December 2019 / January 2020 - Vol.107
                  Last Judgment painted by Michelangelo
The Last Judgment, painted by Michelangelo in the Sistine Chapel, Vatican 1536-1541
The Final Judgment .
by Ralph Martin

The final judgment is another of the central themes of the Bible and a great foundational truth of the Christian faith.

Justice is never done perfectly here on earth: the good die young; the righteous suffer; the poor are defrauded. But God's Word speaks over and over of that great Day of Yahweh, when God's faithful ones will be rewarded and blessed beyond Measure, when God's enemies and those who have lived unrighteous lives will be definitively punished.  

The coming reign of God's anointed Messiah-King, along with the certain hope that at his coming all things will be set right, is prophesied again and again by the Old Testament prophets.

The reign of God was inaugurated with the life, suffering, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus, and the sending of the Spirit; with these, the age of the church began. But the reign of God will not be fully established until the age of the church is brought to a conclusion, along with all of human history, at the second coming of Jesus. Jesus' first coming was as a sacrificial lamb, as an offering for our sin; his second coming will be as a judge, to render a verdict about how each human being and all of human history responded to his first coming. As the Creed states: "He will come again to judge the living and the dead, and of his kingdom there will be no end." 

This Day of Yahweh, this consummation of human history, this second coming of the Lord Jesus, will be a day of joy and exultation for God's faithful ones, but a day of terror for his enemies. The preaching of the entire New Testament occurs against the backdrop of the certainty and centrality of the coming judgment of human life and history.

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus by proclaim repentance in the face of the coming judgment, "the wrath come." His proclamation of the coming of Jesus is also announcement of the judgment and wrath that will follow the completion of Jesus' mission: 
When he saw that many of the Pharisees and Sadducees were stepping forward for this bath, he said to them: "You brood of vipers! Who told you to flee from the wrath to come? Give   some evidence that you mean to reform…. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the tree. Every tree that is not fruitful will be cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you in water for the sake of reform, but the one who will follow me is more powerful than I. I am not even fit to carry his sandals. He it is who will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and fire.  His winnowing-fan is in his hand. He will clear the threshing floor and gather his grain into the barn, but the chaff he will burn in unquenchable fire." (Matthew 3:7-8, 10-12)
Jesus has come, declares John the Baptist, to bestow the Spirit on those who repent and to decree eternal judgment those who refuse. It is clear that Jesus saw his mission in the light of the impending judgment; he saw himself as calling people to a repentance and faith in him that would allow the escape condemnation on the last day. 

When entire regions or towns rejected Jesus' message, he did not hesitate to warn of the severity of the punishment to be pronounced on them at the day of judgment. To the non- responsive Galilean cities that ignored his miracles, Jesus said:
"I assure you, it will go easier for Tyre and Sidon than for you on the day of judgment… It will go easier for Sodom than for you on the day of judgment" (Matthew 11:22, 24). 
Concerning those who reject his representatives:
"If anyone does not receive you or listen to what you have to say, leave that house or town, and once outside it shake its dust from your feet. I assure you, it will go easier for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than it will for that town" (Matthew 10:14-15).
Along with these classic examples of God's previous judgments, Jesus also counseled his hearers to view current catastropheslike a tower falling and killing eighteen peopleas warnings from God to repent and escape the coming judgment (Luke 13:4). Whether directly willed by God (as the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah), or whether apparently "chance" occurrences (as the collapse of the tower), Jesus sees the catastrophes of human history as forewarnings sent or permitted by God to encourage repentance.

The New Testament continually restates this basic teaching about the coming judgment.

The preaching of Acts:
God may well have overlooked bygone periods when men did not know him; but now he calls on all men everywhere to reform their lives. He has set the day on which he is going to "judge the world with justice" through a man he has appointedone whom he has endorsed in the sight of all by raising him from the dead. (Acts 17:30-31)
Paul to the Romans:
We shall all have to appear before the judgment seat of God… Every one of us will have to give an account of himself before God. (Romans 14:10, 12)
Peter to the diaspora:
They shall give an accounting to him who stands ready to judge the living and the dead. (1 Peter 4:5)
The present heavens and earth are reserved by God's word for fire; they are kept for the day of judgment, the day when godless men will be destroyed. (2 Peter 3:7)
John, in Revelation:
The dead were judged according to their conduct as recorded on the scrolls. The sea gave up its dead; then death and the nether world gave up their dead. Each person was judged according to his conduct. (Revelation 20:12-13)
From this it is clear that the very message of salvation is presented in connection with the coming judgment. The salvation offered by Jesus is salvation from the wrath to come, from condemnation on the day of judgment.
The people of those parts are reporting what kind of reception we had from you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve him who is the living and true God and to await from heaven the Son he raised from the deadJesus, who delivers us from the wrath to come. (1 Thessalonians 1:9-10)

Now that we have been justified by his blood, it is all the more certain that we shall be saved by him from God's wrath. (Romans 5:9)
The message of scripture is clear: God is merciful and just. He extends his mercy now through his Son Jesus Christ, who died and rose for our salvation. But this age of mercy and grace will come to an end; those who have rejected God's offer of grace and mercy will experience his wrath. God is just as well as merciful. Those who choose not to enter his Kingdom through Jesus, the doorway he has established, are left outside forever:
Consider the kindness and the severity of God – severity toward those who fell, kindness toward you, provided you remain in his kindness; if you do not, you too will be cut off. (Romans 11:22)
Now let us consider what scripture tells us about the basis for God's judgment.
The Basis of Judgment for Christians

For Christians who have believed in Christ and obeyed him, the day of judgment is the long-awaited day of fullness of redemption and reward. Scripture encourages those Christians who have been living in union with and obedience to Christ to approach the day of judgment with confidence and joyful expectation. For Christians, the Lord's coming and his judgment are fundamentally events of vindication and fulfillment. In fact, as we have seen, Peter urges Christians to "set all your hope on the gift to be conferred on you when Jesus Christ appears" (1 Peter 1:13), and Luke, in speaking of the events leading up to the second coming and judgment, says, "When you see these things, look up in joy, your deliverance is at hand" (Luke 21:28).

Paul declares that "there is no condemnation now for those who are in Christ Jesus," and goes on to specify why: "If the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, then he who raised Christ from the dead will bring your mortal bodies to life also, through his Spirit dwelling in you" (Romans 8:1, 11). Paul then adds that when Christ comes, we will see that the sufferings of the present are nothing compared with the glory to be revealed in us. Indeed, he says, "the whole created world eagerly awaits the revelation of the sons of God," and "we ourselves, although we have the Spirit as first fruits, groan inwardly while we await the redemption of our bodies" (Romans 8:19, 23).

John, too, reassures those who are following the Lord:
Whoever believes in him avoids condemnation, but whoever does not believe is already condemned. (John 3:18)

I solemnly assure you,

the man who hears my word
and has faith in him who sent me

possesses eternal life.
He does not come under condemnation,
but has passed from death to life.
I solemnly assure you,
an hour is coming, has indeed come,
when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God,
and those who have heeded it shall live…
an hour is coming
in which all those in their tombs
shall hear his voice and come forth.
Those who have done right shall rise to live;
the evildoers shall rise to be damned. (John 5:24-25, 28-29)
Our love is brought to perfection in this,
that we should have confidence on the day of judgment;

for our relation to this world is just like his. (1 John 4:17)

Christians who believe in Christ and obey him, and are therefore living in the same relation to the world as Jesus did and does, should have confidence on the day of judgment.

At the same time, though, Christians too will have to give an account of their lives. Things that have not been set right or corrected adequately before Christ's coming will be dealt with. However, the Christians being judged will know – the Lord having affirmed it – that they are saved and have escaped from wrath and condemnation.  In other words, their judgment will be in terms of correction and purification, not condemnation, and will issue ultimately in reward.

Among those things for which no reward will be given, Jesus mentions religious activities done with impure motives (for example, to appear good or holy to others). Almsgiving, prayer, and fasting to impress others are particularly singled out (Matthew 6:1-18). What has been hidden will be brought into the light:
Stop passing judgment before the time of his return. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and manifest the intentions of hearts. At that time, everyone will receive his praise from God. (1 Corinthians 4:5)
Anything in our life and work that has not really been built solidly on Christ and in harmony with his intentions will be judged.  Although these things may be found lacking, we ourselves will be saved:
Thanks to the favor God showed me I laid a foundation as a wise master-builder might do, and now someone else is building upon it. Everyone, however, must be careful how he builds. No one can lay a foundation other than the one that has been laid, namely Jesus Christ. If different ones build on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay or straw, the work of each will be made clear, The Day will disclose it. That day will make its appearance with fire, and fire will test the quality of each man's work. If the building a man has raised on this foundation still stands, he will receive his recompense. If a man's building burns, he will suffer loss. He himself will be saved, but only as one fleeing through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10-15)1
Part of the judgment for Christians will be a determining of reward. Apparently, there are degrees of reward and glory in heaven, related to the degree of love and service with which we have followed Christ. For example, those who turn others to righteousness will be especially blessed (Daniel 12:3).

Judgment on Lukewarm Christians

This may come as something of a surprise, but scripture indicates that lukewarm Christians have a chance of being damned. I was surprised, even shocked, when I studied what God's Word said about this. The general tone of preaching, religious education, and theology today convey the impression that damnation is not a serious possibility for the average lukewarm Christian. God's Word points in a quite different direction.

Jesus' general attitude toward lukewarmness is vividly expressed in the following excerpt from Revelation:
I know your deeds: I know you are neither hot nor cold. How I wish you were one or the other – hot or cold! But because you are lukewarm, neither hot nor cold, I will spew you out of my mouth!  (Revelation 3:15)
The prophet Malachi speaks of judgment as a day when "you will again see the distinction between… him who serves God, and him who does not serve him" (Malachi 3:18). And the New Testament makes clear that saving faith is not just intellectual assent to certain truths, or even an emotional "born again" experience, but a commitment of the heart and will to act on and live in accordance with the words that our Savior and Lord speaks to us, in the power of the Holy Spirit. "Be assured, then, that faith without works is as dead as a body without breath" (James 2:26).
To profess faith in Christ without the corresponding actions is counted by Jesus as worthy of condemnation:
Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. You can tell a tree by its fruit. None of those who cry out, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of God but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven. When that day comes, many will plead with me, "Lord, Lord"… Then I will declare to them solemnly, "I never knew you.  Out of my sight, you evildoers!" (Matthew 7:19-22, 23)
Likewise to believe in the Lord but not to profess that faith before others when necessary is to be liable to damnation:
I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before menthe Son of Man will acknowledge him before the angels of God. But the man who has disowned me in the presence of men will be disowned in the presence of the angels of God. (Luke 12:8-9)
Not to be fruitful for the Lord, not to use well what he gives, is to run the risk of condemnation. Material possessions, gifts and abilities, time and resources, insights and faith – an unprofitable use of any of these things could result in their being taken away and their "owners" being declared unfaithful servants. This is what is indicated in the parable of the silver pieces or talents. The servant who has not made a profit with the master's money is stripped of the talents he was given and thrown out into the outer darkness:
Take the thousand away from him and give it to the man with the ten thousand. Those who have, will get more until they grow rich, while those who have not, will lose even the little they have. Throw this worthless servant into the darkness outside, where he can wail and grind his teeth. (Matthew 25:28-30)2
Scripture also points out the dangers of becoming so involved in ordinary life that one is not living alert to God, eager to do Christ's will, and ready for Christ's second coming:
The coming of the Son of Man will repeat what happened in Noah's time. In the days before the flood people were eating and drinking, marrying and being married, right up to the day Noah entered the ark. They were totally unconcerned until the flood came and destroyed them. So will it be at the coming of the Son of Man. (Matthew 24:37-39)3
To be nominal Christians but not to be clothed in righteous deeds makes one unfit for the Kingdom of God. Being invited into the Kingdom is one thing; responding properly is another:
When the king came in to meet the guests, however, he caught sight of a man not properly dressed for a wedding feast. "My friend," he said, "how is it you came in here not properly dressed?" The man had nothing to say. The king then said to the attendants, "Bind him hand and foot and throw him out into the night to wail and grind his teeth." The invited are many, the elect are few. (Matthew 22:11-14)
We also become liable to judgment if we fail to persevere in faith and obedience until the end of our lives or until the Lord's return. Short-lived enthusiasm followed by a drifting back into lukewarmness means possible condemnation:
Happy that servant whom his master discovers at work on his return! I assure you, he will put him in charge of all his property.  But if the servant is worthless and tells himself, "My master is a long time in coming," and begins to beat his fellow servants, to eat and drink with drunkards, that man's master will return when he is not ready and least expects him. He will punish him severely and settle with him as is done with hypocrites. There will be wailing then and grinding of teeth. (Matthew 24:46-51)
Being faithful to the end is essential for salvation:
Remain faithful until death and I will give you the crown of life… hold fast to what you have until I come. To the one who wins the victory, who keeps to my ways till the end, I will give authority over the nations – the same authority I received from my Father. (Revelation 2:10, 25, 26)
Christians who do not persevere, who end up denying the faith and leading others to do likewise, will be dealt with severely:
Just as weeds are collected and burned, so will it be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will dispatch his angels to collect from his kingdom all who draw others to apostasy, and all evildoers. The angels will hurl them into the fiery furnace where they will wail and grind their teeth. Then the saints will shine like the sun in their Father's kingdom.  Let everyone heed what he hears! (Matthew 13:40-43)
Returning to serious sin after being a Christian puts us in risk of judgment.
If we sin willfully after receiving the truth, there remains for us no further sacrifice for sin – only a fearful expectation of judgment and a flaming fire to consume the adversaries of God. Anyone who rejects the law of Moses is put to death without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Do you not suppose that a much worse punishment is due the man who disdains the Son of God, thinks the covenant-blood by which he was sanctified to be ordinary, and insults the Spirit of grace? We know who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay" and "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Hebrews 10:26-31)
There is only one way for Christians to meet the criteria required for heaven: we must allow the Lord to transform us and make us holy – not just in external actions, but in our hearts and minds and wills; for, "unless your holiness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees you shall not enter the kingdom of God" (Matthew 5:20).

The Judgment of Those Who Hear the Gospel But Reject It

Human beings who hear the gospel and encounter its messengers but close their hearts to it will be condemned:
He will provide relief to you who are sorely tried, as well us to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels; when "with flaming power he will Inflict punishment on those who do not acknowledge God nor heed" the good news of our Lord Jesus. Such as these will suffer the penalty of eternal ruin apart from the presence of the Lord and the glory of his might on the Day when he comes, to be glorified in his holy ones and adored by all who have believed – for you already have our witness to you. (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)
Numerous other passages speak of condemnation as the consequence for rejecting the gospel. We have considered some of these already; we shall consider others later. Regarding the reception accorded to messengers of the gospel, Jesus himself promises that those who reject his brethren will be judged as if they rejected him:
If anyone does not receive you or listen to what you have to say, leave that house or town, and once outside it shake its dust from your feet. I assure you, it will go easier for the region of Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than it will for that town.

He who welcomes you welcomes me, and he who welcomes me welcomes him who sent me. He who welcomes a prophet because he bears the name of prophet receives a prophet's reward; he who welcomes a holy man because he is known to be holy receives a holy man's reward. And I promise you that whoever gives a cup of cold water to one of these lowly ones because he is a disciple will not want for his reward. (Matthew 10:14-15, 40-42)
Reward and punishment for the treatment of Jesus' disciples are both amplified in the judgment scene from Matthew:
"I assure you, as often as you did it for one of my least brothers, you did it for me."

Then he will say to those on his left: "Out of my sight, you condemned, into that everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels! … "I assure you, as often as you neglected to do it to one of these least ones, you neglected to do it to me." These will go off to eternal punishment and the just to eternal life. (Matthew 25:40-41, 45-46)
In the New Testament, the word "brethren" always refers to fellow Christians.  Thus this judgment scene describes the consequences of how Christ's disciples, his brothers, are treated. (This is not to deny that Christians are also called to be "good Samaritans," compassionate and merciful to all men. This too will affect the judgment [Luke 10:30-37; Matthew 5:43-48).])

The scripture also specifies certain types of behavior which will exclude their practitioners from the   Kingdom of God. Among those barred from heaven will be those who dishonor marriage; those who live as thieves, idolaters, sodomites, misers, fornicators, adulterers, drunkards, slanderers, robbers; those who are liars or who do detestable acts; those who are cowards, traitors, deceivers (Hebrews 13:4; 1 Corinthians 6:9-11; Revelation 21:8, 26-27).

In addition, false teachers – especially those who deny the Lord, his second coming, or the judgment, or who encourage immorality – will be excluded from the Kingdom. Even the fallen angels will receive a final judgment and be eternally banished from it (2 Peter 2:1-22, 3:1-4).

The Judgment of Those Who Haven't Heard the Gospel
Scripture indicates that human beings who have not heard the gospel before their deaths or the Lord's coming will be judged on the basis of their response to the light that God gave them.  God gives this light, or revelation of himself, at least minimally to all mankind through the material creation. It also manifests itself in that call to a moral life that God gives to all men – the instinct, sense of right and wrong, or conscience implanted in each of us:
The wrath of God is being revealed from heaven against the irreligious and perverse spirit of men who, in this perversity of theirs, hinder the truth. In fact, whatever can be known about God is clear to them; he himself made it so. Since the creation of the world, invisible realities, God's eternal power and divinity, have become visible, recognized through the things he has made. Therefore these men are inexcusable. They certainly had knowledge of God, yet they did not glorify him as God or give him thanks; they stultified themselves through speculating to no purpose, and their senseless hearts were darkened… They know God's just decree that all who do such things deserve death; yet they not only do them but approve them in others. (Romans 1:18-21, 32)
Concerning the instinct for right and wrong in all men:
Sinners who do not have the law will perish without reference to it; sinners bound by the law will be judged in accordance with it. For it is not those who hear the law who are just in the sight of God; it is those who keep it who will be declared just. When Gentiles who do not have the law keep it as by instinct, these men although without the law serve as a law for themselves. They show that the demands of the law are written in their hearts. Their conscience bears witness together with that law, and their thoughts will accuse or defend them on the day when, in accordance with the gospel I preach, God will pass judgment on the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. (Romans 2:12-16)
In the Catholic context, the Second Vatican Council presents this scriptural teaching about the possible salvation of those who have not heard the gospel in a way that may be of interest to many Christians. The Council document Lumen Gentium affirms God's closeness to and desire to save all men:
Nor is God Himself far distant from those who in shadows and images seek the unknown God, for it is He who gives to all men life and breath and every other gift (cf. Acts 17:25-28), and who as Savior wills that all men be saved (cf. 1 Timothy 2:4). (Constitution on the Church, 16)
It then points out the scriptural revelation about how people in this situation will be judged, and how salvation is possible to them:
Those also can attain to everlasting salvation who through no fault of their own do not know the gospel of Christ or His Church, yet sincerely seek God and, moved by grace, strive by their deeds to do His Will as it is known to them through the dictates of conscience. Nor does divine Providence deny the help necessary for salvation to those who without blame on their part have not yet arrived at an explicit knowledge of God but who strive to live a good life, thanks to His grace. Whatever goodness or truth is found among them is looked upon by the Church as a preparation for the gospel. She regards such qualities as given by Him who enlightens all men so that they may finally have life.
Note here the qualifications placed on the possibility for salvation. First, those ignorant of the gospel are saved only by grace given by God, as a result of the sacrifice of Christ. Also, these people must be ignorant of the gospel "through no fault of their own," and they must be people who "sincerely seek God" and who "strive… to do His Will as it is known to them."

Recognizing that such people may be comparatively rare and that the fallen human race does not often fulfill the mentioned conditions, the Council document goes on to realistically point out the actual situation:
But rather often men, deceived by the Evil One, have become caught up in futile reasoning and have exchanged the truth of God for a lie, serving the creature rather than the Creator (cf. Romans 1:21, 25). Or some there are who, living and dying in a world without God, are subject to utter hopelessness. Consequently, to promote the glory of God and procure the salvation of all such men, and mindful of the command of the Lord, "Preach the gospel to every creature" (Mk 16:16), the Church painstakingly fosters her missionary work.
The fact is that it is infinitely preferable for human beings to be found "in Christ" on the day of judgment rather than to presume that fallen humanity is sincerely and actively seeking God and his will. So often men are "deceived by the Evil One" and end up worshiping the creature rather than the Creator.

Therefore, to preach the gospel to every creature is not just an optional extra, or even simply a duty out of obedience, but it is an act of great mercy to fallen mankind.

The Consequences of Judgment: Hell and Heaven

With the second coming of Christ, the resurrection of the dead, and the final judgment, human history as we currently know it will come to an end. The time of mercy will draw to a close for those in rebellion against God, and along with it the chance to escape his wrath and punishment. Evildoers will be banished from his Kingdom forever and enter into eternal punishment. Those who have responded to the light God gave them will enter into eternal joy.

Hell, the fate of the damned, is vividly described in scripture. Sometimes it is referred to as "outer darkness" (Matthew 22:13), where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Sometimes it is described as "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:43), or the "furnace of fire" (Matthew 13:42, 50), or the "lake of fire" (Revelation 20:15; 21:8). Sometimes, it is the place where the tormenting worm never stops gnawing (Mark 9:48). Sometimes it is simply "damnation" or "death" (John 5:25, 29), the "second death" (Revelation 2:11, 20:14), "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46), or "eternal ruin" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10).

The reality of the scriptural teaching on hell gives rise to a number of questions – most immediately, perhaps, concerning the images used to describe it. Will hell literally be a place of flames, darkness, and tormenting worms? Perhaps. Perhaps not. The only certainty is that scripture warns us to do everything possible to avoid ending up there, since its sufferings are truly awful. But at the same time, we are overstepping our bounds if we simply ignore the images given and psychologize the reality of hell. An ancient tradition of the Christian church holds that because of the very nature of the resurrection, the sufferings of hell must include not   only the awful pain of separation from God, but corporeal suffering as well. Just as we will be judged in the body for deeds done in the body, we will also suffer in the body for deeds done in the body. God takes our bodily nature seriously both before and after death.

Another question about hell is whether it is indeed of eternal duration. The "scandal" of hell's eternity has led men to speculate that perhaps one day God will pardon those in hell and that they, along with the fallen angels and Satan, will eventually be reconciled to God. Such efforts to "demythologize" hell – or even ignore it completely – are becoming more common today both on the theological and popular levels.4

Nowhere does scripture indicate that this might be the case; it clearly states quite the contrary. The Christian church has always condemned this attempt by the fallen mind to recast revelation in a way more pleasing to fallen man. The existence of hell and its eternal duration have been taught and affirmed as certain revelation throughout the centuries.

One last question about eternal condemnation: is it probable that those who have rejected Christ will be offered an opportunity for repentance and faith at the time of death or after death? All that can be said in this regard is that dying seems to be a time when faith is tested rather than suddenly given. Although deathbed conversions certainly happen, scripture indicates that, in general, death is the moment of summons to judgment on the basis of a life's choices and decisions, and not primarily a "last chance." It seems fairly clear that if one is not ready before the moment of crisis, it is presumptuous to plan on "preparing" at the last minute (Matthew 25:1-13; John 9:4).

In conjunction with the judgment, Satan, death, the rebellious angels, and rebellious humanity are all finally banished from the Kingdom, undergo the "second death," and are condemned to eternal torment in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10-15). Those who have responded to God's offer of salvation enter into fullness of life: "Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world" (Matthew 25:34).

Heaven is variously described in scripture. It is eternal life (Matthew 25:46), "glory beyond compare" (2 Corinthians  4:17), a place in which  the redeemed participate in the life of God in glorified, immortal, incorruptible bodies (1 Corinthians 15:35-55). It is "dwelling in the heavens" (2 Corinthians 5:1), "the city of the living God" which is filled with "angels in festal garb" (Hebrews 12:22). Heaven is "the new Jerusalem, the holy city," part of "a new heaven, a new earth" (Revelation 21:1-4, 10-11; 2 Peter 3:13).
Perhaps the passage from Revelation says it best:
Then I saw new heavens and a new earth. The former heavens and the former earth had passed away, and the sea was no longer. I also saw a new Jerusalem, the holy city, coming down out of heaven from God, beautiful as a bride prepared to meet her husband. I heard a loud voice from the throne cry out: "This is God's dwelling among men. He shall dwell with them and they shall be his people and he shall be their God who is always with them. He shall wipe every tear from their eyes, and there shall be no more death or mourning, crying out or pain, for the former world has passed away." (Revelation 21:1-4)

1. The Catholic understanding of "purgatory" is related to scriptures like these, which indicate the need for a purification by "fire" for those who are not to be condemned but are in need of some purification before being able to enter fully into the heavenly presence of God.

2.  Remarking on this passage, The Jerome Biblical Commentary states:

This paradoxical saying indicates that the powers conferred on the disciples grow with use and wither with disuse. The punishment for this type of infidelity is as severe as the punishment for more positive sins; it is expulsion into outer darkness. (The Jerome Biblical Commentary, p. 106)

3. Again, the explanations of The Jerome Biblical Commentary are helpful:

The warning about the deluge is significant; it does not say that men were sinning but that they were engaged in innocent secular occupations. Their sin was to give no thought to impending catastrophe. The disciples are warned against that interest in secular business that makes them forget the parousia. (Ibid.)

4. The Council of Constance in 543 explicitly rejected as unscriptural the notion that there will be an end to hell or an eventual reconciliation of its inhabitants. The early creeds of the church, the Fourth Lateran Council, and the Councils of Lyons, Florence, and Trent all reaffirmed the traditional teaching.

Under the leadership of John Paul II, the Catholic Church has again reaffirmed these truths:
In fidelity to the New Testament and tradition, the church believes in the happiness of the just who will one day be with Christ.

She believes that there will be eternal punishment for the sinner, who will be deprived of the sight of God, and that this punishment will have a repercussion on the whole being of the sinner. ("Certain Questions," Ibid.)

This article is excerpted from The Return of the Lord, Chapter 7, © copyright 1983 by Ralph Martin, and published by Servant Books, Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Ralph Martin is president of Renewal Ministries, an organization devoted to Catholic renewal and evangelization. Ralph also hosts The Choices We Face, a widely viewed weekly Catholic television and radio program distributed throughout the world. Renewal Ministries is also actively involved in assisting the Church in more than 30 different countries through leadership training, evangelistic conferences and retreats, and the publication and distribution of Catholic resources.

Ralph is the author of a number of books, including Will Many Be Saved? and The Urgency of the New Evangelization: Answering the Call. He and his wife Anne have six children and seventeen grandchildren and reside in Ann Arbor, Michigan, USA.

Article © copyright 1983, 2019 by Ralph Martin
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