So many think of heaven and hell as ‘somewhere else’ and ‘some other time’, namely, the hereafter. But there is a heaven and there is a hell that starts right here and right now.

When Jesus taught on prayer, He did not say: “Father, help us escape from this world and go to heaven where your will is done”. No! He said: “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” Mt 6:10

He had a vision of heaven coming to earth. The gospel is first of all not a message of how to enter heaven, but of how God emptied heaven to enter man!

The story of the lost son and his older brother is such a vivid picture of what heaven and hell is in the here and now. You can read the story in Luke 15 to get the context, I’ll get straight to the point.

The younger son wastes his inheritance and faces great hardship in a foreign land. He eventually comes to himself and realises that even the slaves in his father’s house has a better life than he does.

He starts imagining what to tell his father. During the the long journey home, he recites this story to himself. We pick up the story in verse 19: “I’ll say to him, Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son. Take me on as a hired hand.’ He got right up and went home to his father.

“When he was still a long way off, his father saw him. His heart pounding, he ran out, embraced him, and kissed him. The son started his speech: ‘Father, I’ve sinned against God, I’ve sinned before you; I don’t deserve to be called your son ever again.’

“But the father wasn’t listening. He was calling to the servants, ‘Quick. Bring a clean set of clothes and dress him. Put the family ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Then get a grain-fed heifer and roast it. We’re going to feast! We’re going to have a wonderful time!”

The father had a different point of view, a different speech, a different story that included restoration and a party!

Heaven begins for the younger son when he abandons his own point of view, his well recited speech, and simply flings himself into the arms of his father, accepting his point of view, his story. Heaven begins when we let go of every excuse we can think of, not to enjoy the father’s embrace. Heaven begins when we let go of the guilt and go with the flow of a party that we did not deserve, but nevertheless is the desire of our father.

Just let Him kiss you! Just let Him embrace you, and enjoy the party!

Let’s pick up the older brother’s story from verse 25: “All this time his older son was out in the field. When the day’s work was done he came in. As he approached the house, he heard the music and dancing. Calling over one of the houseboys, he asked what was going on. He told him, ‘Your brother came home. Your father has ordered a feast—barbecued beef!—because he has him home safe and sound.’

“The older brother stalked off in an angry sulk and refused to join in. His father came out and tried to talk to him, but he wouldn’t listen. The son said, ‘Look how many years I’ve stayed here serving you, never giving you one moment of grief, but have you ever thrown a party for me and my friends? Then this son of yours who has thrown away your money on whores shows up and you go all out with a feast!’

“His father said, ‘Son, you don’t understand. You’re with me all the time, and everything that is mine is yours—but this is a wonderful time, and we had to celebrate. This brother of yours was dead, and he’s alive! He was lost, and he’s found!'”

The older brother also has a point of view, a perspective in which he saw himself as a diligent and hard working man, and deserving of much more than his younger brother. He does not see his father as generous towards him, or even as a fair man!

As with the younger son, the father tries to persuade him of a different perspective, a different view of himself and their relationship.

Hell is being with the father, yet not knowing him.

Hell is being at the party, but not joining in, sulking because of the father’s generosity towards the less deserving. It would have been less of a hell if it was somewhere else – the music, the smells, the joy in the air is what makes the older brother’s attitude so hellish!

Hell is possessing everything the father owns, but still slaving away, trying to gain what you think you don’t have.

Hell begins when you cling to your own opinion, your own point of view, when you refuse the father’s version of your story.

It seems that the more focused we are on a heaven and a hell that is somewhere else and some other time, the less involved we are in bringing heaven to earth, here and now.


14 Responses to “So what is heaven and hell?”

  1. Michelle on

    Andre, I love reading your stuff, but I have a problem with this hell theory. Jesus himself clearly spoke and warned people about hell several times in the gospels. He calls it a lake of fire and a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He mentions hell in the story of the rich man and Lazarus but not at all in the parable of the lost son. Surely he would have made that comparison if that is how we are to understand it? Jesus makes “hell” sound like a terrible lot/ end, so it truly must be…. and hell does seem like a place (of spiritual death) to me. Luke 13:28 “There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out.
    Please help me understand how these words don’t mean what they say.

    • Andre Rabe on

      Hi Michelle, Hi Wouter

      Let me first say that although this writing focused on a hell and heaven that begins here and now, I believe it also continues in the hereafter. There are many pictures of hell that have not been informed by scripture, but rather by legends and human imagination. And so there are many assumptions that have no clear support in scripture. I believe Jesus meant exactly what He said … and His audience understood it in the context he spoke in.

      The following is not a comprehensive teaching on hell, but just some guiding thoughts. Firstly ‘hell’ is an English translation that carries with it many pictures not present in the language Jesus spoke. The two words He used are Gehenna, which was a physical place outside Jerusalem. It had an infamous beginning during a time that the people fell away from God and burned their children as sacrifices to their idols. It is interesting to see what God thought of such a practise: “to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire [in honor of Molech, the fire god]–which I did not command, nor did it come into My mind or heart.” Jer 7:31

      Later on this location became the rubbish heap outside Jerusalem, where there were continual fires to burn the rubbish and worms eating the leftovers. One of the worst judgements that a court could pass on a criminal, was that his body would not receive a proper burial, but simply be discarded in Gehenna. This was a judgement considered so serious that only the Sahedrin could impose it.
      In this context Jesus said: “But I say to you that everyone who continues to be angry with his brother or harbors malice (enmity of heart) against him shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the court; and whoever speaks contemptuously and insultingly to his brother shall be liable to and unable to escape the punishment imposed by the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, You cursed fool! [You empty-headed idiot!] shall be liable to and unable to escape the hell (Gehenna) of fire.” Mt 5:22

      To Jesus’ audience His words were very clear – He spoke about a real judgement that could be passed by the Sanhedrin …. not our concepts of an unending torture chamber.

      Throughout the OT the Hebrew word Sheol was used, which is often also translated hell. However the OT does not have concept that Sheol is a place of eternal punishment. It was simply the place of the dead – righteous and unrighteous. Whenever the OT warned of judgement and Sheol, it spoke of imminent real destruction.

      In the same way, many places where Jesus spoke about ‘weeping and grinding of teeth.’, he spoke about the literal destruction of Jerusalem that happened in 70AD. In Mat 24:34 he specifically says: “this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place”

      So in conclusion. I believe in a hell that begins here and and now and continues hereafter. However many of the concepts I’ve had of hell were not informed by the scriptures. Many of the places where Jesus spoke of ‘hell’ were relevant to the audience he spoke to and the literal destruction that was about to take place. I’ve heard people say before that Jesus spoke of hell more than anyone else. No He did not! Not our ‘concepts’ of hell. He spoke about Gehenna – a real physical place – and he spoke of Hades, the unseen realm.
      To not know God, to not enter into what we have been designed for, is to destroy ourselves – there can be no greater hell than that. It is self-imposed … God’s arms are always open – He never changes.

  2. Wouter on

    Partly you are right that man make their life like heaven or hell. Just look around, read the newspapers.
    But the Word of God speaks also of a place, the lake of fire. Rev.20:And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
    That wil be eternal hell for everyone who don’t believe in God.
    How do you think about that.

  3. Michelle on

    Thanks Andre

    I study the Word as well and God always makes a clear distinction between light and darkness, the righteous and unrighteous, belief and unbelief, the sheep and the goats, etc.
    There are no grey areas, it is pretty simple, so that every human being can understand.

    We have a choice (narrow or wide road)- because we are made in His image, he gave us thinking minds and a free will.
    His choice is to love us, as you rightly say but we ultimately decide for ourselves what (or Whom) we believe.
    And those who continue to (repeatedly) turn their backs on Him, He will eventually let them have their way… and THAT is hell, I have no idea what it will be like, but I don’t want anyone to go there.
    I don’t believe hell is now, the grace of God extends to all who are alive. “He makes his sun rise over the righteous and the unrighteous”.
    I haven’t seen heaven or hell, but the Bible talks about both “places” – be it physical or spiritual, probably both -in the same context, and Jesus plus “departed” people live there (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Elijah etc) so heaven and hell are perhaps starting here but also and forever in another dimension.
    Please let me hear your comments/ response to this. Thanks again.

    Remain blessed

  4. Glen Morris on

    Hi Andre,
    Thanks for the lovely insight. I sometimes wonder about why many are insistent on the view that God has created this place for eternal punishment for all ‘those’ people – you know the one’s I am talking about ( murderers, rapists, thieves, your ex who cheated on you, the business partner who caused you a lot of loss, the boss who bullies you at work each day….
    Maybe its our search for vengeance or justice that we project onto God. But the God revealed to me is the Father in the story of the prodigal son – embracing, loving, forgiving, full of grace, mercy …
    Just a thought ….

  5. Caleb miller on

    It would be impossible to devote a single article to the myths and truths surrounding hell. You’d have to rewrite Dante’s inferno, spend countless pages debunking Greek mythology, roman mythology, and Far East tradition.

    We forget that Jesus was a Jew who was sent “to the lost sheep of the house of Israel” and therefore ALL of his teaching must be viewed as specific and pointed, not broad in scope.

    One day, we will have a full picture. Until that time I’ll never publicly declare the place of the dead in my teaching. Keep up the good work my friend!

  6. Collision of Souls on

    Paul taught the Galatians (2:7) that his gospel of transcendent grace(uncircumcision gospel) to the nations was different than Peter’s teaching to the Jews(circumcision gospel).

    Paul also told the Romans in 15:8 “Now I say that Jesus Christ was a minister of the circumcision for the truth of God”. People overlook these very meaty truths and what they mean. They also overlook the truth that Paul, sent to the gentiles/nations, never mentioned such horrifying doctrines that are now paraded as truth about the pulpits of Christendom, and sometimes even hidden in doctrinal statements of faith because of the shame of such teachings. This is hypocrisy and a slap in the face of our Father who sent His son.

    Why are denominations now hiding such doctrines, for what could be more important to know than how to escape the torture-meister god who is going to burn us forever? This after he sent His son to deal with sin. My God, what more does He need to do to display to our alienated minds that this enmity is ours, not His.

    If Christendom wants to continue with this false doctrine, Christendom must bring that god out from behind the curtain and every week hammer the minds of its followers with their alienated understanding that Christ was not successful on that cross. “People, Jesus was a failure and from now on we are going to continue to state and overstate our position of Christ’s failure because there will be hell to pay.”

    To the alienated mind, Christ wasn’t the Lamb of God, but only the potential Lamb of God who might take away the sin of the world—-if you put in your 25 cents of faith and get salvation to pop out for ya. Jesus is declared as the Savior of the World! But to these mnds there’s still more work to be done on our part to see sin removed(this would indicate we have a part to play in saving ourselves), and the consequences of Christ’s failure on that cross for everyone is eternal separation from the Father.

    Christendom’s doctrines undermine the work of the cross and it is the alienated minds of Christendom which are continuing to promulgate death, darkness and destruction, not the cross and the free justification it has given to all mankind. Again, this is a one-sided enmity that God will deal with in eventuality, but for now the enlightened are given the supreme opportunity to promote the ministry of reconciliation.

    Yes, we all fell short of the glory of God, but we have to see the next verse that states we are declared righteous and justified FREELY by the grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:23-24)

    That settles it , but for the majority there is still an alienation that can not see our Father for who He is and for what Christ has settled for us.

  7. Patti on

    I have spent the past year and a half studying Christian Universalism. I grew up in a very “religious” environment, and suffered agony at the thought of one of my children, not accepting the “unconditional love” of the Savior. The tremendous joy my husband and I began to experience, came to us just in time to save our hearts from an indescribable horror we could have never overcome…
    New Year’s Eve, 2016, our youngest son, Jared, took his own life. He had served six years in the U.S. Military, and had been diagnosed with PTSD. Jared had a gentle spirit. We often teased him that he had been born with an “old soul”. We still cannot internalize the truth that he is gone. As I read your explanation on hell continuing after death, an old familiar fear caught in my heart. Would you please expound on your comment? I need to know that I can trust you are firm in your conviction, that Jesus Christ is the Savior of ALL men, and that none will be lost. I have enjoyed your teaching, and I am certain there is a great deal I can learn from you. For the immediate future, I need to protect my heart from any teaching that is inconsistent with Christian Universalism.
    Thank you for your time,

    • Andre Rabe on

      Wow Patti! Thanks you for sharing. I don’t think any explanation can or should in any way interfere with the comfort you experienced in the midst of this impossible situation.

      Jesus spoke of God as the one with whom all things are possibile. How often we tried to fit this infinite possibility into our narrow certainties… but he continues to surprise us. If anything should guide us concerning our expectations for the future, it should be the the character of this God who gave Himself in love to us, who would rather go to hell (our deepest torment) than abandon us there. This story is not finished until God is all and in all … and even then, we’ll continue to be surprised by the infinite generosity of our Abba.

    • Ryan on

      Patti, my heart broke as I read your comment. Maybe it’s not the best consolation, but I have often thought of Samson. He continually resisted the purpose of God on his life and only operated in it for selfish motives (in no way am I saying this is similar to your son). In the end, he took his own life bringing down the structure upon himself and the Philistines. Yet, even in this act, it was to avenge his eyes being plucked out, not as an act of obedience to God.

      However, Hebrews 11 speaks of hero’s of faith, men and women who did extraordinary things like Noah, Moses, Abraham, Sarah, Rahab, Joseph, etc. These same people are part of the Cloud of Witnesses in Hebrews 12:1 (which is a continuation of Ch 11). One name that gets overlooked in Heb 11 is Samson (vs 32). A man who only acted in his own interest, refused to answer the call of God in His life and did what many call the “unpardonably sin” is mentioned in the hero’s of faith and in the cloud of witnesses.

      Your son went through things most of us don’t understand. I pray you’ll be comforted in knowing that God is bigger than our actions and even mistakes. The prodical was still a son even when he was eating with pigs. Samson is part of the heavenly host, regardless of his errors. And I believe your son is in the Father’s house, no matter the opinions of the religious older brothers out there. Bless you!


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