“A GREAT GULF FIXED”
We know from God’s Word that there is a spiritual realm in addition to the physical universe our five senses relate to. There is an unseen region of the spirit that men only occasionally come into conscious contact with. The patriarch Jacob had an encounter with this spirit realm, the record of it being found in Genesis 28. Turn to Genesis 28.10 and begin reading with me:
10 And Jacob went out from Beersheba, and went toward Haran.
11 And he lighted upon a certain place, and tarried there all night, because the sun was set; and he took of the stones of that place, and put them for his pillows, and lay down in that place to sleep.
12 And he dreamed, and behold a ladder set up on the earth, and the top of it reached to heaven: and behold the angels of God ascending and descending on it.
13 And, behold, the LORD stood above it, and said, I am the LORD God of Abraham thy father, and the God of Isaac: the land whereon thou liest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed;
14 And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south: and in thee and in thy seed shall all the families of the earth be blessed.
15 And, behold, I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land; for I will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.
16 And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the LORD is in this place; and I knew it not.
Turn to Second Kings 6.8, where we read of a conscious encounter Elisha had with the spirit realm:
8 Then the king of Syria warred against Israel, and took counsel with his servants, saying, In such and such a place shall be my camp.
9 And the man of God sent unto the king of Israel, saying, Beware that thou pass not such a place; for thither the Syrians are come down.
10 And the king of Israel sent to the place which the man of God told him and warned him of, and saved himself there, not once nor twice.
11 Therefore the heart of the king of Syria was sore troubled for this thing; and he called his servants, and said unto them, Will ye not shew me which of us is for the king of Israel?
12 And one of his servants said, None, my lord, O king: but Elisha, the prophet that is in Israel, telleth the king of Israel the words that thou speakest in thy bedchamber.
13 And he said, Go and spy where he is, that I may send and fetch him. And it was told him, saying, Behold, he is in Dothan.
14 Therefore sent he thither horses, and chariots, and a great host: and they came by night, and compassed the city about.
15 And when the servant of the man of God was risen early, and gone forth, behold, an host compassed the city both with horses and chariots. And his servant said unto him, Alas, my master! how shall we do?
16 And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them.
17 And Elisha prayed, and said, LORD, I pray thee, open his eyes, that he may see. And the LORD opened the eyes of the young man; and he saw: and, behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire round about Elisha.
Of course, there are many other passages I could have taken you to in scripture. Balaam’s talking donkey and the angel with the flaming sword, Belshazzar’s feast and the handwriting on the wall, Joshua’s encounter with the captain of the LORD of hosts, and Isaiah’s vision in the year that King Uzziah died when he saw the LORD high and lifted up, are but a few examples of men being given a glimpse of that region which lies beyond the five senses. There are also in that realm foul spirits, demons who oppress their victims in a variety of ways. We read of them in the gospels and the book of Acts, we see their effects in different parts of the world even now in the lives of those they enslave and mistreat. Their victims are in Latin America, in East and South Asia, in Africa, and throughout the Muslim world, poor souls who need no convincing that there is a realm beyond the physical.
Because we are time-bound creatures, limited for the most part to what is experienced by our five senses, we usually give very little thought and attention to the other realm, to the spirit region, to that domain all of us will become so much more aware of when we leave this life of physicality. However, with the advance of technology we are able to gather information more quickly than ever before about infrequent encounters with the other side, and can rapidly verify that some of the things those with near death experiences claim to have seen and heard seem to be genuine, out of body observations of things taking place far away during unconsciousness that have been verified by objective scientific investigators. Evidence is mounting that even Bible critics have difficulty refuting, pointing to the existence of a realm alongside time and space, a sphere of existence that everyone will gain entrance to through the portal of death, and that some who have come very close to death have already glanced through to see glimpses of this parallel region. Of course, God’s Word is the only authoritative source of information about this other realm, so that while some have experiences they claim are real and memorable, such claims are difficult to verify even if they are thought to be true, and separating objective facts from subjective opinions that may result from delusions or medications is almost impossible.
Thus, we are safest when we stick with the Bible, the inspired record given by God with facts that do not change, written from a divine (which is to say an otherworldly) perspective. Therefore, admitting that there is another reality alongside the realm of our physical universe and our five senses, I want you to turn to Luke 16.19, to read what may be a familiar passage to you. However, today’s message will focus on but a single phrase of what we are about to read. If you have found the verse where we will begin, please stand and read along silently while I read aloud:
19 There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day:
20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores,
21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores.
22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;
23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.
25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.
27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father’s house:
28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment.
29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.
30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent.
31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.
The rich man died. During the course of his natural life, it is likely he had no experiences with the spirit world like those we have briefly considered. There is, as well, no evidence if poor Lazarus had any such experiences during his physical life either.
However, direct your attention to verse 26, where Abraham responds to the now dead rich man’s plea for mercy, for but a drop of water for his tongue to ease his torment from the flames. In addition to the other things he says to the rich man, notice that Abraham observes, “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed.” May I speak to you about the great gulf Abraham remarked about, the great gulf the now dead rich man no doubt saw himself once he had died?
Three observations concerning this great gulf that separates sinners from God, as well as separating sinners from saints, those who are God’s children:
First, THE GULF EXISTS
About this great gulf, it existed before the rich man died. It existed before poor Lazarus died. It no doubt existed before Abraham died, the domain on one side honoring Abraham by being named for him for a reason I will offer in a moment. Though God’s Word provides few details about this great gulf, I am convinced it came into existence when Cain slew his younger brother, Abel, when God created a domain or region in the spirit realm to be a repository for righteous Abel and those who followed him in death until the resurrected Savior would come to take them to heaven. The great gulf is not really a thing, you see. Rather, it is a gap, a separation if you will, between two things. If Hell actually refers to the entirety of that other world to which all who leave this life pass through death to, that domain created by God as the temporary abode for the righteous, and first inhabited by Abel, is Abraham’s bosom, paradise. That domain created by God as the temporary abode of the unrighteous, and first inhabited by the first unrighteous sinner to die, which place we normally think of when we think of Hell, is where the rich man was. It is a place of torment. It is a place of fire.
The gulf is what separates the two domains. However, that gulf that separates Abraham’s bosom, or paradise, from that place of torment where the rich man agonized is not a gulf that exists only in the afterlife. That which separates the righteous from the unrighteous does not separate them in the afterlife only, but separates them in this life as well. Recognize that experiencing physical death, by which means one passes from here to the hereafter, does not change a person’s spiritual status. No one who is righteous here becomes unrighteous there, and no one who is unrighteous here becomes righteous there. What you are at the conclusion of this life you will remain in the hereafter, despite what nice things are said about wicked people at their funerals. Thus, you see that the gulf that the rich man and Lazarus saw, the gulf that separated them, the gulf that Abraham spoke of, presently exists, and exists in our world, though it cannot be perceived by our five senses. What does this mean? It means that a Christian mom is presently as separated from her unsaved daughter as Lazarus was from the rich man in our text. A Christian dad is presently no less removed from his unconverted son than Abraham was from the rich man. Can you see and talk to each other? So could they. That does not negate the truth of a great gulf separating them, or separating you from a Christian.
Next, THE GULF IS IMPASSIBLE
Abraham’s words were, “between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”
We seem to take it for granted that the great gulf that separates those reconciled to God from those who are not reconciled to God is impassible in the next life. Except for Roman Catholics, who believe you can pray for the welfare of someone already dead and actually alter their eternal state, it is generally recognized by people that the Bible teaches once you die, that is it. You are done. Your fate is sealed. There are no second chances after you pass over. What people are less inclined to want to think about is that the great gulf that separates the righteous dead from the unrighteous dead also exists in the realm of the living. Think about it. Abraham observed that in the next life those on one side of the gulf cannot pass over to the other side, and those on the other side similarly cannot pass over in the other direction. The fact of the matter is that the same is true in this life. Just as no unsaved Christ rejecter can pass over to the realm of those who are in Christ, so those who are in Christ cannot pass back to the realm of those whose sins are not forgiven. Listen to me now, I refer to this life.
Think about it for another moment. How is one who is dead to God, dead to Christ, dead to the truth, and dead in his own sins, as Ephesians 2.1 says all unsaved people are, to become a part of that which is alive to God, alive to Christ, alive to the truth, and forgiven of all his sins? It is not by works of righteousness that we have done, Titus 3.5. It is certainly not accomplished by anyone’s attempts at righteousness, Isaiah 64.6, which are like so many filthy rags to God. Thus, there is quite simply nothing any sinner can do to abandon the realm of sin and death he exists in that he might somehow gain the realm in which Christ rules, the realm of peace and beauty and love and holiness. Contrariwise, no one who is a child of God, a Christian, can cross over from the side of the great gulf wherein the righteous and the spiritually alive dwell to the side of the doomed, the damned, the depraved, and the deluded who are convinced they are safe from destruction. First, why would the delivered want to cross over to the region of the damned? Second, such a thing may be thinkable, but it is certainly not doable. Concerning those who have eternal life, Jesus declared, “they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father’s hand.”
So you see, in both this life and in the afterlife, it really is the way father Abraham said it was: “they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.” As in our text, we can see between the two realms. As in our text, we can speak between the two realms. However, just as in our text, in this life it is impossible to pass between these two realms, the realm of the damned and the realm of the delivered. Every night, when you pillow your head, you do so with the knowledge that you are separated from your mother, from your father, from your son, from your daughter, from your spouse, from your brother or sister, by a great gulf that is impassible. It is too vast to cross over by feats of strength or cleverness of the mind. It is too imposing to bridge by works of righteousness. Though you can reach out and actually touch the other person, you cannot spiritually go to where that person spiritually exists unless you are already on the same side of the great gulf, unless you already have the same relationship with Jesus Christ, unless you already have the same relationship with God.
If you are reconciled to God in this life, you will be reconciled to God in the next life. If you are not reconciled to God in this life when you die, you will remain unreconciled to God in the next life. To die doomed here is to be doomed there. To die damned here is to be damned there. To die unforgiven here is to be eternally unforgiven there. To anticipate judgment here is to actually suffer judgment there. Your destiny is anticipated before death, but will be fulfilled after you die.
YET ABRAHAM AND LAZARUS, BOTH BORN TO ONE SIDE OF THE GREAT GULF, PASSED OVER TO THE OTHER SIDE . . . BY FAITH.
Here is where we come to understand how Abraham’s bosom is referred to in Luke 16.22 as Abraham’s bosom. Abraham certainly was not the first to inhabit paradise after he died, though he is held up in the Bible as the prototype of justification by faith. Therefore, however it came to be that poor Lazarus, though he was born into this world a sinner just like everyone else, was escorted by angels into Abraham’s bosom when he died, his arrival to paradise had to be accomplished by the same means as Abraham’s. How does one start this life as a sinner and end this life forgiven? How does one enter this world condemned by inherited sin, yet leave this world with no condemnation for sin hanging over your head? How is it that though all have sinned and come short of the glory of God, Abraham did not end up suffering torment in the flames of Hell, but ended up in paradise with that place then named after him? It was because of Abraham’s experience. In Genesis 15.6, we are told that Abraham believed in the LORD and it was counted unto him for righteousness. In Romans 4.1-5, and in Galatians 3.6, Abraham is held up by the Apostle Paul as the New Testament prototype, the prime example of how a sinner comes to be reconciled with God. It is by means of faith.
By faith, that which is impossible is accomplished. When His disciples asked Jesus, “Who then can be saved?” in Matthew 19.25, the Savior replied, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” It is impossible for men to be saved from their sins, to pass from the realm of the damned across the great gulf to the realm of the redeemed, but with God all things are possible. It happened with Abraham by means of faith. It had to happen with Lazarus in the very same fashion as Abraham, since he ended up where Abraham ended up. It can happen with you in the very same way.
Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of the living God, left heaven’s glory to be born of a virgin named Mary in the village of Bethlehem. In due time, He was crucified, suffering the death of the cross, the Just for the unjust that He might bring us to God. When He told the true story of Lazarus and the rich man, it was in part to show the impossibility of crossing the great gulf separating the saved from the lost by human means, and to show that after death and passing into the eternal state it is impossible by any means. What is impossible for men is possible for God, and God has provided in this lifetime only that sinners might be reconciled to God by means of faith (as were Abraham and Lazarus), so long as a sinner’s faith is fixed upon its proper Object, Jesus Christ.
You see, it is not faith that saves, but it is Jesus Who saves. Jesus saves no one in the next life who is not saved in this life, for what spiritual condition you are in when you die is the condition you will be in forever. However, Jesus does save some sinners in this life, those whose faith is set upon Him. When a sinner turns from his sins to Jesus before he dies, that sinner is instantaneously delivered from the kingdom of darkness and is translated to the kingdom of God’s dear Son, Colossians 1.13, where he shall then forever be. Thus, that great gulf that separates death from life, sin from salvation, doom from deliverance, truly is impossible for anyone to cross over, but is by a miracle (the miracle of the new birth) overcome and spanned by God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, when the sinner comes to Him.
Read our text again and you will see that Abraham spoke to the rich man, but offered him no hope. Though they could communicate across the great gulf, there was no use to witness to the man of the salvation that could only be found in Jesus Christ. You see, once he had died there was no salvation to offer him. It was too late for him. He was past all hope of redemption. However, in this life before physical death, though the saved are separated from the unsaved by that same great gulf, communication with the unsaved across the unseen gulf is both possible and beneficial, because while it is impossible for any sinner to save himself and cross over to the other side, he can be urged to come to Christ to be translated to the kingdom of God’s dear Son.
When a person dies and moves from the physical to the nonphysical existence of the afterlife, which which cannot be seen with the eyes will become all too clearly seen. However, by then it will be too late for remedy of any kind, since the salvation which is available through Jesus Christ is not available after the sinner has died. The gulf so great will be so easy to see then, but the faith in Christ needed to bring you into the arms of the savior will by then be completely out of reach.
No wonder, then, that Paul wrote, “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” Do hurry, my friend. Do not delay. Come to Jesus quickly.
 2 Corinthians 6.2