Thursday, November 28, 2013

What about Hell?

Falling Into Hell

Please leave the sophisticated arguments behind, all who enter here. Let us look at the stories and pictures, and imagine ourselves uneducated people listening to the stories from scripture, and forming our understanding from our basic human understandings of how things are. Please look with me at some pictures of punishment from the scriptures, and see what is to be learned there.  

Our first picture is Sodom and Gomorrah. Their wickedness demanded action, lest their corruption would  swallow up Lot and his family. 

Gen 19:24  Then the LORD rained on Sodom and Gomorrah sulfur and fire from the LORD out of heaven. 25  And he overthrew those cities, and all the valley, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and what grew on the ground. 

26  But Lot's wife, behind him, looked back, and she became a pillar of salt. 

27  And Abraham went early in the morning to the place where he had stood before the LORD. 28  And he looked down toward Sodom and Gomorrah and toward all the land of the valley, and he looked and, behold, the smoke of the land went up like the smoke of a furnace. 

The Smoke of Sodom

Later, Israel was warned about what would happen to them if they turned away from God.  There is a limit to God's patience and forgiveness. 

Deu 29:20  The LORD will not be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and his jealousy will smoke against that man, and the curses written in this book will settle upon him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven. 21  And the LORD will single him out from all the tribes of Israel for calamity, in accordance with all the curses of the covenant written in this Book of the Law. 22  And the next generation, your children who rise up after you, and the foreigner who comes from a far land, will say, when they see the afflictions of that land and the sicknesses with which the LORD has made it sick—23  the whole land burned out with brimstone and salt, nothing sown and nothing growing, where no plant can sprout, an overthrow like that of Sodom and Gomorrah, Admah, and Zeboiim, which the LORD overthrew in his anger and wrath—24  all the nations will say, 'Why has the LORD done thus to this land? What caused the heat of this great anger?' 

25  Then people will say, 'It is because they abandoned the covenant of the LORD, the God of their fathers, which he made with them when he brought them out of the land of Egypt, 26  and went and served other gods and worshiped them, gods whom they had not known and whom he had not allotted to them. 

27  Therefore the anger of the LORD was kindled against this land, bringing upon it all the curses written in this book, 28  and the LORD uprooted them from their land in anger and fury and great wrath, and cast them into another land, as they are this day.'

Led Captive by Babylon

After seventy years in Babylonian captivity, the remnant returned to Jerusalem, rebuilt the temple and the city walls, and prepared for the coming of Messiah. Herod rebuilt the temple just in time for Yeshua, who entered Jerusalem through the East Gate, and was welcomed as Messiah, riding on the colt of a donkey. 

Triumphal Entry of Yeshua

Yeshua entered Jerusalem through the East gate on Sunday, the tenth day of the first month, the day that the Passover Lamb was selected for slaughter. Seeing the crowds welcoming Yeshua as Messiah, the rulers decided that He must be killed. 

On Thursday, as Jesus was led carrying His cross to be crucified, He warned of the impending doom on Jerusalem. 

Luk 23:20  Pilate addressed them once more, desiring to release Jesus, 21  but they kept shouting, "Crucify, crucify him!" 

Luk 23:22  A third time he said to them, "Why, what evil has he done? I have found in him no guilt deserving death. I will therefore punish and release him." 

Luk 23:23  But they were urgent, demanding with loud cries that he should be crucified. And their voices prevailed. 

Luk 23:24  So Pilate decided that their demand should be granted. 

Luk 23:27  And there followed him a great multitude of the people and of women who were mourning and lamenting for him. 

Luk 23:28  But turning to them Jesus said, "Daughters of Jerusalem, do not weep for me, but weep for yourselves and for your children.

Luk 23:29  For behold, the days are coming when they will say, 'Blessed are the barren and the wombs that never bore and the breasts that never nursed!'
Luk 23:30  Then they will begin to say to the mountains, 'Fall on us,' and to the hills, 'Cover us.'
Luk 23:31  For if they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?"

The destruction of Jerusalem in AD70 by the Roman General Titus pictures the sureness of God's promises of destruction upon the wicked. Jesus warned of the impending destruction, and gave advice about how to escape death. Those who listened to His warning escaped from Jerusalem as the Roman army began their siege, but those who stayed suffered starvation and death.

AD 70 Seige of Jerusalem

The principle of destruction of evil is clearly established in the scriptures, with the law of sin and death, the life that sins will surely die. But destruction of evil in a physical sense does not translate directly to destruction after the resurrection. Jesus has a lot to say about our avoiding punishment after the resurrection. The scriptures are clear that all will be raised and stand before Jesus for judgment. We can discuss what that means and implies, but step back from the clever arguments and ask, what does this mean to a simple man who is uneducated in rhetoric and analysis. What is the nature of man? Do we have a spirit that continues to exist after death, in the realm of spirits, either in Hades or in Heaven?  A good discussion of Sheol and Hades is found at this site:

The teaching of Jesus is filled with warnings about hell, what happens after our physical life is over. Please read the following without prejudice, and see what we learn.

Mat 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.

Mat_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.

Mat_23:15  Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.

Mat_23:33  You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Mar_9:43  And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire.

Mar_9:45  And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell.

Mar_9:47  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell,

Luk_12:5  But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Yes, what Jesus teaches agrees with the understanding that punishment will take place after this life is over. The scriptures clearly teach that man has a spirit, the inner man, that exists after the physical body is dead. And this personal human spirit will be united with a resurrected body on judgment day. The resurrected body and personal spirit will be judged based upon what was done in the physical life. Those who have trusted in God will enter into everlasting life, and those who have rebelled against God's love will be sent to everlasting punishment. We have been given part of God's eternal nature, our spirit, to use for good or evil. How God carries out everlasting punishment is not our concern, but we know we are supposed to fear everlasting punishment. The teaching of annihilation, that the wicked will be burned up in an instant, does nothing to encourage righteousness, but does a lot to show how man always wants to explain God by our own understanding. Ceasing to exist is a situation sometimes desired by the wicked. It represents an escape from pain and hard times. It would be very dangerous to think that the wicked would be let off that easily. 

I am intrigued by how some believers are tempted to explain God by their own understanding. Some have even made the statement that they could not believe in a God who would punish the wicked forever. We are bound by time and space, and cannot understand God completely. But we know He wants us to fear and avoid everlasting punishment. 

In the scriptures we see that men continue to exist after death, with the Witch of Endor contacting Samuel at Saul's request. The appearance of Moses and Elijah with Jesus on the mount of transfiguration, and the teaching that God, the God of Abraham, is the God of the living, should suffice to show that we have existence between death and the resurrection. And there is the story of the rich man and Lazarus, and Jesus telling the thief on the cross that they would be together in Paradise that day. 

The spirit of man is more than our breath of life. It is our inner man, the very center of our being. Our spirit is more expressive of who we are than our body, but the spirit separated from the body is not the desirable state of our existence. We hope for the resurrection, the union of our personal spirit with our resurrected and glorified bodies, so that we will truly be God's children.

Since God is eternal, always existing, we should be able to leave our human limitations out of the equation, and realize that God has given His eternal nature to the people created in His image. These will exist in a timeless dimension that cannot be examined by our human minds. Some will be blessed beyond imagination, and some will be punished beyond our imagination, based upon the choices made in our physical life. Teaching instantaneous annihilation, that the wicked somehow cease to exist, does not fit the eternal story, but fits man's concepts bound by time and space, and our understanding of justice and mercy. Many people see no value in punishment that continues, and it offends the human idea of love. But we are not God, and we cannot see the end from the beginning. And we cannot understand what it means for time to be no more.

We know that God wants us to fear Hell, whatever it is, and this is sufficient. God is God, and His ways are beyond our comprehension. 

Rev 20:10 and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
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. 
12  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. 13  And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14  Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15  And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 

Rev 21:5  And he who was seated on the throne said, "Behold, I am making all things new." Also he said, "Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true." 
Rev 21:6  And he said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. To the thirsty I will give from the spring of the water of life without payment. 
Rev 21:7  The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. 

Rev 21:8  But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." 

The Lake That Burns With Fire

Yes, the value of hell is that it makes us desire eternal life. There is power in negative example. We need to have enlightened self interest, with a profound desire to escape hell, and to enjoy life with Jesus. 

Natural impulses are powerful, and love and faith may not be enough to overcome harmful desires. We need the fear of destruction to guide us until love and faith can grow. Modern man's rejection of negativity is unfounded. Being burned by fire teaches us to avoid fire, and to live carefully. Fear of destruction is useful. It helps keep us alive.

Perhaps the concept of being continually burned by fire, to suffer unending pain, is just what is needed to motivate us to escape sin and destruction. Obviously the Scriptures warn us by that description, flames that do not cease. To be separated from God for eternity must feel like that. 

Heb 10:26  For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, 
Heb 10:27  but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. 
Heb 10:28  Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. 
Heb 10:29  How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? 
Heb 10:30  For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." 
Heb 10:31  It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. 

2Pe 3:1  This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder, 
2Pe 3:2  that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles, 
2Pe 3:3  knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. 
2Pe 3:4  They will say, "Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation." 
2Pe 3:5  For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, 
2Pe 3:6  and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. 
2Pe 3:7  But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly. 
2Pe 3:8  But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 
2Pe 3:9  The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance. 
2Pe 3:10  But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed. 
2Pe 3:11  Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, 
2Pe 3:12  waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn! 
2Pe 3:13  But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells. 

Yes, the world and the things that are in it will be burned up. This prompts those of us who believe to live holy lives, not just because we love God and trust in Him, but also because we want to escape eternal condemnation and separation from all that is good. 

All scripture is from the English Standard Version (ESV)

1 comment:

  1. good reading---certainly food for thought--and perhaps more than that!