Death and Judgment
What happens after you die
Once a pastor was asked about how to understand death for the Christian. And the pastor responded by telling this story. “Well,” he said, “it’s like this. Once there was a peasant and the peasant had some things to take care of in another village. So the next morning, he said to his wife that he had to travel to this particular village to do his business, and that he’d try to be back before nightfall. It was at this point that his little son said to him, ‘Father may I go with you?’ And any father would be thrilled to take along a son for the day, so he said, ‘Of course,’ as he grasped his little hand and off they went in the morning sun, headed for the village that was some distance away.
“As they walked, they came to a river. Now the river was swollen because of recent rains, and the waters had catapulted through the particular channel they had to cross and had washed away most of the bridge. All that was left were some pillars and pilings, and as a result the little boy became very fearful and said, ‘Father, we will never get across.’ The river was moving rapidly, but the father just looked at his son and said, ‘We’ll make it, son–I’ll be very careful. I’ll hold on to you very tightly and we’ll get across.’
“Grasping that little fellow by the wrist and holding on to him with the grip of a loving father, he began to cautiously pick his way from piling to piling, sometimes suspending the little guy over the torrent till he could lift him to the next place of safety until they made it across. Once across, they went to the village and they did their business, and when they were finished, they started home.
“But as so often is the case, their business dealings took longer than expected and it was already dark when they started their return trip. This particular night there was no light from the moon and the sky was filled with clouds. And as they walked along the trail through the forest towards the river in the darkness, the father began to hear the little fellow begin to cry. As he looked down, he asked, ‘What’s wrong, son?’ And he said, ‘Father, we made it across the river in the light, but we’ll never make it across in the dark.’
“Without saying a word, the dad reached down and scooped the little fellow up and pressed him to his chest. And in a matter of moments, he was sound asleep. The next thing the little boy knew, he woke up. And when he woke, he found himself in his own house, in his own room, and in his own bed. Sunlight was streaming through the windows, it was morning and his father was standing in the doorway, smiling–and he was home.” The pastor said to the parishioner, “You see, that’s what death is like for the Christian. What you fear, you never experience. You simply wake up . . . and you’re home.” That is the experience of death for the Christian.
Let me tell you about the greatest preacher I know–have you heard of him? He is a preacher from the old school. He speaks as boldly as ever and is not popular. The world is his parish and he travels every part of the globe and speaks every language. He visits the poor, he calls on the rich, and he preaches to people of every religion and people of no religion. And the subject of his sermon is always the same.
He is an eloquent preacher, often stirring feelings which no other preacher can stir and brings tears to eyes that never weep. His arguments are so strong, no one is able to refute them and there is no heart that remains unmoved by the force of his appeal. His message always shatters life and most people hate him and everyone seems to fear him. His name is death. He is a bold preacher and he preaches a sermon we do not want to hear–but we must hear. Every tombstone is his pulpit, every newspaper prints his text and someday everyone will hear his message.
Now I get it, very few people enjoy talking about death. And I know, if you were invited to go to a funeral, or to go to a party, 99% of you would choose the party. After all, at a party you might have some fun and enjoy some laughs, and the funeral only offers tears, burdens and some painful uneasiness of mind and heart. Yet it was the wisest man who ever lived, King Solomon, who said that a funeral is the better choice–why? Ecclesiastes 7:2, “It is better to go to a house of mourning than to go to a house of feasting, because that is the end of every man, and the living takes it to heart.” You need to not only think about the door of death, but you need to consider what awaits you on the other side. Death is the gate you pass through to eternal life.
Today we will expose God’s never wrong Word on death and the judgments that follow. In the next two weeks, we will describe the only two eternal destinations available. Death is not the most pleasant of subjects, and people prefer not to think about it, since it raises fears and brings uneasiness. But the Bible is really clear. Hebrews 9:27, “Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes [what?] judgment.” The Spirit of God has made it clear to every human heart, there is life after death—and that life may not be pleasant, since after death there will be certain judgment.
Most of you, and most people on the planet, prefer to suppress any thinking about the inevitability and nearness of death. I choose to talk about death all the time–sometimes humorously, personally, and always pointedly. I’ll say, “If I crash and die, know I will be happier than you.” I’ll say, “If I croak, have a party, but remember I’ll be better off than you.” I joke a lot about dying before we get on the property–it might happen. So bury me in the hills high above Wildomar. Yes, I have a warped sense of humor, but there is something else driving my comments–I want people to think about eternity, to think about the doorway of death, to never forget this life is a blip on the radar of eternity–but Heaven and Hell are forever.
The only way to live this life fully, biblically, for God’s glory, is to live fully knowing this life is temporary. You get 60, 70, 80, or if you’re Joan 90 years–and for many others it’s much quicker. I’m confident you are not surprised how ready unbelievers are to embrace any religion, any philosophy, any idea that promises some sort of tranquility, peace and happiness after death that doesn’t involve judgment, that removes accountability to Christ out of the equation.
Every kid or clown who claims to have died in an accident or on the surgery table, then claims to come back to life, then writes a book about the experience writes a best seller. Weak preachers and false teachers continually assure people, saying since God is a God of love, everyone will eventually be saved, and no one will ever suffer in a place of torment. But that is not what the Bible clearly teaches. And since God’s Word has authority over our experiences and any other thinking, we need to hear what the Scriptures say about death and judgment. What does God say in His perfect Word?
#1 What is the BIBLICAL view of death?
The right view, the only true view. Though death is both real and inevitable, it is unnatural. When God created the heavens and the earth, death was not a part of it. And that is why death will finally be conquered in 1 Corinthians 15:26, and death will be banished from the new creation. John says in Revelation 20:14, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” The Bible speaks of three different kinds of death.
First SPIRITUAL death
The separation of the created being from the Creator
Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins”
Second ETERNAL death
The final permanent separation of an unsaved person from God
Revelation 20:14b, “This is the second death, the lake of fire.”
Third PHYSICAL death
The separation of the immaterial part of man from the material body
Genesis 35:18 to 19, speaking of Rachel’s death, “It came about as her soul was departing (for she died), that she named him Ben-oni; but his father called him Benjamin. 19 So Rachel died and was buried.”
Most Americans believe there is life after death, but less people now know what happens when they die. Maybe you noticed the similarities in the types of death–in the Bible, death means separation. Death does not mean annihilation, destruction or ceasing to exist. When this separation occurs, the body falls asleep and is buried–but the immaterial part of you immediately goes to one of two places, depending solely on your relationship with Christ.
The Scriptures give many clear examples of physical death being the separation of your immaterial spirit from your physical body. When Stephen was being stoned to death, he looked into Heaven and prayed for the Lord to receive his spirit. As Rachel died during childbirth, her immaterial soul was in the very act of departing. James teaches at physical death there is a separation of the body from the spirit. James 2:26, “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so also faith without works is dead.” In the Bible, life is not viewed merely as existence, but as well-being. Death, therefore, is the loss of well-being, but never the cessation of being. So as believers, how can you and I understand death?
#2 What is the biblical understanding of death for the BELIEVER?
After the death of a believer and before his or her resurrection, he or she exists in an intermediate state. The Scriptures do not give a great deal of information about this condition. The reason is, the resurrection that is our hope. The bodily resurrection is when believers will be complete and you will be equipped for eternity. Now the writers of Scripture do give us some clarity about what happens to a believer at death. What happens when you, or those you love, die?
First Nothing, including death, will ever SEPARATE you from your Lord Jesus Christ
Romans 8:38 to 39, “For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, … will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Some of you have been abandoned by those who supposedly loved you, and suffered the pain of loss—but you can never be separated from God’s incredible love for you.
Second You never need to FEAR death
Our Lord Jesus, who has already gone through the door of death is with us. You can be assured, Jesus will not abandon you even for a moment at the time of physical death. Jesus guarantees in Hebrews 13:5b, “I will never desert you, nor will I ever forsake you.” Christ has been victorious over death and in the future He will destroy death. The bible even describes death for Christians, in terms that are not frightening, like the term sleep. Death for a believer is as non-frightening as sleep.
Third Believers are immediately ushered into the PRESENCE of Christ
Every one of you are either in your physical body, living on the earth, or you have left your material body and have gone into Christ’s presence. There is no third option–no purgatory, no soul sleep. The Apostle Paul could not be more clear about this in 2 Corinthians 5:6 to 8, “Being always of good courage, and knowing that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord 7for we walk by faith, not by sight— 8we are of good courage, I say, and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”
At the moment of your death, Christian, when your immaterial spirit leaves this sphere of existence, you immediately enter the presence of the Lord. There is no intermediate state of unconsciousness, nor some sort of purgatory. Paul simply says, as he continues to minister at home in this body, he is away from his true home in the presence of Christ. But the moment he leaves this temporary home on Earth, he’ll be in his permanent home in Heaven with Christ.
Paul also makes this transition clear in Philippians 1:21 to 23, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose. 23But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better.”
Paul longs to be with Christ. Yet he is well aware that the Philippians would benefit greatly from his continued ministry on Earth, so he wants to stay out of love for them. But in spite of his passion for others to come to Christ and become like Christ, Paul wants to depart and be with Christ. And because being with Christ is so much better, Paul is torn–schizophrenic, wanting to stay for them, yet wanting to go be with Christ. Paul would not have this longing if at death he entered purgatory, or he would lapse into a condition of nonexistence–errant theologians call it soul sleep.
No–at death, the believer immediately enters into the presence of Christ in Heaven. Some theologians have suggested you will have some sort of temporary body before we are resurrected in our glorified body. They say since Moses and Elijah appeared bodily with an unveiled Christ on the Mount of Transfiguration, then there must be a temporary body for believers awaiting the resurrection (which, for Christians, occurs at the Rapture). But even though the idea of a temporary body (before the resurrection) is not at all clear in the Bible, what is clear is that believers will be present with the Lord.
Jesus said it this way to the believing thief on the cross next to him–Jesus said to Him in Luke 23:43, “’Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise.’” Today–not after soul sleep. Today, not after purgatory. Today in Paradise. Paradise is used three times in the New Testament, a term that means parks or gardens–referring to the place where Christ is manifesting His presence and glory. The best place–the park. The home you have never been to, but the home where you belong, where you are at rest.
Even though the intermediate state for the believer will not be as wondrous as the time when you are resurrected. Yet when you enter through the door of death, that moment will be a thousand times better than this current, earthly existence. Then as non-Christians, unbelievers, make believers–how do they understand death?
#3 What is the biblical understanding of death for the UNBELIEVER?
Every non-believer also continues in conscious existence at the time of physical death. But their fate is not a pleasant one. All those without Christ (except infants and the very young) will experience eternal punishment in Hades for now, and eternal Hell (the lake of fire) forever. We know Hades is the first place of torment and Hell is the final place of torment, because after the final judgment, then Hades itself is thrown into the lake of fire–Hell. Revelation 20:14, “Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.”
Some false teachers deny a place of conscious torment called Hades or Sheol because, they point out that Hades or Sheol refers to the grave or a hole in the ground. And they add, it never describes eternal punishment. But that is not true. Notice what Psalm 9:17 says, “The wicked will return to Sheol, even all the nations who forget God.” Here Sheol is a place prepared for the wicked and does not simply describe the grave, since both righteous and the wicked go to the grave.
When describing spanking, Proverbs 23:14 says, “You shall strike him with the rod and rescue his soul from Sheol.” It is obvious no amount of parental discipline can keep a child from the grave–so the writer is describing eternal punishment, also informing parents that righteous biblical punishment helps keep your child from eternal punishment.
Luke 16:23 tells of the rich man who died and, “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” His punishment which followed his death is clearly in view here. In fact, our Lord continually describes the death of the unsaved in terms of the suffering they will immediately endure after their death. Matthew 5:22, “Whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.”
Speaking to the city who didn’t submit to their Messiah, Matthew 11:23, “’You, Capernaum,…you will descend to Hades.’” Talking directly to the Pharisees, Jesus said in Matthew 23:33, “’You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?’” The non-Christian, those who do not follow Christ, all those who are not born again–even those who attend church but do not obey Christ–when they die, will immediately go to Hades now, then ultimately end up later in the lake of fire, Hell.
In His Word, God lovingly gives a loud and repetitive warning of the terrors that are ahead for those who will not repent of their sins and turn in faith to the Lord for salvation, including deliverance from judgment. It doesn’t matter when you die–you will face judgment. Romans 14:12, “So then each one of us will give an account of himself to God.”
#4 What is a biblical understanding of the coming JUDGMENTS?
No matter what time you live, you will face judgment, you will be evaluated. For the Christian, it’s for reward. But for the non-Christian, it’s punishment.
First The Bema Seat Judgment for BELIEVERS
For the Christian, any action of everyday life which is done for God’s glory and done in the power of the Spirit will be rewardable. Second Corinthians 5:10, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ [the Bema Seat], so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good [useful] or bad [useless].” You will be rewarded for driving, talking, cleaning and more–if done for God’s glory in the Spirit’s power.
You ask, “Chris, what if I love Jesus and have served Him all my life? What if didn’t give what most people give, like .03 percent–but I actually gave close to 12%? Yet honestly, Chris, a lot of what I did was for my glory and done in my strength, not the Spirit’s?” The Bible speaks to that situation. The Corinthians had just experienced a citywide fire–all the wooden buildings burned, but all the stone buildings survived.
First Corinthians 3:12 to 15 says, “Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, 13each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. 14If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. 15If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”
All ministry is to be accomplished on the foundation Christ laid, through His death, burial and resurrection from the dead. But each believer must be careful how they build on that foundation Christ laid in our lives–how you live and serve does matter! Do not minimize this. This judgment will probably occur after the Rapture and during the Tribulation when the Church, made up of both living, raptured saints, and resurrected, previously dead Christians will face Christ personally, and be rewarded for what they’ve done for Christ in His Spirit.
Second The Sheep Goat Judgment
This judgment occurs after Christ physically returns as the glorified King of Earth in His Second Coming, before the Kingdom. All people who survived the Tribulation will be evaluated by their deeds, to determine if they are one of God’s sheep or an unbelieving goat. Matthew 25:32 to 33 says, “All the nations [after Christ returns and takes over] will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left.”
And Christ will evaluate their deeds–deeds that demonstrate Christ through them. Deeds that prove they have a transformed, born-again heart. It’s what Christians do! The sheep hear this–Matthew 25:34, “The King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The goats hear this–Matthew 25:41, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
Why? Because the sheep did the deeds motivated by a new, born-again heart, but the goats didn’t do them because they could not. Matthew 25:35 and 36 says of the sheep, “‘For I was hungry, and you gave Me something to eat; I was thirsty, and you gave Me something to drink; I was a stranger, and you invited Me in; 36naked, and you clothed Me; I was sick, and you visited Me; I was in prison, and you came to Me.’”
As a result, the 1,000-year Kingdom begins with glorified saints and regular Christians, like you and me. Those regular Christians continue to have generations of offspring, who eventually take the Lord’s presence, a perfect environment and glorified saints, for granted–motivating them to rebel under the leadership of Satan when he’s released. Christ judges the rebels instantly with fire from Heaven in Revelation 20:9, leading to . . .
Third The FINAL judgement–the Great White Throne Judgment
After a thousand-year Kingdom and a final rebellion led by Satan, God judges all of humanity from all time in Revelation 20:12 and 15, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 15And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Judgment is coming for all–the only question is, do your deeds demonstrate you are a born again Christian, or do they demonstrate you are a self-deceived phony? Unless you are raptured, death is coming to us all. And no matter what, you’ll be judged. The only question is, what kind of judgment will you face?
TAKE THIS HOME
A The Lord Jesus Christ is with you today in the midst of TRAGEDY and sorrow
You will all deal with tragedy in this life. When tragedies happen, it’s crucial you find hope–not hollow, trite, short-term hope, but solid, enduring, reliable hope. We need hope that moves us into purpose and meaning. We need hope that lasts, especially when it hurts. There are many empty answers you can pursue in tragedy. There are many temporary solutions for numbing our pain and grief. But that’s all they are–empty answers and temporary numbing. You need hope that truly helps and endures.
Jeremiah the prophet experienced a terrible calamity in the fifth century B.C. when the city of Jerusalem was destroyed. The city was in ruins and the people were forced into exile. Here’s what Jeremiah wrote in the midst of that tragedy. Lamentations 3:21 to 23, “This I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope. 22The Lord’s lovingkindnesses indeed never cease, for His compassions never fail. 23They are new every morning; great is Your faithfulness.”
Despite this heart-wrenching tragedy, Jeremiah could write that his hope came from knowing that God’s love is always there, his mercies always keep coming, and that each day was a new chance to experience God’s faithfulness. Therefore, today I want to offer you hope by reminding you of God’s faithfulness. There is no reason to fear, since Christ is all-wise. Therefore, all your tragedy, Christian, is for your good and His glory.
I’ve seen it, and maybe you have too. A spouse taking care of their invalid mate with incredible patience and love . . . family will say, “No one takes care of mom, like dad.” Friends, that is just a small glimpse into the sovereign care of Christ. Cast your care upon Him, because He cares for you. Trust in His all-wise, tender love. No one can fill your difficult life with joy, peace, contentment and happiness like Christ. He proved His willingness to sacrifice for you on the cross, and Christ sustains that perfect measure of love for His children still through His Spirit. He will never leave you nor forsake you. Trust Christ through your tragedy.
B Deeds of service and SACRIFICE today really do matter for eternity
The born-again heart wants to follow Christ, wants to obey His Word, wants to interconnect with Christians, wants to learn to disciple, wants to care for the hurting, wants to share the Gospel, wants to love the new person, and wants others to know God’s will through God’s Word. They have fears, they battle, they fail, but they really want to–and eventually, their life, deeds, giving, and service start to match their new, born again heart.
Deeds of service, giving sacrificially, faithful ministry all really do matter. All three judgments are on the basis of deeds, done from a new heart that wants to.
C Death is only a door to life eternal–but for the Christian, it’s going HOME
Paul said it this way in 2 Timothy 4:6 to 8, “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering and the time of my departure has come.” The word departure is used four ways in the New Testament. It describes . . .
1 UNLEASHING an animal from the burden of a cart
2 RELEASING a prisoner from His shackles
3 TAKING DOWN a tent
4 A SHIP LEAVING its harbor
That is an awesome picture of what happens to your saved family and friends who die. Christ followers are freed from the burdens of life on this fallen planet–now they can fully rest in Christ’s presence, like an unleashed animal. Believers will be delivered from the shackles of the flesh and their sin forever–dead Christians have been completely, totally set free, like a released prisoner.
Disciples who have died have taken down the tent of their physical body, awaiting a new, perfect tent in Heaven without illness, sickness, or physical limitation. And believers have cast off the ropes of this world and set sail, only to arrive in the harbor called Heaven face-to-face with their Savior. They’re finally home. In this sense, believers have not departed–they have arrived.
You will see dead believers again, for they are not dead, but more alive than they have ever been. Those without Christ, you will never see again, for they’re separated from Christ in torment, forever suffering under God’s just wrath for their sin. Are you certain we will see you at home in Heaven with Christ? Or will we only think of you in horror in Hell? Come back next week to find out.