The Bible clearly teaches that there are only two options in the afterlife - Heaven or Hell. Every person, immediately following their physical death, will go directly to one place or the other where they will subsequently remain for all of eternity. Recognizing this truth, we have spent the past 10 weeks carefully studying both locations. We’ve explored the fundamental doctrines of both Heaven and Hell, and broadened our understanding of both destinations.
In this final message of the “Heaven and Hell” series, we will briefly review and reemphasize some of the major points that were presented during this informative study. We will identify and discuss some similarities and differences between the two. We will also read an important SBC resolution that seeks to differentiate between the Biblical teachings about the afterlife and those promoted in popular culture.
Finally, we will ask perhaps the most important questions of this entire series. These are questions that each person must answer for himself or herself. While the information we’ve learned in this study has been extremely interesting, it is useless unless acted upon. If you were to die today, would you go to Heaven or Hell? What must someone do to go to Heaven?
I. AN IMPORTANT RESOLUTION
Let’s begin with a resolution that was released by the Southern Baptist Convention back in 2014. At its annual meeting in Baltimore that year, the messengers in attendance adopted a measure called “The Sufficiency of Scripture Regarding the Afterlife”. This statement lays out the official position of the SBC regarding this issue.
In the months and years immediately prior to this resolution’s passage, several movies and books had been released that dealt with life after death. Some of the more notable ones included “Heaven is for Real”, “90 Minutes in Heaven”, and “23 Minutes in Hell”. These stories are basically the testimonies of people who’ve died, briefly gone to Heaven or Hell, and then were miraculously resuscitated. They report details about what was seen, heard, and felt by people who visited the hereafter.
While these testimonies are certainly intriguing and insightful, many people - including some devout Christians - began to base their understanding of Heaven and Hell on them rather than the teachings of scripture. Anytime people began to base their theology upon the subjective, experiential accounts of others rather upon than the absolute truth of the Bible itself problems invariably ensue. The Southern Baptist Convention sought to address this growing concern with the release of its resolution, which I fully support. Nevertheless, many people today are still prone and susceptible to base their beliefs on extra-biblical or even anti-biblical teachings which they see in a movie or read in a book.
In this series, I have intentionally shied away from citing the personal testimonies of those who’ve died and been brought back to life. I don’t necessarily reject these stories, but choose to instead to build my theology solely upon what is written in the Bible. I urge you to do likewise. In some cases, the Bible does not tell us all we’d like to know about the afterlife, but it does tell us all we need to know about it.
II. A BRIEF REVIEW
Before we wrap-up this study, let’s take a moment to review some of the major things we’ve learned about Heaven and Hell. We have elaborated on each of these points in previous sermons, but for now we will just summarize them briefly.
There are some similarities between Heaven and Hell. Both are literal places where people go after their physical death. Both places are eternal or never-ending. Those present in either place remain there permanently (there is no leaving). God is spatially present and sovereignly rules over both places (He is omnipresent). People in both Heaven and Hell will have a resurrected body which is conscious of and sensitive to its surroundings. There may be differing degrees of punishment in Hell and there will be differing types of rewards (such as crowns) in Heaven. Also, there are three variations or dispensations of both.
Obviously, there are also several differences between Heaven and Hell. Hell is a place of unquenchable fire, outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, and the undying worm. Heaven, on the other hand, is a beautiful paradise that is illuminated constantly by God’s glory where there is no more suffering, sorrow, or pain. Hell is a place of punishment, but Heaven is a place of blessing and rejoicing. God’s favor will be absent in Hell; God’s wrath will be absent in Heaven. Hell is a place we descend down into, perhaps below the ground at the center of the earth; but Heaven (presently) is a place we ascend up to, perhaps beyond the clouds somewhere in the sky or space. Ultimately, Heaven will be on the renewed Earth. Hell will be occupied by the Devil, the Antichrist, the False Prophet, the fallen angels (demons), and all unregenerate (unsaved) people. Heaven will be occupied by God - the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, all of His angels, and all regenerate (saved) people.
There were many other details we’ve covered over the course of this series, but these are enough to paint a pretty clear picture of Heaven and Hell. So, with these two images in mind, we come to our final question. This is perhaps the most important one of them all…
III. A FINAL QUESTION
The Bible teaches that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”. Every person who has ever lived is a sinner - they have disobeyed God’s commands to some degree or another - and stands guilty before the One. The LORD, being righteous and just, hates sin and therefore condemns the wicked transgressors to Hell. Thus, Hell is the default destiny for every person because of their sinful nature and deeds. Hell is open to all, and the vast majority of people end up there.
But Heaven is by invitation only - and only few accept it. God sent His son, Jesus, to die as a sacrifice to pay for the sin of mankind. Jesus bore the wrath of God as our substitute, and in Him we can receive forgiveness and salvation. The LORD has invited us spend eternity with Him in Heaven, and Jesus is the only ticket. There is no other way to gain entrance. No other god can get you in. No amount of good deeds will get you there. Jesus is the only way.
So… where are you going? If you have accepted Jesus as your personal Lord and Savior, and sincerely committed your life to following Him, then you’ve said yes to God’s invitation. In this case, you are Heaven bound. But if you’ve rejected Christ and disregarded your invitation, choosing instead to follow your own way, then Hell awaits.
It is a good thing to intellectually know about Heaven and Hell - it is a far greater thing to personally know the God who created them. The dire prospect of eternity in Hell should drive lost people to Jesus. The glorious promise of eternity in Heaven should provide encouragement and hope to all believers. The doctrine of Heaven and Hell is important to a well-rounded, comprehensive understanding of the Christian faith.