With this background we are now prepared to see what actually happens to the person who dies. In Peter's sermon on the day of Pentecost, he made this strong statement about David, who had been dead for over 1,000 years: "For David is not ascended into the heavens" (Acts 2:34). Now think of this for a moment. David had long ago departed this life, and though often wayward, had received the assurance of forgiveness and salvation. Why, then, was he not enjoying the bliss of heaven ten long centuries after his passing? The question is answered in verse 29 where Peter explains, "Men and brethren, let me freely speak unto you of the patriarch David, that he is both dead and buried, and his sepulcher is with us unto this day."
The inspired Peter said David was right out there in his grave, and had not yet ascended to heaven. How interesting! If the man after God's own heart had not received his reward 1,000 years after death, what about all the other good people who had lived and died up to that time? They, also, were resting in their graves, awaiting the call of God in the resurrection.
Jesus assured the people of His day, "...thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just" (Luke 14:14). Again, He said, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works" (Matthew 16:27). There is no equivocation here. In simple, direct language lesus declared that no one would be rewarded until the resurrection takes place at His second coming. This means that none of the righteous dead have gone to heaven so far. All are waiting in their graves for the judgment and the end of the world. Almost the last words of the Bible confirm this fact. "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his works shall be" (Revelation 22:12). This last-day reward is further described by Paul in 1 Corinthians 15:53, "... and this mortal must put on immortality." When does it happen? "In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump" (Verse 52).
This settles the issue about the reward of the righteous without any question, but what about the wicked? When will they be punished for their sins? The amazing answer is found in 2 Peter 2:9, "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished." There it is! The wicked are reserved somewhere until the day of judgment arrives. Where are they reserved? Jesus answers the question, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation" (John 5:28, 29).
Our Lord made it exceedingly plain that everyone would be reserved in their graves until called forth in the resurrection to receive either life or damnation. Not only is this good theology, it is also good sense. Obviously, no one can be punished until after they are judged. Justice demands that this be done. Even the most unjust earthly judge would be impeached for doing otherwise. Suppose a man came before the judge charged with stealing, and the judge said, "Put him away for ten years and then we will hear his case." No! No! That could never be! And would the judge of all the earth do so in dealing with the wicked? Never! The judgment would be a farce in such a case—it would have no meaning.
The wonderful message of the Bible is that both good and bad are sleeping in their graves until the resurrection day. At that time they are brought forth to face the judgment, after which punishments and rewards are assigned. Job said, "So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep. Oh that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man die, shall he live again? all the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shall call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands" (lob 14:12-15).
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