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Abraham's Bosom

There are many riddles in life. Even some of God's revelation in His revealed Word to us contains riddles. Some of the answers to these riddles will only be clearly known when we see Him face to face. One of the puzzling questions is this: "What happens to a person after he dies?"

I do not hereby attempt to solve this riddle. Never do I have all the answers. But I would like to take another look at this interesting frequently asked question.

According to the Old Testament, when a person dies, he goes to be with his fathers (Gen. 15:15; 47:30; Deut. 31:16; Judges 2:10). The patriarch Abraham is regarded as the father of the Jews (Luke 3:8; John 8:37-40). Therefore, upon their death, the Jews would go to be with their forefathers in the place where Father Abraham is. This abode is known as Abraham’s bosom.

We who believe in Jesus are the children of Abraham (Gal 3:7). We are justified by grace through faith, and are made righteous before God by the blood of the Lamb (Rom 3:21-26). Therefore, we, believers in Christ, will go to Abraham's bosom when we die.

This term "Abraham’s bosom" was used only once in the Bible. It was mentioned in Jesus' parable of the rich man and the beggar (Luke 16:19-31). Lazarus was the poor beggar. He was described as being carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22) while the rich man was tormented in the flames of Hades. A great gulf separated both of them.

The rich man was conscious of his state of suffering as he was tormented in Hades. And Lazarus was conscious of his state of blessedness in Abraham's bosom. They were not just sleeping. They were very conscious of what was happening to them and around them.

The true reason of why Lazarus went to Abraham’s bosom and why the rich man went to hell was not about their financial status. It was about their belief in God. This is clearly understood when we read the ending verses of the parable. Even though they were separated by the great gulf, there was this interesting conversation between the rich man and Father Abraham in Luke 16:27-31:

Then the rich man said, "O Father Abraham, then please send him to my father's home-- for I have five brothers-- to warn them about this place of torment lest they come here when they die."

But Abraham said, "The Scriptures have warned them again and again. Your brothers can read them any time they want to."

The rich man replied, "No, Father Abraham, they won't bother to read them. But if someone is sent to them from the dead, then they will turn from their sins."

But Abraham said, "If they won't listen to Moses and the prophets, they won't listen even though someone rises from the dead."

It is all about believing God - seeking His kingdom and His righteousness. Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Rom 4:3). The righteous believe God, and the unrighteous don’t.

Hell or Hades is the place of punishment for the unrighteous. It is the abode of the unrighteous when they die.

One Greek word for hell is geena. It means the vale of Hinnom - a valley just south of Jerusalem. It was in this valley where parents sacrificed their children as a burnt offering to the pagan god Molech (2 Kings 23:10). Two kings of Judah, Ahaz and Manasseh, were both guilty of this wickedness (2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6). But a godly king, Josiah, destroyed the pagan altars in these high places to make it unfit for pagan worship (2 Kings 23:10).

The prophet Jeremiah foretold that God would judge this abomination of human sacrifice. God would cause such a destruction that the Valley of the Son of Hinnom would become known as the Valley of Slaughter (Jer. 7:31-32; 19:2-6; 32:35).

The Valley of Hinnom was apparently used as the garbage dump for the city of Jerusalem. Into it were thrown all the filth and garbage of the city, including the dead bodies of animals and executed criminals. To consume all these, fires were burned continuously day and night. Maggots were also working hard, ferociously consuming the decaying flesh. When the wind blew from that place towards the city, its stench could be unbearably awful. At night wild dogs howled and gnashed their teeth as they fought over the remaining garbage. Hinnom thus became a graphic symbol of woe and judgement - the place of eternal punishment or hell.

Jesus used the valley of Hinnom to describe hell. In Mark 9:46-48, hell was depicted as a place where their worm did not die and the fire did not quench. Jesus spoke of an outer darkness and a furnace of fire where there would be wailing, weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). Obviously this picture was drawn from the dark valley just outside Jerusalem.

The word hell occurs 13 times in the New Testament. James and Peter each used once in James 3:6 and 2 Peter 2:4. The other eleven were used by Jesus (Matthew 5:22, 5:29, 5:30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15. 23:33; Mark 9:43, 9:45, 9:47; Luke 12:5).

The Book of Revelation describes another place called the lake of fire. The lake of fire is not the same as hell. If hell is the prison where the prisoners await their punishment, then the lake of fire is the place of execution where the actual punishment is being carried out. Between the imprisonment and the punishment is the final judgement.

This lake of fire is the second death (Rev 20:14). This place is burning with brimstone (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8). The devil will be thrown into it and be tormented forever. After the Great White Throne Judgement, those people whose names are not in the Book of Life will also be thrown into the lake of fire. Death and Hades will also be cast into the lake of fire. After which, there will be no more death (Rev. 21:4).

A probable flow of events is illustrated below:

When one dies, it is not the end. For both the righteous and unrighteous, it is only the first death. After death is judgement.

There are basically two kinds of judgement:

  • Judgement in the sports stadium where the judge announces the winner and awards the prizes to those who finish the race. The victors run faithfully and reach the mark of the finishing line. Those who have not run faithfully nor finished the race will suffer loss and win no prize.
  • Judgement in the judicial court where the judge sits on the bench, hears the case, and decides the condemnation or acquittal of the person charged.

The Judgement Seat Of Christ

The righteous will all appear before the Judgement Seat of Christ. This Judgement Seat of Christ is likened to the judgement at the stadium. Each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10). Each one's work will become clear; for the Day will declare it. We are to give an account of our lives before our King.

The primary purpose of this judgement of the righteous is to assess and reward believers for the manner in which we have lived our lives in discharging our duties and responsibilities. We are to account for both our motives as well as our deeds.

Everything will be revealed by His holy fire. The fire will test each one's work, of what sort it is. If anyone's work pass the test of fire, he will receive a reward. If anyone's work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire (1 Cor 3:12-15).

When is the Judgement Seat of Christ? Some say that it is immediately after we die. Some say that it is after the Second Coming of Christ but before or during the Millennial Rule of Christ.

When the Lord comes again, those dead in Christ will be resurrected first. Those who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air (1Thes 4:16-18). All of us will be changed – the corruptible must put on incorruption, and the mortal must put on immortality (1 Cor 15:52-53). This is the first resurrection (Rev 20:5). But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years are completed. Blessed and holy are those who are part of the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.

Before Christ’s rule on earth in Jerusalem, Satan will be cast into the bottomless pit, and be bound for 1000 years (Rev 20:1-7).

The Great White Throne Judgement

After the 1000 years, Satan will be released from his prison in the bottomless pit to deceive the nations. But he will be defeated and cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. Therein they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.

It is after the 1000 years that the Great White Throne Judgement begins (Rev. 20:7-15)! The dead, small and great, are then resurrected. This is the Second Resurrection. It is 1000 years after the First Resurrection of the Righteous Ones. Hell gives up the dead who are in it. Death and Hades deliver up the dead who are in them.

All the dead will be resurrected. They include:

  • Those who died before the time of Christ
  • Those who have not heard of Jesus and His gospel
  • Those who died prematurely
  • Those who are mentally retarded and therefore cannot understand
  • Those who have not heard and therefore did not reject Christ
  • Those who have heard and rejected Christ
  • And many others.

And they are judged, each one according to his works. They stand before God, and books are opened. And another book is opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead are judged according to their works, by the things which are written in the books. Then Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life is cast into the lake of fire.

What is this Book of Life? It is a heavenly book in which the names of the righteous are written. This doctrine of God having the Book of Life was probably first enunciated by Moses, who prayed that God would blot him out of God's book rather than destroying his fellow Israelites (Exodus 32:32-33):

"Yet now, if You will forgive their sin-- but if not, I pray, blot me out of Your book which You have written."

And the LORD said to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against Me, I will blot him out of My book."

One important fact we have to know is that the Judge is Jesus, and not God the Father. For the Father judges no one, but has committed all judgement to the Son (John 5:22). It is Jesus Who judges the living and the dead:

And He commanded us to preach to the people, and to testify that it is He Who was ordained by God to be Judge of the living and the dead. Acts 10:42

I charge you therefore before God and the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom: Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. 2 Tim 4:1-2

They will give an account to Him Who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. 1 Pet 4:5-6

Jesus is going to resurrect all the dead and gather them before His throne. Some living from the Millennium will also be there to be judged. The Book of Life will be opened. According to 1 Peter 4:6, there is a possibility that the gospel will be preached to them. I am not talking about preaching the gospel to the dead. But I am talking about preaching the good news to the living who were dead but are resurrected and become alive.

In John 11:25-26, Jesus declared: "I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live.And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?"

In John 5:21, we are sure of this: "For as the Father raises the dead and gives life to them, even so the Son gives life to whom He will."

A few interesting questions remained unanswered:

1. Why did God postpone the judgement of the unrighteous until:

  • after He has ruled on earth for 1000 years?
  • after He has rebuilt Jerusalem?
  • after He has taught Israel and the nations His laws in Zion (Micah 4:1-4)?
  • after Satan is defeated and cast into the lake of fire?
  • after all evil and deception are gone?

2. Why did God have to resurrect them to life to be judged?

3. Why did God not just send all of them from hell directly to the lake of fire?

4. Why did God have to go through all these troubles of resurrecting them and judging them?

5. Why did He open the Book of Life before these people if all are to be condemned for the Second Death?

6. If God can resurrect the dead in the Valley of Dry Bones in Ezekiel 37 and bring them to life, will He not do the same hereby?

7. Why did Jesus say that He is the Resurrection and the Life?

One thing for sure: Everyone will have a chance to appear before Jesus, their Judge. He will deal justly with them because He loved them and died for them too.

Back to the rich man in Hades in Jesus’ parable. Did he eventually believe? If not, why would he want Father Abraham to send someone to preach to his five brothers? If they do not believe in Someone Who rises from the Dead, will they believe when they themselves died and are resurrected to life?

I don't have the answers. But I saw the amazing grace of God till the very end! His boundless love prevails triumphantly!

The question that confronts us now is this: What are we going to do with what God has revealed to us? If the rich man in hell wants his family to know the Lord, shouldn't we desire to do even more?

His amazing love and grace will compel us to preach the Good News more zealously and passionately. We preach heaven, not hell! They too need the Lord! They too have a race to run for Christ! They too will press toward the mark for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.

Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Written on:
12 February 2004