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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


  • Hammer,
    Just a few thoughts on the verses you quote in support of your position.

    "a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries" - the use of 'consume' implies destruction, not eternal punishment. This is precisely the sort of language that supports the idea that, while Hell might be eternal, those consigned to it will not be.

    "They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction" - again, they will not live for ever but will be destroyed. It's hard to make language of destruction mean survival.

    "the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death" - here, in Jesus' words, we have the lake described as 'the second death'. The problem for the 'eternal torment' position is that the first death does not represent torment but ending. Thus, this description doesn't support eternal torment but rather a second (and final) ending.

    Thus, in the verses you quote to support your position, you show that (once more) the Bible doesn't have a single, coherent teaching about Hell. Rather, it contains a multiplicity of ideas that are hard to reconcile with one another - and certainly very hard indeed to make into a consistent teaching of eternal conscious torment.

    The one book that does support your idea of eternal conscious torment is John's Revelation - there is clearly language there that can be taken in support of that. And yet, even there, the focus seems not to be on the suffering of the sinners but on the eternal nature of the fire. It seems to me, indeed, that when we talk of "eternity" in heaven, we have a great difficulty. Given that God isn't subject to time in any case, our concepts of duration become highly suspect when talking of the things of heaven. It might be, for example, that even though the punishment of the ungodly in Hell is transitory, it is nonetheless always present before God. That is, because God (and those with Him) is not subject to the passing of time and can see the past and future, God can see those suffering in Hell at any "time" He chooses, even though it is (in a sense) in the past.

    Just a thought about one way to get past this issue of eternity.

    pax et bonum

    By Blogger JohnP, at 4/30/2007 06:08:00 AM  

  • John,
    Thanks for your thoughtful comments. The doctrine of hell as a place of eternal torment is one of the many doctrines that is up for discussion by reasonable people who are genuinely regenerated by the Holy Spirit. I had not seen an explanation such as yours to reconcile the challenges of the doctrine of hell, and I think it is worthy of our consideration.

    Perhaps one of the reasons why we can disagree is that a lot more goes into a doctrine of last things than merely the descriptions of hell. We must consider what the judgment is and how we are repaid for every word, thought and deed. We must consider how sins so heinous they required the sacrifice of the Son of God to reconcile men can also be made right by the mere destruction of those sinners. We must consider what the resurrection body is. What do we see in areas relating to this part of "last things" that can help us understand it better?

    I agree that there is not a "single, coherent teaching about Hell". I disagree with an earlier comment that the Bible doesn't speak with "one voice". The voice is God's throughout, and the meaning of any of the verses are not contradictory. Whether we view "the lake of fire, which is the second death" as explanatory of other passages regarding eternal life and death mean that do not remove the sustainment of the person, or believing that it does mean the removal of sustainment, it does, we can agree that Hell, from the Pentateuch to the Apocalypse is a place, that is bad, that we deserve yet we want no part of.

    By Blogger Hammertime, at 5/16/2007 11:53:00 PM  

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