If, because of one man’s trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ. (Romans 5:17)
Whatever we may hear from secular psychologists and scientists, death is not a normal part of human life. It is not the natural and necessary endpoint to the life begun at conception, nurtured through childhood, and matured in middle age. Death is, rather, an intruder, a foreigner, a foe. It is our “last enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26).
When God breathed into Adam’s nostrils the breath of life, the breath was meant to stay. God made human lungs to expand forever; he crafted human hearts to beat on into eternity. Only sin has stolen the breath from our nostrils, and sundered soul from body. Death reigns on the earth not by God’s good design, the apostle Paul writes, but only because of “the one man’s trespass” (Romans 5:17).
Ever since Adam, we have needed a new man. A man who could grapple with the grave and steal away death’s scepter. A man who could break out of the tomb from the inside. A man who could deal death to death, and life for me.
The One Man
When the fullness of time had come, God sent his second Adam, “the one man Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:17). Jesus came saying, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6) — and he spread that life wherever he went.
As Jesus walked through our dying world, he dismissed sickness and disease, cured the legs of the paralyzed, and cleansed lepers’ decaying sin. The desperate need only grasp the fringe of his garment to find themselves made well. It was as if a man should walk through a graveyard and flowers grew wherever he stepped.
At least three times, Jesus even reached into the tomb and robbed death of his spoil. He said to the ruler’s daughter, “Little girl, . . . arise,” and she arose (Mark 5:41–42). He called to the widow’s son, “Young man, . . . arise,” and he obeyed (Luke 7:14–15). He commanded outside Lazarus’s tomb, “Come out,” and he came (John 11:43–44).
All the while, however, Jesus knew he must do more. If he were to finally rid death of its power, he would need to rob death of its sting: sin (1 Corinthians 15:56). He must obey where Adam failed — and the very same time, pay for Adam’s failure.
Death to Death
Both Adam and Jesus met their final test at a tree. But where Adam committed “one trespass,” Jesus fulfilled “one act of righteousness” (Romans 5:18). Whereas in Eden we find “the one man’s disobedience,” at Golgotha we see “the one man’s obedience” (Romans 5:19). Adam ate from the tree and welcomed death’s sting into the world. But Jesus hung from the tree and ushered in death’s undoing (Romans 5:20–21).
Death is the penalty for sin (Romans 6:23). But on the cross, Jesus won an “abundance of grace and . . . free gift of righteousness” for all who will receive them (Romans 5:17). And where sin is forgiven by grace, death has no ultimate authority. Where sin is covered by righteousness, death loses its power.
Death may still kill the body, but he cannot kill the soul. Death may still come for his victims’ souls and say, “Hand the sinners over.” But grace and righteousness are there to reply, “These sinners are forgiven — their penalty removed. You have no place here.”
Death’s reign, so long unopposed, is now over for all who are in Christ. Death has fallen from his throne, pierced by the swords of grace and righteousness. And though he still wields power, he is doomed to be destroyed (1 Corinthians 15:26). For Jesus, in dying, dealt death a mortal blow.
Life for Me
Jesus not only defeated death for us, however; he also fills us with life. By rising, Jesus frees his people to “reign in life” (Romans 5:17). The ultimate reign will come in eternity, when not only our souls but also our bodies will live, immortal, in the deathless New Jerusalem (1 Corinthians 15:53–55; Revelation 20:14). But even now, the reign of life has begun in us, spreading out from Jesus’s empty tomb.
Life reigns in us whenever we “walk in newness of life” (Romans 6:4), with the power of the resurrected Christ urging us on toward righteousness. Life reigns in us whenever we rejoice in our freedom from condemnation (Romans 8:1–2), knowing we have no reason to fear. And life reigns in us whenever we approach our coming death with hope, knowing that we will be immediately with our Lord — and that one day, our own tombs will be as empty as his.