EXPLORING CHRISTIANITY - LIFE AFTER DEATH

THE BIBLE
Can we trust a book written 2000 years ago?

EYEWITNESS
Did the writers of the New Testament get their picture of Jesus right?

GOD - MAN
Is Jesus really God?

RESURRECTION
Did Jesus really rise from the dead?

RELIGIONS
With so many religions, why Christianity?

SUFFERING
If there is a God, why is there so much suffering?

TRINITY
Understanding the Trinity.

SCIENCE
The complementary nature of Science & Christianity.

FORGIVENESS
What it is and why it matters?

GUIDANCE
How does God guide?

REPENTANCE
What it is and why you can't get to heaven without it.

BORN AGAIN
What does it mean to be converted and born again?

SAVING FAITH
The kind of faith that will get you to heaven

ASSURANCE
Can I know for sure that I am going to heaven?

TRUTH
What is truth and does it matter?

MORALITY
Does it matter how we live? A Christian view of morality.

THE CHURCH
God's vision for his family, the Church. A call to the churches of the new millennium.

PURPOSE
How can I find a great purpose for living?

IDENTITY
Who am I; Finding my true identity as a human being and as a child of God.

SELF-ESTEEM
How can I feel good about my self? The Christian basis for proper sel-esteem.

LIFE AFTER DEATHChristianity's Hope & Challenge.

THE CROSS
Why did Jesus Die? What the Bible says about the Cross.

Grace
The importance of grace in the New Testament.

 

The future of unbelievers

Some background to the discussion

Here we come to a subject that is unpopular in today’s modern world. Our unease with the subject is demonstrated by that fact that we either joke about it or avoid it altogether. However, to be faithful to the teaching of Jesus, and those he himself taught and commissioned to teach in his name, we cannot avoid it without giving a false picture of the nature of reality.

I am among those who believe the Bible is God’s inspired revelation of himself to us humans. The Holy Spirit, working through chosen persons, and using their own individual gifts and perceptions, gave us truth that can be relied on. [49]  Though the Bible is our final authority, indeed our only authority on matters such as this that are beyond our experience, it is up to us to attempt to interpret accurately what is written there. We do well to do so with much prayer and humility, recognising our own limitations of understanding, and proneness to conditioning and prejudice. After all, God does know a little more than we do, and he does not always choose to reveal everything. “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may follow all the words of this law” (Deuteronomy 29:29). The purpose of Scripture is to bring us into an obedient relationship with himself, not to give us material for idle speculation.

Those who have confidence in the Bible as the authoritative revelation of the living God have tended to hold three views concerning the future of those who have rejected Christ’s offer of salvation in this life. Since the time of Origen, a third-century Alexandrian Bible teacher and theologian, there have been people who, while taking seriously the New Testament teaching about the judgement of those who reject the Saviour in this life, also believe that opportunity will be given for repentance and salvation in the next life and that eventually all will be included in God’s eternal family. In fact, some would say that some of the emphases of Scripture demands it. This is generally known as “universalism”. It has been a minority view and I do not have the space to deal with it here, but for those who wish to explore it further I would commend a thoughtful book by Randy Klassen, What Does the Bible Really Say About Hell? Wrestling with the traditional view, published by Pandora Press, U.S. It is up-to-date, easy to read and has received positive comments from those who may not necessarily hold that view.

The traditional view, held by most of the church fathers, the medieval theologians, the Reformers, and probably by most Evangelical leaders today, is that those who have refused Christ in this life will be condemned to eternal separation from God in continued conscious torment. It is not that Christians want to believe this (though the way some have preached it, one may be forgiven for thinking that, at least in some cases, this may be the case!). It is just that there seems no other way to interpret some of the passages dealing with the subject in the New Testament.

There is certainly much in the New Testament concerning the suffering of those who reject Christ’s offer of forgiveness and reconciliation in this life. I will look at the terms used for this a little further on. The argument that this suffering is forever is based largely on the repeated use of the word “eternal” in connection with the fate of the unrepentant, particularly its use in Matthew 25:46 where “eternal punishment” is contrasted with “eternal life”. There is also the statement in Revelation 14:11 that “the smoke of their torment rises up for ever and ever.”

There is a third view which has been raised as a possible interpretation of relevant New Testament passages which has been variously spoken of as “conditional immortality” or “annihilationism”. There is a slight difference between the two. According to the former, nobody survives death except those to whom God gives life. The Scripture declares that God “alone is immortal” (1 Timothy 6:16). We, however, are offered immortality through the gospel (2 Timothy 1:10). Or, as Paul puts it, if we have accepted Christ, what is mortal will be “clothed…with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:54). It is something we are given by grace and is not ours by nature. In this view, though the unrepentant may or may not survive death, eventually they will cease to exist because God has not given them eternal life.

The view of annihilationism is that everybody survives death and will eventually be resurrected, but the unrepentant will finally be destroyed. With either conditional immortality or annihilationism, those without Christ will not suffer forever. They will cease to exist. This is a view that has been put forward as a legitimate interpretation of the New Testament evidence by respected biblical scholars such as Alan Bernstein, John Stott, Michael Green, Frank Guillebaud, Clark Pinnock, Edward Fudge, Philip Hughes, William Crockett, Steven Travis, and John Wenham.

Interpreting the biblical evidence

Because this third view is the one that people are least familiar with, and because it is one that I believe can legitimately be argued from Scripture, I will explore this in some detail. In his book Essentials, which he co-authored with David Edwards, [50]   John Stott summarises the arguments which tend to support the third of these three options (pages 312-320). Stott, one of the most influential Christian leaders of the last generation, is not only a top New Testament scholar, but is also a remarkably clear and logical thinker. The views that I give here are dealt with more fully in this book and I commend it as a good, concise starting point for those who wish to explore the matter further.

First, there is the question of the use of language and the meaning of the terms used. Frequent terminology used in relation to the final state of the lost is that relating to “destruction”. The commonest Greek words used are the verb apollumi (to destroy) and the noun apòleia (destruction). When the verb is active and transitive it means to “kill”. It is used in this sense when Herod wanted to kill the baby Jesus and when the Jewish leaders plotted to have him executed (Matthew 2:13; 12:14; 27:20). It is used at least twenty-two times in this plain sense. Jesus used this word when he talked of God destroying “both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; cf. James 4:12). Stott comments, “If to kill is to deprive the body of life, hell would seem to be the deprivation of both physical and spiritual life, that is, an extinction of being.”

When this verb is used in the middle and intransitive tense, then it means to be destroyed and so to “perish”. It is used often of perishing physically (e.g. Luke 15:17; 1 Corinthians 10:9), but also, in about nine instances, of those who perish spiritually. Unbelievers are spoken of as “those who are perishing” (1 Corinthians 1:18; 2 Corinthians 2:15; 4:3; 2 Thessalonians 2:10). The word used in 1 Thessalonians 5:3 and 2 Thessalonians 1:9 is olethros, which also means “ruin” or “destruction”. John Stott comments on the use of these terms:

It would seem strange, therefore, if people who are said to suffer destruction are in fact not destroyed; and…it is difficult to imagine a perpetually inconclusive process of perishing. It cannot, I think, be replied that it is impossible to destroy human beings because they are immortal, for the immortality—and therefore indestructibility—of the soul is a Greek not a biblical concept.

Some would be more dogmatic than this. R. F. Weymouth, who translated the New Testament into English (first published in 1903) directly from the Greek, after many years of intensive study of textual criticism, wrote:

My mind fails to conceive a grosser misinterpretation of language than when the five or six strongest words which the Greek tongue possesses, signifying ‘destroy’, or ’destruction’, are explained to mean maintaining an everlasting but wretched existence. To translate black as white is nothing to this. [51]

Another matter for debate is the meaning and use of the word “eternal”, which keeps popping up in the context of both the future destiny of both the saved and the lost. [52]  As regards its use at the end of the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats where “eternal punishment” is contrasted with “eternal life” (Matthew 25:46), Stott comments:

What Jesus said is that both the life and the punishment would be eternal, but he did not in that passage define the nature of either. Because he elsewhere spoke of eternal life as a conscious enjoyment of God (John 17:3), it does not follow that eternal punishment must be a conscious experience of pain at the hand of God. On the contrary, although declaring both to be eternal, Jesus is contrasting the two destinies: the more unlike they are, the better.

The issue at stake is whether the word “eternal” refers to the length of the punishment, or merely to the irreversible nature of the punishment, whatever that punishment might include. There is nothing here that might necessarily preclude the second option.

The second area of debate concerns the symbolic imagery used in Scripture to characterise hell, particularly that of fire. The most common expression that Jesus used of hell was gehenna, a transliteration from the Hebrew ge hinnom. It occurs eleven times in the gospels. [53]  Hinnom was a valley south of Jerusalem where, under the kings Ahaz and Manasseh, children were sacrificed in the fire to the god Molech (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6; 2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6). The prophets borrowed the term as a symbol of judgement (Jeremiah 7:31, 32; 19:6). In Jesus’ day, the valley was used as a burial place for criminals and for burning garbage. Closely associated with this imagery is the concept of fire, which is mentioned about twenty times in connection with the final judgement. We read such terms as “hell fire” (literally: “gehenna of fire”—Matthew 5:22), “everlasting fire” (Matthew 18:8), the place  where the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43) and “the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). God himself, in a passage that speaks of final judgement, is spoken of as “a consuming  fire” (Hebrews 12:29). We may well accept that the “fire” is to be taken figuratively and not literally, as is the term “outer darkness” which is used on several occasions. [54]  (Anyway, fire and darkness would appear to exclude each other if taken literally.) However, the images that are used are meant to mean something.

Stott aptly comments:

It is doubtless because we have all had experience of the acute pain of being burned, that fire is associated in our minds with ‘conscious torment’. But the main function of fire is not to cause pain, but to secure destruction, as all the world’s incinerators bear witness. Hence the biblical expression ‘a consuming fire’ and John the Baptist’s picture of the Judge ‘burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire’ (Matthew 3:12; cf. Luke 3:17). The fire itself is termed ‘eternal’ and ‘unquenchable’, but it would be very odd if what is thrown into it proves indestructible. Our expectation would be the opposite: it would be consumed forever, not tormented forever. Hence it is the smoke (evidence that fire has done its work) which ‘rises for ever and ever’ (Revelation 14:11; cf. 19:3).

There are other passages where fire is mentioned that are much debated, such as the torment experienced by the rich man in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), and the statement that some will be tormented “in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb…And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever.” (Revelation 14:10, 11). We must be careful in interpreting a parable, which the story in Luke appears to be, rather than a real-life instance. However, Stott’s comment also seems appropriate here:

These two states were experienced immediately after Dives [the rich man] died (verses 22, 23). The natural interpretation would be that Jesus was referring to the so-called ‘intermediate (or interim) state’ between death and resurrection. I myself believe that this will be a time (if indeed we shall be aware of the passage of time) when the lost will come to the unimaginably painful realisation of their fate. This is not incompatible, however, with their final annihilation. Similarly, the ‘torment’ of Revelation 14:10, because it will be experienced ‘in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb’, seems to refer to the moment of judgement, not to the eternal state. It is not the torment itself but its ‘smoke’ (symbol of the completed burning) which will be ‘for ever and ever’.

It is also significant that the statement that the smoke rises “for ever and ever” seems to be an echo of almost identical words in Isaiah 34:10 where the prophet foretells God’s judgement on Edom. In Isaiah, these words are immediately followed by the statement that, “none shall pass through it for ever and ever”. In other words, it will be completely devoid of human life.

With a similar emphasis, Jude uses the incident of the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, in this life, "as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire" (1:7). In Sodom and Gomorrah the people were totally annihilated! These cities may well now be at the bottom of the Dead Sea.

A third word, the use of which is much debated, is the word “all” when it is used in passages that look forward to Christ’s universal reign. Jesus said that he would “draw all [people] to himself” (John 12:32). The time is coming when God will “bring all things in heaven and earth together under one head, even Christ” (Ephesians 1:10). Similarly, “at the name of Jesus everyone will bow down, those in heaven, on earth, and under the earth. And to the glory of God the Father everyone will openly agree, ‘Jesus Christ is Lord!’” (Philippians 2:10, 11). In the end, God will be “all in all” (NIV) or “mean everything to everyone” (CEV—1 Corinthians 15:28). [55]  These verses are often used as an argument for universalism, the belief that all will eventually find salvation and be accepted into God’s family. If we are unable to accept this view, on the basis of the repeated warnings of Jesus that judgement will involve a separation into two opposite and eternal destinies, then how do we interpret these passages? Again, Stott comments:

These texts…lead me to ask how God can in any meaningful sense be called ‘everything to everybody’ while an unspecified number of people still continue in rebellion against him and under his judgement. It would be easier to hold together the awful reality of hell and the universal reign of God if hell means destruction and the impenitent are no more.

A third area of debate concerns the biblical vision of justice. Justice, which has its roots in the eternal nature of God, is a major theme of both the Old and New Testaments. It is one of the strongest arguments supporting the idea of a final judgement. One of the songs resounding in heaven when this final event does take place will be, ”Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for true and just are his judgements” (Revelation 19:1, 2). The New Testament also indicates clearly that the penalties inflicted will be commensurate with the evil done. This being the case, would it be compatible with divine justice to punish for all eternity sins consciously committed in time, however serious those sins might be? There are questions here that only God can answer, and one day we will no doubt know those answers. However, at least from the human perspective, annihilation would seem a more just decision than eternal conscious torment.

I think it is appropriate to give the final statement on this issue also to John Stott. In a personal statement which he prepared in reply to a number of correspondents who questioned him on these issues, which Timothy Dudley-Smith records in the second volume of his magnificent biography of Stott’s life, John Stott: A Global Ministry, [56]  he says:

There is no ‘knockdown’ argument on either side which effectively settles this issue; both sides are faced with difficult texts. I am disturbed by the excessive dogmatism of those who claim that only one view is biblical. I plead for greater humility of judgment. We evangelical people need to give one another liberty in areas in which Scripture is not absolutely plain. F. F. Bruce wrote to me in 1989 that “annihilation is certainly an acceptable interpretation of the relevant New Testament passages”. He added, “For myself, I remain agnostic.” My position is similar.

Separation and the shut door

There are two things that are very clear from the New Testament. First, that there are but two possible destinies, either with God or without him. There is no middle ground. A brief skim through the teaching of Jesus in the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) will confirm this, quite apart from the rest of the New Testament. There is nothing there that would lend weight to any other view.

Following the sinking of the Titanic, the White Star office in Liverpool, England, placed a large board on either side of the main entrance. On one they printed in large letters, “KNOWN TO BE SAVED”, and on the other, “KNOWN TO BE LOST”. When the Titanic's voyage began there were three classes of passengers, but when it ended the number was reduced to only two—those who were saved by the rescue boats and those who were lost in the deep waters. Similarly, when our eternal destiny is at stake, I don’t see how you can interpret the New Testament passages on the subject in any other way.

God longs that all should accept his offer of reconciliation, purchased at infinite cost through the atoning death of Jesus. “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). However, in his loving purposes he has given us the freedom to choose. Those who choose not to recognise their need and submit to him, of necessity exclude themselves from all he longs to give us.

It will be a most awful thing to hear those words, recorded in the Sermon on the Mount, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers” (Matthew 7:23; cf. Luke 13:27). One of the clearest passages, emphasising this separation from the presence of God, is in 2 Thessalonians: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-10). It is significant the number of times the idea of being “outside” keeps cropping up. [57]  

Sadly, those who by choice exclude themselves from God’s presence, also exclude themselves from the presence of his family. As I have mentioned earlier, God is a God who exists in a community of loving relationships, and his whole purpose in creating this universe was to enlarge that community. As mentioned above, one of the terms Jesus used to emphasise the horror of being outside that community is “outer darkness”. Whereas the imagery of fire points to destruction, that of darkness speaks of the loss of all relationships, loneliness, separation, alienation and moral blindness. To be separated from God is to be separated from the One who is the ultimate source of all goodness and truth.

The second point is the finality of the sentence. It is hard to avoid the full effect of the word “eternal” when applied to the future of the unrepentant, as well as to the future of those who are welcomed into God’s kingdom. It does appear to refer to the final consequences of that choice, even if not necessarily to one’s continual existence. Though scholars debate the prime significance of its meaning, it seems to include the thought of “irreversible”. James Barr says in his book Biblical Words for Time, “The cases of aionios [eternal] refer fairly uniformly to the being of God or to plans and realities which, once established by him, are perpetual or unchanging.”

Of particular significance in this regard is Jesus’ description of “blasphemy against the Holy Spirit” as an “eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). In a similar passage in Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus enlarges on what is meant by an “eternal sin”. “Anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come (Matthew 12:32). It is the Holy Spirit who seeks to show us our need of forgiveness and who points us to Christ as the answer to that need. My understanding of this “sin against the Holy Spirit” is that we so resist his efforts to impress us with the truth that we become immune to his pleadings to submit our lives to Christ. The religious leaders that Jesus was speaking to on this occasion were in danger of doing this as they were attributing his sheer goodness to the work of Satan.

It is pertinent to ask if Jesus would have said, as he did of Judas, “that man would be better off if he had never been born” (Matthew 26:24), if ultimately Judas was to end up in heaven? It is also significant that the writer of Hebrews lists “eternal judgement” as one of the “elementary teachings about Christ” (6:1, 2).

Imagery that Jesus used which would strongly support this is that of the “shut door”. In the parable of The Wise and Foolish Virgins, those who were unprepared for the bridegroom’s return turn up for the celebrations and find the door shut. “’Sir! Sir,!’ they said. ‘Open the door for us!’ But he replied, ‘I tell you the truth, I don’t know you.’ Therefore keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour” (Matthew 25:11-13). On one occasion he was asked the question, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” He refrained from giving a direct answer, but his reply is worth noting in full: “Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to. Once the owner of the house gets up and closes the door, you will stand outside knocking and pleading, ‘Sir, open the door for us.’ But he will answer, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from.’ Then you will say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will reply, ‘I don’t know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. People will come from east and west and north and south, and will take their places at the feast in the kingdom of God. Indeed there are those who are last who will be first, and the first who will be last” (Luke 13:23-30).

A significant story was told in Decision magazine about the Billy Graham Crusade in Ohio in 1977. A couple came to the meeting. The wife had wanted to come early, but her husband dragged his feet. When they arrived they could not get in because the by-laws prohibited over-crowding. As they stood in front of the closed doors, the woman began to cry. “What’s the matter?” her husband asked. “Do you realise,” she wept, “that this is what it is going to be like for us at the Judgement. We’re locked out!”

The next night they arrived at the Colosseum early and when the invitation was given to commit their lives to Jesus Christ, the husband was out of his seat even before Dr Graham had finished speaking. They stood together, husband and wife, accepting Christ as Saviour. They knew now to whom they belonged, and they knew where they were going; for them it was settled.

What about those who have not heard the gospel?

One question I have not answered yet is, “What about those people who have never heard the gospel, or even the very name of Jesus? It is estimated that 67% of all humans from AD 30 to the present day have never heard of his name. Will they suffer condemnation along with those who have consciously rejected him?” This issue also has relevance for those who lived before Christ came, for those who have heard the gospel but only in a manner that distorts its true meaning, for those mentally handicapped persons who lack the ability to understand it, and for children who have yet to reach the age of knowing right from wrong.

It is important to avoid dogmatism on questions that God has not made clear, and this is certainly one of them. However, there are certain principles that are relevant to the discussion about which the Bible is not in doubt.

First, we all stand guilty in the light of God’s blazing holiness and purity. Whether we are “big sinners” or “little sinners” is of little account. None of us will get to heaven because we deserve to be there. [58]  We are wholly dependent on the grace and mercy of God.

Second, when Jesus died on the cross he was taking upon himself the consequences for the sins of the whole human race. “He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2). “God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting [people’s] sins against them” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Third, if those who have not heard or understood the gospel make it to heaven, it will not be because they deserved it, but because of the amazing love and saving work of Jesus Christ—whether they heard of it or not. He is “the Saviour of the world” (John 4:42; 1 John 4:14). “Only Jesus has the power to save! His name is the only one in all the world that can save anyone” (Acts 4:12). “There is only one God and one mediator between God and people, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all [people]” (1 Timothy 2:5, 6). Jesus himself declared, “No one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him” (Matthew 11:27), and again “No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

Fourth, God has made it plain, as we have seen above, that he will judge us all fairly on the light we have received and the opportunities we have been given. In his condemnation of the towns of Korazin, Bethsaida and Capernaum, he made it plain that they would be worse off than Tyre, Sidon and Sodom on the day of judgement, as he knew that if the latter cities had seen what they had seen and heard what they had heard, they would have repented. [59]

Apart from these four truths I am content to leave all such matters in God’s very capable hands. I am certain that when the final decisions are made we will stand amazed at the wisdom, the justice, the love and the mercy of our God. It is significant that in the story Jesus told of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector, it was the despised tax collector who “beat his breast and said , ‘God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” who “went home justified before God” rather than the Pharisee who thought he was a better man and was unaware of his need for forgiveness (Luke 18:9-14). It seems as if the Old Testament believers were accepted on the basis of their faith, even though they knew little if anything about the coming of Christ. Norman Anderson writes in Christianity and World Religions: The Challenge of Pluralism:

The believing Jew was accepted and blessed not because of the prescribed animal sacrifices he offered, nor even his repentance and abandonment of himself to God’s mercy, but because of what God himself was going to do in his only Son at the cross of Calvary.

Though we have all been given the freedom to make moral choices and to choose our attitude to God, I  have a conviction that there will be more in heaven than not there. This seems to me to be the implications of Paul’s argument in the last half of Romans 5, where he goes to some lengths to show how the grace of God given us in Jesus is greater than the effect of Adam’s sin. Though the New Testament indicates that we can be certain of our own salvation and our relationship with God, [60]  I am sure there will be surprises when we find who is in heaven and who is not there. This is implied in the statement of Jesus that “there are those who are last who will be first, and the first who will be last” (Luke 13:30). One humourist has written the following little poem:

I dreamt death came the other night
And heaven’s gate swung wide.
With kindly grace an angel came
And ushered me inside:
And there to my astonishment
Stood folk I’d known on earth,
Some I had judged as quite unfit
Or but of little worth:
Indignant words rose to my lips
But never were set free,
For every face showed stunned surprise
  —NO ONE EXPECTED ME!
Len Dean

We must constantly remind ourselves of the fact that judging is God’s business and not ours. “Judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of [people’s] hearts” (1 Corinthians 4:5; cf. Matthew 7:1).

As far as young children are concerned, I take comfort from God’s word to his people in the wilderness, when he warned that many of them, because of their rebellion, would not enter the promised land. “The little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it” (Deuteronomy 1:39).

In the meantime, it is given to us who have found salvation in Jesus Christ, to share the glorious news of what Jesus has done for us, and what he is offering to men and women in this life and the next. “He has committed to us the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19). No doubt, part of our own judgement will lie in how obedient we have been in discharging this responsibility.

An appropriate response

If all we have said about judgement is true, and the imagery used points  to something that is real, then there can be no place for either flippancy or triumphalism as we look out from our secure position in Christ on a world that experiences great need and often a deep longing for answers. John Stott says, “It is not dogmatism that is unbecoming in speaking about the fact of hell; it is glibness and frivolity. How can we even think about hell without tears.” Jeremiah, who was called to warn his people of the judgement God would surely bring upon them because of their rebellion against him, declared, “Oh, that my head were a spring of water and my eyes a fountain of tears! I would weep day and night for the slain of my people” (Jeremiah 9:1; cf. 13:17; 14:17). Jesus wept over the impenitent city of Jerusalem and cried out, “If you, even you, had only known on this day what would bring you peace…!” (Luke 19:41, 42; cf. Matthew 23:37, 38). As Paul contemplated his own people who were either rejecting the gospel or ignorant of it, he wrote, “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Romans 9:3).

One of the most effective evangelists in history, Dwight L. Moody, said, “Don’t preach about hell if you can do it without tears.” Though he would occasionally state his belief in the wrath of God and the existence of hell, it was more typical of him to say:

A great many people say I don’t preach the terrors of religion. I don’t want to—don’t want to scare men into the kingdom of God. I don’t believe in preaching that way…If I wanted to scare men into heaven, I would just hold the terrors of hell over their heads and say, “Go right in.” But that is not the way to win men. They don’t have any slaves in Heaven; they are all sons, and they must accept salvation voluntarily…If I could only make people believe God loves them, what a rush we would see for the Kingdom of God.”

Footnotes

[49] Perhaps the subject of a future booklet in this series.

[50] Hodder and Stoughton Limited, 1988, ©.

[51] It is only fair to note, however, that the verb apollumi can be used in the sense of "to be spoiled" or "diverted from proper function" as in Mark 2:22 (See also Romans 14:15; 1 Corinthians 8:11). The noun apòleia is also used in the sense of "waste" in Matthew 26:8.

[52] Forty-one times the adjective "eternal" is used of the life that we receive as a gift from God through Jesus. It is also used to describe our future "dwellings" (Luke 16:9), "glory" (2 Corinthians 4:17; 2 Timothy 2:10; 1Peter 5:10), "salvation" (Hebrews 5:9), "kingdom" (2 Peter 1:11), and "redemption" (Hebrews 9:12). However, we also read of "eternal judgement" (Hebrews 6:2 and possibly Mark 3:29), "everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2), "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46), "everlasting destruction" (2 Thessalonians 1:9) and "eternal fire" (Matthew 18:8; 25:41).

[53] Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5.

[54] Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30 (cf. 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13).

[55] See also Romans 5:18; 11:32; 14:11; 1 Corinthians 15:22; 2 Corinthians 5:19; Colossians 1:20.

[56] Inter-Varsity Press, 2001, ©.

[57] Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:11, 12; Luke 13:28; Revelation 22:15.

[58] I deal with this more fully in the booklets Does It Matter How We Live? A Christian View of Morality and Who Am I? Finding My True Identity as a Human Being and as a Child of God.

[59] On this point see also Luke 23:34; Acts 3:17 and 1 Timothy 1:13.

[60] I deal with this question in the booklet Can I Know for Sure That I Am Going to Heaven?

 

Foreward

Preface

Part 1: Exploring the territory

Why it matters what we believe

The avoidance of death in our modern world

The reasonableness of life after death

Part 2: The Christian view of life after death

The nature of Christian conversion

Resurrection, not reincarnation

Between death and resurrection

The nature of Heaven

Stories of faith

What about Judgement

The future of unbelievers

A Choice to be made

Appendices

 



Home

Copyright

About the Author

E-mail

Links

 

Bible Study - Can I know for sure that I am going to Heaven?
BUY RESOURCE MATERIAL

 


Site design by ttdesign.com