When I was young I lived and went to school in the city of Sydney. Many times during my early days I saw the message “Eternity” written in chalk in beautiful copperplate handwriting on the footpaths of our beautiful harbour city. I have no idea how much this one word effected me, but I do know that now it is one of the most important words in my life.
When I consider this word my mind jumps in two directions, the first and most powerful is the thought of those people around me who will miss out on Eternity. It breaks my heart. I want to strap on a sandwich board and stand in the centre of the city alerting people to their need for repentance. But what would they understand if they heard the word “Repent”? I was saved and had committed to living my life for my Saviour some time before I really understood anything about repentance.
The man who wrote Eternity on the streets of Sydney during the 50s and 60s was called by God to do so. God called him and God enabled him; he could hardly write his own name, but when he wrote Eternity on the streets of Sydney it was beautifully executed. Arthur Stace, who came to be known as Mr Eternity, had lived a desperate, profligate life; mostly drunk from the age of 15. When he met Jesus his life changed completely and he understood just what Eternity was all about. He’d been to the depths of depravity and the light of Eternity was a beacon for his soul. How do we reach out to the people of the 21st century and alert them to God’s offer of Eternity?
I think we need to be clear in our minds about the issues involved. A large portion of the population today have a sort of sentimental idea that they will be reunited in some other place, and live on in some other life, with departed loved ones. This is because many people, including some Christians, believe in an immortal soul.
I also have a number of friends who are atheists and they are very pragmatic; as far as they’re concerned the soul is nothing more than chemical reactions in the brain. Their catch-cry is, “When you’re dead, you’re dead”. To a certain extent I agree with this sentiment. It is far more biblically sound than the sentimental journey the after-lifers imagine awaits us. The difference between the atheists’ idea of death and that of The Bible is that before the final, second death we learn about in Revelation, there is a Day of Judgment. This is when those who have rejected God’s gift of Eternity will understand just what it is they will loose. They will meet their Creator and know without doubt that He loves them, but that He has a plan for the future that they can only be part of by being in Him (Romans 8:1).
We don’t really know much about life in Eternity, but those of us who know Jesus know we will be with Him, and that is more than enough to assure us that Eternity will be magnificent. This, of course, is the second thing that comes to my mind when I think of Eternity. It will be unbelievably wonderful. If we could make it clear to people that they have a choice between Eternity with a Father who loves them so much He was prepared to die for them, and the second, final, irreversible death, perhaps they would have a better understanding now of what this momentous choice is all about.
Unfortunately, a large portion of the church has swallowed the Greek idea of an immortal soul, although Christians historically have referred to it as an immortal spirit. This is not a biblical concept (see What is the second death? for a more comprehensive discussion on this topic), this idea was imported into the church in the second century by converted Greek philosophers and perhaps originally came from Hindu teachings.
This belief is a direct result of Satan’s first recorded lie to humanity, when he told Adam and Eve they would not die (Gen 2:16-17). Sadly, many people today have believed this lie. Demonic spirits use the idea to great advantage through spiritualism and mediums, and even those who refuse to believe in the God of The Bible can be heard to refer to some departed person “looking down on” or “watching over” them.
Christians carry this concept of an imagined afterlife into ideas about the fate of the unsaved. As Christians, we need to find doctrinal truth in The Bible, and not blindly accept church traditions, they can be wrong (Mat 15:6). The Bible teaches that after we die we are resurrected to face judgment. Christians will be judged before the Bema Seat of Christ (2 Cor 5:10), where they will either receive their rewards or find themselves surrounded by cinders (1Cor 3:12-15), but all will go on into Eternity, because they have been given eternal life. Before receiving this gift we are dead in our trespasses and sins (Mat 8:22; Eph 2:1).
Unbelievers will not be resurrected until after the millennium, when they will stand before the Great White Throne of their Creator to be judged. John tells us in The Revelation:
And I saw a great white throne and the One sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from His presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the old heaven and the old earth had disappeared. And the sea was also gone. (Rev 20:11-21:1)
Thus we learn that the present creation will disappear just before this judgment, and a new heaven and a new earth will be created immediately after this judgment. Between the destruction of the old creation and the appearance of the new one the fate of the unbelieving dead is sealed. We are told that they are judged “according to what they had done”. I believe a valid interpretation of these verses is that some people, who had not consciously accepted Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour before they died – perhaps because they had never come across the gospel during their lifetime, may indeed find their names recorded in the Book of Life. If their names are not in this book then logically they will have no life beyond the judgment, they will experience the second death.
We do not have eternal life unless we accept this great gift from the only One who can make it, the only One who has conquered death. Without the gift of eternal life we will have no Eternity. Nowhere in The Bible do we read that God gives eternal life to the unbelieving dead to go on in some unknown state forever. Those who have received the gift of eternal life and are part of the new creation will find:
He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.” (Rev 21:4)
I believe this verse is telling us that even the second death is gone. All these things are gone forever, the Lake of Fire and everything in it will disappear, along with the old creation. Eternity is a place for the living, and only those who have accepted eternal life from the Lord of Life will go on into Eternity.
What an incredible opportunity we are missing by creating this unbiblical afterlife for the unbeliever. The idea that we can claim God is love, but then go on to insist He will send unbelievers to eternal torment, is not logical. This fact is not lost on the lost. We have created an unbiblical doctrine, presented it as Truth, and then told those who reject it that they are rejecting the love of God.
What many of these people have rejected is a contorted doctrine about a tyrannical God who knew He would be sending people to eternal torment and nevertheless went on with His plan. Although He is holy and just, the God of The Bible is indeed a God of love. He loves people so much, He will not force them to spend Eternity as sinful, fallen humans. It would be intolerable living eternally with our selfishness, greed, insecurities, arrogance, hate, malice, deceitfulness and all the other products of sin that plague unredeemed humanity.
God offers each one of us the opportunity to choose His alternative to the second death. We must be born again of God’s eternal spirit to live in Eternity. There is no other alternative. In John’s first letter he explains that eternal life is only found in Jesus and that those who are in Jesus can be assured they have eternal life:
And this is the witness, that God has given to us eternal life; and this life is in His Son. He that has the Son has life: he that has not the Son of God has not life. These things have I written to you that you may know that you have eternal life who believe on the name of the Son of God. (1 John 5:11-13)
God’s new creation will be without sin, pain, death and suffering, and only those who have been transformed by God’s Holy Spirit (John 3:5) will be fit for Eternity. We must each make a momentous choice. If you don’t already know you have eternal life, will you now choose Jesus Christ as your Saviour? Through Him you can be saved from the second death and go on into Eternity?