We are going to tackle a topic that is deeply rooted in our American theology, and it is the idea of the Lake of Fire and the idea of hell. There isn’t a person alive today who doesn’t have at least a basic idea of a place called hell where people who are bad go, or people who are also good but don’t believe in Jesus go. It is an idea that has permeated our entire culture and ideas about justice mainly because we become like the god we serve and believe in.
For most Christians, hell is an unquestioned doctrine. Their system fits… God is just, he must punish sin, therefore hell is the punishment for sin. Simple. But it isn’t as simple as that when we look more closely at history and at what the bible teaches. So because we have a heart-image of what we think hell is… from devils with pitchforks and pointed tails, to the idea of God burning people in torment forever and ever… it requires a huge dose of humility to allow God to paint a different picture. In fact, most of those pictures come from Dante’s Inferno, not the Bible.
For others they have not been able to reconcile the idea of hell and the goodness of God. AND just so you know, there is no scripture in the bible that says a person must believe in hell in order to go to heaven. Not one. So a person’s belief in hell has absolutely nothing to do with salvation. Wouldn't you agree?
For those who have been with us on this journey through the book of Revelation, you know that the book of Revelation was written prior to the fall of Jerusalem as attested by the text itself and attested by an early copy of the book of Revelation.
I. PRELIMINARY THOUGHTS AND QUESTIONS
Don’t you think its curious that not once in the book of Acts is hell ever preached by any apostle. If it was as vital as vital and important as we are told today, don’t you think the record of the early church and acts of the apostles and the Holy Spirit would have said at least something about it.
In fact the word hell is not used in the bible anywhere in the original languages. Heaven – 644 times; Father – 944 mentions. The word hell is not mentioned once in Greek or Hebrew.
So for those who are reading for the first time, we already tackled the story of Abraham’s bosom and I encourage you to go back and check it out on the website called Hell No, We Won’t Go. We saw it was a parable… using the cultural idioms, and ideas of their day that isn’t in the bible anywhere else. The idea came from their years in Babylon from the Babylonian Talmud not the Hebrew scriptures.
II. MISTRANSLATED SCRIPTURES ABOUT “HELL”
So then let's review a few words that sometimes get translated “hell”. We already in that same message talked about Gehenna, that in every reference to it, is translated hell, but it is literally the valley of Hinnom. It never describes a place called hell in an afterlife. It describes the fall of Jerusalem in AD 70 where the bodies of hundreds of thousands died and were burned within the city walls and were thrown into the valley below where the worms ate their flesh. We read Josephus' account of fires of destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 and the horror that it was. We saw how the fire wasn’t quenched in the sense that they couldn’t stop it from completely burning the temple and many in the city. It is not hell. (See Appendix below)
There is another word Tartarus used only one time in the bible by Peter and it comes from Greek/Roman/Egyptian mythology. In Greek mythology it was the deepest place in which the gods of Olympus locked up the Titans as punishment. Peter mentions it as a place where evil spirits were bound. It is not hell. “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (tartarus) and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment..." (2 Peter 2:4)
That only leaves Hades/Sheol which is the abode of the dead and the Lake of Fire. I’ll come back to Hades at the end, so let’s tackle a few things here.
Revelation 21 says that Hades was thrown into the lake of fire, so Hades can’t be hell. That leaves only the Lake of Fire. That means the only possible mention of hell in the bible is the Lake of Fire. That means that it is never mentioned from creation to the time of Jesus. It is never mentioned in Acts and neither the word hell or Lake of Fire is ever used in the teachings of Paul as a place of afterlife punishment forever. (Did Paul Promise Everlasting Punishment From the Presence of the Lord)
That means that the entire doctrine about God and how he treats people after death is only found in one book that is by nature apocalyptic and was written not even to all the churches, but to the churches in Asia Minor. Yet, it is one of the most accepted doctrines in America. Do we really think that something so important as eternal conscious torment from God is only mentioned at the end of one book?
We know from our studies that the Lake of Fire is something that was going to happen at the fall of Jerusalem. How?
1. According to Daniel 12, which is the same context, same books opened in Revelation 20, an angel says it was ALL going to happen by the time the power of the holy people was shattered in the period of "the time, times and half a time" (3.5 years). The angel says the temple would be destroyed in a 3 ½ year period which was in AD 66-AD 70. For 3.5 years Rome attacked and destroyed Jerusalem. Revelation 20 is the fulfillment of that promise in their future, not ours.
2. Remember that Revelation is interpreted according to Jesus in the first 3 verses as apocalyptic language and signs that point to things that happened in the past to give them insight to what was about to happen to them. (See the Revelation Series in the Media section).
So do we have a record of the idea of a lake of fire in the bible? Yes. The lake of fire was a symbol of judgment on Sodom and Gomorrah. Do you know where Sodom was located. By the Dead Sea. It was the giant lake region that was filled with fire and brimstone and sulfur, and was known in both the secular world and Israel’s world as the symbol of judgement:
Isaiah 1:7-10, “Your country is desolate, your cities burned with fire… like a city under siege… unless the Lord Almighty had left us some survivors, we would have become like Sodom, we would have been like Gomorrah.”
In Deuteronomy 29:22-27, when he talked about Israel’s last days in the Law he said, “The whole land will be like a burning waste of salt and sulfur, nothing planted , nothing sprouting, no vegetation growing on it. It will be like the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.”
What do we find in the book of Revelation? Chapter 11 says that the city which is spiritually called Egypt and Sodom, the place where the Lord was crucified” is Jerusalem.
The Lake of Fire is a metaphor for the place of the judgment and burning of Jerusalem in AD 70. It is the place like Sodom at the Dead Sea which burned with fire and brimstone and sulfur and salt. It was a symbol meaning just like Sodom, Jerusalem was going to be destroyed in a cauldron of inescapable fire. Which we know is exactly what happened in history as they wept and gnashed their teeth as the fires ravaged the city and hundreds of thousands died. (See appendix below).
Ok, but what about some of those passages that seem to indicate that their torment was forever, and that kind of language?
There just isn’t space here to really do this justice. But a quick answer is simply this: Young’s Literal Translation of the word aion is the word age. Aionios is usually translated literally as “age enduring”. Not forever, but a period of time
Josephus tells us that the Pharisees DID believe in "eternal punishment", aionios timoria. But when it refers to the words of Jesus, he uses the phrase aionios kolasis, which is a word that means a discipline to correct something rather than punish.
In other words, in Greek, those phrases don’t mean eternal punishment. They literally mean age enduring corrective discipline. The fires of Jerusalem were descriptive of the end of the Old Covenant age, enduring until AD 70 and were at most corrective under the law, not punishment and not forever.
Remember what the scriptures say about God? His mercy endures forever. It never says anywhere in the Bible that his judgment or his justice endures forever. In fact, James says, "mercy triumphs over judgment." So how can one say God will punish people in hell forever when it is only his mercy that endures forever and his mercy is greater?
In fact, did you know that both in the culture of Greece and Rome and in the lives of some of the church fathers, they practiced the doctrine of reserve. That means that they held back the truth, they held it in reserve, because they were afraid if they didn’t teach a place of torment after death, then the people would run wild and without restraint. For example early church father Origin said,
“all that might be said on this theme (of eternal punishment) is not expedient to explain now, or to all. For the mass need no further teaching on account of those who hardly through the fear of eternal punishment restrain their recklessness.”
It was agreed it was in the best interest to not tell people the truth because apparently they were afraid the gospel wasn’t powerful enough to empower them to live good lives.
III. WHY WAS HADES CAST INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE?
So then, if the Lake of Fire, is actually another phrase to describe the fires that destroyed Jerusalem in AD 70, then why is Hades cast into the Lake of Fire? I’m glad you asked. This is the part I’ve been waiting for.
Acts 2:24 whom God raised up, having loosed the pains of death, because it was not possible that He should be held by it. 25 For David says concerning Him:
‘I saw the LORD always before my face, For He is at my right hand, that I may not be shaken. 26 Therefore my heart rejoiced, and my tongue was glad; Moreover my flesh also will rest in hope. 27 For You will not leave my soul in Hades, Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption. 28 You have made known to me the ways of life; You will make me full of joy in Your presence.’
This passage tells us that Jesus was in Hades, the abode of the dead, for 3 days. According to the Greek scholar Thayer, death is metaphorically, "the misery of soul arising from sin, which begins on earth but lasts and increases after the death of the body" In the widest sense, death comprises all the miseries arising from sin, as well physical death as the loss of a life consecrated to God and blessed in him on earth. (Thayer)
Hebrews 2:9 says Jesus was tasting death for every man. You see from this passage and the definition of death that it was his soul that was tasting death. That is very important. He was not loosed from the pains of death, UNTIL his resurrection (Acts 2:24). He is tasting the misery of death, of darkness, of every confusion, of every loss, of every person’s fears, hurts, questions, sadness, everything!
But according to David and Peter, Jesus was doing something in the face of all those billowing waves that were crashing over Jesus. Jesus fixed his eyes on the Father and began to speak with a glad tongue, and with rejoicing.
I still didn’t get it until the other day driving over to Memphis. I’ve been praying for more insight into this passage and then it hit me. Early church father St Gregory, and I’m told Athanasius said, “God can only heal what he can assume.” In his incarnation, he came to heal the darkness and death that was introduced in the Garden. He became part of his creation so he could heal creation. He became a man so he could heal mankind.
Every pain, every confusion, every struggle, is rooted in one thing. Not knowing God. It is not seeing God’s goodness that causes us to see evil everywhere. It is not seeing hope in God that causes us depression and hopelessless. It is not seeing God's faithfulness that leads a man to steal. It doesn’t matter what is going on in a person’s soul, the reason is because there is something they can’t see about the truth of who God is that is causing it. The moment one believes the truth about God’s love, then fear can disappear. Everything we struggle with in our soul is caused by the darkness of our own hearts and what we believe.
So imagine with me for a moment. From Adam until Jesus, every human being went into Hades/Sheol, the abode of the dead: the righteous, the unrighteous, everyone. Remember what Jesus said in John 1:18, “NO ONE has seen the Father at any time except the Son.” That place of darkness, of confusion, of soul death, of misery… no one there could find their way out because they were blind, they could not find God because it was their darkness to who God was that kept them in that state of being. No one had seen the Father, so no one could come out of that soul darkness in Hades.
But in another place, Matthew 11:27, “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.” What was Jesus doing for three days? Yes he was tasting death for every man, but he was counteracting every billowing wave of soul darkness, with a declaration of the truth of the Father. He was proclaiming the gospel. That is why he had a glad tongue, a happy tongue. Because for every single place of darkness that any human has ever experienced, he set his face toward the Father and spoke the opposite truth, the HEALING truth of who God is. Jesus isn’t just enduring the pains of death… it was impossible for the pains of death to hold him because every wave was overcome by a corresponding, counteracting truth of who the Father was!
Why was Jesus 3 days in Hades? Because he isn’t just preaching the good news to himself. He is preaching who the Father is to every single person who ever lived who was in Hades until then. The entirety of human beings from the beginning of time, ALL are hearing. They aren’t simply hearing “if you believe in Jesus you can go to heaven one day.” They are ALL hearing the truth, the light, the healing reality of the Father, counteracting their darkness. They are hearing the answer to every soul pain they ever had. They are hearing the reason they did what they did, no matter what they did, so that they could be healed and cleansed of every bit of darkness.
THINK ABOUT Jesus on the cross talking about people who were KILLING the SON OF GOD! He said Father forgive them, they know not what they DO. People do what they do because they don’t know REALLY why they are doing it. The darkness of heart leads to dark behaviors.
Jesus went to Hades, not to offer a cure, because how can souls that were in darkness and confusion, and anxiety and stress, have the capacity to choose. They didn’t. Jesus went to Hades, not to offer a cure, but to give the cure. He injected the cure for the disease into Hades itself to heal every separation lie, every lie that kept them in darkness.
People say that God doesn’t send people to hell, they choose hell. But what person in their right mind walks into a burning building because they WANT to? I’m not talking about sacrifice to save someone, I mean just to burn alive. No one! But the gospel is that Jesus went INTO HADES and CURED everyone who was not in their right mind, who could not see God.
He was raised from the dead physically but he overcame death, the darkness of Hades, THAT soul death that Adam introduced in the garden.
“For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water” (1 Peter 3:18–20).
Some teach that he is speaking about the spirits of fallen angels, but the problem is that he says it included the people who were not saved in the flood so most likely he called those people spirits. We know in Hebrews 12 the author speaks of the New Jerusalem as the place of where the spirits of just men are made perfect, as if spirits are people. So it may be that Peter uses different language to say the same thing… that Jesus preached to the spirits in prison.
Still not convinced? Peter also said this, "They will give an account to Him who is READY to judge the living and the dead. For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit." (1 Peter 4:5-6) Did you get that?!!! He said Jesus preached to those who were dead... people who were in Hades. So he says that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, ie, being in Hades, but that those same men would LIVE according to God in the Spirit!
Just so you know this isn’t some personal interpretation I came up with, about 100 years after the death of the apostle John a book called the Gospel of Nicodemus said, “When Jesus arrived in Hades, the gates burst open, and taking Adam by the hand Jesus said, “Come with me, as many as have died through the tree which he touched, for behold I raise you all up through the tree of the cross.”
But that isn't all! Psalm 22:22,29, "I will declare Your name to My brethren; In the midst of the assembly I will praise You. (Some scholars believe he is speaking of when he was in Hades declaring the name of God to all his brothers/sisters, of which he is not ashamed to call them.) All those who go down to the dust Shall bow before Him, Even he who cannot keep himself alive. (As Isaiah and Paul said, "every knee with bow and every tongue confess that Jesus is Lord" including AFTER DEATH).
Jesus proved the words of David, "if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!" (Psalm 139:8).
So why was Hades cast into the Lake of Fire?
1. Because it served no purpose anymore. Christ has filled all things everywhere with his healing presence.
2. Also because it ended at the resurrection of those out of Hades in AD 70. It was empty, because the one who heals the broken hearted came and spoke the healing truths of the Father that set their souls free from the bondage of that darkness. Hades was cast into the lake of fire with death… not physical death, but the soul death of Hades that Adam introduced in the garden.
Do you know that that means for you and me? It means hell is not found in the bible anywhere. It means that Christ knows how to heal every single pain, confusion, darkness, frustration, stress, anxiety, everything we go through. He knows how to heal it not by giving us a new 5 step program to disciple our way into new habits. He knows exactly what the wounds are in our souls. He knows the truth about the Father that will heal that wound.
And he didn’t just crawl into the darkness of Hades… he crawled into OUR darkness. Into OUR hearts so that from the inside out… from now until we get to heaven, he is trying to reveal the Father to us, to heal our brokenness. And he won’t stop in this life… because if you don’t get it here, you will get it when you see him. John said, when we see him we will become like him for we will see him as he is.
So if someone says, “I don’t want to go to heaven if Hitler is there.” I understand. But the Hitler that set in motion all those horrible things… is not the same Hitler standing in the presence of God healed of the root causes in his soul that made him do the things he did.
Jeff Turner said on a Facebook post recently, “no one goes to heaven if anyone goes to hell.” He then went on to explain… how can anyone who is in heaven be happy who also has a loved one being burned and tormented in hell? So how could that be heaven knowing that?
So in the old view, God must change those in heaven in order to keep them from seeing, or knowing or remembering their burning loved ones. But… if God can change a person in heaven to forget those in hell, then why can’t he change those in hell to be fit for heaven?
Heaven is not a reward for good behavior. It is the ultimate healing of every soul.
Some will say "I trust him because I know he will make things right, I'll see justice for the horrible things that have been done to me." Ok. But do you think God’s justice is the same as an eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth, or is it possible that the justice of God is to restore what was lost, to heal what was broken, to change us and set us free? The reason hell continues to be in our theology is because we still think God is the eye for an eye tooth for a tooth god. He isn’t. He is the healing God!
See the reason that people have a hard time trusting God is because of the god they were taught to trust. They were told that God has somewhat of a dark side. With people we trust them when we can trust they will always do good, or that they are faithful and honest. Yet we have this idea that God is good, but he has a behind the scenes dark personality in which he will send sinners into hell forever and torment them as he laughs with delight because God is holy and just. We are told that because God is God then he can do those things and it is right and good and fair… but the God in me and the conscience in me and you KNOWS something isn’t right about it.
The good news is that Christ reached into the darkness of Hades, emptied it because of the gospel he preached there, healing every soul darkness and every soul wound, and then cast it into the Lake of Fire, figuratively speaking, meaning Hades and religion died together in the fires of Jerusalem. The good news is that Christ has filled all things everywhere with himself so that he will take you on the same healing journey…even into heaven itself.
APPENDIX: JERUSALEM'S HELL
“While the Temple was ablaze, the attackers plundered it, and countless people who were caught by them were slaughtered. There was no pity for age and no regard was accorded rank; children and old men, laymen and priests, alike were butchered; every class was pursued and crushed in the grip of war, whether they cried out for mercy or offered resistance.
Through the roar of the flames streaming far and wide, the groans of the falling victims were heard; such was the height of the hill and the magnitude of the blazing pile that the entire city seemed to be ablaze; and the noise – nothing more deafening and frightening could be imagined.
There were the war cries of the Roman legions as they swept onwards en masse, the yells of the rebels encircled by fire and sword, the panic of the people who, cut off above, fled into the arms of the enemy, and their shrieks as they met their fate. The cries on the hill blended with those of the multitudes in the city below; and now many people who were exhausted and tongue-tied as a result of hunger, when they beheld the Temple on fire, found strength once more to lament and wail.
The Temple Mount, everywhere enveloped in flames, seemed to be boiling over from its base; yet the blood seemed more abundant than the flames and the numbers of the slain greater than those of the slayers. The soldiers climbed over heaps of bodies as they chased the fugitives." (Josephus' account appears in: Cornfield, Gaalya ed., Josephus, The Jewish War (1982); Duruy, Victor, History of Rome vol. V (1883).)
Among the tragic events that at this time occurred, the following is more particularly deserving of notice: A false prophet, pretending to be a divine commission, said that if the people would flee to the Temple, they should behold signs of their speedy deliverance. Accordingly, about six thousand people, chiefly women and children, assembled in a gallery that was yet standing, on the outside of the building. While they waited in anxious expectation of the promised miracle, the Romans, with the most wanton barbarity, set fire to the gallery. Multitudes, rendered frantic by their horrible situation, threw themselves from the gallery onto the ruins below and were killed by the fall. Meanwhile, awful to relate, the rest, without a single exception, perished in the flames. (Welton, Jonathan (2013-11-01). Raptureless: An Optimistic Guide to the End of the World - Revised Edition Including The Art of Revelation (Kindle Locations 1380-1385). BookBaby. Kindle Edition.)
"Now the seditious [Jews warring against Rome] at first gave orders that the dead should be buried out of the public treasury, as not enduring the stench of their dead bodies. But afterwords, when they could not do that, they had them cast down from the walls into the valleys beneath. However, when Titus [the Roman general besieging Jerusalem], in going his rounds along those valleys, saw them full of dead bodies, and the thick putrefaction running about them, he gave a groan; and, spreading out his hands to heaven, called God to witness that this was not his doing; and such was the sad case of the city itself." (War of the Jews V 12.3-4)
"Manneus, the son of Lazarus, came running to Titus at this very time, and told him that there had been carried out through that one gate, which was entrusted to his care, no fewer than a hundred and fifteen thousand eight hundred and eighty dead bodies, in the interval between the fourteenth day of the month Xanthieus, when the Romans pitched their camp by the city, and the first day of the month Panemus. This was itself a prodigious multitude; and though this man was not himself set as a governor at that gate, yet was he appointed to pay the public stipend for carrying these bodies out, and so was obliged of necessity to number them, while the rest were buried by their relations; though all their burial was but this, to bring them away, and cast them out of the city. After this man there ran away to Titus many of the eminent citizens, and told him the entire number of the poor that were dead, and that no fewer than six hundred thousand were thrown out at the gates,though still the number of the rest could not be discovered; " (War of the Jews, V 13,7)
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The Remnant: Only a Few Will Be Saved?
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