Eternal Life or Eternal Punishment?

How Do We Get Accepted into Heaven?

“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Matthew 25:44-46

You’ve probably heard a story about people approaching St. Peter at the Pearly Gate, waiting to see if he’d open the gate to heaven based on how they’d lived. Is Peter the gatekeeper? Jesus had told Peter, “I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven.” What were the ‘keys’? Peter had just stated that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God.” Peter’s not waiting at the gate to let us in—we can go in too if we receive Jesus as “the Messiah, the Son of the living God” (Matthew 16:15-19).

In order to illustrate what will get us into heaven, Jesus told a parable about a rich man and a beggar named Lazarus who died and entered Hades, the place of the dead (Luke 16:19-30).

Hades had two parts with a great chasm between them which no one could cross. The beggar was carried by angels to one side into Abraham’s welcoming arms while the rich man was placed on the other side in torment.

Seeing Abraham and Lazarus, he called, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”

But Abraham reminded the rich man that in his lifetime he’d lived in luxury every day while Lazarus laid at his gate, covered with sores, begging for food, longing to eat the scraps he fed his dogs.

Nevertheless the rich man didn’t humble himself and repent of having neglected the poor beggar. In fact, he called on Abraham as “father,” reminding him that he was one of his descendants.

Still thinking of himself as superior and Lazarus as his servant, he told Abraham, “Send Lazarus to warn my five brothers so they won’t have to come to this place of torment.”

Abraham replied, “Your brothers have Moses and the Prophets; they can listen to them.” Moses had been a very humble man, “more humble than anyone else on the face of the earth” (Numbers 12:3), and the Prophets had spoken about helping the poor (Micah 6:8).

But the rich man thought he had a better idea, “if someone from the dead goes to them, they’ll repent.”

The Key to Heaven

As he told this parable, Jesus not only knew he’d raise a man named Lazarus from the dead, he knew he himself would rise from the dead. He knew people whose hearts were hardened by the deceit of riches or position wouldn’t repent (John 11:41-53).

What are you relying on to get into heaven? Have you repented and received salvation through Christ, “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”?

Dig Deeper:

Read Matthew 16:15-19, John 16:6 and Revelation 1:18. Who has the keys to heaven and when does he open the gate?

Read Micah 6:8 and Jeremiah 9:23-24. What did the prophets say pleases God? How would you describe your life?

In the parable of the Sower (Luke 8:4-8) what prevents the seed from maturing? What’s happening in your garden?

Nancy J. Baker

This devotion is part of our series on heaven.

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