Interviewer: Death, I appreciate your taking the time to talk with me. I know that you suggested that I call you Thanatos since that is the name for you in the Greek New Testament. And I will do that, but I wanted my English readers to know to whom I am speaking.
Thanatos: Fine. Let us proceed. I haven’t much time to linger here. There is work to be done—people I need to meet.
Interviewer: All right. I have just a few questions, please. The first one is: What are the various forms you have taken in pursuit of living men?
Thanatos: Well, there are three forms. When I take the life of someone, I can do it in two ways this side of eternity. The first way is simply to take his physical life. The second way is to take his spiritual life. There is a third way that has to do with the final and everlasting form which the New Testament refers to as eternal punishment or everlasting separation from God (Matt. 25:46).
Interviewer: I see. So, when Adam died. He died in two ways.
Thanatos: That is correct. But that truth has to be understood. He died physically in that he began to deteriorate, which deterioration would eventuate in the separation of his spirit from his body, which would mean that I had gotten him (James 2:26). This began because Adam lost access to the tree of life.
Interviewer: So, the physical death that came was an eventual thing that potentially began the moment he lost access to the tree of life?
Interviewer: And his spiritual death was immediate in that he lost fellowship with God?
Thanatos: Correct. The spiritual death was immediate; the physical came immediately in potential but eventuated into actual physical death when Adam was nine hundred and thirty years old (Gen. 5:5).
Interviewer: So, when we read about you in the New Testament, the form that is referenced has to be decided by the precise language used and the literary context in which your name is called?
Thanatos: Yes. At times physical death is being referenced; at other times spiritual death is being referenced, and a few times, even eternal death is being referenced. And at times, even distant facts must come into play for the reader to correctly interpret a passage that uses my name.
Interviewer: Let’s consider an example. Paul wrote, “Therefore, as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through the sin; and so death passed unto all men, for that all sinned” (Rom. 5:12). Is that spiritual death or is that physical death?
Thanatos: Well, think about it. The death referred to passed to “all” men. Earlier Paul had written, “for all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All Jews and all Gentiles had all sinned. But physical death had not passed to “all” men. I would have taken Enoch, but before I could get to him, God had already removed him from the earth (Gen. 5:24). Spiritual death had come to him because he, like all others, had sinned. But he was the exception to the rule regarding physical death. Years later, Elijah became an exception, too. I was not allowed to take him (2 Kings 2:11). The death that Paul referred to in Romans 5:12 did come to all men who sinned and it came because they sinned. That kind of death included Enoch and Elijah. That was spiritual death or the loss of spiritual fellowship with God. Fortunately, Jesus died for all men including Enoch and Elijah (Heb. 2:9; 9:15). All others for whom Jesus died, died or will die physically (unless they are in the group that is alive at the Lord’s final coming [1 Thess. 4:13-18; Rev. 22:20]).
Interviewer: Let’s take one more passage. In Romans 6:23, Paul wrote, “For the wages of sin is death; but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Which death is here mentioned?
Thanatos: Well think about the contrast Paul made. Think of the opposite concepts he mentions that are antithetical to one another. In other words, think of the words before the word “but” and then think of the words after the word “but.” The nature of the first concept is countered by the nature of the second concept.
Interviewer: What do you mean exactly?
Thanatos: The verse ends with the words: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” That is the opposite of what the wages of sin is! It is the remedy to the wages of sin which is death. What eternal life is counters what the death is that sin produces. So, since the gift is “eternal life” rather than spiritual life and rather than physical life, the death that constitutes the wages of sin is spiritual death rather than physical death.
Interviewer: Yes, that is clear. We must consider the context, the way the words are used, concepts employed, and all relevant facts that must not be contradicted. So, in Hebrews 9:27 when we read that death is an appointment for all men, we know it is physical death because the context (verses 23-28) is a discussion of the Lord’s own death (which was physical—not spiritual, and not eternal) as distinguished from all other authorized physical sacrifices for sin.
Interviewer: My second question is: How many people have you already claimed?
Thanatos: Do you mean by claiming them physically or spiritually?
Interviewer: I mean physically.
Thanatos: I have up to the current living generation, taken everyone with the exception of Enoch and Elijah. Since God performs no miracles today, there are no “Enochs” or “Elijahs” that get to pass to the next domain without my claiming them. I have always been the “general rule,” but God excused two men from my clutches. What men they were! However, now, no one escapes. It is, as the Hebrews writer referred to it, an appointment (Heb. 9:27). Jesus himself met that appointment. His was a special death for a special reason, but the death that he died was still his meeting that appointment. That is the writer’s very point in the passage. In other words, as other men had kept the appointment and as all men will continue to meet the appointment, so Jesus himself was appointed to meet me as well.
Interviewer: I sometimes like to say that we live by permission, and we die by appointment (James 4:15; Heb. 9:27).
Thanatos: That is a fair way to describe mankind’s condition regarding life and death.
Interviewer: Who was the first to die physically?
Thanatos: Well, as you read in Scripture, Adam and Eve were the first who began to die physically when they lost access to the tree of life. So, we can say that Adam and Eve were the first to die physically in a potential sense. As far as the first to die in an actual sense, that was Abel. The first historical physical death was the one Abel experienced. I reached out for him early in the history of man. And it is interesting in that the first actual, historical physical death that I initiated was a violent one in which a man shed his own brother’s blood (Gen. 4:1-8). That certainly was a foretaste of things in the sad and sinful history of mankind to come. Abel’s blood cried to God for vengeance; fortunately for you, the Lord’s own blood cried out for mercy (Gen. 4:10; Heb. 12:24).
Interviewer: Thanatos, how many ways or means have you used to get people within your grasp in order to end their physical lives on this earth?
Thanatos: Well, I have never counted them, but I will be glad to identify some of them. They are so common place, you will recognize each one that I describe. There are various ways to get to a person. And, of course, all that I do, I do by allowance (James 4:15). I have been stopped many, many times from accomplishing what I was about to do. Various things may prevent my grasping a person including the prayers of righteous men (James 5:16; 1 John 5:13-15). However, unless God intervenes, I have access to many methods of establishing my claim regarding physical death.
For example, as a broad category, I have taken, as with Abel, many a person through some expression of violence. Many men are so sinful that they engage in violent behavior one toward the other. The “golden rule” (Matt. 7:12) is not only flagrantly disobeyed; it is often held in absolute contempt. Many men murder other men. Not everyone dies who is assaulted, but I do claim a lot of people who are violently attacked. And in war time, I am especially busy. Regardless of the cause, I claim many a life as nation rises up against nation. It is a good harvest for me.
Other methods that I have used with men include sickness. People get sick for various reasons, and at times I am allowed to come in and take some of those people. People become diseased, and I may be allowed to move in and remove that person. A few people are overcome by animal predators (such as lions, bears, snakes, etc.). These deaths are not as common, and when they occur, the report may become a headline in a newspaper given the horror or the drama involved in the incident. Natural catastrophes take some (tornadoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, etc.). And all kinds of accidents account for the passing of many. And you might be surprised how many times I am solicited to come to the scene of homicides that have continued since the days of Cain and Abel. Many a man still marches “in the way of Cain” (Jude 11).
Interviewer: Why do we men fear you?
Thanatos: There are, I suppose, various reasons why a person on earth would fear me. No man living has yet to meet me personally. So, I am feared because though men know of me and know others who have met me, no one who has met me has revealed to the yet living what I am like. The living may have been close to others whom he watched as I took hold of them, but the yet living have never met me themselves. So, I am a mysterious stranger to them. Too, men may fear some pain or imagined pain or duress that they think is essentially connected with me as I come for someone. Also, the living fear me because of the pain my coming will cause to those loved ones left behind. No one wants his loved ones to have to grieve, but they must, and they will. Leaving entails loss for those who stay. No one enjoys grieving for those I have taken; no one facing me himself enjoys the prospect of grief for those loved ones that he will soon leave behind.
Interviewer: Should the living fear you?
Thanatos: That depends.
Interviewer: What do you mean?
Thanatos: Well, if you believe God and you are prepared to face judgment, there is no need for fear. In fact, death is a release to the righteous so that they are unburdened. Ever since sin entered this world and me through sin, this world has been a rough environment in which all men must live. If a man takes God at his word, obeys His will, and trusts His promises, he should in his maturity welcome me as the one who will make possible for him a much better situation.
Interviewer: I remember that Paul expressed the thought of a place very far better than this vale of tears (Phil. 2:23).
Thanatos: Indeed. But that place is only for believers—those who take God at His word and walk in His way (Rom. 10:17; Heb. 5:8-9). For them, I am a blessing. I provide a release; I become a relief. When I come for the prepared, they can gladly welcome my approach and look forward to blessedness about which they have read but regarding which they have never felt until they meet me. That is why the Scriptures tell you people that God views the death of the righteous as “precious” (Psalm 116:15). God wants His people to look at me that way, too, in regard to them.
Interviewer: But what about all the others? What about the unprepared?
Thanatos: That is another matter altogether. For the unprepared, I bring more heartache. I lead them to a metaphysical or spiritual domain but one in which their continued spiritual separation from God continues, and it will continue forever. I am an enemy to those people—all of them (1 Cor. 15:26). I bring them no joy but only that which is to be most dreaded. And the only way to escape this eternal prospect is to accept the salvation offered by God through Christ who was raised from the death in order to bring life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim. 1:10). Jesus overcame ME in order that YOU humans can have spiritual life on earth and eternal life in glory. He “abolished” death not in the sense that men no longer die physically, but that though they die, given their spiritual life on earth, they may beyond earth and death live again!
Interviewer: Amen and Amen!!