Bridge That Disappears


Jim van Heiningen

     At the beginning of last century a lot was written in the US about “The Unbridgeable Gap: Blacks and their Quest for the American Dream”. By now, though, some sort of a “bridge” seems to be in place for that particular gap, at least for many.

 The Bible Gap

In the Bible we have a statement from Abraham about another gap. It is a “grand canyon”, truly unbridgeable; one which only appears in stark relief after a person has died. Abraham (dead yet more alive than ever) was speaking to one of his descendants, a man who had lived a dream-life while on earth – let’s call him “Nabal”. The bridge-of-faith was available to Nabal to cross to the other side. Perhaps he lived a long life, a dignified life, perhaps he was a very religious man, but year went by after year, and Nabal never bothered to cross the bridge. The story is found in Luke 16:19-31.

Nabal was an Israelite, he had the Old Testament with all the promises of God, He knew of the Messiah, yet he preferred to stay where he was… While he was enjoying “the good life”, he made sure God was kept at arm’s length, and he hoped that death too would stay at arm’s length.

But Nabal died anyway, and what happened then? The bridge folded! At least as far as he was concerned; and he was found on the wrong side of that huge gap. Which is why Abraham had to tell him: “Between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us” (16:26).

     Missing the Bridge

This “great gulf”, a ‘fixture’ after death, is just as much a fixture before death, the difference being that after death the bridge that spans it has disappeared! The gulf exists here and now, not only between enemies, or between folks of different tribes, ideologies, religions, etc.; it exists in peaceful, ordered societies, among friends, within families, between spouses (Mt. 10:21; 34-37). Just think of Abel and his brother Cain, of Mr & Ms Job, of Jacob and his twin brother Esau, of Ruth and her sister-in-law Orpah, and so on. The “gulf” is between those who belong to Christ and those who don’t… The gulf was there between “Nabal” and Lazarus – physically no more than a few yards apart, yet spiritually an eternity apart, because Lazarus, the believer, had crossed to the other side when he could. Then both of them died, and, as we have seen, the “great gulf” was still there, but not the bridge. No more crossing over to the other side…

The difference between time and eternity is that before the moment of death there IS that bridge, and it spans the chasm! Anyone can cross over to the other side, and be with those who belong to Christ! After death that possibility is gone, because the “bridge” is gone! There’s only the gaping chasm, for ever and ever…

Outsiders may be unaware of any gaps. Or they may think there is a gap, when there isn’t. In a similar vein, Jesus said: “If you start to pull up the ‘weeds’ from among the ‘wheat’, you are going to make big mistakes. Leave that to the harvesters, i.e. to the angels!” (Mt. 13). The weeds may look just like wheat, and vice versa, and they’re all growing peacefully together, but at harvest time, it will be a different story!

Two persons may be living peacefully together and, when they die, they may be peacefully “laid to rest”, even in the same grave, but appearances deceive and “true reality” may be devastating. Eternity will spring great surprises on us! “Do not put your trust in princes… Happy is he whose hope is in the Lord his God!” (Ps. 146:3-5).

     Crossing the Bridge

At the same time, it is nothing short of amazing throughout history, that when “the ones and the twos” cross the bridge-of-faith, they find each other. When there is true faith, there is true fellowship, and among the most unexpected people. Have you ever thought of Matthew the “collaborator” and Simon the “zealot”? Both were called by our Lord, and both became disciples and apostles! In opposite camps before, poles apart, yet once they had crossed the bridge, there they were, serving the same Lord and Master.

In utter amazement Peter found that uncircumcised gentiles of the Roman army were, all of a sudden, crossing the bridge to the very same “territory” where he and the other converted Jews had arrived, the territory of the Jewish Messiah (Acts 10). The same can be said of Saul of Tarsus. As a Pharisee, Saul would despise uncircumcised gentiles. Then he crossed the bridge and God started to use him for Jew and gentile alike. His preaching of the Gospel drew thousands of those same gentiles across the bridge. Faithful men of Israel, like Barnabas, Paul and Silas, found there was no more gap that divided them from men like Titus, Tychicus and Trophimus.

In what glowing terms the captive Paul describes Epaphroditus, a gentile, to his gentile congregation in Philippi: “…my brother, fellow worker, and fellow soldier, but your messenger and the one who ministered to my need…, he was sick almost unto death; but God had mercy on him, and not only on him but on me also, lest I should have sorrow upon sorrow. Therefore I sent him the more eagerly, that when you see him again you may rejoice, and I may be less sorrowful. Receive him therefore in the Lord with all gladness, and hold such men in esteem; because for the work of Christ he came close to death, not regarding his life…” (Phil. 2:25-30).

     Those that Cross

On this website, at, you will find a whole list of “Amazing Grace” testimonies. Go to the “Amazing Grace” menu for the stories of a Jew, a monk, an adulterer, an alcoholic, a homosexual, a Muslim, an evolutionist, and others. Each story tells of that “amazing grace” which was enough to get him or her to cross (eventually) to the other side of the “unbridgeable” gap! And invariably the bridge of faith led them to the family of faith, where there is true fellowship and friendship. Take the ex-Muslim – he refers to his amazing fellowship even with Jews! When two-or-three of the “family” are gathered in HIS name, HE is in the midst.

The mention by Jesus of the rich man and his fate in Luke 16, the man we have called Nabal, is not his only reference to the rich in this gospel. In fact, Luke has eight chapters in which the rich are mentioned. Believe it or not, the Lord constantly shows “religion” to be the major factor in keeping a person from crossing the bridge, but “riches” is shown to be major-factor-number-two.

That said, we must have a look at two very different men. At the end of chapter 18 blind Bartimaeus of Jericho comes into view. He is the poorest of the poor, but Bartimaeus crosses the bridge and follows Jesus! The next paragraph (ch. 19) is about a very rich man. This is Zacchaeus, also a Jericho citizen. Does the story of Luke 16 repeat itself – the poor crossing the bridge by faith and the rich staying behind? No! Zacchaeus also crosses the bridge!! The gap between these two men was unbridgeable, yet in Christ they find each other – for this life and the next! No more gap between them! If only ‘Nabal’ of chapter 16 had crossed over when he could, and the other rich men in Luke’s Gospel, the ones we find in chapters 12 and 18…!

    Way of Life

The word “bridge” does not occur in the Bible, but the word “way” does. Basically there are only two ways. Jesus speaks of the “broad way” and the “narrow way”. These and their characteristics are clearly portrayed in Psalm 1 where the last verse sums it all up: “For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, but the way of the ungodly shall perish.” After Pentecost, all followers of Christ, those who had crossed the bridge, began to be commonly called “men and women of The Way” (Acts 9:2; 19:9, 23; 24:14, 22). Jesus had said “I am the Way”, and these were the ones who had crossed over to follow in the Way. Society at large couldn’t help but notice the transformation that was taking place in men and women, in young and old, in rich and poor, in slaves and the free – they had evidently changed their ways.

The ways they had left behind were aptly called: the way of Cain”, which stands for “the way of religion” (Jude 11), and also: the way of Balaam”, which stands for “the way of riches” (2 P. 2). From these they had crossed over to the way of salvation”, theway of peace”, theway of truth”, theway of righteousness”, and the way into the Holiest of All”. No wonder they were called “the people of the way”.

Having forsaken their former ways, the new way was so different from the rest of the world, and the widening gap so irritating, that others, especially the religious and the rich, felt increasingly uneasy, offended, even threatened. As it had been with the Savior himself, so with his followers, things were bound to come to a head – persecution broke out and life and limb and liberty were in grave danger.

Since then, starting with Stephen, countless faithful followers have been killed. The killing, the imprisonment, the torture, they are all going on right now in places like Somalia, North Korea, Eritrea, Iran, etc. To find the “way of life” may cost you your life…! But, as the cross was “death” in the wisdom of men, and as the beheading of a Christian in Somalia is “death”, yet it was and it is, LIFE in God’s wisdom.

He told the people of Jerusalem in Jeremiah 21: “Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death”. It is what He tells the world now. And the bridge of faith is provided to cross from the one to the other.


In Rome, the capital of the Empire, the emperors, from well before Christ, had held the pagan, priestly title of “pontifex”, or “pontiff”, i.e. “bridge builder”. When, finally, Emperor Gratian in AD 382 renounced the title because of its pagan and idolatrous connotations, the popes gladly assumed it. To this day the man in the Vatican is usually so designated. But the Roman “bridge”, or any other “bridge of religion”, does not get you away from “the way of Cain”. It is totally incapable of spanning the gap of separation from God. In fact, Cain’s crude reality is that his very religiosity, far from leading to “life”, leads to death, even to murder. In connection with Rome, we only need to remember the (holy) Roman Inquisition with its indescribable horrors.

In Jesus’ day those who were most fervently “religious” made sure that the One so different, so uncompromising, was liquidated. In our own day, likewise, the most religious among Jews, Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists and even atheists, are ever ready to imprison, torture and kill the modern “Abels”, those who dare to defy “big brother Cain”, and dare to simply trust in the “Blood of the Lamb”!

When it is not so much religion that is perceived to be under threat, it is wealth and might. To rich and mighty Herod on his throne, the life and presence of a baby, obviously a unique baby, was perceived as a threat – that baby had to be dealt with summarily!

The bridge of faith must not be acknowledged; it must not be allowed to stand. Only the official “bridges of tradition” – that lead to nowhere – are approved…


An Old Testament prophet-of-sorts, Balaam was probably pretty religious, but above all he wanted to be very rich. Through God’s restraint, he miserably failed King Balak, but the lure of Balak’s gold remained as strong as ever. Being a man of purpose, he was not to be outdone by God’s restraints on him. If he couldn’t curse God’s own people, then he could still teach Balak a trick or two in order to thwart God’s purposes with Israel (Ap. 2:14). That’s what he did, and… seemingly, it worked. At last Balaam got his gold!image005

His greed, his treachery and his miserable death secured him a place of notoriety in the Bible – he is mentioned by name more often than the prophet Isaiah. Now the bridge Balaam was hoping to build for himself, leading to prosperity and away from poverty, that bridge materialized, but the new-rich man never got away from his old ways. He remained as miserable as ever. Spurning the only valid bridge, the faith one, what he got was no more than golden soap-bubbles. The sad fact is that Balaam is still on the wrong side of the gap; the bridge having disappeared when the sword pierced him (Numbers 31:8)!

How many prophets-of-sorts (teleprophets perhaps) preach today the rags-to-riches gospel, the bridge that will get you from poverty to prosperity! They make a point of demonstrating that their gospel, somehow, works. But the apostle Peter makes it very clear that, whether this “gospel” works or not, if you follow in Balaam’s way, you have the “blackness of darkness reserved forever” (2 P. 2:15-17). Perhaps ‘Nabal’ in Luke 16 also had the illusion that, crossing the bridge of material blessing, would stand him in good stead for eternity. But in that chapter our Lord himself lifts the curtain to show us how tragic a mistake that was – he made the wrong choice, he missed the real bridge! Psalm 52:7 tells us that, at that time, the saved will have this to say: “Here is the man who did not make God his strength, but trusted in the abundance of his riches, and strengthened himself in his wickedness.” Jesus’ comment about another rich man, who died suddenly, runs like this: “So is he who lays up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God” (Lk. 12:21).

     Way of Blessing

If your way is different, if your walk is different, if your word is different, in short, if you have consciously made that vital crossing-over to “the way of life”, a “way” that is foreign to – and frowned upon by – this world with its traditions and religions, then you may be sure that, though they curse you and take from you everything that is dear to you, you’re in the “way of blessing”! The Master said: Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for my sake. Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Mt. 5:10-12).

These things, mentioned as normal for his faithful followers, strike us as totally negative, yet the Lord pronounces them to be positive! In the Scriptures the many references to “ashes”, “mourning” and “heaviness” are used as symbolic of all that is negative! But then the Messiah declares: “He has sent me… to give them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; … that He may be glorified” (Is. 61:1-3). Blessing, indeed!

Furthermore, according to the first psalm, as long as a follower keeps in the Way, and keeps absorbing God’s Word, God’s blessing, even in the midst of persecution, will translate into spiritual growth, spiritual fruit, spiritual health and spiritual prosperity!

Whereas the divine Judge doesn’t mince his words, calling certain rich and religious people fools,
clearly he is no fool who crosses The Bridge,
even if it wrenches him away from so much that was enjoyed before.
He is no fool who leaves it all behind, then presses on in The Way!!