Tag Archives: Hell

Where Was Jesus Before His Resurrection?

Jesus’ clear statement to the believing thief on the cross implies that He was in heaven between the time of His death and His bodily resurrection:

And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew: THIS IS THE KING OF THE JEWS. Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:38-43).

Nineteenth-century Scottish Presbyterian pastor David Brown paraphrased our Lord’s reply this way:

Thou art prepared for a long delay before I come into My kingdom, but not a day’s delay shall there be for thee, thou shalt not be parted from Me even for a moment, but together we shall go, and with Me, ere this day expire, should thou be in paradise.

The term paradise as used in Luke 23:43 can designate a garden (Genesis 2:8-10), a forest (Ezekiel 31:7-9), or (as in 2 Corinthians 12:4 and Revelation 2:7) the place of peace and blissful consciousness that exists for the redeemed in the presence of God.

Just before dying, Jesus said, “Father, into Your hands I commit My spirit” (Luke 23:46). This implies that when He died He went immediately into the presence of the Father. Both He and the repentant thief were in heaven that day.

On the third day, Jesus was resurrected with a glorified body. But He had not yet ascended to the Father in His glorified body when He encountered Mary Magdalene (John 20:17). Jesus appeared and disappeared during the next 40 days, leaving heaven and appearing on earth in His glorified body, so His ascension wasn’t the first time He had been in heaven since His death. It was merely a deed done publicly to strengthen the faith of His disciples and to clearly demonstrate that His ministry on earth would now be replaced by that of the Holy Spirit (John 14:26; 15:26; 16:7).

When Jesus told Mary not to cling to Him because He hadn’t yet ascended to the Father, He wasn’t implying that He hadn’t yet seen heaven. He was saying that there would be a time in heaven when Mary would once again be able to embrace Him. Now, however, she must not cling to Him, for His earthly work was done.

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Is it Possible that My Loved Ones are Suffering in Purgatory?

We believe that death brings the redeemed immediately into the presence of God (2 Cor. 5:6-8; Phil. 1:21-23).

The concept of purgatory conflicts with biblical teaching regarding the sufficiency of the work of Christ (Heb. 10:1-18). If Christ has made full atonement for our sins, there is no need for people to suffer in purgatory. The doctrine of purgatory makes our salvation depend to a large degree on our own good works rather than on the merits of Jesus Christ. It implies that we are to remain in a state of suffering until our works or the works of others are sufficient to allow us to pass on to heaven. In our perspective, this belief violates a basic truth of the gospel—the sufficiency of Christ’s atonement. Passages like 1 Corinthians 3:12-17 refer to the judgment seat of Christ and rewards, not to a continuing state of punishment and purification.

The word purgatory comes from the Latin purgare meaning “to cleanse.” According to Roman Catholic theology, purgatory is “the state or the abode of temporary punishment for those souls, who having died in the state of grace, are not entirely free from venial sins or have not yet fully paid the satisfaction due to their transgressions” (Catholic Encyclopedia Dictionary). The article acknowledges that the word itself is not expressly mentioned in Holy Scripture but implies that the Scripture “presupposes it, and refers to it clearly enough, for example, 2 Maccabees 12; Matthew 5 and 12; 1 Corinthians 3; Philippians 2; 1 Peter 3.”

Of the above references, the only one that truly supports the idea of purgatory is 2 Maccabees 12:39-45. But this is an apocryphal book, and the Apocrypha aren’t accepted as part of the biblical canon by either Jews or Protestants. In fact, even Catholics didn’t recognize the Apocrypha as fully canonical until the Council of Trent in 1546.


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How Can I Overcome the Feeling That I’m Damned?

To a person passing through the spiritual changes that the Bible describes as moving from death to life (John 5:24; Romans 6:13; Ephesians 5:14 ), awareness of the ugliness of one’s sin can be overwhelming. One of the reasons repentance is so difficult is the pain that comes from acknowledging sin.

Repentance involves spiritual battle. The names “Devil” and “Satan” mean accuser and adversary. When we move towards repentance and salvation, the enemy of our soul strives to transform our Holy Spirit-given consciousness of sin into despair. If he can make us so obsessed with our sin that we doubt the efficacy of Christ’s atonement and think that we must somehow atone for our sin ourselves, he will succeed.

People who are genuinely bound for hell either deny sin, explain it away, or rationalize it by comparing themselves to other people they consider worse. The first step in assuring one’s salvation from sin’s curse is acknowledging its power and influence. This step requires the humility to repent and see one’s helplessness. The next step also requires humility—a willingness to acknowledge that our sinful state is not unique. The Bible tells us that the whole human race is under the curse of sin. Everyone is too corrupt to earn salvation by his or her own efforts. We are no more or less lost than anyone else. As well as being a spiritual attack, obsessive focus on personal sin can also be an expression of a diabolically twisted pride that says, “I’m worse than other people. I’m too evil for God to redeem.” Of all sin, this pride is perhaps the most tragic.

Morbid, despairing thoughts come unbidden. If you choose to resist them in obedience to God’s Word, they will fade. But if you entertain them, their power will grow (James 4:7; 1 Peter 5:8-9).

Faith is trust in God’s love. If your parents were distant, arbitrary, or abusive, it may be difficult to view God as a loving Father. If you have been under the enemy’s power for many years, it may be difficult to believe God loves you. Spiritual and emotional growth is slow, and uphill. Trust involves carrying on without absolute emotional assurance or intellectual proof. YOU have to do it. No one else can do it for you (Ephesians 6:10-18).

Trust is willingness to live with unresolved issues, doubts, and frustrations and willingness to forego the demand that God eradicate all your problems and dispel all your fears.

Trust accepts the world as it is and moves forward. It sees the clouds as they shift and darken but is willing to wager1—on the basis of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ—that behind them is glorious hope of freedom and restored life.

  1. Pascal’s “wager” was the challenge issued by the brilliant 17th-century French mathematician/inventor/religious philosopher Blaise Pascal. A translation of the main part of his “wager” is below.

    “God is, or He is not.” But to which side shall we incline? Reason can decide nothing here. There is an infinite chaos which separated us. A game is being played at the extremity of this infinite distance where heads or tails will turn up . . . Which will you choose then? Let us see. Since you must choose, let us see which interests you least. You have two things to lose, the true and the good; and two things to stake, your reason and your will, your knowledge and your happiness; and your nature has two things to shun, error and misery. Your reason is no more shocked in choosing one rather than the other, since you must of necessity choose . . . But your happiness? Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is . . . If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is.

    The basic meaning of his “wager” still applies today: If we live a life of faith as though the Christian God exists, we will have a better life in this world and hope for redemption and eternal life following death. On the other hand, if we live as though the Christian God doesn’t exist, we will experience increasing torment and alienation in this life, and the possibility of retribution in the life to come. Back To Article

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Why Would a Loving God Make People Suffer in Hell?

The biblical doctrine of hell is often badly misunderstood. Certainly, if God arbitrarily and unjustly punished His creatures for eternity, He would be evil rather than good.

Luke 12:47-48 , however, shows that punishment will depend on a number of factors, including one’s knowledge of truth, one’s intent, and one’s rejection of the good news and “light” of Christ. Jesus denounced the cities in which most of His miracles were performed ( Matthew 11:20-24 ) and told them they would be judged more harshly in the day of judgment than Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom. Jesus displayed compassion toward sinners. Even when He was on the cross He said, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they do” ( Luke 23:34 ).

It is wrong to think of hell as a place where sinners will receive horribly disproportionate punishment for their sins. Certainly, there is an element of coercion. Justice and retribution are involved. But a person’s presence in hell is also the result of a long series of choices. As a person passes through life he either becomes more open to truth, love, and spiritual life or he willfully withdraws from the light that God has given him and begins a descent towards spiritual darkness and death.

Hell is necessary in a universe where genuine free will exists. C.S. Lewis has written a remarkable little book on the subject of hell called The Great Divorce. While we do not endorse all of Lewis’ imaginative descriptions of what hell might be like, the value of his work is in his explanation of the need for hell and eternal punishment. It can be purchased at most bookstores.

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How Could Normal People Deserve Eternal Punishment?

There are no “normal people.” Everyone deserves judgment. We are fallen creatures under a spiritual curse in a fallen world (Romans 8:18-23). Apart from God’s grace, hell is our natural state of being. Apart from God’s grace, this world would be a place of unmitigated horror and suffering.

In the natural world, a desperate struggle for survival defines existence. The strong survive by dominating or devouring the weak. Apart from God’s love, humans would never rise above the level of the law of fang and claw. An idealistic person might reject the natural order and try to establish a higher definition for good and evil than mere survival, but the weight of fallen reality would crush him. The meaninglessness of his efforts would be a vivid example of hell’s power.

Many people consider the ideas of heaven and hell too abstract to make a difference in their lives. They think it is hard to even conceive of hell and heaven, much less to be influenced by the fear of future punishment or desire for future reward. But before they dismiss the reality of heaven and hell, they should think a little more carefully. Heaven and hell are confirmed by daily experience.

Human experience affirms that virtue, honesty, and discipline are usually rewarded, while laziness, carelessness, and dishonesty bring trouble. Young children have a limited attention span with little capacity to be drawn to anything not of immediate interest. But when children become teens and adults, they are more aware of the future. The realities of life show them that the accomplishment of anything that matters requires faith, self-discipline, and work. An adult who lacks the imagination to be motivated by a vision of what he would like to do is likely to be stuck in a job he hates. Self-discipline in present time is necessary for future gains.

All human abilities, whether traits like intelligence and courage or skills like musical performance, carpentry, or golf, can be developed only through practice, and practice isn’t likely to occur without a vision of future reward. A person who behaves courageously and faithfully is rewarded with personal qualities of courage and faithfulness. Musical, athletic, mechanical, and other skills are rewarded to those who invest effort.

God created a world that rewards effort, faith, and self-discipline. But if God is concerned about the meaningfulness of life at the level of work and survival, is He less concerned about the meaningfulness of our lives in their entirety? Would He be likely to allow someone who has nothing but contempt for fellow human beings to escape the consequences of a long, vicious life? Wouldn’t He be concerned that the efforts of a person who has “by persistence in doing good sought glory, honor and immortality” be rewarded?

Jesus declared:

To everyone who has, more will be given, and he will have abundance; but from him who does not have, even what he has will be taken away. And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:29-30).

Nothing about the likelihood of future rewards and punishments is inconsistent with our daily experience. Even so, why do normal people deserve hell?

Normal people deserve hell because they are willing participants in the events of a fallen, cruel world.

No one consciously intends all of the evil that results from their actions. The evil that each of us contributes to the natural and spiritual worlds would horrify us if we were capable of or willing to see it. Because we are fallen, we overlook our own sins and focus on the injustices we’ve suffered. We devise a rationale to claim we are “righteous.” We willfully ignore evidence that would shatter cherished illusions about our own goodness, along with the goodness of our family, social class, ethnic group, church, and nation (Jeremiah 17:9).

The Old Testament prophets brought awareness of this self-deception to the people of Israel (Exodus 22:21-23; Psalm 12; Ecclesiastes 5:8-11; Isaiah 1:11-16; Jeremiah 7:4-11; Ezekiel 22:5-12; Amos 5:18-24). The New Testament describes the nature of the evil world system to which we all contribute (Luke 4:5-7; Ephesians 6:12).

We are much worse than we think we are. We have a remarkable determination to deceive ourselves into thinking that the web of social and economic relationships to which we belong is positive or benign. In spite of millions of horrific deaths, we assume our wars are just. We think that we have no responsibility for the violence in the Mideast or for the sweatshops and squalid living conditions of workers in the “developing” third world. This determination to deceive ourselves and cloak ourselves in righteousness and spiritual pride is evil. This aspect of our sin, in fact, is like the sin of the self-righteous Pharisees (Matthew 23:7-15).

But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire” (Matthew 3:7-11).

The willful blindness of the Pharisees to their sin made them incapable of seeking mercy from God or granting mercy to others. Blindness fueled complacency towards, and support of, evil.

Our Creator designed the universe as a cradle for self-awareness and freedom. If we use self-awareness and freedom for evil purposes, we will reap the consequences. We are free creatures in a finite world where the effects of our conscious sins are endlessly multiplied by the laws of cause and effect. If God ignored the consequences of our deliberate decisions, it would violate justice and our integrity.  We are all “war criminals,” worthy of the hell we have created.

Israel was our example. The prophets and the Messiah foretold the consequences of Israel’s determination to protect itself through worldly power rather than justice (Psalm 33:16; Isaiah 30:1-3; 31:1; Jeremiah 17:5; Matthew 5:39-47; Matthew 23:34-36; Matthew 26:51-52; Luke 21:20-24).

If we won’t acknowledge our sinfulness and the fact that we deserve punishment, we will rationalize our sins and harden our hearts against truth, grace, and spiritual rebirth. If we won’t repent, we choose to be hell’s citizens.

Hell is the natural destination for every normal person who sees no need for repentance and is unwilling to acknowledge his helplessness apart from God’s grace.

But repentance isn’t enough. No one is strong or pure enough to stand effectively against a fallen world order in the power of the evil one (Luke 4:5-6; John 12:31-32; Ephesians 2:1-2; Ephesians 6:12). Mere repentance can’t purify us or undo the evil we have done and continue to do.

How can we face the reality of such harsh facts?

How can we be delivered from hell?

Only by basing our righteousness on the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who alone can bear our sins and cure our spiritual disease.

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