In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus said that in the last days not everyone who wants to go to heaven would be allowed entrance. Many of those who consider themselves His followers would be denied entrance to the kingdom. But what is the deciding factor that determines who will be saved and who will be lost?
The book of Revelation teaches us that heaven is for the overcomer. “Then He who sat on the throne said, ‘Behold, I make all things new.’ And He said to me, ‘Write, for these words are true and faithful.’ And He said to me, ‘It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.’ ” Revelation 21:5–7
Those who do not overcome are described in verse 8: “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”
We see something very similar to this in Revelation 22:14, 15. “Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie.”
Verse 16 tells us, “I, Jesus, have sent My angel to testify to you these things in the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, the Bright and Morning Star.” So we see that Jesus Himself is describing these two very different classes of people.
John’s letters to the seven churches, found in Revelation 2 and 3, lay out the Lord’s message to all of His professed followers in the Christian dispensation.
Speaking to the church of Ephesus, he says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” Revelation 2:7. The person who overcomes is promised the ability to eat of the fruit of the tree of life.
The tree of life is alluded to in the very first chapters of the Bible. “The Lord God commanded the man, saying, ‘Of every tree of the garden you may freely eat; but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.’ ” Genesis 2:16, 17
The Lord planted all manner of plants and trees to be food for Adam and Eve to eat, and they could eat of everything, as they pleased, except for the one tree. The Bible tells us in Genesis 3 that the woman, Eve, entered into conversation with a creature that looked like a serpent, but was the devil, called in Revelation a dragon and that serpent of old, in disguise. “Now the serpent was more cunning than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, ‘Has God indeed said, “You shall not eat of every tree of the garden?” ’ And the woman said to the serpent, ‘We may eat the fruit of the trees of the garden; but of the fruit of the tree which in the midst of the garden, God has said, “You shall not eat it, nor shall you touch it, lest you die.” ’ And the serpent said to the woman, ‘You will not surely die. For God knows that in the day you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ ” Genesis 3:1–5
The devil is a liar and always has been (John 8:44). However in this one thing he told the truth—once Adam and Eve had eaten the fruit of the tree, they did know good from evil. But when he told Eve that they would not die, this was a lie, for the Bible does not say that the soul of man is immortal. In fact, it says, “The soul who sins shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20, first part
“[W]hen the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” Genesis 3:6. As a result of their disobedience, Adam and Eve were driven from the garden, no longer allowed access to the tree of life, and they along with all of their descendants became subject to death.
After pronouncing a curse upon the serpent, we see God speak to Adam, “He said, ‘Because you have heeded the voice of your wife, and have eaten from the tree of which I commanded you, saying, “You shall not eat of it”: ‘Cursed is the ground for your sake; in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life. … In the sweat of your face you shall eat bread till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for dust you are, and to dust you shall return.’ ” Genesis 3:17, 19
Adam was terrified when he heard the pronouncement that he would return to dust. “Then the Lord God said, ‘Behold, the man has become like one of Us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put out his hand and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live forever’—therefore the Lord God sent him out of the garden of Eden to till the ground from which he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed cherubim at the east of the garden of Eden, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to guard the way to the tree of life.” Genesis 3:22–24
So Adam and Eve were driven out of the garden of Eden that day and not a single member of the human race has been allowed back to eat of the tree of life.
The early generations of mankind would live for a very long time—several hundred years—and unless a person was murdered, such as Abel was by his brother Cain, people lived so long the Bible tells us that there were nine generations alive on the earth at the same time before the Flood (see Genesis 5).
But after the Flood, man’s lifespan rapidly decreased so that by the twentieth generation, instead of living several hundred years, people only lived between one and two hundred years. Within a relatively short time after that, most people lived less than a hundred years until finally, as we find in the Psalms, the term of a man’s life had degenerated to around seventy years of age.
As many people have said, we scarcely start to live until we begin to die. And the truth is, that after sin entered the world, we began a downward slide from birth to death in just a few, short years. However, we have the divine promise that, if we are overcomers, we will once again be allowed access to the tree of life, whose fruit perpetuates life, and we need no longer fear death.
The second church John wrote to, the church of Smyrna, the Lord gave special promises regarding the problem of death. Smyrna was a persecuted church and many of its believers were martyred for the cause of Christ.
The Lord told them, “ ‘Do not fear any of those things which you are about to suffer. Indeed, the devil is about to throw some of you into prison, that you may be tested, and you will have tribulation ten days. Be faithful until death, and I will give you the crown of life. He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. He who overcomes shall not be hurt by the second death.’ ” Revelation 2:10, 11
In this world, regardless of whether we are good or bad, whatever our situation is, we all—except those alive at the second coming—will die the first death, because the Bible says, “[I]t is appointed for men to die once, … after this the judgment … .” Hebrews 9:27. But when Jesus comes, all those who are His children—all those who are overcomers—will be raised and given eternal life.
We find a description of this resurrection in 1 Thessalonians 4:16, 17. “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 they 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.”
All who have died in Christ will be raised from the dead and all who have lived in Christ and are alive at His coming will be gathered to Him. 1 Corinthians 15:53–55 tells us what happens to this group of people: “For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O Death, where is your sting? O Hades, where is your victory?’ ”
But what happens to those who do not die in Christ, those who do not overcome, those who have not chosen to follow Him? “And the kings of the earth, the great men, the rich men, the commanders, the mighty men, every slave and every free man, hid themselves in the caves and in the rocks of the mountains, and said to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb. For the great day of His wrath has come, and who is able to stand?’ ” Revelation 6:15–17
Once God’s children have been gathered into the clouds to be with Him and the wicked who are alive are destroyed by the brightness of His coming, Revelation 20 tells us, “Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having the key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished.” Verses 1–3
In verse 5, the Bible tells us what happens to the wicked who have died before Christ’s coming. It says, “But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished.” So, those who died before His coming, but did not die in Christ, will not be saved. They will not be raised when He returns, and the Bible says they will not live again until the millennium is finished.
If you are part of the first resurrection, verse 6 says, “Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection. Over such the second death has no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with Him a thousand years.” Sin and death have no power over you anymore.
At the end of the thousand years, all of the unsaved will be raised.
“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades [the grave] delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Verses 11–15
Friend, if your name is not written in the book of life, you will not have eternal life; but if you are an overcomer, you will not be hurt by the second death. You will be taken to heaven to live with the Lord.
“Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” John 5:28, 29
Speaking about those who would be raised to the resurrection of life, Jesus said, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. But those who are counted worthy to attain that age … and the resurrection from the dead, neither marry nor are given in marriage; nor can they die anymore, for they are equal to the angels and are sons of God, being sons of the resurrection.” Luke 20:34–36
In the day of his great trial and distress, Job looked forward to that time, and said, “For I know that my Redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth.” Job 19:25
Enoch, the seventh generation from Adam, predicted this same event. “Behold, the Lord comes with ten thousands of His saints, to execute judgment on all, to convict all who are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have committed in an ungodly way, and of all the harsh things which ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” Jude 14, last part, 15
Paul wrote that when the Lord would come, some would be saved while others would be lost. And writing to Timothy, he said, “Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me at that day, and not to me only but also to all who love His appearing.” 2 Timothy 4:8
Revelation teaches that eternal life, heaven, and salvation are the reward of the one who overcomes. So what exactly must we overcome so that we can be in the kingdom of heaven?
The Bible is very specific about this. “You are of God, little children, and have overcome them [false spirits], because He who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are of the world. Therefore they speak as of the world, and the world hears them. We are of God. He who knows God hears us; he who is not of God does not hear us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the Spirit of error.” 1 John 4:4–6
Then John comes more directly to the point, “Whoever is born of God overcomes the world. And this is the victory that has overcome the world—our faith.” 1 John 5:4
What is John talking about when he says, “He that is born of God overcomes the world?” He explains himself in 1 John 2:15, 16: “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—is not of the Father but is of the world.”
So what is in the world?
“The lust of the flesh” – the desire for unlawful sensual pleasure.
“The lust of the eyes” – the desire for possessions.
“The pride of life” – the desire for the praise and approbation of men.
Paul summarizes what the flesh causes men to do in Galatians 5:19–21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Paul spells out exactly what the works of the flesh are, and over and over again he makes it clear that we must overcome them if we are to be in the kingdom of God. But if we have received the Holy Spirit, something completely different will happen in our lives. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law. And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” Verses 22–25
“Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived. Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor homosexuals, nor sodomites, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” 1 Corinthians 6:9–11
The gospel is the most wonderful thing in the world. It can take people who have been involved in any kind of sin, and transform their lives so that they are no longer a slave to their evil habits and they will receive power to overcome.
“What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it? Or do you not know that as many of us that were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? … [K]nowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. … Likewise, you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in its lusts. And do not present yourselves as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God. For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under the law but under grace.” Romans 6:1–3, 6, 11–14
Friend, there will be only two categories of people when Jesus comes: those who are part of the resurrection to eternal life, and those who are part of the resurrection to condemnation. Which category will you be in?
Pastor John J. Grosboll is Director of Steps to Life and pastors the Prairie Meadows Church in Wichita, Kansas. He may be contacted by email at: email@example.com, or by telephone at: 316-788-5559.