We may think this a simple word – and a word we’d rather not think about much – but it is in the Bible frequently and it is a very important word. “Death” can be found over 460 times in our English Bibles, and the related word “dead” is there nearly 300 times. A proper treatment would obviously be lengthy, but we’ll summarize it briefly.
First, we can divide death into two parts: physical and spiritual. With increasing medical technology, the definition of physical death has been changing. Proof of death may involve looking at heartbeat, respiration, or more recently, brain activity. Though we never would wish to take a simplistic view of the hard decisions related to end-of-life issues, the Bible does define physical death for us. James 2:26 tells us “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” In other words, when the person’s immaterial part (the soul or the spirit) leaves the body, the body is then dead. We cannot take that concept and then make a medical definition, though something related to brain activity may make sense.
One writer described this as the unnatural ripping of the soul out of the body. We were not designed to die – death came only after Adam’s sin. Our souls were not meant to exist apart from a physical body, though that is the case for everyone after they die, until the resurrection of the righteous unto eternal life, and the resurrection of the wicked to eternal punishment (Matt. 25:46), at which times the bodies will be raised and reunited with the departed souls.
Spiritual death is a completely separate matter. Every person, being conceived and born as a sinner, and being sinful by choice, is spiritually dead (Eph. 2:1). Only by faith alone in Christ alone can a person be born again (made alive spiritually) and given new spiritual life, eternal life, never to experience spiritual death again. The person who is in Christ may indeed experience physical death, but to be absent from the body (physically dead) is to be present with the Lord in paradise, awaiting the resurrection of the righteous. The person who does not come to faith in Christ will experience physical death, and it is at that time that the state of his spiritual death is sealed – his fate is fixed – and his existence will be to face God’s righteous wrath. The final resurrection and judgment of the wicked is called the “second death” (Rev. 20:14).
Death is an enemy, but a defeated enemy (1 Cor. 15:55-56), thanks to the work and power of Jesus Christ. Because of that, we can face death, even without fear, looking with confidence to the promised glory with Christ that is to come. Paul put it simply “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain” (Phil. 1:21).