Heaven, Hell, and Exile
In the sermon this morning we will be talking about God’s judgment. When we speak about God’s judgment, we will often use the phrase “the final judgment” or “the last judgment.” To speak of “the last judgment” implies that there was a first judgment and perhaps a few other judgments after that.
The first judgment occurs in the garden of Eden. God commanded Adam, “You are free to eat from any tree of the garden, but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for on the day you eat from it, you will certainly die” (Gen 2:16-17). This commandment is broken. As a result, there are curses that follow (Gen 3:16-19). Additionally, Adam is driven out of the garden of Eden (Gen 3:23-24). Fellowship and intimacy with God could have been experienced in the garden. Eden is called the “garden of the Lord” (Is 51:3). But because of disobedience to God’s command, Adam is sent out.
In a sense, we can think of this as the first exile. God had prepared a place where He could dwell with His creation. But God cannot have fellowship with sin. So “God sent him out” and “drove out the man” (Gen 3:23-24).
As we continue reading through the Bible, we discover that God continues to want fellowship with His people. He promises them a land where He will be their God and they will be His people (Ex 6:4-7). Along with this promise comes commandments. In short, they are to love God, not the gods (Ex 20:11). Furthermore, they are to love those who are made in God’s image (Ex 20:12-17). If they are faithful to this covenant they will be blessed, but if they are disobedient they will be cursed (Lev 26; Deut 28).
The land is a big part of these blessings and curses. If they are obedient, their children, animals, and ground will prosper (Deut 28:11-12). But if they are disobedient, there will be famine and war (Deut 28:23-25). Furthermore, if they are disobedient, they “will be scattered…And among those nations you shall find no rest” (Deut 28:65).
There is a basic pattern that develops in the Old Testament. It looks something like this:
God gives a command → The people disobey → The people are cursed and sent away from God
This basic pattern helps us to understand the last judgment which is talked about in the New Testament. God has made with us a new covenant (Lk 22:20). There are expectations of how we are to live under this covenant. If we have “trampled underfoot the Son of God” there will be a punishment (Heb 10:29).
Perhaps the most vivid picture of judgment is found in Matthew 25. To those who will be rewarded, Christ will proclaim that they are “blessed” and they will “inherit the kingdom prepared” (Matt 25:34). But to those who will be punished, Christ will proclaim them “accursed” and they will “depart” into the place that has been “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt 25:41).
Blessing, cursing, places that have been prepared…this is exile language. The faithful will spend eternity in God’s presence. The unfaithful will be sent away from God to a place that is far worse than Egypt or Babylon. And there will be no return from this exile.