Now, we've two portions of Scripture to read tonight. The first is Luke's gospel chapter 16, and the second is Revelation chapter 6. We will be revisiting these portions to look at them in a little more detail. I am sold on expository preaching, that is the exegesis of verse by verse, even word by word truth from the Bible - but a series such as this doesn't really lend itself to that, so we'll not be looking at individual passages, but various Scriptures. There is no other way to do it, really, than that. We're looking this evening at the subject: 'How Are The Dead Now?'.
Luke 16 verse 19, the Lord Jesus is speaking and giving this account: "There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and 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. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead".
Now put a marker in that portion of Scripture, and turn with me now to Revelation chapter 6 and beginning to read John's account of visions that he saw, in verse 9 we begin - Revelation 6:9: "And when he had opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of them that were slain for the word of God, and for the testimony which they held: And they cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth? And white robes were given unto every one of them; and it was said unto them, that they should rest yet for a little season, until their fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as they were, should be fulfilled".
Now last week, if you were with us, we sought to answer from the scriptures the question: 'Where Are the Saved Dead Now?'. To remind you if you were here, if not to inform you, we came to the conclusion, I hope successfully upon a biblical foundation, that there is a place where the saved dead go now. We came to the conclusion that there is a heaven, the third heaven, paradise as it's described in various portions of Scripture, also Abraham's bosom, which could be termed an 'intermediate heaven'. It is not the eternal state that we read of given account in Revelation 21 and 22, that is yet to be, but it seems to be a temporary place where the redeemed dead wait between their death and bodily resurrection for the final consummation of all things.
Now we made the point - it's very important that we remind ourselves of this - that as believers, our focus ought always to be the hope of the resurrection from the dead and that eternal state that is the true, eternal heaven recorded in Revelation 21 and 22. That is what we yearn for, that is what our bodies and the whole of creation groans for: the new heaven and the new earth, and that ought to be the focus of our spiritual sight in the future - not so much the place where we go now when we die, but the place that will be our eternal and everlasting destination. That being said, it is therefore reasonable to say that the heaven that is now, that place where we go when we die as saved individuals, is not eternal. You might sit back and say: 'Well, that's strange, to say that the heaven that there is now is not eternal' - but that's the truth. Heaven, as it is now, will change. Only God can be said to be eternal, and only God is self-existent, all else in this whole universe is created. We know that from Genesis 1 verse 1: 'In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth'. Even heaven was created, and so heaven has a past, and heaven has a present, and heaven will have a future. In subsequent weeks we will spend time looking at heaven's future, and we have done already when we considered several weeks ago the question: 'Is Heaven A Physical Place?'. We looked specifically at the new heavens and the new earth, but tonight we're going to look at the present heaven - how heaven is now.
We saw last week that heaven is a place, it is physical now, and it has a location - whilst we are uncertain exactly where the location is, nevertheless it is somewhere. Now we sought to answer in part last week some attempted explanations for where the dead are now, such as soul sleep, purgatory, limbo, hades. We didn't take too much time looking into all of those individually, but we found that there are two texts in particular in Scripture that give us a categorical answer to know that these explanations that cults and false religions give us of where the soul goes now between death and the resurrection, they are false. Those two texts were 2 Corinthians 5 verse 8, where the apostle says: 'We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord'; and then again, Paul once more in Philippians 1 and verse 23, 'For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart, and to be with Christ; which is far better'.
Now this week, indirectly, we will further answer why some of these alternative explanations of where the soul goes in between death and resurrection, why they cannot be. But we established last week that though there are many questions concerning where the saved soul goes now, there are things we can be absolutely sure and certain of - that is: we are with the Lord when we die, and it is better by far. You can dispute and debate what you might call the place where the saved dead go now, I believe it's correct to call it 'heaven' - but these things are certain. We are with the Lord, and it is better by far.
Now, this week we're not so much looking at the place, but the people that inhabit that place - how are the dead now? Can we know more than simply that the dead are with the Lord, and it is better by far for them? Is there anything else that the Bible says concerning their condition of existence? For instance, as we compare what we know as heaven in the present with what heaven will be in the future, are there differences between what people are like now in heaven, in the present heaven, and what people will be like in the eternal heaven? Well, we have to say, obviously there are differences - for in the eternal state we will have resurrection bodies, after the resurrection when Christ comes. We are told that we will eat and we will drink in our resurrection bodies. Now just because that is true of the new heaven and the new earth, it doesn't mean that when people die and go to heaven now they will eat and drink. That is just one example of how there is a difference between the condition of the saved dead now, and that which will be the eternal state of the redeemed in their new resurrection bodies.
Yet there are many other questions that, for many, remain unanswered concerning the condition of dead people now. For instance, do they have bodies? In the third heaven, or even in hell, do people have bodies or are they disembodied spirits floating around, non-physical spiritual entities? Another question that we have hinted at: are they conscious? Or is it the case, like some believe, that when you die you just enter a constant state of ignorant bliss, you don't know anything bad or good that is going on? Now if we come to the conclusion that the dead are conscious, we then need to ask the question: what are they conscious of? For instance, are they conscious of their previous life here on earth? Do they have memory, in other words? If that is the case, is it only the good things that they remember and not the bad? If they remember the bad, would that not have an adverse effect on their experience of what heaven is for them? Or, are they conscious of present circumstances on the earth at this moment? Do the dead in heaven, or hell, know anything of what is going on in our realm of existence?
So, we want to seek, as far as we can, to answer some of these questions, or at least go some of the way: does the Bible have anything to say about how the dead are now? Before I go on any further, you're probably going to disagree with some, at least, of what I'm going to say tonight. I want to emphasise that I am not being dogmatic in what I bring to you this evening. I think many of these things that we'll touch on, you cannot be dogmatic about - but I do believe that there are clues that help us to answer some of these questions. I spoke to you a few weeks ago about how it is like pieces of a jigsaw puzzle that are scattered from Genesis to Revelation concerning the subject of heaven, and what we are doing is seeking to systematically collect them all, put them together and see if we can get a picture of what heaven is like - a glimpse of heaven now.
Now some people, perhaps, will immediately say: 'What's the point of considering these things?'. Well, let me say first of all that the source of our information tonight is holy Scripture, not speculation. Therefore the things that are revealed to us are revealed for our understanding, and it is wrong for us just to say: 'Well, let's ignore those difficult Scriptures', because God has given them to us that we might grapple and compare spiritual with spiritual. Secondly, the point of seeking to answer these questions is to help us imagine what heaven is like now, that we might have a greater anticipation of it and, I believe, through these studies and these weeks of series, that if we can get a glimpse of glory it will be life changing! So that's why it's important: we're looking at holy Scripture, and this subject has the potential of changing our lives!
So let's look tonight at the people: how the dead are now. Let's seek to answer this first question, at least as I have it here: are the dead conscious? Are the dead conscious? Now some people will say right away: 'No! They are not', particularly those who believe in the doctrine of soul sleep. The doctrine of soul sleep is simply the belief that between your death and the resurrection at the second coming of the Lord Jesus Christ, you are unconscious - both body and soul. The Jehovah's Witnesses espouse to this doctrine, as do the Seventh Day Adventists and the Oneness Pentecostal movement. Now there are others, and they don't believe in soul sleep, but even among the ranks of what we would consider Orthodox Christianity, they believe in what is called the doctrine of conditional immortality. That simply is that they believe that God gives immortal life as His gift only to those who believe the gospel - so you only are given immortality when you believe the good news of Jesus Christ, and therefore anybody that doesn't believe it doesn't have it, and when they die physically they cease to exist completely, body and soul.
Now, annihilationism is another doctrine that is quite similar to conditional immortality, except there is one salient difference and it is this: those who espouse annihilationism believe that everybody is immortal, and immortality is taken from the impenitent so that they are destroyed in hell forever and cease to exist. So you see the difference: conditional immortality, immortality is a gift of God in salvation; annihilationism, everybody has it and God takes it away from those who do not believe the gospel. So these are attempts to explain whether or not the dead are conscious for all eternity.
Now, as William Shakespeare asked, we must ask: 'To be or not to be, that is the question'. Are we conscious or not? Well, before we seek to answer that categorically, we need to ask: does the phrase 'fallen asleep' that we find in 1 Thessalonians 4:13 and other places in the Bible, does that prove or even imply that the soul sleeps after death? This is what Paul says: 'I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope'. Now I believe that if you study the word of God you will find out clearly that this phrase 'to fall sleep' is a euphemism describing the body's death. It specifically points to the outward appearance of what happens, it describes what takes place when the body dies - it's as if the body falls asleep until the resurrection at the second advent of the Lord Jesus.
Now it has to be said that sometimes Old Testament passages seem to be confusing in regard to what happens when we die. For instance, listen to Ecclesiastes 9:5 - incidentally, cults often latch onto verses, obscure verses in books like Ecclesiastes - this is what Solomon says: 'For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know nothing', the living know they are going to die, but the dead know nothing. Therefore people who believe in soul sleep will say that 'There it is, the dead are unconscious, they know nothing'. Now what Solomon, in the limited knowledge that he has at this particular time in redemptive history, is describing is the outward appearance - that the body dies and goes into the grave, and as far as humanity is concerned, conscious humanity, the dead don't know anything that the living know. But that does not reflect on any of the New Testament revelation that we have been given more of from Matthew to Revelation that tells us about the immediate relocation of the soul of man with God after death.
There is so much more in the New Testament that tells us that the dead are conscious after death, and would indicate to us that this phrase 'fallen asleep' is specifically related to the condition of the body. Take Matthew 27 for instance, and verse 52: 'The graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose'. What slept? The bodies of the saints! In Acts 13:36, again this falling asleep is linked to the body: 'For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell on sleep, and was laid unto his fathers, and saw corruption', speaking of his body being laid in the grave, and of his body seeing corruption. So there is this link with falling asleep and the body in the Bible - but some who believe in soul sleep say that 'To be conscious of heaven now when you die, well does that not rob you of something of the glorious anticipation of what the eternal heaven will be like?'. In other words, they're saying: 'How can we look forward to the new heaven and the new earth if dead people just go straight to heaven now and have a glorious existence there?'. That might seem feasible at first, but if such reasoning were valid then that would mean it would be true to say that all of the blessings God has given to us now, even here on the earth, including the assurance of our salvation, the assurance of eternal life, and even a bit of heaven in our hearts that God says we have as a deposit of the Holy Spirit, all those blessings that God has given us in heavenly places in Christ Jesus would rob us of the glorious anticipation of the eternal state - but it doesn't, does it? It only helps us to anticipate it even more.
So 'fallen asleep' is linked with the body, and it does not prove one iota that the soul, when the body dies, ceases to exist. In fact, one writer said: 'Nearly everyone who believes in soul sleep believes that souls are disembodied at death. It is not clear how disembodied beings could sleep, because sleeping involves the physical body'. Does that not make sense? Sleeping involves a body. Martyn Lloyd-Jones said: 'It is a term', that is, falling asleep, 'which is used to describe an incomplete condition, an intermediate state. The body at death, as it were, falls on sleep, it is not yet revived and alive and active, so I take it that sleep refers mainly to the condition of the body'.
Now, to further prove that the soul does not sleep, you need to look at the evidence that the soul exists consciously after death. There is much of that, take Luke 16 that we read together tonight. In verses 22 to 31 we read of Lazarus, a pauper, a beggar; and a rich man, we don't know his name - but both of them, Jesus says, are conscious in heaven and in hell. Lazarus in heaven is conscious, the rich man in hell is conscious. In Luke chapter 23:43 the Lord Jesus told a dying thief that: 'Verily I say unto you, today thou shalt be with me in paradise'. Now, being with Christ implies that he would be conscious to know that he was there in the presence of the Lord Jesus. Paul also said, as we've already quoted, that to die was to be with Christ, Philippians 1:23 - to be absent from the body was to be present with the Lord, 2 Corinthians 5 and verse 8.
Let me turn you to another verse, Hebrews 12, quickly let's turn to it just now. This also proves again a little that believers, when they die, enter heaven - but it also shows us the consciousness that that is where they are. Hebrews 12 verses 22 to 24, and I'm reading a slightly different translation to make it clear: 'But you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God', that is our inheritance, 'the heavenly Jerusalem, and to innumerable angels in festal gathering, and to the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to the spirits of the righteous made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant, and to the sprinkled blood that speaks a better word than the blood of Abel'. That is the great congregation in heaven, angels, Jesus, God, the righteous made perfect, the assembly of the firstborn who are enrolled - where? In heaven!
Now, we also read Revelation 6, and in verses 9 to 11 John sees a vision of martyrs, and these martyrs are pictured after death, I believe, in heaven, crying out to God to bring justice on earth. Now every reference in Revelation to human beings: they are talking, they are worshipping, and they are in heaven prior to the resurrection of the dead - that is the first chapters of the book of Revelation, right through before we come to the resurrection. Now what does that demonstrate? It demonstrates that these dead people in heaven are conscious after their death. These passages and others make it clear that there is no such a thing as soul sleep, there is no such a thing as a long period of unconsciousness between this life on earth and life in heaven. It's clear.
Now if people are conscious after death, we have to ask the question: what are they conscious of? Let us consider first of all: do they remember the earth? Dead people in heaven now, do they remember this earth? Well, Revelation 6 and verse 10 that we read says that these martyrs, who were now dead: 'Cried with a loud voice, saying, How long, O Lord, holy and true, dost thou not judge and avenge our blood on them that dwell on the earth?'. Now the martyrs clearly remembered that they had been murdered for the faith of Jesus Christ! So they remembered that much, didn't they? They are calling for vengeance on those who persecuted them. Now, the Bible also indicates, even in Revelation if you turn to chapter 14, that our righteous deeds as Christians on the earth will not be forgotten, but will follow us into heaven after death. Revelation 14 and 13: 'I heard a voice from heaven saying unto me, Write, Blessed are the dead which die in the Lord from henceforth: Yea, saith the Spirit, that they may rest from their labours; and their works do follow them'.
So the martyrs remember a bad thing that happened to them, they were killed for the faith; and those saints of God who have gone into glory, their works follow them, the righteous deeds that they committed on the earth. Now, that means that there is a measure of consciousness concerning remembrance of what happened on the earth before they died. Alternatively, when we look at hell, and those who are there are now, we find from the account of Jesus in Luke 16 that people who are dead and gone to hell also are conscious of the earth and have a memory of it. In Luke 16 we read in verse 25 that the rich man was told by Abraham to remember his lifetime, the good things that he received, and that Lazarus received evil. Then, when we look at verse 27, this rich man prayed to Abraham that he would send him to his father's house. So he remembered the good blessing that he had in life, he could remember his father's house, and then in verse 28 we read that he remembered that he had five brothers who as yet were unrepentant, and therefore as a consequence would be on their way to that awful place of torment. So the same is the case for the righteous dead as the unrighteous dead: they remember some things concerning the earth.
Now here is the intrinsic point that we must grasp: memory, the ability to remember things in the past, is a basic element to our human personality. Now if we are truly ourselves in heaven, there must be, there must be an element of continuity of memory from earth to heaven. That has many implications, and I'll leave you to think about it. We will remember the fact, if we are martyred for Christ, that that happened. We will remember the righteous deeds that we committed, for we will carry them into heaven, they will follow us. People in hell will remember the opportunities that they had, remember their family and friends that are behind them. The implication is that many of the things that we learn, even in this life, as Christians, the maturity that we glean, in a measure will be carried into heaven. If we had time to apply all of those things, this particular message would run on for weeks! Yes, we will be changed in heaven, we will be transformed, but we will remain the same people - though changed and transformed - the same people we are today.
Now if the dead are conscious of the past on earth, at least some things in the past, what of the present circumstances on the earth? What I mean by that is, not do they remember the earth in the past, but do they know what is going on on the earth now? Or, do they see what is happening on the earth? Many believe that everybody is looking down on us here, knowing what's going on because of their observation of it visually. Now let me say right away, I think Scripture is clear that: yes, yes the dead do know something of what is going on here on the earth. To some extent they have a knowledge and awareness - take these martyrs in Revelation 6, they are clearly praying for justice, for judgement on their persecutors. In theory they are acting in solidarity with all those who are still on the earth who are suffering saints. The suggestion is that these saints in heaven are praying for the saints on the earth - which is quite different to the saints on the earth praying to the saints in heaven! In verse 11 of Revelation 6 we see that God answers their question. They're asking: 'When will You avenge our blood?', and God says to them, 'Wait a little season, rest a little season until your fellowservants also and their brethren, that should be killed as you were, should be fulfilled'.
Now what is that telling us? Well, it's telling us first of all that God is indicating that the dead in heaven don't know everything. Some people have this idea that when you die and go to heaven that you'll know everything - far from it! That's even more of a reason for us to learn as much as we can about God and eternal things now, because we will carry it into heaven - and there is much learning that we have still to do even when we get to glory. They asked a question, they don't know everything. Then it also shows us that there is time in heaven, because they ask: 'How long, Lord, until You avenge our blood?'. The Lord Himself indicates that there is time in heaven, for He says: 'Wait, rest a little while longer'. Now, what have they to wait for? They had to wait until the death of their fellow servants, brothers and sisters yet to be martyred, and they have also to wait until the resurrection of the dead, the consummation of all things, and the judgement of the persecutors of Christians.
Incidentally, this verse 11 seems to indicate that these dead martyrs still retain connections with those who are on earth, their fellow servants and brothers. The same is indicated in Luke 16 by the rich man in hell - he still retained the consciousness of the connection that he had with his father's house and with his five brothers. So the dead know something of what is going on on the earth now, not everything, maybe to a very limited extent, but they know something. Now, what about the question: they may know, but can they see? Well, I'm convinced that they certainly cannot see everything, we are not as a goldfish bowl to people in another dimension - whether it's heaven or hell. But do they see some things? Well, let me turn you for a moment to 1 Samuel 28 - now this might be an exception, but it's important that we note it. First Samuel 28, you remember that Saul came to the witch at Endor, the medium, and asked her to summon up Samuel. We believe that God permitted that Samuel appear before Saul for his own judgement and rebuke. Now look at this account, it's interesting, verse 16 of 1 Samuel 28: 'Then said Samuel', after being summonsed, 'Wherefore then dost thou ask of me, seeing the LORD is departed from thee, and is become thine enemy? And the LORD hath done to him, as he spake by me: for the LORD hath rent the kingdom out of thine hand, and given it to thy neighbor, even to David: Because thou obeyedst not the voice of the LORD, nor executedst his fierce wrath upon Amalek, therefore hath the LORD done this thing unto thee this day'.
Now please note these things: from this account we know that Samuel remembered what Saul had done before Samuel died, so he had a memory of what happened before his death - that is Samuel - what Saul had done on the earth. But here's something more: he seems to be aware of what had happened since he himself died. He was aware of Saul's further backsliding from the ways of God. Now, how was he aware? Well, perhaps God imparted that knowledge to him, just as he was a prophet on the earth maybe God gave him that knowledge in heaven - or perhaps he had that knowledge. Now here's another example, in Luke 9 verses 30-31 we read the account of the Transfiguration, and we read there that: 'Behold, there talked', with the Lord Jesus on the mount, 'two men, which were Moses and Elijah: Who appeared in glory, and spake of Christ's decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem'. So here we have in Luke 9 Moses and Elijah, and they seem fully aware of the drama that they had just stepped into. They didn't need to be introduced to Jesus Christ, and they talked to Him about what was currently transpiring on the earth: God's redemptive plan was about to be accomplished, and they are talking to Christ about it. Now you can't tell me that when they returned to heaven, that God pressed the 'delete' button, and they never remembered anything that they had discussed with the Lord Jesus! They seemed to be aware of what God was doing in the plan of salvation.
Now, when we turn to Hebrews 12 we read a well-known verse, verse 1 tells us: 'Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us'. Now, right away, often we assume that that verse is talking about those in Christian and Jewish history who encourage us by their lives to go on with God. Now that is what it means, but let us not ignore the picture that is given to us here: it is of athletics, and this great cloud of witnesses are the people who are the spectators. While the events, the game is taking place down below, they are above - and notice that it says that not merely these witnesses precede us, but these witnesses surround us. They are witnesses of God's unfolding plan of redemption, the drama of salvation. I'm not suggesting that the dead knew what you had for your dinner tonight. I'm not suggesting that they look down and see everything that is happening among our friends and families. No, no, no! What I am saying is that they know something, and perhaps they can even see something of God's unfolding plan of redemption as it transpires. We see them in the book of Revelation singing and praising God after certain events take place on the earth. However they got the knowledge, it indicates that they have knowledge nonetheless.
What about Luke 15 and verse 7? Jesus in the parable of the lost coin, the lost sheep, and the lost son, says first of all, in the first parable: 'I say unto you, that likewise joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth, more than over ninety and nine just persons, which need no repentance'. Then in verse 10 of the same chapter we read that there was rejoicing in the presence of angels over one sinner that repents. Now notice that it doesn't say rejoicing among the angels, 'in the presence of angels [there was] rejoicing in heaven'. So there is some awareness of what God is accomplishing on the earth through the salvation of lost souls! To what extent, we don't know, but there is some knowledge, some consciousness.
Now someone will probably ask: how could it be that people in heaven are aware of bad things on the earth, for there's going to be bad things that transpire in God's plan of redemption? Well, perhaps we have imbibed a false premise, and that is the idea that the knowledge of suffering and evil will make heaven an unhappy experience for us. Let's think about this for a moment: is God ignorant of everything that happens that's bad on the earth? No, He's not - but it doesn't diminish heaven for Him. You say, 'Well, He's God', well, the same is the case for Christ, the same is the case for the angels who came down to look at what was happening in Sodom and Gomorrah. When they went back to glory, it didn't diminish the experience of heaven for them. Abraham and Lazarus in Luke 16 had an awareness of what was going on in hell, but it was still paradise for Abraham and for Lazarus. We have indications to believe that at times even our Lord Jesus Christ in heaven is grieved, even in heaven He is sad - wasn't He sad for His saints on the earth? He wept at Lazarus' tomb. He wept over Jerusalem because they would not repent and come to Him. We know that He feels, as our Great High Priest, what we go through down here on the earth. When Paul was on the road to Damascus, going to persecute Christians, the Christ of God who was in heaven said: 'Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?'.
We get all these ideas that come from songs and hymns, and maybe aren't so biblical. I know Revelation 21:4 says that God will wipe away all tears from their eyes, and there'll be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither any more pain, the former things are passed away - that's the eternal state. Though when we die now, let me say categorically, we're with the Lord and it's far better than anything you'll ever know down here, it doesn't mean that it's just the epitome of the consummation of everything that you've ever hoped for - it's not yet! It's close to it, but it doesn't have to be a condition of ignorance of bad things that go on. I'm not talking about bad things in your family or anything like that. Randy Alcorn put it well when he said: 'Happiness in heaven is not based on ignorance but on perspective'. We'll start to see things from heaven's perspective - that will make all the difference. You see, those in the present heaven, they are not completely fulfilled yet - they are a million times better off than you and I are, but they're still looking forward to something: to the resurrection of the body. Only then, when they enter into the new heaven and the new earth, will they experience the fullness of joy that God has intended for them, purchased by the blood of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Let's sum up here about consciousness, because we have to move on: though we are here on earth, and we are ignorant of what is going on presently in heaven, they are not as ignorant, perhaps as we think, of what is going on here on earth. They, perhaps, see it through heaven's eyes - but whatever they don't know, it is unthinkable to imagine that they are ignorant of the consummation of human history according to God's will. As you read Revelation, you will see that they are far from ignorant, they are praising God and bringing hallelujahs to Him when He accomplishes His sovereign purposes on the earth.
So they are conscious, they remember the earth - whether in heaven or hell - they know a measure of what is happening on the earth, at least in relation to God's plan of redemption, and maybe at times God even lets them see. The last question that we want to look at: are these people conscious? We say yes, but what about the question: do they have bodies? Now, instinctively we say: 'No, they can't have bodies because they are waiting for the resurrection body, and they haven't got that yet, Christ hasn't come'. Yes, that's correct in measure, but I want you to consider for a moment: given the consistent physical descriptions of heaven that we have looked at over these weeks, and now realising that those who dwell there are conscious - is it possible, though debatable, that between our earthly life here in this body and receiving our resurrection body at the second coming of the Lord Jesus, that God may grant the dead some apparent form that will allow us to function as human beings in an unnatural state?
Now before you write me off - maybe you've already done that! - are there any indications of this in Scripture? Well, I think there are. Revelation 6:9-11 that we read speaks of these martyrs - what are they wearing? They're wearing clothes! That's right! Now I know there's a symbolic element of justification in the clothes that they're wearing, and the white of the righteous acts and so on, but that doesn't mean that they aren't real clothes. John saw them as real, and then when we see how John behaves in this heavenly vision, it seems that John understood that he had a body in this vision. He is said in chapter 10 of Revelation, verses 9 and 10, to have grasped something, to have held something, to have eaten something, and to have tasted something. Now this is before the eternal state. In 2 Corinthians 12 and verse 3 we read that Paul said that he was taken up into the third heaven, and whether in the body or out of the body he could not tell. Now he expresses doubt whether he was in or out of the body, I admit that, but that indicates that he felt that it was a possibility that he could have been in his body, does it not? You're not sure!
Well, what about Enoch, Genesis 5:24, Hebrews 11:5 says God took him up to heaven without dying. In 2 Kings 2 we read the same of Elijah - both taken to heaven without dying and without leaving a body behind them. Now, do you know what that means? That means in heaven now there are at least three who have bodies: Enoch, Elijah, and Jesus Christ our Lord. When we look again at the Transfiguration mentioned previously, Luke chapter 9:28-36, we read that who appeared with the Lord Jesus? It was Elijah and Moses. Now I ask you: where did Moses get his body? For he did die, and he left his body - where did it come from? I can't answer that, but certainly it shows, I believe, that beyond question at least at some time God has created the appearance of a body for people who have died and have not yet been resurrected after the coming of Christ. We have got examples of this, how God gave angels the appearance of having human bodies, even though they were not human.
Now many ask the question: does God do this for everyone in heaven now? Well, we cannot tell, but in Luke 16 Jesus ascribes, in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, physical properties to the people who have died before resurrection. Look at it: they are reasoning, they are communicating, they have the appearance of physical forms, they have tongues, thirst, memory, sight, concern, consciousness - they even have fingers to dip into real water! Now maybe you'll say: 'Well, these are entirely figurative terms'. Well, perhaps some of them are, but what is the point that Christ is getting across? It is His intention to show us that these people after death were real human beings with thoughts, identity, memories, and awareness of their past lives, present existence, and even relationships with people on the earth at that moment. Is that not His point? You see, we think too much in otherworldly terms of the existence of the dead.
So, do they have bodies? Well, some would say they are intermediate bodies that are given to the dead - I don't know so much about that, there are many hard questions concerning that suggestion. Others have suggested that our souls take on the characteristics of a body, appear to be like a body. I can't give categorical answers on these things, but I'll tell you this: the scriptures have certain indications that most of us have ignored - but there is one certainty, and let us rejoice in all of this series, as we try to answer some questions, in the certainties that we know and are sure of and convinced of. There is this one sure thing: that there is conscious existence, real identity after death.
Chris Bitterman had a son who went to the mission field, and like the souls under the altar in Revelation 6, his son was martyred as a missionary for Jesus. Do you know what Chris Bitterman used to say to people? He says: 'We have eight children, several are on the earth and one is in heaven'. Is that the way we think of people when they die? Have you got a loved one in heaven just now? Do you know that they are real, they are conscious, they are in existence? D. L. Moody, the great evangelist, before he died said: 'Soon you will read in the newspaper that D. L. Moody has died, do not believe it! For in that moment I shall be more alive than I have ever been!'.
After death, where will you be more alive than you have ever been? This is real, friends: Will you be in a real conscious existence in hell? Or will you be in a real conscious existence with Jesus and the saints in heaven? There are many questions we cannot answer for sure, but this much is sure: because Jesus died and rose again, Jesus has said: 'I am the resurrection and the life; he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live'. You can know for sure, you must know for sure - I challenge you tonight: do you know for sure? If you don't, for your sake, for your eternal sake, make sure.
Preach The Word.
This sermon was delivered at The Iron Hall Assembly in Belfast, Northern Ireland, by Pastor David Legge. It was transcribed from the fourth recording in his 'Glimpses Of Glory' series, entitled "How Are The Dead Now?" - Transcribed by Andrew Watkins, Preach The Word.
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