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).
Rev. 20:15 – And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire. (HCSB)
Anyone not found
John concludes this section with the words, “And anyone not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (v. 15).
As the wicked pass through the gates of hell in Dante’s epic poem Inferno, they are greeted with these words: “Abandon hope, all you who enter here.” These words remind the damned that once inside, there is no escape from the fiery torments they have brought upon themselves.
As Charles Swindoll writes, “Though the details of Dante’s fictional picture of heaven, hell, and purgatory range from the fantastic to the heretical, he was right about this: the final destination of the wicked features a one-way entrance. All hope vanishes beyond; there will be no escape from the lake of fire…. The facts of eternal punishment are set forth without a hint of hope … because no hope exists apart from God” (Insights on Revelation, pp. 266-67).
Books are opened at the great white throne, and the wicked find their names there, along with details of their lives – perhaps even a full accounting of their deeds. Some may wish to be excluded from God’s record of their thoughts, words, and actions, for their lives are laden with every sort of evil. They stand before their Creator – who has revealed Himself in creation, conscience, Christ and Canon – with no excuse (Rom. 1:20). They have turned up their noses at God’s revealed love and turned their backs on His grace. And now they are reminded of every idle word, every selfish deed, every squandered opportunity as the evidence written in the books piles so high and wide it becomes like prison walls that cannot be scaled.
This is the first in a series of articles about the afterlife and the unseen realm.
Three-year-old Colton Burpo had a near-death experience (NDE) while on the operating table. When it was over, he described his “three minutes in heaven” in vivid detail, including encounters with Samson, John the Baptist, and Jesus, who had sea-blue eyes and owned a rainbow-colored horse.
Colton’s father, a Wesleyan pastor, believes the lad’s experience was real because he shared it with “the simple conviction of an eyewitness.”
You may read Colton’s story in Heaven is for Real: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back, which ruled the best-seller list for 44 weeks. Millions of people have devoured the book, watched the youngster’s appearances on TV shows, and viewed the major motion picture based on his story.
Less popular but equally intriguing are books about NDEs in which people “die” for brief periods and experience the horrors of hell. To Hell and Back by cardiologist Maurice Rollins, for example, tells us that hellish NDEs have to be recorded and verified immediately after the person “returns” or the horrifying memories are repressed.
In any case, stories like Colton’s appeal to our desire to know more about the afterlife.
Rev. 15:5 – After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary – the tabernacle of testimony – was opened. 6 Out of the sanctuary came the seven angels with the seven plagues, dressed in clean, bright linen, with gold sashes wrapped around their chests.
The heavenly sanctuary was opened
In verse 5 John writes, “After this I looked, and the heavenly sanctuary – the tabernacle of testimony – was opened.” We last read about the heavenly sanctuary in Rev. 11:19 in connection with the sounding of the last trumpet. The previous uses of the word “tabernacle” – in Greek, skeyney – are revealing. In Rev. 7:15, the One seated on the throne will “shelter” the ones coming out of the great tribulation; that is, He will tabernacle (skeyney) with them – pitch His tent with them and spread His tent over them, providing His presence as comfort and security. In Rev. 13:6, the beast from the sea begins to blaspheme God’s name and His “dwelling – those who dwell in heaven.” Again, the word is skeyney, and here it refers to believers around the throne in heaven.
What a marvelous picture of God’s grace. He pitches His tent with us, and in redemption we are His temple. John writes of Jesus, “The Word became flesh and took up residence among us” (John 1:14). Literally, Jesus “tabernacled” with us, a reference not only to His incarnation but also to His presence in the ancient tabernacle and at the joyous Feast of Tabernacles (see Ex. 40:34-38; John 7:2). But equally amazing, He makes believers His dwelling place, abiding in us by way of the Holy Spirit (see John 14:16-18). The apostle Paul exhorts us to be ever mindful of our role as God’s sanctuary: “Don’t you yourselves know that you are God’s sanctuary and that the Spirit of God lives in you? If anyone destroys God’s sanctuary, God will destroy him; for God’s sanctuary is holy, and that is what you are” (1 Cor. 3:16-17).
Rev. 15:3 – They sang the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb: Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations. 4 Lord, who will not fear and glorify Your name? Because You alone are holy, for all the nations will come and worship before You because Your righteous acts have been revealed. (HCSB)
They sang the song
Those who have won the victory over the beast, his image, and the number of his name now sing the song of God’s servant Moses and the song of the Lamb (vv. 3-4). It appears these are two songs with a common theme. They show the unity of the Old Covenant and the New Covenant in redemption. The song of Moses alludes to Ex. 15:1-19, where Moses thanks God for deliverance from the Egyptians at the Red Sea. However, it’s possible that John has Deuteronomy 32 in mind because the first phrase – “Great and awe-inspiring are Your works, Lord God, the Almighty; righteous and true are Your ways, King of the Nations” – may be drawn from Deut. 32:3-4.
The song of the Lamb may be what John hears in Rev. 5:9:
You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals;
because You were slaughtered,
and You redeemed [people] for God by Your blood
from every tribe and language and people and nation.
You made them a kingdom and priests to our God,
and they will reign on the earth.