David Jeremiah - Where Are They Now?
An Indiana cemetery has a tombstone more than 100 years old with the following epitaph on it. It goes like this. "Pause, stranger, when you pass me by. As you are now, so once was I. As I am now, so you will be. Prepare yourself to follow me". And a young man came along and wrote a couple of notes beneath the poem and they go like this. "To follow you I'm not content until I know which way you went". That right? That's a pretty good epitaph right there, isn't it? Did you know that there's an organization called "Afterlife Telegrams" that offers to deliver messages to the dead. And the way they do this is they give these messages to terminally ill patients who promise to deliver the messages upon passing into afterlife. That's actually true. In the fine print of the agreement, however, it warns customers that it cannot guarantee the message will get through because the truth is, Afterlife Telegrams solemnly warns no one knows what happens when someone dies.
Alexander Stewart has said that there are two things most people wanna know about their deceased loved ones. Number one, where are they? And number two, how is it going with them? Where are they now? That's a question a lot of folks have asked me when I've been a grief counselor. Where are they now? Apparently, there were those who lived in the New Testament times who were just as concerned about that question as we are. Do you remember when Paul wrote to the Thessalonian believers and he was writing to them because of the questions in their minds. In 1 Thessalonians 4:13 we read these words: "I do not want you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning those who have fallen asleep, lest you sorrow as others who have no hope".
Now, he wasn't talking about them falling asleep like you fall asleep at night. Falling asleep is a softened term for a believer's death. It is used often in the Scriptures to describe a Christian who dies. For instance, do you remember Lazarus who was raised from the grave? Jesus said about Lazarus, in John 11:11, "These things He said, and after that He said to them, 'Our friend Lazarus sleeps.'" Lazarus wasn't asleep, he was dead. Four days he had been in the grave. When Stephen was stoned and we remember reading about that in Acts, and I always have to stop and say, "They threw stones at him. He wasn't stoned like we know in our culture today".
I see everybody looking at each other. So I might as well just stop and explain that. They threw stones at Stephen and he died, all right? You ready? And the Bible says, "He knelt down and he cried out with a loud voice, 'Lord, do not charge them with this sin.' And when he had said this, he fell asleep". He died. And David in the Old Testament, we read about him in the book of Acts. It says, "After he had served his own generation by the will of God, he fell asleep, and was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption".
So in the New Testament the word to fall asleep when it's referring to a Christian is about dying. And the word's a really interesting word. It's the word "keimai," and it means to recline. It's the same word that was used for someone who slept in a hotel for one night and the next day they would get up and go on with their journey. It's a beautiful picture of what happens to a believer's body when they die. Their body goes to sleep, and it's put in a hotel awaiting the time when the resurrection will happen. Now, every time people ask me, "Where are they now"? the first thing I have to tell 'em is that, obviously, their body is asleep. Their body has died and their body is in the grave.
And every time we pass a cemetery, we're reminded of what happens to a person's body when they die. Their body goes in the grave. That's not the issue. The issue is about the real person. Because we all know that the body isn't the real person. The body's just a house in which the real person lives. The body's the shell in which the person resides. So when this body goes to sleep and goes in the grave, what happens to the real person? Well, like in all of the problems that we have, if we just study the Bible, we can find out. Only the Word of God can lend authoritative teaching, and in today's message I wanna talk with you about two people, two places, and two principles. And we ought to be able to handle that. Two people, two places, and two principles.
In order for us to get our arms around this subject, I want you to join with me in the reviewing of a passage of Scripture which most of us are familiar with in the 16th chapter of the book of Luke. Here in the 16th chapter of Luke, we have the story which is usually referred to as the rich man and Lazarus. Or Lazarus and Dives, which is a Latin word for being rich. As we look at this story, we're going to see these two men kind of in split screens, contrasted with each other in three ways. We're gonna watch them in their life. We're gonna see them in their death, and we're gonna see them after their death in eternity. Are you ready for that?
All right, now, let's watch them first of all. We just get a little snapshot of the rich man and Lazarus in their lifetime. The two men contrasted in life. Luke 16:19 through 21 says this: "There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and in fine linen and he fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores". The rich man had received good things. He knew the good life. He fared sumptuously every day. The word "sumptuously" means flamboyantly, brilliantly. He was outwardly wealthy.
The beggar, in contrast, was very unimpressive. Lazarus is said to be both sick and hungry. His sores could have been bound and dressed by the rich man's ointment but, instead, they were licked by the dogs. Every day, Lazarus was left at the gate of the rich man, just to beg for some food. We don't have a hard time understanding that. We see something like that almost every week, no matter where we live. He was hoping only for a few crumbs to be thrown in his direction. So there you have the snapshot of these two men in life. The rich man covered in purple and fine linen, and the poor man, Lazarus, covered only with sores. The rich man faring sumptuously; the poor man, Lazarus, desiring to be fed with the crumbs. The rich man with many servants; Lazarus with only the dogs to care for him. Two men contrasted in life. And the curtain comes down on scene one.
The next time we see these two men is in death. Two men contrasted in death, and in verse 22, we read first of all of the death of Lazarus. Notice what it says: "So it was that the beggar, Lazarus, died, and he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom". It seems from reading the story that Lazarus died first. And the rich man died second. There's no reference to the burial of Lazarus. Simply says that he died. More than likely, his body wasn't buried because, in those days when a poor person who was a beggar died, they would either put him in the potter's field, or more than likely, they would throw him into a place called Gehenna which was a name for the dump outside of a city. So more than likely, Lazarus' body was disposed of but the Bible says Lazarus' real self was carried to Abraham's bosom.
And the death of the rich man in verse 22, at the end of the verse, is very, very shortly described. "And the rich man also died and was buried". Now, it's not hard to imagine the lavish funeral of the rich man, is it? Many eulogies. But with all of the things he had done in his life and all of the stuff he had amassed, he couldn't buy one extra day of life. Two men in death. Note the contrast. One is cast away as the garbage of the earth, and the other is lifted up and honored in a magnificent ceremony and the curtain closes on act two. Are you still with me?
All right, now we are able to see something in these next verses that you will never see again in the Bible. And you could not see except through the eyes of the Lord Jesus who is telling this story. Please hear me. This is not a parable, this is a real story. In all of the parables that Jesus told, he never ever used the personal name for an individual. In this story, he calls one of the people by their name, Lazarus. It was not the Lazarus that he raised from the dead. It was another man by that name but, apparently, a man that Jesus knew personally for he told this story as an eye-witness, seeing not only their life and their death, but now he's going to show us what happened to them after their death. The story is about to lay a foundation for us to understand what happens when our loved ones die.
The Bible teaches that before the Ascension of Jesus Christ, there was an immediate place where the souls of men and women went at death. This place is composed of three compartments: Abraham's bosom, the great gulf fixed, and Hades, the place of torment. Now Abraham's bosom, we are told, is called paradise. It is the place where the righteous dead go. According to this story, it is a place of comfort. And verse 25 says that Lazarus is comforted in this place. When Lazarus dies, his body goes in the grave and he goes to paradise. The Bible says it's a place of comfort. It is also a place of love and companionship as Lazarus is pictured in the bosom of Abraham.
The angels took Lazarus to paradise immediately after his death. When Lazarus died, his body went in the grave, or wherever they put his body, and his soul and spirit went to paradise. The other compartment at the bottom of the chart is a place of torment. It is also called Hades, and into this place the souls of the wicked dead go. The rich man who was so flamboyant in his life went to this place, and it is a representation of all who fail to place their trust in Christ. He is a picture of what happens to those who die without Christ. And in between paradise and Hades, we are told in the Scripture that there is a great gulf fixed. According to Jesus, there is a chasm between these two places that cannot be crossed under any circumstances.
And we will come back to our chart in a few moments, but let's take notice of what is happening to these two men, one of whom died and went to paradise, and one of whom died and went to Hades. Come back to the Bible now and notice Lazarus in eternity in verse 22. In Luke 16:22: "So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom". First of all, please notice that when the beggar died, God sent his angels to take him to paradise. I would love to preach a whole message just on that.
I remember when I first started doing funerals as a young pastor, sometimes older people would come up and they'd pat me on the shoulder and they'd say, "Oh, Pastor, you just need to know, the angels took her to heaven". And I thought, "Well, where in the world did you ever hear that"? Then I read my Bible and I found out it was in the Bible. The angels take us to heaven. Did you know that? And there are all kinds of reasons I could suggest to you as to why, but it's a beautiful picture, isn't it? That when a believer dies, God sends his angels to take the believer to paradise. And here's the evidence of it right here in this story. Jesus says that when the beggar died, he was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom and what is the meaning of that term?
Well, Abraham's bosom's just another term for the term paradise, the place where the soul and spirit of the Old Testament believers went when they died. And you have to understand, this is still an Old Testament story because the cross hasn't happened yet. I'm not trying to get too technical, but I want you to stay with me in this logic so you see where we're going. Lazarus dies, his body probably went to Potter's Field, or Gehenna, to the dump, but that didn't affect his soul. The angels came and took his soul and spirit and took him to Abraham's bosom, paradise, all right?
Now let's look in on our rich man who died. The rich man in eternity and notice what the Bible says about him. First of all, he's in a place of misery. Luke 16:23-24: "And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and he saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and he 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.'" Some of you say, "Well, where in the Bible does it say that when you die if you go to hell there are flames"? Well, here's a picture of it right here. In this intermediate place, this man is in torment and he is in flames. The rich man, now watch, is not lost because he is rich any more than the poor man is saved because he is poor. Assume in this story that the rich man did not believe in Jesus Christ, while Lazarus did. And because of their faith, their destiny is fixed.
Now, in many respects, the rich man and Lazarus have changed places. Watch what happened. The proud man of time has become the beggar in eternity. The one who in life denied the poor man a crumb from his table is now begging for one drop of water. The one who in his life fared sumptuously every day would now be happy with just one drop of water to cool his tongue. He's in a place of misery. Notice, secondly, he's in a place of memory. This is something that's new to a lot of folks. Luke 16:25: "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.'"
Verse 25 indicates that Hades is a place of memory. He lifts up his eyes and he sees Lazarus and he is conscious of what he has missed. One of the tortures of Hades is to look across the fixed gulf and view the comforts and blessings of those who have accepted Christ. I believe that throughout eternity, the unbeliever will be constantly reminded of what he missed because he rejected God. I believe he will remember services where he heard the gospel message and where the testimony of the Holy Spirit was strong in his heart, but he walked away from it and rejected it, and throughout eternity it will be an instant replay over and over and over again in his mind that he had a chance, that he could have accepted but he did not. It is a place of misery and a place of memory.
But notice, thirdly, it's a place of mourning. Luke 16:27-31 says: "Then he said, 'I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him, Lazarus, 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.' Abraham said to him, 'They have Moses and the prophets,'" they have the Bible, "'let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' And Abraham said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if somebody came back from the grave.'"
Listen to the power of the Word of God. It is more powerful than someone coming back from the dead, according to Jesus. Now, the representative of the lost who are now in Hades is this rich man. He was alive, he was conscious, he was in full exercise of his faculties, his memory, and he's in torment. Now I know you didn't come to hear me talk about that, but I have to tell you that so you understand the rest of the story. There are two people. Now, I want you to notice two places. Let's notice what happens and let me take you through the progression of where they are now. First of all, an intermediate hell. A place that is not ultimately hell but it is hell in an intermediate way. Watch this. So far as the unsaved dead are concerned, they continue in this place called Hades, the intermediate hell, until a particular time in the future.
Now watch your chart. At the Judgment of the Great White Throne, Hades gives them up and they are judged and passed into the lake of fire. You say, "Where is that"? Well, I want you to read with me Revelation chapter 20, verses 13 and 14: "And 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. And Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death". Now look up for just a moment.
Here's what happens. When a person dies today and they don't know Jesus, their body goes in the grave and their soul and spirit goes to Hades. One day after the Judgment, Hades according to the Scripture will be cast into the lake of fire which is the permanent hell, where there is mourning and weeping and wailing forever and ever. Do I believe in a permanent hell? Let me say to you if there is no permanent hell, there cannot be a permanent heaven because the Bible says far more about hell in the New Testament than it does about heaven. There is such a place. And it is a place that no one wants to go.
You can say, "I don't believe that," as if by not believing you could make it untrue. My friend, if you believe it or you don't believe it, it's still true. And it's going to be a place whereas you can see from this rich man, you would never want to go and you would never want anyone you love to go, all right? The intermediate hell. Now notice, secondly, the intermediate heaven, paradise. Now, you have to really think carefully here. Every believer who died before the Ascension of Christ went to paradise. There was no change in their abode until Jesus ascended to the Father. Something happened so dramatic here that it is often skipped over by the teachers of the Word of God simply because they cannot fathom the truth of it.
Well, I happen to believe the Bible and when I see something I can't fathom, I just get more excited, because this is a supernatural book about a supernatural life about a supernatural God who has a supernatural plan for his supernatural saints, amen? And so if it's something I can't fathom and it's, "Whoa," I say, "Okay, let's find out what's going on here". Watch what happens now. When a believer dies, in the Old Testament, his body went in the grave and his soul and spirit went to the place called paradise. But when Jesus died on the cross, was buried, and he rose again, on the day of his Ascension something changed.
And I want you to watch Ephesians chapter 4, verses 8 through 10: "Therefore He says: 'When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.' (Now this, 'He ascended', what does it mean that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He also descended is the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)" Here's what the Bible says. When Jesus ascended after his death, he went into the earth and he led captivity captive. He went into paradise and he took all the people who were in paradise and he took them with him up to the third heaven. Paradise is no longer an intermediate place. Paradise is with God in heaven. Jesus took all those who were in paradise, all the Old Testament saints, all who had died and believed in God before the Ascension. When Jesus died on the cross, after his death, he went into paradise.
You say, "How do you know Jesus went to paradise"? I'm glad you asked me. Do you remember what he said to the thief on the cross when he died? What did he say, class? Luke 23:43, "Today you will be with me," where? "In paradise". "How do you know paradise is not still where it is"? Well, I'm glad you asked me that question too. Let's go back and remember in 2 Corinthians chapter 12, verses 2 and 4. Do you remember what Paul said about his vision? "I know a man in Christ who 14 years ago, whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows, such a one was caught up to the third heaven". Where's the third heaven, class? It's in the north. It's where God is, right?
All right, "And I know such a man, whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows, how he was caught up into paradise". Where is paradise? It's in the third heaven. How did it get there? When Jesus ascended and took paradise captive, he took it up to the third heaven. So now, where are they? When a believer dies, his body goes in the grave and goes to sleep. His soul doesn't go to sleep. There's no such thing as soul sleep. Let me tell you something, friend. Whether you're a Christian or not a Christian, you're gonna be alive somewhere forever and ever. Your soul does not sleep. The body sleeps and the soul and spirit goes to paradise, which is in the third heaven.
Now, you probably think we've got all these problems resolved. We know where an unbeliever goes, we know where a believer goes, but there's one more problem and let me tell you what it is. When a believer dies, and his body goes in the grave, and he goes to be with Jesus, he doesn't have a body because his body is in the grave and the resurrection doesn't happen until Jesus comes back to the earth. Isn't that true? So his body goes in the grave. His soul and spirit goes to paradise. The resurrection of the all believers doesn't happen until the Rapture. What happens to the believer between death and the resurrection? How do they exist in paradise? Have you ever wondered about that? Are we just kind of floating around up there in our spirits, you know, kind of, you know. The body has to be a part of our existence because the human spirit craves to be clothed.
Now, here is the passage of Scripture that I want you to look at with me. It's 2 Corinthians 5, verses 1 through 5: "For we know that if our earthly house, this tent," what's that? Our body, "Is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed with our habitation which is from heaven, if indeed, having been clothed, we shall not be found naked. For we who are in this body, in this tent groan, being burdened, not because we want to be unclothed, but further clothed, that mortality might be swallowed up by life. Now He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who also has given us the Spirit as a guarantee".
Paul says that the human spirit earnestly desires not to be unclothed. That means, not to be disembodied. The human spirit desperately desires not to be without a body. To this end, a body from heaven awaits a believer when he dies. Now, did you know this? You've got your current body, you're gonna have your resurrected body, but the Scripture says you've got an in between body. Isn't that interesting? The Bible says that when we die as Christians, and I think this is probably new truth to some people. When we die as Christians, our bodies go in the grave, waiting for the resurrection. Our soul and spirit goes to paradise to be with Jesus but God Almighty gives us a clothing, an intermediate body that's not our resurrected body because the resurrection hasn't happened yet and there's no such thing as one-at-a-time resurrections. The resurrection happens all at once.
And so in between our death and the resurrection when we get our new resurrection final body, Almighty God clothes us with a spirit body. Don't ask me what it's all like, except it's a manifestation of the Spirit in bodily form so that even in paradise now we can recognize each other, we can know each other. We can fellowship with each other. And ultimately, one day, when Jesus comes back and the resurrection happens, we will get bodies by Jesus. I'm gonna write a book on that, "Bodies by Jesus". But in between now and then, when an Old Testament person died, their soul went to Hades, their body went in the grave. At the Great White Throne Judgment, Hades is cast into the lake of fire and forever and ever there is no hope.
When a believer dies, his body goes in the grave. He goes to paradise, his soul and spirit, but God gives him an intermediate body so that he is not unclothed between now and the day of resurrection. On the day of resurrection, his body comes out of the grave and it is in a moment transformed into his permanent heavenly body and together we shall be with the Lord.
Now, hoo, that's a lot of stuff, isn't it? But let me just tell you, there's a way to deal with this that's so simple and it's the last thing I wanna tell you. And that is, we've talked about two people and two places. I wanna give you two principles that are really exciting to me. I love theology, as you can probably tell. And when I have something that I need to find an answer to, I study and study and study until I find it. And you know what I've discovered? I've never had a question that I really researched that I couldn't find the answer to in the Scripture. I know now for a fact what happens to a person when they die, where they go, how they exist, what's going on right now. But all of that, as wonderful as it is, is not the most important thing.
Let me tell you what I've discovered, and I don't know if I can tell you this without emotion. After immersing myself in all of these passages about the temporary and eternal home of the believer, one truth jumps out of the Scripture and into my heart. Paradise and heaven and the New Jerusalem and whatever name you may use to describe that place, is secondary to this. Heaven is where Jesus is. Heaven is being with Jesus. And over that truth, you need to write a banner, because it is hammered into our hearts over and over, and I bet you haven't seen it as many times as it's there because it kind of sneaks in at the end of passages, but let me show you what the Scripture says and then you will understand.
"Well, I don't know if I completely comprehend everything Pastor Jeremiah said today about the intermediate heaven and the permanent heaven, but one thing I do understand is when I die, I'm gonna be with Jesus," amen? Watch this, watch this. John 14:3: "And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself," why? "That where I am, there you may be also". It's not about the place, it's about the person. When Jesus gave assurance to the thief on the cross, what did he say to him? He said, "Today you will be with me in paradise". Paradise is secondary. Paul explained death in these terms. He said, "We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body," not present in heaven. "Absent from the body, present with who"? The Lord.
When Paul was writing to the Philippians about his own death, he wrote: "For I am hard pressed between the two, having a desire to depart," and go where, to heaven? No, "To be with Christ". Over and over and over, have you ever seen that? It's not about heaven so much as it is about Jesus. It's about being with him. And how many of you agree with me, wherever it is, if he's there, I'm okay, amen? Wherever he is, wherever it is. Because he's the one who died for me. He's the one who saved me. He's the one who has given me life beyond what I deserve. And if all you wanna say to me is, "You're going to be with Jesus," that's all right. Just take me. Wherever it is, just take me to be with Jesus, amen?
Now I need to know all these other things, it's important. But far more important is this. After going to great lengths to explain the details of the Rapture, this same Apostle Paul summarized it all with these words. He said, "And we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with him in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we will always be with the Lord," amen. I'm so excited to know that the Jesus who walks with me every day, who I talk with all the time, is one day gonna be with me and I'm gonna be with him permanently in intimate, personal fellowship. Richard Baxter said it this way: "My knowledge of that life is small. The eye of faith is dim, but it is enough that Christ knows all and I shall be with him," amen? The priority of the presence of Jesus.
And one last thing that I must tell you and that's the permanence of personal decisions. Luke 16:26 in the story of the two men says that "besides all this, between us there is a great gulf fixed". Men and women, whatever decisions we make about eternity will be made in this life. This story is not about purgatory. There is no such thing. I hate to hurt your feelings if you've believed that all of your life. Purgatory teaches that you go someplace into a holding space and that there's a possibility that you can come out of that place and your destiny be changed. That is not true. The Bible teaches that when we die, it is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.
Whatever decisions we make about eternity will be made in the here and now. There is no second chance after death and so, if you haven't made your decision to trust in Jesus Christ, if you haven't made your reservation for heaven, you better be about doing it now because you don't get another chance after you die. I don't care who told you that you did. The Bible says you don't. And you have to decide who you're gonna believe. The Lord Jesus has made it very clear that we can know him and spend eternity with him forever but whatever we do, we better do it now, because this is the day of opportunity. Today is the day of salvation.
Donna and I went to Alabama. Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to speak at a prayer breakfast. We got there for the prayer breakfast and the people who were in charge of the venue came and said, "There's a man who has been waiting here to see you. And he has a story to tell you that you are not gonna believe". And I believe God gave me this story just for today. His name was Red. When I walked in, here was this man. Had red hair, long red ponytail clear down of his back. He looked like somebody who'd had a hard life. And when I met him, I found out he had. And this is what he told me.
He said, "I tried everything to find some kind of peace here. I couldn't find it. My life was going down, just spiraling down. It just kept getting worse and worse". And he said, "One day I decided that's it, I'm not gonna do this anymore. I'm gonna take my life". And he said, "I have driven to my work often and often," he said, "in my mind I'd often thought that there was this curve that you go around and if you went straight there was a huge tree. If you missed that curve and hit that tree, it would be over". So he said, "I decided the way I was gonna take my life was to go clear down the highway, get in my car, and drive 80 miles an hour and not make the curve and hit that tree, and end it all".
And this is what he said, "I got in my car, turned on my radio, and found my rock and roll stations, turned it up, wide open, so that I would have as much noise in the car as possible". He said, "I started to go and put my car in gear and go," and he said, "my radio started acting up". I won't use the term 'cause he isn't quite sanctified yet, but he said, "It made me so mad," he said, "I took my fist and I went, bam, like that, right in the radio". And he said, "When I did that, 'Turning Point' came on". He said, and I said, you know what? I told my wife, "You might think this was a made-up story, but nobody could make up a story like that". He said, "And it made me stop for a minute, and you were talking about heaven, and how you can go to heaven, and that God loves you".
And he said, "I don't know what came over me, Pastor," but he said, "I shut my car off and I prayed. And I received Christ". And he said, "I came here today to hug your neck and to tell you that I'm going to heaven and I'm so excited". And he's serving someplace in a mission. He's helping people down there. You know what I learned? I learned that the gospel can change a person in a moment, but you have to be willing to hear it and accept it. And I hope you don't have to get as far down as he was before you're willing to open your heart and say, "Lord God, you've got a plan for my life and I wanna get in on it". It not only includes heaven someday but it includes today as well.