The Paradox of Death
BY DAN KIEHL, Senior Pastor of Oakwood Presbyterian Church
In Luke 21:12-16 Jesus prepares His disciples for their suffering to come by saying, “…they will lay hands on you and persecute you…You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and relatives and friends, and some of you they will put to death.” Those are pretty ominous promises, but, before the disciples could begin to have second thoughts regarding their commitment to follow Him, He says one verse later, “But not a hair of your head will perish” (Luke 21:18).
How can both of these statements from our Lord be true? How could his followers be persecuted, suffering for Christ, even to the point of martyrdom, and yet not experience any harm, even the loss of a single hair? I know many balding Christian men who could either be troubled or reassured by Jesus’ statement, depending upon how they take it!
Jesus liked to teach by means of paradox – making statements that seemed to contain blatant contradictions – such as, “the first will be last”; “he who loses his life will save it”; “whoever wants to be great among you must be your servant.” The first half of the statement only appears to contradict the second half; as you study, you discover that both halves are true, only in different senses.
The first statement – that Jesus’ followers can expect to suffer and even die for their faith – is intended to be understood in the literal, earthly, physical sense. Christians can be subject to all the pains, illnesses, diseases, and handicaps that this fallen world can dish out, plus they should expect to suffer in various ways for their faith in Jesus Christ. Jesus promised that the lives of His followers would normally be harder than those of unbelievers, not easier.
But the second statement is the good news – no matter how much we suffer in this life, ultimately, we will suffer no loss whatsoever. As a matter of fact, the Apostle Paul said, “to live is Christ and to die is gain.” (Philippians 1:21). Followers of Christ have this glorious hope – that when our salvation is complete, we will be far better than new, the best version of ourselves that we could possibly be, by God’s grace. Every hair will be in place, every bone and muscle will be renewed and stronger than ever, and every internal organ will be made perfect. Better yet, our souls will be washed clean, filled with purity and holiness, and we will love God and each other with perfect intensity.
What is the key to understanding Jesus’ paradox? How can we lose and still win? How can we sacrifice and still gain? How can we die and still live? The key is Jesus’ resurrection from the dead. That greatest event of all time confirmed that His death had fully paid the price for our sins, and that He had, once for all, defeated death. By His grace, we will share in His resurrection, and be part of the New Heavens and New Earth for all eternity.
So, along with Paul, we can taunt death and Satan: “O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?...thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (I Corinthians 15:55,57). Satan’s greatest weapon – the fear of death – has been neutralized.