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The Pope has recently spoken about indulgences. How do you understand this? (Part 4)

In the first three parts of this series, we began to discuss the concept taught by the Roman Catholic Church that the “immortal souls” of departed ones may be in hell or purgatory, and that “indulgences” or prayers for the dead can allegedly remove, partially (“plenary”) or completely (“in full”), punishment for sin, so that their souls can be freed from purgatory or even hell to go to heaven. In order to answer the question regarding indulgences, we reviewed, among other questions, related issues such as the fact that we do not have an immortal soul; that we neither go to heaven (where we, as immortal saints in heaven, could allegedly receive prayers from the living and intervene on their behalf), nor do we go to hell or purgatory when we die.

We also discussed the spirit in man and showed that it is not just another concept for an immortal soul; but that the spirit in man has no consciousness when a person dies. Rather, upon death, the entire human being—spirit, body and soul (1 Thessalonians 5:23)—ceases to “live” or have any conscious “life” in any manner, shape or form.

In this part 4, we will review further the idea of purgatory and we again refer to the Roman Catholic “In Brief” writings from their Catechism.

1054 Those who die in God’s grace and friendship imperfectly purified, although they are assured of their eternal salvation, undergo a purification after death, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of God.”

The website https://www.catholic.com/tract/purgatory adds the following explanation:

“The Catechism of the Catholic Church defines purgatory as a ‘purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven’ which is experienced by those ‘who die in God’s grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified’ (CCC 1030). It notes that ‘this final purification of the elect . . . is entirely different from the punishment of the damned’” (CCC 1031).

“The purification is necessary because, as Scripture teaches, nothing unclean will enter the presence of God in heaven (Rev. 21:27) and, while we may die with our mortal sins forgiven, there can still be many impurities in us, specifically venial (that is, easily excused or forgiven; pardonable) sins and the temporal punishment due to sins already forgiven.”

Revelation 21:27 is quoted, but this is talking about the New Jerusalem (not heaven) when no more human beings nor anything physical will exist. Rather, the New Jerusalem will descend to a new earth, composed of spirit, where God’s immortal people will then dwell. Applying this verse to the need for purgatory is completely erroneous.

In 1 Thessalonians 4:15-17, we read: “For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord will by no means precede those who are asleep.  For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first.  Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.”

This applies to true Christians only and those asleep in Christ are the dead who will be resurrected as spirit beings at the return of Christ along with those, still living, who have the Holy Spirit of God, and who will be changed into immortal spirit beings as well at that time. They will then rule with Christ here on earth for a thousand years. Nothing is mentioned that they will go to heaven, purgatory or hell; or that they will have to be purified in any way. Rather, when they are resurrected as or changed into God beings at the time of Christ’s return, they will be resurrected or changed as PERFECT beings—not imperfect and in need of purification or perfection. As the Father is perfect and has no need of purification, so we will be (Matthew 5:48; Colossians 1:28; Luke 6:40; Hebrews 13:20-21; 11:40; 12:23). In this life, we will never attain perfection in the flesh, but we must work toward it so that at the time of Christ’s return, we will be resurrected or changed as perfect beings; and it is this godly perfection which God will grant us at that time.

We must understand that when we die, we will not have attained perfection but we do not need a period of time in purgatory in order to achieve this state of perfection. In Philippians 3:12 we read: “…not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.”

A key to understanding is Matthew 24:13: “But he who endures to the end shall be saved.” We will be saved at the end of our lives, even though imperfect and without a visit to purgatory!  In 2 Timothy 4:6-8—the apostle Paul’s valedictory—we read: “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand.  I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.  Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day, and not to me only but also to all who have loved His appearing.”

Paul looked forward to a crown of righteousness even though he would not have attained perfection in his life. In fact, in Romans 7:15, he pointed out his physical frailties: “For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, that I do not practice; but what I hate, that I do.”

It is obvious from these examples that through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit throughout and to the end of our lives, true Christians will be resurrected or changed to immortal spirit life which will ensure perfection, thus revealing that any imperfections that we may have at death or at our change if still alive at Christ’s return will count as nothing and be dismissed by God.

In our Q&A, “Do the Wicked go to Hell?,” we read the following about purgatory:

“In addition, the Bible does not teach the concepts of ‘limbo’ or ‘purgatory,’ either. These concepts have their origin in pagan mythologies, as well. Richard Craze points out these most incredible facts (in his book, ‘Hell, An Illustrated History of the Netherworld,’ copyrighted 1996):

“‘The early [nominal] Christians… introduce[d] the concept of a sort of waiting-room, where souls would stay for [a while]. They found a ready-made idea — limbo — that they freely borrowed from the Romans, who had borrowed it from the Greeks. Limbo became a place where anyone who did not quite fit could be put… Purgatory… was a cross between limbo and hell… Jesus’ mother, the Virgin Mary, was called back from heaven, where she had been asleep (the Dormition). She was given the keys of hell to look after, and the running of the purgatory. She does not administer any punishments — in fact, her main job seems to be protecting the souls of the sinners from the wrath of her son [Jesus Christ!!!]. Purgatory became a sort of temporary hell — but one from which sinners could be rescued.”

However, the Bible does not teach the concepts of limbo, purgatory or of an ever-burning hell. In the meantime, the Catholic Church has given up the idea of “limbo” as a doctrine and recognizes it, if at all, as mere human tradition. And, we have already seen, “the Virgin Mary” is not in heaven, hell or purgatory. Mary, the mother of Jesus, died and is awaiting her resurrection from the dead. In addition, the very thought that she is running purgatory and that she is protecting the souls of the sinners from the wrath of her Son is quite frankly blasphemous.

Continuing with the website https://www.catholic.com/tract/purgatory, we read the following:

“What Happens in Purgatory?

“When we die, we undergo what is called the particular, or individual, judgment. Scripture says that ‘it is appointed for men to die once, and after that comes judgment’ (Heb. 9:27). We are judged instantly and receive our reward, for good or ill. We know at once what our final destiny will be. At the end of time, when Jesus returns, there will come the general judgment to which the Bible refers, for example, in Matthew 25:31-32: ‘When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.’ In this general judgment all our sins will be publicly revealed (Luke 12:2–5).

Augustine said in The City of God that ‘temporary punishments are suffered by some in this life only, by others after death, by others both now and then; but all of them before that last and strictest judgment’… It is between the particular and general judgments, then, that the soul is purified of the remaining consequences of sin: ‘I tell you, you will never get out till you have paid the very last copper’ (Luke 12:59).”

First of all, it is misleading to say, “At the end of time, when Jesus returns.” In fact, it is the end of the age of man but eternity beckons after that for the Family of God which will comprise the Father, His Son Jesus Christ and all the born-again members of the true Church of God who have the Holy Spirit.

Let us look at the Scriptural “evidence” that is given in the piece above to “prove” the existence of purgatory.

Hebrews 9:27 states: “And as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” Nowhere here does it mention anything about purification in purgatory, and to even imply that purgatory is part of a purification process in judgment is simply twisting Scripture to fit in with an unscriptural belief.

It is true, of course that we all have to appear before the judgment seat of Christ to receive our reward (Romans 14:10-12; 2 Corinthians 5:10; Luke 19:16-17; Revelation 22:12; 1 Corinthians 3:8; 2 John 8). This has nothing to do with having to go through a judgment period of purification.  The concept of obtaining our reward when we appear before Christ at His return is fully explained in our free booklet, The Gospel of the Kingdom of God.

It is also true that those who will be resurrected as human beings in the Second Resurrection will be given a certain amount of time (the Bible indicates a period of 100 years) to qualify for the Kingdom of God. At the end of that Great White Throne Judgment period, judgement will be pronounced (Revelation 20:11-12). But again, this has nothing to do with some kind of purgatory and burning in a hell fire for a certain amount of time; rather, people will be given the chance to qualify for God’s Way of Life then, so that their names can be written in the book of Life (verse 12), as this opportunity has been given to true Christians now whose names are already written in the Book of Life (Philippians 4:3; Revelation 21:27).

Matthew 25:31-32 reads: “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory.  All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats.”

This passage refers to the time when Christ rules mankind (physical human beings) living here on earth. A separation will take place during the Millennium and the Great White Throne Judgment, based on how men will live at that time.

In our booklet Is That In the Bible? The Mysteries of the Book of Revelation, we read the following on page 41 under the heading “Jesus Will Return to This Earth”:

“Christ is coming in all His glory, with His holy angels, to begin a Millennial rule upon the earth (Matthew 25:31–32). The saints of God, who will have been resurrected from the dead at that time, along with those saints still living, who will be changed to spirit at that time, will be given power to rule with Christ (Revelation 2:26–27).

“The saints will have positions as Kings and Priests, and will reign with Christ during the 1,000 year period on the earth. The rest of the dead, who had no part in this resurrection, will await in their graves for a future resurrection (Revelation 20:5).

“No biblical passage tells us that we go to heaven when we die. Rather, Christians will rule with Christ here on earth, when He resurrects those who died, or when He changes those, who are still alive at His Coming, from mortal to immortal.”

There is no way that a concept of purgatory for “departed ones” could be applied to this passage of Scripture.

Luke 12:2–5 states: “ For there is nothing covered that will not be revealed, nor hidden that will not be known.  Therefore whatever you have spoken in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have spoken in the ear in inner rooms will be proclaimed on the housetops. And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!”

As we mentioned earlier in part 2 of this series, we repeat below the explanation for the word “hell” which is in the latter part of verse 5:

“It is true that the New Testament speaks about a fiery place, which is translated in some English Bibles as, ‘hell.’ The Greek word for this place is ‘gehenna.’ It does not, however, describe an ever-burning hell, as commonly understood by many. Craze explains: ‘Gehenna — the place of fire. It is probable that it was named after the place just outside Jerusalem where the household rubbish, including the bodies of criminals and animals, was burnt.’”

Please see other excerpts in part 2 about the word “gehenna,” and none of this passage of Scripture can, in any way, be construed as a reference to purgatory.

In the above-quoted passage in Luke 12:2-5, reference is also made to the killing of the body, and God’s power to “cast into hell.” We discuss the parallel Scripture in Matthew 10:28 in our Q&A about the “spirit in man” and the “immortal soul”:

“Let’s notice what Matthew 10:28 does say: ‘And fear not them which kill … the body [‘soma’], but are not able to kill… the soul [‘psyche’]: but rather fear him which is able to destroy… both soul [‘psyche’] and body [‘soma’] in hell [‘gehenna’].’ We need not fear man who can only kill us, taking away our physical lives. That is all man can do—man cannot prevent God from resurrecting us from death to give us life again. Instead, we must fear God, who not only can take away our physical lives, but who can also throw us—both ‘body and soul’—into ‘hell’ [‘gehenna’], taking away our opportunity for eternal life…”

Luke 12:59 reads: “I tell you, you shall not depart from there till you have paid the very last mite.”

The subheading is “make peace with your adversary” and this short parable shows what we should do in this life if we were taken to court to settle a matter for which we had a financial liability, and the reading from the last verse is that we, as debtors, should make every effort to settle the case with our creditor, lest we are convicted by a judge and, depending on the situation, would even be thrown in jail.

It has a spiritual message too. For those of us called by God we need to realise that this is our one and only calling that we will have, and we need to make sure that we are prepared for Christ’s return. It will be too late for those who have turned their back on God, for whatever reason, and who have not been faithful to the end of their lives (compare Matthew 24:13). The message is: Seek the LORD while He may be found (Isaiah 55:6). There is no way that a state of purgatory can be read into this passage except by those who look for Scriptures to try to defend an indefensible doctrine.

The New Bible Commentary says in connection with Luke 12:59 that “the parable cannot be pressed to teach a doctrine of purgatory.”

(To be continued)

Lead Writers: Brian Gale (United Kingdom) and Norbert Link