Caution Fire Below
No, this is not a photograph of Hell. It is a spectacular shot of the Kilauea volcano courtesy of the National Science Foundation website.
But let's get back to the subject. Does the Bible describe a real place called Hell?
Many people believe that Yeshua, (Jesus), was a great teacher and philosopher. Yet, how is this possible? Would a great teacher walk around telling folks that he is God if he is just a man? More likely you might classify people who claim they are "God" with the preachers on the streets of New York City who are certifiably insane!
Great Teacher who preaches Hell?
In the same way, would a great teacher, a wise philosopher, warn people about the least favorite subject of all time - hell? Yet, Yeshua spoke about the reality of hell more than any other person in the Bible. In fact, he spoke more about Hell than he did about Heaven.
Now, this is amazing! A great philosopher and teacher who proclaims he is God and who threatens listeners with hellfire and damnation. This is certainly not an accomodating Jesus. Nor is it the best way to "win friends and influence people," is it?
No Man would Invent It!
Theologian John MacArthur says it like this.. "..I think the doctrine of hell is one of the greatest proofs that God wrote the Bible because men don't write books that damn their souls to eternal hell."
MacArthur continues, "This is God's book and this is what God says. In fact, it might be interesting for you to note that the person in all of history who spoke the most about hell was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. People say, 'Well the Lord Jesus Christ was full of love, He was full of grace, and He was full of mercy,' and that's so true. But for those who shun His grace and reject His mercy and do not return His love, there is an inevitable consequence and He spoke of it many times - Hell."
What do the Devout Do?
So what is the devout and faithful bible student to do when he is confronted by unpleasant questions such as, "Do you really believe in hell?"
1. Should the faithful student say that Jesus was insane?
2. Should the faithful student say Jesus was a liar?
3. Should he say that Jesus was just using metaphors?
4. Or should the faithful say that Jesus meant what He said?
Was Jesus Insane or a Liar?
If Jesus Christ were insane, then he is to be pitied and shunned. If he was an outright liar, then he has purposely deceived his followers and is not a great teacher or philosopher at all. However, if he is God, then shouldn't we listen to him?
A Visited Planet
If the faithful Bible student believes that Jesus is who he said he was and that the Bible accurately records His words, then the student must teach what Christ taught about the reality of eternal damnation. There is no choice, and therein is our dilemma. We have been visited by God Himself, and we are wise to listen to Him.
Objective fact not Subjective Info
This is not a subjective feeling or decision. Nor does a metaphorical illustration lessen its validity. Rather, consider this: Hell may be a metaphor of something far worse than we can imagine. Clearly, if the God of the universe has spoken to us through the Messiah, then we must listen to what He says to us and we must teach others about it. We cannot pick and choose only those things which appeal to us.
Before beginning a short treatise on hell, we first need to lay aside several preconceptions:
1. The Ascent of Man
First, Missler suggests that we must put aside those cute little charts showing drawings of the Ascent of Man - from ape to hairy, stooped caveman, to modern upright "stud."
Frankly, man is so arrogant that he probably has it backward! Ancient mankind may have been extremely intelligent and resourceful. In our current century, we have probably regressed a great deal - not evolved or improved into better human beings and physical specimens. Look around you. Then tell us what YOU think…
All kidding aside, Genesis man lived in a Post Fall world prior to the flood. Consider the possibility that he enjoyed longevity - perhaps living as long as 960 years old (Genesis 5:27). In that time, he likely accumulated much knowledge, and had time to carry out what he learned. He probably breathed far higher concentrations of oxygen into his brain, and might have lived in a sheltered "greenhouse" on the entire earth.
In accord with this view, a few scientists theorize that the earth may have been surrounded by ice rings which gave a humid, oxygen-rich atmosphere for luxurious plants, wildlife, and insects. Those ice rings may have broken up during the Flood. In fact, amazingly, scientists have only recently discovered that the Antarctica was once covered with tropical growth! Are you aware of this?
Pre Fall Man
It is impossible for us to imagine much of what life was like prior to the Fall in the Garden of Eden. From scripture "trails," some theologians surmise that Adam and Eve lived in or functioned in more than the four dimensions we know: length, width, depth, and time.
Adam and Eve were blessed with spiritual dimensions and intuitive abilities. They may have lost their "clothing of light" when they became aware that they were "naked" (Genesis 3:10, Psalm 104:2, 2 Cor. 5:3, Matthew 17&1 John 3:2).
Separation of Spiritual&Physical
In the Edenic atmosphere, Adam and Eve may have lost much more than eternal life as we understand it when they disobeyed God. At that point, the universe itself may have fractured from six or more dimensions, into just four.
In this fracturing there would have been a separation of the "spiritual" and "physical." At this time the "bondage of decay" or laws of entropy took effect, and all living things began to die. Man probably lost keen abilities to discern, learn, and function at full capacity. Consider that we already know that humans only use 10% of their brain. Why is this?
Laws of Entropy Introduced
Adam's and Eve's disobedience of God which is portrayed in the emblematic story about the forbidden fruit suggests far more than a cute, children's fairy tale. Genesis chapter three reveals that the laws of entropy - decay and death - had entered into the landscape during this period.
The laws of entropy infected not only our world but the entire universe as well (Romans 8:19-22). To counter this, faithful men are promised new heavens and a new earth in scripture passages throughout the Old and New Testaments: Revelation 21, Isaiah 65:17, and 2 Peter 3:13, for example.
Let it be understood that Pre Fall Adam and Eve were highly intelligent beings. Consider that Adam was a zoologist who named and categorized every living creature on the earth (Genesis 2:19-20). He may have also been a botanist and gardener who tended his idyllic environment with intelligent love and care (Genesis 2:15).
Early man likely excelled at astronomy, too. Genesis 1:15 says that the stars were for "signs and for seasons," and for "days and years." An intelligent astronomer with hundreds upon hundreds of years to observe and learn, Adam might have been capable of fantastic scientific observations and feats.
In fact, the Genesis 11 Tower of Babel was typical of a Mesopotamian temple-tower called a "ziggurat." It was not only a religious structure, but is thought to have functioned as an observatory as well.
While we don't really know for sure, it is foolish to assume that early man was dumb, crude, and ignorant. Post Fall Genesis men were spiritually superior to us and probably far more intelligent, too.
Post Flood Flunkies
Post flood mankind is another story. Records and resources were destroyed in the flood. The flood was likely a catastrophic event similar to a magnetic polar shift. Mankind probably became vulnerable to radiation from the sun and died younger and younger after the greenhouse effect upon the earth was destroyed by the upheavals during the flood.
Since then it is likely that we have suffered a decline in all areas of health, education, social skills, morality, mathematical and scientific abilities. Indeed, our skills are inferior to the abilities and education of children just 50 years ago. "Check it out." Mankind is descending, not ascending, on those charts! Sorry…
90% of my Brain tied behind my Back
The point is that we have lost valuable spiritual dimensions and mental abilities post-flood. With 10% of our brains functioning, we must rely upon God to reveal to us what we should know. Forget all that bragging about your 130 or 180 IQ. You are in the same boat as the rest of us: a severely diminished and limited human species.
2. Emblematic - a Metaphor
Secondly, just as we can not presume to know what life was like in early Pre Fall and Genesis days, neither can we make many assumptions about the eternal state called "Hell."
Worm does not Die - Fire not Quenched
Dr. Missler warns that scriptural descriptions of hell are emblematic of something far more profound than we can imagine - eternal separation from a Holy God. When Jesus repeats that hell is "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44, 46, 48, KJV), it is a metaphor for which we have little understanding. Who among us can visualize a place where worms don't die and fires never burn out? This is something clearly beyond our normal experience.
In contrast, years ago a theory was proposed that fallen angels were confined to the darkened caverns of Tartarus mentioned in the book of 2 Peter, because they might have garnered strength from light. While interesting, we just don't know for sure.
Perhaps we can find a point of reference here, however. One might imagine what we have learned from astronomy about black holes that suck everything into their blackness. Even light disappears in black holes. Perhaps our experiences in caves or pyramids where tour guides humorously turn out the lights to frighten us might equate to the thick darkness and isolation of that outer darkness confining evil angels. Fill those equations with screams, sobbing, and the grinding of teeth and it is quite a frightening proposition.
Hell not for men but for Evil Beings
At any rate, the outer darkness and unquenched hellfires were never even created for men in the first place:
"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41, ESV).
Rather, the eternal fire was created for Satan and the fallen angels. The fact that unbelieving, sinful men might find their eternal state alongside demonic and dark forces is scary indeed!
So we can assume that we have no point-of-reference to understand what Genesis men were like. Nor can we fathom what separation from God and eternal fire mean to our ordinary understanding.
3. Parallel Universe
A third preconception that we must overcome is the idea that mankind is alone in the universe. For this understanding most of us need divine revelation. We start with the premise that there are intelligences outside of humankind who seek to interfere with the affairs of life on earth and throughout the universe.
Where 2 or 3 are gathered…
Yeshua hinted at the possibility of a parallel universe when he stated, "For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them" (Matthew 18:20).
His statement to us may be far more literal than we realize. Perhaps He really is there, literally alongside us when we gather together for prayer and worship.
Those who are with us are more than they are…
Another example tells of the Prophet Elisha's servant who became "unglued" when he saw that an enemy had surrounded them. Elisha said to his servant, "Do not be afraid, for those who are with us are more than those who are with them" (2 Kings 6:16, ESV).
Elisha's subsequent prayer for his frightened servant is revealing: "O Lord, please open his eyes that he may see. So the Lord opened the eyes of the young man, and he saw, and behold, the mountain was full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha" (2 Kings 6:17, ESV).
The New Testament teaches that Christians are involved in hidden or invisible spiritual warfare in many areas of their lives, spiritual and physical. Ephesians declares, "For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places" (Eph. 6:12, ESV).
Do beloved family members viciously attack your faith? Does the college professor ridicule you? Don't assume these spiritual attacks are from human beings alone. They probably have help from the dark-side of the spirit world. Of course, they are not aware of it. But, they feel "driven" by a need to hurt you.
Not only do unbelievers feel driven to hurt Christians, but Scripture also tells us that Satan hinders them from belief in truth.
…"the god of this world has blinded the minds of the unbelieving so that they might not see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God" (2 Corinthians 4:4, NASB).
These hindrances are unknown to the unbelieving world. So skeptics cannot perceive spiritual truths until God removes their barriers to understanding.
Angels watching over Us
Last, on a more positive note we are also told we live in a world populated by good angels. Hebrews 1:14 asks, "Are they not all ministering spirits sent out to serve for the sake of those who are to inherit salvation?" Here Scripture implies that Jewish and Christian believers are assigned guardian angels.
Warnings to Skeptics
For those of you who laugh at or ridicule any treatise or sermon on Hell, we warn you to stop reading now. Spare yourselves grief. Why? Because there are degrees of punishment, and you will be judged according to what you know. Indifference will not be tolerated.
Rejection of the Gospel
Scripture warns that "whoever will not receive you nor hear your words, when you depart from that house or city, shake off the dust from your feet. Assuredly, I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the Day of Judgment than for that city!" (Matt. 10:14-15, NKJV).
Every Careless Word
All men will account for every careless word they utter, too:
"But I say to you that for every idle word men may speak, they will give account of it in the Day of Judgment. For by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned" (Matt. 12:36-37).
Calling a brother a "stupid jerk…"
Be cautious before calling people "fools," "stupid," or other demeaning names as well.
"But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, 'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire" (Matthew 5:22, NKJV).
To him who has much, more Required
Furthermore, if you have been given much information, much more will be required of you:
"But he who did not know, yet committed things deserving of stripes, shall be beaten with few. For everyone to whom much is given, from him much will be required, and to whom much has been committed, of him they will ask the more" (Luke 12:48, NKJV).
Risk of Greater Punishment
Those who ridicule the faith of believers risk much greater punishment in Hell. Christ equated His followers to little children when He said, "but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a great millstone fastened around his neck and to be drowned in the depth of the sea" (Matthew 18:6, ESV). In other words, don't "mess" with those who belong to Christ. It is a somber warning.
Near Death Experiences
Now, can we tell what life after death is like by hearing about near death experiences of others?
Probably not. This is because even Satan can disguise himself as an angel of light. Because of this, theologians warn we should be cautious before accepting all stories about near death experiences. They are not the best sources for information about life after death.
There are several reasons for this. From mankind's beginnings , Satan presented several lies to him. One was, "Has God really said?"…Did God really say this? Or, is the Bible really God's Word to us? (Genesis 3:1)
The second lie was,"You surely won't die" (Genesis 3:3:4). Or, man surely lives forever, doesn't he? Even today we turn to New Age gurus who insist we are reincarnated or that there is transmigration of souls, and that there are numerous dear-death experiences we can believe. However, we need to consider that God reveals everything to us that we need to know concerning this life and the next.
Biblical Near Death Experiences
There are several scriptural references to possible near-death experiences in the bible, however. Here are two:
1. As Stephen was being stoned to death, he "gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, and said, 'Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God'" (Acts 7:7:55-56, NKJV). Stephen's vision of seeing the "heavens opened" may refer to a parallel world which was revealed to him prior to death.
2. The apostle Paul stated that "I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago - whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows - such a one was caught up to the third heaven…into Paradise and heard inexpressible words,…" (2 Cor. 12:2, 4, NKJV). This may have occurred in Lystra where Paul was beaten and left for dead.
What Scripture teaches about Hell
Let's turn to a few Scripture references to see what the Bible does teach us about the unpleasant subject of Hell. For one thing, scripture is clear about the existence of Hell. Scripture teaches that there is a judgment for everyone no matter what their status or wealth. No one escapes judgment, not even Jewish or Christian believers. The promises of Heaven or Hell are clearly taught in the Bible.
Daniel 12:2 tells us that "many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt."
Job 19:26 tells us that "after my skin is destroyed, this I know, that in my flesh I shall see God, whom I shall see for myself, and my eyes shall behold, and not another."
Daniel has revealed that just as some receive "everlasting life," others receive "everlasting contempt." The parallel is unavoidable. The key word is "everlasting." Both ways. Everlasting life…or everlasting contempt. No compromises.
Isaiah - Worm shall not die nor fire Quenched
In familiar language the Old Testament prophet, Isaiah (66:24), tells us that "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…"
Jesus used the same illustration in Mark 9:48, "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." In other words, the concept of this terrible judgment has its roots in the Old Testament, not just in New Testament Christianity.
Darkness is also used as a metaphor for punishment and eternal separation from God. "The sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 8:12). Note that a few theologians believe that this verse applies to wayward Christians for a limited period of time.
Lake of Fire
The final picture is presented by Revelation 20:14: "Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire."
Revelation 2:11 informs believers that those who are faithful will not be "hurt by the second death." This passage along with Hebrews 9:27, "it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment," puts to rest the idea of reincarnation or transmigration of souls.
To sum up, let's clarify some of the terms translated as "Hell" in our bibles:
"Sheol," is a Hebrew term, and "Hades," a Greek term. This is where departed spirits go prior to the final judgment. Don't mistake these terms for the "grave."
2. Gehenna - Hell
"Gehenna" is the eternal fire in the "outer darkness" and is the final place of torment for Satan, the demons, and unbelieving humanity. The word "Gehenna" comes from a place called the Valley of Hinnom that was used to offer child sacrifices. It was later turned into a huge garbage dump which was kept burning at all times. It was filled with worms, maggots, refuse, and terrible sulfur smells on the outskirts of Jerusalem. Not a pleasant site.
The Abyss or "Bottomless Pit" is geocentric and appears to contain some of the demons. The Greek term "abussos" occurs nine times in the New Testament. Jesus sent a legion of demons to enter into pigs rather than be sent to the dreaded Abyss prior to their time (Luke 8: 28-33).
From the center of a planet all directions are up. So a few theologians theorize that the bottomless pit is located at the center of the earth or some other planet.
The term "Tartarus" appears only one time in 2 Peter 2:4. "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…"
Some theologians theorize that Tartarus is located in outer space in deep, dark caves devoid of all light where fallen angels could derive light or energy. We just don't know.
The angels confined to Tartarus may have been the "sons of God" who fathered children in Genesis 6. Their offspring became the famed giants called the Nephilim. While an extremely dark subject, early church writers such as Justin Martyr, Clement of Alexandria, Irenaeus, and Tertullian held to these views.
When studying your bible, remember that the "Abyss," "Tartarus," "Hades," "Sheol," and "Gehenna" have all been translated "Hell." When teaching others, it is important to make these distinctions.
-The Abyss serves as temporary confinement of some demons.
-Tartarus holds some fallen angels until final judgment.
-Hades or Sheol holds lost people until final judgment.
-Gehenna is the final Lake of Fire for unbelievers, Satan,&demons.
4 Quick Views on Hell
There are four primary views concerning Hell:
1. A Traditionalist believes in eternal punishment, first Hades and then Gehenna for unbelievers.
2. A Conditionalist accepts Hades, then Gehenna and eternal destruction of body and soul, annihilation. There is no conscious awareness after destruction.
3. A Metaphorical viewpoint believes hell is not real. It is only a metaphor for consequences of sin.
4. Finally, Catholics believe in Purgatory where the dead earn their entrance into heaven.
Every believer must learn about and decide what the bible teaches about this painful subject. Then he must forthrightly teach it to others. We suggest that students carefully look at the case for Traditionalist views, or carefully consider Conditionalist arguments.
At The Moment of Death
We believe that at the moment of death, believers are taken to be with the Lord. Scripture clearly states that "while we are at home in the body we are absent from the Lord - for we walk by faith, not by sight - we are of good courage, I say, and prefer to be absent from the body and to be at home with the Lord" (2 Corinthians 5:6-8, NASB).
Conversely, unbelievers are immediately thrust into Hades where they await the fearsome White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11). In the story of the rich man in Hades and the poor Lazarus in Paradise, Yeshua taught us the following:
1) There is conscious existence after death.
2) The reality and torment of Hell.
3) There is no second chance after death.
4) The impossibility of the dead communicating with the living.
Yeshua also taught us that people who ignore the written Word will not be convinced even if someone rose from the dead as Jesus did (Ryrie Study Bible, notes: Luke 16:19-31).
A Partial List of Scriptural References Pertaining to Hell:
Calling brother "Fool" -
Matthew 5:22 …and whoever says, "You fool! will be liable to the hell of fire."
Fear Those who destroy both Body&Soul -
Matthew 10:28…"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 13:41…"The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all lawbreakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place thee will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 18:9…"And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire."
Outer Darkness -
Matthew 22:13…"Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'"
Hell for Devil&Angels -
Matthew 25:41…"Then he will say to those on his left, Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Eternal Life or Eternal Punishment -
Matthew 25:46…"And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Unforgivable Sin -
Mark 3:29…"but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin…"
Hypocrites/ Degrees of Punishment -
Mark 12:38-40…"Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes and like greetings in the market places and have the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widow's houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation."
Hidden Things to be Revealed -
Luke 12:2-3…"Nothing is covered up that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. Therefore whatever you have said in the dark shall be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in private rooms shall be proclaimed on the housetops."
Barrier between Heaven&Hell -
Luke 16:26…"And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us."
No Miracles - You have the Word -
Luke 16:27-31…and the rich man in Hell said, "Then I beg you, father, to send him (Lazarus in Heaven) to my father's house - for I have five brothers - so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.' But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets. Let them hear them.' And he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.' He said to him, 'If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead."
Great White Throne Judgment -
Revelation 20:11…"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them."
Book of Life -
"And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done."
Revelation 14:11…"And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest…"
Now it is up to you to decide. Don't wake-up someday to find yourself shocked, standing before Yeshua like an old, cloned-cat ready for judgment along with millions of other unbelievers. (See Revelation 20:11-15). Be ready now…
"If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved" (Romans 10:9-10, ESV).
Hitchcock, Mark. 2005. 55 Answers to questions about life after death. Sisters, OR: Multnomah.
Lutzer, Erwin. 1997. One minute after you die. Chicago: Moody.
MacArthur, John. Bible questions and answers, Part 10. Transcribed from tape GC 1301-H.
Missler, Chuck. 2003. Heaven&hell: What happens when you die? (Tape). Coeur d'Alene, ID: Koinonia House. www.khouse.org.
Morgan, Christopher and Robert Peterson. 2004. Hell under fire. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.
Ryrie Study Bible, NASB. 1996. Chicago: Moody Press.
Photo Credit - National Science Foundation - www.nsf.gov/news/mmg