Ten Questions: #10 – Are Heaven and Hell real?

Full Question: Why should I think that heaven really exists–and that God sends people to hell?

Summary

  • The question of whether or not there is an afterlife is extremely important; Christians need to be able to articulate their confidence to questioning unbelievers.
  • There is nearly universal belief in the afterlife.
  • Jesus made it clear that heaven is a real place of eternal joy and that hell is also a real place, but one of punishment and regret.
  • God doesn’t send people to hell, they choose to go there themselves.
  • God offers heaven to everyone and has made provision for all to be there.
  • Heaven is reserved for those who have received Jesus Christ as their Savior and sought to honor him with their lives.
  • Hell is for those who refused to allow God any say in their lives.
  • We can be certain that no one is left without the opportunity to choose. People will be held accountable for what they did with the amount of information they had.

Introduction

  • Mittelberg begins this chapter by reflecting on the amazing life of Marie Little, one who sought to be in the middle of the action throughout her long life.
    • Her memorial service truly felt more like a celebration than a time of grieving.
    • Our confident belief that she truly was in heaven at that very moment.
  • This question of heaven’s existence tied for first place (next to the topic of God’s existence) as one of the questions we as Christians feel least ready to answer.
  • The afterlife involves a discussion whether or not that invisible entity is transported at death, unseen, to an invisible place of which there are not photographs, etc.

Making the Case

What is your own compelling reason for believing that there is an afterlife? Or perhaps, what is your compelling reason for not accepting it?

  1. Eternity in our hearts. Ecclesiastes 3:11. There is something strange about us humans, a sense of having been made for something more.
  2. Near-death Experiences. Eyewitness accounts do seem to add to the evidence for an afterlife, even though they vary widely.
  3. Ultimate Justice. Our irrepressible moral sense that all is not right in this world; a longing for a better place.
  4. Home Beyond the Horizon. “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” (C.S. Lewis). See: 1 Peter 2:11, Hebrews 11:13-16). However, most of these reflections will probably not connect very well with the younger people you talk to.
  5. Eternal perspective with earthly benefits. Dinesh D’Souza argues that having belief in an afterlife can actually improve the overall quality of this life. “…the prospect of an afterlife provides a motive for morality and generosity because it is linked to cosmic justice.”

God As Our Witness

The most compelling argument is Jesus’ direct and clear teaching on the topic.

  1. Jesus’ unique credentials.
    • Jesus established his credibility by rising from the dead three days after his public crucifixion, just as he predicted.
    • He alone was in a position to know about what is true and real about the life beyond the grave. John 1:1-5, 14; Colossians 1:15-20; Hebrews 1:8-12.
    • There is simply no better support for our beliefs than Jesus’ clear conviction that these places are real.
    • For our friends that say they can’t trust the Bible, we need to patiently back up to establish those compelling points, starting with the historical nature of the New Testament record and, perhaps, presenting more of the information we discussed in chapter 3.
  2. Jesus’ clear teaching. Look at the consistent, repeated ways he spoke about this topic so that no single text is taken as an isolated “proof” by itself.
    • John 14:2-3. More than enough room.
    • Matthew 22:29-32. “…when the dead rise…”
    • Matthew 10:28. “…they cannot touch the soul…”
    • John 3:13, 6:38. “…the Son of Man has come down from heaven.”
    • Matthew 5:29-30. “…better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell…”
    • Matthew 23:33. “…how will you escape the judgment of hell?”
    • Luke 6:22-23. “…a great reward awaits you in heaven.”
    • Luke 10:15. “…you will go down to the place of the dead.”
    • Luke 10:20. “…rejoice because your names are registered in heaven.”
    • John 17:3-5,24. “…Father, I want these whom you have given me to be with me where I am…”
    • Matthew 13:41-43. “…the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace…”
    • Matthew 25:31-46. “…Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom…Away with you, you cursed ones…”
    • Luke 16:19-31. The parable of heaven and hell, the rich man and Lazarus.
  3. Jesus, who was the Son of God and therefore in a unique position to know what he was talking about, taught it–clearly and literally.

Questions About The Afterlife

Don’t be surprised when your friends respond with, “Oh yeah?” issues; rather, be encouraged that they reveal a certain measure of curiosity, if not downright interest.

  1. A vacant hell? Some speculate that since God is love, no one actually goes to hell.
  2. But if God is love…how can you believe that God sends people to hell?
    • Short answer: “we don’t.”
    • John 3:16-17. “…to save the world through him.”
    • 1 Timothy 2:3-6. “…He gave his life to purchase freedom fro everyone.”
    • 2 Peter 3:9. “…He does not want anyone to be destroyed…”
    • Romans 6:23. “…The wages of sin is death…”
    • C.S. Lewis provides this insightful distinction: “There are only two kinds of people in the end:
      • those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and
      • those to whom God says, ‘Thy will be done’
    • We need to stress that people are not subject to mere fate…they are the objects of God’s love and targets of his grace, but also the product of the choices they themselves make.
  3. People who haven’t heard
    1. Most have actually heard some form of the Gospel presented
    2. Jesus opens his arms widely, no limits (Matthew 7:7-8).
    3. Not everyone has equal amounts of access or information, but they are responsible to follow whatever measure of light God has afforded them.
    4. God will judge people who reject him according to the amount of light they were given. Luke 12:47-48, Matthew 10:15, Matthew 11:21-24, Matthew 12:41-42.
    5. People who ask this question have heard the message.
  4. Who goes to heaven? Surveys suggest that two-thirds of the people think they are heaven-bound, but ask them how they plan to get there and you’ll quickly discover that confusion reigns.

Divine Encounter

Mittelberg presents a enlightening story about a businessman and pastor who meet on an airplane and their discussion of heaven and hell. Read this and let it sink in. Powerful stuff.

Tips for Talking About This Issue

  • Our main argument for the reality of the afterlife is that Jesus told us clearly that these things were true. People do have a built-in respect for Jesus; unfortunately, they often don’t know what he said or taught.
  • Jesus was a good teacher (common statement among most people), so we should take seriously what he tells us, including what he said about the afterlife, heaven, and hell.
  • The question in this chapter rarely comes at us as a mere intellectual curiosity so be sensitive to what they’re really asking, and don’t be afraid to ask them why that issue is a concern for them.
  • Resist the temptation to offer an opinion about where their departed loved ones are right now–especially if there were spiritual doubts and concerns.
  • It’s often helpful to acknowledge to friends that we are not entirely comfortable with the Bible’s teachings on hell ourselves.
  • Let the realities of heaven and hell be strong motivators in your own efforts to reach out to people with the love and truth of Christ.

Questions for discussion

  1. What does it mean that God has “planted eternity in the human heart” as quoted from Ecclesiastes 3:11? How have you experienced that in your own life or seen it in the lives of others?
  2. Look back at the verses quoted in the chapter that contain Jesus’ teachings about heaven and hell. Which verse means the most to you? Which is most surprising or intriguing?
  3. Have you ever experienced the feeling, as Peter writes in 1 Peter 2:11, that you are a “temporary resident” or even a “foreigner” here in this world? How?
  4. How do you think most people picture heaven? How do they picture hell? Where do you think they get their mental images of these places?
  5. Do you think it is important to talk about both heaven and hell when discussing the afterlife with unbelievers? Why or why not?
  6. How would you explain to an unbeliever God’s fairness and justice in judging?
  7. React to this statement made by the apostle Paul: “If Christ has not been eased, then your faith is useless and you are still guilty of your sins. In that case all who have died believing in Christ are lost! And if our hope in Christ is only for this life, we are more to be pitied than anyone in the world” (1 Corinthians 15:17-19). Why is it so important for Christians to be certain of a resurrection and eternity with Christ in heaven?

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