Category Archives: Eternity Questions

Questions about Eternity: Is the Idea of Seven Heavens / the Seventh Heaven Biblical?

 

The phrase “in seventh heaven” means to experience great joy or contentment. The expression also implies that there are seven heavens to be had, which is a common teaching among several religions.

Two of the oldest religions that teach seven heavens are Hinduism and the ancient Babylonian cult. In Hinduism, there are seven higher worlds and seven lower worlds; the earth is the lowest higher world. The six higher worlds above us are places of increasing wonder and delight where people who have accumulated good karma go after they die. When the dead have spent all the time their good deeds have earned them, they are reincarnated and return to earth. Those who live extraordinarily pious lives can break out of this cycle and experience Nirvana, a state of eternal existence.

The ancient Babylonians did not teach that the seven heavens were for humans. Rather, they divided the different heavens into seven levels of space between the earth’s atmosphere and the spirit of the heavens; beyond was the Zodiac. Each of the seven heavens was associated with a particular god and a celestial body: the moon, Mercury, Venus, Mars, the sun, Jupiter, and Saturn.

Historians aren’t sure when the Jews first learned of Babylon’s seven heavens; Abraham might have been exposed to such a belief before he left Ur, or Hebrew scholars may have learned of it while exiled to Babylon. Either way, rabbis adapted the myth, integrating it into the Talmud—their extra-scriptural writings. The Jewish “heavens,” associated with the same celestial bodies, contain a mix of people, angels, demons, Nephilim, and natural phenomenon, the specifics changing with the teacher. As the astronomical and meteorological sciences have advanced, Jews have rejected a literal seven heavens and now see them as metaphorical—there’s no way hail could come to earth from Jupiter, after all.

Islam combines the seven heavens of Judaism with a story from Zoroastrianism. Hadith literature tells how Muhammad was taken on a journey through all seven heavens. In each heaven he met a character from the Bible or another prophet of Islam. Centuries before, the Zoroastrian priest Arta Viraf supposedly made a similar trip to heaven. In Islam and Zoroastrianism both, the heavens are levels of paradise reserved for increasingly devout worshipers.

Dante Alighieri combined Babylonian mythology with Christian metaphor when he wrote The Divine Comedy. In Dante’s epic poem, the seven celestial bodies represent ever more virtuous natures. Above these heavens, in which the righteous are rewarded after death, are four more levels. The last is Empyrean, the immaterial dwelling place of God.

The Bible says nothing that would validate a belief in seven heavens, but the word heaven itself has several meanings. The Hebrew for “heaven,” shamayim, only appears in the plural form and can mean “sky” (Genesis 1:8–9), “outer space” (Genesis 22:17), or “the place where God dwells” (Joshua 2:11). In the New Testament, the Greek ouranos can mean “the dwelling place of God” (Matthew 12:50) or “the sky” (Acts 10:11). And paradeisos (“paradise” or “garden”) can refer to the place where dead believers await resurrection (Luke 23:43), to where God dwells now (2 Corinthians 12:4), or to our eternal home (Revelation 2:7).

In 2 Corinthians 12:2 Paul says he knew a man (assumed to be himself—he is speaking in the third person) who went to the “third heaven.” The “third heaven” here simply means the spiritual dwelling of God, as opposed to the other two “heavens,” the atmosphere and outer space. The three “heavens” implied in 2 Corinthians 12:2 would be the terrestrial, telestial, and celestial.

In our vernacular, “seventh heaven” means “the best, happiest place to be,” but the Bible doesn’t give any indication that a seventh heaven actually exists. God promises He will not always live above us, but He will live with us in the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21). And although we will receive rewards according to our works (Revelation 22:12), the Bible never suggests that we’ll be segregated from each other.[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Eternity: What Is Eternal Life?

 

When the Bible speaks of eternal life, it refers to a gift of God that comes only “through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23). This gift is in contrast to the “death” that is the natural result of sin.

The gift of eternal life comes to those who believe in Jesus Christ, who is Himself “the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). The fact that this life is “eternal” indicates that it is perpetual life—it goes on and on and on, with no end.

It is a mistake, however, to view eternal life as simply an unending progression of years. A common New Testament word for “eternal” is aiónios, which carries the idea of quality as well as quantity. In fact, eternal life is not really associated with “years” at all, as it is independent of time. Eternal life can function outside of and beyond time, as well as within time.

For this reason, eternal life can be thought of as something that Christians experiencenow. Believers don’t have to “wait” for eternal life, because it’s not something that starts when they die. Rather, eternal life begins the moment a person exercises faith in Christ. It is our current possession. John 3:36 says, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life.” Note that the believer “has” (present tense) this life (the verb is present tense in the Greek, too). We find similar present-tense constructions in John 5:24 and John 6:47. The focus of eternal life is not on our future, but on our current standing in Christ.

The Bible inextricably links eternal life with the Person of Jesus Christ. John 17:3 is an important passage in this regard, as Jesus prays, “Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.” Here, Jesus equates “eternal life” with a knowledge of God and of the Son. There is no knowledge of God without the Son, for it is through the Son that the Father reveals Himself to the elect (John 17:6; 14:9).

This life-giving knowledge of the Father and the Son is a true, personal knowledge, not just an academic awareness. There will be some on Judgment Day who had claimed to be followers of Christ but never really had a relationship with Him. To those false professors, Jesus will say, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matthew 7:23). The apostle Paul made it his goal toknowthe Lord, and he linked that knowledge to resurrection from the dead: “I want to know Christ—yes, to know the power of his resurrection and participation in his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, and so, somehow, attaining to the resurrection from the dead” (Philippians 3:10–11).

In the New Jerusalem, the apostle John sees a river flowing from “the throne of God and of the Lamb,” and “on each side of the river stood the tree of life.… And the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations” (Revelation 22:1–2). In Eden, we rebelled against God and were banished from the tree of life (Genesis 3:24). In the end, God graciously restores our access to the tree of life. This access is provided through Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29).

Right now, every sinner is invited to know Christ and to receive eternal life: “Let the one who is thirsty come; and let the one who wishes take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).

How can you know that you have eternal life? First of all, confess your sin before a holy God. Then, accept God’s provision of a Savior on your behalf. “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, died for your sins, and He rose again the third day. Believe this good news; trust the Lord Jesus as your Savior, and you will be saved (Acts 16:31; Romans 10:9–10).

John puts it so simply: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11–12).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Eternity: What Is the Worm that Will Not Die in Mark 9:48?

 

Jerusalem’s ancient garbage dump—a place called Gehenna—was illustrative of the ceaseless agonies of hell. This dump was on the south side of Jerusalem. In Old Testament times, children had been sacrificed to idols there (2 Kings 23:10); in Jesus’ day, it was a place burning with constant fires to consume the waste that was thrown there. The material burned there included everything from household trash to animal carcasses to convicted criminals (Jeremiah 7:31–33). Needless to say, the Jews considered Gehenna a cursed place of impurity and uncleanness.

The word translated “hell” in Mark 9:43 is the Greek word Gehenna, which comes from the Hebrew name for a place called the “Valley of Hinnom.” Jesus uses this place to paint a vivid image of what hell is like. The Jewish people often associated the Valley of Hinnom with spiritual death.

In Mark 9:48, when Jesus says, “Where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (ESV), He is quoting from Isaiah 66:24: “They will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” In both texts the word translated as “worm” literally means “grub” or “maggot.” A maggot would have an obvious association with a dump like Gehenna where dead bodies are thrown; however, the maggot Christ speaks of “will not die.”

Taken at face value, this text is one of the most horrific descriptions of what hell is like. The thought of eternal torment, likened to maggots eating away at a rotting corpse, is undoubtedly ghastly. Hell is so awful that Christ said, figuratively speaking, it’s better to cut off the hand that causes you to sin than to end up in hell (Matthew 5:30).

Mark 9:48 does not mean that there are literal worms in hell or that there are worms that live forever; rather, Jesus is teaching the fact of unending suffering in hell—the “worm” never stops causing torment. Notice that the worm is personal. Both Isaiah 66:24 and Mark 9:48 use the word their to identify the worm’s owner. The sources of torment are attached each to its own host.

Some Bible scholars believe the “worm” refers to a man’s conscience. Those in hell, being completely cut off from God, exist with a nagging, guilty conscience that, like a persistent worm, gnaws away at its victim with a remorse that can never be mitigated. No matter what the word worm refers to, the most important thing to be gained from these words of Christ is that we should do everything in our power to escape the horrors of hell, and there is only one thing to that end—receiving Jesus as the Lord of our lives (John 3:16).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Eternity: Did God Create Hell?

 

Hell is a place of suffering originally prepared by God for the devil and his angels (Matthew 18:9; 25:41). The words Hades (Greek) and Sheol (Hebrew) are sometimes associated with hell. However, Hades/Sheol is simply the place or realm where the spirits of people go when they die (see Genesis 37:35). Hades/Sheol is not necessarily a place of torment because God’s people were said to go there as well as the wicked. In the New Testament, we find that Hades is somehow “compartmentalized.” That is, the realm of the dead is divided into a place of comfort and a place of torment (Luke 16:19–31).

There are other words associated with hell in the Bible such as Gehenna and lake of fire. It is clear that there is an actual place where the spirits of the unsaved go for eternity (Revelation 9:1; 20:15; Matthew 23:33).

Everything that ever was or is or will be is created by God, including hell (Colossians 1:16). John 1:3 says, “All things were made through him, and without him was not anything made that was made.” God alone has the power to cast someone into hell (Luke 12:5). Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades (Revelation 1:18).

Jesus said that hell was “prepared” for Satan and the demons (Matthew 25:41). It is a just punishment for the wicked one. Hell, or the lake of fire, will also be the destination for those who reject Christ (2 Peter 2:4–9). The good news is that people can avoid hell. God, in His infinite mercy and love, has made a way of salvation for everyone who trusts in God’s Son, Jesus Christ (John 3:16, 36; 5:24).[1]

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.

Questions about Eternity: What Does It Mean that Hell Is Eternal Separation from God?

 

The Bible is clear that there are two possible destinations for every human soul following physical death: heaven or hell (Matthew 25:34, 41, 46; Luke 16:22–23). Only the righteous inherit eternal life, and the only way to be declared righteous before God is through faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ (John 3:16–18; Romans 10:9). The souls of the righteous go directly into the presence of God (Luke 23:43; 2 Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23).

For those who do not receive Jesus Christ as Savior, death means everlasting punishment (2 Thessalonians 1:8–9). This punishment is described in a variety of ways: a lake of fire (Luke 16:24; Revelation 20:14–15), outer darkness (Matthew 8:12), and a prison (1 Peter 3:19), for example. This place of punishment is eternal (Jude 1:13; Matthew 25:46). There is no biblical support for the notion that after death people get another chance to repent. Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that everyone dies physically and, after that, comes the judgment. Christians have already been judged and sentenced. Jesus took that sentence upon Himself. Our sin becomes His and His righteousness becomes ours when we believe in Him. Because He took our just punishment, we need not fear ever being separated from Him again (Romans 8:29–30). The judgment for unbelievers is still to come.

Second Thessalonians 1:8–9 says, “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The misery of hell will consist of not only physical torture, but the agony of being cut off from every avenue of happiness. God is the source of all good things (James 1:17). To be cut off from God is to forfeit all exposure to anything good. Hell will be a state of perpetual sin; yet those suffering there will possess full understanding of sin’s horrors. Remorse, guilt, and shame will be unending, yet accompanied by the conviction that the punishment is just.

There will no longer be any deception about the “goodness of man.” To be separated from God is to be forever shut off from light (1 John 1:5), love (1 John 4:8), joy (Matthew 25:23), and peace (Ephesians 2:14) because God is the source of all those good things. Any good we observe in humanity is merely a reflection of the character of God, in whose image we were created (Genesis 1:27).

While the spirits of those regenerated by God’s Holy Spirit will abide forever with God in a perfected state (1 John 3:2), the opposite is true of those in hell. None of the goodness of God will exist in them. Whatever good they may have thought they represented on earth will be shown for the selfish, lustful, idolatrous thing it was (Isaiah 64:6). Man’s ideas of goodness will be measured against the perfection of God’s holiness and be found severely lacking. Those in hell have forever lost the chance to see God’s face, hear His voice, experience His forgiveness, or enjoy His fellowship. To be forever separated from God is the ultimate punishment.[1]

 

 

[1] Got Questions Ministries. (2010). Got Questions? Bible Questions Answered. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software.