Often from protestants, I get asked the biblical basis for purgatory. But I want to flip the question around and ask protestants this: What is the biblical basis against the cleansing of the soul before full entry into heaven?
The standard Protestant answer to this (from Protestants who really understand what purgatory is) is that Scripture says Jesus paid the penalty for all of our sins. Therefore, to say that we need to pay a temporal penalty for sins is heresy (essentially, they don't usually use that word). Here is a link to a gotquestions article about it.
Of interest is the fact that this phrase, Jesus died for ALL of our sins, to my knowledge is not in scripture. Scripture says that Jesus died for our sins, to be sure. And I would not disagree with the notion that, in a general and broad sense, Jesus died for all of them. However, as justification for rejecting a doctrine like purgatory, this argument seems weak, especially because the notion that Jesus died for all of our sins does not undermine the notions we have about justice in this life, namely that one who wrongs another must make temporal recompense (eg restoring money that you stole). Jesus died for your sin of theft. That absolves you from hell, to be sure. It most certainly does not mean you may keep the money you stole.
The linked GQ article cites two passages "Jesus died to pay the penalty for all of our sins (Romans 5:8). Isaiah 53:5" Neither of these state that Jesus died for ALL of our sins. Later, the same article states plainly that Jesus died for our sins and cites 1 Corinthians 15:3, which says "For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures."
Another GQ article making the same claim cites 2 Corinthians 5:21, which says "For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."
An unrelated Protestant site features an article making this claim and citing 1 Cor. 15:3, which you will see above says nothing about ALL sins.
Now, I haven't read every single verse on sin in the New Testament in order to sus out whether this phrase actually appears, but it seems to me that a Protestant making this claim would more likely than not cite such a passage instead of a weaker passage, if such a passage exists. I would be interested if someone could point me to such a passage.
Another common objection is that Scripture appears to plainly state that those who die go directly to heaven or hell, from the LCMS FAQ
QUESTION: What's the Lutheran response to the Roman Catholic teaching of purgatory?
ANSWER: Lutherans have always rejected the traditional Roman Catholic teaching regarding purgatory because 1) we can find no scriptural basis for it, and 2) it is inconsistent, in our view, with the clear teaching of Scripture that after death the soul goes directly either to heaven (in the case of a Christian) or hell (in the case of a non-Christian), not to some "intermediate" place or state.
What Scripture teaches concerning the death of the Christian is summarized as follows by Lutheran theologian Edward Koehler in his book, A Summary of Christian Doctrine:
In the moment of death the souls of the believers enter the joy of heaven. Jesus said to the malefactor: "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43). Stephen said in the hour of death: "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:59). Whoever dies in the Lord is blessed "from henceforth" (Rev. 14:13).
Here we see another problem. These are all particular examples. Nothing in the doctrine of purgatory precludes certain holy individuals from being admitted into heaven upon death. And in fact, the Catholic Church offers many means of receiving just such a grace, through indulgences. So, it is evident that the Catholic Church has no issue with the idea that at least some people go straight to heaven. Furthermore, it has always been Catholic teaching that the damned go straight to hell.
Luke 23:43 refers to the penitent thief, whose repentance at death's doorstep amounts to a baptism of desire. The Catholic Church teaches that those who are baptized are, at that moment, free from all sin. And, should they die at that moment, they go straight to heaven. Those who die with a legitimate baptism of desire have the same experience.
Acts 7:59 refers to Saint Stephen's martyrdom. The Catholic Church has always taught that legitimate martyrs do not go to purgatory and instead go straight to heaven.
With the above verses put in context, citing Rev. 14:13 loses a lot of the weight it had, especially since it is a very non-literal writing. Alone, it is insufficient to promote the idea that all souls go to either heaven or hell and nowhere else immediately upon death. In light of a passage like Matt 5:25-26, it seems it should be interpreted according to Catholic tradition.
What is the biblical basis against the cleansing of the soul before full entry into heaven?
The idea of some place or state between death and the new life is not biblical, but requires some reading-in of such ideas. Without these ideas, we have a clear revelation of the process God has planned - including both those called in this life, and those called in the next.
But now, having died to what bound us, we have been released from the law, so that we serve in the new way of the Spirit, and not in the old way of the written code. Rom 7:6
Being released from the law - the law of what? Of sin and death - the death caused by sin. The law requires a life to pay for sin - unless a perfect, all inclusive sacrifice is offered, each must pay their own penalty - death.
For in Christ Jesus the law of the spirit of life set you free from the law of sin and death. Rom 8:2
So if there is no longer a law of sin and death caused by sin, there is no need for further forgiveness - obviously for those so included in Christ - the sheep.
reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Rom 6:11
Those who are counted in Christ are alive! We are to 'reckon' ourselves in such a state of new life - yet to be fully experienced, but by the deposit (2Cor 1:22) of spirit in us, it has begun in this life but by no means finished.
I am the resurrection and the life. The one who believes in me will live, even though they die John 11:25
Plainly, once death for those in Christ has occurred - either in reality and in the grave, or figuratively through baptism etc, then the new life has commenced and they will be raised or transformed at Jesus' return. There is no need for other complex arrangements. Nor is there any support for going to heaven and being cleansed when we get there, the raised and transformed saints will rule with Christ on earth. 1Cor 6:2, Rev 20:6
Allowing another construct would contradict these and many more texts that speak the same thing - by Jesus' death, sin is resolved. It does not need to keep being resolved for the faithful.
Those NOT in Christ at his return will be part of the nations Jesus and his saints will rule over for 1000 years. After this, Satan is released and there will be a resurrection to judgement - not to condemnation - judgement. Yes, all are found guilty, but the resurrection is an offer to repent. Having been made aware of the deception (Rev 20:2), they may now freely choose choose life for the first time OR death and go to the second death which eliminates them forever. The erroneous idea that one may somehow choose God while totally deceived is without merit or scriptural support. The Father calls and makes truth available to each in His own time. Removing the devil and his deception from amongst humanity is a general calling to truth for all 'unbelievers' after the first resurrection.
Jesus said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has granted it to him.” John 6:65 (2Pet 3:9, 1Tim 2:3-4)
Those in Christ have been judged already!
Truly, truly, I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not come under judgment. Indeed, he has crossed over from death to life. John 5:24