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Twelve truths about heaven

This is the ninth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen realm.

In the previous column we saw how Scripture describes heaven as the intermediate state between death and resurrection for followers of Jesus as they await future resurrection and glorification. Now, we look in more detail at heaven as well as the new heavens and new earth.

What about heaven?

The New Testament reveals many truths about this intermediate state for followers of Jesus. Here are 12:

(1) The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit reside in heaven, yet they have immediate access to earth (Matt. 3:16-17).

(2) God’s will is done completely in heaven – and one day will be done on earth (Matt. 6:9-10).

(3) Angels surround the throne in heaven (Matt. 18:10), as do majestic heavenly creatures and redeemed people (Revelation 4-5).

(4) The heavenly throne is the heart of God’s authority and majesty (Mark 16:19).

(5) Heaven is the place from which Satan fell and has no future part (Luke 10:18; Rev. 20:10).

(6) Heaven is where believers’ names are written down, providing assurance of everlasting life (Luke 10:20; Heb. 12:23).

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Is heaven our final home?

This is the eighth in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.

Is heaven the final destination of all who rest in Jesus? Or do we spend eternity someplace else?

In 2 Corinthians 5, the apostle Paul describes two different and mutually exclusive states of existence for the Christian. While we are on earth, “at home in the body,” we are “away from the Lord.” And when we are “out of the body” we are “at home with the Lord” (5:6, 8).

The New Testament teaches that upon death, believers’ souls/spirits separate from our lifeless bodies and enter the presence of God in heaven (see also Phil. 1:21-24). There, we enjoy intimate fellowship with our Lord while awaiting the future resurrection and glorification of our bodies (John 5:28-29; 1 Cor. 15:51-58; 1 Thess. 4:13-18).

Glimpses of heaven’s throne room

We see magnificent glimpses into the throne room of heaven through the visionary eyes of the apostle John in the Book of Revelation: the triune Godhead; an emerald-colored rainbow surrounding a glorious throne; living creatures; elders; angels; and redeemed people from every tribe, language, people, and nation.

The combined voices of all creatures in heaven, on earth, under the earth, and in the sea proclaim, “Blessing and honor and glory and dominion to the One seated on the throne, and to the Lamb, forever and ever!” (Rev. 5:13).

We may be tempted to stop here, as if heaven is the final destination in life’s long journey. It is breathtaking. But it gets better.

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Heaven can’t wait; more on purgatory

Save us from the fire

This is the seventh in a series of articles on biblical terms that describe the afterlife and the unseen world.

In the last column we defined the Roman Catholic doctrine of purgatory and argued that this long-held teaching finds no support in Scripture.

Perhaps the strongest argument against the doctrine of purgatory is that it undermines the sufficiency of Christ. Just before His death on the cross, Jesus declares triumphantly, “It is finished!” (John 19:30). Among other things, this means the work of redemption is complete and that no more sacrifice for sins is required.

The wrath of God has been satisfied as the One who knew no sin became sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Christ (2 Cor. 5:21).

The writer of Hebrews echoes this truth: “After making purification for sins, He [Jesus] sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high” (1:3b). Further, “For by one offering He has perfected forever those who are sanctified” (10:14).

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Does the Bible teach purgatory?

Save us from the fire

This is the sixth in a series of excerpts from “What Everyone Should Know About the Afterlife,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

Do some Christians undergo purification from the stain of sin between death and entrance into heaven? Many who answer yes to that question embrace the doctrine of purgatory, which became official Roman Catholic dogma in A.D. 1438.

Simply stated, purgatory is a place or state of suffering where the dead bound for heaven achieve the holiness necessary to enter into the presence of God.

It should be noted, according to Catholic teaching, that some saints go directly to heaven upon death, needing no purification, while those who die in the state of unrepented mortal sin find themselves at once, and eternally, in hell. All those in purgatory ultimately make it to heaven.

Preparation for heaven

As the Catechism of the Catholic Church explains, “All who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.”

The Pocket Catholic Dictionary puts it this way: “The souls of those who have died in the state of grace suffer for a time in purging that prepares them to enter heaven. The purpose of purgatory is to cleanse one of imperfections, venial sins, and faults, and to remit or do away with the temporal punishment due to mortal sins that have been forgiven in the Sacrament of Penance. It is an intermediate state in which the departed souls can atone for unforgiven sins before receiving their final reward.”

The amount of time one spends in purgatory depends on the degree of purging needed. Some proponents of purgatory, however, argue that because the afterlife is experienced outside the element of time, purgatory should be seen as a state or dimension rather than as a place.

Indeed, Catholic theologians speak of the great diversity of purgatorial suffering in both its intensity and duration.

Even so, the question for evangelical Christians is: Does the Bible support the doctrine of purgatory?

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A look into Tartarus

This is the fifth in a series of excerpts from “What Everyone Should Know About the Afterlife,” available through Amazon and other booksellers.

If Sheol or Hades is the temporary abode of deceased people, is there a transitory place of punishment for some demons?

It seems the answer is yes, in a place the New Testament refers to as Tartarus.

Tartarus is mentioned only once, in 2 Peter 2:4. Many translations render it “hell,” including the King James Version and the New American Standard Bible, while others, like the English Standard Version and the New International Version, provide footnotes linking the English word “hell” to the Greek name Tartarus.

The Holman Christian Standard Bible simply transliterates the Greek word in this passage, which reads: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but threw them down into Tartarus and delivered them to be kept in chains of darkness until judgment …”

A footnote in the HCSB reads: “Tartarus is a Greek name for a subterranean place of divine punishment lower than Hades.”

In the apocryphal Book of 1 Enoch (20:2), Tartarus is used as a place where fallen angels are punished, an interpretation Peter affirms.

So, Tartarus seems to be a place separate from Sheol, the Hebrew term for the abode of the dead; Hades, roughly the Greek equivalent of Sheol; and Gehenna, the lake of fire created for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41) where wicked people also spend eternity (Rev. 20:15).

Ancient Greeks regarded Tartarus as a place where rebellious gods and other wicked ones are punished. Peter refers to Tartarus as the abode of certain fallen angels.

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