Divine Justice – who goes to the New Jerusalem/Lake of fire, and for how long does Hell last?
Grace First Then Works
I want to emphasise the importance of emphasising the importance of trusting in God’s Grace and the great comfort that assurance of salvation brings. It is always best to emphasise faith over works. God put a lot of effort into securing our great salvation; it even took the death of his Word in Human form to secure this for us. Both grace and faith are gifts from God but the fact that we can think for ourselves and make independent decisions means that we have a great responsibility and this responsibility is strongly emphasised by both Christ and Paul. When I look at certain verses (Rom 2:13-16) I see evidence that there is mercy for some who have never heard of the cross. I see a temporary punishment for a Christian who has not lived by the cross, nor remained in the covenant of grace through faith. (Matt 25:30)
When the rich young man asked how he could get eternal life Jesus answered that he needed to keep the commandments. But when the man asked how he could be perfect then Jesus basically told him to stop trusting in material things and to follow and trust Him. This may indicate the difference between the two ways God deals with people, those who do not know about the cross and those who do. The criteria for gaining salvation in the Old Testament was 1: to have faith in God’s perfection, 2: to desire to be perfect like God, and 3: to trust that God will help them improve. I believe this also applies to People who do not understand the cross but who would believe if they could. It also applies to the New Testament, the difference now being that the cross and the resurrection now give us much more assurance of mercy, acceptance without moral improvement and God’s righteousness in us. Calvinism makes us feel safe and humble, elevating God’s sovereignty and our lack of involvement in salvation, but nice feelings are not our religion. Calvin’s doctrines of grace are not fully Biblical. God restricts his power in order to give us free will.
Adam and Eve originally had limited free will as they instinctively acted according to God’s own morality. God gave them an opportunity to exercise free will by giving them a tree to avoid. They were not ordained to fail, God also had a contingency plan had they not fallen.
The enemy introduced a foreign seed into their mind; the idea that they could become morally independent and become like God. This fully grown thought gave them the ability to act independently from God’s spirit. It severed their divine authority and protection, and the angel-like fellowship they had with their creator, but did not take away their ability to commune with the spirit dimension.
God always intended for humanity to eventually have moral understanding and responsibility while remaining in union with God’s heart, but they were not yet ready to exercise it. “I have said, Ye are gods; and all of you are children of the most High. But ye shall die like men, and fall like one of the princes.” (Psalm 82)
We need to ask two questions to understand this subject;
Is God interested in the morality of non-Christians? 2. how exactly should God punish sin?
Jesus told us that whoever does not believe in him is condemned by default and God’s anger remains on him. (John 3; 36) So punishment is expected, but how much? To set the scene; we are all born with the tendency to selfishness and rebellion against God, and therefore to moral independence. However God would not judge someone before they had moral awareness, just as he does not judge the animals. Sin is only sin when the individual has a choice, animals and infant babies cannot exercise moral choice.
It seems that the more a person is morally aware the more they are held accountable. (Luke 12:48 The selfish servants who did not feed the flock) This is why Israel was judged harshly when she sinned in the wilderness, and by the exile to Babylon etc. God treats his people both more graciously and more harshly than other people. But God has never enjoyed punishment and warned Israel many times of the consequences of sin. He gave the Gentile Ninevites 40 days to repent, and even after stating that they would be destroyed he did not destroy because they repented. The Jonah story shows us that God is interested in the morality of non-Jews/Christians; God was satisfied with their repentance and moral change. Why would God be interested in their moral improvement if they are all going to the lake of fire regardless?
God’s purpose is to get people to understand, and to be motivated by his own eternal morality, despite how hard life is and despite how they feel.
The old testament does not talk much about hell or even who goes there, which is surprising considering how important it is. There was a greater emphasis on rewards or punishments in this present life. In the light of the new testament we can see that God looked at whether people believed that He was good, and therefore wanted to be good themselves, and whether they followed their conscience, whether Jew or Gentile. We can see evidence of this in Romans 2;13-16. Faith was demonstrated by their works. (Heb 11)
“He [Christ] is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole World.” (1 John 2:2) Christ dies for everyone clearly, and God wants everyone to be saved. Yet the Sheep and the Goats judgement shows us that those who have gone through Hell and have not repented nor lived a life where they blessed a humble person or a Christian their name will not be written in the Book of life. They will go to the Lake of Fire forever. Perhaps this is a minority of people, but there is no way of knowing. Therefore Universalists need to be aware that they do not give false hopes to non Christians. Near Death Experiences show that people can leave Hell once they repent. However, we do not know how much a person will endure there until they repent, and an NDE is not necessarily a real scenario as the individual will return to this Earth shortly.
If punishment is unavoidable then so is reward for righteousness and self sacrifice, even though our goodness lacks the quality of character that is required to produce the best virtue. In the Sheep and the Goats judgement there are rewards for those who bless the humble – those who are Christ’s family. The Sheep and the Goats judgement occurs at the end of the world, it is the final judgement and is for everyone who has ever lived. Revelations 20 tells us that Hell and Death are emptied in order for everyone to attend this judgement. This is what Matt 13:42 is referring to.
Is God under obligation to punish all sin?
The bible does not state this explicitly but it is implied, so I think we need to assume he does. Is God interested in ‘eye for an eye’ absolute punishment? I would suggest that he is not as only one perfect second Adam paid for the billions of sins of billions of people. This does, most likely not balance out mathematically, however God is very pleased to accept us on this basis. The question is how much punishment does it take to pay for one’s own sin? We are not given an answer and maybe there is no answer, but perhaps suffering in this life and in the next can sufficiently pay for their own sin, and to move their heart to humility, repentance and faith.
Christ preached to “souls in Prison” when he was physically dead. (1Pet 3;19) This would seem like an unfair advantage if faith in Christ while one is alive is normally the only way to avoid the lake of fire. It could be that Christ again will preach to souls in hell at some point, perhaps at his return.
Hell is temporary
Hell and the lake of fire seem to be separate places. Rev 20;13-14 “And the sea gave up the dead in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead in them, and all were judged by what they had done.”
Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire”.
This is referring to the destruction of Hell and death themselves, after everyone in hell is removed. No-one will die again, and no-one will again be suspended in Hell’s temporary punishment.
It also seems that the new Heaven and Earth are closer together than at present. God will dwell with his people on Earth somehow, some will be near him and others will go in and out of the holy city bringing the glory of the nations into it.
When people die they are not immediately judgment and sentenced, this is reserved for the final judgment. People’s souls are translated into the spirit dimension where they continue in the values and spirit in which they lived in this life.
We often just simplify the after life into heaven and hell however the reality is more subtle. Yes there is a final good place; the new Jerusalem, and a bad place, Lake of Fire, but there are many levels to the final destinations, just as there are many types of experiences in the two temporary waiting areas. Hell is tailor made to the individual, some relive sins they committed, some are haunted by the lies they believed and taught, or others are in darkness and pain.
God exists in the third heaven, or paradise. Demons exist in the second heaven, or astral plane, and they are not welcome in the third heaven. Certain types of angels and demons torment souls in hell, as hell is a small part of the second heaven. The first heaven is thought to be Earth’s physical atmosphere, or space.
Essentially people who have not claimed Christ’s blood will go to hell temporarily until the final judgement, then hell and the grave will give up their dead, and the ‘sheep and the goats’ judgement will begin. (Matt 25) (Matt 13:42) Then those who refused wisdom and treated God’s people badly will go to the lake of fire and those who lived according to their conscience will go into the “nations of the saved”.
This is different from purgatory where everyone must go through it regardless, and where the prayers and deeds of the living will get them out of purgatory more quickly.
We have no evidence in Matt 25 that the sheep are Christians. It seems the three stories of judgement are written in chronological order. The wise ‘virgins’ who are ready at the second coming (or rapture if you make the distinction) will be the first fruits. The servants who are given abilities are normal Christians, and the sheep and goats are everyone else.
The people who fit in this category are those who have not had the chance to hear about Jesus Christ. They do not receive the benefits of the kingdom in this life, but they do hear Jesus’ voice when in hell and trust him there. In his wide mercy he rescues them, and they also come through Christ, but only into the outskirts of the new Earth. Their salvation is unsure and only God knows who falls into this category.
The Bible always states that good people get into paradise and bad people will got to hell. Even Jesus told the Pharisee that to get into heaven he must keep the commandments. Our natural righteousness is poor and badly motivated often, that is why God wants to let Christ live in us, when we turn from our ways and submit to his righteousness. However there are those that have never heard of Christ and who believe in a good God and desire to be good. This is essentially what God wants from us after all.
It is true that our own goodness will not outweigh our sin, however I suggest that God will pardon a non-Christian’s sin when they have payed for it in hell, and through suffering in this life, (see the story of Lazarus and the rich man) If however they refuse Christ at his second coming and refuse to humbly repent they will go to the lake of fire.
For those that do go God’s high narrow way they need their attitudes and values and habits to be replaced totally by Christ’s own, through the cross; death to our ego and new life from God’s attitudes and power.
Punishment for Christians
Revelation talks about a book of life, and whoever’s name is not in it is thrown into lake of fire.
Rev 3;5 Seems to tell us that names can be removed. “He who conquers shall be clad thus in white garments, and I will not blot his name out of the book of life…”
There are occasions where Christ mentioned a place where there is outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matt 8;12 the sons of the kingdom will be thrown there, the fearful servant in Matt 25:30 goes there, and being a servant presumably makes him a believer. This place is somewhat vague but it is interesting that he does not call it hell or the lake of fire, so this “outer darkness” may be a different part of the second heaven. Luke 12:42-48. “…And that servant who knew his master’s will, but did not make ready or act according to his will, shall receive a severe beating. But he who did not know, and did what deserved a beating, shall receive a light beating. Every one to whom much is given, of him will much be required.” In 1Cor3:15 a bad Christian’s work is burned up, they suffer loss, and but shall be saved through fire. Having all of his life’s worth and meaning destroyed, and the burning shame of being striped of one’s goodness and honor, this sounds like punishment. Notice Paul did not state how long this process would last.
So it seems that if Christians turn away from accessing grace by faith (and repentance) then they will experience some kind of temporary punishment too before they can be ready for the new earth. Christ has taken our punishment but we need to stay in Christ, in the vine and keep faith and repentance, otherwise we are breaking our side of the covenant. It seems there was a conditional covenant in the Old Testament, and Christ taught the new covenant, so depending on or interpretation of his teaching the New may also be conditional.
A Christian can not accidentally lose their salvation. Unfortunately though there are some who have thrown it away completely, and only God knows what will happen to them. Christians need not loose assurance of salvation, nor worry about not having time to repent before they die etc. The burning punishment only applies to people who have turned their back on God, those who lead others astray, and who have not been given repentance before death.
Hebrews 10;26 gives the impression it is possible to deliberately throw it away, as opposed to accidentally losing it. God always receives people back when they repent, if you have repented it’s because God has drawn you back. John 10 says that no-one can pluck us out of God’s hand, but it does not say we cannot jump out. “Judgement begins at the house of God.” “God is not mocked, whatever a man sows so shall he reap”.
I am proposing that non-Christians are judged with a different set of criteria than Christians, a two tier system, but both come to God through what Christ has done and is doing in their lives. After paying for sin in hell, some will end up in a lower part of the new Earth among the nations of the saved, but others will unfortunately end up in the lake of fire after the ‘Sheep and the Goats’ judgement. Christians will be judged differently as they have claimed Christ’s death and resurrection on their behalf. However those who do not give up their ways and do not keep claiming God’s grace through faith will be punished temporarily until the final judgement and the new Heaven and Earth and created. This is less black and white but it seems consistent with scripture and it demonstrates God’s mercy. Matt 20:15 states that God can be as lavish as he likes with his rewards; so can he not inversely do what he likes with punishment?
God does not enjoy condemnation, “he wants all men everywhere to be saved”. When talking to non Christians we can mention that they are automatically condemned, but we cannot say categorically that they are going to the lake of fine. Some Christians enjoy telling non-Christians they are going to the lake of fire, however they themselves need to fear God as he expects so much more righteousness from believers, and just praying the sinner’s prayer will not guarantee them a place in the ‘marriage supper of the Lamb’. Christ taught that Christians should generously forgive the non-Christians who attack them; yes God will bring about justice, but mercy triumphs over judgement.
The attitude that says Only “the elect who know the truth” are the real Christians, have something in common with the Gnostics. When did Jesus say we are saved by correct knowledge or doctrine? That is the problem with the ‘reformed’, they are purely intellect based and exclusive (as are the Mormons and JWs). It is in fact about heart direction not head knowledge, and God will reveal Christ to the lost at the right time.
Dualism – Body and Soul
Cartesian Dualism has fallen out of favour. I would agree that most of the activity of the soul can be reduced to neurological activity in the body, but what of the spirit? Our transcendent motives and deep desires are unique to humanity; the ability to form attitudes, the ability to believe, and to seek ultimate truth and ultimate charity are not from our animal nature. We have a connection with the spirit dimension which produces a higher nature in us. This can be broken and used for evil, after all no animals desire to be an agent of chaos, to form indignant conspiracy theories, or to exact revenge on the entire human race.
The story of Lazarus and the rich man is not a parable, thus giving us literal application. If we only regain consciousness after resurrection of the body, what would be the point of Lazarus going back to warn people if the final judgement had already taken place. How are we able to communicate with God in our heart with God if we do not possess a spiritual link, or a part of the spiritual continuum within us? The key to understanding this is to bear in mind that in Revelations 20 it says that Death and Hell are emptied and the whole of humanity will be judged. Then those not found to have lived according to their conscience or who have not blessed a believer because of their goodness, will go the lake of fire. The others will join the nations of the saved on Earth. (Sheep and Goats)
What God requires
In the Old testament God emphasised his righteousness and justice more than his love, however anyone who was seriously interested in God would have quickly worked out that God cared about them.
Righteousness, self discipline and justice all come from love essentially. If I love myself I will discipline myself, knowing that instant indulgences cause long term suffering. If I love others I will prevent evil from harming them and produce justice.
Faith in God’s true character can produce righteousness, as Abraham found out. When we believe in God’s goodness it produces a desire to be like him, and self discipline. When God reveals his greatness we then actively trust him and feel gratitude when he helps us.
From the garden of Eden onward it is possible to see how important our free will is to God. How he combines this with his interaction in our hearts is a mystery, but he does. When we appreciate how much freedom we have to make moral choices it empowers us to make decisions wisely.
God requires faith and love. Some achieve this through keeping the law, some find it intuitively, but the humble and blessed find it through Christ.