Fear of Death

Coronavirus is only the latest threat stoking our fear of dying. We all at times must face our mortality. What does God want us to know about the fear of death?

The coronavirus has sadly taken the lives of tens of thousands all over the world, and it has certainly struck fear in millions of others. It has forced many of us to soberly face our mortality.

The fear of dying (technically known as thanatophobia) is something most people face at some point.

Is death inevitable?

Though we don’t like to face it and often go through life ignoring it, death is inevitable. Man was created physical and can expect to live only a limited number of years. The Bible tells us:

  • “What man can live and not see death? Can he deliver his life from the power of the grave?” (Psalm 89:48).
  • “The measure of our life is seventy years; and if through strength it may be eighty years, its pride is only trouble and sorrow, for it comes to an end and we are quickly gone” (Psalm 90:10, Bible in Basic English).

An antidote to the fear of death?

Though He made us mortal, subject to death, God doesn’t want us to spend a large portion of our lives living in fear of death.

In the Bible He provides mankind with an antidote to not only death, but also even the fear of death.

Read on and see how God made it possible for us to alleviate that fear, which is so universal.

Significance of Jesus’ death

Jesus Christ taught His disciples for 3½ years. At the end of those years, He kept His last Passover with them. On this occasion He instituted new symbols that were to be observed by all Christians each year at this festival.

The apostle Paul wrote about this in 1 Corinthians 11:23-26:

“For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you: that the Lord Jesus on the same night in which He was betrayed took bread; and when He had given thanks, He broke it and said, ‘Take, eat; this is My body which is broken for you; do this in remembrance of Me.’

“In the same manner He also took the cup after supper, saying, ‘This cup is the new covenant in My blood. This do, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.’

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death till He comes.”

The unleavened bread and wine represent His broken body and His shed blood. Through the annual observance of the Passover, we commemorate the death of Jesus Christ and proclaim His death till He returns.

So much was accomplished by His death. Most important, Jesus died in our place to pay the death penalty we earned for our sins. This made possible the forgiveness of our sins. But there is even more.

Released from the fear of death

“But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death crowned with glory and honor, that He, by the grace of God, might taste death for everyone. For it was fitting for Him, for whom are all things and by whom are all things, in bringing many sons to glory, to make the captain of their salvation perfect through sufferings” (Hebrews 2:9-10).

Through the traitor Judas, Satan had orchestrated the circumstances that led to Jesus’ death that Passover day. Satan must have felt that he had won a great victory when Jesus cried out and took His last breath. He had brought about the death of the Son of God.

Yet, instead of a victory, it was the beginning of his defeat.

“Inasmuch then as the children have partaken of flesh and blood, He Himself likewise shared in the same, that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and release those who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage” (verses 14-15).

The author speaks here of man’s fear of death. The tyranny of the fear of death becomes an instrument of coercion that enslaves people.

Because of this fear, many will consent to do things that nothing else would compel them to do. This fear can get in the way of things we should be doing. This fear is what drove the 11 disciples to run away at Jesus’ arrest and, a little later, led Peter to deny Him three times.

Facing death

My first time facing death personally was in the early 1970s. I had strep throat, and my throat was swelling, making it harder to breathe. I would cough and cough to try to clear the passageway.

One night around 2 or 3 a.m. I awakened, coughed and felt my breath completely cut off. In panic, I sat up and thankfully my airway opened up. I guessed that I had torn a flap of tissue in my throat that had fallen over on my windpipe and that sitting up had caused it to fall back away.

But I still remember lying there, noticing how very quiet it was and wondering whether this could be it. What if it happened again? And what if my breath didn’t return? I realized I could easily not make it through the night.

I eventually recovered. But I haven’t forgotten that feeling.

Have you ever faced death?

Have you personally faced imminent death? Death that could happen in the next minutes, hours or months? Maybe through illness, accident, a crime or as a soldier in a battle?

Many have had to face being told they or a loved one had a terminal disease. During times like these, we truly face our own mortality.

If you have, you know you are forced to face and wrestle with both the grief of leaving loved ones and the fear of stepping through that door into the unknown.

Satan has many weapons to try to prevent us from reaching the goal in our spiritual journey. One of those is the fear of death. That is one reason Jesus Christ, in the example prayer He gave, said to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one” (Matthew 6:13).

Death is an enemy, but …

Paul speaks of death as an enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed when all who have died have been raised to life again.Paul speaks of death as an enemy, the last enemy to be destroyed when all who have died have been raised to life again.

“The last enemy that will be destroyed is death” (1 Corinthians 15:26).

Jesus Christ said that all who are in the graves will someday come to life again.

“Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live. For as the Father has life in Himself, so He has granted the Son to have life in Himself” (John 5:25-26).

Though death is normally portrayed as an enemy, on some occasions it can be a friend when the quality of life is gone and there’s no hope for improvement.

And as we saw in Hebrews 2, the death of Jesus Christ is spoken of as a positive thing for all of mankind. His death made possible not just a liberation from our sins and their penalty, but a liberation from the fear of death.

Removing the bondage of the fear of death

Paul wrote words of encouragement and faith, reminding us that not even death can separate us from the love of God.

“Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, … nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 8:37-39).

When we build a relationship with God that is that strong, death can no longer be held over our heads as a means of intimidation.

Jesus Christ said we do not need to fear men, for after death, they can do us no more harm.

“And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Men, or some disease or accident, can destroy “the body” (this physical life), but they can’t destroy God’s power to raise us to life again. Neither can Satan.

Death is swallowed up in victory

Paul wrote, “Death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Corinthians 15:54).

Christ’s death was a victory. And when we die in the faith, we gain victory, for our salvation is secured. Thus the psalmist can say, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of His saints” (Psalm 116:15).

Through Christ’s death, Satan’s most potent weapon over humans was taken from him. Neither Satan nor death would have the last word.

Jesus Christ disarmed the prince of death. Christ holds the keys of death and the grave. His death transforms the meaning of death for His people. We can look at death in a different way—as simply sleep, a place of rest, a place of safety. It is transition period leading to something far better—life forever in the Kingdom of God.

Certainly, it takes time and God’s help to overcome fear of death. Being human, most of us will always have some fear of it.

The hope of the resurrection

In the book of Acts we read of the death of Stephen (Acts 7:54-60). As the stones were beating the life out of his body, God enabled him to see in vision something that is there for all His servants.

“But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’” (Acts 7:55-56).

He saw His Savior at the right hand of the Father in heaven. His acceptance of his fate on that day, his courage and faith in his defeat of that last enemy, was possible because he was able to look past death. He knew death was like a sleep from which he would awaken to live again.

The hope of the resurrection was so strong in him that he was able to face death without the fear that many are burdened with.

“For God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power and of love and of a sound mind” (2 Timothy 1:7).

You can come to that place in your life also. How does one grow to have that kind of faith? It is a gift. When we devote our lives to loving and serving God, He grants us such a gift.

About the Author

Bruce Gore

Bruce Gore

Bruce Gore served as a pastor for more than 50 years in the Church of God. He grew up in the South on a farm and met his wife to be at college in Pasadena, California. Bruce and Phyllis were married for more than 50 years before her death in 2019. They had four children and 14 grandchildren.

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