Death is the horrible specter that haunts the human experience. It is the great equalizer of men. The best and worst of lives end in death. Men respond to death in various fashions. Some seek forgetfulness, hoping in the hustle and bustle of life to break its hold upon the conscience. Some adopt a stance of pretended bravery in its cold pale, either through jokes or a cavalier attitude. Paralyzed by the fear of death, others hope to prolong life through physical fitness and vitamins. Some pray that a scientist somewhere will find the cure for death. So great is our fear of death that we complain when a few soldiers die in war, opting for push-button destruction in place of the courage of bygone days, and are willing to legislate guns out of existence for fear that someone somewhere will die. Many more examples could be cited to demonstrate that our culture is paralyzed by the fear of death.
There are good reasons to fear death. Though men constantly suppress the truth in unrighteousness, they cannot escape the conviction that after death will come an unpleasant reckoning. Death reminds us that our days are numbered, that we will not live forever, and that regardless of health, wealth, and position, our earthly existence will one day be a memory, treasured by some, forgotten by most. Death separates families, causes grief, and is often accompanied by pain. If you think the picture is bleak, you are correct. Death is no laughing matter, and only the most calloused, arrogant, and foolish think otherwise.
The believer in Jesus Christ faces death differently. While it is not pleasant to consider, it is certainly not the great unknown. He understands that "to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord," and that his death will be for him a passage into untold bliss. We must be very careful here, for the bliss promised in Scripture is not the stuff of fairly tales, Islamic paradise, or Mormon deification. It is the bliss of fellowship with God. It is a bliss that begins in this life as God dwells in us by his Spirit. The only ones who will experience bliss at death are those who pursue it in life through faith in Jesus Christ. For them alone has the sting or curse of death been lifted. For all others, death remains the day of awful reckoning when a life of unbelief will be crowned with an eternity of misery and suffering.
Scripture’s presentation of the awful realities of death is a difficult doctrine for many to accept. They simply cannot believe that "good men" would perish in hell forever. The lives of noble men, oppressed men, and highly religious men are viewed as incontrovertible proof that hell must be a myth. Such men cannot be punished in hell simply for choosing alternate religious paths or disdaining religion altogether. Even the Church has fallen prey to this sort of thinking, reducing hell to a metaphor for temporary punishment or affirming annihilation for those who die apart from Christ. Many denominations have followed unbiblical presuppositions to their logical conclusion - all men will be saved, other religions are acceptable to God, and all men will be with God in the end. All of this is undoubtedly affirmed to lessen the Bible’s sober teaching on death and adopt a more "loving" stance toward unbelievers.
Nevertheless, the biblical doctrines of death and judgment are essential to the gospel. Remove the Bible’s clear demarcation between the sheep and the goats, heaven and hell, and the saved and the lost, and the gospel loses all compulsion. God is dethroned from his universal sovereignty and judgment. Christ’s death is unnecessary. Men are confirmed in the dangerous notion that they can sin with impunity and "make it right with God" by a few paltry acts of worship or obedience. The Christian gospel of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ alone stands or fall upon this foundation - that sin has separated men from God, that judgment awaits all who do not repent and look to Christ alone for justifying righteousness, and that death is the wages of sin.
Perhaps we should recall these truths more regularly. The biblical authors direct us to "number our days," warn us that "we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ," and call us to "set our affections on things above." In this light, death is a good teacher, and we must heed its lessons. Our earthly existence, while exceedingly short, determines our everlasting future. Therefore, we must use this world without abusing it, live as those who must soon stand before our Maker to give an account, and make the supreme end of live to gain Jesus Christ and be found in him. A man who pursues these ends does not need to fear death. When the hour of death arrives, he may be sure that there awaits for a him a crown of righteousness that will not fade away, reserved in heaven for those who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation.