Chapter 22 -- Eschatology
Eschatology is the study of the last things. The end times are what transpire after death. After death comes the particular judgement. Those who already are in a state of perfection go directly to Heaven. Those who have unrepented mortal sin on their souls, or unresolved original sin, go directly to Hell. The rest of us go to Purgatory to receive whatever grace is required to attain a state of perfection, whereupon we enter Heaven. At a time uncertain, Jesus will come again to initiate the end of the world as we know it. After Jesus' second coming will be the resurrection of the bodies, the general judgement and eternity in either Heaven or Hell-Purgatory will exist no more. Let's look at each of these in turn.
Of course, Adam disobeyed God, whereupon God said
That sealed our fate. From that moment on, death was man's one earthly assurance. (Taxes came much later.) But, as Paul reminds us, just as Adam's sin brought death, Jesus' resurrection brought life. See Rom 5:18.
In a theological sense, death is the separation of body and soul. It is the end of our period of testing--the moment of determination of how we will spend eternity. Jesus tells us we know not when that will happen, and we must always be prepared. (John 9:4, Luke 12:40, 16:19 et seq) And, in case there are suspicions of former lives, reincarnation and the like, consider the following:
All human beings die once, and then receive their judgement.
There is no verse in Scripture that definitively establishes the particular judgement. Like many doctrines and dogmas, it may be inferred from verses focusing on other truths. We know that Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead, which we call the general judgement, but we also know some judgement takes place immediately on death, which we call the particular judgement.
Jesus promised the penitent thief on the cross that he would be with Him that very day. Now it is supposed there is no time reference in Heaven, so we aren't sure what Jesus meant when He said "today", but considering He rose again from the dead on the third day, one can surmise the penitent thief was already in Heaven by then. This infers he was already judged. We call this the particular judgement.
We notice several things from this passage. First, Lazarus went straight to Heaven. He did not have to await the general judgement. Likewise, the rich man went straight to the netherworld. Second, this entire parable is spoken in the past tense. It is as if it already happened, even before Jesus' second coming. Third, the rich man speaks of his brothers as if they are not yet dead, and they are still roaming the earth. Still, Lazarus and the rich man have already received a judgement of some kind. We call this the particular judgement.
The particular (as well as the general) judgement is based on the state of the soul at the time of death.
Scripture describes Heaven in many ways. It is described as eternal life (Matt 28:46), eternal glory (1 Pet 5:10), crown of righteousness (2 Tim 4:8) and paradise (Luke 23:43). We are told you can store up treasures in Heaven (Matt 6:20) and receive great rewards in Heaven (Luke 6:23). The saints in Heaven are heirs with God and heirs with Christ (Rom 8:17) and will see the beatific vision (1 Cor 13:9-12, Rev 22:4). God will dwell with them (Rev 21:3) with Jesus at His right hand (Mark 16:19). They will be like angels (Matt 22:30), illuminated by God's presence (Rev 22:5), with incorruptible bodies (Rev 21:4). In Heaven, "the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father" (Matt 13:43). They will experience "glory, honor and peace" (Rom 2:10).
It sounds like a nice place. I want to go there.
This is Jesus speaking. So, marriage is for earthly existence only. I still want to go there. And we also note that saints no longer die for they are like angels.
The Book of Revelation has lengthy, albeit cryptic descriptions of Heaven. Without trying to completely understand all that is written, just get a feel for the glory and splendor of Heaven as revealed to John:
Then one of the elders spoke up and said to me, "Who are these wearing white robes, and where did they come from?" I said to him, "My lord, you are the one who knows." He said to me, "These are the ones who have survived the time of great distress; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. "For this reason they stand before God's throne and worship him day and night in his temple. The one who sits on the throne will shelter them. They will not hunger or thirst anymore, nor will the sun or any heat strike them. For the Lamb who is in the center of the throne will shepherd them and lead them to springs of life-giving water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes."
John describes the concept of what it will be like for us in Heaven:
as does Paul:
Scripture describes Hell in many ways also. It is the abyss (Luke 8:31; Rev 9:1-2,11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1,3), Tartarus (2 Pet 2:4), Babylon (Rev 18; 19:1-3) and Gehenna (Matt 5:22, 29; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33). It is eternal fire (Matt 18:8, 25:41; Jude 7; Mark 9:42-47; Luke 3:17), a fiery furnace (Matt 13:42, 50), a pool of fire (and sulfur) (Rev 14:9-14; 19:20; 20:10, 14; 21:8). It is spiritual death (Rom 2:12, 6:21; 8:6; 8:13; 2 Cor 2:14-16; Rev 2:11; 20:6; 21:8; Jn 3:16; 10:27), eternal ruin (2 Thess 1:9; 1 Tim 6:9), darkness (Matt 8:12; 22:11-13; 25:30; 2 Pet 2:17; Jude 13), destruction (Matt 7:13; Phil 1:28; 2 Pet 3:7), damnation (Mk 16:16; Jn 12:25), corruption (Gal 6:8), and eternal punishment (Mt 25:46).
Tartarus were the infernal regions according to Greek mythology.
Gehenna in Hebrew means "Valley of Ben-Hinnom." In a dark period in Israel's past, the rulers slipped into idolatry of the worst sort. Among other things, children were burned as sacrifices to Molech in the Valley of Ben-Hinnom, which was just outside of Jerusalem. It was a place of perpetual stench, burning and defilement. (see 2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:31). When Jesus speaks of Hell, He compares it to Gehenna.
Hell is not a nice place. I don't want to go there. Let's visit some specific verses of Scripture on the subject of Hell.
In the dialog of the Son of Man coming to judge, and placing the sheep on His right and the goats on His left, we pick it up where He begins to address the goats:
Jesus is stating these words. He describes Hell as the "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" and "eternal punishment". He doesn't appear to speaking metaphorically about the nature of Hell.
It appears Gehenna, the unquenchable fire, is worse than a lot of morbid things, such as maiming your body. Jesus is recommending hand, foot and eye removal as shock value to emphasize the point, but regardless, the point is made. As unthinkable as it would be to pluck out your eye, it is worse to enter Hell.
Jesus explains the parable of the sower of seeds to his disciples:
Hell is a fiery furnace where there will be wailing and grinding of teeth.
Conventional theology has Hell reserved for those who die in a state of dis-grace--those with unrepentant mortal sins on their souls or the stain of original sin. There is a new-age logic existing in the world today that suggests if God is all-good, He not only would not, but could not condemn anyone or anything to an eternity of torment. After all, God is merciful. Whatever mistakes we make while alive on Earth, however decrepit and heneous, are mistakes made by ignorant human beings. Surely God can find room for forgiveness? Perhaps after they learned their lessons, He could condemn the wicked to an eternity of second-class status or something equally just, but eternal damnation? Doesn't that seem a bit extreme? And what about those who were in essence good people, but didn't know all the rules about Jesus and baptism and everything else Christian because they lived in the wrong place or time? Surely they won't be eternally damned?
Consider the words of Peter as he is warning the people about false teachers. He explains:
Peter says, the Word of God says, the Lord knows how to keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment, especially those who show contempt for His lordship. There doesn't appear to be a reprieve for those who later wish to repent on the day of judgment.
Paul says, the Word of God says it is just on God's part inflicting the penalty of eternal ruin, separated from the presence of the Lord.
The wrath of God remains on whoever disobeys the Son. It doesn't appear, then disappear; it doesn't linger then disappear, it remains.
Jesus tells us those who have done wicked deeds will be condemned, and it is the will of God.
I devote an entire chapter on Purgatory (in fact it is the next chapter) since it is a topic of great division between Catholics and Protestants. Without getting into great detail, for the purposes of introducing the concept of Purgatory in this chapter, I will discuss it briefly.
Heaven is for the righteous, Hell is for the unrighteous. Purgatory is for the not-yet-righteous. It is a place or state of existence where one is purged of the temporal effects of sin. There are always consequences to sin, and even though our sins are forgiven, we must purify ourselves of those consequences before we attain perfection. Those who enter Purgatory are assured Heaven at some point.
Parousia - the Second Coming
The Rapture, the second coming of Jesus, and other portions of End Times theology are, like Purgatory, a source of division in the Body of Christ. Like Purgatory, I address it in detail in another chapter.
Catholics see the Parousia at the moment of consecration when the bread and wine become the Body and the Blood of our Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus arrives everyday in the flesh. But, Jesus will come again to judge the living and the dead.
Resurrection of the Body
After the second coming of Jesus and before the general judgment, we will all raise from the dead and receive our immortal bodies. It won't be like Lazarus, who was raised from the dead, and they unwrapped his burial cloths to reveal a dead body brought back to life. We will receive bodies that are superior in many ways to the ones we now enjoy.
In Jesus' day, the Sadducees were a powerful priestly sect of Judiasm who did not believe in the resurrection. They also honored only the Pentatuch (the first five books of the Bible, written by Moses), not the rest of Scripture as Jesus did. In an attempt to prove their point, they took a story from Scripture, Tobit 3:8, about a widow who married seven brothers, but each, in turn, was killed by the evil demon Asmodeus before she had intercourse with them. The Sadduccees thought they could prove there is no resurrection and that Tobit was not Scripture by posing a question to Jesus. Much as modern apologists quote only from the scripture accepted by Protestants, in order to better prove their points, so Jesus answers quoting from the Pentatuch, so they cannot claim it was not the Word of God.
Jesus said to them in reply, "You are misled because you do not know the scriptures or the power of God. At the resurrection they neither marry nor are given in marriage but are like the angels in heaven. And concerning the resurrection of the dead, have you not read what was said to you by God, 'I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob'? He is not the God of the dead but of the living."
As regards the resurrection of the body, we learn from the passage above that there is a resurrection, and after the resurrection, we are alive with God. We might also infer we are like angels in heaven.
Note, Tobit is one of the books of the Bible disputed by Protestants. Since it was written after the Babylonian exile, it is among the books discarded by the Jews at the council at Javneh in 90 A.D. Here, we see Jesus admonishing the Sadduccees for not knowing Tobit was a part of Scripture.
Jesus repeats three times here that we will be raised on the last day. There is little dispute that there will be a resurrection of the body.
We don't know for certain what our bodies will be like when resurrected. We know Jesus was human, and when He was resurrected, his body could appear and disappear at will, pass through walls, and look different so that His followers didn't even recognize Him.
Paul tells us what little we know about our resurrected bodies:
What you sow is not what is to be. In other words, the way your body looks at death is not the way it will be in life after death. Heavenly bodies are brighter, incorruptible, glorious, powerful and spiritual.
As we saw earlier, there is the particular judgment immediately after death, and the general judgment had by all at the end of time.
These verses describe the general judgment, when we are sent to our eternal reward.
We see that there is a Heaven, a place of eternal bliss. As much as we may wish otherwise, there is a Hell, a place of eternal torment. Purgatory is that temporary state where the not-yet righteous await purification so they can enter Heaven.
Upon death, there is a Particular Judgement, and after Jesus comes again, we are resurrected from the dead, given immortal bodies, and then there is the General Judgement sentencing us to our eternal abode.
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