Have you ever wondered what will happen after you die? What will happen to your soul once it passes from life into death? What became of all those people you knew so well — the older man next door, the woman up the street, that favorite singer you used to listen to? Where did they all go? What is happening to them right now? Are they experiencing the heavenly bliss we hear about — a peace that is beyond this material world? And what about John Lennon? Was his soul awakened unexpectedly to something he really didn't imagine?
What if there is a place on the other side of life where your soul (the real you that looks out through your eyeballs) awaits judgment? How much regret would you experience as a result of the accumulated guilt you have acquired during the short span of your life on this earth? Regret is such a terrible thing to experience. It is the wearing weight of guilt that never goes away. Like a smoldering fire within your conscience, your long-hidden secrets and nagging thoughts are awakened and you are forced to face the agonizing reality of the choices you have made in life.1 Fear seizes you as you recognize that you have no means of undoing any of the wrongs, the painful wounds you inflicted upon others. The realization that you may have to experience this unbearable anguish as payment for all the evil you have done is summed up in one word — regret.
Regret is the deep, inner turmoil of unresolved grief for a hurtful past action or inaction — a turmoil which haunts you relentlessly. Recorded perfectly upon your now awakened conscience, it is the source of excruciating mental torment and wrenching emotional turmoil that cannot be quenched.2 Regret is the irrepressible longing to make things right towards someone or something that is no longer there.
Death is a fearful mystery for most, especially, for those who say they are not afraid of it. So, what will happen to your soul once you take that last parting breath of life?
Yahshua, the Son of God, spoke of these things to the religious leaders of His day who thought themselves eternally secure on the basis of their religious zeal. These Pharisees had just finished deriding Him for His teaching concerning the impossibility of serving both God and Mammon. The Pharisees were lovers of money, yet they were also the pious teachers of the Law.3 Money was indeed a weighty matter to the Jews, rich and poor alike. The well-to-do religious leaders had contempt for the poor, at whose expense they enjoyed their comfort. Since they justified themselves before men and God, Yahshua told them a parable:
There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he called out, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame."
But Abraham said, "Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us."
And he said, "Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment." (Luke 16:19-29)
According to the Son of God, when a person dies his soul is immediately taken to the realm of death (Sheol in Hebrew, or Hades in Greek), and in this immaterial world the departed spirits of mankind remain until the final judgment is made to determine their eternal destinies.4
Four times in this parable Yahshua emphatically states that death is a place of torment. What did He mean by the word torment? Whatever it is, the parable compares it metaphorically to the flames of a burning inferno in which the rich man is inescapably engulfed. In that place called death, there is no rest, no time out, and no comfort to relieve his torment of conscience. He is in continual anguish, awaiting the final judgment.
Contrary to the rich man's confidence in life, his soul was not saved, but bound under an unalterable, irreversible contract with death.5 And although in death he seemed full of regret and remorse, it was too late, for he could not free himself from the divine powers authorizing his sentence. He would have to pay the wages of his sins in this first death,6 if he could, while awaiting the final judgment of Revelation 20:12-15.
(There is a second death for those who are unable to pay, for their sins incurred the infinite guilt of destroying other people's lives.7 All men sin, but all do not abandon themselves to degradation. Those who are restrained by the voice of their conscience have the hope, as Job did, of receiving mercy in the judgment, leading to a second life rather than a second death.8)
The rich man was waiting to serve yet another sentence of unending torment and punishment which he so richly deserved. During his lifetime on earth, he chose to indulge himself at the expense of other human lives. Rather than willfully living according to the voice of his conscience by doing what was right, he had willfully chosen to do the evil over the good, thus forfeiting any opportunity he might have had for a second life after death.9 The rich man's conscience held the judicial power from God to sentence his soul accordingly.
While Lazarus was comforted by the hope of a second life after death, the rich man writhed anxiously in fearful expectation of the eternal judgment of a second death. That is why the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to warn his brothers who were yet living. But the righteous answer from Abraham was unyielding:
If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead. (Luke 16:31)
What agony he was in! His love of wealth and indulgence was at the expense of his own soul!10 His conscience had persistently warned him of the consequences of his decisions until he silenced it completely, as shown by how he could ignore his poor Jewish brother Lazarus dying on his very doorstep. He had sealed his own eternal destiny of sharing a part with Satan in the second death.
If there is a means of escaping that torment in death, clearly it must be done during one's lifetime, not after. All are under the sentence of death — some are facing only the first death sentence, and some, like the rich man in this story, are worthy of a second and eternal death. But both are alike in that their only hope of escaping death is to find someone who is not himself under the sentence of death, and who is willing to take their place — to pay sin's wages for them. That is why, at the appointed time, Messiah appeared to take away the sins of the whole world.11
The prophet Isaiah is quoted three times in Isaiah 53:10-12 as saying that after the Messiah was crucified, His soul was in anguish in death.12 Acts 2:23,24,27,31 again confirm that "this Yahshua, whom you have taken by lawless hands and crucified, putting Him to death, God raised up, having loosed Him from the pangs of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it any longer."
Yahshua's soul and spirit went into death.13 Isaiah clearly states that "the LORD laid on Him the iniquity of us all" and that Messiah became a guilt offering for sin.14 Certainly, on the cross Yahshua suffered extreme physical pain and torture for our sins, but it was His three days and three nights in death where He made full payment for our iniquities, taking our place in the judgment.15 In death's torture chamber He experienced the greatest intensity of suffering for three days and three nights.16 He did that in order to acquit all who would follow and obey Him as a result of hearing the good news of salvation.17
God created human beings with eternal souls. The soul is comprised of three aspects: the intellect, emotions, and will. When Messiah died, His body was dead, but not His soul. It was acutely alive when He descended into death, and there in that place He made the full payment for every hateful word, every lie, every selfish act, every crime, every perversion, receiving in Himself the due consequence and retribution righteously deserved by each one of us. Intellectually, emotionally, and willfully, Messiah took our place in death, and in His soul suffered the anguish to atone for all the accumulated guilt of the sins of the world.
Messiah became the object of our sin — our sin-bearer.18 The word became implies transition.19 Messiah Yahshua became sin for us. Therefore, in taking our sins upon Himself in death He became, as it were, the thief, the prostitute, the heroin addict, the unjust judge, the slick lawyer, the corrupt politician, the coward, the sexually immoral, the sorcerer, the liar, the extortionist, the crooked loan officers, the deceitful real estate agent, all who are abominable, rebellious, disrespectful, those full of envy, adulterers, slanderers, murderers, the covetous, greedy, malicious, those full of strife, arrogance and deceit, the evil-minded, backbiters, the violent, fornicators, proud, boasters, inventors of evil, those disobedient to parents, the unforgiving, the bitter, fools, gossips and whisperers, haters of God, and all those who love and practice lying. He became sin for all.20 All is all.
There is only one sin Messiah could not atone for, and that is the sin of disbelief —hearing the true gospel from one of His true disciples, but willfully refusing to obey it. That is the greatest of all sins.21 Ironically, it is also the only other way to escape the first death sentence. The Bible says that those who reject the gospel have no need to go to the first death to await judgment, for they are judged already.22 They will escape the first death — by going straight into the second death: eternity in the lake of fire.