Poll: “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…”

Starting April 28, the Sunday after Easter, we will be doing a series at White Fields called “I Could Never Believe in a God Who…”, in which we will be addressing some of the common struggles and objections that people have about God, the Bible, and Christianity.

You can help me by taking a second to fill out this quick anonymous poll to let me know what are some of the biggest hurdles to faith that you have experienced yourself or encountered in other people. Thanks!

Please also share this with others; I’d like to get as many responses as possible to get a clear picture of the things people are really struggling with.

(email subscribers can click here to access the poll)

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Did People Go to Heaven Before Jesus’ Death & Resurrection?

mountains with crepuscular ray

A reader recently sent in this question:

In John 3:13, Jesus says“No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven-the Son of Man,”

  • Is this saying that people didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?
  • Where had everyone who died gone before Jesus died and rose?
  • Did this change after his death and resurrection?
  • What verses can you share with me about this?

Let me answer each of those questions in order:

Is this saying that people didn’t go to Heaven before Jesus’ death and resurrection?

Yes, I believe so.

Where had everyone who died gone before Jesus died and rose?

The Old Testament talks a lot about “Sheol” which is the dwelling place of the dead. Psalm 139:7-8, for example, says: “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!”

Is this saying that God is present in Hell? No. It’s saying He is present in Sheol. 

It would seem (I’ll give Scriptural justification for this below) that Sheol was divided into two sections: Abraham’s Bosom and Hades.

Abraham’s Bosom was a place of comfort for those who died in faith. Since they had not yet been redeemed through the death and resurrection of Jesus, they could not go to Heaven, so this was a sort of holding place, or waiting room for the souls of the Old Testament believers who died in faith, trusting not in their own works or performance to garner them favor before God, but casting themselves on God’s mercy and grace to save them through the Messiah who was to come.

Hades, on the other hand, was a place of torment for those who died apart from awareness of their shortcomings and apart from faith and trust in God’s mercy and grace. Hades, like Abraham’s Bosom, was/is a holding place or waiting room for the souls of those who have died apart from faith, and though those in Hades suffer torment presently, one day Hades will be emptied into the Lake of Fire, meaning that Hades is not the final destination for those who have died apart from faith.

Did this change after Jesus’ death and resurrection?

It seems that in the time between Jesus’ death and resurrection, Jesus descended into Sheol and released those from Abraham’s Bosom and led them to Heaven. Those who die now in faith in Jesus go to Heaven, i.e. the presence of God.

Hades, on the other hand, remains in tact, and those who die apart from faith still go there.

What verses can you share with me about this?

Luke 16:19-31: The Rich Man and Lazarus

Luke 16:19-31 gives us insight to this through the story of the rich man and Lazarus: Lazarus, a poor man who died in faith, is taken to Abraham’s bosom, whereas the rich man who died apart from faith is taken to Hades. Between the two parts of Sheol, the story tells us, is an uncrossable chasm, and there is no escape.

The rich man desperately wants someone to go and speak to his family members, and plead with them lest they end up in Hades as well, but the man is told that his family members have been given Moses and the Prophets (i.e. the Scriptures), and they should listen to them.

Ephesians 4:8-10: He Led Captives in His Train

In Ephesians 4:8-10 we read this: Therefore it says, “When he ascended on high he led a host of captives (in his train), and he gave gifts to men.” (In saying, “He ascended,” what does it mean but that he had also descended into the lower regions, the earth? He who descended is the one who also ascended far above all the heavens, that he might fill all things.)

The Apostles Creed, one of the oldest Christian creeds, includes this phrase:

He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to hell.
The third day he rose again from the dead.

Going back to Jesus’ apostles, who spoke with him after his resurrection, there seems to have been an understanding that Jesus descended into Sheol, and did two things:

  1. Released those “captives” from Abraham’s Bosom and led them to the immediate presence of God (Heaven). (Ephesians 4:8)
  2. Preached to the spirits in prison (1 Peter 3:19-20)

The latter of these was not evangelism, but a pronouncement of judgment upon those spirits in Hades. We know this because of the qualifying text in 1 Peter 3:20.

“Today you will be with me in Paradise”

2 Corinthians 5:8Luke 23:43  & Philippians 1:23 tell us that when a believer dies today, they are taken to the direct presence of God, AKA “paradise”.

Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire

Revelation 20:11-15 describes how, after the judgement of the living and the dead at the end of all things, Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire.

And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.  (Revelation 20:13-15)

A New Heavens and a New Earth

Heaven, as it is now experienced, is different than what will be after the final judgment, where Revelation 21 tells us that there will be a new heavens and a new Earth, for the first heaven and the first Earth will have passed away, and will be no more. (Revelation 21:1)

Jesus said in Matthew 24:35 that Heaven and Earth will pass away, but his words never will.

2 Peter 3:7 says, But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 

And 2 Peter 3:10 says, But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.

Thus, after the final judgment, there will be a new heavens and a new Earth, which will be not only the restoration of Eden, but the fulfillment of what Eden would have been had sin not entered in.

In the New Jerusalem, once again, we see humankind together with God, with no sin nor shame, nor any of the destructive effects of sin (i.e. sickness, pain), and that the Tree of Life is there. Whereas Eden was a garden, the New Jerusalem will be a garden city.

Submit Your Questions!

Thanks for these great questions! Keep studying the Word, and feel free to send more questions to me by filling out this form.

Poll: Common Hurdles to Believing Christianity

Starting the Sunday after Easter, we will be doing a series at White Fields called “The Trouble Is…”, in which we will be talking about and addressing common questions and objections that people have about Christianity.

You can help me by taking a second to fill out this quick anonymous poll to let me know what are some of the biggest hurdles to faith that you have experienced yourself or encountered in other people. Thanks!

(email subscribers can click here to access the poll)

Did Judas Go To Hell?

In teaching through the Book of Acts on Sunday mornings at White Fields I recently taught the section in Acts 1 where it talks about how Judas committed suicide after betraying Jesus.

Afterwards someone wrote a question:

Did Judas go to hell?  Is suicide a deal breaker? Judas knew that what he did was wrong, so is it possible that he will go to heaven?

It is hard for us to say with certainty about anyone’s eternal destiny; that is something which ultimately is only known by God. However, we do have good reason to assume that Judas did go to hell based on two things that Jesus said:

Matthew 26:20-25. At the Last Supper Jesus told his disciples that one of them would betray him, and then he says: “Woe to that man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been better for that man if he had not been born”. The implication is that it would be better for a person not to have been born than to go to hell.In John 17, Jesus prays to the Father about and for the disciples and he says in Vs 12: “While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction”

Based on these 2 verses I think we can assume that Judas did go to hell.

However, did he go to hell because he committed suicide? No, that wasn’t why. The reason Judas went to hell is because, rather than repenting of his sin and seeking and receiving forgiveness and restoration from Jesus, he chose to end his life. This reminds us that feeling bad about your sin is not the same as repenting of your sin and receiving forgiveness.

Interestingly, Judas is not the only one of Jesus’ disciples who betrayed him. Peter also betrayed him, and several other disciples “scattered” when Jesus was arrested. Peter and Judas are an interesting contrast: Peter returns and is restored, whereas Judas goes off and kills himself. Peter betrayed Jesus but then was forgiven and restored; Judas did not return to Jesus, and therefore missed the opportunity for grace and forgiveness and restoration.

Jesus’ words about the lostness of Judas should be seen in regard to his foreknowledge that Judas would not return to repent and receive forgiveness and restoration.

To the point about suicide: It has been taught in certain Christian groups that suicide is an unforgivable sin. This has been based 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 which says: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him.”   This is one of those instances where it helps to know other languages, if not even the original language. Because when you read this in the original (or in other languages which differentiate between you (singular) and you (plural), it becomes immediately clear from the context as well, that this is not talking about suicide at all, but what Paul is talking about is the church!  In other words:  You all are the temple of the Holy Spirit.  — the context of 1 Corinthians chapter 3 is that Paul is talking about people who cause division in the church!   He says that the Church — the Christ-ordained gathering of the people of God — is the Temple of the Holy Spirit, and whoever destroys the church, through division, will be judged by God!

In other words – 1 Corinthians 3:16-17 is not talking about suicide but it is speaking to those who cause division in the church. Is suicide an unforgivable sin? I don’t see why we should believe it is. That being said, I would not encourage anyone to test God on this.  The message of the Gospel is new life and restoration in Jesus Christ from any and all forms of despair, and the hope of eternal live and joy for those who persevere.