“2 And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe. 3 Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands.” John 19:2-3
The Bible tells us, “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (I Corinthians 1:18). The cross of Christ does not make sense to the unbeliever.
“What would you think if a woman came to work wearing earrings stamped with an image of the mushroom cloud of the atomic bomb dropped over Hiroshima?
“What would you think of a church building adorned with a fresco of the massed graves at Auschwitz? . . .
“The same sort of shocking horror was associated with the cross and crucifixion in the first century.” 1
We are learning from John 18:28-19:3 how various people respond to Christ crucified. Some of us are…
– Like the Jewish leaders, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because of our self-righteous religious pride (John 18:28-32).
– Like Pilate, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because we are too busy with life to truly live (John 18:33-38a).
– Similar to Barabbas, we believe inJesus’ death for our freedom (John 18:38b-40).
There is a fourth possible response to Christ crucified and it is seen at the beginning of John 19. LIKE THE ROMAN SOLDIERS, WE MAY REFUSE TO BELIEVE IN JESUS BECAUSE WE ARE NOT CONCERNED ABOUT ETERNAL THINGS (John 19:1-3). Although the Jewish leaders sought the death penalty for Jesus (John 18:31), Pilate recognized Jesus had done nothing deserving of execution (John 18:38). In Chapter 19, John continues the account of Jesus’ trial before the Roman governor, Pontius Pilate. Pilate wanted to release Jesus but he did not want to offend the Jewish leaders who were determined to put Jesus to death. The trial of Jesus before Pilate was rapidly reaching a crisis that Pilate wanted to avoid. In an effort to satisfy the Jews, Pilate ordered that Jesus be flogged. “So then Pilate took Jesus and scourged Him.” (John 19:1).
Pilate may have done this thinking that once the Jews saw Jesus in such a beaten state, they would ask for His release. But what is a scourging? Is it merely a beating with a whip? To make such an association is like comparing an electric shock to a lightning bolt.
“Scourging was a standard preliminary to a Roman execution. Only women, Roman senators, or soldiers (except in cases of execution) were exempt. The victim was stripped, bound to a post, and then beaten with a short whip, or flagellum, made of braided leather thongs to which were attached small iron balls and sharp pieces of bone. Jewish law limited scourging to thirty-nine strokes (M. Makkoth 3:10). Because this was a preliminary to execution, care was taken not to kill the victim. Yet suffering under the scourge was intense. Josephus tells of a man whose bones were laid bare by scourging (Jewish Wars 6.303-4). Eusebius reports of how veins, arteries, entrails, and organs were exposed to sight by the scourge (Historia Ecclesiastica 4:15).”2
The scourging should have satisfied the bloodthirsty mob, but it only incited them to greater demands. “And the soldiers twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head, and they put on Him a purple robe.” (John 19:2). The soldiers decided to enjoy a few laughs at Jesus’ expense. Because He claimed to be King of the Jews (John 18:33-37), they decided to mock Him. They “twisted a crown of thorns and put it on His head.” These thorns remind us of “the curse of thorns caused by human sin”3 (Genesis 3:18). Christ would bear this curse as He hung on the cross.
The soldiers also placed a “purple robe,” normally worn by military officers or men of high rank, on Jesus. “Then they said, ‘Hail, King of the Jews!’ And they struck Him with their hands.” (John 19:3). They mocked Jesus as they greeted Him with the words, “Hail, King of the Jews!” Then they became physically abusive and struck Jesus with their hands. Matthew and Mark also report that they hit Jesus on the head with a stick and knelt before Him and spat on Him (cf. Matthew 27:30; Mark 15:19). “Though Pilate and the soldiers no doubt thought they were merely exercising the might of Rome over a simple Jew, they were actually fulfilling biblical prophecy about the Messiah in detail” 4(cf. Isaiah 50:6; 53:5).
While this mistreatment of Jesus is repulsive to us, we have also observed similar experiences in the news where prisoners in America are brutally treated by law enforcement officers or prison guards. But before we condemn them, we need to ask ourselves what we would do if we were in a similar situation. For example, if someone had killed our co-workers, would we want to avenge their deaths? Or if someone sought to kill us, would we be all calm and collected or would we want to retaliate?
These Roman soldiers did not deliberately reject Jesus like the Jewish leaders did. They probably were not familiar with the Hebrew Scriptures that pointed to Jesus as the promised Messiah of Israel. Like a lot of people today, they were not religious. Their job required them to scourge and crucify prisoners often. Perhaps they were simply having fun to decrease the monotony of their profession. 5 Or maybe they were trying to distance themselves from the human suffering they were causing to their prisoners much like a doctor or nurse that works in an emergency room dealing with constant trauma. They must distance themselves emotionally from those for whom they provide medical care.
Perhaps you can identify with Roman soldiers who were not interested in eternal matters, but who were simply living for their jobs and trying to have some fun at the same time. It is important to understand “that the issue is not, ‘Is there a hereafter?’ The real issue is, ‘Is Jesus Christ the One He said He was?’ Why? Because Jesus Christ is the One who spoke more about heaven and hell than any other man in the Bible.
“He spoke about heaven when He said, ‘Let not your heart be troubled; you believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also’ (John 14:1-3). He spoke about hell when He said, ‘And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell’ (Matthew 10:28).” 6
So if you do not believe there is a hereafter, please realize that Jesus Christ believed there was a hereafter and the Bible explains that Jesus is “the way” to that hereafter (John 10:9; 14:6; Acts 4:12). But if Jesus Christ was not who He said He was, what He taught about the hereafter does not matter.
“Once again, we are brought face to face with the resurrection – the one thing on which Christianity stands or falls. The challenge anyone faces, therefore, who denies there is a herafter is the challenge of disproving the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Only if the resurrection is disproved can the teachings of Christ about the hereafter be ignored.” 7
But the resurrection of Christ is the most attested fact of history. A former persecutor of Christianity writes in the Bible, “3 That Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, 4 and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures, 5 and that He was seen by Cephas, then by the twelve. 6 After that He was seen by over five hundred brethren at once.” (I Corinthians 15:3-6). The proof that Jesus rose from the dead was that He was seen alive after His death by over five hundred eyewitnesses. This is more than enough evidence to stand up in a court of law.
Just as history proclaims that George Washington was the first President of the USA, so history proclaims that Jesus Christ was resurrected from the dead. Just ask former atheists, Josh McDowell and Lee Strobel, who set out to disprove the resurrection of Christ only to be persuaded by the historical evidence that Jesus did indeed rise from the dead. You can check out the evidence that persuaded them to believe in Jesus in their books (McDowell – The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict 1999/The Resurrection Factor 1981; Strobel – The Case for Easter Revised 2013).
You may not care about the hereafter because you do not view heaven as a very exciting place. For example, George Bernard Shaw, once explained, “Heaven as conventionally conceived, is a place so inane, so dull, so useless, and so miserable that nobody has ever ventured to describe a whole day in heaven, though plenty of people have described a day at the seashore.” (~ Harlan D. Betz, Setting the Stage for Eternity) 8
Don’t go by your perception of heaven. Go by the explanation the Bible gives. “1 Then I saw a new earth (with no oceans!) and a new sky, for the present earth and sky had disappeared. 2 And I, John, saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven. It was a glorious sight, beautiful as a bride at her wedding. 3 I heard a loud shout from the throne saying, ‘Look, the home of God is now among men, and He will live with them and they will be His people; yes, God Himself will be among them. 4 He will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying, nor pain. All of that has gone forever. 5 And the One sitting on the throne said, ‘See, I am making all things new!’ And then He said to me, ‘Write this down, for what I tell you is trustworthy and true: 6 It is finished! I am the A and the Z—the Beginning and the End. I will give to the thirsty the springs of the Water of Life—as a gift!” (Revelation 21:1-6 TLB).
“Every molecule, atom, proton, and neutron in existence today will disintegrate only to be replaced by a glorious new creation… The idea that God will make everything new may seem too spectacular to be true, but He says this promise is indeed faithful and true (21:5). His people will experience complete satisfaction in the new creation, symbolized here by the metaphor of thirst being quenched from the spring of the water of life (21:6). The refreshing satisfaction of downing a cold glass of water when you’re parched is nothing compared to the spectacular satisfaction to come.”9
Would you like to live forever in a perfect, problem-free place called heaven? If so, understand that Jesus Christ is the only way to get there (John 10:9; 14:6). You may ask, “Why?” Because only Jesus Christ has paid the price of admission into His heaven when He died in our place on a cross and rose from the dead (John 19:30).
You may ask, “Why did Jesus have to die for me?” Because the Bible tells us that our sin – the wrong things we do, say and think – separate us from God (Romans 3:23; 6:23). In fact, if we were to pay the price for our own sin, we would spend eternity in a terrible place called the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). But Jesus loved us so much that He took our place and punishment on the cross, was buried, and then rose again (Romans 5:8; I Corinthians 15:3-6).
The Lord Jesus now invites you to trust in Him alone for His gift of eternal life. Jesus said, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.” (John 6:47). This requires faith and humility on your part. Faith to believe that God really loves you and will give you eternal life, and humility to admit that He is God and you are not.
As a drowning person must trust a lifeguard to save them through no effort of their own, so you must place your trust in a Person – Jesus Christ – as your only way to heaven. The good things you have done will not get you to heaven. Only Jesus can save you from your sins. The moment you place your trust in Him for eternal life, you can be certain that you will live with Jesus forever in His glorious heaven.
Prayer: God, some of us reading this today may have thought that this life on earth is all there is. Like the Roman soldiers, we may not have cared about Jesus Christ or the hereafter. We were more interested in living for our jobs and having a good time. But now we are beginning to wonder if that is the best way to approach life on earth. What if this person called Jesus of Nazareth really did claim to be God? What if it is true that He loves me and died in my place on a cross and rose from the dead, proving that He really is God? What if He is preparing an incredible place for those who believe in Him to live with Him for all of eternity? Do I really want to risk missing out on all of that? As best I know how, God, I am asking You to show me if Jesus Christ is the real deal? Thank You.
1. Gordon D. Fee, The First Epistle to the Corinthians: New International Commentary on the New Testament series, (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1987), pg. 68.
2. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 337-338; cf. William D. Edwards, Wesley J. Gabel, Floyd E. Hosmer, “On the Physical Death of Jesus,” The Journal of the Amerian Medical Association 255 (March 21, 1986): 1457.
3. Edwin A. Blum, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Gospels, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck, (David C Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), pg. pg. 688.
4. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman. The Tony Evans Bible Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1821.
5. Adapted from Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus? (John 18:28-19:16)” at www.Bible.org.
6. EvanTell’s The Evangelism Study Bible (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2014), pg. 1108.
8. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publication, 2012), pg. 304.
9. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pp. 2420-2421.
“Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.” John 18:40
In John 18:28-19:4, we are looking at different responses to Christ crucified. So far we have learned that …
– Like the Jewish leaders, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because of our self-righteous religious pride (John 18:28-32).
– Like Pilate, we may refuse to believe in Jesus because we are too busy with life to truly live (John 18:33-38a).
The third possible way we might respond to Christ crucified is the best way. SIMILAR TO BARABBAS, WE TRUST INJESUS’ DEATH IN OUR PLACE FOR OUR SINS (John 18:38b-40). When Pilate declared to the Jews, “I find no fault in Him at all” (John 18:38b), it was a reminder that Jesus would die like a Passover lamb, a male in its prime without blemish (cf. Exodus 12:5; I Corinthians 5:7; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Hebrews 4:15; I Peter 3:18). Jesus, the innocent Lamb of God, would die for you and me so we would not have to die forever in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15). But we must come to Jesus on His terms which means believing in Him alone for His gift of everlasting life to escape the eternal punishment of the lake of fire (John 3:36; Revelation 20:15).
Pilate said to the Jews, “39 But you have a custom that I should release someone to you at the Passover. Do you therefore want me to release to you the King of the Jews? 40 Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ Now Barabbas was a robber.” (John 18:39-40). Rather than releasing Jesus on the basis of His obvious innocence, Pilate sought to avoid insulting the Sanhedrin by appealing to the Jewish custom of releasing a prisoner during their Passover feast. Pilate’s main concern was to minimize trouble rather than secure justice. If He pronounced Jesus innocent, he would offend the Jewish leaders. But if he pronounced Jesus guilty, he would offend Jesus’ followers. So he tries to satisfy everyone by implying Jesus’ guilt and releasing Him on the basis of the Passover custom.
Pilate puts forward Jesus, whom he rightly calls “the King of the Jews,” and a notorious “robber” named “Barabbas.” Pilate is thinking that this crowd that had just days before spread palm leaves on Jesus’ path and shouted “Hosanna” as He passed (John 12:12-15; cf. Luke 19:28-38) would select Him to be released. But John tells us, “Then they all cried again, saying, ‘Not this Man, but Barabbas!’ ” (John 18:40a). Barabbas was more dangerous to people than to property. He committed murder in connection with insurrection (Mark 15:7; Luke 23:18-19). Barabbas did what Jesus refused to do – take the lead in an armed revolt against Rome. The Jews ignored the obvious innocence of Jesus and freed a murderer. “Don’t miss that the leaders preferred a criminal who had fought for physical deliverance from Rome because that’s all they cared about. They wanted political deliverance from Gentile rule, when what they needed was spiritual deliverance from sin.”1
Barabbas’ freedom was at Christ’s expense. That is the gospel message. The guilty is released and the innocent is condemned. The Jews were so hostile toward Jesus that they ignored His innocence. Their minds were so made up that the facts about Jesus’ innocence did not matter. Christ did not deserve this condemnation, yet He willingly subjected Himself to it for our sakes (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 2:22-24; 3:18).
But let’s not overlook how this must have impacted Barabbas. Imagine Barabbas waiting on death row in a Roman prison for the verdict knowing that he could be executed any day. Prisoners didn’t have any rights in those days. It was over for him. There was no hope. He was a murderer who deserved death, and deep down he knew it. Each passing day was one day closer to certain death. He may have been imagining it—the flogging, mocking, and eventual death. It was coming.
And then the day comes. He can hear the shouts ringing throughout the courtyard: “Not this Man, but Barabbas!” Perhaps he was thinking to himself, “They are coming for me.” The guards open the door to his cell and drag him outside. But then something amazing happens. Everyone is celebrating his new freedom. His chains are released, and he is set free. The murderer is set free.
Put yourself in his sandals for a minute. You are walking to your death in chains and then all of a sudden, when you least expect it, you are a free man. Then you hear the words begin: “Crucify Him, crucify Him!”(Mark 15:13-14; Luke 23:21). And you see another man walking by. Those chants are not for you. The guards are dragging another man to his death – Jesus of Nazareth. He is beaten and flogged and is forced to carry His cross to His death. It’s the very cross you had imagined yourself carrying only moments earlier. You think to yourself, that’s my death He’s dying. Barabbas is the one person in history who could say that Jesus literally carried his cross. Jesus took his death, and Barabbas was given the freedom Jesus deserved. Jesus bore the guilt and shame and curse and disgrace and death that Barabbas deserved. Barabbas received the release, the freedom, and the life that Jesus deserved. It was an incredible scene. 2
And the truth is, Barabbas represents all of us. 3 He should have been on the cross instead of Jesus because he was guilty and deserved to die. You may protest, “But I’m not a robber!” But we have all robbed God of His rightful glory and control over our lives. You may come back, “But at least I’m not a murderer!” But Jesus said that if we are wrongfully angry with our brother, we are guilty of murder in God’s sight (Matthew 5:21-22). “But,” you still protest, “I’ve never led an armed rebellion against the government.” True, but we are all rebels against the King of the universe. We have all sinned against God and His rightful rule in our lives.
Also, Barabbas did nothing to earn his pardon. He wasn’t pardoned because of his good behavior or promises to change. If anything, he was pardoned because of how notoriously evil he was. He couldn’t brag after he got out about how he deserved to be pardoned. He couldn’t claim that he was pardoned for his exemplary behavior. In the same way, the Bible says that God justifies the ungodly not through their good works, but by faith alone in Christ alone (Romans 4:4-5). None of us can boast in ourselves when Jesus saves us because our salvation is based on His finished work, not our works (John 19:30; Ephesians 2:8-9).
Jesus died in Barabbas’ place. Barabbas, whose name means “son of the father,” should have been on the cross that day. Instead, the One Who is the eternal Son of the eternal Father hung there in Barabbas’ place. Jesus died in his place – and in your place and mine.
Let me ask you something. Suppose you were a pilot of a plane that became disabled. Your course is headed straight toward a residential area as the plane descends. You have a parachute and could jump to safety, but you must do it at an altitude allowing the plane to crash and kill many. Your other option is to fly the plane and guide it toward a vacant area, but there would be no time to jump to safety. You would die, but others would be spared. Which would you do? Let me tell you what one man did.
Twenty-four-year-old Vinson Kyle Perdue, a United States Air Force pilot, died when his disabled warplane crashed. Instead of parachuting to safety, Perdue apparently stayed with the plane to steer it away from a residential area.
Amy White, who lived near the crash site, was quoted as saying, “I know he went down with that plane so it wouldn’t hit anyone’s house. It would’ve hit my house if he didn’t maneuver that plane.” (Adapted from Dallas Times Herald, August 26, 1981). 4
Jesus Christ could have parachuted and jumped. In other words, He could have escaped His persecutors and refused to die for Barabbas and for us. Instead, He took the punishment for our sins and died so that we could live. He substituted His life in our place.
But Barabbas’ pardon was not automatic. He could have spit in Pilate’s face and said, “I don’t need your pardon! Crucify me!” And, he would have been crucified, while a different prisoner would have been released. In the same way, the pardon that Christ offers to all is only applied to the person who receives it by faith. Jesus promises, “Whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). Like Barabbas, the guilty rebel, you have got to appropriate by faith the pardon that Christ’s death offers you.
Some people use the word “believe” in our English sense of the word. They mentally assent to the fact Christ died and arose, but they are still depending on their works to get them to heaven. The word “believe” in the Bible means that if a person mentally assents to the fact that Christ died for his or her sins and arose, they trust in Christ alone to get them to heaven. 5
Let me share an illustration. “Picture a luxury liner cruising in the Pacific Ocean. It begins taking on water and lifeboats become a necessity. Three passengers find themselves in different situations. The first has no knowledge that lifeboats save and therefore never steps into one. The second understands that lifeboats save but for some reason refuses to step into one. The third passenger not only understands the ability of a lifeboat to save, but accepts as being true that the lifeboat has the ability to save. The passenger therefore steps into the lifeboat and in so doing relies upon it as the means of salvation.
“Which of the three is saved? The answer is obvious. The last passenger had knowledge and used it. A person is saved when he or she understands the ability Christ has to save and acts on that knowledge by trusting Christ. That is saving faith. One is not saved by simply understanding that Christ died and arose or even mentally assenting to that being a fact of history while depending on one’s good life for salvation. One is saved when as a sinner deserving of hell, one has trusted Christ alone for salvation.” 6
If you have never understood this before, and now you are transferring all your trust onto to Christ alone Who died in your place for all yours sins, you may tell God this through prayer. Keep in mind that praying a prayer is not what gets us to heaven. Only believing or trusting in Christ alone gets us to heaven. This prayer is a way of telling God you are now trusting in His Son.
Prayer: Dear Jesus, I realize that I am like Barabbas. I was hopelessly condemned. I deserved to die on that cross because I have sinned against You with my thoughts, words, and actions. But Your love broke through for me when You bore the curse, the disgrace, the guilt, the shame, and the death that I deserved when You took my place on that cross. You were completely innocent, yet out of love for me, You took the abuse, the beating, the insults, and humiliation that I should have received. Thank You so much for dying in my place and rising from the dead. I am now trusting in You alone, Jesus (not my good life, my prayers, or my religion), to forgive all my sins and give me everlasting life. Thank You for the forgiveness and eternal life I now have. Thank You that I am now free from eternal condemnation and slavery to sin. Use me as You deem best to fulfill Your purposes for Your glory. In Your life-giving name I pray. Amen.
To help you grow in your new relationship with Jesus, please download our digital “Pressing On” discipleship training materials (see above) to go through with others who do not know Jesus as their Savior.
1. Tony Evans, The Tony Evans Bible Commentary, pg. 1821.
2. Dave Furman credits this descriptive scene in his article on March 28, 2018 entitled “We Are Barabbas”at https://www.crossway.org/articles/we-are-barabbas/ to Timothy J. Keller, “Mark 15:1–15, King’s Cross: The Gospel of Mark, Part 2: The Journey to the Cross” (New York: Redeemer Presbyterian Church, March 11, 2007).
3. Adapted from Steve J. Cole’s message on June 7, 2015 entitled, “Lesson 95: What Will You Do With Jesus? (John 18:28-19:16)” at www.Bible.org.
4. R. Larry Moyer, Show Me How To Illustrate Evangelistic Sermons (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 2012) pg. 235.
5. R. Larry Moyer, Free and Clear: Understanding & Communicating God’s Offer of Eternal Life (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), pg. 41.
This video provides practical instruction on how to share the good news or gospel of Jesus Christ with those who do not have Christ in their lives. If you are eager to introduce people to the Savior of the world, this video will equip you to do just that! This video is also great for those who do not know for sure they will go to heaven when they die. The contents of this video will clearly show them from the Bible what they must know and believe to go to heaven.
“Therefore you now have sorrow; but I will see you again and your heart will rejoice, and your joy no one will take from you.” John 16:22
We are learning from Jesus’ instructions to His eleven believing disciples how Christ can transform our grief into gladness. So far we have discovered He does this when we …
– Ask Christ to help us properly understand His word as it relates to our situation (John 16:16-19).
– Accept that pain and suffering are part of life (John 16:20a; cf. 16:33).
– Assess our circumstances with an eternal perspective (John 16:20b-22).
– Allow our grief to direct us to the Father in prayer (John 16:23-24).
The final way Jesus transforms our grief into gladness is not based on a specific verse in this passage, but on the example of Jesus Christ. Jesus transforms our grief into gladness when we ACQUAINT OURSELVES WITH THE PATTERN OF TRANSFORMED PAIN. This pattern finds its fullest expression in Jesus. He transformed the bad into the good.
Because of Jesus, we can never say about a person, “He or she must be suffering because of some sin he or she committed.” Jesus, who never sinned, also suffered. God never promised that typhoons or twisters will skip over our houses on the way to our non-Christian neighbors or that COVID-19 will flee from our Christian bodies and invade a non-Christian’s body. We are not exempt from tragedies in the world just as God was not exempt. Christ was willing to suffer in order to accomplish a higher goal. He trusted His Father to use His death for good. And God took the worst thing that could happen – the brutal execution of His only Son and turned it into the final victory over sin, death, and the Devil (I Corinthians 15:1-58; Colossians 2:13-15; Hebrews 2:14-15). God turned the design of evil into the service of good, an act that holds in it a promise for all of us.
Because God transformed Jesus’ suffering into good, He can do the same for us. Jesus’ resurrection transformed the pain of His disciples into joy. No trial, illness, unemployment, broken relationships, death of a loved one, or grief extends beyond the range of Jesus’ transforming power. He transforms pain, using it to teach and strengthen us, if we allow it to turn us toward Him.
Childbirth is ironical – an event that causes some of the greatest physical pain, but also opens the doorway to one of life’s greatest joys – new life! Someone once said, “The more grief inflicted upon you, the better fitted you are to appreciate joy. More often than not the so-called negatives are assets. There cannot be a front without a back, an up without a down, a cold without a hot, a love without a hate.”
When speaking of the effects of His own death on His disciples, Jesus compared it to a woman in labor. She travails until the moment of delivery, when suddenly anguish is transformed into ecstasy. Death is like birth – it causes great emotional pain, but in reality, it opens a doorway into the great joy of eternity because of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ!
Author Philip Yancey writes, “Imagine birth from the perspective of the fetus (unborn baby). Your world is dark, safe, secure. You are bathed in a warm, cushioning liquid. You do nothing for yourself. You are fed automatically, and a murmuring heartbeat assures you that someone larger than you is meeting all your needs. Life consists of simple waiting – you’re not sure what to wait for, but any change seems faraway and scary. You encounter no sharp objects, no pain, no dangers. A fine, serene existence.
“One day you feel a tug. The walls seem to press in. Those soft padded walls are now pulsing, wildly, crushing you downward. Your body is bent double, your limbs twisted and wrenched. You’re falling, upside down. For the first time in your life, you feel pain. You’re in a sea of roiling matter. There is more pressure, almost too intense to bear. Your head is squeezed flat, and you are pushed harder, harder into a dark tunnel. Oh, the pain. Noise. More pressure.
“You hurt all over. You hear a groaning sound and an awful, sudden fear rushes in on you. It is happening – your world is collapsing. You’re sure it’s the end. You see a piercing, blinding light. Cold, rough hands grasp at you, pull you from the tunnel and hold you upside down. A painful slap. Waaaahhhh!
“Congratulations, you have just been born.
“Death is like that. On this end of the birth canal, it seems a scary, dark tunnel we are being sucked forward by an irresistible force. None of us looks forward to it. We’re afraid. It’s full of pressure, pain, darkness… the unknown.
“But beyond the darkness and the pain lies a whole new world outside. When we awaken after death in that bright new world, our tears and hurts will be mere memories.”1
Perhaps you have lost a love one recently who believed in Jesus or was too young to believe in Him, and your heart is numb with grief. Christ’s resurrection guarantees you will be reunited one day in His presence (I Thessalonians 4:13-18). Knowing this can comfort and sustain you during this dark and painful time. Jesus wants you to take heart because the day is coming when the darkness will be gone forever and your pain will be transformed into endless joy (Revelation 21-22).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You never promised that suffering would not be part of our lives. In fact, You promised just the opposite if we follow You. But it is not a hopeless kind of suffering. Your resurrection guarantees to all of us who believe in You a hope-filled beginning when we die and go to be with You. A perfect, sinless, world awaits us in Your presence when we take our last breath. Knowing this empowers us to endure the darkness and pain before us with the confidence that something much better and greater lies beyond our time here on earth. Thank You, my Lord and my God, that the hurts and tears we have now will be transformed into endless joy and laughter in the world to come where we will be reunited with You and those who have gone before us. Please help us to lean into You when troubled times come. Your presence can calm our hearts when we surrender to You. In Your hope-filled name I pray. Amen.
1. Philip Yancey, Where Is God When It Hurts? (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1990), pp. 258-259.
“25Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. 26 And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?’ ” John 11:25-26
As we are studying the historical record of Jesus’ seventh miraculous sign in the gospel of John (John 11:1-44), we are learning reasons why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it. So far we have learned that the Lord does this to …
– Display more of His glory (John 11:1-4).
– Declare His love toward us (John 11:5-6).
– Deepen our sensitivity to His will (John 11:7-10).
– Develop our faith in Him (John 11:11-16).
The fifth reason why the Lord may allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it is to DISCLOSE MORE OF CHRIST’S IDENTITY TO US (John 11:17-27). The scene now shifts from the region of Bethany in Perea (John 10:40; cf. 1:28) to the Bethany in Judea (John 11:18). Both towns became locations where people believed in Jesus for His gift of everlasting life. “So when Jesus came, He found that he had already been in the tomb four days.” (John 11:17). When Jesus arrived in Bethany of Judea, He found that Lazarus had “already been in the tomb four days.” It was the custom of Jews in general to bury their dead on the same day that the person died because embalming was not practiced by the Jews 1 and because of the warm climate which would contribute to a rapid rate of decay. 2 The dead body would be washed, anointed with perfumes, and wrapped in a white cloth.
“Now Bethany was near Jerusalem, about two miles away.” (John 11:18). Jesus and His disciples traveled about forty miles from Bethany of Perea to Bethany of Judea. John informs us that Bethany of Judea was “two miles away” from Jerusalem, perhaps to explain why so “many of the Jews” from Jerusalem were there to comfort Mary and Martha (John 11:19) and to witness Jesus’ miracle (cf. John 11:45-46).
“And many of the Jews had joined the women around Martha and Mary, to comfort them concerning their brother.” (John 11:19). It was expected of Jews to console the bereaved. In the Jewish culture, the period of mourning for the dead lasted thirty days. The first three days, no work was done, only weeping took place. Dr. Tom Constable writes, “Jewish rabbis believed that the spirit of a person who had died lingered over the corpse for three days, or until decomposition of the body had begun. They believed that the spirit then abandoned the body because any hope of resuscitation was gone.”3 The rest of the first week there was deep mourning. The remaining thirty days involved lighter mourning.
When someone dies, it is so encouraging to see an entire community show support to those who are left behind. This support make take the form of a sympathy card, a visit, a meal, a cry with the bereaved or a tender hug.
“Then Martha, as soon as she heard that Jesus was coming, went and met Him, but Mary was sitting in the house.” (John 11:20). Everyone deals with death differently and that is okay. The personality differences of the two sisters are seen here in their response to Lazarus’ death. Martha is active and assertive going out to meet Jesus. She seeks Christ in her grief. Mary, on the other hand, is quiet and contemplative, sitting at home. Jesus consoles each sister differently, taking into consideration their differing personalities.
“Now Martha said to Jesus, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died.’ ” (John 11:21). Martha is saying, “Lord, You could have prevented this. We sent word to you before Lazarus died. You could have come immediately and prevented his death. But no! You waited two more days and Lazarus died. We needed You, Lord. Why didn’t You come?!” Notice that Martha’s faith was limited to whether Jesus was there.
But Martha did not let her anger and disappointment cut off her relationship with the Lord. She said to Jesus, “But even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.” (John 11:22). She still believed Jesus could meet her need.
Jesus reassures her. “Your brother will rise again.” (John 11:23). He is referring to what He is about to do. He does not rebuke her for expressing her anger or disappointment. Jesus understands our humanness and the need to deal with feelings when faced with a loss. He dealt with losses, too. He had already lost John the Baptist (cf. Matthew 14:10-13).
Martha responds to Jesus, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day.” (John 11:24). Martha did not realize that Jesus was talking about raising Lazarus from the dead immediately. She thought He was referring to the final resurrection when the Messiah-God comes to set up His Kingdom (cf. Job 19:25-27; Daniel 2:44-45; 7:9-14, 26-27; 12:1-3).
Have you ever felt like Martha did near the grave of a loved one? You are angry with God for letting your loved one die. Maybe you prayed to God to save your spouse or child from death, and God let him or her die. Your heart was broken in two. It felt like God punched you in the gut! You were so overwhelmed with sadness and then anger. Why would God let this happen? What might Jesus say to you near your loved one’s grave? I believe He might say the same thing He said to Martha.
“I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.” (John 11:25). This is the fifth “I AM” statement by Jesus in the gospel of John (cf. John 6:35; 8:12; 10:9, 14; 11:25) whereby He claims to be the same God who appeared to Moses at the burning bush (Exodus 3:13-14). Jesus is the Guarantor of both resurrection and life.
As “the Resurrection” (John 11:25), Jesus guarantees a future resurrection to all who believe in Him. The person who believes in Christ “shall live” again physically through resurrection even “though he may die” physically. As “the Resurrection,” Jesus guarantees a future bodily resurrection to all who believe in Him. When Jesus comes back for His Church, all believers in Him will receive glorified resurrection bodies that will be free from sin and death (cf. I Corinthians 15:35-56; I Thessalonians 4:13-18).
Next, as “the Life,” Jesus guarantees that “whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:26a). This phrase, “shall never die,” is extremely powerful. Christ guarantees that all who believe in Him shall “never” experience eternal death or separation from God. How long is “never”? It is forever. The moment a person believes in Jesus, he or she receives “life” from Him that can “never” be taken away from him or her.
Jesus had made similar promises in the gospel of John which include “shall never hunger,” (John 6:35), “shall never thirst” (John 4:14; 6:35), “shall never perish” (John 10:28), and “shall not come into judgment” (John 5:24). Christ guarantees that the moment a person believes in Him for everlasting life, he or she is secure forever!!! What this also means is even though Lazarus had died physically, he was still alive spiritually because he had believed in Jesus.
Jesus makes this promise to “whoever lives and believes in” Him. We may be surprised to see the words “whoever lives.” Usually Jesus says, “whoever believes in Him” (John 3:15-16; 4:14). Why does Jesus add the words “whoever lives” as a condition for this promise? Dr. Bob Wilkin explains, “Jesus only offers His life to living human beings who believe in Him. He does not extend eternal life to nonhumans (Satan, fallen angels, demons); nor does He extend eternal life to humans who die in unbelief.” 4 Christ does not offer eternal life to people after they die. The Bible says, “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” (Hebrews 9:27). There are no second chances to get to heaven after we die. This life is the only opportunity people have to get right with God through faith alone in the Lord Jesus Christ alone. Reincarnation is not found in the Bible. Jesus’ promise is made to living human beings (“whoever lives”), not to those who have died.
Let’s look at Jesus’ evangelistic invitation to Martha.He said to her, “Do you believe this?” (John 11:26b). Christ is asking Martha (and us), “Do you believe I guarantee a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?” This question is rarely asked of non-Christians today by Christians who practice evangelism. Instead, they ask the non-Christian questions like…
– “Have you turned from your sins?”
– “Have you been baptized with water?”
– “Have you surrendered your life to the Lord Jesus?”
– “Have you given your life to Christ?”
– “Have you asked Jesus into your heart?”
– “Have you confessed Jesus as your Lord?”
No mention of the word “believe” is made in these common invitations. This is not what Jesus did with Martha. If we want to become more like Jesus, we must evangelize the lost the same way that He did. He asked Martha, “Do you believe this?” – that I am the Resurrection and the Life Who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to those who believe in Me?
Look at Martha’s response. “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world.” (John 11:27). She did not say “I think I believe…” nor does she say, “Maybe I believe…” She said, “Yes, Lord, I believe…” Martha was convinced that Jesus was the Christ – the One who guarantees a future resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in Him. Could Martha believe that Jesus was the Christ without realizing she herself had eternal life? No. To believe that Jesus was the Christ was to believe His guarantee of eternal life. To doubt His guarantee of eternal life was to doubt Jesus as the Christ. If a person does not believe he or she is eternally secure the moment he or she believes in Jesus for eternal life, then he or she has not understood Jesus’ offer.
Some people think it is not enough to believe in Christ for eternal life. They think you must also turn from your sins, confess your sins, invite Jesus into your heart, surrender to the Lord, be baptized, continue in good works, obey all of God’s commands, and the list goes on and on and on. But this is foreign to the gospel of John which was written specifically to tell non-Christians how to obtain eternal life (John 20:31). Ninety-nine times John uses the word “believe” in his gospel. 5 If we want to become more like Jesus, we must use the word that God uses the most in evangelism – “BELIEVE”!!!
Many people today make a distinction between head faith and heart faith. They have told us that we can miss heaven by eighteen inches because we have believed in Jesus with our head but not with our heart. But where does the Bible make this distinction? It does not. Nowhere in the Bible does God distinguish head belief from heart belief. All belief is belief. If we believe in Christ for eternal life, then we know we have eternal life because Jesus guarantees, “He who believes in Me has everlasting life.”(John 6:47).
To doubt that we “truly believe” is to disbelieve Jesus’ promise. Either I believe Christ’s promise or I do not. If I do, I have eternal life. If I do not, I stand condemned as one who “has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). The gospel of John does not condition eternal life on whether one has “heart belief” instead of “head belief.” Saving faith is the conviction that Christ died for my sins and rose from the dead, and then believing or trusting in Him alone for His free gift of eternal life. What makes saving faith saving is not the amount or uniqueness of the faith, but Whom your faith is in and What your faith believes. Saving faith results instantly in eternal salvation because it believes in the right object: the promise of eternal life to every believer by Jesus Christ Who died for our sins and rose from the dead (John 3:15-18; 6:40, 47; I Corinthians 15:1-8; et al). Therefore, those who refer to “head belief” or “heart belief” are reading into the word “believe” as the Bible neither does, nor provides basis for doing.
When Martha answered Jesus’ question with, “Yes, Lord, I believe that You are the Christ, the Son of God, who is to come into the world” (John 11:27), neither she nor Jesus analyzes her faith to distinguish head faith from heart faith. Martha confidently affirms that Jesus is “the Christ, the Son of God, Who is to come into the world.” What Martha believes about Jesus is exactly what John says in his purpose statement is all that a person must believe to have everlasting life (John 20:31). She knows she has believed in Christ, the Son of God, and therefore she is certain she has eternal life.
Does Jesus correct Martha’s response? Does He caution her to wait and see if her faith is real (as so many do today) through the manifestation of good works or fruit first before making such a statement? Does He ask her if she believes in her “heart” and not merely in her “head”? He does not because as long as any sinner comes to believe that Jesus is “the resurrection and the life,” that is, “the Christ, the Son of God,” he or she knows they have everlasting life.
What would Martha’s faith be like if Jesus had not delayed, and hence, had not raised Lazarus from the dead? Her understanding of Christ’s Person and power would be less. But because Jesus did not get there in time to heal Lazarus, Martha came to know that Jesus is “the Resurrection and the Life.”
One of the reasons God allows our situations to worsen after we pray about them is so He can reveal more of Himself to us. So instead of getting discouraged when God is silent, we can expect Him to reveal more of Himself to us.
The story is told of an atheist who was spending a quiet day fishing on a lake when suddenly his boat was attacked by the Loch Ness monster. With one easy flip of his tail, the beast tossed the man and his boat high into the air. Then the Loch Ness monster opened his mouth to swallow both the atheist and his boat. As the man sailed head over heels, he cried out, “Oh, my God, help me!” At once the ferocious attack scene froze in place, and as the atheist hung in midair, a booming voice came down from the clouds saying, “I thought you didn’t believe in Me?”The man pleaded, “Come on, God, give me a break. I didn’t believe in the Loch Ness monster either.”
Even when a person is facing death, God can reveal more of Himself to that person so that in the case of the atheist, he can believe in the Lord. Maybe you have been praying a long time about a situation and it seems to get worse and worse. Take heart, God may be about to reveal more of Himself to you.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, some of us may be standing beside the grave of a loved one right now. And like Martha, we may be disappointed or even angry with You for allowing our loved one to die after we prayed to You to save him or her from death. Thank You for reminding me today that You know how it feels when a loved one dies. You wept when You saw the grief that was caused by Your dear friend’s death (John 11:35). You sometimes delay Your answers to our prayers to reveal Yourself to us in a deeper and more powerful way like You did with Martha. You showed Martha (and us) that You are “the Resurrection and the Life” by raising her brother from the dead so that she could know that You have the power to provide a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life to all who believe in You alone. Thank You, my Lord and my God, for reminding me that all I must do to receive a future bodily resurrection and never-ending life is to believe in You alone. Please help me to be clear when I share this message with non-Christians. Thank You for reminding me that I need to use the same word You used the most in evangelism – BELIEVE. In Your holy and precious name I pray, Lord Jesus. Amen.
1. J. Carl Laney, Moody Gospel John Commentary (Chicago: Moody Press, 1992), pg. 207.
2. Dr. Tom Constable, Notes on John, 2015 Edition, pg. 202.
3. Ibid., pg. 201.
4. Dr. Robert Wilkin, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (pg. 507). Grace Evangelical Society. Kindle Edition.
The Bible clearly tells us that every human being is comprised of three parts: spirit, soul, and body. The apostle Paul is writing to Christians, and he says, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely; and may your whole spirit, soul, and body be preserved blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (I Thessalonians 5:23). The spirit and soul are the immaterial or invisible part of human beings and the body, of course, is the physical part of us. God wants to “sanctify” or transform our spirit, soul, and body into the image of Christ (Romans 8:29; 2 Corinthians 3:17-18). But this transformation starts with our “spirit,” not our soul or body. Our spirit is the inner most part of us.
THE DISTINCTION BETWEEN SPIRIT AND SOUL
The Bible makes a distinction between the spirit and soul. “For
the word of God is living and powerful, and sharper than
any two-edged sword, piercing even to the division of soul and spirit…”
(Hebrew 4:12). What is the difference between our spirit and soul? Our
spirit is the inner most part of our being. This is why the spirit is mentioned
first in I Thessalonians 5:23. Our spirit connects with God Who is Spirit (John
4:23-24; cf. Romans 1:9; I Corinthians 6:17, 20; 14:14-15; Galatians 6:18;
Ephesians 4:23; 2 Timothy 4:22; Philemon 1:25). God, who is Spirit, transforms
our spirit. Our spirit is what animates our physical body. “For as the body
without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (James 2:26).
When our spirit leaves our physical body, our body dies (cf. Matthew 27:50;
Luke 23:45; John 19:30; Acts 7:59-60). Our soul also departs from our body at
death (cf. Genesis 35:18; I Kings 17:21-22).
According to I Thessalonians 5:23, our spirit
has been implanted in our soul, and our soul has been implanted
in our physical body. The Greek word for “soul” in the New
Testament is psychḗ which is where we get our English words “psyche”
or “psychology.” It has to do with a person’s distinct identity or life.
The soul is actually one’s self. Your soul is conscious of self. As God’s
Spirit communicates with our spirit, our spirit then communicates
what God’s Spirit said to our soul or self. Then our soul
communicates this to our body. Then our body communicates this to
our environment and the people who are aound us.
WHERE DO OUR SPIRIT AND SOUL GO AFTER DEATH?
When physical death occurs, the spirit and soul are separated
from the physical body. According to the Old Testament the spirit of
believers returns to the Lord at death. “Then the dust will return to the
earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” (Ecclesiastes
12:7). The physical body is buried in the ground (“the dust will
return to the earth”), but the spirit of the believer “returns to God
who gave it.” When Rachel died, the Bible says, “And so it was, as her
soul was departing (for she died), that she called his name Ben-Oni” (Genesis
35:18). Based on other verses in the Bible, the departing of Rachel’s soul
implies her soul (and spirit) departed to go be with the Lord in Abraham’s
bosom or Paradise (Luke 16:22; 23:43).
Just before Jesus died on the cross, He cried out with a loud
voice, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit.” Then “He
breathed His last’ (Luke 23:46). John writes, “bowing His head, He gave
up His spirit” (John 19:30). Jesus’ spirit went to His Father in heaven when
He died, and so does a believer’s spirit after the death and resurrection of
Jesus Christ. For example, while he was being stoned in Acts 7, Stephen prayed,
“ ‘Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.’Then he knelt down
and cried out with a loud voice, ‘Lord, do not charge them with this sin.’
And when he had said this, he fell asleep. Now Saul was consenting to his
death.” (Acts 7:59-8:1). It is clear that when Stephen died, he
understood that his spirit would go to be with the Lord.
When the Bible says Stephen “fell asleep” (Acts 7:60), it is referring to Stephen’s “death” (Acts 8:1). The words “asleep” or “sleep” are common metaphors for death of the physical body in distinction from the spirit or soul (Acts 7:60; cf. John 11:11-13; I Thess. 4:14-16). John 11:11-13 makes this very clear. Jesus tells His disciples, “ ‘Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.’ Then His disciples said, ‘Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.’ However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.” John 11:11-13. Death is not a state of unconsciousness as some teach. A dead body appears to look like a person who is sleeping.
Similarly, in I Thessalonians 4:13-17, the apostle Paul
writes about the sudden removal of the church from the earth called the Rapture
which could take place at any moment. “13 But I do not want you
to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you
sorrow as others who have no hope. 14 For if we believe that Jesus
died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who sleep in Jesus. 15
For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and
remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are
asleep. 16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a
shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the
dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain
shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the
air.” (I Thessalonians 4:13-17). When Paul speaks of “those who have
fallen asleep” he is referring to Christians who have died. Their physical
bodies are asleep in the grave (cf. John 11:11-14), but their spirit and soul
have gone to be with the Lord Jesus in heaven (2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians
1:21-24; Revelation 6:9; 20:4; cf. Matthew 27:50; Luke 23:46; John 19:30).
This is why Paul writes, “6 So we are always
confident, knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the
Lord. 7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are
confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be
present with the Lord.” 2 Corinthians 5:6-8. Paul refers to death as his
spirit and soul being “absent from the body” and “present with the
Lord” in heaven (5:8). There is no intermediate existence. We are either “at
home in the body” (5:6) or “present with the Lord” (5:8). There is
no mention of some other kind of existence in between being at home in the body
or present with the Lord.
In Philippians 1:21-24, Paul writes, “21
For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain. 22 But if I live
on in the flesh, this will mean fruit from my labor; yet what I shall choose I
cannot tell. 23 For I am hard-pressed between the two, having a
desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better. 24
Nevertheless to remain in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul,
death “is gain” because he (his spirit/soul) will “depart and be with
Christ, which is far better” than living “on in the flesh.” Where is
Christ right now? He is in heaven at the right hand of God the Father (Acts
5:31; 7:55-56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrew 1:3, 13; 8:1;
10:12; 12:2; I Peter 3:22).
We also see that the souls of believers also go to heaven. “When
He opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been
slain for the word of God and for the testimony which they held.” Revelation
6:9. When Jesus opened the fifth seal judgment, the apostle John says he
saw under the altar in heaven the “souls” of believers who were martyred
during the Tribulation on earth.
At the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand year reign
of Christ on earth, the apostle John writes, “And I saw thrones, and they
sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. Then I saw the souls of those
who had been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who
had not worshiped the beast or his image, and had not received his mark on
their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and reigned with Christ for a
thousand years.” Revelation 20:4. The “souls” of martyred believers
from the Tribulation are seen reigning with Christ during His Millennial
Kingdom on earth.
A DETAILED ACCOUNT OF WHAT HAPPENS AFTER DEATH IN LUKE
We are going to look at a factual account that Jesus shared
in Luke 16:19-31 to discover more details about what happens when we die.
Some people believe this is a parable – (a made up story to illustrate
spiritual truth) because they do not like what it teaches about the afterlife. But
here are some compelling reasons why Luke 16:19-31 is not a parable:
1. It would be the only parable in the Bible that describes
certain things that are outside of the realm of human experience. All the other
parables talk about things that we are familiar with such as birds, seed,
fields, pearls, wheat, barns, leaven, fish, etc. (see Matthew 13, etc.). This
passage is different because it talks about what happens to two men after
death, and this is a realm where none of us have had any personal experience. A
parable is an earthly story with a heavenly or spiritual significance, but Luke
16 transcends the realm of the earthly.
2. It would be the only parable in the Bible that uses a
proper name (“Lazarus”).
3. It would be the only parable in the Bible that makes
mention repeatedly of an historical person – “Abraham.” Moreover, this
historical person actually carries on a dialogue with the rich man! Indeed,
mention is also made in this parable of “Moses,” another historical
character. What other parable speaks of
real, historical persons?
4. It would be the only parable in the Bible that describes
the places where the dead go (“Torments in Hades,” and “Abraham’s bosom”).
5. It would be the only parable in the Bible that makes
mention of angels. Compare Matthew 13 verses 24-30, 36-43, 47-49 where angels
are mentioned in the explanation of the parable but not in the parable itself.
6. If Hades is not really a place of torment then this would
be the only parable in the Bible where the Lord Jesus taught error instead of
truth. This is not possible because Jesus is “the truth”
(John 14:6). This passage is factual, not fictional.
Before we go any further, I want to clarify one more thing.
This passage is not talking about the final destination of people. The place of
unbelievers we will consider in Luke 16 is not the Lake of Fire (Revelation 14:10;
20:10-15) or the everlasting fire of Hell (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark
9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15). The Lake of Fire or
Hell is where people who don’t believe in Jesus will go for eternity after the
Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:10-15). The place in
Luke 16:22b-26 is “Torments in Hades” where lost people go when they
die. It is a temporary holding area of torment and suffering for the Old and
New Testament unbeliever. But it is not purgatory.
Before Jesus died on the cross, believers in Jesus went to a place called “Paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom”(Luke 16:22; 23:43) and unbelievers went to a place called “Torments” in Hades (Luke 16:23). When Jesus died on the cross, He released the souls and spirits of believers in Abraham’s bosom (Ephesians 4:8-10) to go to God’s home in the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2-4; cf. John 14:2).
Prior to Jesus’ death on the cross, Old Testament believers could not go to the third heaven because Jesus’ blood had not removed all their sins yet. The Old Testament sacrifices had only covered their sins, not removed their sins (cf. Hebrews 9:9-10; 10:1-4, 11). Only the blood of the Lamb of God could take away their sins forever (John 1:29; Ephesians 1:7; 2:13-18; Hebrews 9:11-15; 10:10-22). After Christ’s death and resurrection, when a believer in Jesus dies, his spirit and soul go to the third heaven to be with Jesus while his physical body sleeps in the grave (cf. John 11:11-13; I Thessalonians 4:14, 16).
But when an unbeliever dies, his or her spirit and
soul go straight to Torments in Hades where they stay until they are called out
to face God at the Great White Throne Judgment where they are judged
according to their works to determine their degree of punishment in the Lake of
Fire (Revelation 20:11-14). Then they will be confined to the Lake of Fire or
Hell forever with Satan and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41; Revelation 20:10,
Back to Luke 16. There are two main characters in Jesus’
factual account. The “rich man” (Luke 16:19) who represents unbelievers and
a poor man named “Lazarus” (Luke 16:20) who represents believers. Let’s
look at what happened to them when they died.
How was Lazarus greeted at death? Even though Lazarus had
been alone much of his life, he “was carried by the angels to Abraham’s
bosom” or “Paradise” (Luke 16:22a; cf. Luke 23:43) where he would
enjoy fellowship with Old Testament believers such as “Abraham” who were
there. So God’s angels received Lazarus and took him to dwell in Paradise with
the Lord. Lazarus did not die alone. He died in the presence of God. Lazarus’
spirit and soul did not linger on earth for a period of days or weeks. His
spirit and soul were taken immediately to Paradise to be with the Lord. There
was no unconscious sleep as some religious groups teach.
Lazarus’ experience after death was the opposite of his
experience on earth. In Abraham’s bosom or Paradise, Lazarus experienced
intimate fellowship with Abraham – “Lazarus” was “in his bosom”
or close to him (Luke 16:23). But on earth Lazarus was all alone (Luke
16:20-21). On earth he received “evil things,” but in Paradise he was “comforted”
How was the rich man greeted at death? “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” (Luke 16:22b-23). The rich
man was alone at death – no family or friends. When he died, his spirit and
soul went immediately to “torments in Hades.” Let’s look at his
experiences there after death.
1. He experiences sensation. “And being in torments in Hades,
he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). The
rich man is not unconscious. He can see
(“he lifted up his eyes and saw…”), he can hear as shown in his
conversation with Abraham, he can speak (“he cried and said…” – Luke
16:24a), he can feel (“I am tormented in this flame” – Luke 16:24b). The
rich man still has desires, he still has needs, and he still has the ability to
think and express himself. He was able to see into Paradise and realize what he
was missing out on. Did he feel pain? “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’” (Luke
16:24). Yes, he begged for relief from the torment of the flames. People
will not party in torments, they will cry out for relief from their pain. Even
though his body is in the grave in which it was buried, this man has some sort
of a spiritual form that allows him to continue to live in this place called torments
2. He experiences separation. We also notice
that the rich man found himself separated from Lazarus and Abraham by a great
gulf. Abraham said to the rich man, “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” (Luke 16:26). The Bible says that this gulf is
“fixed.” That is, it will never be taken away. This separation
from God and unbelievers is eternal! The rich man found himself separated from
everything that Lazarus enjoyed. Could he cross over this gulf or could anyone
come visit him? No. Once you go to torments, no one can get you out. There is
no second chance after death. The Bible makes this clear. “Everyone must die
once, and after that be judged by God.” Hebrews 9:27 [GNT]. So there is no
halfway house between heaven and torments. There is no intermediate state.
There is no limbo. There is no purgatory. Purgatory is a theory that was
created during the Middle Ages. It is not found in the Bible.
In torments you will be all alone without family, friends, and
worst of all – you will be without God. Torments
or Hell is total separation from God. If you go through all of life saying, “I
don’t want God in my life” He will give you that wish forever in torments
and the Lake of Fire. Second Thessalonians 1:9 says, “These shall be
punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from
the glory of His power.” Torments and the Lake of Fire are the exact
opposite of everything God is.
Since “God is love” (I John 4:8b), without God, Hell
is a terrifying and lonely place. You are all alone! So there’s no love there. The Bible says, “There is
no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves
torment” (I John 4:18). The opposite of love is fear. You know what it
means to live without love in your life? It means you are scared to death all
the time. That is hell. It means you are lonely all the time. That is hell. One
of the big myths about hell is that in hell it is just going to be a big party
for all the people who like to party. Friends, no one will see anybody else in
hell. It is total separation from God and everybody else. There are no
relationships in hell. There are no friends in hell. It is total aloneness.
Since God is light (I John 1:5), hell is complete darkness (2 Peter
2:17; Jude 1:13). Since God is good (Psalm 34:8), there will be absolutely
nothing good in hell. Since God is eternal life (John 1:1, 4, 14; 14:6; I John
5:20), that means hell will be eternal death. Since God is gracious
(Psalm 145:8), that means there is no place for grace in Hell.
3. He experiencesintensesuffering. The noun “torments“
(basanos) means to be tested or examined by means of torture (Luke 16:23). The rich
man is in a place of extreme pain and torture. The verb “tormented”
(odynáō)is in the
present tense (Luke 16:24) and means to cause intense pain. This teaches us
that the intense pain and suffering in this dreadful place do not cease. People
do not simply burn up and no longer exist as some false religions teach, but
they endure this intense pain and torture forever. The rich man wants to die or
at least lose consciousness, but he cannot.
Of all the agonies of torments, perhaps the worst one of all is described
in verse 25. “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’ ” (Luke 16:25). The word “remember” tells us that people
in torments have the capacity to remember the events of this life and that they
are forced to deal with those memories eternally. They will remember every
gospel message they heard and rejected. They will remember how God manifested
Himself in thousands of ways to draw them to Himself. They will remember and
they will know that they have no one to blame for their situation but
If you have never trusted in Jesus as your Savior to give you
everlasting life, I wonder what you will remember when you arrive
in torments? Will you remember this message? Will you remember all the
Christians who witnessed to you and prayed for you? Will you remember how you
wasted your life on temporary things and condemned your own spirit and soul to
the torment and torture of hell forever? Will you remember how good and
gracious God was to you and how you rejected His great love for you?
The rich man said to Abraham, “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 (Luke 16:27-28). The rich man wanted
Lazarus to be sent back to his family to warn them of the terrible suffering of
torments. Nobody in torments wants their family and friends to join them there
because the suffering and pain is so great. In fact, those in torments want to
do all they can to warn those they care about not to join them there. Yet there
is nothing they can do about it! This, too, is a form of suffering in torments.
4. He experiences stubbornness. Amazingly torments is filled with
stubborn people. Abraham said to the rich man regarding his family, “29
They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And
he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will
repent.’ 31 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.’ ”
(Luke 16:29-31). Jesus us is
teaching us that people have all the truth they need in the Bible (“Moses
and the prophets”) to avoid going to hell, so sending someone back from the
dead would be useless. Even in torments, the rich man still hasn’t figured out
what it takes to keep a man from that awful place. He stubbornly begs for the
salvation of his family, and won’t hear the truth that they must hear God’s
word and “repent” which means to change their mind about whatever is
keeping them from trusting in Christ, and then trust in Him to take them to
heaven. Even in torments, the rich man is totally unchanged. There is still no
willingness to do things necessary to leave – the rich man does not even ask to
get out. These verses tell us that even when people find themselves in the pain
and suffering of hell, they are still lost and they still have no room for God
in their lives.
SPIRIT AND SOUL REUNITED WITH THE BODY AT THE RESURRECTION
Old and New Testament unbelievers’ souls and spirits will re-enter
their resurrected bodies at the end of the thousand years reign of Christ on
earth to stand before the Great White Throne Judgment. “11 Then I saw a
great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the
heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. 12 And
I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books
were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of
Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things
which were written in the books. 13 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. 14 Then Death
and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And
anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of
fire.” Revelation 20:11-15.
The apostle John “saw the [unbelieving] dead [of all
ages], small and great, standing before God [in their resurrection
bodies which are eternal], and the books [containing all their works] were
opened” so they could be “judged according to their works” to
determined their degree of punishment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:12;
cf. Matt. 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47). Those like the Devil, the
Beast of Revelation, the False Prophet, and other false teachers will no doubt
experience greater punishment for misleading people away from God (Revelation
20:10; cf. Matthew 11:20-24; 23:14; Mark 12:40; Luke 20:47; 2 Peter 2:1-17;
“The sea … Death and Hades [temporary holding place of the spirits and souls of dead unbelievers until the great white throne judgment] delivered up [resurrected] fromthe dead [unbelievers] who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works” before the great white throne (20:13). Notice that whether their bodies are decomposed in the sea or in the ground or cremated or vaporized, God will raise up their bodies to stand before His Great White Throne.
As a result of this Great White Throne judgment, all the unsaved dead [“Death”] and “Hades” will be “cast into the lake of fire” which “is the second death” (20:14). Everyone who dies without believing in Christ alone for everlasting life is “not found written in the Book of Life” and will “be cast into the lake of fire” where they will be tormented forever along with Satan and all his fallen angels (Revelation 20:15; cf. 20:10; Matthew 25:41).
The resurrection of Old and New Testament believers in Jesus Christ
will take place at different times. The first time, will be at the Rapture or
sudden removal of the church at any moment when the spirits and souls of
Christians who have died will return with Jesus from heaven in the air to
re-enter their resurrected bodies permanently. The apostle Paul writes, “14
For if we believe that
Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those
who sleep in Jesus. 15 For this we say to you by the word of the
Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the
Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep. 16 For the
Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an
archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will
rise first.” I Thessalonians 4:14-16.
Christians who are alive at the
time of the Rapture will receive their glorified bodies as the are reunited in
the air with Jesus. “Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up
together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall
always be with the Lord.” I Thessalonians 4:17. Paul alludes to this in I
Corinthians 15. “In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the
last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised
incorruptible, and we shall be changed.For this corruptible
must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on
immortality.” I Corinthians 15:52-53. The phrase “we will be changed” refers to
living Christians at the time of the Rapture who will receive their glorified
The next time
when believers’ spirits and souls are reunited with their resurrection bodies
will be at the beginning of the Millennium, the thousand year reign of
Christ on the earth after the Tribulation period (Revelation 20:4-6). At
the beginning of Christ’s Millennial Kingdom, all who
possess eternal life through faith in Christ are all resurrected by this time including
Old Testament believers (Daniel 11:45-12:2)
and Tribulation believers who died (Revelation 20:4). In Matthew
25:31-46 we are told that when Christ returns to earth at the end of the
Tribulation period, He will judge the Gentile nations. In this judgment, those believers who survived the Tribulation,
will enter the Christ’s Millennial Kingdom in their mortal bodies (Matthew
Where will you live after you die? The Bible
tells us that all people will live forever after death in one of two places: either in Heaven with Jesus Christ (John
14:2-3) or in the Lake of Fire (Hell) separated from Jesus forever (Matthew
25:41; Revelation 20:15). Do you want to live forever in Heaven with Jesus?
If so, you need to realize the Bible says you have a problem called sin (Romans
3:23). The penalty for sin is death or separation from God forever in a
terrible place of agonizing suffering called the Lake of Fire or Hell (Matthew 10:28;
23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation 14:10; 20:10, 15).
Please understand that God loves you and He does not want you
to suffer forever in Hell (John 3:16; I Timothy 2:3-4; 2 Peter 3:9). This
is why He sent His only perfect Son, Jesus Christ, to die in your place on a
cross and rise from the dead, proving that He is God (Romans 1:3-4; I
Corinthians 15:3-8). Jesus is alive today and He offers you everlasting life as
a free gift (Romans 6:23b). Christ invites you to “believe in Him” to “have
everlasting life” both now and forever (John 3:16; 6:40, 47; 11:25-26).
Jesus promises that the moment you “hear” and “believe”
His promise of everlasting life, you now have “everlasting life” and “shall
not come into judgement” for your sins because you have “passed from
death into life” (John 5:24). Christ also guarantees that when you die, your
soul and spirit will go immediately to heaven to live with Him forever (John 14:2-3;
2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:21, 23) and eventually be reunited with your
resurrection body when Jesus returns for His Church (I Corinthians 15:35-57; I
The person who never believes in Jesus “is condemned already,
because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John
3:18). God’s wrath abides on him now and forever. “He who does not
believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John
3:36). When the unbeliever dies, his soul and spirit go to torments in
Hades (Luke 16:23) until he is resurrected to stand before the Great White
Throne Judgment where he will be judged according to his works to determine the
degree of his punishment in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:11-15). And then he
(spirit, soul, and body) will be confined to the Lake of Fire where he will be
tormented forever (Matthew 10:28; 23:33; 25:41, 46b; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 12:5; Revelation
14:10; 20:10, 15).
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” 2 Corinthians 5:21
When we face difficult times, we may doubt that God loves us. We may feel like He has abandoned us. We may accuse God of being unfair when He allows us to suffer. But please understand there was a time when God was unfair. It is when He sent His innocent Son to die in the place of guilty sinners. The Bible says,“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (cf. 2 Corinthians 5:21).
The perfect Son of God was punished on the cross instead of guilty sinners. Was that fair to Jesus!?! Of course not. But thank God for His love and grace which sent His perfect Son to pay the debt for our sins that we could never pay – “the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God” (I Peter 3:18).
After all, the Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). All people have sinned against God and deserve to be punished for their sins forever in the Lake of Fire (Rom. 6:23; Rev. 20:15). But God loved us so much, He sent His perfect Son who never sinned to die in our place for our sins and then rise from the dead, proving that He is God (John 3:16; Romans 1:3-4; I Corinthians 15:3-6).
If you have never understood this before, God now invites you to “believe” or trust in Jesus alone to be made right with our holy God. “But to him who does not work but believes on Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is accounted for righteousness” (Romans 4:5). The moment “ungodly” people believe in the innocent Son of God who died in their place for all their sins and rose from the dead, God declares them “righteous” before Him so He can accept them into His family forever! Believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and He will save you from hell forever and give you life that never ends (cf. John 11:25-26; Acts 16:31).
When you believe in Jesus, He comes to live inside of you through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:11; Galatians 2:20). You can thank Him for saving you from hell forever by living for Him now: “and He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again” (2 Corinthians 5:15).
We need to remember that all people are born as sinners (Psalm 51:5; Romans 3:23; 5:12) and that no one is righteous before a holy God (Roman 3:10-11). All people deserve eternal “death” or separation from God forever because of their sin (Romans 6:23; Revelation 20:15). In addition, the only requirement for deliverance from eternal death and condemnation is belief in Jesus (John 3:16-18, 36).
With these truths in mind, what does the Bible say about babies or children who die in infancy? Will they go to heaven or hell?
1. The very nature of God prevents Him from being unfair. He will always do what is right and fair in His judgment (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 7:11; 9:18; I Peter 1:17).
2. God is also love (I John 4:7-8). As a loving Creator He “desires all people to be saved” and has made provision for them through His Son’s death on the cross (I Timothy 2:3-6; cf. 2 Peter 3:9). All people are savable because Christ “gave Himself as a ransom for all” (I Timothy 2:6; cf. I John 2:2).
3. Nowhere in the Bible does it say a person who is not old enough to believe in Jesus will go to hell. Because God is just and gracious (Psalm 9:8; John 1:14), He will not punish someone who is incapable of believing in Christ because of a lack of mental development (whether through immaturity or mental impairment).
4. Young children are very valuable to Jesus. They have a special place of love and respect from Jesus. Jesus said, “Take heed that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that in heaven their angels always see the face of My Father who is in heaven”(Matthew 18:10). Little children are very valuable to God as demonstrated by how close their guardian angels stand to the throne of God. Christ also said, “It is not the will of your Father who is in heaven that one of these little ones should perish”(Matthew 18:14). God the Father does not want any little child to perish forever in hell. In the context (18:6) Jesus is speaking of “little”children who are old enough to believe in Him. We also see Jesus’ concern for little children in Matthew 19:13-15: “Then little children were brought to Him that He might put His hands on them and pray, but the disciples rebuked them. But Jesus said, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not forbid them; for of such is the kingdom of heaven.’ And He laid His hands on them and departed from there.” Jesus rebukes those who forbid little children from coming to Him. He says not to forbid little children from coming to Him because “the kingdom of heaven” is occupied by those who possess childlike faith in Jesus.
5. The Bible does seem to teach that a baby who dies in infancy will go to heaven (2 Samuel 12:22-23). In the context of this passage, King David committed adultery with Bathsheba. The prophet Nathan boldly confronts David about his adultery and tells him that the child that Bathsheba has conceived will die. As a result of the confrontation, David confesses his sin, puts on sackcloth and ashes, fasts, and grieves the fact that he will lose his child. When David receives news that the child has died, he quits grieving and fasting and changes his clothing. The prophet Nathan comes to David and asks him why he quit mourning the loss of his son. David replies, “While the child was alive, I fasted and wept; for I said, ‘Who can tell whether the Lord will be gracious to me, that the child may live?’ But now he is dead; why should I fast? Can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”(2 Sam. 12:22-23). David is confident that the child went to heaven since David says, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me”; and other verses indicate that David went to heaven (Psalm 16:10-11; Romans 4:5-8; Hebrews 11:32-33).
Conclusion:While I cannot be dogmatic here, I do believe that infants or toddlers who die before they are old enough to believe in Jesus will go to heaven because:
1. The character of God (holy, just, gracious, merciful, loving) does not allow Him to punish a person for something they cannot do (i.e. believe in Jesus) whether it is because of immaturity or mental impairment (Genesis 18:25; Psalm 7:11; 9:8, 18; John 1:14-17; 3:14-18; I Timothy 2:3-6; Hebrews 4:14-16; I Peter 1:15-17; 2 Peter 3:9; I John 2:2; 4:7-8). No one will question God’s final judgment about the eternal destiny of infants and toddlers because only God is qualified to make this decision!
2. Little children are of special concern to Jesus and He does not want any of these little ones to perish in hell (Matthew 18:1-14; 19:13-15).
3. King David expected to see his dead infant son again in heaven (2 Samuel 2:22-23).
With this said, the number of babies, toddlers, and mentally impaired people from all human history who are “safe” in the arms of Jesus will greatly increase the population of heaven. When considering the infant mortality rate (the number of deaths of infants under one year old per 1,000 live births) which was far greater in the past than the present, it is quite possible that there will be far more people in heaven than in hell.