I heard a story recently from fellow nurse who was working in the ER at the time this occurred. She shared how a man had come into the hospital from an accident of some kind, and he was not doing well. The team took the man to surgery immediately.
During the surgery, his heart rhythm became unsustainable. Most likely it was something called Pulseless Electrical Activity (PEA) which is where the node controlling the heartbeat throws off electricity but it doesn’t go anywhere so the heart can’t respond, and a shock to the heart won’t fix the problem. As a result of the PEA, his heart wasn’t pumping blood to the body or the brain—he basically died in front of them. This nurse heard the doctor asking everyone’s opinion on whether he should pronounce time of death due to the circumstances, and in her spirit she shouted “no!”
She began to pray and ask the Lord what to do, when He said to her something to the effect of “it is not his appointed time.” She began to pray silently that he would return to life, decreeing it was not his appointed time to die. The doctor decided to give the man a dose of atropine as a last-ditch effort to see if it would do something useful, but he wasn’t expecting much in the way of results. As she prayed and he administered the drug, the man’s heart jumped immediately back into normal sinus rhythm. The team was shocked and somewhat dumbfounded.
Given the circumstances, the drug shouldn’t have had much (if any) effect on the PEA, so it’s relatively safe to say the nurse’s prayer were effective, if not creating a bona fide miracle. She has since learned to pray for people who have died to come back until their appointed time. A nice lesson and an encouraging story; nevertheless, the man died the next day.
This is the part of the story where if it was a movie, you would hear the sound of a record skipping and the story would come to a halt while a narrator gives off-screen commentary—something akin to “Wait, what?”
The man’s life was saved in order to spend a maximum of 24 hours longer in the hospital doing roughly nothing during that time before dying yet again. I suppose we could acknowledge that he “got his heart right with God” before “his appointed time” the next day, but there’s a problem with that idea—the verse that talks about man having an appointed time to die has almost nothing to do with individuals each having an appointed time to die.
This oft-quoted verse is found in Hebrews 9:27, saying, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment . . . ” This is usually where people stop, pointing to the verse to say “see, the Bible says everyone has an appointed time to die.” There’s a serious problem here, namely the fact that this is a sentence fragment, which means if we want to understand what this verse is actually saying we will have to continue reading to the end of the sentence. Shocking idea, I know, taking the verse in context with the rest of the sentence. Hebrews 9:27-28 says, “Just as people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment, so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many; and he will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.”
The verses in question have everything to do with Jesus Christ dying in our place and removing our date with death entirely, NOT saying that we are all destined to die. Jesus became death for us on the cross so that when we died and were co-resurrected with him in baptism, we became new creations who no longer are slaves to sin. As Romans 3:22b-24 says (again reading the entire sentence for context), “There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.” We have all been justified, or made righteous, through the redemption Jesus provided us. And as Romans 6 goes on to explain in detail, the payment for being made righteous is eternal, everlasting, immortal life in Jesus.
Romans 6 is a pretty fascinating chapter to read when we understand all of this in relation to context. In fact, it is so pregnant with meaning that it could easily be its own sermon, and all of it is extremely relevant to this issue of an appointed time to die. I highly recommend you take a few moments and read it right now (click here), but let’s look at just a few verses.
Romans 6:9-11 says, “For we know that since Christ was raised from the dead, he cannot die again; death no longer has mastery over him. The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus.” This passage lays out the following in plain language:
1) Jesus died once and cannot die again
2) Death no longer has power over Jesus
3) His death was sufficient to cover death for everyone
4) He lives alive and well with the Father right now
5) We are to consider ourselves dead to sin and alive to God in the same way Jesus currently is right now.
In fact, the message is so simple it’s easy to miss what this verse is saying in its simplicity. This isn’t some sort of spiritual message about how we need to think of ourselves in our minds as some sort of esoteric spiritual teaching—it literally means that Jesus physically died, can’t physically die again, physically died for us, and now we are supposed to realize that we are already physically dead to sin, and therefore get to live in our physical bodies, alive and well just like Jesus is.
I cannot begin to explain how irritated I get when I hear people quoting Hebrews 9:27 out of context and use it as an excuse to put their faith in what I call the Cult of Death—a term I use for the majority of Christian denominations that tell everyone that while Jesus died so we wouldn’t have to, and paid for sin so that death would no longer have power over us, that somehow death has power over us and we are incapable of escaping it. Not only that, but the Cult of Death also actively welcomes death as the doorway to Jesus Christ, forgetting that Jesus clearly stated in both John 10 and John 14 that He, Jesus, is the door. You cannot have both death and Jesus be your doorway to eternal life—you will have to pick one, and I highly recommend you choose Jesus.