Christian Cyclopedia

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A. Heaven (Eternal Life). 1. Eternal, or everlasting, life, the gift of God through Christ* Jesus, is the end of faith, the ultimate object of a Christian's hope and striving (Ph 3:13–14; 2 Ti 4:6–8). The Bible describes eternal life as a kingdom (Lk 12:32), a paradise (Lk 23:43), an unfading inheritance (1 Ptr 1:4), a rest for the people of God (Heb 4:9), Abraham's bosom (Lk 16:22), a marriage supper (Rv 19:9), a crown of life (Rv 2:10), to picture under earthly symbols the ineffable joys and pleasures of heaven.

2. Scripture represents heaven as a place, a house with many mansions (Jn 14:2), everlasting habitations (Lk 16:9), a city (Heb 11:10), a new heaven and a new earth (2 Ptr 3:13; Rv 21:1). It makes no attempt to locate heaven. All human efforts to do so must fail.

3. Essentially eternal life is immediate, uninterrupted fellowship with God. To be with God is to be in heaven (Ps 16:11; Lk 23:43). The saints in light are with God and with His Son (Jn 17:24). They see God face to face, as He is, and know God even as they are known; their knowledge of God and His wonderful works will no longer be partial, but perfect and complete (1 Co 13:9–12; 1 Jn 3:2).

4. This blissful fellowship is unbroken by time, unmarred and undisturbed by sin or any of its disrupting consequences (Ps 16:11; Jn 3:16). Pain, sorrow, tears, tribulation, hunger, thirst, and death will be no more (Rv 7:16–17; 21:4). In heaven the elect will sing the praises of God and their exalted Redeemer (Rv 5:9–13). The divine image will be fully restored (Ps 17:15; Heb 12:23). The glory that will be revealed surpasses human understanding (2 Co 12:4) and far outweighs the suffering of this present time (Ro 8:19). It is a blessedness beyond compare (2 Co 4:17).

5. The body of believers will share in the glory of everlasting life. Transformed to resemble the glorified body of their Redeemer, the body will be free from weakness, dishonor, and corruption (Ph 3:21; 1 Co 15:42–54). The white robes mentioned Rv 7:9–14 are symbols of the sinlessness effected through the cleansing power of Christ's blood. The institution of marriage will be abolished (Mt 22:30). In glory the believers will be equal to the angels of God (Lk 20:36). Whether the redeemed will recognize each other in heaven is not stated explicitly but may be inferred from the story of the Transfiguration, which says that the disciples recognized Moses and Elijah (Mt 17:3–4).

6. Though Scripture ascribes full salvation to all believers (Jn 3:16), there will be degrees of glory in accord with the difference of the works that the believers performed on earth (1 Co 3:8; 2 Co 9:6). It is futile and needless to speculate in what this difference of glory consists. This we know, that a believer enjoying a greater measure of glory will not be envied by those who have less. It is inherent in eternal life with its absolute perfection that the difference in glory will not give rise to any evil thoughts.

B. Hell (Eternal Punishment). 1. The doctrine of eternal punishment, repugnant to natural man, has been repudiated by errorists (e.g., Origen,* Universalists*) but is clearly revealed in Scripture. To deny this doctrine is to reject the authority of Scripture.

2. Acc. to the Bible, the unbelievers will be damned (Mk 16:16). They will be punished with everlasting destruction (2 Th 1:9), the damnation of hell (Mt 23:33). This punishment is variously described as unquenchable fire (Mk 9:43–48), outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8:12), a prison from which there is no escape (Mt 5:25–26).

3. As regards the question whether the fire of hell (Mt 25:41 et al.) is a material fire or not, restraint is in order. Since other expressions are used to depict the suffering of the lost (e.g., “their worm does not die,” Mk 9:48; they “shall be cast out into outer darkness,” Mt 8:12), all of them may well be understood figuratively. The description that the Bible gives of hell is to express in terms taken from human experience the unspeakable torments of body and soul of the damned. Whatever has been said about the awful doom of the wicked is intended to call sinners to repentance and warn them of the wrath to come.

4. As the essence of heaven is fellowship with God, so the essence of hell is exclusion from this fellowship. Deprived of the blissful presence of God and the glory bestowed on the believers (2 Th 1:9; Mt 25:41), the unbelievers will languish in the company of the evil spirits to bemoan, in abject despair, their willful impenitence during the time of grace and their unalterable condemnation (Mt 8:12). This punishment, which is never alleviated, will be eternal in the 2-fold sense that it suffers no interruption (Lk 16:24–26) and has no end (Mk 9:48). Degrees of punishment are clearly taught Mt 11:22–24; Lk 12:47–48. Those who spurned the proffered grace and knew the Lord's will, will be punished more severely than those who never heard the Gospel. Hypocrites who devour widows' houses and for a pretense make long prayer shall receive the greater damnation (Mt 23:14). Wherein this difference consists has not been revealed, and we should not presume to know.

5. To identify the destruction of the wicked with annihilation (see Annihilationism) has no warrant in Scripture. if the punishment of the wicked consisted in their outright annihilation, the Bible could not speak of it as everlasting destruction (2 Th 1:9). Acc. to Ro 2:8–9 tribulation and anguish await those who do not obey the truth; acc. to Jn 3:36 the wrath of God abides on those who do not believe the Son. Neither could be predicated of men who cease to have a conscious existence. Destruction or perdition, when contrasted with life, denote not cessation of existence, but eternal misery, the loss of everlasting blessedness (Ph. 1:28).

6. The meaning of “eternal” has been called into question on the ground that the Gk. word aionios, tr. by “eternal” or “everlasting,” does not denote “endlessness.” Aionios (from aion, “age”) is a relative term and may mean “age-long,” “enduring for a time only,” but it can also mean “everlasting,” “endless,” and it clearly has this meaning in all passages that speak of the destiny of men in the hereafter. The temporal is contrasted with the eternal (aionios) 2 Co 4:18; 1 Ptr 1:23–25. When judgment is pronounced, the wicked will go into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal (Mt 25:46). The same Gk. word is used in both sentences. If aionios denotes endlessness in the one, it must have the same meaning in the other. The punishment of the wicked is unending misery and woe (Mk 3:29).

7. The same passages that unequivocally teach the eternity of punishment rule out as unscriptural the teaching of the ultimate salvation of all men. 1 Co 15:22, Eph 1:10, and Rv 21:5 cannot be adduced as proof for the final salvation of all, for when the Scriptures speak of the ultimate goal of the world's hist., they refer only to the blessed perfection of the faithful. 1 Co 15:28 and related passages teach the final victory of the kingdom of God, the subjugation of all the enemies of Christ; they do not state that all these enemies will be converted to God.

8. No physical location of hell is intended by what Scripture says of the habitation of the wicked. Hell is where God reveals Himself in His vindictive justice to the finally impenitent.

9. One of the objections raised to the doctrine of eternal punishment is that it is inconsistent with the love of God to condemn men to unending perdition. But it must be remembered that while God is a God of love, His love is only one of His attributes. Justice is also one of His attributes. Since God is a perfect being, we find in Him the perfect and harmonious expression of all His attributes. It is significant, too, that the most solemn and explicit declarations of eternal punishment recorded in Scripture were spoken by the forgiving and compassionate Savior (Mt 25:41, 46; Mk 9:43–48). Some hold that it is unworthy of a just God to punish men with everlasting condemnation. But how can man presume to determine the justice of the infinite God acc. to human conceptions of justice? (Ps. 19:9; Is 55:9; Ro 11:33).

C. Definition of Biblical Terms. 1. Heaven is (1) the vaulted expanse of the sky with all things in it (Heb 1:10), the aerial heavens or sky where clouds and tempests gather (Mt 16:2), the starry heavens (Heb 11:12); (2) the dwelling place of God (Mt 5:34; 23:22; Acts 7:49) and His holy angels (Mt 18:10; 24:36), to which Christ ascended (Acts 1:9–11), the eternal home of all believers (Mt 5:12; 1 Ptr 1:4).

2. Paradise. This word, perhaps of Persian origin, denotes (1) a garden or park, e.g., the Garden of Eden (Gn 2:8–17); (2) the heavenly Paradise, home of the saints of God (Lk 23:43; 2 Co 12:4 [RSV 3]; Rv 2:7).

3. Sheol. The etymology of this word, occuring 65 times in the Heb. OT, is still obscure. M. Luther* tr. it Hölle in all places except Gn 37:35; 42:38; 44:29, 31; in these passages he tr. it with Grube. The KJV tr. it with “grave,” “hell,” and “pit.” Since the derivation of the word is uncertain, the context must determine the meaning in each case.

(a) Sheol may mean the resting place of man's mortal remains (Jb 17:16; Is 38:10).

(b) Sheol may mean realm of the dead, into which all enter who depart this life, righteous as well as wicked (e.g., Gn 37:35; Jb 7:9; Ps 16:10; 31:17; 89:48). In this sense it is a gen. term used very much like Eng. “the hereafter” or “the beyond.” The phrase “to go down into Sheol” means “to die, to depart from the land of the living.” But it should be noted that when the righteous are said to descend into Sheol, their fate beyond is never taken into account. The hope of the pious in the OT is expressed differently, e.g., Ps 73:24.

(c) Sheol may mean the place where God's judgment overtakes evildoers. In this sense Sheol receives such as are taken away in God's anger. Korah's rebel band went down to Sheol because they had provoked the Lord (Nm 16:30, 33). Harlots go to Sheol (Pr 5:5). The anger of the Lord burns to the depths of Sheol (Dt 32:22). Acc. to Ps 49 all men die physically, righteous as well as ungodly (v. 10), but there is a difference in their existence in the hereafter. The confidence of the Psalmist is exressed in the words “They (i. e. the wicked) are laid in Sheol (KJV the grave), death shall feed on them, but God will redeem my soul from the power of Sheol (KJV the grave); for He shall receive me” (vv. 14–15). Clearly there is a sharp contrast bet. the doom of the ungodly and the glorious hope of the believer, who hopes to rest securely in the hands of God; cp. Ps 73.

4. Hades (perhaps derived from the Gk. word for “unseen”). In non-Biblical Gk. literature this term denotes the realm of the dead. In the LXX Hades is used almost exclusively for Sheol. In the NT it means “realm of the dead” (Acts 2:27, 31; Rv 20:13–14) or (e.g., Lk 16:23) a place where unbelievers suffer. When the rich man found himself in Hades, he was not in an intermediate state, but “in torments.”

5. Gehenna was the Gk. name of a deep, narrow valley SW and S of Jerusalem; the Heb. name was ge hinnom, “valley of Hinnom”; the meaning of Hinnom is obscure. It was the scene of the sacrifice of children to the idol Moloch (2 K 23:10). Later it was used for disposal of refuse by fire. By transfer of thought the name Gehenna came to denote the abode of the wicked after death (e.g., Mt 5:22, 29; 10:28; Mk 9:43, 45; Lk 12:5; Ja 3:6).

6. Abyssos. A Gk. word derived from an adjective meaning bottomless, unbounded, denotes (1) the “deep,” or primeval waters (LXX Gn 1:2); (2) the depths of the earth as a symbol of great distress and anguish of soul (Ps 71:20); (3) the abode of the dead (Ro 10:7); (4) hell, as the abode of evil spirits presided over by Apollyon, identified by many with Satan (Rv 9:1–2, 11; 11:7; 17:8; 20:1, 3).

7. Tartaros. This Gk. word is not in the Bible, but a related verb form occurs 2 Ptr 2:4. In Gk. mythology Tartaros is an underground prison, regarded as the abode of the wicked dead where they suffer punishment for their evil deeds; its corresponds to Gehenna (see par. 5 above) as a name for hell.


H. Ebeling, Der Menschheit Zukunft,- 2d ed. (Zwickau, 1913 ); T. Kliefoth, Christliche Eschatologie (Leipzig, 1886); C. E. Luthardt, Die Lehre von den letzten Dingen, 2d ed. (Leipzig, 1870); R. Seeberg, Ewiges Leben? (Leipzig, 1915); A. Althaus, Die letzten Dinge (Verden, 1858); P. Althaus, Unsterblichkeit und ewiges Sterben bei Luther (Gütersloh, 1930) and Die letzten Dinge, 4th ed. (Gütersloh, 1933); J. A. West, What the Bible Teaches About the World Beyond (Burlington, Iowa, 1939); L. F. Gruber, What After Death? (Burlington, Iowa, 1925); E. C. Pautsch, “Eternal Life,” The Abiding Word, I, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1946); W. F. Wolbrecht, “The Doctrine of the Last Things,” The Abiding Word, I, ed. T. Laetsch (St. Louis, 1946); E. C. Fendt, “The Life Everlasting,” What Lutherans Are Thinking (Columbus, Ohio, 1947), pp. 307–322; G. Beiderwieden, Heaven (St. Louis, 1937); That Unknown Country, or What Living Men Believe Concerning Punishment After Death (Springfield, Massachusetts, 1891).

Edited by: Erwin L. Lueker, Luther Poellot, Paul Jackson
©Concordia Publishing House, 2000, All rights Reserved. Reproduced with Permission

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