over. Our years should be sufficient enough to accomplish our life work. Then when the end does come we can depart peacefully with the grace of God upon us, as naturally as the falling of a fully ripened melon. The book of job describes such a departure in this manner: “You shall come to your grave in ripe old age, as a shock of grain comes up to the threshing floor in its season” (5.26).
Overcoming death does not necessarily mean no grave, for God may wish some to overcome it through resurrection just as our Lord Jesus did. In passing through death believers, like their Lord, need have no fear of it. If we seek to overcome the jaws of death because we are afraid or unwilling to die, we already are defeated. It may be that the Lord will save us from death altogether by rapturing us alive to heaven; we nonetheless should not ask for His speedy return out of a fear of mortality. Such apprehensiveness shows we are defeated already by death. Let us come to see that even should we go to the grave we are merely walking from one room to another room. There is no justification for unbearable inward pain, fear and trembling.
We originally were “those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage” (Heb. 2.15). The Lord Jesus, however, has set us free and therefore we fear it no more. Its pain, darkness and loneliness cannot frighten us. An Apostle who had experienced victory over death testified that “to die is gain. . . . My desire is to depart and be with Christ, for that is far better” (Phil. 1.21,23). Not a wrinkle of fear could be detected there. The victory over death was actual and complete.
We know that at the return of the Lord Jesus many will be raptured alive. This is the last way of overcoming death. Both 1 Corinthians 15.51-52 and 1 Thessalonians 4.14-17 discuss this way. We realize there is no set date for the Lord’s coming. He could have come at any time during the past twenty centuries. Hence believers always could cherish the hope of being raptured without passing through the grave. Since the coming of the Lord Jesus is currently much nearer than before, our hope of being raptured alive is greater than that of our predecessors. We do not wish to say too much, but these few words we can safely affirm; namely, should the Lord Jesus come in our time, would we not want to be living so as to be raptured alive? If so, then we must overcome death, not letting ourselves die before our appointed hour so that we may be raptured alive. According to the prophecy of Scripture, some believers shall be raptured without going through death. To be thus raptured constitutes one more kind of victory over death. As long as we remain alive on earth we cannot deny we may be the ones to be so raptured. Should we not therefore be prepared to overcome death completely?
Perhaps we will die; nonetheless, we are not necessarily under any obligation so to do. The words the Lord Jesus variously proclaimed make this teaching crystal clear. On the one hand our Lord asserted: “he who eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6.54). On the other hand, yet on the same occasion, Jesus also affirmed this: “This is the bread which came down from heaven, not such as the fathers ate and died; he who eats this bread will live for ever” (v.58). What the Lord is saying is that among those who believe in Him, some will die and be raised up while others will not pass through death at all.
The Lord Jesus expressed this view at the death of Lazarus: “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and whoever lives and believes in me shall never die” (John 11.25-26). Here the Lord is not only the resurrection but also the life. However, most of us believe Him as the resurrection, yet forget that He also is the life. We readily admit He will raise us up after we die, but do we equally acknowledge that He, because He is our life, is able to keep us alive? The Lord Jesus explains to us His two kinds of work, yet we only believe in one. Believers throughout these twenty centuries shall have experienced the Lord’s word that “he who believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live”; certain others shall enjoy in the future His other word that “whoever lives and believes in me shall never die.” Thousands and thousands of believers already have departed in faith; but God says some shall never die—not some shall never be raised again, but, some shall never die. Consequently we have no reason to insist that we first must die and subsequently be resurrected. Since the coming of the Lord Jesus is nigh, why should we die beforehand and wait for resurrection? Why not expect the Lord to come and rapture us that we may be delivered totally from the power of death?
The Lord indicates He will be resurrection to many but also life to some. Marvelous though it is to be raised from the dead, as was the experience of Lazarus, this by no means exhausts the way of victory over death. The Lord has another method: “never die.” We are appointed to walk through the valley of the shadow of death; on the other hand God has erected a floating bridge for us that we might go directly to heaven. This floating bridge is rapture.
The time of rapture is drawing near. If anyone desires to be raptured alive he here and now must learn how to overcome death. Before rapture, the last enemy must be overcome. On the cross the Lord Jesus entirely overcame that enemy; today God wants His church to experience this victory of Christ. We all sense we are living in the end time. The Holy Spirit is presently leading us to wage the last battle with death before the rapture comes.
Realizing his days are numbered Satan exerts his utmost strength to block Christians from being raptured. This explains in part why God’s children are being assaulted so fiercely in their bodies today. Due to the severity of these physical attacks, they seem to breathe into themselves the air of death, thereby relinquishing any hope of being rapture alive. They do not perceive this is but the challenge of the enemy, aimed at hindering their ascension. However, should they receive the call of rapture, they naturally soon come to possess a combative spirit against death. For they sense in their spirit that death is an obstacle to rapture which must be overcome.
The devil is a murderer (John 8.44). The purpose of Satan’s work against the saints is to kill them. He has a special tactic for the last days: to “wear out the saints” (Dan. 7.25). If he can add just a little anxiety to the believer’s spirit, increase just a trifle the restlessness in his mind, cause the saint to lose sleep one night, eat less the next time and overwork still another time, then he has made inroads with his power of death. Although a single drop of water is powerless, continuous dripping can indisputably wear a hole in a rock. Being well acquainted with this truth, Satan incites a little worry here, a little anxiety there, or a little neglect elsewhere to literally wear out the saints.
Sometimes the devil directly attacks believers and causes them to die. Many deaths are assaults such as these, though few recognize them for what they are. Perhaps it is merely a cold, sunstroke, insomnia, exhaustion or loss of appetite. Perhaps it is uncleanness, wrath, jealousy or licentiousness. Failing to perceive that the power of death is behind these phenomena, the full victory for Christians is jeopardized. Were they to recognize them as the assaults of death and resist aright, they would triumph. How often saints attribute these to their age or to some other factor and miss the real import of it all.
The Lord Jesus is returning soon. We must therefore wage a total war with death. Even as we fight against sin, the world and Satan, so must we fight against death. We should not only ask for victory; we should also lay hold of it. We should claim the triumph of Christ over death in all its fullness. Were we to review our past experience beneath the light of God we would discover how many times we have been assailed by death without our knowledge. We endlessly attributed happenings to other causes and thereby lost the power to resist. If we had recognized certain events to have been the assaults of death, we would have been strengthened by God to have experientially overcome death. In that case our experience would have been like passing over broken bridges and torn-up roads: for in that experience all our surroundings appear to demand our death—yet we cannot die: time and again we despair of life, still we cannot die: we ask ourselves why we now must die, for though the battle fiercely escalates, we do not feel like dying: we seem instead to cry out—I do not want to die! What is the implication of this kind of experience? Simply that God is leading us to fight our last battle with death before we are raptured. These assaults are designed for no other purpose than to frustrate our being raptured alive.
We should clamp shut the wide-open gates of hades with the victory of Christ. We should stand against death, forbidding it to make any inroad in our bodies. Resist everything possessing the disposition of death. View sickness, weakness and suffering with this attitude. Sometimes the body may not be conscious of anything, yet death is at work already. Anxiety in the spirit or sorrow in the soul may produce death as well. God is now calling us to the rapture; accordingly, we must subdue whatever might hinder that event.
God places His children in various circumstances which impel them hopelessly and helplessly to commit their lives by a thread of faith into the hand of the Lord. For his hand is their only hope. And during such a period it is as though they were crying out, “Lord, let me live!” Today’s battle is a battle for life.
Murderous evil spirits are working everywhere. Unless the saints resists and pray they shall be defeated. They shall die inescapably if they continue to remain passive. Should you pray “Lord, let me conquer death,” He will respond with “If you resist death, I will let you conquer it.” Prayer alone is futile if the will is passive. What you should say is: “Lord, because of your conquest over death, I now resist all its onslaughts. I am determined to conquer death immediately. Lord, make me victorious.”
The Lord will enable you to overcome death. So lay hold of the promises God has given you, ask for life, and trust that nothing can harm you. Do not concede to the power of death, or else it will touch you. For instance, you may be staying in a disease-infected area; yet you can withstand all diseases and not permit anything to come upon you. Do not allow death to attack you through sickness.
No longer can we wait passively for the Lord’s return, comforting ourselves with the thought that we will be raptured anyway. We must be prepared. As in every other matter, rapture requires the cooperation of the church with God. Faith never lets affairs follow the line of least resistance. Death must be singularly resisted and rapture must be claimed wholeheartedly. Faith is necessary, but that does not mean passively deserting responsibility. If we only believe mentally that we can escape death yet passively continue to submit ourselves to its power, how are we benefited?
The Bible mentions a kind of mortal sin or “sin unto death” which believers may commit (1 John 5.16). The death here does not point to spiritual death, for the eternal life of God can never be extinguished; nor can it be an allusion to “the second death” since the Lord’s sheep cannot perish. It necessarily signifies the death of the body.
Now let us especially notice what the essence of mortal sin is. To do so will enable us to know how to keep ourselves away from it so that (1) our flesh may not be corrupted, (2) we may not forfeit the blessing of being raptured before death, or (3) we may still finish the Lord’s appointed work before our days are fulfilled and we die, if He should tarry and we must pass through the grave. May we say that because of their negligence in this matter quite a few of God’s children have had their years shortened and their crowns lost. Many of God’s workers, had they given attention to this, might yet be serving the Lord.
The Word has not spelled out concretely what this sin is. It only assures us that such a sin is possible. From the Scripture records we understand that this sin varies according to people. A particular sin for some is mortal, yet to another person it may not be a sin unto death, and vice versa. This is because of differences in grace received, light accepted, and position attained among different believers.
While the Bible never identifies this sin, we can nevertheless observe that any sin which results in death constitutes a mortal one. The people of Israel committed such a sin at Kadesh (Num. 13.25-14.12). Although they had tempted the Lord many times before (14.22), He always simply forgave them. But this time, though He still forgave them after they refused to enter Canaan, He additional caused their bodies to fall in death in the wilderness (14.32).
At the waters of Meribah Moses was provoked to speak “words that were rash” (Ps. 106.33) : this was his “mortal sin”: he died outside Canaan. Aaron committed the same offense as Moses and he likewise was forbidden to enter the holy land (Num. 20.24). The man of God who journeyed from Judah to Bethel disobeyed the commandment of the Lord with regard to eating and drinking; in so doing he committed his mortal sin (1 Kings 13.21-22). In the New Testament we learn how Ananias and Sapphira were punished with death because they committed what for them was their mortal sin, because they attempted to lie to the Holy Spirit by keeping back part of the proceeds from their land (Acts 5). The man in Corinth who lived with his father’s wife was guilty too of this kind of sin, forcing the Apostle Paul to pronounce judgment by telling those at Corinth “to deliver this man to Satan for the destruction of the flesh” (1 Cor. 5.5). Not a few of the brethren in Corinth died because they were guilty of profaning the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor. 11.27,30). They had committed the sin unto death.
To overcome mortality we must persistently overcome sin, for the former results from the latter. If we wish to live till our days are accomplished or till the Lord returns, we should be careful not to sin. Negligence in this has driven many to the grave prematurely. The mortal sin is not any particular terrifying transgression, because it is nowhere fixed or specified. Such a sin as fornication, of which the Corinthians were guilty, may be counted as mortal; but so too may rash words such as Moses uttered become a sin unto death (for note how the Scriptures characterized Moses: “now the man Moses was very meek, more than all men that were on the face of the earth” Num. 12.3; therefore no sin could be overlooked in this man’s life).
Now is the day of grace. God is full of grace. So let our hearts be comforted. Do not allow Satan to accuse you, hinting that you have committed the mortal sin and hence must die. Although the Bible does not encourage us to pray for others who have sinned this mortal sin, God will forgive us if we judge ourselves and genuinely repent. The man in 2 Corinthians 2.6-7 is believed by many to be that very one who had lived with his father’s wife. In 1 Corinthians 11.30-32 we also are reminded that even though we may have committed the sin unto death, we can nevertheless escape death if we judge ourselves truly. Therefore never permit any sin to reign in your body lest it become your mortal sin. Our flesh can be weakened, yet we must never lose the heart of self-judgment. We must judge our sin without mercy. It is true that we can never attain to sinless perfection in this life, but frequent confession and trust in God’s grace are indispensable. God will yet forgive us. Those who seek victory over death need to remember this.
Then he declares to them their work and their trangressions, that they are behaving arrogantly. He opens their ears to instruction, and commands that they return from iniquity. If they hearken and serve him, they complete their days in prosperity, and their years in pleasantness. But if they do not hearken, they perish by the sword, and die without knowledge. The godless in heart cherish anger; they do not cry for help when he binds them. They die in youth, and their life ends in shame. (Job 36.9-14)
The Teaching of Proverbs
The Proverbs is a book about the believer’s practical daily walk. It teaches much on the ways of keeping one’s life. We shall center our attention around its instruction concerning the way to overcome death.
“My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments; for length of days and years of life and abundant welfare will they give you” (3.1-2)
“It will be healing to your flesh and refreshment to your bones” (3.8)
“Let your heart hold fast my words; keep my commandments, and live” (4.4)
“Hear, my son, and accept my words, that the years of your life maybe many” (4.10)
“Keep hold of instruction, do not let go; guard her, for she is your life” (4.13)
“For (my words) are life to him who finds them, and healing to all his flesh” (4.22)
“Keep your heart with all vigilance; for from it flow the springs of life” (4.23)
“He who commits adultery has no sense; he who does it destroys himself” (6.32)
“He who finds (wisdom) finds life and obtains favor from the Lord” (8.35)
By (wisdom) your days will be multiplied, and years will be added to your life” (9.11)
“Righteousness delivers from death” (10.2)
“The fear of the Lord prolongs life, but the years of the wicked will be short” (10.27)
“In the path of righteousness is life, but the way of error leads to death” (12.28)
“The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, that one may avoid the snares of death” (14.27)
“A tranquil mind gives life to the flesh, but passion makes the bones rot” (14.30)
“The wise man’s path leads upward to life, that he may avoid Sheol beneath” (15.24)
“He who ignores instruction despises himself” (15.32)
“In the light of a king’s face there is life” (16.15)
“He who guards his way preserves his life” (16.17)
“He who keeps the commandment keeps his life; he who despises the word will die” (19.16)
“The fear of the Lord leads to life” (19.23)
“The getting of treasures by a lying tongue is a fleeting vapor and a snare of death” (21.6)
“A man who wanders from the way of understanding will rest in the assembly of the dead” (21.16)
“He who pursues righteousness and kindness will find life and honor” (21.21)
As the Spirit of God leads us to overcome death we discover new meanings to these verses. We are accustomed to viewing “life” as a kind of terminology. But when we have been enlightened we begin to realize our physical life shall be extended if we fulfill God’s conditions. And contrariwise, should we disobey these commandments our life shall gradually fade away. For instance, God exhorts you to “honor your father and mother that it may be well with you and that you may live long on the earth” (Eph. 6.2-3). Now if we disobey, our years on earth shall be cut short by sin. God wishes us to hearken to His words, to possess wisdom, to seek righteousness and to keep our hearts, that we lose not our life. If we would have life we must learn to obey.
The Powers of the Age to Come
We are told that in the future kingdom the Lord Jesus is to be the sun of righteousness with healing in its wings (Mal. 4.2). And “no inhabitant will say, “I am sick”‘ (Is. 33.24). At that time we believers will enjoy what the Scriptures foretell: “the perishable puts on the imperishable, and the mortal puts on immortality, (and) then shall come to pass the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’“ (1 Cor. 15.54). To Christians, the characteristic of the kingdom age is that there is no more weakness, sickness or death, because our bodies will have been redeemed and Satan trodden under foot.
We are equally instructed by the Scriptures that we may foretaste the powers of the age to come now (Heb. 6.5). Though our bodies yet wait to be redeemed, we today through faith can taste in advance the powers of the coming age in having no weakness, no sickness, and no death. This is a very deep experience, but if the Christian meets God’s requirements and fully trusts in His Word, he is able to enjoy such an experience. Faith is timeless: not only can it draw upon what God has done for us in the past, it can claim as well what God will do for us in the future.
Paul the Apostle describes the change in our bodies in this manner: “while we are still in this tent, we sigh with anxiety; not that we would be unclothed, but that we would be further clothed, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee” (2 Cor. 5.4-5). The word “guarantee” here connotes the idea of “down payment”—a payment to guarantee future payment in full. The Holy Spirit in us is God’s guarantee that “what is mortal is swallowed up by life.” Though we have not experienced this victory fully today, we nonetheless do experience it partially for we possess the Holy Spirit as the down payment. The giving of the Spirit is that we may foretaste the future triumph of life.
“Now (God) has manifested (Himself) through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel” (2 Tim. 1.10). Life and immortality, declares the Apostle, are the common portion of all who receive the gospel. Wherefore the question arises, how far is the Holy Spirit able to lead a believer into possessing his portion? Death has been abolished; consequently, believers ought to experience something of this. Now this age is soon to be over; with the rapture in view the Holy Spirit intends to bring believers to experience more of possessing this possession.
Let us believe it is possible to foretaste the powers of the age to come. When Paul exclaims, “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15.57), he is pointing to the present and he is concerned with the problem of death. Although he is referring to future total victory over death, even so he is not content to leave such an experience entirely to the future. He claims we may overcome through the Lord Jesus now!
God has among His principles this one—that what He intends to do in a certain age He first exhibits in a few. What all will experience in the millennium, the members of Christ should currently be experiencing. Even in past dispensation there were people who experienced in advance the power of the coming age. How much more must the church today have the experience of Christ’s victory over death. God desires us to thrust through the boundaries of hades now. The Lord calls us to overcome death for His body’s sake. Unless we conquer the last enemy our battle is not concluded.
Let each of us therefore seek the Lord’s mind concerning our future. We entertain no superstitious concept that we will not die. But if now is the end time and the coming of Christ will tarry no more but will be consummated in our lifetime, then we should exercise faith to lay hold of God’s Word and trust that we shall not die but shall see the Lord’s face alive. And let us who thus hope in Him purify ourselves as He is pure. Moment by moment let us live for Him and draw upon His resurrection life for the needs of our spirit, soul and body.
“By faith Enoch was taken up so that he should not see death” (Heb.11.5). Let us likewise believe. Believe that death is not necessary, that rapture is certain, that the time will not be long. “Now before (Enoch) was taken he was attested as having pleased God” (Heb.11.5) . How about us?
Oh how excellent is the future glory! How perfect is the salvation which God has prepared for us! Let us arise and go up. May “heaven” so fill us that the flesh finds no ground nor the world holds any attraction! May the love of the Father so be in us that we hold no more communication with His enemy! May the Lord Jesus so satisfy our hearts that we desire none else! And may the Holy Spirit create in each believer the prayer, “Come, Lord Jesus!”