Where Is Purgatory In The Bible?
"All who die in God's grace and friendship but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death, they undergo purification so as to attain the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven. The Church gives the name “Purgatory” to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned.” (Catechism Paragraph 1030-1031).
Revelations 21:27 tells us that nothing “unclean” will enter the Kingdom of God. Purgatory is an eschatological process, whereby one is temporarily purged from their sin before entering heaven.
At death, a person’s eternity is sealed as either heaven or hell. Purgatory is not a second chance at salvation, for they are already assured that they will be saved. It simply brings to completion the sanctification required for heaven, by cleansing the imperfections of those who have not yet reached final perfection in Christ. The biblical roots of purgatory reveal its ancient truth in manifold ways.
The Faithful And Unfaithful Slave
In Luke’s Gospel, Jesus presents us with four eschatological possibilities:
Faithful Servant (Pink) = Heaven. Blessed with possessions of the master’s household.
Wicked Servant (Blue) = Hell. Permanently + eternally punished by being cut in two and put with the unfaithful.
Unprepared Servant (Orange) = Purgatory. Temporarily punished with a severe beating.
Ignorant Servant (Green) = Purgatory. Temporarily punished with a light beating.
Unlike the wicked servant, the last two servants were not placed with the unfaithful. Jesus teaches us that there will be some people whose sins are not so grave for them to be cast out into hell, but at the same time, not righteous enough to enter immediately into the Kingdom. Instead, as justice requires, they will receive a temporary punishment for their sins, before they enter into heaven, to bring them up to complete sanctification.
According to 1 John 5:16-17, not all sins carry the same weight and therefore, the severity of one’s eschatological suffering will depend on the severity of one’s sin.
Forgiveness In The Age To Come
If the unforgivable sin will not be forgiven in this age or in the age to come, it would imply that there are at least some sins that can be forgiven in the next life.
If according to Matthew 5:48, we are to “be perfect” as “our heavenly Father is perfect,” it would make sense for there to be a final process of sanctification, so that final perfection is made possible.
Saved But Only As Through Fire
According to Paul, there will be Christians, who have built their lives on the foundation of Christ, and yet, will only be saved through fire. This fire will test the works of the faithful: rewarding good works and burning up evil works.
The original Greek word which is translated as “suffer loss” derives from the word “zemio” to mean “punishment”, suggesting that the purgation process will involve some sort of discomfort.
If the builder suffers punishment and yet is still saved, the fire cannot refer to hell, since hell is eternal damnation. It must refer to temporary suffering before heaven, which will burn away any impurities so that one can enter into heaven undefiled.
Refined And Purified By Fire
Influential Early Church Fathers, such as Origen, Irenaeus, Augustine and Jerome all affirmed that this passage was biblical proof of purgatory.
The Prophet Malachi cannot be referring to hell, since those in hell do not present offerings to God. Therefore, the passage must be referring to the fires of purgatory which will refine the descendants of Levi until they can present righteous enough offerings to God.
To be sanctified is to grow in holiness and to be refined like gold through fire. When a Goldsmith heats gold, it turns into a liquid and all the impurities rise to the surface. The Goldsmith gets rid of these impurities and continues to heat the gold. The impurities continue to rise and are thrown out by the Goldsmith. This process happens over and over and over again until the Goldsmith can look at the gold and see his reflection in it.
If God is our Goldsmith, then He wants to refine us to the point where He can see Himself in us. At this point, our sanctification is truly complete.
The Entire Debt
According to Early Christians: Tertullian, Cyprian, Origen and Jerome, the “prison” alludes to Purgatory, whilst the “penny” alludes to minor sins. The context is clearly eschatological.
If one can get out of the prison, then the punishment cannot be hell, since that would be eternal. It would have to be some sort of temporary suffering, required for lesser transgressions if one is then later acquitted or absolved of their sin.
The same concept is shown in Matthew 18:34, where the Lord hands over the unforgiving servant “to be tortured until he would pay his entire debt.” True suffering produces sanctification. Once having paid their entire debt, the souls in Purgatory are transferred to Heaven.
Ancient Jewish Tradition Of Praying For The Dead
Ever since the 4th Century, 1 and 2 Maccabees has always been included in the original Bible. Protestants during the Reformation removed seven books from the Old Testament, including this one, to avoid accepting the doctrine of purgatory and praying for the dead. However, the tradition is deeply rooted in Ancient Judaism.
The Mourner’s Kaddish is a prayer that Orthodox Jews recite for eleven months, so that their deceased loved ones may be purified. As presented in the Book of Maccabees, the Jews would pray for the dead and offer sacrifices of atonement for them. Since our prayers are not necessary for those in heaven and since those in hell are beyond help, it would presuppose Purgatory.
Jesus took away the eternal consequence of sin - eternal separation from God. Purgatory simply makes up for the temporary consequences of sin, so that one increases in sanctification. Similarly to Judas Maccabeus, Catholics pray, asking God to have mercy and liberate the souls in Purgatory.
Perfect And Complete Sanctification
Purgatory does not contradict the sufficiency of Jesus’ sacrifice on the Cross, but rather it depends on it. Through His death, Jesus paid the price for our entire sanctification, so that when we cooperate with His grace merited on the Cross, we make up for the temporary consequences of sin and grow in holiness.
When we enter into the sufferings of Christ, the fruit of our suffering is sanctification, which begins in this life (Romans 8:17). If our sanctification is not complete upon death, then the same graces will be applied when we undergo final sanctification in Purgatory.
In other words, if perfection is not attained by us believers at our death, then we must undergo a final purification that will, by God’s grace, bring to completion the good work that Christ has begun in us (Philippians 1:6).