Survey in Basic Christianity
Lesson 6
Considering Eternity

O.J. Gibson

“But man dies and is laid away; indeed he breathes his last and where is he?” (Job 14:10). Thoughtful people who observe the constant stream of funerals and obituaries realize that their time on earth is limited. They also pause to consider whether they have any hope of living beyond the short time of this life. Others pay no attention to death and live as if it will never come. Of course, ignoring something will not change reality, but it avoids the pain of thinking about it. At some point, most of the living ponder the question, “What happens after death?” Their theories are stated and answered under several headings below:

1. Non-Existence
We cease to exist. This view is sometimes called annihilation. “When you are dead, you are dead.” But the Bible teaches that when sinners die, they will suffer “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46) where “there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:50). Sinners endure eternal conscious suffering.

2. Reincarnation
One comes back to earth as a different form of life or in the body of another person or creature. Presumably, this would require supernatural power of some kind. However, the Bible teaches that “it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment” (Hebrews 9:27; cf. Job 7:9-10).

3. Spirit Communication
The dead live in a mysterious spirit world and may seek to maintain contact with those still living on earth. Yet, in Luke 16:19-31, there is no communication between the dead and the living. In this story, the dead rich man wanted to warn his family about the horrors of eternal torment, but he could not communicate with them, nor could anyone rise from the dead to warn them.

4. Impossible To Know
Some believe that our state after death is beyond human knowledge. They do not know if there is life after death or not. Many people live with the attitude that they will simply wait and see what happens, trusting in blind fate or hoping that a good life will outweigh any punishment for sins. But choosing ignorance over the truth of what God says in the Bible is foolishness. It is possible to know because God has revealed it. The Bible teaches that you can know that you have eternal life (John 17:3; 1 John 5:13).

No one can make these deceptive theories fit the teachings of the Bible. God’s word teaches that those who have died are conscious and aware, in one of two places (Matthew 25:46). They are either in the presence of God (2 Corinthians 5:8) in a state of blessedness (Revelation 14:13), or they are separated from God in a place of great torment (Revelation 20:10, 15).

Resurrection from the Dead

“If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). God’s word teaches that everyone who dies will rise from the dead. The very word resurrection means a standing or rising up. The Lord Jesus responded to people who denied the resurrection by pointing out that God’s name is associated with great men who had long since died. “He is not the God of the dead but of the living” (Luke 20:37-38). Proclaiming the resurrection was foundational to the apostles’ teaching (Acts 1:22; 4:2; 17:18; 23:6). The Apostle Paul said there were more than 500 eyewitnesses to the resurrection of Christ (1 Corinthians 15:4-8) and that if it were not true, their faith was empty (1 Corinthians 15:12-17).

The striking truth of Scripture is that there are two distinct groups of people in the resurrection, carefully separated from one another.

“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).

“All who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth – those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (John 5:28-29).

“There will be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and the unjust” (Acts 24:15).

When a person considers what the Bible teaches about God’s judgment, there are only two possible outcomes. Eternal judgment is one alarming possibility (Hebrews 6:2; 9:27). The other is the assurance of eternal life (John 3:16) and freedom from the sentence of condemnation (John 5:24; Romans 8:1).

The Length of Eternity

It should be evident that the plain meaning of words such as “eternity,” “everlasting,” and “forever and ever” refer to an eternal duration. Yet, some teachers, trying to soften the blow of eternal punishment, have sought to prove these expressions mean merely an extended or indefinite period. There is nothing temporary about the length of eternity.

The following verses illustrate that the words “eternal” and “everlasting” mean the same thing in their various uses.

1. As Applied To God
“The everlasting God” (Romans 16:26), “everlasting power” (1 Timothy 6:16), “the eternal Spirit” (Hebrews 9:14), “His eternal glory” (1 Peter 5:10), “everlasting kingdom” (2 Peter 1:11).

2. As Applied To The Unbeliever’s Future
“Everlasting fire” (Matthew 18:8), “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46), “everlasting destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:9), “eternal fire” (Jude7).

3. As Applied To The Believer’s Future
“Eternal life” (Luke 18:30; John 3:15), “everlasting life” (John 3:16, 36), “eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9), “eternal redemption” (Hebrews 9:12).

The exact comparisons exist when the phrase “forever and ever” is used. It is used of God and His throne (Hebrews 1:8; 1 Peter 5:11; Revelation 1:6; 4:9-10; 10:6; 15:7), of the endless torment of unbelievers (Revelation 14:11; 20:10), and the believer’s future reign with the Lord (Revelation 22:5).

Some presume that certain words such as “destruction,” “perish,” and “consume” mean annihilation. But the Bible does not teach this. It is clear that the devil was destroyed (Hebrews 2:14) but not annihilated (Revelation 20:10). Believers who engage in destructive speech are said to consume one another, but they do not annihilate each other (Galatians 5:15). The prodigal son felt he was perishing, yet he did not cease to exist as a person (Luke 15:17). The future of the unsaved is everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9). The fact that destruction is everlasting indicates that it does not involve a cessation of existence. Destruction is the loss of well-being but not the loss of being (existence).

The Condition of the Lost

1. As Described By Jesus
The Lord Jesus told a story called The Rich Man in Hell (Luke 16:19-31). He describes it as a factual story. However, even if it is a parable, figurative language would not invalidate the truth that He teaches in this story. We should seriously consider the lessons the Savior taught:

a. Individuals do not cease to exist after death.
b. There was no unconsciousness or “soul sleep.”
c. There was no salvation of all men.
d. A second chance for salvation is not offered.
e. Reincarnation or coming back to earth does not happen.
f. There was no end of torment or hope of change for the unsaved man.
g. The place of torment does not purify a person; it is their final destiny of eternal punishment.

2. As Further Taught By Jesus
The terrifying descriptions listed below are loving warnings by the One who demonstrated the greatest of all loves by giving Himself to save men from the judgment that is to come (John 3:17). He describes the truth of what awaits those who die while neglecting or refusing to trust Him for salvation.

a. Unquenchable fire (Matthew 3:12; 18:8; Mark 9:44, 48)
b. Torment forever (Revelation 14:11)
c. Outer darkness (Matthew 22:13; 25:30)
d. Weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth Matthew 13:42, 50; 24:51; Luke 13:28)
e. Lake of fire (Revelation 20:15)

Objections to Teaching of Eternal Punishment

There are several objections to this unpopular doctrine.

1. It Is Incompatible With The Love Of God
“‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). The Lord Jesus saw a city that had rejected Him and wept over it (Luke 19:41). Although He is a loving God, He cannot righteously pardon the guilty who reject His salvation (Numbers 14:18).

2. Appealing To Fear Is Not Persuasive
Some people avoid teaching about eternal punishment because they believe that focusing on God’s love or appealing to a person’s desire for improvement are more appealing messages. Yet even in everyday life, warnings that cause fear are essential to alert people to avoid choices that may cause severe harm or personal injury. The Lord Jesus appealed to the fear of God and His coming judgment to awaken His audience to the serious consequences of their choices (Matthew 10:28). Fearing God is said to be the beginning of wisdom (Proverbs 9:10). The Bible encourages people to fear God (1 Peter 2:17; Revelation 14:7; 15:4).

3. It is Unfair Of God to Be So Severe
People who have been offered a way of escape by a God who loves them and who have responded by refusal, evasion, and procrastination need not be surprised when they receive swift justice from a perfect and impartial Judge. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap” (Galatians 6:7). Rejecting the infinite love and patience of God demands infinite retribution (cf. Romans 1:18).

The Condition of the Redeemed

The final state of the righteous is in striking contrast to what we have read so far. “In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore” (Psalm 16:11). “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord” (Revelation 14:13). The believer looks “for the city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God” (Hebrews 11:10). The description of heaven is more wonderful than anything we have experienced or seen on earth. The eternal state and home of the believer are further described below:

1. It Is With Christ
“I go and prepare a place for you … that where I am, there you may be also” (John 14:3; cf. John 17:24). To be absent from the body is to “be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).

2. It Is In A Changed Body
Believers’ new bodies will be like “His glorious body” (Philippians 3:21) and, therefore, incorruptible (1 Corinthians 15:35-44). We will be recognizable as was the Lord (Matthew 28:9, 17; Luke 24:31, 39-40). For believers, the resurrection of the body occurs at the Second Coming of Christ (1 Thessalonians 4:15-17).

3. It Is In A Place Of “No Mores”
There is “no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). There will be no sins and no sinners in heaven (Revelation 21:8, 27).

4. It Is In A Place Of Infinite Beauty
The city’s building materials include jasper walls, pure gold, all kinds of precious stones, gates of pearl, and streets of gold, like transparent glass (Revelation 21:18-21). God’s creation of our eternal home surpasses anything we have ever seen or known.

5. It Is In A Place Free From Sin And Defilement
Heaven is the eternal dwelling place of the redeemed, and it is sometimes called the “New Jerusalem.” Before Jesus died and rose again, the Jewish believers called it “Paradise” or “Abraham’s Bosom.” It is a place free from all sin and defilement (Revelation 21:27). It fills believers’ hearts with the desire to be there and removes the fear of death. As Paul said, “to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). How wonderful it was when the Lord Jesus said to the thief on the cross who repented of his sins and believed in Him, “Today you will be with Me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).

Will you be there with Him?

SBC Lesson 6 Study Guide
Considering Eternity

“If a man dies, shall he live again?” (Job 14:14). This question, posed by one of the ancients, is still of great importance today. What happens after death?

  1. The Bible presents those who have died as being conscious and aware in one of two places. What are those two places (2 Corinthians 5:8; Revelation 20:10, 15)?
  2. The Bible further indicates that all who die will be resurrected (raised) from the dead. Describe the two different destinies of all humanity (Daniel 12:2; John 5:28-29; Acts 24:15).
  3. Paraphrase (rewrite in your own words) the following verses (John 3:16; 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9}.
  4. How long is eternity? Can you think of an illustration to describe it?
  5. Jesus told the story of The Rich Man in Hell (Luke 16:19-31). According to these verses, which of the following is true? (select one)
    1. A person ceases to exist when he dies
    2. A dead person experiences a state of unconsciousness or “soul sleep”
    3. Hell is a place of conscious, never-ending torment
    4. God will save everyone
    5. If a person goes to hell, he will get a second chance
  6. Which of the following did Jesus not use to describe hell? (select one)
    1. Unquenchable fire
    2. Torment forever
    3. Outer darkness
    4. Weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth
    5. A place of temporary purification
    6. Lake of fire
  7. How would you answer the following objections?
    1. The doctrine of hell is incompatible with the love of God
    2. This teaching appeals to fear
    3. It is unfair of God to be so severe
  8. The Bible describes the future of the believer in heaven as (select one):
    1. Being with Christ forever
    2. Existence in a changed body
    3. Being free from sorrow and pain
    4. Being in a place where nothing unholy enters
    5. All of the above
    6. a and c above
  9. What do you say? Have you come to the place in your own spiritual experience where you know for sure that you would go to heaven if you were to die tonight? Explain.
  10. What does God say? We want to encourage you to memorize God’s word. The suggested memory verse for this lesson is

1 John 5:11-12 (NKJV)
“And this is the testimony: that 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.”