God's End Game - Part 47

Series: God's End Game

February 02, 2020
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

God’s End Game - Part 47 

Last Sunday’s message in the God’s End Game series was a two steps back and three steps forward kind of thing. We reviewed what’s going to happen in the final play of God’s End Game plan:

Jesus is going to literally, physically return to our world from heaven in the same way he left.

When he does, he’ll bring with him those believers who have already died. Those who are alive and remain at that time will meet them in the air.

On that day all believers get their new resurrection bodies.

These resurrection bodies are physical, made of flesh and bone, because Jesus, the firstfruits of the resurrection, came back in a physical body.

In a twist most don’t pick up on in the Bible…

Believers aren’t the only ones given resurrected bodies. Both the just and the unjust are resurrected to eternal life but they don’t spend eternity in the same place.

With the return of Christ and the resurrections comes the hard part, the scary part, the part we wish wasn’t a part of God’s end game but is absolutely necessary, the judgment.

Unbelievers, the unjust, are judged according to their sins and then sentenced to eternal torment.

And even though believers, the just, can’t be judged for their sins, in another twist many Christians aren’t aware of, a judgment still awaits them. 

The judgment for believers is not about whether they get to be with God forever or not — that was settled when they put their faith and trust in Jesus. It’s about their rewards and responsibilities in “heaven” which the apostle John describes as the “new heaven and new earth.”

Revelation 21:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”

As I said last week, all of God’s End Game leads up to this final chapter. Note that verse 1 does not say, John saw “heaven.” It says he saw “a new heaven and new earth.” 

We all pretty much use the word “heaven” for the final resting place of believers, the place where we’ll all spend eternity. But in John’s vision it’s called the “new heaven and new earth.”

There’s a distinction to be made here we miss. Technically, heaven is the dwelling place of God. It’s a dimension, a realm we cannot see. The new heaven and earth is a real place of stone and dirt where God will merge the heavenly dimension with the newly redeemed physical realm, literally dwelling among us. That’s the final, eternal reality of all believers. That’s the heaven we really mean when we talk about “heaven” if we understand it to be the place where we’ll spend eternity. Aren’t you glad it’s not all clouds and harps?

If you study this closely, if you put the pieces of the puzzle together, you realize no one is really in “heaven" or hell yet. How can I say that? 

Taking everything we’ve learned so far about God’s End Game, remember the questions I asked last week.

Has Jesus returned yet? Has the resurrection of believers and unbelievers happened yet? Have the judgments happened yet? Has anyone been thrown into the lake of fire yet? Have the first heaven and the first earth passed away? Have the new heavens and the new earth come to pass? Has the New Jerusalem come down from heaven? Has God set up his dwelling place with man? Have all the tears been wiped away yet? Have all the former things passed away yet? 

Then how can anyone be in hell (the lake of fire) or “heaven” (as described in Revelation 21)? They technically can’t be.  So where are they?

I feel certain the Bible gives us enough information to figure that out, at least to some degree. And to help us do that, we’ll begin with a story Jesus told about the afterlife in Luke 16…

Luke 16:19–31 (ESV) — 19 “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. 20 And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, 21 who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.

One commentator tells us much about this poor beggar…

So we meet Lazarus. He is very poor and probably crippled, since he lies down at the gate. If he is not crippled, he is very sick. He is looking for food. Even crumbs will do. His hope of sustenance is alms, the offerings of those who have something. His skin is a snack to lick for the wild dogs that roam the streets. These dogs were considered unclean, because it was likely that they had previously licked animal corpses. The image is purposefully gruesome: they lick his sores and render him unclean… Lazarus wears his poverty’s pain on his ulcerated skin—a graphic contrast to the rich man’s soft clothes. If the panhandlers of our cities’ streets look bad, Lazarus would serve as a worthy ancestor. Later rabbis would have seen Lazarus’s life as no life at all, since they had a saying that three situations resulted in no life: depending on food from another, being ruled by one’s wife and having a body covered with sores… According to this saying, Lazarus is doubly deprived.[1]

22 The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. 24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’ ”

On one level, it’s very clear what this story is about, what Jesus is trying to teach us. It warns us about the eternal implications of how this life effects the next life.

DA Carson says it tells us “There is a sphere of rejoicing to pursue and a place of torment to flee.”[2] He comments in a message on this text… 

There are lots of entailments, all right, for being a Christian now (the Bible addresses many of these things), but at the end of the day, the Bible still insists Christianity is, as it were, not just for this world. There is a place of blessing to pursue and a place of torment to flee. This life is not the end of everything.

If you are… are a philosophical materialist.… That is, if you are someone who thinks all there is in this life is matter and energy and space and time (that’s it), and when you die, you die like a dog, that there’s no further self-consciousness, there’s no further awareness, there’s no further existence, and you’re done, then I have to tell you Christianity does not offer you any hope until you abandon that view. It just doesn’t.

I could give you many reasons for why the Bible keeps insisting there is life after death, but that is the presupposition you just have to come to grips with if you’re going to come to grips with anything Jesus says. That is, there is a place of blessing to enjoy beyond life as we know it and a place of torment to flee. Biblical Christianity is focused not only on this life but on teaching us how we may flee that place of torment and how we may gain that place of bliss. That’s Christianity 101.[3]

For sure at its core, its heart, that’s what Jesus’ story is about and we would do well to listen.

But is there more to be gleaned from this? Yes, if we consider, as I mentioned last week, that some who study the Bible closely are intrigued by the fact that of all the parables Jesus told, this is the only one where a character is named.

So could it be a true story? Jesus, would, after all, have knowledge of such things. It’s possible, but for every fellow who sees it is a true story, there are two or more who say no. But even if it’s not a true story, since Jesus is telling it…

Could it still inform us about the afterlife? About what happens when we die?

I think the answer to that is a definite yes. And honest Bible scholars would have to say yes to that to, even if begrudgingly. I don’t believe Jesus would describe the afterlife inaccurately. Jesus would, after all, know how the afterlife works.

This story confirms that when people die the unjust immediately go to a place of torment and the just go to a place of blessedness which sounds like what we know to be true. But it would be really weird and offsetting if this describes how things work in the new heavens and earth and the lake of fire described at the end of Revelation, if that’s what it’s pointing to. It just doesn’t fit. Especially when you keep in mind those things haven’t happened yet. 

Being able to look down and see the suffering in torment? How could there be no tears, no suffering, no pain, in the new heaven and earth if we can observe that happening for all eternity?

And look at verse 26…

26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’

It’s as if it’s implying someone might want to pass from the place of eternal bliss to the place of torment. What’s up with that? 

Makes you kind of wonder if Jesus is describing the afterlife in terms of a temporary existence that stays in effect until the final play of God’s End Game is revealed.

I’d like for you to see that the Bible does seem to support that idea. And we’ll do that… next time. 

Conclusion: For now though, we have to go back to what Jesus was trying to tell us, to warn us about: “There is a sphere of rejoicing to pursue and a place of torment to flee.”

If you were to die right now, where would you go? It all depends on what you’ve done with Jesus, whether or not you have called on the name of the Lord.

In that sermon on this story by Carson he quoted a very old poem…

I dreamed that the great judgment morning

Had dawned, and the trumpet had blown;

I dreamed that the nations had gathered

To judgment before the white throne;

From the throne came a bright, shining angel,

And he stood on the land and the sea,

And he swore with his hand raised to Heaven,

That time was no longer to be.

And, oh, what a weeping and wailing,

As the lost were told of their fate;

They cried for the rocks and the mountains,

They prayed, but their prayer was too late. 

The rich man was there, but his money

Had melted and vanished away;

A pauper he stood in the judgment,

His debts were too heavy to pay;

The great man was there, but his greatness,

When death came, was left far behind!

The angel that opened the records,

Not a trace of his greatness could find.

The moral man came to the judgment,

But self-righteous rags would not do;

The men who had crucified Jesus

Had passed off as moral men, too;

The soul that had put off salvation,

“Not tonight; I’ll get saved by and by,

No time now to think of religion!”

At last they had found time to die.

And, oh, what a weeping and wailing,

As the lost were told of their fate;

They cried for the rocks and the mountains,

They prayed, but their prayer was too late.[4]

Sounds sensational but it’s true.

[1] Bock, D. L. (1994). Luke (Lk 16:19). Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press.

[2] Carson, D. A. (2016). Lazarus and the Rich Man. In D. A. Carson Sermon Library (Lk 16:19–31). Bellingham, WA: Faithlife.

[3] Ibid.

[4] Ibid., poem by Shadduck.

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