Is Heaven and Hell Real?

Sheep and Goats

"And he (Jesus) will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." (Matthew 25:33-34). "Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels". (Matthew 25:41)

Is there a hell to be avoided, and a heaven to be gained? The short answer is yes, the teaching of heaven and hell is found throughout the bible. But what proof is there?

A  report was released in 2014 by scientists at the University of Southampton. It found that around 40 per cent of people who survived cardiac arrest described some kind of ‘awareness’ during a coma or when their heart stopped beating and was restarted. There have been several stories of people feeling as though they can see their body, and being drawn to a bright light. Are these experiences real, or just a dream state - imaginary?

Harry Potter, in the final book of the series, is murdered by his nemesis Voldemort. He wakes up in what appears to be an abandoned Kings Cross station where he meets his instructor Dumbledore who died some months before. They have a conversation, at the end of which Harry decides to return to life. As he is about to return he poses this question to his friend and mentor: “Professor, is this all real, or is it just happening inside my head?“ To which Dumbledore responds: “Of course it’s happening inside your head Harry — why should that mean that it is not real?”

These experiences of the afterlife are controversial. Many think that they are improbable if not impossible. Eben Alexander M.D. an eminent neurosurgeon once believed as such. He was a sceptic and a fervent agnostic. He would have been the first to explain such stories might feel real to the people having them, but in truth, they are simply fantasies produced by brains under extreme stress. Yet his stance changed when he too underwent such an experience. He was in a coma for a week and awoke with a powerful memory of having visited heaven. He wrote the book "Proof of Heaven" detailing his journey. Before, Dr. Alexander could not reconcile his knowledge of neuroscience with any belief in heaven, God, or the soul. He is now a passionate proponent of the reality of heaven and not just something that happens in our minds.

Have there been similar felt experiences of Hell? Yes, surprisingly there have been a number of people declaring just that! Matthew Botsford was such a person; who in 1992 was shot in the head and spent 27 days in a coma. The result of the gunshot wound was severe, paralysis and extensive cognitive damage. Despite this, he survived. His book "A Day in Hell" tells of his frightening experience during this time.

Are these accounts real? I'll let you decide for yourself, the books mentioned are readily available. However, a word of warning to any who have experienced such dreams or "visions" of heaven, whether in a coma or not. Where do these experiences come from? Are they just products and imaginations of our brains? Or are they sent from God to warn us, or the devil to deceive? It is dangerous to assume that these experiences alone guarantee anyone a place in heaven. It is only by trusting in Jesus and his atoning work on the cross and having a relationship with him as Lord and saviour that is the guarantee.

The bible says this "It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgement." (Hebrews 9:27) One thing is for sure, everyone will face an encounter with God after they die; they will face the Judge. The bible is the only sure source and truth we can rely on regarding the afterlife.

The text we started with is part of a parable Jesus spoke to his disciples in response to a question asked of him regarding his return and the end of the world. Jesus had already told them he would leave them and return to his Father, and that he would come back. The disciples just wanted to know when - what date do we put in our diaries?

What was the point of speaking to them this way if these things were not true? What would Jesus gain from it, how would he benefit? If heaven were not true, why would he give false hope of a wonderful future? Similarly, if hell were not true, why the doom and gloom? Did he get a blast from spreading terrible stories? Is he a madman to dream up such a mythical scary story? However, if Jesus is God, the Christ, it makes perfect sense!

Jesus explains to them and us, that no one knows the exact time of his return. In fact, there will be many doubters. Furthermore, no one will be expecting it when Jesus does eventually return! He reminds them of a similar event in history, of Noah and the promise of a flood to destroy the earth. There were many scoffers and those who ignored the warning back then!  He says to the disciples, learn from your history! You have the scriptures! God's promise was seen to be true back then! So too is his promise of a return.

"But concerning that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but the Father only. For as were the days of Noah, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and they were unaware until the flood came and swept them all away, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. " (Matthew 24:36-39)

When Jesus does return, events will unfold that will be as cataclysmic as the flood that once destroyed the earth. There will be some who are saved, like Noah and his family, and some who will be "swept away", destroyed by God's wrath, for his sudden unexpected coming will bring the destruction of the earth by fire. It will usher in the destruction of the earth with the day of judgement. (2 Peter 3:3-7) God keeps his promises. Everyone who has ever lived will have to appear before his glorious throne. On that day there will be a separation of two groups of people. Once again, this is explained in the parable as the sheep - those who will be saved, and the goats - those who will be condemned to Hell.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats." (Matthew 25:31-32)

The sheep will be welcomed into heaven by the King  "Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." While the goats will have no place by his side, "Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Are all these near-death experiences and the bible just foolish speaking? Can you just carry on with your life with no thought to what happens beyond the grave? Or are these witnesses, and Jesus telling the truth? God is lovingly patient with us. The delay in his coming is for our benefit. "The Lord is not slow to fulfil his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance." (2 Peter 3:9)

Jesus is giving the disciples, and us, a clear warning. He is telling you ahead of time of what will occur. If true, you have a big decision to make, what will you do? Will you come and bow the knee to King Jesus now, confessing your sin? Or will you take a chance that it is all just a lie? However if it is true, and you do not come to Jesus, then only an eternity in hell awaits, with no second chance, and you will always be haunted by the fact that you did not trust his words of eternal life when you had the opportunity. What choice will you make?

"And these (goats) will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous (sheep) into eternal life.” (Matthew 24:46)

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