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Where Do O.T. Believers Go At Death?

That is the question for this issue. One of our readers has written: "Where did Old Testament believers go after death? I have heard of the doctrine of Sheol being the abode of the dead with upper (Sheol) for believers and lower (Sheol) for unbelievers, and this only ended after Christ had come. I don't know how to answer this."

This question focuses on a point where many who have the name "evangelical" have departed and are departing from the faith, that is, regarding the doctrine of heaven and hell, or eternal punishment and reward. This is the more distressing insofar as a denial of these Biblical teachings has in the past been characteristic of modernist unbelief.

Regarding the doctrine of hell, many are now teaching what is called "conditional immortality," that is, after suffering for limited time in hell, unbelievers are annihilated. They are punished but not eternally. John Stott is an "evangelical" who teaches this.

Leading to and supporting such teaching is the notion that the Hebrew word Sheol, and the Greek word Hades, both more often than not translated "hell" in the AV, do not in fact refer to such a place of eternal punishment at all. They refer, it is said, only to the place of the dead, the place where all go.

The NIV, the Bible of evangelicals, errs seriously at this point. It never translates Sheol as "hell" and rarely translates Hades as hell. The result is that hell is not mentioned in the NIV Old Testament at all, and only a few times in the NIV New Testament.

Along with this denial of hell (we intend to write more about it in the next issue), there are also those who are denying that heaven is the eternal abode of believers. The same argument is used regarding the words "Sheol" and "Hades."

Those who deny the traditional Biblical teaching regarding heaven seem to be found especially among the so-called "Christian Reconstructionists." For example, in a recent book, The Nature, Government and Function of the Church, Stephen Perks writes:

"I do not think it is appropriate at all for Christians to speak of 'going to heaven,' since this evidences more pagan ideas of the afterlife, of the purification of the soul by separation from the body, than it does of the Christian belief in deliverance from sin and fellowship with God through Christ" (p. 27).

He adds, "This world is Christ's inheritance, and as Christians we are co-heirs with him. The meek, we are told by Christ himself, will inherit what? Heaven? No. The earth (Matt. 5:5). From the way some Christians talk it seems they expect to inherit 'heaven.' They will be sorely disappointed. It's all going to be down here in the nitty-gritty of physical life. So you had better get used to it down here where for mankind life is lived" (p. 69).

Such foolish talk is part and parcel of the so-called Christian Reconstruction view of the kingdom of God and of Christ, i.e. that the kingdom is a Christian civilization and culture here and now, but it is nonetheless a serious error.

Not only do some Christians speak of "going to heaven." All do, including Paul, Peter and John (Phil. 3:20; Col. 1:5; Heb. 10:34; Heb. 12:22; I Pet. 1:4; Rev. 11:12; 12:10). Nor will those who speak in hope of "going to heaven" be disappointed. There they shall see and experience all that is promised in Revelation 21:3, 4. There they shall be with Abraham and other OT believers (Matt. 8:11; Lk. 16:22; Heb. 12:22, 23). R. Hanko


We have a special treat for those who are interested in the early history (first 12 years) of the Protestant Reformed Churches. The Rev. Martin VanderWal of the Covenant Prot. Ref. Church in Wyckoff, New Jersey has scanned in the first part of the "History of the Protestant Reformed Churches" by Rev. Herman Hoeksema. We thank him for his effort and invite the reader to see a book which has been out of print for many years. See: http://www.CovPRC.org/

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Additional Info

  • Volume: 6
  • Issue: 19
Hanko, Ronald

Rev. Ronald Hanko (Wife: Nancy)

Ordained: November 1979

Pastorates: Wyckoff, NJ - 1979; Trinity, Houston, TX - 1986; Missionary to N.Ireland - 1993; Lynden, WA - 2002; Emeritus October 15, 2017

Website: www.lyndenprc.org/sermons/

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