JESUS ON HEAVEN AND HELL
These are my notes for teaching at the Cornerstone on Sunday, August 9, 2020.
INTRODUCTION: HUMAN DESTINY
We're continuing our teaching series called Human. We've been exploring what it means to be a person made in God's image. Today, we've arrived at the penultimate topic and it is a doozy: heaven and hell.
There has always been a debate about what happens after death. I'm sure you've had chats with friends or co-workers about who goes where and why and what happens there and for how long.
I was tempted to skip this teaching and avoid debate, but that would have left our study of humanity with a gaping hole. What we believe about heaven and hell shapes how we live every day and how we face our own death. This isn't some academic exercise or trivial pursuit. There's a lot at stake, including our eternal destiny.
So ... three questions.
Did Jesus believe in heaven?
Did Jesus believe in hell?
What did Jesus teach about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
Our teacher today is Jesus of Nazareth. Let's jump in to the pages of the Gospel of Matthew to see what we can learn from him about our eternal destiny
.JESUS ON HEAVEN AND HELL
Question 1: Did Jesus Believe In Heaven?
Answer: Jesus not only believed in heaven, it was the number one topic of his preaching, teaching, and ministry.
Jesus taught that heaven is here, now.
After his baptism in the Jordan River, Jesus was tempted by the devil, and then he began his three-year public ministry:
(Matthew 4:17) From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.”
Heaven was near because Jesus was here. After centuries of absence, God was present in Israel in the person of Jesus Christ.
When Jesus used the phrase kingdom of heaven, he meant the new state of things when God rules on the earth. That's when life rules, and peace rules, and goodness rules, and abundance rules. No more sin, evil, death, or suffering. All that and we are also restored to God. We draw near to him and enjoy a relationship with him. That sounds like heaven to me.
Jesus taught that heaven begins in our hearts when we repent and submit to him as God and King. This is what Jesus offered to people. Matthew summarized Jesus' ministry as:
(Matthew 4:23) ... teaching in their synagogues, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, and healing every disease and sickness among the people.
All of Jesus' teachings and miracles either introduce, or explain, or demonstrate the presence and power of the kingdom of heaven. It was was present in and through Jesus and is present now in the hearts of everyone who repents and believes and follows him.
Jesus also taught that heaven is in the future. That's when we'll experience all that the Lord has for us:
(Matthew 5:12) Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
(Matthew 6:20) But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.
(Matthew 16:27) For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father's glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what they have done.
(Matthew 19:29) And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or wife or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life.
How we live now impacts our experience of heaven. We can store treasure there and earn rewards that we'll receive later. When heaven fully breaks in, then eternal life will begin.
At this time, however, it's hard to detect the presence of heaven. Some people will think we're misled or crazy for following Jesus and living the way we do. But don't give in to the criticism or cynicism. One day, heaven will fill the earth:
(Matthew 13:31-33) He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field. 32 Though it is the smallest of all seeds, yet when it grows, it is the largest of garden plants and becomes a tree, so that the birds come and perch in its branches.”
When heaven fills the earth, we'll know that following Jesus was the best decision we ever made. We'll be totally transformed:
(Matthew 13:43) "Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father."
Now that we've explored what Jesus believed about heaven, let's ask our second question ...
Question 2: Did Jesus Believe In Hell?
Answer: Jesus believed in hell and taught about it often.
Last week, I sat down with a notebook and the Gospel of Matthew. I noted every passage in which Jesus mentioned heaven or hell. I was surprised how often it came up. It was integrated into almost everything he said.
Jesus taught that some people will refuse to follow him and his teachings and, as a result, they will not enter heaven. This is what he meant when he said:
(Matthew 5:20) For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.
The standard of righteousness for the Pharisees was external obedience to 613 commands they drew out of the law of Moses and their own oral traditions. They pursued holiness like an obsession. Yet, Jesus required more:
(Matthew 23:27-28) "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness."
Looking good is not the same as being good. Jesus introduced a new standard of righteousness that begins inside with heart transformation. That internal change then results in external obedience to Jesus' teachings.
How does inner transformation happen? Only the Spirit of God can change the heart in the way Jesus was talking about (Ezekiel 36:25-27; Jeremiah 31:31-34). How do we receive the Spirit? Only by recognizing our brokenness and desperate need (Psalm 51:16-17; Matthew 3:1-6; 4:17) and, as a result, turning to Jesus in repentance and faith. That's where we find the surpassing righteousness we need.
So, the bottom line for Jesus was this: without the internal work of the Spirit no one enters the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, we should all turn to Jesus in repentance and faith in order to receive the Spirit.
Jesus does not want us to go to hell. He wants to shake us out of complacency:
(Matthew 5:27-30) “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. 29 If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.
Did you notice Jesus' point: Our hearts can send us to hell. It's not enough to focus on external obedience; we need heart transformation that only comes by the Spirit received through faith in Jesus.
So much is at stake. To show this, Jesus used a typical form of hyperbole in his day; it's a technique for getting our attention. "What?! Gouge out my eye! Dude, that's harsh. But I'm all ears." What did Jesus want us to pay attention to? Hell is so real that we should take drastic measures to avoid it. Not by gouging out our eyes, but turning to him in humble repentance and faith.
Question 3: What did Jesus teach about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell?
All of us are headed either to heaven or to hell. Where we will spend eternity depends on how we respond to Jesus when we're told about him.
Jesus' most complete teaching on who goes to heaven and who goes to hell and why is found in Matthew 25. There, Jesus spoke about his return as glorious King to carry out the final, eternal, judgment. His teaching is simple, memorable, and direct. Please listen very carefully:
(Matthew 25:31-46) When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Let me break in right here to emphasize the point Jesus is making. Judgment day is coming. That should be a sobering though for all of us to reflect on.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Let me break in again. Jesus says that we enter heaven based on our positive response to the messengers and message of Jesus. By welcoming and taking care of the messengers, we are receiving their message about Jesus and, by implication, actually receiving Jesus by faith.
But some will not receive Jesus:
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
Jesus did not mince words. Some people will be utterly devastated by the coming judgment because they have refused Jesus. They will share the same fate as the devil and his angel followers. They will be sent away from Jesus forever.
WHAT WILL YOU DO WITH JESUS?
Jesus, in order to make his teaching perfectly clear, made one final decisive statement:
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
Life and death. Heaven and hell. Eternity hangs in the balance. Will we receive or will we reject the message and messengers of Jesus. It all comes down to this question: what will you do with Jesus? Only he can make us righteous, only he can forgive our sins, and only he can restore us to God.
This is urgent. Don't put it off for any reason.
You can turn to Jesus right now in repentance and faith. A simple, desperate, prayer will do it. Ask for forgiveness, tell him you're turning from your old life, and ask for the new heart that wants to follow his teachings.
Maybe you're not quite ready. Don't walk away and forget what you've heard today. Instead, reach out for support or information. Please let me know how I can help you find faith. I'm happy to discuss Jesus and to answer questions. Go to our website at FamousGod.com and click on the Contact tab at the top of the page.