Death a New Phenomenon
As I consider the early days of the great war taking place in heaven, it occurs to me that the context in which intelligent beings lived back then was radically different than how we perceive things today. The ideas contained in Lucifer's rebellion against the principles of God's government produced a situation where everyone had to choose whom they would believe, who would have their loyalty. For it became increasingly impossible to remain neutral, as the ideas and principles put forth on each side were diametrically opposite and the controversy was polarizing all involved.
But with the creation of this earth, a new reality emerged. Humans were quite possibly the first beings to face the decision about loyalty without the experience of living through the protracted struggle between Christ and Lucifer that had taken place previously. All other beings had already been alive and had participated in and watched the developments of the discussions and arguments and had experienced the introduction into their lives of brand new feelings and elements that had never been known before – things like fear, shame, anger and all the other negative emotions we deal with all the time.
God had revealed that death – a state of non-existence – was the ultimate result of sin, which is in essence separating from Him, the only source of life. But no one could really comprehend just what death really was since it had never been seen before. Death in any form had never been experienced or observed in the universe before humans came on the scene, even though sin had already been in existence for some time. Therefore, the angels and even Satan himself were not familiar with this new phenomenon even though they had heard about it from God.
Given this context it might be assumed that Satan and his followers up to this time could have begun to conclude that they somehow were going to escape this consequence called death. Additionally, when humans were created Satan further assumed that if he could win their loyalty to himself that they could be used to assist in his take-over of heaven's government with no limiting factors like death. He had no clue that a brand new reality called physical death that would terminate the usefulness of his new subjects would severely hamper his ability to exploit humans for the advantage of his insurrection as he intended.
When God warned Adam and Eve that death was the result of sin, it was not a new warning that the rest of the universe had never heard. However, because no type of death had yet been evidenced, no one had a clue that the physical, active lives of humans might come to an end as a result of disobedience to God. Since no fallen angels had yet died and had even come to the point of not expecting to die, the universe and even Satan himself were caught by total surprise when God announced to the newly fallen couple that their bodies would return to the dust from which they had come. This was a shocking revelation to all created beings, but Satan quickly turned it into yet another opportunity to create misunderstandings about God's character and to further his campaign of accusations against Him.
Satan could (and certainly lost no time in doing so) exploit this new reality by insisting that it was an arbitrary punishment by God rather than a natural consequence of rebellion against God, a disconnection from the only source of life. Yet that is the very reason that God had never allowed anyone to suffer the death part in the consequences of sin up to this point. He could have allowed the rebellious ones to die, and it would not have been arbitrary at all but would simply have been a natural result from their cutting themselves off from life through violation of the principles that govern all of reality. But if God had allowed that He would have run the risk of inducing obedience from the survivors that would have been based on fear rather than on rational and genuine love and respect for Him. And obedience rooted in fear rather than love is not really genuine obedience but always results in resentment and renewed rebellion. Therefore, God chose to take the long route in order to fully expose the lies of Satan and to carefully navigate a comprehensive approach for resolving the sin problem permanently rather than imposing a temporary fix for the problem that would only foster a recurrence sometime in the future.
Interestingly, part of God's solution to limit Satan's influence in his rebellion was to allow what might be viewed as a 'partial death' to limit Satan's resources. He did this by allowing a physical death to take place on this earth, something that had never happened to angels or had been seen anywhere else. This different kind of death* would serve as a symbol of sorts to begin to reveal and intimate the far more serious consequence of eternal death that all who embraced sin and refused to turn away from it would eventually experience. But before anyone anywhere was ever allowed to experience this eternal kind of permanent death, God would increasingly allow other kinds of death to become evident as warnings to act as incentives to draw sinners back into allegiance to their Creator. These included all the kinds of death as seen in nature including dying vegetation and most of what we now consider as 'normal' eco-systems of recycling or what we call the 'food-chain'.
In a way physical death was the introduction of a strong harbinger of the far more serious ultimate death that was to come in the future and actually served for man's benefit. Because sin enslaved the inner nature of man under the control of Satan's dictatorial control, God introduced at least two means of escape from that slavery. These both can be discerned in the words of God found in Genesis 3:15-19 to the human pair shortly after they had come under this slavery. But before God explained this new reality of physical death to them, He prophesied His plan to send Jesus to demonstrate the real kind of ultimate death so as to first set the record straight about the truth of God's words about the natural consequences of sin. By implementing these two new realities into our world, God implanted an enmity between humans and their new slave-master Satan that would encourage and empower them to resist his dominance over them.
In addition to allowing a lessor type of death to become a reality on this earth, the godhead had already decided in counsel with each other to send the Son of God to this earth in the future for several purposes. One was to take on the form of humanity so that humans could better relate to and understand what God is really like and how He feels about them. Jesus would live among them and demonstrate in ways they could relate to what God is really like in contrast to all the lies from their despotic ruler, Satan. But more importantly, the Son of God came to reveal not just to humanity but to all created beings everywhere just what the real, eternal kind of death would look like by allowing Himself to experience it in front of all, long before anyone else would ever be allowed to experience this kind of death. And in doing this He would also vindicate the truthfulness and integrity of God's words to His created beings.
Far beyond the partial, physical death that had become so familiar to humans, Jesus would experience and expose the kind of awful agony, torture and the throes surrounding death that all will suffer who refuse to be drawn back into a vital, trusting relationship with the only Source of life. Jesus demonstrated more than anything else in His death the truth that it is not God who imposes that final death on the disobedient but it is sin itself that results in death. The wages of sin – not God – is death. The pain and torture associated with that death is not artificially or arbitrarily imposed by God on the lost but is the pain and torture in the realization of their own self-inflicted inability to live in fellowship and joy and harmony with the perfect society of heaven. They will have chosen to live in such a way as to be unable to continue to receive life from God any longer.
The reality is that there is only one Source of life and power anywhere. Sin's lies have asserted that we do not have to get life from God, that somehow we can find life from within ourselves or from other sources and that we don't need God and don't need to synchronize with His principles in order to experience staying alive. But this is all the masterful deception of sin, and all who cling to these notions will someday be faced with the unavoidable truth that there really is no other source of life that does not originate from God. To attempt to depend on any other source, to try to live independently apart from living in the role for which we were designed in God's creation is to ultimately disconnect ourselves from all ability to receive life. And the definition of disconnecting from life is to experience death and all the pain that goes along with that. This is the true kind of final death that results from sin while the current forms of death we have known up to this point other than the death of Jesus are only imitations of that final demise.
*Clarification note: When I speak of a partial death that was introduced after the fall of our first parents, I am not in the least implying the sort of non-death, disembodied soul living after the death of the body popularly taught by mainstream Christianity. That teaching is not in harmony with Biblical truth though many attempt to twist Scripture to support that notion. That concept of death is actually rooted in one of the very first lies to humanity ever promoted by Satan when he declared to Eve that she would not die despite what God had warned her. To insist that humans don't really die when their bodies die is to echo the sentiments of the father of lies.
What I am saying here is that the physical death we experience on this earth, though it certainly stops all intelligence and awareness of any kind on our part until the resurrection, is nowhere near as traumatic or devastating as the death that God spoke of when He declared that the wages of sin is death. Jesus stated repeatedly that the death we are familiar with is simply considered a sleep from heaven's viewpoint. All the various kinds of death that we are familiar with here on earth are only shadows of the total non-existence that will be the sad fate for all who suffer the final death experience when sin is finally exposed totally on the final day of judgment. That is the death that God has not allowed to happen to anyone, angel or human alike except to His own Son. And we will not see that kind of death again until it has become crystal clear in every mind everywhere that God is totally fair, that He is totally worthy of our trust and that He has never used fear or coercion or force or any other method His accusers use, to at last prove that love is the only way to live in harmony with life for eternity. This was the only safe course He could take to insure that sin will never again rise up sometime in eternity.