Judicial death and natural death at the fall

Do you ever wonder why, if the wages of sin is death and Christ died for our sin why Christians still die? Understanding what happened at the fall helps shed some light. God said to Adam, “of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Gen 2:17).

When Adam and Eve ate from that tree he did not die. Instead, they were excluded from God’s life sustaining presence and so they grew old and Adam died naturally at 930 years of age (Gen 5:5).

Adam’s natural death in old age is to be distinguished from God’s threat of death. The threat of death for disobedience was to be judicial and by summary execution as Hamilton notes in his study of the Hebrew term translated “die” in Genesis 2:17:

all that môt tāmût clearly conveys is the announcement of death sentence by divine or royal decree. (Hamilton, The book of Genesis, NICOT, 1987)

The natural death of Adam and Eve was not judicial in this sense. Instead, God graciously granted them a stay of execution, he postponed their sentence. The natural or mortal death of human beings is not the judgement threatened in Gen 2:17. Rather, being shut out of God’s life giving presence was a consequence of sin. God effectively said to Adam and Eve “you cannot remain in my presence as sinners or I will consume you in my holiness and purity.”

The judicial death promised by God is the second death of Revelation 20:14-15. All mortal bodies will be raised, face judgement and face execution by royal decree (Gen 2:17). God never lies. The sentence pronounced in Eden is not commuted but postponed. Fallen human beings can only escape this second death by faith union with Christ in his substitutionary judicial execution. His death was both natural and judicial. As a result, there is no fear of natural death as it is only falling asleep (1 Thess 4:14-15), a consequence of being shut out of God’s presence because of sin, nor should they fear condemnation and the punishment of second death as died in their place.

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