Many Christians call to my attention that “purgatory” as a word is not found in Scripture. Silence is not an argument, lest the Incarnation, the Trinity, the Mercy Seat, and the Bible itself be disqualified as well for the lack of mention of their specific names. In fact, Holy Scripture is filled with passages regarding spiritual purgation after life.
Foremost, we must understand our calling. Christ has called us to be perfect as the Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48). Why initiate this essay with that passage? Because it parallels Revelation 21:27 which tells us that nothing impure shall enter heaven. That’s a pretty hard statement to swallow. First we are called to have the same perfection, then we are told that without that perfection, we cannot gain entry into heaven. We are to strive for a holiness that without, we cannot see God (Hebrews 12:14). How are we to achieve this state of purity and perfection when we fall short in many respects (James 3:2)? St. Paul tells us that tho we suffer loss, we are only cleansed through fire (1 Corinthians 3:10-17). In fact, St. Paul is clear in that the Christians of who he speaks are “saved” Christians. St. Paul speaks of us building a structure tested by fire, and that which is not consumed is saved and accredited to our merit. He connects “deed” with “laying a foundation” to “secure one’s eternal life” (2 Tim 6:19). The phrase “that Day” used in the Bible is the day of judgment. Jesus, over and again, repeats, “for my Day has not come” until the day of His Passion. We know “that Day” is the day of judgment for when Judas betrayed Jesus in the garden of Gethsemane, Jesus told Judas that that day was “his Day”; we know that day Judas hung himself and therefore would be standing before the throne of God in the afterlife. St. Paul writes in his first letter to the Corinthians, “He will keep you firm to the end, irreproachable on the day of our Lord Jesus (Christ).” “The day” is no other than the spiritual time of aevernity that is to be found only after this worldly life. St. Paul goes further to say, “may the Lord grant him to find mercy from the Lord on that Day” (2 Tim 1:8).
St. Paul goes further to express the contrasting polarities of salvation via works. If man is ruined by work than man may also be justified by work. As found in 1 Corinthians 3 where “man is tested by fire” and “may suffer loss”, the Greek for suffer loss (zemiothesetai) only refers to punishment. St. Paul concludes his sermon with “will be saved”. The Greek for this is “sothesetai”, which refers to nothing else other than the salvation that God grants to the Elect at the end of their lives.
But what of the part where man will suffer loss, according to 1 Corinthians 3? It is the works, not the reward that is vanquished in the consuming fire of justice. God promises us that “you will receive the inheritance as your reward”. Let me reiterative with emphasis St. Paul’s God breathed words, “though he himself will be saved but only as through fire”. If we build our temples (which we know to be our body) of frail things (such as straw, wood- which represent sin) than they will be consumed. St. Paul draws his words from Ezekiel chapter 13. Ezekiel speaks of Jews building a weak foundation of frail materials, such as untempered mortar, straw, wood, much of which St. Paul draws on in his exhortation.
So let’s review. We are called to be perfect because only those of perfection can enter heaven. But we can’t be perfect because we fall short. So since we fall short, we suffer loss but are to be cleansed as only through fire to be made perfect again.
Remember, there are different degrees of sin (venial and mortal), and not only that but not all sin leads to death (1 John 5:16-17). But what do we do with the sin that is not deathly, but again it is impure and keeps us from getting into heaven? Again, that’s where St. Paul tells us nothing unclean shall enter heaven therefor we shall be cleansed as through fire. If you don’t believe 1 John’s passage saying that not all sin is worthy of death, than read James 1:14-15, “Rather, each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire conceives and brings forth sin, and when sin reaches maturity it gives birth to death.” But what happens if sin doesn’t reach maturity? It still taints us and makes us imperfect. Again, St. Paul’s words ring with such conviction that this fire purges us and cleanses us. We know this fire is all purifying. Of the nine choirs of angles, Seraphs, are those who are closest to God, at His throne, and most powerful. That which is closest to God is purest, holy, divinized. In fact, Seraphs literally means “burning ones”. Why burning? Because God’s love is like an all consuming fire, and this fire purges to create not only sanctification but holiness.
People will ask me, “Didn’t Christ forgive us for all sin? Didn’t He pay the price?” Yes and yes. But Christ, who is the same as His Father – who also forgave sins (of the Old Testament patrons) – still understood that although the children of God were forgiven, there was still a price to be paid by the person themselves. This is made evident in 2 Samuel 12:13-14. God forgave King David for his murder and concupiscence, yet, although entirely forgiven by God, David still has to pay a price; the price was the life of his firstborn son. He was still punished tho he incurred the forgiveness of God. Remember, the forgiveness of God and the forgiveness of Christ are one in the same, cause if you seen Christ, you’ve seen God, Christ is sent to do the Father’s will, and Christ is one in the same with the Father. Although God and Christ forgive, there still remains a price to be paid. People say Christ paid for everything. But then why does St. Paul differ from this notion by saying Christ’s afflictions overflow for us to carry (Colossians 1:24)? And why does St. Paul say that we need to be cleansed by fire if Christ did all the cleansing in His Passion on the cross at Calvary? Remember, St. Paul was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write in the infallible Word of God.
The error in that Christ’s expiation is that it is seen by many as a legal transaction. If God, being the Godman Christ, paid for our debts, there should be nothing left to collect of debt or owed to justice. As many Christians view this as a legal transaction, that Christ paid all debts, then faith is rendered useless. There is no need for belief or faith in a legal or judicial system. Law is law regardless of how one interprets or discerns penalties. If Christ paid the debt in totality, than one would receive the effects despite their faith or belief.
Jesus Christ even tells us Himself that we are to make friends with our accuser and to pay for our debts lest we aren’t released from them (Matthew 5:25-26). Why does Jesus make it a point to tell us that we are to pay for our debts, just as David did, and why does St. Paul make it a point that we are to carry the burden of the cross if Christ died for all men? We know the accuser is Satan because the same Greek word for accuser “antidikos” is found in Luke 12:58, 1 Peter 5:8, and Revelation 12:10-12; all these accusers are Satan. Who was the accuser in the Old Testament, especially in the case of Job? Satan. Preceding Matthew’s account, we have Job’s account of being accused by the accuser (Satan) before the Judge (God) in Heaven. It must stand that this trial is of a spiritual reality, not corporeal. Proceeding Matthew’s account we have in Revelation 12:10-12, “Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have salvation and power come, and the kingdom of our God and the authority of his Anointed. For the accuser of our brothers is cast out, who accuses them before our God day and night. They conquered him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; love for life did not deter them from death. Therefore, rejoice, you heavens, and you who dwell in them. But woe to you, earth and sea, for the Devil has come down to you in great fury, for he knows he has but a short time’.” Again, the accuser is thrown from Heaven (as we know Satan was) and stands to accuse us constantly (as happened to Job). It only logically fits that the judge found in Matthew is God, as He always had been, and the accuser be Satan, as he has always been. Since we know we are being judged and accused by spiritual beings, it follows that we are in the spiritual realm. In fact, Scripture equates debt (Greek: opheilonti) with sin (i.e. Lk 11:4, Mt 6:12). “On the day of judgment” Jesus states in Matthew’s gospel, “men will render account for every careless word they utter” (12:36). “On the day of judgment” is no other day than the time from which we decease and stand spiritually before the throne of God.
Jesus continues to teach us in Matthew 12:32, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” “Age to come” is very indicative. The Greek phrase” age to come” is only found one other time in the New Testament where St. Paul writes in his letter to the Ephesians, “above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in that which is to come” (1:21). Every time “age to come” is used, it is explicitly referring to the afterlife. In Ephesians 1:21, “above every name” is also found in Philippians 2:10, which speaks of Jesus name above every name, including those beneath the earth- which is the “age to come”
St. Luke addresses Jesus’ teaching of purgatory, quoting, “That servant who knew his master’s will but did not make preparations nor act in accord with his will shall be beaten severely; and the servant who was ignorant of his master’s will but acted in a way deserving of a severe beating shall be beaten only lightly. Much will be required of the person entrusted with much, and still more will be demanded of the person entrusted with more.” We find the Greek word for punished, “dichotomeo” is only used one other time by Jesus; this is found in Matthew 24:50-51, “the servant’s master will come on an unexpected day and at an unknown hour and will punish him severely and assign him a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The “hypocrites” (Greek, apistos) are those found in Revelation 12:8, “whose lot shall be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone.” Not is this only so, but when it speaks of a servant receiving a “light beating” followed by a servant whom will “weep and gnash their teeth”, what does “weeping and gnashing of teeth” draw our minds to? Hell. It is more than coincidental that this teaching of Jesus found in St. Luke’s gospel is in the midst of Jesus’ teaching about His second advent, which is strictly spiritual. We know this afterlife punishment is temporal because Jesus is quoting the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy which speaks of only temporal punishment (Dt. 25:1-3).
It’s because Christ loves us that He allows us to be as cooperators. Remember, Christ died for the redemption of the world, only He could do that. But we are coworkers in our own salvation; this is apparent when St. Paul tells us to work out our own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12). What work is left for us to do in our own salvation if Christ had done it all? Well ask St. Paul, again he takes us back to Colossians 1:24 that speaks of Christ’s affliction on the cross (His Passion) which overflows unto us to carry.
What I find interesting is that the Bible not only indicates cleansing from fire, but that it is a place where forgiveness can still happen- and it’s not of this world! This can be found in Matthew 12:32, “And whoever speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven; but whoever speaks against the holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come.” Why does Christ tell us that there is forgiveness still to be had even outside this life and world of ours’? Maybe because there is still more between our life and heaven. St. Paul speaks of going through a fire for cleansing, and Christ tells us in Matthew 12:36 that we will be held accountable on judgment day for every idle word spoken. Well between our death and judgment day, where do we reside? St. Paul speaks of a place that purifies us as through fire. This corresponds with Christ saying we are to be perfect, for as John says, nothing imperfect may gain entry into heaven. In fact, every time the Bible uses the term “age to come” it is always speaking of the spiritual realms, which in our case is after our corporeal lives.
Jesus is seen as going to a midway holding that wasn’t earthly, but it wasn’t heaven, or hell for that matter. Read with me 1 Peter 3:18-20, 4:6. “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water. For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” Jesus preached to those who waited patiently, having to wait in prison for their disobedience long ago? Sounds exactly like purgatory. How about that the gospel, which gives life and cleanses like fire, is preached to those who are now dead. The Bible is clear that these men are dead, but are neither in heaven nor hell, but are candidates for heaven only after they are purified.
Some people believe purgatory is a fluke, a fallacy. St. Paul didn’t. In fact, St. Paul had such belief and conviction that purgatory was most certainly real that not only did he pray for a soul in purgatory, but he was inspired by the Holy Spirit to write of it in the infallible Bible. St Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:16-18, “May the Lord show mercy to the household of Onesiphorus, because he often refreshed me and was not ashamed of my chains. On the contrary, when he was in Rome, he searched hard for me until he found me. May the Lord grant that he will find mercy from the Lord on that day! You know very well in how many ways he helped me in Ephesus.” Onesiphorus is dead, yet St. Paul found it most necessary to pray for his friend, that his friend make it out of his imprisonment and into heaven. Even if Onesiphorus is not deceased, St. Paul still requests that we make prayers and supplications for him “on that day”; again, “on that day” is always used to refer the afterlife.
As a matter of fact, not only does St. Paul believe in the prayers for those dead and in purgatory, but he even goes and asks, if purgatory doesn’t exist, than why are people baptized on behalf of the dead (1 Corinthians 15:29-30). St. Paul says if there is no resurrection, and he isn’t being discriminant about having a temporal body or not, than what will those do who are baptized for the dead? St. Paul is asking his listeners and readers, if resurrection isn’t real than what will those do who are baptized on behalf of the dead? St. Paul is implying that because resurrection is real than those who are baptized on behalf of the dead are needed because of resurrection. These dead reside in purgatory. We know they aren’t in heaven or hell else they wouldn’t need baptism; in fact, baptism was what Christ said we needed to get into heaven (John 3:5).
Purgatory is a very real place in which God made so that we have a more opportune time to incur mercy and grace, love and devotion to God by removing our sins, iniquities, and transgressions.
St. Augustine, one of the four primary doctors of the Church, quotes, “For some of the dead, indeed, the prayer of the Church or of pious individuals is heard; but it is for those who, having been regenerated in Christ, did not spend their life so wickedly that they can be judged unworthy of such compassion, nor so well that they can be considered to have no need of it” in City of God, 426 A.D..