He Abolished Death

The future resurrection of believers is not a major subject in Paul’s “pastoral” letters, but he does raise the subject when dealing with the problem of false teachers in Ephesus. As he states, “God did not give us a spirit of fear but of a sound mind.” The theme of “sound teaching” is prominent in the three pastoral letters, and the future resurrection is a classic example of foundational apostolic doctrines. After all, Jesus “abolished death” when God raised him from the dead.

The Gospel proclaimed by Paul and his coworkers is “sound” teaching and represents the “power of God who saved and called us…according to His own purpose and grace given to us in Christ Jesus before the times of the ages.”

Graveyard - Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash
[Photo by Krisztina Papp on Unsplash]

However, this salvation has only been manifested in recent times. “God,
who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to the peculiar purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before the ages but has now been manifested through the appearance of our Savior, Christ Jesus, who has abolished death and thrown light upon life and incorruptibility, through means of the gospel.” - (2 Timothy 1:9-10).


By the phrase, “abolish death,” Paul does not mean that death no longer occurs in this life. The Greek verb translated as “abolish” does not mean to “destroy” or to annihilate something, but to “annul” it, to make it ineffective, to “discharge or IDLE” it (katargeô, Strong’s - #G2673).

The cessation of Death itself will not occur until the “arrival” of Jesus at the end of the age. As the author of Hebrews writes, through his death, Jesus “destroyed him that had the dominion of death, that is, the Devil; and to deliver them who through fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Death still occurs for all men, including believers, but it is incapable of holding the faithful disciple of Jesus at the end of the age when its sentence will be reversed by the bodily resurrection - (1 Corinthians 15:24-28, Hebrews 2:14-18).

According to Paul’s letter to Timothy, Jesus brought life and “immortality” to light (aphtharsia). The Greek noun rendered “immortality” does not mean “eternal” - It does NOT denote any sense of timelessness or of being without beginning or end. Immortality is the opposite of death, it is deathlessness. Literally, the Greek noun means “death-less” – (Strong’s - #G861).

This is not a state that human souls, spirits, or bodies possess by nature; rather, it is the new condition that Jesus inaugurated for his followers, and it certainly is not applicable to all human beings.

In the following chapter, Paul exhorts Timothy to “remember that Jesus Christ of the seed of David was raised from the dead according to my gospel.” Paul suffered persecution on account of this same Gospel, and central to it is the proclamation that God raised His son from the dead - (2 Timothy 2:8-18).

Paul suffered for preaching this Gospel, but he did so that the “elect may also obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with everlasting glory… If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him… If we suffer, we shall also reign with him.”


Again, death still occurs but it does not have the final word, at least, not for the faithful followers of Jesus. “Salvation” and “everlasting glory” will result from the resurrection of the dead when Jesus returns - (“we will also live with him”).

Paul reminds Timothy of Christ’s past resurrection on which the future resurrection of the believer is based. Certain false teachers were denying the bodily resurrection of the saints, or possibly they claimed it was already in the past and not applicable to the church. The Apostle labels such denials “profane and vain babblings,” and Timothy is exhorted to avoid them - (1 Corinthians 15:10-20).

It is not clear what, precisely, these men were teaching other than denying the future resurrection. More accurately, the clause reads, “declaring that the resurrection already came to pass.” This suggests claims that the resurrection was already in the past.

In any case, to deny the bodily resurrection, whether the resurrection of Jesus or the future resurrection of believers, is to abandon the fundamentals of the Gospel preached by Jesus and his Apostles, to repudiate the very foundation of Christian hope and salvation.

Based on beliefs common in Greco-Roman society, most likely, these false teachers rejected the idea of bodily resurrection in favor of one version or another of the belief in escape from the physical creation to a disembodied state - (Acts 17:32, 1 Corinthians 15:12).

That Paul brings up the resurrection so easily when it is tangential to his larger argument shows how basic and foundational this hope was in and to the apostolic tradition.



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