Is death now our friend? Or is it still our foe? For believers, death is a friend insofar as it ushers us into the immediate presence of Christ. But insofar as it is still coupled with much suffering, it remains the last enemy that must be totally vanquished.
“Halt! Who goes there?” Such might be the words of a sentry who confronts a mysterious stranger in the darkness. The sentry must discern the identity of the trespasser to determine whether he is a friend or foe. Armed to protect his territory, the vigilant guard wants to avoid two evils: 1) the entrance into the compound of an enemy bent on destruction and 2) the mistaken shooting of an ally stumbling about in the dark.
There is an intruder in our garden—the one called death. Our task is to determine whether his grin is the fiendish mask of a mortal enemy or the benign smile of a friend come to rescue us from this vale of tears. Should we greet him with strident protests or with open arms?
The Bible describes death as an enemy. It is not the only enemy of the Christian, but it is described as the “last enemy.” In 1 Corinthians, Paul affirms that Christ will reign until He has put all enemies under His feet, and the last of those enemies will be death (1 Cor. 15:25–26). It should be a great comfort to the believer to know that the One in whom he places his trust is Christus Victor. We see this clearly in Hebrews, where the author describes Jesus as our archegos, or the “supreme champion” of His people.
The champion motif is central not only to Hebrews but to the entire Bible. We think of the famous episode of the match between David and Goliath. The Israelites and Philistines had agreed that the outcome of their war would be determined not by a full confrontation of the armies but by a contest between champions who would represent each side. Goliath, the gigantic champion of the Philistines, struck terror into the hearts of the Jewish soldiers because he appeared invincible. No one volunteered to go up against him until the shepherd boy, David, stepped forward to assume the task. His conquest of Goliath was astonishing, but it pales into insignificance when placed alongside the victory of David’s greater Son, who was also David’s Lord and David’s champion. As David went up against the power of Goliath, Jesus went up against the power of Satan himself.
Notice the link between Paul’s teaching in 1 Corinthians 15 and that found in Hebrews 2.
First Corinthians 15:26–28 says:
The last enemy that will be destroyed is death. For ‘He has put all things under His feet.’ But when He says ‘all things are put under Him,’ it is evident that He who put all things under Him is excepted. Now when all things are made subject to Him, then the Son Himself will also be subject to Him who put all things under Him, that God may be all in all.
Now note Hebrews 2:8ff:
For in that He put all in subjection under Him, He left nothing that is not put under Him. But now we do not yet see all things put under Him. 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.