Why does the Lord allow a situation to grow worse after we pray about it? Part 5

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.

ENDNOTES:

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.

5. John 1:7, 12, 50; 2:11, 22, 23; 3:12(2), 15, 16, 18(3), 36(2); 4:21, 39, 41, 42, 48, 50, 53; 5:24, 38, 44, 46(2), 47(2); 6:29, 30, 35, 36, 40, 47, 64(2), 69; 7:5, 31, 38, 39, 48; 8:24, 30, 31, 45, 46; 9:18, 35, 36, 38; 10:25, 26, 37, 38(3), 42; 11:15, 25, 26(2), 27, 42, 45, 48; 12:11, 36, 37, 38, 39, 42, 44(2), 46, 47; 13:19; 14:1(2), 10, 11(2), 12, 29; 16:9, 27, 30, 31; 17:8, 20, 21; 19:35; 20:8, 25, 29(2), 31(2).

What happens to your spirit and soul at death?

SPIRIT, SOUL, AND BODY

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 16:19-31

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, 15)!

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” (Luke 16:25b).

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 in Hades.

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 experiences intense suffering. 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 themselves!

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; Jude 1:2-13).

“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] from the 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 bodies.

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 25:34-40, 46b).

Conclusion:

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 Thessalonians 4:14-17).

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).

Is God ever Unfair?

“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).

What Happens to Babies or Toddlers who die?

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.