IX. WHEN IS THE COMING OF CHRIST AND THE END OF THE WORLD? (APPENDIX)

1 – Introduction
2 – Daniel’s Prayer of Intercession for “His People”
3 – Overview: Daniel 9:24
4 - Date of Christ’s First Coming: Daniel 9:25
5 – Messiah’s Crucifixion and Jerusalem’s Destruction
6 – Christ’s Second Coming Predicted
Appendix: Date of the Crucifixion

Appendix: Date of the Crucifixion

As far as is known, the date of the Crucifixion was never recorded; however, we can get a fairly good idea of the timing by looking at another recorded event of secular history that is mentioned in Luke 3:1-2. “Now in the fifteenth year of the reign of Tiberius Caesar… the word of God came to John the son of Zacharias.” This date – the beginning of John the Baptist’s ministry – then is like a marker coming some reasonable time before Jesus began His public ministry (or we could say His Messiahship).

The actual start of Tiberias’ reign is where the question mark comes up. Because of the possibility that he may have been a co-regent with his father-in-law Augustus Caesar for two years, there is some confusion as to whether his reign began in A.D. 11/12 or A.D. 14 when Augustus Caesar died. But A.D. 14 seems the more likely time as that was the official start of his reign. In this case, “the fifteenth year of Tiberias Caesar” would mean that John started his ministry in A.D. 29.

[AUC stands for Ab urbe condita, Latin for “from the founding of the city (Rome)”]

By inspection, the 15th year of the reign of Tiberias’ reign would be the year 782 AUC or 29 AD as we identify the years now.

29 AD Roman is the year that John the Baptist was called.

Jesus was baptized in January of 30 AD. John’s call in 29 AD fits well. It suggests that John had not been baptizing all that long when he met Jesus. It is possible to limit the time within the year 29 AD when John was called.

(By Phil Stone, Bible Time Press • Box 1071 • Enumclaw WA, 98022)

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       In our calculations we shall assume the date of A.D. 33. If John the Baptist started his preaching in A.D. 29, then Jesus would have started His work a short time later. Based on the Gospel accounts, Jesus’ public ministry should have lasted about three years. The date of A.D. 30 for the Crucifixion doesn’t allow enough time from the start of John’s ministry to the completion of Jesus’ ministry, whereas the date of A.D. 33 allows the right amount of time.

         The following excerpts from the ESV Study Bible contains some helpful, updated information about the date of the crucifixion:

         Tiberius’ 15th year. The ancient sources unequivocally state that Tiberius began his reign upon the death of Emperor Augustus in August of A.D. 14. While some scholars, as noted above, propose that there was a co-regency of Augustus and Tiberius between A.D. 11/12 and 14, no reliable ancient evidence for such co-regency has ever been found. While Tiberius may have been given charge of certain provinces prior to Augustus’s death, this co-administration was most likely not empire-wide, and ancient sources universally reckon the beginning of Tiberius’s reign from A.D. 14. But even if, for argument’s sake, such a co-regency did in fact occur, it is still much more likely that the calculation of Tiberius’s reign would have begun in A.D. 14, and therefore Jesus’ ministry began sometime between late A.D. 28 and A.D. 30 (see first section above).
          The 46 years of building the temple. In seeking to understand the references to the temple in Jesus’ interchange with the Jewish leaders in John 2:20, it is important to recognize that “temple” in this passage refers to Greek naos, the sanctuary or temple proper… not the surrounding temple complex (Gk. hieron)… Josephus (Jewish Antiquities 15.380,421) does not merely refer to the beginning of renovation of the temple sanctuary in 20/19 B.C. but also to its completion one and a half years later in 18/17 B.C. (The wider temple area, however, continued to be renovated.) Therefore, when Jesus and the Jewish leaders are speaking of the construction of the temple proper (naos) in John 2:20, they cannot be talking about that renovation as still ongoing, because, as Josephus makes clear, that renovation had in fact been completed decades prior to that time (46 years to be exact).
         For this reason it is much more likely that the Jews are saying that the construction of the temple sanctuary was completed 46 years ago (18/17 B.C.). (The Gk. Expression in John 2:20 can legitimately be translated, “This temple was built forty-six years ago.” This makes better sense of the Gk. Grammar…) If this is the case (as seems much more likely), then 46 years later than 18/17 B.C. yields A.D. 29/30, which, in turn, comports well with a three-year ministry of Jesus and a crucifixion date of A.D. 33. Thus, John 2:20 occurred at the Passover on Nisan 14 of A.D. 30, and Jesus was crucified three years later, in A.D. 33.
          Passovers in John. John seems to assume that Jesus’ ministry coincided with at least three or possibly four Passovers, which he mentions at different points in Jesus’ ministry (John 2:13//23;6:4;11:55//12:1). These make an A.D. 30 crucifixion difficult to maintain… This means that if Jesus’ ministry coincided with at least three Passovers, and if the first Passover was in A.D. 29, he could not have been crucified in A.D. 30.
       
 But if John the Baptist began his ministry in A.D. 29, then Jesus probably began his ministry in late A.D. 29 or early 30 A.D. Then the Passovers in John would occur on Nisan 14 in A.D. 30 (John 2:13), Nisan 14 in A.D. 31 (either the unnamed feast in John 5:1 or else a Passover that John does not mention, Nisan 14 in A.D. 32 (John 6:4) and Nisan 14 in A.D. 33 (John 11:55, the Passover at which Jesus was crucified). If this reckoning is correct, then Jesus was probably crucified on April 3 (Nisan 14) in A.D. 33.
         These references to Passover in John, then, most naturally suggest that during Jesus’ ministry he attended at least three, and possibly four, Passovers … resulting in a three-year ministry. Together with the reference to Tiberius’s 15th year – which, starting from A.D. 14/15 (see above), brings us to A.D. 29/30 for the beginning of Jesus’ ministry – the three-year ministry of Jesus indicated by John yields a crucifixion date of A.D. 33.
         (“Evidence for A.D. 33” section of essay called “The Date of Jesus’ Crucifixion”, ESV Study Bible, pages 1809-1810.)

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       More helpful information is presented here in the following study called “Dating the Crucifixion” (by Frederick Larson)

Yes, there is more in the sky which declares “Messiah has come.” But to see these things, we must know when to look up. Peter used the sky as a proof that Messiah had come, but which sky did he use? A body of scholarly work addresses the date of the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth. This body of work, together with Roman and Jewish histories, archaeoastronomy and the words of the Bible allow us to identify the day and almost the moment of his death. That is an extraordinary claim. You must judge it for yourself. Consider the evidence.

What can we learn from the Jewish calendar? Quite a lot, if we assemble the puzzle pieces. By law and custom, the Jewish people of Jesus’ day took the Sabbath as a day of complete rest.1 Because no work could be done on the Sabbath, which we call Saturday, Friday came to be known as Preparation Day.2 It was a day when food and other things needed for Saturday were prepared in advance. This is our first clue to the date of the crucifixion, because all four Gospels state that Jesus was crucified on Preparation Day, a Friday.3 This is also the common consensus of the Church Fathers and scholars throughout church history.4

1 The Book of Jeremiah, Chapter 17: “22 Do not bring a load out of your houses or do any work on the Sabbath, but keep the Sabbath day holy, as I commanded your forefathers.” See also, The Book of Exodus, Chapter 16.22-30.
2 Josephus, Antiquities, Book XVI, Chapter 6.
3 The Book of Matthew, Chapter 27: “62 The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate.”
The Book of Mark, Chapter 15: “42 It was Preparation Day (that is, the day before the Sabbath)…”
The Book of Luke, Chapter 23: “54 It was Preparation Day, and the Sabbath was about to begin.”
The Book of John, Chapter 19: “14 It was the day of Preparation of Passover Week, about the sixth hour. “Here is your king,” Pilate said to the Jews.”
4 Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Chapter IV: “The Day of Christ’s Crucifixion” (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1977) ISBN 0-310-26211-9.

If you are interested in scholarly analysis of the date of the execution, Hoehner is an excellent reference.

The Gospels also record that the crucifixion occurred the day before the Passover festival.5 This is a second important clue, because it gives us a solid connection with the ancient Jewish calendar system. Passover always begins on the 14th day of the Jewish lunar month of Nisan. (Nisan 14 is in the Spring, which is why Easter is celebrated then). By Judean tradition, Passover begins at twilight, the dividing line between Nisan 14 and 15.6

5 The Book of John, Chapter 13: “1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
6 Judeans reckoned the 24-hour day from sunset-to-sunset. The Book of Leviticus, Chapter 23: “5 The LORD’s Passover begins at twilight on the fourteenth day of the first month..”

Gallileans, like Jesus, apparently reckoned the 24-hour day from sunrise-to-sunrise. This is the day-reckoning of the gospels of Matthew, Mark and Luke. Jesus and the disciples ate the Passover meal on the Thursday preceding the crucifixion, at what we call the Last Supper. See, Harold W. Hoehner, Chronological Aspects of the Life of Christ, Chapter IV: “The Day of Christ’s Crucifixion” (Grand Rapids: Academie Books, 1977) ISBN 0-310-26211-9.

On the Jewish calendar (and on ours) a numbered day of the month may fall on any day of the week. For example, in one year your birthday might fall on Tuesday, in the next year it might fall on Thursday. This “float” among days of the week is why this second clue is so powerful. Putting these two Biblical puzzle pieces together, we see that the crucifixion must have occurred in a year when Nisan 14 happened to fall on a Friday, Preparation Day. That narrows things down considerably.

       The Year. Ancient non-Biblical historians record that Jesus was condemned to death by Pontius Pilate.7 Pilate was Roman procurator of Judea during the years 26 AD through 36 AD.8 This limits our search for a date to those years. In “Setting the Stage” we found that Jesus was born in 3/2 BC. And there are also important Biblical clues: the Book of Luke records that Jesus began his public ministry when he “was about 30 years old”,9 and the Book of John records three annual Passovers during Jesus’ ministry.10 Taken together, these puzzle pieces add to a crucifixion date in the early 30′s, AD. During those years, Nisan 14 fell on a Friday, Preparation Day, twice: on April 7 of 30 AD and April 3 of 33 AD.11 To help us choose between those two dates, there is ample and fascinating evidence.

7 As examples, Tacitus states in The Annals, Book XV that “Christus, from whom the name ['Christian'] had its origin, suffered the extreme penalty during the reign of Tiberius at the hands of one of our procurators, Pontius Pilatus.
Josephus records in Antiquities, Book XVIII that “…Pilate, at the suggestion of the principal men amongst us, had condemned [Christ] to the cross…”
8 Josephus records in Antiquities, Book XVIII that “…Pilate, when he had tarried ten years in Judea, made haste to Rome, and this in obedience to the orders of Vitellius, which he durst not contradict; but before he could get to Rome Tiberius was dead.” Tiberius died on March 16, 37 AD See also, section 620, Jack Finegan, The Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998) ISBN 1-56563-143-9.
9 The Book of Luke, Chapter 3, verse 23.
10 The Book of John, Chapter 2: “23 Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many people saw the miraculous signs he was doing and believed in his name.” Chapter 6: “4 The Jewish Passover Feast was near.” And Chapter 13: “(John 13:1, NIV) 1 It was just before the Passover Feast. Jesus knew that the time had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he now showed them the full extent of his love.”
11 Table 179, Jack Finegan, The Handbook of Biblical Chronology (Revised Edition; Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson Publishers, 1998) ISBN 1-56563-143-9.

(By Frederick A. Larson)

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The Bethlehem Star site goes on to list some other clues as to why the A.D. 33 date is preferable to A.D. 30: certain political events that had just taken place in Rome (from October, A.D. 31 onwards) and were influencing Pontius Pilate to please the elite Jews by allowing Christ to be executed; the ending of the time span of 483 years in the year A.D. 33; an unusual astronomical sign – a blood-red moon, a lunar eclipse – at the time of Jesus’ death. To learn more about these clues and signs, go to http://www.bethlehemstar.com

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (C-7)

Part APart BPart C

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

C-7: Conclusion

Following are the main concepts this study has tried to clarify and bring forward:

1) A more flexible and inclusive view on who are God’s people.
2)  A better understanding about the Afterlife, in particular, the possibility of salvation in the Afterlife.
3) The understanding that to be “justified by faith” includes being “justified by works”.
4) The urgency and responsibility of believers to bring the Good News message and way of life into the world of mankind.
5) The realization that salvation does not automatically discount from any form of correction or chastening in the Afterlife.
6) The understanding that Hell and the Lake of Fire are there for the purposes of refining and correction and are not necessarily permanent abodes.

Whether these conclusions are right, or whether the reasoning behind them is sound, you the reader can decide. But at the very least, it is hoped that you will have gained a perspective of the Almighty as a Being who is benevolent, just, and merciful, always teaching and leading His creations into realms of greater maturity and blessing… and that His great concern extends, not just to those who know Him, but also to those who don’t know Him, and even to those who are His enemies.

When we look at a mountain range from a distance, it looks like one big monolithic wall of stone. Then as we approach the mountain range, we discover plenty of foothills and different gradual stages prior to getting to the highest peaks. Likewise, when we consider the Afterlife, we, who do not dwell yet in that Celestial Realm, are apt to view it in over-simplified terms as a scene of two broad ranges, or categories: Heaven and Hell. But we should understand that there are in-between stages and much diversity in the Afterlife that the basic Heaven-Hell distinction cannot properly account for.

Very often, the thoughts and ways of God can be incomprehensible us in the earthly realm. (Isaiah 55:8-9) For example, how do we reconcile the concepts of pre-destination and free will; or judgment and mercy? Theologians have debated these questions for ages, often sticking to one side of the issue instead of seeing that the issues are intertwined. We can view pre-destination and free will as two distinct categories; yet in reality we experience both, and it seems almost impossible to tell whether it was free will of pre-destination that caused events to happen in our lives the way they did. And so it may be with the question of Heaven and Hell. We can view the Afterlife in those general terms; but in reality there probably exists a far greater myriad of situations in that Realm Beyond than we could ever imagine.

In this study, four broad categories are outlined: everlasting life, shame and everlasting contempt, Death and Hades, the Lake of Fire. But even this probably falls far short of the reality. It should be no surprise, when we get to the Other Side, to find there a great diversity of “foothills”, much more than we can imagine – many different stages of ecstasy, blessing, reward, correction, chastisement, or punishment.

Another point to keep in mind: When a soul enters a certain region, he or she won’t be thinking, “Oh great, I’ve made it to Heaven”, or “Oh no, I’ve landed in Death and Hades”. They will be thinking rather in terms of their relationship to the One who created them.

In the earthly realm we experience a great deal of concern about status and our station in life. But in the World Beyond those concerns are swept away by the overpowering love of God. The soul who arrives in Heaven will find supreme joy in being fully united with his or her Savior and Creator. The one in Death and Hades will feel a longing to find the One from whom he or she long ago rejected and now feels the pain of separation; or souls may turn the other way and feel bitterness against the God whom they are convinced has treated them unfairly.

One often hears the idea that once a soul is in Hell, then it’s curtains for that person – no hope of escape from never-ending torment. Some people deserve and need much punishment, it is true. But to believe that there is no hope at all of release makes God into something that common sense tells us cannot be true.

God is to be feared and reverenced, of course, but, unlike some human rulers, He is not an arbitrary, merciless tyrant. The Bible declares just the opposite – that “God is love”. (1John 4:8) God’s long-range plans call for reconciliation, not exclusion.

True, the souls of the wicked must at some point be separated from the righteous in the Day of Judgment. But God, in His love, is always reaching out, always searching for even the faintest glimmer of repentance from those who have been cast aside.

And we can be sure that the punishment He does have to dispense is tailor-made for each individual according to what they have done to deserve it and what will lead them towards repentance. This concept of personalized attention is implied in the passage, “And they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13)

So where did this idea of never-ending Hell-fire and damnation come form? As we have learned, the reason is rather trivial – nothing but a mistranslation of certain words in the Bible. But also, not so trivial, for it has a lot to do with the fact that religious leaders sometimes exploit the fear of “eternal hellfire” as a way of exerting more control over their congregations.

In the Middle Ages before the Reformation, sadly, the practice was rampant where church leaders played on these fears in order to extort money from the people they were supposed to be caring for. And this sort of mindset among church rulers had a lot to do with how the Bible was translated then and continues to create misconception in our minds even today about God’s true nature.

Whatever the origins of the merciless-tyrant view of God were, when we understand the true meaning of the Hebrew and Greek words, then we can better evaluate some of these difficult phrases like “everlasting shame and contempt” or “everlasting punishment” or “tormented forever and ever”.

We are liberated from the nagging concern of having to imagine a time-without-end Hell or punishment for those who are not “saved”. The usual English translations convey a bleak hopelessness about “eternity”: the idea that whoever’s not saved, or whoever winds up in the “lake of fire”, is destined to remain there with no hope of release.

For those who find themselves in that situation, they may feel pretty hopeless and like there’s no end in sight to their punishment. But the reality is, it would not be consistent with the nature and character of God to disallow any possibility for redemption in the Afterlife. He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9)

Certainly, there are many who deserve and need what Hell has to offer. But surely, God’s preferred goal is to use the punishment to bring souls to repentance.

Our own prison systems have this goal in mind – to help criminals come to their senses and stop committing crimes, and eventually, to grant release once they are ready to become law-abiding citizens. Our judicial and prison systems are notoriously unfair and incompetent, yet they still manage to rehabilitate many of society’s wayward citizens. Imperfect as our justice systems are, nevertheless, they do work with some degree of success. Rehabilitation, probation, restoration into society are their professed methods and goals. The system works in an imperfect way, but at least it is there, and there is recognition that criminals can become law-abiding citizens, and allowance is made for that.

Surely God’s “correctional system” (whether in “shame and everlasting contempt”, “Death and Hades”, or the “Lake of Fire”) is capable of doing the same, and doing it much better, with perfect justice, fairness, and mercy. And if so, then souls should be getting rehabilitated and released from their incarceration in the spiritual realm, not just left to suffer in some kind of hopeless infinity of never-ending punishment.

This concept of reconciliation for God’s created souls during the Afterlife is known as the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation. It includes the belief that Christ will manifest Himself to many worthy souls as they enter the Spirit Realm at the time of death. Although they never had a genuine opportunity to receive Him during their earthly lives, they obeyed their conscience and made wise and loving choices during their lifetimes. And so they pass from Death into Life and are spared from the Second Death.

Universal Reconciliation has been a controversial doctrine in mainstream Christianity. The reasons for its unpopularity are probably similar to how Jews in the Early Church days reacted; they found it hard to swallow the doctrine of acceptance of Gentiles into God’s favor.

The new move of God’s Spirit in those days undermined their self-righteous religious pride, the privileged status they thought they had, and put them on the same level as those Gentiles whom they had always despised and felt superior to. It meant that they were obliged to reach out and accept them into their ranks as fellow members in the family of God, and as fellow laborers in the cause of God.

To know Christ as a born-again son or daughter of God is a great honor, privilege, and blessing. But we can make ourselves unworthy of such status if we entertain a smug, self-righteous attitude that projects a lack of understanding and empathy towards those who have not yet entered into that charmed circle.

And whether or not people are officially “saved” in this life, the same rule applies to all, according to the Scripture oft-quoted in this study: “God… ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness–indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek.” (Romans 2:5-10)

Emphasis in that passage is on works, not belief system. Paul was addressing certain teachers who thought that their Jewish background and superior understanding gave them special status and favor from God; but he makes it clear that Jews and Gentiles all share the same playing field. “For there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:11)

In today’s world there exists a similar problem: too much division between those who are “born again” and those who are not. Nevertheless, many in this latter group are following their conscience: “who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.” They are following “the true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world.” (Romans  2:15, John 1:9)

We who are “born again” have a special advantage – a closer connection to the Spirit, power, and life of God; a superior understanding; plus the comforting assurance of salvation and the certainty of knowing that we have “passed from death into life”. (John 3:7, 5:24) But we shouldn’t let that knowledge cloud our realization that the playing field may be more level than we think. It may be that many of those who have not yet come to Christ and may never come to Christ in this life, could very well be shown the same divine favor as we who have come to Christ in this life.

Just as the Jews in the days of the Early Church thought that they had a special edge over non-Jewish Christians – and in some ways they did because of their religious training and knowledge of the law – nevertheless, this did not grant them any special favor in the eyes of God. In the same way, born-again Christians can sometimes over-emphasize their advanced status as the sons and heirs of God and forget that God may look through that lens a little differently.

Besides the issue of greater exclusivism, another aspect about Universal Reconciliation that is difficult for many to swallow has to do with God’s justice. On the one hand, we like to hope that universal, or almost universal, salvation is true because it goes along well with God’s love for His human creation. It jibes well with what we know and have experienced of the love, the grace, and the mercy of God.

On the other hand, when we look at those attributes of the Almighty, pertaining to righteousness, holiness, justice, etc., then it’s a little more difficult to reconcile how God would forgive some who so defiantly go against His wishes – people like serial killers, Hitler, mass murderers, etc., and in fact the Devil himself. So, it is understandable that many Christian thinkers find it difficult to fully accept the doctrine of Universal Reconciliation.

At any rate, regardless of where one stands on the idea of reconciliation for extreme evildoers, the central theme or intent of this study has been to promote a broadened perspective about life in the Afterlife – not just for evildoers and the unsaved innocents, but also for those who have come to Christ during their earthly lifetimes.

Especially relevant along this line are the words of the angel Gabriel in Daniel 12:2 about God’s people – that they “shall awake, some to everlasting life” and “some to shame and everlasting contempt”. From this and other Scriptures, we realize that, within the general category of those who have “passed from death into life”, there are many levels of reward, or lack of reward. (John 5:24) Those whose lives were a credit to God’s glory will be rewarded, and those whose lives were a discredit will have to bear the shame of their misspent lives.

In our present world we have reformatories and rehabilitation centers for wayward youth and citizens – which provide a sort of analogy to illustrate what “shame and everlasting contempt” could resemble. And this, by the way, is what was meant by the “Hell in Heaven?” phrase in the title of this study. It’s not really Hell, but it will be a time of training and purging to prepare wayward Christians for entering more fully into the Heavenly Realm. 

And as they come to terms with their past errors and wrong attitudes and learn what the heavenly existence is all about, eventually, they will find the path to restoration and rehabilitation. “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (Revelation 21:4) And all will be happy to have found their place in the Kingdom of God.

So that is the outlook for wayward Christians. (And who knows, we all may have to account for some unconfessed “waywardness” from our former lives.) As for wayward unbelievers, presumably, they will be sentenced, for whatever time is necessary, to the realm of Death and Hades or into the Lake of Fire. But even in those depths, as this study has tried to point out, there is possibility for rescue if and when they can ever bring themselves to turn away from the Darkness towards the Light. And that is what was meant by this study’s title phrase “Heaven in Hell?”

When the Bible touches on the subject of “judgment”, it is easy to jump to fearful and wrong conclusions. Judgment happens, not because God is being cruel; He is actually trying to help His creations along on the path to blessedness.

And furthermore, knowing that there is judgment to come gives meaning and purpose to our present lives. Without such knowledge life becomes barren and shallow. “Eat, drink, and be merry” is the only rule worth following then because after this life, nothing. That is a lie, of course.

But when we understand that judgment is inevitable, then we are motivated to aim for higher goals and purposes; this brings the added benefit of greater fulfillment in life, and greater happiness as a result.

And when the Day of Judgment does arrive, the righteous will be freed at last from the burden of having to contend with evildoers. And they will see the reward of having lived their earthly lives justly and responsibly with a concern for the needs of others.

For the evildoers, of course, their future will be unpleasant, but their “judgment” will also be a blessing (in disguise). For it will serve to purge them of their wrong attitudes and habits. Through God’s refining fires (and their yieldedness and repentance), they too can be reconciled and brought into God’s favor and a state of blessedness.

For this has been God’s desire throughout the ages – to mend the broken relationship with the human race that began all the way back in the Garden of Eden.

We cannot presume to fully understand the mind of God. Should we not be open then to the possibility that God’s long-range plan and desire for His creations – and it may take a long long time – is nothing less than to reconcile every human soul, even every fallen angel, to Himself?

~ THE END ~

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (C-6)

Part APart BPart C

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

C-6: The Lake of Fire – What Is It For?

Most Bible translations express the fate of those who enter the Lake of Fire in rather forbidding terms: “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone… and the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever… they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (14:10-11, 20:10) Admittedly, these are not easy words to digest. There is a certain amount of symbolism in these passages, however, so it will help to examine them and try to understand what they are really saying.

First of all, this nasty word “torment”. It comes from the Greek basanos: a touchstone (also called basanite or Lydian stone); it was used to test the purity of gold and silver metals by the kind of streak the metal would leave when it scratched the stone.  Because the stone was used for testing purposes, the word for it came to be applied to the practice of torture or the experience of torment. But the fact that the original word had to do with testing for purity suggests that the “torment” in the Lake of Fire has a certain useful, even benign, purpose.

In addition to the touchstone method, if a goldsmith was unsure of a metal’s purity, then he would resort to using fire to burn out the dross from the metal. Elsewhere in the Scriptures, the word “fire” is associated with the idea of purification. “The fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is… If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1Corinthians 3:13-15)

The purpose of the fire is not punishment only (although it might seem like it to the person being purged). Rather, it goes beyond punishment; it cleanses and gets rid of the trash from a person’s life, and so prepares him or her for life in the Kingdom – with the end result that “he himself will be saved.”

Jesus told His disciples, “Every branch that beareth fruit, he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.” He was advising His followers that it was smarter to “abide in the vine”, to allow God to prune, during our earthly lives, the unfruitful branches and so “bring forth more fruit” and “have treasure in heaven” than to postpone it till the Afterlife. (John 15:2,4; Matthew 19:21 – KJV)

Now the above Scriptures were directed to those who were building on the foundation of Christ. But then what about those who never came to Christ during their earthly lives and refused to “come to the Light”, even in the Afterlife, because of their continuing waywardness and rebellion? They would end up in the “lake of fire”.

But what is the “fire” for? Is it only a dead end – punishment and nothing else – to make people miserable for infinity? If that were the case, then it would be like saying God has come to His wits’ end and doesn’t know what to do anymore. The skeptic would be right in thinking God isn’t all that He’s cracked up to be.

But if God is who He is supposed to be – all-powerful and perfect in His love – then we can rest assured that He does not give up so easily on His creations; He is tireless in His endeavors to reconcile the souls of mankind to Himself. Surely then, the fires of Hell are there for a purpose, that of purification and reconciliation: to use the misery of Hell and the uncomfortable feelings of guilt over sin and destructive behavior that will guide and prod souls towards repentance and restoration.

Some other examples in the Bible where fire symbolizes this process of refining and purifying:       

       The refining pot is for silver and the furnace for gold, but the LORD tests the hearts. (Proverbs 17:3)
       “When the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion, and purged the blood of Jerusalem from her midst, by the spirit of judgment and by the spirit of burning.” (Isaiah 4:4)
       Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction. (Isaiah 48:10)
        “I will… refine them as silver is refined, and test them as gold is tested. They will call on My name, and I will answer them. I will say, ‘This is My people’; and each one will say, ‘The LORD is my God.’” (Zechariah 13:9)
        “But who can endure the day of His coming? And who can stand when He appears? For He is like a refiner’s fire and like launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and a purifier of silver; He will purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer to the LORD an offering in righteousness.” (Malachi 3:2-3)
       “I counsel you to buy from Me gold refined in the fire.” (Revelation 3:18)

Finally, it may be helpful to note that the Greek word for “fire” is pur. It forms the base for the English word “pure” and “purify” and for things to do with fire (“pyre, pyro-”). It is thought that the word may share a common derivation with the ancient Sanskrit word pu: “to purify”. Fire and purification were often associated together in ancient cultures, e.g. the Zoroastrians’ worship of the fire god Ahura Mazda.

Knowing how the Bible treats fire as a symbol for purification should help us then to understand this phrase “lake of fire” in a different light. We can see it from a less dreadful point of view, not as punishment only, but as God’s furnace where He refines the souls of those who have caused great destruction in the Earth – with the end in view of turning around even those incorrigibly rebellious ones to the Light.

The apostle Paul once said, “We must through many tribulations enter the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14:22) Having come to the Lord, our lives experience great joy and fulfillment. This is one side of the picture, and a beautiful and uplifting one it is. But in this life we are tested to some degree, so that by the time we reach our earthly end, we are as valuable, pure gold metal and well prepared for life in the Heavenly Realm.

And if we’re not prepared, what happens then? The testing will just have to come later: perhaps some will land in “shame and everlasting contempt” as “unprofitable servants”; others in “Death and Hades” as evildoers; and yet others in the “lake of fire”, as evildoers who are enemies of God.

Impure metal results from a lack of refining. When souls are not willing to submit themselves to God’s way, then they are in need of some refining. Having surrendered to the forces of Darkness and temptations to take the “selfish way” or the “easy way” or the “rebellious way”, they have become corrupt and less prepared for life in the Heavenly Realm. So of course, they must undergo the “fires” of refining before they would be ready to move on towards the Kingdom, or the Kingdom’s full glories and privileges.

Now besides the “fire” often mentioned in Scripture, there is the other purifying agent: “brimstone” (theion in Greek). For this substance, we find a helpful definition in Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament, pg. 284:

Theion, -ou, to, (apparently the neut. of the adj. theios [divine] i.q. [equivalent to] divine incense, because burning brimstone was regarded as having power to purify, and to ward off contagion)… brimstone.”

This word theion suggests “brimstone” is something pure and holy, not just a messy agent of destruction as we usually think of it. The poisonous, sulphurous fumes and the burning quality of brimstone kill bacteria and infection.

Thus, from what we have learned so far, the phrase “tormented with fire and brimstone” is symbolic language and might be translated as “tested and tried – the person being purged might think of it as being ‘tormented’ - through the agents of spiritual purification (symbolized as ‘fire and brimstone’)”.

We may speculate on the method of purging. Perhaps souls in the Lake of Fire will be confronted with the fruits of their sinful ways by having to see and even feel the results of the destruction and mayhem they were responsible for – a painful process, to be sure. The warmonger, for example, would see the misery and bloodshed he has caused, maybe even feel what it is like to be grievously wounded. That sounds rather drastic, but for some that is not only the shock treatment they deserve, but also the medicine they need that will spur them on to repentance and reconciliation with their Creator.

We can understand then that the reason souls are sent to the Lake of Fire extends beyond mere punishment; their sojourn there is meant to purge and purify them of the evil that their souls have become infected with. (Hence the “fire and brimstone” symbolism.) Certainly, this will be a painful process for them. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10:31) But at least there is a purpose and an end in view.

We could imagine, let us say, a character like Adolph Hitler. Most of us would agree that someone like him deserves plenty of punishment. But then we might also feel a shred of mercy and say, “Well, if he does truly repent and if he has suffered a good amount, why then maybe he could be released… on probation of course. After all, I do recall that time in my own life when I acted a little bit like Hitler myself.”

To get an idea of what the Lake of Fire is like, the following quote provides some insight. This was the result of a visionary experience of a man of God whom the Lord allowed to get a glimpse of that Nether World: 

       It was almost like a hospital, because it had very nice polished floors… And in each room there were different people doing different things, all very busy.
       It seemed like everything everybody was doing was totally futile and useless and just a waste of time! They were all very, very busy accomplishing nothing! The scientist was conducting endless experiments that never bore any results, and they were shooting rockets and more rockets into space that either never got off the ground or that never went anywhere! The soldier was on the battlefield and bombers were zooming overhead and shells screaming and landing all around him, and he just seemed to be going through the endless hell of war just like he had been on earth.
       Each one was continuing in his own little private hell of his former existence without any relief, no surcease, no hope of it ever ending, and yet absolutely all useless…
       I never thought of Hell being like this! This is about the worst possible thing I can imagine! – Not just burning up with literal flames, but constantly burning with that fruitless fire of endless, useless endeavour, ceaseless struggle, pointless pain, and seemingly endless sorrow and suffering! …
       All these endlessly lighted corridors and rooms! … even out[side] there was nothing but battlefields and hellish wars and all kinds of funny mechanical noises like machinery and factories and industries and refineries and endless conveyor belts and assembly lines and that horrible acrid, burning sulfuric smell, those choking foul fumes!
       Hell is the extension, multiplication, amplification, continuation, endless continuation of the same monotonous, humdrum drudgery… Useless existences, fruitless, absolutely purposeless existences – never getting anywhere, never accomplishing anything, never improving anything or making any progress or helping anybody – just totally useless, only endless, non-stop, even when you’re weary you couldn’t quit! …
       What a horrible, terrible conception of Hell! It was like a magnified extension of this life of hell on earth! That’s the best explanation of Hell I ever heard! The prostitute continues to be a prostitute, but she is no longer under her own control and there is no escape. The soldier continues to relive his battlefield experiences and all of that hell! And the politician continues to suffer the agony of shame and scandal and reproach and disgrace…
       
It was almost like there was no truth there, because you didn’t know what to believe! You didn’t know what was fact and what was fancy…
       There was this strange extension of each life under total control in that polished Hell! All the people were prisoners or inmates…
       (From lecture by David Brandt Berg, transcribed August 29, 1973)
 

The above revelation pictures Hell, or the Lake of Fire, as a place of endless dreariness, and likely, that is how it will feel to those who must dwell there. This utter lack of hope differs from the kind of treatment given to those who are under God’s care in “shame and everlasting contempt”. Regardless of where one is in the Kingdom, one will always experience hope and feel useful – a far cry from the utter futility of Hell’s activity.

Those who have come to the Lord will benefit from God’s presence and a loving atmosphere, even if it must be in the midst of rehabilitation. In the Lake of Fire however, going by the above revelation, an atmosphere of hopelessness pervades. Hell’s weary inmates, lost and confused, see no end in sight, trapped with no way out of their misery. Instead of being freed from the negative aspects of their earthly lives, those dark inclinations return to plague and haunt them in the Afterlife.

Yet this may be the very medicine needed at this stage – learning what it is like to dwell apart from God and outside of His Kingdom, so that eventually, they will be willing to submit and turn to Him, their Creator. We could speculate then that the Lake-of-Fire treatment is designed as a sort of in-between stage to prepare these corrupted souls to embark on the path of restoration… at least those souls who are willing to choose that path.

And when the opportunity finally comes along, like the Prodigal Son, many of them will at last be willing to swallow their pride, make better life decisions, and restore their relationship with the Almighty. Like refugees in a war-torn land, they will be desperate to escape and do whatever it takes to return to the Father’s house.

If punishment was really meant to last “forever and ever” – time-without-end as most translations would suggest – then why not just annihilate those souls, bring an end to their existence? It would seem pointless to keep the punishment going on and on forever if there is no possibility for escape or rescue.

Those incorrigible souls may deserve quite a bit of suffering, but without any avenue for release? It doesn’t make sense. One could imagine that for anyone stuck in Hell the time-without-end view would stifle any motivation to move forward towards the Light and righteousness. If there is no hope of release, then why bother making any effort to change or improve?

Some souls may prefer to keep on in their rebellion and torment; that’s possible too, of course, but it would be their decision, not God’s. The fire is there to burn away the dross of rebellion and waywardness and sin. But such purification depends also on the yieldedness of the souls who are undergoing the purging.

The very fact that God doesn’t just annihilate the souls of the wicked at the time of their First Death but sends them instead to the Lake of Fire shows that He is allowing them the option of deciding to turn in the right direction. He has hope and the desire to reconcile even the rebels; for He is “Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:9) They are His creations, after all, just as much as the righteous are who inherit eternal life, just as much as the “meek” are who “shall inherit the earth”… while they, the wicked, are having to suffer for their sins.

Up to this point, their self-righteous view of themselves as having done no wrong has gone unchallenged. But the Lake of Fire, however it works, will serve the purpose of waking them up to reality – to see and feel the damage done by their terrible crimes. All reasons for self-justification will be stripped away. To continue excusing the selfish and cruel behavior of their former lives will be nothing less than insanity – a willing blindness to reality born out of pride, the same sin that led to Satan’s downfall.

Perhaps it could be compared to what often happens in this life. Before persons are ready to receive Christ’s salvation, they often have to come to the end of their own ways and to a realization of their inadequacy, shortcomings, and wrongdoings. Otherwise, feeling sufficient in themselves, they think they don’t need God. Thus, the cleansing agents of fire and brimstone are useful in this regard – to assist lost souls by purging them of the contamination of self-justification.

Interestingly, one of the words used for “Hell” in the New Testament is Gehenna. This word originated from the name of a place outside Jerusalem – the city’s trash dump. Fires were burning there constantly to get rid of the garbage and to eliminate the danger of infection and spread of bacteria. And that is what “fire and brimstone” is for – to cleanse and purify souls that are riddled with the infections of sin.

And another feature of Gehenna: its trash-burning operation had to be carried on outside Jerusalem. In like manner, the Lake of Fire is located outside the Kingdom.

The idea of Hell and the Lake of Fire as a sort of last-ditch purging ground finds a parallel in the story of the Prodigal Son. It was the son’s misery in a “far country” (like being outside the Kingdom) that brought him back to his senses and to reconciliation with his father. And as far as the father was concerned, mending the broken relationship with his son was more important to him than the damage caused by his younger son’s foolish behavior. And that is God’s desire: to mend the broken relationship with His creation that has existed ever since the fall of man in the Garden of Eden.

Those who are “not found written in the Book of Life” are like the Prodigal Son; their relationship with the Father is broken; they have brought losses to the Father’s estate. While in the “far country”, the prodigal son did not choose to return to his father until at last he wound up in the swine pit. Likewise, those who have broken their relationship with God the Father, enter a “far country”. And even when invited to return to the Father (either during their earthly lives or in the Afterlife), they refuse.

So finally, they wind up in the “swine pit” – “cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15) At this bottom level, these souls, at last, may be willing to turn in the right direction. (Luke 15:11-32) And a question we could ponder: which of us, at some point or other in our lives, has not been a prodigal son or daughter?

Getting back to the original question of what is the Lake of Fire for, it might help to trace how Satan’s dominion has been collapsing and is being replaced by the dominion of Christ. In the Beginning it would appear that Satan held control over the lower regions of Death and Hades as well as dominion over the Earth. “Him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14) “All the kingdoms of the world… have been delivered to me [Satan]” (Luke 4:5-6)

Since it was the serpent, the Devil, in the Garden of Eden who beguiled Adam and Eve to disobey God and thereby bring upon them the sentence of death, it seems this earned him a certain degree of authority to cause death amongst human beings and/or to have some measure of influence over the souls of disobedience in the Afterlife.

In Revelation 6 we see the “pale horse”, bringing death to Earth’s inhabitants. “The name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him.” (6:8) The Horses in this chapter are symbolic of forces that function and rule the Earth from the spiritual realm.

The Pale Horse of “Death” and “Hades”, along with the Red and Black Horses of war and greed, dominate the world of mankind in this present Age. However the White Horse, symbolic of Christ and His forces, has also entered the stage of human history.

After His death on the Cross, Christ infiltrated the domain of the Pale Horse. There in that Dark Kingdom, He preached to the Pale Horse’s prisoners and liberated those who were receptive to Him (which may well have included the majority of them). “Most assuredly, I say to you, the hour is coming, and now is, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God; and those who hear will live.” (John 5:25)

“For to this end Christ died and rose and lived again, that He might be Lord of both the dead and the living.” (Romans 14:9) “He Himself likewise shared in the same [our flesh and blood nature], that through death He might destroy him who had the power of death, that is, the devil.” (Hebrews 2:14) “For He must reign till He has put all enemies under His feet. The last enemy that will be destroyed is death.” (1 Corinthians 15:25-26) The destruction of this “last enemy” – the conquest of Death, Sin, and Hell – began with Christ’s glorious Resurrection from the dead.

Stage two of this conquest oveer death begins at the Judgment Seat of Christ, which marks the beginning of the Millennium. Satan’s power over the Earth and its inhabitants will be removed during this golden Age of Peace. “And [an angel from Heaven] cast him [Satan] into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more.” (Revelation 20:3)

And in the final stage, at the end of the Millennium, “death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire,” and Satan also “was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:14,10) At this point Satan’s influence in mankind’s domain will have come to an end.

Now regarding the Lake of Fire, we learn in Revelation 14 that those who turn against God in the End Time “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” (Revelation 14:10) This sounds grim, but it is noteworthy that Christ and the angels are present. Now why is that, we may wonder?

Perhaps the first thing that comes to mind might be something like this: “OK, you guys have gotten away with your nonsense long enough, but here you are, surrounded by the Big Guns; the jig’s up, and you’re really going to get it now!” To a certain extent this is true, but there is more to the picture.

For who presides over the Lake of Fire?  Those fires of refining are carried on “in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb”. (Revelation 14:10) Christ and the angels will watch over what will then become a purging process for the wicked and the enemies of God. No more escape from having to face up to and own up to their past lives of corruption.

This is called “chastening” in Hebrews 12. There is a common conception that the Devil is to blame for all of our troubles and difficulties. He certainly is to blame for many of them, true enough. The Lord may even use the Devil to afflict His wayward children as a means to bring them back on track.

However, He does not have to use the Devil; He is quite capable of doing it Himself. There are many examples in the Scriptures where God Himself (or His angelic messengers) brought the plagues or the troubles or the lessons to His own people or to their enemies.

And some of what we may think of as “hell” may actually be God’s chastening (done in love, of course). And it is wise for any person under God’s care (of chastening) not to take offence but to accept it as a sign of His great love for us. “For whom the LORD loves He chastens, and scourges every son whom He receives.” “As many as I love, I rebuke and chasten.” (Hebrews 12:6, Revelation 3:19)

It also helps to remember that “the fear of the LORD is clean, enduring forever; the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” His correction, whether it happens to God’s people in this life or to the haters of God in the Lake of Fire, is “more to be desired… than gold… sweeter also than honey… moreover by them Your servant is warned, and in keeping them there is great reward.” (Psalm 19:9-11)

It is well to keep in mind that God’s chastisement is the complete opposite of what the Devil’s torments bring. Instead of purpose, the Devil brings futility; instead of strengthening, weakening; instead of love, hatred; instead of discipline, confusion; instead of victory, defeat; instead of profit or blessing, loss; instead of restoration, degeneration.

So, even though it can be “a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” at least those “hands of the living God” are capable of moving a person forward into realms of greater blessing and peace. (Hebrews 10:31)

As mentioned above, Christ will preside over the Lake of Fire. Interestingly, He is referred to as the “Lamb”. We might have thought “Lion of the tribe of Judah” would be the more appropriate title in this situation. (Revelation 5:5) But “Lamb” is the title given. So, getting back to the question: why is Christ there, and the angels, presiding over the Lake of Fire? It seems that even though the Lake-of-Fire inmates are dwelling outside of God’s presence, yet they have not been totally forgotten or abandoned.

Apparently, even in the throes of severe punishment, the mercy of God is not far away. If those souls can bring themselves to “call upon the name of the Lord”, then He is right there to guide them onto the path of restoration. (Romans 10:13)

Most commentaries interpret Christ’s presence to mean that He is there to add to their misery by reminding them of whom they have rejected and what they are missing. This seems more of a human reaction (bordering on the petty and vindictive), not befitting the nature of God. It would seem more reasonable to suppose that He is there to see to it that Hell’s evil spirits are being kept in line, to make sure the Lake of Fire is being managed properly, and to look out for anyone there who might be on the verge of repentance.

The love of God is unfathomable. In the words of an old song,

It goes beyond the highest star
And reaches to the lowest hell.
—Frederick M. Lehman (from song “The Love of God”)

This peculiar feature of God’s omnipresence, even in the depths of Hell, was expressed long ago in Psalm 139: “If I ascend into heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Hell, behold, you are there.” (139:8)

So far we have conceived of the Lake of Fire as a region where souls find out what it is like to be separated from God. And that would be hell. And yes, being His enemies, those in the Lake of Fire will be separated from God, but only because they have separated themselves through their own choice.

To those in the region of “shame and everlasting contempt”, the loving presence of heavenly beings are there to comfort, instruct, and bring restoration into God’s favor. But in the Lake of Fire, that horrible feeling of separation from God’s presence would be all-pervading.

The imagery of a fiery furnace and a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth used within both of these parables [“Wheat and the Weeds” and “Dragnet”] is just that—imagery. It shouldn’t be taken literally that the afterlife for those who reject the message of the gospel will be one of flames and burning. However, whatever the exact circumstances will be, it will be a separation from God and from those who love God. When we consider all the things that God is—love, beauty, goodness, mercy, holiness, kindness, justice, righteousness, trustworthiness, and so much more—thinking of being in a place where the things that God is are not present because He is not present is harrowing. (“The Stories Jesus Told: The Wheat and the Weeds, Matthew 13:24–43” by Peter Amsterdam) 

Yet in a sense, souls in the Lake of Fire are not abandoned totally. If they turn to Him, He will not refuse them. And although they are outcasts from the Kingdom, even here, if they turn towards the Light, they may yet find the path, leading out of Hell’s barren desolations towards regions of peace and serenity and on to the gates of the Kingdom. This would be a reasonable conclusion if, as Revelation 22:15 suggests, there are former Lake-of-Fire inmates dwelling on the New Earth.

It also seems reasonable to suppose that, if souls are being tested “in the presence of the holy angels and… the Lamb”, then those heavenly hosts are at least keeping an eye on them to see who might be having a change of heart and moving toward genuine repentance. The Lake of Fire is designed for the enemies of God, no question. But the command that Jesus gave to “love your enemies” remains in force. (Matthew 5:44) It is a tough kind of love, no doubt, but love all the same.

God does not override human will and choice. But He does try to guide His created angels and humans to move in the direction that will bring them joy and satisfaction. By the time those souls, who have been too proud, stubborn, and God-hating, reach the Lake of Fire, that “guidance” will have run its course pretty much. By this time, whoever is so hardened and incorrigible that they still rebel against God’s authority, still cannot bring themselves to go God’s way, then they will have to go their own way to dwell in the Lake of Fire.

Let me tell you, for those who finally do end up in Hell, the Lake of Fire, it will be because they fought their way there every step of the way over everything God could possibly do to keep them out of Hell! They will have insisted on going to Hell and will have fought their way into the Pit of Hell itself! – Determined to go to Hell despite every merciful, loving opportunity God gave them to be saved and repent! (from David Brandt Berg lecture, “Heaven, Hell, and In-Between!” Treasures)

The above quote makes sense when we consider what we’ve learned so far about life in the Afterlife: first of all, many worthy souls, if they did not happen to know Christ during their earthly lives, will get that opportunity after death; those who are unworthy of such divine intercession will land in Death and Hades, or Purgatory, or some such place; then after 1,000 years – plenty of time to re-consider their life choices – if they have decided to turn around and go in the right direction, then they will be written in the Book of Life and granted citizenship on the New Earth; after all of this, whoever stubbornly continues to hate God, will get sent to the Lake of Fire.

What happens to souls when they get to this stage, we may wonder? Perhaps they are just left on their own – wandering in aimless futility and emptiness; perhaps they find themselves tormented by cruel demons; perhaps punishment is meted out that will make them endure the same kind of pain they had caused others during their previous lifetime. Whatever happens there in that infernal region, is a subject on which we can only speculate.

But if nothing else, souls imprisoned there will find out what it is like to live outside the presence of God. At this point, being stuck in the swine pit of Hell is almost the only “guidance” left that may yet shepherd them back towards the Father’s house.

And as the title of this study has suggested, there is a bit of “Heaven in Hell”. That is, there is hope for souls who are incarcerated there to be rescued if they choose to turn away from the Darkness and towards the Light. Such a view may not seem to jibe with the customary way certain Scriptures have been translated or understood.

However, after fine-tuning our understanding of key phrases like “everlasting punishment” and “forever and ever”, we have learned that they do not have to imply a time-without-end scenario, as most translations would suggest, nor punishment without purpose or an end in view. In particular, the “forever and ever” phrase simply tells us the “when” of that punishment, not the “how long” – “in/into the ages of the ages”. This leaves the “how long” aspect open-ended – dependent, we might presume, on the attitude of Hell’s prisoners themselves.

Hell and the Lake of Fire are God’s creation, a place of habitation for evil spirits – a prison to separate and prevent them from causing any trouble in the Kingdom of God. Nevertheless, if Hell is God’s creation, then it is not totally separate from Him. And as the example of Christ’s visit to the “spirits in prison” would indicate, God could descend there if He wants to, or send His emissaries, to see what is going on and/or to arrange the rescue of whoever is worthy.

Related to this, we can recall the example of the three angelic messengers who were sent to Sodom and Gomorrah to rescue Lot and his family: “[God] delivered just Lot, vexed with the filthy conversation of the wicked: (For that righteous man dwelling among them, in seeing and hearing, vexed his righteous soul from day to day with their unlawful deeds;) (2Peter 2:7-8, KJV; Genesis 18-19)

Who is to say that someone, dwelling in the Lake of Fire, might not get so “vexed” and disillusioned that he or she might qualify for deliverance and rescue from that infernal region?

Continue to C-7: Conclusion

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (C-5)

Part APart BPart C

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

 

C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!

A big question now: Is there any actual evidence from the Scriptures that those who land in the Lake of Fire may get released from it? There is a hint of this in the last two chapters of the Revelation Book:

“He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be My son. But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (21:7-8, KJV)

Here the passage elaborates on what the previous chapter 20 had revealed about those evildoers, whose final destination was the Lake of Fire, describing them in contrast against those whose names were “written in the Book of Life”. (20:15)

Now regarding those who are sent to the Lake of Fire, the passage states they “shall have their part. It’s a little difficult to pinpoint the exact meaning of the Greek word used here, but it doesn’t sound as if their “part” in the lake of fire has to be permanent.

The same is conveyed in Christ’s assurance to the Smyrna church: “he who overcomes will not be hurt at all by the second death” (Revelation 2:11, NIV) …which means that those who are not believers (or overcomers) will be “hurt… by the second death.”

But to be “hurt” (harmed or injured) does not have to mean a permanent condition. After getting “hurt”, normally there follows a period of recovery and healing. If their sojourn in the “second death” region (whether Hades or the Lake of Fire) produces a change of heart and repentance, would not God want to reward them with release from their imprisonment into a realm of blessing and acceptance?

Something similar is implied in the phrase, “Over such the second death has no power.” (Revelation 20:6) For those who are part of the First Resurrection, they have escaped the Second Death completely; it has “no power” over them.

But for those who are not resurrected, that Second Death will have power. But how much power? Is it an all-or-nothing-at-all kind of verdict? Or could it be that for many souls the Second Death will only have some power? Among those who are not resurrected, we could imagine that there would be varying degrees of mischief, error, and evil-doing to account for. Could it not be then that there are varying degrees of punishment, refining, and prison terms, depending on the severity of the crimes and attitudes of the souls who are dwelling in Hades?

They are there, awaiting the day of Final Judgment and a possible “second death” and incarceration in the Lake of Fire. However, since Death and Hades may be more of a “holding cell” type of situation, they still have opportunity to repent from their sinful orientations, which might yet permit them to have their names “written in the Book of Life”. (Revelation 20:15)

Thus, it could be said of those who are in Death and Hades, the Second Death has varying degrees of power – total power over the incorrigibles, but only some power over those who move towards repentance.

Further ahead in the Revelation Book we read,

“Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and fornicators and murderers and idolaters, and every one who loves and practices falsehood.” (Revelation 22:14-15 – RSV)

Here the description of the wicked mirrors pretty much that of the previous one (21:8) of those who are supposed to be in the Lake of Fire. We learn also that they are not allowed into the Heavenly City. But why would that be of any concern if those souls had been safely imprisoned in the Lake of Fire (at the Great White Throne Judgment)?

Could it be that these “dogs and sorcerers, etc.”, or some of them at least, are not in the Lake of Fire anymore but are dwelling on the New Earth (“outside” the gates of the City)? So what has happened? Could it be that some of the Lake-of-Fire inmates have been released and allowed to dwell on the New Earth?

But isn’t the New Earth supposed to be pristine and unpolluted, we may wonder? So what are these characters doing in that environment? Well perhaps they are those souls whose purging time in the Lake of Fire was completed; they repented, made restitution, and are trusted enough to be released.

And now on the New Earth, no doubt they will be glad to be there, even if not allowed entrance into the City. Compared to the Lake of Fire, it would be heavenly enough for them. But they would remain on probation, and restricted from entering the Heavenly City. “But nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” (Revelation 21:27, ESV) Again, we have here the suggestion that the New Earth will be inhabited by a mixture of righteous and unrighteous citizens.

Here is another Scripture that seems to point to the idea of release from punishment: “Indeed I will make those of the synagogue of Satan, who say they are Jews and are not, but lie – indeed I will make them come and worship before your feet, and to know that I have loved you.” (Revelation 3:9) Whatever punishment “those of the synagogue of Satan” had to endure – be it the Lake of Fire or something else we don’t know – it is apparent that they were forgiven and released. That must be the case if they are in a position where they can come and worship before the feet of those whom they had once persecuted.

We may speculate too that, if Satan will be granted release from the “bottomless pit” at the end of the Millennium, then why could not some of the Lake-of-Fire inmates also be released? (Revelation 20:7-8) Satan, when given his freedom, will show no signs of remorse, change, or repentance. God is only using him, at the end of the Millennium, to test the loyalties of Earth’s inhabitants.

Anyway, the point here is, if Satan, who is the worst of all criminals, can be released for a time, then why could not human souls, who are far less dangerous and influential, be released at certain times? Especially if they have shown signs of repentance, it would seem the reasonable and compassionate thing to do.

This may be speculation, but perhaps, after being tested in the Lake of Fire for some time, these inmates will be allowed onto the New Earth. And similar to our earthly prison systems, they would be on a sort of probationary period – kept under controlled conditions to see if they are ready to handle their new freedom. Whether they will ever be written in the Book of Life and thus allowed entrance into the Holy City, however, is not known; that issue is not addressed in the Book of Revelation.

Anyway, that is a possible explanation for this paradoxical situation where, apparently, there are these criminal-types dwelling in the perfect environment of the New Earth. One thing that is clear from Scripture, there will be “nations” and people living on the New Earth who will need healing because they don’t have immortal bodies.

“By its light [of the Holy City] will the nations walk, and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it, and its gates will never be shut by day – and there will be no night there. They will bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations… The leaves of the tree [of life] were for the healing of the nations.” (Revelation 21:24-26, 22:2 – ESV)

And who are those “nations”, dwelling outside the City, and where do they come from? This can be a perplexing question if we were to follow the opinion that those who turn to Christ in this life will be the only ones to inhabit the Eternal Heavenly City while those who don’t turn to Christ in this life will have no other place to go but to the region of Hell. That kind of thinking excludes any population of inhabitants for this in-between region of the New Heaven and Earth. However, as was brought out in the Post B-1 (“What about the Unsaved?”), there is a sensible explanation of where these “nations” came from. Christ, after His death on the Cross, “went and preached to the spirits in prison” by which multitudes of incarcerated souls were liberated. (1Peter 3:19)

And it seems something similar will take place at the end of the Millennium. Revelation 20 describes what happens at the Great White Throne Judgment during this time just prior to the creation of the New Heaven and Earth: 

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it… The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life, was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11,13-15)

This should mean that there will be vast multitudes (from all ages of mankind’s former history) who will be spared from the “lake of fire” judgment. As stated in a previous verse, “The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.” (Revelation 20:5, ESV) One could read this in different ways, but the statement that the “rest of the dead” would “come to life” suggests that they are emerging from their First Death (in Death and Hades) to enter a realm of blessedness and peace.

That is, the majority of the “dead” will have their names “written in the Book of Life”, and there will remain but a few exceptions whose names won’t be there and will have to be “cast into the lake of fire”“If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15, ESV) The “if anyone” phrase (a newer translation) is closer to the original Greek and suggests that those who get “cast into the lake of fire” are comparatively few. 

So if there is no more “Death and Hades”, then those whose names are now “written in the Book of Life” will have to be shifted into a new (heavenly) environment. Where will they go then? (Remember, the old heaven and earth of the Millennial Age will be gone. “The earth and the heaven fled away” before the face of “Him who sat on” the “great white throne” and the “first heaven and the first earth had passed away”.) But John the apostle’s next revelation describes God’s creation of “a new heaven and a new earth”. (Revelation 20:11, 21:1)

Presumably then, these newly released souls will enter the newly created Kingdom of God – the New Heaven and the New Earth – which, we might speculate, will be designed to accommodate vast numbers of inhabitants, those “written in the Book of Life”. These new citizens, registered now in the Book of Life, will also be granted entrance, or visiting rights at least, into the Heavenly City (as mentioned in the passage quoted above, Revelation 21:24-27).

They were judged according to their works and found worthy and so emerged from the Great White Throne Judgment into a new realm of blessedness and peace. They did “wash their robes” (Revelation 22:14, RSV); they showed positive character changes by their conduct in the purgatorial realm of Death and Hades.

Even though they had to miss the first Age of the Kingdom of God on Earth (the Millennium), they were found worthy to have their names “written in the Book of Life”. And so they will become the founding citizens of the second Kingdom of God on Earth with its glorious, newly created environment of the New Heaven and Earth.

Of these souls, it is said of them, they “did not come to life until the thousand years were finished.” (Revelation 20:5, ESV) This does not mean they were in a state of suspended animation all that time. It only means they had been living in a state of spiritual “death” (thanatos – life without the joy, blessings, and privileges of Heaven). But at the end of the Millennium, heavenly life will be restored to them, and along with that, as implied in the “come to life” phrase, they will live again in earthly bodies on the Earth in the post-Millennial Age known as the New Heaven and Earth.

But not all. Some will not have their names “written in the Book of Life”; they will be shunted off into the “lake of fire which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death”. (Revelation 20:15, 21:8)

At this stage in history, since there will be no more “Death and Hades”, then the only two places left where human souls can reside will be either in the Lake of Fire or on the New Earth. And since the “tree of life” is available for the “healing of the nations”, then there “shall be no more death”, and therefore no more need to send anyone to a “Death and Hades” region (which was the “place of the dead” in the former age). (Revelation 22:2, 21:4)

And whoever has done his/her time in the Lake of Fire, where else can they go except onto the New Earth? If this is the case, then that may explain why there might be anyone who “defiles, or causes an abomination or a lie” and why there is some concern that no such persons should gain entrance into the Holy City. (24:27)

We may speculate even further that, if there is no more “Death and Hades”, then the functions of that former domain will be carried on in the New Earth. Even in a perfect Earth, with the Heavenly City located on it, there may yet be those who are dissatisfied and in need of training and rehabilitation.

Prior to this future Age, such persons would land in Hades at death and hopefully learn there what they hadn’t been able to learn during their earthly existence. But in the New Heaven and Earth, there is no more death, so the operations and functions that used to take place in “Death and Hades”, presumably, will have to be taken care of by the Earth’ s inhabitants themselves.

And by this time too, they will be spiritually mature and strong enough to handle whatever population of former rebels or criminals may be permitted to inhabit the New Earth. Not only that, there will be the inhabitants of the Holy City who will also be of service in helping to manage operations and activities on the New Earth.

It will be a different environment then, one in which there will be no great separation of physical and spiritual realms as in our present environment – perhaps more interaction between angels and human beings. The Book of Ephesians mentions this intriguing aspect about the future: “to bring everything together… in heaven and on earth.”

“He has showered His kindness on us, along with all wisdom and understanding. God has now revealed to us His mysterious plan… And this is the plan: At the right time He will bring everything together under the authority of Christ – everything in heaven and on earth.” (Ephesians 1:8-10, NLT)

How this uniting of Heaven and Earth will affect the way human society functions and operates is difficult to imagine right now. And besides this, with no more “place of the dead” (Hades), then we can imagine that the social order will carry on in a very different manner to the way it does now.

There will be also the population of those who took part in the First Resurrection. As certain Scriptures explain, these people will have a type of body that can function in both physical and spiritual realms. (Whether or not, or to what degree, this privilege is extended to those who landed in “shame and everlasting contempt” we don’t know.)

The bodies of these First Resurrection saints will be similar to what Jesus had during His Resurrection appearances. “The Lord Jesus Christ… will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself.” (Philippians 3:20-21)

Such bodies will enable those who have them to function easily in both domains. And they will need to as “kings and priests” who “shall reign on the earth.” (Revelation 5:10) They will need to be able to harness the power of Heaven while at the same time function in the earthly environment.

And for all we know, the New Earth’s population, those who have mortal bodies, may be gifted with greater spiritual faculties. In an environment where Earth and Heaven have merged, when God will dwell with man, we can imagine that there could be many such changes – changes about which we have for now only a dim understanding.

The Bible teaches that time and eternity collided when the God-man came among us, born of a virgin. The creator of time and Lord of eternity became a human being. Humanity and divinity collided (they did not become identical), and history would never be the same again!—Michael Suderman, RZIM

The above quote applies well to our present Age. When Christ came, that marked the beginning of the Kingdom of God on Earth – a fact to which He pointed many times. We experience “divinity” or spiritual reality on a small scale now compared to how it will be experienced in the Ages to come. But as the parables of the leaven and of the seeds reveal, the Kingdom, even though it starts small, as a tiny bit of leaven (yeast) or as a small seed, it is destined to grow – slowly but inexorably – until it finally becomes the full, mature reality in the New Heaven and Earth. (Matthew 13:31-33; Mark 4:26-29, 30-32; Luke 13:18-21) 

Regarding the apparent rehabilitation of former Lake-of-Fire inmates, we could speculate that a society where there are some of these less-than-desirable elements may be just what is needed for its citizens to learn to exercise compassion, wisdom, and understanding towards outsiders. Those who are ready to flee the Lake of Fire will make what may seem to them like a perilous journey (crossing the borders of their own rebellious state of mind) to enter a new state of reconciliation with the Almighty. And in the process they will certainly need lots of care, instruction, and guidance.

We might compare them in our world to foreign refugees. After deciding not to continue residing in their own conflict-ridden countries, such refugees are like the prodigal son “when he came to his senses”. (Luke 15:17, NIV-1984) They are ready to make desperate attempts to flee to those nations where there is peace and opportunity for a better life. (Luke 15:17, NIV-1984) To receive such newcomers requires sacrifice and compassion on the part of the host nations, and watchfulness against any undesirable elements or attitudes that may creep in.

This refugee analogy also applies well to God’s people in the present Age: they are dissatisfied with what this world has to offer. Like Abraham, they recognize that they are “strangers and pilgrims on the earth… they seek a homeland… they desire a better, that is, a heavenly country.” (Hebrews 11:13-16) How much better to be a seeker for the Kingdom of Heaven and its Afterlife rewards  than to seek for the temporary satisfactions of this life.

(Disclaimer: The above conclusions about mankind’s long-distance future, it will be admitted, do involve some guesswork. How people get into the New Earth and New Heaven, or who gets there, or why they get there, is difficult to pinpoint at this stage in human history. Hopefully, the conclusions offered above are close to reality and what the Scriptures teach. But it should be kept in mind that they are proposals, not iron-clad certainties about mankind’s future Ages of history.)

Continue to C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (C-4)

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Part APart BPart C

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

 

C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?

In our language the word “everlasting” means “time without end”. And it can sound foreboding – especially if we hear it in phrases like “everlasting punishment” or “everlasting torment”. The time-without-end concept is not the most accurate way to understand this word however. And it might be better to substitute in its place words like “supernatural” or “in the Realm Beyond”.

In the New Testament there are two Greek words used to express a stretched-out concept of time: aion and aionios. The words are obviously related to each other; aion is the noun and means “age”, while aionios is the adjective and, according to strict grammatical rules, means “age-lasting”.

The word aion in most Bible versions is translated as “age” or “world”. Aionios is usually translated as “eternal” or “everlasting”. Aion, when used by itself, is found in expressions like “this present evil age” or “end of the age” or“age to come”. (Galatians 1:4, Matthew 24:3, 28:20, Mark 10:30) When combined with eis (meaning in/into), it is translated as “forever” (even though “for an age” or “into an age” would be more accurate). Aionios is usually translated as “eternal” or “everlasting”.

Unlike aionAionios points more to the supernatural Realm – that which lies beyond the physical environment and our physical senses. The expression “everlasting (aionios) life” could be rendered as “age-lasting life”. But “life” which lasts for an “age” stretches far beyond our short earthly life span. And where else can such “life” exist but in the spiritual realm? So instead of “everlasting life”, we could word it as “beyond-earthly-reality life”.

The question will come to mind: Should these words be used to express a long span of time that has an end as the more literal and strict definitions would suggest (“world/age” for aion and “age-lasting” for aionios)? Or can they be used to express a span of time that is absolutely never-ending as suggested by the translations of “forever” (for aion) and “eternal/everlasting” (for aionios)?

The following Scripture offers a helpful clue (both words are used in the same passage): “there is no one who [has sacrificed]… for My sake and the gospel’s, who shall not receive a hundredfold now… and in the age [aion] to come, eternal [aionios] life.” (Mark 10:30) The future “age” (aion) is an era of physical time in our earthly environment, and the phrase “eternal [aionios] life” simply means “age-lasting life”; but more than just physical time, it suggests spiritual reality – the supernatural peace and blessings of God that will one day merge with us and our earthly environment.

Another helpful Scripture: “For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal.” (2 Corinthians 4:18) In this passage, the word “eternal” (aionios) points to that which lies beyond our realm of space and time (“the things which are not seen”). And finally, here is a revealing note in Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament:

Aionios accordingly is especially adapted to supersensuous things.” (pg. 21)

In the strictest sense aionios means “age-lasting”. But in most Scriptures where it appears, aionias transcends this literal meaning – not in the sense of adding infinitely more time (as suggested in the translations of “everlasting/eternal”). Rather than it being a question of length of time, aionias is used to express the idea of beyond time. Rather than describing passing earthly reality, aionias is used to refer to the enduring realm of spiritual reality (“supersensuous things”).

When referring to the earthly realm, the Greek word aion is normally used. When referring to the celestial realm, the word aionios is used and is translated as “eternal” or “everlasting”. This celestial region exists beyond the boundaries of time and space and is a realm that our finite, time-bound minds cannot easily grapple with.

When Paul was counseling Timothy, he wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil… But you, O man of God, flee these things and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, patience, gentleness. Fight the good fight of faith, lay hold on eternal [aionios] life.” To those “who are rich in this present age [aion]”, Paul exhorts “that they be rich in good works, ready to give, willing to share, storing up for themselves a good foundation for the time to come, that they may lay hold on eternal life.” (1Timothy 6:10-12,17-19)

It is so easy to chase after what we can see (like money and what it can buy). We strive and labor for that dream job, that dream house, that graduation day; we pin all our hopes and desires on such things. Yet when it comes to working towards our “graduation” from this life, we can attach so little importance to it, thinking perhaps that it’s all in God’s hands and we have nothing to do with it.

If we had the same urgency about preparing for the next life as we do for some of the goals that we place so much importance on in our earthly lives, how different our lives would be! Probably we would do everything possible to make sure our activities were glorifying God instead of advancing and glorifying our temporary time in the earthly realm. That is what those of faith aim for – the virtues of righteousness, etc. – and ultimately for “eternal life”. They “lay hold” on the unseen, which is more difficult, but in the end more enduring and rewarding – that which is “everlasting” (aionios).

In the Gospel of John we learn that Jesus exhorted his followers to drink of His “water” as it would become “a fountain of water springing up into everlasting [aionios] life.” (John 4:14) He also said, “Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting [aionios] life.” (John 6:27) Normally, we drink water and labor for food that we can see, in order to keep our bodies alive and healthy. But here Christ is pointing to unseen realities and encouraging His followers to pursue this very real nourishment.

Although this nourishment exists beyond the reach of our physical senses, it does quench the thirst and feed the hunger of our spirits. So with this word “everlasting”, Christ is not trying to emphasize a long age of time, nor even the future Golden Age, as much as He is pointing to the “life” that is unseen and spiritual, yet permanent and enduring… in that it stays with us into the next life.

We may conclude then that the New Testament authors used the word aionios to mean “beyond time”, pointing to the eternal realm whose time boundaries are different from what we know in our earthly realm.

When we enter that Eternal Realm at the time of death, we cannot bring with us our earthly possessions – our physical baggage; but we do carry with us the spiritual baggage of weights and sins from the past, along with, of course, our good deeds and positive influence from our earthly lives. For those who have a lot of the wrong kind of baggage, it may seem to take “forever” before they can ditch that baggage and find release from the “shame” of having it in a heavenly environment where all is perfection and beauty and freedom.

That “forever” feeling is something probably we can all relate to – a time of distress that seems to last “forever”. As fallen human beings, it is impossible for us to avoid at some point in our lives the need for some correction. The peculiar thing about these experiences (and we’ve all had them) is that, while in the middle of them, we think it’s never going to end. In our shortsighted view we see no hope for change or release. It seems like time without end.

The emotional outpourings of the Psalms express sometimes this anxious, pessimistic viewpoint. “Will you be angry with us forever?” (Psalm 85:5; also 13:1, 74:1, 79:5, 89:46) To the Israelites, when God was displeased with them because of their going astray, they felt that the “punishment” (removal of blessing really) seemed to last “forever”. But of course, it wasn’t “forever”, and the “complaint” Psalms always end on an upbeat note, recognizing that God is faithful and would restore His people once they have done their part to repent and change.

Now for those who don’t know God and His power and love, it is easy to fall into a state of total despair. So that is one way the word “forever” is accurate. But when faith enters the picture, that changes things. Faith knows there is a loving Creator, and He can change things. “I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the LORD in the land of the living.” (Psalm 27:13)

As a prisoner who learns repentance and rehabilitation and is released, in a similar way many who land in that reformatory known as “shame and everlasting contempt” will, as they repent and reject their sinful habits and attitudes, eventually enter a state of greater freedom and privilege.

And that, after all, is God’s aim through “punishment” – training. It’s not just to make us feel bad and that’s the end of it. God’s universe is far from static; it is ever-moving, flowing, and changing. And His goal and desire is to make us better and happier individuals. If they seek and desire change, human souls will not find themselves trapped forever in some less-than-desirable station in the Afterlife.

When Jesus spoke of “everlasting punishment” (in Matthew 25:46), the terms used in this statement reflect God’s viewpoint of punishment as correction or training for the individual concerned. The translation of “punishment” (for the Greek kolasis) does not convey the full meaning, which is better expressed in the following definitions:

  • “Pruning, restraint, restraining” (Young’s Analytical Concordance)
  • Correction,  punishment, penalty… [SYN. kolasis, timoria: the noted definition of Aristotle which distinguishes kolasis from timoria as that which (is disciplinary and) has reference to him who suffers, while the latter (is penal and) has reference to the satisfaction of him who inflicts…](Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament)

The above definition mentions the Greek word timoria (to punish), which emphasizes the satisfaction of the one inflicting punishment (as when Paul, before his conversion, was “punishing” Christians). But Jesus’ concept of punishment was not a vengeful thing (timoria) but was kolasis – the kind of “punishment” that restrains evildoers while at the same time providing them with the correction and pruning they need to cause them to change and grow in the right direction.

So if we combine kolasis (God’s view of punishment) with a truer understanding of the word “everlasting”, we might re-phrase “everlasting punishment” as “a period of training upon entrance into the Afterlife for those whose earthly lives were not lived in accordance with God’s ways”.

So, if “punishment” means “restraint and correction”, and if the training has its desired effects, then God, whom we know is fair, just and merciful, will surely release repentant souls into a state of greater blessedness. To think of “punishment” without any possibility of release does not make sense. If that really were the case, then why would any soul bother making the effort to turn to the Light; might as well just keep on being “bad” if there’s no hope of reward for turning away from evil. Unfortunately though, the idea of “infinite punishment” for evildoers is the usual concept promoted in most commentaries and study Bibles.

A better translation of “everlasting punishment” might be “correction/chastisement/refining in the Realm Beyond”; and “everlasting life” might be “life and ecstasy in the Realm Beyond”

In the Old Testament the Hebrew word olam covers several ways of expressing a long span of time – from something as short as a man’s lifetime (“he shall be your servant forever” - Deuteronomy 15:17) to an age of history (“remember the days of old” – Deuteronomy 32:7) and to the realm existing beyond time (“everlasting life”, “Him who lives forever” - Daniel 12:2,7). And here is one general definition of the word olam:

“What is hidden; specially hidden time, long; the beginning or end of which is either uncertain or else not defined; eternity, perpetuity.” (Gesenius’ Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament, pg 612, by H.W.F. Gesenius)

Time that is “hidden” and “not defined” doesn’t have to mean “time without end”, which is what our English translations generally imply by using the word “everlasting” or “forever” or “forever and ever”. “Time without end” would apply to God Himself, but for other things, the idea of “not defined” is more applicable.

That leaves the matter open-ended, and leaves room for any number of correctional regimes and time spans – all tailored to suit the needs of the soul for whom they are designed. The “punishment” that some will have to endure is not “forever”; it is just not known how long it will be. That “not knowing” aspect may make it seem like “forever”. The actual length of time would depend, presumably, on the attitude of the soul undergoing the re-training process (or “punishment” if we want to call it that).

Now this sense of time that is “hidden” or “uncertain” or “not defined” might seem like “time without end” to us, especially for those having to undergo a correctional regime of some kind or other. And this uncertainty about the time length could be the sense that was supposed to carry over into the New Testament; but somehow that original meaning got lost along the way because of certain inaccurately translated passages (where the phrase “forever and ever”appears in reference to punishment in the Afterlife).

If some souls never respond to the Light – and there may be some who fall into that category – then in that case, of course, their sojourn in Hell or the Lake of Fire would last “forever”.

In our language the “forever and ever” phrase evokes no small amount of dread when applied to punishment in the Afterlife for evil-doers. The Greek phrase, eis tous aionas ton aionon, in its most literal sense, means “into the ages of the ages”. (Both aionas and aionon derive from aion, not aionias.) This phrase is akin to other phrases like “holy of holies”, “King of kings”, “Lord of lords”. It points to an ultimate future “Age” which is superior to all past ages.

And since the word aion is used (not aioinias), this points, not to a vague “forever and ever” future somewhere in the spiritual realm, but to a definite future era in Earth’s history – or rather, the two eras of the 1,000-year reign of Christ and His saints, followed by the Age of the New Heaven and Earth (as outlined in Revelation 20-22). This is the final goal of human history (or final enough as far as we need be concerned).

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Without going into a lot of detail, following is a brief explanation about these future Ages. After Christ’s Second Coming begins the Age of the Millennium when Christ and His saints shall rule in an Earth inhabited by those who survived the convulsions that rocked the Earth at the end of our present Age.

Then after the 1,000-year Age of the Millennium, another “end of the world” cataclysm will take place: “the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up.” (2Peter 3:10) God will re-create the surface of the Earth and its atmosphere to establish “a new heaven and a new earth”; in addition, the Heavenly City will come “down out of heaven from God”. (Revelation 21:1-2)

At about the same time, the Great White Throne Judgment will take place, and all souls who were not part of the First Resurrection at the end of our present Age will be judged at this later time; they will be sent, either to the Lake of Fire or to a heavenly destination (probably the New Earth). And thus begins that unimaginably glorious Age of the New Heaven and Earth when “God Himself will be with them and be their God.” (Revelation 21:3)

So how are we to understand these forbidding phrases in the Bible: “the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night” and “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever? (Revelation 14:11, 20:10)

First of all, we need to understand that “forever and ever” (eis tous aionas ton aionon) refers to definite future ages of Earth’s history. Secondly, the Greek preposition eis, which means something like “into” or “in”, means that the punishment is destined to take place during those future Ages, not some vague and timeless infinity. The “forever and ever” phrase focuses more on the “when” of that future punishment, not the “how long”.

And when those Days of Judgment come, the “meek” who are destined to “inherit the earth” will, of course, be spared from condemnation and will have the privilege of entering those glorious future Ages of Peace. (Matthew 5:5) The evildoers and unrepentant, on the other hand, will find themselves locked out and herded, with Satan and his demons, to their unhappy fate in the Lake of Fire. And as there are two Ages of glory, peace, and freedom for the righteous, it seems there will also be two ages of misery, shame, and confinement for evildoers.

At the beginning of the Millennium, we learn that “the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet… These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.” (Revelation 19:20) This may include also a good many of their followers, as Revelation 14:9-11 would indicate about those who worshiped the Beast. Then again, at the start of the Age of the New Heaven and Earth, at the Great White Throne Judgment, the Lake of Fire receives a new influx of inhabitants, including Satan and probably the rest of his demons who are not already there.

When Jesus confronted the demons in “the country of the Gergesenes… they cried out, saying, ‘What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?’” (Matthew 8:29) Evidently, they knew their time had not yet come. The Son of God was there “in the likeness of men”, but control over Earth’s government had not yet passed into His hands. (Philippians 2:7) So the demons insisted that they should not be tormented “before the time”

But when the Kingdom of God does come, when the “ages of the ages” is established on Earth, then will begin their punishment. It will start with Satan being driven out of heaven and “cast to the earth”, then incarcerated – “cast into the bottomless pit.” (Revelation 12:8-9, 20:3) And presumably, his angels also, who were “cast out with him” onto the earth, will follow him there. Finally, “when the thousand years have expired,” Satan, not having shown the slightest bit of repentance, will reach his final destination and punishment and be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.”  (Revelation 20:7,10)

The region known as the “lake of fire” may already be functioning. We know that the Antichrist and False Prophet will be sent there after their defeat in the Battle of Armageddon. (Revelation 19:20) Since that Battle looks like it will be coming in the near future of man’s history, then probably the Lake of Fire has already been prepared. We might conclude then that some of the very worst of this world’s criminals have already been sent there.

As for the demons, like many a criminal in our earthly justice system, they seem to view the prospect of future incarceration or punishment in the Lake of Fire as nothing more than an occupational hazard; they are not at all like the repentant thief on the cross, who said, “We receive the due reward of our deeds”. (Luke 23:41) From the example of the demons whom Jesus encountered in the Gergesenes’ country, it is clear that the thought of repentance or rehabilitation was the furthest thing from their minds.

But who knows? Perhaps the “lake of fire” will be the medicine that will change their attitude; instead of seeing it as an “occupational hazard”, some may see their punishment as the doorway towards rehabilitation. Whatever the case, if the demons, whose rebellion must be very deep-seated, can’t humble themselves once they find themselves in the Lake of Fire, hopefully, many of the human souls who have landed there will come to their senses, repent, and find restoration.

Continue to C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (C-3)

Part APart BPart C

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

C-3: A Word of Comfort

After all this talk so far about judgment and punishment, it might be easy to get rattled or fearful – and to lose one’s perspective about the nature of God. Much of the focus in this study has zeroed in on the “tough love” side of God’s nature. But it is well to keep in mind His tender, merciful side:

 “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him. For He knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust.” (Psalm 103:13-14) Christ exhorted His followers, “Come to Me… I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light “Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom.” (Matthew 11:28-30, Luke 12:32) “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.” (James 4:8) 

When life seems to go awry, there is no need to catastrophize. But this could be a warning signal – that nagging feeling we sense sometimes that something is amiss; and it can be our lifesaver, prodding us towards renewal and getting back on track – now in this life rather than procrastinating it into the next.

But no matter what we think about ourselves or how poorly we may think we’ve scored, it is helpful to keep in mind that each one of us is loved individually by God; each of us is extraordinary and special to Him.

(Message from Jesus:) You are the reason for My existence. I love you as if you were the only one. You’re not lost in a faceless crowd called humanity. You’re not just one of the billions, but you are special and unique to Me. I know and love you as an individual. I died for you personally, so that you could experience My love, so that we could be forever one. (“True Love – Forever Love!” publication of The Family International)

Knowing how much Christ loves us, His creations, we can be confident that whatever correction we may have to endure in the Afterlife will be carried out in a loving atmosphere. Some may have to spend time in the outer fringes, in the “detention houses” of the Kingdom… which might even seem like hell in heaven – for a time at least.

The comparison was made earlier that certain levels in the Kingdom could be like reformatories on Earth – environments where a “tough love” atmosphere is maintained and designed to help wayward teenagers rehabilitate from their waywardness. Eventually, they are ready to enter society as responsible citizens; or in this case, to enter the heavenly Kingdom and partake more fully of its blessings and privileges.

Even in this life we may recall such experiences. When we are undergoing a period of re-training, correction, or rehabilitation in our personal lives, it is difficult. But when we know the Lord, we can always sense the comfort of His presence… and the knowledge too that it is “for our profit, that we may be partakers of His holiness” and that “afterwards it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness” (Hebrews 12:10-11) 

And likely, none of us will be exempt from some correction in the Afterlife; we all have things to learn. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” (2 Corinthians 5:10) But “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.” (Revelation 21:4)

So these Scriptures about shame and contempt (and to some extent “outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth”) can be applied to God’s people. But they are meant as a warning, just as a loving father warns his children against bad behavior and the consequences. This inspires a healthy fear and respect, knowing that our Heavenly Father loves us enough to chastise us when we need it.

In our earthly penal systems, the threat of jail and punishment has deterred many a would-be criminal from wandering down the wrong path. And would not God in His great love also seek to deter His people from unfruitful paths of lethargy and disobedience? He offers them the blessing of chastisement – not to make life difficult, but to make their lives, both now and in the Hereafter, happier and more blessed.

A little note here about this word “chasten”: As used in both Old and New Testaments, it emphasizes the instruction and training aspect of correction, not just the punishment side of it and can be translated as instruct, teach, correct”.  As with our children when they are naughty, we don’t throw them out of the house. We love them, try to correct them, and they remain our beloved children.

But of course, when our children are naughty, then we, as responsible and loving parents, have to discipline (or chasten) them. We make them sit in a corner, deprive them of their privileges or rewards. In other words, we “punish” them – but the punishment is for a purpose, and the aim is to restore the child to a pattern of good behavior and acceptance into our fellowship.

If we in the earthly realm have the wisdom, capacity, and compassion to properly discipline our naughty children so that they will turn into law-abiding future citizens, how much more is God willing to go to the trouble to discipline His wayward children and bring them into a state of blessedness. “As a father pities his children, so the LORD pities those who fear Him.” (Psalm 103:13)

So even if we have to “sit in the corner” for awhile and endure “shame and everlasting contempt”, this need not be as permanent a condition as the English translation would suggest. (And this will be the subject of the next chapter.) It is “everlasting” in that it happens in the Unseen Realm and will last for an unknown period of time. Once we can accept and learn whatever is needed, then God in His mercy will restore us to a state of well-being and peace (even if it seems to take “forever” for that to happen).

Continue to C-4: What does the Bible Really Mean by “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever”?

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (C-2)

Part APart BPart C

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?

From what we have seen so far, two features about the Resurrection stand out: 1) all who come to Christ will be resurrected, but 2) not all will be ready for life in Heaven… and for the grand celebration, known as the “marriage supper of the Lamb”.

On this latter point the Parable of the Ten Virgins is revealing. Jesus relates the story of how those virgins who were “wise”, whose “lamps” were “ready” were accepted by the “bridegroom” into the “wedding”. But those who were “foolish” were caught unprepared and were locked out of the bridegroom’s chamber and heard the bridegroom’s explanation, “Assuredly, I say to you, I do not know you.” (Matthew 25:1-13)

[Cast him into outer darkness] The Jewish marriages were performed in the night season, and the hall where the feast was made was superbly illuminated; the outer darkness means, therefore, the darkness on the outside of this festal hall; rendered still more gloomy to the person who was suddenly thrust out into it from such a profusion of light… (from Adam Clarke’s Commentary, 1831)

In the Parable of the Wedding Garment, the man who came to the wedding feast without a proper garment appears to symbolize those who had not actually come to Christ and donned His robe of righteousness but were trying to associate with believers out of some political expediency or desire for gain of some kind. In the Parable the man, wearing his own garments of self-works, was tossed out of the wedding feast, his misplaced honor transformed into shameful dishonor – the “outer darkness” of error, ignorance, and hypocrisy. Whether this symbolizes his getting barred from the Kingdom altogether and sent off to Hades, or merely barred from the Marriage Supper, is not altogether clear.

Anyway, the fact that the man was forced to dwell in “outer darkness” where there would be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” could represent the kind of remorse that a soul might experience in either domain of “shame and everlasting contempt” or that of Hades. (Matthew 22:13) Whatever the case, the parables portray the sad fate of those who lose the inheritance that could have been theirs, and naturally, the realization of this would become a source of great anguish. A sober warning to be sure.

“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away… how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” (Hebrews 2:1,3)

From these parables it is evident that some who have entered the Kingdom will have to be excluded from some of its greatest blessings. Like the “foolish virgins” their lamps had gone out; or like the imposter at the feast, they don’t have a “wedding garment”. Whereas it is said of Christ’s bride, “His wife has made herself ready.” She has the wedding garment – “arrayed in fine linen, clean and bright, for the fine linen is the righteous acts of the saints”. (Revelation 19:7-9)

But sadly, others will not have the needed garments (“righteous acts”). Their faith was not “completed” by their works. (James 2:22, ESV) In the parables they are pictured as “unprofitable servants” who hid their talent, having succumbed to disobedience, laziness, fearfulness. So, although blessed to be in the Kingdom, they are shut out from some of its greatest blessings and privileges, symbolized, it would seem, as exile into “outer darkness” – the outer fringes of the Kingdom.

Now of course, we’re all guilty of some of these shortcomings, but the crux of the matter lies in whether or not we continue on the wrong path. That was the big difference between king Saul and king David. Saul, when confronted with his errors, never changed. David, on the other hand, because of his love for God, did repent and did change.

“No one who abides in Him keeps on sinning.” (1John 3:6, ESV) But “a double minded man is unstable in all his ways.” (James 1:8, KJV) And that’s how it was with king Saul. He would briefly recognize his failings but then later would return to the very same way he was before – jealous of David and seeking to kill him.

What place or function these folks will have in the coming Kingdom, we don’t really know. They could not be given the same honor, privilege, and responsibility as those who were “faithful until death” (whether death by martyrdom of by maintaining their testimony to the end of their lives). Judging from some of Christ’s parables, they might not have the privilege of being invited to the Marriage Supper. And they might not be commissioned to fight in the Battle of Armageddon either, the armies of which are “clothed in fine linen, white and clean”. (Revelation 19:14). Nor would it be given to them to “reign with Christ for a thousand years.” (Revelation 20:4) This does not mean to say they won’t be resurrected, which means they may be citizens, at least, during the Millennial Age of history.

Jesus said, “For this is the will of My Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in Him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day.” (John 6:40, ESV) Whether this means the “last day” of this present Age or the “last day” of the Millennial Age is not altogether clear. There is another Scripture about those who seek to “obtain a better resurrection”. (Hebrews 11:35) Perhaps this means “better” to be part of the “first resurrection” at the start of the Millennium; it surpasses the glory of the second resurrection at the start of the Age of the New Heaven and Earth.

What ever the case is, the main thing to keep in mind is this: a great deal, more than we may realize, hinges on our faithfulness and decisions we make out of our love for God during our earthly lives. And regardless of all these distinctions about the Afterlife resurrection, it is important to understand that those who do land in “shame and everlasting contempt” will be blessed to be a part of the Kingdom in some way or another.

In earthly society, many a royal court or civil administration has had to send its rebellious members into exile to prevent them from hampering government activities. They lose their former standing with all its privileges, reward, and honor. And as many of Christ’s Parables seem to indicate, those who are not ready to enter into the Kingdom’s full glory are proscribed into a sort of exile into its outer fringes. And some who were only faking it, pretending to be a follower of Christ for the sake of some earthly advantage, may get sent to Hades or the Lake of Fire.

Now in our world there is often great injustice in this practice of political exile, but in God’s administration, any such measures requiring exile into “outer darkness” will be carried out with perfect justice and mercy.

One interesting example we can learn from is king David’s banishment from the throne of Israel. (2Samuel 12: 15-19) God had to send David into exile for a time because of his sin of causing Uriah, husband of Bathsheba, to be killed, after committing adultery with her. To his credit David did not complain against God and was sorry for what He had done. Nor did he try to persecute the one who had brought all this to his attention, Nathan the prophet. This was a much different reaction to that of king Saul, who tried to persecute his mentor and adviser, the prophet Samuel. As a result of his sincere repentance, David was granted mercy and returned to his throne, a humbler and wiser king.

Similarly, we might expect that those who are sent into that exile known as “shame and everlasting contempt” can also be granted pardon, according to how they respond to their chastisement (or rehabilitation program).

As far as rehabilitation goes, we all may have to experience that to some extent; none of us are perfect or exempt from some kind of re-training; we all have blind spots – some past negative attitudes or bad habits to unlearn or wrong decisions we were so determined to make during our earthly lives.

Even the great prophet Isaiah, when he “saw the Lord sitting on a throne… said: ‘Woe is me for I am undone! Because I am a man of unclean lips… for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts.”’ (Isaiah 6:1,5) Daniel too had a similar reaction when he stood before the Lord: “my comeliness was turned in me into corruption.” (10:8, KJV)

In both cases, the Lord quickly restored his prophets to a state of well-being. To Isaiah an angel said, “your iniquity is taken away, and your sin purged.” (Isaiah 6:6) From this we could suppose that no one, not even the greatest of saints, is exempt from some degree of re-training; and also, that God is merciful and more than willing to forgive and restore those who embrace repentance. “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness… And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes” (1 John 1:9, Revelation 21:4)

Our entrance into the Kingdom (our Salvation) means we have escaped the “second death” (Revelation 20:5,14) But to enter into the full glories and blessings of the heavenly life, many of us who are “saved” will not actually be ready. If we haven’t been working to “diligently seek him”, if we kept thinking, “My lord is delaying his coming”, then chances are we will be in need of some kind of correctional regime.  (Hebrews 11:6, Matthew 24:48)

As a result many of us will land in the heavenly equivalent of what on earth might be called a reformatory or rehabilitation camp. It will be a beautiful and loving environment, of course, but far removed from the glories and splendor of other regions in the Kingdom.

Even though “saved”, if we are still full of prejudices, bad habits, unloving attitudes, then a certain amount of time will have to be spent in the “waiting room” so to speak. We might call this waiting time a sort of “heavenly purgatory”, or God’s “correctional center” or “re-orientation program” – a necessary step to instill in us the kind of spirit we would need to have before we can enter into the full glories of the Heavenly Kingdom.

       Jesus makes no promise that in the blink of an eye we will suddenly become totally different people who have vastly different tastes, attitudes, and perspectives. Paul makes it very clear that we will have our true selves revealed and that once the sins and habits and bigotry and pride and petty jealousies are prohibited and removed, for some there simply won’t be much left. “As one escaping through the flames” is how he put it.
   
   It’s very common to hear talk about heaven framed in terms of who “gets in” or how to “get in.” What we find Jesus teaching, over and over and over again, is that he’s interested in our hearts being transformed, so that we can actually handle heaven. To portray heaven as bliss, peace, and endless joy is a beautiful picture, but it raises the question: How many of us could handle it, as we are today? How would we each do in a reality that had no capacity for cynicism or slander or worry or pride?
       
(Love Wins by Rob Bell, pg. 50)

But how much better to enter that Realm in a state of readiness and hear the Lord’s “well done, good and faithful servant”. (Matthew 25:21,23) It is certainly a goal worth aiming for – to “obtain a better resurrection” and “receive a full reward”. (Hebrews 11:35, 2John 8) As an incentive, the angel Gabriel, in Daniel 12:2, holds out the promise of heavenly reward and honor. The “wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”

“Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. Assuredly, I say to you that he will gird himself and have them sit down to eat, and will come and serve them. (Luke 12:21, 35-37)

We can relate to what Christ was talking about here by calling to mind how it feels when we have labored diligently in a work situation. There is a feeling of satisfaction for a job well done. This in itself is a reward, which often comes with further rewards: pay raise, promotion, perks. Or we could do a sloppy, careless job and end up getting fired or demoted. If we can get fulfillment during our earthly lives for jobs well done, how much more fulfillment shall we receive for a lifetime that is lived well according to God’s purpose and plan for our lives.

But it helps to remember that in God’s Kingdom achievement is not something that can be worked up in the energy of the flesh, nor is it wise to judge one’s efforts by human standards which are apt to differ from God’s standards. (“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways” – Isaiah 55:8.) We should strive and work hard towards godly goals, yet at the same time carry the spirit of rest and trust in the Lord, remembering that “it is God who works in you both to will and to do for His good pleasure.” (Philippians 2:13) 

And also, it helps to remember that no one can ever be perfect, and no one can escape having to own up to some mistakes and missteps from their earthly lives. Thankfully, the Lord is more interested in our desire to please Him; that is what He rewards more than the outward achievements and works that we may accomplish in His service.

Indeed, service for God is more than just a matter of seeking “rewards”. Our earthly lives are meant to give us the opportunity to grow and mature, and thus to be better prepared for the next life, capable of handling the greater privileges, freedom, and responsibility that God would like to entrust us with.

We can also consider the analogy of school enrollment. (We are “enrolled in heaven” according to Hebrews 12:23 – ESV.) A student starts in grade 1 and works his way up. At the time of salvation we enter God’s “school”, and we can grow and move to more advanced levels. Or we can stay in grade 1. But a youngster in grade 1 cannot be trusted with very much responsibility or privileges. And that is not very advantageous for us, nor for those around us, who could benefit if we had a better, more expanded knowledge of God’s ways.

Now on a more basic level, regarding some of His religious enemies, Jesus told them, “Tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” (Matthew 21:31) The implication here is that, before one can enter the Kingdom (or the full glories of it), one must be ready. One has to prepare. And if that did not happen during one’s earthly lifetime, then it will have to happen afterwards.

To any faithful follower, Christ promises that He will “open [the door] to him immediately”. (Luke 12:36) For some of us who haven’t been so faithful, that door may seem to open rather slowly as needed changes in attitude and thought patterns are given time to take root and grow.

During His earthly ministry, Jesus encountered some folks who were far from ready – like “the chief priests and the elders of the people” (who brazenly “confronted [Christ] as He was teaching”). Their pride had led them to become false guides. Having set themselves up as authorities “in Moses’ seat”, their reputations and influence were leading the people astray through their false teachings. Not only were they not ready for Heaven, many of them would not even be allowed entrance into the Kingdom. (Matthew 21:23, 23:2)

Christ did them a great favor by trying to wake them up out of their spiritual stupor with some strong rebuke: “But woe to you… hypocrites! For you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men; for you neither go in yourselves, nor do you allow those who are entering to go in… Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:13,33))

The religious-political leaders whom Christ was addressing would have to show fruits of repentance before being allowed entrance into the Kingdom. Their prejudice and animosity and religious pride would have to be purged before such divine favor could be granted.

Whereas those, like the “tax collectors and harlots”, were humble before God and gladly received His Christ. In God’s eyes, they were righteous and better prepared for the Kingdom than those “who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others”. (Luke 18:9) The elders of the land who rejected Christ, fought against Him, and brought about His crucifixion were the ones destined for Hell; whereas the “sinners” whom they looked down on were destined to enter the Kingdom.

But even some of these who were enemies of God’s people may gain entrance into the Kingdom. It is hard to fathom the great love and mercy of God in these cases. But we can probably assume that the entrance process for them would entail no small amount of repentance and rehabilitation.

As an example, we can look at what happened with the ancient king Manasseh, who “caused his sons to pass through the fire… used witchcraft and sorcery… did much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke Him to anger…seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations.” But when the king of Assyria invaded Israel, he “took Manasseh with hooks, bound him with bronze fetters, and carried him off to Babylon.”

Then began the restoration process. “Now when he [Manasseh] was in affliction, he implored the LORD his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers, and prayed to Him; and He received his entreaty, heard his supplication, and brought him back to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the LORD was God.” (2 Chronicles 33:6,9,11-13) Repentance and restoration are always possible in the great love and mercy of God.

Now it seems Manasseh did not know the Lord until he got into hot water with the king of Assyria. His sufferings were a picture of what a soul might go through in Hades or the Lake of Fire – the kind of chastisement that would turn the rebellious soul towards repentance and reconciliation with God.

Presumably, in the domain of “shame and everlasting contempt” (for those who do know the Lord, or did know Him at some time in their lives), the chastisement is designed differently, probably not so drastic, with the aim in mind to bring souls back into fellowship with their abandoned Savior.

With Manasseh, repentance came near the end of his life; with others it comes in their youth and the rest of their lives are spent going against God’s ways. But whether repentance happens at the end or at the beginning, it is still repentance, and it is enough, at least, to gain entrance into the Kingdom. These who enter this way, more or less by the skin of their teeth, may well have to spend some time in “shame and everlasting contempt”. And as it was with Manasseh’s rehabilitation program, it could be difficult at first – that shocking, painful realization of error.

Even though Jesus promised that “all that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out“, that doesn’t mean that there won’t be any accounting for the life one has lived on Earth. (John 6:37) He did, after all, counsel believers to “enter by the narrow gate… which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (Matthew 7:13-14)

We may wonder, how this jibes with Christ’s promise that He will not “cast out” anyone who comes to Him? The one statement sounds restrictive while the other sounds very open and accepting of new believers. But here is where it helps to understand that the Kingdom is an extremely varied environment and even has a level known as “shame and everlasting contempt”. And this helps to make sense of what might seem like contradictory statements. On the one hand, Jesus’ arms are wide open to accept new believers into the Kingdom; but this does not undermine the obligation to “enter by the narrow gate” - that is, continue to follow and to walk “worthy of the calling”. (Ephesians 4:1)

In the Kingdom one enjoys the presence of God and His heavenly beings, and past sins are forgiven. Nevertheless, there may be a reconciliation period of acknowledging past errors that we were blind to; and this could result in feeling conscience-stricken for a time.

For some people it may almost be like hell in heaven, at least for a time until their rehabilitation period, or whatever it may be, is complete. But at least they will be in Heaven, not in Hell separated from the presence of God. But to partake fully of life in the Heavenly realm, it will be necessary to shed the wrong habits and mindsets that have been picked up during the earthly life.

No one is perfect, of course, and no doubt we all will have something from the past to own up to. But for these wayward ones in “shame and everlasting contempt”, that process will take longer. But eventually, even they will be restored, freed from the guilt and shame of the past.

This term “everlasting”, by the way, is often taken to mean an infinite length of time. But this is a rather narrow definition. A better concept of “everlasting” sees the term as pointing beyond the earthly realm to the celestial – that realm which is not subject to our boundaries of time and space. (More on this subject in post C-4.)

In a nation there are many social levels – from the prisons and reformatories to the highest levels of elite rulers. But regardless of anyone’s station, all are citizens of that nation. Likewise, all who come to Jesus receive the right of citizenship in God’s Kingdom, and that in itself is a wonderful blessing.

And even those who land in the “reformatory” level will be glad to be there, rather than have to dwell as non-citizens cast out of the Kingdom – in what the Revelation Book refers to as “Death and Hades”, or even worse, in the “lake of fire”.

But like convicts or criminals, those who land in the “basement” of Heaven will have to be restricted and denied freedom to participate in much of the Kingdom’s affairs and activities. Citizens they are, as Christ has promised, but unable to enjoy many of the blessings and privileges that could have been theirs – at least until such time as they are ready to move on to a new stage in their celestial journey.

Thus we see the reason for part of the title of this study – “Hell in Heaven?” It’s not really Hell or the Lake of Fire, but for those who must spend some time in “shame and everlasting contempt”, it might almost feel like hell. But they are still in the Kingdom, and wherever one is in the Kingdom, there is always hope. We might compare that tohow, in our earthly realm, a person thrown in jail loses their reputation, and it seems like a great shame and dishonor. Likewise, Christians who turn back on the Lord may have to endure something similar. Nevertheless, a convict in jail may yet experience hope of eventual release and a new start in life with a sense of restored respectability.

How much more would this be true in God’s Kingdom. And even though a soul may have to experience a difficult time of correction and chastening, there will be constant reminders and tokens of mercy. In God’s Kingdom love is the prevailing atmosphere, even in those situations where severe chastening (in modern terms, “tough love”) needs to be administered.

Unlike those who get sent to the Lake of Fire, those who land in “shame and everlasting contempt” will not have to keep company with Satan and his demons; and unlike those who must dwell in Death and Hades, they are still in the Kingdom, and under the loving care of Christ, His angels, and His people. Unlike those who must be sent to Hell, they can enjoy living in a heavenly environment.

Regarding this “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels”, it would appear that unhappy destination is meant primarily for the demons. (Matthew 25:41) Mankind is less accountable. The reality of God’s presence and the Heavenly Realm are somewhat invisible to human beings. Plus we are bombarded with evil influences from the Devil and his minions.

For these reasons, we humans are less accountable, and as a result great numbers of Earth’s inhabitants probably will be spared from having to enter the “lake of fire”; except for the stubbornly wicked and rebellious, it is not likely to be their destination.

God is fair in His judgments. “The judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.” (Psalm 19:9) Jesus taught this principle of accountability in Luke 12: “And that servant who knew his master’s will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few.” (12:47-48)

As the ignorant Roman soldiers were going about their business of crucifying Him, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.” (Luke 23:34)

But the chief priests and elders, who knew the Scriptures and knew of the mighty works Jesus had done, were not so ignorant. Pilate “knew that they had handed Him over because of envy.” They had even “plotted to put Lazarus to death also, because on account of him many of the Jews went away and believed in Jesus.” (Matthew 27:18, John 12:10-11) No surprise then that Jesus had warned them once of “many stripes” to come: “how can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33)

The accountability principle means that everyone will receive whatever it is he or she deserves and will be judged according to their knowledge of God’s ways and words. The more we learn from God and put into practice what He shows us, the more we are blessed. It was said of Abraham that he “believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness” and that he was “justified by works”. (James 2:23,21)

Regarding the subject of rehabilitation, it should be safe to conclude that, even though we may have “passed from death into life” by coming to Christ, there will be no escape from having to account for those wrongdoings that we did not turn away from. (John 5:24) And if we have too much backlog of misdeeds, then chances are there will be need for some re-training.

Let us say, for example, a person, during his or her earthly life, was in the habit of gossiping and speaking negatively about their next door neighbor. And upon entrance into the Kingdom, who should happen to be there on the welcoming committee, but that next-door neighbor? It would, of course, be necessary to humbly make things right with that person before advancing to the next stage of blessing in that Heavenly Realm.

Doubtless, all of us will have something or other to unlearn or undo from our past lifetime. Better though to recognize and repent of those things now, as much as possible, than to wait till we get to the Other Side.

Coming face to face with our errors is not an easy process. “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful.” (Hebrews 12:11) Repentance is a shattering experience, a crumbling of one’s self-image, the hardest words in any language to say (“I was wrong”). But once a person manages to get that far, he will find the door thrust open to greater blessing and salvation.

Continue to C-3: A Word of Comfort

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (C-1)

Part APart BPart C

C-1: Fate of Judas
C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
C-3: A Word of Comfort
C-4: “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever” – What does that Mean?
C-5: Deliverance from the Lake of Fire? Society of the Future!
C-6: Lake of Fire – What Is It For?
C-7: Conclusion

C-1: Fate of Judas

As several of Jesus’ parables pointed out – the parables of the two servants, the foolish virgins, the talents and the minas – there is the possibility of what Gabriel had pointed out long ago: many of those who have come to Christ, although members of the Kingdom, will, nevertheless, have to endure something called “shame and everlasting contempt”.

Likely, this is reserved for the worst offenders: the Judases and betrayers, the hypocritical persecutors of the true Christians, those who have fought unjust wars in the name of Christ, those who have led others astray, and so on. Not only will they be deprived of the honors and rewards given to those who “shall awake to everlasting life”, but they will have to undergo the painful and shattering realization of their errors – agony of spirit as suggested in the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Daniel 12:2, Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 24:51, Luke 13:28)

How much better, in our earthly lives, to follow the apostle Peter’s advice to remain vigilant in spirit: “Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” (2Peter 1:10-11)

The implication here is that believers can arrive in poor shape upon their “entrance into the eternal kingdom”. Conversely, what about those who practice these virtues to the best of their ability but have not heard Christ’s message in a way that they could properly understand or receive? Would they not be deserving of a place in the Kingdom?

In Romans 2 Paul makes a strong case along this line about the people who didn’t happen to know what the Jewish people knew about the law and the ways of God. “For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness.”

Then Paul goes on to say, “And will not the physically uncircumcised, if he fulfills the law, judge you who, even with your written code and circumcision, are a transgressor of the law?… For there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:14-15,27,11)

There almost seems to be an intersection here between the realms of believers and unbelievers. That is, there’s not much difference between the person who comes to the Lord but falls away and the person who never came to the Lord but tried to live a decent life. 

The lapsed believer, who is already in the Kingdom, must shed the wrong attitudes that led him astray before he may continue his journey further into the Kingdom. The unbeliever also has things to learn; first and foremost is the issue of accepting the authority of Christ. This probably won’t be very difficult once earthly traditions and customs and culture have been stripped away at the time of death. The only ones who will find it difficult to “come to the Light” would be those who are “practicing evil” and don’t want that their “deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20)

Paul is making the case that some of the Jews who knew the law and were hypocritical were “lower on the scale”, so to speak, than those Gentiles who, even though ignorant of the law, were obeying it from their “hearts”“For not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified.” (Romans 2:13-15)

Nowadays, we make perhaps a greater division between believers and non-believers than is necessary. And would not the same admonishment apply that Paul once gave to his Jews – those who did “rely upon the law and boast of your relation to God“? If believers are being hypocritical (while boasting of their “relation to God“), while many who don’t know Christ are trying to live godly lives, should not these latter receive a place of honor in the Kingdom, even though not officially saved at the time of their passing into the Realm Beyond? And would not this fulfill what Jesus meant when He said, “Many who are first will be last, and the last first”? (Matthew 19:30)

It is an undeniable truth that, within the general category of those who come to the Lord, there exist many who do not walk “worthy of the calling”. (Ephesians 4:1) (In fact, none of us can claim to have a perfect score in the “worthiness” department.) But some have lived lives that were a poor testimony, causing too many to stumble into unbelief and discouragement. 

This should come as no surprise.  From the passage in Romans 2 above, we learn of Paul’s issue with hypocritical Jewish teachers, probably certain members of the Early Church, of whom he said, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.” (Romans 2:24)

Peter also spoke of “false teachers… who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Lord who bought them… because of whom the way of truth will be blasphemed.” (2Peter 2:1-2) If the Lord had “bought them”, then they must have come to the Lord at some point in their lives; they became part of the family of God and so would not be “cast out”. But as in many a family, often there is a wayward son or daughter who causes the family no end of trouble and grief.

In Jesus’ own “family” of disciples, He had His “Judas”, who committed the grave sin of betraying the Master. It was a foolish mistake, and he repented of it later. “Then Judas, His betrayer, seeing that He had been condemned, was remorseful and brought back the thirty pieces of silver to the chief priests and elders, saying, ‘I have sinned by betraying innocent blood.’” (Matthew 27:3-4)

Now certainly, Judas had come to Christ; he was one of His disciples. This then would have been enough to grant him entrance into the Kingdom. But at what level? “Shame and everlasting contempt” would seem his likely destination.

But Jesus did make this unusual statement about Judas: “none of them is lost except the son of perdition (or “destruction).” (John 17:12) And it almost sounds as if Judas was destined for the Lake of Fire. Likely though, his fate wasn’t so drastic. What was drastic, or tragic, was the fact that Judas would commit suicide, he would become “lost” as a disciple, and he “lost” what could have been his place of honor in the Kingdom of God.

We might compare this with another statement where Jesus, explaining about conditions of persecution in the very End Time, said, “He who endures to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) He was not talking here about the gift of general salvation, which does not require any pre-condition of a lifetime of faithfulness. But rather, the subject is about a time when many will be tempted to “betray one another” and, like Judas, defect over to the side of the enemies of God. (Matthew 24:10)

So what does He mean here? What is it that those “who endure” will be “saved” from? Well, here is where it will help to realize that within the Kingdom of God there exists this “shame and everlasting contempt” domain, where the faithful will not have to go. The implication is there too that, for those who do have to go there, conditions in that domain will be tough. (More on this later.)

Jesus once spoke to Peter in terms similar to what He said about Judas: “He turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are an offense to Me, for you are not mindful of the things of God, but the things of men.’” (Matthew 16:23) Jesus was not calling Peter a devil, but he was addressing the evil spirit who was influencing him.

Like Peter, Judas had become a “son of perdition” temporarily because he was allowing himself to be influenced by the Devil – and so much so that he committed the grievous crime of betraying the Son of God. Nevertheless, it was a temporary aberration, as evidenced by his remorse afterwards. In a sense it was no different to Peter’s blunder: trying to stop Jesus from following the path of sacrifice and death; or later, when he denied knowing Jesus.

The difference between Judas and Peter, however, was that Peter, despite his anguish over his failure – “Peter went out and wept bitterly” (Luke 22:62) – he didn’t abandon his hope and trust but persisted; he kept on believing in God’s powerful saving grace and mercy.

Who knows if Judas, instead of committing suicide, had had more faith in God’s saving mercy and been willing to humbly and courageously face the consequences – the shame that his actions brought him – then he might have continued, found forgiveness, and had a fruitful life in God’s service and final reward at the end?

Some translations say that Judas “changed his mind” (instead of “was remorseful”). Both are probably right. Judas was much like king Saul, who also was afflicted by an evil spirit. His jealousy over the future king David prompted him to spend years trying to find and kill him. When David confronted Saul about his behavior, Saul felt remorse for a time. Saul’s lack of humble faith, however, led him back into the same vengeful pattern as before.

Both Saul and Judas were like a “double-minded man” whom James says is “unstable in all his ways” – unstable because of his “doubting” God’s “wisdom” or for not seeking it in the first place. (James 1:5-7) The lives of both Saul and Judas ended the same – by committing suicide.

If nothing else, Saul’s life was a dandy bad example of what not to do. Yet David continued to call him the “Lord’s anointed”, for Saul had been chosen by God at the beginning of his reign. (1Samuel 24:10) For this reason it’s hard to imagine that Saul would have been sent to Hell at his death. But to go to a realm like “shame and everlasting contempt” within the Kingdom of God would seem the appropriate place for him. And we could probably say the same for Judas Iscariot as well.

And perhaps also, we could say the same thing for Christians in the End Time who receive the mark of the Beast. According to Revelation 14:10, those who worship the Beast (the Antichrist) “shall be tormented with fire and brimstone”, that is, enter the Lake of Fire. That could include a lot of people. However, there may also be an in-between category – those who don’t like the Antichrist and don’t worship him in their hearts but end up taking the mark, for the sake of survival or for other reasons.

True enough, it is a compromise and a poor testimony. Nevertheless, the Lord “looks at the heart” and not the “outward appearance”. (1Samuel 16:7) So it seems reasonable to suppose that many people in this in-between category (whether Christians or non-Christians) would not be sent to the Lake of Fire, although they would have to endure correction in the Afterlife in a “Death and Hades” purgatory, or in some sort of “shame and everlasting contempt” situation.

Indeed, the Scripture seems to lay down two conditions: number one – “if anyone worships the beast and his image”; and number two – “receives his mark” (Revelation 14:9) Worshiping the Beast would be the main reason for someone to get sent to the Lake of Fire. Receiving the mark is the secondary reason, the outward action which may or may not correspond to the state of a person’s heart.

Christians, in their heart, cannot worship the Antichrist; however, as we know from Matthew 24:24, the influence of “false Christs and false prophets” in the End Time is so strong that it will be difficult, even for the elect, not to be deceived by them. This implies that there will be a lot of decent people, and probably even Christians, who will be overwhelmed by the Antichrist and the False Prophet into compromising and receiving the “mark” – even though in their hearts they do not “worship” the Antichrist. (For more information on this point, see Appendix 1.)

The elite of the “elect” are the super-overcomers who manage to resist the temptation to give in to the new world leaders and their system. They are “faithful unto death”, and although they “have little strength”, yet they have kept God’s Word and “not denied” His name. (Revelation 2:10, 3:8) They are the ones “who had not worshiped the beast or his image, AND had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands.”  (Revelation 20:4) By refusing the “mark”, their inward belief matches with their outward actions. (For more information on this point about the “elect”, see Appendix 2.)

It was mentioned earlier that certain elements in the Christian world are guilty of fomenting wars, promoting intolerance, persecuting less established religious groups. These are they of whom Christ warned, “The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service… And these things they will do to you because they have not known the Father nor Me.” (John 16:2-3, 15:21) There are those who use God’s name for their own ends.

If in some cases, such persons had once come to Christ, then they certainly have gone far, far astray. So what happens to them? Knowing that such glaring hypocrisy can exist, even among believers, we can understand why the provision of “shame and everlasting contempt” is mentioned by Gabriel; it is the fate awaiting some of the “sons of your people” who are badly in need of correction. (Daniel 12:2)

“And now, little children, abide in Him, so that when He appears we may have confidence and not shrink from Him in shame at His coming.” (1John 2:28, ESV) In John 3:20-21 we learn that those who are “practising evil” cannot or will “not come to the Light”. In a similar way, those who did “come to the Light” but failed to “abide in Him” during their lifetimes will “shrink in shame” when Christ appears.

They are still in Heaven, of course, not Hell, but find that, instead of the honor they could have had, they are faced with having in their hands a shameful testimony of a life lived in rebellion to the Light they had once embraced. Although it won’t be easy, nevertheless, if they did enter the Kingdom at some point in their lives, they will be honored for that and for whatever good they have done, and they will not be denied God’s mercy and lovingkindness.

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus made this startling observation: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven. Many will say to Me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?’ Then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

From this we might figure that these people whom Jesus talks about never came to Him at all. And what He says to them would be true, “I never new you.” They would be like the “sons of Sceva” in Acts 19 who tried to make lucrative use of Christ’s name to prosper themselves in their exorcism trade. Such “works” are nothing but an empty show, a going-through-the-motions exercise to impress audiences or elicit funds; such imposters and con artists would hardly be worthy to enter the Kingdom.

To them, the “depart from Me” phrase would mean “go to Hell”. Among these are many who “think that they offer God service” by killing the true followers of Christ “because they have not known the Father nor Me.”  (John 16:2-3)

But there may be some who did come to the Lord at some point in their lives, but later their relationship became distant, and they strayed off into that kind of shell game that Jesus was giving examples of. It would seem that some of these will “depart”, not into Hell, but into what we could call Hell in Heaven: “shame and everlasting contempt” – exile into the outer fringes of the Kingdom.

Many of these may have thought they deserved to be “first” in the Kingdom – “have we not done many wonders in Your name?” - but wake up at the end of their lives to the rude shock of finding themselves bumped down into the “last” category. In such cases, the “depart from Me” phrase means “go to shame and everlasting contempt” – meaning they are still in the Kingdom but locked out of its full blessings and privileges.

As mentioned before, the same basic rules apply to believers and unbelievers. And if believers disobey God’s rule of love (“practice lawlessness”), then it should be no surprise if they wind up experiencing similar things to what unbelievers do who also “practice lawlessness”. Members of the Kingdom they may be, and no doubt happy to have landed in that wonderful heavenly environment. However, their landing place may be rather close to that boundary separating Hell and Heaven.

Fortunately, as far as human souls are concerned, any movement across that boundary only goes in one direction – from the Kingdom of Hell to the Kingdom of Heaven. Christ’s guarantee remains in force: “the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out.” (John 6:37) But in the case of those who who build with “wood, hay, straw”, they will be “saved, yet so as through fire.” (1Corinthians 3:15)

And some unbelievers (the “last”) who receive Christ in the Afterlife may well end up “first” ahead of believers who did not “walk worthy of the calling”. (Ephesians 4:1)

Heaven is by no means a classless society, and whoever happens to land in the basement category will, of course, be glad to be in Heaven but will have to live with the memory of how they shamed the Gospel of Christ during their earthly lifetimes. The Scriptures do speak of God being “ashamed” of some of His people: “For whoever is ashamed of Me and My words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him the Son of Man also will be ashamed.” (Mark 8:38) And “not ashamed” of others, such as those who “obtained a good testimony” during their earthly lives: “God is not ashamed to be called their God, for He has prepared a city for them”. (Hebrews 11:2,16,39)

Regarding those whom Christ was not happy with, even some who, it seemed, had done great works for God, the apostle Paul expressed it well when he wrote that without love our works will mean nothing.  No amount of spiritual gifts, understanding of mysteries, faith to move mountains, sacrificial actions will suffice if they are not accompanied with the right motive – of loving God and others. (1Corinthians 13:1-3)

Although believers’ names have been “written in the Book of Life”, some are bound to end up like Judas Iscariot. Because of their waywardness, they can even turn into enemies of Christ and His true children. Yet they are forgiven; the path to full restoration may be a rocky one, but they are forgiven.

Continue to C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?
Appendix 1: What is the Distinction between Worshiping the Beast and Receiving the Mark?

To understand what seems utterly paradoxical – Christians, worshipers of Christ who receive the mark of the Beast – following are some thoughts on this:

When a person gets saved (born again), it is the usual custom for them to then get baptized. The water-baptism serves as the outward evidence of a person’s inward belief and conversion; it also facilitates a person’s membership amongst groups of other believers. The Devil’s counterfeit version is similar in some ways: the mark serves as the outward evidence of a person’s inward “conversion” to the Antichrist and also facilitaes his or her entry into the buying and selling system of the Antichrist and False Prophet.

Now we recognize too that some people get saved yet never get baptized; water baptism is not an absolute essential in the salvation process. In addition, it is not hard to imagine that some people who are not saved might get themselves baptized for the sake of some gain or advantage. A pastor is supposed to vet baptism candidates to make sure they are actually saved and understand what it means. But it wouldn’t be hard to imagine that some pretenders will slip by undetected, and so baptism is not always a foolproof method or evidence of a person’s conversion. Nevertheless, some denominations assert that a person cannot be saved without getting water-baptized, a doctrine that elevates water-baptism to the level of a foolproof way of knowing a person is genuinely saved. And we often think of the mark in similar terms, that it is a foolproof indication of a person’s worship of the beast.

Like the custom of baptism, the “mark”  is only the outward evidence of a person’s inward “conversion” (to worship of the Antichrist Beast), which also permits entrance and participation in the buying and selling system created by the False Prophet. And just as some deceptive people may try to get themselves baptized without actually committing themselves to Christ, so some Christians may take the mark, for similar reasons, for the sake of gain or advantage, even though, in their hearts, they don’t worship the Antichrist. The “mark”, like water baptism, is not a totally foolproof way to determine if someone is a genuine worshiper (of the Beast).

Two Scriptures do mention only the “worship” factor for the followers of the Beast and make the point that they “will worship him, whose names have not been written in the Book of Life of the Lamb.” (Revelation 13:8, 17:8) This could be taken to mean that any worshiper of the Beast, regardless of whether or not they take the mark, will not be written in the Book of Life and will end up in the Lake of Fire. And this parallels how it is with the worshipers of Christ: if they came to the Lord at some point in their lives, then they are written in the Book of Life, regardless of whether or not they ever got water-baptized. They will be spared from the Lake of Fire – even if they have made the shameful compromise of receiving the mark of the Beast. “No one is able to snatch them out of My Father’s hand.” (John 10:28-29)

Other passages in the Revelation Book make the point that there are two factors in the worship service of the Beast. (13:11-18, 14:9, 16:2, 19:20, 20:4) There is the mark AND there is the factor of worship; and this could be taken to mean that, to get sent to the Lake of Fire, it is not limited to the outward act of receiving the mark, but also it is an inward matter of the heart – that of being devoted and committed to the Beast.

In Revelation 13:11-18 it is fairly clear that the “worship” factor is of primary importance, while the “mark” seems to have lesser importance as far as “worship” is concerned; in that passage the mark is more clearly linked with economic survival than with any religious aspect, and it is difficult to guess that the mark is supposed to be part of the False Prophet’s worship service of the Antichrist. The mark is described mainly as a way of coeercing people into joining the camp of the Antichrist and False Prophet. This could be compared to what happened in communist Russia: many people were coerced out of fear of persecution and deprivation, so they feigned allegiance to the communist state, even though in their hearts they did not agree with it.

Actually, a lot of people, not just wayward Christians, may fall into this category of those who take the mark but are not really worshipers of the Beast. And before the Great White Throne Judgment comes, presumably while in the realm of Death and Hades, they will have opportunity to repent and get their names written in the Book of Life, which will spare them from getting sent to the Lake of Fire.

And for Christians who take the mark, even though they will not go to the Lake of Fire, they will, because of their compromise, probably land in that purgatorial realm known as “shame and everlasting contempt”. (Daniel 12:2) They will be “saved, yet so as through fire” at the “Judgment Seat of Christ”, as Paul put it. (1Corinthians 3:15, 2Corinthians 5:10) They are in the Kingdom, but as Hebrews 12 explains, will have to “endure chastening”“For whom the LORD loves He shastens, and scourges every son whom He receives… for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” (Hebrews 12:6-7) By coming to Christ, they have become “sons”, but in His love the Father does have to chasten His wayward sons and daughters before they can be restored and brought into higher realms of blessing, privilege, and responsibility.

[RETURN]

Appendix 2: The “elect” – a general and specific term

There are several terms in the Bible that seem to have both a general and a specific meaning: Sheol or Hades can be understood generally as the Afterlife domain for the dead; in its more specific usage, these terms point to a region of misery in the Afterlife for the souls of evildoers. The term Jews in the New Testament can refer generally to the Jewish people, or specifically, to the Jewish elders who fought against Christ’s teachings. “You who fear the Lord” was a term used in the Old Testament to refer, specifically, to faithful Israelites, and generally, to the Gentiles and all peoples who had and would come to worship the true God.

The “he who overcomes” phrase in the Revelation Book refers generally to those “who believe that Jesus is the Son of God”; (1John 5:5) more specifically however, this phrase points to those who are faithful unto death and receive the crown of life. The same may also be said for the term “elect”. One translation of Matthew 24:24 seems to emphasize this distinction, mentioning that even the “very elect” would have a hard time avoiding the deceptions of “false Christs and false prophets” (KJV) – which leaves open the possibility that some of the “elect” will fall into the traps and snares of those days and end up receiving the mark.  

[RETURN]

Continue to C-2: Rewards, Rehabilitation, or Both?

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (B-7)

Part APart BPart C

B-1: What about the Evildoers?
B-2: Why Share the Good News?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: Believers and Followers
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

       “The Lord says, “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will abundantly pardon. Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow. Though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool.” (Isaiah 55:7, 1:18)
       You can start from scratch with the Lord, for when you receive Jesus as your Savior you are spiritually “born again” and are a “new creature in Christ Jesus.” God says He will “blot out thy sins as a cloud, and as a thick cloud, He’ll put them behind His back, and will remember them against you no more.” (John 3:3,7; 2Corinthians 5:17; Isaiah 44:22, 43:25)
       (“Born Again—Are You?” by David Brandt Berg)

It is true that when one is “born again”, the slate is wiped clean; past sins, done in ignorance of the reality or  will of God, are forgiven, and the believer has a new start in life. (See “Slate Wiped Clean” article.) The apostle Peter on one occasion acknowledged to those who had “denied the Holy One and the Just, and asked for a murderer… I know that you did it in ignorance, as did also your rulers.” And then he offered them a fresh start: “Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out.” (Acts 3:14-15,17,19) Another prime example is the apostle Paul’s testimony. He was “formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man” but says that he “obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” (1Timothy 1:13) “The times of this ignorance God winked at.” (Acts 17:30, KJV) And when we are enlightened, He graciously sets us on a new path.

It often happens, however, that the new start becomes the end of the road. The apostle Peter exhorts believers to supplement your faith” by continuing to grow and be diligent to make your calling and election sure.” (2Peter 1:5-11, ESV) The apostle Paul says much the same: “[God] will render… to those who by patient continuance in doing good… glory, honor, and peace.” (Romans 2:6-10) This general rule should apply to anyone, whether Christian or non-Christian.

Although we can understand that God will extend great mercy towards those who have not had opportunity to know Christ during their earthly lifetimes, it should also be understood that those who do come to know Christ during their earthly lives are greatly advantaged.

His overpowering love is able to motivate their minds and spirits and enhance their efforts as they labor to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth during their lifetimes. And they can look forward to being “richly provided for” upon their “entrance into the eternal kingdom”. (2Peter 1:11) They have the advantage and opportunity to go beyond the basic entry-level reward of entrance into the Kingdom.

Or they may also go the other direction, ending up with very little, and instead of hearing the Master’s “Well done, good and faithful servant”, they may wind up feeling ashamed before Him. Instead of being “first” as they may have thought was their right, they wind up coming in “last”.

“Therefore we must give the more earnest heed to the things we have heard, lest we drift away. For if the word spoken through angels proved steadfast, and every transgression and disobedience received a just reward, how shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation.” (Hebrews 2:1-3)

When one comes to Christ, the past is forgiven and forgotten by the grace and mercy of God. But life is a continual learning process. And just because our sins are forgiven when we come to Christ, this doesn’t give us the license to go downhill into a state of corruption. “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not!” (Romans 6:1-2)

It’s as if the slate is wiped clean for the born again believer; he gets a new start. But after that much depends on how he or she advances, continues the learning process. And if they go back, become a bad example, lead others astray, etc., then there is a place for them – a kind of reformatory in Heaven called “shame and everlasting contempt”. (More on this subject later.)

To be one of God’s chosen requires being ready for life in a Realm where truth, sincerity, honesty, fairness, love, and other such godly virtues reign supreme. Now what kind of people would this include? Well hopefully, most of those who call themselves Christian.

But does that have to exclude people who are not yet Christian? There are probably many sincere folks in our world today who are living their lives according to the same godly principles, which the apostle Peter exhorts believers to practice: “to supplement your faith with virtue… knowledge… self-control… steadfastness… godliness… brotherly affection… love.” Peter goes on to say, “For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (2Peter 1:5-8, ESV)

And if non-Christians practice these virtues, they would be as those Gentiles whom Paul says “show the work of the law written in their hearts”. (Romans 2:15) And for all we know, in God’s eyes, He would be happy to welcome them into the Kingdom, or at least make it easy for them to enter the Kingdom.

But if believers do not keep growing (“increasing”), Peter says, “Whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins.” But then he promises that if they are “diligent to make your calling and election sure” and “if you practice these qualities you will never fall. For in this way there will be richly provided for you an entrance into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”  (2Peter 1:9-11, ESV)

There is no complex method to follow by which one may stay faithful and reap a full reward. It is nothing more than a simple matter of continuing to stay close to the Lord. From the parables we see examples: to the five foolish virgins locked out of the groom’s chamber, the bridegroom declared, “I do not know you”; and to the ones who appeared to have done great works, but out of the will of God, Christ will have to say, “I never knew you; depart from Me.”  (Matthew 25:1-13, 7:21-23)

The common factor in these cases was that the Lord did not “know” them; it was the loss of that intimate connection with the Lord.  And it was one of the last things that Jesus, near the end of His earthly life, taught to His disciples: “abide in Me” for “he who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit.” (John 15:4-5)

Continue to C-1: Fate of Judas

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (B-6)

Part APart BPart C

B-1: What about the Evildoers?
B-2: Why Share the Good News?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: Believers and Followers
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing

At this point a big question that may come to mind is, “How will I know if I have attained that elite ‘discipleship’ status? Will I wind up in that privileged group?” This can be a difficult issue and perhaps even a cause for anxiety among believers.

To be sure, if a person focuses too much on the “reward” angle, then that probably means he or she is getting off on the wrong track in their thinking. It can lead to worry and self-effort on the one hand (which is lack of confidence in God) or lead to getting lulled into a false sense of security on the other hand (over-confidence in one’s so-called “elite” status).

But when the heart and mind are truly focused on God, all thought of “reward” or “status” becomes secondary, even vanishes. A soul that is in love with its Maker has an overriding concern to honor and please God, which includes unselfish and loving conduct towards others. And nothing else really matters.

This doesn’t mean to say that the thought of “reward” in the Afterlife should be ignored. It helps to remind ourselves of that from time to time. It comforts us to know what awaits us once our earthly troubles are over; and it acts as an incentive to keep going during rough times, and also, as a guide to making smarter life decisions which will pay off in longer-term dividends in the Afterlife.

But it is not wise for an individual or group to dwell too much on what they may think is their “elite” status. If one is over-confident, this can lead in the wrong direction – towards complacency, self-righteousness, and that dangerous feeling of “I’ve arrived”, thus hindering a person from moving forward in his or her spiritual life. Or it can work the other way – towards discouragement and the temptation to operate in the arm of the flesh, or just to give up, thinking one is not eligible or can’t make it into that special category. 

This sense of “eliteness” may have been one of the underlying problems in the churches that Christ was addressing in Revelation 2-3. For example, Christ said of the Laodicean church, “You say, ‘I am rich, have become wealthy, and have need of nothing.’” (They thought they were “elite” because of their wealth.) But in reality they were “wretched, miserable, poor, blind, and naked.” (Revelation 3:17)

Some of them weren’t living up to their full potential, allowing certain ungodly practices and doctrines to flourish within their spiritual walls. These churches may have thought they were doing okay, but Christ warned them that they could lose some of their “elite” status if they didn’t shape up. They were still the “elect” and “chosen”, but the destiny and plan that God had laid out for them or for individual members might not unfold as much or as well or not at all unless they repented and made some needed changes in their mindsets, attitudes, and practices.

As the “elect”, they had that privileged status, which Jesus expressed in this way: “many are called, but few are chosen.” (Matthew 22:14) Out of the multitudes who hear the Gospel, only a few respond. These who are “chosen” are also known as the “elect” (from the same Greek word eklektos). But even these “few” are a very large group. This is the picture we are given in Revelation 7. Here is described John the apostle’s vision of “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.”

An angel explained to John, “These are the ones who come out of the great tribulation, and washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.” (7:9,14) Evidently then, these were the “elect” who were living during “the great tribulation” prior to Christ’s Second Coming and were resurrected at the Last Trumpet. (Matthew 24:31) And what John saw did not even include all the other “elect” who had died in ages past and were resurrected also at this time. (For more information see Footnote.)

So from this we may conclude that the “elect” are not some kind of exclusive club of a few extra-special elite members, but the “elect” includes a wide range of multitudes of people. And a wide range of levels of dedication and reward. But where God draws the line and how He judges between different classes of “elect” souls is impossible to answer. God knows the hearts of mankind, and so He certainly knows. But if we try to define who is higher or lower on the scale, whatever our measuring stick might be, our estimation is sure to be skewed and inaccurate.

And perhaps God prefers to keep it a mystery. He would rather we focus on engaging with Him personally as we “diligently seek” after God and His plan, rather than focus on working our way up on what we might think is some ladder of spiritual merit or accomplishment or get embroiled in comparing ourselves with others. (Hebrews 11:6)

       Oh, brothers and sisters, I think we can serve God from some other motive than that base one of trying to be greater than our brethren in heaven!…
       Surely, brothers and sisters, if any of you can have brighter places in heaven, and more happiness and more joy than I, I will be glad to know it. The prospect does not excite any envy in my soul now, or if it did now, it certainly would not then, for I should feel, that the more you had, the more I should have!…
       I believe that our union with each other will be so great that distinctions will be utterly lost, and that we shall all have such a joint communion, and interest, and fellowship, that there will be no such thing as private possessions, private ranks, and private honors—for we shall there, to the fullest extent, be one in Christ!
       (“Grace Exalted – Boasting Excluded” sermon by Charles Spurgeon)

Among the “elect”, there are, in all likelihood, many degrees and diversities of reward (similar to what was brought up in the previous section about different levels of “overcoming”). But to venture into any further detail on this subject would be a matter of conjecture. It would be safe to say this much though: as our earthly lives were lived according to God’s rule of love, such will be our inheritance when we reach those heavenly portals.

And although there will be “status”, status won’t matter. Everyone, from the lowest to the most exalted, will experience fulfillment, acceptance, reward, and happiness. There will be “grades” in Heaven, yes, but at the same time, because of Christ’s personal love for each of his children, no one will feel unimportant or excluded, and any feelings of arrogant superiority will find no place There whatsoever.

This peculiar paradox of equality in Heaven co-existing with varying levels of honor can be understood from the various parables that Jesus told… such as the one about the landowner who hired laborers for his vineyard at different times – “early in the morning… the third hour… the sixth and ninth hour… the eleventh hour” [6 am, 9 am, 12 noon, 3 pm, 5 pm]. In the story all were paid the same wage, regardless of when they started working and in spite of the objections of the early starters: 

“And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, ‘Why have you been standing here idle all day?’ They said to him, ‘Because no one hired us.’ He said to them, ‘You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive’…
       And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius. But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, saying, ‘These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.’ But he answered ‘… I wish to give to this last man the same as to you.’”
       (Matthew 20:6-14)

In this parable Jesus seems to be saying that, as far as general salvation is concerned (entrance into the Kingdom), there is no partiality with God; everyone who comes to Christ enters the Kingdom, “has passed from death into life”. (John 5:24) They are citizens of the Kingdom, and like citizens of an earthly kingdom, there are all kinds of different types and levels and personalities. But all are citizens and eligible for the same basic wage of citizenship.

The parable ends with an interesting conclusion: the landowner says, “Am I not allowed to do what I choose with what belongs to me? Or do you begrudge my generosity?” (Matthew 20:15, ESV) Christ seems to indicate here that there will be “eleventh hour” salvations, late-comers who don’t receive Him until their deathbed, or even afterwards in the spirit realm. Why? “Because no one hired us.” They had not heard the Gospel message during their lifetimes.

Then we hear the landowner’s reproof to the early laborers. It is as if the Lord was saying, “Am I not allowed to bring salvation to these ‘latecomers’, just as I have to you who were Christians during your earthly lives?” And do you begrudge my generosity?” - meaning “would you oppose My plan (with doctrinal barriers of exclusivity) when I am a benevolent Savior who would extend My gift of salvation, even to those whom you feel aren’t supposed to have it?”

Then if that reproof didn’t get the point across, the Lord concludes by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first last.” (Matthew 20:16) That is, many of the latecomers could wind up being more highly honored than some who thought they were supposed to be higher on the scale. But since they were attendees rather than participants, the Lord will have to say to them, “I do not know you… Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity… there are first who will be last.” (Luke 13:26-27,30)

We see the same principle at work in other parables: the Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax Collector – “everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted”; and the Parable of the Two Sons – “tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you [chief priests and elders who act as if you’re supposed to be first].” (Luke 18:9-14, Matthew 21:28-32)

The gift of salvation is open to all; they are “chosen” because they have chosen to accept Christ, whether that happens early in life, late in life, or in the next life. However, the privileges of honor and reward will depend on other choices one has made in life, choices that were guided by whatever “Light” was given to a person during his or her lifetime.

And as a further note to the possibility of “eleventh hour” salvations after death, it might very well be that many of these, who were about as “last” as it is possible to get as far as salvation is concerned, will wind up “first” - highly honored in the Kingdom because of their other life choices made in accordance with whatever “light” they had and the dictates of their conscience.

A lifetime of being kind and concerned for others would count as “deeds done in God”; in other cases, those “deeds” may be nothing more than a repentant heart (“he who does the truth”)after a lifetime of sin – like the thief on the cross, or king Manasseh. (John 3:21, 2Chronicles 33)

 Footnote:

Who then was this “great multitude which no one could number” whom the elder reveals to John will have “come out of the great tribulation”? (Revelation 7:9,14)

Going back a few verses, John the apostle describes the scene of 144,000 Jewish saints. (7:4-8) The judgment angels were about to blow their trumpets in preparation for the Second Coming. But before doing that, they are instructed to wait until the servants of God are marked with their seal of God’s protection against the upcoming plagues.

It seems the Lord was giving John, who was Jewish, some re-assurance that, despite the falling away of the majority of the Hebrew nation at that time, there would in the End emerge this group of 144,000 who will have turned to Christ during that final era of history.

Then the scene shifts dramatically. From the close-in view, God’s “camera” zooms out for a wide-angle view – of “a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations [not just the Jewish nation], tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb.” (7:9)

This seems to reveal that the 144,000, who also appeared “before the throne”, are only one small branch in the great family of God’s people to emerge out of and through that final era known as the Great Tribulation. (14:3)

As to how there happen to be 12,000 Jews in each of 12 Hebrew tribes is difficult to fathom. The Jews dispersed after the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 and have become hopelessly intermingled with each other and with other non-Jewish nationalities.

One possible answer is that, in the Kingdom of Heaven, as part of our inheritance, God gives His children reminders of the features and experiences  that we enjoyed during our earthly lives. For Jewish people the 12 tribes of their patriarchal history is a treasured memory that God perhaps will allow them to retain.

Anyway, that is one theory (and there are many others) to explain this puzzling passage about the 12-tribe organization of these 144,000 Jewish saints in the Heavenly Realm.

[RETURN]

Continue to B-7: Life, a Continual Learning Process

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (B-5)

Part APart BPart C

B-1: What about the Evildoers?
B-2: Why Share the Good News?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: Believers and Followers
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

B-5: Believers and Followers

The Bible often speaks about rewards in the Afterlife. In the Old Testament there was a clear understanding about it: “The LORD knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever.” This “inheritance” was envisioned usually as coming on Earth after the Resurrection: “the meek shall inherit the earth, and shall delight themselves in the abundance of peace.” (Psalm 37:18,11) Beyond this general understanding about future reward, we read in the Book of Daniel the words, often referred to in this study, of the angel Gabriel, speaking in more specific terms:

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise shall shine like the brightness of the firmament [sky above]; and those who turn many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:2-3)

The above Scripture refers to that great future event known as the Rapture, which leads into the “marriage supper of the Lamb”, a special victory celebration in the Heavenly Dimension for the people of God of all ages. (Revelation 19:19) Of course, it is wonderful to know that there are victory celebrations in Heaven. But we shouldn’t forget there are also times of judgment – or perhaps this can be expressed better as “the review and consequences of our earthly lives”.

Now, regarding the statement in Daniel 12:2 about those who “awake to shame and everlasting contempt”, it is often assumed that this group of souls are non-Christians destined for the “lake of fire” (mentioned in Revelation 19:20, 20:10). But the “lake of fire” is not the same as “shame and everlasting contempt”.

Why? For one thing Daniel’s prophecy states that these who are “raised” at Earth’s final “time of trouble” are the “sons of your people”, whereas those who are sent to the “lake of fire” are anything but the “sons of your people”. The Lake of Fire is meant, first of all, for the demons, and secondly, for those human souls who were the rebellious enemies of God and destroyers of mankind.

For example, we learn in Revelation 19:20 that the Antichrist and False Prophet, who fought against Christ and his armies at the Battle of Armageddon, “were cast alive into the lake of fire”. Then in the next chapter we learn that “the devil… was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.” (20:10) We can assume then that the Lake of Fire is meant for the rebellious enemies of God, a different class of souls from those who, even though they “awake to shame and everlasting contempt”, are, nevertheless, the “sons of your people”.

But the difficult question is, how could they be “sons of your people” who are “delivered” and yet it seems that some of them “shall awake… to shame and everlasting contempt”? Understandably, it is difficult for believers to see how this might apply to them, even though the passage’s context in this regard seems plain enough.

To answer this, we could start by trying to define who exactly are these “people” whom Gabriel declares will be “delivered”. On the most general level, it probably refers to those of whom Jesus said, “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will by no means cast out… This is the will of the Father who sent Me, that of all He has given Me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day… that everyone who sees the Son and believes in Him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day… No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up at the last day… everyone who has heard and learned from the Father comes to Me.” (John 6:37, 39-40, 44-45)

These, of whom Christ said He would “by no means cast out”, are the “overcomers” spoken of in chapters 2-3 of the Book of Revelation – those who would by no means be “hurt of the second death” and whose names He would by no means “blot out… from the Book of Life”. (2:11, 3:5) (For more information see Post “A-3: The Book of Life”.) They have God’s guarantee – their “names written in heaven… written in the Book of Life”. (Luke 10:20, Revelation 20:15)

But then, what does the Lord mean here by “overcomer”. The apostle John explains it this way: “For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world – our faith. Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)

This is a fairly general level of overcoming, and Jesus expressed it in much the same way: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment [“condemnation” or “damnation” in some translations], but has passed from death into life [that is, their names have been written in the Book of Life and they shall escape the Second Death].” (John 5:24). That is all that is required to gain entrance into the Kingdom.

Anyone who “believes that Jesus is the Son of God” has “overcome” – because their faith also includes a commitment to righteousness. “For with the heart one believes unto righteousness.” (Romans 10:10) A person cannot even “come to the light” unless they are doing “what is right… what God wants.” (John 3:21, NLT)

Now when Jesus speaks of “everlasting life”, does that exclude those who “awake… to shame and everlasting contempt”? (Daniel 12:2) If we compare this with the statement in 1Corinthians 3, that may help to clarify things: “each one’s work… will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is… If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (3:13,15)

Those who build their lives with “wood, hay, straw… suffer loss”. Nevertheless, they are “saved”. They do not lose their salvation; they are citizens of the Kingdom. As overcomers who have come over to Christ, they “shall not be hurt by the second death” in the Lake of Fire, as Jesus promised. (Revelation 2:11)

However, although they have escaped the Second Death, that does not mean they have escaped the “fire” altogether. “Fire”, as we shall learn further ahead, is symbolic of purging. And for some souls (or maybe all of us to some degree or another) will need some purging of some kind. And that is what happens in the Judgment Seat of Christ; we “receive a reward” for those works built with “gold, silver, precious stones” and “suffer loss” of whatever was built of “wood, hay, straw”.

In the Revelation Book also, we find there are different levels of dedication and reward, different levels of overcoming. For example, Christ seems to make a distinction between “overcomers” who will escape the Second Death and have their names in the Book of Life and those who not only “overcome” but “keep My works until the end.” To them Jesus said He would give “power over the nations”. (Revelation 2:26)

During His time on Earth, there was a clear distinction between those who had come to Him but later, because of a “hard saying… walked no more with Him” and those disciples who wanted to “continue in His Word”. (John 6:60,66, 8:31 – KJV)

This principle of enduring faithfulness with its accompanying reward is conveyed also in the Scripture, “Be faithful unto death, and I will give you the crown of life.” This statement is made from a positive viewpoint, throwing out the challenge for believers (overcomers) to aim for maximum return on their life’s investment.

Then comes the statement – “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” – which is followed by the basic guarantee, the minimum that believers (overcomers) can expect. It is a negatively worded statement which, nevertheless, promotes the great reassurance for believers that “he who overcomes shall not [by no means] be hurt by the second death.” (Revelation 2:10-11)

The idea here seems to be, it is one thing to “overcome” and escape the “second death”; coming to Christ is in itself a measure of great courage and submission to God. But greater yet is it to “be faithful unto death.” That is, to keep going for God till the end of one’s life – either by natural death or, in some cases, by martyrdom. The reward for such faithfulness goes well beyond the reward of escaping the “second death”, but includes a “crown of life”.

Hebrews 11:6 conveys a similar idea; it is one thing to “please God” and “believe that He is”, but the kind of faith that pleases God even more goes further and believes “that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” “For we have become partakers of Christ if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast to the end.” (Hebrews 3:14)

The whole Book of Hebrews, in fact, is an exhortation against falling away, against throwing away one’s confidence in God – to persevere, to be faithful to the end, to accept discipline from the Lord, to aim for a better resurrection, to seek diligently after God, knowing that He will reward our efforts.

And Jesus said much the same thing in His several parables. He taught that there is a difference between those who are saved and those who are saved but manifest a great deal of faithfulness during their lifetimes. There are “in a great house… vessels for honor and some for dishonor.”  (2 Timothy 2:20) What we need to keep in mind, though, is that all are vessels who have a special and treasured place in God’s “great house”.

Yet at the same time, there is this obvious general division amongst believers – comparable perhaps to that in the sporting world, between the players on the field and the cheering crowds in the stands. They are all on the Lord’s side, but obviously, the ones doing battle on the playing field deserve more honor and reward.

Where or how God draws the line we don’t really know. But perhaps the following Scripture offers a helpful guideline: “You have a little strength, have kept My word, and have not denied My name.” (Revelation 3:8) Now the thing to keep in mind is that, regardless of where we end up on the scale, our hearts will be so overjoyed to be united with our Savior and our minds so overwhelmed to have entered that glorious Heavenly Realm that nothing else will seem to matter at all.

And although there are different classes in the Heavenly Kingdom, it is not the same situation as on Earth where, because of injustice and lack of mobility, there is much dissatisfaction and rivalry. In a just heavenly society, where everyone’s needs are met and there is general contentment overall, that envy between classes won’t exist – a difficult concept for us in this life to grapple with perhaps. But surely, in God’s glorious Heaven there will be overall a spirit of happiness and satisfaction that all of its citizens will experience.

And yet we may conclude from His several parables that Christ did establish two broad categories of reward, making it clear that there would be a difference between believers and followers.

        Believers accept Jesus’ teachings as true; they believe in Him, believe that He is their Savior, and they are saved. Jesus made it clear that belief in Him is sufficient for salvation when He said in John 3:16 that “whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” It’s a wonderful thing to be a believer! It brings with it everlasting life, eternity with God.
        Walking the path of discipleship means that someone makes the choice to add action to belief. It’s going beyond the acceptance of the teachings and involves choosing to follow the teachings, to apply them in daily living.
        (“At the Heart of Discipleship” by Peter Amsterdam.) 

Continue to B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing

HEAVEN IN HELL? HELL IN HEAVEN? (B-4)

Part APart BPart C

B-1: What about the Evildoers?
B-2: Why Share the Good News?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: Believers and Followers
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ 

When mulling over issues like vigilance and self-discipline, we quickly bump into the wall of our lazy human nature, which finds it all too easy to neglect such things. And when we delve even further into the subject of judgment in the Afterlife, we may prefer to avoid thinking about that altogether. It’s like going to the doctor for a check-up. We’re afraid because of the bad news we might hear, even though in the back of our minds we know that it might go a long way towards safeguarding our future health and well-being.

So, rather than fearing the “check-up”, let us examine what the New Testament has to say on the subject of our personal judgment and inheritance in the Afterlife: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body… whether good or bad.” (2Corinthians 5:10)

A few years earlier, Paul had exhorted the Corinthian church to spend their earthly lives wisely: “Let each one take heed how he builds on it [the foundation of Jesus Christ]. Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each one’s work will become clear, for the Day [Judgment Seat of Christ] will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is. If anyone’s work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward. If anyone’s work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1Corinthians 3:10, 12-15)

And Jesus also spoke of how important it is to build one’s “house” (or life) on the “rock”, that is, the solid foundation of obedience to His “sayings”; by so doing, one’s “house” will stand during the storms of judgment. (Matthew 7:24-27)

A similar thought shows up again in 2Timothy 2: “the solid foundation of God stands… But in a great house there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay, some for honor and some for dishonor. Therefore if anyone cleanses himself from the latter, he will be a vessel for honor, sanctified and useful for the Master, prepared for every good work.” (2:19-21) 

And also, 1Corinthians 11: “For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world.” (11:31-32)

Here, to “judge ourselves” means having the wisdom to evaluate ourselves and let God refine us in whatever way is needed. In this way we become a better testimony – “that we may not be condemned with the world.” Jesus made it clear that the refining process is just part of what it means to “abide in Me”: “every branch that bears fruit He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.” (John 15:2)

This is not intended to make life miserable for His followers, but as He explains further ahead in the same passage, “You will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you… These things I have spoken to you, that My joy may remain in you, and that your joy may be full.” (John 15:2, 4,7,11)

To further understand this subject, we could look at the Parable of the Talents. In the story the “servants” (i.e. God’s people) who diligently invested the money given to them to make more money, their “lord” gave reward. But to the servant who buried his talent, the lord called him a “wicked and lazy” and “unprofitable servant” and ordered him to be “cast into the outer darkness”, to experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. (Matthew 25:14-29)

A similar fate awaited the servant who failed to take care of the master’s household and began to “beat his fellow servants, and to eat and drink with the drunkards”. He wound up being appointed “his portion with the hypocrites” and also had to experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. (Mat 24:49,51)

Sad tales these are, but a helpful reminder that, even though we might make it to Heaven, if we don’t spend our earthly lives wisely, there could be some regrets and tears that God will have to “wipe away”. (Revelation 21:4) It may not be as drastic as the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” experienced by those who must enter the region of Hades or the Lake of Fire, but there can be some degree of it, even in the Kingdom.

Although believers have certain advantages that unbelievers don’t have – namely, their citizenship in the Kingdom – nevertheless, the same rules for earthly conduct apply to all. According to the Scripture oft-quoted in this study,

“[God] will give to each person according to what he has done.  To those who by persistence in doing good seek glory, honor and immortality, he will give eternal life. But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth and follow evil, there will be wrath and anger. There will be trouble and distress for every human being who does evil: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile; but glory, honor and peace for everyone who does good: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For God does not show favoritism.” (Romans 2:6-11, NIV)

This region of “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” bears some resemblance, it would seem, to the “shame and everlasting contempt” that Gabriel mentions in Daniel chapter 12 in connection with the final deliverance and resurrection of the people of God. (12:2) Or to Jesus’ statement that He would have to say to those whose religion was a pretense, “I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.” (Matthew 7:23, NLT) Now does this mean that these unfaithful servants go to Hell or the Lake of Fire? Maybe some do and some don’t.

To shed more light on this question, we could look at a different version of the Parable of the Talents found in Luke 19. The story line is similar except that, in addition to “servants”, the lord (“nobleman”) also has “enemies”. As in Matthew 25, the unfaithful servant is punished, this time by being demoted and stripped of the money he had been given.

Nevertheless, he remains as one of the servants and did not fall into the same category as the nobleman’s “enemies”. They “did not want me to reign over them,” the nobleman said, so he ordered, “Bring here those enemies of mine… and slay them before me.” 

So there seems to be a distinction here between those who belong to the household of Christ (both the faithful and unfaithful servants) and those who have rebelled and refuse to bow to the authority of Christ. The former are citizens of the Kingdom; the latter are destined for the “second death” and the “lake of fire” – separation from the Kingdom and fellowship in the not-so-pleasant company of their fellow-rebels, the “devil and his angels”. (John 3:19, Revelation 20:14-15, Matthew 25:41)

The truly rebellious, the haters of God, symbolized in the parable as “enemies”, will receive the ultimate punishment of “death”, or separation from God. (Luke 19:11-27) But the “punishment” that some Christians will have to receive is of a different sort. It is not separation from God.

Maybe it could be compared to being in a reformatory where there is a loving atmosphere in a “tough love” sort of environment, the kind that can help wayward teenagers rehabilitate until they are ready to enter society – comparable to believers being ready to enter in and enjoy more fully the blessings and privileges of the heavenly Kingdom.

And those who find themselves separated from God in the Lake of Fire, well, who knows? Maybe that is just the medicine they need that will drive them into wanting to come to God. (More about this in the section “Deliverance from the Lake of Fire?”)

The obvious conclusion from Christ’s parables is that, in the Kingdom of God, there will be no escaping from having to account for our lives. And for those who fail to use what God has given them to further His Kingdom (like the unfaithful servant), or who misuse His benefits (like the servant who oppressed his household), then there will be a Day of Reckoning, known as the Judgment Seat of Christ. In Christ we are forgiven, of course, but that doesn’t mean that many of us won’t have to endure a painful process of realizing our errors before being forgiven or being granted full participation in the Heavenly Realm.

It is easy to develop an attitude that sin doesn’t matter so much, since we have salvation and our sins are already forgiven, but such an attitude shows a lack of understanding of what the Bible teaches about sin and its effects. Scripture tells us that sin is an offense to God, including the sin of a Christian. Being judicially forgiven is a wonderful gift of God; but as believers, we are in relationship with Him, a relationship which suffers damage when we sin. While our sins are forgiven, there can still be consequences in our lives or in the lives of others due to our sin.
        As pursuers of Christlikeness, those seeking for holiness, we must face the fact of sin in our lives and respond to it appropriately. God has given us a conscience, the inborn ability to discern the difference between right and wrong, which helps us judge whether or not an act we have planned or have already carried out is moral. As Christians, we fine-tune our conscience as we align it with God’s moral will, when we agree with what God has revealed in Scripture about what is right and wrong, what is godly, what actions reflect His nature and being. We are called to follow our Scripture-informed conscience, to avoid sin, in order to remain in close relationship with our Father.
        (“More Like Jesus: Holiness” by Peter Amsterdam)

These crises of conscience, this shattering of old mindsets, this regret and remorse, are symbolized in phrases like “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and “outer darkness”. We usually think of those phrases as referring to what happens in the domain of Hell. In some Parables Jesus stated that “at the end of the Age” the angels would “separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” That definitely sounds like Hell.

But in other Parables, where Jesus used the same “wailing and gnashing of teeth” expression, the context is more general and does not seem to distinguish clearly in which realm it is happening. And the reason may be, simply, that similar experiences can happen in the various domains of Heaven, Hell, and In-Between. The big difference, though, is the bleak prospect in Hell of separation from God’s presence – no heavenly environment, no access to heavenly beings and comforters or to the Lord Himself. And presumably, the “gnashing of teeth”, symbolizing hostility towards God, takes place in Hell only.

The point is, regret and remorse over past errors is not an aspect of life unique to those in Hell; it can happen in Heaven too – but with the notable difference that “God will wipe away every tear from their eyes. ” (Revelation 21:4) 

We saw in the Parable of the Talents that the unfaithful servant was cast into “outer darkness” to experience “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Then in a different version of the Parable, the unfaithful servant (who hid his lord’s money) is portrayed as continuing in the landowner’s estate and is not included among the landowner’s “enemies”.

It seems logical enough then to conclude that some of the chastisements that we normally might think belong only to those in Hades or the Lake of Fire may bear some similarity to what many of us will have to go through at the Judgment Seat of Christ. In other words, it doesn’t matter what religion, race, nationality, earthly status or power one has, or even what kind of salvation experience one has had. The same rules apply to all. For He “will render to each one according to his deeds… For there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:6-11) How a person lives his or her life will have a great bearing on what he or she can expect in the Afterlife.

Being “born again” is a wonderful thing and a step in the right direction and comes with its own great reward. But as followers of Him who is the “Light of the world”, Christians should not limit or define themselves as those who’ve been fortunate enough to find Hell’s escape hatch. (John 8:12) They should be known as those who are leading the way to bringing their families, schools, communities, workplaces, or nations out of the darkness of ignorance, poverty, destitution, pollution, injustice, and so on. “Among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)

So when will this Judgment Seat of Christ happen? The Scriptures seem to point to it as coinciding with or following soon after the First Resurrection. On that grand occasion of Christ’s Second Coming, many will hear the Lord’s commendation, “Well done, good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into the joy of your lord.” (Matthew 25:21) Others, however, will suffer the kind of fate that befell the unprofitable servant – “shame and everlasting contempt” as Daniel 12:2 puts it.

Perhaps this doesn’t jibe very well with our usual conception of what we think Heaven is supposed to be like. But it seems an inescapable fact that, even though we may be saved and know we’re headed for the Heavenly Realm, that doesn’t mean there’s no accounting for our earthly lives.

Yes, we’re given a free ticket into the Kingdom of God, but for many there may be a period of rehabilitation, to learn a new set of priorities and attitudes which hadn’t been learned during their earthly lives, and it probably won’t be so easy.  Rehabilitation is always a difficult process – at least until the lessons are learned and release is granted.

When a person has “passed from death into life”, that in itself is a wonderful thing for he or she “shall not come into judgment”. (John 5:24) “Judgment” comes from the Greek krisis, which was often used in the ancient language to mean “separation”. And when a person comes into “judgment” (sometimes translated as “condemnation”), he is being “separated”.

Several passages point to this idea of separation: “one will be taken and the other left.” (Matthew 24:40-41) The Parable of the Wheat and Weeds illustrates how in this life the two groups – the righteous and unrighteous – are permitted to dwell side by side. Then at the “close of the age”, the “wheat” (the righteous) will be freed, or separated, from the “weeds” (the unrighteous) who right now are busy polluting the Earth with their destructive ways. (Matthew 13:24-30, ESV)

Each will go off into different realms – either to places of heavenly reward and blessing or to areas of punishment and gloom. Most of the parables about Judgment and the Final Day seem to involve this idea of separation. “So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just.” (Matthew 13:49)

Now for those who land in God’s Kingdom at this first Resurrection when the “people shall be delivered” (at the Second Coming), there is no possibility of the judgment of separation from God, or from the Kingdom. But that does not mean that other forms of “judgment” will not be implemented – which in this case means “separation” from higher honors and greater rewards. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ.” (2Corinthians 5:10)

Not only will He separate the righteous from the unrighteous on the basic level; that is, those who must be sent to Hell will be separated from those who come to Christ (whose “deeds” were done according to “truth” and “done in God” – John 3:21) But of those who enter the Kingdom, there will be another separation between those who land in “shame and everlasting contempt” and those who receive the rewards of “everlasting life”. (Daniel 12:2)

And by these parables the Lord warns that our conduct during this earthly life will have a great bearing on our future standing in the Heavenly Kingdom. It is true that those who come to Christ have “passed from death into life”. (John 5:24) Salvation is a work of God’s grace and opens the door into the Kingdom of God. Judgment, on the other hand, comes later when our lives are over and determines what kind of reward we shall receive and has everything to do with works – works which, nonetheless, must be “done in God”. (John 3:21)

That is, we allow God to work through us, to use our strength, wisdom, and other gifts to do or say as He wishes. This is “the answer of a good conscience towards God” out of which good works spring forth naturally. (1Peter 3:21) Works done with the wrong motives won’t count for much, if anything. (The apostle Paul’s famous discourse on love in 1Corinthians 13 elaborates well on that subject.)

Whether this Judgment Seat of Christ happens at the time of our entrance into the Afterlife, or at the Second Coming, or at both times, is not altogether clear. But Scripture does seem to indicate that it will happen at the end of this Age at the start of the coming Age of Peace known as the Millennium.

At this crucial juncture or turning point in history, the Book of Revelation declares that “the kingdoms of this world have become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ.” And it is to be a time of Judgment: “the nations were angry, and Your wrath has come, and the time of the dead, that they should be judged, and that You should reward Your servants the prophets and the saints, and those who fear Your name, small and great, and should destroy those who destroy the earth.” (Revelation 11:15,18)

This may be speculation, but perhaps at the time of our passing into the Heavenly Realm we have a “private” judgment and receive then a good part of our “inheritance”. Then after the Second Coming a more public victory celebration will be conducted – the Judgment Seat of Christ in all its fullness and glory – with the handing out of rewards and honor and so on before a universe of souls, angels, and other created beings.

This Judgment includes the destruction of the present world system and of “those who destroy the earth”. In other words, the Judgment Seat of Christ at the end of the present Age appears to be comprehensive, affecting the entire scope of man’s world, and even the Celestial Realm to some degree.

For example, in our realm, one of the main features of Earth’s convulsions then will be “a great earthquake, such a mighty and great earthquake as had not occurred since men were on the earth… and the cities of the nations fell.” (Revelation 16:18-19) And in the Celestial Realm, Satan will be “cast [out of heaven] to the earth” and then “into the bottomless pit”. (Revelation 12:9, 20:3)

This grand turning point in history includes then such varied aspects as the Resurrection, the Marriage Supper, destruction of the Antichrist and False Prophet Beasts and their armies, judgment on the nations, imprisonment of evil angels (Satan and his demon hordes), distribution of rewards to those who are citizens in the Kingdom of God. Thus, when we speak of the Judgment Seat of Christ, it helps to understand it in the context of all the other judgments and events that are going on at this time.

As a final thought, we may consider these words of the apostle Peter: “For it is time for judgment to begin at the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” The kind of “judgment” Peter had in mind might be called the refining or purging that empowers Christ’s followers to become better examples to the world and to prepare them for life in the Heavenly Realm.

And “if the righteous is scarcely saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?”  (1Peter 4:17-18, ESV) If Christ’s followers need to pass through a refining process during this life and/or in the Afterlife (in the Judgment Seat of Christ), how much more refining will be required for unbelievers and evildoers? (And it is better to see it as refining, not just punishment; this is a subject that will be addressed in upcoming posts.)

Continue to B-5: Believers and Followers

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (B-3)

Part APart BPart C

B-1: What about the Evildoers?
B-2: Why Share the Good News?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: Believers and Followers
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?

       Jesus’s resurrection is the beginning of God’s new project not to snatch people away from earth to heaven but to colonize earth with the life of heaven. That, after all, is what the Lord’s Prayer is about. (N. T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection, and the Mission of the Church)

Life is a journey. When someone is “born again”, that simply marks the end of stage one in the journey. The search for God, His Incarnation, Ultimate Truth, Creator of the Universe, etc. has ended. And our souls can rest in that reassurance and knowledge. But the journey continues. God is ever moving and always has something new up His sleeve. And to stay vibrant and alive, we cannot afford to abandon that searching mindset of the seeker.

       Our salvation is… just the beginning, the entry point. It’s what brings us into the kingdom of God, into relationship with Him—a relationship which encompasses our earthly life and then continues on throughout eternity…
       That entrance into the kingdom means our eternal life starts now. We are becoming who we will be in eternity…
       Life in the kingdom is not limited to our after-death future; it’s also relevant to today. Living in the kingdom of God means pursuing God’s reign in our lives, aligning our will with His, and endeavoring to trust Him for every aspect of our lives. Living the kingdom of God is being in deep, personal, and interactive relationship with the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit—now and forever.
       (Peter Amsterdam, “Jesus His Life and Message: The Kingdom of God”

Jesus once said, “I am come that they might have life… more abundantly”. (John 10:10) Not a life of misery followed by an abundant life in Heaven, but abundant life in the here and now. His intention is for mankind to prosper during this life.

Nor was this abundant life confined to spiritual life, but it was to extend to physical life as well. We often think of that in terms of personal prosperity. But Jesus probably had in mind something more comprehensive; He expected His followers to work to bring prosperity to others – both spiritually and physically.

And so it is no surprise that, in most of the world’s trouble spots, dedicated Christian workers and organizations are leading the way to alleviate the sufferings of war, disease, poverty, and natural disasters. Godly men and women all over the world are working to establish better health and safety habits, to fight against environmental pollution, to bring peace to societies instead of war, to strive for the uplift of the poor and downtrodden, and the list could go on and on.

In other words, they are doing what the Lord’s prayer exhorts, “Your kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” (Matthew 6:10) We are supposed to be preparing now for what’s coming – when Heaven and Earth will merge, when “the dwelling place of God is with man”, and “He will dwell with them.” (Revelation 21:3, ESV)

So, even though we understand that mankind’s future will see a great new Age of Peace established on Earth, that doesn’t mean we can ignore the task of bringing that future Age into the present. It is already here in our hearts. “The kingdom of God is within you… The kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Luke 17:21, Matthew 3:2, 4:17) And God’s people should be laboring diligently, in whatever way they can, to establish God’s Kingdom on Earth.

Regrettably however, there are some misguided elements in the Christian world who are doing just the opposite – fomenting wars, promoting intolerance, persecuting less established religious groups. Jesus foresaw the rise of these distorted practices and teachings that would arise among those claiming, falsely, to be operating under His name:

“The time is coming that whoever kills you will think that he offers God service… because they have not known the Father nor Me… But all these things [persecution] they will do to you for My name’s sake, because they do not know Him who sent Me.” (John 16:2-3, 15:21)

Some of these evildoers may have come to the Lord at some point in their lives but turned away, abusing the name of Christ to further their own agendas; they have their reward. And we will look more into that subject later – the “hell in heaven” feature mentioned in the title of this study.

Although Christ’s coming has brought salvation with its wonderful present joys and glorious hopes for the future, it is helpful to keep in mind the sober warnings that He gave on the need to maintain an active conscience toward God – rather than a lethargic, take-it-for-granted  attitude. Familiarity with God’s goodness can breed contempt and a hardening of the conscience.

In Christian culture there exists a common pitfall of getting familiar with God’s goodness. We understand so much about the grace of God and forgiveness of sins. All well and good, of course, as long as that knowledge does not cause us to become self-satisfied or lethargic, failing to maintain our vigilance of spirit.

Christ exhorted His followers to “seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness… to labor for the food which endures to everlasting life.” (Matthew 11:29, 6:33, John 6:27) God wants to use us as His instruments to provide guidance and leadership to the needy world around us, to “become blameless and harmless, children of God without fault in the midst of a crooked and perverse generation, among whom you shine as lights in the world.” (Philippians 2:15)

But if we head off in the wrong direction, the Lord offers His word of warning: “take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth. Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man… watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” (Luke 21:34-36, Matthew 26:41) Whether it’s the final, tumultuous days prior to Christ’s return, or any period of history, the same wise counsel applies – to prepare during one’s lifetime and so be found worthy to stand before the Son of Man.

Now we should not equate vigilance with frantic busy-ness. The Lord said, “My yoke is easy and My burden is light” and promised, “You will find rest for your souls,” which is not lethargy. (Matthew 11:29-30) Elsewhere, we read, “Let us therefore be diligent to enter that rest.” (Hebrews 4:11) The word “rest” is defined by Joseph Thayer in these terms:

The heavenly blessedness in which God dwells, and of which he has promised to make persevering believers in Christ partakers after the toils and trials of life on earth are ended. [Thayer’s Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testment, pg 335]

As “persevering believers”, we are to “rest in the Lord” in the context of an active pursuit of godly living and God’s plan for our lives. (Psalm 37:7)

Continue to B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (B-2)

Part APart BPart C

B-1: What about the Evildoers?
B-2: Why Share the Good News?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: Believers and Followers
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

B-2: Why Share the Good News?

A passage, oft-quoted in this study, states, “God… will render to each one according to his deeds… for there is no partiality with God.” (Romans 2:6,11) Several other Scriptures have similar themes, that Earth’s inhabitants will be rewarded in the Afterlife according to their works. If these be true, and if, as brought out in previous sections, souls may be granted a “second chance” in the Afterlife, then why bother trying to reach them now in this life with the Good News?

Some analogies from modern life may help to view this question from a better perspective and to avoid jumping to premature, complacent conclusions on this issue: refugees from a war-torn country finding citizenship in a prosperous, peaceful country; lucrative job openings given to desperately poor, unemployed people; scholarships granted to disadvantaged students.

Those on the receiving end of such opportunities are extremely grateful, and those engaged in helping such people also derive a great deal of satisfaction from their work; both sides benefit from these efforts and are blessed.

In a sense, all of humanity, without Christ, are like these destitute and deprived individuals. They are as thirsty travelers, wandering through the spiritual desert of this world. And when we share the Good News with others, we are giving them a priceless opportunity to find newness and abundance of life.

There is much joy and satisfaction to all parties involved, both for us and those who are reached. And not just here on Earth, but in the Heavenly Realm also, God and those who dwell there experience great satisfaction. “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (Luke 15:10, NIV) Sharing the Good News of God’s Love is a win-win-win situation.

In the example of the refugees, upon entering their new country, such persons will find their lives becoming prosperous, safe, and abundant. But if they are denied entrance, then they must continue in a war-torn situation and may end up getting killed, or else continue to suffer deprivation and misery.

Many seekers are living in spiritual deprivation and misery. They are desperate for answers, and unless they get them, unless they find entrance into the Kingdom, will be left to wander in a spiritual desert for the remainder of their lives. They need urgently what Christ has to offer – not off in some distant future, but now in this earthly life.

And if they cannot get it now, then there is apt to be great loss and suffering. Perhaps someone on the verge of suicide will be pushed over the brink because no one went to the trouble to comfort him or her with the Good News.

There are countless testimonies of people who were desperate to know the Lord and were unspeakably grateful to have found Him – in this life (rather than having to wait for the next). Someone took the trouble to share the Good News in some form, and that saved someone else from having to endure a lifetime of emptiness and sorrow – or even a lifetime in some dismal region of the Nether World. Or it saved someone from having to learn things in the next life when they could have learned them in this life through faithful and concerned guides and teachers.

No one likes to fall behind, and we do a great service to others when we work to enrich and advance their lives by sharing with them the Good News. They can begin “storing up treasure for themselves, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life.” (1Tiimothy 6:19, ESV) They have the power to enact God’s will more energetically. As a result they have opportunity to lay a good foundation for the future and end up better prepared for life in the Heavenly Realm.

But when we fail to advance others’ lives, God’s Word warns us that we are apt to feel the guilt of having neglected to be the kind of guide to others that we could have been. (Ezekiel 3:17-21) People are responsible for their own choices, but providing God’s guidance is important. “He who turns a sinner from the error of his way will save a soul from death and cover a multitude of sins.” (James 5:20) And of course, there is great reward when we do try to help and guide others in the way of righteousness: “those who turn many to righteousness [shall shine] like the stars forever and ever.” (Daniel 12:3)

So, even though we may understand that there is such a thing as salvation in the next life, that should not minimize the urgency of reaching others in this life with God’s message for them, whatever it may be.

Jesus compared entrance into the Kingdom of God to that of being “born again”. “Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3,7) To be born again means entering into a new world, a new life. When this happens, a wonderful transformation takes place: “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2Corinthians 5:17)

When we experience this transformation known as Salvation, God answers the seeking heart and, through the working of the Holy Spirit, gives our lives a boost in the right direction. Like some kind of magical experience, Christ’s presence in a life causes a person to graduate into a new reality. That touch divine frees the soul from its imprisonment in the material realm and its old ways. The Holy Spirit supplies that contact with the supernatural that kickstarts a life and sends it forward, brings freedom from old ways, and sends it forward with new direction, purpose, and positive orientation.

Jesus taught that Salvation means one “has passed from death into life”. (John 5:24, 1John 3:14) A person gains that wonderful assurance that he or she is a citizen of the Kingdom of God – no more uncertainty of “what will happen to me when I die?” And in addition to Heaven hereafter, in the present also, we have a touch of that heavenly life to come in our hearts.

Another point to keep in mind: The very fact that a person recognizes who Christ is, is pleasing to God. When Peter declared, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus answered, “Blessed are you… for flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but My Father who is in heaven.”

And this is a big part of what pleases God – when one of His creations honors Christ and seeks to connect with Him through His Son, who is the Mediator between God and humankind. To the Father this is a grand step of faith from His creations in the earthly realm, showing both courage and submission, and in itself worthy of the reward of acceptance into the Kingdom. (Matthew 16:16-18)

We may wonder, of course, why would anyone not want to engage with the Most High? But whoever is “practicing evil” and “hates the light” and doesn’t want that “his deeds should be exposed”, they have their reasons (John 3:20)

Many in the world, however, have not come to Christ, not because of “practicing evil”, but simply because of not having the opportunity to find out about Him. Yet in a veiled sort of  way, they have engaged with the Almighty – by following the “true Light which gives light to every man coming into the world” (John 3:9), or by following their conscience (often described as God’s presence in man).

We might consider the example of Nathanael of whom Jesus said, “Behold, an Israelite indeed, in whom is no deceit!” (John 1:47) Nathanael was already a lover of the Light and a doer of truth, and even if he had never met Jesus, he likely would have continued in that path. But his encounter and association with Christ quickened the process; he grew much faster and his life became a much greater influence by his having met the Savior. Christ is referred to as a life-givng of “quickening spirit”. (1Corinthians 15:45, KJV)

Thus, it is to anyone’s advantage to have the life-giving spirit of Christ dwelling in him or her. God wants people to “have life… more abundantly” – in this life, not just the next. (John 10:10) And the fullest expression of God’s presence in a life comes from receiving Christ who also bestows the Holy Spirit to empower that life with guidance and overflowing love.

The Holy Spirit “dwells with you and will be in you,” Christ told His disciples. The Holy Spirit, sent by Christ and the Father, is that aspect of the “lofty” Godhead that has been made available to us “lowly” human beings. Through Christ the human-divine relationship is transformed so that human beings are no longer “lowly” sinners modeled after the first man Adam. We are reconciled to God; we can become true “sons and daughters” of God and “joint heirs with Christ”. (2Corinthians 6:18, Romans 8:17)

God is both transcendent – lofty and beyond our finite understanding, yet indwelling and personal. “Thus says the High and Lofty One… ‘I dwell in the high and holy place, with him who has a contrite and humble spirit.’” (Isaiah 57:15) To have the honor of engaging in a personal relationship with such a Being is surely the greatest blessing and privilege imaginable.

How can we then not want to share this precious information with others? And by doing so, we not only bless them and society in general, but find that we ourselves also are blessed. These are the payoffs for making the effort to share the Good News. Why would we want to deprive anyone, and ourselves, of such a great blessing?

Continue to B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?

HELL IN HEAVEN? HEAVEN IN HELL? (B-1)

Part APart BPart C

B-1: What about the Evildoers?
B-2: Why Share the Good News?
B-3: What Purpose this Life on Earth?
B-4: Judgment Seat of Christ
B-5: Believers and Followers
B-6: Heaven’s Class Structure – No Envy or Comparing
B-7: Life – a Continual Learning Process

B-1: What about the Evildoers?

In the Daniel 12 passage, often quoted in this study, we note the words, “your people shall be delivered, every one who is found written in the book. And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake.” (12:1-2) This great event happens at the end of our present Age and is known in the New Testament as the “first resurrection”. (Revelation 20:5-6) And it is limited to whomever God knows are His “people… every one who is found written in the book”, whether still alive on Earth at the end of that final “time of trouble” or, having died in ages past, alive in the spiritual realm.

Now we see here the wording many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth”. “Many” does not mean “all” – only those who are “found written in the book”. They are raised, “some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt”. So then, what about the multitudes of souls who are not “written in the book”, and so are not resurrected “to everlasting life”, not even “to shame and everlasting contempt”? What about those who were unable to find any entrance at all into the Kingdom of God – neither during their earthly lives, nor afterwards, in the spirit realm – and so are left to dwell in the realm of Death and Hades?

They were evildoers who had rejected God, and/or their works ran counter to the ways of God. They did not come to Christ during their earthly lives, nor were they given the opportunity, or were just not able, to meet Christ after their physical death. What will become of them? The simple answer is, they are among those who experience the “resurrection of condemnation”. (John 5:29)

In the First Resurrection there exists a division between those who are raised “to everlasting life” and those raised “to shame and everlasting contempt”. But in a sense there is a third division – those who are not raised at all. Presumably, this means they are just left to dwell in whatever places to which they were assigned in their after-death existence in that less-than-ideal region of the nether world known as Death and Hades.

To understand better this mystery, we can start with Matthew 25:31-46. “When the Son of Man comes in His glory… all the nations will be gathered before Him [the son of Man]” and will be judged according to how they had treated the poor, the sick, the prisoners, “the least of these My brethren”. (Matthew 25:31-46)

Since this Judgment is presided over by the “Son of Man”, that seems to link it with the “judgment seat of Christ”, spoken of by the apostle Paul. (2Corinthians 5:10) As a result of this Judgment, Christ promises that the “sheep… the righteous” will “inherit the kingdom prepared for you”. As for the “goats”, they “will go away into everlasting fire”. (This word “everlasting”, in its original meaning, by the way, is not as permanent as the translation would suggest; more on this later.)

This goes along with another passage where Jesus states, “The hour is coming in which all [not just many but all] who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:28-29)

The Scriptures quoted above are general statements about the Final Judgment. As we go in for a closer look, the picture fine-tunes itself; further ahead in the New Testament, we learn that the Final Judgment happens in at least two stages. In Revelation 19:20, for example, after their defeat in the Battle of Armageddon, “the beast… and with him the false prophet…were cast alive into the lake of fire.” It seems that some of the world’s worst criminals will meet their fate at this first Judgment. This is also the time of the First Resurrection that Gabriel long before had mentioned, when the “sons of your people” would be raised. (Daniel 12:2)

Now at this Judgment Seat of Christ, it would appear that not all the “goats” are sent to the Lake of Fire… although that could become their eventual destination. But before that happens, it seems they are given a reprieve – an opportunity to turn towards righteousness – a rather long one (in Earth time at least) of 1,000 years. Then comes a second Judgment – another sifting of the ranks – known as the Great White Throne Judgment. (Revelation 20:11-15)

Again, there will be a separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. After being judged, “each one according to his works”, some souls will be sent from Death and Hades into the Lake of Fire; others will have their names “written in the Book of Life” and will live again – resurrected into what is known as the New Heaven and New Earth. (Revelation 20:15, 21:1)

As there will be a First Resurrection and Judgment prior to the Age of the Millennium, so also there will be a Second Resurrection and Judgment prior to the Age of the New Heaven and New Earth. (Regarding these future “Ages” spoken of in the Bible, we will learn more about them further ahead.)

To those who were part of the First Resurrection, it is promised, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection.” One reason they are blessed is because, as that Scripture goes on to say, “Over such the second death has no power.” (20:6)

And what is the Second Death? It comes after the First Death of course. But this First Death is more than just the death of the physical body. For those not “registered in heaven… not written in the Book of Life”, the First Death marks their transition into that less-than-ideal region of the unseen realm known as Hades or Sheol. As for the Second Death, this will bring entrance into the Lake of Fire and its heavy-duty chastisement and correction – needed for those souls who have continued in their rebellion and evil-doing.

No doubt, there are many differing opinions about who will qualify for this final sentencing to the Lake of Fire. Following are some thoughts on this subject:

First of all, it should be understood that for the souls who were left behind at the First Resurrection, the game is not over. (Whew!) They will get their “second chance” when they are brought before God at the Great White Throne Judgment. Multitudes of those who are raised at this Second Resurrection will, like the First Resurrection souls, “inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (Matthew 25:34)

These are the “rest of the dead” who “lived not again until the thousand years were finished”. (Revelation 20:5) They are not in the same category as those whose earthly lives were so bad that they had to be sent straight to that dreadful realm of the Lake of Fire – the fate, for example, of the Beast and the False Prophet and their worshipers. (19:20, 14:9).

Now it was said of the First Resurrection saints that “they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years”. Most modern translations use a more accurate version: “they came to life and reigned with Christ for a thousand years.” (20:4, ESV) This gets across better the idea that the saints were resurrected to physical life so they could reign with Christ on the Earth in the post-Armageddon Age of the Millennium.

It follows then, in the context of the passage, that when the Second Resurrection rolls around and the “rest of the dead” (who “did not come to life until the thousand years were ended”) are raised, that should mean they too will be raised to physical life (along with, of course, spiritual life and its blessings and peace).

Unlike the First Resurrection folks, their Resurrection had to be postponed. But then after the thousand years, their time has come. At this point it is important to understand that the Great White Throne Judgment does not happen in the physical realm: “the earth and the heaven [sky] fled away” before the face of the Almighty. (20:11) At this stage the final Judgment is taking place in the Spiritual Realm, not the physical. And this is the time when the dead from “Death and Hades” are “delivered up” and “judged, each one according to his works”.

Now where the passage states, “the rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended” (20:5, ESV), it does not mean they were resurrected to physical life just so they could die again and be sent off to their “second death”. They “come to life” so that they can enjoy physical (and spiritual) “life” on the New Earth. This is the great Second Resurrection when the “rest of the dead” will “come to life”. And just as the “first resurrection” saints “came to life” physically at the start of the Millennium, so these Second Resurrection souls, after their acquittal in the Final Judgment, will also return to physical life (on the New Heaven and Earth).

It would make more sense to think that they were brought to life so they could “live again”, both spiritually and physically. Having finished their “prison term” in Hades (the First Death), they are now given entrance into the bountiful and blessed “life” of God.

And it would seem that the vast majority of these First Death folks will be released at this time – judging by the fact that the phrase “rest of the dead” is used. Indeed, it would be hard to understand how anyone, however much of an evildoer they may have been during their first lifetime, upon entering the Realm Beyond, would not quickly come to his or her senses. The blindness to spiritual reality that we experience now will be stripped away upon entrance into the Afterlife and will undoubtedly cause immediate or eventual repentance on the part of most of the souls who were forced to enter that unseen realm known as Death and Hades.

And by the time the Great White Throne Judgment arrives, most of them will have repented and thus will be “found written in the Book of Life”. This seems, at any rate, to be the implication behind the “rest of the dead” phrase, which is dealing specifically with the souls who were unworthy of the First Resurrection, but not as vile or wicked as the Beast and False Prophet and their worshipers and other such characters through the ages who, after their First Death, had to be sent straight to their Second Death in the Lake of Fire.

Now we should consider this passage: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15, ESV) Many a commentary will state that all the souls who were not part of the “first resurrection”, not only spend a thousand years in Death and Hades, but afterwards get sent to the Lake of Fire as well.

But this position fails to account for God’s great desire for mankind, that He is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” (2Peter 3:9) The whole purpose for Christ’s coming to Earth was not “to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17) And surely, that purpose continues on after the First Death of the souls who find themselves imprisoned in the realm of Death and Hades.

The phrase “if anyone’s name was not found…” is a more accurate translation of the original Greek and suggests that the number of Death and Hades inmates, who actually wind up in the Lake of Fire, are the exceptions and will be comparatively few. These exceptions would be the ones who have continued their proud and wicked ways during the Afterlife, still rebellious and unashamed of what they had done during their earthly lives.

To them, the Lord will have to say, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) “This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:14) This Second Death marks the end of life in Hades and the beginning of a “living death” in the Lake of Fire.

Regarding this Second Death, Scripture states, “they were judged, each one according to his works.” (Revelation 20:13) Now if they were judged only “according to their works” on Earth, then a rather large number, if not all, would get sent to the Lake of Fire.

It may be a matter of speculation, but we might guess that there is plenty of activity going on in the Spirit Realm – whether in Heaven, Hell, or In-between. And souls will be busy working, playing, interacting, learning, reflecting. It only seems reasonable that if our earthly environment is so full of activity, then why should it not be the same, and even more so, in the Realm Beyond?

Now there are several Scriptures that refer to the dead as those who are “asleep” who, at the Resurrection, shall “awake”. This might lead us to think that the Afterlife existence is nothing more than a period of total inactivity, some kind of unconscious state. But this term “asleep”, used often in Scriptures in place of the word “dead”, is a euphemism – a milder, more comforting way to refer to the painful and sorrowful event of death.

The “sleep” analogy carries with it the hope and expectation that the one who has died is not forever gone; if one is asleep, he shall “awake”. And indeed, our former acquaintances and loved ones shall awake, not only in the spirit realm, but one day also, shall be resurrected, and with a new body, return to live on the Earth in the Millennium, or afterwards, on the New Earth.

To assume that our souls lapse into some kind of state of total inactivity or unconsciousness when we arrive in the World Beyond seems out of character with God’s nature. Is He so overwhelmed trying to handle all the influx of souls that He has to make them go into hibernation? Surely, God is quite capable and competent, a powerful God, the Almighty, and in His universe, whether on Earth, in Heaven, or in Hell, we should expect He will keep the souls of mankind very much alive, awake, and active.

And indeed, some of the findings in modern medical practice seem to confirm this reality. There are today a large number of well-documented cases of hospital patients who lapsed into coma, yet, while their bodies were “asleep”, their spirits had all kinds of experiences: observing their hospital rooms, meeting Christ, meeting angels (or demons in some cases) or former loved ones who had passed on, visiting Heaven, and so on.

From the Scriptures too, we know that departed souls can be engaged in work-like activities – such as helping to guide and counsel their fellow laborers on Earth. John the apostle recounts having met an (actively working) angel and was about to “worship before the feet of the angel” who had been guiding him, but the “angel” warned him not to, saying, “I am your fellow servant, and of your brethren the prophets, and of those who keep the words of this book. Worship God.” (Revelation 22:8,9) There is also the example of Peter, James, and John on the Mount of Transfiguration where “there appeared before them Moses and Elijah, talking with Jesus.” (Matthew 17:3) Perhaps the best example is Christ’s answer to the secular Sadducees who did not believe in life after death: “You are mistaken, not knowing the Scriptures nor the power of God… God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” (Matthew 22:29,32)

So for those souls who must bide their time in the realm of Death and Hades, there will be plenty to do and learn, and presumably, opportunity to choose a better path than they had taken while in their earthly bodies. According to Revelation 20:13, they will be “judged each one according to his works.” At this point perhaps it is less a matter of “faith” (belief in what can’t be seen); it will be easy there in Hades to behold the realities of the spiritual realm, which are mostly veiled now to us who dwell in the earthly realm.

But in Hades what counts will be “works” that show repentance. Again, this final “judgment according to works” runs counter to the idea of the Hades realm being nothing else but a state of suspended animation; otherwise, how could the souls dwelling there have the opportunity to make any progress in their spiritual lives and eventually, merit the honor of having their names written in the Book of Life?

Then what about the “works” of their earthly lives, we may wonder? Should  not their final judgment be based on those “works”? The problem here is that the whole reason they landed in Hades in the first place is because on Earth “their deeds were evil”, and so they were unable to “come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.“ (John 3:19-20, NIV)

The Judgment Seat of Christ is meant for those who were privileged to participate in the First Resurrection. Those whose earthly lives did not gain them that privilege will have been transferred into the realm of Hades. They are known as the “rest of the dead” who “did not live again until the thousand years [in Earth time] were finished” – at which time they will receive their Judgment. So, are they to wait in Hades for a thousand years, only to be tossed into the Lake of Fire at the end of it?

If the Final Judgment is based only on their works on Earth, then everyone in Hades would get sent to the Lake of Fire. That would be the case if all activity had ceased. But if they are to be judged according to their works, then their lives must have continued in Hades. They would have opportunity to undo past mistakes, re-live their lives, make better decisions, and show by their “works” that they had changed for the better, or in some cases, changed for the worse.

Those who change for the worse seem to be the exception, and for them the Scripture would apply, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:15, ESV) But as that Scripture suggests, multitudes, if not most, of Hades’ dwellers will end up finding their names “written in the Book of Life”. God’s purpose and plan – to restore the souls of mankind into fellowship with Him and reward them with lives of blessedness and peace – will not be defeated but will have made a great stride forward.

As for the First Resurrection souls over whom “the second death has no power”, they proved themselves worthy during their earthly lives, having lived in righteousness, and will have received Christ and their citizenship in the Kingdom before receiving their rewards at the Judgment Seat of Christ prior to the Millennium. (20:5-6)

But for the multitudes who did not live their earthly lives in righteousness and were thus denied entrance into the Kingdom at their First Death, the game is not over. They will have spent a lifetime in the spiritual realm, in their Afterlife, where they will have had plenty of time to reflect and repent from the deeds of their earthly lives, which were sadly lacking in some way, and even to show that repentance by their works and conduct in the Afterlife.

Hades appears to be a place where souls can re-orient themselves, learn whatever they need to learn, in preparation for the final Day of Judgment. Or maybe we should say, more optimistically, in preparation for their entrance into the Heavenly Realm. The Catholic Church has envisioned Hades as a sort of Purgatory, a time and place where souls can (if they so choose) shed the sins and wrong attitudes of the past. Although the Church misused the doctrine during the Middle Ages (to extract money from their congregations), that does not mean that the concept of Purgatory is not valid.

Although Scripture does not explicitly say so, we can deduce its existence, just by the fact that there is a gap between the First Resurrection (and First Death) of human souls and the Final Judgment. There is a space there, and since many souls will not go to the Lake of Fire (as implied in the “rest of the dead” phrase explained above), then it must be that they have, in that space, been purged of whatever was holding them back from entrance into the Kingdom of God.

That there does exist a Purgatorial Realm is implied also in some of Christ’s statements. During His earthly ministry, for example, He warned those Pharisees and Elders who opposed Him, “How can you escape the condemnation of hell (Gehenna or the Lake of Fire)?” To others He said, “tax collectors and harlots enter the kingdom of God before you.” According to these statements, a good many of Jesus’ enemies were destined for the Lake of Fire; some, however, would make it into the Kingdom – albeit after the “tax collectors and harlots”.

That is, they could not enter the Kingdom right away after their physical death but would be given opportunity some time after their First Death to repent and to escape their possible destiny in the Lake of Fire. Presumably, after a re-training period in Hades (Purgatory), they would be released, and ready finally, to join the “tax collectors and harlots” who had already entered the Kingdom of Heaven. And those too obstinate and proud to accept the “re-training” would end up in the Lake of Fire. (Revelation 20:15, Matthew 23:33, 21:31)

Perhaps we could compare Hades to a “holding cell” in a prison, meant for inmates whose fate has not yet been decided. While awaiting trial and possible conviction or acquittal, accused persons are put into this neutral area of a prison, separate from the main prison where all the convicted inmates are held. Similarly, many of the souls who have died on earth and were not “counted worthy to attain that age, and the [first] resurrection from the dead” must bide their time in the “holding cell” of Hades, presumably until the day of Final Judgment. (Luke 20:35)

But unlike the “holding cells” of earthly prisons, souls have opportunity, while in Hades, to re-orient themselves, to repent of their waywardness or, in many cases, to harden themselves and continue in their former evil way. We might compare future Judgment to the treatment of those who perished in the Flood and were given their opportunity for release when Christ “went and preached to the spirits in prison”. (1Peter 3:19)

And at the end of their sojourn in Hades, these “holding cell” inmates shall “come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (John 5:29) For them it will be either a new lease on life in the Second Resurrection, or it will be a Second Death. Either they will enter what is called the New Earth (Heaven on Earth after the Millennium), or they will be sent to the Lake of Fire.

Purgatory is often thought of as a fiery purging of sin and unrighteousness. There may be some truth to this, but probably it is better to see Purgatory as a “unlearning/learning process”. This kind of understanding helps to remove some of the dread often associated with it. The same could apply to “shame and everlasting contempt”, which can be thought of as a Purgatory of sorts (within the Kingdom of God) – in a heavenly environment, not a barren, desolate one. Hades and the Lake of Fire are also “purgatories” where souls may continue the “unlearning/learning process”.

How much of a difference there is between the purgatory of “shame and everlasting contempt” and that of “Death and Hell”, we don’t know. Could they be vastly different from each other? Or could the Catholic idea of Purgatory as a function  of the domain of Hell be better understood as a function existing within the Kingdom of God (“shame and everlasting contempt”)? And thus, they would be virtually the same? Well, it would be pretentious to try to answer those questions. “The secret things belong to the LORD our God.” (Deuteronomy 29:29) Through divine revelation, God may provide the clues we need to better understand these more mysterious aspects of the Afterlife, but until then, it is better not to speculate too much on such matters. The important thing to remember is that we are all under God’s loving care, regardless of where we may land in the Afterlife. 

Now many Christians find it difficult to accept the Purgatory doctrine because they place much emphasis on the idea of one’s “perfection” in Christ – all sins forgiven and wiped away at the moment of Salvation. True enough. But we continue growing, for God is always moving in our lives. And there will be plenty to learn (or unlearn) in the Afterlife, and for some a stint in “shame and everlasting contempt” (Purgatory for Christians who need it?) will be the next step required in their learning process. Life is a continual learning process and doesn’t stop just because we have entered the gates of Heaven.

Exhibiting the character of Christ doesn’t happen without inner conflict. Salvation doesn’t bring an end to the tendency to sin; it doesn’t automatically curb our sinfulness. Therefore we are told to “put off” some aspects of our lives and to “put on” Christlikeness.” (“More like Jesus” by Peter Amsterdam)

What Protestants have trouble understanding is that there will be need for correction in the Afterlife – even for Christians – and that salvation is possible in the Afterlife for non-Christians. What Catholics have trouble understanding is that salvation is a free gift of God’s grace, not something that one has to work for by observance of rituals. Protestants and Catholics probably could learn a lot from each other.

So back to the question posed earlier: who qualifies for the Lake of Fire Judgment? From a general point of view, the answer is obvious; it is designed for those who didn’t do well during their earthly lives. For some (the world’s worst offenders and destroyers), their sentence begins right away (or at the Judgment Seat of Christ prior to the Millennium). (This we can infer from Revelation 19:20 where we learn that the Beast and the False Prophet get sent to the Lake of Fire right after their defeat in the Battle of Armageddon.)

For others less guilty, they are given opportunity to re-orient themselves during the Millennial Age. Then comes the Great White Throne Judgment at the end of the Millennium, which will serve to sift out and separate the incorrigibly rebellious – those who, even in the Afterlife in Hades, continued in rebellion against God and His ways. They will join those already there, the Beast and the False Prophet and probably many other of the world’s worst criminals. This will also be the abode for Satan and his hordes.

Continue to B-2: Why Share the Good News?

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