We are all born to die. Thus, it would really be helpful if someone could help us overcome death. Right? And it would obviously be important for that someone to die himself.
All religions deal with the big questions, such as Why do humans suffer? Why is there evil and death? and How do we overcome death? Buddhism, Hinduism, Islam and Christianity all provide answers to those questions.
I have explored them all, and Christianity offers the answer that I find most satisfying. A dead man can't save us—even if that dead Man was Jesus Christ Himself. If Jesus were still dead, even though he had been the Son of God, He couldn't save you. But Jesus was resurrected.
A so-called friend betrayed Him, and His other close friends deserted Him. He was falsely accused, illegally tried and condemned to die by people who knew He was innocent. He was also flogged, nailed to a cross and stabbed in the side with a sword. When the executing centurion surveyed the scene late on Friday afternoon, there was no doubt that Jesus was truly dead.
He was buried quickly without a funeral, partly because He was considered a criminal and partly because the Jews would not permit a funeral late on Friday afternoon just before the Sabbath. Jesus was placed in a rock tomb that was typical for the time. A round stone was then rolled over the opening, and it was sealed with a Roman seal.
On Sunday morning, several faithful followers who went to the tomb found the seal broken, the stone rolled away and the tomb empty. Angels appeared and told them that Jesus was alive and that they could expect to see Him soon.
Here is where many people consider the Jesus story to be fanciful, because it describes a dead person coming back to life. I can understand their skepticism, because I've never seen a dead man or woman come back to life. However, it's dangerous to limit truth to our own experience. Like the early scientists, I've also never seen the microorganisms that cause disease, but I know they exist because I've seen and experienced the consequences. Neither have I seen how the medicine I take fights disease, but I accept it, by faith at first and then by experience as I recover. There are many other things that I have not seen and have to accept by faith of some sort. So I also accept by faith that Jesus rose from the dead.
No ordinary death
Jesus is the most widely known religious leader in the history of the world. Other religious leaders have offered good spiritual advice on how to cope with the challenges of life. However, if they have not overcome death, they are not dealing with humanity's major problem. Jesus came to save people from sin, evil and death. He lived and died, and then He rose from the grave because dead men cannot save others. If He hadn't overcome death, humankind would have no hope for its survival. Before Jesus died, He predicted both that He would die and that He would rise again. Either He was completely mad or it happened exactly how he said it would.
Jesus’s death was no ordinary death. The Gospels record that as He approached the end there was an eclipse of the sun for three hours, and the sun returned immediately after He died. When Jesus breathed His last, the curtain that separated the two sacred parts of the Jewish temple was torn from top to bottom, and there was a great earthquake.
Dead people from previous generations who'd gone to the grave as believers were resurrected with Christ. The Bible says that "the tombs broke open and the bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs, and after Jesus' resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many people" (Matthew 27:52, 53).
Death as sleep
A major biblical metaphor for death is sleep. Indeed, to God, death is but a sleep. Because Jesus has conquered death, He has the keys to open the graves of others. The few who were resurrected at the time of His death and resurrection are but a sampling of the millions who will come to life when He returns to earth at His second coming (see 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Jesus promised to come back to earth and deal with the ultimate human tragedy—death. The Bible promises that just as Jesus rose from the dead, humans will also.
Death is inevitable but not invincible; we need not fear it. In the biblical sense, death is merely a blissful state of nonexistence, and the believer does not need to fear it or fight against it.
My faith in the teachings of the Bible enables me to believe that Jesus is alive and has conquered death for me. Even if I do die, Jesus will call me back to life. I will be raised from the dead and live again to a life that is far better than the one I am now experiencing.
This article originally appeared in Signs of the Times magazine, April 2010.