The Realities of Eternity
We see a lot about reality T.V. today. Reality T.V. programs are filmed in real time. There is nothing staged. The program is filmed as a real life drama unfolds in the lives of real people. You see the actual real life dramas that range anywhere from normal to bazaar. You see them in real time as they transpire in the lives of real people.
The Bible is a book about the real life dramas of those it is written about. Have you noticed that the Bible is only a book written about the lives of people? There is nothing fake, staged, or imagined about the biblical stories. The story of Jesus Christ is a real life story. There is nothing staged about his heavenly origin, his earthly roots, birth, childhood, ministry, or his resurrection. It’s Jesus resurrection that assures us that it all was real, but the resurrection does more. His resurrection assures us of the reality of life after death.
There is one real life story that rivets my attention on the next life—eternal life. It is something that happen upon the death of two individuals before Christ ever walked the earth. It describes a real after death experience for two individuals. I know that you have heard volumes about after death experiences, but this story is told by our Lord, so I know it is as real as it gets. It is up close and very personal. Most stories told about after death experiences leave us wondering if they are real or a trick of the mind. I want to assure you that this story is as real as it gets.
A Real Story from an Eternal Perspective
First I want us to note that the Bible says volumes about life after death. On the Mount of Transfiguration Moses and Elijah met and talked with Jesus Christ. If your remember Moses died in the wilderness—but he is present with Jesus. Elijah was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot. They were very much alive and well.
God is God of the living not the dead. The Sadducees question Jesus about the resurrection, notice Jesus answer.
24 Jesus replied, "Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God? 25 When the dead rise, they will neither marry nor be given in marriage; they will be like the angels in heaven. 26 Now about the dead rising-have you not read in the book of Moses, in the account of the bush, how God said to him, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? 27 He is not the God of the dead, but of the living. You are badly mistaken!" NIV
The book of Revelation portrays Jesus opening the fifth of the scroll:
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed. NIV
Jesus Christ gave John the vision of Revelation. He saw the door of heaven open and he was invited to peer into the heavenly realms to see what would take place. I want you to notice that the souls of those who had been slain for their testimony were crying out to God from the heavenly realm as the earth was rotating on its axis—earth was still in existence. They were very much alive as they cried, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?"
This is actually the theme the book of Revelation. It is about God’s judgment upon the inhabitants of the earth for refusing to repent of their sins. It is a real life story that is being unfolded as I speak. God is at work judging the world. Those have died are already in the presence of God for good or bad.
The book of Revelation paints us a picture of life after death in broad strokes, but Jesus told a story of a rich man and a man named Lazarus that is up close and personal. It is as close to the reality of what happens when we die as you can get. Keep in mind that this is a real story.
19 "There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
27 "He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'
29 "Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'
30 "'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'
31 "He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" NIV
Two men die. One is in torment, and the other in paradise. Notice the rich man’s brothers are still alive on earth. This isn’t a scene of the judgment. The judgment comes on the final day—this isn’t the final day. The earth continues to rotate on its axis. In fact, Abraham told the rich man that if his brothers wouldn’t listen to Moses and the prophets neither would they be persuaded if Lazarus was sent back from the dead.
This real life story happened during the Old Testament period before Christ died on the cross during the time of Moses and the prophets. But it is the same story that happens every time someone dies today. It is what will happen when you and I die. We will be in one of two places.
Remember your Creator
in the days of your youth,
before the days of trouble come NIV
6 Remember him-before the silver cord is severed,
or the golden bowl is broken;
before the pitcher is shattered at the spring,
or the wheel broken at the well,
7 and the dust returns to the ground it came from,
and the spirit returns to God who gave it. NIV
When we die our bodies return to the dust of the ground and our spirit will return to God who gave it. James says the body without the spirit is dead (James 2:26). It is the spirit within our bodies that give our bodies life. When your spirit leaves your body, your body will be dead. However, the spirit will remain very much alive. All life returns to God who gave it.
3 Do not put your trust in princes,
in mortal men, who cannot save.
4 When their spirit departs, they return to the ground;
on that very day their plans come to nothing. NIV
12:1 "At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people-everyone whose name is found written in the book-will be delivered. 2 Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. NIV
When the Bible speaks of multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth it is speaking of our bodies that have returned to the dust of the earth as a result of death. The Bible makes it clear death occurs when our spirits leave our bodies. When the spirit leaves the body it returns to God who gave it.
Whatever we believe about life and death we must understand that we will be in one of two places when we die. Our bodies may be asleep in the grave, but we will be very much alive.
Jesus Relates the Real Story of Eternity
God didn’t raise Lazarus from the dead to warn the man’s brothers, but Jesus chose to tell us this story so we can beware of what happens at death. We have more than Moses and the prophets—we have the words from the mouth of Jesus. What will we do with the story—will we take it to heart?
We hear about after-death experiences of those who have been resuscitated. We hear of people seeing the light and experiencing such a peaceful existence. They see themselves leaving their bodies. Seemingly those who are lost experience the same thing Christians experience when they have an after-death experience. It may be that we will pass through a very pleasant experience of the presence of God before we reach either of the places we find the rich man and Lazarus. I wouldn’t want to put a lot of confidence in after-death experiences unless it is the one Jesus speaks of hear in these verses. I can trust the story Jesus tells of the reality of eternity.
What will it be like when our spirits return to God upon our death? Each of us will probably experience the glorious presence of God as we return to him. I believe this will for the saved and the lost—at least initially. I believe it may well be that the lost will experience God’s presence in such a way that they will never forget the peace they lost as a result of not choosing to be saved.
Salvation must be the top priority for each of us. After death the rich man doesn’t mention his Fifth Avenue apartment. He doesn’t mention his fine clothes and sumptuous meals. He desperately needs a drink of water. Worldly concerns are the furthest thing from his mind—he is totally focused on the spiritual The one thing he is most concerned about is the salvation of his five brothers. He knows no hope remains for him. He has forfeited his soul.
24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done. 28 I tell you the truth, some who are standing here will not taste death before they see the Son of Man coming in his kingdom." NIV
Try to imagine the kind of eulogy given at this man’s funeral. There is pomp and ceremony with spell binding speeches, perhaps given by his five brothers. They speak of his worldly success, and his affluence. Floral reefs with ribbons imprinted with the message “Rest In Peace.” We can hear many say, “Well he is in a better place.” But we hear the rest of the story from the lips of our Lord.
We hear his anguish. “In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
"But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'
"He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’”
Nothing is said about the things he didn’t get to do before he died. He didn’t wish that he had gotten to take the trip around the world that he never took time for. He only wished that he had done the thing at hand—he thought about feeding beggars. He thought about how he should have left a better example for his brothers to follow. Imagine, forever remembering the simple things that keep us from being lost—a cup of water in Jesus’ name. He thought about the really simple things of life that he failed to do, but it was too late.
This is a man with absolutely no worldly concern. He is completely focused on the spiritual world. He is more concerned about salvation than ever, but not his own—he knows it is too late for him. He is concerned about the spiritual welfare of those he left behind—please send Lazarus back to warn them of this awful place. Abraham simply, “They have the Scriptures—the scriptures are simply the law and the prophets—let them read them.
The Scripture—the Bible is the road map to heaven. Why is it so hard for us to look at the road map? The Bibles lay on our coffee tables, on the dashboards of our cars—they even get lost in church buildings for weeks at a time. I have noticed that some lost in the church building are never found by their owners. I wonder if they are looking them.
Things Time and Eternity Have in Common
We will have our sight—not a world of darkness—we will see exactly what life was all about. We really already know what life is about—we just refuse to do anything about it.
We will see clearly the battlefields of life in hindsight. Elisha prayed that God would open the eyes of his servant when Dothan was surrounded by the Syrian army. When the Lord opened the servants eyes he saw the army that surrounded the city of Dothan surrounded by the army of the Lord’s host. You are living on a battlefield. The battles you face are eternally relevant. You are surrounded by heavenly beings who are engaged in this battle with you. Satan at this very moment is trying to place you in harms way so that he can bring hurt to as many people as possible. God is our only protection.
There will also be 20/20 hindsight. The rich man seems to never question why he is where he is—he fully understands.
Memory—without memory there would be no true existence. You can’t try a person for a crime if the person loses their mental capacity to remember the crime they committed. Imagine remembering all the insignificant things that sent him to the place of torment. What lament—what sorrow—how tragic—how insignificant worldly things will appear from this vantage point.
There will be recognition—we will recognize our loved ones. Peter and John recognized Moses and Elijah on the Mt. of Transfiguration. Saul recognized Samuel when he came back from the dead to give him a message. We will recognize our love ones. If they are lost it will only make torment more tragic.
There will be regret—regret over a misspent life—regret for those who have misspent their lives as a result of our misspent lives.
The Scriptures will be there—they will be binding. The same scripture we are studying this morning—the same story will be more real than ever before. We will meet the rich man or Lazarus.
There will time in the next world—plenty of it. But our existence will not be measured by seconds, minutes, hours or days. It will only be measured by eternity.
There will be no grace period. A preacher carried a stack of books he had checked out of the library back two weeks late. All the books at the library received a five day grace period before any late fees were charged. However, the preacher had exceeded his grace period for each book. So the preacher wanted to know if he would have to pay for the five days grace period for each book. The librarian told him once the grace period was over the full penalty was due.
When we die the grace period will be over. If we have not received God’s grace the full penalty for sin will be due.
There will be no second chance—no purgatory—no end to the sentence.
There will no chance to repent and turn to God. There will be eternal regret and sorrow over what could have been, but no chance for repentance.
Is it any wonder why Paul says, “Behold, today is the day of salvation.”