Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 1/27/08.
"It is true that I am going away to prepare a place for you, but it is just as true that I am coming again to welcome you into my own home, so that you may be where I am" (John 14:3, Phillips).
The Phillips' translation of that verse is personal, warm and inviting, so reassuring, especially to those who wonder what will happen to them after they die. It would be no surprise if the world worried about their eternal destination, but for the most part, they don't seem to care. Christians, on the other hand, wring their hands about whether they will be in heaven with God or in that "other place" where the wicked go. The unconditional love of God and the reconciliation of all has been the focus of the past two writings, and of this one as well.
Our readers are a wonderful group of people who feel deeply, think "outside the box," and often share their thoughts with us. One man's question this past week gave me the title for today's writing. He wrote, "What do you believe Jesus meant by his statement in Matt. 25:41, 'Depart from me, ye cursed into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.' What is the nature of this "place" Jesus speaks of?'" End Quote.
My answer to him is this: That verse in Matt. 25, is one of what I call the "scary scriptures" which the church has been using for centuries to "motivate" the flock to attend, give, and do. When you realize what is meant by the verse, "our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29), it's easy to see that Jesus was consigning the sins of the flesh, the carnal nature, the cursed, and the wicked, to the refining fires for cleansing.
Malachi prophesied that the "messenger of the covenant" would come suddenly to "his temple"... "But who can endure the day of his coming? "Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner's fire or a launderer's soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness, and the offerings of Judah and Jerusalem will be acceptable to the LORD, as in days gone by, as in former years" (Mal. 3:2-4).
Set aside the literal interpretations which abound for these verses and follow my lead for a moment. WE ARE HIS TEMPLE! (See I Cor. 3:16-17; I Cor. 6:19). When He comes to cleanse and refine the Levites (care takers, which we also are), who indeed can endure it? Only those who realize that whatever comes our way, no matter how wretched it looks or feels, was sent by God for our good and His glory!
Paul said that the refining fire will test our works, which "...will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man's work. If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames" (I Cor. 3:12-15). While those works are being burned up, we smell the smoke and feel the heat. We were certainly aware of the refining fires when we were "circling the drain in California." Our house, our business, and our credit all went up in smoke, but God saved us for another purpose, this Internet ministry.
We hear from people weekly who are feeling the divine "blowtorch" in their lives, and to them, we bear witness that it will be for their good and God's glory. He doesn't do things our way, but Isaiah said of Him, "declaring the end from the beginning and from ancient times things not yet done, saying, 'My counsel shall stand, and I will accomplish all my purpose'" (Isa. 46:10).
Isaiah is one of my favorite Old Testament prophets, because he saw clearly the sovereignty of God in all things. This prophet had the unhappy duty to announce to Israel that because of her sins, God would send both Babylon and Assyria against her as punishment. Yet, Isaiah never left them in despair, for he told them the rest of the story as well: "I will cut off from Babylon her name and survivors, her offspring and descendants," declares the LORD... "I will sweep her with the broom of destruction," declares the LORD Almighty. The LORD Almighty has sworn, Surely, as I have planned, so it will be, and as I have purposed, so it will stand. I will crush the Assyrian in my land; on my mountains I will trample him down. His yoke will be taken from my people, and his burden removed from their shoulders." This is the plan determined for the whole world; this is the hand stretched out over all nations. For the LORD Almighty has purposed, and who can thwart him? His hand is stretched out, and who can turn it back?" (Isa. 14:22-27).
Old Testament prophets have depicted the world much like a giant chess board, with God the only player, who moves the pieces according to "the plan determined for the whole world." It is His "hand stretched out over all nations." This knowledge has helped me deal with the upheavals in my personal life.
Before Lenny and I married, I managed a Real Estate Company in Westlake Village, CA. My secretary lectured me frequently about the fact that I never read the local newspaper. She would scold, "You are an aware woman and you need to know what's going on in the world." I finally gave in and signed up for a three month subscription to the local paper, only to find myself immersed in child molestation, rape, murder, financial ruin and other dreadful things. I canceled my subscription and told her, "You can read the newspaper if you like, but as for me and my house, I'll read Isaiah, because he at least tells me who is in charge of it all and who gives me hope to carry on." Had I not realized that it is God's hand "stretched out over all nations," I would have floundered at a very young age because I've needed a lot of "refining fire" in my life. The good news about that is that parts of me, just like parts of you, are PURE GOLD!
It seems obvious to me that God's "refiners fire" which Malachi said we could expect is the very same as the "everlasting fire" found in Matt. 25:41. While replying to the man who asked what this place is that Jesus spoke of, it came to me that since the "consuming, refining, everlasting fire" equals God, this place Jesus described is God Himself. It is the same place Jesus said He was going to prepare, to which He will bring us so we can be at home with him. Since Jesus said the fire was originally created for the devil and his angels, I commented to the man who asked the question, that perhaps it means that the devil and his angels will also be redeemed and will thus be in heaven (spirit) with us????
If that thought caused you to flip your wig, put it back on your head and let's talk about it some more. Here's how our e-mail correspondent responded:
"You said, that it may mean the devil will be in heaven (spirit) with us. Well, that is the part that gives many who call themselves Christians the terrible shivers. The idea that they will also share heaven along with those men you listed in your sermon last week ("When we all get to Heaven, the Gospel According to Cats." See link at end), whose unfathomably evil hearts deserve such a fate of judgment [is a scary thought]...
"While I am aware of the refining fire of God, the biblical fact that we are spirits, made in the image and likeness of God, endows us with great responsibility. The Psalmist, among others, declared that man is 'fearfully and wonderfully made.' Wonderfully made in the sense that man as spirit is given the gift of choice to be able to love his Creator freely of his own will...which is actually what any good parent desires...unforced love...not demanded or expected, but freely given. Fearfully made in the sense that man is given the ability to use that gift of choice for his own selfishness and destruction...But each spirit, of their own free will, determines the point at which they will 'arise and return unto the Father.'" End Quote.
I appreciate this man's thoughtful comments and full well understand that the very idea that the devil or Hitler might make it to heaven fills most people with terror. The more God presses me to move further into the Good News that He will eventually and ultimately restore all things to Himself, the more I realize what a wide gulf fixed there is between religion and Life in the Spirit.
Religion majors in minors, i.e., that which man must do to be acceptable to God. Life in the Spirit depends upon the indwelling Christ to lead and guide us into all righteousness (right relatedness to God). I also realize daily that until and unless God pries our hands from the rail, or kicks us out of the boat, pick your metaphor, we cannot walk with Him on the water or anywhere else.
Dr. Alan Tull, an Episcopalian Rector, commented on this subject, "Grace, or as I would say, that God acts graciously, seems to be the most difficult thing for religion to accept. For it (religion), God must be some tyrant throwing down demands and punishing and rewarding accordingly. The divine human relationship becomes entirely juridical and penal and characterized by guilt, punishments and rewards. This is probably the influence of Roman culture upon Christianity in the West. It has become more and more dominant." End Quote.
We've all been brainwashed by what I see as powerful Christian "myths." The word "myth" may be defined as "a widely held, but false belief or idea"; or "a misrepresentation of the truth." These myths came into Christian doctrine because there was a deficit of Spirit led guidance. As a result, the "ecclesia" (mistranslated as "church") pictured in the book of Acts, which was a living organism in relationship to the living head (Christ Himself), became through the machinations of power hungry men, an organization, developed by men, led by men, devoid of real Spiritual essence. Emil Brunner (The Misunderstanding of the Church), does a masterful job of explaining how the process happened over the centuries, resulting in the woeful mess the extant church finds itself in today.
Brunner ends his book on the high note that God caused it all to happen, and God alone will take care of it, so there's nothing to worry about. However, realizing what happened between the book of Acts' accounts of God's hands-on leading of the early "ecclesia," and what usually happens today (church plans and programs designed by committee), helps us to understand the need to abandon ourselves to the Holy Spirit, and let go of our "death grip" on the doctrines of men.
One of the most pervasive Christian myths is the "free will" of man. It is so ingrained in Christians that they cannot see anything else. Thus, all legalists blame the sinner for his sin. That's basic Christian doctrine 101. You are to blame for your sins and shortcomings and you will have to stand before the judgment seat of Christ and give account for your words and deeds. It sounds so righteous, so just, and so fair, but it is NONE of the above!
Romans 11:32, which I have quoted so many times since we've been on the Internet, totally refutes the "free will" myth. It reads, "God has all men penned together in the prison of disobedience, that he may have mercy upon them all." Let that sink into your spirit, your soul, your very being. GOD is the one who penned ALL MEN in the prison of disobedience. The irrefutable conclusion about that is that GOD is the only one who has free will in the whole universe!
You can protest and complain about my logic and run screaming into the night tearing out your hair all the way, but when your "fit" runs its course, consider this. It is possible that you've been limiting your consideration to people who have been brought up as Christians, but in spite of that, they crossed the line, and ended up in the pig pen. So you hold them responsible. But what about the rest of the world? How do you justify their so called "ticket to hell?"
When I was around 12 years old, I began to worry and fret over people in darkest Africa who had never even heard of Christ, nor ever could. The church I belonged to said they would burn in hell anyway. Is that fair? Is that just? What free will did they have about where they were born or the color of their skin? For that matter, what choice did I ever make to be born in a Christian home?
Babies are born addicted to crack cocaine, or suffering from HIV, because of their mother's sins. What choice did they have in that? Where was there free will for any of them? I could go on and on, but you get the point, and if you will reread Rom. 11:32, you'll get God's solution to the problem.
Man's free will is a myth, an illusion, just like the idea that man has control over his own life or anyone else's, for that matter. Nebuchadnezzar thought he had control over Babylon and the Jewish captives, but God gave him a humility lesson, by causing him to go mad and live like a beast in the field. When God restored his mind, and his throne, the King said, "Then I praised the Most High; I honored and glorified him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation ...Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything he does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride he is able to humble" (Dan. 4:34, 37).
There is absolutely NO OTHER PLACE we could go but into God, "For from him and through him and to him are all things. To him be the glory forever! Amen" (Rom. 11:36).
Father, we acknowledge You as the only One who has control of our lives, and who works all things after the counsel of Your own will. You alone can stretch forth Your hand and control the nations. You are in control. So, whom should we fear? All praise and honor and glory belong to You, now and forever, our Father, our Lord, our King, and our God. Your glory shall be revealed upon the earth and all flesh shall see it together. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
When we all get to Heaven (The Gospel according to cats).
Greasy Grace for the Flawed Women in Jesus' Genealogy
The Glory Road
This writing was uploaded to the web 01/20/08,
by Jan Antonsson, webmeister,
and last updated 01/27/08.