“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” – John 3:16
So, I have been reading a little bit about heaven and hell lately – especially from one particular book by a fairly prominent pastor… Anyway, I’m not going to discuss the book here per se, except to discuss the topic. And I thought I’d do it by looking at what maybe arguably the most famous passage of Scripture in the Bible – John 3:16. John 3:16 has also been at the forefront of my attention lately as I preached two messages from this one verse over Holy Week… It’s deep and profound, and the fact that it is so well-known makes it a great jumping off point for all sorts of discussions about things like God’s love, justice, and the grace of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. And in this one verse there are no fewer than four keys to understanding heaven and hell and those who will populate those places… so, here goes.
First, there is an eternity. The words “eternal” or αἰώνιον in the Greek should be enough to convince us that there is some form of eternity after this present life is over. Some deny there is a “forever” idea presented in the Bible, but the semantic range of those words is limited to refer to time with no beginning or end… to read anything beyond that is mere conjecture – guesswork and not only denies the eternality of hell, but also that of heaven. So, there is a “forever” somewhere.
Second – In this eternity there are two options: perishing or life. John writes, “…should not perish but have eternal life…” If some are destined not to perish then conversely some are. This isn’t a pretty picture presented, but it’s there nonetheless… eternal life or eternal death.
Third – There is a qualifier about the destination of every person on the planet: belief or non-belief. Jesus says, “…that whoever believes…” Those are the ones who will not perish but have eternal life. That’s what it takes. Belief in God’s only Son, Jesus Christ. Belief – in the Greek here is πιστεύων – and it literally means not only a intellectual ascent but a commitment to something – it is a clinging and wholehearted trust. The qualifier goes beyond the mind or even feeling close to Jesus – but it is a commitment that transcends emotions or circumstance… And expresses itself in obedience.
Four – These qualifying categories (for those who do and do not believe) are an example of God’s love through His Son, Jesus Christ. Now it’s easy to see how the love of God is expressed to those who believe in Jesus… They (we) get the benefit, the blessing, the eternal life part. It’s not difficult to see how that works out in love, but for those who don’t… How is that an expression of God’s love?
Well, this is where we have to understand that the definition of God’s love is not limited to any human understanding of love. To do that would be to absolutely limit an aspect of His divine character to something finite. However, as an expression of God’s love is also His divine justice that neither tolerates nor placates to sin or sin nature. For this who refuse to believe in and cling to Jesus Christ as their Lord and Savior – the eyes of their minds are darkened and they are given over to their sin. God, in His love for His ultimate redemptive purposes of His people and indeed all of Creation, does not allow that sin to run unabashed – but once and for all destroys it… Allowing it to eternally perish.
God’s love is greater, but it goes far beyond our human expressions of love. It is mystery, but a revealed mystery… And it touches on the eternal part of our souls.