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: What Does the Bible Really Mean by “Everlasting Punishment… Forever and Ever“?
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)

A similar thought is expressed in Hebrews 11: “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him.” (11:6) In more ways than we can imagine, it is rewarding to “diligently seek” for God’s will and plan for our lives.

The implication here from Peter’s epistle is that it is possible for believers to 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. Both Jew and Gentile, believer and unbeliever, have things to learn.

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”.

And might not the same principle apply to those who know Christ? If they are being hypocritical, 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”?

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 be 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. But more likely, the Lord was foreseeing 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 and repentance afterwards. In a sense it was no different to Peter’s blunders: 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 face the music – the shame that his actions brought him – 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. 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.

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 rare instances, 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.

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 pretentiousness 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”. 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 shamed the Gospel of Christ. (1Peter 2:20-22, Luke 11:24, Mathew 12:43)

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 he shamed the Gospel of Christ during his earthly lifetime. 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 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?

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