Afterlife Confusion

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Did you know that, before anyone was called a “Christian,” they were simply called those of “the way”? The way, of course, was supposed to be the way of Jesus. It was also supposed the be the way of truth. Above almost anything else, Christians are supposed to be truth-seekers. We are asked to follow the truth wherever it leads, even if that sometimes puts us in uncomfortable territory.

It was that recent realization that brings us to the topic of this blog. One of the biggest reasons why I believe that many of us are wrong about the afterlife is that the we often contradict ourselves on this issue.

Notice I said we, and not the Bible.

The fact is, everyone who thinks that we possess (or are) a soul that will go live by itself after death has to deal with a major problem—the Bible offers several different ways this might happen: several different places, and several different types of existence.

The first is thought to be a place for the blessed deceased. The Bible talks about heaven, “paradise,” and “Abraham’s bosom” as being locations for fallen believers. Wait, that’s three different descriptions! Which is it?

Many people have made the case that these are just synonyms for one another: that these are all the same location. In The Death Myth, I discuss all three in great detail, and explain why that is not the case. However, I don’t need to do that in this blog. The fact that there are three possibilities is all I need to say for now.

What about the unsaved, the non-believers, or what have you? Well, the Bible speaks of two different realities for these people as well: Hades/Sheol and hell. If you are wondering, the answer is no. Hades/Sheol and hell are not the same thing: not by a longshot. Sheol is the Old Testament description of “the grave,” and is simply the abode of the dead. It was not thought to be some realm for conscious souls.

Hades is a Greek concept (and a Greek god), and it is essentially the New Testament version of Sheol. Hades is the abode of the dead and, outside of Greek thought, it was not believed to be a place for conscious souls, either.

When talking about hell—the place of destruction and separation from God—the New Testament writers spoke of “Gehenna.”

The term Gehenna was derived from a valley to the south of Jerusalem, where idolatrous Jews had sacrificed their own children to the false god, Molech. After that time, it was thought to be cursed, and became a continuously-burning garbage dump. Nice place!

Jesus spoke of Gehenna often, and it was definitively the place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In the truest sense, Gehenna is what we think of as “hell.”

OK, so what is the point? My point is very simple: if we are to believe that deceased people go on and live as disembodied spirits, we must also accept that the Bible would be sending us mixed messages. Maybe you go to heaven. Maybe you go to hell. Maybe you go to Sheol/Hades. Maybe you go to Abraham’s bosom or paradise.

See the problem?

The deceased cannot go to all of these places at once, because they are different places! This reminds me of the scarecrow on The Wizard of Oz. When Dorothy is trying to figure out which road to travel, he points out several paths that she might take. Finally, he simply crosses his arms and points in opposite directions. This is what the Bible would be doing, if we believe in disembodied existence after death.

We would have an incoherent view on our hands. Many people unknowingly do already.

So, what is the alternative? The other path we can take is to understand that none of these destinations are intended to be locations where we will go after we die. The Bible is not telling us about a literal labyrinth for dead spirits (as many Greek viewed Hades to be), or that we will go to either heaven or hell immediately after death.

It is true that the Bible often uses imagery and parabolic language to teach moral lessons about the afterlife, perhaps most notably in the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. However, parabolic language is not meant to be taken at face value. It does not show us what literally happens at death.

In closing, the Bible is also clear that there really will be an afterlife for both the saved and the unsaved. The unsaved will end up in Gehenna, that dreadful place previously discussed, with Satan and the demons. The repentant will end up in God’s newly created world, the new heavens and new earth. But both of these things will happen after Christ returns, and both will be places where we live in bodily form.

In the meantime, we “sleep.” We are unconscious until the resurrection. Daniel 12:2, John 11:11, 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18, and many other biblical passages, make this clear. After we take our last breaths on this earth, we will take our first breaths on the new one. But there will be no time spent in some interim world.

If we are willing to follow the evidence wherever it leads, we will keep from twisting the biblical message into knots. At the same time, we will also have a much clearer view of reality.

 

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

Where I Find My Heaven

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(I have attached an accompanying song with this blog)

It’s one of the central purposes of the Christian faith. It’s the end-game of the whole enterprise, so to speak. One day, after we die, we will make it to those beautiful “pearly gates.” One day, we will make it to heaven.

Without question, going to heaven is a worthy goal to have. Or, it would be a worthy goal . . . if it were actually what we should be hoping for. But it’s not.

Dying and “going to heaven” is not what the Bible depicts as the final horizon for believers.

More than that, it’s not even the place we will go between death and the resurrection. It’s not even a “temporary stop,” so to speak. My entire case for that view is laid out very clearly in The Death Myth.

So, if heaven is not the goal, what exactly is? I mean, didn’t Jesus come (in part) to provide a way that we could live with him for the rest of eternity? Yes. Unequivocally, YES.

But he had in mind something different than many of us do. While a lot of churches are preaching about living in heaven as some type of disembodied spirit, the Scriptures have always told another story.

The real goal is not heaven, but a remade creation. We should be hoping for what will really be awaiting us: a new heaven and a new earth. While both God and the angels live in a realm of existence that we call “heaven,” it is not for us. Heaven is for them, and them alone. However, we are heading to the same place that the angels are: to the same place that God Himself is heading towards. We look for a world where,

“There will be no more night. They will not need the light of a lamp or the light of the sun, for the Lord God will give them light. And they will reign for ever and ever” (Rev. 22:5).

There is even more to this. Despite the obsession with living as immaterial souls or spirits when we die—which is an idea that comes much more from ancient Greek philosophy than from biblical testimony, I have to add—the Bible is crystal clear that the afterlife is a tangible thing.

We will have bodies. We will not be immaterial “spirits.”

The apostle Paul—who authored nearly half of the books within the New Testament—was absolutely emphatic about this, when he dealt with a group of Christians (the Corinthians) who believed that the goal was to get rid of these useless bodies and live as spirits. To that notion, he offered the following advice:

“Earthly people are like the earthly man (Adam) , and heavenly people are like the heavenly man (Jesus). Just as we are now like the earthly man, we will someday be like the heavenly man.

What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the Kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever.

But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies” (1 Cor. 15:48-53, NLT and my emphasis)

We are never getting rid of bodily existence. Instead, God will replace our fallen bodies with incorruptible ones.

And we will go on to live in heaven at that point, right? Nope. Once again, we will not. The book of Revelation explains the type of place we will inhabit—the new heavens and new earth.

“Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth,’ for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them . . . He who was seated on the throne said, ‘I am making everything new’!” (Rev. 21:1-3, 5 NIV)

A new creation: a new heaven, and a new earth. There, we will live with God and His angels, apart from sin, death and suffering. And we will do it with, guess what, new bodies. My hunch is, so will the angels and even Jesus himself (because they already do).

I don’t want to die and go to heaven—I would rather have what God has promised us.

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

Is Anyone Watching (Part two)

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(For those interested, I have attached an accompanying song for this blog)

Most everyone who has been on this earth for very long has lost a loved one. I certainly have. More than that, I can almost guarantee that every person reading this has heard something like this before: “we know that she (or he) is in heaven right now, watching over all of us.”

In part one of this topic, I talked about us—the living—and how we view the deceased. I ask you to consider whether or not the belief that the dead are now watching over us is a good thing, or a bad thing. In general, I think that question could be answered in two different ways. For some, the thought that deceased loved ones are watching over them is extraordinarily comforting. For others, this prospect brings with it an overwhelming feeling of dread and paranoia.

As I said, not all people are good, and not all people are worth remembering.

But let’s consider the other side of the coin. Would it really be a good thing for those who have passed away to “watch over us?” They have supposedly moved on to a place of perpetual bliss, but you have to ask the question: what sort of life would that be like?

Is that really a heavenly existence?

I feel that most of us who talk about how the “dead are watching over us from heaven” have not thought this through very far. No offense intended by that statement. None at all. But I’m not sure that is what any of us should even want.

If you fall in the camp that finds comfort in the belief that a lost love one is watching over you, consider how that loved one might see things. Do you want your mom, dad, brother, sister, spouse, friend, or—Lord forbid—your child, seeing what happens in your life after they are gone?

Think hard about that question.

It’s all well and good to think that they might be celebrating with us at, say, our college graduation, our wedding, or at the news of a big job promotion. But we also know what that sort of ability (the ability to see our lives) would also bring with it. Every time we fall short; every time we fail; every time we lash out in violence or anger; every time we suffer; every time we make others suffer; every time that tragedy strikes; and every time that one passes away . . . they would be watching.

Would your mom or dad want to watch you die? That question ought to be rhetorical. No: who would want that?

Besides these issues, there is one really huge problem with this belief. Wouldn’t the ability to see everything we are doing essentially equate to having God-like knowledge and understanding? Isn’t it God—and God alone—who is supposed to be able to peer into every person’s life, and track his or her every move?  It troubles me that most of us are so eager to grant those abilities to deceased human beings. It should bother those of us who do it.

Clearly, God can handle this ability—but even He mourns our losses; “Costly in the sight of the Lord is the death of His saints” (Ps. 116:15). We of course know that Jesus wept (inconsolably) at the death of his friend Lazarus. However, it’s a little crazy to think that deceased human beings can endure seeing all of the death and suffering that occurs in our world. Don’t you think?

I am not trying to lay a guilt trip on anyone. That is not my intent in saying any of this. As I noted earlier, I don’t believe most of us have thought this through. But now we can. It is not too late to change the way we think about death, or the way we speak about the deceased.

The next time that tragedy strikes, and someone you know leaves this world, think about how you speak of him or her. Whenever we either say or hear, “this person is looking down at us from heaven,” ask yourself what all that would actually entail.

Is it really a good thing for them if they are now “watching over us”? Is it really a good thing for us, either?

Personally, I answer “no” to both questions.

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

The (Real) Rich Man and Lazarus

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It’s everyone’s favorite biblical parable! Well, at least for those who are looking to explain what happens when we die. A favorite—do doubt. Unfortunately, it is also one of the most misunderstood stories in the Bible.

While many people believe this was Jesus’ way of telling us that the dead go on to live as disembodied spirits, was it? Is that really the message that Jesus was trying to convey?

A close evaluation of this story may actually suggest something different. For those who are not familiar with the tale, it appears in Luke 16:19-31. I will now provide a brief sample from The Death Myth, in order to briefly explain the parable.

“Essentially, the story goes as follows: there is an unnamed wealthy man who encounters a poor beggar named Lazarus on his way to and from his estate, on what is apparently a regular basis. The rich man “lives in luxury every day,” while Lazarus is financially destitute and is living on the streets outside the rich man’s property. To make matters worse, Lazarus is most likely a leper (v.20), and is regarded by others as being even lower than the dogs that came to lick his wounds. Though not directly stated, it is clearly inferred that the rich man cared nothing for Lazarus and was quite content to maintain their radically different living conditions. Thus, the story tells of a cruel-minded person of means and a kind-hearted person of poverty. For this reason, it is strongly implied that Lazarus was religiously faithful and the rich man was spiritually bankrupt.”

As the story progresses, we learn what becomes of these two men after they die. Good old Lazarus goes on to a place of peace and comfort, called “Abraham’s bosom.” Meanwhile, the rich man heads to the dark side of the underworld, called “Hades.” The script had been completely flipped; the suffering man had been rewarded with a good life, and the nasty miser was now being treated to a life of torment.

This parable is one of the central texts used as evidence that the soul continues to live apart from the body during the “interim period”—that is, the time between death and the resurrection (i.e. where the dead are right now). It seems so straightforward. Good people die and go to a good place, and bad people die and go to a bad place. And this happens immediately after death.

Simple, right?

Not quite. There are serious problems with using this parable in such a way. The first problem is the most obvious one—this parable is, well, really a parable! Jesus’ favorite teaching method was to use short, fictitious stories (parables) to teach people important lessons about real life. The stories themselves were not literally true, but they were most definitely spiritually true. The events didn’t happen, but the lessons they reveal are very real.

I know of no other parable that is taken literally in all of Scripture. Not one. And to be sure, this story is absolutely a parable. It is chock-full of imagery, like chasms and fire. It follows a string of other parables within the Gospel of Luke (the Lost Sheep, the Lost Son, the Shrewd Manager, etc.). It even has unknown, or even purposely unnamed, characters. We don’t know who Lazarus was; this was almost certainly not the Lazarus that Jesus raised from the dead. The “rich man” isn’t even given a name. If being named (or unnamed) is what determines whether or not a character really existed, then it appears that at least half of the story is fictional right out of the gate.

Friends, this parable is viewed literally by many people for one reason: a literal reading would lead us to believe that we will live apart from our bodies when we die. Beyond this story, the evidence for that belief is quite scarce, and is also typically based on more metaphor.

Perhaps the biggest problem is that a literal reading of this parable goes against the most common belief about the state of the dead: that believers die and go to heaven. Both cannot be true at the same time. We might go to Abraham’s bosom, or we might go to heaven, but we can’t do both. The same applies to Hades and hell. That’s for sure.

What, then, is the purpose of Jesus’ story? If it doesn’t tell us what happens during the interim period, what does it tell us? In my mind, it tells us two major things.

First, it tells us that there is going to be life after death (ultimately), and that the choices we make now will determine what that life looks like. As I have said many times, the whole discussion of the afterlife within the Bible revolves around the return of Jesus and the resurrection. At that time, we will receive the reward or punishment that is due to us.

Along with that, it also shows that there will be a “reversal of fortunes” that occurs in the afterlife. Those who righteously suffered will be exalted, while the unrighteous will be debased.

Second, the story tells us that there will never be enough evidence to appease those who desire more and more of it. The rich man begs (as Lazarus once did, ironically) Abraham to send a messenger to warn his family that they are heading for their doom as well. Abraham told him no; absolutely not! They had the Scriptures to learn this lesson from. Besides, they wouldn’t change anyway. Not even if a dead person rose to pay them a visit! (see Luke 16:29-31 for this dialogue)

There will never be enough “proof” for some people. Many who saw the risen Christ didn’t even believe it!

Jesus’ parable of the Rich man and Lazarus has a rightful place as one of his finest teaching tales. It warns all of us about unbelief, and the incredible results of it. It shows us that all people will one-day be righteously judged and appropriately sentenced. It even shows us that God has already offered all the proof we need, and that a rejection of that proof will result in an afterlife of anguish and separation from God.

It does not, however, illustrate what literally happens to each of us at the moment we die. In other words, this parable is really a parable.

 

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

 

Is Anyone Watching? (Part One)

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Throughout my time researching the issues surrounding death and the afterlife, it has occurred to me that people have mixed feelings about where the dead presently exist (or, don’t exist). However, I may have underestimated just how important this particular issue is for many people.

For the moment, never mind the question as to whether or not it would be preferable for the deceased to have to watch the living. That will be the topic of my next blog (part two). Right now, the focus is on those of us who are alive in this world.

It is extraordinarily difficult to lose those who are closest to us; no doubt about it. In fact, there may not be anything more difficult to endure. For some, there is great comfort in the thought that their lost loved ones are in a “better place.” While they no longer fill our lives with joy, we can at least believe that they live in a place of peace and comfort. This is particularly true for those who have had to watch a mother, a sister, a brother, or any other close friend or relative, suffer until his or her exit from this world.

More than simply existing somewhere as disembodied spirits, it is often believed that our loved ones may even be watching over us, observing our daily lives. That, too, is a source of comfort for certain people.

While that sentiment is certainly true for some, there is of course another side to this issue. There seem to be at least as many people who have the opposite perspective. For them, the prospect that their deceased friends, family members, or acquaintances, are tracking their every move provides no comfort or solace. Instead, it offers an almost paralyzing sense of dread: a haunting, debilitating feeling of discomfort.

The reasons for this should be obvious—not everyone in the world is a kind, generous, and caring person. Some people are rotten to the core, and are not really worth remembering. Worse, some people may not even deserve to be remembered (if we can help it).

This is a hard pill to swallow, but swallow it we must.

We all know a widow or widower who had a tumultuous marriage, and is now attempting to move on with his or her life. We all know someone who had an abusive father, or a vindictive, controlling mother. We might know someone who is scared to enter into a new relationship, sell their home, change locations, or make any number of other decisions, out of fear that a deceased person would not approve of it.

“Will Sam understand if I date again?” “Is Sharon upset that I did not visit her grave this week?” “What would mom think if I sold the house that she and dad built?” The list could go on and on.

We know these people, or perhaps we might even be one of these people. This is the other side of the coin.

I can only offer my “2 cents” on this issue. Through researching all of the biblical evidence available to us, as well as issues like near-death experiences (NDEs) and communicating with the dead, I have concluded that deceased human beings do not exist anywhere at present. They are not in heaven, experiencing a life of bliss. They are not suffering in hell, either. Most importantly, the dead are not watching us. They are not there to praise our good deeds, nor are they around to condemn our perceived mistakes and failures.

Dead means dead: gone, deceased . . . the absence of life.

I am also quick to add that all people will one-day stand before God, and that He will decide our appropriate rewards or punishments. This will occur at Christ’s return. The dead will live again, and will someday be in one of the places people assume—and falsely, I believe—they are currently living in.

In the end, I have made this case through the entirety of The Death Myth, and it is up to each reader to decide whether or not my view makes the best sense of things. As for me, I do not spend one second of my life thinking about what the deceased are doing, or what they may be thinking about me personally. I certainly remember them, but I do not worry about them. To me, nothing good can come from a preoccupation with the dead.

The good people who have passed from my life would rather me spend that time focusing on God or my living family and friends, anyway.

Of course, it is also up to each reader to assess the implications of either worldview. Do you find joy in thinking that the dead are watching you, or do you find liberation in the thought that they are not?

I suspect that every person may answer that question a little differently.

 

 

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, you can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

 

Who is Living in Hell?

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If we are being honest, everyone has thought about hell at one time or another. Some of us may try not to think about it, but that effort is sort of like trying to ignore a chipped tooth or a man adorned with a rainbow-colored tutu; it’s just not possible.

Granted, this is a very thorny topic. This subject is the stuff of nightmares and medieval paintings. However, it is also something that I discuss in The Death Myth. But why? — you may ask. Believe it or not, the biblical descriptions of hell can actually tell us quite a lot about the state of the dead and the interim period (the time between death and the resurrection); odd as it may be, hell can actually tell us something about our own futures.

While Jesus may not have spoken directly about hell as frequently as some believe—certain thinkers have speculated that Jesus spoke twice as much about hell as he did about heaven—there is no question that hell (Gehenna), and the issues surrounding it, was a very common topic for Jesus. I find this to be particularly interesting, since I have often been told that “hell has no place in Christian theology!”

I think Jesus’ main purpose for talking about hell is that deterrents typically work as well (or better) than incentives. Avoiding a punishment can be as good as receiving a reward, particularly when eternal separation from God is the consequence. But let’s get to the real point here. In a strange way, it would be satisfying to know that the monsters of the world are now “getting theirs” in hell. We all yearn for justice. We would like to think that tyrants like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Jim Jones, and the child rapists of the world, are all “burning.”

Don’t pretend the thought hasn’t crossed your mind.

But they aren’t. None of these people, or the countless others that could be mentioned, are living in hell. Not according to the Bible, at least. I will go one step further on this. Satan—the most renowned villain in all of human history—is not living in hell, either.

I realize that almost everyone who is reading this blog (thank you, by the way) is probably a little confused. Just as you may have been taught that believers go to heaven immediately after death, my hunch is that you have also been taught that the wicked go to hell at that time.

I have the same response to both propositions: NO. Deceased believers are not living in heaven right now, and no one—not even Satan or the demons—is living in hell at this moment, either. Don’t get me wrong, both will happen: just not now.

What follows is a cross section of passages taken directly from The Death Myth. Along with providing another free sample of the book (parts of pages 82-84), I hope that it will also explain why no one is currently living in hell.

“There is a good reason why the forces of darkness are not associated (in the present tense) with hell in the Bible—hell is not currently a reality for anyone. It was previously noted that hell is the place prepared for Satan and his angels. In the same verse, we see that hell is also the destination for those who choose to follow Satan rather than Christ (Mt. 25:41). But the main point remains the most pivotal—Satan and the fallen angels, the very entities that hell is/will be designed for, do not even exist there at the present time. As a matter of logic, it stands to reason that Satan’s deceased followers do not exist in hell right now, either. At the moment, no one is suffering in hell.

Within the New Testament, any discussion about the “lake of fire” (Gehenna) or the place of everlasting punishment revolves around the end of this age. The book of Revelation summarizes this point well: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:10). This exact point in time quite obviously occurs in the context of Christ’s return and the ultimate separation of the righteous and the wicked. It appears that even the fallen angels (demons) are well aware that God is going to administer their punishment at a specific point in the future. The Gospel of Matthew (and its synoptic parallels) makes this point clear for us when it tells of Jesus’ confrontation with two demon-possessed men:

“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”

Clearly, hell is the future place of punishment for the forces of evil. If hell is an existence yet to be experienced by Satan (or anyone), what could that potentially reveal to us about the state of the dead? What does this have to do with deceased believers? While the biblical descriptions of hell do not directly tell us something about heaven, they certainly do so indirectly. The question really comes down to this: if the unrepentant do not go directly to Gehenna when they die, then why should we believe that the faithful go directly to heaven when they die?

. . . It should be noted that a story like Jesus’ parable of the Weeds is absolutely incompatible with the perspective that we will go straight to heaven or hell at death. If this were true, then the landowner doesn’t actually separate the wheat from the weeds when the harvest time comes, as Jesus so clearly revealed. Instead, the story would have to be rewritten, and the landowner (God) would need to tell the servants to separate the weeds (the unrepentant) from the wheat (the righteous) on the spot. If the weeds are not being sent to their everlasting destination during this age, how can the wheat be? They are both supposed to be living together until the harvest, after all. More than that, they are supposed to be completely separated when—and only when—that day comes. As Jesus tells us in his own interpretation of the parable, the harvest is clearly an allusion to the judgment that will occur upon his return (Mt. 13:39).

Now, what does all of this mean to us? Simply put, it means that if believers are entering heaven before the harvest occurs, then Jesus was wrong in his assessment of the judgment and the afterlife. Suffice it to say that this should be a deeply troubling problem for those who think that heaven is the immediate destination for the souls of deceased believers. While heaven and hell are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum, they are inextricably bound in terms of their temporal placement. No one goes to hell immediately after death, and no one instantly goes to live in heaven, either.”

Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.

 

 

References

Rossiter, Brian. The Death Myth: Uncovering What the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife. pg. 136.  iUniverse. Bloomington, IN. Copyright, 2018. Print.

Wilkinson, Dan. “Did Jesus speak more about Hell than about Heaven?”. Jan. 14, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2015/01/did-jesus-speak-more-about-hell-than-about-heaven/