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Author Erwin Lutzer explains in the Introduction, “The purpose of this book is to study what the Bible has to say about the life beyond. Many who read it will be comforted; others will be disturbed; and everyone, I hope, will be instructed. I claim no special revelation, just a desire to accurately explain what the Bible has to say.” (Pg. 12-13)
He comments about Near-Death Experiences, “What do these experiences prove? Apparently, they do confirm that at death the soul separates from the body. A few patients not only looked back and saw doctors hover around their body, but could see what was going on in other places of the hospital. This, it seems, is impossible unless the soul had actually left the body and could review earth from a different perspective.” (Pg. 24) He adds, “We must remember that all near-death reports are from those who might have died clinically but have not experienced biological or irreversible death. None has been resurrected… We will do much better if we trust someone who was actually dead, not someone who was just near death. Christ… is the only One who is qualified to tell us what we can expect on the other side.” (Pg. 27)
He explains, “here are some facts … to understand what the Old Testament means by the word ‘sheol.’ First, there is a clear distinction between the grave, where the body rests, and sheol, where the spirits of the dead gather… Second, sheol is often spoken of as a shadowy place of darkness, a place that is not a part of this existence… Third, after death one can be united with his ancestors. Jacob went down into sheol and was ‘gathered to his people’ (Gen 49:33). Abraham was assured by the Lord that he would go down to his fathers in peace (Gen 15:15)… the clear implication is that there would be a reunion of some kind in the world beyond.” (Pg. 32-33)
He points out, “when the whole of the Old Testament was translated into Greek before the time of Christ, sheol was always translated ‘hades.’ Similarly, when the New Testament quotes Old Testament texts, sheol is always translated ‘hades’; they are one and the same.” (Pg. 35)
He says of the story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, “We have reason to think that this man believed that what was happening to him was just for two reasons. First, he says nothing about how unfair it is for him to be there. He complains about the pain, but he does not complain about injustice. Second… he knew exactly what his brothers would have to do if they were to avoid his own fate! If they would REPENT, they would be kept from joining him in misery… Apparently, even in hades there is compassion, a natural human concern about the fate of those who are loved.” (Pg. 38-39)
He states, “The Bible is clear that no one is yet in hell today. Someday, hades will be thrown into hell, but that has not yet happened. (Rev 20:14) … What about the believer, Lazarus? He was in that region of sheol, or hades, which is called ‘Abraham’s bosom.’ But after the Ascension of Christ believers are said to go directly into heaven… the two regions of hades no longer exist side-by-side; Abraham’s bosom is in heaven today. Hades, as far as we know, now only has one region, and that is where unbelievers enter.” (Pg. 40-41)
He wonders, “Do we have … a body… at death, or do we receive it at the future resurrection?... One explanation is that God creates a body in those believers and that this explains how the redeemed in heaven can relate to Christ and to one another. Since departed believers can sing the praises of God and communicate with one another, it seems that they must have a body in which to do so. What’s more, at the point of transition between life and death some have actually testified that they saw departed relatives awaiting their arrival. That points to the conclusion that the saints in heaven already have recognizable bodies.” (Pg. 68)
He suggests, “If children are saved (and I believe they shall be), it can only be because God credits their sin to Christ; and because they are too young to believe, the requirement of personal faith is waived. We do not know at what age they are held personally accountable. It is impossible to suggest an age, since that may vary, depending on the child’s capacity and mental development.” (Pg. 73-74) He adds, “Will a baby always be a baby in heaven? … we do not know. But … we can be confident: A child in heaven will be complete… Heaven is not a place for second-class citizens… The death of an infant, however, causes all of us to struggle with the will and purpose of God. It seems strange that God would grant the gift of life and then cause it to be snuffed out before it could blossom into a stage of usefulness. But we can be sure that there is a purpose in such a life, even if it is not immediately discernible.” (Pg. 74-75)
He advises, “we think of the New Testament apostles and all the redeemed throughout two thousand years of church history---heaven will be the home for all of them. Unfortunately, however, the majority of the world’s population will likely not be there. Heaven, as Christ explained, is a special place for special people.” (Pg. 83)
He asks, “The question is often asked how we can be happy in heaven if one or more of our relatives is in hell… some [theologians] have actually asserted that in heaven God will blank out a part of our memory. The child will not know that his parents are lost in hell, the mother will not remember that she had a son. However, it is unlikely that we will know less in heaven than we do on earth… It is more likely that God will wipe away all tears by explaining His ultimate purposes. We will look at heaven and hell from His viewpoint and say that He did all things well. If God can be content knowing that unbelievers are in hell, so will we.” (Pg. 92-93)
He asserts about Conditional Immortality and Universalism, “Notice that the fire [Rev 14:10-11] does not annihilate the wicked but torments them… there will be no periods of rest during which the wicked are unconscious of torment. They will never slip into peaceful nonexistence. In Revelation 20[:10] we have a similar scene… Notice carefully that the beast and the false prophet have not been annihilated during those one thousand years in hell. The fire has no consumed them… Hence, the teachings of universalism and annihilationism come to their deceptive end. Eternal, conscious torment is clearly taught---there is no other honest interpretation of these passages.” (Pg. 103)
He contends, “Those who live with specific knowledge about Christ will be judged by the light of nature and their own conscience… That does not mean that those who respond to general revelation will be automatically saved, for no one lives up to all that he knows. That is why a personal knowledge of Christ is needed for salvation… But the light of God in nature and in the human conscience is still a sufficient basis for judgment. Whatever the degree of punishment, it will fit the offense exactly, for God is meticulously just… Think of how accurately God will judge every unbeliever! Every day of every life will be analyzed in minute detail… They will have no attorney to whom they may appeal, no loopholes by which they can escape. Nothing but bare, indisputable facts.” (Pg. 106)
He argues, “Even as we look at the world today, we should not be surprised that God allows multitudes to live in eternal misery. Think of the vast amount of suffering … that God has allowed on earth… If God has allowed people to live in untold misery for thousands of years, why would it be inconsistent for Him to allow misery to continue forever? … If our concept of justice differs from God’s, we can be quite sure that He will be unimpressed by our attempts to get Him to see things from our point of view.” (Pg. 109-110)
He also hints, “Yes, Christians---genuine Christians---sometimes do commit suicide. I believe that such are in heaven by the only route by which any one of us shall make it---the grace of God. Of course those who end their own lives die as failures; their last act was murder (their own). And yet because they have come under the shelter of God’s protection through Christ, they will be escorted into the heavenly gates.” (Pg. 121)
This is a compact, tightly-argued book that covers a very wide range of issues; it will be of great interest to those studying Heaven, although of somewhat lesser interest to those studying Hell, Conditional Immortality, and Universalism.
Unfortunately the print in this book is very small, and thus hard to read. It's small enough so it strains my eyes.
I wouldn't have bought it if I'd known the print would be so small.