Harbor Lights Sermon  Jan, 2011

Life After Death

The most important thing is life is what comes afterwards because this life but a blink of the eye in comparison with eternity. Today I'd like to talk briefly about what the Bible has to say about life after death, because that's the subject the gospel is primarily concerned about. The apostle Paul said, "If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men." 1Cor 15:19

Hebrews 9:27 says that everyone must die once and after that comes judgement. Jesus gave an illustration of life after death in Luke chapter 16 in the story of Lazarus and the Rich man of which you've probably heard a number of times. To summarize, there was a rich man and a poor man named Lazarus who died. The rich man went to a place of torment, and the poor man went to a place of comfort, being compensated for the unjustified suffering he experienced in life. And by the way that's another thing about the judgement. It's not only about punishing sin, but also about compensating those who have suffered unjustly. This place Jesus describes is what is known as Hades, which is the literal word Jesus uses in the story. It is the place of the dead, which was separated into these two parts by a impassible chasm. Though one could converse across it.

Jesus himself visited Hades after his death and before his resurrection, as Peter indicated in his first sermon in Acts chapter 2 where he quotes a prophecy about Jesus praying from Psalm 16 part of which says, "You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption." Ps 16:10 And he goes on to speak of the resurrection of Christ from the dead. So while Jesus' body was in the grave, his soul went to a place called Hades.

But remember also what happened just before Jesus died. For it's recorded in Luke 23 that Jesus was being crucified next to two criminals. One of the criminals said to the other, "We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong." Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom. Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." Luke 23:41-43

So that very day Jesus and that criminal went to paradise. And yet Peter says that Jesus went to Hades. How can that be? Because at the time Hades included paradise, just as Jesus portrayed in the story of Lazarus and the Rich Man. When Jesus died he did not go to heaven. After his resurrection he himself said he had not yet ascended to his Father. His ascension to heaven didn't occur until 40 days after his resurrection. He had been in a different place, Hades. His physical body was in the grave and his soul in Hades. And after death there is a separation of the soul from the body.

The apostle Paul writes, "Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. We live by faith, not by sight. We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it." 2Cor 5:1-9

And by the way this passage is one of the reasons why today we, as Christians, say that when the righteous die, they go to heaven. For to be away from the body is to be present with the Lord. And where is the Lord? 40 days after his resurrection, He had ascended into heaven. Acts chapter 7, just before Stephen was martyred, it says, "Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. "Look," he said, "I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God." And while they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit." That's where Christians go after we die, we go to heaven to be with Jesus.

This was not the case in the past, prior to Christ's resurrection. For prior to that, all people went to Hades after they died. For the Old Testament doesn't speak of people dying and going to heaven, but rather speaks of people going to the grave or to Hades. But we can infer that something happened to Hades. It says in Eph 4:8a "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive". What we infer that was that upon Jesus' ascension, having atoned for sin, he cleared out the paradise side of Hades, and brought all those souls to heaven with him. So today what's left is Hades today is just hell. So while in Jesus' day people were all spoken of as going to Hades after they died, today we speak of people either going to heaven or going to hell.

And by the way Paul speaks very confidently both of himself and the Christian community going to heaven. He looked forward to it. In Philippians 1:22-24 he says, "If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body." He had no fear of judgement of course, because Jesus atoned for sin and Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has already crossed over from death to life." John 5:24 Though for the Christian there is a judgement for rewards. But we see throughout the New Testament that when it comes to Christians, death has a really positive spin to it.

But with regards to hell, hell is not a prison, it's a jail. It's a temporary holding cell for the unrighteous awaiting the final judgement. Peter writes, "the Lord knows how to rescue godly men from trials and to hold the unrighteous for the day of judgment, while continuing their punishment." 2Peter 2:9 That's hell.

But just prior to that judgement the bodies of both the righteous and unrighteous, which had been in the grave, will rise from the dead, much as the physical body of Jesus was resurrected from the dead. Paul declares, "there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked." Acts 24:15b And this idea had already been well established in the Old Testament. In the book of Job, Job says, "I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God; I myself will see him with my own eyes— I, and not another. How my heart yearns within me!" Job 19:25-27 The prophet Daniel says, "Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt." Dan 12:2 Paul addressed the subject of the resurrection of the body of the righteous extensively in 1Corinthians chapter 15. But perhaps the best illustration is Jesus' resurrection from the dead. For as Christ was raised, so also will his people be raised.

Now when the disciples first saw Jesus' after his resurrection, it is written that, "They were startled and frightened, thinking they saw a ghost." Luke 24:37 But Jesus said, "Look at my hands and my feet. It is I myself! Touch me and see; a ghost does not have flesh and bones, as you see I have." Luke 24:39 and he went on to eat with them. So the resurrected body is not that of a ghost. Just as with Jesus, the body disappears from the grave and becomes incorruptible. Paul says, "The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power" 1Cor 15:42,43

The Bible teaches us that when the Lord comes the righteous will be raised from the dead and also that those believers who are still alive at the time will be suddenly changed into their resurrected bodies.

Paul writes, "Brothers, we do not want you to be ignorant about those who fall asleep, or to grieve like the rest of men, who have no hope. We believe that Jesus died and rose again and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever." 1Thess 4:13-17

And again in 1Cor 15:51-53, "Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed— in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality."

Now while the Bible some other intermediate events, I'll skip to the end when it speaks of the final destiny of the righteous. Rev 21:1-6 John writes of his vision of the end saying, "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, "Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away." He who was seated on the throne said, "I am making everything new!" Then he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." He said to me: "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life."

Jul 29,2015