By John Fulton
*Note: All Bible quotes are nominally from the NASB with personal translation changes made using the Universal Bible Society version 5 text of the Greek New Testament. For example, the NASB chooses to translate the Greek word cosmos as world, whereas I keep it as cosmos, for the word does not refer to earth, but to the entire created order.
In the Greek language, at least the ancient Koine in which the Bible is written, there are two words for life. The first is bios, from which we derive biology, the study of life. Bios is biological life; it is the life we share with animals and plants; it is physical life with its breathing and blood flowing due to a pumping heart.
The second word, and the one used far more often, is Zao (zah-oh). This life is the life-force, the life-essence, the very presence of God. In Genesis 2, when Yahweh breathes life into man, He does not breath in bios, He breathes in Zao, or His very essence. Think long and hard about that. Don’t just pass over that statement. A little bit of the very essence, the life-force of God is within you! Within you is a tiny bit of the divine, a tiny bit of God himself. To say you are just a sinner is to say God is a sinner. May it never be! We are far more than sinners; we are possessors of the divine! At least as long as Yahweh allows it.
Now, Koine Greek also has two words for death. The first is necros, from which we derive the word, necrotic. This is an active death, a death which is very much alive and vigorous. This is the death of a corpse, which, although it is a dead body, is full of life as bacteria and bugs and other things decompose the flesh and lead to puss, ooze, flatulence, and much more. Necros is the pair to bios; it is biological; it is physical.
The second word for death is thanatos. It means dead as a doornail, or dead in the sense a rock is dead. Both are without life in any sense. They are not actively dead like a corpse, they are dead-dead, devoid of life.
Now those desirous of argument will say, “Rocks are full of life. They are covered in moss, filled with bacteria, etc.” Those people would be right, but they would also be very wrong. They would miss the point in how thanatos and necros differ, for necros is physical death, the end of breathing, heart pumping, and brain activity; while thanatos is the removal of God’s presence and life-essence; it is spiritual death.
So, how does the interplay of these two sets of words enter into the Biblical narrative? How do Jesus and the Apostles use these words and what does that tell us?
First, the key passages from Jesus. In John 10:10, he says, “I came that they [his sheep] may have life [Zao] and have it more abundantly.” Throughout the Gospels, Jesus gives many reasons for why he came, and here in this verse he tells us he came so that his followers might experience the life-essence of God more fully. He came so more of the divine may indwell you. He came to give you greater spiritual life, not greater biological life.
Next is another saying of Jesus, found in Matthew 10:20. “Do not fear those who can kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but fear Him who is able to destroy both.” Now, you may say, where is life in this passage? I see only killing. Remember Genesis 2. Adam had biological life (he had a physical body formed from the dust) and then God breathed Zao into him and he became a living soul. Hence, biological life plus Zao equals a soul. Therefore, in the passage above, Jesus warns us, do not fear a virus, or clogged artery, or cancer, or a murderer who can take away your bios and bring upon you physical death, which is referred to in the Bible as the first death; but fear God, Yahweh, who, after He visits upon you physical death (necros) and the removal of your bios, can visit upon you spiritual death (thanatos), and the removal of His Zao, thereby making it as if you never were. This spiritual death is what the Bible refers to as the second death — the truly permanent death.
Our final passage from Jesus before moving on to Paul is in John 12:25. Jesus says, “He who loves his soul he destroys it, but he who hates his soul in this cosmos he guards it into the eternal Zao.” In other words, if you like the biological life and the little bit of Zao you have, you will destroy both in the end. For your physical life will end, and God will take back the Zao he gave you. But if you hate, despise, count as nothing, this fleshly life in this physical existence, you will guard both by entering deeper and deeper into the life-essence of God. You will pursue and be more and more like Yahweh, even if it means physical death.
Now we transition to Paul’s words. This apostle to the Gentiles writes, in Romans 6:9, “Christ, having been raised out from the necros, is never to die again; thanatos no longer has mastery over him.” Jesus died physically, but because he was willing to guard his soul, his Zao in God; because he counted physical existence as nothing and did what Yahweh asked of him, no matter what that was, no matter that it included necros on a cross, he did not die spiritually. Jesus suffered the first death, but having counted his bios as nothing for the sake of doing Yahweh’s will, he cannot suffer the second. And here is one of the great messages of the Easter weekend. If you hear God’s voice, if you count this physical existence as nothing, then just as Jesus died and rose, so will you. Jesus was the first, but many are meant to follow.
And here is one of the great messages of the Easter weekend: if you hear God’s voice, if you count this physical existence as nothing, then just as Jesus died and rose, so will you.Tweet
Paul also says to us in Romans 6:23, “For the wages [the payment you receive for sin] is thanatos. Yet the charismation [outcome of allowing grace (Greek charis) to operate] of God, Zao eternal in the anointing of Jesus our Lord.” Here is part of the divine exchange. You sin and in the end will be paid with spiritual death, the loss of Zao, but when you allow God’s grace (charis) to work in your life by living out the anointing of Jesus, you let Jesus steal from you your wages and you get Zao forever. Just like Jesus, you will never experience the second death. Instead, you will be glorified as he was glorified by the Father and will be forever in blissful union with the Trinity and the saints.
In the passage above, we should be able to see how Paul can say, in Philippians 1:21, “to Zao [live] is Christ, to rise above spiritual death [die] is gain.” Living out the anointing of Jesus is to experience the life-essence of God. It is to rise above not just the physical, but also the spiritual death, to be secure in eternity. Truly, this is gain. It is why Paul says, and I fully agree, that dying (experiencing necros and shedding of bios) to be with Christ, free from the possibility of losing Zao and experiencing thanatos, is better than drawing one more breath. But for the sake of others it is important he (we) remain to guide and protect others in the living out of the anointing of Jesus.
I hope by now the reader can understand the fuller meaning of Revelation 20:6. “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and Christ.” If you live out the anointing of Christ, you will likely experience necros, but you will physically be raised as Jesus was on Easter Sunday. You will have Zao forever, union with God into eternity, and thanatos will not touch you. The victory of thanatos will be erased; thanatos will have no sting.
Bios and Zao, necros and thanatos, life and death, leave humanity in one of four states.
- There are the necroi who died in pursuit of the anointing. They lived out their lives with a heart for God, doing His will as best they knew how. These will be raised into the fullness of Zao with Jesus. They are the fully alive over which thanatos has no victory, no sting.
- There are the necroi who died in pursuit of sin. They loved their souls in this existence and sought their pleasure here. They were given a little bit of God, and they misused it to pursue their own will and pleasure. They did all they could to preserve their physical being at any cost. These are the fully dead; over them death has eternal victory.
- There are those who have bios who pursue the anointing of Jesus. Over them, necros most likely will come, unless He comes first; but thanatos can have no victory, no sting. Nothing they do can save their life; nothing anyone else does can save it. For no human action can save God, can save Zao. All they can do is turn from their pursuit, in which case they will lose their life.
- Finally, there are the zombies. Yes, the living dead are quite real. They pursue a life of sin. Although they still have bios, they are already dead, for thanatos will be their payment for a life away from God, a life spent in pursuit of this existence — its pleasures and the extension of their bios at all costs. Nothing anyone does can save their life. At best, their bios can be extended a bit in temporal existence, yet they are already spiritually dead. For them, they might as well eat, drink, gather, and be merry, for eventually their bios will end. Hence, as long as they have it, they might as well enjoy it to the fullest. These may save their spiritual lives by turning to the pursuit of the anointing of Jesus, but nothing we do can save them; it is not in the power of man to save Zao. God cannot be saved, nor destroyed; merely pursued or not, and that is an individual choice for which God already knows the outcome, for He has looked into our hearts. He knows the true leanings of our hearts. He will not let those whose heart is after Him perish.
If you love God, pursue Him to the fullest, live life to the fullest. Gather in community and share His Zao abundantly. If necros comes, fear not, for it is better to be with Christ where thanatos cannot harm you. While you are still here, show the world there is nothing to fear in physical death, for something infinitely more valuable, spiritual life with Yahweh, awaits behind the door of necros. If you hate God; eat, drink, gather in community, and be merry, for you are already dead. What more can death do to you?
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