Wednesday, December 5, 2018

The Philosophy of the End Times: Immortality, Resurrection, Heaven, and Hell


Today we’re going to be talking about the philosophy of the end times, what we call in theology, “eschatology.”
The short summation of a theology of end times goes like this: “We believe in the immortality of the soul; in the resurrection of the body; in the general judgment at the end of the world; in the eternal happiness of the righteous; and in the endless punishment of the wicked.”  We’ll break down this theological statement and examine it part by part to try and understand how God goes about completing the victory of Christ Jesus, how he judges the world, how he rewards those who are righteous, and how he punishes those who choose wickedness. 
First of all, we look at the beginning of this statement which says “we believe in the immortality of the soul…”  Ecclesiastes 12:7 (ESV) says, “…the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God who gave it.”  So we know from the scriptures that God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into him life, and while our present body is doomed to die because of the fall, our soul, our spirit, will return to God after we die (Genesis 3:19). In short, we are more than a body. We each have a soul. And that soul is eternal (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 225).
Next it says, “we believe in the resurrection of the body.”  It’s important to remember that in the next life we won’t be vapid spirits, like a mist floating around in the clouds.  We Christians believe that we will be given new bodies in the next life.  Philippians 3:21 says that we will have new bodies, transformed to be like Christ’s glorified body.  When Jesus resurrected from the dead, was he a ghost or a mist or wisp of cloud in the air?  No, Jesus was physical. He ate with his disciples after his resurrection (Luke 24:35-48).  We as Christian salvationists do believe in the resurrection of the body, and we want to avoid over-symbolizing our future eternal life as a sort of non-physical life, with harps floating in the clouds. We will not be “disembodied spirits” but whole persons in Christ (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 226).  God’s design for the restoration of Eden is much more than a pop cultural picture of eternity. 
Next our truth statement says, “We believe in the general judgment at the end of the world.”  Theologians of the past were not as politically and religiously correct as we are today. They weren’t overly concerned with not hurting people’s feelings or sugar-coating the “justice” side of God’s character.  They just put it out there.  And we know from the scriptures, that there will come a day when the righteous and the wicked will stand before God, and give an account for how they lived (Romans 14:12-13). 2 Corinthians 5:10 (ESV) says, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”  Theologians often refer to this event as the “great white throne judgment” which comes from Revelation 20:11-15.  We should always be careful as Christians, how we are living.  We want to be quick to love, and we want to avoid condemnation of others, and we want to make sure we’re loving God with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength.  And we want to make sure we’re being faithful stewards of our time and resources.  And we also want to make sure we’re quickly repenting of sins as they come up in our lives. Why? Because we know there will come a day when we will stand before God and give an account of our lives (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 226-227).  Thankfully we have Jesus Christ who is our advocate before the Father, and who has washed away our sins (1 John 2:1, Hebrews 10:10-12). 
For those who are vindicated on the day of judgment, we believe “in the eternal happiness of the righteous.”  And for those who are condemned on that day we believe “in the endless punishment of the wicked.”  Let’s unpack these two last statements.  Jesus has gone to prepare a place for those who love and obey Him (John 14:2-3).  Indeed, the book of Revelation speaks of a new heavens and new Earth, in which God has remade the universe, and has remade the Earth to be a perfect place of peace, similar to the original garden of Eden (Revelation 21).  And in this new reality, on this new Earth, the book of Revelation describes the eternal city of God called “The New Jerusalem.”  In fact, the book of Revelation gets quite specific about this city, indicating the dimensions of this city, similar to how Noah was given the exact dimensions for the ark (Genesis 6:15, Revelation 21:16-17).  Revelation 21:16-17 (NIV) says, “The city was laid out like a square, as long as it was wide. He measured the city with the rod and found it to be 12,000 stadia in length, and as wide and high as it is long. The angel measured the wall using human measurement, and it was 144 cubits thick.”  12,000 stadia is about 1,400 miles long, and tall.  So we see a city, some think it’s a giant pyramid in shape, others would say it’s a giant cube.  But the point is it’s real, it’s a concrete reality. We want to avoid over-spiritualizing these images, as if we can’t really know what they mean.  Revelation is showing us that we won’t merely be vapors in the clouds with harps, but we will be citizens of an eternal city of God.
Yet we also know that there is a place reserved by God for those who have rejected him and lived lives of sin and wickedness (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013, p. 227-228).  The scriptures refer to this place by many names, some of them include: Sheol, hades, outer darkness, and hell (Psalm 16:10, Luke 16:23).  
Hell is rarely mentioned in the pulpits of our modern age, and I do want to state it clearly that hell is a real place.  It exists, and the scriptures talk about it, so we should be aware of it.  Jesus mentioned it several times, and in fact stated that if a part of us causes us to sin, we ought to be so diligent as to cut it off, to avoid the fires of hell (Matthew 5:30).  Now will hell be a place of literal fire and burning? Maybe, maybe not. Perhaps it will be more like a great, empty, cold darkness. We don’t really know. But scripture gives us many images of hell as darkness, gnashing of teeth, conscious torment, being eaten by worms, and burning/fire (Matthew 10:28, Revelation 21:8, Mark 9:48). There are two primary views within evangelicalism regarding hell, one is our view which is conscious eternal torment and the other view is called “annihilationism” (Peterson, 2014). Annihilationism is the idea that the souls of the wicked are destroyed at the judgment, not sent to a place of torment (Boyd & Eddy, 2009).  But we in the Salvation Army hold to the view of conscious eternal torment.  Both views would be considered within the larger family of evangelicalism, but our movement specifically holds to the eternal torment view (Boyd & Eddy, 2009). The point of all this is, we don’t want to go to hell, and we don’t want our neighbors to go there.  That’s why evangelism is so important, and that’s why Jesus told us to “go” in the great commission (Matthew 28:18-20). 
In conclusion, we believe that our souls are immortal, our physical bodies will be resurrected, that all will be judged, and that the righteous will go to eternal life, and the wicked will go to eternal punishment (Handbook of Doctrine, 2013).  

References
Bible Gateway. (n.d.). Retrieved October 10, 2018, from https://www.biblegateway.com/
Boyd, G. A., & Eddy, P. R. (2009). Across the spectrum: Understanding issues in evangelical theology. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic.
Peterson, R. (2014, February 1). Annihilation or Eternal Punishment? Retrieved October 30, 2018, from https://www.ligonier.org/learn/articles/annihilation-or-eternal-punishment/
The Salvation Army handbook of doctrine. (2013). London: Salvation Books.
Walton, John H. (EDT)/ Keener, Craig S. (EDT). (2016). Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible: New International Version, Bringing to Life the Ancient World of Scripture. Harpercollins Christian Pub.