Heaven, Hell, Angels and Demons
R. C. Sproul
Christian Focus, 2011, 157 pp. ISBN 978-184550682-7
R. C. Sproul is a well-known teacher, theologian and pastor and the founder and chairman of Ligonier Ministries. In this little book he challenges the common disbelief in realities beyond our senses and explores what the Bible teaches.
Heaven, hell, angels, and demons are taught as realities in Scripture as much as God himself. "There is an uncompromised supernaturalism at the heart of the Christian worldview, and we must not let the world's skepticism with regard to these things affect our belief systems." (9)
"I'm afraid we've lost our appetite for the delights God has stored up for His people in the future." (14) Heaven has sometimes been explained as a belief satisfying a need in man. However, if God exists, it is reasonable to expect that this life is not the end.
"Jonathan Edwards once made the comment that no person who seeks to go on a pilgrimage to a glorious and exotic place will take up permanent residence at an inn along the way. It's nice to have a resting place, but we're always moving toward that which is better. Edwards said that Christians who cling tenaciously to this world and to this life are like sojourners who get stuck in a wayside inn, having lost sight of their glorious Bermuda. We're headed for heaven, and we need to understand not only that there is a heaven but that it is vastly superior to anything we experience in this world." (23)
"The expectation of the New Testament, ultimately, is that heaven will be here after the earth has been transformed." (39) What is fascinating about the Bible's description of heaven is what is not there: death, tears, sickness, pain, sin, etc.
The doctrine of hell has become so controversial that it is almost never addressed. But it is a biblical concept and almost everything we know about it comes from Jesus Himself. It is described with a variety of colliding symbolic images. The figurative language is meant to convey greater realities. "We should be worrying that the reality toward which these symbols point is more ghastly than the symbols. … It is a place of unspeakable pain and torment." (54)
Hell is separation from God, but it is also separation from all the benefits of his presence, common grace.
"There is an almost universal assumption in American culture that if there is life after death, then everyone's going to go to the same place, to the eternal blessedness of heaven. Nothing turns a sinner into a saint faster than death." (62) It's difficult for anyone to contemplate another human being going to hell. So we turn away from such an idea out of a commitment to our basic humanity.
The Bible talks about salvation. "But the fundamental meaning of saved is to have escaped some calamity. So when we speak about ultimate salvation in the Scriptures, we're talking about an escape from the ultimate calamity." (65) Ultimately we are being saved from the judgment of a holy God.
People talk of a God of love and jump to the conclusion that His love is unconditional and eternal to a fallen human race. But God's salvific love is conditional on our repentance and faith and the work of Christ. Human judges are not good if they let criminals go free. God would not be good if He didn't punish the wicked. But we sometimes think God's love will mitigate His goodness. "The Bible never hints that God will be anything but relentless in His insistence that one must repent of his or her sins and come to Christ in order to escape hell." (73) "In His perfect justice, God punishes each sin justly." (75)
The existence of angels is not a part of the modern secular perception of reality. But "angel" occurs more frequently in the New Testament than sin or love. "Angels are part and parcel of the biblical message from early in creation, from the book of Genesis all the way to the book of Revelation." (89)
"The big problem that hides the glory of God from our eyes is not a defect in our optic nerve. The defect is in the heart. Sin is the barrier between us and God, and as long as there is sin in our hearts, as long as we're not pure in heart, we're not going to see Him." (98) When we see God in glory, we won't need eyes.
Angels minister in heaven and on earth. "One of the ways in which God mediates His providential supervision and rule over history and over creation is through the mission of these creatures…." (105) The first instance of law enforcement was God posting the angels at the entrance to the Garden of Eden.
"At the heart of the Judeo-Christian worldview is an uncompromised supernaturalism that says that there is much more to reality than meets the eye. God Himself is invisible, and yet there's nothing more central to Christianity than the reality of the existence of God." (114) If we really do believe in the message of the Christian faith, we have to understand that the reality in which we live contains much more than meets the eye." (115)
One of the major tasks of angels is as messengers. Angels "don't rule the cosmos, but the good angels are ministering spirits, sent forth by God. … They're sent to minister to the heirs of salvation, to believers." (135)
The name Satan means "adversary," and that's what he is. He is the enemy of everything good and all who put their trust in Christ. He is a created being and will always be under the sovereign power and authority of the Creator. Sometimes we overestimate him by crediting him with attributes that belong only to God.
He is crafty and a liar. He promised autonomy to Adam and Eve, saying they would be like God. "All this was a lie, and yet every time we sin, we believe this lie, because every time we sin, we set up our own desires over the desires of God. We deny God's right to reign over us. In the slightest sin, we commit cosmic treason, because we try to overthrow the reign of God over our lives. We will not have God reign over us, and we succumb to this lie that we were given at the beginning." (145)
Satan is incredibly strong but not omnipotent. We are no match for him. But he is resistible because of the Holy Spirit within us. He can change in outward appearance, seducing mankind by looking good and appealing. This world is his domain and his main activities are tempting and accusing people to sin. Sin has a great attraction for us. We get confused between happiness and pleasure. Sin brings pleasure but never happiness. Satan can introduce great harm to our lives, but everything that he does is always under the sovereign authority of God.