Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Eschatology: The Destiny of the Unsaved

There are things in life that can be difficult to reconcile. When it comes to matters of life and death we all want to believe that our loved ones are in a better place, the truth is not all of them are. Most of us have asked the question, “What happens when we die?” There are several opinions on that matter; they are generally those of eternal punishment, annihilationism, and universalism. For a Christian the proper view to be held is that of eternal punishment. When a person who does not profess belief in Jesus Christ dies, they will spend the rest of eternity in hell. The person who believes in the annihilationism point of view assumes that when everyone dies they will go to nothing; we pretty much fade to black. A movement that has become extremely popular here in America in the last quarter century is what is known as universalism, which holds to the belief that no matter what god you believe in, when you die you will go to heaven, and hell is an empty place.

If you have spent any time reading your Bible you have come across different terms for the afterlife and wondered what they mean, I know I have. When reading the Old Testament we come across the term Sheol when a person is referring to death. A common miss conception when we read that is to think of hell, Sheol is a general place where the good and the bad would go after death, before the coming of Christ. When it comes to the term Hades, Elwell says, “In the LXX, Hades (Gr. hadēs) is virtually synonymous with the Hebrew Sheol, the place name of the abode of the dead.”[1] Gehenna is a special term associated with the metaphorical hell fires but is also related to an actual valley near Jerusalem where Baal worship and child sacrifice were practiced. Elwell sums up all three terms this way, “Gehenna shares some common ground with Hades/Sheol; however the latter is more consistently the interim abode of both good and bad souls after death prior to judgment, while gehenna is the final and everlasting place of punishment for the wicked following the last judgment.”[2] Also when you look into it you will not find the term Gehenna but you will find the term hell twelve times in the New Testament.

My personal belief and understanding is you either go one of two places, as a believer in Jesus Christ we will enter into eternal life, and for those who do not believe in Him, suffer eternal punishment. In John 3:36 “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.” [3] We are told that it is better for us to lose our hand then to go to hell with both of them in Mark 9:43. In Luke 12:5 we are warned to fear God because he can not only kill but can cast us in to hell. In Matthew 25:46 he is again telling us that the righteous (those who believe in him) will have eternal life, while all others will go to eternal punishment.

There are many people who would want to say, “If God is love, then how can he send people to hell?” Or as Elwell points out, “Some passages are adduced, such as those that express God’s goodwill towards all (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9) the universal scope of the cross (2 Cor. 5:19; Col. 1:20; Titus 2:11; Heb 2:9; 1 Jn. 2:2), and the wide outreach of Christ’s atoning work (Jn. 12:32; Rom. 5:18; Eph. 1:10).”[4] Jesus told in John 14:6 he was the only way to the Father (the Father resides in heaven, so therefore the only way to heaven is through Jesus). While Jesus has died for the sins of the world, not all have accepted that forgiveness nor repented and begun to follow Christ.

Many people want to question God’s love; is it fair for him to send people to hell? Yes, He sent His only son to die for our sins. 2 Cor. 5:21 “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.”[5] Romans 9:10-29 speaks about how we cannot judge God by our own standards of fairness, because he is the only one who has the right to do as he wills. Even though I know some will go to hell, I do not know who they are, and it is our job according the great commission, to go into the entire world spreading the good news of Jesus Christ.

Elwell, Water A., ed. Evangelical Dictionary of Theology. (Grand Rapids,MI: BakerAcademic,2001)532.

[2] Ibid, 480

[3] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), Jn 3:36.

[4] Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary, 396

[5] The New International Version (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2011), 2 Co 5:21.

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