Questions About Eternity
1. How could a merciful God possibly cast people into hell? As a parent I could never do such a thing to my children.
First of all, it is important to note that we cannot judge God based on what we think we would do in similar circumstances. Isaiah 55:8-9 states, “‘For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts.” We are mere human beings and God has not placed us in a position to render punishment toward our children like He would render, nor has He made us capable of thinking in such a way toward our children.
Next, we need to consider that God is not only merciful, He is just to render punishment to those who are evil. Romans 1:18 states, “For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.”God’s wrath toward wickedness is not a wrath as man would have, but a judicial wrath that demands justice in His spiritual government. We do not appreciate judges in our society who allow criminals to go free on a technicality or based their own personal feelings toward the criminal. Such injustice ruins our system of government. God does not allow such in His government. Romans 3:26 tells us that Christ died so that God “might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.”The death of Christ made it possible for God to be merciful without violating His own justice. Consider also Romans 11:22.
Now let’s turn the question around. Will a “merciful God” punish Satan forever and ever? Revelation 20:10 says He will. Satan and His angels are as much a creation of God as any of us are. If He will punish them forever, why not those of us who follow after Satan’s ways?
2. Prove to me that hell is really forever. How could that possibly be?
It is first important to understand that we are forever. God made us in His image and formed a spirit within us (Zechariah 12:1). We are eternal beings created for the purpose of living with God forever. Ecclesiastes 12:7 tells us that at death the body goes back to the dust, but the spirit returns to God who gave it. Luke 12:4-5 tells us that we need not fear those who can kill the body but after that have nothing more they can do. Instead we need to fear God who after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell. Jesus shows that there is a difference between the body and the spirit. The body is temporary but the spirit lives on. Since we have no end, the question is where will we spend eternity.
Matthew 25:46 tells us that the righteous will go to “eternal”life but the wicked to “eternal”punishment. Jesus used the same Greek word to describe how long hell is as He did to describe how long heaven is. Both the “life” and the “punishment” are eternal. One lasts as long as the other.
Mark 9:43-48 tells us the hell is a “fire that never shall be quenched–where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Comparing hell to the fire and maggots of the literal valley of Hinnom, Jesus said there would be no end to the fire burning or the maggot eating on the one cast there.
Revelation 14:10-11 tells us that there “is no rest day or night” and the “smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever.”
In Revelation 20:10-15 those not found written in the book of life are cast into the same lake of fire as Satan who is tormented day and night forever and ever.
3. Do we go to heaven or hell as soon as we die?
Revelation 20:13-15 tells us that on the day of judgment Death and Hades will deliver up the dead that are in them and then Death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire along with all of those who are not found written in the book of life. From this we learn that the dead are in a place called Hades until Judgment and then raised to be cast into hell if they are not in the book of life. Therefore, a person does not go immediately into hell at death.
In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus tells the story of Lazarus and the rich man and pictures both of them in Hades following death. Lazarus is being comforted in Hades while the rich man is being tormented. This fits well the Old Testament picture of Sheol (Hebrew for Hades) being a bad place for those who are wicked (Isaiah 14:11), but a good place for those who are righteous (Genesis 37:35).
The same principle would hold true for heaven. We do not go to heaven as soon as we die in the sense of receiving our final reward. There still must be a resurrection when we are given a spiritual body like the Lord’s (I Corinthians 15:35-50; I John 3:2; Philippians 3:20-21). In John 5:28-29 Jesus states that the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth, some to a resurrection of life and some to a resurrection of condemnation. Further, Revelation 21:1-8 shows that it is not until after the day of judgment and the resurrection that we are presented to the Lord as a bride ready for her husband. Then comes the marriage of the church with Christ when he takes us to His home to live throughout eternity.
4. After we die, do we have to wait until Judgment Day before we will be with the Lord?
Though we do not receive our final reward nor our resurrected bodies as soon as we die, there is a sense in which we will be with the Lord. In II Corinthians 5:6-8 Paul states that while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord. But we are confident that when we are absent from the body we will be present with the Lord. In Philippians 1:23 Paul speaks of his death and says that he would rather depart and be with Christ rather than stay on in the flesh. Revelation 7:13-17 pictures the saints who had gone through the great tribulation as being before the throne of God and serving Him day and night in His temple. In II Corinthians 12:1-4 Paul speaks of being caught up into the third heaven (to the Hebrews the first heaven was our immediate atmosphere, the second heaven was the universe, and the third heaven was where God dwelled) where he saw visions. He calls this third heaven Paradise, using the same term that Jesus gave for the good side of Hades when He told the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43). When Jesus died, He descended into Hades (Acts 2:27). Thus, Paradise is the good side of Hades and the same place where Paul saw his visions. He considered this to be the third heaven where the Lord is. This is all we know. Concerning details of how we could be with the Lord without receiving our final reward, we will have to wait until that day.
5. After death, will we be conscious? Will we be conscious of anything that is going on in the world?
In Jesus story of Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:19-31) He certainly taught that there was consciousness after death. Lazarus was comforted, while the rich man was tormented. In Matthew 22:23-33 when Jesus taught the Sadducees about the resurrection, He quoted Exodus 3:6, “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob.”Jesus then said, “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” Jesus clearly taught that the dead were living and conscious. Remember that in Luke 9:28-36 Moses and Elijah appeared with Jesus when he was transfigured and even spoke with Him concerning His upcoming death. Moses and Elijah were certainly conscious though they had been dead for up to 1500 years. In II Samuel 12:23 when David’s first child by Bathsheba had died, David, in expressing his hope of seeing the child again said, “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.”
On the other hand, Ecclesiastes 9:4-6 seems to indicate that there is no knowledge of what is going on in this life after one is dead. In I Samuel 28:14-15, when Saul used a witch to call up Samuel from the dead, Samuel seemed angry saying, “Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?” Samuel indicates that he was not aware of Saul’s recent troubles and chastises him for calling him up when the Lord had departed from him.
6. Will we know each other in heaven?
Knowing each other in heaven is one of the great blessing we have to look forward to. This seems to be the whole point of Paul’s discussion of sorrowing for those who have died in Christ in II Thessalonians 4:13-18. In each verse he speaks of being reunited with those who sleep in Jesus. Because of this, we need not sorrow as others who do not have such a hope and therefore we can comfort one another with these words.
The Jews looked forward to being with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob and all the prophets. Therefore Jesus said that there would be weeping and gnashing of teeth when they saw these great men in the kingdom while they themselves were being cast out. Jesus then said that the Gentiles would enjoy the presence of the prophets instead (Luke 13:28-29).
When Jesus met Martha after the death of her brother Lazarus, Martha expressed the hope of seeing her brother again in the resurrection. But Jesus said, “I am the resurrection,” telling her that she could see her brother again immediately if He so desired (John 11:21-27).
7. Are there degrees of punishment in hell?
This is a difficult question that the Bible may not give us a clear answer on. Consider two texts. In Matthew 11:20-24 Jesus condemns the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because He had performed so many of His mighty works there and yet they had not repented. In condemning them He said, “It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.” It is hard to imagine anyone worse than those of Sodom, and yet judgment would be easier on them than on many of the people of Jesus day because those of Jesus’ day had greater opportunity. Jesus expresses the same principle in Luke 12:47-48. Many stripes are given to the servant who knew the Master’s will and yet did not prepare himself accordingly. But only a few stripes are given to the one who did not know yet committed deeds worthy of stripes. The question is, do these passages imply degrees of punishment in hell or a difference in how much mercy each will be shown in the judgment based on how much opportunity each were given? What we do know is, we have been given a great salvation and a great opportunity. God’s word has been clearly revealed to us, and if we do not prepare it will be more tolerable in the day of judgment for Sodom than for us!
8. What is the rapture and where is this found in the Bible?
The word rapture comes from the phrase “caught up” in I Thessalonians 4:16. The Latin translation of the Greek word is RAPIEMUR, hence, our word “rapture.” The word, therefore, does not lack biblical support, but the concepts and doctrines surrounding the word have no biblical foundation. In I Thessalonians 4 the time in which the saints are “caught up” is the same time in which the day of Lord comes as a thief in the night (I Thessalonians 5:2) and brings judgment on the wicked. In John 5:28-29 Jesus states that the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear his voice and come forth, some to a resurrection of life and some to a resurrection of condemnation. In Matthew 25:31-33 Jesus tells us that on the day of judgment all nations will be gathered before Him and He will divide them as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.
However, in the doctrine of Premillennialism, the rapture is a temporary exodus of the saints from the earth while a great seven-year tribulation takes place on the remaining inhabitants of the earth. Following this seven year period, the saints are to return to the earth where they live for 1000 years. This contradicts I Thessalonians 4:17 where Paul tells us that we will meet the Lord in the air “and thus we shall always be with the Lord.” The scriptures never have the Lord returning to the earth. In fact, Jesus claimed that He had finished the work God had given Him to do on the earth (John 17:4).
9. Isn’t there suppose to be a great tribulation that is to come prior to Christ’s return?
In the scenario of Premillennialism, seven years prior to Christ’s return, the saints will be “raptured” from the earth. During this seven year period those left on the earth will suffer the period of the great tribulation. This will cause many to repent and thereby prepare the way for the Lord’s return and the beginning of the 1000 year reign of peace and prosperity on the earth.
There are three times the phrase “great tribulation”is used in the scriptures: Matthew 24:21; Revelation 2:22, 7:14. Jesus’ use of the phrase in Matthew specifically refers to the tribulation that took place on the city of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Romans. The context demands this. In 24:2 Jesus had foretold the fall of Jerusalem as well as the temple. In 24:3 His disciples asked when these things would take place, what would be the sign of His coming to accomplish these things, and thus the end of the Jewish age. Jesus answers these questions by referring to Daniel’s prophecy in 24:15 which specifically foretold the fall of Jerusalem/Judaism (Daniel 9:24-27). In 24:16 Jesus specifically warns that when this tribulation takes place those in Judea were to flee. Therefore this is not a tribulation that would take place on the whole world, but on those in Judea. Further, in 24:32-34, when Jesus identifies the time period when this tribulation would take place He states, “Assuredly, I say to you, this generation will by no means pass away till all these things are fulfilled.” Therefore, that generation of people that Jesus was speaking to would not die before the great tribulation took place. Since Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD, Jesus prophecy was fulfilled. It is also important to not that in 24:21 Jesus said that the great tribulation that would come on Jerusalem and Judea would be the greatest the world had ever seen and there would never be another greater.
The next place the phrase is used is Revelation 2:22 where Jesus warned the church of Thyatira that if the woman “Jezebel” did not repent He would cast her and those who committed adultery with her into great tribulation.. This certainly is not referring to any future tribulation on the world.
The final place the phrase is used is in Revelation 7:14 where an angel tells John that the great multitude he sees in heaven are those who have come out of the great tribulation. In 6:9-11 we saw these same ones who had been killed for the word of God and the testimony which they held. Is this something that is still to happen or has it already been fulfilled? Revelation 1:1-3 gives us the context of the book. First, these were things that “must shortly come to pass…for the time is near.” To believe that the events of this book have not yet happened is to not understand the very first verse of the book. Further, we are told that the message was sent from Christ and “signified”by an angel to John. The word “signified” means to send a message by the use of signs. Thus, the message of the book of Revelation was not revealed in literal language, but in signs and symbols. A person who either attempts to understand Revelation as literal or believes that the message of the book has not yet been fulfilled is disregarding the very first verse of the book.
Now, what was the setting of Revelation? It was written about 96 AD during the beginning of the period of Roman persecution against Christians. The tribulation spoken of in the book refers to those Christians who were suffering under the Roman oppression. To further confirm this, Revelation 17:18 tells us that the woman (who was responsible for the blood of the saints, 17:6) is that “great city which reigns over the kings of the earth.” This could be none other than Rome.
There certainly may be another great tribulation that comes upon Christians or on the world, but the scriptures do not reveal this to us. As for a period in which the world suffers while the saints are in heaven for a brief seven year period, there is no scriptural foundation.
10. Isn’t there suppose to be a 1000 year reign of peace and prosperity with Christ reigning on a throne in Jerusalem?
The only place in Bible where there is mention of a 1000 year reign is Revelation 20:1-6. First, remember what we spoke of in the previous question concerning the context of the book of Revelation. The message was revealed in signs and symbols and the fulfillment would come to pass shortly after the revealing of the book. Now to Revelation 20. There are at least seven things that are not mentioned in Revelation 20 that are the key tenets of the Premillennial view of the 1000 year reign: