Recently following a sermon, some friends at our church asked:
The concept of Purgatory was of interest. In Catholic faith, our understanding is that when a person passes away, their soul goes to Purgatory. Then, basically, family and friends pray for this individual so that the soul can ascend to God. In the Presbyterian view, if the individual proclaims Christ as their savior, they are accepted by God. What about the book of Revelation, in regard to the Last Judgment? Are soul’s judged again? And where are the souls in the meantime?
That’s a great question. Here’s how I replied. What would you say?
The Bible teaches that those who belong to the Lord Jesus are saved completely.
Hebrews 7:23-28 23 Now there have been many of those priests, since death prevented them from continuing in office; 24 but because Jesus lives forever, he has a permanent priesthood. 25 Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them. 26 Such a high priest meets our need– one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men who are weak; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect forever.
The clear picture is that “the one mediator between God and man, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 1:15) is the one who prays (intercedes) for us. Therefore we do not need any more “help” from other saint’s prayers to get to heaven.
As for the timing, that is another aspect which leads some to the notion of purgatory. That is, the delay between death and final judgment is the season of purgatory. However, this is not actually what the Roman Catholic Church teaches either. They teach that upon completion of purgation, the person goes from purgatory to heaven. Why penalize those who died earlier in history with a longer term in purgatory. In contrast, the Protestant view is that between death and the second coming, believers who die are present with God in their spirit (not their body). At the second coming when all are raised with resurrection bodies, those who loved Jesus and followed him are publically acquitted (declared righteous), at the final judgment. They were already present with God (in heaven) before this time, but now their body and soul are reunited to enjoy the new heavens and the new earth in resurrection bodies.
AS for the time in heaven after death, Paul writes:
2 Corinthians 5:4-8 4 For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. 5 Now it is God who has made us for this very purpose and has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come. 6 Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7 We live by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord.
But of the final judgment scripture records:
Revelation 20:11-15 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Hope that helps advance our mutual understanding. Let me know what other questions this raises!