Some years ago, during my morning walk, my thoughts were about the various religions of the world. Each religion has its own theme. There is a religion of fear, a religion of sex (phallic worship), a religion of legalism, a religion of hedonism, and even a religion of ultimate personal extinction, or nirvana. But what about the Christian religion? It is supposed to be a religion of love. But underlying that love is a terrifying fear in most Christians, and by ‘most’ I mean the members of the churches that believe in an eternal hell fire for the incorrigible wicked. And such churches are the vast majority in Christianity. These churches with their blazing beliefs in the afterlife have fear as one of their main components for drawing and keeping their followers – the fear of being eternally scorched alive in unquenchable flames if they don’t accept salvation on the terms of the church.
As I pondered these thoughts during my walk, I saw a booklet lying in the dust of the road. The title, coincidentally, was: ‘What Does the Bible Say About Hell?’ The booklet was published by Radio Bible Class, Grand Rapids, Michigan.
Here are two passages from that book on the subject of hell:
While the Bible says that most people are headed for the lake of fire, many of them don’t look as though they deserve a fire reserved for the devil and his angels. Evil men like Stalin or Hitler or serial killers might seem to qualify, but not the rank-and-file of people who seem to live basically decent lives. Yet from the Bible’s point of view, such evaluations are extremely misleading and even deceptive. The Bible shows us that the fires and blackness of hell will make eternal statements about (1) the true wickedness of public enemies and (2) the true wickedness of good people.
Bertrand Russell said he decided to become an atheist when he read the words of Jesus about hell…He knew that it doesn’t make sense to say you believe in Christ while rejecting what He and His book say about an eternal “lake of fire”.
So is poor Bertrand, for whom I have a lot of respect for the profundity of his thoughts and the blunt honesty of his writings, going to be cast headlong into the lake of fire because he rejected belief in a God that would do such thing as roast alive people who did not believe in his Son?
The subject of hell is among the most vital for the understanding, peace, and joy of God’s people in every church. And because it is so vital, Satan has taken extra efforts to ensure that this subject is among the most misunderstood ones among God’s servants in all the ages, including in our generation.
Hell, as taught by most Christian churches (except for some ‘heretical cults’ – about which I will write later in this message), is one of the greatest, if not the greatest, reasons people become atheists or skeptics. For no sensible person can reconcile a loving merciful God, as seen in the person of Christ, with a God who burns his incorrigible children over and over again in hellfire, not for a few years, but forever and ever and ever without end. That is the official teaching of the traditional Christian churches, foremost of which is the Catholic church. That is, of course, the official teaching of some other religions, too.
Listen to what one prominent member of a Christian denomination says about the subject of hell:
It was my first visit to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City. I was standing before The Last Judgment, a painting by the 15th-century Dutch artist Jan van Eyck.
The words, large and in quotes, were intended as an alternate title for the painting. They were chilling in their impact: “The Case Against Christianity”.
They stopped me cold.
What had prompted the visitor to level such a charge?
I took a closer look at the painting. At the top of the canvas, in heaven, sits an impassive Jesus, surrounded by a host of angels and an adoring multitude of the saved. At the bottom, in hell, is a writhing mass of the damned, suffering brutal torture at the hands of hideous demons.
The contrast between the rather prim majesty of heaven and the harrowing nightmare of hell is striking. And – as the note-writing visitor had intended – it poignantly frames an age-old question:
How can the concept of eternal suffering in hell be reconciled with a God of mercy and love?
For many, this is indeed a case against Christianity. They want nothing to do with a Christian God who could sit back and watch his children roast for eternity in a subterranean chamber of horrors. A deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness, they feel, could not be the true God.*
‘The Battle Over Hell’ By Keith Stump. Copyright Plain Truth Ministries, 2001. Keith Stump is an author, scriptwriter, historian, and archaeologist.
This writer’s church takes a neutral doctrinal position on hell, which means that they are not overly resistant to the idea of sinners being condemned to burn eternally in hell.
However, most mainstream churches have a clearer position. The book ‘Christian Beliefs – Twenty Basics Every Christian Should Know’, published by Zondervan, states the following about one of the core beliefs of Christianity:
At the final judgment, those who have rejected the claims of Jesus will go to a place of eternal punishment. That place of eternal punishment, the Bible tells us, is hell.
The Bible’s descriptions of hell are difficult to read, and they should be deeply disturbing to us. Jesus speaks of hell as “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels,” and he says that those who have rejected him will also go there (Matt. 25:41). It is a place where the “worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). It is a “place of torment” (Luke 16:28). John tells us it is a place where those who rejected Jesus will, along with the devil and his angels, “drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger” and “be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the presence of the Lamb” (Rev. 14:10). The “smoke of their torment” will go on “forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev. 14:11).
At the end of the chapter on this subject of hell, there are ‘Questions for Review and Application’. Among the questions are, ‘What does the Bible tell us about hell? How does your understanding of hell make you feel? Why does it make you feel that way?’
Let me give you my own answers to those three questions, assuming I believed the churches’ teaching about hell, as outlined in this book.
Answer to the first part of the question: If that’s what the Bible tells me about hell, I don’t want to ever keep the Bible a single day longer in my house, but cast it into the furnace. Instead, I would go and purchase a copy of Richard Dawkins’ ‘The God Delusion’ and read a passage from it as my daily devotional.
Next answer: It makes me feel horrified, terrified, and repulsed by such ‘God’ as much as I am by the Devil.
For the last answer, I repeat a part of the quote by the guy who visited the Metropolitan Museum:
How can the concept of eternal suffering in hell be reconciled with a God of mercy and love? For many, this is indeed a case against Christianity. They want nothing to do with a Christian God who could sit back and watch his children roast for eternity in a subterranean chamber of horrors. A deity of such cruelty and vindictiveness, they feel, could not be the true God.
But praise be to my Great God, that my beliefs about him are as different from some of the teachings of mainstream Christianity as God is different from Satan!
Incidentally, it is the subject of hell and the eternal burning of sinners in it that God used as the channel to bring me back to his Son, after I had decided to disbelieve in Christ and had thrown all my decades-old collection of Bibles and Christian literature into the garbage bin. I have told the story of my re-conversion to Christianity elsewhere in some other message, but it is very relevant in this message too.
In 1999, after I cast away all that I had been taught from childhood about God and Christ, I began my search from scratch to find the true God and his revelation to man. Finally, I was able to shortlist my findings to two sources that claimed to be the Word of God. They both had many similar teachings, and I couldn’t discern which was the true one and which was the counterfeit, or if both were counterfeits. I knew both could not be equally true, for in many of their core teachings they contradicted each other.
In my utter confusion, I knelt down at my living room couch with the two books before me. I placed my right hand on one and my left on the other, and lifting my face up to heaven, I cried out, ‘O God, whoever you are, if one of these is your Word, show me which one, that I may seek you and know you through your revelation in it.’
Never in my life was I so confused, never before did I need an answer like I needed then. For if there was no God to answer me and show me what he wanted of me, I knew my life, already having reached rock bottom, could go no further down. I needed a way out, and if that meant embracing a new religion and denouncing my old one, I would surely do it, I determined. This appeal to whoever called himself God was my last attempt to keep my spiritual sanity.
Immediately after the prayer, I opened one book. I read the first passage I saw. I gained nothing new, but only what I had been reading all my life till a few months earlier when I threw away my religion. Then I opened the second book, and the passage was about hell and hellfire and what ‘God’ does to sinners even while he is burning them alive in the flames (he gives them ‘new skin’, so they could feel the pain all over again, and this cycle continues forever), and immediately an absolute conviction filled my heart about which book was not the Word of God.
I began a slow restudy of the first book, the Bible, and over the years I learned that the God of this book too put sinners in hellfire and burnt them alive in it. But I also came to understand that the hell believed in by Catholics, by Protestants, and by Christians in most mainstream denominations, except for perhaps a dozen or so relatively smaller sects – usually considered as cults by mainstream Christianity – is very, very similar to what the counterfeit book terrorizes sinners with.
Mainstream Christianity’s beliefs about hell is very similar to that of another religion, which teaches that God gives the people in hell ‘new skin’ after the first skin is burnt in hell, so they could feel the pain all over again, and this cycle continues forever.
Here is a section from a book about hell published by the Catholic church. Please read all the quoted passages, for you, if you are new to this subject, will get a clear understanding of what all Catholics, and most Protestants, believe about hell.
‘The Hell There Is!’
The doctrine of hell is so frightening that numerous heretical sects end up denying the reality of an eternal hell. The Unitarian-Universalists, the Seventh-day Adventists, the Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Christadelphians, the Christian Scientists, the Religious Scientists, the New Agers, and the Mormons – all have rejected or modified the doctrine of hell so radically that it is no longer a serious threat. In recent decades, this decay has even invaded mainstream Evangelicalism, and a number of major Evangelical figures have advocated the view that there is no eternal hell – the wicked will simply be annihilated.
But the eternal nature of hell is stressed in the New Testament. For example, in Mark 9:47-48 Jesus warns us, “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where the worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” And in Revelation 14:11, we read: “And the smoke of their torment goes up for ever and ever; and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
The Catechism of the Catholic Church states: “The teaching of the Church affirms the existence of hell and its eternity. Immediately after death the souls of those who die in a state of mortal sin descend into hell, where they suffer the punishments of hell, ‘eternal fire.’ (CCC 1035).
In his 1994 book, Crossing the Threshold of Hope, Pope John Paul II wrote that too often “preachers, catechists, teachers . . . no longer have the courage to preach the threat of hell” (p. 183)…
The early Church Fathers were also absolutely firm on the reality of an eternal hell, as the following quotes show…
‘But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire…’ (Second Clement 17:7 [A.D. 150])
‘but the wicked, clothed in eternal sensibility, he will commit to the eternal fire, along with the evil demons’. (First Apology 52 [A.D. 151])
‘or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated.’ (Plea for the Christians 31 [A.D. 177])
‘while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them.’ (Against the Greeks 3 [A.D. 212])
‘Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments. That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them, just as fiery thunderbolts strike bodies but do not consume them.’ (Octavius 34:12–5:3 [A.D. 226])
Cyprian of Carthage
‘An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will there be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies.’ (To Demetrian 24 [A.D. 252])
‘The sacred writings inform us in what manner the wicked are to undergo punishment. For because they have committed sins in their bodies, they will again be clothed with flesh, that they may make atonement in their bodies; and yet it will not be that flesh with which God clothed man, like this our earthly body, but indestructible, and abiding forever, that it may be able to hold out against tortures and everlasting fire…The same divine fire, therefore, with one and the same force and power, will both burn the wicked and will form them again, and will replace as much as it shall consume of their bodies, and will supply itself with eternal nourishment…Thus, without any wasting of bodies, which regain their substance, it will only burn and affect them with a sense of pain.’ (Divine Institutes 7:21 [A.D. 307])
NIHIL OBSTAT: I have concluded that the materials presented in this work are free of doctrinal or moral errors. Bernadeane Carr, STL, Censor Librorum, August 10, 2004. IMPRIMATUR: In accord with 1983 CIC 827 permission to publish this work is hereby granted. Robert H. Brom, Bishop of San Diego, August 10, 2004” Source:catholic.com
What if you were given the responsibility in the Kingdom of God to deal with sinners in the city over which you have been crowned the king?(See Luke 19:17 which shows that you, if you remain faithful to God, will become the ruler of several cities when Christ comes) What, if some sinners, despite all the corrective punishments given to them, still reject God’s way and, would, if allowed to live, continue in that wicked way forever, causing great misery to themselves and to others? They have to be destroyed, for their own sakes and for the sake of the peace and safety of the righteous in your realm. And so, you ask the angels to bind them hand and foot and cast them into hades. As they are bound and about to be thrown into the furnace of fire, you can hear their wailing and gnashing of teeth – the remorse of the unrepentant wicked. You know they are not screaming in repentance, in which case, you would have shown them mercy. They have repeatedly proven they are incapable of repentance, and the moment they are released they would revert to their terrible ways. So the angels cast them into the pit. There are flames all around in the pit, and some of the bodies are not fully consumed yet, and maggots are feeding on the unburned portions of the flesh. Nothing can quench the flames; they are kept perpetually burning. The worms in there too never die but have a continual feasting on putrid flesh.
Now, any wicked body cast directly into the midst of the unquenchable flames would immediately be totally consumed. But apparently, in hell the flames do not shot up from the crevices everywhere at the same time, and if a portion of the unrepentant sinner’s body remains unconsumed by the flames, the maggots would make quick meal of it. But remember, all this while the wicked person is still conscious of everything going on around him, and suffers every bit of the pain as maggots gnaw into him.
So far, all this scene fits perfectly into what Catholicism and mainstream Christianity teaches. And now for the climax of the hell act.
When the screaming of the wicked in hell finally dies out, because all his body has been consumed in the flames or eaten by worms…presto, God gives him a new body (as the Catholic apologist Minucius Felix wrote, “That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them”), so he can start feeling the excruciating pain of being burnt alive or eaten alive all over again.
Most Christians do not delve too deep into what their church teaches about hell. But what I am describing here about hell is likely the official view of your denomination, unless you are a member of a cult or one of those odd churches looked down by the heavyweights in Christendom. This is the published official statement of beliefs of most traditional churches.
Now, continue to visualize yourself as the king over a certain future city in the realm of Christ. Imagine to your horror, that you find that one of your own children turns out to be an absolutely incorrigible sinner. Now, if such visualizing is impossible, as it is for me, imagine that somebody else is the king and he realizes it is his own wicked son that is being cast over the cliff into the fiery pit. The son falls with a thud on sheol’s floor and is soon fully gone up in smoke or eaten alive. Just as his screams fade out, you hear him screaming again, this time with a fresh body. And this goes on, states the venerated Christian writers, forever and ever as long as God and Satan live.
In human affairs, there is a foundational justice called the Law of Reciprocity. This Law stipulates that the punishment should fit the crime. It is not legal, or moral, even in the conscience of secular humanity to punish a man who has knocked out one front tooth of his neighbor in a fisticuffs by extracting two of his front teeth. The principle of just reciprocity is the framework within which all nations make their laws of justice. This is the principle decreed even by God in the Old Testament.
‘If a man causes disfigurement of his neighbor, as he has done, so shall it be done to him – fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth; as he has caused disfigurement of a man, so shall it be done to him.’ Lev 24:19-20
‘Discussions of merit, desert, blame, and punishment inevitably involve questions about the fittingness and proportionality of our responses to others, and retributive theories of punishment put the norm of reciprocity at their center. The idea is to make the punishment fit the crime.’ Wikipedia.
The eternal – trillions and trillions of years without end – punishing of the wicked for about 70 or 80 years of sin on earth makes ‘God’ the greatest criminal in the universe in the sight of secular human beings – infinitely worse than the most wicked man who lived on this planet. By comparison, Stalin and Hitler, who killed millions only once – should be canonized and venerated.
Do you now understand why so many sensible people cannot believe in God? If my only option was to believe in such a vindictive being as my savior, I would any day prefer to be eternally dead than forever alive in his kingdom. But the God who revealed himself to me has absolutely no semblance to the ‘God’ believed in by hellroast believers.
The Bible mentions another spirit who is acknowledged as ‘the god of this world’. Now this god would simply love to be given authority over the kind of hell believed in by Catholics, and most Protestant and Evangelical churches. He would even thrill to increase the pain sensitivity level in hellfire by a factor of seven.
If you, as a ruler under Christ, with the authority to cast unrepentant people into hell, would never bear to see an incorrigible member of your family suffering in full consciousness in hellfire, how much more would God not be able to bear seeing people created in his own image and likeness suffering perpetual agony. How much more sensitive is God to his people’s feelings than even a mother is sensitive to her child’s feelings!
‘Can a woman forget her nursing child, And not have compassion on the son of her womb? Surely they may forget, Yet I will not forget you.’ Is 49:15
May the merciful God grant you – if you are one of those who till now have been terrified by the wrong teachings of your church – peace and joy through understanding how merciful our Father in heaven is…even to the incorrigible wicked.
Now what about all those verses in the Bible on which are based the hellish doctrines of the churches? Let’s take them one by one.
‘If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”‘ Mk 9:43-44
Jesus’ quote about the worm and fire is from Isaiah 66:24.
‘And they shall go forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.’
The Greek word for ‘hell’ in the earlier quote is ‘Gehenna’.
The Hebrew word for ‘die’ is ‘mooth’. It means ‘to die’, but it equally means ‘put to death’, ‘cause to kill’. Nothing can cause the worm to be killed and to stop their work of consuming the flesh. (And worms normally feed on corpses, not live people, dont they?)
‘Quenched’ in Hebrew is ‘kaw-baw’, and it means ‘to extinguish’, ‘to put out’. Nothing can kaw-baw the flames while it is consuming the flesh.
The subject of hell, as taught by most Christian churches is one great, if not the greatest, reason people become atheists or skeptics.
There is a deep and narrow ravine with steep, rocky sides located southwest of Jerusalem, called Hinnom. Gehenna is the Greek contraction of Hinnom (Ge Hinnom – land of Hinnom). It had been the place where the idolatrous Jews burned their children alive to Moloch and Baal. A particular part of the valley was called Tophet, or the ‘fire-stove’, where the children where burned. After the Exile, in order to show their abhorrence of the locality, the Jews made this valley the receptacle of the offal of the city, for the destruction of which a fire was kept constantly burning there. The Jews associated with this valley two ideas: that of the sufferings of the victims that had been sacrificed and that of filth and corruption. The word Gehenna – hell – thus came to signify to the Jews as the place the wicked is destined for.
After Christ begins his rule on earth, he will send his angels to gather the incorrigible wicked. The angels will bind them and throw them over the cliff into Gehenna, where they will instantly ‘perish’ – be annihilated (Mat 13:40-42; John 15:6). Part of their bodies not consumed by the flames will be eaten by worms. The decomposing bodies can be seen by the citizens of Jerusalem from the sides of the ravine.
“Month after month and week by week, everyone will come to worship me,” God says. “And then they’ll go out and look at what happened to those who rebelled against me. Corpses! Maggots endlessly eating away on them, an endless supply of fuel for fires. Everyone who sees what’s happened and smells the stench retches.” Is 66:23-24 The Message
Nothing can put the fire and worms out of action, as long as incorrigibly wicked people continue to exist in Christ’s realm. But as his Kingdom expands over earth, there finally will be no more rebellious persons remaining and nothing more for the flames and the worms to feed on, and so these creatures of hell will cease to exist by themselves, not extinguished or destroyed by anyone. Eventually the ravine of Hinnom will be used by people to traverse from one part of Jerusalem to another. And as they walk they will be unknowingly trampling on the ashes of the wicked which remain in the area.
The whole valley [Hinnom] where dead bodies and ashes are thrown, and all the terraces out to the Kidron Valley on the east as far as the corner of the Horse Gate, will be holy to the Lord. The city will never again be uprooted or demolished. Jer 31:40 NIV
“But to you who fear My name the Sun of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,” Says the Lord of hosts. Mal 4:2-3
When the Bible speaks of ‘eternal fire’, as in Jude 7, and referred to in The Catechism of the Catholic Church, mentioned earlier, it is actually taking of the eternal effect of the fire. How do we know this. Let’s read Jude 7:
as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.
Sodom and Gomorrah are still not agonizing under the eternal fire. They are eternally destroyed from the face of the earth and serve as a perpetual example of the fate of the wicked.
Before I close there are three more aspects of the truth about hell that I want to show you from God’s Word, so your understanding of this subject can be more thorough.
First, in the quote from the Catholic passage above, the verse in Revelation 14:11 is used to support the doctrine of eternal burning in hell.
Then a third angel followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives his mark on his forehead or on his hand, he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Rev 14:9-11
The torment with fire and brimstone refers to what the unrepentant wicked will suffer at the end of this age, when angels will pour out on them the final seven bowls of God’s wrath. One of the bowls contain torment with great heat.
Then the fourth angel poured out his bowl on the sun, and power was given to him to scorch men with fire. And men were scorched with great heat, and they blasphemed the name of God who has power over these plagues, and they did not repent and give Him glory. Rev 16:8-9
Even throughout the terrible seven bowls of corrective punishment, there will be people who continue willfully in their wickedness. Their flesh at one point of the pouring of the plagues will become so scorched that smoke from it will ascend into the skies and out into space and remain there forever. It is not their torment that ascends forever – as respected theologians in Catholicism and Protestantism believe – but the effect of the torment on their bodies.
The smoke ascending from the wicked will be just like the smoke that will ascend forever when the Lord destroys Edom, the enemy of Zion.
For My sword shall be bathed in heaven; indeed it shall come down on Edom, and on the people of My curse, for judgment…For it is the day of the Lord’s vengeance, the year of recompense for the cause of Zion. Its streams shall be turned into pitch, and its dust into brimstone; its land shall become burning pitch. It shall not be quenched night or day; its smoke shall ascend forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; no one shall pass through it forever and ever. Is 34:5,8-10 [Emphasis mine]
The second aspect of the truth I want to show you is with reference to the following verses:
Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet…These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone. Rev 19:20
The devil…was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Rev 20:10
Ah, what clearer passage do the hellists want than this verse to vindicate all that they taught their congregations about being burnt over and over again throughout eternity.
If you are using a King James or New King James version of the Bible, you will note that the word ‘are’ is in italics, meaning that word is not in the original Greek, but was inserted by translators of His Majesty King James to make the passage clearer (according to their understanding, received from the Church of England, which too believes in eternal roasting of sinners, especially non-Anglicans). Here are some other translations of the same verse by men with much more translating skill:
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. NIV
And the devil who had deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had already been thrown The Voice
It was the same place where beast and the false prophet ‘had already been thrown’ about a thousand years earlier!
But the verse says, ‘they will be tormented day and night forever and ever’, doesn’t it? Yes, in the English translation again. Not in the Greek. Here the King James Version, but not the New King James Version, translates this portion of the original Greek correctly, as do some other versions, such as the Geneva Bible:
And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.’
The phrase ‘they will be tormented’ is translated from the Greek word ‘basanisthēsontai’. This same phrase is used in Revelation 9:5, where the King James Version has got it wrong, and the New American Standard Bible got it right this time.
And to them it was given that they should not kill them, but that ‘they should be tormented’ [basanisthēsontai] five months’ KJV
And they were not permitted to kill anyone, but ‘to torment’ [basanisthēsontai] for five months’ NASV
It is the devil who will be tormented day and night forever, not the two wicked men, who by then would be just ashes somewhere outside Jerusalem, and whose smoke would be floating somewhere in the cosmos.
And finally, the most popular of all the Bible verses quoted by the eternal flames proponents to validate their hellish teachings – the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus:
The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented.’ Lk 16:22-25
Abraham is referring to the law of reciprocity, which is the basis of the law in the Old Testament. He was saying in effect, ‘In the earlier life, Lazarus suffered and you luxuriated. Now the roles are reversed. Fair and equitable justice.’
The former rich man doesn’t refute this justice, but if you will read the passage further, he just pleads for his brothers. He is not that wicked after all, for in the torment in hellfire his concern is more about his brothers than trying to change Abraham’s mind and save himself in the little time left before the flames consume him entirely.
The rich man is in Hades, which is a Greek word meaning ‘grave’, but translated ‘hell’ in some versions.
In the Septuagint (the ancient translation of the Old Testament into Greek), the Greek term ‘Hades’ is used to translate the Hebrew term ‘Sheol’ in, for example, Isaiah 38:18. This use refers the term hades to the abode of the dead in general, rather than the abode of the wicked…Thus too, in New Testament Greek, the Hebrew phrase ‘you will not abandon my soul to Sheol’ in Psalm 16:10 is quoted in Acts 2:27 as ‘you will not abandon my soul to Hades’…In all appearances but one, ‘Hades’ has little if any relation to afterlife rewards or punishments. The one exception is Luke’s parable of Lazarus and the rich man, in which the rich man finds himself, after death, in Hades…’ Wikipedia
In all other instances where the word Hades is used in the New Testament, it refers to the ‘grave’, except apparently in the case of the rich man and Lazarus. But, actually, in this case also, there is no need for Bible interpreters to give Hades an unauthorized new meaning. Here too it means what it means elsewhere: the grave.
The rich man awakes in the resurrection to judgment. The flames that he finds himself in could possibly be figurative – burning agony caused by mental torment, for he asks for a drop of water to parch his terrified throat, not for buckets to douse the flames around him. Even if it is a literal flame, it is not likely the flames of Gehenna, in the valley of Hinnom. When he wakes up in the resurrection, he finds a ‘world aflame’ (borrowing the title of a book about the end times by Billy Graham). The whole world is engulfed in war and destruction just preceding the Lord’s return. The resurrection happens just before Jesus descends from heaven, into the midst of history’s greatest conflagration on earth. While the righteous who will awake in this resurrection will be immediately whisked away by angels to a place of safety and be comforted for all that they suffered in the previous life, the wicked will be left in the same place. The ones who repent will be rescued and given their first chance to hear the Gospel of Christ. Those who reject it will be cast into Gehenna and destroyed with eternal destruction.
While we can never be sure what finally will befall the rich man, the very tone of the passage gives me hope that he may turn to the God of mercies and be redeemed from annihilation.
It is God’s greatest desire that not one of his children should perish, that is, be annihilated forever. That is why he sent his Son so that by believing in him, we can have eternal life. But the wicked who deliberately refuse to accept salvation will not be allowed to exist anymore – neither on earth nor in hell. They will eternally miss out on the wonderful life of the saved people in the Kingdom of God. While the righteous will be plucking fruits from the twelve trees lining the stream to Christ’s throne, the wicked will lie oblivious to all that’s going on in the universe. While the righteous will be ascending and descending on earth and other planets, the smoke of the wicked will be ascending further and further away from all habitation of the saints.
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]. Mt 10:28
Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Mt 13:40-43
If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.’ Jn 15:6
This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life. Jn 3:16. The Message
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