Greg Laurie - The Biblical Worldview on the Afterlife
The title of my message is the Biblical World View on the Afterlife. You know, I had a vision yesterday where I was taken to heaven and greeted at the pearly gates by Simon Peter, of course. And so, he took me to a large room. And in this large room, biggest room I've ever been in, there were thousands and thousands and thousands of what looked like clocks on the wall. I'm like, "What are these clocks"? I said, "Peter, what are all these clocks"? And he said, "Come here, let me show you something". So we stepped a little closer, and I realized they only had one hand, one hand. And I said, "What are these"? He said, "Greg, those are sinometers". This is a true story, by the way. Those are sinometers, and I said, "What's a sinometer, Peter"? He said, "Every time that person sins on earth, the hand on that clock goes around one time on that meter". Just like that. So I'm going, "Whoa, I'm going to find out how spiritual people really are now".
So I started looking some of you up, I'm gonna be honest. And for some, I was pretty impressed. And some, well, I was a little disappointed. I looked up Pastor Brad, who's sitting here in the front. And you know, there was movement, Brad. There was movement on your sinometer more than I expected, to be honest. Kind of like, okay wow, then it stopped for a second and again. Then I looked up Pastor John Collins and his was a little less than Brad, but still movement. I went and looked up my wife, Cathy, and there were cobwebs on it, it just sat there, it hadn't moved. So I'm just watching all these sinometers, some are going faster, some are going slower, but everyone's moving. Every time that person sins, one time around the dial. So I said, "Wow, I've looked up everyone, I haven't looked up myself". And so, I said, "Peter, where's my sinometer"? He said, "Oh yours? We use that for a fan in the kitchen". That was depressing.
Okay so, silly story to kind of make a point. There's a lot of strange and aberrant and incorrect views of the afterlife, so many. And sometimes, even believers will adopt some of these views, so what we need is a biblical view. A biblical world view of the afterlife. There are people today that say they've had these near-death experiences, and they always see a great light, right? And feel this great peace. And they write books about it, they make movies about them. And you know, we have these views and some people will say, "Well, that must be what it's like". I read an interesting article the other day, it said that many Americans are skeptical about God, but more believe in heaven. So belief in the existence of God is down a bit, but belief in heaven is up a bit? How does that work? God is the one that gave us heaven. And the first time we read of heaven is actually in the bible, so this is a strange thing to me.
Heaven is not going to exist because more people believe it exists. That would be like saying, "More people today believe that the state of Arizona exists than the state of California". It doesn't matter what you think, they both exist, and heaven exists, and of course, so does hell. And this is something we need to think about because as we get older, the afterlife is getting closer. We start losing friends, and even family, and we know one day, our day will come. In fact, as you get quite a bit older, you might realize one day, you have more friends in heaven than you have on earth. By the way, if that's the case, you need to get some new friends, okay? And next time, get some younger ones. But you know, this a reality we're facing, and life is just passing by so quickly. It seemed, when I was a kid, like the third grade lasted 10 years. And now, decades go by.
I have Sirius XM Radio, and they have these channels you can go to, 60s on six, 50s on five, 70s on seven, 80s on eight. And so, sometimes, I'll be on 60s on six, I don't like it, I flip over to the 70s, I go to the 80s. And then, it dawned on me I've lived through all of these decades, from the 50s, the 60s, the 70s, the 80s. They even have 90s on nine. And I thought, "Man, you know you're getting old when 90s songs are called Oldies," right? But life marches on, eternity gets closer, and we wonder what happens when we die.
Alright, I'm gonna give you a very quick answer. Here is the biblical world view on the afterlife in a nutshell: when you die, if you are a Christian, you will go straight to heaven. That's true, worth clapping for. You probably won't clap for this next statement: when you die, if you are not a Christian, you will go to hell. Whoa wait, hold on, I'm just telling you what the bible says. Do you want a biblical world view? Now, I don't say that with any delight, I say it with sadness. And I say it because the bible is very clear on this topic. In fact, Jesus himself said, "Broad is the way that leads to destruction, and many there are that go that way, and narrow is the way that leads to life, and few there are that fine it". Sorry to make you the destruction-people, but it just fits somehow, I don't know why. Nah, I'm joking. But, this is the truth.
Here's the bottom line: according to Jesus and the rest of the scripture, more people are going to hell than those that are going to heaven. That's not what God wants, but God has given to us a free will. So if we really believe what the bible teaches about the outcome, let me backtrack first a second. How many of you believe what I just said is true? Raise your hand, if you believe what I said is true, okay. What you're really saying is, "I believe the bible," 'cause I didn't come up with this. I think you know that. So we believe what the bible says about the afterlife, right? If that is the case, why are we not doing more to warn people about the reality of hell? I don't know the answer. I would just hope that knowing hell is real would motivate non-believers to come to Christ, but I also hope it motivate believers to share their faith with even more urgency. I don't want us to look at this topic today intellectually, I want us to look at it with our heart, as well. This is not mere data, this is life and death stuff.
General William Booth is the founder of the Salvation Army. And at it's inception, the Salvation Army was a very evangelistic organization. And it was a big deal to General Booth to get out and encourage people to share their faith. Coming back to my point, so if we believe thees things, why are we not doing more to get them out to other people? And General Booth, recognizing that, is saying that the reason he would put people over in hell is so they would recognize that this is the future of some people that don't know the Lord, and that is the last thing we should ever want. The apostle Paul was so concerned about this that he said that if given the choice, he would go to hell if he could be assured that others, specifically in his case, his fellow Jews, would go to heaven. Well, the good news is we don't have to do that, because the price has already been paid for everyone to go to heaven through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We just need to share that message.
Alright, so let's now look at what the bible says about the afterlife. What happens to a Christian when they die? Very simple answer. When a Christian dies, they go to heaven. If you have a loved one that believed in Jesus and they've died, they're in heaven right now. The bible's very clear about this, in fact, it tells us over in 2 Corinthians 5:8, "We are confident, and I would say we're away from the body and at home with the Lord, so we make it our goal to please Him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it". So, we're absent from the body, we're present with the Lord. This doesn't take months or years, it's instantaneous. The moment you take your last breath on earth, you would take your first breath in heaven. Paul even said in Philippians 1:23, "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better". In other words, Paul said, "I would like to be in heaven right now". And notice he didn't say, "I have desire to depart and just live in sort of a soul sleep for decades now", or "I have a desire to depart with Christ and hang out in purgatory for a while and atone for my sins". No, he says, "I have a desire to depart and be with Christ, which is far better," and interesting, the phrase he uses and in the Greek, it could be translated, "far, far better". Or the Hawaiian version is Mo' Bettah Brah, you know? That's what heaven is.
Now there's questions that'll pop in our minds about the afterlife, like, "Okay, will we still have our bodies in heaven"? Well let me ask you, do you want the body you're in heaven? Maybe you would like a radically improved version? Actually, the answer to that question is yes and no. You are given new bodies, but they're not completely disconnected from the body you're in now, it's just a radically, upgraded version of you. We're told over in 1 Corinthians 15, "Our earthly bodies will die and decay, but there'll be different when they're resurrected, then they'll never die. Our bodies now disappoint us," amen to that, "but when they're raised, they'll be full of glory. They're weak now, but when they're raised, they'll be full of power". So what does this mean? It means if you were disabled on earth, you will not be disabled in heaven. It means if you were facing the ravages of age on earth, you will not face those in heaven. If you had cancer on earth, you won't have cancer in heaven. If you were bald on earth, you won't be bald in heaven, I don't think. The bible doesn't address that. Wouldn't it be a mindblower if we got to heaven and realized that the glorified state is everyone's bald? What if we found out that hair was a part of the curse? That's probably not true, but I thought I'd throw it out there, anyway. So this is the great thing.
And so, we talk about the differences, but there's similarities. You see, heaven is the earthly life of the believer, glorified and perfected. When we pass to the other side, our minds, our memories are clearer than they've ever been before. That's great to know because we forget things. We forget names all the time. I'll meet someone, "Greg, how are you"? I'm like, "Ah, nice to meet you," and I'm talking about my wife in the morning, it's like, "Who are you"? No, not really, but the point is we have lapses in memory and our memory isn't as sharp as it once was perhaps, but all of that's gonna change and we're gonna know things that we don't know now. And we're going to see things with a perspective we don't see now. The question is often asked, "Will we recognize one another in heaven"? The simple answer is, "Do you think you'll be more stupid in heaven than you are on earth"?
Maybe I should ask the question, "Do you recognize one another on earth"? Well, generally. Well, you will in heaven, but even more so, because all of the clouding and damaging effects of sin are removed, and the bible says, "We'll know as we are known". I don't think that means that God takes everything that He knows and puts it into our brain the moment we enter eternity. Otherwise, we'd all be like little bubble heads, walking around with these massive heads and tiny little bodies. But what the scripture seems to be saying is over time, in eternity, the Lord will unveil to us more and more great trues and our knowledge will expand as we spend time in His presence worshiping Him, and we will be reunited with those who have gone before us who trusted in Jesus.
How many of you have loved ones that believed in Jesus that have died? Raise your hand, you have people? You know, that's pretty much everyone, isn't it? Of course. And if you didn't raise your hand, you're probably very young still, and it will happen. Here's the good news: you'll see them again. Heaven's going to be a family reunion, without the weirdness, without the weirdness. 'Cause family reunions are not always fun, are they? Cause how many you have weird families? Raise your hand. I would pretty think all of us do. Who here has a completely normal family, no weirdness? Really, wow. You may be the weirdest of all, I don't know. We gotta talk about weird later, but we all have strange members of our family. And in reality, we ourselves are one of the strange members of our family. But all that sin will be gone, all the selfishness will be gone, it'll be a great family reunion. It's gonna be amazing. Think of the purest joy you have every experienced on earth. Multiply it a thousand times, and you have a fleeting glimpse of the euphoria of heaven.
The bible says, "In His presence, there's fullness of joy, and on His right hand, pleasures forever more". Okay that's what happens to a believer, now, what happens to a non-believer? Let's look at Revelation 20. Pretty bleak. Verse 11, "I saw a great white throne and him that sat on it from whose face, the earth and the heaven fled away and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God. And books were opened, and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life, and the dead were judged according to their works by the things that were written in the books," notice plural, the books. "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, death and Hades, or hell, delivered up the dead that 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. Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire". We'll stop there.
It's a ominous scene. This is the most serious, sobering and tragic passage perhaps in the entire bible. "Abandon hope, all you who enter here," are the famous words above the gates of hell in Dante's poem Inferno. John the apostle, the author of this, sees a great white throne. The thrown is white because of its awesome power. It's a place of judgment, it's a place of purity. The verdicts that will preceded from it now are righteous verdicts. There'll be no more debates at the great white throne over guilt or innocence. There will be a prosecutor, but no defender, an accuser, but no advocate, an indictment, but no defense mounted by the accused. The convicting evidence will be presented, there'll be no rebuttal or cross-examination. There will be no jury, but a judge, and His holy judgment is binding for all eternity.
So, what happens to the non-believer when they die now? They go to Hades, I use this word intentionally. It is an interchangeable word with hell, but let me explain 'cause sometimes, there's confusion. There's a different between the Lake of Fire and Hades. The Lake of fire that we just read about is the final destination of non-believers and the devil and his angels. The Lake of Fire is the destination non-believers are sent to after the great white throne judgment. The great white throne judgment has not happened yet. It is still in the future. So what happens when a non-believe dies? They go to Hades. Well, what is that? Hades is spoken of, among other places, over in Luke 16, and that is an amazing story that Jesus told about two men that died on the same day. One was rich, one was poor. One was powerful, one was weak. One was a believer, the other was a non-believer. The believer was named Lazarus, not the same Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead in John 11, a different one. But he died, and he was carried by the angels into the presence of God. But then, we read that the non-believer, the wealthy man, and by the way, his sin was not in his wealth, his sin was in his rejection of God, but he dies, and he goes to a place of torment.
So at this time historically, Hades effectively had, for lack of a better way to put it, two sections. A sort of a comfort section and a torment section, or smoking and non-smoking, if you will. So when the believer died before the death and resurrection of Christ, the Old Testament believer, they went into the comfort of Abraham, Abraham the patriarch. And so, the believer in our story, Lazarus, is there in what is described in King James as Abraham's bosom, he's in a place of comfort. Meanwhile, the non-believer dies, and he's separated from this place of comfort, in the place of torment. And so, when we read death and Hades deliver up the dead that were in them to the great white throne in judgment, it's sort of like you're arrested and you're in a jail, now you're being transferred from a jail to the judge, who's gonna give you your final sentence which will send you to prison.
So, the non-believer now is waiting. Now, what happens to the believer? Coming back, that comfort section is no longer there for us to go to because when Christ died and rose, he went down to Hades, he preached to those who were waiting in faith, those who had died waiting for the coming Messiah, and they're in heaven, and that's where we go now. So, this is no longer a destination for a believer, but the judgment, or I should say the torment section of Hades is the destination for the non-believer. Now, here's some hardcore trues about hell. Number one: people in hell suffer, they suffer. Luke 16:23, "Being in torment in Hades, he lifted up his eyes afar off to Abraham". The fact that he speaks of torment shows that this is real in the afterlife. In fact, the word Torment is used four times in the text of the story that Jesus told in Luke 16. Number two: once you're in hell, you cannot cross over to heaven. The impossibility of crossing from one side to another suggests that your eternal destiny is settled here and now and not in some future world. Number three: you're conscious in hell, and fully aware of where you are.
Listen, hell is just as eternal as heaven is. And even as you are fully conscious in heaven, you're also fully conscious in hell. Verse 24 of Luke 16, "He cried and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me," this is the non-believer, "'and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame'," so he's aware of where he is. He's aware of why he is there. Then he says, "You know what? I have five brothers," verse 28, "send someone to testify to them so they don't end up in this place of torment". This sort of refutes the idea that Hell's a party place. You know, as the great theologians, the Beastie Boys, once sang, "You've got to fight for your right to party," right? There's no partying in hell. There's no rock concerts in Hell. There's no fun in Hell. There's separation from God, there's outer darkness, there's torment.
So, coming back to the great white throne in judgment now, this happens before people are sent to the Lake of Fire, who's going to be at the great white throne judgment? Simple answer, everyone who has rejected God's offer of forgiveness through Jesus Christ. And there'll be sinners there in general, but there's different kinds of sinners. First of all, there are what we would call Out-and-Out Sinners, or I'll refer to them as Garden Variety Sinners. I used to be one of those, by the way, and many of you did, too. You might be a different kind of sinner, or were, and I'll get to that in a moment. But, these are the folks that just say, "I don't want God, I don't want church, I don't want the bible". Or they'll say things like, "I don't need organized religion. I'll live the way that I want to live, I'll do what I want to do". They may even go out of their way to mock Christians, to defy what the bible says. So, those sinners will be there for sure.
Number two: listen to this, Self-Righteous People. Self-Righteous People, that's another kind of sinner by the way. It's different from the Garden Variety Sinner that knows they're a sinner. Maybe they even celebrate the fact that they're a sinner. Maybe they have a big tattoo on their chest that says, "I am a sinner". But then, there's the Self-Righteous sinner says, Oh no, they're more cultured, and they're not like that other person and they try to do good deeds and they try to be considerate of others, and that's a good thing. But they need Jesus as much as the Garden Variety Sinner. Listen to this, you don't get to heaven by living a good life, and you don't end up in hell by living a bad life because there's gonna be bad people in heaven and there's gonna be good people in hell. Does that make sense?
Let me explain, there's going to be bad people in heaven. By bad, I mean a Garden Variety Sinner that owns it, admits their sin and asks God to forgive them. They'll be in heaven. Then there'll be "good", I put that in quotes, "good" people in hell. People that were moral to some degree, people that said they don't need Jesus Christ, that live by their own rules and they think that those good deeds they did will save them, and they deceive themself. Heaven is not for good people, heaven is for forgiven people. Everyone who turns from their sin can go to heaven. This is why God sent his son, Jesus, to die for us on the cross. Certainly, there'll be procrastinators. These are the people that maybe weren't antagonistic, like the Garden Variety Sinners, but they just said, "Oh, talk to you later. Another day," but they never got around to making that decision.
And lastly, there'll be unsaved church members. Let me put it in another way, non-believing church attenders. Hey, I'm glad you're in church today, but attending this church will not make you a Christian. In fact, what will happen is attending this church will make you accountable for what you've heard. And if you hear it and say, "I heard my sermon today, and I did my duty for God today," and you blow it off and disregard it and ignore it, that's almost worse than the Garden Variety Sinner. 'Cause at least the Garden Variety Sinner knows they're a sinner, admits they're a sinner, but you might say, "Well, I was in church today. I was at harvest today". Well that's good, but you need to do what the bible tells you to do, and church attendance won't get you to heaven. Having your name on a membership roll won't get you to heaven, so everyone who doesn't believe stands there. And this is the key thing, they did not believe.
Jesus said in John 3:18, "He that believes in me is not condemned, but he who does not believe in me is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten son". It's not just that I'm a sinner, it's that I've rejected God's solution. God is saying, "I love you, I don't want you to go to hell. I put my own wrath on my son, who I love, for you, so you could be forgiven". You say, "Yeah, really, whatever. I don't care, I don't want Jesus, I don't need Jesus, I don't care about Jesus". Forget it. That rejection of him is what brings that judgment. It's not going to be a sin-question in the final day, it's going to be a son-question, S-O-N. What did you do with Jesus? And I know some of you are thinking, "Yeah Greg, you know this may be the biblical world view, but I have a hard time with it. How could a God of love send someone to hell"? Let me respond by quoting J.I. Packer, who says, "Scripture sees hell as self-chosen. Hell appears as God's gesture of respect for human choice, all receive what they actually choose, either to be with God forever, worshiping Him, or without God forever, worshiping themselves," end quote.
So really, it's your choice. C.S. Lewis summed it up this way. Quote, "There are only two kinds of people in the end, those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' and those to whom God says in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All who are in hell choose it, and without that self-choice, there could be no hell". Finally, Timothy Keller puts it this way, quote, "People only get in the afterlife what they most wanted, either to have God as savior and master, or to be their own saviors and masters. Hell is simply one's freely chosen path going on forever". So, if a person ends up in hell, number one: it breaks the heart of God. Number two: they rejected God's solution. Number three: they chartered their own course. We don't want people to go to hell. So you're alright? I agree, what do I do? What do you do? You warn people.
I was listening to my friend, James Merritt, this morning. I listen to him every morning, every Sunday morning when I'm getting ready for church and I'm making my breakfast. And by the way, I'm a horrible cook. I only know how to make two things, and neither one of them is good. One of them is scrambled eggs, and I chop up the little sausages and throw some cheddar cheese in it, and it's just awful. But anyway, there I am eating my lousy breakfast, but what makes it better is James Merritt on my television set. He's such a good preacher. And today, he was talking about a true story of a doctor who was arrested and sent to prison for 30 years. His crime? He took the medicine that was used to treat cancer patients and diluted it to make more money. And they said that at least 15 of his patients died who would have lived longer if they had the proper dosage. So because he diluted the medicine, people died and he did it for money.
That's a horrible thing to do, horrible crime. But you know what's worse? Diluting the message of the gospel, because this has eternal ramifications. How do you dilute it? Well, you only talk about heaven and you never mention hell, and we need to tell people the whole truth. And here's what the bible says, "We need to go and snatch people from the flames," Jude 1. Snatch them from the flames of judgment. So you say this, "Okay, I'm gonna do everything I can to warn everyone I know, so they don't have to end up in this horrible place". I'm not saying you should go call up everyone and say, "You're going to hell"! Because the bible says that's it's the goodness of God that brings us to repentance. So, tell them about what Christ has done for you, tell them about the hope of heaven, tell them about the forgiveness of sin.
This is a telephone, I guess, I don't know why I still have it here. And tell them, lastly, that if they don't believe, what the repercussions are. Don't leave that part out. See, we want to edit it 'cause it's awkward, awkward. You know, they say, "Well, you know, I don't really want Jesus, and I don't want to go to the crusade with you, and I don't really care. So what's going to happen to me when I die"? Uh, do you like warm climates? Hey, don't dilute it. Don't be like that doctor and dilute the message. Say, "Here's the truth, I hate to say this, but it's true, and this is the last thing I want to see happen to you," and you pray for them. And I'm thinking God is going to use us if we just get a better understanding of the afterlife.
We have the hope of heaven, but we don't want anybody to go to hell, so you say, "This is not gonna happen to my child, this is not gonna happen to my husband, or my wife, or my mom, or my dad, or my grandparents, or my neighbor, or my coworker. This is not gonna happen if I have anything to say about it. I know it's ultimately up to God to save people, but I'm going to make sure I do my due diligence, and engage them with the gospel and pray that they'll believe in Jesus," and I believe as you do that, you'll be glad that you did. We have a great opportunity just days away, let's engage. But let me just close by saying this, if you've joined us here today, and most of you have, at least physically. Some have fallen asleep, and those are the pastors in the front row. No, I'm joking.
There might be somebody here, yeah, I'm talking about heaven and how awesome it is, but you're sitting there thinking, "Uh, I don't know that I'm going to heaven," have you believed in Jesus? Have you asked him to forgive you of your sin, no? Then do that, and then you can leave here today knowing you'll go to heaven. Wherever you are, whatever campus you're at. Some of you are watching on a screen, you can go to heaven, you can change your eternal address, but you must say, "Lord, forgive me of my sin". and if you haven't done that yet, let me give you an opportunity to do it as we pray together. Let's all bow our heads.
Father, I pray for everyone here, everyone watching, wherever they are. If they don't know Jesus, help them to see their need for you, Lord. Help them to come to you now, and be forgiven of all of their sin, I would pray.
Now while our heads are bowed, and our eyes are closed and we're praying, how many of you would say, "Greg, I want to go to heaven when I die, I do not want to go to hell. I'm ready to ask Jesus Christ to forgive me of my sin". If that's your desire, I want you to raise your hand up, wherever you are. If you want Christ to forgive you, you want to go to heaven when you die, lift your hand up, I'll pray of you. God bless you, God bless you. Lift it up higher where I can see it. God bless, God bless.
There are hands going up everywhere. Some folks are older, some are younger, some are men, some are women. Do you need to do this? This could be your last chance to get right with God. There, in the balcony, God bless you. You guys watching on the screen, Dos Lagos, Eastvale, Woodcrest, Maui, wherever you are, you raise your hand as well. Orange County, raise your hand up, I can't see you there, but the Lord sees you saying, "I want to believe in Jesus, and be forgiven of my sin". Raise your hand up and I'll pray for you. God bless all of you. Now, every one of you that have raised your hand, I want you to pray this prayer right where you sit, after me. In fact, you can even pray it out loud if you like. Prayer this prayer:
Lord Jesus, I know I'm a sinner, but I know you're the savior who died on the cross for my sin, and rose again from the dead. I choose to follow you now, Jesus, from this moment forward. Thank you for calling and accepting me, and forgiving me in Jesus' name, I pray, amen.