But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.
For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him.
Toward the end of my wife’s pregnancy with twins, her obstetrician left for a week of vacation. “Don’t worry,” the doctor told her, “it’s unlikely that these babies will arrive before I return.” Two days before her doctor returned, my wife went into labor. There was no way she could hold back little Anna and Ben. The apostle Peter uses a similar image to make a key point about Jesus’s resurrection, declaring that death could not hold on to Jesus any more than a pregnant woman can hold her unborn child in her body.
In the very ﬁrst sermon recorded in the Acts of the apostles, Peter describes God’s act of raising Jesus from the dead as “freeing him from the agony of death” (Acts 2:24). The word agony is literally the expression “labor pain.” What a remarkable picture. Death is in labor and is unable to hold back its child, the Messiah. To emphasize this point, Peter then adds: “because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him.” Why was this impossible? The answer is that God made Jesus both Lord and Christ (v. 36). As Lord, Jesus is to be identiﬁed with Yahweh, the personal name for God used in the Old Testament (Ps. 110:1, which Peter quotes in Acts 2:34-35). Jesus is also to be identiﬁed as the Messiah (Christ), the Anointed One who would deliver God’s people by leading them out of bondage. No wonder death could not keep its hold on Jesus!
The apostle Paul makes a similar point in Romans 6:9, emphasizing that, as a result of Jesus’s resurrection, Jesus cannot die again. Think about the difference between Jesus Christ’s resurrection and the resurrection of Lazarus. Douglas Moo writes, “Unlike Lazarus’s ‘resurrection’ (better, ‘reviviﬁcation’), which did not spare him from another physical death, Christ’s resurrection meant a decisive and ﬁnal break with death and all its power.” To make sure we get the point that Jesus cannot die again, Paul restates this for emphasis: “death no longer has mastery over him” (v. 9).
United with Him
Notice that the emphasis here is on Jesus. He cannot die again. Death no longer has mastery over him. But what difference does this make for us, Jesus’s followers? When you follow the apostle Paul’s argument in Romans 6, you ﬁnd that our union with Christ—that is, our connection to him—makes this true for us as well. In fact, verse 9 is connected grammatically to verse 8, which says: “Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.”
But how are we united to Christ? This union or connection to Christ comes through faith (Rom. 1:17; 3:22, 25-26; 4:5; 5:1). Peter makes the same point at the end of his sermon in Acts 2, calling people to repentance (a turning from sin to God) and baptism (a sign of belonging to the people of God) in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38-39).
So then, Jesus’s victory over death is a victory in which we share when we are united with him. What a comfort this is when we face the sting of death. I will never forget the day I helped a funeral director place the bodies of three teenage boys in their caskets. These three young men and their driver’s education instructor died in a tragic car accident. The funeral director had taken so much care preparing the bodies that he was short on time and needed help before the boys’ families arrived for the viewing. I felt tremendous sorrow as I helped lift the boys’ lifeless bodies into their caskets. But I found comfort in the knowledge that each one of the boys and their instructor had placed their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. All four were—and are—connected to him. All four will be raised to new bodily life. Because of our connection to Jesus Christ, the one who died and rose from death, we can be conﬁdent that death will one day have no mastery over us. Hold on to that encouragement the next time death confronts you.
Mathewson, Steven D., Risen, Baker Books, a division of Baker Publishing Group, 2013. Used by permission.