Harry Houdini was the world’s greatest escape artist. He routinely escaped from handcuffs, locked jail cells, straitjackets, nailed coffins, and all sorts of other restraints that were supposed to be secure. One of his most famous acts was escaping from an airtight, locked glass-and-steel cabinet that was filled with water. No one could create a system of locks and chains that was so secure that Houdini could not free himself from them.
Harry Houdini born on March 24, 1874 as Ehrich Weiss, the son of a Jewish rabbi, in Budapest, Hungary. Though a Jew, Houdini was not very religious. He spent much time in his later years trying to debunk mediums and spiritists. He was unsure about life after death, however. Before he died on October 31 (Halloween Day), 1926, he agreed with his wife that if it was possible to communicate from the other side of the grave he would send her a message. He also made his wife promise on his deathbed that she would try to communicate with him on the anniversary of his death, making contact with him wherever he might be. His wife held séances for him every year on October 31, for ten years, with no success. Magicians around the world have continued to hold yearly séances for Houdini, but they have never received a message from him. Harry Houdini’s body was buried in Machpelah Cemetery in Queens, New York, and his body remains in the ground. Harry Houdini was unable to come back from the other side of the grave, whether as a spirit or in the body, and he has not even been able to send a message. The fact that Houdini has not sent a message is itself a clear message: Houdini can’t send any message back to the earth, and he can’t escape from the place where he now is.
Luke 16:19-31 tells the story of another man who, like Harry Houdini, wanted to send a message to his family from the other side of the grave. Like Houdini, this man was a Jew, but was not very religious. He was wealthy, however, and enjoyed a “good life.” Yet when he died, he went to a place of great torment, called Hades. While in the torments of Hades, he saw, far off in another realm, a beggar named Lazarus who had once sat under his table, eating crumbs. Lazarus was in Paradise, taking comfort in the arms of Abraham. Somewhat surprisingly, the rich man found that he was able to communicate with Abraham. He first asked Abraham to send Lazarus to put a drop of water on the tip of his tongue to cool it, but was told that not only would it be impossible for Lazarus to travel to Hades, it would also be unjust for the rich man not to suffer the torment he deserves. The rich man then asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to earth in order to warn his brothers about the place of torment. Abraham refused once again, telling the rich man that it would do no good—if his brothers would not listen to the witness of the Scriptures, they would not listen to the witness of a man who came back from the dead, either.
Jesus did something that neither Harry Houdini nor the rich man of Luke 16 could do—He escaped from death! Jesus came back from the dead in His own body, and He proved it by repeated appearances to hundreds of different people who were extremely skeptical. Many of these people were later killed for their belief in the claims Jesus made for Himself, which shows that they were convinced beyond all doubt of Jesus’ resurrection. While many people in the world had, and still have, great respect for Harry Houdini and his views on life and death, there is only one man whom we can trust when it comes to matters of life, death, and eternity, and that is the Man who rose from the dead.
Postscript: for a more detailed discussion of the Bible’s teaching concerning the underworld and life after death, see my Kindle book The Bible’s Teaching on Endless Punishment, and Objections to It.