What will happen to me after I die? That’s a question that confronts everyone, regardless of their background or religious affiliation. Thankfully, the Bible is not silent on this eternally important question. In this sermon based on Revelation 21, David Platt explains the Bible’s teaching on what happens to us after we die. For the unbeliever, the sobering prospect of God’s righteous judgment awaits. But for the believer, there is an eternal hope that fuels our perseverance in the faith. Those who are in Christ will dwell with God forever.
If you’ve got your Bibles, and I hope you do, open to the book of Revelation. Revelation 21. As you are turning there, I’ve told you a few times that I’ve been living in New Orleans the last five or six years and have been relocated temporarily. The church where I serve on staff down there in New Orleans, you can be praying for them. They are having their first worship service today, since Hurricane Katrina, in a tent that was donated to us on the parking lot right outside of our church.
During the last few years in the time I’ve been there, God has really done some amazing things in that church, particularly in a homeless ministry that we have in the French Quarter of New Orleans. And during our time with that type of ministry, especially when we were beginning, we really were trying to get a feel for what these homeless guys believed or what these tarot card readers and French Quarter workers, fortune tellers, really believed. So, what we did is we asked them some questions, kind of surveyed what their beliefs were. And I want to share with you some of their answers to the question when we asked them what happens after death. One person said, “Well, you spend an eternity in the place of your choice.” So, you get the choice when you get there you know wherever you’d like to go. Another person said, “It depends on how you live your life.” One guy said, “I don’t know. I haven’t gotten there yet.” You’ve got to appreciate the honesty there, I guess. Another guy said, “Reincarnation, I would like to think.” One person said, “Judgment.” Another person said, “I’m going to meet Jimmy Hendricks.” I’m not sure what kind of theology that is. One guy said, “You get bigger.” Another person said, “I’ll know when I get there.” And one guy said, “You are up for grabs.” You had better have some faith then. Then we asked them another question. We said, “Well, how certain are you that you are going to spend eternity in heaven when you die?” The first guy said, “I don’t believe in heaven. But if there is a heaven, I’m 100% sure I would go there.” Another person said, “I’m certain because I believe in God. I’m certain because I don’t do enough bad things to go to hell.” One guy said, “I’m very certain. Compared to Saddam Hussein, I’m okay. I live my life helping others, I help, love, shared and cared.” One person said, “I lived a good religious life.”
What Happens After Death: The Believer
What happens after death? How certain are you that you will spend eternity in heaven when you die? That’s the question we are looking at today as we continue this Think Like Jesus series. What we are going to do is dive into a passage in the book of Revelation that I think helps provide us an answer to that question. But before we do, I want to give you a little context of the passage that we are about to read, and I want to do that by showing you some pictures. These are some pictures of our Sudanese brothers and sisters in southern Sudan who have over the last 20 years endured persecution like many of us can never even fathom. Muslims from the north have come down in helicopter gunships or on horseback and raided their villages, killed men, sold women and children into slavery. About a million of our brothers and sisters over the last 20 years there have died in what has been a persecution of genocidal proportions. I want to show you these pictures and give you a picture of the suffering that these men and woman have experienced because I think it will help us understand the context of this passage. When we come to the book of Revelation, often times we think, well, this is kind of a weird book. It’s a book that we really don’t understand very well. It’s got a lot of interesting things in it and causes us to ask a lot of questions and have some good discussions and debates. I want to remind you that this book, as much as we would like to believe it, really wasn’t meant to inspire a Left Behind series. That wasn’t the purpose of the writer here. The purpose of the writer was to encourage a real group of Christians who were like these Sudanese in the first century who were experiencing some pretty intense persecution. You see, emperor worship had become of rule of law. And if you didn’t bow down and worship the emperor, you lost your right to live. And these believers were being threatened on a daily basis. They were being killed. Many of them were facing some pretty deep pressure to completely abandon their faith. And it’s in that kind of setting that the book of Revelation comes. I want you to imagine if you are in a place where you are facing the risk of death in the next week because of your faith. If helicopter gunships might be coming through, if people might be coming through and raiding your village on horses, when you come to church you know your deepest concern is a lot deeper than what you are going to do for lunch today. Your deepest concern is what’s going to happen to you if you die. This is more than just a Bible study topic. This is more than just a question worth pondering. It means everything. So, what I want you to do before we even read this passage of Scripture is I want you to picture yourself in the middle of some pretty intense suffering, whether it’s the first century or like our brothers and sisters in the Sudan have experienced. I want you to imagine that you are in a situation where you are in a village maybe with no medical care whatsoever, and so you are facing all kinds of diseases. One of the pictures you saw in those pictures is a little boy that I had the opportunity to pray with in a hospital who had sleeping sickness, a version of sleeping sickness that they cannot heal. Basically this little kid will just fall over asleep at any moment. One day he was sitting by a fire, and he fell over asleep into the fire and his whole body was burned. They have hardly any medical care. You are sitting in a situation like that. You are sitting in a situation where your mom and dad were sold into slavery. I want you to hear the words of Revelation 21:1.
Imagine hearing someone say:
Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and he will live with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’
He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new!’ Then he said, ‘Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.’
He said to me: ‘It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars —their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death’ (Rev. 21:1-8).
So, is there hope in life after death? I want us to think about what John is saying to these guys.
Suffering is Temporary
I think the first thing he’s telling them is that their suffering is temporary. Your suffering in this life is temporary. In that kind of setting, John comes on the scene and he says, “I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” In fact, four times in this passage. You can circle each of them. In verse 1, new heaven, new earth. In verse 2, “the Holy City, the New Jerusalem,” and then down in verse 5, God is seated on the throne and says, “I am making everything new!” This is a place that’s different. Things are not going to be the same. Now, what’s different about this place? I think four main things. If you are taking notes, number one, I think John is saying this is a place where there’s not going to be any sin. No sin. He said, “I saw the holy city.” Everything in it is holy. Evil is completely vanquished. Sin is taken care of, out of the picture. Imagine a place where there is no lie uttered for a hundred million years, no evil words spoken, no one talking about you behind your back anymore, no unclean pictures, no shady business deals going on, no corruption whatsoever. Evil is completely vanquished. There is no sin. Number two, I think John is saying there is no sorrow in this place, no grief, no agony. Look at the picture. It says, “Prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband.” Get the picture? I’ll never forget December 18th, 1999. My wife, Heather, and I had decided we were going to have our pictures made before our wedding. So, they arranged it so we would have just a few minutes alone together in a room, so I could see her for the first time and all these other people wouldn’t be around with all these cameras. So, I walk in and I see this woman dressed completely in white. And I think, “This is my wife!” There’s no room for tears there. That’s a beautiful scene. That’s what we are seeing here, no sorrow. God Himself, the God of the universe, is personally wiping away the tears of His people. What an amazing scene! No sin, no sorrow, no sickness. The passage says there’s no pain, no aches, no broken bones. No AIDS epidemic, no more bouts with cancer, no more chemotherapy treatments in this place, no struggles with seeing the one that you love wilt physically. There’s none of that, because there’s no sickness. No sin, no sorrow, no sickness, and finally no separation. There’s not going to be a time when you will be separated from those you love. Those who mean the most to you will not be taken away, whether it’s through divorce, whether it’s through other tragedy. There’s no unexpected tragedy in this place. We are not separated from those we love. Now, imagine in intense suffering hearing the words that there’s going to be a day when there’s no more sin, no more sorrow, no more sickness and no more separation. I know that in a room this size a lot of you do not have a hard time imagining it because you right now find yourself – I know that there are some people who in your homes and in your workplaces you are surrounded by the disastrous effects of sin and you feel them every day. I know that there is sorrow represented all over the place, that there’s a lot of people who come into this worship service this morning feeling like you’ve got the weight of the world on your shoulders. I know that there’s sickness represented throughout this room. I was talking with one guy earlier who was telling me about his wife who is struggling, who is on bed rest, and the doctors just can’t figure out what it is. There’s no separation. I know there are some of you who have experienced some pretty deep separation over the last few months, the last year, whether it’s been from a wife or a husband or a mom or a dad, maybe through some unexpected tragedy. And in the middle of this – don’t miss it – three times it is repeated right there in the middle of no sin, no sickness, no separation, no sorrow, God is with Him people. And that’s the difference. It’s the presence of God. Three times it says, “God will be with them.” We will be with Him. The presence of God is at the center of this thing, and that’s what makes all of this possible.
I love the wedding imagery in Revelation 21. Turn with me back two chapters to Revelation 19:6. John said just a few minutes before this in this book,
Then I heard what sounded like a great multitude, like the roar of rushing waters and like loud peals of thunder, shouting: ‘Hallelujah! For our Lord God Almighty reigns. Let us rejoice and be glad and give him glory! For the wedding of the Lamb has come, and his bride has made herself ready. Fine linen, bright and clean, was given her to wear.’ (Fine linen stands for the righteous acts of the saints.) Then the angel said to me, ‘“Write: ‘Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding supper of the Lamb!’”’ And he added, ‘These are the true words of God’ (Rev. 19:6-9).
What an amazing picture! Now, weddings are pretty extravagant events, surrounded by beauty; everything perfect. A bride and her mom, the mother-in-law, making sure everything is perfect for the wedding, everything is lined up. I was reading on the Internet about one particular wedding. Maybe some of you saw a while ago one of those dating TV show episodes with Tristan and Ryan. Maybe you’re familiar with that. I didn’t watch it. I promise I didn’t watch it, but I came across some statistics about their wedding. The bachelor couple were united together, Tristan and Ryan, at Rancho Mirage. I want you to hear about their wedding.
There were only 300 guests invited, not that many people, but there were 30,000 roses and over a million dollars invested in this thing. A million dollars, 300 guests. Food was flown in from 14 different countries, America, Peru, France, Venezuela, Mexico, Thailand, Italy, Spain, Japan, Morocco, India, England, the West Indies and Tahiti. So, they’ve got some pretty nice food there.
Listen to what kind of food. 200 pounds of shrimp, lobster and crab. Do the math with me for a second. 300 guests, 200 pounds of shrimp, lobster and crab. That’s almost a pound for each of us. That’s a good bit of food. But listen to this: Not only 200 pounds of shrimp, lobster and crab, but 2,000 pounds of tomatoes. Do you need 2,000 pounds of tomatoes at a wedding? If you do the math there, that’s seven pounds of tomatoes apiece. So, to go along with your pound of shrimp, lobster and crab, you’ve got seven pounds of tomatoes.
There were 1,500 pounds of chocolate. So, put five pounds of chocolate on there. There were 4,300 cups of coffee. Which you would certainly need that if you have seven pounds of tomatoes. You’ve got to wash that down somehow. So you’ve got 14 cups of coffee apiece.
There were 2,800 dinner rolls. That’s nine rolls apiece. We’ve got our bread fill. There were 1,100 cloth napkins. Now, that’s the only thing that makes sense in this picture. If you’ve got that many tomatoes and chocolate, you are going to need four or five napkins apiece. That’s the picture of the wedding, an extravagant scene. And that’s many times how we think about heaven. We think about all the great things that will be there. But I want to remind you when we see this wedding imagery in Scripture what the main point is. Don’t forget the most important part of the wedding. The fact that this man and this woman are coming together and they are with each other, uniting their lives to each other. That’s what’s most important in a wedding. I’ll be honest with you. It really didn’t matter to me whether my wedding cost $10 or $10 million. As long as Heather was there, nothing else really mattered.
What would you think of me if I showed up for my wedding and I turned to you and I said, “You know, I really don’t care if Heather shows up, but I sure hope the cake is good. I’ve been thinking about the punch all day long. Man, I hope it’s good.” We laugh, but that’s exactly how, many times, as Christians we think about heaven. We ask questions, “What am I going to look like? Am I going to be bowlegged still? Am I going to look this way or that way? What kind of house am I going to live in? What kind of place is it going to be? Is it going to be boring? Are there going to be animals? Is there going to be music? Is there going to be sports? Is college football in heaven? Will there be golf in heaven?”
And I’m not saying that it’s wrong to ask these questions, and I think the Bible even answers some of them. But I am saying this: the beauty of heaven is not found primarily in a place but in a person. And heaven’s greatest joy, heaven’s supreme delight is the fact that we are going to dwell with our God and there will be no sin and no sorrow and no sickness and no separation forever and ever because we are with Him. When we think about heaven, let’s not long for the things. Let’s long for the person who we will unite our lives with. Let’s not talk about heaven and its gifts. Let’s talk about heaven in terms of the giver. So, after all this, God comes on the scene. I love verse 5. When God comes on, He was seated on the throne and He says, “I am making everything new!” You’ve got to realize this is the first time God has spoken since Revelation 1:8 in this book. God has been silent the whole time. Things have been happening. Things have really been happening. But God for the first time since the beginning of chapter 1 rises up. He who was seated on the throne, and He says, “I am making everything new!” That’s an amazing picture of God saying to His people it’s all going to be new. Don’t worry. Don’t worry amidst your suffering. It’s temporary. I’m going to make it all new. I remember when I was a freshman in high school, I loved to play basketball and I had been invited to come to the high school basketball camp. It was a weeklong deal, and I got invited and went. I soon found out that it was the tradition for the seniors at basketball camp to initiate the freshmen, so to speak. So, one day me and my buddy were sitting quietly in our dorm room, and the door busts open and a big senior comes in. He grabs my friend off the bed, who is now screaming and yelling, and takes him out of the room. I’m not sure exactly what happened. All I know is they went into the restroom and my friend came back out with some really wet hair that was kind of swirled around. It wasn’t a pretty picture. So, I start thinking, “Oh, no.” So, the guy comes over to me and picks me up off of the bed and he turns to take me out. Well, at that exact moment another senior rounds the corner into our room and he sees this guy holding me and about to take me out. And this guy who rounds the corner said, “Stop! Don’t take him.”
Now, I didn’t know who this guy was that had just rounded the corner, but I loved this man. He said, “Stop! Don’t take him.” The guy that was holding me said, “Why not? Why can’t we take him?” The guy who had just rounded the corner said, “We can’t take him. That’s Platt’s brother.” I had a little secret weapon. And I’m not a very big guy. I know looks may be deceiving, but I’m not a very big guy. But my older brother, just to give you a little picture of what he looks like: he was the heavyweight state wrestling champion in Georgia.
So, the guy says, “Stop! We can’t take him. That’s Platt’s brother.” I’ll never forget what happened next. The guy who was holding me turns and looks me up and down, and he said, “This is not Platt’s brother. This is Platt’s left leg.” You know, I don’t think he meant that as a compliment, but I was pretty proud to be Platt’s left leg on that day. Then he threw me back down on the bed and left the room. I remember another time my grandfather had given me this jacket. I loved this jacket. I wore it everywhere I went. Even when it was hot outside, I was wearing the jacket. I remember going to school one morning wearing the jacket. I took the jacket off, and I came back at the end of the day and the jacket was gone. Somebody had stolen it. Dad was coming to pick us up from school, and I went to him and I said, “Dad, my jacket has been stolen.” I was pretty upset.
So, he goes and he starts talking to the principal. While he’s talking to the principal, Steve kind of pulls me aside, my older brother. He puts his arm around me and says, “Dave I heard your jacket was stolen.” I said, “Yeah.” I was pretty upset. He said, “I’ll take care of it for you.” I said, “Okay.”
So, I see Steve go to the side and start talking with basically the biggest thug in school. And he said, “Listen, my brother’s jacket was stolen. If you don’t have it back to me by tomorrow morning, you are going to have to answer to me.” So, the next morning I’m sitting in my first class leaning over and looking in the hall, and I see around the corner comes Steve. You will never guess what he’s holding. Oh, yeah, he’s holding the jacket. He comes and puts his arm around me and hands me the jacket and he said, “Dave, I just want you to know, no matter what happens to you, your brother has always got your back.” I want to remind you if you are in a situation where you feel like the world is coming down on top of you and you are in a valley and you are experiencing suffering or trials that you just don’t know what to do with and Satan is throwing all kinds of things at you, I want to remind you that you’ve got a Savior who has always got your back.
And please hear me. Please hear me. I cannot promise you that you will be healed or that the pain will leave you in this life, and I can’t promise you that your husband or wife will come back and I cannot promise you that you will see your mom or dad again. But I can promise you this: The God of the universe one day is going to come on the scene and He’s going to say, “I am making everything new!” Your suffering is temporary. It won’t last forever. That’s good news. Suffering is temporary.
Your Joy is Eternal
The next thing John tells them, to follow up on that, is if your suffering is temporary, your joy is eternal. Look at what happens next. This is great! It really starts to get good here in verse 6. “He said to me: ‘It is done’” (Rev. 21:6). That’s a great phrase, “It is done.” Mark it down. It’s finished. Then He says, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 21:6). Everything started and everything ends with me. I am everything. He said, “To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Rev. 21:6). That’s the Alpha and the Omega speaking, the God of the universe who says to His people without cost.
I’m not here to tell you that in order to have hope in life after death you need to do certain things. That is not the point of Scripture. It is free. It is free to every single one of us in this room who wants to drink. He says, “I give you joy and satisfaction from the well of the water of life, and it will never run dry.”
And this is the thing we see throughout John’s depiction of Christ. If we look back in his gospel to John 4, he’s talking to the woman at the well. He says you drink from this well, but I offer you living water, living water that will never leave you thirsty again. John 6:35, “I am the bread of life,” “feast on me.” In John 7:37-39 Jesus says, “I am the river of life that flows through you.” Throughout John’s writings we are seeing a picture basically I would say of two tables.
On one side, you can thirst after the things of this world and thirst after joy and satisfaction of this world. On the other side, though, you can thirst after Christ. That’s exactly what He was saying to the woman at the well. On one side you’ve got a table where you can feast on the things of this world, on the success this world offers, on money and fame and popularity, whatever it is in your life. You can feast on that comfortability, or you can feast on Christ. And one of these feasts is temporary and the other one eternal. He says, “If you come to me, drink of me, enjoy me, you will experience that satisfaction forever. That’s the picture that He’s giving us of heaven. For those who have said, “I’m not going to rely on the things of this world for satisfaction. I’m not going to seek them to make me happy. I’m going to seek that which is to come to make me happy. I’m living for another world.” I wonder sometimes if we don’t face the temptation to feast so much on things of this world that we hardly ever think about the world to come.
No doubt in this passage these guys who were hearing these words were tempted to indulge themselves in the passions of this world. Listen, if you can renounce your faith and have a good business and have a good job and have your family secure, live a nice, comfortable life, then you are going to be tempted to do that. So, they were tempted to turn from thirsting after Christ and thirst after the things of this world. And I believe the same temptation is there for us today, although it’s more subtle and I think more dangerous. Students, men and women, we face temptation every day to be satisfied in the things of this world instead of the world to come. What really satisfies us? New clothes, a nice vacation, having a comfortable family, having good investments, a new promotion, having a nice boyfriend or girlfriend, having the right stats. All these things the world says will satisfy us. We will have the key to success. John is saying those things don’t matter when you realize what is in store for you in eternity. Don’t feast on those things. You’ve got a feast right in front of you, and it’s eternal. I mentioned the ministry we’ve had in the French Quarter of New Orleans. I remember when that whole thing was starting, a friend of mine and I were just going down to the French Quarter and hanging out with the homeless guys who lived there. We would take some food down there and just have a good time and hang out with them and ask them questions about their life. I remember when we started off, we would run by a Burger King on our way down there and pick up some tacos. I don’t know why Burger King was selling tacos, but they were, and they were really cheap. So, we would go by and get tacos from Burger King, of all places, and we would take them down to the Quarter and we would just give out tacos and have a good time hanging out.
After a while, the guys started saying, “You know, Dave, we really don’t like tacos from Burger King.” It’s really bad when the homeless guys start complaining that the food is not very good. So, we switched it up a little bit and started taking fried chicken down there. That was a big hit. So, we would just sit around and eat fried chicken and hang out together. And God started doing some amazing things during that time. I remember one day we had invited two guys to come to church with us, Eric and Kenneth. Eric was 48 years old and had been on the streets for 32 years. When he was 16 years old, his mom died and he was left out on the streets on his own. And Kenneth was in his mid 20’s. They came to church and they worshiped with us. And afterwards my friend and I said, “Let’s take them out to eat.” So, we went to a seafood restaurant on the lakefront there in New Orleans. There was great seafood all along the lakefront. It might not be so great now, a little more contaminated at this point, but at that time it was really good.
So, we went to this restaurant called Dennys. And basically Dennys has all the fried seafood you can imagine. So, we walk in and get our menus and sit down. I’ll never forget what happened. Eric, this 48 year old man sitting across from me, looks at his menu and he leans across the table with a concerned look on his face and said, “Dave, are you sure you can afford this?” It wasn’t that expensive, just a normal New Orleans restaurant. I thought I would play around with him a little bit, though. I said, “No.” He said, “Okay.” I said, “We are going to eat and run!” He said, “Okay.” I said, “No, we are not going to eat and run. Yes, we can afford it. Get whatever you want.”
And he and Kenneth both came across the exact same thing on the menu, Dennys Seafood Platter, with is basically all the fried shrimp, catfish and oysters you can imagine piled high on a plate of French fries. They said, “We’ll take that.” So, a few minutes later this woman brings this food out and sits it in front of them. I want you to imagine their eyes with me for a second.
These are guys who eat out of the dumpsters, guys who eat the leftovers that you and I leave on our plates, and before them sits this huge platter of food. Their eyes got so big. Now, what would you think if I told you that these guys looked at that Dennys Seafood Platter and then Eric leaned across the table and said to me, “Thanks, Dave. It looks good. You know, I would really rather just go outside and eat from the dumpster around back.” Well, of course that would never happen, right? A homeless guy who eats from the garbage has a plate of food put in front of him, of course that would never happen. I believe that’s what’s happening all over our American church culture today. I believe somewhere along the way we’ve created this idea that you can have faith in Christ apart from desire for Christ, and as a result many of us in our lives are not truly longing for Him presence and longing for Him Word and finding satisfaction in Him alone. Instead, we are nibbling at the table of the things of this world. And as a result of nibbling at that table, we come to the feast that is set before us in Scripture and we are not even hungry for it.
And it’s not bad things. It’s not all those horrible things, the drugs or sex or whatever. It’s the endless nibbling and how can I get more money and how can I get a new promotion and how can I get this advancement or that advancement, how can I find success in this way. And the more we eat at that, the less our hunger for God grows. And I want you invite you to see that there is a feast of eternal joy in the presence of Christ, and I want to urge you to throw aside the things of this world and trust Him and Him alone for eternal ultimate joy. He’s the only one who can satisfy us. He’s the only one. It’s what C.S. Lewis said, “We are half-hearted creatures fooling about with drink, with sex and ambition when infinite joy has been offered to us, like an ignorant child who goes on making mud pies in the slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by a holiday at the sea.” And he says, “We are far too eagerly pleased.”
If your job is what satisfies you, or having nice vacations or a nice house or a comfortable car or a good family even if that’s what satisfies you, I say to you your desires are too weak. God, raise up a church that is conquered by a superior desire that longs for Him and yearns for His presence and doesn’t get lured into Satan’s trap believing that we are intended to have happiness in this life alone. We are not created for this world. We were created for the world to come. And I believe when we find that truth and we let our hearts give ourselves to it, we will discover that that is where joy in this life and in the life to come is truly found. He says your suffering is temporary, but your joy is eternal.
Your Inheritance is Guaranteed
And in light of that, He says one more thing. He says your inheritance is guaranteed. When you think about life after death, your suffering is temporary and your joy is eternal and you are guaranteed an inheritance in this place.
I want you to look at it with me, verse 7. You need to underline this phrase in your Bible, because it’s really important in the book of Revelation. It says, “He who overcomes” (Rev. 21:7). That’s the eighth time in this book that that phrase has been mentioned. And that’s how the book of Revelation refers to believers in Christ. That’s how it refers to Christians, because these are the people that have overcome the thirst of this world and have thirsted after Christ. These are the people that have overcome the temptation to renounce their faith and they have truly trusted in Christ. So He says, “For you who overcome amidst your suffering and you trust in Christ amidst it all, you will inherit all of this, “and I will be his God and he will be my son” (Rev. 21:7). That’s an incredible picture. You know the way inheritances work. Something that you didn’t have before becomes rightfully yours because you inherited it. You are given all of these blessings. And this is a picture of heaven. He says, “When you get to be with me, when you come to spend eternity with me, you won’t be a guest. You won’t be just visiting in the house. You are going to be a son or a daughter. That house is going to be yours. That place is going to belong to you. It is your inheritance, and you can enjoy all that that means.” I remember going to work with my dad when I was younger. He was working in the federal government building in Atlanta. We would walk in and go through different types of security and get a badge, and then I would walk throughout the halls of that building. People would come up to me and say, “Young man, what are you doing here? Do you belong here?” I would look back at them and say, “Yeah, I belong here. I’m Tom Platt’s son.” They would say, “Okay” and move on. Why? Because I was his son, because I was allowed to be there. It was not because of anything I had done. It was because of who I belonged to. That’s what heaven is all about, not because of what you’ve done but because of who you belong to. And that inheritance is guaranteed.
What Happens After Death: The Unbeliever
But I don’t want you to miss this. I’ll be honest with you this morning, I wish this passage ended right here. John could have really closed it out and we could have a great time right now. We could just stand and sing about the glory of heaven and the eternal joy and the fact that our suffering is temporary and the fact that we are sons in the kingdom of God, sons and daughters. But that’s not where it stops.
This passage goes on to talk about a variety of sins: sexual immorality, magic arts, cowardness, the vile, murder. All these things basically at their core, idolatry. He says those who do not thirst after Christ and those who do not surrender their lives to Christ, he says their inheritance is guaranteed but it’s not the honor of sonship, it’s a completely different picture. And it’s a horrible picture there, the fiery lake of burning sulfur.
I know that it is not popular in our culture today to even mention the word “hell.” And I know that we live in a country where the overwhelming majority of people today believe in a heaven and maybe even believe in a hell but are convinced that they are not going there. And I want you to know that is not the testimony of God’s Word. If you can tune in with me just for a few minutes as we close out our time, I want to remind you that there is an inheritance for those who have not trusted in Christ and who have enjoyed the things of this world more than Christ. There’s an inheritance for them, and I want you to look back with me at Chapter 20:11. I want you to read this with me. Please don’t tune out at this point. Students, men and women, please don’t tune out. These are huge verses. Verse 11 in chapter 20,
‘I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.’ And listen to this, ‘If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire’ (Rev. 20:11-15).
I want you to notice there is coming a day when every single person, including myself, will stand before our Creator in heaven to give an account, this passage says, for what we have done. Please don’t misunderstand this. This is not works based salvation. If you’ve done enough good things on that day, then you will make it to heaven. If you haven’t done enough good things, then you won’t make it. That’s not what it’s saying. But it is saying this: It’s saying what John said throughout other writings. 1 John 5:4-5 makes this really clear. If you have truly placed your faith in Christ, then your life will show the fruit of faith in Christ. Somewhere along the way we’ve created this idea that you can pray a prayer and your eternity is sealed and your life doesn’t have to look any different after that, and that is not biblical Christianity. Yes, we are saved by grace, not by what we do. But when we are truly saved, our lives reflect a love and passion for Jesus Christ.
If we are sitting here, any one of us, young and old alike, and we have not truly placed our faith in Christ, if our life does not show the result of that kind of faith, and undoubtedly on that day, and this is a huge temptation. In Revelation 3, Jesus says to Him people in the church you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead on the inside. Remember what Jesus said. “Many will say to me on that day, Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy your name and in your name perform many miracles and drive out demons? Didn’t we do all these things for you? And I will tell them, away from me. I never knew you” (Matt. 7:22-23). For those whose names are not written in that Book of Life, what I’ve said today, the exact opposite will be true. We’ve talked about how our suffering is temporary and our joy is eternal because of Christ. That’s how it’s possible. He took our sin, He took our sorrow, He took our sickness, He took our separation when He died on the cross. But when we come to this place without Christ, then our joy is not eternal. Our joy is temporary. And our suffering is not temporary, our suffering is eternal, the essence of what the Bible means when it says a fiery lake of burning sulfur. Mark it down. If you and I look at the things of this world for joy, I believe we will find it temporarily. One of Satan’s biggest tools I believe in our lives is to convince us that we have joy based on the things in this world. But there is a day when that joy runs out. And I think one of Satan’s other tools is to blind us to the fact that we are on the porch of eternity, eternity forever. And I want to urge you exactly the way George Whitfield urged people in the 19th century. He said, “I want to urge you to consider the torment of burning like a livid coal, not for an instant or for a day, but for millions and millions of ages, at the end of which you will realize that you are no closer to the end than when you first begun and you will never, ever be delivered from that place.” John is saying to these people we need to get real. I remember a little over a year ago I was preaching at a conference in New Mexico. I had flown home on a Monday afternoon, was about to start my career as a seminary professor in what was supposed to be the height of my life in ministry. I had gotten home and was working at my desk, and I got a call from my younger brother, Adam. I said, “Hey, Adam, how is it going?” He said, “Dave, you need to pray.” And immediately I could tell something was wrong. He said, “You need to pray. I don’t know what’s going on. The paramedics are here. You need to pray for Dad.”
Just to give you a little bit of background, my dad and I were best friends. I can tell you stories about the way he sacrificed for me and the way our relationship is, just indescribable. And I realize in this day and age that’s not always something to be taken advantage of. That’s a huge gift.
So, Adam said, “You need to pray. I don’t know what’s wrong.” So, I got off the phone, and for the next 45 minutes I wept on my face before God like I never wept before in prayer. “God, protect him. God, bring healing to my dad. God, provide for my dad.” And about 45 minutes later I got a phone call from Steve, my older brother. And this big guy on the other side of the phone said to me, “Dave, Dad is dead. He just passed away from an unexpected heart attack.” I know many of you have been there and you know the pain just seems to get deeper over time sometimes. And some might say, “Well, it’s too bad God didn’t answer your prayer on that day, too bad He didn’t hear you when you were crying out that He would protect your dad and provide for your dad and bring healing to your dad.” I say on the contrary. You see, my dad had trusted in the blood of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of his sins. And as a result, I know without a shadow of a doubt that on that day his suffering was temporary and his joy is eternal. And today it is still eternal. And ten billion years from now it will still be eternal. Why? Because His inheritance was guaranteed. What about you?
What about you? Will you bow your heads with me? Every head bowed and every eye closed. In the silence, I want to ask you one penetrating question. And I want to invite you, whether this is your first time in church or whether you’ve been in church all your life, to please let this question penetrate your heart. Right where you are sitting, I want to ask you the question: is your name written in the Book of Life?