Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan

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Hebrews 2:14 says Christ came to destroy him who “holds the power of death--that is, the devil.” What does it mean that the Devil holds the power of death? A surface reading suggests that if a person dies it is the Devil that kills him; that we live or die depending on what the Devil decides. That isn't what the passage means!

Simply stated, The Devil is linked with human sin and human sin is linked with death (1 Corinthians 15:56 ) therefore the Devil is linked with death.

I said the Devil is linked with human sin (and he certainly is--Genesis 3) but I don't mean that the Devil made us sin. He can't do that! He is spoken of as the tempter and seducer and that is what he does, but he can't make us sin by sheer coercion or overwhelming power. Sin is not sin if a sinner doesn't freely choose it. (That statement needs developed and to isolate each human from all others and put all the blame on him/her is foolishness. Sin is like an infection and we catch it from one another.). So, while it's perfectly true that Satan brought temptation, the sin is our doing--he didn't “make us do it.”

Romans 5:12 tells us that sin entered the world through a man! It goes on to say “and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.” We mustn't take the Devil out of the entire equation if we want to remain true to the biblical Story but we must lay sin squarely where it belongs--at the feet of humanity. The link between Satan and human sin is that he tempted us, we chose sin and the consequence was death.

But in what way is death the consequence of sin? Who brought death into the human experience? It wasn't Satan--it was God (see Genesis 2:17 and the curse pericope in 3:14-19 that concludes with the death sentence). It's a mistake to think that death is something “natural” or as something that is independent of God. Death isn't something that sin inflicts; it is a judgment that God brings down on the sinful human family (see Romans 1:32 which tells us that death is a judgment on those worthy of death).

The flood in Noah's day, the destruction of Sodom and the fall of Assyria , Israel and other nations are the work of God (so the scriptures say). To say that the Devil sent the flood on the world or destroyed Sodom would be nonsense so it's clear that Hebrews 2:14 shouldn't be taken at the surface level. You must take the time to read Deuteronomy 32 and note especially 23-27, 39. In 32:27 Israel 's conquering enemies might claim that they destroyed Israel while God insists that he did it. I find it interesting that we worry about thinking God did it and he worries about people thinking he didn't (32:26-27).

Though God has brought death into the world in response to human rebellion it isn't his “first choice”. Death is one face of his redemptive anger against sin but the truth is that life is what God means to deliver and one day he will obliterate death because it isn't what we wants for people. In that respect death is called an “enemy” (1 Corinthians 15:26 and see how it is linked with other “enemies” in Revelation 20:14).

But why is death linked with Satan? For the same reason human guilt is linked with one man (Adam). Satan doesn't actually kill us any more than Adam actually made us guilty by his personal sin (see Romans 5:15-19) but in both cases our awful state is linked with a single human rebellion. All our troubles are one grand drama that began with a satanic rebellion on our part. Both Paul and the Hebrew writer remind us of the racial nature of our sin before our Holy Father.


Spending Time with Jim McGuiggan