Thursday, September 11, 2008

The Final Outcome

Hell Was Not An Option

So far we have dealt with the issue of what happens between death and resurrection. In this study we will look at the resurrection, judgment and final disposition of the saved and the lost. As I endeavored to understand the subjects in this study, I felt like a baby chick pecking my way out of a shell. I could only deal with one small peck at a time. As I have already mentioned, discovering that I have a spirit set me on this quest. It was an astonishing realization. It has profoundly affected how I live my life, and has spurred me to dig deeply into the word of God for more clues to the mysteries of the spirit realm. If I can encourage just a few people to begin looking more deeply into the things of the spirit/Spirit, I will be delighted.

Inevitably, with each new revelation comes a whole bevy of questions and conundrums that are not answered by previous suppositions. The most troublesome and enigmatic for me had to do with the disposition of the lost at death - and beyond that question, at the judgment and resurrection. Eternal torment had never even been an option to consider. I was schooled to abhor the very idea and, like speaking in tongues, was told that the notion of hell came from Satan. My strong emotional reactions kept me from even giving the idea of hell a chance, or considering the scriptures concerning it in anything but symbolic terms. Here are some of the statements from Ellen White that warn against the idea of a God who would allow hell.

“But after the fall, Satan bade his angels make a special effort to inculcate the belief in man's natural immortality; and having induced the people to receive this error, they were to lead 'Condemnation' by Duncan Longthem on to conclude that the sinner would live in eternal misery. Now the prince of darkness, working through his agents, represents God as a revengeful tyrant, declaring that he plunges into hell all those who do not please him, and causes them ever to feel his wrath; and that while they suffer unutterable anguish, and writhe in the eternal flames, their Creator looks down upon them with satisfaction.

“Thus the arch-fiend clothes with his own attributes the Creator and Benefactor of mankind. Cruelty is Satanic. God is love; and all that he created was pure, holy, and lovely, until sin was brought in by the first great rebel…

“Satan and his emissaries represent God as even worse than themselves, in order to justify their own malignity and rebellion. The great deceiver endeavors to shift his own horrible cruelty of character upon our heavenly Father... Thus he succeeds in luring souls away from their allegiance to God.” {Great Controversy 1888 534.1-3}

Who would want a God like that? What pejorative, emotion-laden language! She asserts that the invention of eternal hell was a lie that God would torture people for all eternity. To believe in hell meant believing in a God who is vengeful and vindictive. How could any loyal Christian embrace such a picture of God? EGW’s statements sound authoritative, and put an end to the discussion for those who accept her prophetic pronouncements. They sound right. As I look back at the quotes above, I realize that they contain the seeds for the Moral Influence Theory propounded by Graham Maxwell and Jack Provonsha at Loma Linda University. They teach that the idea of a God who demands a pound of flesh to pay for sin on the cross is equally as repugnant as the doctrine of hell.

We want to paint God with a loving aura, and so we go about constructing the contours of His face ourselves in order to help Him appear more acceptable. Then we hang His new portrait on the walls of our hearts and worship it. Have you discovered yet that He doesn’t need our help to appear good? He IS good. We need His help to understand the whole truth. What if it isn’t God torturing at all? What if there are other answers we haven’t even thought of considering? As we will see later in this study, the horrific alternatives Ellen White gives in her statements are not at all the extent of a true understanding of hell. Those words have become such an integral thread, woven into the fabric of Adventism, that they are indistinguishable from canon.

“How repugnant to every emotion of love and mercy, and even to our sense of justice, is the doctrine that the wicked dead are tormented with fire and brimstone in an eternally burning hell; that for the sins of a brief, earthly life they are to suffer torture as long as God shall live. Ye'Harmless Sins' by Duncan Longt this doctrine has been widely taught, and is still embodied in many of the creeds of Christendom. Said a learned doctor of divinity: ‘The sight of hell-torments will exalt the happiness of the saints forever.’” {Great Controversy p. 88 535.1}

In this passage, she imputes glee and fiendish pleasure to those who believe in hell as they watch others suffer. Again, abhorrent motivations are imputed to anyone who would believe in hell - making it sound like high treason. But ask yourself this question: If an eternal hell of some kind exists, who would benefit most from convincing people that it does not? Would it not be Satan, who knows his fate, and wants to deceive people, thereby taking as many with him to the lake of fire as possible? Why is it that Jesus, Himself, speaks more of hell than anyone else in scripture? His descriptions do not mince words, nor does He try to soften the impact of the eternal nature of hell. Why would He speak of something that does violence to His very nature?

"But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the Supreme Court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Matt 5:22 (NASB)

"But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!” Luke 12:5 (NASB)

"You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?” Matt 23:33 (NASB)

On the other hand, White used every opportunity to discredit hell and replace it with annihilation, conditional immortality and soul sleep.

“Then the way was prepared for Satan to work through his representatives, and hold up God before the people as a revengeful tyrant, Satan knew that if this error should be received, God would be hated by many, instead of being loved and admired; and that many would be led to believe that the threatenings of God's word would not be literally fulfilled, for it would be against His character of benevolence and love to plunge into eternal torments the beings whom He had created." {The Bible Echo, August 10, 1896 par. 5}

Making God in Our Image

The problem with the EGW statements above is that they are based on human emotion and reasoning that makes God into our own image. To portray hell as Ellen White does, causes a knee-jerk reaction of outrage. Understand, I am not trying to make hell benign or pleasant. I am making a case for looking first at what the Bible says about hell and going from there. Anything else elevates our own reasoning to heights from which we are sure to fall. To illustrate, let’s look at other things God did that we do not like: killing every living being on Earth (save eight) with the flood; killing 186,000 Assyrians in one fell swoop no matter what they had done, or whether they had ever heard of God; killing Uzzah for touching the ark with the very best of motives; sending bears to kill some kids for teasing a prophet; turning lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back at her home burning - while still walking away. If you say, “That was the God of the Old Testament and the Old Covenant,” (Never mind that Jesus said, “If you have seen me you have seen the Father.”) then let’s go to the New Testament.

Ananias and Sapphira were killed with no chance for repentance when they lied about the sale price of their property; and Paul was beaten, stoned, shipwrecked and left for dead while he preached the gospel. In each instance, God did not intervene. Today, millions of children are trafficked for the sex trade; little boys and girls are conscripted into Asian and African armies at the ages of nine and ten - then forced to kill their own parents. Thousands of children in Romania live in the sewers and have destroyed their brains with inhalant chemicals to numb the pain. Whole populations of Christians have been exterminated in Rwanda and Sudan, while the omnipotent God does not stop the carnage. Do you believe for a moment that people in those situations were not praying and crying out to God for deliverance? And yet, none came. Christians who trust and believe the word of God pray for healing, and die still believing. So, let’s not try to pretend that we understand the mystery of sin or the mystery of God. Let’s not discount hell based on our dislike for it.

Many have reasoned their way out of believing in hell on the basis that they cannot conceive of a loving, omnipotent God allowing eternal punishment - without doing something to stop it. This is the same reasoning that has caused many Jews to reject God. How could a loving, omnipotent God allow the Holocaust without intervening to rescue His own chosen people? If He existed, He would have stopped it. I have heard people say of God, “If He does exist, and 'Monuments to False gods' by Cherry Brandstaterthat’s the kind of God He is, then I don’t want anything to do 

with Him.” Could it be that we don’t know all of the variables? Could it be that we can’t understand the true implications and principles involved? Could it be that we are not even addressing the right questions, or seeing the real issues? What if we are playing into the hands of the enemy, while styling ourselves “the champions of God”?

We do not have the option of deciding what God can and cannot do, even when we think we are coming to His defense. Our thoughts are not His thoughts, and our ways are not His ways. So the only safe course is to diligently seek out what He has said about Himself in the scriptures, believe what they say - asking for grace and faith to trust Him even when we cannot understand. “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!” Romans 11:33 (NIV) Along these lines I would highly recommend Philip Yancy’s books, Where Is God When It Hurts, The Jesus I Never Knew and Disappointment With God. His insights bring a whole new dimension to this discussion.

Mud To Water

Something I struggle with is the tension between spiritual understanding on the one side, and my need for a practical interpretation on the other. I’m sure by now that you have been saying to yourself, “Wait a minute. If those who are saved go to Christ when they die, then what of the lost when they die?” What happens to them, and where does the judgment fit in if people are sorted out already? Those questions don’t have to be asked or answered if you believe in soul sleep. If you haven’t asked those questions yet, you will. I did; and while there are gaps and incomplete revelation, there is enough in scripture to piece many things together. By the time I asked what happened to the lost when they die, it was already a settled fact in my mind that soul sleep doesn’t square with the Bible. So I began to unearth what I could find to solve the mysteries. I am well aware that I am a new kid on the block in this neighborhood, and that Christians have been exploring these issues for two thousand years. I am also well aware that I am still in process and admit that, as time goes on, some of the things I now see will be expanded, while other things I think I see, will be deleted. All we can do is to start somewhere.

One of the chapters of this study began with these words: “This is where the road gets muddy and the signposts hard to read.” But as I continued to study and discovered clues and connections, God honored the search. Big chunks of the puzzl'Crystal Clear' by Cherry Brandstatere dropped into place so that a picture began to emerge. When I finished the chapter and returned to proof read it, I realized that the mud had turned to clear water and I erased the words of confusion. God had cleared the water with the words of His mouth.

I will have to say that this chapter has offered more questions and puzzles than any of the rest for me. I have tried to avoid making the Bible say things that it doesn’t say, because that distorts the image of God. I may wish for it to say something other than what it does, but I know that if I were able to understand all of the mysteries of God, many things that appear negative to me now, would no longer look that way. It’s nearly impossible to set aside our conditioning without the miracle-working power of the Holy Spirit. Asking for His help in sorting out truth from falsehood is mandatory. Otherwise, we end up with faulty reasoning and wrong conclusions. Only God can show us what hell reveals about His love, mercy, justice, grace and redemptive purpose. He has already given the greatest possible gift so “He who did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all--how will he not also, along with him, graciously give us all things?” Romans 8:32 (NIV) Therefore, He will answer our prayers for wisdom and understanding of His word on the subject of hell.

Christ Is Our Salvation

When we are born again and have received Christ as our Savior, we NOW HAVE eternal life. That is an anchor point of faith, and an important foundation on which to build our doctrines regarding death and the afterlife. Christ became the dark warrior’s bane. From the moment of our new birth forward, nothing can separate us from Christ - not even death. So, those who have died in Christ HAVE eternal life, because God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the 'Dark Warrior's Bane' by Duncan Longpresent nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 8:38-39 (NIV)

“’My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of my Father's hand. I and the Father are one.’" John 10:27-30 (NIV)

“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:11-13 (NIV) Now, not later. Not will have, but HAVE.

And in the Spirit we are already seated with Christ in Heavenly places where nothing will ever snatch us from His hand throughout all the coming ages. “But because of his great love for us, God…raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus.” Eph 2:4-7 (NIV) Now!

Absent From the Body, Present With the Lord

If all of these things are true, it follows that when a believer dies and goes to be with Christ, there is no question about eternal destination at the resurrection or second coming. We are simply waiting with Christ for all things to be restored. We wait for the completion of all 'Believe on Jesus - Fall Into His Arms' by Ramone Romerothings and the redemption of our bodies.

“Not only that, but we also who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, eagerly waiting for the adoption, the redemption of our body.” Romans 8:23 (NKJV)

In fact, it becomes very obvious when Christ returns, that those who are resurrected at that time, have already been given eternal life. They have already been with Him since the time of their deaths. Only the saved are raised in the first resurrection. The lost are not resurrected until the second resurrection. God has already cast our sins into the depths of the ocean, separated them from us as far as the east is from the west, and “will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more.” Heb 8:12 (NIV) So the judgment we enter doesn’t have to do with determining our fate. That happened at the new birth.

“They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years.(The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended.) This is the first resurrection. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.” Rev 20:4-6 (NIV)

In fact, those who are in Christ do not face judgment, with respect to salvation. That has already been determined by our confession of faith in Jesus’ death for our sins. Those who are born again are secure in Him. There is no fearful looking forward to judgment to see whether or not we will be saved or lost from that moment on.
'Rapture 2' by Duncan Long
"Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life.” John 5:24 (NASB)

"He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18 (NASB)

“Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died--more than that, who was raised to life--is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?” Romans 8:33-35 (NIV)

What happens at the Judgment?

The Bible says that all will come to judgment. What does that mean in light of the previous discussion? Let’s read Hebrews 9:27-28.

“And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment, so Christ also, having been offered once to bear the sins of many, will appear a second time for salvation without reference to sin, to those who eagerly await Him.”

This actually fits perfectly with the foundations we have laid before. It says that we are to die only once, and at death, our choice to accept or reject Christ’s sacrifice for our sins has been made irrevocably. The spirits of those who are saved go immediately to be with Christ, and await the second coming to receive the rewards of their lives on Earth. Those who are lost, are held in Hades until the Day of Judgment where their final punishment is meted out. At the second coming, Jesus does not come to address sin, but rewards.

Is there other confirmation of that in scripture? Well, it just so happens that there is:

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” 2 Cor 5:10 (NIV)
'Heaven or Hell' by Duncan Long
"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29 (NASB) What a difference in the two resurrections. Notice that only one of the resurrections includes the word judgment.

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes… At that time each will receive his praise from God.” 1 Cor 4:5 (NIV) Christ will never forget the cup of water given in His name, and at the judgment, He will commend the faithfulness of His holy ones. The things we thought no one had noticed will be shown for the love and sacrifice they represented.

“Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day--and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.” 2 Tim 4:8 (NIV)

'Heaven or Hell' by Duncan Long/Do Not Copy
To summarize this chapter so far:

1) Those who accept Christ pass over from death into eternal life - then and there.

2) When they die, their spirits return to God who gave them.

3) Their bodies return to dust.

4) They never face judgment regarding salvation. Jesus has done that for them.

5) At the second coming, Jesus brings with Him those who have died.

6) The dead are resurrected and, along with the living, are fitted with immortal bodies.

7) At His second coming, Christ does not come to deal with sin, but commendation.

8) Those who have believed in Him are taken to their eternal reward.

The Second Coming For Those in Christ

At the second coming of Christ there will be many people who are still alive. What of them? Some will be saved, others lost. How does that play out? Here are some passages that give us some insights.

“But we do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about those who have died, 'The Ascension' by Duncan Longso that you may not grieve as others do who have no hope. For since we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so, through Jesus, God will bring with him those who have died. For this we declare to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will by no means precede those who have died. For the Lord himself, with a cry of command, with the archangel's call and with the sound of God's trumpet, will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up in the clouds together with them to meet the Lord in the air; and so we will be with the Lord forever.” 1 Thess 4:13-17 (NRSV)

“What I am saying, brothers and sisters, is this: flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God, nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. Listen, I will tell you a mystery! We will not all die, but we will all be changed, in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For this perishable body must put on imperishability, and this mortal body must put on immortality. When this perishable body puts on imperishability, and this mortal body puts on immortality, then the saying that is written will be fulfilled: ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory.’" 1 Cor 15:50-54 (NRSV)

"All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, as the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right, 'Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’” Matt 25:32-34 (NASB)

Notice that it is the body that is mortal. When these texts are put side by side we see that Jesus brings the spirits of those who have returned to God at death, with Him. They are joined with immortal bodies so that once again they are whole and their spirits and bodies are no longer separated. It seems that in the early church the subjects of resurrection and eternal judgments were better understood than they are now. The writer of Hebrews calls them elementary things and is a bit exasperated at having to go over and over the details. “Therefore leaving the elementary teaching about the Christ, let us press on to maturity, not laying again a foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God, of instruction about washings and laying on of hands, and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment.” Heb 6:1-2 (NASB) But the confusion over these “elementary teachings” has grown over the centuries, and we need to lay the foundations again.

Summary of The Final Outcome

1) Adventists are taught that the doctrine of hell comes from Satan.
2) We are obligated to base doctrine on what the scriptures teach, and resist remaking God in our own image.
3) Those in Christ never face judgment, with respect to sin, because they have already been given eternal life.
4) At death they go to be with Christ.

5) At the resurrection, Christ brings them with Him to be joined with their immortal bodies.
6) Those who are alive are given spiritual bodies, because flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.

7) The judgment for the righteous is a commendation and rewards banquet for all of the things, great and small, done in the name of Jesus during their lives on Earth.

Quiz for The Final OutcomeChoose the correct answers:
1. Ellen White attributes the doctrine of Hell to:
A. The Catholic Church
B. Amalgamation
C. Satan
D. The passions roused by meat-eating

2. The Moral Influence Theory, held by prominent leaders in Adventism teaches:
A. The death of Christ was not necessary for salvation.
B. The blood of Christ covers our sins.
C. Unless we repent and confess our sins, we will be lost.
D. The substitutionary death of Christ on the cross for the remission of sins

3. Sin is much darker and more heinous than we can possibly understand.
A. True
B. False

4. God’s ways are mysterious to us. Which of the following did He NOT orchestrate?
A. Turning Lot’s wife into a pillar of salt for looking back on her burning home
B. Slaying 186,000 Assyrians in one fell swoop
C. Slaying Ananias and Sapphira for lying
D. Sparing Uzzah for his good intentions

5. Our salvation will not be a settled matter until the judgment.
A. True
B. False

6. In the resurrection, Paul says we are waiting for the redemption of our:
A. Souls
B. Spirits
C. Bodies
D. Minds

7. We will not ever have to face judgment with regard to sin.
A. True
B. False

8. All of the following will happen at the judgment for the saved except:
A. They receive praise from God.
B. They will be commended for their acts of love and obedience.
C. They will receive a crown of righteousness.
D. They will have to give account for their sins they forgot to confess.

9. At the second coming, what happens to the saved who have already died?
A. God will breathe into them the breath of life and their long soul sleep will end.
B. Christ will bring them with Him to be joined to a spiritual body that will never die.
C. They will remain disembodied spirits throughout eternity.
D. They will be angels and join with the heavenly host in songs of victory.

10. What happens to the saved that are still alive on Earth at the second coming?
A. They will remain on Earth for a thousand years and help the lost come to Jesus.
B. They will be killed by the brightness of His coming, since the Bible says it is ordained for all to die once.
C. Their bodies will be miraculously transformed into spirit bodies and they will ascend to be with Jesus.
D. Whatever they were doing on Earth they will continue to do on their way to Heaven.

Answers: 1-C, 2-A, 3-A, 4-D, 5-B, 6-C, 7-A, 8-D, 9-B, 10-C

Spirit Table of Contents

The Next Chapter: What of the Lost?
It's much easier to talk about the spirit leaving the body at death to be with the Lord than it is to speak of the lost. One of the conundrums for me, once I had rejected the idea of soul sleep, was to figure out what happened to the lost before the second coming of Christ. Admittedly, it still isn't an easy answer, because it is in the realm of theory rather than experience. Much of what we are told in the Bible on this subject is mysterious. But there are some things we can know.

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