It is amazing how universal the belief in life beyond the terrestrial plane is and yet nothing is more mysterious. The sense of the unknown that characterizes the idea has had very little effect on the assumption of its reality and that goes against the norm in matters of this life. It is a rarity that truth is held in perpetual conviction when it is lacking in scientific evidence. Only a few atheists have been bold enough not only to claim the none existence of a sovereign over the universe but also of life beyond this three-dimensional realm. Closely connected to the concept of an afterlife, therefore, is the belief in the existence of a spiritual world. Some agree there is a metaphysical dimension to man but all they see to it is the realm of the soul which they agree exacts power over the natural and many volumes of literature have been written about it over thousands of years.
Only the Bible makes a clear distinction between the soul and the spirit (Hebrews 4.12). No other body of literature is capable of such knowledge and therefore they remain limited in their understanding. It takes more than human intellect to comprehend spiritual things(1 Corinthians 2.14). Spiritual discernment requires that the human spirit be alive unto God and that the Holy Spirit divinely illuminates the human spirit and intellect by inspiration (Job 32.8, Ephesians 1.17). It follows also that the mystery of the ‘Afterlife’ follows the same order of being only discernible to the spiritually alive who is enabled by the Spirit of God to catch a glimpse of it. I am more comfortable making references to glimpses because they will always remain mysterious to one degree or the other.
The best glimpse I have caught is through the story of ‘The rich man and Lazarus’ in Luke 16. Both men lived on the earth with one having been wealthy and the other so poor that he lived off leftovers from the other house and had sores that dogs licked. Both died over time and while the rich man was buried, the poor died also, the Lord Jesus mentioned that the angels of God conveyed the poor man into Abraham’s bosom(another name for paradise). The two different realities here are the fact that while the unrighteous are very lonely in death, the righteous are immediately accompanied by celestial beings to a much better place. It is apparent that the spiritual world is a different reality from the world we know but an even more concrete one due to its preeminence and preexistence before our natural world. In reality, we only die in this world, we are more alive in death in the spiritual dimension.
The story further posits that the rich man was in torment while Lazarus was comforted. The rich asked that Abraham send Lazarus to bring him water but father Abraham could not help his thirst as there was a great gulf between them. The rich begged that Lazarus be allowed to return to the earth to warn his brothers of that place but again he is told they have Moses and the prophets and will not believe even if someone rises from the dead to warn them. In this fact lies the authoritative place of the Bible. Moses, the prophets, and the New Testament now make up the Scriptures. It was only the five Books of Moses and all the other books of the Old Testament at the time of Luke’s writing. Visions and dreams are of lesser authority relative to the Word of God and are only acceptable to the degree to which they are in agreement with it. The word of God is the final authority and mans positive or negative response to the revelation of Jesus Christ in the book will determine his eternal destiny. The story in discourse shows us that we would retain our memories of our previous lives and family and will either look back with regret or joy for the decisions we made on the earth. We will be conscious of the spiritual condition of our loved ones even though our only hope will remain that they honor the Word of God.
The transient nature of the present life and its brevity makes living it as though it is all that it is unwise. Living it with the Afterlife in view is one of the wisest choices we can ever make as humans. While our chronological ages put demands and pressures upon us in the light of our transient lives, looking at them in the light of eternity changes the dynamics. Like the rich man, we can live for earthly riches, fame, self-actualization, and political power or focus on the faith that guarantees an afterlife with God and receiving rewards from Him in the light of His revealed will for our lives. When we crossover from this present world to the other side, the dynamics will change. The rich, famous, and successful will not necessarily retain their earthly prestige, honor, and advantages. Multitudes of derelicts, poor, unknown, and unsung heroes will emerge in the afterlife. Quiet intercessors, unknown missionaries, faithful pastors of little churches, dutiful choir members and so many others who trust in the righteousness of faith will be comforted and rewarded.
Do we need to be poor like Lazarus to enjoy the Afterlife? Certainly, not so, the Lord used the example to demonstrate in vivid terms how the riches of the present life are of no consequence to human welfare in the spiritual dimension. After all, Abraham after whom paradise is named was very rich in life. The faith of Abraham in God which was accounted to him for righteousness is the basis for access to God’s paradise and the Center of God’s plan for humanity. The Lord Jesus went to Paradise the day he died and was buried. He promised one of the thieves crucified along with him in Luke 24.43 that he would be with him in paradise that same day. At his resurrection, the Lord relocated paradise to heaven. His blood finally gave man access to glory(Ephesians 4.8-11, 2 Corinthians 12.1-3). The Afterlife is real and to be looked forward to with joy even as we live the present life in the light of the imminent transition to the one beyond someday. We also take comfort in our upcoming reunion with loved ones. There is life beyond this realm and we must be prepared for it.