Just for Catholics

JUDGMENT, HEAVEN AND HELL

God has appointed a day when all humanity will be decisively and forever divided into two groups -- the saved and the lost, the blessed and the damned. Heaven is the eternal home of God’s people and his holy angels. The everlasting darkness of hell is reserved for the wicked people and demons.

Day of Judgment

God ‘has appointed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by the Man whom He has ordained’ (Acts 17:31). When will that day be? No one knows, but we know that the final judgment will take place when the Lord Jesus returns in glory at the end of the age. Jesus said: ‘When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats’ (Matt 25:31, 32).

Who will be the Judge? God the Father appointed his Son to execute judgment (John 5:22). Scripture says that the Lord Jesus Christ ‘will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom’ (2 Tim 4:1). The apostle Paul reminds Christians that ‘we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad’ (2 Cor 5:10).

God renders to each man according to his deeds. To those who patiently persevere in well-doing, he gives eternal life, but indignation and anguish will come upon every soul of man who does evil (see Rom 2:6-10).

By the records of their wicked works, the lost will be convicted and condemned. For them, the coming of the Lord will bring terror and sorrow. ‘The Lord Jesus [will be] revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ’ (2 Thess 1:7, 8). Among the damned will be nominal and worldly Christians. They call Jesus ‘Lord’ but their hypocrisy will be exposed on that day and Christ will publicly disown them: ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!’ (Matt 7:21-23).

There will be different degrees of punishment; the more heinous the sin, the greater will be the penalty. Jesus said that for some it will be ‘more tolerable’ but others will receive a ‘greater condemnation’ (Matt 11:22; Luke 20:47).

The children of God -- whose life was characterized by ‘patient continuance in doing good’ -- will be welcomed to eternal life and rewarded for their deeds. ‘And behold, I am coming quickly, and My reward is with Me, to give to every one according to his work’ (Rev 22:12). There will be degrees of reward, each ‘according to his work’. Therefore, as long as we have breath, we make it our aim to please God and serve him with all our heart, knowing that our labour in not in vain.

As Christians we seek to live in humility and holiness before God. Yet we still sin. We humbly admit our weakness and daily confess our sins to our Father. How then can we escape the punishment we deserve? In this way: the purpose of the final judgment for us who believe in Christ is not to determine whether we will be ‘justified’ (declared just) or ‘condemned’ (declared guilty). The Bible assures believers that we are already justified: ‘Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ’ (Rom 5:1). ‘Having been justified’ – the sentence is already decided in our favour. God has already declared every believer ‘justified’ on the basis of what Christ has done for us, and not on account of our works. This is a wonderful truth. Jesus assures us that we ‘shall not come into judgment’ (John 5:24). He will certainly keep his word.

Hell

The wicked are punished and cast into hell, far from the comfortable presence of God. The King will mete out the terrible sentence: ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ These will go away, the Bible says, into everlasting punishment (Matt 25:41, 46).

Some people say there is nothing beyond death. Others say that hell is experienced in this world, referring to the numerous sufferings and heartaches of mankind in general. Against these ideas the Bible teaches that hell is the final destiny of demons and evil people. The Lord Jesus described it as ‘the furnace of fire’. He solemnly warned us, ‘There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth’ (Matt 13:42). It is also called ‘the lake of fire’ (Rev 20:15).

Jesus narrates a story about a rich man and one Lazarus, a poor and sickly man. The latter died and was carried by angels to Abraham’s bosom. Later, the rich man also died and was buried -- but death wasn’t the end of his existence. Jesus informs us that after his death this evil man was ‘in torments’ and in conscious suffering (Luke 16:23). Indeed, the Lord spoke more about hell than he spoke about heaven. He who knows the terrible reality of hell solemnly warns us of the danger of unquenchable fire.

How long will hell last? The very thought of people spending eternity in a place of suffering is undoubtedly terrible. It is somewhat understandable that many disparage or disbelieve this fearful truth. Some claim that the punishment of the lost will eventually come to an end, but this is contrary to the explicit teaching of the New Testament. The Lord Jesus declares that the wicked ‘will go away into everlasting punishment’ (Matt 25:46). The fire of hell ‘shall never be quenched’ (Mark 9:43).

What is the worst aspect of hell? The Bible mentions fire, darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth -- all indicating the hideous lot and suffering of the lost -- but evidently the worst thing about hell is the eternal separation of the creature from the Creator and the infliction of his terrible wrath. The King will pronounce the sentence: ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels’ (Matt 25:41). ‘Can your heart endure, or can your hands remain strong, in the days when I shall deal with you?’ (Ezek 22:14). ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God’ (Heb 10:31). Can we imagine anything worse?

Heaven

We are pilgrims on earth; we are on a journey in a foreign land (Heb 11:13; 1 Pet 2:11). This world is not our permanent home. We are on the way to our heavenly country where God our Father is manifest in his glory, splendor and majesty.

The Bible uses different terms to describe this wonderful place: (1) paradise (2 Cor 12:4); (2) heaven (2 Cor 12:2; Heb 9:24); (3) a city (Heb 11:10, 16; 12:22); and (3) our Father’s house (John 14:2). During our earthly pilgrimage we experience much suffering and pain, and eventually, if the Lord tarries, our body will succumb to death. In heaven all these miseries will come to an end forever. ‘Behold, the tabernacle (dwelling) of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away’ (Rev 21:3, 4).

Heaven is a place of unimaginable beauty. Above all, our hearts are drawn heavenward because there we will meet our beloved Saviour, the Lord Jesus. ‘Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You’ (Ps 73:25).

The Lord Jesus prays for us: ‘Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me’ (John 17:24). Jesus went to heaven beforehand to prepare a place for us, and promised to come again and take us with him (John 14:2, 3). Then our communion with the Lord will be intimate and unbreakable. ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy; at Your right hand are pleasures forevermore’ (Ps 16:11). That is heaven!

© Dr Joseph Mizzi. 2008. Permission is given to reproduce and distribute this article in any format provided that the wording is not altered and that no fee is charged. Please include the following statement on distributed copies: Copyright Dr Joseph Mizzi. Website: www.justforcatholics.org. Used by permission.