Church columnist: Bible Q&A — What Does the Bible Say About Heaven and Hell?
Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 8, 2016
I recently saw an article by Chuck McKnight titled, “3 Perspectives on Hell.” My immediate thought was that the Bible only has one perspective: God’s perspective on hell and that is the only one we should have.
The “three perspectives” presented in the article are: 1) eternal torment; 2) conditional immortality; and, 3) universal reconciliation. These three views have been around for a long time. One of them has been around as long as the Bible!
That, of course, is the biblical view as opposed to the false, man-made, views. Let me give a brief description of each and show which of the three is the one the Bible actually teaches.
The idea of “universal reconciliation” is basically the denial that there is a hell. According to this view, everyone will eventually be saved. Some variations on this idea have found their way into the such false doctrines as “purgatory,” reincarnation, and other forms of “redemption after death.”
Purgatory is the false teaching that if a person hasn’t done enough good deeds in this life to make it to heaven then they are held in purgatory until their living family members say enough prayers, pay enough money, do enough charity work, etc., to get them out of purgatory and into heaven. With reincarnation, Universalists say, because God’s desire is for all men to be saved (1 Timothy 2:4), we will continue to be reborn into this world until we have lived a life of salvation and can make it to heaven.
There are also various views of souls being saved after they have departed this world based on the idea that God’s grace will be extended even to those in hell and they too will be admitted into heaven. One passage of scripture can show all of these denials of hell and universal salvation to be false, man-made, corruptions of the truth.
In 2 Corinthians 5:10, the apostle Paul said, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.”
So, when our spirit departs our physical body in death (James 2:26), our spiritual condition will be fixed based on what we have done while living in this world. Our redemption will not be affected in any way by anything that happens after our death!
Jesus illustrates this when he describes the place where all departed souls will await the final judgment (Luke 16:19-31). He described a “great gulf fixed” between the place of the righteous and the place of condemned (Luke 16:26), with no passing from one state to the other. This “great gulf” clearly symbolizes the fixed spiritual condition of a person after they leave this life.
The view of “conditional immortality” basically says that not everyone will have immortality. Only the righteous will live on and the wicked will be annihilated, meaning they will simply cease to exist.
If the wicked will cease to exist, then there is no such thing as an everlasting hell. Hell, essentially, would refer to being annihilated from existence.
Again, such an idea does not even get close to what the Bible actually teaches. For example, in John 5:28-29, Jesus said, “the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
He said both righteous and wicked would be raised in the same hour and given two different judgments. If the wicked cease to exist in their condemnation, then what is the “resurrection of condemnation”? And, really, what kind of deterrent for wickedness would that be anyway?
If a person living a wicked and sinful lifestyle were told to repent of their wickedness or after they die they will cease to exist, why would they care? But, if the person learns that their lifestyle will cause them to live in eternal torment then that would be a motivation to repent!
Jesus described the “resurrection of condemnation” like this, “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,” and “cast into outer darkness” where “there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48; Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). That doesn’t sound like annihilation to me! That sounds like being “punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
The passages given above clearly discredit the two views of hell as a temporary condition from which all will eventually be saved – Universalism, and as a metaphorical reference to annihilation. They also establish which of the three views is the biblical choice.
The Bible clearly teaches that hell will be eternal torment for those who reject the saving grace of God, as made possible and revealed in His son– Christ Jesus. The only alternative to eternal torment is an everlasting inheritance “reserved in heaven” for those who receive Jesus by hearing His word (Romans 10:17) and believing what it teaches (Acts 8:12), repenting of a sinful lifestyle (Acts 17:30, 31), confessing faith in Christ (Romans 10:9, 10), and being baptized into Christ (Romans 6:3, 4).
Christ adds those so doing to His kingdom (Acts 2:47; Colossians 1:13), where we live according to His will looking forward to our inheritance as children of God (Colossians 1:23).