Death or Dawn?
By David Brandt Berg
“[Christ] has appeared once for all at the end of the ages to put away sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment, so Christ, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time, not to deal with sin but to save those who are eagerly waiting for him.”
—Hebrews 9:26–28 (ESV)
Jesus in His death suffered not only physically but also spiritually, such as the sinner suffers in the afterlife for his sins. Otherwise He could not have suffered for our sins. But He did suffer for our sins.
The worst death of the lost is a spiritual death, a spiritual suffering in which their spirits will suffer in the world to come. God’s Word says Jesus spent three days and nights in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40) It says that there He preached to the spirits in prison—He gave them the gospel, told them the truth! (1 Peter 3:18–19) You say, “I thought once you went to hell, you were there forever?”
If it wasn’t possible for anyone in the heart of the earth to be saved, why did He take the trouble to preach to them? But they were people who had evidently never heard the truth, people who had never heard the gospel. So Jesus Himself went there and suffered just as they were suffering while He preached to them, that they might be saved.
Think of what Jesus suffered for us—three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. He suffered that for all the sins of mankind! Isn’t that amazing? Such love! He died that you might be saved.
So if you are born twice, you only die once. But if you’re only born once, you’ll die twice! The first birth is a birth of water. A baby in its mother’s womb is swimming around in water, and the first sign that it’s coming out is a gush of water, and the baby is “born of water.” (See John 3:5)
The next birth is spiritual rebirth or when you are “born again.” (See John 3:3) Jesus says you are born of the spirit. It’s a spiritual rebirth—a rebirth of the inner man, your personality, the real you, the one that lives inside that physical shell.
Your body is not the real you. It’s just the physical house you live in. You’re inside there and you’re looking out at me. I can see you better through your eyes than by looking at your body. The real you is the spirit inside, the one that will live on forever after the body is dead.
So Jesus said that you have to be born again. He has to give you a new spirit. This is the second birth, He says. (John 3:3) The first birth is only physical; the second birth is spiritual.
Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to him, “How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit.Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.”
—John 3:3–8 (ESV)
So if you are born twice, first physically and second spiritually, you will only die once. Because you will only die the physical death once, and your spirit will never die, because Jesus died so that your spirit would not have to die. He saved your spirit. “The spirits of just men made perfect.” (Hebrews 12:23) That is what He did on the cross.
But He says that those who do not receive Jesus and whose sins are not forgiven will be raised from the dead at the Last Judgment and be judged according to their works, with some sent to the Lake of Fire and some sent to live outside the Heavenly City. (See Revelation 20 and 22)
“This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14) Why? Because they were only born once and they never got saved. They never received Jesus, so they were never born again. When you receive Jesus, that is a new birth for your spirit; you’re a new inner man.
Paul says the “old man,” the physical you, is dying every day, but the inner man is living more every day. “The outward man perishes, but the inward man is renewed day by day.” (2 Corinthians 4:16) The body is dying, but your spirit is growing stronger daily.
Death is freedom for the Christian. It’s a wonderful liberation! For the believer in Christ, it is being set free from this old body that gives us so much trouble.
One of these days you’re going to be free. You’re going to be able to leave that ol’ body behind! I recall that old song, “This old house isn’t going to last much longer.” This body is just the old house I live in. It’s not the real me; I just live inside here. I’m looking out at you.
Praise God! Death is really freedom for the Christian! So, if you’re born twice, you only die once—death to the body, but the spirit doesn’t die. But if you’re only born once and you’re not born again, you die twice—once for the body and once for the spirit.
So that’s what Jesus was doing on the cross when He died for us. He not only died in body but He even suffered the feeling that the sinner has in the death of the spirit. Now what this death of the spirit is, we don’t really know. Jesus calls it hell, for some, like fire! It’s a terrible, terrible thing, whatever it is—some kind of suffering for your sins.
After all, if you don’t believe in Jesus suffering for your sins, then you have to suffer for your own sins. But if you believe in Jesus, then you’re born twice and only die once. But if you don’t believe in Jesus, being born only once, you’ll die twice!
The Scripture says, “It is appointed unto man once to die, but after that the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27) So everybody has to die at least once, but not everybody has to die twice. Praise God!
We can thank God for death, our graduation, our release! Like the old song:
When morning dawns, farewell to earthly sorrow!
Farewell to all the troubles of today!
There’ll be no pain, no death in God’s tomorrow!—
When morning dawns and shadows flee away!
(Adapted from “When Morning Dawns,” by Alfred H. Ackley, 1939)
God bless you! Happy flyaway! I’ll see you there!
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