The Length Of Eternity
The battle of the flesh and the spirit rages without
interruption in our lives. Paul said that we do not war according to the flesh,
"for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling
down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself
against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the
obedience of Christ." (2 Corinthians 10:4,5) In his letter to the church in
Rome, Paul laments the life long struggle of the flesh and the spirit and admits
the difficulty of each battle. (Romans 7:13-25)
In the face of such battles, thoughts turn to the consequences of losing the war and giving up hope. Clearly in the mind of those who seek to overcome is the reality of what awaits us all after death. When we close our eyes in the final moments of our mortal dwelling and pass into a world yet unseen is the knowledge of what "eternal" means. These thoughts do not discount the hope shared by spirit filled children of God but the recognition of what else dwells in that world of no end.
Jehovah has given man two variations of what life will be like after death. They are both rooted in the term "eternal." It is a difficult task to define in complete terms the context of "eternal." We are creatures of time where there is a beginning and there is an end. Many have sought to define eternal as if one drop full of water were taken from the ocean and how long it would take to empty the ocean of its content. While it would take an unfathomable time to consider such a feat, there is still a necessary conclusion of the ocean being drained. This is not true with eternity.
How simple a statement and yet how complex to explain the length of eternity. But eternity has no length - it is amaranthine, without cessation, without end, without stopping - everlasting. The moment of our death we are translated with wondering eyes to a world never beheld by human eyes. We pass from this earthly tent to a creation made by God to endure without end. To some that will be a tabernacle of glory, to others a cloak of damnation.
Jesus speaks of "everlasting fire" and "everlasting punishment" in Matthew 25:41,46 - "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, `Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels ... And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." It is clear from Jesus' teaching there is a place of torment for those who would not be saved. Many today reject the idea of a punishment after death. If one is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God, belief in eternal punishment is necessary also.
How can we fathom a concept as broad as an "eternal fire?" Our humanity can only see a raging forest fire that burns for weeks and possibly months but it will come to an end one day. During the Gulf War when Hussein lit the oil wells and it seemed as if the whole world were on fire, they were eventually extinguished. Today they are not burning. Eternal fire means fire that will never end - never, ever end. There will be no cessation.
We could endure Hell (I guess) if we knew there was an end to it. There is no end to it. There is no cessation to it. It will be an everlasting fire that burns continually. Ponder that thought for a moment. In the story of Lazarus and the rich man, "the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham's bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, `Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.'" The torment felt by the rich man will never pass. The pain of the flame he was experiencing will never cease. It is forever, forever and forever.
John wrote in the Revelation, "Anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire." (20:15) At judgment, the majority of people who have ever lived will be cast into a lake - likened to a body of water - of fire. In this place will be eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth for the extreme torment felt by every soul there. "Then the king said to the servants, `Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'" (Matthew 22:13)
Take stock for a moment, look in the mirror and examine yourself. Are you ready for that? How sad to hear of those who die outside of Christ. While we do not sit in the judgment seat we can know men by their fruits. The terror they must now feel as they realize their eternal existence is sealed. Whether young or old, all must die and appear before the judgment seat of Christ. (Hebrews 9:27) There will not be a second chance, a second opportunity, a final call for obedience. It is finished. Eternal destruction, everlasting fire, everlasting darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth with cessation, cries, screams, pleadings for mercy - all to no avail lost in the terror of an eternal damnation - without end.
So many people will be lost. So many souls will never know the life enjoyed by those who believed in God and obeyed the gospel of Jesus Christ. "And to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be admired among all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed." (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10)
Bob Lindsey said one time, "Live in such a way that when it comes time to die the only thing you have to do is close your eyes." For the saint, there is no greater hope and blessing than to know that when this habitation is shed we will receive a "house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens." (2 Corinthians 5:2) This eternal body will never die, and will never experience sorrow, crying and pain "for the former things have passed away." (Revelation 21:4) Death will never invade the heart of the child of God again. There will never be the sound of crying in the presence of God.
The hearts of those worshipping before the majestic throne will sing with joy and never experience again the pain of sorrow. The feelings of the immortal soul will never feel a twinge of pain in any way. There will be no aching bones, no hurting hearts, no hands that wring in worry and no tears ever to spill from the eye. In an eternal world of continuing happiness and joy in the bright sunshine of the presence of the heavenly host.
The glory of God will illuminate our dwelling place and the Lamb of God will be our light. Darkness is forever dismissed, shadows are forever gone and we dwell in an eternal abode that never, never ends. The saints of God enjoy life eternal... "eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality." (Romans 2:7)
How do we comprehend an idea so large as eternal life? If we but desire it we shall know its power and the hope it offers. Through this hope we endure any trial we experience in this life. By our faith we will seek to change our lives from serving sin to giving full allegiance to Him who died for us. With this recognition we come to the understanding of how important our soul is. "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26)
We have but only one opportunity in this world to prepare for eternity. Our lives are so short and yet upon this small span of time, eternity hangs. When we close our eyes in death, opportunity ends, eternity begins. How long eternity will be is best answered by where you will spend eternity.
By Kent Heaton
From Expository Files 9.5; May 2003