I. After death, does the Christian go to heaven or to an intermediate place of waiting?
A. There are two views.
1. The "traditional" view, which is the majority view held by many Christians, holds that the disembodied souls of the saints goes to an intermediate state where it awaits the resurrection and the reuniting of the soul and resurrected body.
2. The second view, which is the one that I believe is supported by scripture, is that following the resurrection of Christ that disembodied soul of the saints goes directly to be in the presence of Christ.
B. The position of the traditional view.
1. This view holds that upon death the Christian’s spirit goes into the Hadean world.
a) This “world,” the realm of departed spirits (i.e., Hades) is divided into two parts, Paradise (dwelling place of the righteous) and Tartarus (dwelling place of the unrighteous), divided by a great impassible gulf.
b) In one of these two realms the souls of the departed dead await the resurrection away from the presence of God and Christ. (God and Christ are "in heaven," and Paradise is in Hades, not heaven.)
c) At the resurrection, spirits of both the wicked and the righteous will be united with their resurrected bodies, judgment will occur, and the righteous will enter into heaven and the wicked will be banished to an eternal hell.
2. The basis of the majority view is largely based on Luke 16:16-31, supported further by Luke 23:43, John 20:17, Acts 2:29-35, and 2 Pet. 2:4.
a) Lk 23:43 is the account of Jesus and the thief on the cross, both of whom would be in Paradise.
(1) That this Paradise was not Heaven where God dwells is based upon John 20:17.
(2) Three days after Jesus told the thief that they would both be in Paradise, Jesus said that he had not yet ascended to the Father.
b) Ac 2:29-35 records Old Testament prophecy that Jesus’ soul was not to be left in Hades (the realm of the dead, which included Paradise).
(1) But after His resurrection Jesus ascended to the right hand of God (i.e., Heaven).
(2) Concerning David, he went to Paradise (in Hades) when he died, as did Abraham, Lazarus, and the thief on the cross.
(3) But note that Peter said "David did not ascend into the heavens" (Ac 2:34), suggesting the one could die, be in Hades (Paradise), and yet not be in heaven with the Father.
(4) Christ implied the same thing to Mary in Jn 20:17.
3. This position for what happens after death appears to be consistent with all the information we have prior to the ascension of Christ, but in light of what is revealed in the Scriptures after Jesus' ascension into heaven, the majority view may need some revision in regard to what now happens to the spirits of the righteous between death and the resurrection.
a) After Jesus ascended to heaven Paradise (the resting place of the righteous) is now spoken of as being in heaven.
(1) Recall that when Jesus spoke to Mary He had not yet ascended to the Father (i.e., heaven), though He had been in "Paradise" prior to His resurrection.
(2) But note carefully that "Paradise" is used synonymously with the "third heaven" (i.e., God's dwelling place) by Paul in 2 Co 12:2, 4.
(3) Whereas Paradise was once distinct from heaven, now it is not.
b) The expectation of the righteous is to be with Christ upon death - Ph 1:23; 2 Co 5:6-8; 1 Th 5:9-10.
c) The book of Revelation speaks of the righteous dead being in heaven while much is still going on here on earth - Re 6:9-11; 7:9-17.
d) The Scriptures speak of Jesus bringing the righteous with Him at His Final Coming - 1 Th 3:13: 4:13-14.
(1) This passage is an apparent reference to the "spirits" of those who were righteous, and who are coming to be united with their resurrected bodies - cf. 1 Th 4:16.
(2) Of course, Jesus could "pick up" these saints in Hades on His way, but in the other passages they appear already to be with Him.
(3) Such passages as these are found after Christ's ascension into heaven and it is difficult to reconcile them with those made before Christ's ascension (unless something has changed, of course).
C. The position of the minority view.
1. First, everything about the traditional view remains the same for the period prior to Jesus’ ascension, but after Jesus’ ascension the “intermediate estate” of the righteous is different.
a) Paradise is now in heaven not Hades.
b) The hope of the righteous is to spend the "intermediate state" in the presence of the Lord, awaiting the resurrection and the Judgment.
2. If the intermediate state of the righteous changed, why did it change?
a) That the change did occur appears to be clear.
b) The "why" is at best speculation, which is acceptable provided that it does not violate Biblical principles.
(1) God is holy, and sin cannot be tolerated in His presence.
(a) The righteous who died before the cross of Christ, were forgiven in view of Christ's coming death.
(b) But prior to the death of Christ, the true price for sin had not been paid.
(c) So until their spirits were actually "redeemed from sin by the blood of Christ, they were not permitted in God's presence, and Paradise remained in Hades.
(d) After the cross, and when He ascended, Jesus offered His blood as the "eternal redemption price" to God to appease for sin - cf. He 9:11-15; 23-26.
(i) With such an offering, the spirits of just men were now "made perfect" (He 12:23; Heb. 11:39-40), and now in a position to be with God and Christ in heaven, awaiting the resurrection and Day of Judgment - cf. Re 6:9-11.
(ii) Thus Paradise (the intermediate dwelling place of the righteous) can now be in heaven.
(e) Therefore the Christian, whose spirit is also made perfect by the blood of Christ, can have the hope to be with Christ and God in heaven, during the "intermediate state" prior to the bodily resurrection at the Last Day.
1. Again, the “why” may be purely speculation, but there is sufficient biblical support to re-examine a view many have traditionally held.
2. The majority or traditional view was true prior to the ascension of Christ, but it now fails to explain adequately many statements made in Scripture after Christ's ascension.
II. How can a God of love send human beings to an eternal hell?
1. Scripture clearly teaches that God is love.
a) John 3:16.
b) Rom. 5:8.
2. Christianity is the only religion in which love is a necessary component.
3. Today we look at whether there is a conflict between God as love and the Biblical doctrine of hell.
a) The question simply put – how can a God of love inflict an infinite penalty on finite creatures?
b) How can a good, benevolent, loving God allow his creatures to be forever miserable?
1. Basic principles related to the discussion.
a) Principles related to God and His nature.
(1) It is just as impossible for God to do a little wrong as a great one.
(a) If he has permitted sin and misery to exist in this world, how is it inconsistent to allow them to continue in the next?
(b) The permission of sin in the universe by a sovereign, holy God who hates sin to an infinite degree, the damage that it does to uncounted multitudes of beings whom He loves with a Creator’s love, and the fact that sin must demand of God the greatest sacrifice that He could make, all this only tends to enlarge the mystery involved.
(2) God expresses his own reluctance to allow men to enter hell.
(a) 2 Pet. 3:9 – The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.
(b) 1 Tim. 2:3-5 – 3This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Saviour; 4who would have all men to be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. 5For there is one God, one mediator also between God and men, himself man, Christ Jesus,
(c) There is no greater expression of that reluctance than in the death of Christ. 2 Cor. 5:21. Him who knew no sin he made to be sin on our behalf; that we might become the righteousness of God in him.
b) Principles related to man and his ignorance.
(1) Man is an incompetent judge of the penalty that sin deserves.
(2) If it is inconsistent with the justice of God that men should perish for their sins, then redemption is not a matter of grace or undeserved mercy.
(a) Deliverance from an unjust penalty is a matter of justice.
(b) While man is finite, his soul is eternal and the God against whom the sin is committed is infinite and eternal.
(c) The beginning place is to seek the Biblical teaching on the nature of sin and of hell.
(i) Biblical doctrine of sin.
(a) Sin is a very serious matter, taken seriously by God, even though man often makes light of it.
(b) It is not only a transgression of the law of God (Rom. 4:15 ; 1 John 3:4 ), but an attack on the great Lawgiver himself, a revolt against God.
(c) It is an infringement on the inviolable righteousness of God, which is the very foundation of his throne. Ps. 97:2.
(d) It is an affront to the spotless holiness of God, which requires that we be holy in all manner of living. 1 Pet. 1:16.
(ii) In view of this, it is but natural that God should visit sin with punishment, with both natural and positive penalties.
(a) Natural – cannot escape because they are the natural and necessary consequences of sin.
(i) Not saved from them by repentance and forgiveness.
(ii) May be mitigated and checked by means that are at our disposal, but they often remain and serve as a constant reminder of past transgressions.
(iii) The slothful man suffers poverty; drunkard brings ruin on himself and his family; fornicator may suffer disease; the criminal is imprisoned.
(b) Positive – punishments in the more ordinary and legal sense of the term
(i) They presuppose not merely the natural laws of life, but a positive law of the great Lawgiver with added sanctions.
(ii) The penalties are not the natural result of the transgression, but are penalties attached to the transgressions by divine enactment.
(iii) They are superimposed by divine law, which is of absolute authority.
(3) The Biblical doctrine of Hell.
(a) Hell is:
(i) A place.
(a) Hades – Mt. 11:23 ; 16:18 ; Lk. 10:15 ; 16:23 ; Rev. 1:18 ; 20:13-14 .
(b) Gahenna – Mt. 5:22 , 29-30 ; 10:28 ; Jas. 3:6.
(c) A place of torment. Luke 16:28 ; Mt. 8:12 ; Rev.14:11.
(ii) A place of everlasting fire. Mt. 25:41 ; Mk. 9:44 ; Rev. 21:8 ; Lk. 3:17 ; Mt. 13:42.
(a) Aion and aionios are urged as not denoting eternal, infinite, forever.
(i) The first is used of Christ. 1 Tim. 1:17 ; Rev. 1:18.
(ii) The second is used of the persons of the Godhead. Heb. 9:14.
(iii) The second describes both the punishment of the wicked and the reward of the blessed. Mat. 25:46.
(iv) If one is restricted, so must the other be.
(b) Attested by the words of Christ:
(i) fire is not quenched.
(ii) Wrath of God abideth upon them. John 3:36.
(iii) The smoke of the torment of those who worship the beast ascendeth up forever and ever. Rev. 14:11.
(iii) A place of darkness. Rev. 9:2 (bottomless pit) ; Jude 1:13 (blackness of darkness).
(b) Figurative language is not a reason to deny the reality. Rather it is to be recognized that a figure of speech is a feeble attempt to declare in language that which it is beyond the power of words to describe.
(c) Scripture does teach that there will be degrees of punishment. Mt. 11:22,24 ; Lk. 12:47-48 . (But, see Mt. 18:8 ; IIThess. 1:8-9 ; Rev. 14:11 ; 20:10 ).
(4) Man’s reaction to the Biblical doctrine of Hell.
(a) Uninstructed minds revolt at the doctrine of eternal perdition, and the more sympathetic they are by nature the more they revolt; however, the doctrine does not originate with human reason nor is it influenced by human sympathy.
(i) The root difficulty of all human speculation is that man knows the meaning of neither holiness nor sin, and that is about all that is involved in this discussion.
(ii) In no way does man reveal both his ego and his ignorance more effectively that when he exhibits his surprise over the fact that there are realities in the universe that he does not understand.
(b) The second reaction of the sincere human mind – after acknowledging the indisputable truth that retribution is an actual place of suffering, is to entertain the hope that this distress of the lost is not eternal or everlasting.
(i) Theories relating to a future state.
(a) Cessation of existence – animalism, atheism.
(b) Transmigration (reincarnation) of the soul.
(c) Conditional immortality.
(i) Drawn somewhat from the Bible, in that immortality is recognized, this theory, which embraces the atheistic notion of the cessation of existence at death for the unregenerate, originates in mere human reason.
(ii) Some modify the view to permit resurrection of the unregenerate, but contend that they are then annihilated, and that such is the meaning of the second death. (cf. Rev. 20:14-15 ; 21:8. )
(i) Annihilationism – broadly designates a large body of theories that unite in contending that human beings pass, or are put, out of existence altogether. These theories fall into three classes according as they hold: 1) that all souls, being mortal, actually cease to exist at death; or that, 2) souls, being naturally mortal, only those persist in life to which immortality is given by God; or that 3) souls are naturally immortal and persist in existence unless destroyed by a force working on them from without by which wicked souls are actually destroyed.
(ii) Pure mortalism – human life is bound up with the organism, and that, therefore, the entire man passes out of being with the dissolution of the organism.
(iii) Conditional immortality – agrees with pure mortalism in teaching the mortality of man in his entirety, but separate in maintaining that this mortal may, and in many cases does, put on immortality as a gift from God. Generally contends that the material man, including the soul, dies with the body, and identifies life beyond death with the resurrection, conceived of as essentially a recreation of the entire man. This resurrection is in dispute as to whether all are raised and the wicked destroyed by the second death, or whether the wicked simply perish at death and for whom there is no resurrection.
(iv) Annihilationism proper – (Adventists and Millennial Dawnism) – The soul may be immortal, but it becomes extinct as the result of punishment or as the gradual dying out of the personality under the enfeebling effects of sin. In either event we are no longer looking at the soul as naturally mortal and requiring a new gift of grace to keep it in existence, but as naturally immortal and suffering destruction at the hands of an opposing force.
(v) Universalism – All men are lost by sin, but that the death of Christ avails for all men, as a result of which all are saved regardless of faith and obedience. (The fundamental tenet of Universalism is the one divine attribute of love.)
(vi) Restitutionism or Reconciliationism – implies that all men are lost through sin, but that sometime, somewhere, all men will be reconciled to God, even the fallen angels and Satan. Phil. 2:10-11 ; Col. 1:20 ; see 1Cor. 15:25-28.
(vii) Purgatory – Christ’s death atones for sin before baptism, but should the baptized commit venial (as opposed to mortal) sin, they must make atonement in purgatory before they can be admitted into the presence of God. If the prisoner gains his discharge by serving out his sentence, where is grace? If the sinner’s suffering can expiate his sin, the most that can be said for the death of Christ is that it opened a short and easy way to the same goal that could be reached by a tedious and painful journey. Unless he is made righteous before he enters purgatory (and then why not enter heaven at once), he will continue to sin. Since every fresh sin involves a new penalty, his punishment can never end.
(e) Nirvana – Brahman and Buddhist believe that the immaterial part of man is absorbed into the divine and that this may begin in this life by the renouncement of all personal desires.
(i) The most misleading error is that which falls back in blind dependence upon one attribute of God, his love, and ignores the attributes of holiness, righteousness, and justice.
(ii) Such do not understand the gospel.
(iii) It is supposed that God is generous and that He forgives sin as an act of clemency or leniency, that He, being a Sovereign, can forgive whom He will when He will.
(iv) It is assumed that since God is love, His affection for his creatures will prompt him to rescue them from suffering.
(v) If the Bible declares that He will not rescue the unbelieving, unrepentant, and disobedient, and that their estate is eternal, then the Bible is rejected and God Himself is classified as the One who cannot be defended.
(f) Many are the attempts made by those who understand nothing of the real character of God to save Him from the undesirable reputation He must acquire if He does not in compassion rescue all men from hell.
(i) Such is the doctrinal confusion that arises when one truth is stressed without regard for other truths that qualify it.
(ii) God is holiness and righteousness as well as love.
(iii) It is the holiness of His Person and the righteousness of His government that preclude Him from any mere generosity that would make light of sin.
(iv) If God could have forgiven one sin of one person as an act of mere kindness, He would have compromised His own holiness that demands judgment for sin.
(v) He could have so forgiven them all and the death of Christ was not a sacrifice, but a slaughter.
(vi) Having then compromised Himself with sin, He Himself would need to be saved because of the unrighteousness that He had done.
(vii) It is the fact of unyielding divine holiness that demands either the retribution of the sinner or the death of Christ in his stead.
(viii) God is love, and that love is demonstrated by the gift of the Son that men might be saved. but love and mercy did not circumvent the demands of holiness to save the sinner.
(ix) Rather, they paid its every demand. 2 Cor. 5:21; Matt. 11:28-30.
(g) The riddle was solved – God found a way to be just and the justifier of those who have faith in Jesus. Rom. 3:26.
1. God, because of His holiness, cannot save the lost unless his holy demands are met for the sinner, as they are met in Jesus Christ.
2. To be unsaved, or outside the grace of God as it is in Christ, is to be destined to eternal punishment or retribution.
3. God can do no more than provide a perfect salvation purchased at infinite cost.
4. When love will pay such a price that a sinner may be saved and holiness remain untarnished, it ill becomes finite men to tamper with these immutable realities.
5. Those who resent the doctrine of eternal retribution are in fact resenting divine holiness.
You Must Hear the Gospel
You must hear the gospel and then understand and recognize that you are lost without Jesus Christ no matter who you are and no matter what your background is. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) Before you can be saved, you must understand that you are lost and that the only way to be saved is by obedience to the gospel of Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:8) Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6) “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.” (Acts 4:12) "So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Romans 10:17)
You Must Believe
You must believe and have faith in God because “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” (Hebrews 11:6) But neither belief alone nor faith alone is sufficient to save. (James 2:19; James 2:24; Matthew 7:21)
You Must Repent
You must repent of your sins. (Acts 3:19) But repentance alone is not enough. The so-called “Sinner’s Prayer” that you hear so much about today from denominational preachers does not appear anywhere in the Bible. Indeed, nowhere in the Bible was anyone ever told to pray the “Sinner’s Prayer” to be saved. By contrast, there are numerous examples showing that prayer alone does not save. Saul, for example, prayed following his meeting with Jesus on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:11), but Saul was still in his sins when Ananias met him three days later (Acts 22:16). Cornelius prayed to God always, and yet there was something else he needed to do to be saved (Acts 10:2, 6, 33, 48). If prayer alone did not save Saul or Cornelius, prayer alone will not save you. You must obey the gospel. (2 Thess. 1:8)
You Must Confess
You must confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. (Romans 10:9-10) Note that you do NOT need to make Jesus “Lord of your life.” Why? Because Jesus is already Lord of your life whether or not you have obeyed his gospel. Indeed, we obey him, not to make him Lord, but because he already is Lord. (Acts 2:36) Also, no one in the Bible was ever told to just “accept Jesus as your personal savior.” We must confess that Jesus is the Son of God, but, as with faith and repentance, confession alone does not save. (Matthew 7:21)
You Must Be Baptized
Having believed, repented, and confessed that Jesus is the Son of God, you must be baptized for the remission of your sins. (Acts 2:38) It is at this point (and not before) that your sins are forgiven. (Acts 22:16) It is impossible to proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ without teaching the absolute necessity of baptism for salvation. (Acts 8:35-36; Romans 6:3-4; 1 Peter 3:21) Anyone who responds to the question in Acts 2:37 with an answer that contradicts Acts 2:38 is NOT proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ!
You Must Be Faithful Unto Death
Once you are saved, God adds you to his church and writes your name in the Book of Life. (Acts 2:47; Philippians 4:3) To continue in God’s grace, you must continue to serve God faithfully until death. Unless they remain faithful, those who are in God’s grace will fall from grace, and those whose names are in the Book of Life will have their names blotted out of that book. (Revelation 2:10; Revelation 3:5; Galatians 5:4)