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  • Writer's pictureJan Weihl

What happens when we die (Luke 16)

According to Jesus, what happens when someone dies? I think this is a question we probably all want answered. The common response we often hear is, "They are in a better place." But is that really true, according to Scripture? What did Jesus teach us?

I think what we believe in regard to this question, "what happens to us when we die?" determines how we live.

For instance, if we believe there is no afterlife, then we probably also believe anything goes in this life. Whatever floats your boat, whatever makes you happy is fine as long as you aren't hurting anyone.

But if we believe Jesus is who He says He is, there's more to it than that. Jesus' life, death, and resurrection gives us hope of an afterlife with Him. But it also means we are accountable for how we live this life and who we live it for.

In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a story of a rich man and a beggar. Jesus tells this story because the Pharisees believed wealth was proof of God's blessings. They believed a rich person was righteous and worthy of the kingdom of God. But riches don't determine who we are living our life for or our eternal destination.

So in this story, Jesus says the poor beggar dies and goes to Abraham's bosom, which is another word for paradise. Meanwhile the rich man also dies and goes to Hades, which is another word for Hell.

The beggar goes to paradise because he was trusting in God. The rich man goes to Hades because he was trusting in his riches and God was no part of his life. He never repented of his sins. We know this because at the end of the story, the rich man wants someone to go to his brothers and tell them the truth so that they will repent of their sins before they die:

Luke 16:30 And he said, "No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent."

The rich man and his brothers in the story symbolize the Pharisees who Jesus says would not even repent if someone was raised from the dead.

But the part of the story that answers our question, "what happens to us when we die?" is answered by where the beggar goes and where the rich man goes.

The beggar who is trusting in God goes to Abraham's bosom (paradise). The rich man who is trusting in himself goes to Hades. Hades is a place of torment where those who are not trusting in God go to await the Great White Throne judgment (Revelation 20). Incidentally, everyone who goes through the Great White Throne judgment is thrown into the Lake of Fire.

Those who go to Abraham's bosom/paradise (before Jesus' death and resurrection) and heaven (after Jesus' death and resurrection) will not go through the Great White Throne judgment.

Those who are trusting in Jesus will go through the Judgment Seat of Christ which is a judgment of rewards, not condemnation. Jesus took the condemnation we deserve upon Himself at the cross. If Jesus' sacrifice paid the price for all of our sins, there is only rewards left in heaven for those who have trusted in Him:

2 Corinthians 5:9-10 "Therefore we also have as our ambition, whether at home or absent, to be pleasing to Him. [10] For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body"

But then the question is, "After someone dies, do they get a second chance to repent of their sins?" Jesus gives us the answer to that question in v24, 26.

Luke 16:24,26 [24] And he cried out and said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame. .. [26] between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.

So, in this passage we see that Jesus says no one who is in Hades can cross over to heaven and vice versa. In other words, we must make our decision to repent of our sins and trust in Jesus now, in this life, before we die.

Knowing this truth is important so that we are motivated to see the importance of this life, how we live it, and the need to share the good news that we all can be assured we are going to heaven if we repent of our sins and trust in Jesus now rather than waiting until after we die like the rich man in Jesus' story.

Knowing this truth and knowing I have family members who died without repenting of their sins and trusting in Jesus, is what lights a fire in me daily. This is my motivation to take every opportunity in person and online to share the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

No one has to live this life wondering if they have done enough good to earn their way to heaven. All you have to do is repent of your sins and trust that Jesus' sacrifice in your place wiped all of your sins away. When we truly realize that and repent, we will want to live for Him, to bring Him glory. It doesn't mean we're going to be perfect. No one is, on this side of heaven. But it does mean when you repent and trust in Jesus as your Lord God, the Holy Spirit will come inside you and change you. He will change your desires and give you a thirst to know Jesus intimately, to walk with Him daily, and to live for Him each day that He gives you breath.

Who do you know who is close to you and far from God who needs to hear that Jesus loves them, died for them, and wants them to spend eternity with Him? Will you tell them the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ?

Dear Lord, The truth about eternity is bittersweet. It's heartbreaking to know I have loved ones who chose not to repent of their sins before they died. It's heartbreaking to know there are people close to me and far from You who will not spend eternity with You if they don't choose to repent of their sins and trust in You. But it is also tremendously reassuring to know You don't want anyone to perish but all to come to repentance. Lord, thank you for loving us all so much that You are patiently waiting for more to choose your free gift of salvation over eternity without You. In Jesus' name, amen.

Jan Weihl

Living Word Ministries

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