Mortality - Judgement - Hell - Heaven

 

J.I. Packer

 


 

MORTALITY

CHRISTIANS NEED NOT FEAR DEATH
For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.
If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean
fruitful labour for me. Yet what shall I choose?
I do not know! I am torn between the two:
I desire to depart and be with Christ,
which is better by far; but it is more necessary
for you that I remain in the body.
PHILIPPIANS 1:21-24

 

J.I. Packer

 

We do not know how humans would have left this world had there been no Fall; some doubt whether they ever would have done so. But as it is, the separation of body and soul through bodily death, which is both sin's fruit and God's judgment (Gen. 2:17; 3:19,22; Rom. 5:12; 8:10;1 Cor. 15.21), is one of life's certainties. This separating of the soul (person) from the body is a sign and emblem of the spiritual separation from God that first brought about physical death (Gen. 2:17; 5:5) and that will be deepened after death for those who leave this world without Christ. Naturally, therefore, death appears as an enemy (1 Cor. 15:26) and a terror (Heb. 2:15).

For Christians the terror of physical death is abolished, though the unpleasantness of dying remains. Jesus, their risen Savior, has himself passed through a more traumatic death than any Christian will ever have to face, and he now lives to support his servants as they move out of this world to the place he has prepared for them in the next world (John 14:2-3). Christians should view their own forthcoming death as an appointment in Jesus' calendar; which he will faithfully keep. Paul could say, "For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.... I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far"(Phil. 1:21, 23), since "away from the body"will mean "at home with the Lord"(2 Cor. 5:8).

At death the souls of believers (i.e., the believers themselves, as ongoing persons) are made perfect in holiness and enter into the worshiping life of heaven (Heb. 12:2224). In other words, they are glorified. Some, not believing this, posit a purgatorial discipline after death that is really a further stage of sanctification, progressively purifying the heart and refining the character in preparation for the vision of God. But this belief is neither scriptural nor rational, for if at Christ's coming saints alive on earth will be perfected morally and spiritually in the moment of their bodily transformation (1 Cor. 15:51-54), it is only natural to suppose that the same is done for each believer in the moment of death, when the mortal body is left behind. Others posit unconsciousness (soul sleep) between death and resurrection, but Scripture speaks of conscious relationship, involvements, and enjoyments (Luke 16:22; 23:43; Phil. 1:23; 2 Cor. 5:8; Rev. 6:9-11; 14:13).

Death is decisive for destiny. After death there is no possibility of salvation for the lost (Luke 16:26)--from then on both the godly and the ungodly reap what they sowed in this life (Gal. 6:7-8).

Death is gain for believers (Phil. 1:21) because after death they are closer to Christ. But disembodiment, as such, is not gain; bodies are for expression and experience, and to be without a body is to be limited, indeed impoverished. This is why Paul wants to be "clothed"with his resurrection body (i.e., re-embodied) rather than be "unclothed"(i.e., disembodied, 2 Cor. 5:1-4). To be resurrected for the life of heaven is the true Christian hope. As life in the "intermediate"or "interim"state between death and resurrection is better than the life in this world that preceded it, so the life of resurrection will be better still. It will, in fact, be best. And this is what God has in store for all his children (2 Cor. 5:4-5; Phil. 3:20-21). Hallelujah!


Concise Theology. J.I. Packer.Tyndale House Pub., Inc. Wheaton, IL. 1993. Mortality. Pages 247-249.


JUDGMENT

GOD WILL JUDGE ALL MANKIND
Then he will say to those on his left,
"Depart from me, you who are cursed,
into the eternal fire prepared for the devil
and his angels."
MATTHEW 25:41

 

J.I. Packer

The certainty of final judgment forms the frame within which the New Testament message of saving grace is set. Paul in particular stresses this certainty, highlighting it to the sophisticated Athenians (Acts 17:30-31) and spelling it out in detail in the first section of Romans, the New Testament book that contains his fullest exposition of the gospel (Rom. 2:5-16). It is from "the coming wrath"on "the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed,"says Paul, that Jesus Christ saves us (1 Thess. 1:10; Rom. 2:5; cf. Rom. 5:9; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; John 3:36; Rev. 6:17; 19:15). Throughout Scripture, God's indignation, anger, and fury, which are often spoken of, are judicial; these words always point to the holy Creator actively judging sin, just as wrath does here. The message of coming judgment for all mankind, with Jesus Christ completing the work of his mediatorial kingdom by acting as judge on his Father's behalf, runs throughout the New Testament (Matt. 13:40-43; 25:4146;John 5:22-30; Acts 10:42; 2 Cor. 5:10; 2 Tim. 4:1; Heb.

9:27; 10:25-31; 12:23; 2 Pet. 3:7;Jude 6-7; Rev. 20:11-15). When Christ comes again and history is completed, all humans of all ages will be raised for judgment and will take their place before Christ's judgment seat. The event is unimaginable, no doubt, but human imagination is no measure of what a sovereign God can and will do.

At the judgment all will give account of themselves to God, and God through Christ "will give to each person according to what he has done"(Rom. 2:6; cf. Ps. 62:12; Mart. 16:27;2 Cor. 5:1 0; Rev. 22:12). The regenerate, who as servants of Christ have learned to love righteousness and desire the glory of a holy heaven, will be acknowledged, and on the basis of Christ's atonement and merit on their behalf they will be awarded that which they seek. The rest will receive a destiny commensurate with the godless way of life they have chosen, and that destiny will come to them on the basis of their own demerit (Rom. 2: 6-1 1). How much they knew of the will of God will be the standard by which their demerit is assessed (Matt. 11:20-24; Luke 11:42-48; Rom. 2:12).

The judgment will demonstrate, and so finally vindicate, the perfect justice of God. In a world of sinners, in which God has "let all nations go their own way"(Acts 14:16), it is no wonder that evil is rampant and that doubts arise as to whether God, if sovereign, can be just, or, if just, can be sovereign. But for God to judge justly is his glory, and the Last Judgment will be his final self-vindication against the suspicion that he has ceased to care about righteousness (Ps. 50:16-21; Rev. 6.10, 16.5-7, 19.15).

In the case of those who profess to be Christ's, review of their actual words and works (Matt. 12:36-37) will have the special point of uncovering the evidence that shows whether their profession is the fruit of an honest regenerate heart (Matt. 12:33-35) or merely the parrot-cry of a hypocritical religiosity (Matt. 7:21-23). Everything about everybody will be exposed on Judgment Day (1 Cor. 4:5), and each will receive from God according to what he or she really is. Those whose professed faith did not express itself in a new life-style, marked by hatred of sin and works of loving service to God and others, will be lost (Matt. 18:23-35; 25:34-46; James 2:14-26).

Fallen angels (demons) will be judged on the last day (Matt. 8:29; Jude 6), and the saints will be involved in the process (1 Cor. 6:3), though Scripture does not reveal their precise role.

Knowledge of future judgment is always a summons to present repentance. Only the penitent will be prepared for judgment when it comes.


Concise Theology. J.I. Packer.Tyndale House Pub., Inc. Wheaton, IL. 1993. Judgement Seat. Pages 258-260.


HELL

THE WICKED WILL BE BANISHED INTO ENDLESS MISERY
Then death and Hades were thrown into the
lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second
eath. If anyone's name was not found
written in the book of life, he was thrown
into the lake of fire.
REVELATION 20:14-15

J.I. Packer

 


The sentimental secularism of modern Western culture, with its exalted optimism about human nature, its shrunken idea of God, and its skepticism as to whether personal morality really matters -- in other words, its decay of conscience -- makes it hard for Christians to take the reality of hell seriously. The revelation of hell in Scripture assumes a depth of insight into divine holiness and human and demonic sinfulness that most of us do not have. However, the doctrine of hell appears in the New Testament as a Christian essential, and we are called to try to understand it as Jesus and his aposdes did.

The New Testament views hell (Gehenna, as Jesus calls it, the place of incineration, Matt. 5:22; 18:9) as the final abode of those consigned to eternal punishment at the Last Judginent (Matt. 25:41-46; Rev. 20:11-15). It is thought of as a place of fire and darkness jude 7,13), of weeping and grinding of teeth (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30), of destruction (2 Thess. 1:7-9; 2 Pet 3:7; 1 Thess. 5:3), and of torment (Rev. 20:10; Luke 16:23) -- in other words, of total distress and misery. If, as it seems, these terms are symbolic rather than literal (fire and darkness would be mutually exclusive in literal terms), we may he sure that the reality, which is beyond our imagining, exceeds the symbol in dreadfulness. New Testament teaching about hell is meant to appall us and strike us dumb with horror, assuring us that, as heaven will be better than we could dream, so hell will be worse than we can conceive. Such are the issues of eternity, which need now to be realistically faced.

The concept of hell is of a negative relationship to God, an experience not of his absence so much as of his presence in wrath and displeasure. The experience of God's anger as a consuming fire (Heb. 12:29), his righteous condemnation for defying him and clinging to the sins he loathes, and the deprivation of all that is valuable, pleasant, and worthwhile will be the shape of the experience of hell (Rom. 2:6, 8-9,12). The concept is formed by systematically negating every element in the experience of God's goodness as believers know it through grace and as all mankind knows it through kindly providences (Acts 14:16-17; Ps. 104:10-30; Rom. 2:4). The reality, as was said above, will be more terrible than the concept; no one can imagine how bad hell will be.

Scripture envisages hell as unending (Jude 13; Rev. 20:10). Speculations about a "second chance"after death, or personal annihilation of the ungodly at some stage, have no biblical warrant.

Scripture sees hell as self-chosen; those in hell will realize that they sentenced themselves to it by loving darkness rather than light, choosing not to have their Creator as their Lord, preferring self-indulgent sin to self-denying righteousness, and (if they encountered the gospel) rejecting Jesus rather than coming to him (John 3:18-21; Rom. 1: 18,24,26,28,32;2:8; 2Thess.2: 9-11). General revelation confronts all mankind with this issue, and from this standpoint hell appears as God's gesture of respect for human choice. All receive what they actually chose, either to be with God forever, worshiping him, or without God forever, worshiping themselves. Those who are in hell will know not only that for their doings they deserve it but also that in their hearts they chose it.

The purpose of Bible teaching about hell is to make us appreciate, thankfully embrace, and rationally prefer the grace of Christ that saves us from it (Matt. 5:29-30; 13:4850). It is really a mercy to mankind that God in Scripture is so explicit about hell. We cannot now say that we have not been warned.


Concise Theology. J.I. Packer.Tyndale House Pub., Inc. Wheaton, IL. 1993. Hell. Pages 261-263.


HEAVEN

GOD WILL WELCOME HIS PEOPLE INTO EVERLASTING JOY
Do not let your hearts be troubled. Trust in
God; trust also in me. In my Father's house
are many rooms; if it were not so, I would
have told you. I am going there to prepare a
place for you. And if I go and prep are a place
for you, I will come back and take you to be
with me that you also may be where I am.
JOHN 14:1-3

J.I. Packer

 


Heaven, which in both Hebrew and Greek is a word meaning "sky,"is the Bible term for God's home (Ps. 33:13 - 14; Matt. 6:9) where his throne is (Ps. 2:4); the place of his presence to which the glorified Christ has returned (Acts 1:11); where the church militant and triumphant now unites for worship (Heb. 12:22-25); and where one day Christ's people will be with their Savior forever (1ohn 17:5, 24; 1 Thess. 4:16-17). It is pictured as a place of rest (John 14:2), a city (Heb. 11:10), and a country (Heb. 11:16). At some future point, at the time of Christ's return for judgment, it will take the form of a reconstructed cosmos [world] (2 Pet. 3:13; Rev. 21:1).

To think of heaven as a place is more right than wrong, though the word could mislead. Heaven appears in Scripture as a spatial reality that touches and interpenetrates all created space. In Ephesians, Paul locates in heaven both the throne of Christ at the Father's right hand (Eph. 1:20) and the spiritual blessings and risen life in Christ of Christians (Eph. 1:3; 2:6). "The heavenly realms"in Eph. 1:3, 20; 2:6; 3:10; and 6:12 is a literary variant for "heaven."Paul alludes to an experience in the "third heaven"or "paradise"(2 Cor. 12:2, 4). No doubt the heaven of God's throne is to be distinguished from the heavenly realms occupied by hostile spiritual powers (Eph. 6:12). A resurrection body adapted to heaven's life awaits us (2 Cor. 5:1-8), and in that body we shall see the Father and the Son (Matt. 5:8; 1 John 3:2). But while we are in our present bodies, the realities of heaven are invisible and ordinarily imperceptible to us, and we know them only by faith (2 Cor. 4:18; 5:7). Yet the closeness to us of heaven and of its inhabitants, the Father, the Son, the Spirit, the holy angels, and the demonic spirits, must never be forgotten: for it is a matter of solid spiritual fact.

Scripture teaches us to form our notion of the life of heaven by (a) extrapolating from the less-than-perfect relationship that we now have with God the Father, the Son, and the Spirit, with other Christians, and with created things to the thought of a perfect relationship, free from all limitation, frustration, and failure; (b) eliminating from our idea of a life lived for God all forms of pain, evil, conflict, and distress, such as we experience here on earth; and (c) enriching our imaginings of that happy future by adding in every conception of excellence and God-given enjoyment that we know. The visions of heaven's life in Revelation 7:13-17 and 21:1-22:5 draw on all three of these ways of conceiving it.

According to Scripture, the constant joy of heaven's life for the redeemed will stem from (a) their vision of God in the face of Jesus Christ (Rev. 22:4); (b) their ongoing experience of Christ's love as he ministers to them (Re 7:17); (c) their fellowship with loved ones and the whole body of the redeemed; (d) the continued growth, maturing, learning, enrichment of abilities, and enlargement of powers that God has in store for them. The redeemed desire all these things, and without them their happiness could not be complete. But in heaven there will be no unfulfilled desires.

There will be different degrees of blessedness and reward in heaven. All will be blessed up to the limit of what they can receive, but capacities will vary just as they do in this world. As for rewards (an area in which present irresponsibility can bring permanent future loss: 1 Cor. 3:10-15), two points must be grasped. The first is that when God rewards our works he is crowning his own gifts, for it was only by grace that those works were done. The second is that essence of the reward in each case will be more of what the Christian desires most, namely, a deepening of his or her love-relationship with the Savior, which is the reality to which all the biblical imagery of honorific crowns and robes and feasts is pointing. The reward is parallel to the reward of courtship, which is the enriching of the love-relationship itself through marriage.

So the life of heavenly glory is a compound of seeing God in and through Christ and being loved by the Father and the Son, of rest (Rev. 14:13) and work (Rev. 7:15), of praise and worship (Rev. 7:9-10; 19:1-5), and of fellowship with the Lamb and the saints (Rev. 19:6-9).

Nor will it end (Rev. 22:5). Its eternity is part of its glory; endlessness, one might say, is the glory of glory. Hearts on earth say in the course of a joyful experience, "I don't want this ever to end."But it invariably does.

The hearts of those in heaven say,
"I want this to go on forever."
And it will. There can be no better news
than this.

 


Concise Theology. J.I. Packer.Tyndale House Pub., Inc. Wheaton, IL. 1993. Heaven. Pages 264-267.