The apostle Paul taught, "But now is Christ risen from the dead and become the firstfruits of them that slept… afterward they that are Christ's at his coming then cometh the end." (I Corinthians 14:20,23,24).
Death is a subject that most people avoid talking about because it gives them a feeling of anxiety and fear. To most people, death means the end of life where we can no longer enjoy living or being with those whom we love. Yet, to many Christians death means leaving this sinful world behind and going to be with God in heaven where we will live in bliss and happiness forever.
Yet both groups of people still wonder why we must die. For a Christian the biblical answer is that "death is the wages of sin" (Romans 6:23) and since "all have come short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23) then that explains why all of us must die. However, since the atonement of Christ paid the penalty for our sins then that explanation is not sufficient because as Paul taught, "for as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive" (1 Corinthians 14:22).
The resurrection of the dead is one of the fundamental beliefs of the Christian faith and the resurrection is defined as our dead body rising from the grave to live again. But if Christ's death on the cross makes it possible for our bodies to be resurrected then why do we still die? In other words, what is the point in letting us die only to have us be raised from the dead later on? If Christ's sacrifice on the cross paid the penalty for our sins and the wages of sin is death then it would seem logical that Christ's atonement has done away with the penalty of death, especially for those who believe in Christ.
For those who believe that upon death the spirits of the righteous go immediately to heaven where they will live with God forever, then what is the purpose of the resurrection? In other words, why doesn't God take the righteous off the earth and transport them to heaven now instead of letting them lay their bodies in the grave while their spirits go to heaven and then later resurrect their bodies and bring them to heaven?
For those who are members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, they believe that after death, our spirits go to a realm known as the spirit world where the righteous dwell in paradise and the wicked dwell in a spirit prison until the resurrection which is when their bodies will rise from the grave and then both the body and spirit of the righteous will go to heaven.
But that still doesn't answer the question of why our bodies must die, especially since the atonement has taken away the penalty for our sins which the Bible says is the reason for death. Moreover, the scriptures tell us that when Christ comes in His glory "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye… we shall be changed" (1 Corinthians 15:52). If that is true then why must we wait for Christ's second return before our bodies are changed "in the twinkling of an eye" from being mortal to being immortal? Why can't the believers in Christ have that experience now?
The answer is found in God's plan for the salvation of His children.
In the beginning of our existence we lived with our Father in heaven as spirit beings and there we were raised and taught and grew in the wisdom and knowledge that our Father had. However, there were some lessons that we could not learn there, such as the knowledge of good and evil as well, as the knowledge of pain and suffering, hardships and tribulations, jealousy, greed, pride, and many other things that our Father was very familiar with. Therefore, to learn these things for ourselves, we were deliberately sent to this earth where we could not only experience all of these feelings but, more importantly, learn how to overcome them and, in doing so, gain spiritual strength and develop a Christ-like character.
For this reason, life in mortality was meant to be a school, teaching us things that we could never learn while living in our celestial home. But no matter how important a school's education may be, it is never designed to last forever. Thus, when we left "home" to come to earth, we were merely graduating from one learning environment to a higher level of learning.
Yet, in so graduating, we left behind people we had formed close relationships with and had come to love. And as they watched us go off to our earthly school, they were left behind as they waited for their turn to come here. But because we can't remember our past life in heaven, when we get here we have no recollection of those loved ones of ours who came before us and we will not recognize our loved ones who come shortly after we arrive here.
We can liken this situation to someone going to elementary school. While there they make good friend but eventually the time comes when each student graduates and goes on to middle school. Because children are not grouped according to their prior friendships, but go to different classes, the friends they once played with are no longer part of their current activities. I'm sure that as children have ended their last year in elementary school more than one of them has said to a close friend, "Will I ever see you again?" Yet, however sad the parting of friends can be, school is never meant to be a place where someone is to spend the rest of their life. Eventually middle school children graduate and move onto High School where eventually they graduate and go off to college where eventually they graduate and go into the workforce.
As we prepared to graduate from our celestial home and went to earth I'm sure we may have said to close friends of ours, "Will I ever see you again?" But then, while we are here on earth, learning the lessons needed to become like our Father in heaven, we developed new relationships and made new close friends. But life here on earth was never meant to last forever. At some point our education here would be completed and we would graduate to the next level of learning. But when that time comes our parting will be no less hard than it was when we left our celestial home to come here and people will wonder "Will I ever see my loved ones again?"
The answer is "yes" because when we go into the spirit world after leaving the world of mortality our memory will not be veiled and we will recognize and remember all those whom we once loved and were friends with. But earth life is not the end of our education. Just like Middle School builds on what we learned in Elementary School, and High School builds on what we learned in Middle School, so also our education in the post-mortal world depends on what we have learned during our mortal experience. Thus, the spirit world is not our final destination either. It's just the next level of our learning and, as such, we will eventually graduate from there. That is what the resurrection is all about.
In our eternal learning progression we go from being educated as naive spirits, to being educated as spirits with mortal bodies, to advanced learning as more experienced spirits, to finally learning as spirits with an immortal body, and at each step in that progression we leave behind one level of schooling in order to advance to a higher level of learning.
If we didn't graduate to the next school when our time was up, we would be like a child who never leaves Middle school even though each year they get older and older. Yet that is what people want to happen when it is their time to die and don't want to leave earth or they don't want someone else to die when it is their time to graduate from earth life to the spirit world.
But there is a greater importance to why we must put our mortal bodies in the ground than merely moving on to the next level of schooling because the resurrection is more than our old, mortal body rising from the grave and becoming alive again. Paul explained that our mortal bodies were "sown in corruption [but] it is raised in incorruption. It was sown in dishonor; it is raised in glory. It is sown is weakness; it is raised in power" (1 Corinthians 14:42,43).
In this life our physical bodies are subject to being corrupted by disease, injury, improper nutrition, and other factors that impair their ability to properly function, but when it is raised in the resurrection it will be incapable of dying. In this life we use our bodies in ways that dishonor them and God, but after the resurrection we will have a glorious body that is holy and pure. In this life our mortal bodies are weak but after the resurrection they will have the power to do great and marvelous things that they are not capable of doing right now.
In other words, the body that rises from the grave will be very different than the body that we laid in the ground. The apostle Paul taught, "But some man will say, How are the dead raised up? And with what body do they come? Thou fool, that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die; and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be but bare grain" (I Corinthians 14:35-37).
Right now our mortal bodies look very earthy, meaning that they look like the earth they came from - dull, drab, and dreary. By comparison, God's body is bright, radiant, and glorious to look upon. This difference can be compared to that of an aborigine in the jungles of Africa living in a mud hut and wearing nothing but a loin cloth to that of a king sitting on his throne in his royal palace, wearing regal clothing.
But in order for our bodies to make this kind of a transition they must first die. When a tomato seed is planted and watered, roots begin to sprout, going downward into the ground, while, at the same time, a stem begins to grow upward out of the ground. However, within a very short period of time after planting the seed, if we were to pull the plant up, there would be no more trace of the seed itself. That's because the seed has transformed itself into something that is more glorious, grander, and more productive than the seed itself was, from which the plant and fruit came.
The seed itself, in its natural state, is small and incapable of doing anything but once it has been transformed by dying it then comes forth bearing much fruit. In the same way, our mortal bodies must be put in the ground before it can be converted into something wonderfully different that will be more glorious, grander, and be capable of bringing forth much more fruit than our current bodies are capable of doing.
When Jesus walked the earth He had the same kind of physical body we possess and He had no form or comeliness that when we saw Him there was any beauty about Him that we should desire (Isaiah 53:2) but after His death His resurrected body became immortal and glorious to behold (see Revelation 1:14-16). This is why it was necessary for even Jesus to die because without death even His body could not be transformed.
As Paul explained, just like the "grain" or seed that is buried in the ground is not the "body" that will come afterwards, so also the physical body we put in the ground is not the same kind of body that it will be after the resurrection. This is what Paul meant when he said, "that which thou sowest is not quickened except it die; and that which thou sowest, thou sowest not that body that shall be but bare grain."
The Lord has revealed that during the millennium "children shall grow up until they become old; old men shall die; but they shall not sleep in the dust, but they shall be changed in the twinkling of an eye" (D&C 63:51; see also D&C 101:31). Some people have cited this scripture to say that during the millennium people will live to an old age and then be resurrected or made immortal "in the twinkling of an eye" without dying but this scripture clearly states that people living at that time will die. The only difference is that their body won't be put in the ground and they will be resurrected a split-second after they've died. So even after Christ comes back to earth again mortals will still need to die because they cannot become immortal unless they do.
The Lord has also revealed that "the earth abideth the law of a celestial kingdom, for it filleth the measure of its creation, and transgresseth not the law- Wherefore, it shall be sanctified; yea, notwithstanding it shall die, it shall be quickened again, and shall abide the power by which it is quickened, and the righteousness shall inherit it" (D&C 88:25,26).
Because the earth itself has lived its existence according to the law of the celestial kingdom it will become exalted along with those who are worthy of becoming exalted celestial beings. But before that transformation can take place the earth itself must die. The scriptures tell us "And the end shall come, and the heaven and the earth shall be consumed and pass away, and there shall be a new heaven and a new earth" (D&C 29:23). "And also that of element shall melt with fervent heat; and all things shall become new" (D&C 101:25). "For all old things shall pass away, and all things shall become new, even the heaven and the earth, and all the fulness thereof, both men and beasts, the fowls of the air, and the fishes of the sea;" (D&C 29:24)
In speaking of the resurrection of our body the apostle Paul explained "God giveth it a body as it hath pleased him, and to every seed his own body. All flesh is not the same flesh: but there is one kind of flesh of men, another flesh of beasts, another of fishes, and another of birds. There are also celestial bodies, and bodies terrestrial: but the glory of the celestial is one, and the glory of the terrestrial is another. There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars: for one star differeth from another star in glory. So also is the resurrection of the dead" (1 Corinthians 15:38-42).
Even though our earthly bodies will be transformed into a glorious immortal body at the resurrection, not all immortal bodies will be the same. Just like not all animal flesh is the same (fish, beasts, and fowl) so also in the resurrection there will be different kinds of immortal bodies. Some will be celestial in makeup, while others will be terrestrial in makeup, while still others will be telestial in makeup and they will each be as different from one another as the flesh of fish, beasts, and birds are different from each other, and this is why it is necessary that our bodies die.
In our day the Lord further explained, "They who are of a celestial spirit shall receive the same body which was a natural body; even ye shall receive your bodies, and your glory shall be that glory by which your bodies are quickened. Ye who are quickened by a portion of the celestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness. And they who are quickened by a portion of the terrestrial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fulness. And also they who are quickened by a portion of the telestial glory shall then receive of the same, even a fullness" (D&C 88:28-31).
To be "quickened" means "to be made alive" but, in the resurrection our mortal bodies are not merely brought back to life again. Rather, they will be transformed into a new kind of body that is incorruptible, glorious, and full of power, but not all bodies will be the same. Instead, God will give each person the kind of immortal body as pleases Him.
The way He will do this is by using a different glory to bring forth each body from the grave. Those bodies which are resurrected or brought back to life by the power of a celestial glory will be transformed into a celestial body. Those bodies which are resurrected by means of a terrestrial glory will be transformed into a terrestrial body while those which are resurrected by a telestial glory will be transformed into a telestial body.
But if our bodies do not die then obviously they cannot be quickened or brought back to life, seeing how they are still alive. Therefore, if our bodies do not die then they can't be resurrected through the power of different glories, in which case each body must remain in its current condition, having no glory except that which they already have.
When properly understood, death is essential because without it man could never become a gloried being.