Jesus shares an interesting story in Luke 16:19-31 about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus who both die and are spirited away to separate sides of a large cavernous waiting room. Jesus describes this place as the location where departed souls went after their bodies died. You see, prior to Jesus’ atoning sacrifice on the cross all departed souls (both believers and unbelievers) went here (Hades in Greek; Sheol in Hebrew) to wait until Jesus made a way for them to get to heaven.
What a place that must have been. Imagine everyone who had died before Jesus’ resurrection all being holed up in one place. Abraham was there. Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Joshua, Samson, and Samuel were all there. David was there, along with Solomon, Jeremiah, Daniel, and even Jonah. They waited for centuries for that moment when all sin was finally atoned for and they were cleared for admission into heaven. There are only two who never had to go wait in the holding tank. The first was Enoch from Genesis 5:24, which says, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away.” The other was Elijah, who was taken directly to heaven in a chariot of fire (2 Kings 2:11).
What do you think it was like in that “holding tank”? What did they do there to pass the centuries? What image comes to mind?
I get the image of a doctor’s office waiting room. Have you ever had an early morning appointment? People open the door to the waiting room, check in at the desk and take a seat where they thumb through an issue People magazine dated August 1997. This continues until the doctor’s waiting room is crammed full of coughing, sniffling people all ready to cross-contaminate each other. At that precise moment, when you realize that one more person will exceed the room’s capacity, that’s when the nurse opens another door, peeks her head in and says, “Mr. Smith? Please come with me.”
This is the image of Hades/Sheol I have in mind (only without the coughing and sniffles) when I read the account of Jesus, Peter and John on the mount of transfiguration (Luke 9:28-36). As you’ll recall, Jesus takes Peter and John up on a mountain and he is transfigured before their eyes in glory. Then Moses and Elijah both appear in glory with Christ and Peter and John see them talking with Jesus about his approaching death.
Now, it’s no big deal that Elijah appeared there in glory. After all, about 700 years ago he was taken up to heaven in a fiery chariot and has been hanging around there with angels and God. He got a pass and didn’t have to sit in the waiting room! Getting him to the mountain top for a guest appearance was easy, for he was readily available and at God’s side.
However, Moses presented a logistical problem.
Moses was stuck in the Hades waiting room with all those others. So, God dispatched an angel from heaven to go to Hades, find Moses among the millions already waiting there, clean him up for his guest appearance and take him to meet Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration.
What must it have been like as that angel opened the door, like the nurse at your doctor’s office, and called out, “Mr. Moses? Jesus will see you now.”
Did Abraham protest? “Hey, I was here first!”
Did Adam counter? “No you weren’t. I was first in line. See, I took a number! Number 1!”
Did David object: “That’s my offspring up there…the Messiah. I should go instead!”
After all, of the heavyweights of the Old Testament Faith, Moses is the only one who had never set foot in Israel. Why pick him?
And after Moses is taken away by the angel to make a brief appearance on the Mount of Transfiguration, did God send him back to wait a few more months until Jesus finished his atoning work? Did everyone waiting there get excited as Moses described the Messiah? Did they laugh when Moses told them how utterly clueless the Disciples were? “Peter asked if they should build shelters for us! Can you believe that?”
Yes, I’m sure that was the most interesting day in the history of Sheol. Well, at least until Jesus appeared in shining glory and announced, “Hey, I’ve just defeated death. Follow me to heaven!”