Death is the common denominator among all people.
Scripture tells us “Through one man sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned…” (Romans 5:12). That is an indisputable, observable truth! There is another indisputable truth of Scripture which, however, is not universally accepted. “For the hour is coming in which all who are in the grave will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).
The rejection of the latter truth speaks to the subject about which we thought after the recent death of a media movie critic. During the course of his terminal illness he said, “There is nothing to fear on the other side of death.” We do not know what the man’s faith was, or if he had saving faith, so we wondered: Was the comment an expression of unbelief, or of faith in Christ?
The unbeliever may live his life without fear of death but only because he pursues life and all its pleasures with gusto under the delusion that death is the end-all. Unbelief is ignorant of the consequences of dying without faith in Christ. But if there is still a conscience, lack of fear on the other side of death may be a “whistling past the cemetery” in the vain hope that there is nothing to fear if they don’t think about it or can stifle
So is the statement about nothing to fear on the other side of death a valid statement? What is the truth?
The catechism sums up Scripture truth when it says, “The unbelievers will rise to eternal death, that is, to everlasting shame, contempt, and torment in hell” (Lutheran Catechism, LC-MS, 1943 p.142). The rich man who wasted his life in frivolity enjoyed his life to the max until he “died and was buried” (Luke 16:22) and lifted up his eyes from the torment of hell (Luke 16:23-24). He was “living” proof of what Scripture says, “For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24). Jesus, dying in the place of fallen mankind, gave expression to the reality of punishment in hell when He cried out, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46).
They who die in unbelief and ignorance, having rejected the Lord Jesus Christ and His atonement, will have a rude awakening at the resurrection day. They who reject the Savior and His atoning substitutionary death, and consequently die in impenitence, have a great deal to fear, for “he who does not believe will be condemned” (Mark 16:16). That is the truth!
However, our Lord does not desire the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:23, 33:11). He is not willing that any should perish eternally (2 Peter 3:9). Therefore He has commissioned His children to preach repentance and remission of sins to all nations (Luke 24:47). We are to preach the law that uncovers sin and convicts the heart. We are called to share the gospel that wins and heals the smitten heart. Through the gospel—of which Jesus is the focal point—the Lord would have His children know the comforting truth: “There is nothing to fear on the other side of death!”
The catechism also gives voice to this truth. “The believers will rise with glorified bodies to everlasting life in heaven.” Whoever believes in Jesus shall have everlasting life (John 3:16). On the cross Jesus paid for the sins of the world. His death was also the death of death, as He rose again from the dead. Hence, whoever lives and believes in Jesus shall never die (John 11:26). We have the gracious promise through the pen of John that “He who believes in the Son has everlasting life…” (John 3:36); and again, “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life, and that you may continue to believe in the name of the Son of God” (1 John 5:13). The same disciple/apostle quotes Jesus, “My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow Me. And I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; neither shall anyone snatch them out of My hand” (John 10:27- 29).
We have the Lord’s promise in time, as well as in the moment that we pass from time into eternity, “But now, thus says the Lord, who created you, O Jacob, And He who formed you, O Israel: Fear not, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by your name; You are Mine. When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; And through the rivers, they shall not overflow you. When you walk through the fire, you shall not be burned, nor shall the flame scorch you. For I am the Lord your God, The Holy One of Israel, your Savior…” (Isaiah 43:1-3). Awaiting us “on the other side” is the risen, glorified Savior with the invitation, “Come, you blessed of My Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
The Father’s promise is Yea and Amen in Christ (2 Corinthians 1:20). It is sealed to us through the Lord Jesus whose blood has cleansed us of all sin and redeemed us freely by His grace. When He calls, all who are in the grave will hear His voice and come forth. In the midst of the teeth gnashing of those who in unbelief rejected Christ and His atonement, the believer will hear the inviting and soothing voice of the Lord, “Enter into your rest.”
and now is death
But the gate of life immortal;
This shall calm my troubled breath
When I pass its gloomy portal!
Faith shall cry, as fails each sense,
Jesus is my confidence!
It is true. All who are alive in the Lord when they depart this mortal life in reality shall never die (John 11:25-26)! They can say with confidence, “There is nothing to fear on the other side of death. Thanks be to God!”