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).
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).
In Jude 20-23, the writer addresses three groups of people: doubters, deceived, and departed. The text reads:
But you, dear friends, building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in the love of God, expecting the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ for eternal life. Have mercy on some who doubt; save others by snatching them from the fire; on others have mercy in fear, hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.
The first group of people Jude addresses consists of those who doubt. That is, they are not able to discern between true doctrine and false doctrine. These may be the same folks Peter describes as “unstable people” that prove to be easy marks for false teachers (2 Peter 2:14). Likely, the doubters are immature believers who are not well-grounded in the faith, although Jude also could be describing unbelievers who are being drawn to Christ, but who must contend with the obstacles of false doctrine. Jude hints that false teachers also prey on disgruntled church members because the false teachers themselves are “discontented grumblers” (v. 16).
False teachers are clever. Often attractive, articulate, and persuasive, they profess to speak for God – even using Scripture and biblical terms – yet they deny the central beliefs of historical Christianity. How can someone seeking the truth, whether an unbeliever or an immature Christian, tell the difference between true doctrine and false doctrine? This is the front line of battle where Jude has challenged us to be, contending for the faith that was delivered to the saints once for all (v. 3).
Apologetics simply is a reasonable defense of the Christian faith. The word is derived from the Greek noun apologia and means “a defense.” Apologia and its verb form apologeomai are used nearly 20 times in the New Testament, often in the classic legal sense, but more importantly to describe the call of God to all believers to defend the Christian faith with gentleness and respect (1 Peter 3:15-16).
But how is sound doctrine applied practically? Put another way, what good is Christian apologetics?
Apologetics has at least four practical applications.
In the epistle of Jude, the author describes certain false teachers as “merely natural, not having the Spirit” (v. 19). He seems to be stating plainly that these professing Christians are unbelievers. How can he make such a judgment?
Doesn’t Jesus say, “Do not judge, so that you won’t be judged” (Matt. 7:1)? Isn’t God the only one who may rightly search the hearts of people (Jer. 17:10)?
How can Jude possibly know that these interlopers are lost? Isn’t it possible they are merely deceived, or backslidden?
First, we should note that Jude describes these particular false teachers as “natural.” Literally, this means “animal-souled” and stands in contrast with “spiritual,” or “having the Spirit.” The apostle Paul describes the unbeliever as a “natural man” who “does not welcome what comes from God’s Spirit, because it is foolishness to him; he is not able to know it since it is evaluated spiritually” (1 Cor. 2:14).
Clearly, Jude and Paul are depicting people outside the kingdom of God. Jude’s use of the term psuchikos – soulish, sensual, animal-souled – describes them in sensual rather than spiritual terms.
As John MacArthur puts it, “His [Jude’s] materialistic description exposed them for who they really were – religious terrorists who lacked such internal qualities as a proper self-perception, the ability to reason, and a true knowledge of God. Even though the false teachers claimed a transcendental understanding of God, they did not know Him at all.”