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HEAVEN AND HELL
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THE REALITY OF DEATH
Let me give you a fact that shouldn't surprise you. Unless Jesus Christ returns in our lifetime, we are all going to die.
You may be saying, "I know that, Tony. What's your point?" My point is that many people are trying to deny or dodge the truth of that simple fact, even though their eternal destiny is at stake. Our culture tries to camouflage death, dress it up, use soothing terms like "pass away" and "laid to rest" to talk about it. But the reality is that you and I are marching toward a date with death.
My purpose in this booklet is to bring us face-to-face with that reality, and to answer the question of what awaits us beyond the grave by examining what God's Word says about heaven and hell. Everybody has an opinion, from the atheist who says there's nothing beyond death to the universalist who says God is waiting with open arms to receive all of His creatures.
But anybody other than Jesus Christ who gives you an opinion about death, heaven, and hell is giving you an uninformed opinion. So don't let anybody who hasn't been there tell you about eternity, because you can't afford to get this one wrong. Let's set the stage for our discussion of heaven and hell with several important facts about the reality of death.
Death Is an Appointment
The first thing we need to know about death is that it is not a random event. The Bible says, "It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). Every person who has ever lived will die by appointment. People may be late for a lot of events on earth, but this is one appointment everyone will be on time for, because it has been set by God.
The story is told of a man who came face-to-face with death one day. The man was standing on a street corner in his city when a stranger walked by. The stranger looked at the man in surprise, but said nothing and kept on walking.
When the man learned that the stranger was Death, he became afraid and went to a wise friend for advice. "Death just walked by and looked surprised to see me. What should I do?"
The wise friend said, "If I were you, I'd flee to another city far away."
So the man got ready and that night fled to a faraway city. But as he was walking on the streets of that city the next day, he was horrified to run into Death. "I thought I left you behind in my home city yesterday," the terrified man said to Death.
Death replied, "That's why I was so surprised to see you there yesterday. I have an appointment to meet you here today." All of us have a God-ordained appointment with death we will most definitely meet when the time comes.
Death Is a Conjunction
The common idea of death as the end of human existence is not what the Bible means when it talks about death. In the Bible, death involves separation, never cessation.
Most people think we are in the land of the living on our way to the land of the dying. But actually, we are in the land of the dying on our way to the land of the living. That's why I say death is a conjunction, not a period. It is the bridge between this life and the life to come.
We'll see that later in a familiar passage from the Word of God, Jesus' teaching in Luke 16. In this story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said, "The poor man died and," then "the rich man also died and" (v. 22, italics added). Luke 16 could have been a very short chapter if Jesus had simply said, "These men died, period." That would have been the end of the story.
But the Bible knows nothing of a concept of death that means the person ceases to exist. Death is the separation of our temporary, material body from the eternal, immaterial part of our being, the spirit or soul. James 2:26 says, "The body without the spirit is dead," but the opposite is not true. Our souls were created to live forever.
The Bible says our bodies are dead without their immaterial part because the soul is what gives life to, or animates, the body. At his creation, Adam was just a shell made out of dust until God "breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and [Adam] became a living being" (Genesis 2:7).
Adam had no personhood or life until he received his soul. You are who you are because of your soul, not your body. Your ultimate value is not in your body, but in your soul because it is the part of you that will live forever. When you die life is not over because the only part of you that died is your body. Some people say that at death, the soul sleeps until it is resurrected. But that view does not have any support in Scripture.
Paul's preference was "to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:8). He told the Philippians, "I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better" (1:23). It doesn't sound like he expected to go into a deep sleep in an unconscious state until the resurrection!
The Bible is clear that at the moment of death, our souls pass immediately into conscious existence in eternity, either in heaven or in hell. A lot of people think there's some kind of second chance after death.
God's Word says nothing about an intermediate state of purgatory after death in which we have a second chance to get our act together, have our sins dealt with over a period of time, and finally make it to heaven.
Others want to believe that at death, every person encounters a wonderful, warm light and a welcoming, forgiving Being, ready to escort the deceased person to paradise. But that's not what the Word says either.
Since death means immediate passage into the next life, the fact is that when they bring your body to the church for your funeral, you won't be there. A funeral, a burial, and a gravestone may give the look of finality to a person's life, but that's only the way it appears from the standpoint of earth.
The world puts a period after death, but from God's standpoint death is only a pause so brief it's not even worth trying to measure. Paul says that at the resurrection our bodies shall be changed "in the twinkling of an eye" (1 Corinthians 15:52).
That's how fast you and I will be in eternity when we die. Death is a conjunction, followed by a destination.
Death Is Followed by a Destination
In Luke 16:19–31, Jesus gave us a detailed picture of what happens when we die by peeling back the corner of eternity and giving us a glimpse into heaven and hell.
We'll deal with this foundational passage later on, so all I want to point out here is that both Lazarus and the rich man ended up somewhere when they died. The difference was in their destinations—the difference between eternal joy in heaven for Lazarus and eternal suffering in hell for the rich man.
A dying man once gathered his four children around him. To each of the first three he simply said, "Good night." But then he turned to his fourth child and said, "Good-bye, Son."
The young man said, "Dad, you told the others good night. Why did you tell me good-bye?"
The dying man answered, "Because they are Christians, and I'll see them in the morning in heaven. But you have not come to Christ, and unless you do I'll never see you again."
Taking the Sting Out of Death
What will happen when you die? That depends on what you have done with Jesus.
If you know Him as Savior, you don't have to wake up in the middle of the night wondering what will happen to you when you die. Death won't sting you at all, because "the sting of death is sin" (1 Corinthians 15:56).
One day a little boy was riding in the car with his father when a bee flew in through the window and started buzzing around. The boy began to scream, "The bee is going to sting me!" But his father reached out and grabbed the bee. He held it in his hand for a few seconds, then released it.
The bee began to buzz around and the boy started to cry again. But his father said, "Son, you don't have to be afraid. All the bee can do now is make noise." Then Dad held out his hand, and there in the palm of his hand was the bee's stinger.
On the cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ took the stinger of sin, which is death. So all death can do now is make noise for those whose trust is in Jesus Christ.
Forever is too long to miss Christ. Eternity is a long time to suffer torment and the pain of regret. For Christians, this life is the only hell they will ever know. But for non-Christians, this life is the only heaven they will ever know.
Life is not a game. We can't afford to gamble on eternity. As we look first at what the Bible says about hell, and then about heaven, make sure you remove any doubt about where you will spend eternity.
WHAT IS HELL LIKE?
Thinking seriously and biblically about hell is not something most people do. But Christians need to understand what God has saved them from, and unbelievers need to be warned of the eternal judgment that awaits them unless they repent of their sins and turn to Christ for salvation.
I know it's not popular to talk about hell. It's not surprising that in one survey, 76 percent of the people polled believed in heaven, while only 6 percent believed in hell. But my goal is to be biblical, not popular.
A lot of people cope with the idea of hell by denying its reality. Some would argue that hell is a leftover superstition from the Dark Ages and that we are too enlightened in the twenty-first century to believe in such a medieval concept.
There are two other popular "coping mechanisms" that some people use to get around the Bible's clear teaching on hell. One is called annihilation, which teaches that unbelievers are not punished eternally after death, but are annihilated so that they simply cease to exist.
Another belief that avoids having to deal with hell is the teaching of universalism. There are different forms of this, but the basic idea is that because God is good and loving He wouldn't condemn anyone to a place of eternal torment. So in the end everybody will be saved, even non-Christians, because all roads eventually lead to God and to heaven.
This issue is so important that we must allow God to speak for Himself through His Word. We must subject our concepts of hell to God's revelation. So let's see what the Bible says about what hell is really like.
The Reality of Hell
The first fact we need to establish is the undeniable reality of hell. Let's start with a definition. Hell is the place of eternal exile where the ungodly will experience God's righteous retribution against sin forever. We are going to see that of all the suffering in hell, the worst is the fact that the lost are banished from God's presence forever.
Jesus believed hell was a real place, and He taught its reality throughout His ministry. While teaching on the judgment awaiting the Gentiles, Jesus called hell "eternal fire" and "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:41, 46).
These are just two of many verses in which the Bible clearly teaches the reality of hell as a place of punishment. Jesus said more about hell than He did about either heaven or love. So if the Lord's teaching on hell isn't trustworthy, if He was deceiving us on the reality of this place, how do we know we can trust Him when He tells us about heaven?
This is the problem with those who try to pull out of the Bible only the parts they like, while denying the less pleasant parts. We can see the impossibility of this when we read the full text of Matthew 25:46. Jesus said concerning the unrighteous Gentiles being judged, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
The word for "eternal" is the same in both instances, which means Jesus was teaching that hell is just as eternal, and as real, as heaven. Jesus also characterized hell as a place of never-ending punishment, a clear message that we can't skip, ignore, or water down.
Jesus also taught in the most stark terms that hell is a place to be avoided at all costs. He said in Matthew 18:8–9 it would be better for us to cut off a hand or a foot, or put out an eye, than to be condemned to hell.
Jesus wasn't teaching self-mutilation as a means of dealing with sin, because you can pluck out your eye and still be a lustful or envious person. He was telling us to do whatever it takes, no matter how radical, to rid our lives of sin, because sin can lead us into hell. It is better to lose some things in this life than to be lost for eternity in hell.
Another reason I know hell is real is that death is real. Death only exists because of sin. If there were no sin, there would be no death. The presence of physical death is a testimony to us of the unseen, eternal reality of what the Bible calls the "second death" (Revelation 20:14), or hell. Trying to deny hell is as futile as trying to deny death. Hell is a reality that won't go away just because people don't want to think about it.
The Residents of Hell
Who are the residents of hell?
Jesus made perhaps the most important statement in this regard when He said the unrighteous Gentile nations will hear this pronouncement of judgment: "Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
Hell was not created for human beings, but as a place of eternal punishment for Satan and the fallen angels who joined him in his rebellion against God in heaven. Satan made five "I will" statements in his attempt to usurp the throne of God (Isaiah 14:12–14).
But Satan and his angels, who became the demons, failed in their rebellion. So God prepared a place to eternally remind them of the consequences of spiritual rebellion.
Satan chose to set himself in opposition to God. The fundamental fact about hell is that going there is a choice, a decision. There will be no resident in hell, demonic or human, who did not opt for spiritual rebellion against God.
Although God did not create hell for people, those who make the same choice Satan made will suffer the same judgment. Just as we have to choose Christ and heaven, unrepentant sinners will go to hell by choice, not by chance.
I can hear someone saying, "I don't know anybody who would deliberately choose to go to hell." It's true that if you asked people point-blank, "Do you want to spend eternity in a lake of fire?" most would quickly say no.
But the decision isn't that simple. You see, hell is the built-in consequence of rejecting Christ. Human beings in their natural state are already alienated from God and under His wrath. They make their choice when they refuse to repent and receive Christ's forgiveness for sin. All a sinner has to do to choose hell is to say to Jesus Christ, "I don't want You."
Someone has said that hell is the answer to the sinner's prayer. Jesus taught us to pray to God, "Thy will be done." But a rebellious sinner says to God, "My will be done." And God grants that person's request.
The problem is that a lot of the same people who say they don't want to spend eternity in hell would deny that they are wicked, rebellious sinners in need of God's forgiveness. Many people think they are on God's side, when all they really want is to ignore God, enjoy the goodies He provides, and then slide into a corner of heaven at the end.
But God doesn't play that game. Anyone who chooses to reject Him forfeits His benefits and incurs His wrath. If you don't want God, you don't get His heaven.
The existence of hell may be hard for some people to understand, but hell confirms the fact that we are uniquely significant to God.
Humans are the only creation made in God's image. That's why we have the capacity to make eternally significant choices. Plants and animals don't have this capacity because they don't bear God's image and, therefore, they aren't eternal creatures.
So the existence of hell is a testimony of our importance before God and the importance of our choices. In fact, even though unbelievers don't like to think of hell in terms of their own accountability to God, they usually don't have any problem agreeing that some people should pay for their sins.
Think of the tyrants and dictators of history who have caused the deaths of millions of people. Think of mass murderers, child molesters, rapists, and others who have taken evil to its very depths. When a criminal commits an especially heinous crime and comes up for trial, it's common to hear people say things like, "If there isn't a hell, there ought to be for a person like this."
It's interesting that even non-Christians agree certain people's sins are so bad they deserve to suffer forever for what they did. Human justice is relative, but God's justice is absolute, and He takes our choices very seriously because people are very important in His sight.
Excerpted from Speaks Out on Heaven and Hell by Anthony T. Evans. Copyright © 2000 Anthony T. Evans. Excerpted by permission of Moody Publishers.
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