What awaits on the other side? What do we know about the hereafter? What does the Bible say?
When Jesus died, He went to Paradise (Luke 23:43). Yet, He had not gone to the Father (John 20:17-18). He had been to hades [(Acts 2:29-32 cf. Matt. 16:18, 21). The KJV uses the word ‘hell’. This is not an incorrect translation. Hell in the 1600’s referred to that which is out of sight, the unseen realm].
The word hades means the “unseen.” It is the Greek equivalent to the Hebrew word “sheol.”
All men go to this unseen realm upon death. It is the “house appointed for all living” (Job 30:23). Men are gathered in this place [(Gen. 15:15; 25:8; 31:29; 49:33; Num. 20:24; 27:12-13) Notice the words “gathered unto his people”]. People have been gathering in this unseen realm since the death of Abel. “There are three things that will not be satisfied, four will not say enough: Sheol…” (Prov. 30:15-16 NASB).
There are two compartments to this unseen realm. (1) Some exist in Paradise (Luke 23:43),Abraham’s bosom [(Luke 16:22) This is language of closeness and fellowship with Abraham. See John 1:18; 13:23]. (2) Others are in torments (Luke 16:23).Sinful angels are held in tartarus [(2 Pet. 2:4 cf Jude 6) The KJV renders this ‘hell’. It is a holding place until judgment. Whether this is the same place called torments is unclear].
Heaven and Hell are still to come. Hades is a temporary waiting place (Rev. 20:12-13). I’ll use this illustration: Imagine a person staying in a nice hotel while his mansion is being prepared; or, imagine one being held in a jail before being transferred to prison.
If one’s destiny is determined at death, then what is the purpose of the judgment scene? It is the day when all of humanity will stand before the Great Judge. At that time the reason for the Judgment will be announced before all humanity. The great parting with then take place (Matt. 25:31-36).
Alexander Campbell said, “…to explain the term hades, it must be observed that there are three states of human spirit entirely distinct from each other. The first state of human spirits is in union with an animal body. This state terminates at death. The second state is that in which human spirits are separated from their animal bodies. This commences at death and terminates with the resurrection of the body. This is precisely what is called hades. The third state commences with the reunion of the spirit with the body, and continues ever after. Hades is said to be destroyed when this third state commences (A. Campbell, Living Oracles, appendix p. 58 quoted by Thomas Warren, Immortality – All of us will be Somewhere Forever, p. 146).
The term ‘heaven’ refers to a high place. The word is used in different ways in the Bible. It is used of: (1) The atmosphere of the earth (Gen. 1:20; 2:1, 19; Jer. 4:25; Deut. 4:33; Luke 9:58). (2) It is used of space beyond the atmosphere (Gen. 1:14-17; Deut. 18:3; Psalm 19:1-6; Matt. 24:29). (3) Paradise [(Luke 23:43 cf. 2 Cor. 12:1-6) Note: This could not have been heaven where God is, for notice – John 1:18; 6:46; 1 Tim. 6:16; 1 John 4:12]. (4) The place where God dwells (Matt. 5:16, 45, 48; 12:50; Heb. 8:1; 1 Peter 3:22, etc.). It is this last heaven that we are interested in at this time.
Jesus is right now at the right hand of the Father (Matt. 19:28; 24:44; 25:31; 26:64; Mark 12:36; 14:62; 16:19; Acts 2:30, 33-34; 7:55-56; Rom. 8:34; Eph. 1:20; Col. 3:1; Heb. 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:22; 1 Peter 3:22; Rev. 3:21). We can be with Him (John 14:1-3; 1 Cor. 15:24; 1 Thes. 4:17; Rev. 21:22-27; 22:1-5). We can be in heaven.
Why should we want to go to heaven?
(1) It is a place where God shall wipe away the tears from our eyes (Rev. 21:1-4). This life is filled with many sorrows and heartbreaks. Job said, “Man that is born of woman is of few days, and full of trouble” (Job 14:11). The suffering of this world does not compare with the glory that is coming to the faithful (Rom. 8:18; 2 Cor. 4:17).
(2) It is a place without decay (Matt. 6:19-20). All that we see around us ages and decays. This includes our possessions. This includes our bodies. We have the promise of an inheritance which is “incorruptible and undefiled, that fadeth not away” (2 Pet. 1:4). Neither moth, rust, nor thieves will be a problem (Matt. 6:19-20). We’re promised incorruption and immortality (1 Cor. 15:33; cf. 2 Cor. 5:1). “The tree of life” is there (Rev. 2:7; 22:2, 14 cf. Gen. 2:9; 3:22-24). (3) The wicked will not be there (Rev. 21:8; 21:27; 22:15). So much of the misery in this world is a result of evil workings of men and women. Rape, child molestation, murder, robbery and other evils exist in this world.
The unrepentant will not be allowed to enter this place. Some wonder why these there might not turn and do evil. Brother Kerry Duke has written, “One helpful factor is that in heaven Christians will not face the temptations that are peculiar to life on earth. The will no longer be subject to the desires of the fleshly body and the lure of material things. In heaven, they will have spiritual bodies (1 Cor. 15:35-58; Phil. 3:21) and will be equal to the angels (Luke 20:36). They also will not have to contend with the devil, since he will have been cast into perdition (Rev. 20:10). However, these differences do not fully receive the problem. The angels did not possess fleshly bodies, yet they sinned, and the devil was not deceived by some prior ‘tempter’… The scriptures clearly teach that free beings may so abuse their conscience that they become incapable of repentance (Jer. 13:23; John 12:39-41; Eph. 4:19; 1 Tim. 4:2; Heb. 6:4-6; 2 Pet. 2:14). If free beings in this life may become incapable of turning to God, why cannot free beings in heaven be incapable of turning away from Him? Man’s safe state in heaven is the result neither of an inherent property nor a supernatural transformation. It is the product of a unique combination of a faithful response to the period of probation, and the full, immediate realization of the fate of the wicked. The probation develops genuineness of faith and love; the powerful realization of the fate of the wicked will provide a lasting impression of awe. Though we already know the fate of the wicked, after death we will more completely understand the heinousness of sin” (God at a Distance, p. 78-80). Is this the answer? I don’t know for sure. Perhaps, we just have to make it there to understand. However, one thing I know is that evil will not dwell there.
(3) It is a place of beauty. It is a city of pure gold (Rev. 21:18) with a street of pure gold (Rev. 21:21). The city wall is of jasper (Rev. 21:18). The foundations of the wall are adorned with all kinds of precious stones: jasper, sapphire, chalcedony, emerald, sardonyx, sardius, chrysolite, beryy, topaz, chrysoprase, jacinth, amethyst (Rev. 21:19-20). The city gates each are of one pearl (Rev. 21:21). This I do not believe to be literal language. This is earthly language to tell us of the richness and beauty of this place that awaits. Many enjoy vacationing in beautiful places upon this earth, but how beautiful heaven must be! There we can find comfort and rest (2 Thes. 1:7; Heb. 4:9; Rev. 14:13).
(4) it is a place of fellowship with the best people this world has ever known. “Many shall come from the east and west, and shall sit down with Abraham, and Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 8:11). Won’t it be wonderful to be with those “of whom the world was not worthy” (Heb. 11:38)?
The question is sometimes asked, “Will we know one another in heaven?” I believe that we will. Consider the following points: (1) Nothing in the Bible indicates that we won’t. (2) Identity seems to be maintained in the hadean realm. Think about (a) The rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). (b) Samuel, Moses and Elijah all appeared from hades (1 Sam. 28:7-12; Luke 9:28-31). (c) Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob continue with identity on the other side (Ex. 3:6 cf. Luke 20:27-28; Matt. 8:11; Luke 16:19-31). (3) Paul would boast in the day of the Lord Jesus of his brethren (2 Cor. 1:14b). Their being in the presence of the Lord was his hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing (1 Thes. 2:19-20 cf. Phil. 4:1). How would he ever know that they made it? How would he be able to boast of them? Unless he would be able to recognize them on the other side. There are many mysteries about the other side. However, it seems that recognition will exist.
(5) The Father, Jesus the Lamb, and the Spirit will be there. We’ll be with our Creator. We’ll be with God who planned this glorious existence for us. We’ll be with the One who endured the agony of the cross so that we might receive forgiveness of sins and be able to enter into this glory. As Paul said, “For who I suffer the loss of all things, and do count them but dung, that I may win Christ” (Phil. 3:8) even so we should be motivated.
Really not much is said about heaven in the scriptures. However, enough is said to let us know that we should want to be there.
The original word we’re interested in is the Greek ‘geenna’ which is from the Hebrew ‘Ge Hinnom’ (that is the Valley of Hinnom). The Valley of Hinnom was a very real place. It was located just outside of Jerusalem.
At one point in Jewish history, idolatrous Jews practiced idolatry in this valley. Worship of Baal and Molech took place in this place. Human sacrifices took place here (2 Kings 23:10; 2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6; Jer. 7:31; 32:35). Robert Taylor Jr. has written, “Depraved idolaters among the Hebrews had frequently been known to remove precious babies from the bosoms of weeping mothers to serve as burnt sacrifices…” (The Doctrine of Final Things, p. 44). It was in this valley “where Topheth stood, a huge altar-pyre for the burning of the sacrificial victims” (ISBE Vol. 3, 2075). Josiah ended these practices (2 Kings 23:1-20, see esp. v. 10).
Later this valley was used as a garbage dump for Jerusalem. Robert Morey has written, “Because of these horrible idolatrous practices, the Valley of Hinnom was hated and considered ‘unclean’ by pious Jews. In Christ’s day, thishatred of the Valley of Hinnom caused the valley to become the town dump where all the garbage of Jerusalem could be thrown. Unclean corpses as well as normal garbage were thrown into it. Because garbage was constantly being thrown into the valley, the fire never stopped burning and the worms never stopped eating.” (Death and the Afterlife, p. 87).
At some point before the time of Christ, Gehenna also began to be used as a picture of where the unrighteous go. Robert Morey has written, “Gehenna came to be understood as the final, eternal garbage dump… Arndt and Gingrich also pointed out that the Jewish belief, before Christ, placed the last judgment of the wicked in the Valley of Hinnom. They concluded that it means ‘the place of judgment’” (Death and the Afterlife, p. 87, 88).
Why should we work to avoid hell?
(1) It is described in the most unattractive terms. It is described as the garbage dump of Jerusalem, the Valley Hinnom, complete with “fire” and “worms” (Mark 9:44, 46, 48), and “smoke” (Rev. 14:11). It is also described as a place of darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Jude 13).
(2) It is a place of misery. There will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28). The wicked face torment on the other side (Luke 16:23-f; Rev. 14:10; 2 0:10), and tribulation (2 Thes. 1:6-9). There will be no rest day or night (Rev. 14:11).
Some have wondered if hell is a place of literal fire. I do not believe that the language is literal. Robert Morey has written, “Since hell is a future reality which no one has yet seen, the authors of scripture and the Master Himself used what was available in the situation to describe the awfulness of ultimate separation from God” (Death and the Afterlife, p. 30). Again, “Christ used the mental picture of worms and fire connected with the city dump in the valley of Gehenna to illustrate the doctrine of everlasting punishment. Christ was not teaching that hell will involve literal worms…” (ibid).
(3) It is a place where one will be separated from the righteousness (Luke 13:28) and joined with the likes of murderers, thieves, homosexuals, and whoremongers (1 Cor. 6:9-10; Gal. 5:19-21; Rev. 21:8; 21:27; 22:15). There will be a great parting (Matt. 13:24-ff; 13:47-ff; 25:31-ff).
(4) It is a place which was prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 20:10 cf. 20:15). Not only will one be with evil men, he will be with the “Prince of darkness”.
(5) It is a place where one is separated from fellowship with God (Matt. 25:41; 2 Thes. 1:9). Nothing could be sadder than to hear those words, “I never knew you: depart from me” (Matt. 7:23).
(6) It is a non-ending sentence. However long heaven will be, that is how long hell also will be (Dan. 12:2; Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:11 cf. 14:13). It is not a place which is temporary. It is not a place where time is served and then one can pass over into heaven. It is everlasting.
Some have wondered if hell is eternal on-going punishment, or if it is eternal only in the sense of consequence (that is the wicked are burned up or annihilated). Things to consider: (1) There is language which seems to suggest an eternal on-going punishment (Rev. 14:11). (2) Annihilationists argue that the wicked will be destroyed [(appolumi) Matt. 10:28]. However, this is the same term used for the “lost sheep”, “lost coin”, and “lost son” [translated ‘lost’ (Luke 15:6, 9, 32)]. They were not annihilated but lost. W.E. Vine’s, “The idea is not extinction, but ruin, loss, not of being but of well being”. (3) Annihilationists have also appealed to the word “destruction” [(Olethros) 2 Thes. 1:9]. However, something can be destroyed without ceasing to exist (cf. Jer. 48:8 LXX). (4) Annihilationists have also appealed to the word “perish” (e.g. Rom. 2:12; 2 Cor. 2:15; 2 Thes. 2:10). However something can perish without ceasing to exist. Milk can perish but that does not mean that it has ceased to exist. Note: the word that is most often translated perish is apollumi (as under 2). (5) Annihilationists have appealed to the word “consume” as in Hebrews 12:29. Again, it can be said that something can be consumed without ceasing to be (Ps. 78:45; Lam. 3:4 ‘old’ is lit. consumed; Ezek. 13:13).
One thing is absolutely certain. Enough is said to cause us to want to avoid this place. It is worth whatever we have to give up in this life to avoid it (Mark 9:43-38). There appears to be something worse than death which await’s the unrighteous (Mark 9:42; Matt. 26:24; Luke 16:19-31; Rev. 14:11; Dan. 12:2).
Some have wondered if there are degrees of punishment. I do believe that there are (Luke 12:42-48; Heb. 10:29; Mark 12:38-40). However, I wish to avoid such altogether.
Others have wondered how we could possibly enjoy heaven knowing that others we’ve known are in hell. (1) One suggestion is that we will not recognize who is and is not in heaven. Guy Woods remarked to this by saying that if we did not recognize others in heaven “instead of solving the difficulty (this) increases it; for, if we are unable to recognize any of our loved ones there, we must then be uncertain whether any of them are there, even if they are…” (Shall We Know one Another in Heaven, p. 20). (2) A better solution is expressed by brother Woods, “When the mists have cleared,… we shall then be able to see clearly that those who are not in heaven do not deserve to be there” (ibid, p. 21). This is a Biblical concept (Ezek. 14:21-23).
Billions and billions of people have lived on this planet since the dawn of creation. How many will be in heaven? The answer is ‘few’ [(Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24) on the term ‘few’ see 1 Peter 3:20; Also Ex. 38:26 cf. Num. 14:29-30; 26:65; 32:11-12]. How many shall be in hell? The answer is ‘many’ (Matt. 7:13-14; Luke 13:23-24). Tyler Young has written, “Who will be in hell? In short, most. Sitting through a multitude of funeral services, as most of us eventually do, we get the distinct impression that practically no one goes to hell.But according to Jesus, the tragic reality is that most people will choose the broad way through the wide gate which leads to destruction (Matt. 7:13-14). We take no pleasure in this sad fact; it grieves our God and breaks our hearts. We all have loved ones who have died lost or are still alive and headed for hell. But we cannot change the truth that only those who love and obey Jesus Christ can avoid the fate we all deserve but which Jesus died to prevent. And if we have loved ones that end up in hell, one thing is certain: they will not want us to follow them there (Luke 16:27-28)” [from the bulletin article Hell: The ‘Infinite Lie’].
Robert Morey introduced his book “Death and the Afterlife” by suggesting that there is a real need to teach on this subject. He indicates that in time past there was general acknowledgement of what the scriptures taught on this subject. Then some began to down play the ‘negative side’ of the Gospel. No longer did they urge folks to flee from the wrath to come. Instead they emphasized the ‘positive side’ of God’s love to the exclusion of anything else. Hell was rarely preached on by some. This led to ignorance and doubt about the concept of hell, and even outright denial. He said it is only by affirming what the Bible teaches that the situation can be corrected. Folks, the man is not a member of the church of Christ but I do believe that he has it correct.
It is my prayer that looking at these things motivates us to strive with all might to be in heaven in the end and avoid hell.