What Are Heaven, Hell, and Purgatory Like?

There are many questions about Heaven and Hell. Is Heaven a place in the clouds where everyone wears white? Does everyone go to Heaven? Is Hell underground? Do these places even exist? One thing is certain; ALL of us will die one day. The question of the afterlife is an important one to consider! What if there IS a Creator? What if there ARE consequences for our life choices? Your decision about eternity will be the most important decision you ever make. In this article, we will examine what Scripture says about this much-debated topic.

When I was 23 years old, I started reading the Left Behind series, a popular fictional series that attempts to put the book of Revelation in story form. I had been thinking about spiritual matters for a few years at that point and once I opened the first book and read the first line, I started crying. I knew without a doubt that I was a sinner and my sin was separating me from God. And if I died, I would not be in Heaven with Him. My unconfessed sins and lack of faith would place me in Hell. I was absolutely terrified and I gave my life to Christ at that moment.

John 3:16-18 (NIV)

16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

We Know There Is Life After Death Because of Jesus’ Resurrection

Billy Graham had a great answer about life after death in his book, Answers to Life’s Problems (page 235):

“For the Christian there is one supreme reason for knowing there is life after death, and that is the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Christ died on the cross for our salvation, and God raised Him from the dead to demonstrate beyond doubt that there is hope beyond the grave.”

“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade – kept in heaven for you” (1 Peter 1:3-4).

We also know life after death exists because God promised it and our souls bear witness to it (Ecclesiastes 3:11).

What does the Bible say about Heaven?

“Jesus mentions Heaven about 70 times in the book of Matthew alone. It appears from the very first verse in Genesis – ‘In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth’ – to the last reference found at the end of Revelation – ‘(He) showed the great city…descending out of heaven from God’ (Revelation 21:10 NKJV). In fact, 54 of the 66 books in the Bible mention Heaven. Remember: the Bible is our only authoritative source of information about Heaven.” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 3)

“The Old Testament prophets wrote about Heaven; Psalms mentions Heaven more than any other book in the [Old Testament]; the apostles spoke of Heaven from divine inspiration from the Holy Spirit. The Bible doesn’t tell us everything we’d like to know about Heaven, but the Bible does tell us everything we need to know about Heaven while we are here on Earth. We should believe what the Bible says about Heaven and take comfort from its promise that we can spend eternity with Jesus Christ in His heavenly dwelling.” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 4)

2 Corinthians 5:1 (NIV)

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

“What a promise! What a destiny!” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 4)

What is Heaven like?

  • It is where God dwells. He created it and lives there; and someday so will all believers. This can be hard to comprehend since the Bible tells us God is a spirit and infinite, so how can He be confined to one space? Despite this mystery, the Bible assures us that His presence fills all of Heaven, and in Heaven we will find safety in His care forever. (Deuteronomy 26:15; 1 Kings 8:28, 30; Genesis 14:22, Matthew 6:9)
  • It is the dwelling place of Jesus Christ, God’s Son. (1 Peter 3:21-22)
  • We will exist in a city (Hebrews 11:16), with walls around it made of Jasper, gates made of pearl; streets made of gold; a clear river running through it, and gardens with fruit. (Revelation 22:1-5; Revelation 21: 21-25)
  • There will be singing (Revelation 5:6, 13)
  • There will be eating and drinking (Luke 22:30)
  • We will not be bored. (Revelation 22:3,5) We will serve God and there will be rest. (Revelation 14:13)
  • There will likely be animals (Isaiah 11:6, Psalm 150:6)
  • There will be joy (Romans 14:17); this is referenced in scripture almost 200 times!
  • It is beyond beautiful (Revelation 22:1-5, 11, 21)
  • God has prepared a house for us (John 14:2)
  • There will be no mourning, no crying, no pain (Revelation 21:4)
  • Believers will exist there eternally (John 3:16)
  • There will be no night (Revelation 21:22-27)
  • There will be no temple; God Himself and the Lamb will be our temple. (Revelation 21:22-27)
  • There will be no Sun or Moon to shine any light: God Himself and the Lamb will be our light. (Revelation 21:22-27)
  • We will have a glorious new body (Philippians 3:20-21)
  • Nothing unclean or anyone not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will enter it. (Revelation 21:27)

1 Corinthians 13:12  (NIV)

12 For now we see only a reflection as in a mirror; then we shall see face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall know fully, even as I am fully known.

What does the Bible say about Purgatory?

“Scripture gives no account of, and does not support the idea of, purgatory. The idea developed in medieval times, and the purpose was to designate a place where those who had died were sent to be purified from sin. But this would discount the work of Christ on the cross! The Bible says, “When you were dead in your sins…God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins…” (Colossians 2:13). (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 93)

What does the Bible say about Hell?

Matthew 10:28 (NIV)

28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Luke 16:19-31 (NIV)

19 “There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

22 “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’

27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

29 “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’

30 “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’

31 “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”

Matthew 25:46 (NIV)

46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”

Some may ask why would a loving God send anyone to Hell? Billy Graham’s response to this question is simple, “If you think about it, people actually send themselves to Hell through their rebellion and unbelief in Jesus Christ. But let me assure you: God doesn’t want us to go there. The subject of Heaven is much easier for us to accept than the subject of Hell – yet the Bible teaches both. It may surprise you to discover that no one taught about or warned us against Hell more than Jesus – and we should take His words seriously.” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 95)

“Some teach that everyone will eventually be saved, because a God of love would never send anyone to Hell. They contend that words like eternal and everlasting do not actually mean forever. However, the same word in the Bible that speaks of eternal banishment from God in Hell is also used to describe the eternal bliss of Heaven.” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 95)

“Not one word in the Bible would ever make us want to go there. A seminary professor once said, “Never preach about Hell without tears in your eyes.” Don’t take Hell lightly or talk yourself into believing it doesn’t exist – it does.” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 96)

What Is Hell Like?

  • It is a place of darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12)
  • It is a place of hopelessness, because God is absent from it, and those who go there will never experience Heaven’s joy, beauty, and peace. (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 96)
  • Its inhabitants will be “shut from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
  • It is a place of fire. (Matthew 25:41, Matthew 5:22, Matthew 13:50, 2 Peter 2:4, Jude 1:7, Mark 9:43-48)

Resources for further study:

For additional resources to continue your personal study on Hell, check out Pastor Tony Evan’s podcast, “The Agony of Hell, Part 1” or “The Agony of Hell, Part 2.” Focus on the Family also has two recent podcasts on Heaven by Randy Alcorn and John Burke.

A few book recommendations on this subject are:

Conclusion

“Life on Earth has two paths, two doors, and two destinations. Choose the only path that leads to the door of Heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way” (John 14:6); Jesus said, “I am the gate” (John 10:9); and He also said, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near” (Matthew 4:17). He was thinking of YOU when he stepped out of Heaven. He considered YOUR soul when He went to the cross. Jesus cares for you as He looks down from Heaven. Ask Him to come into your heart so that you may dwell with Him throughout eternity. ” (Billy Graham, The Heaven Answer Book, page 97).

Romans 1:19-20 (NIV)

19 since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.

It’s important to respond to Christ while we are still living. Have you responded to His call? Jesus’ invitation is for YOU: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). Reach out to Christ TODAY and make the best decision of your life!

Edited by Allie Anson

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