How often in the past year or two have you heard a sermon or read a book about heaven? Perhaps an even less likely subject of discussion these days is the topic of hell. The image of a pulpit-pounding, “fire and brimstone”, minister giving his audience a vivid picture of the contrast of being eternally in either a place of total darkness or light was a very common charicature earlier in the last century. Even as recently as in the crusade movement, with Billy Graham and many other evangelists, people’s attention was drawn to the truths that the choices we make in this life concerning faith in Jesus, God’s Son, have eternal consequences. The statistics that the Barna Research Group published recently indicate that there is a continually diminishing belief even among Christians in the existence of “a lake of fire” as is pictured in Revelation. Included in their research is the idea that millennials are increasingly drawn to the idea that because “religion belongs to the realm of private values (‘what’s true or meaningful for me’), there is little reason to disagree or judge anyone else’s view of eternity”. How is it that a subject which was so often a part of Jesus’ sermons and conversations can be minimized by people of faith today?
There is no question that Isaiah and the other prophets of his time (Amos, Hosea and Micah) were convinced that the God whom they served would bring judgment on everyone who did not honor His name. They proclaimed clearly that those who chose to worship other gods would one day experience His anger and His wrath. Not only would the nation of Israel suffer the consequences of their rebellion in the immediate future, but one day all mankind would stand before God. In contrast, they also proclaimed the complete victory that would belong to the LORD when He chose to create a “new heaven and new earth”. Isaiah knew also that there would be no greater way to encourage people than to remind them that in God’s providence and time, Jerusalem would no longer be a place of weeping, of sickness and of pain, but a place of rejoicing, worship and abundance, where God’s glory would be seen by all nations and tongues.
How about you? What do you believe when it comes to the subject of “eternal life?” How would you answer a friend if they asked you about the reality of heaven and of hell? On what do you base your beliefs?