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Chapter 15 - Summary
There can often be confusion regarding what happens to people after they die. The bible (the only reliable source of information) describes different places, conditions, and reasons for different circumstances and it can be helpful to clarify what we are able to know.
A further complication arises from the frequent English translation of the Greek word aionios as 'forever' or 'eternal'. The word in Greek meant an 'age' and was often used to describe the length of time of a life or the reign of a ruler. The length of time generally has to be deduced from the context. In a similar way the English word 'tall' can refer both to a man or a mountain.
Categories of People.
1. The unsaved. Those who reject Jesus or never trusted in him go to Hades (Sheol) to await the time when they will be judged according to their works.
2. Those who never heard about Jesus. It may be possible that some who trust in the hand that created the world could escape being judged for their works because the bible does not declare specifically that they cannot be saved through the revelation of Jesus in creation. However, they are held responsible for rejecting the creator.
3. Babies and small children who die young. Some try to use a verse about David lamenting the death of a son to 'prove' that infants who die go to heaven. It is unlikely that God takes those who die so young and subjects them to torment, but this doctrine is not specifically stated in the bible. We have to trust that a merciful God is not cruel.
It may be that being held accountable for sin requires a degree of understanding to be held accountable.
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent: - Acts 17:30
For until the law sin was in the world: but sin is not imputed when there is no law. - Romans 5:13
It would seem that to be held accountable for sin, one has to have a degree of understanding.
4. Jews under the law. Jews who have faith can trust in the first resurrection to receive eternal life.
5. Jews under grace. When salvation through grace was made available, Jews who trusted in Jesus would also be able to secure their eternal life immediately.
6. Jews with no faith. The Jew who does not have faith faces the same fate as the unsaved.
7. Christians. Gentiles (and Jews) who trust in Jesus, while grace is available, receive their eternal life immediately and can be assured by this through the indwelling presence of God.
Jesus answered and said unto him, If a man love me, he will keep my words: and my Father will love him, and we will come unto him, and make our abode with him. - John 14:23
In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation: in whom also after that ye believed, ye were sealed with that holy Spirit of promise, - Ephesians 1:13
Because of the common and pervasive understanding of two afterlife locations (heaven and hell) it can be helpful to clarify again what the bible tells us.
1. The grave, sheol, hades. This is the place of residence after death for all except Christians. It has two divisions. One defined by torment and the other defined by rest. The part with rest was called 'paradise' by Jesus.
And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise. - Luke 23:43
2. With Jesus. Christians, who by trusting in Jesus become part of his 'body', are with Jesus after death rather than in sheol, hades, or even 'paradise'.
For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him. - 1 Thessalonians 4:14
3. The abyss. The phrase 'bottomless pit' is used to translate this word and is often used to describe a containment location of some demonic entities.
4. Tartarus. This word is used once by Peter in verb form. It conveys the idea of a segregated location of confinement for some rebelling angels.
5. Gehenna. This word describes the garbage dump outside Jerusalem and is used metaphorically to convey some of the less pleasant aspects of sheol.
6. The lake of fire. While some bible translations use the word 'hell' to describe other words. The idea of a final destination for those without Jesus is most accurately described by this location.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: - Matthew 25:41
And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:15
7. Heaven. The cartoon image of people with wings floating on clouds and playing a harp has caused many people to be dismissive in regard to their future state. Those who are with Jesus for his 1,000 year rule on earth will have tasks to perform. After Satan is set loose to have one more chance to get people to fight against God, he will be thrown into the lake of fire.
What is called the 'eternal state' begins with a new heaven and new earth and a new Jerusalem.
And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea. And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. - Revelation 21:1-2
It is difficult for us to understand what this existence will be like. However, we can know that we will have no memory of this life.
For, behold, I create new heavens and a new earth: and the former shall not be remembered, nor come into mind. - Isaiah 65:17
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away. - Revelation 21:4
Life in the eternal state will be in a new body. Since there will be no more death, we might presume that the new body will not be subject to the effects of aging we see with the body we receive at birth.
Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; neither doth corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. - 1 Corinthians 15:50-52
John writes that we will be like Jesus.
Beloved, now are we the sons of God, and it doth not yet appear what we shall be: but we know that, when he shall appear, we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is. - 1 John 3:2
From this we might surmise that we would also have additional abilities like being able to enter closed rooms as Jesus did after he was resurrected. It is also possible that we will understand more.
For now we see through a glass, darkly; but then face to face: now I know in part; but then shall I know even as also I am known. - 1 Corinthians 13:12
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