There is no doubt that Jesus died when he was on the cross. The so-called “swoon theory”, that says he may have just fainted and woken up later in the cool of the tomb, only became popular in the nineteenth century, and makes no sense at all for several reasons:
- How would Jesus have moved the stone if in that weakened and wounded state?
- How would he have convinced his disciples that he was the prince of life when he was covered in blood and wounds and staggering around?
- Why would a Roman soldier, whose life depended on the victim being dead, have made a mistake?
But the most important reason is that Jesus needed to die in order to, as Hebrews puts it, destroy the devil*. Have a look at this verse carefully:
“Since therefore the children [of God] share in flesh and blood, Jesus himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil,” (Hebrews 2 verses 14-15)
This says that Jesus died, and the devil was destroyed through his death. Therefore the following must also be true:
- The devil and Jesus must be very closely linked
- The devil is something that has the power of death
- Jesus was able to “fight” the devil while on his cross
- The devil has now in some way been destroyed.
The way in which Jesus Christ destroyed “the power of death” (in other words, that which leads us to the grave, or the reason we die), is that he overcame the power of sin which was within him, as it is in all human beings (remember he inherited our nature from his mother Mary). He never once gave in to that human nature inside him and in that sense, he defeated sin. We know from elsewhere that:
“The wages of sin is death,” (Romans 6:23)
This sounds very similar to the “power of death” that the devil has in Hebrews 2. We are starting to build up a very strong link between the devil and sin itself. If we were to study the book of Romans further, we would see that the writer does not use the word “devil” anywhere. That seems strange for a book so full of other teachings! Instead, he uses different words to talk about exactly the same thing:
The devil is the enemy of God:
“Put on the whole armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil” (Ephesians 6:11)
Romans uses the word “sin” to express the same idea:
“I myself serve the law of God with my mind, but with my flesh I serve the law of sin” (7:25)
The devil is the tempter of man:
“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil” (Matthew 4:1)
“Sin… produced in me all kinds of covetousness” (7:8)
Jesus destroyed the devil:
In just the same way, we can compare Hebrews 2:14 with what the apostle writes only a few chapters later: “Jesus put away sin by the sacrifice of himself” (9:26).
This makes a nonsense of any idea that the devil is an independent supernatural being released from God’s control. But we are still left with the last point. If the devil was no longer a problem in this world, we would not need to be warned about it so much in the Scriptures. But what Jesus achieved in death was to show us the way out of the divine law that sin leads to death. Look at this amazing statement:
“God raised [Jesus] up, loosing the pangs of death, because it was not possible for him to be held by it,” (Acts 2:24).
It was impossible for him to stay dead. There was no obstacle that couldn’t be overcome – the injuries, the stone at the entrance to the tomb, the guard watching. He was able to break the stranglehold of sin and death upon human kind. In this sense, the devil was destroyed at his death, and in effect, if we follow the Lord Jesus, the devil’s hold on our lives has been destroyed forever. In other words, sin will not condemn us to eternity in the grave, because of God’s forgiveness of sin through Jesus Christ.