Although we are Christians we often hold a sub-Christian, even un-Christian, view of life and death. For example, we sometimes think that the Christian view of death is that after death our souls go to live in heaven with God forever. But this is a pagan view. For Christians, the human being is an embodied soul. The soul and body are one
entity. We say in the Creed that we “… look for the resurrection of the dead.” The idea is that when Jesus comes back at the end of times the dead will rise and human beings will be embodied should as God intended us to be.
We also err when we say or think that death is ‘natural’. People talk about the ‘cycle of life.” An organism is born, it matures, it ages and it dies. This view of life is found in many areas of our culture.
However, the Christian view of death is quite different. We are not created to die but live eternally and death is an unnatural thing caused by sin. We find this concept beautifully expressed in a talk that the late Fr. Thomas Hopko gave in 1999. Fr. Tom said:
“It is beyond any doubt that We Christians are convinced that we are created for life; it is not God’s will that we die. God doesn’t want death; He wants life. In the Scripture, death is the enemy. The Apostle Paul even calls death, “the last enemy”.
Death is not natural, not a natural part of our life and not willed by God. The Wisdom of Solomon, which for us is part of the Bible, says very clearly, “God did not create death”.
Death comes into the world as a rebellion against God. Death comes into the world because people do not choose life, but choose death, darkness and themselves over God.
It is our teaching that death results from the human rebellion against God from the beginning and with the help of the demons (who are loves of death, darkness, and evil). The Bible actually teaches a kind of ‘package plan’, you have God, truth, life, and glory, or you have the demons, darkness, death, Satan, sin, corruption, ugliness and rot. This is the basic reality, and there is no middle path.” (Fr. Thomas Hopko, Brisbane Australia, 1999)
The idea is that the sin of Adam and Eve and all humanity introduced death into the world. In a mysterious way, even the physical world has become involved in corruption due to human sin. As St. Paul writes:
“…. for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now. (Rom 8:20-22)
So when Jesus comes again He will not only reunite human souls and bodies but will restore the creation to what it was before sin, as God intended it to be.
And we should think about the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Paradise as being completely a bad thing. By eating from the Tre of the Knowledge of Good and Evil, they sinned. If they had then eaten from the Tree of Life, they would be immortal.
This may seem good to us, but if they had done this then sin would be immortal too.
They would have to live forever with the burden of sin on their conscience.
When God expelled Adam and Eve from paradise He knew He would send his Son Jesus Christ to be the conqueror of all sin and would restore humanity and the universe to their original state.
Jesus Christ did not have to die. He willed to die because he knew that He, as God, would destroy death by dying. Death could no longer hold Christ. By voluntarily entering into the kingdom of death He destroyed it and freed humanity from the need for eternal death. Because Christ was also human, new life was given to human beings.
This is reflected on the Paschal icon which shows Jesus Christ breaking the gates of death and leading Adam and Eve (and all humanity) from hell.
This action of Jesus Christ fulfills the Old Testament prophecy. For example Psalm 16:10 says: For thou dost not give me up to Sheol, or let thy godly one see the Pit.” We can also look at Isaiah 25:8-9 and Ezekiel 37:12-14.
“He will swallow up death forever, and the Lord God will wipe away tears from all faces, and the reproach of his people he will take away from all the earth; for the Lord has spoken. It will be said on that day, “Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, that he might save us. This is the Lord; we have waited for him; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation.” (Isaiah 25:8-9)
“Therefore prophesy, and say to them, thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people; and I will bring you home into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land; then you shall know that I, the Lord, have spoken, and I have done it, says the Lord." (Ez 27:12-14)
So we can see that through Christ’s action, humanity and the cosmos will finally be restored and will exist with Christ in glory forever.