Sunday, January 30, 2011
The Word for today:
We have reached the last two chapters of the Bible, where the "end times" give way to eternity.
This transition generates a lot of curiosity and many questions. We began yesterday, and will continue through tomorrow, to answer these FAQs. Some of the questions will look back in review; some will look forward, to "all things new." (Revelation 21:5)
Q. When is Judgment Day?
Scripture identifies three specific Judgments Days, listed below.
We should understand who will--and who will not--appear at each of the different judgment days. We should understand why the judgment days differ.
The most important concept concerning judgment is this:
Where, when, and how an individual is judged depends upon his individual relationship to Jesus Christ:
Judgment Day #1-- The Cross
Jesus Christ was judged at the cross, where he had carried my sins and your sins. Faith in Christ activates the redemption he purchased there. Thus the sins of all believers were already judged--at the cross.
Judgment Day #2-- The Great White Throne
The sins that were not taken to the cross by faith are judged at the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11). Thus all unbelievers will be judged there, where they will themselves pay the wages of sin, which is death.
Judgment Day #3-- The Judgment Seat of Christ
The works (not their sins!) of believers will be tested by fire at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This judgment will determine their rewards.
Their salvation is not in question here, because eternal salvation was irrevocably purchased for them when Jesus took their place at the Judgment of the Cross. (See 1 Cor. 3:10-15; 2 Cor. 5:10).
Q. John 3:16 says that those who believe in Jesus will not perish, but have eternal life.
Q. So do those who do not believe cease to exist?
A. No. There is no such thing as cessation of existence. Your question points out something that is essential to an understanding of the future:
What Jesus purchased at the cross wasn't eternity, because everybody--believer and unbeliever--has eternity ahead of them. What Jesus purchased was life.
Life, in scripture, is the presence of God: Christ is our life (Col. 3:4; Phil. 1:21--also Gal. 2:20; John 11:25; John 17:3).
The opposite of life is separation from Christ. Separation from Christ is death.
Death is a banishment, a final and total separation from the presence of God--2 Thess. 1:9. We have a name for that state of being; we call it "hell."
Q. Is hell pictured in the Bible?
Yes, a clear and definitive picture of hell can be found in scripture:
"My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?" (Psalm 22:1: Matthew 27:46)
Because the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23) when Jesus became sin for us (2 Cor. 5:21,) God withdrew his presence. God is holy, and he will not be in the presence of sin (see Psalm 22:3). Separated from God, Jesus was in hell. But he would not stay there. (Psalm 16:9-11)
Q. So, what are the conditions of hell?
Ungodly. That's all we need to know. Take God completely out of the equation, and from there hell plays itself out. Things could conceivably be OK for a while, but then, well, it's going to hit the fan.
Q. Do heaven and hell have anything in common?
Both are eternal. Both have a physical dimension; the people in heaven and hell will have bodies.
Q. I mean, Is there anything good about hell?
There is nothing intrinsically good about hell, but God has used hell to motivate many a lost sinner right into heaven. I know because I am one of those who went to the cross more to avoid hell than to gain heaven. So in my case--as is often the case--God used something bad for good (1). Therefore, we should not stop talking about hell. Jesus certainly didn't; in fact, most of what we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus himself (Mark 9:3; Luke 16:28; Matthew 25:30).
But there is something even more important to say in regards to "hell" and "good" and "bad"--
We must never consider hell apart from the cross. The Judge of the universe stepped forward to take his own judgment upon himself. Because Jesus Christ knew the reality of hell, he went to the cross. Hell is as real as the cross.
(1) see Genesis 50:20