It is not uncommon to hear, when someone passes away early in life, that he or she “died before his/her time.” While death for all people is certain, when people die young, leaving behind spouses and young children, friends from school and grieving parents, there is a place deep within the humanity of all people—believers and unbelievers alike—that screams that something is incomprehensibly amiss.
The reality of death pervades the pages of the Bible. Death is not glossed over with disinterested indifference, nor is it given any real prominence or power. Instead death is viewed as an intruder and enemy such that one of the entire movements of the Bible is to destroy death itself (1 Corinthians 15:26). For indeed, life with God eternally, in his sacred place of rest, worship, and delight, is God’s goal for humanity (Revelation 21:3).
Unexpected and untimely death draws out this aspect of being human, this disdain for death, perhaps more than anything else.
And while the message of the Bible wholeheartedly affirms this human intuition of seeing something wrong about dying young in life, it does not abandon us in our despair. The message of the Bible is one of hope in the Divine Savior who is able to defeat death and raise back to life all of those who have died united to him in faith.
What Does the Bible Say About Dying Before Your Time (KJV)?
Can You Die Before Your Time According to the Bible?
Death and the Sovereignty of God
As difficult and incomprehensible a teaching as it may be, and though it may be easily misconstrued, the Bible teaches that all life and death are known by and fall under the loving care and concern of God in his sovereignty (Job 14:5; Psalm 90:2). Death does not surprise God, catch him off guard, nor is it more powerful than he is, nor are the depths of death beyond God’s reach (Psalm 49:15; 139:8). In a very real sense, then, no one dies before their time from God’s perspective.
Furthermore, the Bible teaches that death does not have the final word. Being united to Jesus’ death and resurrection through faith by the Spirit brings life and victory over sin and death to all who belong to Christ (Romans 8:11).
The Heidelberg Catechism (1563), speaks of our only comfort in life and in death as being under the care and concern of our Savior:
1. What is your only comfort in life and in death?
That I, with body and soul, both in life and in death, am not my own, but belong to my faithful Savior Jesus Christ, who with His precious blood has fully satisfied for all my sins, and redeemed me from all the power of the devil; and so preserves me, that without the will of my Father in heaven not a hair can fall from my head; indeed, that all things must work together for my salvation. Wherefore, by His Holy Spirit, He also assures me of eternal life, and makes me heartily willing and ready henceforth to live unto Him.
While the doctrine of God’s sovereignty does not answer the difficult questions of “why,” it does provide us with a certain hope that reaches beyond the present: there is a God who made us and loves us, called us according to his purpose (Romans 8:28), and who has the power over sin, death, and the devil. God is no more content with the reality of death than we are, but he is patient in his timing and purposes to destroy death in its turn (2 Peter 3:9).
All Death is Tragic
Dying young, especially in cases of unexpected death, is always extremely difficult for families involved.
And so, from a human perspective, there is a sense in which someone can die before their time: before the fullness of years gives way to old age and eventually death, people can die young. The death of those who are young is always, from a human perspective, wrong and should have never happened.
The phrase “dying before their time” aligns with an internal and shared part of human beings that cry out that death is not meant to be. There is something deeply out of place, even alien, that stirs our hearts to cry out against death that occurs early in life. It is almost as if a deeply rooted part of our humanity reaches back to the beginning when God created us in the Garden to know and love him without knowing and experiencing death or sadness. And this, too, is the future hope of those who believe:
Untimely Death Examples in the Bible
There are examples of people dying unexpectedly in the Bible. The great grief associated with unexpected death is not beyond the scope of the story of Scripture, nor is it beyond the experience of our Lord.
There are numerous occasions in the gospels when the Lord, moved to compassion and pity, raises people from unexpected or young deaths.
- Jesus Raises a Widow’s Son (Luke 7:12-15): Out of compassion, Jesus stops a funeral procession to raise a boy back to his widowed mother.
- Jesus Raises a Father’s Daughter (Mark 5:35-43; Luke 8:49-56): Jesus raises a father’s only daughter, a girl about 12 years old, back from the dead.
- Jesus Raises Two Sisters’ Brother (John 11:17-44): After declaring that he is the resurrection and life, Jesus weeps in the grief of death, and then raises his friend, Lazarus, back to life.
Similar situations occur elsewhere in the Bible. The power of God over death is made clear throughout the Bible (1 Kings 17:17-24; Acts 20:7-12; Hebrews 11:19), though it does not remove the grief and tragedy of death in the present.
Unexpected death is a great tragedy of living in a fallen world still marred by sin and death. The responses of those in the story of the Bible who experience the unexpected death of family members speaks to the devastation death brings in the present, even among those whom we consider to be heroes of faith.
The grief associated with death is a very real part of fallen human experience, and God is not unaware or disinterested; the Lord is “compassionate and merciful” (James 5:11), even acquainted with our griefs and sorrows (Isaiah 53:3-5).
And yet even in the depths of grief over unexpected death, there is a hope for those who have died in Christ. Our grief is not telic—it is not final nor does it have the last word, but rather it is transitory. The last word for those who have died in Christ and those who are united to Christ through faith is hope (Psalms 43:5; 62:5; 146:5).