Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come. Then said the Jews, Will he kill himself? because he saith, Whither I go, ye cannot come. And he said unto them, Ye are from beneath; I am from above: ye are of this world; I am not of this world. I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins. Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning. I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. They understood not that he spake to them of the Father. Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things. And he that sent me is with me: the Father hath not left me alone; for I do always those things that please him. As he spake these words, many believed on him. Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.
The question, “Is there a second chance for salvation after death?” is a very serious one. It is raised at times even by real Christians when some of their own loved ones close their eyes in death without giving any evidence of repentance or of personal saving faith in the Lord Jesus. No matter how orthodox one may be or how thoroughly one may be indoctrinated in respect to the hopelessness of the state of the unsaved dead, this question will come to the surface. People who have never thought of it before think seriously of it when one of their own has gone out into eternity in this hopeless condition. And their hearts cry out, “May it not be true that after all, when men live and die out of Christ, there may be some way by which God will save men on the other shore after He has failed to reach them on this side?” The only way we can get a true answer to this question is by turning directly to the Word of God itself. And here we have the testimony of our Lord Jesus Christ, and it is very solemn and serious. “Then said Jesus again unto them, I go my way, and ye shall seek me, and shall die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come” (v. 21).
He was addressing men who had seen His works of power, who had heard His marvelous teaching, who had been urged to receive Him in faith, the Living Bread, that they might find life eternal. And now He says to them, “I am not going to be here forever. I have come for an appointed service. The hour of My crucifixion is just before Me. I go My way back to the presence of the Father. I go My way through the gates of death into resurrection and up to the glory, and after I have left you, after I have gone, many of you will begin to be concerned. You will seek Me and want to listen to My message, but you will not be able to find Me. You will not be able to hear Me. You shall seek Me, but you shall die in your sins.” And He adds, “And whither I go, ye cannot come.” There is something very, very tragic about that. I have often said that every time I am asked to speak at a funeral service where the deceased has given no evidence of knowing Christ, I would like to believe that there is something so purifying about death, so wonderful about dissolution, that when men pass from this life into the next they will immediately have their eyes opened and will see how foolish they have been in rejecting Christ. Then they will gaze upon His face and will trust Him. I would like to believe that. I would like to believe that no one will be lost. So would any compassionate person.
We can enter into and sympathize with the thoughts of Richard Baxter, who used to pray, “O God, for a full heaven and an empty hell!” We would it might be, but when we turn to this blessed Book and are prepared to bring our thoughts to the test of “Thus saith the Lord,” we do not find that this Word diffuses any ray of hope for the one who dies unsaved. Nothing could be clearer than our Lord’s words here. He says, “Ye shall die in your sins.”
There are two ways to die. In the book of the Revelation we read, “Blessed are [they] which die in the Lord… They [shall] rest from their labours and their works do follow them” (14:13). It will be a blessed thing to die in the Lord. Millions have died in the Lord and are resting from their labors, and their works shall follow them. Their works did not save them; they were saved by the Lord Jesus Christ. But when they stand at the judgment seat of Christ they will be rewarded for their works by the One who has saved them. But here is the awful contrast, “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” See verse 24, “I said therefore unto you, that ye shall die in your sins: for if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.” And to all those who die in their sins Jesus says, “Whither I go, ye cannot come.” He was speaking of going back into heaven. It is just another way of saying, if you die in your sins you will never enter heaven.
I do not think you can find a clearer passage than this. There are many others. It was the Lord Jesus Himself who said, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46). And it was Jesus who said, “Wherefore if thy hand or thy foot offend thee, cut them off, and cast them from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life halt or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet to be cast into everlasting fire” (18:8). Jesus said that, and when He used language like that He meant us to understand there is a possibility of being eternally lost. In the epistle to the Hebrews we read, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Heb. 10:31). Search this Book throughout. Read it carefully, and you will find that it does not offer the slightest hope of eventual blessing for anyone who leaves this world impenitent.
But now having said that, I want to say something to comfort the hearts of some of you who may be saying in your hearts, “Well, that may be the truth. It must be the truth if Jesus said it, but even so, it hurts my heart to think of loved ones for whom I prayed for years and they died unsaved.” Let me say this to you: Do not jump at conclusions. Who put it into your hearts to pray for that loved one? Who laid the burden for that soul upon your heart? It was the blessed Holy Spirit of God. It was Christ Himself. Often when God is going to do something for us, He puts it on our hearts to pray for that very thing. It is a great thing for anyone who has a praying mother or praying friends. It is a great thing for an unsaved wife to have a praying husband, or vice versa, “For what knowest thou, O wife, whether thou shaft save thy husband? or how knowest thou, O man, whether thou shalt save thy wife?” (1 Cor. 7:16). If we bring our loved ones to God in prayer, we can count on Him to work in His own way upon their hearts and consciences. Even though we may not get the evidence that our prayers have been answered, let us never give up, but let us believe that the God who taught us to pray for our dear ones has found a way of answering our prayers.
Have you ever thought of the mother of the penitent thief, that one who hung by the side of our Lord Jesus Christ on the cross? I wonder if he had a praying mother, a mother who had again and again brought her son before God, and I wonder if by any chance she was in the crowd that day when Jesus was on that center cross and her son and another hung on either side of Him. What anxiety must have been hers if she was there, and if she was, I wonder if she got close enough to hear the colloquy that went on between her boy and that One who was “in the same condemnation” (Luke 23:40). I wonder if she was off there somewhere in the crowd and doing her best to look over the heads of the others and saying, “Oh, there he is, my poor, lost boy, and I prayed for him and counted on God to save him. There he is, dying a malefactor’s death.” I wonder if she might have been close enough to have heard both of those robbers railing on Jesus, and said, “Oh, there he is dying with curses on his lips.” But he did not die that way!
I wonder if she was so far away that she did not hear what went on during those last moments. “And one of the malefactors which were hanged railed on him, saying, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us. But the other answering rebuked him, saying, Dost not thou fear God, seeing thou art in the same condemnation? And we indeed justly; for we receive the due reward of our deeds: but this Man hath done nothing amiss. And he said unto Jesus, Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom. And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, Today shah thou be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:39—43). It was as though He said, “You will not have to wait until I come in My kingdom. You will be with Me in Paradise today.” I wonder if his mother heard that. If she did not hear she might have cried, “Oh, my boy! Lost!” No, he was saved, though she may have known nothing about what took place at that last moment. God’s ways are past finding out. So I say to you who are praying: do not let your faith waver. Count on God to work in His own wonderful way. Sometime, somewhere, He will answer you.
But to you who are Christless, I would say this: Do not count too much on the patience of a holy God. There is such a thing as sinning against His mercy, goodness, and grace to such an extent that the conscience becomes seared as with a hot iron. It is that against which Jesus warns us here. “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins.”
The Jews did not understand Him and said, “Where is He going? Will He commit suicide?” He said, “You reason as men of the earth. I am from above and not of this world. I said to you, ‘If ye believe not, ye shall die in your sins’” (see vv. 22-24). “Then said they unto him, Who art thou? And Jesus saith unto them, Even the same that I said unto you from the beginning” (v. 25). He was the Eternal Son who came down into this world to be our Redeemer. He added, “I have many things to say and to judge of you: but he that sent me is true; and I speak to the world those things which I have heard of him. They understood not that he spake to them of the Father. Then said Jesus unto them, When ye have lifted up the Son of man, then shall ye know that I am he, and that I do nothing of myself; but as my Father hath taught me, I speak these things” (vv. 26-28). They lifted Him up on the cross, where He died for our redemption, and it was that to which He referred as He said to Nicodemus, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up” (3:14). He has been lifted up.
Lifted up was He to die,
It is finished, was His cry;
Now in heav’n exalted high,
Hallelujah! What a Saviour!
He concludes this address with these words, “He that sent Me is with Me: the Father hath not left Me alone; for I do always those things that please Him.” No one else ever lived who could use such language as that in its entirety. God’s most devoted servants have failed in something. We are all poor sinners saved by grace. But Jesus failed in nothing. He could say, “I do always those things that please him” (8:29). “As He spake these words, many believed on him” (v. 30). Then Jesus put a test to them by saying something like this, “Now it is not enough that you simply believe intellectually. You must prove the reality of your faith by obedience to My word.” “Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (vv. 31-32). And so we know Him who is the truth, from His lips we receive the truth, through His word that truth is opened up to us, and by the Spirit we are able to walk in that truth.
My sins laid open to the rod
The back which from the law was free;
And the Eternal Son of God
Received the stripes once due to me.