The Eternal State

So we started this series with the authority of Scripture, and then looked at the Trinity – One God eternally existent in three persons, which is deep even for people who are theologians (or people who study God.

We have looked at Jesus’ divinity and humanity, and the last blog focused on the sinfulness of man, and the amazing grace of God Who has chosen to save us and make us new.

For believers, last week should have been encouraging, as we learned that our salvation is not dependent on us doing works, but the work that was already done by Jesus on the cross. We just need to believe. Saved by grace through faith in Jesus alone. We also saw that we have been freed from the bondage of sin.

Today we are going to look at eternity, and what the church would call the eternal state.

This topic is not necessarily the hardest to understand, but it is one that people tend to wrestle with most in real life. And in today’s universalistic pluralistic society, if we’re honest, we want to believe that everyone has the right to believe whatever they want, and do whatever feels right to them, and then everyone ends up in heaven in the end.

In fact, we have seen people and pastors walk away from their faith because of this topic.

Unfortunately for us, some of the teachings we find in scripture go against what we might personally hope for. I write this so that you know I don’t take this topic lightly.

Everyone who reads this may not fully agree with what is written, but if we believe in the authority of scripture, we need to wrestle with this, because scripture seems to be pretty clear on the topic.

Some of the challenges to a biblical view of eternity are questioning scripture, having a flawed view of humanity, or an incomplete view of God.

My last post looked at the sinfulness of mankind, and the need for Jesus die on the cross for our sins.

A flawed view of humanity is one that says that mankind is essentially good. This sounds great, but is it true?

There is a reason that they call the second year of a child’s life “ the terrible twos.” What parent teaches their child to do wrong? None! Kids learn this on their own. And it comes on strong typically in year 2. We teach them what is good and right, what is not good and wrong they pick up themselves — it comes naturally.

Listen to these verses again from last week from Romans:

“There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God...” Romans 3:22b-23 NIV
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:23 NIV
“Those who live according to the flesh have their minds set on what the flesh desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires. The mind governed by the flesh is death, but the mind governed by the Spirit is life and peace. The mind governed by the flesh is hostile to God; it does not submit to God's law, nor can it do so. Those who are in the realm of the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:5-8 NIV

So we all have sinned, and we all fall short. And until we believe in Jesus as our Lord and Savior, and are guided by the Holy Spirit, we will be both hostile to God and unable to please Him. In this state, because of our sin, the penalty is death.

But Jesus’ sacrifice paid the price.

If we jump to John 3:16-18, we see the atonement spelled out.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God's one and only Son.” John 3:16-18 NIV

God sent His Son, Whose death was an atonement for our sins, or to put it differently, His blood covers our sins. He washes us clean.

So He has done everything necessary for us to be in relationship with Him. Our sins can be covered if we so choose.

This is great news for those who believe and follow Jesus. But what about those who choose not to follow Him? The world today is trying to say that it doesn’t matter what you believe, in the end everyone will get to heaven.

Doesn’t this sound great? I mean, who wouldn’t like this view? But there are some problems…

If you ask about someone with a universalistic viewpoint about someone like Hitler, people might say that Hell is reserved for monsters such as Hitler. They would say that most people are inherently good, which we know is false. The good in humanity is found when the Holy Spirit lives in us.

This is what I meant by a flawed view of humanity. But I also mentioned an incomplete view of God. People want to think of God as just a loving, merciful and gracious Being who forgives us regardless of whether we ask Him to and is just waiting for us to ask Him for what we want so He can give us our desires, kind of like some cosmic genie.

God is absolutely loving, merciful, and gracious, but He is also righteous, just, and holy.

“And the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice.” Psalm 50:6 NIV
“Yet the Lord longs to be gracious to you; therefore he will rise up to show you compassion. For the Lord is a God of justice. Blessed are all who wait for him!” Isaiah 30:18 NIV
“Joshua said to the people, ‘You are not able to serve the Lord. He is a holy God; he is a jealous God. He will not forgive your rebellion and your sins. If you forsake the Lord and serve foreign gods, he will turn and bring disaster on you and make an end of you, after he has been good to you.’” Jos 24:19-20 NIV
“In the synagogue there was a man possessed by a demon, an impure spirit. He cried out at the top of his voice, ‘Go away! What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are---the Holy One of God!’” Luke 4:33-34 NIV

Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sins because God is righteous, holy, and just. Our sins are an offense to God and required justice.

The question shouldn’t be, “Why doesn’t everyone get to go to heaven?” but “Why does anyone get to go to heaven?”

So what does the Bible have to say about what happens after we die. There are many passages that I could have gone to, but I chose Luke 16:

“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.” Luke 16:19-23 NIV

There’s a rich man, we don’t even get to know his name. He lives in luxury. Ate extravagantly. Dressed to the 9’s. Had all he could desire. Some might even say he was blessed.

And then there was Lazarus. Lazarus was on the other end of the spectrum. He was a poor beggar, covered in sores, who spent time by the rich man’s gate. His desire was just to eat scraps from the rich man’s table. He didn’t get to eat them, he just longed for them.

Even the dogs licked his sores. As I looked into this, it wasn’t viewed as it might be today. Let me share with you a quick quote from New American Commentary on Luke by Robert H. Stein (p. 423-424):

“Even the dogs came and licked. The Greek indicates this was the culmination of Lazarus’s misery. In Jewish eyes dogs were not romanticized as ‘man’s best friend’ but were seen as impure, disgusting scavengers. Even the dogs tormented the poor man by licking his ulcerated sores. Luke wanted his readers to understand that the rich man’s continual neglect of Lazarus, who lay at his gate and was known by name (Luke 16:24), while he himself feasted sumptuously was the reason he went to hades.”

“So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.' But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'” Luke 16:24-26 NIV

Notice that the dead don’t just become worm food. Jesus is talking about the afterlife.

Things are so bad that the rich man is hoping for just a drop of water to give him a moment of relief from the agony he is in.

Not exactly the picture we get from AC/DC’s song Highway to Hell, Billy Joel’s Only the Good Die Young, or any other songs or videos that show hell as a place of perpetual fun and partying.

And this rich man wasn’t just anyone. He was someone who thought he was going to be saved because he was Jewish. Let’s look at John 8:39.

They say that they are children of Abraham. This is what the rich man considered himself. Is that enough? We see in scripture that it is not. This is also seen in the parable of the sheep and the goats in Matt. 25 (a passage of scripture that you don’t want to read before bedtime).

This is one of those passages where Jesus is saying, “Wake up! You’ve fallen asleep at the wheel and you’re going to crash!”

Let’s continue on:

“He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' 'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'” Luke 16:27-31 NIV

People can always come up with all sorts of reasons not to believe, even if the facts are staring them in the face.

One final quote from the New American Commentary on Luke by Robert H. Stein (p. 426):

“Let them listen to them. ‘Listen’ carries the sense of heed. Abraham’s reply was that the brothers already had the OT, which warned them of their need to repent (and which witnessed to Jesus). The OT also spoke of the need to be concerned for the poor.”

Just to see that Luke 16 and Matt 25 aren’t the only passages that refer to heaven and hell, let’s read Rev. 20:11-15:

“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15 NIV

We need to be careful now and point out that it is God who is the final judge… not pastors, elders, or church bodies. It is also not politicians who are the final judges. This is all God. And we also don’t know what some people cry out in the moments before they pass, and as I mentioned, we don’t earn our way into heaven through good works.

Rom. 10:9-10 states that “If you declare with your mouth that ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

The sinner on the cross beside Jesus knew he was a sinner, but he asked Jesus to remember him when He got to His kingdom. He had faith that Jesus was who He said He was, and Jesus responded that this criminal “today” would be joining Jesus in paradise, or heaven.

Some of us get the joy of the Holy Spirit and the hope for eternity throughout our lives. Some get it at the last moment. Only God knows. But this life should not be lived carelessly, as if it has no consequences. If we are going to declare that Jesus is Lord, we should think about what that means for us.

To remember that this life is short, feel free to read Psalm 103:8-18.

Forgiveness, compassion, removal of sins! This is great news. But we also see that our lives are so brief when we consider eternity. They are like blades of grass.

For those who don’t believe that Jesus is your Lord and Savior, hopefully this gives reason for you to stop waiting, or at least to dig in and figure out why we believe what we believe.

Know Jesus should have an effect on our desire to love everyone and share Jesus with those around us. Regardless of your view of eschatology (end times), all views agree on the ending.

Hopefully we see the scriptural foundation for heaven and hell. The questions we need to ask ourselves are, “Does it affect how we live? Does this affect how we love?” And if it doesn’t, we might want to ask ourselves why?

Lord, may we work on being people who don’t just love the Lord, but love people enough to share Jesus with them. Eternity hangs in the balance. In Jesus’ Name…

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