Again (Jesus) said to them, “I am going away, and you will search for me, but you will die in your sin. Where I am going, you cannot come.” Then the Jews said, “Is he going to kill himself? Is that what he means by saying, ‘Where I am going, you cannot come’?” He said to them, “You are from below, I am from above; you are of this world, I am not of this world. I told you that you would die in your sins, for you will die in your sins unless you believe that I am he.” They said to him, “Who are you?” Jesus said to them, “Why do I speak to you at all? I have much to say about you and much to condemn; but the one who sent me is true, and I declare to the world what I have heard from him.” They did not understand that he was speaking to them about the Father. So Jesus said, “When you have lifted up the Son of Man, then you will realize that I am he, and that I do nothing on my own, but I speak these things as the Father instructed me. And the one who sent me is with me; he has not left me alone, for I always do what is pleasing to him.” As he was saying these things, many believed in him.
Lord Jesus tells his Jewish listeners that he is going away, and many of them probably whooped with joy because he had been a real pain in the neck. However, their joy was short lived because he then really laid it into them, spelling out the exact consequences of rejecting him. “You are all gonna die in your sins,” he said, “unless you believe that I am the one come from heaven to save you!” They probably just gaped at him.
I know what that is like. I am living in Mumbai, India at the moment, and while the whole world is engaged in self-isolation and social distancing, people in this city act like nothing is wrong. Yes, a lot of events and activities where there are huge gathers of people have been canceled, but I have realized that most people don’t really get it. It’s like: “Yeah, all this is happening, but it’s happening to somebody else. It can’t happen to me.” Until it does. By then it is too late.
So, when Jesus is talking to his listeners about impending doom, I can understand why they don’t get it. Jesus sees that they don’t understand, so he tries to spell it out for them, mincing no words as he does so. There will come a time when people who reject him will look for him but find he is not there to save him because now he has come to judge. And then there will be no hope.
Let me also spell it out for you. The world is in serious trouble. If a cure for the virus is not found quickly, or if the virus mutates, millions might die. But although physical life will cease, there is a spiritual life that exists beyond death. We continue our journey in heaven or in hell. Both are realities, but not as we commonly understand them. Heaven is the state of being with God; hell is the state of being separated from him.
What does this mean? In God lies goodness and all things good. If we are with him, we have all of this; if we aren’t, we don’t. We know how terrible things are when they aren’t good. The pain, the loneliness, the desolation, the wretchedness. This is for eternity. The only way we get to heaven is through Jesus. At least that is what he tells us. I believe him. Many of the people listening to him in today’s passage believed him too.
The question is: do you?