In this episode, we conclude our overview of the way Scripture treats the concept of Hell. We address some big and weighty topics, including universalism, the current state of Sheol, and Heaven as a real place. We will talk about the rapture, studying in particular the book of 1 Thessalonians in which the apostle Paul tells the church about what is coming and how to be prepared for it. We conclude with a discussion on the will of God and how all of these things work toward an invitation to participate in God’s deep desire for us.
We have this series on prophetic questions, so I’m going to start with answering these questions.
Question about universalism
The first question has to do with universalism. Why do we suddenly hear about universalism a lot?
I think the reason is because of Rob Bell’s book Love Wins. I’ll talk a little bit about that book. How many people have actually read the book in here? One?
The book actually is mostly the same kind of stuff I’ve been talking to you about. It has the same basic analysis about Sheol and Hades and Gehenna and so forth. Basically, makes the point that the mythology about hell that’s been handed down to us is actually not biblical. It largely follows C. S. Lewis’s concept about hell in The Great Divorce. How many people have read The Great Divorce? Quite a few of you.
He comes up with a conclusion I would say is not really consistent with his study. I don’t know, this is not all that unusual for us as humans. In my view, he marches along with this analysis, and it basically says then instead of following the logical conclusion of his analysis, that you’ve got all this information in the Bible that tells you sin is a really catastrophic thing to do and has immense negative consequences, but the negative consequences are more immediate and more—let’s call it—universal than we might think. It’s not sort of like you suddenly become a Christian and then sin doesn’t have consequences anymore. It still has consequences.
Instead of coming up with that conclusion, he comes up with the conclusion that, apparently, since what we were told is wrong, we can kind of believe whatever we want to, and what we’ll believe is that God is a permissive parent and a rich daddy that will give us a trust fund and just make everything OK. It’s actually quite bizarre in my view.
I think he holds a lot of sway over it.
My opinion is that what he’s doing is what is the tendency of us as humans to do, and we all do it. One of the most important things we can do as believers in renewing our mind is really focus on the truth and following who God is and who he says he is.
What we tend to do is fit God into our world. We fit God into our culture. Our culture, the spirit of our age is narcissism which means everything’s about me. The spirit of our age is permissiveness, that somehow sins shouldn’t have consequences.
We actually have large political movements based on that. I should be able to have promiscuous sex and not have any negative consequences, and it’s the government’s responsibility to come up with the vaccine to make the consequences go away.
This is how Paul says it, and he’s talking here in the book of Romans (Romans 1:18-20), the wrath of God is contrasted with the righteousness of God. He’s writing to believers whose faith is spoken of throughout the whole world, so this is largely a book that applies to everybody.
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness,
because what may be known of God is manifest in them, for God has shown it to them.
For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead—
Based on what I read in Love Wins and just talking to Dr. Anderson, who’s actually made an extensive study of the subject, he told me that basically the gist of this body of work is we don’t want to believe in a God who would do something bad to another person. God needs to make everything all better.
People don’t like a righteous God. It’s sort of like there’s a movement to try to make it where they’ll throw you in jail for spanking your kids. People don’t like righteousness, and they’re just trying to make it go away and fitting it in with our culture.
It’s very difficult to maintain the truth apart from the culture and not have a spirit of obstinance.
As you might expect, if you follow this same passage and go on, the wrath of God actually has a three-part step; and it says, “and so therefore he gave them over to their lusts.”
If we want to sin, we’ll go through this same progression. If we have an appetite, and we begin to feed it, God initially will just hold back. Many times—and I’ve experienced this in my life. I had an appetite, and I started down the path of “I think I’m going to satisfy this appetite,” and just got the door slammed in my face. But if I persisted, I’m sure God would have finally said, OK. And that would have been his wrath.
He turns us over. First he turns us over to our lust, and then he turns us over to this passion, which I would say is an addiction. Then we have a debased mind, and he says that—
For this reason God gave them up to vile passions. For even their women exchanged the natural use for what is against nature.
The men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust for one another, men with men committing what is shameful—
In the Greek culture, this was an everyday occurrence. As a matter of fact, they had one culture, the Spartans, actually had homosexuality as an official government policy. It was when a boy turned eight years old, he went into the barracks, and the first thing they would start doing is teaching him homosexuality. So they believed it would help them on their long marches to not long for home.
Paul says this is not natural, and this is part of the progression. Not surprisingly, Rob Bell has come out and said homosexual marriage is OK. The ship has sailed, he said, and we just need to get behind them and, you know, love them. They’re passionate for Jesus too. Which, to me, is completely consistent with where he’s coming from.
Interestingly enough, I would say The Great Divorce—and C. S. Lewis, to me, is just a great hero of the faith. I don’t think any single author has had a more positive influence on me than C. S. Lewis. At the end of The Great Divorce, he says—I’ve got to set the stage because most of you haven’t read this.
In The Great Divorce, there is a place called the Gray City. And the Gray City is where everybody goes initially. There’s this bus. You can get on the bus and go to, what amounts to, heaven. You’re a ghost when you go to this Gray City. When you go to heaven you can talk to these real giants that are there. What they’re encouraging you to do is stop being a ghost and be real and come on in to heaven. There’s this dialogue that goes on.
Most of this book is about having a heavenly mindset or a hellish mindset. It’s just a story. The primary heavenly figure that’s talking to this guy who turns out to be having a dream in the book is George MacDonald. George MacDonald is a guy who had an immense influence on C. S. Lewis. He was Scottish. He’s speaking right at the end of the book, he says, “‘In your own book, sir,’ said I, ‘you are a universalist. You talked as if all men would be saved, and Saint Paul too.’”
I’m going to just—this is Scottish, so he answers back, “Ye can know nothing of the end of all things or nothing expressible in those terms. It may be as the Lord said to the Lady Julian that all will be well, and all will be well. And all manner of things will be well. But it’s all ill talking about such questions.”
“Because they’re too terrible, sir?”
“No, because all answers deceive. If you put the question from within time, and are asking about possibilities, the answer is certain. The choice of ways is before you. Neither is closed. Any man may choose eternal death. Those who chose it will have it.
“But if ye are trying to leap on into eternity, if ye are trying to see the final state of all things as it will be, for so ye must speak, when there are no more possibilities left but only the real, then ye ask what cannot be answered to mortal ears.”
This is how C. S. Lewis kind of concluded. I find it kind of fascinating that Rob Bell, although he followed this, didn’t follow the conclusion where basically C. S. Lewis comes up and says, “People are going to get what they want at the end of the day.” If you want death, you’re going to get it.
I think that’s what’s going on with this deal.
Question about whether Abraham’s bosom is still inhabited
Second question is, is Abraham’s bosom still inhabited? We talked about Sheol having these two compartments. We’ve got Hades and Abraham’s bosom. Are people still in there?
I have no idea whether anybody’s in there or not. But I think what we can say is that Thessalonians is clear that when we die, we go to be with the Lord.
Jesus said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in paradise.” Jesus went there. The thief went there. It must have still been inhabited after Jesus died, at least for one day.
Whether it is that where Jesus is in heaven is also this paradise or Abraham’s bosom or—I don’t know. But I don’t think it really matters because we’re in the presence of the Lord, and I think that’s the key thing.
What I think we can ascertain is that there are still people in Hades because the way it talks about Revelation, that it’s emptied. As a matter of fact, it says something really fascinating. If anybody has any idea about this, I’d love to hear it. It says in Revelation, Hades will give up its dead, and then there’s a bunch of dead that come from another place. Anybody remember what it says? The sea! I’m wondering what in the world is that? I have no idea. I’ve scratched my head over that numerous time. I can’t even come up with anything.
That still seems to be inhabited.
Irrespective of whether that’s still part of it or not, it either overlaps with where Jesus is, or it’s been emptied. Either way, we go to be with the presence of the Lord.
Question about the book Heaven is for Real
The third question, I thought, was real interesting: What do you think about the book Heaven is for Real? This is a personal opinion I get to express because, obviously, the scripture is not going to talk about that book. I believe it, and I’ll tell you why.
It’s a book about a 4-year-old boy that died and came back to life. And then a year later, they’re driving by the hospital when the parents say something about him being in the hospital. The little kid’s doing something, and he says, “Yeah, that’s where the angel picked me up.” He goes on as if—and they’re all like, “What?!” Over the next six months or so, what comes out is this whole experience or this vision he had or this experience he had, I guess, of actually going to heaven while he was dead. It’s really fascinating.
The reason I buy it is because his dad—or the key thing. It rings true to me. The key thing is the dad asked him, “What did you do while you were there?” The little boy said, “Well, Jesus gave me some work to do. That was the best part.”
Now, have you ever heard anybody say that there’s work in heaven and that would be the best part? Have you ever heard that?
I had already come to see in the new earth—which we will cover—that it’s going to be a very active, working, striving place. Which is nothing like the picture we’re always painted of heaven is this awful Alzheimer’s clinic. Bad hymns and drooling people. There’s nothing left to learn. I already know everything. There’s nothing to do. I’m just floating around. It’s just terrible. Who would want to go to that place?
The only reason anybody would want to go there is because they don’t want to live in a pizza oven. That’s the historical deal. That’s not what the new earth’s going to be like. It’s going to be a rocking cool place. We’ll go over that too. Maybe next week.
He wouldn’t have gotten that from anywhere. Even AWANAs doesn’t teach that.
Three raptures already
Now we’ll go into today, which we’re going to talk about the rapture.
We’ve already had a number of raptures. Can you name them?
Elijah was raptured. He was. How did his happen? Chariots of fire.
What else? At least two more. Enoch. How do you know Enoch was raptured? He was taken up. Hebrews 11. He pleased God, and God just took him. He didn’t see death, it says in Hebrews 11.
One more: Christ. Jesus. His rapture was really cool because they were all standing there, he’s talking to them, and all of a sudden. Really neat. Kind of a spiritual elevator.
We’ve got at least three raptures. Can anybody think of another one? Those are the only three I know of. We’ve had three, and there’s more coming. I’m going to suggest at least three more. There may be way more than that. Who knows?
Let’s first talk about the rapture we’re most familiar with.
I did something you might find interesting. I googled rapture. The front page usually tells you what most of the traffic is. Can anybody guess what came up? It was mostly hate mail. It was like, “There can’t be a rapture!” or whatever.
This must be really important because I remember this story about this Russian girl during the communist era. She came to faith one day in class as a little girl looking out the window, and it was snowing. She thought, “If God wasn’t real, they wouldn’t talk about him all the time.”
When you have somebody who really reacts in a real exaggerated way to something, you know there’s something to it. Have you ever noticed that? There’s no movement afoot to try to get people to stop talking about the Grinch. Right? “We’re poisoning these children’s minds! There’s really no Grinch!” But there’s a lot of movement to stop talking to children about God. That’s because he’s real. I think this is really an important topic.
I’m going to go through what I think is just a compelling case for the rapture.
Paul tells the Thessalonians about the rapture
Let’s look at 1 Thessalonians. I’m going to do something that I recommend you do as part of your ongoing Bible study. I’m just going to read this book. I’ll comment as we go. Oftentimes it’s just important to see the whole thing as a whole and just read it like it was a letter written to you.
Thessalonica is a city in Macedonia, so these are Greeks. You’ve got the Jewish Paul writing to the Greek Thessalonians. I’m reading from the New King James.
Paul, Silvanus, and Timothy,
To the church of the Thessalonians in God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:
Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
We give thanks to God always for you all—He was southern, Paul.—making mention of you in our prayers,
remembering without ceasing your work of faith, labor of love, and patience of hope in our Lord Jesus Christ in the sight of our God and Father, knowing, beloved brethren, your election by God.
For our gospel did not come to you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit and in much assurance, as you know what kind of men we were among you for your sake.
And you became followers of us and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Spirit, so that you became examples to all in Macedonia and Achaia who believe. That’s the Greek area around.
For from you the word of the Lord has sounded forth, not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place. Your faith toward God has gone out, so that we do not need to say anything.
For they themselves declare concerning us what manner of entry we had to you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven, whom He raised from the dead, even Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.
So what are these people? What are they like, and what are they doing? They are believers. What kind of believers? Strong believers. What’s going on in their area here? Everybody’s talking about them. Why? They’re faith is so strong.
What’s happening, circumstantially? Look at verse 6. What’s happening to them circumstantially? Lots of affliction going on. This is when our opportunity for witness is the greatest, when there’s lots of affliction, and we don’t waver. Because of this Paul says, “I don’t even need to talk anymore. I mean, you guys are doing such an awesome job.”
What are they doing? Look at verse 10. What are they doing? Waiting to be rescued by Jesus from heaven.
You get the setup? Massive affliction. They’re waiting to be rescued.
For you yourselves know, brethren, that our coming to you was not in vain.
But even after we had suffered before and were spitefully treated at Philippi, as you know—That’s when they were thrown in jail, you know, had the Philippian-jailer thing. —we were bold in our God to speak to you the gospel of God in much conflict.
For our exhortation did not come from error or uncleanness, nor was it in deceit.
But as we have been approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel, even so we speak, not as pleasing men, but God who tests our hearts.
For neither at any time did we use flattering words, as you know, nor a cloak for covetousness—God is witness.
Nor did we seek glory from men, either from you or from others, when we might have made demands as apostles of Christ.
But we were gentle among you, just as a nursing mother cherishes her own children.
So, affectionately longing for you, we were well pleased to impart to you not only the gospel of God, but also our own lives, because you had become dear to us.
For you remember, brethren, our labor and toil; for laboring night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, we preached to you the gospel of God. Paul’s habit was to work as a tentmaker to make his own living instead of asking for money.
Verse 10. You are witnesses, and God also, how devoutly and justly and blamelessly we behaved ourselves among you who believe;
as you know how we exhorted, and comforted, and charged every one of you, as a father does his own children, that you would walk worthy of God who calls you into His own kingdom and glory.
For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
For you, brethren, became imitators of the churches of God which are in Judea in Christ Jesus. What kind of person is in the church in Judea? Jew or Gentile? Jews. You Gentiles here in Thessalonica are following the same path the Jews did in Judea. —For you also suffered the same things from your own countrymen, just as they did from the Judeans,
Do you follow that? What’s happening? Who’s persecuting the Thessalonians? Their own countrymen, the Greeks. Who’s persecuting the Jewish believers? Their fellow Jews.
who killed both the Lord Jesus and their own prophets, and have persecuted us; and they do not please God and are contrary to all men,
forbidding us to speak to the Gentiles that they may be saved, so as always to fill up the measure of their sins; but wrath has come upon them to the uttermost.
But we, brethren, having been taken away from you for a short time in presence, not in heart, endeavored more eagerly to see your face with great desire.
Therefore we wanted to come to you—even I, Paul, time and again—but Satan hindered us.
For what is our hope, or joy, or crown of rejoicing? Is it not even you in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ—What is Paul looking forward to when he gets to heaven? To be with them. Why? So he can boast about them. Yeah! So he can say, “Yeah!”
I’m involved in a school. Here’s a secret we’ve learned: If you want parents to come, do you know what you do? You put the kids on stage. Parents will sit for an hour and a half so they can see their children get up on stage for two seconds.
They may leave right after the children get on stage, but we love to see our kids elevated.
Paul’s a father. And he says, “I want to see you get—not just get a participation trophy—I want to see you get a crown of life.”
Chapter 3. Therefore, when we could no longer endure it—He’s thinking, gah, these guys are going through incredible, intense persecution, and I’m not there with them. Are they staying true? Are they wavering? Are they falling back? I mean, this is hard.
—when we could no longer endure it, we thought it good to be left in Athens alone,
and sent Timothy, our brother and minister of God, and our fellow laborer to the gospel of Christ, to establish you and encourage you concerning your faith,
that no one should be shaken by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we are appointed to this.
For, in fact, we told you before when we were with you that we would suffer tribulation, just as it happened, and you know.
For this reason, when I could no longer endure it—I just had to know if you’re standing—I sent to know your faith, lest by some means the tempter had tempted you, and our labor might be in vain.
I don’t want you to just go to heaven, I want you to go in glory!
But now that Timothy has come to us from you, and brought us good news of your faith and love, and that you always have good remembrance of us, greatly desiring to see us, as we also to see you—
therefore, brethren, in all our affliction and distress we were comforted concerning you by your faith.
For now we live, if you stand fast in the Lord.
For what thanks can we render to God for you, for all the joy with which we rejoice for your sake before our God, night and day praying exceedingly that we may see your face and perfect what is lacking in your faith?
Now may our God and Father Himself, and our Lord Jesus Christ, direct our way to you.
And may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all, just as we do to you
so that He may establish your hearts blameless in holiness before our God and Father at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ with all His saints.
You’ve got these believers, massive affliction, waiting for the coming of Jesus. He keeps talking about this coming of Jesus.
Finally then, brethren, we urge and exhort in the Lord Jesus that you should abound more and more, just as you received from us how you ought to walk and to please God;
for you know what commandments we gave you through the Lord Jesus.
For this is the will of God—If you ever have someone come and ask you, I just can’t find God’s will for my life,” turn to this verse. —This is the will of God, your sanctification—if you ever want to know what God’s will for your life is, this is it.