Fear Not! Death & the Afterlife from a Christian Perspective – Ligon Duncan (review)

It is the elephant in the center of the room of our lives that we would prefer not to deal with: Death.  Even believers in Jesus Christ hesitate to really dwell on this reality of life.  In fact there is a lot of confusion about death and the afterlife – even among believers.  Ligon Duncan, pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Jackson, Mississippi, has written a wonderful resource in Fear Not! that I can highly recommend as a study guide of the realities of death & the afterlife.  We’ll examine this book, chapter by chapter in the next several posts.

Chapter One: What is Death?

Death is the anticipated future of everyone reading this post, unless the Lord returns first.  It is the end of every man, so we ought to be aware of what it is, isn’t and why it is to be faced.

There are many “opinions” of what death is.  These abound due to the variety of religious beliefs that exist in the world today.  These opinions, based in falsehoods, lead to a variety of ways to deal with death when they impact individual lives.  Denial, lying about what has taken place, refusal to deal with the reality of death, overwhelmed by emotions, and more are ways that people will try to deal with deal.

…we see a glimpse of the goodness of God in that the Bible does not deal with death by denial or pretending like it is no big deal; instead, His Word prepares us by facing the problem of death head on… ~p.12

Why death?  Duncan responds, “Death makes its debut in the Bible as a judgment for sin…Death is not simply the natural end to life; it is God’s judgment of sin.”  Sin brought about the reality of death in the world with Adam’s sin.  Sin brings about this separation in two ways: First, Adam & Eve are separated from God in the Garden.  Secondly, sin causes separation in us – the separation of body & soul which we refer to as “death”.  Ligon Duncan encourages us with the hope that Jesus Christ came to bring reconciliation between us and God (addressing #1) and Jesus’ death & resurrection addresses #2 as He conquers the “last enemy”: death.

Duncan goes on to say that the Bible presents death as a “paradox”.  It speaks of death as an enemy, but also speaks of death in comforting terms for believers.  The Bible refers to death as being “precious”, being with Christ in “Paradise”, as being “far better” and even “gain”.  While death is to be viewed as judgment of God on sin, it is also, for the believer, “an entrance into glory”.

How can the believer view death as an entrance to glory rather than as an enemy?  It is possible because of the work of Jesus Christ on the cross.  Jesus suffered the punishment for our sin on the cross, satisfying the wrath of God in our place.  Even if we are to experience physical death, as the elect of God we will not taste the second death – or final judgment for sin.

Practically, how does this hope affect our reality of death in every day life?

  • First, we know for certain that our Heavenly Father understands the horrors of death, as He had His own Son go through death on our behalf.  “…There is nothing unknown about death to God; in fact, God created death as judgment, and His own Son experienced the judgment of death in the place of His people…” ~p.20
  • Secondly, death is the “last enemy”, but we also understand that Christ conquered the second death on our behalf.  We now can endure death with the reality of the knowledge that we will not have to undergo God’s righteous judgment for our sin.

The first death – my death, your death – is the passageway to eternal life for all who trust in Jesus.

Next post: What happens after death?

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