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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