As the millenia have passed, our understanding of Jesus has dimmed. This is in part due to just the passing of time, in part to our separation from Israel, and in part due to the political organization of the Church and the compromises that an organization must make. Purgatory, to me, seems to take the reality of the grave that is discussed in the Bible and attach to it ideas that came up over the millenia – such as praying for the salvation of people after their death.
So, as to the reality of the understanding that is in the Bible. When a person dies they go to the grave. The body decays while the soul is in hell (sheol). These days, the term hell brings up thoughts of fire and damnation – which is one part of hell. In the Bible there are two parts to hell: the fire and damnation side and paradise (or Abraham’s bosom). The righteous go to Abraham’s bosom to await the resurrection of the end of days, and the unrighteous go to the fire side – which we call hell.
In Acts 2:31 it is said “of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell, neither his flesh did see corruption.” And in Luke 23:43 it is said “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
So in these verses, the Bible states that Jesus went to a part of hell called paradise when he died. It is from hell that Jesus is resurrected three days later, bringing with him a number of the saints (“And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose, and came out of the graves after his resurrection” Matthew 27:52-53).
So, this reality of purgatory is true – there is a realm of the dead (hell/sheol) and within the realm are the righteous (paradise) and the unrighteous. The falsehood of purgatory is that any prayers that we offer can change the fate of the people therein. As there are two compartments, an initial judgment has already been made – and there is no way to travel from the one compartment to the other compartment of hell (“between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence” Luke 16:26).
Additionally, as it is said “the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works” (Revelation 20:12). The works of our lives are written while we live; once we are dead the books are written. Prayers from people still living cannot change that which we have done (or not done).
Later, I will speak on the resurrection of the dead and the new world. But first, I also have two other topics left to speak on: what is salvation and what is supersessionism (or what is Israel).