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Tuesday
Sep042018

Your Personal End Times: What is after death?

Various Passages.  This sermon was preached by Pastor Marty Bonner on September 2, 2018.

Today we continue to look at the end times from a personal perspective rather than from a global one.  Last week, we emphasized the biblical teaching that we are given one life to live on this earth and then we face judgment.  We also pointed out that God’s ultimate purpose is to resurrect all who have died and thus lift mankind out of this mortal condition in which we have found ourselves for ages.  However, there is a large amount of time between the death of most people who have lived and the time of the resurrection.  Note: In a later sermon, we will deal with the reality that there is a resurrection of the righteous and a resurrection of the wicked that do not happen at the same time, but are both at the end of the current age.  So what happens to people in between their physical death and their later resurrection?

Some passages use the terminology of sleeping and have led some people to believe that this is literal.  Thus they teach that the soul of an individual, after death, will go into an unconscious state and awake at the resurrection.  However, it is generally understood to be a euphemistic way of referring to death.  Too many passages exist in which we see the souls of those who have died as conscious and aware.  Yet, what does that look like?

Today we will look at the first of two possible experiences after death.  Scripture promises all who belong to Christ, both those who died before the cross and those after it, that they will be with Him in heaven when they die.

Those who belong to Jesus got to be with Him in Heaven

We cannot list all the passages that directly or indirectly make this point clear.  However, let’s look at several passages that give us a picture of what lies beyond death for those who belong to Jesus.

Luke 23:42-43 involves Jesus on the cross.  One of the thieves mocked Jesus, but the other one was clearly repentant.  He then says to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”  The reply of Jesus is, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in paradise.”  Notice that Jesus emphasizes that it will happen today.  So is paradise a place in the grave (more on this later) or is it another term for Heaven, God’s dwelling place?  In 2 Corinthians 12:2-4, the Apostle Paul speaks of a person who was “caught up to the third heaven,” and then describes it again as “caught up into Paradise.”  Clearly he is equating the third heaven and Paradise.  It was common to see the cosmos as having a first heaven, the atmosphere, a second heaven, what we call outer space, and the third heaven, a spiritual place where God dwells.  Another point to make is that the directional language used for Paradise is upwards, i.e. “caught up.”  The grave is never described in the Old Testament or the New Testament as being up.  It is always down, and in the dust of the earth.  So, Jesus is promising more than that the thief will join him in the grave.  The other thief would be in the grave as well (admittedly not with Jesus).  The promise is that he would be with Jesus in heaven.

This promise is made in other passages as well.  In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul describes his potential death as “a desire to depart and be with Christ.”  Basically, his argument is that it is good to be alive on this earth because we can labor for Christ and help each other.  However, it is a better condition to depart this life, i.e. die, and be with Christ.  There is no suffering and difficulty for us in that condition.  This is a clear equation from Paul.  He knows that for him to die is to be with Jesus.  Let’s look at another passage.

2 Corinthians 5:4-9.  In this passage it becomes clear that there are three possible conditions for a believer in Christ.  The first is that we are on this earth with a mortal body.  In this condition we should make it our aim to please the Lord because He is the source of the other two conditions.  Upon our death, those who “please the Lord” enter into the second condition, which is a soul that is with Jesus and without a physical body.  The second state is seen as more desirable than the first state.  Yet, the first is necessary to reach the second.  Even better than being a soul that is with Jesus and without a body, is to be with Jesus and to have a glorified body.  This passage emphasizes the promise of God that we will have a glorified body (also called a heavenly body) that is incorruptible and immortal, at the resurrection of the righteous.

Believers in Jesus can be confident that when they leave this life behind, they will not cease to exist or go into an unconscious state.  Rather, we will be in the presence of Jesus in a spirit form, of which we have very little information to satisfy our curiosity.  Right now Jesus is at the right hand of the Father awaiting the command to come to earth and set up His earthly kingdom.  Also, there are countless believers who are with Him waiting for the day that they will receive their resurrection bodies and join Him in His triumphant return to Earth.

Lazarus and the Rich Man in Luke 16

So what about this story that Jesus told?  For the sake of time I will assume you have read Luke 16:19-31.  In this story there is a very poor man who is full of sores and has to beg for his food.  His name is Lazarus.  There is also a very rich man who is apparently healthy, has costly clothing, and never wants for food.  It is clear that the rich man did not help Lazarus.  The only consolation Lazarus received was dogs licking his sores.  Both men die, but they have very different fates.  Lazarus is carried by angels to a place referred to as Abraham’s Bosom.  It is not clear if this is just a description or an actual name for the place.  We are told that the rich man is buried and then finds himself in torment in Hades.

Now Hades is a Greek term that is synonymous with the Hebrew word She’ol.  Both of them essentially refer to the grave.  Though it can be used to refer to a physical grave, it typically refers to a spiritual holding place for the spirits of those who die.  In the story the grave is depicted as having two compartments, a place of torment for people like the rich man and a place of comfort for those like Lazarus.  Clearly the main teaching is that we should be careful how we live our life because our life on earth directly impacts what we will experience after death.

In the days of Jesus it was believed that wealth was a sign of God’s blessing, and so the rich man may have felt that surely his condition after death would be just as fair.  Similarly, a person like Lazarus would be seen as cursed by God, and could not hope for a good condition after death.  Notice the reversal of fortunes.  Those who live selfishly, without thought for God and their fellow man, will be in torment when they go to the grave.  However, the souls of the righteous (whether destitute as Lazarus or else) will receive comforts and no longer suffer.  Both cases are depicted as spiritually alive and conscious. 

Why isn’t Lazarus in the presence of God?  It appears that until Jesus actually paid the price for the sins of the world, those who put their faith in God had to wait in the “nice side” of the grave to enter His presence.  Once Jesus paid the price on the cross, he then went into the grave.  There he proclaimed his victory over sin and death.  This would be good news to the righteous, but a shattering of any hope for the wicked (see 1 Peter 3:18-20).  Some believe that Ephesians 4:8 refers to Jesus leading the righteous captives out of the captivity of the grave and into heaven.  Whether this verse is intended to reference this or not, it seems stretched to think that only believers after the cross could go to heaven after death while those before the cross must stay captive in Abraham’s bosom.  In John 8:47 and John 16:15, Jesus taught that everyone who “belonged to the Father” would believe on Him.  Thus all that belonged to the Father (before Christ came) essentially belonged to Him.  Would not that which belongs to Christ be with Him?  The price has been paid.  At this moment all the righteous and faithful of every generation back to Adam are with Jesus at the right hand of the Father, and believers who die today immediately join that multitude in Heaven.

There are objections to taking Luke 16:19-31 literally.  They say that this is just a parable and thus is only emphasizing that our life on earth sets us up for a good or bad experience in the afterlife.  Thus they would ignore the descriptions as merely props used to get an idea across rather than specifics.  The problem with this is that if this is a parable, it is the only one where one of the characters is named.  An even bigger problem is that the parables of Jesus were always true-to-life.  Jesus did not tell Aesopian Fables involving turtles and hares.  His stories always represented real experiences that happened every day.  Why would this be the one parable where we would say the story does not represent real experiences that people who are dying have every day?  There is no strong reason.  Thus I believe that the story is intended to give us a real look into the grave and give us a rough picture of what it will be like.

Today, I encourage you to think about your life.  We are not all as destitute and seemingly cursed as Lazarus, and most likely you are not as well off as the rich man in the story.  However, it is important how you live this life because it will impact what you will experience after your death.  If you want to be in the presence of God when you die, then I encourage you to put your faith in Jesus, rather than in yourself or the things of this world.  Admit to God that you are a sinner in need of saving.  Believe that God sent Jesus to pay the price for your sins and that His teachings are the way for you to live your life.  Then publically confess Jesus as your Lord and Savior.  Those who embrace Jesus in faith have a bright future ahead of them in which not even physical death and the grave are bad things.  They simply become our promotion from the teaching grounds of this life into the presence of God Himself.  Choose to follow Him today!

What is after Death audio