Mission, hell, and universalism in Chapter 4

The question of hell comes up a lot in this chapter, which would make sense in a chapter on mission. When I was an evangelical kid at summer camp, we sometimes wondered, in hushed heretical voices, whether the "fire-insurance" we were selling was really what it was all about. I remember some pastors telling us counselors of the incredible value of using the fear of divine punishment for "scaring the hell" out of people. So sometimes a counselor would give their most vivid description of hell in the evening devotion, just before all the ten year olds went to sleep. The salvation count at the morning meeting would always spike well the following day.

So lets talk a little about hell and how our view of it changes how we act out in mission. I started feeling my view of hell was incomplete during university, when questions were raised regarding the nature of eternal punishment. The purpose of punishment is correction, so how could God be into punishment forever? What's the corrective purpose in that? That's just God being nasty, and apparently, according to what God says about God, God's not supposed to be that mean.

So I kept my ears open for other views of hell. And at this point, there are three that bounce around in my head:

1. Hell as fire and eternal punishment. Basically what I just alluded to, a place that God comdemns you to.

The other two are more based on my choice, which makes more sense to me.

2. Hell as a place God sends those who desire to be there. I have heard it described in terms of being cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth". Basically the idea is that God allows people to pursue in the afterlife exactly the path they pursued in life, the difference being that God completely withdraws his spirit from that place. Because in life, even the most screwed up, ugly situation benefits from the spark of light, which is the goodness of God, which works its way into every corner of creation. Even among those who reject God, any good thing they experience, any hint of friendship or tenderness, comes from the light of Christ. In hell that redeeming light is gone. Everyone is free to be as selfish as they desire, cruelty is unrestrained, making it, well, no party anyway.

3. This one is the most convicing to me, and it comes from Eastern Orthodoxy. In that version, when we die, we all go to be with God. But, as James Ferrenberg puts it,

some people are simply unable to experience heaven - that to them, God's love and truth is too much to bear. Lovers of darkness who cannot love the light...to them the light is hellfire.

So each person in their life makes a choice, to embrace the light or reject it, and that choice determines what your experience will be when you go to be with God. For those who have embraced it, it will be heaven, the fulfillment of all we have have hoped and longed for. For those who reject it, the light of God will be the very fires of hell.

C.S. Lewis in The Last Battle would even seem to suggest that it goes in degrees. There, the dwarves who just "sort of" embrace the light just "sort of" experience heaven. For them it is comfortable, but dull and boring. I wonder if that is what the apostle Paul means when he talks about getting into heaven as one "just escaping flames". Or maybe this is what the Parable of the Talents is talking about...

Anyway, there's one version I forgot. It's from Father Zossima in Dostoevsky's The Brothers Karamozov, and ties in with the number 3.

Fathers and teachers, I ponder, "What is hell?" I maintain that it is the suffering of being unable to love. Once in infinite existence, immeasurable in time and space, a spiritual creature was given on his coming to earth the power of saying, "I am and I love." Once, only once, there was given him a moment of active lifting love, and for that was earthly life given him, and with it times and seasons. And that happy creature rejected the priceless gift, prized it and loved it not, scorned it and remained callous. Such a one, having left the earth, sees Abraham's bosom and talks with Abraham as we are told in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, and beholds heaven and can go up to the Lord. But that is just his torment, to rise up to the Lord without ever having loved, to be brought close to those who have loved when he has despised their love. For he sees clearly and says to himself, "Now I have understanding, and though I now thirst to love, there will be nothing great, no sacrifice in my love, for my earthly life is over, and Abraham will not come even with a drop of living water (that is the gift of earthly active life) to cool the fiery thirst of spiritual love which burns in me now, though I despised it on earth; there is no more life for me and will be no more time! Even though I would gladly give my life for others, it can never be, for that life is passed which can be sacrificed for love, and now there is a gulf fixed between that life and this existence."

Which one makes the most sense to you? How does your view of hell affect how you act out in mission? What is the mission anyway?


Rick said...

What's the old saying? Religion is for folks who want to avoid hell and spirituality is for people who have been there.

I have never understood the theology behind hell. The Augustinian view of original sin that has dominated a large part of Christianity for nearly 1,700 and Anselm's substitutionary antonement is bad theology. Augustine was abused as a kid by his school master, no wonder he hated himself and thought he was "bad" at his core.

Hell is not recognizing who I am as a beloved child of God. Hell is not recognizing the reign of God in my midst. Hell is fearing God will destroy me. I think most of the hell I have found myself in is due to my fear-based choices. Fear is hell.

That's my .10 cents. :)

c said...

Currently I not reading the book, but would like to comment on the subject of hell.

I have always thought of hell being in a state of continual loniness. Loniness is about the one human factor that scares the "hell" out of me. Maybe thats why some many people kill themselves because they can't stand the idea of being all alone in this world. Maybe loniness is why many men fall into pornography. Maybe loniness is why many couples in New York have these "cuddle" parties, to have that connection of the human touch, of being close, of communing with our spirits through non-verbal moments.

You are right on saying that God is everywhere, in friendships, in smiles, in the rain and sun, and in the mundane of life. When God departs I can see how others might long for just a drop of eternal water on their sparsed lips like in the story Jesus told of Lazarus and the rich man.

Anyway, who knows what hell holds. Its a little scarey to think about, but thanks for challenging our ideas.

Bruce said...

I spent a few years as a mewmber of the Orthodox Church, so I suppose I would have to say that I find the Orthodox view more appealing (if one can say any view of Hell is appealing). I believe it preserves the individual's free will along with God's loving nature. I have found however, in my conversations with those committed to Western viewpoints that this one is hard to accept.

JJ said...

Hey Bruce and Clark,

Thanks for those comments. Bruce, I am wondering what they find hard to accept about it, in your experience? I have found the same thing, but I am wondering what in particular made them nervous about that view of hell?

And Clark, I agree with that about lonliness. I have often noticed it about myself, that community and the relationships I hold dear are closely tied to how I relate to God. I guess I notice it in reverse; for example if I am far away on a business trip, relationally unconnected and anonymous, then the temptation to "be bad" is much greater than if I am close to those who love me. I wonder how that relates to the A and E in the Garden - they commit the first sin, and then try to hide themselves...

JJ said...

And Jen, I'm wondering what hell is in your view. I am guessing it might be an Emergent conference with only six percent women, with half of those keeping quiet and wearing head-coverings....

Mike Todd said...

Great thoughts, JJ.

Personally I would benefit from a scriptural review of all references to "hell". I have a funny feeling the Bible really doesn't say what we think it says on the subject.

djchuang said...

As requested, 15 verses turned up via a NIV search at BibleGateway.com with the word "hell":

Matthew 5:22
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother[ 5:22 Some manuscripts brother without cause] will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,[ 5:22 An Aramaic term of contempt] ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Matthew 5:29
If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

Matthew 5:30
And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Matthew 10:28
Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Matthew 16:18
And I tell you that you are Peter,[ 16:18 Peter means rock.] and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades[ 16:18 Or hell] will not overcome it.[ 16:18 Or not prove stronger than it]

Matthew 18:9
And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Matthew 23:15
"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are.

Matthew 23:33
"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?

Mark 9:43
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.[ 9:43 Some manuscripts out, 44 where / " 'their worm does not die, / and the fire is not quenched.']

Mark 9:45
And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell.[ 9:45 Some manuscripts hell, 46 where / " 'their worm does not die, / and the fire is not quenched.']

Mark 9:47
And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell,

Luke 12:5
But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.

Luke 16:23
In hell,[ 16:23 Greek Hades] where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.

James 3:6
The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.

2 Peter 2:4
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell,[ 2:4 Greek Tartarus] putting them into gloomy dungeons[ 2:4 Some manuscripts into chains of darkness] to be held for judgment.

jen lemen said...

jj, very funny!
thanks for making me laugh out loud (and for reading my mind).

okay, my view of hell.
my personal view this second is that we all return to god and that for some of us that is pure hell and for others of us it is the best bliss ever. i don't believe in traditional hellfire and brimstone (sorry, deej, i skimmed over all those verses) or in the idea that god is some sadistic father who just has to torture us cuz we had it coming. i think instead that the heaven (or hell) we experience is in direct proportion to the ability we cultivate in this life to receive (or reject) the abundant life god offers us freely. this is not to say that naturally emotive/experiential types like myself have an advantage. i just think that part of being present with god is having our souls sifted and sorted down to our most true substance. which no one will be able to discern for themselves or anyone else until they are in the presence of god, godself. only then will we discover how truly we long for pure love, unmitigated by the bondage of human agendas.

for what it's worth after an afternoon of drinking several glasses of white wine at very snooty steeplechase races with my oh so refined younger sister.

Bill Bean said...

Though I think our view of hell might affect the intensity of our mission I'm not sure the version matters with regard to mission. Whatever hell may actually end up being I think we all agree (is that safe to say?) that it is an undesirable location or condition. Therefore none of us wants anyone (incl ourselves) to experience that.

Whether or not there is judgement and justice seems to be a more fundamental question.

Rick said...

This is a great question. We don't talk about hell much in the church I attend. I do think it is important to consider where our "theology" on hell developed. I did not mention this in my previous post, but hell came from the Hebrew "Sheol". (Hey, I am using my two semesters of Biblical Hebrew that was pure hell to get through). I also think it is important to understand what was meant by heaven for the Hebrew people in order to grasp an understanding of hell. If Jehovah was the "sky-god" then heaven is the place where God dwells. To be with God would to be in heaven.


Bruce said...

I think people are unwilling to examine alternate views of hell for the same reason they are not willing to examine alternate views of any theology. They are comfortable with what they know. It is easier to be comfortable accepting that God throws people neck deep into the Lake of Fire, than to take a risk outside of the theological box and look at new (or very old) views that show a more merciful God, and one more in keeping with his character.

passthebread said...

I beleive it is far more of an intellectual challenge and an act of courageous deconstruction to accept Jesus at His word concerning Hell.
We really need to understand first that the biblical view of heaven is a place on earth not some "pie in the sky" spiritual realm. The foundation of our liberation from the current difficulty the church in is in liberating ourselves from a greek seperation of thought from life. It is this seperation that has allowed the people in the west to seperate faith from story. This teleological view of history is what drives mission. (i.e. History on earth is going somewhere.)
The story ends on a new earth. This story isn't going to have people just hanging around who are really bummed to be there.
Jesus makes it clear some people, lots of people, are not going to be allowed into the party. Whether that involves fire or just psychic anquish is another thing but it certainly was never thought of by Jesus to be nirvana with a bad attitude. Our understanding has to be at least rooted in the Hebrew worldview

Michelle said...

I'm with the Edward Fudge school of thought when it comes to hell. That hell is a once-off, forever-destroying fire. Probably a leftover belief from my upbringing, but one that's stuck around.

Want the Biblical proof? The link above gives that too!

+ simonas said...

i am deeply saddned by reading jen's comments on skimming those verses over. is that because it is more comfortable to believe in something other than the scriptures? siter, i understand that we are on the same side of the trenches. so i wish you well. i am just concerned about how we read the bible and what value it has in forming our understanding of things.

i also understand the problems that hell presents in regards to the character of god, but, if i remember corectly, it was brian himself, who reminds us to wrestle with difficult passages of the bible rather then presenting some easy answers to hard questions however satisfying our *personal* view is.

i aslo suspect that the orthodox view does not rise out of protest against the western understanding, but rather as a variation, a speculation (i write "speculation" because even thouse metaphors given to us in the scriptures are that - metaphors - as hell is something beyond our experience and no word would be adequate to describe that reality, just like the kingdom of god - it is like...). of course, i have to read it in the context to find out, which i neither have done, nor know where to find it. any online help would be appreciated.

dave p said...

The verses on hell are like (and I love using this analogy) Sherlock Holmes' "dog that barked in the night". It's not what they say, it's what they don't say that's interesting.

They are hardly descriptive at all. A couple of them talk about the "fire of hell" and one or two mention "torment", but the rest just refer to it as a place you might go to, like, say Dallas.

Given the lack of description, I'm assuming people knew what Jesus meant when he talked about hell, so what was the common Jewish understanding of hell at the time? (Anyone - Bueller?)

Seems to me that, as it is with angels, the common language, mythology and understanding of hell is mostly unbiblical.

Tim said...


Great to read some of the comments that have been appearing on this blog.

A little background. I am a missionary with OM. I spend my times on the college campuses in northern England loving students into the kingdom of God.

I would like to reccomend a book: Crucial Questions About Hell
by Ajith Fernando.

He is a brilliant communicator.

I also want to point you to a little comment from an interview with John Stott from the magazine Third Way in England.

"You yourself have fallen foul of some evangelicals. I hear that some of your reflections on the nature of eternal punishment were considered uncongenial to orthodoxy by some people, particularly in the States."

RESPONSE-Well, that's a polite way of putting it. In Essentials, I described as ‘tentative' my suggestion that I described as ‘tentative' my suggestion that ‘eternal punishment' may mean the ultimate annihilation of the wicked rather than their eternal conscious torment. I would prefer to call myself agnostic, as are a number of New Testament scholars I know. In my view, the biblical teaching is not plain enough to warrant dogmatism. There are awkward texts on both sides of the debate.

The reaction to what I said about this was mixed. Some evangelicals responded thoughtfully and theologically, others with inflexible dogmatism – I find myself increasingly out of sympathy with excessive evangelical dogmatism – and a third group, especially in the US, was positively hysterical in its denunciation. Many people went into print without even having bothered to read what I had written.

It's a very distressing thing about evangelicalism – we are not good at responsible domestic debate. But the hallmark of an authentic evangelical is not the uncritical repetition of old traditions but the willingness to submit every tradition, however ancient, to fresh biblical scrutiny, and, if necessary, reform.

Tim Speaking now:

I believe in the eternal hell for all those who don't know Jesus. Thats why I live and do what I do.



Mike Todd said...

Hey Tim:

I'm doing some personal writing on the whole issue of Hell, and I'd like to ask you a few questions based on your comment. You're Blogger profile isn't public, so if you happen to see this maybe you could flip me an email.

For that matter, anyone else who wants to throw in their 2 cents worth can as well!


Caroline said...

Jesus' listeners probably have three concepts or imagery of hell
1) the grave where the dead either don't know anything or miss things like life, joy and God.
2) gehanna which was their town dump for burning garbage and bodies
3) hades from Greek mythology

All the verses djchuang posted do not say hell lasts forever. Some verses say God can destroy both soul and body and one verse said the gates of hell can not withstand the church.

Most of Jesus' teaching on hell is told in the form of parables and we have to be cautious about making dogmatic statements based on parables. We like to think that everything is true in His parables because fiction and myth are not acceptable to Evangelical thinking but there may not have been a prodigal son or ungrateful servant or a king's son who was killed by his tenants or a businessman who paid people who worked one hour the same as those who worked all day. It is possible the 'hell' Jesus vividly described is a fictional setting to make a point about being in the kingdom and out of the kingdom.

The one parable that speaks of eternal punishment also speaks of people being judged based on works.

The apostles do not speak of hell which is very odd if the whole world is going to hell and our mission is to save them from hell.

Caroline said...

My favourite joke about hell:

Jesus was telling his disciples about hell, vividly describing the weeping and gnashing of teeth.

"But what if they don't have teeth?" one disciple asked?

Jesus fixes him with a steely look and said, "Teeth will be provided."

David W. said...

Caroline was mistaken. The apostles do speak on hell if hell means the eternal separation from God. Paul writes in 2 Thessalonians about God "dealing out retribution to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power," (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Some may want to read annhilationism into this text, but whatever ones conception of hell may be and whatever hell may actually be, one thing is for sure, the scriptures do not understand unbelievers to ever be in the presence of God after the restoration of all things (new heavens and the new earth).

Paul said...

This is really the best discussion I've seen on this site. David W. makes an inescapable point from II Thess. 1:8-9.

I will just add one thing: Our misunderstanding, inability to grasp the justice of hell often abides in our failure to see ourselves as deserving of it without God. In other words, "Are you better than Hitler?" James, in James 2:10, as well as Paul in Romans 3:10-12 say you are not. If you grasp that along with some of the incomprehensible riches of God's grace, you will get it.

I think I have some of it, because, like the Apostle Paul, I see amazing grace that delivered a wretch who deserved hell. Sometimes, the experience of suffering and sin are the only teachers that will let us grasp the deep things of the Lord. Seein that I am a lawbreaker deserving of God's wrath is not what we have been taught in public school.

Dan Wilt said...

Let's try a few possibilities:

The fire of heaven and the fire of hell are the same -- purging and destroying are two results of the same force of character energy applied.

i.e. For some, Glory is manifest character that enjoys and is enjoyed. For others, Glory is manifest power that simply destroys.

Hell is to look into the Face of one who is all beauty, every deepest desire manifest before our eyes, and then to hear the words, "Depart from me; I never knew you."

I personally, and quietly in my circles, embrace a view of hell that is supported by many leaders, including (as I recall) Michael Green and a score of other scholarly, respected voices.

That view is, generally, that some souls will live forever, while others meet complete annihilation.

Eternal hellfire is a hellenistic idea based on Plato's thoughts regarding the immortality of all souls. I.e. that souls cannot die or be destroyed. Thanks again Graeco-Romanism.

It's time to change the glasses through which we read the Story. Eastern eyes see this world and the scriptures in a radically different way than western eyes do.

I would also strongly contend that if a concept of hell motivates anyone to love people in the name of Jesus, or to care for the poor, sick, needy and dying, then they had better get out from behind a microphone.

Pure love is not focused primarily on rescue human beings, but rather on restoring, by the power of God, their dignity, honor and position as His child.

RtPricetag said...

The Old Testament of the Bible does not talk about Hell, Hades or Purgatory, but does tell of Death and the Grave/Tomb/Pit or Sheol. Purgatory is a more recent belief that Christ dying for our sins was not sufficient and that sinners must suffer to some extent for these sins. Unless Purgatory is in reference to what the unsaved experience who are found across the deep chasm from Sheol in Hell, this does not agree with the redeeming blood of Christ. Abaddon, Tartaros, or the Abyss are terms being a study in themselves. These refer to the fallen angels who were cast down to earth; into the burning lake of sulfur, being bound in everlasting chains. The Devil, the Beast, and the False Prophet are also thrown into the Burning Lake of Sulfur.

Of these fallen or dark angels, they are described in the New Testament; and although cast into hell bound in chains, are mentioned in spiritual form as demons or unclean spirits inhabiting or being cast out of individuals. One teaching says the 'Giants' of old were children born to these angelic or Sons of God who mated with daughters of men on earth.The book of Enoch suggests that these 'Giants' are the offspring produced by the leadership or noble class on earth (Sons of God) mating with daughters of common men on earth. In either case it displeased God.

It should be mentioned that Hell is in translation an English word, usually used in the Old Testament for Grave/Sheol, or in the New Testament for Gehenna/Hades. Some Jewish leaders believed there was no life or existence after death of the body. Yet as taught in both Old and New Testament, there is eternal life promised after death (or sleep) to those who receive grace from God, and in judgment the second death or spiritual death for the wicked and unrepentant. As it says in [NIV] John 3:16 "For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life." The second death described in Ps 145:20 "The LORD watches over all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy." In the New Testament this destruction is often called perdition, which means 'Calamity,' the calamity carried out in the Lake of Fire, meaning the Second Death.

In the New Testament Christ refers to the place where after the first death (of the body) the wicked and disobedient will go, relating this place to Gehenna, a despicable place where in earlier times human sacrifices were made to false gods. At the time of Christ this same location was used as a dump where garbage and human refuse (not living) burned day and night. This in itself was a frightening visual picture, yet Christ did not mean this place in hell is where those who were obedient would go. Nor would they go into the abyss, the King James Bible in Psalms 86:13 indicates this as the 'lowest hell,' this lower hell (or pit) is also called the Lake of Burning Sulfur usually associated with angelic beings. An exception is [NIV] Rev 21:8 "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death."

Hell in the New Testament when mentioned in most cases is used for Hades, and Hades being translation of Sheol or grave. The lake of burning sulfur or brimstone is where the Beast and False Prophet are thrown alive and await the Devil. Note that although these two are thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, they have not yet met judgment or death, but await the Devil who in the end will also be thrown. The Bible speaks of the Eternal Fire and Eternal Lake of Fire, these refer to God, just as Fire, the Sword and Word are all God, for God in all His power and majesty is Eternal. As Gods Word says in Heb 12:29 ...for our "God is a consuming fire."

Throughout the New Testament, when describing the first death, hell or hades is used to describe the place after death into which the wicked would go. As described in Mark 9:48 "...It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'" Understand this 'hell' is not yet the 'Burning Lake of Fire' where Judgment is carried out to destruction, this is the 'grave or hell' where after the first death the wicked are found to reside. Man is fromed by God as in Gen 2:6-7 "...the LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." The worm mentioned above is sometimes thought to be a literal worm in reference to the decomposing in Gehenna. However as we are told in Genesus, it would more accurately refer to the individual-soul (worm) who must wait for judgment, and the (unquenched fire) in this context better describing the individual-spirit.

The wicked in hell apparently experience an overwhelming enormity or fire that cannot be quenched. The Bible indicates that the calloused heart by this time cannot change, the darkness in hell then might be understood as a spiritual darkness, perhaps like the great delusion God sends the rebellious generation in the end times. In this it should not be confused that what God allows of our own will, to be interpreted as what God causes. Again what God foresees or foreknew He predestines or empowers be done. Judgment of the wicked is not done after death in hell, the Lord said the unredeemed are judged by their own words and deeds, these all occur during life and not after death. Then in hell those already judged await destruction in the eternal fire, the burning lake of fire. What then must those who know their fate to come, must in this spiritual darkness think and do within their own spiritual existance.

The Bible also describes death as Sheol, here Abraham and Lazarus are found after death. The rich man had also died and is now in hell or hades. Lazarus had suffered during his life, of the rich man we know little, except that his life brought him to hell. Lazarus after dying had been carried by angels to be beside Abraham in Sheol, the rich man is now in deep darkness of Hell, yet looks upward across an uncrossable chasm to see Abraham and Lazarus. To Abraham and Lazarus the rich man complains of thirst that torments him. The rich man does not mention heat in his complaint, although the Bible describes this torment as brought by fire, and the rich man in this spiritual existence is begging for even a drop of water to cool his tongue. Some may recall Christ teaching of the water of life, water that quenches thirst forever, yet this is not given in explanation for the rich mans need of water. Some teach that this scripture is but a parable regarding Gods people, however the compliment to scripture detail relating to both the redeemed and the unredeemed indicates a greater purpose.

The redeemed then need not fear death, knowing it is the wicked who in judgment meet the second death, the redeemed we are told in Isa 57:2 "Those who walk uprightly enter into peace; they find rest as they lie in death." The warning for all told in Matt 10:28 "Do not fear those who can kill the body...but rather fear him who is able to destroy the soul and body in hell," and in Luke 12:5 "Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell." Here we are told that God has the power to both kill the flesh body in the first death, and in death kill the spirit/soul in the second death. Scripture describes this final judgment as when the Lord calls both the good and wicked (souls) together into judgment, the wicked to perish in a second death, the redeemed to receive a new eternal heavenly body, also receiving reward.

If as scripture indicates none in the grave have yet received a new body, then these described above can only be in a spiritual state with their souls. We are told of the new body in 1 Cor 15:42-44 "So will it be with the resurrection of the dead. The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonor, it is raised in glory; it is sown in weakness, it is raised in power; it is sown a natural body, it is raised a spiritual body." This clearly tells us that the redeemed when raised from the grave (first death) are not receiving a new spirit, they will be receiving a new body, a spiritual and imperishable body.

It is evident that both Lazarus and the rich man have died, and having died are found no longer in their earthly or flesh body. Also these dead are found in Sheol or hell (Grave) together, with significant mention of the good and wicked being separated by an uncrossable gulf or chasm. It is evident that the rich man alone is tormented, perhaps indicating he cannot bring an end or second death of himself, but instead in torment must wait for Gods judgment. As the new body has not yet been awarded in hell, and as Christ has not yet called the good and wicked together in judgment, those in death then are yet in spiritual form with their soul.

In this spiritual state, scripture that describes death as being asleep then relates to their spiritual state, also that in this state there is no longer awareness of those yet living. However scripture does indicate there is awareness of those in the grave around them, Abraham addresses and answers the rich mans plea. Also of interest it is only the wicked in hell who are experiencing some kind of suffering or torment. If it is the spiritual self of the wicked in torment, this raises a question of how the spiritual self suffers. We might believe that only the physical flesh suffers, but here the Bible tells us that the spirit/soul is suffering.

Then what some believe is eternal or everlasting suffering, in these passages shows that the suffering takes place in hell after the first death, this is in hell or the grave while waiting for final judgment. Those in the grave have not yet been thrown into the Burning Lake of Fire, they are in the grave, here we are told that it is not the redeemed who suffer, it is the wicked in hell who suffer. It is in the final judgment that both the redeemed and the unredeemed in the grave are called before the Lord in judgment, in judgment the redeemed receive paradise, in judgment the damned are cast into the Burning Lake of Fire or Burning Lake of sulfur where they perish in the second death.

Some describe scripture in which Christ tells his disciples to let the dead bury their dead. Christ is not saying they are already dead in flesh body or spiritually, but they live in sin that leads to death. Reading further into scripture we are told it is those who die in their sin who will in judgment meet their second (spiritual) death. Adam and Eve are an example of whom God told would die if they ate of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Gods time scale is different than ours, a day itself like a thousand years, Adam and Eve when cast out of Eden lived for a period of time before dying.

What this means is that separation from God is not an immediate death whether first or second, separation from God is a condition due to sin of the unrepentant. This does not mean God will not be found within some part of His creation, as David says in Ps 139:8 "If I ascend into heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." The Bible tells us by our own words and deeds we will be judged, we know that the fire which is God will be in the depths, this would seem to say that Gods justice is fair and if there is torment it is of our own making. Only those of the first death who are resurrected will know that life of the flesh body again. Then in the second death, the degree of suffering for the unredeemed is not of Gods making, but that which we make for ourselves. Those outside of Gods will are those who are permitted to continue in their sinful nature. It is mans sins that will be judged, sins covered by Gods grace are not judged.

It is commonly taught and believed that in final judgment, when the wicked are thrown into the lake of fire, in the fire they will suffer and be tormented forever. This however I cannot say has been found in Gods word. It is true that all whose names are not in the book of life will be thrown into the lake of fire. All wicked and unredeemed will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, yet the Bible does not say these will all suffer forever with Satan, the Beast, and False Prophet.

The Bible does tell us of an interim period in Rev 9:2 "When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace." This will be a time of great testing for those without the mark of God, after this will come the time of final judgment as told in Rev 20:13-15 "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." If death and hades are thrown in judgment into the Lake of Fire, then Hell also ends, for hades and hell are one and the same, addressed as both representing the same.

The Damned or Unredeemed in hell are not described as those who will suffer forever, it is the smoke of their torment that is described which will rise forever. Their punishment will be forever, however this means no redemption or revival is possible after this second death. The Bible is clear that sin will be punished, also that sin leads to death, but in final judgment the second death is punishment that is eternal and everlasting. There will be no second chance after the second death to reverse this judgment. Gods judgment is described as an eternal punishment in Matt 25:46 "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life", or as in 2Thess 1:9 "They will be punished with everlasting destruction..." Here we are told that punishment is given once and for all. The punishment is destruction, in the lake of fire this destruction is the second death, this second death is everlasting destruction given as punishment.

God is not saying He is planning to begin everlasting punishment from which there is redemption or correction. God has plainly said there is given a second death as judgment, this judgment is the second death as punishment, from this punishment there will never be reprieve, and there will never be a correction. Confusion between punishment and destruction exists only if both continue to exist forever. However this destruction reduces to ashes as described in [NIV] 2 Peter 2:6 "...if he condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah by burning them to ashes, and made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly..." This example is punishment by eternal fire described in Jude 7 "They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire." This eternal punishment then is forever as described in Zeph 2:9 "...surely Moab will become like Sodom, the Ammonites like Gomorrah-a place of weeds and salt pits, a wasteland forever."

In the first life when the Body ends in death, in death all that remains of the flesh body are residues that are dead, these remains are but smoke or ash from which earthly bodies were created. In the second death of Soul and Spirit, these the Bible says perish in the Burning Lake of Fire, this destruction is said to be for eternity and as punishment. Punishment then ends when destruction is final, however, as this destruction is an eternal fact, it is correct to say this destruction is eternal. So also because this destruction of the spirit/soul is punishment in the Lake of Fire, the punishment of these unredeemed may also be said eternal because their punishment is eternal. Again, it says in Heb 12:29 ...for our "God is a consuming fire." The eternal question at this time would be, what remains of mans spirit after it is extinguished and destroyed, would also smoke that rises for eternity be a description?

Punishment in this context may also explain why some believe in eternal suffering. Scripture tells us in the second death it is the 'smoke of their torment' that rises forever and ever, not that they suffer in torment forever and ever. The second death is of the spirit and soul for eternity, then what is left to suffer, what is left for torment, what is left to punish. There may be confusion about the second death or destruction with cessation of inanimate objects, yet there is no comparison between cessation of the inanimate, with death and destruction of animate who are living and spiritual beings. About this the Bible in Revelations says the second death is for eternity, the Bible speaks not at all of a third, forth, or any death of the spirit and soul beyond the second death. Some say there is no chronology to these events, however the Bible says there is appointed one time to be born, one time to die, and then comes judgment. This judgment in itself would have no consequence if not carried out to conclusion of purpose. The conclusion is said completed when those judged for this purpose are cast into the Lake of Fire, and in the lake of fire they are destroyed, this destruction is called the second death.

Then after the first death comes judgment, meaning eternal life for those saved by grace, and a second death of the spirit and soul of those in Gods Wrath. This second death refers to the spirit and soul of man when in judgment they are cast into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is described somewhat differently in Matt 13:42 "They will be thrown into a fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth", this would indicate that before perishing the wicked will realize their great loss, and in this consuming fire great anguish will be their response before perishing. It may be remembered that Gods word is like an all consuming and eternal fire, devouring everything that is in Gods wrath. God is also the only one who gives the spirit of life, and God alone may end it. Those in torment must surely want their torment to end, yet as the rich man, it is evident they cannot destroy their own spirit/soul to end the torment. Many I am sure can remember suffering in conscience over a serious misdeed, how this was like a fever of torment in the body, indeed if not also our spirit within. This is not given as explanation of how the spiritual/soul might suffer, but by the grace and power of God and unless God wills otherwise, our spirit appears to be incorruptible and everlasting.

There is one exception that involves the burning lake of sulfur, this also being where the angels had earlier been cast while bound in chains, here in Rev 20:10 "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." Notice that the angels are not mentioned here, although there is specific mention of the Devil, Beast, and False Prophet. An important point of this scripture is the mention of suffering 'day and night' forever, reference to this will be made later. One other dire warning is directed to those given offices of leadership in 1 Tim 3:6 "...or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil." This is exemplified further in scripture as a sternness possible warning, of such leaders we are told in Mark 12:40 "Such men will be punished most severely," indicating severe punishment is the judgment.

For the righteous it is very different, as in 1 Thess 4:16-17 "For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever."

So even today those who die are buried in the grave, however for the redeemed the New Testament now tells us that to be absent from the flesh body, is to be with the Lord. We know the Bible says after Christ was crucified and died upon the cross, when Christ rose from the grave he led captives free. To the thief next to Christ on the cross we first hear in [KGV] Luke 23:43 And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise." Referred also in Rev 2:7 "To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God." Only the redeemed will be taken into Gods Paradise, and thus may be significant to understand Rev 20:4-5 "They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life and reigned with Christ a thousand years. (The rest of the dead did not come to life until the thousand years were ended). This is the first resurrection." Indeed, were the rest of the dead remaining in the grave after the fist resurrection the unredeemed, those who must wait for judgment and the second death? It is clear that in the spirit we will all stand before the Lord, the redeemed to receive garments of righteousness, the unredeemed to be cast into the Lake of Fire and second death.

In our present life the flesh is referred to as a tent, whether the promised garment is the 'Glorified Body', the incorruptible and eternal Flesh or Heavenly Body is not known. Still we have Gods promise that we are also to receive reward. This we do know, the Bible tells us in John 5:28-29 "...a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." Only the redeemed will receive this new heavenly body, no where in scripture is it said that the unredeemed will receive a new heavenly body. Of these bodies we are told in 1Cor 15:40 "There are also the heavenly bodies and there are the earthly bodies; but the splendor of the heavenly body is one kind, and the splendor of the earthly bodies is another." Then it is only the spirit and soul of the unredeemed that is destroyed in the eternal judgment. Then it is only the redeemed who receive the garments of righteousness, and this may be the Glorified body, the everlasting and Heavenly body.

Consider the many who died before Christ descended into the depths, the depths from which Christ lead captives free. Consider the wicked who went into the place of hell where the rich man was found. Surely to these before Christ led captives free, these wicked in Hell below and across the deep chasm from Abraham, these must have believed their suffering lasted an eternity. Hell is not judgment, as the first death is not judgment, but after the first death we know in hell the wicked will suffer. In the throes of the second death there will be heard weeping and gnashing of teeth. The second death will be for eternity a punishment, because God is eternal. God did not set an infinite number of years for the first life in flesh, but consider the span of time the wicked suffer as they wait in hell after their first death.

Do the wicked go to eternal shame and contempt as described in Daniel 12:2, or do mans own vengeance sometimes find place in the Holy Bible. There will not be eternal punishment in hell (after the second death), because in Final Judgment hell and death will also be cast into the lake of fire. Just as the Bible says in [KJV] Rev 20:13-15 "Then death and Hell were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Also in [NIV] Rev 21:7-8 "But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." This would appear to mean that judgment may be carried over from the end of the first life into hell. In hell will be found everything associated with wickedness. The sentence of judgment then is carried out in the Burning Lake of Fire, or the fiery Lake of Burning Sulfur, and this is the second death. What need is there of Hell/Hades/Sheol/grave/pit after this, for the grave and the wicked therein after destruction will never again exist.

The following is my own opinion, it is what I believe scripture has shown me. This being that we have a promise from God in Gen 8:22 "As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease." In this promise I believe is the key to mans understanding or misunderstanding of hell being a place where there is everlasting suffering. These old ways of struggle through life will have ended, God has said we cannot even imagine the blessings that will be found in heaven. In the teaching of suffering 'day and night' forever and ever, I believe instead scripture describes the cessation or destruction of the old heavens and earth. With this destruction we are given a new promise, the old heaven and earth will be destroyed, and in its place both heaven and earth are made anew.

What is called the 'abyss' or deepest pit also known as the Lake of Burning Sulfur, this place where the angels were cast bound in everlasting chains, where the Beast, the False Prophet, and Satan is eventually thrown, this ceases when old heavens and earth are destroyed. The abyss of the old order on earth then goes into the deepest blackness or darkness where it is remembered no more. Instead the Bible says in [NIV] Rev 21:3-4 "He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away."

The Word also says of the lawless man in Rev 17:7-8 "The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction," and again in 2 Thess 2:1-4 "Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by some prophecy, report or letter supposed to have come from us, saying that the day of the Lord has already come. Don't let anyone deceive you in any way, for that day will not come until the rebellion occurs and the man of lawlessness is revealed, the man doomed to destruction. He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshiped, so that he sets himself up in God's temple, proclaiming himself to be God."

After all of this we have a new promise and beginning as we are told in Rev 21:1 "Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away..." To this we should all say, amen.

Anonymous said...

Let me make some very general comments. I have read much circular proof texts in this discussion-people are quoting from The Last Word ..., they are quoting from each other and they are misquoting or neglecting Biblical passages which do not support they particular opinion.

Certainly, there is more in the Bible on Hell than simply what is referred to searching the "word" hell in the New Testament. We must look at "condemnation" and "judgment," as well as others.

It is too humanistic and selfish to dream up an understanding of hell because we are uncomfortable with the traditional, plain understanding aquired from reading the Bible.

Perhaps the most distressing aspect of this discussion is people trying to redefine and deconstruct Jesus words on the issue making him some kind of charleton who will say anything to get believe to believe.