Apothnesko is the Greek verb rendered “die” in Hebrews 9:27. Its first use is in Matthew 8:32, in reference to a herd of pigs dying in the sea through drowning. Hence, apothnesko clearly can refer to biological death. However, apothnesko is also the verb the apostle Paul uses six times in his discussion of baptism in Romans 6:1-11. To understand the implications of Hebrews 9:27, we need to consider this passage.
What should we say, then? Should we go on sinning so that grace may increase? Of course not! How can we who died as far as sin is concerned go on living in it? Or, don't you know that all of us who were baptized into union with the Messiah Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore, through baptism we were buried with Him into His death so that, just as the Messiah was raised from the dead by the Father's glory, we too may live an entirely new life. For if we have become united with Him in a death like His, we will certainly also be united with Him in a resurrection like His. We know that our old natures were crucified with Him so that our sin-laden bodies might be rendered powerless and we might no longer be slaves to sin. For the person who has died has been freed from sin.
Now if we have died with the Messiah, we believe that we will also live with Him, for we know that the Messiah, who was raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has mastery over him. For when He died, He died once and for all as far as sin is concerned. But now that He is alive, He lives for God. In the same way, you too must continuously consider yourselves dead as far as sin is concerned, but living for God through the Messiah Jesus. (International Standard Version)
Three times (verses 6:2, 10, 11), Paul uses the term “as far as sin is concerned,” signaling that he understands that, by using the verb apothnesko, he is not referring to biological death. He is referring to another species of death, one related to our separation from sin, not life. We could say he is delineating his use of apothnesko to refer to the specific sort of death he is discussing in the passage.
Romans 6:7, often mishandled by translators, nails down the understanding that Paul uses apothnesko metaphorically: “For the person who has died has been freed from sin.” This is the only passage in the Scriptures where some translators render dikaioo with the verb “free[d].” In virtually all other instances where dikaioo appears, translators render it as “justify” (or a similar word).
The Disciples' Literal New Testament properly renders Romans 6:7: “For the one having died has been declared-righteous from sin.” Plainly, Paul is not speaking of biological death, the result of which is not justification, not being declared righteous. The translators of this version recognize that Paul is not referring to biological death but to the death Christians experience at their baptism.
Their cue is verse 3, where Paul rhetorically asks, “Don't we know that all who are 'baptized into Christ Jesus [are] baptized into His death?'” In verse 7, as in all Romans 6, the apostle uses the verb apothnesko to refer to the first part of the act of baptism, the lowering of a person into the water, symbolizing death (that is, a burial).
Clearly, when Paul refers to Christians' being “crucified with” Christ (verse 6), he is neither talking about literal crucifixion nor literal death. Rather, he is talking about death as the first part of the act of baptism, the descent (burial) into the water. Consistently in Romans 6, Paul uses apothnesko (“to die”) in this sense.
Dying—Once in a Lifetime (Part Two)
Everybody dies this death, including believers. At first, a person may think this says that Satan has supreme rule—because he has the power of death (Hebrews 2:15)—and every human loses. However, we cannot forget Christ's death on the cross. His death wiped out the curse of death hanging over us due to our sins, and He remains our faithful High Priest. Thus, more remains to be understood about this verse.
How does this verse affect us? Paul writes in Colossians 2:11-14:
In Him you were also circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, by putting off the body of the sins of the flesh, by the circumcision of Christ, buried with Him in baptism, in which you also were raised with him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead. And you, being dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He has made alive together with Him, having forgiven you all trespasses, having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross.
The apostle explains that a Christian is free from the bondage of death because Christ's death has removed the charges of sin against us. Jesus, in Revelation 1:18, adds another factor in our favor: “I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.”
Christ, because He paid the penalty for our sins and simultaneously defeated Satan, now holds the power of life and death for the converted. At this point, matters become clear. For Hebrews 9:27 to be true, Christ's blood does not cover the first death, which everybody faces, but it indeed covers the seconddeath, eternal death of the Lake of Fire. Revelation 20:14 confirms a second death: “Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Revelation 21:8 adds detail: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
Paul offers us assurance in Romans 8:37-39:
Yet in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor principalities nor powers, nor things present nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing, shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
At this time, the unconverted face both the first and second deaths. They are still held eternally in Satan's slavery unless converted between now and the igniting of the Lake of Fire.
John W. Ritenbaugh
Ecclesiastes and Christian Living (Part Eight): Death
A primary factor in Jesus' death is that it was substitutionary. For each sin we commit, we earn the death penalty. This penalty cannot be paid by dying a natural death of old age, by accident, or by disease, for this is the way everyone dies as a matter of course. Verse 27 says, "It is appointed for men to die once." If "merely" dying any old way were the payment for sin, idolaters, murderers, rapists, thieves, liars, adulterers, and other sinners would be completely absolved of their sins upon their deaths. Cleared of all guilt by death, they would legally qualify for entrance into God's Kingdom.
However, we must remember the rest of verse 27: ". . . but after this the judgment." Thus, even after a person's physical death, he is brought under judgment. This means the penalty for sin is something more than "just" death. Verse 22 helps to clarify this: "Without shedding of blood there is no remission." Sin cannot be forgiven until someone pours out his blood to cover the transgression. The penalty for sin is therefore death by execution.
So, as a substitutionary sacrifice, Jesus had to die the way we would have, by execution. He could not have paid the penalty for our sins by dying any way other than by execution. He could not have died by suicide or even "euthanasia," as these forms of death would have been sin, disqualifying Him as Savior. He would then have had to die for His own sin.
Remember also that Jesus' death resulted from a pronouncement of Pilate, when he handed Jesus over "to be crucified" (John 19:13-16; Matthew 27:26). Though Pilate literally washed his hands of the whole affair by saying, "I am innocent of the blood of this just Person. You see to it" (Matthew 27:24), he made the judgment and sentenced Him to death.
Of course, Jesus was not guilty of any crime or sin. Our sins brought on us the death penalty. In taking the penalty on Himself, Jesus had to die by execution, and crucifixion was Rome's preferred means.
Why Did Jesus Have to Die by Crucifixion?
Both Hebrews 9:27 and Romans 6 make use of the same verb, apothnesko, for “die.” Additionally, the context of Hebrews 9:27 is general, providing no specific meaning of the verb “die.” It simply says everyone dies once. Logically, therefore, apothnesko in Hebrews 9:27 could refer to baptism, as it clearly does in Romans 6. Is there conclusive evidence that the general statement in Hebrews 9:27 can refer to the death of baptism?
Indeed, there is! Romans 6:9 is key: “[F]or we know that the Messiah, who was raised from the dead, will never die gain; death no longer has mastery over Him” [ISV].
Herein is the connection between Romans 6 and Hebrews 9: “Once” is at the core of the concept of both. Christ died once and was resurrected. Human beings die biologically once, their sleep to be ended by a resurrection. Through baptism, Christians die once “as far as sin is concerned,” and ascending from the water, experience a resurrection to “an entirely new life” (Romans 6:4).
Paul's enigmatic, almost oxymoronic, statement in Colossians 3:3 provides a second witness to the idea that baptism is death: “For you have died [apothnesko], and your life is hidden with Christ in God.” Manifestly, the apostle does not have biological death in mind here since, after a person physically dies, he has no life, hidden or otherwise.
Paul does not mention baptism in this verse, realizing that God's people understand this hidden life to be the new life that begins at the death of the old man. The use of the present perfect tense in Greek (rendered “is hidden” in the ESV) indicates that this life exists now. It is not a life that begins at a later time. Our new life in Christ begins at our baptism, not at the time of the first resurrection. (Our life in and with Christ continues as a result of the first resurrection, our bodies then having been changed from mortal to immortal.) We are now enjoying that new life.
Pointedly, none of this—our descent into the water, our rising from it to “newness of life” (Romans 6:4 [KJV]), or our experiencing the first resurrection—has anything to do with our biological death. Biological death may interrupt the new life that began with baptism. But, in the case of those alive at Christ's return, their new life will not be interrupted by biological death. Those individuals will simply experience a change from mortal to immortal, as Paul describes in I Corinthians 15:53, where biological death is not requisite for change to take place. No physical death will take place for those people.
Thus, the clause “it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment” has at least two valid applications:
1. In the case of those whom God has not called in this age, the verb “die” refers to biological death. After this death is the White Throne Period, evidently a period of a hundred years (Isaiah 65:20) during which those participating in the second resurrection will be "judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done" (Revelation 20:12).
2. In the case of those whom God has called in this age, the verb “die” refers to the death represented by the first part of the act of baptism, the death (and burial) of the old man. Subsequent to this death as well is a period of judgment, as the apostle Peter mentions at I Peter 4:17: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God.” Romans 6:4 indicates that the death of the old man in baptism is just as real, from God's viewpoint, as is biological death: “Therefore, through baptism we were buried with Him into His death.”
The Christian may or may not experience biological death, depending on circumstances, as expressed by Paul in I Corinthians 15:51. But, by definition, the Christian will experience death through baptism. From God's perspective, the death mentioned in Hebrews 9:27 can refer to the death a child of God experiences in baptism.
I Corinthians 15:51, referring to the fact that some Christians of the last days will not die, and Hebrews 9:27, referring to the fact that all die, do not contradict. For, true Christians of yesterday and today have died—or better, their old self is dead—through baptism. That death is all that is necessary in respect to God's decree that all die (at least) once.
The true Christian, alive at the time of Christ's return in power and great glory (Matthew 24:30) has already died. His proximate continuance of eternal life (as defined in John 17:3) at the time of the resurrection of the just (Luke 14:14; Acts 24:15) does not constitute a contradiction to the twofold meaning of Hebrews 9:27.
Dying—Once in a Lifetime (Part Two)
After the purification of the sanctuary, the very next theme is that Christ put away sin. His sacrifice alone is sufficient for this; Satan has nothing to add to Christ's work of salvation! We denigrate His name by suggesting that His work is somehow insufficient and that a “counterpart” is needed to fulfill half the sin offering.
The Greek word translated “put away,” athetesis, means “to cancel,” and it can also be translated as “disannul.” The root of this word, atheteo, means “to neutralize,” and can be translated as “cast off,” “despise,” and “bring to nothing.” Thus, in addition to cleansing the sanctuary, Christ's sacrifice put away sin—it cancelled the sin, bringing it to nothing, for those who repent and come under His blood.
Verse 28 says that Christ's sacrifice was for the sake of bearing the sins of many, precisely what the azazel did in type. In addition, He will appear a second time, apart from sin. An ancient Israelite would be horrified to see the young goat wander back into the camp because it would signify that all his sins had come back into view. Spiritual Israelites, however, have confidence that their sins have been completely removed. So, when our Savior appears again, it is not to bring those sins back into view, but to bring salvation.
David C. Grabbe
Who Fulfills the Azazel Goat— Satan or Christ? (Part Three)
Hebrews 9:27 says that all men are appointed to die once. Considering this, some have asked: How can one die a second death? How many times can one die?
First, baptism is symbolic of death (Romans 6:2-11) and so is "dying daily," as Paul describes the sacrifices of the Christian life (ICorinthians 15:31). Paul mentions this latter death in the context of the resurrection chapter to emphasize our need to crucify the old self daily and renew or resurrect the inner man as symbols of actual death and resurrection (see II Corinthians 4:16-17). In this sense, we die every day of our lives.
When speaking of great embarrassments, many have used the phrase, "I died a thousand deaths." That is just what God expects of us if we are to reach maturity of thought and conduct! Each of these deaths is just as difficult and excruciating as the one before, and thus Paul describes them as crucifixions (Galatians 5:24). These play a major role in overcoming, and it is never easy.
Apart from symbolism, the general rule is that we each die physically at least once and then await the resurrection to eternal life. But some few humans have already died twice! Lazarus, Dorcas, Eutychus, those who came out of their graves when Christ died and others were physically resurrected and physically died again.
It is conceivable that some few might even die three times! If those who were resurrected physically were converted and accepted for the Kingdom, they will be resurrected when Christ returns - changed "in the twinkling of an eye" into immortal spirit beings (I Corinthians 15:52). If they were not called and converted - not yet having had an opportunity for salvation - they will come up in the second resurrection to be alive a third time. At the end of that life they will then be either changed to spirit or die in the Lake of Fire, a third death.
Why, then, does Revelation 20:14 call the Lake of Fire "the second death"? The emphasis is on the fact that it is a permanent death. Once a person experiences the second death, no hope remains for another resurrection. However, for a few it could represent a third physical death.
The point is that all of us are appointed to die at least once! Even those "blessed and holy" individuals who are alive and changed at Christ's return will go through a kind of death. As Paul writes, "For this corruptible [body] must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality" (I Corinthians 15:53).
The Third Resurrection: What Is Its Value?
Other Forerunner Commentary entries containing Hebrews 9:27: