Results tagged “Heaven” from Reformation21 Blog

A Fixed Hope


This summer, I have been greatly encouraged through reading the works of John Bunyan. In his work Grace Abounding to the Chief of Sinners, John Bunyan concludes his Preface with the following thought:

"My dear children - The milk and honey is beyond this wilderness. God be merciful to you, and grant that you be not slothful to go in to possess the land."

I've pondered this simple, yet profound thought over the past few weeks because it brings me back to a foundational Christian truth - the hope of redemption. A cursory reading of the Apostle Paul's writings will show us that Paul constantly meditated on and lived in light of this truth. As sinners who have been justified by His grace, we are called to rejoice in this hope (cf. Romans 5:2, 12:12) and we are told to fix our hope and expectation upon this reality (cf. 1 Peter 1:13). From the perspective of the Apostles, this hope encourages us to be patient through tribulation (cf. Romans 5:3, 12:12), and this hope serves as a chief motivation to pursue holiness (cf. 1 John 3:3). Furthermore, meditating on the hope of our redemption produces a sense of urgency in the Christian life. We are exhorted to recognize that our salvation is near and thus, we should behave as those who are aware that the day of the Lord is near (cf. Romans 13:11-13). For this reason, our lives should be marked with sober-mindedness (cf. Ephesians 5:14; 1 Thessalonians 5:6; 1 Peter 4:7) and patient endurance through suffering and affliction (cf. James 5:8; Revelation 13:10, 14:12).

A question that should be raised is whether or not many of us (as Western Evangelicals) have lost this sense of urgency. In recent years, I've rarely heard Evangelicals speak about the urgency in which we should live the Christian life; rather, I've heard more and more Evangelicals become very focused upon cultural engagement, typically using Jeremiah 29:5-7 as a justification. Although one's view of eschatology does affect how one views the future, this should not affect how we interpret and live in light of the exhortations to fix our hope on the appearing of the Lord Jesus.

So how can we apply Jeremiah 29:5-7 in a way that is consistent with the eschatological focus given by the Apostles? First, we must note an important difference between our modern context and the Jewish context during Jeremiah's prophetic ministry. Although we are exiles in this world (cf. 1 Peter 2:11), our exile is not due to judgment. God has not moved us from Jerusalem to Babylon as judgment; rather, He has rescued us from within Babylon so that we have dual citizenship (cf. Philippians 3:20). This means that the biggest reminder that we need is that this present world is not our home. If we are honest, we naturally feel very much at home in this present world because this is where we were born. We do not need much encouragement to build houses, grow wealthy, get married, and have children. If we aren't careful, we will naturally gravitate toward a life which has more in common with the American dream than with Biblical Christianity. This is one reason why we are commanded to store up treasure in heaven; Our Father knows where we naturally store our treasures. We don't need any encouragement to make ourselves move at home in this present world. Rather, we have a far greater need to be reminded that our home is in the new Jerusalem.

Second, in contrast to Jeremiah 29:7, we must recognize that we do not know how long our exile will last. This has led some unbelievers to mock the New Testament's teaching on the imminent return of Christ (cf. 2 Peter 3:3). Because of the seeming delay of our Lord's coming, it is very tempting to naturally live as if Jesus will never return. As believers, we must never allow the mundane nature of our everyday activities to push the hope of our redemption to the back of our minds. As mentioned previously, we should stand ready for Christ's return at any moment; we should not be found sleeping.

Third, we must recognize Jeremiah 29 holds out the glorious hope of the fulfillment of God's promises to His people. The argument of Jeremiah 29 is that the exiles should not seek to overthrow the Babylonian empire because they have a much greater hope that the city of Babylon. After 70 years of judgment, God will answer the prayers of the Jewish exiles and restore them to Jerusalem. In other words, Jeremiah 29:11 is the main point of the chapter because their hope is not that God will bring prosperity to Babylon, but that He will return the Jewish exiles back to Jerusalem. As Christians, we have an even more glorious hope. Thus, the primary message of Jeremiah 29 to us is to live in the light of our future hope--to live now in this world as citizens of the world to come, neither ceasing to do good to all those around us now (cf. Galatians 6:10), nor becoming so friendly with this present world that we find ourselves enemies of God (cf. James 4:4).

To my shame, I must admit that I do not meditate on and rejoice in this future hope as much as I should. Because my life is not marked with physical persecution, it is much easier to become focused on the various problems and irritations of day-to-day life. It is much more tempting to center my life around my professional goals and ambitions and thus, to take my eyes off of the glory of the world to come. However, as Jesus and the Apostles warned, the day of the Lord will come as a thief. The Day of the Lord will supernaturally disrupt the normalcy of all of our lives. For those who are united to Christ, we will rejoice with exceeding joy because our redemption is complete. On that Day, we will know that all of our earthly treasures are transient and we will know the sufferings of this present world are not worthy to be compared to the glory we will have (cf. Romans 8:18). For this reason, as the Apostle Peter states, "what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God" (cf. 2 Peter 3:11). As John Bunyan wrote, may we not be slothful, but rather let us be diligent to be found in Him. Let us fix our hope completely on the grace to be brought to us at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

Neither Poverty nor Riches


Recently, I had the privilege of meeting a new family in our church. They've spent the last several years of their life in Connecticut where they struggled to find Christian fellowship, and by God's providence, they have been able to move down to Charleston. On this past Sunday, our families had lunch together, and we spent most of the time just getting to know each other. Eventually, we discussed the spiritual state of many of the people they knew in Connecticut. They mentioned that they had numerous wealthy acquaintances, but they were among the most miserable people they knew. We all nodded heads because as Christians, we know that money cannot buy the happiness and longing that many desire. However, a statement was made during the conversation that has been on my mind for several days: "I don't know what's worse: the rich, miserable man who is attached to his wealth or the poor, miserable man whose great hope in life is to become wealthy."

That statement has stuck with me because it's speaks about the reality of materialism. There is much discussion among Christians regarding the materialism of those who are wealthy in this world. There's much discussion of families who are public successes and private failures - those who live (and boast about) a life of luxury for everyone to see, yet in truth, they are miserably addicted to their love of wealth. These are individuals who live to work, live to make money, and showcase their extravagance for all to see, yet they have neglected their souls and their families.

However, there is not much discussion of the materialism of those who are poor in this world. Even though they may have meager possessions, their heart is still addicted to the hopeful prospect of wealth. They love to watch and mimic those who are wealthy so that they can fantasize about what they would do if they were wealthy. These are individuals who "fake it until they make it" - pretending to have wealth and possessions because they pine for the status that wealth brings. Even when the private failings of wealthy individuals become public, their only lesson is to not repeat their private failures.

In reality, there are many similarities between the materialism of "the rich" versus "the poor". In both cases, their hearts are set on wealth. However, there is an important difference between the two: the rich have received their reward and their hope, whereas the poor have not. For the rich in this world, the question becomes: What do you do when your hope fails you? The consistent Christian message is that one's life does not consist only of His possessions (cf. Luke 12:15). Jesus Himself explicitly warned His disciples concerning the dangers of storing up treasures on this earth (cf. Matthew 6:19-21) and that it is impossible to serve God and wealth (cf. Matthew 6:24). The Apostle Paul repeats these admonitions in 1 Timothy 6:17-19:

"Instruct those who are rich in this present world not to be conceited or to fix their hope on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly supplies us with all things to enjoy. Instruct them to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, storing up for themselves the treasure of a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is life indeed."

However, for the poor in this world who yearn to be wealthy (but still remain poor), the question becomes: What do you do when your hope of wealth is crushed? How should Christians respond to such individuals? The response of Christians to these individuals should fundamentally be the same because the root of the matter is the love of wealth. The sinful attachment to wealth (and the greed and envy that these usually produce) is the true problem - not one's social or financial position in society.

I've found that this message is easy to proclaim to those lovers of money who are wealthy, but it is becoming more and more offensive to those lovers of money who are poor in our culture. Rather, I am finding that another message has been substituted for the gospel message, and it is the belief that someone (whether it is society, politicians, wicked businessmen, or Satan) has robbed the poor of their wealth. In many cases, it is true that poverty in this world is caused by corruption and oppression, but Scripture also emphatically teaches that the gospel is the remedy needed for the poor, not freedom from poverty (cf. Matthew 15:1-5). This is not a theraupetic, "pie-in-the-sky" message that ignores the real problems of the poor. Rather, it is a clear and consistent message that the ultimate problem is deeper than political and economic oppression. Materialism (in all of its forms) is a harsh taskmaster to all who serve her; materialism breaks the spirit of all who serve it. Chasing after wealth and putting one's hope in it is just as worthless as chasing after the wind. Solomon's life is a testimony of this (cf. Ecclesiastes 2:1-11). Moreover, materialism is a foolish religion to all who serve it and is nothing more than superstition; it can never deliver on the promises that it offers. The reality is that the riches of God's mercy is worth more than this superstitious pursuit for wealth.

It is this last point that serves as a message to us all: Do we believe in the claims that materialism promises? Do we hold tightly to our possessions or do we have the heart attitude of the Hebrew Christians who could rejoice in the seizure of their property (cf. Hebrews 10:34)? Do we still have a part of us that still desires an inheritance and a claim in this present world? Do we have the disposition of a pilgrim (cf. Hebrews 11:12-16)? Do we live with the truth that we are citizens of a heavenly Kingdom (cf. Philippians 3:20) and that this Kingdom is not of this world (cf. John 18:36)? Do we have a "worldly" faith - a faith fixed upon liberation from the problems of this world and hope for a comfortable future in this world? To all of these questions, we should remember and cling to the reality that our hope is built upon Christ and the redemption that He has accomplished.

Gabriel Williams (Ph.D., Colorado State University) is assistant professor of atmospheric physics at the College of Charleston and a member of Christ Church Presbyterian in Charleston, SC. He also writes at The Road of Grace. The views and opinions expressed in this article are his own and do not necessarily reflect the official positions of the College of Charleston.

Ascension Matters


Evangelical Christians often spend time considering all the benefits won for us on the cross and in the resurrection but spend little time pondering how the ascension further secures and confirms these salvific benefits. We typically give little thought to the question: How does Christ's ascension into heaven benefit us? (Heidelberg Catechism Q.49). In this post*, we hope to consider this very issue in order to better understand how central the ascension to salvation.

The general failure to understand the importance of the ascension for the life of the believer leads to a truncated view of soteriology and the application of soteriology. While there is always the looming danger that we existentialize the objective truths of Christianity, making them mere subjective realities, there is the opposite danger that we as believers fail to recognize that these objective realities that happened to Christ in history have occurred for the benefit of those who are in union with Christ. As believers, we cannot contemplate what God has done 'in the fullness of time' without our hearts being warmed. We recognize that Good has brought the benefits of this once-for-all work unto us in order to nullify all human effort, boasting, and self-glorification. Similarly, we cannot contemplate what has been done for us in the application of salvation, without immediately considering that God has accomplished the benefits in the once-for-all of the work of Christ at the center of history.

The Ascension as an Event in the History of Salvation

At the core of salvation history is the work of the Triune God in the death-resurrection-ascension[of Christ]-and Pentecost. This event complex is divided into the two states of Christ: (1) his humiliation and (2) his exaltation. While it is certainly true that Christ cried out on the cross "It is finished", referring to his self-offering as the sacrifice to pay for sin, Christ's role in redemption continues. Just as Paul might say about the resurrection "if Christ has not been are still in our sins" (1 Cor. 15:17), so too, we might say about the ascension "if Christ has not ascended into heaven itself, we are still in our sins." Even after the work on the cross, there remains the phase of Christ's exaltation in order to apply the benefits of redemption. The Dutch theologian Herman Bavinck has wisely stated, "Without application, redemption is not redemption" and "In his state of exaltation there still remains much for Christ to do."1 

The Ascension and Christ's Kingship in Glorified Humanity.

Hebrews is arguably one of the most Christological books of the New Testament. It is an exposition of the person and work of Jesus as the Son of God. From the very beginning the book of Hebrews is concerned with the reality of ascension of Jesus Christ and the implications that flow from this reality. We find the Son is the one whom the Father "appointed heir of all things" (1:2) and has now "sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high" (1:3). He is the Son ascended.

The Son in his humanity was at one time lower in status than the angels. But now, after his suffering death, in his humanity he has been exalted up and crowned to rule over them and all of God's creation. He fulfills the Adamic vice-regency and the kingly mediatorship that was given to David and David's descendants. The eternal Son now incarnate fulfills the role that God intended for all humanity in the first Adam. The point is that in the exaltation (both resurrection and ascension) Jesus Christ as a true man is crowned with glory and honor.2 It is this Son, in the experience of true humanity that the Father says "Sit at my right hand, until I make your enemies a footstool for your feet".

The Ascension and Christ's Appointment to Priesthood

Not only is Christ's ascension into heaven his coronation to kingship on our behalf, Hebrews gives attention to how Christ's session at the right hand of God fulfills his work as our high priest. He is fully designated and coronated as high priest. He is the high priest who has passed through the heavens (Heb. 4:15; 8:1-2). Jesus Christ can only enter the Holy Place after he has accomplished our redemption. "But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:11-12).

The greater more perfect tent that Jesus enters is heaven itself. In the Old Testament "Day of Atonement" the sacrifice was made and then the high priest would proceed into the Holy of Holies to make intercession. So too with Christ, the blood of Christ was shed first so that Christ could go before the throne of God. Recently L. Michael Morales has shown how the book of Leviticus and the whole Pentateuch centers on the ascension offering at the Day of Atonement. The high priest is a cultic Adam who having offered the sacrifice "ascends" into the house of God.3 In the Septuagint, Aaron's Ephod was one of 'glory and honor,' echoing the Adamic language we find in Ps. 8 and Heb 2:6-8.4

The Ascension and the New Covenant.

The ascension of Christ guarantees to us that the New Covenant has begun. It is the oath of the priesthood given to him that makes him "the guarantor of a better covenant" (Heb. 7:22). Christ's ascension into heaven guarantees the oath is fulfilled. Christ is mediating the new covenant. Because it is into the greater tabernacle, the true tabernacle and not the earthly shadow, the ascension guarantees that Christ is mediating a greater covenant than the Old Covenant of the Law. "Now the point in what we are saying is this: we have such a high priest, one who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, a minister in the holy places, in the true tent that the Lord set up, not man" (Heb. 8:1-2).

In the Old Testament, as well as Second Temple Jewish apocalyptic texts, heaven is the throne of God. It is the true sanctuary where the earthly tabernacle or temple is a copy of what was in heaven. Moses made it after the pattern he was shown in heaven. The one on earth is a shadow cast by the real tabernacle of heaven itself that God made (Heb. 8:5). We are assured then that Christ is the mediator of something better, a greater covenant than the Old Covenant, because he has entered in ascension to God's right hand. If the earthly tabernacle was symbolic of God's house with a throne is the holy of holies, then heaven is the place of God's true and ultimate throne. Consider the following passages out of Hebrews that speak to this:

"But as it is, Christ has obtained a ministry that is as much more excellent than the old as the covenant he mediates is better, since it is enacted on better promises." (Heb. 8:6)

"But when Christ appeared as a high priest of the good things that have come, then through the greater and more perfect tent (not made with hands, that is, not of this creation) he entered once for all into the holy places, not by means of the blood of goats and calves but by means of his own blood, thus securing an eternal redemption." (Heb. 9:11-12)

"Therefore he is the mediator of a new covenant, so that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance, since a death has occurred that redeems them from the transgressions committed under the first covenant." (Heb. 9:15)

Christ is the greater covenant sacrifice by his death made on the cross but because he enters into the greater tabernacle, heaven itself, Christ's ascension has secured that the covenant is effective. To secure the effects of the mediation of the New Covenant the sacrificed one enters into the true tabernacle. The parallel to the Day of Atonement is striking: the sacrifice was made on the altar but then carried into the holy of Holies so that it could be placed before God's throne. So Christ dies on the cross but enters in glorified humanity offering himself before God in the throne room, 'cleansing the tabernacle' so we can draw near to God (Heb. 9:23-24). Even more, Hebrews overlaps this Day of Atonement imagery with the covenant inauguration imagery from Exodus 24. Just as Moses cleansed the people to put a covenant into effect, Christ cleanses us, entering heaven to sit down having finished his work (10:10-14). Christ is the greater Moses who has inaugurated the greater covenant in his ascension.

Whom Have I in Heaven But Thee?

"For, having entered a sanctuary not made with hands, he appears before the Father's face as our constant advocate and intercessor [Heb. 7:25; 9:11-12; Rom. 8:34]. Thus, he turns the Father's eyes to his own righteousness to avert his gaze from our sins. He so reconciles the Father's heart to us that by his intercession he prepares a way and access for us to the Father's throne." (John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion, 2.16.16)

The Bible teaches us that we cannot enjoy a relationship to God apart from Christ's death, resurrection, and ascension. As a sinner, in order to be saved by grace, I need a high priest who has entered heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. God is the ruler who is exalted over all things, who 'reigns from heaven,' but we cannot approach the throne of his glory. We need the incarnate glorified Jesus to go before God the Father so that we might draw near to the Father.

The ascension is a beautiful doctrine. Its truth needs to resonate deep within our heart. It shapes our prayers and it defines our hope. We need to return again to understand the rich benefits of grace that flow from the fact that Christ has ascended into heaven on our behalf.


[1] Richard Gaffin, "Biblical Theology and the Westminster Standards," The Practical Calvinist: An introduction to the Presbyterian and Reformed Heritage, (Ed. Peter Lillback; Christian Focus Publications, 2002) 430. The first quote comes from Herman Bavinck Gereformeerde Dogmatiek (Kampen: Kok, 1976) 3:520 "Dempta application, redemption non est redemption" [Reformed Dogmatics, Vol. 3 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker, 2006) 523-4]; the second quote from Reformed Dogmatics Vol. 3, p.568.

[2] I have argued more extensively for  the Second Adam features in Hebrews 2 in Timothy J. Bertolet, "Obedience of the Son: Adamic Obedience as the Grounds for Heavenly Ascension in the Book of Hebrews" (Ph.D. diss, University of Pretoria, 2017) ch. 4, pp. 157-242.

[3] L. Michael Morales, Who Shall Ascend the Mountain of the Lord: A Biblical Theology of Leviticus (Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2015) 28-38, 167-184, esp. 175-6 & 182.

[4] Similarly, G.K. Beale has shown that Adam in the garden is both a king and a priest (Temple and the Church's Mission [Downers Grove, Ill.: Intervarsity, 2004] 66-68)

*This is a digested version of a longer treatment by the author on the theological significance of the ascension. You can download the unedited version here

Luther and Calvin's Quiet Discussions in Heaven

Those who cherish the Reformation have often sought out what, if any, influence Martin Luther may have had on John Calvin. Did the two Reformers ever meet in person? Was Calvin influenced by the writings or ministry of "the Initiator" of the Reformation? Did he ever rely on the writing of Luther in the development of his own theology? These and many other related questions surface when we begin, with admiration, to give ourselves to a study of these two massively important figures. 

Much remains uncertain about which of Luther's works Calvin read and which of Calvin's works Luther read. It is, however, clear that Calvin had knowledge of the controversies that surrounded Luther's theological writings and debates and that Luther read Calvin on certain theological issues. For instance, Calvin labored to wed Zwingli's spiritual view of the Supper to Luther's insistence on real presence. In John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, Herman Selderhuis explains:

"Calvin was left with the pieces of the dispute and tried to resolve things by combining the elements that both Luther and Zwingli insisted on. He thus arrived at a belief in the real presence of Christ through his Spirit, a solution through which some kind of unity was established both with the Wittenbergers and with the Swiss. Unfortunately a three-party consensus was never achieved."1  

Luther was aware that Calvin was seeking to reconcile his view with that of Zwingli, as Selderhuis notes:

"Melanchthon reported that when someone tried to incite Luther to attack Calvin's teaching on the Lord's Supper...Luther actually praised Calvin after reading the relevant passages."2 

The bulk of Calvin's references to Luther have to do, not with theological matters but with personal assessment (which is unsurprising given the strong personalities possessed by the two Reformers). Calvin was critical as well as celebratory in his opinions about the Wittenberg Reformer. In a letter to Bullinger, Calvin deemed Luther "immoderately ardent and violent in character;" and, in a letter to Melanchthon, he criticized Luther for getting too worked up and for being too quick tempered. However, Calvin praised Luther to Bullinger when he wrote: 

"I understand that Luther pours invectives on you and on us all. I dare scarcely request you to keep silence. But I supplicate you at least to remember what a great man Luther is, by what admirable qualities he is distinguished, what courage, what constancy, what ability, what power of doctrine there is in him to beat down the kingdom of anti-christ, and to propagate the knowledge of salvation. I say it, and have often repeated it, even though he called me a devil, I would not cease to honor him, and to acknowledge him as an illustrious servant of God."3 

Despite having to endure personal attacks from Luther, Calvin praised Luther for being a "most learned father in the Lord." Merle d'Aubigne wrote: "Calvin did not even fear to say, that in his eyes Luther was far above Zwingli;--Nam si inter se comparantur, scis ipse quanto intervallo Lutherus excedat."4

On one occasion, Luther sent word to Calvin from Martin Bucer. Selderhuis notes that "Calvin was thrilled when Bucer brought him personal greetings from Luther, along with a report that their German colleague had been pleased with Calvin's writings."5 Calvin received word that Luther was finally appreciative of something that he had written. Not unaffected by this commendation, Calvin wrote, "If we are not appeased by such moderation, we must be completely of stone. I am really appeased. I wrote something that satisfied him."6

Despite his criticisms of Luther, Calvin acknowledged the early influence that Luther has on him regarding the other Reformers. Later in life, Calvin reflected on the fact that "'when he began to liberate himself from the darkness of the papacy,' he was so influenced by Luther that he distanced himself from the writings of Oecolampadius and Zwingli."7

One of the most beautiful statements about Calvin's view of Luther is in a letter that he wrote to Luther toward the end of Luther's life (a letter that Luther sadly never received). In it, the Genevan Reformer suggested he and Luther "would soon be together in heaven where they could continue their discussion in quiet."8 What more beautiful way to pursue the peace that Christ longs for His followers to experience! Despite what appears to have been a tumultuous relationship, there was, on the part of Calvin, a deep desire for unity and peace with the great "Initiator" of the Reformation. While they may not have had the sweetest of fellowship on earth, of this much we may be sure: Calvin and Luther are engaging themselves in perfectly loving discussions in heaven before the presence of the Christ whom they sought to glorify here on earth.

1. Herman Selderhuis John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Press, 2009) p. 94
2. Ibid., p. 105

3. Emmanuel Stickelberger, Calvin, a Life. Translated by Georg Gelzer (Richmond, Virginia: John Knox Press, 1954), 70. 

4. Robert Baird, D'Aubigne and His Writings (New York: John S. Taylor, 1847) p. 257

5. John Calvin: A Pilgrim's Life, p. 33

6. Ibid., p. 106

7. Ibid., p. 105

8. Ibid. p. 259

The Missing Message

While preparing talks for a forthcoming Reformation Conference, I happened across Heiko Oberman's outstanding 1961 Theology Today lecture, "Preaching and the Word in the Reformation," in which he set down what he believed to have been the three most important aspects of the preaching among the Reformers: (1) the sermon as apocalyptic event; (2) the sermon as corporate act of worship; and (3) the relation of the written and the spoken Word of God. It is the first of these to which I wish to give further consideration. 

After dispelling the myth that preaching had disappeared prior to the Reformation, Oberman suggested that one of the things that was unique about the preaching of the Reformers was that it was an apocalyptic event, in which "the sermon...absorbed the medieval sacrament of penance." What the Roman Catholic Church had taken out of the preaching of the Gospel and put into the hands of the priests, the Reformers took out of the hands of the priests and put it back into the preaching of the Word and Gospel. The Reformers believed that in the true preaching of the Gospel the eternal realties of Heaven and Hell come breaking into time and space, by which the hearers are confronted by God. As sinners are confronted with their sin and the holiness of God, they are brought before the Divine tribunal in order to show them the need they have for redemption and forgiveness.  

Moving on from the confrontation of the word, Oberman insisted that "the function of the sermon is to provide proper doctrinal information especially as regards the first and second advent of Jesus Christ." The preaching of Christ is central to the preaching of the Reformation because, as the Reformers understood, "the sermon does not inspire good inclinations, but moves the doors of Heaven and Hell." Oberman summed up this aspect of Reformation preaching when he acquiesced with the essence of pietistic preaching: "Where the Word is preached and man encounters Christ, he is forced to answer 'Yes' or 'No.'" Since all of these things are so, we must understand that true preaching is, "God's last word, to which no syllable will be added." Oberman brought his thoughts on the apocalyptic nature of preaching to a close by explaining how the true preaching of the word brings assurance to believers. He wrote:

For this reason the Reformation could preach the certitudo salutisthe certainty of salvation, because he who will judge us is the same who fulfilled the law. In the words of Calvin: "When a Christian looks into himself he finds cause to be afraid or even to despair...[But] he will win a sure hope of eternal perseverance when he considers that he belongs to Him who cannot fall or fail." It gives pause to realize that this message which proved to lend the Reformation movement its reconciling and liberating power has virtually disappeared from the Protestant pulpit.

Here, two things stand out to me as being of prime importance. First, only the preaching of the Reformation can hold forth the assurance of salvation. The greatest of all differences between the preaching of Rome and the preaching of the Reformation lies in this: "the Reformation could preach the...certainty of salvation, because he who will judge us is the same who fulfilled the law." If that aspect of preaching is missing from our churches then we will never hold out to despairing sinners the peace for which their souls so desperately long. 

Second, Oberman made the sobering observation that "this message...has virtually disappeared from the Protestant pulpit." While recognizing that he was referring to the mainline Protestant churches of his day (which were, incidentally, at their heyday in the 1960's), we must also recognize that the same can be said of so many churches in our own day. Rome continues to be void of this all-important aspect of preaching. Liberal Protestant churches maintain the strongest possible distaste for it. Most concerning of all, however, is the realization that the better part of self-professed evangelical churches have abandoned the preaching of the Reformation. From the pulpit, churches that claim affinity with the Reformation are proving themselves to be virtually antithetical to the Reformers. In so many churches in our day, the psychological and social are trumpeted instead of Heaven and Hell, the court of public opinion rather than the Divine tribunal and a sophisticated call to self-atonement through humanitarianism rather than forgiveness of sins through the atoning death of Jesus. We should be appalled at the paltry nature of what flies under the name of preaching today. We should long for preaching that brings men and women before the eternal tribunal, that sets out Jesus Christ in His saving fulness and that calls sinners to respond to Him in faith and repentance. It is then, and only then, that we will know the same "reconciling and liberating power" that was heard and felt in the days of the Reformers. 

Lay up Treasures (i.e. People) in Heaven

Soon many will begin re-reading the Bible from cover-to-cover throughout the year. This is a practice I heartily commend. But there's another practice that has been immensely beneficial to me as I've read portions of God's word in recent times. 

As I read the various commands Christ gave to his disciples during the course of his public ministry on earth, I sometimes meditate on the manner in which he personally kept the command he gave. Keeping this thought in mind can open up the Scriptures in fresh and exciting ways.

For example, in the Sermon on the Mount, Christ gives the following command:

Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also (Matt. 6:19-21).

Christians are to lay up for themselves treasures in heaven. Did Christ, the pioneer of our faith (Heb. 12:2), keep this command? And if so, how did he keep this command? 

It seems to me that Christ principally kept this command by laying us up for himself in heaven (Jn. 10:10). We are his treasured possession (Deut. 7:6). He raised us up, where we are seated with him (Col. 3:1; Eph. 2:6). In this way, as in all things, he and the Father have the same purpose and will, namely, to lay up people (i.e., treasures) for themselves in heaven: "... [God's] glorious inheritance in the saints" (Eph. 1:18).

There are a number of ways in which we can keep this command. While Christ procured salvation, the application of salvation to sinners usually involves human agents (Rom. 10:14). So there is a sense in which we, too, can lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven by holding out the Word of life to an unbelieving world (Phil. 2:16). 

Wives can lay up for themselves treasures in heaven according to Peter's command in 1 Peter 3:1-2, "Likewise, wives, be subject to your own husbands, so that even if some do not obey the word, they may be won without a word by the conduct of their wives, when they see your respectful and pure conduct."

Pastors can lay up for themselves treasures in heaven according to Paul's command to Timothy in 1 Timothy 4:16, "Keep a close watch on yourself and on the teaching. Persist in this, for by so doing you will save both yourself and your hearers."

Believers can live such godly lives that unbelievers will be won to the kingdom (1 Pet. 2:12; Matt. 5:16). 

Parents can play a role in bringing salvation to their children (Eph. 6:4; 2 Tim. 3:15).

We can therefore understand Matthew 6:19-21 in a way that keeps us from being overly selfish about our rewards/treasures in heaven. Our treasures in heaven will include God's people, just as Christ's treasure is his bride. But, remarkably, we even have a role to play in "laying up people/treasures in heaven." 

I have heard many appeals for why we should evangelize. "People are going to Hell." True enough. "God is not worshipped." True indeed. But we may also say that we have an obligation, as Christ did, to lay up for ourselves treasures (i.e., souls) in heaven, which is a great part of our reward. Heaven will be a family of people who are in every way a treasured possession not only to Christ, but also to us. Do we, in our evangelism, tell people we want to spend eternity with them in heaven?

Christ's whole life was missionary activity. Adam was God's treasured possession. Adam sinned. But Adam remained God's treasured possession. How would God himself lay up Adam in heaven? Through Christ. Christ thus enjoys Adam in heaven because the Father desires to enjoy Adam in heaven. Adam, like each redeemed saint, is a bond of love between the Father and the Son. 

We are also told that where our treasure is there our heart will be also (Matt. 6:21). Where is the heart of Christ in heaven? It is towards sinners on earth and the redeemed in heaven because we are his treasure - those whom he personally carries to the Father.

So I'd like to think that when Christ issued this command to his disciples, he knew precisely that he would be laying them up for himself in heaven because his heart was with them.

Our Heavenly Hope

For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body, according to the working by which He is able even to subdue all things to Himself. Therefore, my beloved and longed-for brethren, my joy and crown, so stand fast in the Lord, beloved. (Phil. 3:20-4:1)

The governing power of the saints is a heavenly one. The church takes her identity, her sense of privilege and priority, her direction for behavior, and her enduring hope from her heavenly King and the realities of citizenship in His kingdom. This conditions all our relationships with the authorities here. The men of the world set their minds on earthly things, but the citizens of Zion set their minds on heavenly things. The saints operate here as belonging there. Our character, conduct, and convictions are conditioned by the world to come rather than by the world that is passing away. Paul is probably quite deliberately employing the language that would be used of Caesar to ascribe to him semidivine functions in order to emphasize that the saints have a Savior and a Lord who is most certainly not Caesar. Caesar is a lord and a deliverer by the Lord and Deliverer's appointment. Commentator G. Walter Hansen explains: "Their hope for the future is not fixed on Caesar, the savior and Lord of the Roman Empire, but on Jesus Christ, the heavenly Lord and Savior.... The power of earthly tyrants to humiliate the followers of Christ will be overcome by Christ when he subjects all things to himself and transforms our bodies of humiliation to be like his glorious body" [The Letter to the Philippians (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2009), 270, 275].

Not only will the saints themselves be transformed at the coming of Christ but all things will be subdued under Him--all things, including all those who stand over and against the church, which is His body. Our home is heaven, and we are here only for a little while. All too often our problem is that we are reaching into the future and trying to bring our hopes and expectations into this world rather than anticipating them in the next. We try to build our empires here. We see things in terms of time, and we lose sight of eternity. But we are Christ's heavenly kingdom, and our citizenship is in heaven. Our King is in heaven.

This ought to be a transforming realization. If my hope is heavenly, then I know who and what I am in relation to the things of this passing world. I show proper honor to my earthly rulers but am not bound to this world as if it were the only thing that matters. With this confidence, the church is able to stand fast in the Lord. Her convictions, character, and conduct are conditioned by her relationship with her heavenly King establishing a heavenly citizenship and providing a heavenly hope.

Excerpted from the book Passing Through: Pilgrim Life in the Wilderness ( or or Westminster Bookstore or RHB).

Hell's Horrors vs. Heaven's Happiness (Updated)

Updated: response to Professor Helm below.

When we speak of grace, hell, heaven, etc., we must not merely speak in generalities, but as specific as the Scriptures allow us, which includes good and necessary consequences (Matt. 22:32). Someone may reference the horrors of hell or the happiness of heaven in a sermon but to little effect because they fail to explain why hell will be so horrible and heaven will be so happy. Even the popular idea that hell is "separation from God" is so misleading and wrong-headed that I'm amazed people still describe hell this way. It is quite the opposite: a God-hating sinner, who does not have a mediator, lives in the presence of a holy, righteous, and powerful God.

Christ spoke on hell more than anyone else in the Bible. But he did not merely talk about hell; rather, he also described hell (Matt. 10:28). The Scriptures don't just offer us generalities, but specifics. For example, consider the language of Luke 3:17, which ends by describing hell as an unquenchable fire. Elsewhere hell is described as a "fiery furnace" where there will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:42). Moreover, hell is a lake of fire (Rev. 19:20), an eternal fire (Jude 7), outer darkness (Matt. 22:13), blackness of darkness forever (Jude 13), and a place where "their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mk. 9:44). 

What I want to do in this post is consider the torments of hell in relation to the joys of heaven from the perspective of "time." In doing this, we might be able to understand a little better the glories of heaven and the terrors of hell. True, hell is a punishment so great and heaven is a reward so wonderful that neither can be properly comprehended by our thoughts in this life. But how do we seek to join with Paul, for example, in persuading men because of the terrors of the Lord (2 Cor. 5:11)? Here is one way.

Time has a beginning and an ending for all creatures in this world. "Time began with the creature" is a truer statement than that which says, "The creature began with time" (Bavinck). Eternity, properly understood, belongs to God alone. The marks of eternity are: 1) there is no beginning; 2) there is no ending; and 3) there is no succession of moment. 

But Christians will receive "eternal" life (Jn. 5:24), and those who do not love the Lord Jesus with an undying love will receive "eternal" death (1 Cor. 16:22). There is another word used by Reformed theologians, going back to the Medieval tradition (e.g., Bonaventure), called "Aeviternity" (aeviternitas). Aeviternity has a beginning but no ending; it belongs to angels and humans. Eternity has no beginning, succession, or ending; it belongs to God alone (Ps. 90:2). This is an important distinction as we try to understand how our "eternity" differs from God's "eternity."

Some (e.g., Bavinck) have also distinguished between extrinsic time and intrinsic time. We measure the motion of the earth, the heavenly bodies, etc., according to extrinsic time. Extrinsic time will cease in eternity.

However, there is also intrinsic time. This refers to our existence by which events have a past, present, and future. All created beings live in the realm of intrinsic time, and we cannot escape the fact of intrinsic time because we are creatures. 

As we think about time in eternity, and the manner in which we comfort the godly and warn the ungodly, preachers should remind their hearers that in hell it will feel as though there is only time - "slow" time. In this world, when we suffer, time seems to stand still. Even waiting in traffic or in a doctor's office, time does not fly by. We become more sensitive to the seconds. This happens when listening to poor sermons, too. 

However, in heaven, because we resemble Christ, and because we shall have joy unspeakable, we shall have a far different response to intrinsic time than the person in hell. Time flies by when you're having fun: imagine how time will seem to evaporate in heaven because of the joy that awaits us. Or consider the difference between speaking to your mother-in-law on the phone compared to when you were first courting your wife. For us a "year" will feel like a "second" whereas for those in hell a "second" will feel like a "year."

Moreover, in connection with this, consider:

1) As we enjoy heaven, our joy can only increase, not decrease. Knowing that our joy will not end only heightens the joy we will experience at that moment. One sadness in experiencing a joyful moment in this world is knowing that the experience is likely to end or change (e.g., this Belgium beer is almost finished). Not so in heaven. There will be no end to our joys, which will therefore cause us more joy in each successive moment. 

2) But for those consigned to hell, their despair will only increase, not decrease. As the creature in hell realizes more and more that he or she is suffering forever, the despair of eternal judgment can only increase. Hope has utterly vanished. In our sufferings here on earth, we always have the promises of God to look to (Rom. 8:18, 28ff.). But those in hell have no promises, and thus no hope, but only increasing despair. 

According to Thomas Goodwin, in hell the wicked will despair, for the "wretched soul in hell...finds that it shall not outlive that misery, not yet can it find one space or moment of time of freedom and intermission, having for ever to do with him who is the living God." The wicked will despair because there is no end to the wrath of the living God. For that reason, there will be perfect fear, because wicked souls in hell will not only be tormented by what they experience in the present moment, but also by what they will experience forever.

The only response of the creature in hell will be to blaspheme God. And because the creature blasphemes God, there can be no end to his/her punishment. God's eternity, coupled with the sinners perpetual blasphemy against God demand an eternal place of torment. 

Therefore, the concept of ever-increasing despair for all eternity, whereby the creature damned to hell can do nothing else but blaspheme a living, eternal God, gives us all the reason in the world to persuade men and women, boys and girls, to put their faith in the one who experienced hellish despair on the cross (2 Cor. 5).

If you really believe in the cross of Christ, then you have to believe there is a hell. If you believe there is a hell, then you are beyond thankful there was a cross for Christ.  


I'm always happy to hear from my drinking buddy, Professor Helm. I think perhaps he reads a little too much into what I wrote. I actually (vigorously) stand with him on the society of resurrection bodies in heaven. "Solipsistic consciousness" is about the last thing I'd want to ever affirm about heaven, and still can't quite understand how my post lends itself to such an interpretation. What was my point? Simply this: Tasks in heaven will not feel "painful" - i.e., we will not suffer in our work or feel bored - because we are "cheerful laborers." 

Bavinck speaks of the "abundant and exuberant life of the cheerful laborer, for whom time barely exists and days fly by. From this perspective there is truth in the assertion that in hell there is no eternity but only time, and that the more a creature resembles God and is his image, the more he or she will rise above the imperfections of time and approach eternity." 

I expect to drink better (Belgium?) beer and better wine in heaven (alcoholic, of course), and I shouldn't at all be surprised if I have to actually make the wine myself in a vineyard. Without the curse (Gen. 3) on my labor, I expect both the wine-making and wine-drinking to be pure bliss! I also expect to enjoy the wine with my drinking buddy, and we'll both see how the time flies by. 

But, and let's not forget this: I was quite serious about the solemnity of hell. There is nothing entertaining about eternal perdition. 

Today Justin Taylor posted one of my favorite sections from C. S. Lewis's sermon, "The Weight of Glory." In that sermon, Lewis speaks eloquently about the "desire for our own far-off country"--the desire for heaven. I worry that much contemporary teaching and preaching fails to speak with Lewis's eloquence about this far-off country because it fails to speak properly about that which makes this far-off country so desirable. 

Much is said in contemporary preaching about the resurrection of the body, about the glories of a renewed creation, about the cessation of conflict and strife--much is said about many of the great things that will characterize the new creation. But far too little is said about the greatest blessing of the new creation, namely, the glorious presence of the triune God. God will dwell in the midst of the new heaven and earth in unveiled glory, and we will see his face (Revelation 21-22). This, according to Scripture, is our greatest inheritance (Psalm 16), and this is the greatest source of joy: we will behold "the king in his beauty" (Isaiah 33.17).  

What is it about God's glorious presence that makes the Christian's blessed hope "blessed"? Jerry Walls explains in words that echo Lewis:

Theism raises the ceiling on our hopes for happiness for the simple reason that God provides resources for joy that immeasurably outstrip whatever the natural order can offer. However great the delights of this planet, it must be remembered that earth is only a tiny speck in a universe whose dimensions are truly staggering. What theism claims is that, while this universe reveals and reflects the glory of God, it is still only a pale image of his infinitely surpassing beauty, power, and goodness. Whatever is wonderful and joyful in this life was created by him, and insofar as it brings joy, it points to an author who is even more fascinating, exciting, and overflowing with vitality. The partial, fleeting happiness that leaves us wanting more is an image and a promise of a happiness that is truly without limit and without end, a happiness that is not only an implication, but also a gift, of a God who is himself boundless in his own happiness and creative joy.

This is the happiness that Jesus promised to the pure in heart, to those who possess an unmixed desire for a far-off country: "blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Matthew 5.8). 


Countless times someone has said to me, "You'll be able to see in Heaven."  This is likely true, but I want to explore another possibility.  

Suppose in Heaven some of us are left with the disabilities or deformities we were born with or acquired during our earthly pilgrimage.  Heresy!  Wait.  Stay with me.  When Jesus rose from the dead with His new resurrection body, he continued to bear the marks of His humiliation.  Far from placing Jesus in a contemptible situation, the marks in His hands and side were the evidence He offered to Thomas that it had been He and none other that had risen from the dead. To inhabit a resurrection body that contained brutal reminders of His shameful death on the cross made it possible for Jesus to condescend to His heart-broken and doubting disciples in a fresh way, in a way He could not have had He inhabited a body free from all taint of contact with shame and death.  

Remembering that my proposal is hypothetical, why couldn't God freely choose to allow some of His creatures to continue to bear with their disabilities or deformities for all eternity if in fact those disabilities and/or deformities were the instruments of bringing about greater goods during their lives?  Put another way: if those who are called upon to endure their disabilities and/or deformities do so and come to see their lives as complete in spite of their physical losses,  would the restoration of their physical losses make Heaven better for them than it would be otherwise?  

Speculation aside, I suspect that in glory, saints who have endured the loss of sight or hearing or who have suffered the amputation of limbs etc. will rejoice in being healed and fully restored. After all, during the time of Christ's earthly ministry, healing the sick was one of the signs pointing to his authentic Messiahship.  I do not want to be misconstrued as saying that in fact I am the kind of person who has learned to have a complete life by never raising questions to myself or others about what having sight would be like.  I've never looked in a mirror, and I have never seen my wife's face.  Yes, I would love to know for myself what we look like.  Saying that I have light brown hair tells a sighted person more than it tells me since I have no sensory information to register brown when it is in front of me.  

In the long run though, without wishing to sound self-righteous or judgmental of others who may feel differently about this, I try not to spend too much time worrying over what I don't have in terms of being blind.  When it comes to Heaven, my deepest longing is not for sight.  It is rather for moral and spiritual wholeness.  I long for a time when what I say and sing in praise of God is never contradicted by my intentionally or unintentionally unkind words to others.  We are told in the last book of the Bible that one day, we shall see His (God's) face.  IN seeing Him, we shall be like Him.  What glorious news!  This means that I will never again have to ask for forgiveness for impure motivations, motivations that stem from a desire to promote myself rather than promote the honor and glory of God.  Indeed, the phrase "the glory of God" will no longer be on my lips as a cover-up for the fact that the person whose glory I am really seeking all too often is my own.  

When it comes to my relationships with other human beings, I long for Heaven where I will finally never have to second guess the motivations of my brothers and sisters in their actions toward me.  I'll never have to wonder why I was not invited to the latest party, why I was passed up for a possible job offer, and on and on ad nauseam.  In short, Heaven is the place where I will no longer have to say with Anselm: "I was heading for God but stumbled over myself" (Proslogion, chapter 1). [Anselm, monologion and Proslogion: with the Replies of Gaunilo and Anselm, trans. Thomas Williams, Indianapolis, Indiana: Hackett, 1995), 98. - editor]

Blind or sighted, the longing for God that does not destroy but puts our selves within proper relations to God and others is the heartbeat of sanctification.  Blind or sighted, to greater or lesser degrees, this longing is what forms much of genuine Christian fellowship.  Blind or sighted, concentration on such mutually shared longings will go a long way to enabling us to focus on what is central and treat as peripheral what from the perspective of eternity is.

Cody Dolinsek is working towards a PhD with Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth TX. Be sure to also read Cody here and here.

Text links - and

"A mighty host of angels stands"

8 7. 8 7. D (iambic) (Constance)
A mighty host of angels stands
Around Christ's throne in heaven;
Their sinless tongues extol his worth,
All praise to him is given;
With awe recount his mighty works,
His face behold with wonder,
Lift up their voice to hymn the Lord
With a celestial thunder.

A countless host of blood-bought souls
Adds its triumphant measure;
In robes of white they sing with joy,
Their hearts now with their treasure.
This happy throng could quickly tell
Ten thousand grace-filled stories,
But sooner are their lips and hearts
Filled with his radiant glories.

And shall my stumbling tongue on earth
Disrupt this happy chorus?
No - all I am shall glorify
The One who suffered for us!
Though fearsome foes and grievous woes
Our joys are now assailing,
A life safe hid with Christ in God
Calls forth a song unfailing.

So, called by grace and kept by love,
Protected by his power,
Our timeless glories with our God
Draw nearer every hour.
With eyes fixed fast on Christ above,
Unmoved by scorn or pity,
We travel on to where he dwells,
In God's abiding city.
Jeremy Walker

See other hymns and psalms.

Results tagged “Heaven” from Through the Westminster Confession

Chapter 33.2

ii. The end of God's appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient. For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fullness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord: but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power. (Matt. 25:31-46, Rom. 2:5-6, Rom. 9:22-23, Matt. 25:21, Acts 3:19, 2 Thess. 1:7-10).

There are three points that should be underlined in this section. First, this paragraph rightly and wisely connects the truth of the dual destinies of all of humanity with the glory of God. The biblical teaching of the final judgment has its ultimate and climactic goal in the truth and manifestation of the glory of God.

With respect to the glory of God, the Confession has consistently maintained that this glory is the rationale for all that takes place in history, and into eternity. "From Him, through Him and to Him are all things" (Rom. 11:36). This summary of all of creation is oftentimes not given its proper due in our thinking and living, and it will help us understand the final judgment if we remember its centrality. All things are what they are, ultimately, for the glory of God. This glory has two covenantally-connected aspects to it.

1. The glory of God is just who God is. That is, the character of God is itself His glory. When Moses asked God to show him His glory, the Lord explained to Moses that if his request were granted, he would perish. No one can see God's glory and live (see Ex. 33:18ff.). This glory of God, which is His incomprehensible and refulgent character, of course, fully and completely characterizes the three persons of the Trinity, in that each is fully God. But it is not something that mere humans can have or grasp or experience. He is the LORD and there is no other. He will not give His glory to another (Is. 42:8). To "glorify" God is to give Him His due weight; it is to ascribe to Him the proper praise because of who He is. This is what man, as image of God, was meant to do; we were/are meant to show God's character, in an "image" and derivative way. 

2. The covenantal condescension (WCF 7.1) of this triune God, however, includes the condescension of His glory. So, as God relates Himself to His creation, part of that relationship includes various manifestations of His glory, which is to say, manifestations of His majestic character. When Scripture tells us that "all things" are "from, through and to Him," what it is telling us, in part, is that all things are designed to show us something of God's resplendent and glorious character.

I know from teaching the "Doctrine of God" to seminary students that the centrality of God's glory is one of the most difficult truths for Christians to digest. It seems, more often, to provoke spiritual indigestion, rather than fruitfully to nourish Christian growth. But we will not be rid of our dysfunction and sin in our daily lives and in this world unless we learn joyfully to embrace this glorious truth. Everything in this world and beyond has God's glory, and not us, in view. Anything that happens to us, for us and in us is meant to point to that glory. It is not meant to point, in the first place, to us and our lives. (In light of this, re-read chapter 3 of the Confession and notice how the Confession in its explanation of God's eternal decree and meticulous sovereignty repeats the refrain, in various ways, of the "glory of God." We struggle with election to the extent that we neglect to center it on God's character, and attempt to focus it on man).

Since God's glory is a manifestation of His character, the final judgment, in its dual modality, shows us something of the glory of God; it shows us what God is like in His dealings with men. It shows us, as the Confession says, "the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect; and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate, who are wicked and disobedient."

This leads to our second point. Every person will acknowledge that the biblical teaching of eternal damnation brings grief. That is as it should be. God Himself takes no delight in the death of the wicked (Ez. 18:23, 33:11). Christ wept over Jerusalem because of their unwillingness to come to Him (Matt. 23:37; Luke 13:34). There is no delight that emanates from the triune God when men refuse to come to Him.

But we should not allow that grief to cloud the reality, and tempt us to pervert or distort it. We may not have all the information we would like to have about why God set the world in motion and providentially directed it the way that He did. We do know, however, that His judgments are inscrutable and His ways past finding out (Rom. 11:33ff.). If we lose the true, biblical focus on eternal damnation, therefore, we may be in danger of losing the God whose glorious justice is manifest in its reality.

There must, then, be a dual affirmation with respect to eternal damnation. We must rightly grieve its existence; its existence is a manifestation of all that opposes God and His character, and it is an ugly and abhorrent place, devoid of the mercy and grace of God. But we should not grieve that existence only because some we know may be there. That is tragic, and we "think God's thoughts after Him" when we take no delight in it. But the ultimate tragedy of it is that its existence is a testimony of those whose lives were set against the holiness of God's character, and who would not honor Him for who He is. The biblical focus of the tragedy, in other words, is the opposition to God that hell displays. With this focus, we should, in turn, learn to hate and despise that same opposition to the extent that its effects still remain in us.

This brings me to a third point, which itself is not explicit in the Confession, but is implicit, and which should at least be broached here, given its influence. Why can we not hold that those who die outside of Christ simply cease to exist? Why not affirm the doctrine of annihilationism? This doctrine is not only reserved for cults, such as Jehovah's Witnesses, but has found its way into some otherwise orthodox contexts as well.

Briefly, annihilationists argue that the orthodox view of everlasting punishment misreads Scripture, in at least two important areas. They argue, first of all, that the word eternal (aionios) is assumed to mean endless, though it really means (something like) "belonging to the age to come." "Eternal" refers, they think, to a quality, and not to longevity. Thus, "eternal punishment" (Matt. 25:46) does not mean eternally enduring punishment, but "the punishment of the age to come." The problem with this is that, while the term ainios is used in the New Testament in the context of the biblical distinction between the present age and the age to come, the "age to come" is by definition endless, endlessness being an essential element in its quality.

Annihilationists also argue that biblical terms such as perishing and destruction in Scripture should be taken for what they mean, i.e., the end of existence altogether. The problem with this is that Scripture uses those terms not as the end of existence, but as the disintegration of a previously constituted state or condition. So, for example, in Matt. 9:17, we see that men do not put new wine into old wineskins, or they will be destroyed. What is destroyed here is not the existence of wineskins, but their ability to function as intended. 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 is of special interest in this connection. It speaks of being "punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord." But if destruction means complete and total annihilation: 1. the adjective "everlasting" serves no function whatsoever, and 2. "shut out from the presence of the Lord" loses its force, since the phrase naturally implies ongoing conscious existence. Paul is speaking here of the destruction that consists in being excluded from the presence of God. Instead of implying cessation of existence, therefore, the biblical terminology actually underlines its continuation (1)

It is the glory of God that rightly focuses our view of the final judgment. All that takes place on planet earth, all that takes place in our lives, has its terminus in that judgment, and its meaning in His glory. If you are in Christ as you read this, praise Him for His grace. If you are not, now is the favorable time, now is the day of salvation (2 Cor. 6:2). 

Tomorrow we will finish with the third and final section of this chapter.

1. This section on annihilation is a slightly edited version of the "Appendix" in K. Scott Oliphint and Sinclair B. Ferguson, If I Should Die Before I Wake: What's Beyond This Life?, (UK: Christian Focus Publications, 2004).

Dr. Scott Oliphint is Professor of Apologetics and Systematic Theology at Westminster Theological Seminary. His latest book is Covenantal Apologetics (Crossway, 2013).

Chapter 32

i. The bodies of men, after death, return to dust, and see corruption: but their souls, which neither die nor sleep, having an immortal subsistence, immediately return to God who gave them: the souls of the righteous, being then made perfect of holiness, are received into the highest heavens, where they behold the face of God, in light and glory, waiting for the full redemption of their bodies. And the souls of the wicked are cast into hell, where they remain in torments and utter darkness, reserved to the judgment of the great day. Beside these two places, for souls separated from their bodies, the Scripture acknowledgeth none.

ii. At the last day, such as are found alive shall not die, but be changed: and all the dead shall be raised up, with the self-same bodies, and none other (although with different qualities), which shall be united again to their souls for ever.

iii. The bodies of the unjust shall, by the power of Christ, be raised to dishonour: the bodies of the just, by His Spirit, unto honour; and be made conformable to His own glorious body. 

The last two chapters of the Westminster Confession address the doctrine of the last things, or what theologians refer to as eschatology. WCF 32:1 clearly states that our souls are immortal. Our physical bodies "return to dust" and "see corruption," but our souls have an "immortal subsistence." It is very easy in our day to follow the conclusions of secular scientists and philosophers who assume that there is nothing beyond our physical bodies; according to them,  once we die we cease to exist. 

However, this is not what the Bible teaches. Though our physical bodies die, our souls continue to exist. This teaching should give us both comfort and a sober perspective on life in this world. When experiencing the wasting away of the outer man, as the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 4:16, we have the hope that our inner man is being renewed and ultimately will not perish. Likewise, when looking at the world around us, we can have the proper Biblical perspective, which is neither overwhelmed by the material or physical limitations in the world, nor overly confident in what the world can provide. 

WCF 32:1 is also very direct in teaching us that after death our destination depends upon whether or not we have received by faith the righteousness of Christ. In other words, for Christians the blessing of holiness and being ushered into the presence of God is what awaits us after death. For the unbeliever, their soul is consigned to hell and the torments that accompany it. A few implications from this teaching:

1. After death there is no opportunity to receive the gift of salvation in Christ. The unbeliever's soul is in hell awaiting the final Day of Judgment.

2. This should instill urgency in us to preach the Gospel. The opportunity for salvation is now, and it is important for us remember that hell is real and that God's righteous judgment is impending.

3. We must continue to pray. Eternal condemnation is clearly what the Bible and the Confession teaches for those who die without Christ.

Before moving on to the next paragraph, it is worth pointing out two brief statements in paragraph one. First, the Confession is explicit that after death our souls do not "sleep." This statement denies a doctrine taught by some of the early Church Fathers that our souls sleep after death awaiting the return of Christ. Second, the Confession states, "besides these two places [going to Heaven and Hell], for souls separated from the body, the Scripture acknowledgeth none." The Roman Catholic Church teaches that after death all souls are held in purgatory. The Westminster Confession does not believe that the Bible teaches a doctrine of purgatory, where individuals continue their "purging" of sin. As was stated earlier, after death there is no further opportunity for salvation.

While after death our souls are separated from our bodies, according to WCF 32:2, on the last day our souls will be reunited "with the selfsame bodies ... forever." The disembodied state of the soul is only temporary; we were created to exist with a body and soul. Likewise those believers who are alive on the last day will have their bodies changed as well. The body that we receive on the last day will have "different qualities". In other words, that body will be suitable for an eternal existence without corruption or decay. Like Jesus Christ's resurrection body, believers will be given a body that is discernable and glorified.

For the unbeliever, the last day will include a reunion with their bodies as well. The unbeliever will be raised or resurrected to "dishonor" as the Confession states. This dishonor again is the punishment that awaits those whose sins have not been atoned for by the blood of God's eternal Son. 

When is the last day? The Bible does not give us a precise date and any speculation is just that - vain speculation. Instead we are to watch and pray. This is the great hope and encouragement for Christians throughout history. There will be a great resurrection at the triumphant and glorious return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. 

Dr. Jeffrey K. Jue is Stephen Tong associate professor of Reformed Theology and associate professor of church history at Westminster Theological Seminary.

Chapter 9.5

v.The will of man is made perfectly and immutably free to do good alone in the state of glory only.

According to the Augustinian/Bostonian grammar of sin and grace, heaven is a condition of non posse peccare (not able to sin). Unlike Eden, a condition of probation, in which it was possible to sin and not to sin (posse peccare and posse non peccare), heaven alone finds the regenerate Christian in a condition where sin will be impossible. Nor will this condition be one of constraint: the will in heaven only desires the good and never the evil. Heaven is a condition from which the people of God cannot fall. There is an immutability to this condition. 

It is difficult to fully imagine a condition in which there exists no inclination whatsoever to do anything wicked or evil but the Scriptures hold this out as a reality for God's children - "we shall sin no more" for nothing impure can enter (Rev. 21:27); sin and everything that defiles lies "outside" (Rev. 22:15). 

It is not a biblical world-view to imagine that true freedom must involve the ability to choose the evil inclination. In heaven, we shall be wholly free, but unable to sin. Our wills will voluntarily choose the good.