Previous part, part 6 was about Judas and Suicide.
IX. Theology of Life and Death
To understand suicide, as we would understand sin, one must have a proper theology of life and death. First, we understand that the Lord is the giver of life:
Then the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living being. (Genesis 2:7)
Genesis 2:7 gives us the origin of human life: the Lord. In His sovereignty, He granted man the blessing and gift of living. This is important; we will return to this as we push forward with our theology of life and death. For now, though, it should be noted that, if the Lord is the Giver of life, then only He and He alone should be the Taker of it — not human beings. No matter how much we’re made in the image of God, we aren’t and will never be God. Life then, should be seen as a good gift from a good God. If life is good, as LG Electronics says for its marketing slogan, then life is not something we should despise and seek to eliminate. In light of the goodness of God and the goodness of life, suicide is not a proper response to the divine gift.
‘See now that I, I am He,
And there is no god besides Me;
It is I who put to death and give life.
I have wounded and it is I who heal,
And there is no one who can deliver from My hand.
40 ‘Indeed, I lift up My hand to heaven,
And say, as I live forever,
41 If I sharpen My flashing sword,
And My hand takes hold on justice,
I will render vengeance on My adversaries,
And I will repay those who hate Me. (Deuteronomy 32:39-41)
From Deuteronomy, we can see that God is both the giver and taker of life. As He gave life in Genesis to Adam, the first human, He can also take life when He decides it’s time, in His sovereignty. He “puts to death and gives life,” so the Lord has decided that the ability to begin and end life is His and His alone. He doesn’t need any help in His sovereignty. Job says the same thing about the Lord in the Book of Scripture named after him (Job 1:21).
In Genesis 20, Abraham and Sarah find themselves in Egypt. Abraham tells Sarah to tell the Pharaoh that she is his sister, since he feared they would kill him and keep Sarah for their spouse. The Pharoah took Sarah, thinking that she was Abraham’s sister only, but the Lord comes to Pharoah in a dream and tells him that Sarah is Abraham’s wife — and that he needs to release her immediately, or else the wrath of God will come on him and all who are with him. When Pharoah returns Sarah along with 1,000 pieces of silver, cattle, and servants, and the Lord re-opens the wombs of Pharaoh’s wife and his female servants:
17 Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelech and his wife and his maids, so that they bore children. 18 For the Lord had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah, Abraham’s wife. (Genesis 20:17-18)
The wombs of Abimelech’s wife and his maids are opened upon Abraham’s prayer. Prior to his prayer, their wombs were closed: “for the Lord had closed fast all the wombs of the household of Abimelech because of Sarah.” This shows us that the Lord can close wombs and open them when He decides. He can close wombs when individuals are sinning against Him, and He can open them when those same individuals turn to Him and obey Him.
The Lord was sovereign over letting Leah bear children while Rachel, Isaac’s more beautiful wife, was barren:
31 Now the Lord saw that Leah was unloved, and He opened her womb, but Rachel was barren. 32 Leah conceived and bore a son and named him Reuben, for she said, “Because the Lord has seen my affliction; surely now my husband will love me.” 33 Then she conceived again and bore a son and said, “Because the Lord has heard that I am unloved, He has therefore given me this son also.” So she named him Simeon. 34 She conceived again and bore a son and said, “Now this time my husband will become attached to me, because I have borne him three sons.” Therefore he was named Levi. 35 And she conceived again and bore a son and said, “This time I will praise the Lord.” Therefore she named him Judah. Then she stopped bearing. (Genesis 29:31-35)
The Lord opened Leah’s womb because Isaac didn’t really love Leah all that much. After all, he really wanted Rachel first but Laban, his uncle, tricked him by giving him Leah first. He worked 7 years to get Leah (whom he didn’t want); then, he had to work another 7 years to get Rachel. And even after that, his affections were great for Rachel. So, the Lord gives Leah children, 4 sons, while Rachel didn’t have any children. The Lord told Israel that, if the nation walked before Him and served Him and obeyed His commandents, He would bless the fruit of their womb and cattle:
12 “Then it shall come about, because you listen to these judgments and keep and do them, that the Lord your God will keep with you His covenant and His lovingkindness which He swore to your forefathers. 13 He will love you and bless you and multiply you; He will also bless the fruit of your womb and the fruit of your ground, your grain and your new wine and your oil, the increase of your herd and the young of your flock, in the land which He swore to your forefathers to give you. 14 You shall be blessed above all peoples; there will be no male or female barren among you or among your cattle. (Deuteronomy 7:12-14)
Having open wombs was a sign that the Lord had blessed His people. The Lord could open or close the womb as He saw fit.
Yet You are He who brought me forth from the womb;
You made me trust when upon my mother’s breasts.
10 Upon You I was cast from birth;
You have been my God from my mother’s womb. (Psalm 22:9-10)
David praises the Lord for bringing him forth from his mother’s womb at birth, saying that “You brought me forth from the womb.” In other words, the Lord is responsible for life.
Behold, children are a gift of the Lord,
The fruit of the womb is a reward.
4 Like arrows in the hand of a warrior,
So are the children of one’s youth.
5 How blessed is the man whose quiver is full of them;
They will not be ashamed
When they speak with their enemies in the gate. (Psalm 127:3-5)
Children come from the Lord, the Psalm says, so as to leave no doubt as to the origin of life.
For You formed my inward parts;
You wove me in my mother’s womb.
14 I will give thanks to You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made;
Wonderful are Your works,
And my soul knows it very well.
15 My frame was not hidden from You,
When I was made in secret,
And skillfully wrought in the depths of the earth;
16 Your eyes have seen my unformed substance;
And in Your book were all written
The days that were ordained for me,
When as yet there was not one of them. (Psalm 139:13-16)
Notice that David says “you formed my inward parts,” referring to the Lord from verse 1 of the same Psalm. He goes on to say “you wove me in my mother’s womb.” In other words, the Lord created the zygote that then grows into the fetus, that comes to term and is then born. Verse 16 says “your eyes have seen my unformed substance,” referring to the fact that, before you and I were ever conceived, the Lord saw us. He already willed us to exist, to live, to be born. David’s words about his days shows that the Lord has “ordained” our days, as far back as before our births, before our conception. In other words, the Lord has planned our days, since He is the Giver of Life. It makes sense that the Lord would plan our days; after all, since He is the Lord of life and every good gift, He is the sovereign Lord who determines our days.
This is something to ponder when we consider our study of suicide: suicide is when an individual chooses to end his or her life. And yet, what we see in Psalm 139 is that the Lord sees us before we’re born and has planned our days before any of them started. The question we should ask ourselves is the following: “how can one commit suicide when the Lord has already planned out and determined our days?” When a person commits suicide or completes suicide, rather, the individual cuts off the days the Lord has planned for that individual. In other words, instead of acknowledging the Lord’s sovereignty over one’s life, that individual decides he or she is sovereign and Lord and can decide when to end it. But, if someone cannot bring life, cannot start life, then what makes the individual believe he or she has the right to end life?
Psalm 139 poses a problem for those who assume that suicide is just one of a number of sins because it shows that to end our days before their time is to step in the place of God and decide when to end them ourselves. If we’re going to adopt a theology of life from the Scriptures, then we need to understand that God’s sovereignty over life also indicates God’s sovereignty over death. In other words, to accept one is to accept the other.
Thus says the Lord who made you And formed you from the womb, who will help you, ‘Do not fear, O Jacob My servant; And you Jeshurun whom I have chosen. (Isaiah 44:2)
Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and the one who formed you from the womb, “I, the Lord, am the maker of all things, Stretching out the heavens by Myself And spreading out the earth all alone, (Isaiah 44:24)
Here in these two verses, the Lord is called “the one who formed you from the womb,” a reference to the reproductive process. While it takes a man and a woman for the biological processes of making a child, God alone is the one that can bring the child into existence. So, the Lord is the one that has formed you and me. If he’s formed us, then shouldn’t our lives be about what He wants, how He wants to be glorified in them, rather than how we want them to be?
“Listen to Me, O house of Jacob, And all the remnant of the house of Israel, You who have been borne by Me from birth And have been carried from the womb; (Isaiah 46:3)
The Lord tells Israel here that He has born the nation from birth and carried Israel from the womb. Here, we see that the Lord has birthed Israel, but we’ve already seen that the Lord “weaves” lives in the womb and carries them to term.
Listen to Me, O islands,
And pay attention, you peoples from afar.
The Lord called Me from the womb;
From the body of My mother He named Me. (Isaiah 49:1)
Here we see that the capitalized Me refers to not Isaiah, but Jesus, “the despised One, to the One abhorred by the nation, to the Servant of rulers,” that being Jesus (Isaiah 49:7). So when it says that the Lord called Me from the womb, it’s saying that the Lord called Jesus from the womb. It also says that the Lord “named Me,” referring to giving the Son of God the name “Jesus” in His incarnation.
4 Now the word of the Lord came to me saying,
5 “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you,
And before you were born I consecrated you;
I have appointed you a prophet to the nations.” (Jeremiah 1:4-5)
Notice that the Lord tells Jeremiah “before I formed you in the womb I knew you.” What does this mean? It means that the Lord already had Jeremiah in His mind before Jeremiah ever came to be in the womb. Before the Lord created him, the Lord was already familiar with who Jeremiah would be and what the Lord had purposed for his life. What this shows us is that the biological process is not all there is to procreation. While procreation is the part we experience and see, there is the other part of the process: the Lord God determines the persons born, their names, their personalities, and their talents and gifts, and callings. It makes sense that the Lord would be familiar with Jeremiah before He formed Jeremiah: after all, if the Lord hadn’t formed Jeremiah yet, then only He would know His future plans to create Jeremiah (and us, as fellow human beings). The Lord purposed Jeremiah’s life long before He formed him in his mother’s womb. The same can be said for us: the Lord knows us before He forms us in our mother’s womb.
13 For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; 14 and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. 15 But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased 16 to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, (Galatians 1:13-16)
Here Paul says that he was set apart for the work of the Lord “even from my mother’s womb.” This means that the Lord had a purpose for Paul, had a calling on his life.
‘Your hands fashioned and made me altogether,
And would You destroy me?
9 ‘Remember now, that You have made me as clay;
And would You turn me into dust again?
10 ‘Did You not pour me out like milk
And curdle me like cheese;
11 Clothe me with skin and flesh,
And knit me together with bones and sinews?
12 ‘You have granted me life and lovingkindness;
And Your care has preserved my spirit. (Job 10:8-12)
Jobs 10:8 says that “your hands have fashioned me altogether,” referring to the fact that the Lord created Job in the same way He created Adam: by creating him and fashioning him with his hands. We are clay, molded from the dust of the earth, and Genesis tells us that the Lord scooped down in the dirt, picked up the dirt, and made man from the dust of the ground, then breathed life into him. The text goes on to say that the Lord “clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews.” We just learned from passages prior that the Lord wove us together in our mother’s womb.
We’ve examined a theology of life, here, but we can’t end it without presenting the words of the Lord Jesus Christ Himself:
7 So Jesus said to them again, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before Me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not hear them. 9 I am the door; if anyone enters through Me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly. (John 10:7-10)
Jesus makes it clear that He is not a thief because, whereas the thief comes to take away and destroy, He came so that the world would have a more abundant life. In other words, there’s something good to life – and that goodness comes from the Lord. What this means is that we should be willing to celebrate the good in life despite the bad that occurs because the Lord has come to give us hope.
Though Satan is not mentioned in John 10, we will see in the upcoming section on Satan, Jesus, and Temptation that Jesus words’ about the thief apply to Satan. Satan comes to steal, kill, and destroy, and this can be seen plainly in Jesus’ temptation in the wilderness.
Theology of Death and the Controversy Surrounding Suicide
We’ve covered a theology of life, that life comes from the Lord and that the Lord plans our days, that He is the giver and taker of life according to Job’s own words when he was faced with his suffering (Job 1:21). And yet, many form a theology of life but few stop to contemplate a theology of death. It’s important that we formulate a theology of death here, seeing that we’ve discussed the temptation of suicide and talked about Judas’s own suicide.
With regard to death, we know that there is a time to be born and a time to die, according to Solomon’s own words on the matter:
There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven— 2 A time to give birth and a time to die; A time to plant and a time to uproot what is planted. (Ecclesiastes 3:1-2)
In the same way that God is the Giver of Life, and has appointed a time to be born, there is also a time to die. Paul says the exact same thing in Hebrews:
27 And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, 28 so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him. (Hebrews 9:27-28)
Men are appointed to die once, according to this passage, but we’ve examined in Genesis 3 that man was punished with the death sentence because Adam and Eve sinned against God by eating the forbidden fruit. So there is a time to die, specifically because of the death sentence the Lord imposed on man due to his sin. Thus, God has appointed a day for our birth and a day for our death.
You can see from this reasoning why suicide is a controversy: for, suicide cuts off the person’s life early. If a person is to live 85 years, but that individual decides to commit suicide at 35 years old, then to go through with it means that the victim has forfeited his or her last 50 years of life. Unless one believes that the Lord has “ordained” that people commit suicide, which is nothing short of heretical in my opinion, then suicide victims forfeit the additional days of life the Lord had purposed to give them.
This has an impact on the doctrines of Perseverance and Apostasy, despite the attempts of some to assume that those who believe in apostasy are practicing bad theology. Scripture says that we are to persevere until the end, endure until the end, be faithful unto death, and keep the faith:
18 This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, 19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. (1 Timothy 1:18-19)
Those who reject keeping the faith and a good conscience have destroyed their faith. So, those who do not keep the faith have tossed their faith away and thus, have no guarantee of eternal life. The question to ask regarding this verse is, “did the suicide victim throw away his or her faith?” Suicide is a way out for some who have lost faith in the Lord and don’t see any end in sight to their troubles. Does someone who commits suicide lose faith in God? Well, according to Jesus’ temptation of suicide by Satan, the act itself demonstrates a loss of faith in the Lord, a measure of unbelief that the Lord is not with the person. Is this not a loss of faith, when one decides to kill oneself? When the individual decides to end his or her life, is he or she not acting as God and deciding to rebel against the sovereignty of the Lord to determine when he or she is born and when he or she dies? If the Lord determines one’s day of birth, then why not live out one’s life until the Lord comes for him or her? The loss of faith and suicide as the ultimate human rebellion against God are reasons why some hold strong beliefs that declare that suicide victims who professed Christianity while alive forfeit their salvation when the suicide act is complete.
11 And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” 12 Here is the perseverance of the saints who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus. (Revelation 14:11-12)
The saints of God persevere because “they keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus” despite the fact that people are giving in and accepting the mark of the beast’s name in Revelation. The word “perseverance” tells us that Perseverance is a doctrine, not merely a biblical concept, that we must endure to the end and that this is how we can know we are saved. Suicide victims once professing faith have not endured to the end if they take their lives. They cannot endure to the end of their lives if they have ended their lives before its time. Since man is appointed to die, and there is a time to die, suicide victims have decided to take matters into their own hands and have decided that they’d rather die on their own appointed date instead of the Lord’s.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; and children will rise up against parents and cause them to be put to death.22 You will be hated by all because of My name, but it is the one who has endured to the end who will be saved. (Matthew 10:22)
The word for “endured” in the text comes from the parent Greek verb hupomeno (pronounced hu-po-men-O), meaning “to hold fast to one’s faith in Christ under misfortunes and trials.” Scripture teaches that we all face misfortunes and trials, some more and worse in intensity than others, but the one that holds onto faith in Christ under trials (no matter how heavy) and endures until the end, the appointed time to die, will be saved and will have eternal life. When a person commits suicide or completes suicide, he or she does not endure under their trials but decides to escape them and take the easy way out.
9 “Then they will deliver you to tribulation, and will kill you, and you will be hated by all nations because of My name. 10 At that time many will fall away and will betray one another and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets will arise and will mislead many. 12 Because lawlessness is increased, most people’s love will grow cold. 13 But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved. (Matthew 24:9-13)
The context here for Jesus’ words is tribulation (“they will deliver you over to tribulation”), and Jesus mentioned that “many will fall away” due to persecution and tribulation. False prophets will also come, but “the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” In other words, one must endure until the end of life, despite the harsh conditions one faces, in order to be saved. Christians that complete suicide have not endured to the end but have ended their days in order to end the tribulation, persecution, and suffering.
8 “And to the angel of the church in Smyrna write:
The first and the last, who was dead, and has come to life, says this:
9 ‘I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich), and the blasphemy by those who say they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan. 10 Do not fear what you are about to suffer. Behold, the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. 11 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes will not be hurt by the second death.’ (Revelation 2:8-11)
The Lord tells the church in Smyrna “I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich).” What does this mean? That the church in Smyrna had been tested and tried through things that had happened to them, and that they were poor though they were rich (in other words, they were humble and giving despite having their riches). They were also facing blasphemy by those who claimed to be Jews “and are not,” Jesus says. The Lord then tells the Smyrna church that they should not fear their upcoming tribulation, that “the devil is about to cast some of you into prison, so that you will be tested, and you will have tribulation for ten days. Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). The devil would persecute the Smyrna church, Jesus says. In other words, Satan does for believers what he did for the Smyrna church: he brings persecution and distress upon believers. The Smyrna church would have tribulation for 10 days, but Jesus then says “be faithful unto death.”
Why would the Lord mention faithfulness unto death in the middle of His words to the Smyrna church? Because during this tribulation and time of testing, some would give their lives because of Christ. So, the Lord tells them to be faithful unto death and that this faithfulness would yield them “the crown of life.” This same phrase, “Crown of life,” is used in James 1:12 as the reward of the man who perseveres through his trials:
Blessed is a man who perseveres under trial; for once he has been approved, he will receive the crown of life which the Lord has promised to those who love Him. (James 1:12)
The man who perseveres under trial, who endures despite the hardships he or she faces, is the one who will be saved. The Lord will give those who endure “a crown of life,” which James says “the Lord has promised to those who love Him.”
With Revelation and James affirming that one must endure through trials and tribulations, the message says to us that we have to endure to be saved. If we do not endure, then we cannot experience eternal life in all its fullness. The crown of life is only given to those who persevere under trial and tribulation, who are “faithful unto death,” even if it means being put to death by the hands of others. The Lord told the Smyrna church that the devil, Satan, would put them into prison (“some of you”), but that their faithfulness would save them. What does it mean to be “faithful”? Faithful is a compound word consisting of the words faith and full. To be faithful, then, means to be full of faith. In other words, one must be believing until the end of one’s life to receive the crown of life that only the Lord can give.
Paul refers to the “crown of life” as “the crown of righteousness” when he speaks of the end of his life drawing near as he faces death:
6 For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure has come. 7 I have fought the good fight, I have finished the course, I have kept the faith; 8 in the future there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day; and not only to me, but also to all who have loved His appearing. (2 Timothy 4:6-8)
Paul states three facts: 1) he has fought the good fight of faith, which is what he tells Timothy to do earlier in the same epistle:
18 This command I entrust to you, Timothy, my son, in accordance with the prophecies previously made concerning you, that by them you fight the good fight, 19 keeping faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith. 20 Among these are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan, so that they will be taught not to blaspheme. (1 Timothy 1:18-20)
Paul tells Timothy to “fight the good fight, keeping faith,” which means that the battle involves faith and faith is important or necessary for the spiritual battle. Notice that some have “rejected” faith and a good conscience, and have “suffered shipwreck in regard to their faith.” Engaging in the spiritual battle involves keeping faith, which you must have faith in order to please God (Hebrews 11: ).
Paul tells Timothy the same thing again in chapter 6 of the same epistle when talking about false doctrine and false teachers who spread false doctrine because of their love of money – which leads some down the path of destruction. The passage below is right after Paul talks about being content with food and clothing, and the famous “the love of money” passage:
11 But flee from these things, you man of God, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, perseverance and gentleness. 12 Fight the good fight of faith; take hold of the eternal life to which you were called, and you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses. 13 I charge you in the presence of God, who gives life to all things, and of Christ Jesus, who testified the good confession before Pontius Pilate, 14 that you keep the commandment without stain or reproach until the appearing of our Lord Jesus Christ, 15 which He will bring about at the proper time—He who is the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords, 16 who alone possesses immortality and dwells in unapproachable light, whom no man has seen or can see. To Him be honor and eternal dominion! Amen. (1 Timothy 6:11-16)
Notice that Paul says that Timothy made a confession of faith before many witnesses. The Apostle is referring here to Timothy’s good confession of faith, and Paul’s words are meant to encourage Timothy to push through and stay the course he’s started on (a life of faith) that started when he confessed the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord before many witnesses. The confession of faith is how unbelievers enter into the Kingdom of Christ and God. The phrase “fight the good fight” refers to doing battle as one walks with the Lord on a daily basis, remaining faithful to the Lord even in the presence of evil, even as Timothy had to battle false doctrine and the possibility of some having strayed from the faith – which the Spirit tells us would happen in the last days (1 Timothy 4:1).
So, when Paul is telling Timothy “I have fought the good fight,” he’s saying that he’s had to do battle as a believer with “the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:2). Next, Paul says in 2 Timothy 4, “I have finished the course,” he’s referring to the course of life, the Christian race that he’s run from the Damascus Road experience in the Book of Acts where he meets the Lord Jesus as he’s on the road to Damascus to persecute more believers until now. How do we know this? Paul points to the end of his life with phrases such as “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering” (2 Tim. 4:6)” and “The Lord…will bring me safely to His heavenly kingdom” (2 Tim. 4:18). Jesus uses references to “drink the cup” when He talks about death, so we see that references to drink surround the issue of death. The statement that Paul makes where he says that his life is akin to being “poured out as a drink offering” here seems to mimic the drink sacrifices of the Old Testament:
Jacob set up a pillar in the place where He had spoken with him, a pillar of stone, and he poured out a drink offering on it; he also poured oil on it. (Genesis 35:14)
You shall make its dishes and its pans and its jars and its bowls with which to pour drink offerings; you shall make them of pure gold. (Exodus 25:29)
And for the drink offering you shall offer one-third of a hin of wine as a soothing aroma to the Lord. (Numbers 15:7)
12 When the king came from Damascus, the king saw the altar; then the king approached the altar and went up to it, 13 and burned his burnt offering and his meal offering, and poured his drink offering and sprinkled the blood of his peace offerings on the altar. (2 Kings 16:13)
The children gather wood, and the fathers kindle the fire, and the women knead dough to make cakes for the queen of heaven; and they pour out drink offerings to other gods in order to spite Me. (Jeremiah 7:18)
When I had brought them into the land which I swore to give to them, then they saw every high hill and every leafy tree, and they offered there their sacrifices and there they presented the provocation of their offering. There also they made their soothing aroma and there they poured out their drink offerings. (Ezekiel 20:28)
But even if I am being poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrifice and service of your faith, I rejoice and share my joy with you all. (Philippians 2:17)
Paul uses the phrase “poured out as a drink offering” in his epistles to the early church Christians because it is a metaphor for the sacrifice of his life. He is about to “be sacrificed,” to offer up his life to the Lord. The end of his life is drawing near. Remember his words to the Romans to “present your bodies a living sacrifice” (Romans 12:1-2)? The word “sacrifice” here tells us that, like the Old Testament sacrifices, we are to give ourselves to God because the unblemished, spotless Lamb of God, Jesus Christ, who takes away the sins of the world (John 1:29), has been offered up for us and appropriated to those who believe by faith (Romans 8:1). Since the Lord Jesus is the atoning sacrifice, or, to use a biblical phrase, the propitiation for our sins (1 John 2:2; 4:10), and He has been offered up for us, we can offer ourselves to God even at the end of life.
Paul’s statement about being poured out like a drink offering is intended to get the ear of his readers, to make them think about what it means to offer one’s life as a sweet-smelling sacrifice to the Lord. When one reaches the end of one’s life, one can offer up his or her life to the Lord as a sweet-smelling aroma when he or she has endured the race until the end of their days. Notice that Paul says in 2 Timothy 4 that “the time of my departure has come” (v.6). How did Paul know that his time to die was coming soon? The Lord had told Paul it was time. When he was in Corinth, teaching and preaching the Word of God, winning many souls to Christ, “the Lord said to Paul in a night vision, ‘Do not be afraid any longer, but go on speaking and do not be silent; for I am with you, and no man will attack you in order to harm you, for I have many people in this city’” (Acts 18:9-10).
When Paul could’ve easily feared his life, the Lord told him that he would not be harmed because the Lord had many people in the city. Only the Lord could have put Paul’s mind at ease because he was preaching and teaching the gospel — and there were many teaching and preaching who had been harmed for the sake of the gospel.
The Lord told Paul in Acts about the end of his life through the prophet Agabus:
7 When we had finished the voyage from Tyre, we arrived at Ptolemais, and after greeting the brethren, we stayed with them for a day. 8 On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. 9 Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. 10 As we were staying there for some days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul’s belt and bound his own feet and hands, and said, “This is what the Holy Spirit says: ‘In this way the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we had heard this, we as well as the local residents began begging him not to go up to Jerusalem.13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be bound, but even to die at Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we fell silent, remarking, “The will of the Lord be done!” (Acts 21:7-14)
The Lord told Paul through the prophet Agabus that he would be bound and shackled and handed over to the Gentiles. This refers to his imprisonment in Jerusalem. And, even when Paul hears this, he is still ready to go to Jerusalem! Some would say that he was crazy, and even the local citizens tried to dissuade Paul from going to Jerusalem, but he accepted that it may be his time to die there. He made peace with the idea that the Lord may have him give his life for Christ while in Jerusalem. Paul’s acceptance of the Lord’s will for him is what living a life of faith looks like: it means that we accept the Lord’s will for our lives, including the time and circumstances of our death. You can’t claim to accept the Lord’s will for your life, then find ways to avoid the pain, the suffering, the trials and tribulations. That is not a life of faith; that is a life of unbelief and escape. Paul accepts it here, knowing that at the very least, the he would be imprisoned in Jerusalem and handed over to the Gentiles. And this is exactly what happens in the same chapter as the prophecy, Acts 21:27-36). Just three chapters later, Paul appears before Felix, who leaves Paul imprisoned in jail after his own term (at this point, Paul has been in jail for 2 years).
Even when Paul find himself on board a ship set for Caesar as a prisoner, Paul tells the men aboard that no one will lose their lives, just the ship:
21 When they had gone a long time without food, then Paul stood up in their midst and said, “Men, you ought to have followed my advice and not to have set sail from Crete and incurred this damage and loss. 22 Yet now I urge you to keep up your courage, for there will be no loss of life among you, but only of the ship. 23 For this very night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood before me, 24 saying, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul; you must stand before Caesar; and behold, God has granted you all those who are sailing with you.’ 25 Therefore, keep up your courage, men, for I believe God that it will turn out exactly as I have been told. 26 But we must run aground on a certain island.” (Acts 27:21-25)
The Lord told Paul that he would survive the ship accident because he was to appear before Caesar. Only the Lord could’ve told Paul that he would survive the accident. Again, the Lord had a set time for Paul to die – and that time hadn’t yet come. Paul does make it to Caesar, though, and testifies that Agabus was a legitimate prophet who had predicted Paul’s arrest accurately:
16 When we entered Rome, Paul was allowed to stay by himself, with the soldier who was guarding him.
17 After three days Paul called together those who were the leading men of the Jews, and when they came together, he began saying to them, “Brethren, though I had done nothing against our people or the customs of our fathers, yet I was delivered as a prisoner from Jerusalem into the hands of the Romans. 18 And when they had examined me, they were willing to release me because there was no ground for putting me to death. 19 But when the Jews objected, I was forced to appeal to Caesar, not that I had any accusation against my nation. 20 For this reason, therefore, I requested to see you and to speak with you, for I am wearing this chain for the sake of the hope of Israel.” (Acts 28:16-20)
Paul testifies here to the Jews that he was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans (Gentiles), just as Agabus said while binding Paul’s hands to his belt.
There are two places in Scripture where Paul refers to walking with God as a race:
24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but only one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may win. 25 Everyone who competes in the games exercises self-control in all things. They then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 Therefore I run in such a way, as not without aim; I box in such a way, as not beating the air; 27 but I discipline my body and make it my slave, so that, after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified. (1 Corinthians 9:24-27)
Paul also mentions the same in Hebrews 12:1, which I will go into further detail regarding later. For now, though, the text of 1 Corinthians 9:24-27 is sufficient to tell us that Paul saw salvation as a race we run with the Lord, a race that we run that involves self-control and discipline in order to win the prize. Notice he says that “they then do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable.” The word imperishable in the Greek is phtharton, meaning “corruptible” or “decayed.” In other words, runners in marathons and races on TV (speaking in today’s terms) run to win a medal or a crown, wreath, or special prize that is temporal, fleeting, for a time. The crown, medal, and wreath can all be destroyed, trashed, burned, and come to nothing. They can even be stolen, Jesus says, earthly treasures that thieves can break through homes and steal:
19 “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys, and where thieves do not break in or steal; 21 for where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. (Matthew 6:19-21)
Paul then says in 2 Timothy 4:7 that “I have kept the faith,” referring to his faith in the Lord despite all his suffering, trials, tribulations, and persecutions. What is the exact nature of Paul’s persecutions and tribulations?
But in whatever respect anyone else is bold—I speak in foolishness—I am just as bold myself. 22 Are they Hebrews? So am I. Are they Israelites? So am I. Are they descendants of Abraham? So am I. 23 Are they servants of Christ?—I speak as if insane—I more so; in far more labors, in far more imprisonments, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep. 26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. 28 Apart from such external things, there is the daily pressure on me of concern for all the churches. (2 Corinthians 11:21b-28)
Did you just read the same list that I read? In all the things Paul endured, he never lost his faith. He kept his faith, even though he received lashes 5 times (39 times for each lashing). He was shipwrecked three times, in which he could’ve been killed and left for dead. Paul was stoned, and beaten with rods three times. Paul faced dangers, whether he was on land, sea, in the city, in the wilderness, among robbers, or among his own countrymen. With stoning, shipwrecks, rod beatings, lashings, and hunger and thirst, you’d think that Paul would’ve long died before he was arrested in Jerusalem. And yet, as mentioned before, the Lord told Paul along the way that he wouldn’t die, despite the threats against his life (and the men in Jerusalem were out to kill him more than once).
The Lord told Paul through the prophet Agabus that Paul would be arrested and imprisoned in Jerusalem and he embraced it rather than run from it. If it meant he’d die in Jerusalem, then he’d die there – but, no matter the circumstances surrounding his death, he’d die doing the will of the Lord. He’d die in the will of God, he’d die in the service of the Lord. This is what it means to keep the faith: to continue trusting the Lord, no matter what comes your way – whether a bad medical diagnosis, the lost of a job and early retirement when you’d planned to work another 10 years, to care for a sick or ill relative who may never recover, to minister to a hurting soul, and so on. Since the Lord is the Sovereign who is sovereign over our lives, then He determines our beginning and our end.
And when we live lives as believers that acknowledge the sovereignty of God, then we acknowledge that the Lord is the sovereign in our lives. Like Paul, we surrender to the will of God, even when it is plagued with persecution and suffering. Committing suicide or completing suicide is, for the believer, running away from the will and sovereignty of God. It is, in effect, a way of shrinking back or retreating from our discipleship, from being followers of Christ. It is a way of laying down our Cross after we’ve picked it up, a way of rebelling against the Lord after we’ve told the Lord we’d follow Him, a way of rebelling against the working of the Holy Spirit who has been given to us within to sanctify us so that we’ll bear the fruit of the Spirit.
Paul, the one who endured all of the things he recorded in 2 Corinthians 11, wrote the following in Hebrews about the one who shrinks back:
32 But remember the former days, when, after being enlightened, you endured a great conflict of sufferings, 33 partly by being made a public spectacle through reproaches and tribulations, and partly by becoming sharers with those who were so treated. 34 For you showed sympathy to the prisoners and accepted joyfully the seizure of your property, knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence, which has a great reward. 36 For you have need of endurance, so that when you have done the will of God, you may receive what was promised.
37 For yet in a very little while, He who is coming will come, and will not delay. 38 But My righteous one shall live by faith; And if he shrinks back, My soul has no pleasure in him. 39 But we are not of those who shrink back to destruction, but of those who have faith to the preserving of the soul. (Hebrews 10:32-39)
Here Paul recalls the days of old when they suffered persecution and tribulation along with prisoners because of their faith. Paul encourages them to continue in their faith: “you have need of endurance,” which shows that endurance is not optional in the Christian faith. Those who endure and do the will of God receive the promise, what He has promised.
The reference for “My righteous one shall live by faith” comes from Habakkuk 2:4, a passage in which the righteous man is contrasted with the proud man: the proud man lives by his greed and selfishness, while the righteous person lives by faith. Paul says that faith is how we know that we are saved in the end, enduring faith, lasting faith, is what separates us from those who “shrink back.” The word for “shrink back,” Grk hupostole (pronounced hu-po-stolA), refers to drawing back or retreating. When used in context, those who draw back are linked to destruction (Grk. apoleias), while those who continue to believe are linked to “[but faith to] the preserving of the soul” (Grk. alla pisteos peripoesis psuches). In other words, faith preserves the soul. Preserves the soul from what? Faith preserves the soul and protects it from destruction, spiritual death, eternal death.
The word for “destruction,” apoleias, is the same word Jesus uses to refer to Judas in John 17:12 when he calls Judas “the son of perdition” and says that, of those He holds in His hand, he only lost Judas “that the Scriptures might be fulfilled.” Those who retreat in their faith will experience the same perdition, the same destruction that Judas experienced. In other words, Paul was writing this to the Jewish Christians that he said earlier in the verses had taken hold of eternal life: “knowing that you have for yourselves a better possession and a lasting one. 35 Therefore, do not throw away your confidence,” verses 34 and 35. The text says to not “throw away your confidence,” implying that you can do away with your faith in Christ, not that the Lord takes it away (or “lose salvation,” as has often been said today by certain free will circles. I for one agree with the idea that man has free will and that he can throw away or neglect his salvation, see Hebrews 2, but I think that biblical terms and phrases should be used to define the concept, not unbiblical ones).
Paul quotes the Lord here in Hebrews 10 as saying that “My righteous one will live by faith,” referring to believers. When the Lord says “and if he shrinks back,” he’s referring to the righteous one — not an unbeliever, not someone who has never loved the Lord, but someone who has. What this tells us is that righteous persons can apostatize, can turn back from the Christian life and go back to the world. Jesus says that the person who turns back to the world, even the righteous person, is one the Lord says He would have no pleasure in. In other words, the righteous person, the believer, could turn away from Christ, from his or her faith, and incur the wrath and displeasure of God.
When one acknowledges a theology where apostasy is biblical (and it is), then suicide poses a problem because it conflicts with what believers know about perseverance, endurance, apostasy, and faith. Can a person endure in the faith if he or she completes suicide and cuts his or her days short? Do suicide victims die with faith in God intact, or do they give up faith to complete the act in the first place? Does a person “keep the faith” if they decide to end his or her life?
According to the words of Scripture, suicide (as Satan tempted Jesus to commit) is an act of unbelief, a way of escaping one’s trials and tribulations because the suicide victim doesn’t believe that the Lord is present with him or her, that the Lord will work out his or her situation. The whole reason why many commit suicide, as I’ve been told, is that suicide victims don’t see an easy way out of their situation. They don’t see an end in sight, which is what makes suicide the “perfect” (though tragic) option for them.
Now, this isn’t to say that every suicide victim claiming faith in Christ that commits suicide is going to Hell. Roman Catholics endorse this option at large (though some individual Catholics may not), but I believe that the words of Scripture do not give specific instructions to those who are contemplating or commit self-murder. Murder of course, is mentioned there, but self-murder is not. I believe that we can see that murder is forbidden in Scripture, even in Genesis 9:6, but there isn’t an explicit Scripture verse that forbids self-murder (though, if murder is forbidden, self-murder is also forbidden by following logical thought).
With that said, Scripture doesn’t render a judgment within its pages in explicit statement for suicide victims because there are a number of mitigating circumstances and factors that we cannot see. Suicide is a sin that Scripture only mentions with regard to Jesus’ temptations and those who commit it (Samson, Ahithophel, Saul, etc.). I think this is done so that we can understand that judgment over suicide is given to the Lord and He has not spoken in Scripture on every case because suicide is an infringement upon the sovereignty of God and, as such, can only be judged by the Lord. Only the Lord, the Judge of all the earth, can judge justly. “Will not the Judge of all the earth do what is right?,” Abraham asks the Lord in Genesis 18:25. Since the Lord is the just Judge over all the earth, He will do what is right. We have no need to fear the Lord’s judgment because it will be righteous, just, and in step with the character of God.
Some mitigating circumstances occur with suicides and suicide victims, and the Lord does not give us the opportunity to see all those situations. This is why we cannot rule either way on suicide victims: because we simply don’t know all there is to know. We do know that suicide victims do not endure to the end if they have professed faith because to cut off their days is to deny the Lord’s sovereignty in their lives (since He ordained our days, as we’ve covered in this section on Theology of Life and Death). At the same time, though, the individual may have been heavily medicated and not of themselves, or suffer from some sort of mental condition (ex: bipolarism) and commit the act due to heavy depression and medication. We don’t know all the factors, so we can’t rule either that 1) the person has gone to Heaven or 2) the person has gone to Hell. All we can do is say, “He or she is in the hands of a just God, of the just Judge of all the earth.” That is the response we should give.
Though we want to comfort families of believers who have fallen prey to suicide, we should not give words to deceive them: as men and women of God, it is not our place to give false hope and false comfort. Prophets should not prophesy falsely, and preachers should not discuss eternity falsely. No matter how much hope we want to give hurting families, it is simply a sin to tell them “your daughter is in Heaven” if we know the individual has committed suicide. We simply cannot rule on the subject because 1) we don’t know all the mitigating circumstances and 2) the Bible tells us that to commit murder is to not believe that the Lord is with us, to cut off the days He has planned for us, to play God and decide when we end our lives instead of leaving our death to God. When Jesus says in Revelation to “be faithful until death,” He couldn’t have been any clearer about perseverance in the Christian life.
This, then, is a proper theology of life and death. And this explains why Roman Catholics are so stern in their assessment of suicide. When one holds to a high view of Scripture and its teaching on apostasy, then we can understand why believers who complete suicide put their eternity with Christ at risk.
Next part in our History of Satan series is about Satan, Jesus, and Temptation.
An Introduction to the History of Satan
1. Satan as Dragon and Angel
2. Satan as Serpent and Tempter
3. Satan in Zechariah and Isaiah
4. Satan and Judas
5. Judas and the Doctrine of Apostasy
6. Judas and Suicide
7. Theology of Life and Death
8. Satan, Jesus, and Temptation
9. Peter and Judas, A Comparison
10. Satan in Jesus’ Ministry