Is there an afterlife? What happens when we die?
At death, the souls of Christian believers are made perfect by the power of God and immediately pass into heaven while their bodies rest in the grave awaiting the resurrection on the earth’s last day. When Christians die their soul immediately enters into the presence of God experiencing great comfort, rest, celebration and worship of God. During the resurrection at the last day, all Christian believers are raised up by the power of Christ and He will openly acknowledge that they belong to Him and that they are to be relieved from all charges of fault and sin because of His payment of their debts then they will be made perfectly happy in the total enjoyment of God throughout eternity.
Hell has a strategic plan led by your adversary the devil in which all of its resources are brought to bear and released on the church. The objective: to use any allowable and necessary means to sift your faith. The greatest strength of the enemy is that he is Opportunistic!
Simon Peter loved Christ deeply, he was certainly the most passionate, zealous and outwardly dedicated disciple. But in the midst of a “Perfect Storm” of circumstances when his Shepherd was taken away (seemingly) against his will, his heart was struck with paralyzing fear and his faith was shaken to violent extremes. This attack, crafted in hell’s workshop was predicted by Jesus with these words: “Simon, Simon, behold, Satan demanded to have you, that he might sift you like wheat…” Jesus seeking to prepare Peter saying, In a little while, you’re going to see me taken away and Satan will use this opportunity to come at you and you will battle with the forces of Hell!
Satan, a wily opportunist, does seek convenient opportunities to destroy your faith. The picture Jesus gives us is that Satan, having access to God, has approached the Father to make demands to have Peter and the rest of the disciples (Cf. Job 1-2.)
The sifting of wheat was an agricultural process of agitating or shaking grain in a kind of fan or sieve. The grain remained in the fan and would not fall through the mesh while the chaff and dust were thrown off and no matter how much you agitated or shook the grain, true wheat would not fall through. Now if there was no wheat in the sieve, everything would fall through. In using this illustration, Jesus is saying that everything that is not of faith will be ground up and blown away and that the disciples must hold to their faith, trusting the power and goodness of God for their hope, then they will not fall through the mesh into Satan’s hands. Satan will take advantage of trials and craft well-designed temptations to agitate and sift out our faith with a view to obliterate it. The devil boastfully and arrogantly believes that no true faith exists in the church and that people only believe because of God’s blessing and selfish interests. So he will sift you with suffering, popularity, success, wealth, taking advantage of convenient opportunities of weakness and do whatever it takes to prove your faith false.
Much later from first-hand experience, Peter wrote, : “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion seeking someone to devour. Resist him firm in your faith” (1Peter 5:8, 9). But the victory that overcomes Satan’s sieve and Satan’s throat is our faith. Similarly, John reminds us in his first epistle, “For everyone who has been born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world— our faith” (1John 5:4).
We know that our struggles in this world are not against people but against the rulers, authorities, cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil from Hell. So we take up the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming darts of the evil one. So we should not be surprised by temptations and trials but instead prepare our minds for action, regarding these as formidable attacks as if your very faith is THE TARGET of a powerful enemy. Prepare for the fight, because all temptations are forged in the workshop of the enemy!
Tomorrow: The Guarantee of Jesus that true faith will persevere!
In the Garden of Gethsemane, we find Jesus like we’ve never seen Him before, “greatly distressed and troubled” and saying, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Then He prays, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) Jesus does not shrink back here from His impending physical suffering and death, but rather from the dreadful tribunal of God and the Judge armed with inconceivable vengeance. And as He comes to His Father in the garden for a taste of Heaven instead is forced to face the horror of Hell and it was almost more than He could bear.
“This cup” which Jesus asks the Father to remove was a normal Old Testament metaphor for the wrath of God as a punishment for sin. God declares, “You will drink a cup large and deep, full of ruin and desolation and you will tear your breasts.” and “You will drink the cup of his fury and will stagger.” (Cf. Ezekiel 23:32-33; Isaiah 51:17,22) That’s what Jesus was going to experience in His death, the incomparable, unprecedented suffering of wrath and abandonment. What is this cup? It is Hell! In the cross, Jesus had a rendezvous with Hell.
The Bible, though not clear on the details, talks about Hell as a real condition of complete hopelessness and agony and is the suffering that arises both naturally and legally from sin. As Paul says in Romans 6:23, “the wages of sin is death” and that death is the endless torment of Hell. This is precisely the payment which Christ pays. Jesus goes through Hell, the experience of complete separation from God and complete spiritual disintegration. From the time in the Garden through His burial, Jesus’ emotions are like a ship on a stormy sea seeking to stay on course. The cup from which He drinks contains the full vehemence and fierceness of God’s holy wrath poured out against sin. It is intended for sinful humanity to drink. It’s my cup, your cup.
When Jesus saw the wrath of God exhibited to Him, as he stood before the tribunal of God charged with the sins of the whole world, he could not avoid shrinking back in horror from the deep abyss of death. He was struck with horror at the divine curse and was so distressed at the scene that after seeing it the Father dispatched an angel from heaven to strengthen Him (Luke 22:43). Jesus was victorious over sin, death and hell but it was not without a FIGHT. He fought for you, He endured hell for you and in the process Jesus was loosing the pangs of death (Acts 2:24).
Jesus descended into Hell for you and me. This is, what Calvin calls, “a useful and not-to-be-despised mystery of a most important matter.” The church fathers all spoke of it and it is a tenet of the Apostles’ creed which is a summary of our faith, full and complete in all details. “He descended into hell” is not a detail that we can leave out for if we do much of the benefit of Christ’s death will be lost. This is an expression of the spiritual torment that Christ underwent for us. If Christ had died only a bodily death, it would have been ineffectual. Instead He went through the severity of God’s vengeance to appease His wrath and satisfy His just judgment. So he had to wrestle with the very armies of hell, the dread of everlasting death and eternal punishment. But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed (Isaiah 53:5). His wounding, crushing, chastising and striping were more than the pains of His physical flogging, crucifixion and death. It was the FULL punishment due to us for sins entering into the condition of Hell for us.
See other posts on Jesus in the Garden:
Jesus received a glimpse of the horror and terror of His death while He was in the Garden of Gethsemane that sent Him reeling. He was “greatly distressed and troubled” and even said, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death.” Later “he fell on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him” (cf. Mark 14:32ff). Jesus was deeply affected by grief and sorrow, seized with anguish, trembling, collapsing, sweating profusely and fainting half-dead with sorrow. The very anticipation and foretaste of what he was about to experience threw His soul into violent agony.
Based on this scene we can learn mostly through deductive reasoning that what Jesus faced in death was more than the sum of the emotional pain related to the abandonment of his friends and the physical pain of the torturing of his enemies. In His death, Jesus would enter into the spiritual reality of cosmic abandonment by the Father which He would experience in time and space.
We can’t imagine this kind of pain, sorrow and dread. As He faced His death, He knew that it had in store for Him something much more sad and dreadful than normal death. If death were merely a passage out of the world, he would have no horror or terror about it, but instead with the enormous load of our sin pressing down on Him, in the garden he gets a glimpse of as Calvin says, “the dreadful tribunal of God and the Judge armed with inconceivable vengeance.” Is there then any wonder that the dreadful abyss of destruction tormented Him so grievously with fear and anguish? Jesus must face FULL JUDGMENT.
So, confronting the deepest agony of Calvary Jesus said, “Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) In his commentary on the Gospel of Mark, William Lane wrote,
The dreadful sorrow and anxiety, then, out of which the prayer for the passing of the cup springs, is not an expression of fear before a dark destiny, nor a shrinking from the prospect of physical suffering and death. It is rather the horror of the one who lives wholly for the Father… Jesus came to be with the Father for an interlude before his betrayal, but found hell rather than heaven opened before him, and he staggered.