By Olatokunbo Odunuga
TBJ and those before him
I had been a thoughtful observer of diverse positive and negative ideas in circulation as regards T.B.J.’s afterlife status. Now the above topic relates to one of the curious questions that people often seek answers for. To my limited understanding from biblical perspectives, the following should to a large extent satisfy the enquiry:
After death, the soul of man will go to Hades [greek] or Sheol [hebrew]-Psalm 16: 10. The Hades or Sheol has two “milieu” or atmospheres, namely Paradise or Abraham’s Bosom where the saved ones transit, and Hell where the unsaved ones also transit.
Those in Paradise will be raptured at the Lord’s second coming while the unsaved will remain in the hellish state for another 1,000 years after the Rapture to subsequently appear before the Great White Throne Judgment.
Thereafter the entire Hades with Hell within it will be consigned to destruction in the Lake of Fire (Revelation 20: 14). In essence, Hell is real but not everlasting while Lake of Fire is also real and everlasting [Revelation 20: 10, 15]
2.0 I want to also highlight that believers at death will not immediately ascend to heaven as generally propagated. In John 3: 13, our Lord Himself, the Omniscient, clarified that no one had yet been to heaven except He alone.
Therefore all the righteous ones from the time of Adam onwards as Enoch [Gen. 5:24], Job, Noah, Daniel [Ezek. 14:14]l, etc have not yet ascended to heaven but all are in Abraham’s bosom, awaiting the seventh and last trumpet sound [1 Corinthians 15:52; Rev. 11:15].
By the way, if they had already gone ahead to heaven as many seem to believe, would they make a return journey back to Hades to be raptured and then go through the process at the Judgment Seat of Christ-Romans 14: 12 and thereafter return back to heaven the second time?
What a wasteful superfluity of ‘astronautic’ journeys! But scriptures are clear that they are in a heavenly state in Abraham’s bosom. Paul had a revelation of both the Paradise of God [Revelation 2: 7; 2 Corinthians 12: 2] and the Paradise of Abraham’s bosom [Luke 16: 23; 2 Corinthians 12: 4]
Hell in perspective
3.0 In Psalms 16:10 in KJV, David was quoted to have declared “For thou [God] wilt not leave my soul in hell……”. For crying out loud! Can one imagine how David, a man after God’s heart, the sweet psalmist of Israel and its greatest king, would have got to Hell in the first place?
NIV rendered: “..because you will not abandon me to the ‘grave’…” just as Good News Bible. Many other reliable Bible versions give various rendering for the Hebrew word “Sheol” such as A region of the dead; Depths; Underworld; Depth of death; World of the dead; Place of the dead;
The world below; Death; The nether world; The unseen state; Place of the departed spirits; Exceeding depth of affliction; A lower world; The realm of the dead; Symbol of an abysmal depth of affliction; The dark abode of the gathered dead; Power of the infernal region; State of disembodied existence; etc.
These numerous alternative renderings knocked the bottom out of ‘hell’ in Psalm 16: 10, which in KJV is an aberration.
Brethren, may we receive abundant grace to live a life that would transit in Paradise of Abraham’s bosom and ultimately culminate in the New Jerusalem, the Paradise of God, in which is the Tree of Life-[ Revelation 2: 7 ].
Those who did not hear the gospel
4.0 But this article will not be complete if we do not also consider the last moments, especially with respect to those that limited mortals adjudge as unworthy of heaven. About six years ago, I conducted the funeral service of an elderly man.
As we were leaving the cemetery, a colleague, Pastor Kayode Oguta, who assisted me during the funeral ceremony raised a question I perceived had been on his mind for some time. He wanted to know the fate of people who live in remote jungles who had never and unlikely to ever hear the gospel. He believed it will not be their fault if the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ never gets to them.!
5.0 My spontaneous response was to refer him to Romans 2:14-16, and I want to further express that it is possible for them to be in heaven at last based on that scripture and certain other factors and precedents in the annals of God’s incomprehensibility and sovereignty.
For instance, until the missionary endeavours reached Koma Hills in Northern Nigeria over a decade ago, several thousands of primitive human beings have lived in those villages probably for nearly a century going about life, naked physically and spiritually, no education, no gospel, not to talk of being born from above [born again].
Now, would a just God consign such people to the Lake of Fire for not accepting Jesus Christ, whom they had no notion of, as their Lord and Saviour?
Jews and God’s prerogative
6.0 I was in Jerusalem over two decades ago, the Jewish coordinator of the bus during our excursion stood by the door-step thanking us for coming all the way to the “holy land” to honour their son.
That was because the majority of the Jews didn’t and still, do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as the Saviour, but merely as one of their sons. Some of us may not have realized that there is a provision for the salvation of the Jews without the routine “altar calls” of “receiving” Christ as Lord and Saviour, which quite often can be a meaningless rote, if not provoked by deep contrition and repentance as in Acts 2: 37.
I have extensively treated this peculiar status of the Jews in a previous article, entitled, “Life After Death”. It is helpful to note that Matthew 24: 1-31 contextually concerns the Israelites, not the Church or the Nations. That is why Matthew 24 is essentially about “elects” or “chosen” [24: 22, 24, 31] which refers to the Israelites.
Dying statements of people
7.0 Generally, a pointer to a life spent with heavenly approbation is authenticated when the dying statement of the person gives such credence. Take for instance the following from well-known Christians as they cross to the other side of the veil :
- John Brown: “This is a beautiful country”
- Olympia F. Morata: “I feel nothing but tranquillity beyond expression and peace with God our Christ. ..I am nothing but joy.
- Elizabeth B. Browning: “Beautiful!
- Joseph Addison: “See in what peace a Christian can die”
8.0 Then there can be those who sit in churches listening to exciting messages from great preachers but at the end of their earthly journey, their fate in the hereafter may seem scary. That memorable saint, Arthur Pink wrote in one of his books that he was of the opinion that one out of ten sitting in churches was saved. And he made the statement over 50 years ago even before the present peculiar perverseness and decadence. One may read the book,
The Seduction of the Nigerian Church, by Gary S. Maxey, the founder of West African Theological Seminary, and Peter Ozodo, former leader of CAPRO, with an introduction by Brother Gbile Akanni to have some insight into the degradation of Nigeria’s terrain, especially in the aspects of new generation obscene exploits and monetization policies. To make the matter bleaker, I heard from Zac Poonen, the Indian evangelist in one of his ‘crucified life’ messages that there is probably one genuine man of God in a million.
Atheist and Salvation
9.0 There are those who are atheists, who outrightly don’t even believe there is God at all, not to talk of believing in Him. Consider the conversation between a doctor and the French atheist,
Voltaire at age 84 in a hospital shortly before his death: “God and man had abandoned me…Doctor, can you preserve my life for six extra months if I give you half of my fortune?
[ The doctor replied that he could not survive six weeks ] Then I shall go to Hell”. But between that time and the six weeks ‘due or expiry date’, there seems to be another mercy-provoking dialogue between God and Voltaire that he pleaded for mercy in his dying hour.
10.0 Similarly, according to page 628 in Dake’s Annotated Bible commentary, there is the account of other world-renowned atheists- Sir Francis Newport, Tom Paine, Ethan Allen, Thomas Horbes, and many others who made peace with God in their dying hours. And I believe He who does not delight in the death of sinners would have accepted them based on Ezek. 18:23.
However, many people throughout the ages had died suddenly in road accidents, air disasters, through the hands of robbers, by stray bullets, etc leaving no opportunity for such last-minute repentance. So, it will be precarious to postpone one’s salvation and tarry in anticipation of such special grace and mercy received by some unbelievers or atheists-
11.0 So, apart from the case of some primitive people in certain remote parts unreached or unreachable by the gospel, there will be those in some protracted dying conditions who probably had lived a ”righteous”, God-fearing life like Job or Cornelius in Acts 10 to whom God in His sovereignty would extend His last lap infinite mercy.
Even, Titus, the thief on the right hand of our Lord on the cross received the grace of last-minute repentance and heard from our Lord, “….Today, you will be with me in Paradise”.
With due reverence and respect, I recall that my kind-hearted teacher, mentor and role model to many, Professor Ayodele Awojobi received such mercy before he passed on at 47 after he made the epic plea, “have mercy on me, O God”. Hallelujah! Sincerely speaking, I’m yet to meet someone who surpasses him in integrity, simplicity and humility in spite of not attending church in his later years and supposedly professed atheism!
So, I have learnt not to write anyone still alive off as I would not be there when the transaction of mercy takes place. I know the doctrine of dying grace is not popular, but there are some issues beyond us, but within the dispensational sovereignty of God, as we are still seeing as through a “glass, darkly”.
12.0 I would not have understood ”dying grace” if not that I experienced something like it on my deathbed in 1977 at Unity Hospital, Awolowo Road, Ikeja. My wife and my mother had lost hope of my recovery. My father went to our village to stand on his own father’s tomb, beseeching his father, whom I never knew, not to permit me to join our ancestors.
My young children under five years old then, sitting near me on the hospital bed, understood nothing of the impending ominous tragedy. In my semi-conscious and delirious state, I was terrified by what I saw ‘down the tunnel’. For someone who graduated at 21 in those days and acquired his first car at 22, and at 25 zooming around in the latest brand new “ubiquitous” Toyota Crown LSA 7574, about the biggest car in Nigeria then, and with birds of a feather ‘friends’,
I had veered into a careless and carefree lifestyle, with Rev. Dr. Guinness and Bishop Gulder as pals. Of course, anyone who is not regenerated is an unfortunate, pitiable person even if he is a billionaire in any currency!
13.0 So, going on brethren, in that delirious state, I pleaded with God to have mercy on me and to give me extra five years so I could make go back to life and within that period make some provisions for my children, change my manner of life and would serve Him. In His bountiful mercy, He heard me. The five years of grace I pleaded for is now forty-four years. If I had passed on at that point, no one would have known of the transaction that went on between God and a religious infidel.
Now is the day of salvation
14.0 But generally, for the whole inhabitants of the earth, the divine mandate is, ‘Now is the acceptable time, Today is the day of salvation and so brethren, if you hear His voice, harden not your heart. It will indeed be food for solemn thought before I finally draw the curtain to reflect on two other challenging dying words:
- Edith Cavell: “I know NOW that patriotism is not enough; I must have no bitterness toward anyone”.
- G.K. Chesterton: “The issue is NOW clear. It is between light and darkness and everyone must choose his side”.
My God! The NOW [emphasis mine] by the last two people is indeed significant. May we not take it lightly that it is appointed unto men once to die, after this the judgment -Heb. 9: 27.
But lastly, no man- Pastor, “Clergy”, “Laity” or whoever is qualified or permitted to pass an opinion on the after-life status of any departed soul, except one who is unambiguously given such insight or revelation as Paul received directly from God- Phil. 4: 3.
And of course, it is sheer ungodliness and heartlessness for anyone- believer or unbeliever alike to gloat over departed ones. Shalom!
Pastor Odunuga is an elder in the Redeemed Christian Church of God