Wednesday, June 7, 2017

What The Bible Really Teaches About Hell...and What It Doesn't

Satan is not immortal. He will not live forever. There is a time appointed for his demise and the destruction of all who are with him. You and I are not immortal either. Only God is immortal. The only way that anyone will receive eternal life is by salvation through Jesus Christ.

There is much confusion on the subject of Hell. The interpreters of Scripture did not help this situation by choosing to translate two very different words with unique meanings, Hades and Gehenna, both as Hell in most English New Testaments. Hades is a place of spiritual imprisonment. Gehenna is a valley outside of Jerusalem. The Lake of Fire, often confused with "Hell," is something entirely different. In this post, I will answer the following questions: What is Hades? What is Gehenna? What is the Lake of Fire? Is purgatory real? Is there a second chance after death? What happens to the soul after death? Is there an afterlife? Will some people suffer eternal conscious torment in hell?

What is Hades?
Hades is a spiritual place, a spiritual prison. The Bible describes it as a place of outer darkness where there is weeping and knashing of teeth. It is a place of conscious torment where there is suffering, thirst and despair as described in the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus. There is a fiery gulf fixed between Hades and Paradise and no one can pass through. Some fallen angels are imprisoned there in chains. The souls of human beings who died without placing their faith in the one true God are consigned to Hades as well. Hades is not the same as Catholic Purgatory. No one can pay, pray, work or earn their way out of Hades. There is nothing that anyone on earth can do such as Baptism for the dead or paying indulgences that will get a friend, relative or loved one out of Hades. During the Millennial reign of Christ on earth, Satan will be imprisoned for 1,000 years in the deepest pit of Hades, known as Tartarus. Hades will not last forever. At the end of this world, all of Death and Hades will be cast into the lake of fire, and destroyed.

What is Gehenna?
Gehenna is a name the Jews used to describe a physical place, the Valley of Hinnom, located off the southern slope of Jerusalem. This was a place where the bodies of sacrificed and dead animals were burned and discarded and it was basically the trash dump for the city. It would have looked like an ash heap, a boneyard of destruction, a picture of ruin and desolation, likely containing the bones of humans sacrificed through the centuries as well. The name Gehenna, or Gehenna of fire, translated sometimes as hell fire, aptly describes this place because it was constantly smoldering, and is used symbolically of ultimate punishment, judgement and destruction. It should remind us of the smoldering remains of Sodom and Gomorrah. At the end of time, when Satan and all of his evil hordes come rushing in to surround Jerusalem, fire will rain down on them in this place and destroy them. Since, Jerusalem represents God's Holy City and the Kingdom of Heaven, Gehenna represents being permanently cast out from God's Presence and destroyed by fire. When we think of the Valley of the Shadow of Death, we could think of this terrifying place. The desolation found in the Valley of Hinnom provides a picture of the judgement that awaits the enemies of God. The Valley itself separates Mt. Zion from what is called the Mountain of Evil Counsel, one of the "high places" where sacrifices and pagan acts of worship were offered to false gods. It represents the divide between the Kingdom of God and those who follow Satan. It symbolizes the divide between good and evil and in the middle is an un-crossable void where evil will be destroyed and not be allowed to enter into the Presence of God and His rest.

What is The Lake of Fire?
The ultimate judgement of the world will be in fire. Exodus 24:17 teaches us that: The appearance of the glory of the Lord was like a consuming fire on the mountaintop. Hebrews 12:29 says: For our God IS a consuming fire. I nearly fell out of my chair when my Systematic Theology professor at the most conservative Seminary in the world announced that he believed the Lake of Fire was the Presence of God, not because I was shocked by the teaching, but because I was astonished that anyone else had come to the same conclusion Scripture had led me to. Over and over again, God's Presence is described as being an all-consuming fire and God is described as having a fire go before Him and sending fire in judgement.

I sometimes like to picture the lake of fire as being like a great moat, surrounding the Holy City, preventing evil from entering into the presence of God. All evil is destroyed in the blaze. Only the righteous can pass through the flames and see His face. 

No one can enter the actual Presence of Father, Son and Holy Spirit in all of His glory without passing through the flame. Evil cannot stand before the Presence of our Holy, Almighty God. His Holiness will utterly and completely defeat, destroy and bring a definite end to all evil. 

Look, the LORD will come with fire-- His chariots are like the whirlwind-- to execute His anger with fury and His rebuke with flames of fire. For the LORD will execute judgment on all flesh with His fiery sword, and many will be slain by the LORD. -Isaiah 66:15-16

Upon the wicked He will rain snares; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. For the Lord is righteous; The upright will behold His face. -Psalm 11:6

What Happens to the Human Soul After Death?
The Bible says to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Upon death, believers immediately go to heaven and are in God's Presence. Scripture teaches that at His right hand are pleasures forevermore. But what about unbelievers? The most common position which has been preached among Protestants and Evangelicals is that Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment where you burn forever and ever for all of eternity with no hope of reprieve in the most horrific suffering imaginable. When I began to realize what the Bible was teaching on this subject, I tried hard to prove myself wrong by carefully researching and studying each text that could prove that ECT (Eternal Conscious Torment) was correct. I was unable to prove it. We have to allow the Text to say what it intends. Here is a careful examination of 3 key passages that have been frequently misunderstood and mistaught.

1. The worm that never dies?
And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24, quoted in Mark 9:43-48)

In it's original context, this passage referred to the destruction of Israel's enemies. It is also quoted in the New Testament to refer to all of the enemies of God. The NIV translates this as "The worm that eats you will not die." This phrase is like a colloquialism for death, similar to saying "You're worm food," or "You're dead meat." It refers to the destruction and decay of the flesh. The worm is not referring to a human soul as some have taught, it is referring to actual worms feasting on dead and rotting flesh. The part of this passage about worms refers to the death of the body. The part about fire refers to the death of the soul. The passage about the fire affirms the fact that this judgement has already been rendered and will not be relented from. It forshadows ultimate judgement by fire in Gehenna.

2. Tormented Forever?
...and he will be *tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and IN THE PRESENCE OF THE LAMB. And the smoke of their *torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night. -Revelation 14:11

At the end of time, Satan is loosed from Hades after 1,000 years, he leads all of hell to surround God's people at Jerusalem, then...

And fire came down from heaven and devoured them. The devil who deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be *tormented day and night forever...And the sea gave up the dead which were in it and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them...then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. -Revelation 20:10-15

The Bible says in Hebrews 4:3 that the righteous will enter into God's rest and repeats this frequent quote about evildoers: You will never enter into my rest. This is a reference to never entering heaven, not a reference to never ending torture in hell.

*The words translated as "torment" and "tormented" are very specific words, basano and basanizo, both of which refer to a type of Purity Test. They describe taking a black rock, like unrefined coal or brimstone and scraping it across gold or silver to see if it is pure. If the gold was pure, the coal would simply slide across it, leaving no mark. But if there were other elements present, impurities that could add a grainy quality, then the coal would leave it's black mark. The darker the mark, the more impurity was present. It is easy to understand how the early interpreters of Scripture into English pictured this as torturing someone with hot coals. But they missed the whole point. Basano simply does not mean to torment or torture. It means to TEST. This should bring to mind Isaiah's vision of an angel using tongs to remove a coal from the altar and placing it on his lips to purify them. The Bible refers to Christians as being like gold or silver refined in the fire. Scripture also tells us that the righteous will pass the test and pass through the flames and that the unrighteous will not pass the test and will be destroyed in the flames. This is a permanent, once and forever purity test. 

The phrases "day and night" and "forever and ever" mean that this is a permanent judgement from which no one will come back. Day and night are temporary, earthly things which will no longer exist at the end of time and are passing away. There will no longer be day or night. Time is ending. They will not receive relief by day or by night or ever. They will never enter into God's rest. This eliminates all possibility of purgatory, second chances after death or universal salvation. This sentence is carried out in the Presence of God and His Holy angels. The fire comes down from heaven. This is the final test, a final judgement and the elimination of all evil forever and ever, not a continuing state of torture and suffering, but an eternal decision and permanent destruction of Satan and all demons. At that point in history, all souls suffering in Hades will be judged and then those sinful human beings who refused to be forgiven and covered by grace through Jesus Christ during their lives on earth will also perish in the flames of testing.

3. Eternal Punishment/Eternally Cut-Off From God 
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. -Matthew 25:46

The word "punished" comes from the root word for pruning a tree, a word that means to "cut off." This means that unbelievers will be permanently cut off from God. The Bible describes the unrighteous as tares (weeds) that are separated from wheat and cast into the fire, as the chaff that is separated from the wheat and thrown into the flames, as branches being cut off from Abraham's family tree, and as evil trees that will be cut down and cast into the fire. So what happens when someone is cut off from God?

Scripture says that God alone is immortal. (1 Timothy 6:15-16) ONLY God is immortal. You and I are a finite beings. Only God is infinite.

The Bible says: In Him we live and move and have our being. (Acts 17:28)

Jesus said I am the vine (young tree), you are the branches, apart from me you can do nothing.

The ONLY opportunity for eternal life comes through Jesus Christ. He is the tree of life. No one and nothing can live cut off and separated from God, the giver of life. Apart from Him is destruction.

Jesus taught that both the body and soul of unbelievers are destroyed.

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. -Matthew 10:28

JESUS said the soul is killed, slayed, and otherwise destroyed in the fire of God's judgement. His word choice of apollumi, means to sever fellowship, to be permanently separated (from God) and then completely destroyed. The first death is the death of the body, the Bible calls the death of the soul, the second death. For an unsaved person, that encompasses the totality of their existence. A saved person is filled with the Holy Spirit of God and is a trinity, restored to the Image of God, consisting of Body, Soul and Holy Spirit. An unbeliever is spiritually dead and will cease to exist in the Lake of Fire with both parts of their being, body and soul, destroyed. Suffering in Hades will not last forever. It is like spiritual death row. When all of Hades is cast into the Lake of Fire, those who have been suffering there will be destroyed.

Satan is NOT immortal. He is not a god. He is a finite, created being who rebelled against God, led other angels to rebel with him, tempted man to sin and fall and is called the enemy of our souls. He will not live forever. God will END Him and all those who are with him will suffer the same fate.

Jesus said that we must be born again, of the Spirit, to see the Kingdom of Heaven. Eternal life is for born-again followers of Jesus Christ. It is also important to understand that children who have not yet reached the age of accountability are under grace, not the law and no sins are held against them. They are considered innocent.

In the same way that the Angel of the Lord (Jesus) protected Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in the fiery furnace and they emerged unharmed and untouched by the flames, Jesus will take Christians through the flames and we will enter into Heaven and God's Presence.

How Do We Respond?
Scripture frequently says that The Lord is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast lovingkindness. But a good God must put an end to evil and suffering. God also loves justice.

For after all, it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in Flaming Fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the Presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day and to be marveled at among all who have believed. -2 Thessalonians 6-10

So here is the question. Do you believe? You can be 100% certain that you will spend eternity in heaven with God and live life without fear, without regret and full of hope by placing your faith in Jesus. John 3:16-17 says this:

For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have ever lasting life. For God did not send His Son to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.

Maybe you are someone who has had trouble accepting a God who would torment souls in unimaginable horror for millions of years and all eternity. I sincerely hope that by correcting that misinterpretation, this post helps you to realize God is fair and loving, and because of that, He must put a definitive end to all evil.  God is so Holy that He is surrounded by a fire that destroys all evil. Only those who have been put into a right standing with Him through Jesus can pass through those flames, enter His Presence and see His Face. I urge you now, don't be destroyed. Your life is precious to God. The death of the soul is a very serious thing. Believe that Jesus died for you. Ask Him to forgive you of your sins and to come into your heart and life. Ask Him to fill you with His love. Eternity in heaven with the loving family of God awaits.


God and Fiery Judgement: Isaiah 33:11-12, Psalm 18:7-15, Psalm 29:7, 2 Thessalonians 2:8, Psalm 21:9, 2 Samuel 22, Ezekiel 1:13-14, 2 Peter 3:7-13, Isaiah 29:6, Isaiah 30:27-33

Gold and Silver Refined: Psalm 66:10, Proverbs 17:3, Malachi 3:2-3, Zechariah 13:9, 1 Peter 1:7, Daniel 12:10, Isaiah 1:25, Proverbs 25:4-5, Ezekiel 22:17-22, Isaiah 48:10, Deuteronomy 4:20, 1 Kings 8:51, Job 23:10

Righteous Passing Through the Flames: Isaiah 43:2, Psalm 66:12, 1 Corinthians 3:15

Cut off and cast into the fire: Matthew 3:10, 2 Samuel 23:6-7, Luke 3:9, Matthew 13: 24-38, 36-43

Hades and Outer Darkness: Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 25:30, Luke 13:27-29, Jude 1:6, Revelation 20:2-3

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