“Now troubles are many
they’re as deep as a well
I can swear there ain’t no Heaven
but I pray there ain’t no hell
Swear there ain’t no Heaven
and I’ll pray there ain’t no hell
but I’ll never know by livin’
only my dyin’ will tell, yes only my
dyin’ will tell, oh yeah,
Only my dyin’ will tell”
So goes the song And When I Die by “Blood, Sweat, and Tears.” The lyrics of this favorite oldie deal with a very serious matter, but the music is very upbeat. Isn’t that the way many of us go through life? We know, deep down inside, that death lies somewhere ahead. But we try to remain upbeat, and not think about the time that “our number comes up”.
Moreover, like many of us, the song proclaims ignorance about what happens after death. The singer says that only by dying will he ever find out. Hope for an easy, painless death…just let me go naturally…but as far as what comes next? Hey, I just don’t know!
The good news is, that is not true! There is not only abundant information about the other side of the grave, but a way to be completely prepared for death, to be able to face it with a solid peace and a sure hope. That’s because GOD, Who knows all things, even the things that are utter mysteries to us, has spoken clearly about the other side of the grave in His holy Word. Let’s see what the Bible says about Heaven and hell.
HELL is not a popular topic. Televangelists and other religious phonies do not rake in their money talking about it. There is no TV show called “Seventh Hell”. Have you ever heard a speaker at a funeral say something like, “this deceased person has probably gone to hell”? Probably not. In fact, in the context of funerals, all sorts of people sanctimoniously default to a religious belief we might call “justification by death”. That is, simply on the basis that someone has died, it is assumed that he or she has gone to “a better place”.
Now consider, Reader: is every person leaving this world automatically qualified to stand up straight and tall and smiling before a thrice holy, sin avenging God? To assume so is about as wise as the proverbial ostrich, hiding her head in the sand. Even worse, it will be eternally, hopelessly tragic to those who, believing this, take no thought for their souls.
The Lord Jesus Christ often spoke of HELL in His teaching. He described it as a place where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched”. In the following passage from the Gospel of Luke, chapter 16, the Savior tells us more about this real and awful place:
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’
But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’
Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’
And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’
But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ “
The Lord Jesus said that Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom”. This is a way of referring to Heaven, based on Abraham’s role in God’s plan of salvation as the father of both Jewish and Gentile believers. (See Paul’s letter to the Romans, chapter 4, or his letter to the Galatians, chapter 3, for fuller expositions of this truth.)
At the moment, we are concerned with what the Lord said about where the rich man went, not Lazarus. Let’s notice just a few facts about his case:
He was fully conscious, and able to speak
He was able to see saints (Abraham and Lazarus) in a place of happiness
He himself was in fiery torments
He was told to remember the good things he had received during life on Earth.
He would have considered one finger-tip’s worth of water as a great mercy
He wanted to warn his five brothers that they were on their way to a similar doom.
He was told of a “great gulf” that prevented his escape to Heaven
This rich man exemplifies the sort of person Paul wrote about in Romans chapter 2:
“…Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance? But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness — indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek…”
It was not his worldly riches, in and of themselves, that damned this man. Although Christ did say that it will be difficult for those who have the fleeting wealth of this world to enter the kingdom of Heaven, He did not say it will be impossible.
This man’s damnation was brought about by his refusal to repent and turn to God for forgiveness of his habitual selfishness and unrighteous, wicked behavior: his SIN. Perhaps during his earthly life he was a hypocritical religionist, a liar, an adulterer, a man full of bitterness, a man who never had a moment for God – let alone one entire day in every week, namely the sabbath. All and any of these things (practiced outwardly in the body or secretly in the heart) send rich and poor, male and female, small and great to HELL.
If you’ve been reading carefully, you noticed that Jesus said the rich man went to Hades. As we saw from the rich man’s state there, this is an awful place of torment. However, it is not the “final version” of hell. In other words, it’s going to get even worse for that rich man when Jesus Christ returns to bring all of human history to a consummation, and to judge every single human being who has ever lived!
Jesus said, “Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
When that hour arrives (and it will arrive without warning, and suddenly), the soul of the rich man and the departed souls of every human being who ever lived will be reunited to their bodies for eternity. The Bible knows nothing of a vague, ghostly “afterlife”. Jesus Christ rose from the dead, not a disembodied spirit, but with His same, real, physical human body. His body even retained scars inflicted on Him by His horrific execution on the Roman cross. (see Luke 24:39, John 20:25-29)
So it will be for all of us. Body and soul reunited forever in unimaginable bliss in Heaven, or body and soul reunited forever in unimaginable agony in hell.
Who will go to Heaven and who will go to hell? Once again we quote the words of Jesus: “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.
Yes, MANY will enter the wide gate, travel the broad way, and go to hell. FEW will enter the narrow gate, travel the difficult way, and enter into life. Let your soul be stirred up, Reader! Which way are you traveling? Is it the broad one? Hear the voice of Jesus NOW, as He calls you to forsake that way and follow Him to salvation!
What is the “final version” of hell like? This is what Jesus will say when He sentences multitudes of sinners to go there:
“Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels!”
Hades itself, the temporary place for the torment of guilty, indicted, final-judgment-awaiting sinners, will itself by thrown into this everlasting fire, which is also called the lake of fire, the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, and “the second death”:
The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13-15)
Is YOUR name written in the Book of Life, or are YOU headed toward the eternal, fiery lake?
to be continued…