I regularly hear words of alarm and outrage from some of Jesus’ followers who embrace a gloomy view of the world. Confession: I used to hold that viewpoint, too. It’s all tied into a futurist understanding of Revelation and Bible prophecy, which teaches that things will worsen until Jesus returns. I used to look for evidence that everything was deteriorating, but I eventually woke up because history and the present world tell a different story. For the most part, the world is a better place to live now than ever in human history.

And so, when I hear people say, “Every year, it gets worse and worse,” I find myself reacting to this so-called “Christian” form of outrage. Some of Jesus’ followers feel compelled to be incensed about something as fuel to keep their faith alive. I don’t believe this is an appropriate way for God’s people to live.

Amazing Insight

Consider what it would be like to build a church in a corrupt and dreadful place next to a temple that was dedicated to an idolatrous god that was worshipped by people having sex with prostitutes and animals. That story is reflected in Jesus’ incredible discussion with his disciples in Caesarea Philippi, near a mountainous region containing Mount Hermon, Israel’s largest mountain.

Matthew tells us that Jesus asked his disciples what people were saying about him. They told Jesus that people’s opinions were mixed, with some believing Jesus was John the Baptist reincarnated. Others thought Jesus was Elijah, Jeremiah or one of the prophets who had returned from the dead.

Jesus then asked his disciples for their thoughts on his identity. Peter answered first, of course, “You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God.”

Play on Words

Jesus told Peter that his insights had a heavenly origin, “And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock, I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.”

The Play on words in the original manuscript was between Peter (Petros), a rock that can be thrown, and Rock (Petra), a large mass rising from the earth. Matthew 16:18 could be translated as, “I tell you, Peter, that you are like a little stone, but on this massive mountain of the revelation of who I am, I will build my church.” The Church was and is established on the foundation of Jesus the Messiah.

The Worst Place

So, what are the gates of Hades that will not overcome Jesus’ Church? As mentioned, this conversation occurred at Caesarea Philippi, ancient Paneas, “The city of Pan.” In Jesus’ day, a temple to the goat god Pan was at the centre of town.

Pan received worship through intimate acts with goats. The court in public view outside the temple was called the Court of Pan and the Nymphs. Nymphs are creatures of fantasy, like elves or fairies and were thought to be a large group of inferior divinities. Today, the word can refer to a woman who suffers from hypersexuality, a mental illness.

Pan’s temple was set on the side of a gigantic rock face. Next to it was an enormous cave where the Jordan River originates and flows to the Dead Sea. The cave was called the “gates of Hell.” The priests of Pan would say that if you did not worship Pan to his satisfaction, he would open the cave and swallow you into Hell.

For the disciples, this was an evil place, and this is where Jesus says, on this rock, I will build my Church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it. In other words, think of the most formidable and least likely place to found a church; that is where the Church will thrive.

Worth Considering

I find it fascinating that of all the places where Jesus could initiate his Church, he chose that place. It’s a truth that resonates through the centuries right down to our time.

The Church has had the worst of things thrown at it. It’s been outlawed and oppressed, and its people persecuted and martyred. Sacred books and Bibles were burned or banned. Add to that the trouble we’ve brought on ourselves – immoral and abusive pastors and priests, Church splits, discrimination against minorities and selfishness, always wanting everything our way. It’s a miracle that the Church still exists, but here we are.

My encouragement to you is simple: while some awful things are happening in the world right now, the world is much better than it was. If you follow Jesus, Set your mind on things above, not earthly things. Jesus affirmed that His Church would be built on the rock where the darkest rituals occurred, and it would prevail. Live in faith, not fear and be encouraged.


Whether you’re Roman Catholic or not, you’ve probably heard of a place called Purgatory. It’s a place or state of suffering inhabited by the souls of those who die in grace, in friendship with God, but are compensating for some venial sins before going to heaven. It’s an antechamber of Hell, a place of divine cleansing (purging) from which some will eventually emerge as redeemed and united with God.

According to Roman Catholic theology, the living can hasten the purification process through prayers and charitable works on behalf of the dead.

Developing Doctrine

The doctrine of Purgatory was developed during the Dark Ages in the late 500s. The suffering in Purgatory is twofold: physical pain and separation from God. The ideology was primarily based on one passage in the Apocrypha and one in the New Testament.

The Apocryphal reference is 2 Maccabees (Date: 124 BC) 12:44–45, “For if he were not expecting that those who had fallen would rise again, it would have been superfluous and foolish to pray for the dead. But if he was looking to the splendid reward that is laid up for those who fall asleep in godliness, it was a holy and pious thought. Therefore, he made atonement for the dead, so that they might be delivered from their sin.”

Regarding the believers’ judgment, Paul wrote, “It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work…If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.”

Add to that Hebrews 12:29, “our God is a consuming fire,” and, according to Catholic interpretation of these verses, the souls of the departed are purged and purified by fire in Purgatory.

Correct Understanding?

Though it is not necessary to interpret the Corinthians text to mean the fire of Purgatory, it was common among the Latin Fathers to understand this fire as a reference to some short-lived punishment and purification before the final salvation. Examples of this explanation can be found in the writings of Augustine and Caesar of Arles.

But Paul’s language in 1 Corinthians 3 is symbolic. He writes about building on a foundation already laid, Jesus Christ. The way Jesus’ followers build on that foundation is in view here. Our building material is our good works. Paul says they are like gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw. On the Day (presumably Judgement Day), the quality of people’s works will be brought to light, being “revealed with fire.” His allegory is powerful when considering what fire does to these various materials. Wood, hay and straw are ruined, while gold, silver, and costly stones are refined.

While none of this is literal, Paul’s meaning is clear. What Christians do now has eternal ramifications, but our salvation is never questioned because we are not saved by works but by God’s grace flowing through faith alone: “If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved.” The loss is an absence of reward.

Consider Jesus’ words to the repentant thief on the cross next to him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43). This man had done nothing to bring that was any good, but Jesus promised him direct entry to the paradise of God. No purging was necessary to pay for his sins because Jesus forgave him completely.

Why Fire?

Scripture frequently uses the symbol of fire when discussing the judgment and reconciliation of all things. Christians hold various views on the nature and purpose of the fire.

Those who believe in eternal conscious torment (ECT) believe fire is punitive. ECT adherents believe Hell is forever, and people will never be able to escape the agony of the flames. It is, in my opinion, a horrendous concept that contradicts the nature of a God who IS love.

Conditional immortality (also known as annihilationism) teaches that fire destroys. Those who believe this do not consider the human soul immortal, which is why Jesus gives eternal life as a gift. On Judgement Day, the unrepentant are sentenced to finite punishment and then cease to exist.

Finally, there’s the teaching of universal salvation and purgatory which view fire as purifying. People suffer a time when their sins are thoroughly cleansed. Eventually, everyone is granted access to paradise to enjoy eternity in God’s presence.

Each of these views has scripture to support them. I’ve written about this in more detail here.

Where to from here? Please do some personal study if this topic interests you. Whatever you believe, never use it to provoke fear in others or as an excuse to live a reckless life. We don’t love God because we want to escape Hell. We love Him because He first loved us.

Suggested Reading

Four Views on Hell (Counterpoints: Bible and Theology) (Zondervan)

In last week’s blog, we discovered what the Bible says about people’s inherent goodness. Following on from there, I thought it could be helpful to address another fallacy I frequently hear from preachers: “you are broken, and only God can fix you. But you’ll probably still be broken until you get to heaven.” Is that true? Let’s explore the possibilities.

The word “broken” is found 133 times in the Bible. In Scripture, brokenness refers to commands and covenants, babies being born, sacrifices, clay pots, and sinners that perish. Things that are broken include:

  • Pagan altars and weapons.
  • Idols and city walls.
  • Yokes and bread.
  • Cities and nations.

Not once does the Bible infer that people are fundamentally broken.

What About The Fall?

We Christians get the redemption story skewed when we start reading the Bible from Genesis chapter 3 and what is commonly called “The fall of man.”

But the Bible doesn’t begin with sin. It starts with a creation that God calls very good. Humans are made in God’s Image and are inherently good and not broken. Yes, we are all flawed and sometimes the imperfect world we live in causes “a state of strong emotional pain that stops someone from living a normal or healthy life.” But that is not every person’s experience all the time.

What About Job?

I am not suggesting that some people may not feel broken. In almost four decades of pastoral ministry, I have spoken to many people who have told me they are worn out by what life has dished up to them. I have had the privilege to journey and pray with these people as they seek God’s healing presence. I have watched God do wonders as he has rejuvenated these precious people.

Job is a classic example of brokenness. And no wonder after losing his children, livelihood, and health. Who wouldn’t feel completely devastated? “My spirit is broken, my days are cut short, the grave awaits me,” utters this shattered man.

The Broken Hearted

Many have experienced unfair treatment and its resulting pain and anguish. The Scriptures are full of comfort and reassurance to such people. Consider David’s song (Psalm 31), composed when his enemies conspired against him to take his life: “I am forgotten as though I were dead; I have become like broken pottery.”

David’s ancient words nourish suffering souls: “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.” The Bible has much to say to those whose hearts are broken. God “heals the brokenhearted and binds up their wounds.”

At the beginning of his ministry, Jesus quoted Isaiah as a foretaste of his mission: “The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners.”

A Broken Spirit

Maybe you’re thinking of David’s words when the prophet Nathan came to him after he had committed adultery with Bathsheba. Psalm 51 is David’s penitent prayer as he seeks God’s mercy and unfailing love. “My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.”

There is no doubt that David was broken by his adultery and the subsequent death of his son. I am so grateful that he wrote a song about his experiences and that the Holy Spirit has preserved it for successive generations. I have read this song numerous times as I have processed my failures and offences. David’s words are full of raw emotion and genuine remorse. His foolishness crushed his spirit, and he viewed God as the only one who could restore him. But this did not mean that David was forever broken any more than we are.

If you find yourself brokenhearted by the stuff life has served up to you or by your poor choices, I hope you will find consolation and reassurance in these words. The Father’s arms are open wide, ready to forgive and restore. I also hope you are encouraged by the realisation that you are not innately broken. You are created in God’s image. You are awesomely and wonderfully made.