In our current doctrinal statement – under the title “The Lord’s Return” – there is this statement: “We believe that Christ Jesus is coming back to earth again; that His return shall be personal, audible, visible, and bodily; that it shall mark the advent of the “day of the Lord” and usher in the millennium; and that He shall in that day turn the tables on Satan, take up the throne of His Father David, put down all His enemies, rule with a rod of iron, triumph over sin, and give the world an example of righteous government during His thousand years of personal reign on earth.
We also believe in the imminent return of Christ for his saints. Being thus imminent, it will naturally occur prior to the time of Jacob’s trouble – the tribulation. We also believe that the many promises made to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob concerning a land of inheritance have not yet been fulfilled and that Christ will make good on these promises when He returns in glory to save Israel.”
This statement is then followed by twenty-two different scriptures references. Our statement may not be as sharp and concise as we’d like them to be. But they correctly present what this church believes – and has believed – since its inception. Admittedly there hundreds of differing opinions when it comes to the details of these future events.
“Future events” – when theologians speak of God’s plans for the future, they used the term “Eschatology.” That word comes from Greek, where “eschatos” speaks of “last” and “logos” speaks of “words.” Jude used that word “eschatos” towards the end of his epistle – “Beloved, remember ye the words which were spoken before of the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ. How that they told you there should be mockers in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts.” The word “last” in “last time” is “eschatos,” and it clearly refers to the end times – the last days. Peter uses the same word – “Knowing this first, that there shall come in the last days scoffers, walking after their own lusts, ans saying, where is the promise of his coming.” When will this scoffing take place? In the last days. Days like ours when the subject of Heaven, the translation of the saints and the coming of Christ are ridiculed and under assault.
As I was considering all the confusion, controversy and contention about God’s future plans, a couple questions popped into my mind. Are there any absolutes? Are there any points in eschatology which should not be debated? Are there any aspects of this subject which are so clear that everyone should agree on them? While the answer should be “yes,” the sad fact is that every point of “eschatology” is under people’s intellectual microscopes. It is not that the Bible is not clear in many areas; it is that human beings are sinful, wilful creatures. So many, to one degree or another, do not want to listen to what the Bible says, even when the point in question should be undebatable.
This morning, we are going to begin a short series of messages on the general subject of “Eschatological Absolutes.” From my perspective, there should be NO arguments about these things. That doesn’t mean that they aren’t debated by unbelievers, but I think they shouldn’t be. Furthermore, we all agree I am neither a genius, highly educated, or sinlessly perfect. In other words, my assessment may be flawed. But I want you to know, that in these few areas of doctrine, I don’t think so. Today, let’s consider three points.
Our first absolute is that you and I will both participate in several important eschatological events.
So this study is not a mere academic exercise; this is not just a required class to graduate from seminary. Like it or not, you and I, and every child of Adam, are going to experience many of these future events. Some living people will participate in various aspects. And those who have already died will feel the effects of other upcoming events.
And that is due to another non-eschatological absolute which is this – Every human being has, or is, both a body and a soul. Everyone – from Adam to the baby who was born only moments ago – have or have had physical bodies. And all those bodies are like jars, bottles or alabaster boxes, with something very precious inside. Paul described our bodies as “earthen vessels” – clay pots. The Book of Genesis tells us that our bodies were formed by God out of the dust of the ground. And those dust-made bodies, despite man’s attempts to stop the process, for the most part thrive for a time, but then they all age, decay and eventually die – returning to the ground from whence we were taken.
But inside that earthen vessel the real person dwells – the spiritual part of us, made up of both spirit and soul. In writing to the saints at Corinth, Paul said “though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day.” There is an outward you, which we call “the body;” but there is an inward you – your soul. Paul said in II Corinthians 5, “We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.” “Absent from the body” means dead. But for Paul, death meant to somehow be present with God. Two verses earlier, the word “present with” was translated “at home.” This verse could be read, “We are willing to be dead and out of our body in order to be at home with the Lord.” This is why he could also say, “For to me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” There is an outward physical you, which is guaranteed to die. But there is a spiritual part of you – your soul – which will live for ever. That is a Biblical absolute.
This evening in our other current study, we are going to come to Ecclesiastes 12 which exhorts us, “Remember now thy Creator in the day of thy youth.” Because the days are coming when you will loose your strength, your sight, your appetite and perhaps even your will to live. “Because man goeth to his long home (the grave), and the mourners go about the streets. Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern. Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.” It is an absolutely clear Bible declaration that the bodies of our ancestors have returned to dust with only a couple of miraculous exceptions. But the spiritual natures every one of them – their eternal soulish parts – have returned to God to be condemned or blessed as God determines.
One of the most eschatological books of the Bible is Revelation. Revelation is primarily a revelation of God’s future plans for His creation. And chapter 20 describes some events which take place just prior to the Millennium. But it’s not the Millennium that I want you to consider today. I would like you to listen for the word “soul” and notice the context. “I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years (a millennium), And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years. But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.”
In verse 5 the SOULS of people who had been beheaded for Christ, were standing before God.
Our first eschatological absolute is that you, me and everyone else are eternal souls. No matter what happens to our bodies, our souls are eternal and will be managed as God sees fit. The Lord Jesus added a very serious thought in Matthew 10:28 – “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” And that leads us into the eschatological absolutes numbers two and three.
Hell and Heaven are real places – places with their own geography and special character.
It needs to be understood that both Heaven and Hell have other names, causing some confusion. Furthermore, there shall be changes in their nature and geography as we get deeper into our eschatology. For example, Revelation 20:14 says, “And death and hell (shall be) cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” However bad and hellish, hell is at this moment, it will become infinitely worse later.
And it appears that whatever bliss there has been in Heaven, it has become and will become even more blissful at some point in the future. When Lazarus died in Luke 16 he was carried into “Abraham’s bosom,” and it was heavenly to him. But the Son of God was not thereto greet him, because Christ was still ministering on earth. Then much later, in John 14, Christ said, “In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Jesus was again speaking about Heaven, and seems to suggest improvements. In the very first statement found in the Word of God, there is a declaration of the existence of Heaven – “In the beginning God created the Heaven and the earth.” We can summarize our definition of that place as the abode of God. Psalm 11:4 – “The LORD is in his holy temple, the LORD’S throne is in heaven: his eyes behold, his eyelids try, the children of men.” Psalm 14:2 – “The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God.” Today, I’d prefer not to think of Heaven as the abode of God, but as the presence of the Saviour. As the disciples watched the ascension of Christ, a pair of angels told them that Christ was “taken up from you into heaven.”
Heaven is not a spiritual place of ghosts and semi-visible spirits floating around on clouds or in the ethernet. It is the eternal abode of the Trinue God where real and substantial angels serve Him. But it is also the eternal abode of resurrected, immortal, glorified saints, whose bodies have reunited with soul and spirit to live and serve the Christ who saved them. We will look at the question of resurrections later. Suffice it to say, Heaven is not only a place, but a state of being beyond anything earthlings can imagine.
In Philippians where Paul said, “for to me to live is Christ and to die is gain” – the gain to which he referred was the Heavenly presence of his Saviour. “For I am in a strait betwixt two, having a desire to depart and to be with Christ, which is far better; Nevertheless, to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” For Paul, and for all saints, the choice is either life on earth with all its problems or Heaven with all its bliss. But then again, it’s not our choice – it’s the Lord’s.
But what about those who reject the Christ of the Bible – the rebels and unbelievers? Their eternal souls will eventually be joined to eternal bodies to suffer punishment for their sins – eternally. That is not a guess, a surmisation, or a logical conclusion; it is a eschatological absolute. Psalm 9:17 – “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all nations (tribes and individuals) that forget God.”
Despite the unequivocal opposites of Heaven and Hell, they bear many similarities. For example they are both eternal. Christ Jesus made a comparison in Matthew 25:41-46. In His parable, He said, “Then shall (the king)say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” The two words “everlasting” and “eternal” are translations of the same word, and they essentially mean only one thing – “for ever, and ever, and ever, and ever.”
The moment the fires of the Lake of Fire are doused will be the day that Heaven also ceases to exist, because it will be the day of the eternal God’s decease. As God lives today and shall dwell in glory for ever, YOU may suffer in judgment. That is – should you, by your rebellion and unbelief, be cast into the Lake of Fire, you shall never escape.
How often have the saints of God rejoiced in the promises of John 14? “Let not your heart be troubled: ye believe in God, believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many mansions: if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again, and receive you unto myself; that where I am, there ye may be also.” Just think about it: The Lord Jesus has been preparing a place for us for over 2,000 earthly years. Surely it must be magnificent. Are there any questions about those preparations? Well, as a matter of fact, yes there are – lots of them. I Corinthians 2 – “We speak the wisdom of God in a mystery, even the hidden wisdom, which God ordained before the world unto our glory: Which none of the princes of this world knew: for had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory. But as it is written, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him. But God hath revealed them unto us by his Spirit: for the Spirit searcheth all things, yea, the deep things of God.” We may not be able to grasp all that the Lord has done or is doing for us, but there should be no question about Who it is making those preparations.
The judgments of Hell are just as eternal as Heaven. II Thessalonians. 1:6-10 – “Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction FROM THE PRESENCE OF THE LORD, and from the glory of his power; When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.”
It is an eschatological absolute that the same God Who has prepared Heaven has also prepared Hell. Matthew. 25:41 reports that Lord shall say to wicked: “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” Prepared by Whom? The Almighty God. Just as Heaven is a prepared place for prepared people. Hell is a prepared place for unprepared people; natural people; graceless people. “The wicked shall be cast into hell and all nations that forget God.”
Heaven will be the very paragon of perfection – in design, atmosphere, and glory. It will be a masterpiece of magnificence, and the quintessence of quality. It is beyond the imagination of our depraved, and yet sometimes, saved minds. And yet only a fool would deliberately choose to miss it. Those are not my words, but the Lord’s. The Lord calls the man “a fool” who, even by mere neglect, misses Heaven.
Luke 12:16-21 – “And he spake a parable unto them, saying, The ground of a certain rich man brought forth plentifully: And he thought within himself, saying, What shall I do, because I have no room where to bestow my fruits? And he said, This will I do: I will pull down my barns, and build greater; and there will I bestow all my fruits and my goods. And I will say to my soul, Soul, thou hast much goods laid up for many years; take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry. But God said unto him, Thou fool, this night thy soul shall be required of thee: then whose shall those things be, which thou hast provided? So is he that layeth up treasure for himself, and is not rich toward God.”
Just as Heaven is the very best of the best, the Lake of Fire is also the very best of its own class. Unlike modern prisons with all their conveniences, Hell is the ultimate in punishment facilities. There will be the solitude of darkness so thick that it will be impenetrable. The fires will be so hot that one drop of water would greatly relieve the sufferer, if it was given. The flames will be so intense that they will consume their own light. The nerves and minds of the sufferers will be so acute that their sin will never be forgotten. The conscience will be active, the mind active, the heart active, and every pain sensor will be active. Perhaps even lust, hunger and emotional thirst will be a part of that place and punishment.
Both Heaven and Hell will be places of total consciousness. There will be no long winter’s naps, no black outs, no memory laps and no drugs to deaden the senses. Smitty’s bar wont be there to help folk drown their sorrows, nor will there be any pot shops. It will be the ultimate place of punishment and pain. The Lake of Fire will be Hell to its fullest. Deny it if you dare; but deny it to the eternal peril of your soul.
Both Heaven and Hell are consistent with the nature of God. How often do we hear that God is too loving – too kind – to send anyone to Hell? It is shouted from the rafters in thousands of liberal churches around the world. But it’s a lie of Satan, and people believe it only because it tickles their ears.
God indeed is loving and merciful – so merciful that He designed a way to escape the judgment sin deserves. But above His love stands God’s infinite holiness. Just as you can’t stop the heart beating in your chest – God can not deny His Holy nature. The Lord has made a promise to all who, under the Holy Spirit, repent and turn to Him through Christ. Among other things there is His promise of eternal glory in Heaven. It includes forgiveness of all sin, a cleansed record, imputed righteousness and life eternal. But those promises can be kept only because Christ bore every aspect of the judgment our sins deserve. And for the sinner who spurns the message of His grace, God must pronounce judgment. “The wages of sin is death” – eternally – and God is a debtor to no man. “Behold, all souls are mine, as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine; the soul that sinneth, it shall die.”
Hell is as consistent with the nature God as Heaven is. If there was no such judgment, we couldn’t count on the Lord for anything – including Heaven. It would mean that sin is, at the very least, tolerable to the Lord. But it isn’t. Heaven is a part of God’s justice, and so is the Lake of Fire.
When the worldly, unbelieving man of Luke 16 died, he could see, but not reach, Paradise. He knew it instantly, and didn’t even ask for it. There will be no passports and no shuttles between the Lake of Fire and Heaven. There will be no paroles, pardons or transfers – no second chances. And a simple desire to go to Heaven – a will or even an hope for Heaven, will not guarantee that place for sinful souls. Only by the free grace of God is there an avoidance – (not an escape) – from eternal judgment.
You may miss HEAVEN by your intellect, or by your neglect, or through your religion. But the only way to miss HELL is by turning toward Jesus Christ and His infinite grace. You must – and I stress MUST – you must turn from your pride and self-confidence. You must acknowledge that you deserve Hell – because you are a sinner. You must turn from yourself and your sin into the arms of Saviour. And you must put all your dependence for the future of your soul on the finished work Christ.
How can I escape the eternal condemnation of Hell? The Lord Jesus put it this way: “The Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son: That all men should honour the Son, even as they honour the Father. He that honoureth not the Son honoureth not the Father which hath sent him. Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”
Is YOUR faith in Christ Jesus this morning? I ask that question based on three unquestionable absolutes – YOU are an eternal soul. And you will spend eternity in either Heaven or Hell. What will it be?