-HEAVEN AND HELL What Does The Bible Teach?
We live and move within the confines of time, which is an infinitesimally tiny bubble floating in the endlessness of eternity. God is eternal, without beginning and without end – a concept which we grasp at but never truly get. God says He “inhabits eternity” (Isa. 57:15 NKJV) and Moses wrote, “from everlasting to everlasting you are God” (Ps. 90:2 NIV). Improbable as it seems, God made our tiny time-bubble as a stage for His crowning creation: a race made “in His own image” (Gen. 1:26-27) for the ultimate purpose of endowing us with His own life and nature – “eternal life ... promised before the beginning of time” (Ti. 1:2). Our fall into sin was not a glitch in God’s plan. It was certainly not His wish, but it was not unforeseen nor was He unprepared for it. As He laid out His plan before time began, He foresaw our moral collapse and designed a breath-taking recovery plan! Why would God do that? Because He is love (1 Jn. 4:8,16). Jesus’ entire earthly career and eternal existence were lived in endless communion with His Father, His greatest joy. As the end of His earthly mission neared in crucifixion, John said He spoke more about returning to His Father than of His suffering. To return home was the “joy set before Him” (Heb. 12:2). How thrilling that He begged His Father to bring His redeemed home too (Jn. 17:24), promising us the greatest joy (Jn. 14:3) – to be with the Father in His house.
Heaven Is Real
That concept of heaven is as old as Genesis, which says that for 300 years, “Enoch walked with God; then he was no more, because God took him away” (Gen. 5:24). Where? We’re told he didn’t die (Heb. 11:5), but he’s not on earth anymore. Given God’s wish to have His friends with Him, He must have taken His walking companion home. In Psalm 23, David concluded his celebration of God’s goodness with these words: “I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”
These passages coincide with Jesus’ promise and point to a life in heaven with God for those who walk with Him here. Jesus spoke of many “mansions,” “rooms” or “dwelling places” (NKJV, NIV, NASB) in His Father’s house. All these translations agree with the Greek meaning. Today’s idea of a mansion as a huge, luxurious house is not inconsistent with the concept of heaven. But what Jesus is saying is more like, “My Father’s house has room for all My friends to live happily ever after with Us.” Or as a contemporary song says, “Come and go with me, to my Father’s house … a big, big house with lots and lots of room, a big, big table with lots and lots of food.”
Heaven, then, is God’s home, where He takes those who walk with Him in this life. It is the ultimate blessing to be in the constant company of our Creator, freely interacting directly with Him (Ps. 16:11). Our new birth into God’s family makes us “citizens of heaven” (Jn. 1:12-13; Phil. 3:20), and aliens on this corrupted earth in this restricted bubble of time. We look forward to going home to our Father, just as Jesus did. You get the idea.
Jesus went to prepare a place for His followers after He had physical contact with people in an obviously resurrected body for over 40 days (Lk. 24:13-23, 37-43; Mt. 28:9; Acts 1:3-4,9). On resurrection day the perplexed apostles thought they saw a ghost, but He dissolved their confusion by eating a piece of fish. Later they watched His bodily ascension to heaven. So, heaven is a sphere where Jesus, in a physical body, now lives and prepares a place for us.
Paul wrote that “just as we have borne the likeness of the earthly man, so shall we bear the likeness of the Man from heaven” (1 Cor. 15:42-49). John wrote that “we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 Jn. 3:2). Paul told the Philippians that Jesus will come and “transform our lowly bodies” making them “like His glorious body” (Phil. 3:21). We believe in and vigorously defend Jesus’ physical resurrection, and ultimately our own too.
Even now, heaven is the true dwelling place of Christians. Paul wrote that God has “blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” and “raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms” (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). He also wrote: “Since, then, you have been raised with Christ, set your hearts on things above, where Christ is seated at the right hand of God … not on earthly things. For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:1-3). We still live on earth, but our life is in heaven. The references are to our present spiritual presence in heaven, but we’re promised that our resurrected bodies will also be taken there when Jesus comes (1 Th. 4:16-17).
Hell Is Just As Real
Hell is just as real as heaven. Jesus described it in terms of intense torment and suffering. The total opposite of rewards in heaven, hell is the punishment for rejecting God’s Son rather than accepting Him as Savior and serving Him. Jesus said that in hell “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mk. 9:48), and Revelation 20:11-15 calls hell a “lake of fire.”
Just as heaven is forever the blissful rest of those eternally alive in Christ, so hell is an eternal fire (Mt. 18:8; 25:41; 2 Th. 1:9; Rev. 20:10). To be burned may be the most extreme pain. Can you imagine drowning forever in fire, and yet never ceasing to exist consciously?
How could a loving God even conceive of such torment? For humans, He didn’t. He created us to be objects of His infinite love and to have us with Him forever. We are made with no expiration date, to exist eternally just as our Creator is eternal. When our first parents chose death instead of life, the right to eternal life was forfeited, yet our eternal existence continued. When Jesus bore the penalty for our sin by dying in our place, He secured our pardon and recovered for us the right to eternal life, which He grants to us when we trust in Him, thus receiving the life our original ancestors once rejected.
But what is God to do with eternally-existing people who deny Him and insist on embracing our first parents’ death choice? There is an alternate eternity for rejectors of God’s free pardon which Christ paid for by His death on Calvary.
Jesus spoke of two resurrections: “All who are in their graves will hear (My) voice and come out – those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (Jn. 5:28-29). Revelation says John saw the souls of Jesus’ martyrs: “They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them … When the thousand years (were) over … I saw a great white throne … and … the dead, great and small, standing before the throne … The dead were judged according to what they had done … Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire (which) is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:4-6, 11-12, 14-15).
Thus the “second death” is eternal fire “prepared for the Devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41) – angels who joined Satan’s rebellion against God. They are eternal, too, so he had to have a place for them. Human rejecters of God’s goodness, in effect, swear loyalty to the Devil and join his rebellion by choosing self-determination over the life that was once freely available. They have nowhere to go but to join their chosen leader in his eternal fiery prison.
Jesus taught about heaven and hell in a story about an unnamed rich man and a very poor man named Lazarus (Lk. 16:19-31). The rich man lived a self-absorbed life of privilege and luxury with no time for God nor inclination to share with others, like the destitute Lazarus lying at his gate. Like most of us when left to our own devices, his investment in time’s brief interval so blinded him that he spent it all making his life comfortable, blind to the eternity that awaited his soul.
When Lazarus died, angels carried him into Abraham’s bosom, symbolic of ultimate peace, joy, and fulfillment for a Jew. When the rich man died he awoke in fiery agony. Not yet fully grasping his sitation, the rich man begged Abraham to send Lazarus to bring him some slight relief. No way! “A great chasm has been fixed” (Lk. 16:26) between heaven and hell. Interestingly, the once-rich man thought of his family and appealed for them to be warned away from this place of torment. He realized he could go nowhere and now knew that his family would be no comfort. But Lazarus couldn’t leave his place either; heaven is forever and the believer’s bliss cannot be disturbed. Abraham reminded the rich man that he enjoyed all his happiness in his self-indulgent life on earth. The good times were over! Hell is unending, hopeless anguish – “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30).
Was the rich man in hell because he had been rich? No! Jesus consigned to the eternal fire, that was “prepared for the devil and his angels,” those who had neglected to minister to Him in the persons of “these brothers of mine” who were in need (Mt. 25:40-46; 2 Pet. 2:4).
Lazarus suffered in a diseased body, scorned by society. He was not in heaven because of his good deeds, nor even because he suffered. His works are not mentioned; he did not earn heaven. The rich man may have called Abraham father, but Lazarus was Abraham’s child, a child of faith and God rewards faith with heaven in company with Abraham, the man of faith (Gal. 3:6-9).
The original human sin was a deliberate choice of self-interest over eternal life – choosing the tree of the knowledge of good and evil over the Tree of Life (Gen. 2:8-9; 3:4-6). The self-interest tree was explicitly prohibited on pain of death, but the Tree of Life was unrestricted: “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17). But God wanted them (and us) to have life! Only after they had violated the ban did God say: “The man … must not be allowed to … take also from the Tree of Life and eat and live forever.” So he expelled them from Eden, condemned to die, cut off from eternal life (Gen. 3:22-24).
From that day forth death is etched in our DNA; we all inherit it genetically (Rom. 5:12). Our only salvation is through Jesus Christ and His dying in our place. By the grace of God He suffered death for everyone (Heb. 2:9). If you have not accepted Him as your Savior, please do so today. Heaven and hell are real, and one of them is your destiny.
By Bill Van Ryn
With permission to publish by: Sam Hadley, Grace & Truth, 210 Chestnut St., Danville, IL., USA. Website: www.gtpress.org
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