He Abolished Death

True North - Part 3


Chris Oswald

Jan. 28, 2024
True North



We’ve been tracing through Paul’s efforts to literally encourage Timothy. To give him courage to fan into flame the gift of God — and share in suffering as a good soldier of the Lord.

Last week we saw two ingredients in our recipe for boldness. Namely reliance on the holy spirit coupled with rehearsing key truths related to the sovereignty of God.

Today we will see Paul adding a third ingredient. Namely the removal of the fear of death.

I was reminded of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego who refused to worship Nebuchadnezzar and faced the fiery furnace as a result.

15 Now if you are ready when you hear the sound of the horn, pipe, lyre, trigon, harp, bagpipe, and every kind of music, to fall down and worship the image that I have made, well and good. But if you do not worship, you shall immediately be cast into a burning fiery furnace. And who is the god who will deliver you out of my hands?”

16 Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego answered and said to the king, “O Nebuchadnezzar, we have no need to answer you in this matter. 17 If this be so, our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the burning fiery furnace, and he will deliver us out of your hand, O king. 18 But if not, be it known to you, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up.” — Daniel 3:15–18

In a very real sense, death stands as the ultimate and universal fiery furnace into which all people must enter. But as we will see, those who are in Christ have such assurances that make boldness in the face of our enemies a very real possibility. So let’s get into it.

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 11 for which I was appointed a preacher and apostle and teacher, 12 which is why I suffer as I do. But I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed, and I am convinced that he is able to guard until that day what has been entrusted to me. 13 Follow the pattern of the sound words that you have heard from me, in the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 14 By the Holy Spirit who dwells within us, guard the good deposit entrusted to you.

Look back at vs. 8

8 Therefore do not be ashamed of the testimony about our Lord, nor of me his prisoner, but share in suffering for the gospel by the power of God, 9 who saved us and called us to a holy calling, not because of our works but because of his own purpose and grace, which he gave us in Christ Jesus before the ages began, 10 and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,

The Curious Case of Caesar the Savior

I am sure you get tired of me telling you that every time you see the word Lord in the New Testament, the writer is engaging in political speech. That title was reserved for Caesar. But what is less understood, and what I don’t think I’ve mentioned is that the title Savior was likewise reserved for Caesar.

A gate into the city of Ephesus, a gate which Paul and Timothy would’ve walked, had something inscribed to the effect of Caesar Augustus is Lord and Savior of the world.

We might understand Lord, but why would Caesar be deemed savior? There’s another ancient inscription, dated around 9 B.C. gives the answer:

“Since the providence that has divinely ordered our existence has applied her energy and zeal and has brought to life the most perfect good in Augustus, who she filled with virtues for the benefit of mankind, bestowing him upon us and our descendants as savior– he who put an end to war and will order peace, Caesar who by his epiphany exceeded the hopes of those who prophesied good tidings [euaggelia]… and since the birthday of the god first brought to the world the good tidings [euaggelia] residing in him… For that reason, with good fortune and safety, the Greeks of Asia have decided that the New Year in all the cities should begin on 23rd September, the birthday of Augustus.”

N. T. Wright concludes that Augustus had done the sort of thing only gods can do.  Rome had power to sweep aside all opposition; the power, in consequence, to create an extraordinary new world order.  Rome claimed to have brought justice to the world.  The accession of the emperor, and also his birthday, could therefore be hailed as euaggelion, good news.

Caesar was savior in this sense. He defeated the nation’s enemies and brought peace to the world.

  1. Christ the Destroyer

Now look back at vs. 10 — “and which now has been manifested through the appearing of our Savior Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel,”

Pretty crazy to realize that Paul wrote that while in Roman custody. His letter to Timothy in Ephesus may well have passed through the very gates that praised Caesar as lord and savior. And I want us to understand that the Caesarian meaning of savior very much applies to Jesus Christ — indeed far more so.

If Caesar was considered a savior because he dealt with the temporal, regional enemies.

How much more so is Jesus an even better savior — for he has defeated the enemy. Namely death. See that in vs. 10? “…our savior Jesus Christ who abolished death.”

The greek word for abolish is katareo. It is used four times in reference to Christ’s work. And each time it describes the use of force in establishment of peace.

It is used in 2 Thessalonians to refer to the man of lawlessness… “And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will kill with the breath of his mouth and bring to nothing by the appearance of his coming.” (2:8)

A haughty man and violent man will appear — and then Jesus will kill him with the breath of his mouth and bring him to nothing.

It is used in Ephesians 2 to talk about Jesus’ destruction of the ordinances that separated Jew and Gentile — “that he might in himself one new man in the place of two, so making peace.”

It is used in Hebrews in a way similar to what we see in 2 Timothy. “Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery.” (Hebrews 2:14-15)

Each time we see peace through power — through the destruction of something.

Now I’m glad Jesus took care of the man of lawlessness.
And I’m glad Jesus made it ok for Jews and Gentiles to be friends.
But I’m especially stoked about the whole death thing.

Let’s take the rest of our time thinking about what this means.

He abolished death. We need to think about death for a moment.

When we look at older preaching from centuries past, we see far more teaching and preaching on the subject of death. Now days we see very little of it. And this situation is exactly opposite as it should be. Death was far more visceral and visible in centuries past. In some sense, the reality of death was preaching its own sermon to everyone all the time. Now we have done a great deal to sanitize death and even worse, to sequester it. We keep death hidden from the regular person far more than we used to. As such, it is even more important to talk about it. The death rate hasn’t reduced whatsoever. It still maintains a perfect track record. And yet that reality is less visible to the average person than ever. So if anything, we need to talk about it more in these days than it used to be discussed in the past.

And there’s another reason… in order to appreciate the good news of the gospel, we have to think about things we don’t want to think about. But going back to the first sermon in this series, we cannot use comfort as our compass.

We must think about our sins.
And we must think about our deaths.

  1. Three Universals Concerning Death

  2. Everybody Dies

Death is the most universal of experiences. There are very few problems that are shared equally by all human beings in all places, cultures, etc… across both genders… and all socioeconomic tiers.

Sometimes you will meet an unbeliever who seems to have gotten a lot of mileage out of common grace. They are financially secure, not given to any particularly destructed vices, and seem to have relatively healthy relationships. And we might think to ourselves, “how can I possibly share the gospel with this person who seems to be doing quite fine without Christ.”

And the answer is death.

  1. Death Often Surprises

Three million people die in the US each year. The CDC states that accidents are the third leading cause of death in the United States. Heart disease being number one. Every year about 800,000 people have a heart attack. A very large portion of the 3 million people who die every year do so with little to no warning.

Our sin nature fills us with delusions of grandeur. We tend to think we are God. In this way, death is undeniable evidence that we are not God. At a certain age, we begin to realize how fragile our own lives really are.

Even those who die of other causes, tend to have one final season of mental clarity that at the time does not appear to be the final moments of mental clarity. Many people die in various states of confusion where they lack the mental acuity necessary to hear the gospel and believe.

As Jonathan Edwards puts it,

However strong, hale and healthy men may be, there is none strong enough to resist death; death will conquer them as easily as other men. However great they may be in the world, they must die: kings and emperors, czars and sultans must bow down before death, must give place to the king of terrors. (The king of terrors is from the book of Job).

“He is torn from the tent in which he trusted and is brought to the king of terrors.” — Job 18:14

  1. Death is a one way door to divine judgment

Hebrews 9:27 says, “it is appointed for man to die once and then comes the judgment.”

There are some technical questions about the timing of God’s judgment on individuals. We don’t need to get into that. The point we want to make today is simply that death is coming, it may come unexpectedly, and it is a one way door to divine judgment.

Excepting for those who are alive during the return of Christ, every human on earth has these three things in common. And in a very real sense, these three factors have driven the development of every culture, every religion, etc…

  1. Those Who Die Without Christ Will Go to Hell

We have talked about what all people have in common. Now we must talk about the difference Christ makes for those who are saved by him.

Those who die without Christ are driven into divine judgment. Thomas Boston said, “When the wicked die, they are driven out of this world, where they sinned, into the other world, where they must be judged (for their sin).”

That judgment leads to hell. What is hell?

From JI Packer’s Concise Theology

The sentimental secularism of modern Western culture, with its exalted optimism about human nature, its shrunken idea of God, and its skepticism as to whether personal morality really matters—in other words, its decay of conscience—makes it hard for Christians to take the reality of hell seriously. The revelation of hell in Scripture assumes a depth of insight into divine holiness and human and demonic sinfulness that most of us do not have. However, the doctrine of hell appears in the New Testament as a Christian essential, and we are called to try to understand it as Jesus and his apostles did.

The New Testament views hell (Gehenna, as Jesus calls it, the place of incineration, as the final abode of those consigned to eternal punishment at the Last Judgment. It is thought of as a place of fire and darkness, of weeping and grinding of teeth, of destruction, and of torment—in other words, of total distress and misery.

If, as it seems, these terms are symbolic rather than literal (fire and darkness would be mutually exclusive in literal terms), we may be sure that the reality, which is beyond our imagining, exceeds the symbol in dreadfulness. New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive. Such are the issues of eternity, which need now to be realistically faced.

Scripture envisages hell as unending. Speculations about a “second chance” after death, or personal annihilation of the ungodly at some stage, have no biblical warrant.

Scripture sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it by loving darkness rather than light, choosing not to have their Creator as their Lord, preferring self-indulgent sin to self-denying righteousness, and (if they encountered the gospel) rejecting Jesus rather than coming to him. General revelation confronts all mankind with this issue, and from this standpoint hell appears as God’s gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshiping him, or without God forever, worshiping themselves. Those who are in hell will know not only that for their doings they deserve it but also that in their hearts they chose it.

  1. Those Who Die In Christ Will Go to Heaven

Thomas Boston said, “When the wicked die, they are driven out of this world, where they sinned, into the other world, where they must be judged (for their sin).”

But the Bible tells us that when the righteous die, they are are escorted, they are carried, they are ushered from this life to the next sitting in the final climactic float of an angelic parade.

Here is John Flavel’s description

No sooner is the dividing stroke given by death, but they shall find themselves in the arms of angels, mounting them through the upper regions in a few moments, far above all the aspectable heavens,

They pass from the arms of mourning friends, into the welcome arms of officious and benevolent angels. From the sight and converses of men, to the sight of God, Christ, and the general assembly of blessed and sinless spirits.

Farewell vain world, with all the mixed and imperfect comforts of it, and welcome the more sweet, suitable, and satisfying company of Father, Son, and Spirit, holy angels, and perfected saints. From the bondage of corruption to perfect liberty and everlasting freedom.

From all fears, doubtings, and questionings of our conditions, and anxious debates of our title to Christ, to the clearest, fullest, and most satisfying assurance.

From all burdens of affliction, inward and outward, under which we have groaned all our days, to everlasting rest and ease. Oh what a blessed change to the righteous must this be!

Again from Packer

Scripture teaches us to form our notion of the life of heaven by (a) extrapolating from the less-than-perfect relationship that we now have with God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, with other Christians, and with created things to the thought of a perfect relationship, free from all limitation, frustration, and failure; (b) eliminating from our idea of a life lived for God all forms of pain, evil, conflict, and distress, such as we experience here on earth; and (c) enriching our imaginings of that happy future by adding in every conception of excellence and God-given enjoyment that we know. The visions of heaven’s life in Revelation 7:13–17 and 21:1–22:5 draw on all three of these ways of conceiving it.

According to Scripture, the constant joy of heaven’s life for the redeemed will stem from (a) their vision of God in the face of Jesus Christ (Rev. 22:4); (b) their ongoing experience of Christ’s love as he ministers to them (Rev. 7:17); (c) their fellowship with loved ones and the whole body of the redeemed; (d) the continued growth, maturing, learning, enrichment of abilities, and enlargement of powers that God has in store for them. The redeemed desire all these things, and without them their happiness could not be complete. But in heaven there will be no unfulfilled desires.

So the life of heavenly glory is a compound of seeing God in and through Christ and being loved by the Father and the Son, of rest and work, of praise and worship, and of fellowship with the Lamb and the saints.

Nor will it end (Rev. 22:5). Its eternity is part of its glory; endlessness, one might say, is the glory of glory. Hearts on earth say in the course of a joyful experience, “I don’t want this ever to end.” But it invariably does. The hearts of those in heaven say, “I want this to go on forever.” And it will. There can be no better news than this.


You will sometimes hear it said that the Jews missed Jesus’ messiahship because they were looking for a military hero and Jesus was not that. Wrong.

He was and is a military hero who waged war on the fundamental enemies that have enslaved humanity since the fall. He is a much better Caesar, and thus far superior savior, who fought the cosmic forces of sin and death and abolished their power over all who call Christ their King.

I am reminded of a quote from George Orwell who once said, “We sleep soundly in our beds, because rough men stand ready in the night to do violence on those who would harm us”

When the time comes; whether it is expected or unexpected, those in Christ may close their eyes and die in peace. They can sleep soundly in the death beds because, the strong man, Jesus Christ has removed the sting of death for them.

It is as if God has placed a banner over saint as he or she passes from this world — “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?”

And this is, I suppose you might say, an additional ingredient in our recipe for courage.

As John Flavel wrote, “If our souls be immortal, certainly our enemies are not so formidable as we are apt, by our sinful fears, to represent them.”

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