Kingdom of Heaven
1And 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. 2And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. 4And 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. 5And he that sat upon the throne said, Behold, I make all things new. And he said unto me, Write: for these words are true and faithful. 6And he said unto me, It is done. I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give unto him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely. 7He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son. 8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
For those who believe in an all-powerful Creator God, there is an understanding that one who obeys His laws and accepts the free gift of grace to cover sin will be rewarded with everlasting life and peace. The holy scriptures speak of the kingdom of heaven (Hebrew: olam ha-ba - world to come) and describe how one may obtain that reward and the punishment of those who do not merit that reward. This essay is a brief summary of the general understanding of modern churches in comparison to what the scriptures say will happen leading up to judgment and that kingdom along with the reward given to those who obtain everlasting life and the punishment for those who do not obtain it. Understanding these concepts is very important because the basis of most religious systems is final reward or punishment. A proper understanding of what God says will happen is crucial to understanding His way and also teaches the believer about His perfect judgment and mercy.
Summary of Views
The Catholic church and others that are closely related to it require that adherents to the faith abide by the requirements specified by the church to obtain the reward of everlasting life. It basically assigns human beings who die into three categories. The first is composed of those who have lived according to the requirements that the church has specified to make one a follower of God. At death, these people are united with God forever. These people are guaranteed a place in the kingdom of heaven with an everlasting life of peace. Babies are sprinkled soon after birth so that they can be included in this group.
The second group contains those who have committed sins that are called venial. These people have committed sin that is not "mortal" in that it is not sin that turns one away from God and cannot be forgiven. Nevertheless, these people must spend time in a place called purgatory to pay for sin of which they were not absolved while they were alive. This process eventually enables the sinner to obtain the promised reward because the time spent in purgatory cleanses him. However, this process is not entirely affected by the actions of God and the sinner. The Catholic concept of purgatory allows those who are still alive to act to help save those who are in this state.
Therefore, a person in such a condition can have the time spent in that condition decreased in two ways. First, prayers may be said for the dead and secondly, indulgences may be obtained by the actions of those who seek to alleviate the punishment of the sinner. Also, apart from the focus of this essay, these indulgences may also be performed for those who are living.
The third group is composed of those who have committed "mortal" sin and have not repented of their actions. These people are consigned to everlasting torment forever and ever. They have no hope of redemption because they have not followed the rules of the universal church.
A common belief in protestant churches is that when a person dies, he immediately goes either to heaven or hell because he has been judged during his lifetime on earth and has either followed or refused to follow God. At death, God credits those are faithful (whether by choice of free will or predestined by God depending on the belief of the particular individual or organization) and allows them to experience eternity in heaven. There is not much information about what the kingdom of heaven has to offer for those who have already made it there and who are awaiting the new arrivals that will appear there at death or at the final judgment when the Messiah returns to earth. Sitting on clouds, strumming harps, and walking on streets paved with gold are part of the description of the activities of those now in the kingdom of heaven.
As for those who are consigned to hell, the protestant viewpoint, at least in more conservative organizations, provides a much more vivid understanding. Those who have rejected God are currently still alive, aware, and experiencing excruciating pain which they will continue to experience forever and ever without end. However, this is still considered "death" according to some. No matter the difference in the intent of the sin (e.g. those who sinned ignorantly because they never knew the true way of God and the gift of the Messiah or those who did and did not obey God), these sinners will continue forever with the same punishment. There is a belief that one attains the status of being responsible for his actions at some point in life and thus, accountable to God for wrongdoing thereafter. Because of this understanding, some organizations encourage baptism of children at an early age so that they are not faced with punishment without end if they die young. Additionally, it is evidently believed that those who are handicapped to the extent that they cannot be responsible for their actions go to heaven when they die.
Where one goes at death or the return of the Messiah is affected by the concept of free will versus predestination. Some believe that God chooses who will be saved and who will not. Others believe that man is given absolute free will to make his own decision to follow or not follow God. Furthermore, some believe that once someone is saved during his physical life, there is nothing that can change this.
When one looks at the beliefs of the church organizations and sees that indulgences and/or tithes are given to the church, he finds that many of these actions benefit the church organization directly. This can mean a monetary benefit or one where the individual allows the church to become more influential as the arbiter and lawgiver in his life. This practice is magnified by the concept that only through a specific church can one be saved. However, the scriptures speak against the practices of these organizations. Regarding payment for wrongdoing, scripture shows that if one harms another, the sinner pays the victim. It also shows that in times when the levitical priesthood is established in the Jerusalem temple, the priests receive the food from (some of) the sacrifices that are required to be paid by the sinner. Additionally, the new testament clearly shows that neither the Messiah nor apostles such as Paul, who were not Levites, took over the receiving of such offerings. They certainly were fed and housed by believers. However, the Jewish believers were still bound to tithe from the land God had given them according to the Torah (law) and the gentile believers who were taught by Paul far away from Jerusalem certainly were not part of the tithing system which God gave to Israel.
Many modern christians understand that the scriptures say that no one can be saved except through the Messiah. John 14:6-7 is quite clear in showing this. However, the concept of hell held by some leads to an issue that they have not considered. Church organizations spend most of their money on the upkeep of the physical buildings and equipment, salaries and benefits for ministers and staff, programs for members, and funds for future building expansions, renovations, etc. (i.e. on themselves) while spending very little on actually going out into the world to spread the gospel which must be heard and accepted for one to obtain salvation.
There are obviously many throughout the world who have never heard the gospel of the Messiah. Some of these people live in areas where those who teach it along with the ones who accept it would be immediately arrested or even worse. In some areas, there are people who have never heard the gospel and who are still worshiping the sun, moon, plants, animals, etc. (the created and not the Creator) and have either never or rarely been in contact with other cultures. Others may have been exposed only to beliefs of the Catholic church which protestants believe are false. However, by spending most of their time and money on themselves despite living in some of the wealthiest countries on earth, they do not seem to have much concern for those to whom their mission is supposed to bring the way of salvation. They go to church for a couple of hours each week and donate money and/or time. Someone else is doing the work. Yet, this work is mostly for those who already belong to those organizations and thus, by the thinking of the members therein, those who are believed to have been saved already.
When presented with this dilemma, some may submit that the mission to the unbelieving world is not such an important task in which to engage because those who have never heard the gospel are like little children or mentally handicapped people and they will go to heaven when they die anyway because God is merciful. While this is a comforting thought, it contradicts John 14:6-7 which in its context also shows that an active effort to follow the way of salvation is based on understanding truth and applying it in one's life (cf. John 14:15). Additionally, one must ask why people go out into the world, either within their home country or outside of it, to spread the gospel to anyone else at all. After all, it can be a dangerous task in many places. Furthermore, it is much worse to go out and teach the gospel to those who have never understood it and are thus saved in their ignorance that then decide to reject that gospel and lose their salvation. In fact, so that most of mankind can receive salvation, it seems sensible that no one should try to understand God because His way is straight, narrow, and difficult to follow. It is much easier to simply live in ignorance and be saved at death by the merciful Creator. Unfortunately, these beliefs regarding judgment, heaven, hell, etc. are not based on scripture. However, the stark reality of the punishment given to the wicked is an effective tool in motivating people to abide by the directives of church organizations. Another concept promulgated by a number of church organizations is that the Messiah can return at any moment. On the surface, this is taught so that people will be convinced to turn to God and not suffer forever in hell. However, in reality, it has the effect of coercing people into submitting themselves to the church organization via fear.
Condition of the Dead
Ecclesiastes 9:5-6 describes the physical condition of the dead. It says that the dead know (sense) nothing. Moreover, in some English translations of the Tanakh (old testament), the word hell is used for the Hebrew word sheol which means "grave" or "place of the dead." This is obviously where all of the dead are. In chapter 3:18-21, men and beasts are said to have the same fate and men are even called beasts. Additionally, these verses do not give much support to the assertion that a man's spirit goes into heaven at death where he is aware and in the presence of God.
Psalm 16:10 is a prophecy that shows that the Messiah would be resurrected. King David was told by God through Nathan the prophet that his kingdom would be established forever through his son (Solomon) from whom the Messiah came years later (II Samuel 7:12-17, I Chronicles 17:11-15. See also Matthew 1 and Luke 3). Though he died, David knew during his life that he would "dwell in the house of the Lord forever" (Psalm 23:6). However, on the day of Pentecost when the Holy Spirit was poured out upon the apostles and Peter quoted Psalm 16:8-11 (in Acts 2:25-28) to show proof that the Messiah has been resurrected, he boldly said that David is dead, buried, and still in the grave (Acts 2:29) and added that he is not in heaven (verse 34-35). This day of Pentecost obviously came after the death, resurrection, and ascension of the Messiah. Also, in John 3:13, the Messiah says that no man has ascended to heaven except the One who came down from heaven.
One of the differences in the understanding of some christians deals with the point at which those who believed in God and have died receive their reward. They understand that people like Noah, Abraham, and David are saved. They correctly believe that because these people believed in God, they should be in His kingdom. Some may believe that they had to wait until the Messiah had come and fulfilled His task on earth. Others may believe that they went to heaven at death anyway. Neither of these beliefs is scriptural. What Peter said is true. In fact, even today, King David and all others who believed and have died are in their graves, regardless of whether they lived and died before, during, or after the Messiah's time on earth. Hebrews 11 clearly describes these people. They are to remain in their graves until the time that they and other believers will be made perfect (verses 39-40). Paul provides further understanding in I Thessalonians 4:13-18 saying that when the Messiah returns to earth, those who have died in Him will be raised to life and along with the believers who are still alive meet Him in the air. Additionally, the description of the dialogue between the Messiah and the repentant sinner who was crucified with Him (Luke 23:39-43) is understood as pointing to a still future reunion. While some translations use punctuation that indicates that the repentant man would join the Messiah in paradise that day after they both died, this obviously did not happen.
Judgment and Reward
As stated previously, there is a common understanding that evil people are now experiencing unimaginable torment in hell that will never end. Even the evil people who lived many years ago exist in a continual state of agony that is many years longer than their physical life was. It seems illogical to believe that a just and merciful God would punish evil people with excruciating pain forever and ever for wrongdoing that they committed during a life which is quite short in comparison, especially if they were never given the opportunity to hear the gospel because it was never taught to them (cf. Luke 12:47-48).
Scripture shows that the dead are simply dead. They are unaware of anything. Secondly, Paul states in I Corinthians 5 that those who are believers are not the judges of those who do not believe. God is the judge of the unbeliever. The believer is required to judge those who are within the assembly. However, if one is removed because of wrongdoing and does not return to righteousness, a believer no longer has authority in the matter because the responsibility of final judgment for all mankind is God's. Because a believer does not have any role in another sinner's final judgment, his opinions on that judgment are not relevant. Also, he should concern himself with judgment of his own actions and relationship to God since God is the ultimate judge.
Another issue regarding the kingdom of heaven is the fact that there are many who have not been taught the gospel and the way of God or who have not followed it sufficiently given that scripture says that the way is straight and narrow and few find it (Matthew 7:13-14). Along with this, scripture says that God desires that all be saved (I Timothy 2:3-4). These passages seem to be at opposition. However, given that the word of God fits together, there must be a way that most can be saved because God accomplishes what He wants to accomplish and He does not lie.
Judgment of Israel
The Torah (law contained in the first five books of the Bible) shows that the children of Israel were told that when they went into the land that was promised to them by God, they would disobey Him and worship other gods. Because of their evil actions, God would forsake them. He told Moshe to teach them a song to bring them to remembrance (a witness) of this and gave them an admonition to follow the Torah which they had been given (Deuteronomy 31:15-32:47). The song begins by stating that God is great. He is called the Rock. It states that He is perfect and that He is just and right. It continues by saying that Jacob (Israel) is the line of His inheritance.
The song then says that after God made Israel rich, they would reject Him and go after strange gods that their fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob) did not know. When they became perverted because of their lack of faith, God would turn away from them and punish them severely. The calamities that would come upon them include hunger, danger from wild animals, death by violence, and scattering across the earth. Except that adversaries would claim that Israel was destroyed by their own (the adversaries') power, God would forget them. The song continues with God lamenting the rejection of truth by His people which would have brought great blessings and power to them because He would have stopped their enemies. These events were/are bound to happen because they have been prophesied by the Creator.
However, the song then tells how God will turn back His anger when the power of His people is gone. He asks where the gods are that they believed. Then, He says that there are no other gods but Him and that it is He who kills and brings to life and who wounds and heals. The song continues saying that God will be merciful to His people and the land He gave to them and have vengeance (judgment) upon their enemies who have conquered them. The Tanakh tells of many punishments that Israel received because of disobedience. Further punishment is described in the gospels. Even today, Israel is threatened by numerous enemies all over the world.
Paul speaks of the plight of Israel in Romans chapters 9-11. Concurring with the prophecies in the Torah, he writes how many of Israel have been blinded and thus, have rejected God. He warns that God is the Creator and is not to be questioned regarding His actions. Paul says that Israel tried to follow God by their actions and not by faith. They relied on keeping the Torah to make themselves righteous. Because of this they were found guilty because the Torah will find a man guilty.
Paul continues saying that he wishes that Israel would be saved. He describes how salvation is the same for the Jew and the gentile and writes that Israel has indeed heard the gospel explaining that Moshe and Isaiah delivered this "good news" to them. However, many have rejected the gospel. Paul then asks if God has rejected the people He chose. The answer is that not all have been rejected and that a remnant of the elect remains.
The blindness of many of those of Israel occurs partly because God uses it to bring salvation to the gentiles. In Romans 11:8-11, Paul quotes the Tanakh which prophesies these things. Then, he asks if the fall of Israel has become a blessing to the rest of mankind, what will their fullness (return to righteousness) be? Paul answers the question by saying that the reconciliation of Israel will be life from the dead. He continues by showing that the physical descendants of Israel are holy because of the promise of God. Some of them (natural branches) are broken off of the tree so that gentiles (wild branches) can be grafted into that tree. Paul warns the believing gentiles to avoid boasting against those of Israel who are blinded because God can remove them for the same reasons He removed many of Israel. Those physical Israelites who turn back to believing in God will be grafted back into that tree. In Romans 11:26, Paul says that all of Israel will be saved and quotes Isaiah 59:20-21 showing that the Messiah will bring them back to righteousness. This concept is found in a number of other scriptures. Paul says in Romans 11:28 that Israel is beloved by God because of the promise He made to their fathers (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob).
These passages are read in modern churches. However, their understanding regarding the salvation made possible by the Messiah does not fit with what Paul is saying here. Several questions arise when one attempts to discover how those who have rejected God will be given salvation. How will this happen? When will it happen? What will those who are brought back to righteousness be doing?
Timeline of Redemption
At the return to earth of the Messiah, believers, both those resurrected from the dead and those who are still alive, will meet Him in the air. These people will never again endure pain or suffering. At the time of His return, there will be a great war in which the Messiah defeats His enemies. Many people will be killed in this "day of the Lord." Revelation 20 says that Satan the adversary will be taken, bound, and thrown into a pit for a thousand years. Those who rise to meet the Messiah at His coming will reign with the Messiah during this time. This chapter says that these people who are called priests are blessed because death no longer has power over them. Not all who are alive but do not rise to meet the Messiah are killed. Additionally, the Tanakh tells about what those who still live as physical human beings on earth will be doing.
In Zechariah, chapter 12 says that when He returns, the Messiah will make Jerusalem a burden to those across the world who have come against it. It says that the Messiah will save Judah and use that tribe to defeat the enemies that war against Israel. Along with this, He will have mercy upon His people. These people will recognize and be sorry for what they have done to their Savior (12:10-14). Chapter 13 continues saying that the uncleanness caused by false prophets, evil spirits, and idolatrous worship will be removed from the land. It also says that still more will be cut off and die while a third will be refined as through fire and that they will call on the name of the LORD and He will hear them. Chapter 14 says that the Messiah will be King over all of the earth. Jerusalem and the land will be secure.
Isaiah 11 describes how the world will be in that time. The Messiah will perfectly judge with righteousness unlike those who judge superficially. This chapter also says that animals that are now predators and prey will coexist peacefully. Small children will play around animals that are now quite dangerous even for adults to be near. This will occur because the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the Creator. At this time, the tribes of Yehudah (composed of Judah, along with parts of Levi and Benjamin) and Ephraim (the other tribes) will no longer be at odds with one another. They will rule over their enemies. Also during this time, the children of Israel who are still alive and scattered around the earth will come to Israel (v. 16). Isaiah 66 says that the remnant of Israel (human beings) will declare the glory of the Lord to the nations where they live and that the gentiles will bring them to Jerusalem and that some will be made priests and levites.
The scriptures also describe the way that God will be worshiped in that time. Isaiah 66:23-24 says that people will go up to worship God on the sabbaths and new moons. In their travels to Jerusalem, people will see the bodies of the dead that were killed in the war against God. Zechariah 14:16-21 says that those who survive from the nations (gentiles - Hebrew: goyim) that go to war against Jerusalem will go there each year to worship God at the feast of tabernacles (Hebrew: Chag Sukkot). Furthermore, those who do not do this will be punished. The disobedient will be punished by drought and those who live in places that receive no rain such as Egypt will be plagued.
End of the Millennium
Revelation 20 says that aside from the resurrection of the saints along with the believers who are alive and taken up at the return of the Messiah, there will be no resurrections during this thousand year period. At the end of the period, Satan will be released from confinement and go out to deceive the world. Those who are deceived will go up against Jerusalem and be destroyed by God (see also, Ezekiel 38 and 39). Then, Satan will be thrown into the lake of fire along with the beast and false prophet.
Revelation 20:10 is seen as proof of punishment that is continually excruciating by some. Jude 7 is also understood to be proof of this. In some versions of Revelation 20:10, the Greek phrase is translated something like, "where the beast and the false prophet are." This indicates that the adversary, the beast, and the false prophet are still alive and suffering torment in this lake of fire. The word are is added by the translators and this understanding must be based on their belief in continual torment. Additionally, some modern translations use the phrase "for ever and ever" at the end of the verse which some understand to mean that this fire will continually burn throughout eternity causing unending agony to those who are cast into it. However, if one continues to read through the rest of the book along with other scriptures, another understanding may be in order.
After the adversary is thrown into the lake of fire (along with evil angels), all the rest of those who were not resurrected at the return of the Messiah are resurrected to be judged (verses 11-15). Their works are judged by those things written in the books. The things written in the books must be the commandments in scripture that God has given man to follow. Those who whose works are sufficient are obviously those whose names are written in the book of life.
However, if one's name is already written in the book of life, then there is no reason why he would not be a part of the first resurrection because scripture says that he will be part of it. Thus, the question of why the book of Revelation states that these events will occur arises. The easy answer might be that no one who is resurrected at this point is written in the book of life. Therefore, all who are in this resurrection will be cast into the lake of fire. This answer does not seem sufficient because the scriptures do not describe things that will not happen and the way this passage is written indicates that some will be saved and others not. One must look further within the scriptures to find the answer.
Ezekiel 37 says that God carried Ezekiel in spirit into the middle of a valley that was filled with bones. These bones are very dry which clearly indicates that these people are dead. God asks Ezekiel if these bones can be made to live and Ezekiel says that God knows. God then tells Ezekiel to prophesy to these bones that He will cause them to live again physically. They will have flesh and skin and they will breathe. God tells Ezekiel that the dead who are brought back to life are "the whole house of Israel." These resurrected beings say that they have no hope and are completely cut off. Yet, God tells Ezekiel to prophesy to them that He will raise them from their graves, place His spirit in them, place them in their own land (Israel), and that they will know that God has done this.
Ezekiel is then told that God will bring the separated tribes called Ephraim and Yehudah and bind them back together and that He will use them ("bind them in my hand"). God will remove the evil from these people and they will obey the commandments that He has given them. They will multiply and live in peace forever and God will place His sanctuary among them. This chapter ends by stating that the heathen will know that God sanctifies Israel His people. Additionally, much of the rest of the book Ezekiel (chapters 40-47) describes how the levitical priesthood will be reestablished and serve in the Jerusalem temple.
It can be determined from Paul's letters to the believers that the people of God possess hope. He speaks of this hope many times. He also speaks of unbelievers as having no hope (cf. I Corinthians 15:22-32, Ephesians 2:12, I Thessalonians 4:13). With this understanding in mind, one must conclude that those who are resurrected as described in Ezekiel 37 are not the believers about whom Paul writes. Additionally, Ezekiel 37 clearly describes physical human beings while the scriptures show that those who are resurrected when the Messiah returns are resurrected in spirit. They can no longer suffer from pain or death. However, those described in Ezekiel 37 must include those who Paul describes in Romans 9, 10, and 11. Ezekiel 37:11 says that this is "the whole house of Israel" and Romans 11:26 says that "all Israel shall be saved."
Therefore, Revelation 20 must mean that after a thousand years, God will resurrect those who are not caught up into the air to meet the Messiah at the first resurrection and teach them His way. As for those of the nations (gentiles), they too will be brought back to life and be taught as the natural born of Israel. This conclusion is drawn from Ezekiel 37:28 (along with I Timothy 2:3-4) which says that the gentiles (KJV says "heathen") will see this sanctification of Israel. Additionally, the statements in Romans 10 and 11 support this understanding and show that those who have been blinded, whether of Israel or the gentiles, will be taught the way of God. With this understanding in mind and knowing that God desires that all be saved, it seems likely that many of those who are part of the second resurrection will live peacefully with God forever.
However, there will evidently be some who are resurrected who will be cast into that lake of fire. In Matthew 7:13-20, the Messiah says that a good tree cannot bring forth bad fruit and a bad tree cannot bring forth good fruit. In verses 21-23, He says that not all who believe they work in His name will enter the kingdom of heaven. Those who do the will of the Father are the ones who enter into the kingdom of heaven. Those who say and believe that they follow Him but who do not do what He says will be punished (see also, Matthew 25:31-46). This includes the fearful, the unbelieving, the abominable, murderers, whoremongers, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Revelation 21:8, See also I Corinthians 6:9-10).
The scriptures indicate that those who are included in this group have had or will have the truth shown to them and will reject it. Those who are blind are not described here whether or not they have heard the true gospel. When one is blinded by God, he cannot do what God commands the believer to do. It is impossible. Paul shows this to be true (see Romans 9, specifically 13-24). When a person, like Paul, has that blindness removed or is very blessed to be born and raised in truth and lives his life striving for the perfection that comes from God, he then has the opportunity to live the way God intends. However, it then must be understood that while some of those who believe that they are ministers of God or who believe that they live the way He desires are blind, there are evidently some without blindness who have been or will be called who reject the way of God and thus, will face judgment (John 5:28-29).
The statements of the Messiah in the gospels regarding judgment of the unbelievers of Israel versus those who perished in Sodom and Gomorrha also show that the blind will have an opportunity to see truth. In Matthew 10, He says that the judgment for those (the lost sheep of the house of Israel) who reject the truth that is presented to them by the twelve will be less tolerable than for those destroyed in Sodom and Gomorrha. When this statement regarding judgment is taken into consideration, several conclusions can be drawn. First, it is obvious that people who die are resurrected to judgment. They are not already experiencing their final judgment. Second, even those who have grievous sin like those of Sodom and Gomorrha need to understand that what they have done is wrong. Third, since the Messiah said that the judgment would be less tolerable for those who reject the message of the twelve compared to those of the destroyed cities, the logical conclusion is that at least some of both groups will be brought to the understanding of truth and live forever.
This conclusion becomes evident by considering the alternative and what would come to past if it were true. That alternative is the belief that both groups will be condemned and be in agony forever since it is understood that those who do not accept the Messiah during this life are lost. Thus, those of the destroyed cities will face God and having been blind to the ways of God with no opportunity to know about Him find their punishment more acceptable than others who rejected the Messiah like Paul had done even though they heard the true gospel and lived in the culture of Israel which was based on the Torah given to them by God, but who receive the same punishment (See again, Luke 12:47-48).
That someone who experiences the same never-ending punishment for disobedience because of ignorance (blindness) would find it more acceptable than those who are exposed to knowledge of the truth and then reject it (because of blindness) as Paul formerly did is illogical. In fact, one who does not have knowledge would obviously object to receiving the same punishment. Even those who are not involved with wrongdoing can see that. The laws of free societies take understanding and intent into consideration when administering punishment. That is based on the way of God that is imprinted into humans in varying degrees (cf. Romans 2:14-15).
Understanding what the Messiah is saying in Matthew 10 (also, Mark 6 and Luke 10) leads to the conclusion that while the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrha will not be pleasing, those who lived in the culture of Torah and who were directly exposed to the teachings of the Messiah will realize just how close they were to truth. They will certainly understand how grievous their rejection of His Word was when they realize that the scriptures to which they had access (the Tanakh) speak of Him and His way throughout. Knowing that one has missed something when it is directly in front and should be easily seen is clearly worse than having little or no idea and missing the mark. This understanding fits with the statements of the Messiah in Luke 12:47-48 (see also Leviticus 4 and 5:17). Thus, taking Ezekiel 37 and Romans 9-11 into consideration, many who have been blinded, no matter to what degree, will have the opportunity to correct those mistakes and experience the mercy and blessings of the perfect Creator.
Kingdom of Heaven
Revelation 20:14 says that death and hell (Greek: hades - the grave) will also be cast into the lake of fire (i.e. destroyed). Continuing into chapter 21, John says that a new heaven and a new earth will come into existence and that a new Jerusalem will come down from God out of heaven. The Father will come down from heaven and live with His people on the new earth along with the Messiah. This new heaven and earth will be perfect and there will be no more death, sorrow, or pain (verse 4). Revelation 22:3 says that there will be no more curse. Verse 15 says that evil is outside of this new heaven and earth. From chapter 21:5 along with the understanding that death and hades are destroyed, it is understood that all evil will be destroyed, not that it will be somewhere else. The new heaven and new earth will comprise everything.
There are three Greek words translated hell in the King James Version. Hades simply means "grave" and is the translation of the Hebrew word sheol. Another word is gehenna about which Strong's concordance says, "Hell is the place of the future punishment called 'Gehenna' or 'Gehenna of fire'. This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction." It is the lake of fire about which Revelation speaks. Tartaros means, "the name of the subterranean region, doleful and dark, regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead, where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds;" according to Strong's and is where wicked angels are being held until their final judgment (II Peter 2:4).
The parable of Lazarus in Luke 16 is cited to show that the punishment of hell is continually excruciating without end for the unbelieving dead and it is also believed that this punishment begins at physical death. However, given that scripture says that those who die lie in the grave until they are resurrected whether they are believers or unbelievers and that death will be destroyed, it must be concluded that this understanding is incorrect. Additionally, the parable says nothing about how long the rich man was tormented by this flame. This parable, along with all the others, is a type of storytelling common to the culture of the time and is given to believers as instruction and not as a statement about something that had occurred or was occurring because scripture shows that punishment in the lake of fire has not yet begun. Furthermore, Abraham has not been resurrected (cf. Hebrews 11).
The Messiah spoke in parables so that only His disciples would understand His message (Matthew 13:10-17). The conclusions reached regarding the parable of Lazarus even now are evidence that His parables are not understood by those who do not at this time believe in Him even though they think that they do. In Luke 16, He is explaining that one who will not listen to the law (Torah) of Moshe and the sayings of the prophets will not listen to someone who has risen from the dead. Even today, this parable is seen as a description of a torment that never ends while the continual validity of the Torah and prophets which the Messiah upheld in His life and words and commanded His followers to observe because they are in force until heaven and earth pass is rejected (cf. Matthew 5:16-20).
Mark 9:43-48 is also understood to mean that the destructive lake of fire never goes away and never destroys those thrown into it. This passage uses a quote from Isaiah 66:24 which also says that the worm does not die. However, this place is like a dump where trash is thrown to rot or be burnt. Isaiah 66:23-24 and Zechariah 14:16-21 show that mankind will worship God in Jerusalem when the Messiah returns. People will obviously see evidence of the destruction of the enemies God for some time. However, Revelation 20-22 shows that death and the grave will be cast into the lake of fire and that there will be a new Jerusalem. Thus, the area of destruction will no longer be on display as evidence of judgment of the Messiah. The area around the temple of God, the new Jerusalem, and in fact the whole creation will be entirely renewed and everything relating to death will simply not exist ever again. Additionally, since at least some of these unbelieving people described in Mark 9 are to be killed during the return of the Messiah, it must be concluded that they will be resurrected to judgment which occurs around 1,000 years later based on Revelation 20:5-13. While there may not be a belief that the worms will be immortal, there is a belief that the fire will never stop because Isaiah and Mark say that the fire is not quenched. These statements from the scriptures mean that the fire is too powerful for anyone to stop except God. They do not mean that the fire will never be quenched.
Revelation 14:9-11 is also cited as a proof of never ending torment. However, the plague of the third angel occurs over 1,000 years before the punishment in lake of fire and the smoke from the fire and brimstone is what ascends up forever and ever. The torment of these unbelievers who continue to worship the beast does continue for some time, but it must end at some point because evil will be destroyed as described previously.
Those who were evil, whether created as spirits or as humans, will exist no more. They will be properly judged and punished (See also Matthew 10:28. KJV "hell" - gehenna). Thus, when one reads of eternal or everlasting punishment in scripture, the correct conclusion is that the punishment is from the eternal or the everlasting (i.e. God) and that it will last forever, but not that it continues to be experienced (by the senses) without end by those who are punished. They will simply no longer exist in any physical or spiritual form. In other words, they are truly dead. Jude 7 says that Sodom and Gomorrha were punished by eternal fire. Obviously, that fire is not still burning. Those people were punished with death. However, since this is not the final judgment, they will be resurrected. However, when final judgment is made on those who are evil, their bodies and spirits will be destroyed.
The phrase in Revelation 20:10 translated "for ever and ever" in some translations and believed by some to describe an agony without end for the condemned should be understood in a different light. First, a more literal translation of the Greek is "to the ages of ages." Additionally, study of other Greek literature and scripture itself shows that this phrase does not mean that the torment of the lake of fire will continue without end. There will be a conclusion to it.
A detailed study of the Greek word αίών (English: aeon or eon) titled Life Time Entirety. A Study of ΑΙΩΝ in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo by Heleen M. Keizer shows that the term and its Hebrew counterpart עוׄלׇם (English: olam) reference something that occurs within time. The study shows that "Olam and hence aion in the Biblical sense is time constituting the human temporal horizon" (page 247), "that infinity is not an intrinsic or necessary connotation of aion, either in the Greek or in the Biblical usage (olam)" (page 250), and that "To speak of 'this aion', its 'end,' and 'the aion to come' clearly lends to aion the meaning of a limited time" (page 252). Scriptures (in the Septuagint) which show that this word does not strictly mean "eternity" include Exodus 21:6 and Deuteronomy 23:3 (verse 4 in some cases). New testament examples include Matthew 24:3, Luke 16:8, Luke 20:34, John 9:32, Acts 3:21, Ephesians 1:21, and Hebrews 9:26 which show that aion is finite. The use of this word in scripture including the context of Revelation and its description of this age and the "world to come" shows that those who are judged by the Creator to be unworthy will no longer exist in any form or spirit.
The scriptures describe reward, punishment, and what happens to someone at death very differently than what is commonly understood. Additionally, the argument of free will verses predestination is placed in a different light when one is guided by scripture. In fact, this argument is basically irrelevant to the life of a believer. Scripture shows that a believer can perceive whether or not someone is doing right or wrong and he is told to judge within the assembly, but he does not pronounce final judgment upon any person. The Creator of mankind does this. Therefore, the believer should concern himself with working toward his own salvation. Additionally, those who have mistaken beliefs regarding death, resurrection, judgment, etc. also have mistaken beliefs regarding what God wants man to do in this life. The widely held misconceptions regarding the parable of Lazarus are evidence of this. Moreover, God is true and every man is liar and what He says will happen is what will happen (Romans 3:4, II Peter 3:9). God is the One who creates and makes His creation God-like. He chastises those who are His when they fall away from righteousness. He has chosen to make a nation for himself (Israel), but allows many of that nation to be blind so that He can bring people of the other nations (gentiles) to salvation. He will bring those of Israel along with gentiles who are blind into truth so that they can obtain salvation as part of His family according to His will and His will only. This will be done through the one and only Savior Yeshua the Messiah (Emmanuel - God with us).
1This essay is not extensive as the entire Bible is basically a description of judgment, reward, and punishment. The beliefs of the groups discussed are also general. Furthermore, this essay does not pronounce judgment on anyone and provides the reasoning for this.
2Sin is obviously against God. However, the scriptures indicate that the righteous and merciful God judges the intent of the person and pronounces punishment accordingly. Also, whether or not sin is known or not by one does not change the fact that it is still sin and that God wants His people to be free of sin. See Leviticus 4 and 5.
3Scripture shows that truly righteous teachers may be rewarded for service, but they do not receive tithes unless they are levites or priests. The Bible shows that the only ones that are to receive tithes are levites and priests. Genesis 14 and Hebrews 7 show that Melchisedec the priest directly received a tithe from Abraham. Abraham did not give a tithe to someone doing the work of Melchisedec.
4Paul does say that those who spread the gospel message can be given material goods for the work that they do and cites the Torah for his reasoning. However, while he references the temple system in his first letter to the believers at Corinth, he in no way makes claim to the offerings due to those who render service in the Jerusalem temple. Even though Paul knew that those who spread the gospel have the right to be rewarded for their efforts, he would not take such gifts himself so that the gospel would not be hindered. The money and goods that Paul collected were used to help other believers who were in need. See Deuteronomy 25:4, I Corinthians 9, I Corinthians 16, and II Corinthians 9. However, he commends the Philippians for giving to him in his need (chapter 4) which occurred more than once. There is nothing wrong with giving to those who are in need. In fact, scripture tells the believer to help those in need (James 1:27, 2:14-17). However, tithing has not been transformed to being owed to some christian organization. Jews do not tithe because they understand that there is no temple system today in which they can give their tithe, though many do give to those in need. Additionally, the Torah allows a gentile to bring an offering to God via the temple - Numbers 15:1-16.
5Any worship that is not true is of the created, not the Creator regardless of whether or not it involves worship toward something that actually exists. Also, there are still uncontacted peoples who have little or no contact with the outside world. See Uncontacted peoples.
6Church organizations often use fear to gain control of their members so that they can get money from them. Additionally, there are certain things that must happen before the return of the Messiah because scripture says they will happen. The books of Daniel and Revelation are two examples which show that certain events must come to pass before the return of the Messiah. II Thessalonians 2:1-4, Matthew 24:15-26, and Luke 21:20-28 also show this. Moreover, Paul writes that while many will be surprised at the return of the Messiah, the people of God will know and be prepared (I Thessalonians 5:1-6). From his statements, it must be concluded that the understanding of some modern christians fits those who do not believe. Additionally, those who predict the return of the Messiah and are incorrect fit the description of those who do not believe. Deuteronomy 18:18-22 says that a prophet who teaches something in the name of God that he has not been commanded to speak will die. Verse 22 shows that this includes those who speak things that God has not commanded them to speak and have not come to pass. Their words are obviously not commanded by God. Additionally, while the Masoretic text says in verse 22 that one should not fear such people, the Septuagint (LXX) says that such people should not be spared indicating that they are to die as verse 20 says. See the Septuagint - Deuteronomy 18:20-22. Obviously, the modern world does not allow such a punishment because the governments of this world are not based on the commandments of God and believers do not have the responsibility of administering capital punishmet that was commanded for Israel in such cases. Nevertheless, verse 19 shows that God will punish such people. Thus, while believers should be wary of such people, God will deal with them ultimately. Lastly, the law (Hebrew: Torah) even condemns those who may accurately predict a future event, but who do not follow and teach the commandments of God. See Deuteronomy 13.
8It is a fairly common belief that Enoch never died. However, Enoch is listed in Hebrews 11 as one who died in faith. While verse 5 shows that he was taken away so that he would not see death, he eventually did die as is shown in verse 13. It is also believed that Elijah did not die because he was taken up in a whirlwind. He obviously was taken away from Elisha. See II Kings 1:17-2:15. Jehoram became king of Judah after the death of Ahaziah. Then, Elijah was taken up and the time of Elisha began. However, Elijah later sent a letter to Jehoram because of his disobedience (II Chronicles 21). It is clear that Elijah was still alive even though his mantle had been passed to Elisha and he had been taken by the whirlwind. Scripture clearly shows that man does not die and go to heaven. The Messiah, Peter, and Paul did not lie when making their statements regarding who is in heaven.
9Paul says that this Rock went with the children of Israel in the wilderness and that the Rock is the Messiah (I Corinthians 10:1-4).
10While it seems that that the priesthood will be renewed some time during the millennium, what Ezekiel seems to be describing here will happen after the thousand years has passed (as shown in Revelation) because it follows the account of the resurrection of many from Ephraim and Yehudah. If this is correct, then this must be the period of judgment to which Revelation 20:11-15 refers.
11Life Time Entirety. A Study of ΑΙΩΝ in Greek Literature and Philosophy, the Septuagint and Philo by Heleen M. Keizer. An English translation of the Septuagint (LXX) is here. A side by side of the Brenton translation and the Greek is found here where the referenced scriptures can be viewed. In Exodus 21:6, the last word in the verse is αίώνα which is a form of αίών. In Deuteronomy 23, it is the last word in verse 4 and is the same form used in Exodus 21:6. The same web site has a Greek/English new testament located here where the scriptures Matthew 24:3, Luke 16:8, Luke 20:34, John 9:32, Acts 3:21, Ephesians 1:21, and Hebrews 9:26 can be viewed. The verses use different forms of the word including αίώνος, αίώνι, and αίώνων.
12See Matthew 10:28, I Corinthians 5, I Corinthians 9:24. The believer does have concern for others and does have a part in the judgment of the actions other believers and his children helping them to learn to follow God. That is required by the Torah. However, God is the ultimate judge of all mankind and will reward or punish according to His will only. Additionally, the believer must judge righteously and understand that he must be righteous to judge properly.