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-Considering Eternity

Considering Eternity
Picture FrameEternity – the very word itself sounds like the last trump! Every hour like a minute to the redeemed; every minute like an hour to the lost! For the forgiven, ageless bliss; for the perishing, endless misery without hope.

THE ETERNAL GOD

First, we must view eternity in relation to God. The only eternal being in the absolute sense is God, who is without beginning or end: “Before the mountains were brought forth, or ever thou hadst formed the earth and the world, even from everlasting to everlasting, thou art God” (Ps. 90:2 KJV). Immeasurable time is only a glint in the eye of Him whose name is Holy.The prophet Isaiah also states that He whose name is Holy “inhabiteth eternity” (Isa. 57:15). Though mortal men pass from time into eternity, God’s natural habitation is eternity itself. Yet we dare to say that our concept of eternity is almost restrictive when applied to Him whom neither time nor space can contain.

THE WORD BECAME FLESH

To be born of woman is to become a human being forever. How astonishing then that the God of eternity became flesh when the virgin, by the Holy Spirit, “brought forth her firstborn Son … Jesus” (Mt. 1:25). But the Babe in Bethlehem could not cease to be God, “whose goings forth have been from of old, from everlasting” (Mic. 5:2).As a real man, the Lord endured hunger, thirst, weariness and pain. Because of His perpetual humanity, the Christ passed into eternity when He died for our sins on the Cross. His soul went to paradise (Lk. 23:43); His entombed body saw no corruption (Acts 2:27). The Bible refers to paradise as “Abraham’s bosom” (past age, Lk. 16.22), “third heaven” (present age, 2 Cor. 12:2), and “New Jerusalem” (future age, Rev. 21:2; 22:14). As those who enter eternity through death must rise again, the Lord, resurrected three days later, proclaimed, “Behold, I am alive for evermore” (Rev. 1:18).

ARCHETYPE OF ETERNAL GLORY

The Lord in glory has become the model for all who shall rise “in the resurrection of the just” (Lk. 14:14). But what about those who perish? Let’s consider the disparate destinies of the lost and the saved, in that order.

ETERNAL DESTINY OF THE LOST

Sheol, Hades, Gehenna. First, we must distinguish between the different soul-and-body states of the lost. The Bible teaches that at death unsaved souls go to hell – “sheol” of the Old Testament, and “hades” of the New. Though Old Testament saints and sinners went down to sheol, the underworld was divided in two by “a great gulf fixed” (Lk. 16:26). Thus, God says that His wrath would burn to the “lowest hell” (Dt. 32:22). This truth is confirmed again when the rich man in hell “lifted his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Lk. 16:23).Though sheol is frequently rendered “the grave” in the King James Version, Amos 9:2-3 indicates that heaven is higher than the mountains and hell is deeper than the sea. This does not make sheol as the grave invalid, as the Bible teaches that the tomb is “the grave’s mouth” (Ps. 141:7). However, there is a place more awesome and profound called “the belly of hell” (Jon. 2:2). As the “great fish” dove to the floor of the ocean, Jonah felt as if he were being taken down to hell itself. Hence he spoke of himself going “down to the bottoms of the mountains” (Jon. 2:6).

Hopeless And Helpless. Jonah’s experience gives some indication of the horror of a soul’s descent to damnation. If this was the experience of one who knew he could never perish, what of those who really go to hell? Let no one suppose that he or she is too good to go to hell, or that God is too nice to send anyone there. The minimum punishment for the minimum sin is eternal fire (Rom. 1:18; 2:12; 5:12). Even our “idle words” are enough to condemn us (Mt. 12:36).

None Righteous. However, the universal charge of sin is counterbalanced by the fact that “God hath concluded … all in unbelief, that He might have mercy upon all” (Rom. 11:32). Those who admit their sinfulness but believe that Christ died for their sins and rose again for their justification will receive “the gift of God … eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Rom. 6:23). Though the best of us can never earn salvation, even the chief of sinners trusting in Christ as Savior will be justified by faith (Phil. 3:9).

However intolerable the horrors of hell, the ultimate fate of lost souls is the lake of fire (gehenna). Though the latter is sometimes translated “hell,” it is not a “place of torment” for the soul alone (Lk. 16:28), but for body and soul re-united in conscious existence. There is therefore every reason to fear the God who “is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Mt. 10:28). This destruction is an eternal process: the damned in gehenna are “salted with fire” (ageless preservation), “their worm dieth not” (perpetual corruption), and they endure the “unquenchable fire” of eternal suffering (Mk. 9:49; Mk. 9:44; Mt. 3:12).

Physical Punishment. In the parable of the wheat and the tares, the Lord’s literal interpretation is that the angels will gather the hypocrites together, “and shall cast them into a furnace of fire” where “there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:42). This may give some the notion that if eternal remorse is the only lot of the damned, those happy to live their lives without Christ, could just as happily spend eternity without Him. But hell will never be heaven to Christ rejecters. Nothing less than unquenchable fire will make sinners wail for eternity: “the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever” (Rev. 6:16; 14:11). The concern of the rich man in Hell for the fate of his five brethren was based upon the torment of the flame (Lk. 16:24).

Degrees Of Punishment. As the law makes a distinction between a common thief and a mass murderer, so God will deal more severely with the exceedingly wicked. An overriding criterion will be the degree of light available: “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment, than for that city” which rejects the testimony of Christ’s evangelists (Mt. 10:15). And what of a generation which has instant access to the gospel?

ETERNAL DESTINY OF THE REDEEMED

Eternal Life. In considering eternity as anticipated by the redeemed, the gift of eternal life best characterizes the life to come (Rom. 6:23). Though eternal life is not immortality, the righteous will rise immortal at the Lord’s coming. In essence, eternal life is the life which God Himself has. As a spiritual gift, it is independent of our “outward man” (2 Cor. 4:16).Living As Long As God. Being a present and eternal possession it cannot end with death (1 Jn. 5:13). Being eternal, it can never be lost, anymore than God Himself can cease to be. Being the gift of God, it cannot be obtained by merit nor lost by demerit. It is likewise eternal in the absolute sense, in that having existed in God from eternity it cannot cease in the eternal future. Though in this life men fail, God cannot sin. Thus His children raised in glory will become partakers of His impeccability. Because death shall be no more, sin – which is the cause of death – will no longer be a possibility (Rev. 21:4).

Living With God. Those who live as long as God will also live with God forever and ever: “Behold the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people, and God Himself shall be with them, and be their God” (Rev. 21:3). In Paradise restored (New Jerusalem), God will come down to man never to return. But this time He will also bring the court of heaven with Him. Also the Holy Trinity will be in eternal residence. The Lamb is the light of the city, and the Spirit invites all to drink freely of the water of life (Rev. 21:23; 22:17).

Living Like God. The blessings that come from this fellowship are beyond counting. What of our living like God, the source all joy, peace, eternal glory and love? If evil parents on earth know how to give good gifts to their children, what of an eternity spent with our Father in Heaven? As the apostle Paul wrote, “He that spared not His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not with Him also freely give us all things?” (Rom. 8.32).

CHRIST MADE IT POSSIBLE

As a fitting conclusion, we must glorify Christ who has made all this possible. As noted earlier, the Son of God became a man to save us from the wrath of God. But God’s plan of salvation surpasses the forgiveness of sins. Beyond the salvation of the soul, there is “the redemption of our body” (Rom. 8:23). We, therefore “groan within ourselves” while we wait for Christ in a world which grows worse by the hour.Saints long for Christ, as the betrothed can never know rest till she lays her head on the bosom of her beloved. Christ and His Bride have a sweet appointment to keep in the skies at His coming. Any moment now the Lord may catch away His saved ones out of the world. And “so shall we ever be with the Lord” (1 Th. 4:17).

The astonishing corollary to this is that we will evermore be like the Lord Jesus! As John writes: “Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that when He shall appear, we shall be like Him; for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2).

But we must not forget that the saints will be reviewed by their Lord and rewarded according to their faithfulness. Some will suffer loss of reward, though they themselves “shall be saved; yet so as by fire” (1 Cor. 3:15).

Though we do not serve Christ for crowns or kingdoms, our degree of glory will be proportionate to our faithfulness to Christ. The glitter of this world is a worthless bauble by comparison. Therefore, let those who love the Savior serve Him with all their heart, that they not be ashamed before Him at His coming.

By Tom Summerhill


With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org

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