Annihilation or Eternal Punishment?

Article: Annihilation or Eternal Punishment? by Robert Peterson (original source coauthor of Two Views of Hell, and coeditor of Hell Under Fire.

Annihilationism is the view that lost people in hell will be exterminated after they have paid the penalty for their sins. Its proponents offer six main arguments.

First is an argument based on the Bible’s use of fire imagery to describe hell. We are told that fire consumes what is thrown into it, and so it will be for the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8)—it will burn up the wicked so that they no longer exist.

Second is an argument based on texts that speak of the lost perishing or being destroyed. Examples include unbelievers perishing (John 3:16) and suffering “the punishment of eternal destruction” (2 Thess. 1:8).

Third is an argument based on the meaning of the word eternal. In hell passages, it is claimed, eternal means only pertaining to “the age to come” and not “everlasting.”

Fourth is an argument based on a distinction between time and eternity. Annihilationists ask: how is it just of God to punish sinners for eternity when their crimes were committed in time?

Fifth is an emotional argument that God Himself and His saints would never enjoy heaven if they knew some human beings (let alone loved ones and friends) were perpetually in hell.

Sixth is an argument that an eternal hell would tarnish God’s victory over evil. Scripture declares that God will be victorious in the end; He will “be all in all” (1 Cor. 15:28). We are told that this idea seems hard to reconcile with human beings suffering endlessly in hell.

I will answer each of these arguments in turn. First is the argument from hellfire. Many passages use this language without interpreting it. It is possible, therefore, to read various views into such passages, including annihilationism. However, we do not want to read our ideas into the Bible, but to get our ideas from the Bible. And when we do, we find that some passages preclude an annihilationist understanding of hellfire. These include Jesus’s description of hell in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus as a “place of torment” (Luke 16:28) involving “anguish in this flame” (v. 24).

When the last book of the Bible describes the flames of hell, it does not speak of consumption but says the lost “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev. 14:10–11).

Second is the argument from passages that speak of destruction or perishing. Once again, when Scripture merely uses these words without interpreting them, many views may be read into them. But once again, we want to read out of Scripture its meaning. And some passages are impossible to reconcile with annihilationism. Paul describes the fate of the lost as suffering “the punishment of eternal destruction” (2 Thess. 1:8). Also telling is the fate of the Beast in Revelation. “Destruction” is prophesied for him in 17:8, 11. The Beast (along with the False Prophet) is cast into “the lake of fire that burns with sulfur” (19:20). Scripture is unambiguous when it describes the fate of the devil, Beast, and False Prophet in the lake of fire: “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (20:10). So, the Beast’s “destruction” is everlasting torment in the lake of fire.

Third is the argument from the word eternal. In hell passages, it is claimed, eternal means only pertaining to “the age to come” and not “everlasting.” It is true that in the New Testament, eternal means “agelong,” with the context defining the age. And in texts treating eternal destinies, eternal does refer to the age to come. But the age to come lasts as long as the life of the eternal God Himself. Because He is eternal—He “lives forever and ever” (Rev. 4:9, 10; 10:6; 15:7)—so is the age to come. Jesus plainly sets this forth in His message on the sheep and goats: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46; italics added). The punishment of the lost in hell is coextensive to the bliss of the righteous in heaven—both are everlasting.

Fourth is the argument that it is unjust of God to punish sinners eternally for temporal sins. It strikes me as presumptuous for human beings to tell God what is just and unjust. We would do better to determine from His Holy Word what He deems just and unjust.

Jesus leaves no doubt. He will say to the saved, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matt. 25:34). He will say to the lost, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (v. 41). We have already seen John define that fire as eternal conscious punishment in the lake of fire for the devil (Rev. 20:10). A few verses later, we read that unsaved human beings share the same fate (vv. 14–15). Evidently, God thinks it just to punish human beings who rebel against Him and His holiness with everlasting hell. Is it really our place to call this unjust?

I will treat the fifth and sixth arguments together. The fifth is the emotional argument that God and His saints would never enjoy heaven if they knew loved ones and friends were forever in hell. The sixth is the argument that an eternal hell would tarnish God’s victory over evil. It is noteworthy that universalists use these same two arguments to insist that God will finally save every human being. God and His people would not enjoy the bliss of heaven if even one soul remained in hell, they argue. In the end, everyone will be saved. And God would suffer defeat if any creatures made in His image were to perish forever.

I regard these arguments for annihilationism and universalism—from emotion and from God’s victory—as rewriting the biblical story, something we have no right to do. I say this because the Bible’s final three chapters present the eternal state of affairs. The resurrected saints will be blessed with God’s eternal presence on the new earth (Rev. 21:1–4). And, interestingly for our present discussion, each of Scripture’s final three chapters presents the fate of the unsaved:

And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (20:10)

Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown in to the lake of fire. (vv. 14–15)

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (21:8)

Blessed are those who wash their robes, so that they may have the right to the tree of life and that they may enter the city by the gates. Outside are the dogs and sorcerers and the sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices falsehood. (22:14–15)

The Bible’s story does not end by saying, “And the unrighteous were destroyed and exist no more.” Neither does it say, “And in the end all persons will be gathered into the love of God and be saved.” Rather, when God brings His story to a close, His people rejoice in endless bliss with Him on the new earth. But the wicked will endure never-ending torment in the lake of fire and be shut out of the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, which is the joyous dwelling place of God and His people forever.

We have no right to rewrite the biblical story. Rather, we must leave it to God to define what is just and unjust and what is commensurate with His being “all in all.” He does not leave us in doubt about hell because He loves sinners and wants them to believe the gospel in this life.

How kind and merciful of Him to include this invitation at the end of His story: “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who hears say, ‘Come.’ And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price” (Rev. 22:17). All who trust Jesus in His death and resurrection to rescue them from hell will have a part in the Tree of Life and the Holy City of God. All who do so with all the saints can say now and will say forever:

Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God, for his judgments are true and just. (19:1–2)

The Torments of Hell

pendulum3One of the many things the Puritans were known for was their “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. In something of a reaction against this (or perhaps better stated as an “over-reaction”), like the swinging motion of a pendulum clock, the Church in our day can generally be characterized as never addressing the realities of hell. Yet if anyone was a fire and brimstone preacher, it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The gospels reveal Him speaking more about hell than of heaven. In fact, virtually everything we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus.

Dr. John Gerstner’s words here ring true: “The idea of a hell that involves some kind of eternal punishment at the hands of a just and holy God is so profoundly difficult for us to handle emotionally, that the only person who would have enough authority to convince us of the reality of such a place would be Jesus Himself.”

If it had been Paul or Peter or John, I think we would be very inclined to simply dismiss what we read as the ramblings of some discontented apostle who was mad at the world. But in His infinite wisdom, God did not entrust any of these men to be the one to tell us about hell. It was Jesus.

I recently heard a sermon by Dr. Steve Lawson in which he listed seven characteristics of hell taught to us by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. After making notes on Dr. Lawson’s sermon, and knowing I was preaching on what it means to be saved (based on the sermon passage Ephesians 2:8-10), I decided to include the same scriptures in my own sermon this past Sunday. The verses written out here are deeply sobering and give each of us much to meditate on. As we do, I think all of us will have a heightened sense of the gravity of our sin and a greater appreciation for the wondrous salvation we have in Jesus Christ. May they also cause us to seek to reach out to lost people all around us who desperately need the gospel. Here are the scriptures then, along with a couple of quotes and comments:

1. Hell – a place of Fire

Starting with John the Baptist’s words: Matt 3:10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire … 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

(God’s wrath already abides on the unbeliever – John 3:36; Rom 1:18)

Reminder: As believers in Christ, we have been saved from this.

Jesus – Matt 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Hell – in Greek, is the word ‘Gehenna’. Gehenna was the garbage dump of the city of Jerusalem where refuge was burned. The stench reached the sky and the fire was always burning.

v. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.

Reminder: We (believers in Christ) have been saved from this fiery hell. Continue reading

Rescued From Hell

Ephesians 2:8-10

It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who tells us most about hell and its endless torments, speaking more about hell than He did of heaven. Exactly how we are rescued from this place is spelled out with great clarity in this passage.

J. I . Packer – Why Annihilationism is Wrong

Matthew 8:12, Matthew 22:13, and Matthew 25:30 show that darkness signifies a state of deprivation and distress, not of destruction in the sense of ceasing to exist. After all, only those who exist can weep and gnash their teeth, as those banished into the darkness are said to do… at every point, the linguistic argument simply fails. To say that some texts, taken in isolation, might mean annihilation proves nothing when other texts evidently do not.”

Gavin Ortlund (quoting J. I. Packer) at the Gospel Coalition writes:

The doctrine of hell is the most difficult aspect of the Christian faith for many people. It is for me. I feel acutely the unremitting sadness of this doctrine. But to be a Christian is—at the very least—to confess Christ the Son of God, and to confess Christ the Son of God is—at the very least—to submit to his teaching. And this includes his teaching on hell (which was quite copious and colorful).

Saint Anselm once said we should give thanks for whatever of the Christian faith we can understand with our minds; but when we come to something we don’t understand, we should “bow our heads in reverent submission.” That seems like godly and wise advice to me. We simply don’t have the option to pick and choose from what the Bible teaches: we are called to submit to its authority over us.

The traditional doctrine of hell is currently undergoing significant challenges from both within and without the church. Many question the reality of hell outright, while many others opt toward annihiliationism—the belief that the damned won’t suffer eternally but will instead have their consciousness extinguished at some point. In 1997 J. I. Packer wrote a brief article in Reformation and Revival magazine reviewing the debate over annihilationism among evangelicals. In his historical summary, he defines annihilationism as follows:

What is at issue? The question is essentially exegetical, though with theological and pastoral implications. It boils down to whether, when Jesus said that those banished at the final judgment will “go away into eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), he envisaged a state of penal pain that is endless, or an ending of conscious existence that is irrevocable: that is (for this is how the question is put), a punishment that is eternal in its length or in its effect.

Continue reading

Doesn’t the Cross Display God’s Wrath Better Than Hell?

john-piperJohn Piper you argued that the deepest answer to the question, ‘Why doesn’t God save everyone?’ is that he is seeking to put the full panorama of his glory on display for the vessels of mercy. But — and here’s the kicker — how would you respond to the claim that the cross is already the fullest and most ultimate expression of God’s love, grace, justice, and wrath? In light of the cross, isn’t reprobation unnecessary for the full display of God’s glory?”

Excellent question. That is so good. So let me read the text that Clayton is referring to, so we all have it in our heads and then give a possible answer.

Romans 9:22–23, “What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory?”

And my argument was that the ultimate reason God shows his wrath and his power is to make known the fullness of his glory — his gracious — including the justice of wrath and righteousness on unrighteous and impenitent rebels and sinners.

Now Clayton’s question is, “Does the death of Christ, who bears the wrath of God for all who believe and displays the grace of God supremely, doesn’t that event display God’s wrathful justice on Jesus in our place so supremely that hell would not be necessary as a display of God’s justice and wrath in order for God to be known for what he truly is?”

Now two observations: One is method and then the other is an exegetical/theological answer to the question.

Methodologically, I work from what texts mean toward understanding what reality is, not from what reality is back to what texts mean. At least I try to; that is my goal. And as far as I can see, Romans 9:22–23 and other texts teach that wrath is coming on the world of unbelievers, and it will be eternal wrath for those who don’t repent and fly to Jesus.

Therefore I don’t think I should start with the assumption that the cross makes hell redundant and then come back and say, “Well, these texts can’t mean what they say.’ So, that is my method.

Now, this is more important. It may be that Clayton has posed the question differently than the apostle Paul would or did.

Clayton asks: If the cross is the supreme demonstration of God’s grace and righteous wrath against sin, why do we need hell to demonstrate God’s righteousness and wrath against sin?

Paul seems to ask: How can we see the cross and the supreme demonstration of God’s grace and righteous wrath against sin unless we see that he is thereby saving people from real, coming, eternal wrath?

In other words, the wrath that is coming is indispensable for understanding the very nature of what happened on the cross. For Paul it is precisely the reality of the coming eternal wrath of God that makes the meaning of Jesus’s substitution supremely glorious in absorbing that wrath for all who believe. If there were no eternal wrath for us to see and to be frightened by, the glory of the death of Jesus in the removal of that wrath would be scarcely visible. I think Paul would say that.

If there were no future eternal wrath, we could say Jesus is amazing in absorbing wrath, but in Paul’s mind — and I think in God’s reckoning — this would not carry the day in amazing God’s people forever. There would never have been any future threat of eternal wrath that we could see, that we could taste, that anybody was ever enduring. It would be a nonexistent possibility that never came to be.

But is that idea biblical? Well, I think so, because of Romans 5:9–10: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God. For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.”

For Paul, the glory of the death of Christ is seen precisely in the fact that wrath is coming and we, because of the cross, will escape it. That is how we are made to feel the wonder of what he achieved in saving us. We see it coming, and he is going to shield us from that and protect us. First Thessalonians 1:10 says that We “wait for [God’s] son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come.”

So Paul’s answer, I think, for Clayton, would be, “Future, righteous, divine, everlasting wrath on unrepentant sinners doesn’t make the glory of the cross more wonderful, and it doesn’t make it less wonderful. It makes it more visible. The existence of hell is, and always will be, a vivid reminder of the hell that Jesus bore for all who believe.’”

Are all non-Christians condemned to hell?

Are all those who are raised either in a non-Christian culture or by non-Christian parents (with little to no exposure to the Christian gospel) condemned to hell?

Ravi Zacharias responds to this emotional question:

A related question is “can all religious views be true at the same time?” Here’s Ravi’s answer:

Regarding truth claims and the law of non-contradiction: There is a theoretical possibility that all the religions of the world are wrong, but it is logically impossible that all the religions of the world are right.

Hell Anyone???

In an e-mail teaching letter sent out from the desiring-god website, Dr. John Piper writes:

C.S. Lewis is one of the top 5 dead people who have shaped the way I see and respond to the world. But he is not a reliable guide on a number of important theological matters. Hell is one of them. His stress is relentlessly that people are not “sent” to hell but become their own hell. His emphasis is that we should think of “a bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is.” (For all the relevant quotes, see Martindale and Root, The Quotable Lewis, 288-295.)

This inclines him to say, “All that are in hell choose it.” And this leads some who follow Lewis in this emphasis to say things like, “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”

I come from the words of Jesus to this way of talking and find myself in a different world of discourse and sentiment. I think it is misleading to say that hell is giving people what they most want. I’m not saying you can’t find a meaning for that statement that’s true, perhaps in Romans 1:24-28. I’m saying that it’s not a meaning that most people would give to it in light of what hell really is. I’m saying that the way Lewis deals with hell and the way Jesus deals with it are very different. And we would do well to follow Jesus.

The misery of hell will be so great that no one will want to be there. They will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 8:12). Between their sobs, they will not speak the words, “I want this.” They will not be able to say amid the flames of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), “I want this.” “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). No one wants this.

When there are only two choices, and you choose against one, it does not mean that you want the other, if you are ignorant of the outcome of both. Unbelieving people know neither God nor hell. This ignorance is not innocent. Apart from regenerating grace, all people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18).

The person who rejects God does not know the real horrors of hell. This may be because he does not believe hell exists, or it may be because he convinces himself that it would be tolerably preferable to heaven.

But whatever he believes or does not believe, when he chooses against God, he is wrong about God and about hell. He is not, at that point, preferring the real hell over the real God. He is blind to both. He does not perceive the true glories of God, and he does not perceive the true horrors of hell.

So when a person chooses against God and, therefore, de facto chooses hell—or when he jokes about preferring hell with his friends over heaven with boring religious people—he does not know what he is doing. What he rejects is not the real heaven (nobody will be boring in heaven), and what he “wants” is not the real hell, but the tolerable hell of his imagination.

When he dies, he will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape. That it is not in his power to repent does not mean he wants to be there. Esau wept bitterly that he could not repent (Hebrew 12:17). The hell he was entering into he found to be totally miserable, and he wanted out. The meaning of hell is the scream: “I hate this, and I want out.”

What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.

Beneath this misleading emphasis on hell being what people “most want” is the notion that God does not “send” people to hell. But this is simply unbiblical. God certainly does send people to hell. He does pass sentence, and he executes it. Indeed, worse than that. God does not just “send,” he “throws.”

“If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown (Greek eblethe) into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15; cf. Mark 9:47; Matthew 13:42; 25:30).

The reason the Bible speaks of people being “thrown” into hell is that no one will willingly go there, once they see what it really is. No one standing on the shore of the lake of fire jumps in. They do not choose it, and they will not want it. They have chosen sin. They have wanted sin. They do not want the punishment. When they come to the shore of this fiery lake, they must be thrown in.

When someone says that no one is in hell who doesn’t want to be there, they give the false impression that hell is within the limits of what humans can tolerate. It inevitably gives the impression that hell is less horrible than Jesus says it is.

We should ask: How did Jesus expect his audience to think and feel about the way he spoke of hell? The words he chose were not chosen to soften the horror by being accommodating to cultural sensibilities. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), and “weeping and gnashing teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and “their worm [that] does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and being “cut in pieces” (Matthew 24:51).

These words are chosen to portray hell as an eternal, conscious experience that no one would or could ever “want” if they knew what they were choosing. Therefore, if someone is going to emphasize that people freely “choose” hell, or that no one is there who doesn’t “want” to be there, surely he should make every effort to clarify that, when they get there, they will not want this.

Surely the pattern of Jesus—who used blazing words to blast the hell-bent blindness out of everyone— should be followed. Surely, we will grope for words that show no one, no one, no one will want to be in hell when they experience what it really is. Surely everyone who desires to save people from hell will not mainly stress that it is “wantable” or “chooseable,” but that it is horrible beyond description — weeping, gnashing teeth, darkness, worm-eaten, fiery, furnace-like, dismembering, eternal, punishment, “an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).

I thank God, as a hell-deserving sinner, for Jesus Christ my Savior, who became a curse for me and suffered hellish pain that he might deliver me from the wrath to come. While there is time, he will do that for anyone who turns from sin and treasures him and his work above all.

Trembling before such realities, and trusting Jesus,

Pastor John Piper

Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing of Loved Ones in Hell?

From the 2010 Ligonier National Conference.

Dr. R.C. Sproul brought the conference to a close with a message entitled “Can We Enjoy Heaven Knowing of Loved Ones in Hell?” To address this topic, he read from Revelation 21:1-8 and also from Romans 8:19-30. Alex Chediak made these summary notes:

They called it “the shot heard around the world.” It kicked off an 8-year war of independence for the United States of America. But an event took place prior to that in the city of Boston: The Boston Massacre. This event touched Ethan Allen in Vermont, Patrick Henry, George Washington, Sam Adams, and John Adams. In the Boston Massacre, British troops fired upon unarmed civilians.

Do you know how many civilians were killed in the Boston Massacre? Just five. Nothing compared to the destruction of Canaanites. Every time we come together to worship we have a taste of heaven. But what came to the Canaanites (or to the world in the days of Noah) was a taste of hell.

The final consummation of the reign of God over his creation must and will certainly involve separation. There will be an antithesis between those who are faithful and receive their inheritance in the family of God and partake of the inestimable joy of heaven. And there will be those outside the camp who are consigned to the lake of fire. Streets of gold on the one hand, fire and brimstone on the other. Any attempt to water this down exposes ourselves to the curse of God.

So: How Can We Be Happy in Heaven if Our Loved Ones Are in That Lake?

In verse 4 we read, “He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” Heaven is a place where God personally wipes away our tears. And when He wipes them away, they never return. Expelled are death, disease, pain and sorrow. For all who dwell in heaven will drink freely from the water of life.

Event #1: We had been in chapel at the seminary (a very liberal seminary). Sproul listened reluctantly to a sermon that disrespected and dishonored everything that is precious to those who love the Reformed faith. Sproul walked out of chapel with Dr. Gerstner and they were walking to the parking lot. Dr. Gerstner walked in large strides. And Sproul said to Dr. Gerstner, “If Calvin had heard that sermon, he would have rolled over in his grave.” And Gerstner corrected Sproul in mid-sentence to inform him that Calvin has entered eternal felicity which could not by any means be disturbed.

Event #2: One student asked Dr. Gerstner, “How can I be happy in heaven if I’m aware that one of my loved ones is in hell?” Dr. Gerstner responded: “Don’t you know that when you are in heaven you will be so sanctified that you could look at your own mother in hell and rejoice in the display of the justice of God.” And Sproul burst out laughing, informing Dr. Gerstner that his statement was absolutely ridiculous.

ROMANS 8:19-30
The latter verses comprise the golden chain, the order of salvation. We often read these verses and debate predestination, forgetting to discuss the end or the goal of predestination. The purpose of predestination is that we be conformed to the image of Christ. We are elected in Christ, for Christ, to be brought into conformity to Christ.

At these Ligonier conferences, we often focus on the doctrine of justification. It is the article by which we stand or fall. But the end of the chain is not predestination, or justification, or effectual calling. What is it? Glorification. When is the last time you heard a sermon on glorification.

There are three reasons why we worry about our future happiness in heaven when we discover that our friends or family and possibly even our own spouse is not there.

1. We don’t know who God is.
We are so baffled by God’s holiness that more often than not we are offended by it.

2. We don’t know who we are.
We say “to err is human” and thus minimize our sins and unholiness.

3. We don’t know what glorification entails.
Yes, we will get new bodies and not need glasses, hearing aids, or numerous medications. But do we meditate on the fact that there will be no need for light, because the Lamb of God will illumine everything. But that which will be most conspicuously absent in that place is sin. There won’t just be a new heavens and earth, our sanctification will reach its destination. Glorification is not exaltation. It is the perfection of our sanctification.

Dr. Sproul explained that he used to do a demonstration in seminary. I’d select one student to play Jesus. Another person to represent Hitler. And a third student represents the Apostle Paul. [Dr. Sproul believes that Paul was, apart from Jesus, the most holy man to have ever walked the earth.] So on this continuum between Hitler and Jesus, where do we put the Apostle Paul?

He is close to Hitler. There is a chasm between both Hitler and Paul (on the one hand) and Jesus (on the other). The chasm is so immense that the separation between Hitler and Paul is negligible.

Until our glorification, our concerns and our sympathies rest more with wicked human beings. But not so after our glorification. Then, we will share a greater resemblance with Jesus, and thus there will be a chasm between us (together with Jesus) and unredeemed humanity. When we are glorified, our passion will be for the vindication of God’s name.

Because we are so Hitler-esque, we can relate to monstrous sinners more than we can relate to Jesus Christ. That’s why we find the doctrine of hell so repugnant. That’s why we feel sorry for Uzzah when he’s killed for touching the ark (2 Sam. 6), or Aaron’s sons who were struck down for playing at worship (Lev. 10). We don’t feel as sad for the slight Uzzah and Aaron’s sons imparted to the glory of God.

But the day will come when our passion and our identification with the glory of God will be so great that our sympathies will be with God and not with our fellow creatures who belittle God’s glory. We are not there now. But in our glorification we shall be.

The full message can be viewed at this link.