Frequently Asked Questions
Heaven, Hell, and Salvation
You probably know that in the Tanakh (Old Testament) the only way to get right with God was to obey all the laws (the Ten Commandments and a whole lot more) perfectly for your entire life. Unfortunately, we cannot obey all the Old Testament laws—it simply is not possible—yet with God, we have to obey them all to be right with Him. So, now we had a problem. Being Jewish, you probably know that in the Old Testament the temporary solution to this were the many sacrifices—a way to push back our sins—but an inadequate way to “pay” for our sins. Still, the focus was always looking forward to the “perfect” sacrifice of the Messiah or Savior. We now know that this is Jesus. There are over 300 prophecies about the Messiah in the Old Testament, all of which had to be fulfilled by the Messiah, and Jesus fulfilled all of them. The mathematical probabilities alone prove that only Jesus can be the Messiah.
Since we can’t keep all the laws of God perfectly, God set it up through Jesus and His perfect life that we could have a relationship with God. In other words, we could get right with God through Jesus. Now, having that relationship with God through His Son Jesus, we learn and grow to be “like Jesus” in the way that we live our life—we become more godly as an outgrowth of our relationship. It's a little like if you have a boyfriend, girlfriend, husband, or wife—because of your feelings for them, you will want to please them and make them happy.
As far as being Jewish, the way for you to get right with God is the same as every other person on the planet—you need Jesus (John chapter 14 verse 6 and Acts chapter 4 verse 12). Check out our “Getting Right With God” page.
Following the One, True God is an amazing experience. You come from a rich heritage that at times did just that and in the process changed their world. We hope you will do the same.
The Bible refers to three heavens. We learn in Genesis chapter 1 verses 6 and 7 that God created the firmament. He called this firmament heaven in verse 8. The Sun and Moon were placed in part of it (verses 16 to 18), and birds fly in another part (verse 20). We would typically refer to these two heavens as outer space and our atmosphere. The third heaven (referred to in 2 Corinthians chapter 12 verses 2-4 among other places), would be the spiritual realm where God and the angels reside.
If someone commits suicide, can they still go to heaven without God punishing them?
This is such an interesting topic, we constructed a separate page to address it.
Purgatory is a teaching of the Catholic church. Their description of it can be found in the Catechism of the Catholic Church Part One, Section Two, Chapter Three, Article 12 - I BELIEVE IN LIFE EVERLASTING.
1031 The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:605
The superscript 605 refers to the certain texts of Scripture statement earlier in that sentence: 1 Corinthians chapter 3 verse 15, and 1 Peter chapter 1 verse 7. However, reading these verses in context reveals that they have nothing to do with the concept of Purgatory. Take a look:
9 For we are Gods fellow workers; you are Gods field, you are Gods building.
10 According to the grace of God which was given to me, as a wise master builder I have laid the foundation, and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it.
11 For no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if anyone builds on this foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,
13 each ones work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each ones work, of what sort it is.
14 If anyones work which he has built on it endures, he will receive a reward.
15 If anyones work is burned, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.
6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while, if need be, you have been grieved by various trials,
7 that the genuineness of your faith, being much more precious than gold that perishes, though it is tested by fire, may be found to praise, honor, and glory at the revelation of Jesus Christ,
8 whom having not seen you love. Though now you do not see Him, yet believing, you rejoice with joy inexpressible and full of glory,
9 receiving the end of your faiththe salvation of your souls.
Notice that 1 Corinthians 3:15 refers to the testing of each persons spiritual work. That is, if people do something that they think will get them bonus points in heaven, they may later discover that those actions were worthless and will become burned up (like rubbish). This obviously has nothing to do with people undergoing purification to achieve holiness.
The passage in 1 Peter refers to the Christian persecution that was going on when Peter wrote that epistle. It has to do with the trials of living people on this Earth, not an afterlife purification.
These certain texts of Scripture do not support Purgatoryand even the concept of Purgatory is in sharp conflict with many Bible teachings like Romans 6:23 and Ephesians 2:8. The Bible clearly states that our salvation is a completed free gift, which we receive when we get right with God through Jesusnot something that requires an additional purification step.
Abrahams Bosom, also translated Abrahams side or Paradise, is one of two compartments for the dead, within something referred to by the Greek word hades. One compartment is a side of reward. It is called Abrahams Bosom, since this would have been a blissful vision to the Jewish audience to whom Jesus was telling this story in Luke chapter 16. (Abraham, the father of the Jews through his grandson Jacob, was revered by the Jewish community.) The other compartment is a side of punishment. It does not have a special name and is also referred to by the name hades, which can be a little confusing.
Some theologians believe that during the days between Jesus crucifixion and resurrection that He went to hades (referred to in 1 Peter chapter 3, verses 18 and 19 for example) to do two things:
Although this theory does not contradict the Bible, the evidence is weak:
If the emptied paradise theory is true, Abrahams Bosom would have been a holding place for those who had gotten right with God prior to Jesus sacrifice on the cross. After that time, those who get right with God go directly to heaven when they die.
If the theory is not true, people who have gotten right with God are still going to paradise when they die. They will go to heaven later, during the translation of the Church where the dead in Christ will rise first (see 1 Thessalonians chapter 4, verses 13-18).
Whether the emptied paradise theory is true or not, the punishment section of hades is still in use. Everyone who has gone there has not moved, and is awaiting their final punishment in hellalong with those who are currently joining them.
Many people ask this question, especially after reading Hebrews 6:4-6 (below).
4 For it is* impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted the heavenly gift, and have become partakers of the Holy Spirit,
5 and have tasted the good word of God and the powers of the age to come,
6 if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance, since they crucify again for themselves the Son of God, and put Him to an open shame.
Notice how the passage says that for one who falls away it is impossible to be brought back to repentance. Stated the other way around, this verse says that not being repentant is a sign that people have fallen away. Therefore, this passage applies to those who stray so far away from God and Jesus that they do not want to come back.
Asking a question like If you ask Jesus into your heart, then drift away and die before you repent, will you still go to heaven? sounds like the question of someone who still wants to come back to God and go to heaven. If you want to change your ways (repent), you have proof that you have not fallen away and that the verse does not apply (now). You just need to start behaving as you know you shouldagain.
All of us drift a little from time to timealthough some of us are a little driftier than others . Remember, our salvation is not based on how good or bad we are, but on getting right with God, Christs goodness, His sacrifice, and our acceptance of His authority in our lives.
Whether someones parents sinned or not has little to do with whether a person goes to heaven or hell. Judgment for the child being born out of wedlock will rest on the parents who committed the sin. If the child dies before the age of accountability, it will go to heaven. (Click on this sentence to find out about children going to heaven.) Once past the age of accountability, the child will have to make his or her own choice whether or not to accept Jesus as their savior. That will then determine whether the child will go to heaven or not. Ezekiel chapter 18 teaches us about many of these situations. A key for this question is verse 20, which states:
There are at least three passages in the Bible that teach us that all but one sin can be forgiven. Matthew 12:31,32 and Mark 3:28,29 are two of these passages. For illustration, here is the third passage, spoken by Jesus in the book of Luke:
8 Also I say to you, whoever confesses Me before men, him the Son of Man also will confess before the angels of God.
9 But he who denies Me before men will be denied before the angels of God.
10 And anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man, it will be forgiven him; but to him who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit, it will not be forgiven.
The interesting thing about these passages is that forgiveness is not automatic. Each person has to accept Jesus Christ as Savior, repent (turn away from and sincerely attempt to never repeat any of their sins) and acknowledge Jesus Christ as their savior to other people before their sins can be forgiven. (Matthew 10:32,33 also reveals this.) Of course, the Bible always places belief and baptism together, so we know that each person must be baptized also. For more information in that area, see our What Is Baptism? page.
Many scholars have debated what blasphemes against the Holy Spirit means. It should become clear when you read the passage in Matthew chapter 12, verses 22-32. It is not an accidental sin. The Pharisees who were guilty of this sin had just witnessed a genuine miracle of GodJesus gave speech and sight to a man who was mute and blind. Since the Pharisees rejected Jesus authority, they attributed Jesus miracles to Satan, rather than Godan unbelievably wicked sin. A sin of this magnitude would be unforgivable. Since such miracles do not take place any more (in spite of the claims of some faith healers), it should make sense that committing a sin of this type would be almost impossible to do these days.
The answer to this question is contained in the book of 1 Corinthians.
9 Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites,
10 nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God.
It is obvious that a person can be forgiven of most any sin, as we just explained in the previous question. Yet, people still need to repent (turn from their previous sinful behavior) and stop sinning. If a person refuses to give up a sin such as lying or adultery, they are really saying I will not give up anything for Christ, even though He gave his life for me. For example, if a married person told their spouse that they loved them and then cheated on them each week, would you believe that they really loved their spouse? It would be obvious to anyone that there was no real love involved. Similarly, God will not believe someone who claims to be a Christian and who says they accept Christ, who also refuses to give up any former sin.
When Jesus walked the Earth, He showed his love for kids and stated that people needed to be like them to be suitable for heaven. See Matthew 18:1-14* (an awesome passage). Notice what Jesus says:
The message is clear that children have a special connection to God through angels. Although not directly stated, from these and other verses it is apparent that any children who die before they reach the age of accountability will go to heaven. For more information about this subject, go to our baptism page and read the section titled Does a persons age make a difference?
*Special note: Some of the wording in the Matthew 18:1-14 passage can be puzzling, so we are adding this note to remove any confusion. The point of this passage is that people should turn from evil and do good. If they do not, they will end up in eternal fire (hell), which is so bad that people would be willing to chop off a hand to stay out of it. (An earthly example would be a coyote caught in a trap that will gnaw its foot off, rather than remain trapped. It did not like the idea of gnawing its foot off, it merely preferred doing that to being caught.) Therefore, we see that Jesus does not want us to mutilate ourselves, He wants us to turn from sin at all costs.
Psalm 116, verse 6 tells us that the LORD preserves the simple. Such people never reach the age of accountability mentally, so it makes sense that they will be treated like children. Children who die before they reach the age of accountability go to heaven, as we explained in the previous question.
There are exceptions, however. Some references in the Bible refer to people who were insane because they were possessed by demons. Mark chapter 5, verses 1-20 is one example. Notice how once the demons were driven out that this person wanted to follow Jesus (verse 18) and Jesus saved him (verse 19). It is plain that even if someone was driven insane by demons (pretty unlikely today) that once the demons were driven off, the person can be saved like anyone else and go to heaven. The key, then and now, is Jesus intervention.
Are they still responsible for how they live?
Romans 1:18-20 and 2:14-16 say that God has given people a sense within. We call it our conscience. This passage in Romans also tells us that through nature God has made Himself evident to everyone. (If you ever looked into the sky at night and wondered where the universe stops, you get the idea.) This tells us that even the person who never specifically hears about God, Jesus, or the Bible has an inner sense of right and wrong and therefore has a responsibility to choose doing the right thing, based on their conscience and their sense of inner truth.
Is there a way for them to go to heaven?
To address this question, lets check two levels of exposure to God, Jesus, and the Bible.
Level 1: Never Heard Anything
That said, lets suppose that someone in a remote jungle tribe who never heard of Jesus knew that it was wrong to commit adultery and went ahead and did it. Lets also say that they felt guilty about it later. If at that time a Christian missionary came by, would that persons guilt cause them to turn completely from their previous ways (repent) and accept Jesus? God, who can understand every persons thoughts and motives,* knows whether they would or not. If they would repent, it makes sense that this person will go to heaveneven if the missionary did not show up. (Assuming they do not fall back into bad behavior, of course.) This is also consistent with Gods character, who desires that all be saved (1 Timothy 2:1-4). However, if they would not repent even though they felt guilty, it makes sense that this person would not enter heaven.
* 1 Chronicles 28:9 and Hebrews 4:12,13 are examples.
What about a similar person who woke up the next day not caring about what they didor even wanting to do it again? Would someone who was not sorry for their actions repent and accept Jesus if a missionary came by and told him about God, Jesus, and the Bible? Probably not. Most likely, they would continue acting against their conscience, which would keep them from entering heaven. (See Romans 1:18-20 and 2:14-16.)
Level 2: Only Heard the Old Testament
Notice in that story how the rich man asked Abraham to have Lazarus rise from the dead to warn his brothers? He implied that just reading the Old Testament (literally called Moses and the Prophets) was not enough. The rich mans problem was the same as the non-repentant jungle man in the example above. The rich man had as much information as Lazarus did, but unlike Lazarus he ended up in Hades because of his desire to do what he knew was wrong. Further, he knew his brothers would be the same.
People who are indifferent (or callous in their thinking) are tough to convince, regardless of how much proof they are given. Read Matthew 11:20-24 for example. Notice that these people had the Old Testament, saw Jesus in person, and watched Him perform miracles. According to the rich man in the previous story, a miracle (of someone rising from the dead) would have been enough to convince these people to change their minds. Yet, we learn that miracles were not enough proof for these folksthey still rejected Jesus message.
Ironically, almost as though He was answering the rich mans request, Jesus later rose from the deadand physically ascended into heaven in front of many eyewitnesses (Acts chapter 1, verses 3-11). Still, there are many people today who say they do not have enough proof to accept Jesus as their Savior. Some things never change.
Mark 16:15-18 is similar to the Great Commission recorded in Matthew 28:18-20. Starting in verse 15, Jesus tells his eleven apostles to preach the good news (the plan of salvation). In verse 16, Jesus says that anyone they talk with who accepts this plan of salvation and gets baptized will be saved (go to heaven). However, those who they talk with who do not accept this plan of salvation (and subsequently will not get baptized) will be condemned. It is very clear that this passage applies to people who have been talked to and heard of God, Jesus, and the plan of salvation through Jesus disciples. That is, once a person is talked to, the person is no longer uneducated and the passage starting in Mark 16:15 applies.
However, if some people in a remote jungle tribe never hear the good news, how can they accept Jesus and be saved? They can not, because they would not have a clue who Jesus is or any of the rest of the process. Under those conditions, the passage starting in Mark 16:15 would not apply.
Going to heaven is a matter of timing. People do not go directly to heaven when they are saved. Otherwise, when someone is baptized into Christ, they would disappear! Saved people go to heaven after they die. There will be plenty of people alive on Earth, saved and unsaved, when Satan is let out of prison at the end of the thousand years.
This is explained by describing three of Gods different plans. We will address Genesis 6:6 between the second and third plans, since it fits there logically.
The First Type of Plan
The Second Type of Plan
The Genesis 6:6 Issue
The only rational interpretation of this passage is that the sons of God are angels that came down to earth, attracted by the human women. Since angels do not marry (Matthew 22:30) we know these angels (who rejected the marriage restriction) are not good angels, but bad onesalso known as demons. Now imagine what kind of person a half human/half demon would be like. Very powerful, very intelligent, and completely evil. This is what Genesis 6:4,5 describes. It is at that point that the LORD was sorry that He had made man on the earth, and He was grieved in His heart. This is not a situation where God changed His character or His plan, it is a situation where God is sorry (sad) that his beautifully created human race has been corrupted. A poor analogy would be buying a new car, and then having someone back their car into yours in a parking lot. You may regret buying the new car, not because you changed your mind, but because you are grieved by the damage.
The Third Type of Plan
The unconditional part is that God said He would provide a means of salvation. Do you remember the words In your seed all the nations of the earth shall be blessed from Genesis 22:18? Salvation through Jesus Christ was what God was talking about in this earlier unconditional promise. (Galatians 3:16 explains the situation.)
The conditional part of this promise is based on our free will (free choice). The Bible clearly states that any person who rejects Gods Son, Jesus, will go to hell. However, if a person (even a bad person) believes in and puts their faith in Jesus, turns from their sins (repents), confesses Jesus as their Lord, and gets baptizedGod will accept that person through His Son. Does this mean God changed His mind about that person? No, it means that the person has accepted Gods conditional promise of salvation. When the person does their part, using their own free will, God does His part. God is not changing His character or His plan, He is keeping His end of the agreement. For a complete explanation, see our Getting Right With God page.
Copyright © 1998-2006 by Clarifying Christianity (SM).
Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1979, 1980, 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
All information contained in Clarifying Christianity is a resource for questions dealing with Christian issues. It is not to be taken as Christian counseling. Seek a qualified Christian counselor for help with all such issues. If you choose to work with a Christian counselor, it is your responsibility to ask pertinent questions before you begin, to assure yourself of their qualities and abilities.1701