God's End Game - Part 48
Series: God's End Game
February 09, 2020
God’s End Game - Part 48
We are taking a bit of a detour in our God’s End Game series because of what we learned along the way. If you examine the Scripture as it relates to the end, or the Last Day, when Jesus returns to give us our resurrection bodies, bring judgment, and establish a new heaven and new earth (Revelation 21), you realize a few things.
One is “heaven” as we normally define it isn’t quite right. Heaven is where God lives. God is spirit and not made of flesh and bones, so where he lives must not be a material place like the earth. It’s a place as real ours but it’s a different dimension. Good so far.
But we assume that when Christians die that’s where they go, to “heaven” and that’s where they’ll be for all eternity. So heaven is where believers go when they die.
But our study of God’s end game has unfolded a wonderful twist. Jesus’ real, literal, physical, flesh and blood resurrection body is a precursor to ours. Giving us material resurrection bodies and then placing us in an immaterial place forever doesn’t make much sense.
Sure enough, both the OT and NT understanding of where we’ll spend eternity is a physical place of dirt and stone and atmosphere and stars called “the new heaven and the new earth” described in detail in John’s vision…
Revelation 21:1–4 (ESV) — 1 Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. 2 And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. 4 He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
Something else we realize about “heaven” is since the new heaven and new earth haven’t happened yet, as well as the judgments and the lake of fire (hell), no one can really be in heaven or hell yet.
And the question that necessitates is our little detour. Where do people go when they die then? The story Jesus told of the Lazarus and the rich man got us started. At it’s core it’s about the afterlife. Whether it’s a true story or not really doesn’t matter. The bottom line is Jesus wouldn’t describe the afterlife inaccurately. Jesus would know how it works being the Son of God and all.
This story confirms that when people die the unjust immediately go to a place of torment and the just go to a place of blessedness which sounds like what we know to be true. But it can’t be the new and heaven and earth and lake of fire described by John because the Last Day hasn’t arrived yet. And it would be really weird and offsetting if this is how things work for eternity. It just doesn’t fit.
Cutting to the chase here, I believe Jesus is describing the afterlife in terms of a temporary existence that stays in effect until the final play of God’s End Game is revealed.
I’d like to briefly (and probably inadequately) show you there is support for this in the Bible. Let’s start by going back to the story Jesus in told in Luke 16 for a minute. Remember his audience: Jews.
This story made perfect sense to them because it fit into their understanding of what happened when you died from a first century Jew’s perspective. For them, when you died you went to a place called sheol, sometimes translated as the grave.
Sheol, simply put, is the abode of the dead. Just so you know, Sheol in the OT is incredibly nuanced, referring to the place all go when they die or the place wicked go when they die and sometimes even the personification of the grave or death.
You come across it for the first time in the book of Genesis. Joseph had been sold into slavery by his brothers, who told their father, Jacob, he’d been eaten by an animal.
Genesis 37:34–35 (ESV) — 34 Then Jacob tore his garments and put sackcloth on his loins and mourned for his son many days. 35 All his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him, but he refused to be comforted and said, “No, I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning.” Thus his father wept for him.
You come across this Hebrew word Sheol about 66 times in the OT, and all are associated with death. Note that in the KJV, Sheol is often translated as hell. That’s unfortunate because it takes a NT concept and projects it backwards on the OT.
Most folks don’t realize the OT idea of the afterlife was very underdeveloped (try forming your idea of the it solely on Gen - Malachi!). Jews more or less just thought of death in terms of going to the grave, going to Sheol, the abode of the dead and that was kind of it. But by the time of Jesus, that idea was much more evolved. I’ll tell you about that towards the end today.
Believe it or not, the Jews’ idea of the hereafter in Jesus’ day was influenced by the Greek understanding of the same. In Greek mythology Hades is the prince of the netherworld and the dead reside in his kingdom called the “house of Hades.”
“Originally the Greeks thought of Hades as simply the grave, a shadowy, ghostlike existence that happened to all who died, good and evil alike. Gradually they and the Romans came to see it as a place of reward and punishment, an elaborately organized and guarded realm where the good were rewarded in the Elysian Fields and the evil were punished.”
Wait a minute, are you saying the Jews’ understanding of the afterlife in Jesus’ day lined up with the Greeks’? Isn’t it dangerous to associate the teachings of Scripture with the myths of pagans?
They say all myths, if you trace them back far enough, point to some truth. It’s fascinating that almost all cultures, modern and ancient, have some concept of the abode of the dead. It’s almost as if in ancient history past mankind was all together and then scattered.
Stay with me here. You have often heard me mention the LXX. It was a translation of the Hebrew Bible into the Greek language that came into heavy use by the time of Jesus. It was so popular NT writers such as Matthew, Luke, John, Paul and Peter actually quote from it. In fact, some scholars have 2/3 of the 300 OT quotes in the NT coming from the LXX translation.
We can learn much about how the Jews of Jesus’ day interpreted the OT scriptures by looking at the LXX (sons of God, i.e.). When they were translating texts such as Gen. 37:35, guess what word they consistently chose for Sheol? What word for Sheol would correspond well for those not raised in Hebrew culture or not able to speak or read the Hebrew language? The Greek word for the underworld, Hades.
Jesus and the NT writers carried over the idea of OT Sheol using the Greek term Hades and well. That doesn’t mean the Greek mythology was right, just that the idea worked into their understanding of the afterlife. They appropriated it. For example…
Matthew 11:23 (ESV) — 23 And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Matthew 16:18 (ESV) — 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
Luke 16:23 (ESV) — 23 and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
Revelation 20:14 (ESV) — 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.
Pastor, I appreciate you trying and all, but Hades in the NT is just another word for hell. The KJV even translates all the instances of Hades as hell.
Is it though?
Jesus and the NT writers also referred to a place related to the afterlife called Gehenna (always translated as hell), which seems to be distinct in some way from Hades. Here are some examples…
Matthew 5:22 (ESV) — 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Matthew 5:29 (ESV) — 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.
Matthew 23:15 (ESV) — 15 Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.
Luke 12:5 (ESV) — 5 But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!
Gehenna actually refers to a real place, the valley of Hinnom, which was just outside the city of Jerusalem. At the time of Christ it was used as a garbage dump. The methane gas that goes with rotting garbage had caught fire and been burning for years. It was also the place in Israelite history past where great wickedness occurred, such as the sacrificing of children.
Of all the instances of Gehenna save one, Jesus spoke of it in the context of judgment, compared to the instances of Hades where the context is death only (Luke 16 and the parable of Lazarus and the rich manis the exception).
Because of this, some have come to the conclusion that hell and Hades are not synonymous. Hell, or Gehenna, is the as yet unpopulated eternal fate of the wicked called the lake of fire in Revelation. And Hades is the temporary abode of the dead in general, and the parable of Lazarus and the rich man is an actual account of two people who died and entered the afterlife where one was ushered into the holding place of torment and the other the holding place of bliss.
One Bible scholar explains it this way…
Where Hades denotes the abode of all the dead, it is described as a temporary holding place until the resurrection, when Hades gives up its dead (Rev 20:13). This is further underscored by the demarcation between Hades and GEHENNA, which is used to describe the eschatological hell of fire where the ungodly will be punished after death (Matt 5:22).
There isn’t enough evidence in the Bible to definitively prove this, but is does make sense of what happens when people die before the Last Day, since the lake of fire and the new heaven and earth haven’t happened yet.
Study the extra biblical ancient Jewish writings and teachings of ancient Rabbis, and you discover the Jews of Jesus’ day saw Sheol as the abode of the dead containing two compartments: one for the righteous dead and one for the unrighteous. The righteous dead went to paradise; it’s gates were guarded by Abraham (sound familiar?). The unrighteous dead went to a place of torment.
So what I’m trying to say is, maybe that’s how it works. That’s what happens when we die leading up to the Last Day.
It gives new meaning to the words of Christ to the thief on the cross as well…
Luke 23:43 (ESV) — 43 And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Before we close, let me clarify a couple of things, thanks to those who approached me with questions ands concerns.
The other Sunday a fellow came to me after services with a legitimate concern. He wasn’t sure where I was going with this. He reminded me of Pauls words in…
2 Corinthians 5:6–8 (ESV) — 6 So we are always of good courage. We know that while we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord, 7 for we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 Yes, we are of good courage, and we would rather be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
Doesn’t that mean Christians have to go to heaven, in the sense of the place God lives and not some temporary place?
Psalm 139:8 (ESV) — 8 If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!
Someone else wondered if maybe I thought we entered into a state of unconsciousness when we died (called souls sleep), waiting for Jesus’ return to be awakened and given our resurrection bodies. The story of the rich man and Lazarus makes that difficult.
And then there’s the story of the transfiguration.
Conclusion: If the story of the rich man and Lazarus gives us a description of what happens when people die before the Last Day — and I believe it does — it points us to the possibility that the dead don’t go to “heaven” or hell as we’ve generally understood it, but
to a temporary place for the righteous and unrighteous. One is a place of bliss, paradise, and the other a place of torment.
On the Last Day, Jesus will gather everyone in Paradise and take them with him to earth, where they’ll be given their resurrection bodies. Then those who are alive and remain will get theirs. And they all will live forever with the Lord in the new heaven and new earth.
If that’s right, and I think it is, we notice something incredible here. What’s a prime vacation destination? Exotic islands with an ocean breeze and a beautiful view. What do we call that? Paradise.Paradise in God’s End Game plan is just a layover. I can’t imagine how incredible the new heaven and earth must be.
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