On the other side
Recently I have gone to five funerals of believers in Yeshua/Jesus. Three had lived to ‘full age’; two were young parents, with their infant son. For us whose sins are forgiven through faith in Jesus Christ and His death on the cross for our sins, and in His resurrection from the grave, we pass from death to life, awaiting the last trumpet blast for the resurrection of the dead in Christ. (1Cor 15:50-57) Then shall be the victory shout and song of the righteous! For those without that personal relationship with God the Father through saving faith in His Son, they also await a separate resurrection of the unrighteous. Both groups are waiting for the resurrection on the appropriate last day.
Often times at funerals, emotions control our thoughts and actions, and this is normal in many cases of losing a loved one. But we as believers also need to have our emotions grounded in the truth of God’s Word regarding the reality of the one(s) who have gone to the other side, whether they are believers or not. The Scriptures tell us not to speak with the dead, yet at most funerals that I have witnessed here in Israel, that is what the mourners do. (Dt 18:9-14; Is 8:19-20) They even speak as if the dead loved one would now be watching over them and remaining with them for strength and comfort. This is nothing less than pagan spiritism, which the God of Israel commands His people not to learn. How much more so born-again Christians who should know that Jesus is the One who is always with us and watching over us, and the Holy Spirit is living within us. (Jn 14:23-27; Heb 4:14-16) The person who has died is not responsible for any one, nor are they to be called upon or prayed to. This is idolatry, and breeds all kinds of confusion in our relationship with and worship of God, and for unbelievers, some of whom practice the same in accordance with their own faith or religious practice, and see that we are like them. Where is our faith in the living God?
For those who die in in Christ, they already know that they are in a good place: they are with Him in spirit, but still await the resurrection on the last day. (Dan 12:1-3; Phlp 1:21-23; Lk 23:42-43; 2Cor 5:1-11; 1Thes 5:9-11; Jn 5:24-29; 6:40-54; Rev 20:6) No one is yet walking along the golden streets in the heavenly New Jerusalem; no one is yet playing around with other loved ones who have gone before (and what about all those unloved ones who will be there, or those loved ones who will not?). These are fairy tales, but which carry great imaginative power. For those who die apart from saving faith in Yeshua/Jesus, they are already separated from Him in the spirit after death, as they wait for their time of resurrection. They already know, as the rich man, that they are in a dreadful place.
Jews judge those Christians who believe that dead people go through an indefinite period of purging after death, in order to be fully worthy of life in the Kingdom of God. Nowhere in Scripture do we find this! But, within some streams of Judaism itself, they also believe that a relatively “good person” also goes through a purging process after death . . . for a maximum period of 12 months. Where do they get this from?! This is replacement theology! We are making things up, replacing the Word of God, in order to make for ourselves a place in the world to come, or in the Kingdom of God. We die once, and then the judgment. (Heb 9:27-28) There is no purgatory; nor is there reincarnation. God forgives sinners who repent and believe Him, and gives the gift of eternal life! (Rom 6:20-23) We want to justify ourselves, and expect others to accept it, and for God also to change His terms of entry! “Today” is the day of salvation. (2Cor 6:1-2; Heb 3) And for those who insist on the only way which YHVH God has given, we are considered “dinosaurs”, or closed-minded extremists. (The dinosaur label was applied in a recent article in the Jerusalem Post by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach in response to Dr. Michael Brown. Nor, according to Rabbi Boteach, does Judaism believe in a hell.)
During my father’s funeral preparations some 12 years ago, my older sister told me not to say anything which would ‘offend’ our father if he were there. I understood what she meant; it was similar to what I had told my father-in-law at our wedding more than 39 years ago when I asked him to pray for us…but without any ‘endorsements’; in other words, in both cases, don’t mention the name of Jesus.
There are only two persons in history recorded as not having seen death: Enoch and Elijah. There is only one person recorded to have resurrected from the dead and not dying again: Jesus Christ (and, mysteriously, apparently those many saints who rose from the dead after Jesus had – Mt 27:50-54). We don’t know when or how, but most of us are probably going to die before the first resurrection and the rapture at the coming again of the Lord Jesus. The questions are: will be ready to meet our Creator, our Maker? Can we say with Job that my Redeemer lives and my flesh will see Him? Do we know who our Judge is and on what basis we will be judged, and what our standing is with Him?
The Holy Spirit quickened to me the truth taught by the Lord Jesus Himself that we have in Luke as to what takes place after our spirits leave our bodies and we die. I was able to share with my sister how both our mother and father now know who Jesus is, and whether they are with Him or not, they would want the rest of us to know the truth which they now know with every other person who has died till now. Our hope is in Him, the righteous Judge of all the Earth, and not in whether our loved ones have believed in Him or in whether God would even consider denying Himself and the work of the cross to please our carnal desires, however genuine they may be when it comes to our own interests.
In hell there will be an eternity of weeping and gnashing of teeth. Hell is a place where God is not, the final consequence of dying in sin: separation from God forever. It is written that after death there is no more sinning, but there are consequences for those who have not died with Christ/Messiah. (Rom 6:5-11; Jn 1:29) To exist forever in a world where, even if everything is in perfect order – but where God is not there – is a world without life. To live in such a world, prepared by God for the devil and his angels, always knowing that you have condemned yourself to an everlasting existence without love, peace, joy – but with every thing in perfect order – and knowing that those with Jesus are living life eternally with God in the full light of His glory as He intended in the perfection of love and holiness…..this will produce the burning in one’s soul and the weeping and gnashing of teeth of those in the outer darkness. (Mt 24:45-51; 25:41-46; Mk 9:42-48)
I am not my father’s and mother’s Judge and therefore do not need to say for sure what took place between each of them and God before they left this life. God loved them; He gave Jesus to die for them, desiring that they would believe in Him and receive the gift of eternal life through the forgiveness of their sins. What I can say is that they are very happy if they are with the Lord, and very sad and tormented if they are not, but that in either case, they — like the rich man — would want all their loved ones to know the truth about Jesus and to repent and believe the good news of God about His death and resurrection. It is an offense to my father not to have told his family and friends about Jesus, not to mention an offense to the Lord Himself.
Brothers and sisters, we are going to have many more funerals among us as a spiritual family. We will be sad, but not as those without hope. There is not to be any communication between the living and the dead.
We have the living God, even Yeshua, who died and rose again, and is now seated in glory at the right hand of the Father. He is our great High Priest and is interceding for us.
All those who are asleep in Christ will rise at the last trump and be clothed with a new body suited for eternity. Let us encourage one another with this blessed hope!
This article originally appeared on Streams in the Negev, August 19, 2019, revised from a post from April 2007, and reposted with permission.
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Howard Bass is the congregation pastor/leader of Nachalat Yeshua (Yeshua's Inheritance) in Beer Sheva, Israel.