James 4:14 says that our lives are like a vapor that appears for just a little while, and then quickly vanishes. This sobering reality was put on full display recently when a 13-year-old accidently shot himself in the head on Instagram Live with his neighborhood friends watching.
My son is 13, and I can’t imagine what that kid’s parents are going through. It seems like only yesterday when we adopted him, and to think of him losing his life today is almost unfathomable.
However, by the time I was 16, I had already had several brushes with death. At around 10, I had a severe anaphylactic reaction to Noxema. When I was 13 I spent a little over a week in the ICU because I had been poisoned by a corrupted batch of Albuterol we were using in my breathing treatments. And in my junior year of high school, I miraculously survived a massive car accident coming back from College Station where my brother and I flipped three times across the highway at about 80mph.
Today I found out that the guy who has been cutting my hair at Great Clips died two days ago of a heart attack. He was in his mid-40s. Hosea says that the span of our days on earth can be compared with dew that’s here before breakfast and gone before lunch.
However, the Bible teaches that death is not the end. In many ways, it is a beginning. But the choices we make during our time on earth determine an unalterable eternal destiny for each one of us.
Hippolytus was the Bishop of Rome in the late 2nd and early 3rd centuries. He was a personal disciple of Irenaeus (Bishop of Lyons), who was a personal disciple of Polycarp (Bishop of Smyrna), who was a personal disciple of the Apostle John. Hippolytus’ writings are therefore regarded as faithfully carrying on the tradition of the Apostles, and he had quite a bit to say about what happens when people die.
Now we must speak of Hades, in which the souls both of the righteous and the unrighteous are detained. Hades is a place in the created system, rude, a locality beneath the earth, in which the light of the world does not shine. And since the sun does not shine in this place, there is necessarily perpetual darkness there. This place has been destined to be, as it were, a guardhouse for souls. … And in this locality there is a certain place set apart by itself, a lake of unquenchable fire, into which we suppose no one has ever yet been cast. …
But the righteous (who will obtain the incorruptible and unfading kingdom) are indeed presently detained in Hades, but not in the same place with the unrighteous. For to this locality there is one descent, at the gate of which we believe an archangel is stationed with an army. And when those who are conducted by the angels who are appointed unto the souls have passed through this gate, they do not all proceed down one and the same path. Rather, the righteous are conducted in the light toward the right. …
They are brought to a locality full of light. And there all the righteous persons from the beginning dwell. They are not ruled by any necessity. Rather, they perpetually enjoy the contemplation of the blessings that are in their view. Also, they delight themselves with the expectation of other blessings, ever new. … And that place brings no labors for them. … But the faces of the fathers and the righteous are seen to be always smiling, as they wait for the rest and eternal revival in heaven that follow this location. And we call this place by the name of “Abraham’s bosom.”
However, the unrighteous are dragged toward the left by angels, who are ministers of punishment. These souls no longer go of their own accord. Rather, they are dragged as prisoners by force. And the angels appointed over them hurry them along, reproaching them and threatening them with an eye of terror, forcing them down into the lower parts. And when the souls are brought there, those appointed to that task drag them on to the vicinity of Gehenna.
And those who are so near [to Gehenna] hear incessantly its agitation, and they feel the hot smoke. And when that vision is so near, as they see the terrible, and excessively glowing spectacle of the fire, they shudder in horror at the expectation of the future judgment, already feeling the power of their punishment. And again, when they see the place of the fathers and the righteous, they also suffer punishment merely from seeing this. For a deep and vast abyss is set there in the midst, so that neither can any of the righteous in sympathy think to cross it, nor do any of the unrighteous dare to cross it. – Hippolytus 205CE, ANF Vol. 5, p. 395-396 [CD-ROM]
I understand that some of what Hippolytus wrote may be outside of your denomination’s tradition. However, please remember that it faithfully represents the majority of the apostolic fathers’ beliefs. Also, please be sure to keep the main thing the main thing.
Hebrews 9:27-28 sums it up well, “Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”
When we die, our souls either go to be with Jesus forever, or they descend to an incredibly horrific place of no escape. Then, after the resurrection of our bodies, the righteous will reign in glory with Jesus forever in the new heavens and new earth. And, the unrighteous will face a second death, the lake of fire, which burns forever and ever.
I understand it’s not pleasant to think about death, but it is a healthy exercise. And similarly to the day we meet the person we will eventually marry, it often comes unexpectedly as we’re operating in the regular rhythms of life. Death will not only happen to us, it will also find every single person we know. However, because Jesus lovingly gave His life as a ransom for all people, everyone we know has an opportunity to receive Him as his or her Lord and Savior.
Have you done that? What about your family members? What about your friends and coworkers? What about your neighbors?