I’ve seen death touch GOC in the past couple of months. People I know and care about have suffered more losses than I care to count. Some have been a cause for rejoicing, since God has called home His beloved children, to gather them to Himself in the comfort of His presence. He has ended their suffering and their long and weary journey here on this earth. In the words of the psalmist, “Precious in the sight of the LORD is the death of his saints” (Psalm 116:15). Other losses have been tragic and heartbreaking, as loved ones have passed away in a state of unbelief. Both have been a cause for grief, because those we care about have been taken from us.
And they rightly should be a cause for grief. Death was not what God desired for the first humans. It was not something He originally placed into creation–in His sovereignty, and even wisdom, He allowed it, but it was not how creation should have been. It was only when sin entered the world during the Fall that death also entered (Romans 5:12). So when we weep, when we grieve over death, this is part of what we weep about: a fallen creation that dies because it does not fully see and uphold God’s glory.
Here’s the thing: as much as we grieve because of the inherent wrongness of death, because it takes away the people we care about, because it ends a life that we were supposed to live more fully and endlessly, Jesus grieves over it more. Early in his ministry, Jesus was told that John the Baptist had been beheaded. Jesus’ response was not an emotionless appeal to God’s sovereignty, that everything was fine because God had this to happen. Nor was it a recitation of the truth that God was working this death for Jesus’ good. Jesus, in his humanity, “withdrew . . . in a boat to a desolate place by himself” (Matthew 14:13). Though Jesus understood the sovereignty and goodness of God, in his humanity he desired to be alone to grieve. He did not withstand such a blow with a cold stoicism, he allowed himself to feel the full weight of it.
Or to put it another way–to reference a verse that every church kid knows–“Jesus wept” (John 11:35). He wept because his friend Lazarus had died, and “he loved him” (11:36). He could not behold Lazarus’s sister Mary weeping without being “deeply moved in his spirit and greatly troubled” (11:33). Jesus empathizes! Jesus understands the brutality of death! In fact, Jesus understands it better than you or I do because he actually died and we haven’t! So we do not have a God who watches from a distance, disappointed that we would be concerned with such a thing so trifling as death. No–Jesus grieves with us.
The incredible thing is that because he is Jesus, because he is the Son of God, he has the right and the power to avenge. “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord” (Romans 12:19b). And avenge he will. One of the first things that I think about when I think about God’s vengeance is the martyrs, who will cry out, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” (Revelation 6:10). And God does not tell them to be quiet, or that they desire a wrong thing. He tells them to “rest a little longer” (6:11), and then he will avenge their deaths.
For you and me as believers, we hope in the perfect anger of our God because He will avenge us and our grief at death by pouring out His anger on death itself. There is coming a day–a great and glorious day!–when he will put an end to death. He will stop it in its tracks. Whether or not you are a martyr, He will avenge your death. And whether or not they are martyrs, He will avenge your mother’s death and your father’s death and your brother’s death and your sister’s death and your friend’s death and your child’s death–everyone’s death will be avenged by God personally. “The last enemy to be destroyed is death,” Paul writes (1 Corinthians 15:26). And John writes that in the new heaven and new earth, “death shall be no more” (Revelation 21:4). So know this, Christian: Jesus is storing up wrath. The day is appointed, and is coming, when he will throw Death into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14). He will utterly destroy death, and it shall be no more.
Perhaps you’re dealing with this right now. Perhaps you have in the past. You will in the future. I don’t just want to quote Romans 8:28, or James 1:2-4, or Romans 5:3-5, or 2 Corinthians 4:16-18 for you. They’re true, and I want you to believe them, because they offer great hope. But I also want you to know that it’s OK to grieve. Death is terrible, and as much as I can, as your brother in Christ, I grieve with you. But we grieve with the beautiful knowledge that our Savior grieves with us. We can hope in his beautiful anger at death, because we know that he will one day pour his furious wrath on it for eternity. And you and I, as believers, can worship God in the beautiful hope that we have victory over death in Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Corinthians 15:57). Because we trust in the second Adam, in his righteousness and perfect atonement, in his death and resurrection, death will not be the final word for you or for me (Romans 5:17). God allows death, for now, as one last opportunity for His children to trust Him, but when it has served its purpose, make no mistake: He will destroy it forever.