The Mercy of Purgatory

The Day of the Dead (1859), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

The Day of the Dead (1859), by William-Adolphe Bouguereau.

(Today is All Souls’ Day, the commemoration of the holy souls in purgatory. As it happens, I had this post half-brewed already after a recent e-mail conversation with an anti-Catholic.)

One of the most frequent charges I hear from anti-Catholics against the doctrine of purgatory is that it “nullifies the finished work of Christ on the cross” — that somehow, the idea of purgatory implies that Jesus’s atonement was “not enough”; that sinners still have to expiate their own sins. This charge reflects a fundamental misunderstanding of what purgatory is.

In fact, as Scripture itself teaches, it is the ultimate mercy:

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation [i.e. you whom I planted, cf. vv. 5–8], and another man is building upon it [i.e. each of us, fellow workers of the Lord, cf. v. 9]. Let each man take care how he builds upon it. For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw — each man’s work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:10–15)

If any man’s work is burned up — even by the fire of judgment — he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. Even if a man’s works are merely wood, hay, straw — materials that will not last — if he has squandered his time on this earth, and not stored up treasures in heaven (cf. Matthew 6:20) — then there is still a chance for him to be saved. How merciful is our Lord!

(At this point, I got off track and examined the passage more closely than I intended to, to reject a common Protestant counterargument — after I said I wasn’t going to. If you would like to read that, I will post it separately tomorrow(?).)

Flames

This purging fire is not a limitation of Christ’s atonement — it is an even further and deeper extension of it. Christ’s work on the cross was so overpowering, so uncontainable, that it bursts every bond of death, hell, and the grave — that it can reach to us even beyond the grave. Anti-Catholics suppose that purgatory is the application of some other power than the grace of Christ to the soul — usually, they think it is our own works or purchased indulgences or some other such? But that final purification is accomplished by none other than the same grace, the same blood, the same redemption that redeems us in life.

So why, they ask, weren’t we redeemed in life? Doesn’t this idea suppose that His redemption wasn’t enough to save us while we were alive? Here is where Protestants misunderstand. In especially the Evangelical Protestant mind, “salvation” is a one-time event, a one-time regeneration by faith, which imputes to us the righteousness of Christ, such that there is no other work to be done so far as our salvation — we are then “saved.” This tends to conflate a lot of ideas together, even from classical Protestant theology, and lose some in the shuffle. Our terminology and vocabulary is a stumbling block at this point, especially to Catholic–Protestant dialogue.

Catholics agree that in a sense, salvation is a once-and-for-all event: the irrevocable moment of our Baptism in which we are washed with the blood of Christ, our every sin cleansed, and our former self is buried with Christ, and we are raised to new life in Him. Catholics even agree that in a sense, that initial justification is by faith alone — not a “faith” of mere intellectual assent, but of faith on fire with love and raised by hope. And nothing can take away that grace; it is imprinted on our souls. But that isn’t the end of the journey. We then have a road to walk (cf. Matthew 7:13–14), a cross to bear (Luke 9:23). We have to abide in Christ (John 15:1–17) and endure to the end (Matthew 24:13, Luke 21:19). And on that journey, if we abide in His love, we will be sanctified — gradually purified and made holy.

Friendship Sunrise

Sunrise at Friendship, where four generations of my family lie buried.

Sanctification: This is a term that I think many Evangelicals have lost sight of; and many Reformed understand, but have separated it so far from justification that they fail to associate it with salvation. Catholics do not make a clean distinction between the two as Protestants have: because they are both the works of Christ’s grace, and they are both integral parts of the same process of cleansing us from sin and making us holy. But put in Protestant terms: yes, there is an initial justification in which we are saved from our sins and incorporated into Christ. And purgatory has little to do with that. As Paul himself said, one’s perishable works can be burned away and we can be saved through fire — but only if his foundation is Christ. Purgatory is only for those who die in Christ: the holy souls in purgatory are already “saved,” and they will go to heaven, without exception. Put simply, purgatory is the completion of the process of sanctification if we didn’t complete it in life.

There is a difference between the eternal guilt of one’s sins, which is wholly obliterated by Christ’s forgiveness, and the temporal effects of one’s sins, which must be purified by sanctification, that comes into play here. But this post is already too long. The difference in Protestant theology between justification and sanctification is illustrative here: even if we are wholly justified by Christ, the guilt of our sins forgiven, we still must be sanctified — for nothing impure can enter heaven and stand before God (Revelation 21:27).

Evangelical Protestants especially, but Reformed too, make a sharp, ruthless, and binary distinction between those who are saved and those who are unsaved — cleanly defined by that one-time moment of salvation. So often they lament the deaths of those who, in their judgment, were not saved, who had not experienced that salvation. But this leaves no room for the overflowing mercy of our God. It is true that Jesus is the only way to the Father (John 6:44). But only God can judge our hearts; only He can know the foundation He lays. And purgatory, rather than a limitation of God’s grace, is its ultimate outpouring in our lives — bringing that final, purifying grace to those of us whose works built on that foundation were imperfect.

24 thoughts on “The Mercy of Purgatory

  1. The other part of this equation is realizing the fact that God does not owe us anything as far as Heaven goes. We don’t deserve it. Only through His Grace and mercy to we get there. He doesn’t owe us ‘jack.’ Same deal with the Limbo. I’ve got a baby there (stating this conservatively as we attempted a conditional baptism after the miscarriage…we just don’t know this side of eternity). God does not even owe us that.

    I attended a solemn Requiem Latin Mass this morning. It was a great reminder of the reality of purgatory.

    • That is true. But we serve a God who is Love and Mercy, who takes notice even when a sparrow falls. And what the Catholic Church offers that so many Protestant communities don’t is hope. We can’t know this side of eternity; but we can always pray. And we trust that somehow, praying helps. We trust that our loved ones are in God’s hands, and that even those who die unbaptized fall into the hands of a merciful God. God bless you!

      • Yep…we have no idea (yet) what happens at the precise point when the soul leaves the body. A lot could happen then! We just need to be careful that we don’t assume heaven either….leave it to God’s mercy.

        • Yes, the trend so much these days in the West is for funerals to be sterile, “celebrations of life,” where if there is any mention of eternity, it’s a shallow and empty “I know he’s in a better place now.” No, we cannot know that! I’ve only been to one Catholic funeral Mass, but I was led to the Church first of all by the Requiem Mass, the musical settings of it in particular. Looking death in the face, no matter who we are or where we stand, we require God’s mercy!

          • I can “hear” the deceased at a “celebration of life” Mass say, “Umm..hey…I’m so glad all y’all feel better, but I could use some prayers NOW!” 🙂

  2. Thank you for your excellent blogpost. I have viewed purgatory from a fairly simple perspective starting with the assumption that a binary outcome (heaven vs. hell) is not an outcome that makes sense intellectually, experientially or from scriptures so purgatory makes a lot of sense. I view one’s entire life as a journey to purify oneself and, with God’s grace, draw closer to union with God and others. As you indicate, purgatory is the finishing of that process.

    On a personal level, I am very cognizant of my deep flaws and the thought of facing the Creator of the Universe in my current state is terrifying. I am comforted to know that the process continues in the dimensions beyond this existence.

    • Thank you so much for the kind comment. Jesus does present a binary view of the “sheep and goats,” etc.; the “wheat and chaff” — so I don’t think purgatory is so much a “third place,” as the fire one pass through on the way to heaven. A harsh and unrelenting view of such a binary — especially one that places us humans in the role of judge — doesn’t leave any room for God’s mercy, however.

    • They especially do when they misunderstand what it is. I think Protestants, in general, have a tendency of making presumptions about salvation that take God’s mercy out of the equation. Many, especially Evangelicals, teach that they can have assurance of their salvation, be absolutely sure that they are “saved” and there’s no undoing that. The standard evangelistic question they ask, putting people on the spot, is, “If you died tonight, are you absolutely sure you will go to heaven?” And then they are aghast when Catholics cannot answer yes! “See, Catholicism is a works-based religion that limits God’s power to save!” But actually it’s just the opposite. There is no limit upon God’s power to save! But if we presume to know for certain that we will be saved, then the logical consequence is that we also know who will not be saved. Only God is our eternal judge. Not even St. Paul could say for certain that he would be saved (1 Corinthians 4:3–5)! If we presume that something we’ve done guarantees that we will be saved (and consequently, if someone hasn’t done that, then they won’t be saved), then it’s that that is “works-based,” putting the power of salvation (and of judgment) in our hands. We all, whether we are Christians or not, whether we go to church or not, depend on God’s mercy! He is faithful to His promises, but we are not always. In the end, His mercy is overflowing. With God as our judge, I think many more will be saved, many more will be forgiven, than the people who presume they can judge themselves suppose. Just as the Pharisees and even the Apostles were frequently aghast at Jesus for associating with sinners, for eating with them, for letting them wash His feet — I think he will welcome many more to His table than anybody imagines, people who were repentant and seeking Him even though no one else could see it.

  3. You’ll have to update me on the current teaching of purgatory. I am more familiar with the way in which it was abused in the past. If I remember correctly, purgatory is no longer a temporal “place”, and there is no longer a defined “time” that one must spend in purgatory, correct?

    • Neither of those definitions was ever official. The “time” that was attached to say, indulgences, was never representative of the time that someone would have to spend in purgatory, but rather the equivalent time in earthly penance that is remitted (see my previous posts on indulgences). Because that was confusing, the Church did away with attaching “times” to indulgences (with Pope Paul VI’s 1967 Indulgentiarum doctrina).

      As for whether it’s a “place” per se, there’s never been a definition one way or another. We don’t really really have many particulars about what purgatory is or is like, only that it’s something some people must go through.

  4. Hey Joseph, nice to talk to you again.

    So…purgatory.

    I understand where you are coming from, and if that were indeed the reality, then that would certainly be an extension of mercy.

    However, I don’t seem to find a basis for this doctrine in God’s Holy Word. Actually, Scripture itself seems to lead us to believe that when we die, we will be with Him immediately. I’m sure you’ve dealt with many objections before, so I’ll let you take it from here.

    But I hope that you will find our discussion to be anything but anti-catholic with regards to my side, since I have a deep respect for the Roman Church. Instead, I hope and pray that we might be mutually edified and brought into catholicity–truly.

    Keep in mind that I do not regard the Fathers as authoritative, but hold them in respect and honor as the Fathers who carried the church through many dark and stormy, or even bright and wondrous times. As with my earthly Father, I respect and honor him, (as I should), but I also acknowledge that his word is fallible–worthy of my listening to him, but not without moderation, and even at times, deliberation. If the whole of the Fathers were put together as one doctrine, discarding the extra stuff where they may disagree or seem to conflict, then we would come up with nothing short of the Scriptures themselves, for the remaining doctrine would be trimmed back and what would remain would be the necessary essentials, as put forth in the Scriptures. The Fathers do well to exegete and tell of the Scripture, but they are authoritative insofar as they confess the truth as held out in the writings of the Apostles and prophets, just as with a Pastor today. (I know you believe that the discernment of truth comes down from the agreement of the council of bishops throughout the church’s history, but anyhow, just bear in mind that they are Fathers, without the authority of the Apostles.) The Apostles agree entirely–the Fathers do not.

    Anyway, just a reminder as you seek to answer. Not that you should exclude the Fathers and stick entirely to the Scriptures…I am definitely interested in what the Fathers have to say, and I believe they add perspective and a strong witness. (Take the custom of infant baptism, for example, that was basically church practice throughout more than a millennium). But I digress…

    Please proceed!

    Chris Jager
    Tillamook, OR
    LCMS

    • Hi, Chris. Thanks for the kind comment. No, I wouldn’t think you have the character of being “anti-Catholic” here. My apologies for the delay in my response. As I mentioned before, I’ve been kind of swamped lately with work, but this Lent I feel I’m being drawn back into reflection and blogging.

      I will preface my comments by admitting that purgatory is not a subject I’m an expert on. Neither is it a subject I’ve spent very much time thinking about. To Protestants, purgatory can appear to be a major obstacle in accepting the teachings of the Catholic Church (or, if you will, the Roman Church, though I hope you understand why I don’t find this appellation adequate: the Catholic Church is more than just the Church of Rome, and it’s more than just the Church of Rome who promulgates this teaching). In my journey to Catholicism, it did cause some early concern. I suppose there are two reasons for this concern: one, Protestants do not find convincing scriptural support for the doctrine; and two, perhaps more seriously, it appears to contradict their notions of justification and grace. This article was meant especially to address the latter concern.

      Perhaps a better Catholic than I would spend more time praying for the dead and for the souls in purgatory, as I have heard many do. But on the other side, I think too much reflection on purgatory can lead to insecurity or even fear about our eternal destiny in Christ. The fact is, we who trust in Christ are promised eternal life with Him. Full stop. The path and timing of how and when we arrive at that destiny is more a matter of logistics than of soteriology. When someone I love dies, if he or she is a Christian, I don’t turn myself in knots worrying about whether or not she has gone to purgatory. I pray for God’s mercy on her, and for the Lord to guide her to His kingdom. I try to remember the dead when I pray, for God’s perpetual light to shine on them for all eternity. That is a fine prayer to pray, I think, whether a soul is in purgatory or in heaven.

      To your comment:

      Actually, Scripture itself seems to lead us to believe that when we die, we will be with Him immediately.

      I’ve never found convincing support from Scripture for this assumption. The passage I’ve heard most often cited is 2 Corinthians 5:1-10, where Paul “would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord,” often misquoted as a dictum that “[to be] away from the body [is to be] at home with the Lord.” From the full passage, I don’t think there’s any reason to conclude that the two are necessarily binary opposites. They clearly are not, for Paul refers to the judgment (2 Corinthians 5:9-10), and warns the possibility that some who are “away from the body” might receive an “evil” destiny and not be “at home with the Lord” at all.

      Is there anything else in Scripture that leads you to believe this? Paul elsewhere, I would point out, offers prayer for a dead man, for mercy at the final judgment (2 Timothy 1:16-18).

      Keep in mind that I do not regard the Fathers as authoritative, but hold them in respect and honor as the Fathers who carried the church through many dark and stormy, or even bright and wondrous times.

      Yes, the Church Fathers are fallible and do not hold the same authority as Scripture. They are nonetheless authoritative — they carry some authority, by virtue of being older and closer to the facts of which they write than we are. At the very least they have historical authority, testimony that what they believed and taught was being believed and taught at the early date at which they wrote. (See my series on sola scriptura, in particular the piece on sources of authority.)

      As with my earthly Father, I respect and honor him, (as I should), but I also acknowledge that his word is fallible–worthy of my listening to him, but not without moderation, and even at times, deliberation.

      The fallacy in comparing the Church Fathers to your earthly father is that presumably, you and your father (or even, I dare say, your pastor) are on more-or-less equal footing with regard to education, scriptural exegesis, or doctrinal understanding, if you aren’t in fact advanced of him. You can reject his teaching as a simple difference of opinion or interpretation. But to place yourself on similarly equal footing with the Church Fathers, who received their doctrinal catechesis from spiritual children or grandchildren of the Apostles themselves, when you are armed with only bare Scripture, amounts to little more than hubris. To reject the teaching of the Church Fathers must be much more than a simple difference of opinion or interpretation: you must declare that the teaching they themselves received was deficient, that the tradition of the Church (that is, the handing down of Christian teaching) was faulty or false from a very early age; that the truth of Christ failed to be transmitted to the Apostles’ own disciples. As I have written, that very notion would shake my faith in Christianity to its knees: if the truth cannot be preserved for one or two or three generations, then what hope have we?

      If the whole of the Fathers were put together as one doctrine, discarding the extra stuff where they may disagree or seem to conflict, then we would come up with nothing short of the Scriptures themselves, for the remaining doctrine would be trimmed back and what would remain would be the necessary essentials, as put forth in the Scriptures.

      Except that isn’t quite true. There is quite a lot of material found in the Church Fathers about which there is substantial agreement among them, beyond that which is contained in Scripture. The clearest example of this, as I’ve pointed out before, is the absolute certainty of the early Fathers regarding the efficacy and necessity of Baptism. Where today, “by Scripture alone,” Protestants have endless debates about what Baptism is, what it means, whether is it necessary, or how it should be conducted, in that age, there was no question at all, but the universal testimony of a received tradition.

      One thing you should bear in mind is that if you are looking to the early Fathers for a fully-developed, scholastic doctrine of purgatory, you will not find it. What you will find, widely scattered and numerous, are seeds that indicate a clear and universal faith that there is some intermediate state between life on earth and eternal life in heaven, some place or time after our earthly deaths where our prayers and God’s mercy and purification can still benefit the dead. This is in fact a faith that even precedes Christ and Christianity, which is why the Catholic Church cites 2 Maccabees 12:39-46 as a foundational text for faith in purgatory.

      The Fathers do well to exegete and tell of the Scripture, but they are authoritative insofar as they confess the truth as held out in the writings of the Apostles and prophets, just as with a Pastor today.

      In other words, if the Fathers demonstrate to you the truth you have already read in Scripture, according to your own interpretation, then they are authoritative; if they attest to anything else, then they have no authority and should be discarded. This is the typical Protestant approach to reading the Fathers: as a sounding board to your own authority in reading Scripture for yourself, to look to for confirmation and reassurance but not for any real direction. This is truthfully to treat them as having no authority at all, which is in fact the first thing you said. You seem rather apologetic about the fact; you devoted most of your comment to rejecting the authority of the Fathers, so I’ve similarly devoted most of mine to defending it.

      I would argue that if the Church Fathers teach something other than what you read in Scripture, it should be a cause of some concern, more than simply a matter of discarding them as a divergent opinion. You must seek to explain why they teach something different. Do they disagree with your notions of justification? Is the problem merely that they interpret Scripture differently than you (and Martin Luther), or could it be that they are teaching what they themselves were taught by their own fathers? In the matter of purgatory, are these testimonies to faith in some intermediate state of purification merely a misreading of Scripture? Are they attestations to an extrabiblical superstition? If a superstition, then why isn’t this something that was quickly quashed, rather than something that is so widely demonstrated among the Fathers? If you yourself believe it perfectly plain from Scripture that “when we die, we will be with Him immediately,” then why weren’t the Fathers able to read and believe the same thing? If purgatory is so deleterious a doctrine to true faith in God’s grace, then why don’t the Fathers actively reject such notions, rather than giving rise to them? These are questions that need to be considered rather than simply turned aside.

      Anyway, I think this is far departed from the response I think you were looking for. You didn’t really criticize anything in my article — you seemed to accept the teaching for what I do, a good and merciful thing; you reject it only on the grounds that it is less than biblical. That’s a step far ahead than what many Protestants (some indeed “anti-Catholic”) argue, that the very notion of purgatory compromises faith in the finished work of Christ on the cross, etc., as I suggested above. When I presented the above argument to a Reformed seminarian friend — that if, at the end of our earthly life, our work of sanctification were not yet complete, God wouldn’t still need to subject us to a process of purification to prepare us to enter heaven — he reluctantly agreed that it was sound, with the caveat that such were an acceptable thesis only if it could be accomplished in an instant by our temporal reckoning (and such is actually allowed by Catholic theological speculation, as written about by no less than Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger, Pope Benedict XVI). So, I would ask you: is this basic thesis sound? Rather than what Scripture teaches about purgatory specifically, what does Scripture teach about sanctification, and about the necessity of being wholly pure to enter heaven?

      The Catholic doctrine of purgatory stems from theological development and speculation on these very Scriptures, combined with the aforementioned faith in an intermediate state for the souls of the dead. This was never fully developed in the Eastern Church, but the Eastern Fathers just as fully attest to this state in an intermediate state and even to a purification after death, as the Orthodox Church continues to believe and teach today. I tend to shy away from speaking with certainty about purgatory, and even Catholic theologians (again, see Joseph Ratzinger) admit that there is little we know with certainty. What we do know with certainty, attested to by both Scripture and Tradition, is the necessity of sanctification, and the efficacy of prayers for the dead.

      All of that said, if you are looking for testimonies from the Church Fathers, you can find them just as easily as I can. If I gave them, I would be copying-and-pasting from these sites:

      The grace and peace of the Lord be with you, this Ash Wednesday and throughout the season of Lent.

      • “and prefer rather to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord.”

        In the context of the chapter that you sighted, the parallel is plain, unless one is looking for something else–reading into it a gap. But Paul assures us of this hope, in which we can take much courage, that when we are at home in the body, we are away from the Lord–at home in this body, this earthly tent. But having good courage, we know that when this earthly tent is torn down, a godly tent yet remains that is heavenly. We now have the assurance that this tent made of God is purposed for us because of the deposit of His Spirit which he gave us. And if he gave us this Spirit, we have a guarantee that while this Spirit yet remains in us, we will, when absent from this earthly tent, be where we prefer to be, which is to be at home with the Lord. So we can have courage when facing death, for we know that a heavenly dwelling still stands for us to live in when our earthly tent is torn down.

        Where is the reservation here; talk of suffering after death to fully atone, or make up for, our sins, in order to enter that heavenly dwelling? No, as he says, our covering IS that heavenly dwelling. We longed to be clothed in this life, because we are still naked in this body of sin and shame. But we have hope and faith in Christ that when we are stripped of all of this by death, we will receive our clothing.

        So our ambition is to be pleasing to Him, as children of God who have received the Spirit, so that we might not be ashamed of our deeds that we did while in the body on earth. For we will stand before him at His judgment seat to receive our reward, according to what we have done while in the body, whether good or bad.

        There is nothing here of an, “evil destiny,” only judgment according to our bad and/or good deeds. Just because our deeds are judged, doesn’t mean we, as Christians who have a living faith, may receive a destiny fit for an evil person, or even a negative experience. No, rather, if one is indeed in Christ, there is forgiveness for our uncleanness. The covering. But our actions that have affected other people, even the brothers, will be weighed and measured, the good with the bad when considering our reward. As Christians, then, we will receive our reward–knowing that as Christians who have a living faith, we will not be without good works done in the Spirit.

        The evil destiny, if unbelievers are to be judged at Christ’s throne, is reserved for those who are not in Christ, who are not written in the Lamb’s book of life. I suppose that unbelievers *could* be included in the passage, since all die, and since Paul says “For we all must appear,” if indeed he is using the word “we,” to mean all of humanity. Which seems possible since he just transitioned with the word “gar” in the greek. Prior to that “we” most certainly references Christians, for only Christians may be “at home with the Lord,” receiving their heavenly tent.

        But as far as judgment is concerned for Christians, see again my comments above.

        There is more on the intermediate state, where we are to be without our body after death and before the resurrection. Revelation 6: 9-11:

        9 When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain for the word of God and for the witness they had borne. 10 They cried out with a loud voice, “O Sovereign Lord, holy and true, how long before you will judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?” 11 Then they were each given a white robe and told to rest a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and their brothers should be complete, who were to be killed as they themselves had been.

        So Revelation shows us the souls of the witnesses, in heaven and under heaven’s alter, who are comforted and told to wait a little longer for the final judgement.

        On the Fathers: I can rightly question them with caution. However, I cannot rightly question the Apostles, but must accept whatever they say. Again, the Fathers differ, but the Apostles do not. Where they unanimously agree, we can find those agreements in Scripture, even as they are quoting the Scriptures and using them authoritatively. In fact, I would argue that it is because of the Scriptures that the teaching of Christianity, our teaching, has been brought down through the ages and been unaltered.

        Baptism and its efficacy is rejected by much of Protestantism, as is the Lord’s Supper, because they refuse to believe what the Scriptures say regarding this matter. Texts such as, “baptism now saves you,” and many others are disregarded, twisted, and become so convoluted that the actual meaning among them is lost. But so it is with all heterodoxy. They indeed read much into Scripture, coming from their position of certain points of unbelief, and fabricate doctrines from the Scriptures to satisfy their preconceived notions. I did this in the AG all the time, and paid for it in my life with many griefs–thanks be to God. (Not to say that all those who twist Scripture will have harm come to them.)

        Akin to this rejection of Baptism, in twisting the Scriptures, are Protestantism’s preconceived notions regarding the physical descendants of Jacob–or physical Jews. Don’t even get me started. I’m sure you are well aware of all of the eschatology tomfoolery that is rampant in Protestant circles, and all because they come to the text thinking that the Jews still must have some special place, some special place for God’s historic people. They misapply the promises of God that are only “yes” in Christ Jesus. They are blind to the clear teaching of Scripture that “God’s people,” are those who are of the faith of Abraham, not merely the blood of Abraham. But every text that clearly teaches this, they twist and distort to make it say what they want it to say–to make it support what they already believe, instead of accepting what it is saying, contrary to their belief.

        May God grant us repentance and forgiveness for this most grievous sin, that all or our ways may be blameless and the teaching of the Scriptures–the very Word of God–may remain pure, even as His Word is pure.

        Peace to you, brother. Rest easy. I know work has a way of making us grow tired. God’s peace and strength in all of your ways.

        Pax Christi,

        Christopher Jager
        Tillamook, OR
        LCMS

        PS: Onesiph′ours is not mentioned to have died. Only that on that Day, the Lord might have mercy upon him. Maybe he did something awful and/or had fallen away? A prayer for his future salvation. The context is of those in Asia who had turned away from Paul’s preaching.

        PPS: Thanks for the reading recommendations.

        • Thanks, Christopher, for your kindness.

          It’s pretty clear that Onesiphorus is dead. Every scholar I have consulted believes, and you agree, that “that Day” is a plain reference to the Day of Judgment. Why is God’s mercy only available to him on that Day? If Onesiphorus were still alive and apostate, why not pray for his repentance and reconciliation? Rather than decrying Onesiphorus’s supposed apostasy with the others he mentions, why does Paul instead extol the faithfulness of Onesiphorus, who “was not ashamed of my chains” and did not turn away even in the face of Paul’s imprisonment? No, Paul does not mention that Onesiphorus has died, but presumes his readers already know the news; he speaks of Onesiphorus himself only in the past tense. Why does Paul greet only Onesiphorus’s household (2 Timothy 4:19) and not Onesiphorus himself?

          Yes, you are right, Paul makes a parallel: while in the “earthy tent,” we are away from the Lord; and that a “heavenly dwelling” has been prepared for us. What he does not say is that leaving the earthly tent, we are immediately, automatically, or assuredly “at home” in the heavenly tent. You are interpolating. Paul describes a “courage” (θαρσος) looking forward in the face of a “burden” (βαρος). We have a “guarantee” (ἀρραβών, “first installment,” in the legal language of banking) that a “heavenly dwelling” has been prepared for us, not that we will automatically inherit it or necessarily that to move from one dwelling to the other is an immediate transition. Again, Paul warns of the judgment. “What we have done in the body” stands in parallel to the “earthly tent,” and indeed he warns of the possibility of “receiving bad (φαῦλος)” if that is what we have done in the body.

          For we will stand before him at His judgment seat to receive our reward, according to what we have done while in the body, whether good or bad. There is nothing here of an, “evil destiny,” only judgment according to our bad and/or good deeds. Just because our deeds are judged, doesn’t mean we, as Christians who have a living faith, may receive a destiny fit for an evil person, or even a negative experience.

          It never ceases to amaze me the circumlocutions to which Protestants go to force a framework of Lutheran justification upon texts that do not support it. Paul speaks of “receiving what is due to us according to what we have done.” What exactly does he mean by this for ones who have done bad? What “reward” does he mean for those who have done good if not eternal life? You are equivocating here, admitting the possibility that Paul here includes unbelievers in the judgment — what “bad” does anyone receive at the final judgment, when their earthly deeds are judged to be poor? Elsewhere, he leaves no doubt what he means: “He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury.” (Romans 2:6–8) Paul is speaking here to Christians, as he is in all his letters, addressed specifically as epistles to churches. “We all” must appear before the judgment seat of Christ to be judged according to what we have done.

          So Revelation shows us the souls of the witnesses, in heaven and under heaven’s altar, who are comforted and told to wait a little longer for the final judgment.

          The Church has always held that martyrs (that is, witnesses, μάρτυρες) who are slain for the faith are purified by their suffering and stand immediately with the Lord in heaven — citing, in fact, this very text. This is not an argument against the existence of a final purification, but possibly the confirmation of it: they were given “white robes” (Revelation 6:11), having been made white by their suffering with the Lord (Revelation 7:14). N.B.: This implies that their robes were not white before they suffered tribulation.

          Our teaching has been brought down through the ages and been unaltered.

          Unaltered, at least, until the Protestant Reformation.

          They indeed read much into Scripture, coming from their position of certain points of unbelief, and fabricate doctrines from the Scriptures to satisfy their preconceived notions.

          *smiles brightly* ????

          Peace and grace to you also, brother.

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