O Death, Where Is Your Sting?
It is the greatest privilege of my life to tell you that you are going to heaven. Regardless of whether you are a Christian, Jew, Muslim, Hindu, agnostic, atheist, or anything else, you are going to heaven when you die. God created you and when you die He will re-create you. Even if you don’t believe in Him now, you will then. The kindness of Jesus Christ is indescribably comprehensive and final.
And not just you, but everyone is going to heaven. Therefore, I am informing you not just for your own sake, but also for the sake of those you love. If you grieve for a lost loved one, be aware that your separation will one day end in glorious reunion. Feel free to tell your neighbors this good news of Jesus as well. They, too, deserve to know the comfort that God has established for all of us.
That you are going to heaven does not mean that you may not have to go through quite a bit of hell before you get there. You may be in the midst of it right now. The best thing I can recommend to you is to acknowledge that God is truly present in all of His creation…including your corner. Build all your thinking around this reality and you will begin to sense a river of living water coming up from deep inside of you which will refresh and protect you from the flames. This water is the stream of the thoughts of God which come from His Holy Spirit – the same Holy Spirit who guided Jesus of Nazareth. Just knowing that we will all one day escape these flames and live forever with Jesus in heaven should already be providing some comfort to you.
Though it may not always appear so, morality and justice control this universe. The book of Job shows that we cannot always fully understand or explain God’s workings at any given point in time. But that does not at all mean that all things won’t eventually be revealed. They will be. In the meantime, the Bible explains morality from God’s point of view and gives insight to all the activities of life, explaining how we may bring morality to all that we think, say, and do. That does not mean everyone must become a Bible scholar. Truth can be found in many places. And in the end all of our problems stem from not living up to the standards found in our own consciences. In other words, it’s not so much the truth we don’t know that’s killing us; it’s the truth we know but aren’t living up to. Nevertheless, know that if your conscience is ever weakened, the Bible is the surest place you can go to have it strengthened.
We owe the synagogues and churches an incalculable debt, for they have preserved for us and passed on to us the Old and New Testaments. However, the Bible belongs to all humanity and can be read, enjoyed, and obeyed by every human being regardless of religious background or lack thereof. And regardless of your view of religion, it is your relationship with Jesus the Person that will make all the difference in the world. To love Him and live for Him brings untold joy, and though you will also have pain, He will wipe every tear from your eye. To ignore Him is to court trouble and disaster. There is enough pain in this world as it is. I am trying to spare you from as much of it as I can. That means not pointing you to an institution but to a Person named Jesus.
There are two ways to live in this world. One is seeking the unseen Jerusalem in our midst. To put it another way, to be constantly aware and respectful of God’s presence. This won’t make us weird, but rather it will make us normal. For how normal can it be to go around ignoring someone who’s always near and watching every thought and intention of your heart – with love as His only motive? The other way to live is to turn your back on this heavenly Jerusalem. That is what is called in the book of Revelation the “second death” – separation from God. For when we are separated from the God who made us and rescued us from ourselves, we are truly dead. It’s a matter of life or death: Life with God or life without Him. And life without Him is walking death.
I used to think that some people would go to hell after they died and for this reason I tried to warn them about their potential fate. Studying the Bible, however, gave me a more accurate idea of hell’s location and timeframe. As you’ve seen, it’s not a problem after this life; it’s a problem in this life. The more of its fires that can be put out, the longer and happier people will live on the earth, and the more joyous will be the reception once we go to heaven.
Perhaps the simplest and most graphic example I could give in our generation is that America’s insistence upon sexual freedom may very well bring our nation, as well as many of us individually, to an early grave. God gave sex in the context of marriage. You can no more remove it from marriage without consequences that you can jump off a cliff and repeal the law of gravity. In a nation where deviance from marriage between a man and a woman as the sole expression of sex is tolerated, trouble in on the horizon. But in a nation where it is celebrated, trouble will never leave. Even then, however, God loves the sinner and hates the sin. So when the sin is burned off, out comes the spirit for a new life with God. Nonetheless, we will all enjoy our welcome into heaven if we have begun our repentance while we were still here on earth.
I do not have a church or synagogue or group of any kind for you to join. Rather, I have pointed you to God – specifically, to Jesus Christ. What I have sought to do in this book is give you the information that I have gained in reading and studying the Bible. What you do with that information is between you and God. I have shown you where these truths are in the Bible. There may have been points in the book where you wished I’d just told you something rather than printing all those passages and asking you to read them. But now you have the benefit of being able to make up your own mind on the subject based on the same data I had at my disposal. It’s just you and God and the Bible. There is no one else – nor should there be anyone else – to tell you what to believe. God endowed you with a conscience and you are as able as any of the rest of us to recognize truth. If this truth means half as much to you as it does to me, then I will forever be happy that I called your attention to it. More importantly, I’ve called your attention to Him because of whom it is true.
The State of Your Loved Ones
Under the original order of things, all souls descended at death. This was of some comfort to those surviving the death of a loved one, but nothing like the comfort that comes with the resurrection brought about through Jesus Christ. As the apostle Paul spoke of the fulfillment of what the prophets had promised,
“Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your victory? O Death, where is your sting?” 1 Corinthians 15:54-55 NASB
Therefore, your deceased loved ones are above, waiting on you. Like a crowd of runners gathering at the finish line after they have finished, they are waiting to congratulate the other runners as they finish. They are cheering for you even now. They want you to do your best.
There are many of your loved ones whom you can easily picture in this position. You know of their love for God and you, and the mental images come without much effort. But even those who did not seem to love God or you will have been changed through the process of death and though it may take more effort to imagine, you can expect that they, too, have this kind of attitude. Jesus said as much.
He told a story that shows even under the first order of things, death had a cleansing effect on the mind. It caused a dramatic change in attitude. It must be something like the story of Jonah. Before his episode in the sea, he was running from God full steam ahead. No obstacle seemed to stop him. He booked passage and paid the fare on a ship that was going the opposite direction from the one the Lord sent him. When a terrible storm arose, he remained asleep below. Even when it became clear that the storm was a judgment against him, he preferred death in the high seas to repenting. Only when he was inside the belly of the great fish did he finally decide that running from God was impossible. He went past the point of no return and found God still there with a safety net. He came to his senses.
It stands to reason that once this veil of flesh is removed and we are face to face with God, spirit to spirit, that we would see things in a whole new light. But now to this story of Jesus’. He told it in the midst of an exchange with the Pharisees. They were probably His severest critics; they were also objects of His intense love. His love is seen best in His continued and extended corrections of them. For parents who love their children, correct them when they are wrong. The Pharisees were probably closer to the truth without being there than any other group in the New Testament. They certainly saw more than the Sadducees, and far more than the Romans. Sometimes, however, being so close to the truth can make it almost impossible to take that last step, because it requires admitting that you didn’t have it all. For this reason, Jesus spent extra time with them in the hope that they would take that definitive step of repentance. Many, including a little fellow named Paul, did.
On the occasion of this story, the Pharisees were complaining about Jesus’ attraction of, and association with, what they considered to be the more unworthy portions of humanity. Tax-gatherers and sinners, they called them. Here then is the story with just a little of what preceded it. It is taken from Luke 16:14-31 NASB.
Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, were listening to all these things and were scoffing at Him. And He said to them, “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of men, but God knows your hearts; for that which is highly esteemed among men is detestable in the sight of God.”
Jesus once again reveals the root of hypocrisy – seeking people’s approval instead of God’s. If you want God to think you’re righteous, you’re on the right track. If you want people to think you’re righteous, you’ll always be led astray. Jesus said,
“The Law and the Prophets were proclaimed until John; since that time the gospel of the kingdom of God has been preached, and everyone is forcing his way into it. But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one stroke of a letter of the Law to fail. Everyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
The Pharisees had set up their own system of interpreting the Scriptures (“the Law and the Prophets”) which allowed them to decide who was and wasn’t acceptable to God. The coming of the kingdom of God, however, meant that God alone would determine who entered and who didn’t. And the sins of the Pharisees would keep them out as much as anyone else. Remember, the kingdom of God is God’s rule, Jerusalem in the midst of flames. It is not referring to what happens when you die. The Pharisees had made themselves God’s judges of everyone’s outward behavior, but God Himself was wanting to rule people’s hearts. Jesus now tells the story that will show the Pharisees how differently they’ll feel once they die. (By the way, the “Lazarus” mentioned in this story has no apparent relation with the Lazarus whom Jesus brought back from the dead during His earthly ministry.)
“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house–for I have five brothers–in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'”
I made a brief reference to this story in the chapter “But What About Hell?” because it is one of the very few occasions where fire is ever mentioned in connection with Sheol/Hades. For this reason, some people cling to the idea that hell is something that doesn’t occur until after death. But let’s analyze the story and see if Jesus doesn’t have something different in mind.
Luke told us that the Pharisees were lovers of money and the story is about a rich man. The context also told us that Pharisees judged everything by outward appearance while God looks on a person’s heart. The Pharisees would have seen the rich man as “blessed of God,” while Lazarus represents the “sinners” which the Pharisees despised. Because they judged by outward appearance, the Pharisees assumed that the rich man was godly because he had been blessed with riches and the poor man was cursed with poverty because he was ungodly and disobedient to God. The point of Jesus’ story was to illustrate God’s true view, and how clearly we see it once we have died and the veil of this world has been removed. Only then, the story also points out, it will be too late to change anything we have done on earth.
The story was told before the resurrection of Jesus, when the old order was still in effect. Hades below is the location of all the discussion. But the story could be updated to reflect the new order, with heaven above as the location, and everything else about the story would remain the same. I’ve already shown you how the Bible says that there will be varying glory in the resurrection and that it will be based on how we live here.
The flame of this story is obviously the torment of regret – the rich man’s regret over the way he had treated the poor man. Hence, the otherwise strange request for a moistened finger tip to touch the tongue. If this account was meant to communicate the presence of literal flames then the request would be “Water, Water!” from anyone. A moistened finger tip would be useless. Rather the mention of Lazarus’ finger communicates that because the rich man would not give Lazarus what Lazarus desired in the first life, neither could Lazarus give to the rich man what the rich man desired in the second. In the afterlife, it is too late for the rich man to do right toward Lazarus because the rich man is no longer rich and the poor man is no longer poor. Lazarus no longer has need of a crumb. What’s done on this earth is done and cannot be undone. If someone needs your kindness, show it to them now. At death, the chasm is fixed and can’t be changed.
There are those who take all the best in this life and look down on others. But in the life to come, many who are first will be last and many who are last will be first. Don’t wait until heaven to do God’s will. Do it now, and you’ll be glad then. Don’t do it now and you’ll regret it then.
When you are in heaven and there remember your life on earth, do you want memories of your life on earth to bless you or haunt you? The choice is yours. And there is still time to repent. Once you die, however, events are fixed and the account of what you did here cannot be changed. I do not know exactly how our memories of life on earth will affect our life in heaven, but God is making it clear that the better we live here, the more we will enjoy things there.
The most important point of Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus is the rich man’s attitude. Do you notice how dramatically it changed after he died? The Pharisees were Jesus’ mortal enemies, but death would remove the enmity. In that instant, they would see Him for who He really was. The Pharisees, as a group, would never respond to Jesus’ call to repent on earth. Yet, once they died, they would immediately repent…and would be wanting to send back word for everyone else to repent, too! Only it would be too late.
Jesus’ story teaches us the radical effect death has on one’s perspective. The picture is of a hard-hearted rich man instantly transformed into a humble and zealous reformer. This is why I say you can expect even your loved ones who didn’t seem to love you in return, or even God, to have a completely different attitude in the life to come. You see, everyone repents; it’s just a matter of time. Death marks the point at which even the proud become humble. Better therefore to go ahead and humble ourselves now, and do good to others in need while we still have the chance.
The State of Everyone’s Loved Ones
It is not just your loved ones who are safe in the hands of God. It is everyone’s loved ones. For the victory achieved by Jesus Christ was over death itself.
Everyone is someone’s loved one. Everyone. Even if they erred, they were once held as precious…for everyone came to earth as an infant. And they were led astray. God gave us enough free will that we can make ourselves and others pretty miserable. And for long periods of time. But not forever.
Everyone on earth is therefore loved by someone. And if not by anyone else, by God Himself. Therefore, there are no unloved ones on this earth. Only loved ones. And that’s whom resurrection is for: loved ones. It’s their reunion.
Since God loves everyone, we should, too. We are going to love them in heaven. We would be wise if we would go ahead and start loving them on earth.
Everyone is going to heaven and the Scriptures emphasize this with verbal exclamation points. Jesus says,
“And I, if I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all men to Myself.” John 12:32 NASB
He was certainly lifted up, and we have seen described how He is drawing all men to Himself.
As we have seen, Paul writes,
For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive. 1 Corinthians 15:22 NASB
Paul follows a similar logic in this passage, alluding to Adam and Christ:
So then as through one transgression there resulted condemnation to all men, even so through one act of righteousness there resulted justification of life to all men. Romans 5:18 NASB
Paul also writes,
For it is for this we labor and strive, because we have fixed our hope on the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of believers. 1 Timothy 4:10 NASB
As I have shown you throughout this book, there are advantages to those who believe God’s message that everyone is going to heaven that go beyond just getting there. Nonetheless, everyone gets there. Paul also writes,
This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior, who desires all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth. For there is one God, and one mediator also between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself as a ransom for all, the testimony given at the proper time. 1 Timothy 2:3-6 NASB
Speaking of Jesus, the apostle John writes,
…He Himself is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world. 1 John 2:2 NASB
And there are many other Scriptures passages I could quote for you, but excessive exclamations points can be distracting. It’s time to rest the case.
Those Who Contradict
There will be those who contradict the biblical message that everyone is going to heaven – even while claiming allegiance to the Bible. Do not be deceived. Hold fast to what you have learned. You probably know more scripture passages about the afterlife than most of them. The “heaven and hell” theory is born of confusion and biblical illiteracy. The starting point for any truly biblical doctrine of the afterlife is the destination of Sheol/Hades for all who died, so clearly taught in the Old Testament. Remember, the Old Testament was the Bible for Jesus and His apostles. They accepted it as truth. Unless critics can show you from the Scriptures how Sheol/Hades was changed by the work of Christ they cannot have a biblical doctrine. Even if they do rightly understand Sheol/Hades, their challenge then will be finding a scriptural explanation for their “heaven or hell” theory. They can only do so by distorting the scripture verses about Gehenna which warn of God’s judgments on earth.
Beyond this, however, do not worry about those who contradict. God’s truth has always had its critics in the earth…and yet God’s truth always prevails. Cling to the truth, and endure with it.
Living Free From the Fear of Death
It is God’s desire that humanity live free from the fear of death. This is why Jesus came from heaven to become a human being. And this is why the Bible says,
Therefore, since the children share in flesh and blood, He Himself likewise also partook of the same, that through death He might render powerless him who had the power of death, that is, the devil, and might free those who through fear of death were subject to slavery all their lives. Hebrews 2:14-15 NASB
The fear of death produces a certain slavery within us. We are not free. The fear of death drives us onto paths we might not otherwise take.
We are afraid of death because we are atheists and we fear the “nothingness” it will bring. Or we are afraid of it because we have some reverence for God but aren’t sure how He’ll deal with us. Or we’re afraid because we’re agnostic and don’t know what we don’t know. In all these cases, fear takes the reins of our hearts whenever it wishes and we become its slaves.
God does not desire slaves, but rather sons and daughters. For this reason He made a place for us to come home to. It’s called the new heavens. We do not have to be afraid of death – either for ourselves or for anyone else. This does not mean we want to rush it, but neither does it mean we would do anything just to avoid it. Honor before God is what transforms mere existence into life.
“If you continue in My word, then you are truly disciples of Mine; and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” John 8:31-32 NASB
We have learned from the Bible the truth about what happens after death. This truth sets us free from the grip of death’s terror. And the only way it could set us free is if it applied to all humanity. Only when I know that the very least of Jesus’ brothers is spared can I truly be free. For in the end I must consider myself that very least brother.
What Jesus Has Done to Death
Jesus has not set us free from the fear of death by removing death as a possibility, but rather by changing the effect it has on us. From the physical side, we see death just the same as ever. But in our hearts we now know what happens on the spiritual side of it…so we no longer have to be afraid. Specifically, we know that Jesus has transformed death into a gate to heaven.
If you will remember once again from John’s picture at the end of Revelation, the heavenly Jerusalem wasn’t the only thing in the midst of the lake of fire. The gates of Sheol/Hades had been thrown there, too, when the sea was emptied out. And so there are two gates to God: The one, a loving presence in the earth called the new Jerusalem. It has twelve gates open in every direction. The other, the gates of Sheol/Hades which now lead nowhere but up. If we live, it is for Him. If we die, it is to Him.
In the Old Testament’s book of Judges a story is written about how Samson, in his great strength, moved the gates of a city to a mountain top. This foreshadowed how Jesus would move the gates of death from where they led below to where they lead above. Same gates; different destination.
Death, which was to have been Satan’s ultimate victory over God, has now become God’s ultimate victory over Satan. For this reason, the Bible says that Jesus
…abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel, 2 Timothy 1:10 NASB
This is the gospel – the good news – of Jesus Christ: that death has been abolished. Death is not a dead-end, but a doorway. Therefore, we are immortal creatures. And all this has come to light by means of the gospel of God written in the Scriptures.
Death cannot hurt you. Don’t be afraid of it anymore – either for yourself or for anyone else. And don’t let anyone else be afraid of it either. Tell them what Jesus has done. It never was the problem we feared. And what problem there was, He fixed through His resurrection and reconstruction of the spiritual universe. What God promised, He has performed. God is faithful. He is the bank that cannot fail.
Though death may threaten every corner of this earth until the whole planet is consumed in its darkness, we will not be afraid. It is nothing more than a cloud that momentarily blocks the sunlight of God’s presence. When that cloud passes, we shall once again see the heavenly rays. But even if it does not, we shall simply pass through it and see those rays on the other side.
Thus, by the love of God, this is the confidence of the human race and all its members:
…Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I fear no evil, for You are with me… Psalm 23:4 NASB
End of Chapter Twelve
End of the Book
[What then are some of the implications of everyone going to heaven? You might want to read one or more of the essays I have written on that subject.]