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 stated to Timothy, “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 the original apostolic teachings.

Forest Sunrise - Photo by Damian Markutt on Unsplash
[Photo by Damian Markutt on Unsplash]

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.” 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 cessation of death will not happen until the “arrival” or Parousia of Jesus at the end of the age. As the author of Hebrews wrote, through his death, Jesus “destroyed him that had the dominion of death, that is, the Devil, and he delivered those who through the fear of death were all their lifetime subject to bondage.”

Death still occurs to all men, including believers, but it is incapable of holding the faithful disciple 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).

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.

This is not a state that human souls possess by nature; rather, it is the new condition that Jesus inaugurated for his followers. It is certainly 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 that same Gospel. Central to it was the proclamation that God raised His son from the dead - (2 Timothy 2:8-18).

Paul suffered for preaching this message, 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. “Salvation” and “everlasting glory” will be the result of the resurrection from the dead when Jesus returns - (“we will also live with him”).

Paul reminds Timothy of Christ’s 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. He labels such denials “profane and vain babblings.” Timothy is exhorted to avoid them - (1 Corinthians 15:10-20).

It is not clear what, precisely, these men were teaching. More accurately, the clause reads, “Declaring that the resurrection already came to pass.” This suggests they claimed that the resurrection occurred already in the past.

In any case, to deny the bodily resurrection, whether of Christ’s own resurrection or of the future one promised to believers, is to abandon one of the fundamentals of the Gospel preached by Jesus and his Apostles.

Based on beliefs common in Greco-Roman society, most likely, the false teachers in Ephesus 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 foundational this hope was to the apostolic tradition.



Language of the New Testament

Two Little Horns?