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Saturday, April 28, 2007

The Hell Jesus Really Meant III: The Epistles and Revelation

After looking at the Old Testament conception of Sheol, and examining the depth and detail to which Jesus explained the environment, purpose, and residents of hell, we finish with a brief survey of the remainder of the New Testament.

The fact is, while many cling to a “Hell That Jesus Never Meant”, Jesus’ words in the gospels reference hell more than the rest of the New Testament. If anything, Jesus himself emphasized hell more than his disciples. Yet what the NT does say of hell is in line with Jesus’ own words as recorded by the Evangelists.

James, when writing about the dangers that an unbridled tongue brings, uses hell to describe the results of an unrighteous tongue, and couples that Hell with the fire it has and brings. Peter writes that the unrighteous angels are cast into hell, and that the ungodly will be there as well. He also points out that hell is a place of darkness, just as Jesus described. Think of that – fire, but no light!

The writer of the letter to the Hebrews reminds the hearers that rejection of the grace of God in Christ Jesus and a faithless turning to a deeds-based salvation can only result in “but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” and that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”

Paul and John give us more detail on hell, and while Paul reminds us in Romans 2 that the ungodly will suffer the “wrath and fury” of God, perhaps the best overall summary of hell is given in Paul’s second letter to the church at Thessalonica. Speaking of the last day, he writes:

“when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints”[1]

Yet, appropriately, the Apocalypse of John, revelation, a book focused upon the last days, gives the greatest amount of text to hell – God’s wrath, eternal torment, and the ultimate defeatof death along with them - some of the examples are:

“And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” [2]

“And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.[3]

“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. 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. 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. 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. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”


We might be tempted, considering that Revelation is apocalyptic literature, to dismiss the descriptions of hell given. Yet, what should be striking is that the descriptions match exactly what Jesus said while on Earth. To put the finishing nail in the argument, Jesus himself in revelation says,

“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.” [5]

The Hell Jesus Really Meant – it’s real, it’s bad, and we deserve to go there. Thankfully, we don’t have to. Praise be to God!

[1] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. 2 Th 1:7-10

[2] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Re 14:9-11

j ch. 20:10, 14, 15; [Dan. 7:11]

[3] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Re 19:20

[4] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Re 20:10-15

[5] The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001, S. Re 21:8

Thursday, April 19, 2007

The Hell Jesus Really Meant II: The Gospels

In Part 1, we examined the Old Testament concept of hell, or more properly, Sheol. We could verifiably conclude that Sheol explicitly was a place of the dead, that it was bad, and that the wicked went there. The OT also left open the possibility that everyone goes to Sheol, and although there are places that strongly allude to the righteous being saved from Sheol, it certainly does not clearly speak of a heavenly reward for the righteous and eternal judgment for the unrighteous.

Enter Jesus, the Son of God. What did Jesus teach about hell? One of the first things we may notice about Jesus’ description of hell is that there is a difference in the way the OT speaks of hell and the way He does. The Greek word most often used by Jesus to describe hell is gehenna. Gehenna is well described by Wikipedia here. Gehenna has a different aspect to it than hades, one of fiery torment. The scriptures do occasionally use hades as the word for hell, but even in a number of those cases Jesus mentions that Hades is, in fact, fiery, (Luke 16:19-31, ) removing the distinction.

Jesus does not leave us in limbo as to where the wicked will go. He also dos not leave us in limbo wondering who those are who go there – sinners. Sinners include those who lust , who lie, who says, “You fool!”, who do not believe the gospel, who murder the prophets, who claim they follow Jesus but actually do not, who mistreat others. Whoever has failed in one area of the law has failed in all, Jesus says, and thus is guilty and condemned to this place called hell. What should be startling is that the wicked are not only the robbers, rapists and murderers. They are us.

Jesus clearly also describes hell as fiery not just by using gehenna, but by actually calling hell a place of eternal fire in Matthew 5:22, Matthew 18:7-9, Mark 9:42-29, Luke 16:19-31, Matthew 25:41-46, Matthew 7:19-20, Matthew 13:27-30, 36-41, John 15:6.

Some wish to quibble, that hell is described as eternal but that the punishment is not. It is certainly true that the torments of hell are described more often than the state of the sinner thrown in. A few passages tell us otherwise. “Their worm never dies, their fire is never quenched” from Mark 9 speaks of it – it is not “the worm never dies” but “their worm never dies”. Why is it “their” worm if its only function is to eat quickly before the person dies (again)? More explicitly, Jesus calls hell a place of “eternal punishment” in Matthew 25:41-46, and in Mt 13:36-43 Jesus tells us that hell, a fiery furnace, will be “a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth”. If hell is a place, an eternal place of eternal fire, how can it be a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth if its ‘residents’ are expunged quickly? An eternal place can only have an adjective that is eternal!

Hell was not created for men. It is a place of fire made for the devil and his angels. Yet, our sin, according to Jesus, condemns us to it, as a just punishment from a holy God. This is The Hell That Jesus Really Meant. Yet, the Word of God is the words of Jesus from beginning to end. In the next, final, post, we will see what the remainder of the New Testament says about hell.

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Monday, April 16, 2007

Ressurection Day Smiles

Eggs + Dye + Funny Face Stickers =

family fun coloring eggs

Look at our pretty eggs!.

Yay, Jesus!

(I can't post them full size - you'll have to click on them to see them well)

Thursday, April 05, 2007

The Hell Jesus Really Meant I: The Old Testament

“I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. 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! Are not five sparrows sold for two pennies? And not one of them is forgotten before God. Why, even the hairs of your head are all numbered. Fear not; you are of more value than many sparrows.”

Luke 12:4-7

There are fifty-four occurrences of the word “hell” in the King James Version of the Bible. In the Old Testament, the word is exclusively the Hebrew “Sheol”, which is what you will see in many modern translations. The New Testament words for hell are the Greek words “gehenna” (primarily), “hades” and “tartarus” (only once in 1st Peter).

What is this hell that Jesus speaks of? The first thing we have to do is determine when Jesus is speaking and isolate those, right? Well, yes and no. If we want to know what he meant by hell, we have to look at how he used it – but because Jesus was God incarnate, the very words of Scripture are His words, and thus every use of it in the Bible is the hell that Jesus meant. Attempts to separate Jesus’ words from other words in the Bible deny his divinity and/or the inspiration of Scripture, neither of which we are willing to do here at Team Hammer headquarters.

Yet, for those who think that somehow we should differentiate, I don’t think the answer changes. Jesus Christ was not only God, he was a Jewish man in 1st century Palestine. The OT use of the word “Sheol” was the way that the Jewish people would think of hell. Culturally, there would certainly have been some influence of Roman and Greek thought in the intertestamental period, so gehenna and hades have meanings of their own that are relevant as well, but we have to start with Sheol.

The concept of Sheol is introduced in Deuteronomy 32, which is the song that God teaches Moses to teach to Israel. The song does not reflect liberal theology.

“The Lord saw it and spurned them, because of the provocation of his sons and his daughters. And he said, ‘I will hide my face from them; I will see what their end will be, For they are a perverse generation, children in whom is no faithfulness. They have made me jealous with what is no god; they have provoked me to anger with their idols. So I will make them jealous with those who are no people; I will provoke them to anger with a foolish nation. For a fire is kindled by my anger, and it burns to the depths of Sheol, devours the earth and its increase, and sets on fire the foundations of the mountains.”

God continues with an explanation of the kinds of things his wrath brings – not only fire, but sorrow, wounds, pestilence, hunger, plague, disaster, venom and the teeth of wild beasts. We need to keep in mind that this song is, in fact, poetry. The intent of all of these descriptors is not to say that specifically all of these things will come to pass, but that bad things will happen when people do not serve the one true God. What can we discern about hell from this song? Hell is a bad place where bad things are happening. It is true that this fire is metaphorical, and thus from Deuteronomy we cannot say that there is any fire in hell. What we know for sure is that it is, in fact, bad.

In 2nd Samuel 22, David sings a song to the Lord rejoicing in his deliverance. Sheol here is paired with death and destruction. Not only is Sheol bad, but it is as bad as we can imagine. What is worse than death to our minds? What is worse that destruction? Job mentions Sheol twice, and pairs it with its ruler in Job 26 – the same ruler, Abaddon, of Revelation 9, who is described there as the ruler of the bottomless pit. In fact, pit is one of the translations of the word “Sheol” in the KJV. Thus we see that Sheol is associated with death, yet also a place that is inescapable – a bottomless pit.

The Psalms make our picture of Sheol more clear. It is a place for souls, and more specifically, the souls of the wicked (Ps 9:17, 55:15). It is a place that the righteous one will not be in. The Proverbs make it clear the Sheol is not a place of everyone by definition, for it is sin that leads to Sheol. Isaiah and Ezekiel reinforce these further ideas – a place of the wicked dead, whose iniquities still lie upon them. Apparently, the dead in Sheol yet live in some fashion, for they can be seen by the most high God. The OT stands united in its description of Sheol as a place of the wicked dead which is, simply, bad.

Does this change in the NT? Are we released from a view of a hell that is bad, that is a realm of the wicked? Is that “The Hell That Jesus Never Meant?” Or in the Incarnation, as he does in many other things, does Jesus explain to us more about hell than we ever knew before, just as he tells us more about God, man, sin and salvation than we knew before Him?

Tune in next time to see…