Daniel’s been away on school camp all week. Doing all sorts of fun and dangerous things. Like canoeing, swimming, ropes course, orienteering and archery. Daniel couldn’t WAIT, but it was a different matter for CARON. Worried about him GOING. And she couldn’t wait for him to COME HOME. She just wanted to know that he was alright.
And to make it worse, they weren’t allowed to take mobile phones. So we didn’t hear from him all week. And Caron kept saying, “I hope my boy is alright.”
It’s not unusual. We just want to know that our family members are alright.
Not sure if Keren felt the same when Lauren went to the Foundations course at Lithgow for the week, or Anne went out west for school mission. My guess is Judy got over it a while ago, with Rodney travelling all over the place.
And Sallie’s probably WELL over it – her kids have been travelling all over the world for YEARS.
But it’s still a common feeling. We just want to know that our family members are alright. We may not be able to SEE them, or TALK to them, but we want to know that they’re SAFE. Trusting that God’s looking after them.
And it’s this same concern that’s at the heart of the topic we’re thinking about today.
We started our series on ETERNITY last week. Looking at D.EATH. This week, we’re looking at what comes NEXT. Answering the question, “What happens AFTER we die?
And it becomes a CRUCIAL issue for people when someone close to them DIES. Suddenly the theology and the theories become a lot more significant. More REAL. “Where’s mum NOW? Right now. Is she alright? I just want to know she’s OKAY.”
We’re thinking about the time between d.eath and judgment day. Most of us are a bit clearer about what will happen when Jesus returns – for those of us who are Christians, we’ll be resurrected and will live with Christ forever. But what about in-between? In the mean time? What happens to a Christian THE MOMENT THEY DIE?
We’re going to base ourselves in one passage. Jesus and the thief on the cross. And we’ll answer three questions about what happens to people who die. WHEN, WHO, and WHERE? And then we’ll consider ONE MORE QUESTION. What it all means for us now. SO?
Many of you will know the story. It’s Lk 23 v32 (p748). It’s the hours before Jesus’ d.eath. The morning of Good Friday. And there are two criminals executed with him. One on his right, one on his left. Pick it up from v39.
39 One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us!”
Was it desperation on his part? Or just blindness, joining in with the rest of the crowd?
But the guy on the other side of Jesus was different.
40 But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? 41 We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”
It’s a request that brings nothing to the table. There’s no, “get me out of this mess, and I’ll try harder next time.” “Help me out, and I promise to be a good boy.” There’s nothing he CAN contribute, beyond the plea, “Remember me!”
And Jesus’ response gets to the heart of the issue we’re considering today. It gave comfort to THE CRIMINAL, and to COUNTLESS MILLIONS SINCE. Have a look at it. V43. My favourite paragraph in the Bible. This week.
43 Jesus answered him, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
It’s an audacious claim. The sort of claim a LUNATIC makes. Or else a RELIGIOUS CON ARTIST… Or there’s a THIRD option. That Jesus has been given authority by God himself. The authority over life and d.eath that means that, within a few short hours, he’ll be in paradise. But more than that, the authority to judge who ELSE is worthy of paradise. And then the authority to make sure it happens. “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Let’s look at that promise in three parts: Today – which answers the question WHEN. You which answers WHO. And with me in paradise which answers “WHERE”.
Firstly, TODAY. Jesus promises that paradise begins for this thief TODAY.
Which is against the theory of SOUL SLEEP. Some Christians notice that the Bible sometimes talks about d.eath as SLEEP. And so they say that between now and judgment, believers who die go into a state of UNCONSCIOUS EXISTENCE. The next thing they’ll realise after dying will be waking up on judgment day.
But Jesus doesn’t say, “You’ll die, then 1000 years later, you’ll wake up in paradise, and it will SEEM like it’s today. No! “TODAY you will be with me in paradise”.
And there are other parts of the Bible that talk about believers who’ve died who are CONSCIOUS of things happening on earth. Like the story Jesus told of the rich man and Lazarus. It’s Lk 16 v19 (p741). A rich man dies and goes to hell. The word is Hades.
And there’s a poor beggar called Lazarus who ALSO dies, and goes to be WITH GOD. V22 describes it as going to Abraham’s side.
In v23 the rich man’s in torment. He can see Abraham and Lazarus a long way away. And he asks Abraham to send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue because he’s in agony in fire.
But Abraham replies that there’s no way to cross between the two places, between Hades and Heaven, because there’s a great chasm between them.
So the rich man, instead, begs Abraham to send Lazarus to at least warn his brothers about the of hell. But the answer is that they already HAVE all the warnings God intends.
A few things this story seems to be teaching. One. This is set BEFORE JUDGMENT DAY. Notice the rich man’s brothers are STILL LIVING. And he wants to warn them before it’s too late. Before judgment.
Second. The d.ead are CONSCIOUS. They’re not sleeping. The rich man can see heaven, and perhaps even see his brothers on earth. Even if he can’t communicate with them.
So, whatever happens to people when they die. It doesn’t seem to be DELAYED until judgment day. As soon as they die, they’re either with Christ in heaven (or by Abraham’s side in this story). Or they’re in hell, or Hades.
And third, there’s no way to move between Hades and Abraham’s side. There’s a great chasm between them. No way across. Which is not what the Catholic church still teaches about PURGATORY.
Purgatory is like a holding bay. A waiting room. Neither heaven nor Hades. You can influence the fate of your loved ones by winning indulgences for them. They can get a shorter time in purgatory, and then move into heaven.
But there’s none of that here. And it’s nowhere else in the Bible either.
That’s the FIRST question.WHEN?
The second question Jesus answers is WHO. Today YOU will be with me in paradise. One thief WITH Jesus. The other, we presume, WASN’T. On the surface, they’d lived a similar life.
What had THIS ONE done to receive a promise like this?
This was the thief who RECOGNISED HIS OWN STATE. “We are being punished JUSTLY.” He saw he was a sinner with nothing to offer God. A sinner who’d lived ignoring him, doing his own thing.
Secondly, he recognised who JESUS was. “This man has done nothing wrong.” And “Remember me when you come in your KINGDOM.”
In the final hours of his life, he saw who Jesus was. The perfect innocent king. The one who would bring in a KINGDOM with POWER. A kingdom the thief wanted to be part of.
Nothing to do with having lived a good life. Being nice to people.
THIS is who Jesus makes that promise to. People who see themselves clearly. And Jesus clearly. And throw themselves at the mercy of that perfect king. Is that something YOU’VE done?
But let’s get more specific. When we say THE THIEF would be in paradise with Jesus that day. What do we mean? Not his body. That would still be hanging on a cross, or in a tomb. No, we mean his SOUL, or his Spirit. Who he was.
Because a body is not who YOU are. Whatever it is that makes you YOU, it’s not your body.
When you go to a funeral, it’s not your loved one in that coffin. It’s only their BODY. Your mum or your uncle or your wife, they’ve GONE. And it’s only the shell that’s left behind.
It’s spirits or souls that the Bible talks about. Like Heb 12:22-23 (p853). Talking about heaven, it says
22 But you have come to Mount Zion, to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly, 23 to the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, TO THE SPIRITS OF RIGHTEOUS MEN MADE PERFECT
And in Revelation 6:9-11, John describes a vision he has of something going on in heaven NOW. (p870)
9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the SOULS OF THOSE WHO HAD BEEN SLAIN because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. 10 They called out in a loud voice, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our ?” 11 Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed.
These are Christians who’ve been martyred. With God in heaven, but crying out for justice. It’s their SOULS, and they’re CONSCIOUS.
There’s one other passage we can look at as we think about exactly WHAT will be with Christ in paradise. It’s 2 Cor 5 (p818). Paul’s talking about his physical body, and his eternal resurrection body. One BEFORE he dies. And the OTHER after the resurrection. But he also talks about A THIRD state. In between the two bodies. 2 Cor 5 v1.
5:1 Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in (that’s our PHYSICAL BODY) is destroyed (in other words, we DIE), we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands (that’s our ETERNAL RESURRECTION BODY).
Two different bodies. Like the difference between a TENT and a HOUSE. (And notice that you LIVE in your body. It’s not that your body IS you. You INHABIT it. Like a tent.)
Then he switches to talking about bodies like CLOTHES. But it’s the same idea. V2.
2 Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, 3 because when we are clothed, we will not be found . 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life.
Did you NOTICE? You can be clothed with your EARTHLY clothes. That’s in THIS life. And you can be clothed with your HEAVENLY clothes. That’s at judgment day. At the resurrection. But there’s an IN BETWEEN state. Being UNCLOTHED. . Not having a body. Which I take to mean when you’re D.EAD. In between d.eath and judgment.
To be with Christ in Paradise NOW is GOOD. There’s rest and comfort and peace. But it’s like being . It’s your SOUL. Your Spirit. And not your resurrection body. The body you were DESIGNED for. V5
5 Now it is God who HAS MADE US FOR THIS VERY PURPOSE and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
That’s our GOAL. Our FUTURE. And his Spirit living with us is the downpayment of that experience.
That’s the SECOND question. WHO? The Bible’s answer is for those who recognise Jesus, when they die, that very day, they’ll be in Paradise. But not in body – their soul or spirit.
Where? “…With me in paradise”
Third question. WHERE? Where will we be when we die? Jesus’ answer? With me in paradise.
We can experience SOMETHING of the closeness and intimacy with Jesus NOW. Through his Spirit. But when we die, his promise is that we’ll be WITH him. No separation, no barriers, no sin. Paradise.
Paul goes on in 2 Cor 5 to describe what sort of attitude that reality produces in him. V6.
6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would PREFER TO BE AWAY FROM THE BODY AND AT HOME WITH THE LORD.
At home with the Lord. That’s the very purpose you’ve been MADE for. So, it’s no wonder Paul PREFERS to be AT HOME WITH THE LORD.
Which brings us back to the question we began with. When a loved one dies, we just want to know they’re alright. And the Bible’s answer is/ if they belong to Jesus then they’re AT HOME. With the Lord.
That’s the safest place to be. AT HOME.
The Westminster Confession has an answer for this question. And it sums up the Bible evidence nicely. And is very comforting as well.
Westminster Confession of Faith (1646)
Chapter 32: The State of the D.ead and the Resurrection
I. The bodies of men, after d.eath, return to dust, and see corruption; but their souls (which neither die nor sleep), having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them. The souls of the righteous, being then made perfect in holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies; and the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Besides these two places for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.
Gen. iii. 19; Acts xiii. 36; Luke xxiii. 43; Eccles. xii. 7; Heb. xii. 23; 2 Cor. v. 1, 6, 8; Phil. i. 23 with Acts iii. 21 and Eph. iv. 10; Luke xvi. 23, 24; Acts i. 25; Jude ver. 6. 7; 1 Pet. iii. 19
So? 2 Cor 5:5-10
That’s the WHO,and WHEN,and WHERE. The last question is SO? What difference should this make to you and me TODAY?
Look at how Paul concludes in 2 Cor 5. v9. He’s confident that he belongs to Jesus. And he’s confident about the reality of eternity. V7 He lives by FAITH, not by SIGHT.
Then he gets to v9. What does this all mean for TODAY?
9 So we MAKE IT OUR GOAL TO PLEASE HIM, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. 10 For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
If that’s the reward for those who are in Christ. Then make it your goal to PLEASE HIM. Because JUDGMENT is waiting for everyone.
Your purpose in life? PLEASE Christ.
Number one priority? Please Christ.
Your Singular motivation? To please Christ.
Is that what YOUR life looks like?
And when someone asks you if their loved one who’s died is ALRIGHT? If they’re SAFE.
Explain what it means to be at home with the Lord. And who can GET there. But then ask them, “So… that’s your grandma. But what about YOU? Are you making it your GOAL to please Christ? That’s what REALLY matters.”