Heaven, Hell, and Judgment
This document reflects commonly held beliefs based on scripture which have been endorsed by the church's Commission on Doctrinal Purity and the Executive Presbytery.
Does the Assemblies of God believe in a final judgment day with a literal heaven and hell?
It would be more accurate to say that the Assemblies of God believes in a judgment for every person, but a different kind for Christians than for those who have willfully rejected Christ as Savior. This belief gives credence to a correspondingly firm belief in a real heaven and a real hell. Without a reward for righteous living and faith in Jesus Christ, and without punishment for living a selfish life and rejecting Christ's forgiveness of sins, there would be no significance to a judgment that evaluates the heart, attitudes, and actions of a lifetime.
"Man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment" (Hebrews 9:27). How are we to understand the descriptive language about heaven, hell, the New Jerusalem, and the lake of fire? Unless there is a clear contextual reason, the language of Scripture should always be taken literally and be viewed from its plain and simple meaning. But human language is inadequate to describe either heaven or hell. The realities of both fall well beyond our most imaginative dreams. It is impossible to describe the glory and splendor of heaven and the terror and torment of hell. Whether taken literally or figuratively, the meaning is the same: Hell is a place where one will experience total separation from God; heaven enjoys the total presence of God. Knowing that this is the horrible end awaiting the wicked, the Assemblies of God is strongly motivated to win the lost before it is too late.
Judgment of the righteous. A Christian is judged to be righteous when he or she accepts Christ as personal Savior and receives forgiveness for all previous sins. Yet a future judgment also awaits every Christian. The judgment seat of Christ, for Christians only, comes after the rapture of the Church, when rewards to be enjoyed throughout eternity will be determined on the basis of faithfulness and dedicated service. The heaven that awaits the faithful Christian is so wonderful it cannot be described for the human understanding. This fact has led some non-Christians to think of heaven as a mythological idea originating in primitive minds trying to construct a brighter future. But for Christians who believe the inspired Word of God, the reality of heaven is as certain as the Book one holds as he or she reads about heaven. The description of the New Jerusalem that comes down to earth at the end of the Millennium gives some vivid details about the heaven of eternity (Revelation 21,22).
Judgment of the wicked. The final judgment for the wicked is a frightening picture. Called the Great White Throne Judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), it should not be confused with the judgment seat of Christ for Christians. Jesus Christ is the Judge. Judged are all the wicked dead from all nations and all times. They are judged according to their works while living. No one at this judgment escapes or is acquitted. "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:14,15). We customarily refer to hell as the end that awaits the wicked. The wicked here are all who have rejected Jesus Christ as the Savior who died to make them righteous.
What about those who have never heard the gospel? Are they declared wicked because they have never accepted Christ's work of redemption? And what about infants who have not yet been able to understand the truth of salvation? To some extent, we must trust the Judge of all the earth to do right in these matters (Genesis 18:25). But we can also be assured that God seeks to bring truth to every human alive. To the extent that one responds to the truth he or she receives, God can judge what the person would do with the full truth. The baby who dies without a chance to know truth and respond would certainly not be consigned to hell. We know that a God of love and compassion will do right in these circumstances.
The Assemblies of God believes and teaches the full reality of these truths.
Some teach that hell is not eternal torture, but rather eternal cessation of existence. This false teaching grows out of inability to understand how a loving God can mete out such a painful punishment. Others ask, "How could a God of love send people to hell?" The answer is that He doesn't. Only those who willfully turn from His Son Jesus as their source of salvation go to hell. In this life we are constantly confronted by the overtures and invitations of a God of love. But He is also a holy and just God. He must punish the wicked who turn away from His holiness.
Paul felt the urgency of fulfilling the Great Commission in light of the coming judgment: "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men" (2 Corinthians 5:11). With Paul, we in the Assemblies of God say, "I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel" (1 Corinthians 9:16).
The above statement is based upon our common understanding of scriptural teaching. The official delineation of this position is found in Statement of Fundamental Truths; Section 15, The Final Judgment; and Section 16, The New Heavens and the New Earth.
All Scripture quotations are from the New International Version (NIV) unless otherwise specified.