Tony Evans — What Happens When We Die?
We have come today to a very challenging subject in our tour of prophecy. It is an inescapable subject, because it's a subject that we will all have to deal with, if Christ be not come, and that is the prophetic subject of death. No matter how you look at it, that's not an easy topic to talk about, because it is an uncomfortable subject to discuss. Yet, to not talk about it would be to ignore a key feature in the progress of prophecy and in our own destiny. So, as best as I can today, I want to explain death and tie it to God's prophetic program.
So I wanna share three things about death today from Luke 16, three things. By the time I'm finished, my hope is that you will not only understand it, but be able to deal with it, as we will have to if Christ be not come. The first thing that we wanna share with you today is the inevitability of death. We're told in verse 22: "The poor man died". And then we're told, "And the rich man also died". Death knows how to locate you, regardless of your station in life. It says, "He dwelt in purple". That purple was the couture garments of the day. It was royalty. He lived in splendor. He was part of the "Lifestyles of the Rich and Famous," but he died. We're told Lazarus, who's a beggar, he's a candidate for welfare, but he also died. So, whether you're rich, or poor, or in between, whether you're black, or white, or in between, whether you are upper, or lower, or in between, it is inevitable.
Or, as Hebrews 9:27 says: "It is appointed unto man once to die". In case you didn't know this, you die by appointment. Your death date has already been written on the calendar. You may be late for a lot of things in your life, you'll be on time for this one. I know you work out, jog, run, eat nutritionally, perhaps get medical checkups, all to delay the inevitable. But whatever that date is, you're gonna meet it. So, if you're goin' out of your way to stay healthy, but God has a date written on your calendar, you'll just get hit by a car. You won't miss it. "It is appointed unto man once to die". You die by appointment. And while all of those are factored in by God, he still determines the date, because it is inevitable. Now, I want to drive home, it is inevitable because the culture wants you to forget about that. They try to advertise us out of it. They try to distract us from it, when it is oh, so inevitable, and oh, so unpredictable.
The second thing I wanna share with you is, what is death? We know it's inevitable, but what exactly is it? Why, in fact, does it even exist? I am not come today to tell you what everybody else thinks. Speculation is one thing. Revelation is something else. God has not been silent about death, about what it is, and what happens when you partake of it. So, let me help us understand the word. In the Bible, "death" means "separation," not "cessation," not "the stopping of something". It means "the separating of something". So get that synonym in your head. "Death is separation".
God told Adam and Eve, "On the day you eat of this fruit, you shall surely die," but on the day they ate of the fruit, they did not die. They were still walking and talking and living and raising kids and all of that. Yet, God said, "In the day you eat, you shall surely die". That's because God was talking about the first kind of death, spiritual death, which means separation from fellowship with God. They were removed from the garden, and that happened that day. Even though they were physically alive, they were spiritually separated, and God called that, "Death".
So, one type of separation or death is spiritual death, separation from fellowship with God. But also, because of their sin, entered a second definition of "death," physical death. Physical death is where the soul is separated from the body. Physical death is where the soul is separated from the body. Your soul is you. You are your soul. You are not your body. That's why you can cut off body parts and still be alive, because you are not your body, nor are you its parts. Your body is merely a house, a tank, a holding place for the resident who lives there, and the resident who lives in the body is you, your soul, your mind, your emotions, your will, and your consciousness. All of that makes up your soul. That's why when the Bible speaks about your life throughout the Scripture, it'll talk about the word "soul". "The soul that sinneth shall surely die". It's talkin' about the life, the person.
Now, I know that they want the focus in our world to be on your body, how good you look, and where you live, what you drive, all the stuff that is external, but none of that's you. That's why a person can look good until you start gettin' to know 'em. 'Cause they may have a beautiful body, but afflicted soul. Your soul is you. At the moment that life ends, your soul leaves the body, it separates. At your funeral, the only person who won't be there is you because the soul leaves. The shell remains to deteriorate and disintegrate until the new body is given. So there is a separation. So there is the spiritual separation due to sin that has separated us from the fellowship of God, resulting in a physical separation from the immaterial part of us, our soul, when the soul leaves the body.
Then there is a third kind of death, eternal death, which is eternal separation from God. I'll mention that in a moment. My point is, I want you to understand that death does not mean the end of life. It means a separation has occurred. That's all it means. So it is technically incorrect to say about a person who's died, "Their life is over". Their life has just begun. So, death is inevitable and unescapable. "Death" means "separation," not "annihilation" or "cessation of existence". But that leads to the third thing about death. Death exits you into two different destinies. Let me say that again. It lets you escape time and enter into one or two eternal destinies. You choose, but you only have two choices. That's it, there is no third choice. And so, I now must tell you about these two destinies since everybody will enter one or the other, your choice.
We're told that the rich man and the poor man died in verse 22. The poor man was buried. We're told that the rich man was buried. We're told that the poor man was taken away by angels into Abraham's bosom. Why? Because Hebrews 1:14 says: "Every believer has an angel assigned to them". And one of the jobs of your angels, when you die, is to escort your soul into paradise, the place of rest and divine provision. So you have a personal escort as a believer into the very presence of God.
The rich man dies, and he opens up his eyes in Hades. Let's look at him a little deeper. "And he saw Abraham afar off and Lazarus in his bosom". Well, wait a minute. The rich man dies, and he can see. He can see. Not only can he see, he can recognize because he sees Abraham and he sees Lazarus, and he knows who they are. Verse 24 says: "He cried out". So he can speak. He cries out for mercy in verse 24. He says: "'Send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in these flames". He can feel.
Notice something else about our rich friend. He's retained his sinful nature 'cause he's still bossin' folk around. "You tell Lazarus what to do 'cause he's the beggar and I'm the rich man". One of the things I'll go into when we talk about hell is you retain your sin nature. So whatever is wrong with you now will remain wrong with you throughout eternity. He says, "You send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in some water. I am tormented in these flames". Abraham said to him, verse 25: "'Child, remember, during your life, you received good things and Lazarus bad things.'" Hmm, no Alzheimer's in hell. He says, "Remember". You get to remember. Those who do not know the Lord Jesus Christ and you live your life without coming to grips with his salvation will forever remember this day that you were here and you heard the good news and you ignored it one more time. You will remember. And all the other times when you were satisfied with religion and avoided redemption.
This man was religious because he says, "Father Abraham". He calls him, "Father Abraham". He says, "There's a gulf between us and you, a great chasm," 26. He says, "You can't come to us, and we can't come to you". How terrible can it be to see heaven and not be able to go there? To recognize folk who are there and know you'll never touch 'em, never talk to 'em, never hug 'em, and to know that this gap is so big, it can't be crossed in either direction. So, men and women pass into eternity in a conscious state, and you are the same person in eternity that you are now because it's your soul that's gone there, and you have been created with a form that fits that soul. That's why he can see and touch and taste, and Lazarus has got a finger. There is a frame.
He's in Hades. Not go too deep right now, Hades would be akin to the county jail, where a prisoner is waiting federal prison. It is the interim location until permanency has been declared, which is why, at the end of the book of Revelations, it says, "Hades is cast into the lake of fire". It's county jail waiting for federal prison. This issue is the most important issue of your life because it has to do with your forever, and you can only make that decision in this life. You cannot make it in the next. The chasm is fixed, it's fixed. This is not an issue about your neighbor, your mother.
I know the song, "I got a mother over there where Jesus is". But the question is, does she have a child comin' over there where Jesus is? It is immediate. The split second that life ends is the split second you enter into eternity. If you are a believer today, the only hell that you will ever experience will be the hell you get in this life. If you're not a believer today, the only heaven you're ever gonna experience is the heaven you get in this life. But as long as you've got breath in your lungs and a soul still occupying your body, you have a choice about your eternal destiny. God will allow you to choose. You can choose him, or not, but the choice is yours, and you get to make it. But you don't know when time will run out.
Donald Grey Barnhouse, the great preacher from yesteryear, was driving home from his first wife's funeral. He's in the car, and he's driving home, and one of his two children in the back said, "Dad, explain death. We don't understand". Barnhouse was trying to think, "What can I say to my children"? And as he was thinking about what to say, a big truck passed him, casting a shadow over his car. He said to his kids, "Kids, do you see that truck"? They said, "Yes, dad". He said, "Those who die in Christ are hit by the shadow. Those who die outside of Christ are hit by the truck".
The shadow of death is a lot different. There is a shadow when life is lost, loved ones are gone. There is a dark moment, but it's a shadow. It's not the truck. If you are here today and you know Christ, death is an inconvenient irritant. If you're here today and you don't know Christ, death is a disaster waiting to happen, and you don't know when. That's why the Bible says, "Today is the day of salvation. When you hear the good news, harden not your heart". Don't say, "No, another time, I'll wait". If you're here today and you know Christ, all you will be is like the girl who was asked, "Why do you always cut through the graveyard"? Her answer was, "'Cause that's the quickest way home". But if you're here today and you don't know Christ, then you're playing Russian roulette with eternity.
A father was driving his son and when he was driving his son, swooping into the open window was a bee. The bee is flying around the car. The boy is panicking, "Daddy, daddy, daddy, the bee, the bee, the bee, the bee, it's gonna get me. The bee, it's gonna get me". In the midst of his cry, his father reached out with his hand and grabbed the bee, held it in his hands. After a few seconds, he opened his hands. The bee flew out. He said, "Daddy, the bee, the bee. Daddy, the bee, the bee, the bee". That's when his father said, "Boy, that bee can't hurt you". He opened up his hand and showed him the stinger. "That bee has already stung me. And because it stung me, and it only has one stinger, all it's doin' now is makin' a lot of noise".
On the cross of Jesus Christ, Jesus reached out and caught the stinger. That's why Paul says in 1 Corinthians chapter 15, verses 55 to 57: "O death, where is your sting? O grave, where is your victory"? He says, "The sting of death has been overcome by the death and Resurrection of Jesus Christ". So, for the believer, all death can do now is go: "buzzing" All it can do now is make a lot of noise because Jesus holds the stinger in his hands, in his feet, in his side, when, "He was wounded for your transgressions, bruised for your iniquity. The chastisement of your peace was upon him, and by his stripes you are healed". If you know Christ, all you get is noise. If you don't know Christ, you die.