|Christian Views On Hell – Part 2 (Traditional View)||Download||PowerPoint|
Review of Last Week’s Introduction
John: Last week was very much of an introduction. It was very informal. I actually did something I hadn’t done in a while. I just sat down in a chair and let you do most of the talking. So tonight, we are going to start actually lay information down that we are going to take for the next few weeks and use. What I hope to do tonight in just kind of an overview is, I am just going to present some scriptures that deal with the subject of hell and see if we can talk about them. So I want this to really be you talking; I’m presenting. I’ll be reading scriptures and you can stop me and talk about them, and I will give you a method of how to do that.
So, last week what I did is, I gave a very spirited defense of why we were going to do a topic on hell, which nobody really wants to talk about. I was specifically referring to the question that Tiffany had raised, “Why would we ever do this series?” And it was such a spirited defense, she wasn’t here to hear it. So, in review, here were just some of the points I raised last week, and we went on to talk about these two reasons from scripture, that I think it is very important that we tackle this subject. One is, we are commanded to give a reason for the hope that we have and to anyone who asks, and second, to destroy those kinds of arguments and presuppositions that stand against God. Now that is a very complicated thing to do, but I believe that there is a basis for why we take on such a difficult topic.
I’d like to add a couple more, just two more: One is, I think that what we believe about hell says a lot about our beliefs about God, about scripture and especially about the Gospels. So I think that we could use this topic to actually, as some of you started to notice last week, dig in to all the other ground that lies around it, because we really can’t take on the topic without examining what we really believe. And I think that you are going to see that throughout the series, it is really what we believe, more than even what we read, that is going really be the thing we struggle with. If I could say it really plainly, some of us just can’t believe certain things. It doesn’t matter what we say or do here, some of us are just going to get to go, “I just can’t believe that.” And I want you to be cognizant of that.
I want to put up this other reason, and I want to say right now that I don’t know that I necessarily agree with it, so if it strikes you as a little bit controversial, hold your comments for a moment. The quote is this, it says, “Some have argued that in our great rush to apologize for hell or to do away with it altogether, we have only succeeded in making sure that a greater number of people will end up there.” The reason I put that quote on the screen is because I want you to feel the tension for just a moment, that sometimes, it is really our belief that we need to check the door if possible. Let me continue in that thought just a little bit further.
What We Hope to Accomplish
John: Here is what I would ideally like to do. Ideally. Put your theological views aside and we will just simply read and interpret the text together, correctly and agree on it, okay? That is what we are going to do, ideally. [Laughter]
Now, I know you are chuckling because I did say “ideally.” I have actually read people who say, this is such a simple issue, if only we could check our theology — our beliefs about God, our biases about God, our preset positions about God — if we can just check those at the door and just read the text, it would all be clear. But of course we know, especially in this group and many other places, that you can’t do that. Even the way you read something, even the way you interpret something, comes heavily laced with your theology and your belief. You just can’t separate them. Now, even though that’s true, that we really can’t do what is ideally available, what ideally I would like us to do, I want you to try to at least acknowledge this because it might help us a little bit.
Alright, so that is ideally. What are we going to realistically do? [Laughter] Realistically, we are going to present all the different views, we are all going to argue about what we already believe, or we are going to argue for what we already believe. And hopefully, hopefully, even though we are still going to stick to what we already believe, if we do it together in this room and we wrestle with it enough, hopefully, the Holy Spirit is going to work in us because of our openness and because of our deliberation.
One of the key ways that the Spirit speaks to the church is through deliberation. Isn’t it odd that we don’t deliberate very much as a church? And that’s one of the reasons that we do this group, because in the deliberation, I hope that the Spirit will speak and we will all somehow be changed through the working of the Spirit. Alright, so be open. I know that the ideal is hard to reach, if not impossible. But I want you to at least acknowledge that that is one of the problems we have, is that our beliefs are what is often speaking first.
And so tonight, we are going to be actually just walking through the text, and I am going to invite you to give me your reaction to the text. I’ve got so many scriptures, I don’t think we are going to make it through tonight. Alright? As I was thinking earlier, I was thinking, don’t let the fact that we have 67 slides deter you tonight from speaking, alright? [Laughter] We are not going to go through all of them, there’s just no way. But I want you to at least react, and I will show you how we are going to do that.
Since last week was an introduction, tonight to set the stage in to give us useful ammunition for us to be able to deliberate over the next couple of weeks, we are going to look at different views. We are going to look at for example, the traditional view about what hell is and I will call it “traditional” even though that is controversial. Some would call it “Biblical” and the other people would get tweaked by that. Some would call it “historical” and a whole other group gets tweaked. But let’s just call it “the view where you are burned and tortured forever,” is that easier? We are also going to look at another view like the annihilationist view, that maybe your torment in hell is not forever, maybe you are just annihilated, maybe you are destroyed. We are going to look at the universalist view that says, maybe Christ’s salvation is so encompassing that everyone can be saved, and everybody will be saved. We have nothing to worry about. We will look at like mediums in between. But we need first just to have some common ground, and I think scripture should always be our common ground. So we are going to start just looking at verses.
Questions About Hell to Get Us Thinking
John: So, here are some questions I want you to think about. Do the scriptures describe hell? I mean, is there even a hell described in scripture? That’s one of the inquiries that we have to have, like where would this hell be described? And it is probably important to know where it comes from, and where it isn’t stated, by the way. If it is described, what is it described like? Is it hot? Cold? Dark? Distant? I mean, you guys gave some of your own views last week, not many were in the hot camp. So to help us, by the way, in counting that, I have come up with a hot meter that we’ll put on the side of the screen [Laughter] and we’ll use this meter to help us every time the description seems hot, [Laughter] it will tick away some of the — just to kind of keep track. Because, I know that, I have talked to a lot of people about this.
Now I want to be clear right at the outset, that just because the scriptures say something like hot, fire, burning, that doesn’t solve the issue completely, because we still have to understand, well why is that imagery used? Is it imagery? Is it meant to convey something else? We’ll come back to that. But last week when we spoke, there just seemed to be a general preference for cold, dark and distant, and we’re going to look at that. I want you to look at those two. I just couldn’t put too many meters on the screen, so we have a hot meter.
You might want to ask yourself, who goes to hell? You might want to look and say, how long are people in hell? The duration issue. Just put this in your mind for a moment because what I am going to do is, I am just going to read a scripture and then say, “comments?” I’d like you to push back on it a little bit and say, “This is why I don’t think that says what it says,” or “This is why I don’t really think that it is talking about hell,” or “This is why I don’t think that solves anything for us.” I want you to do that tonight.
Old Testament Verses on Hell
John: Let’s start with the Old Testament verses on hell. What verses in the Old Testament talk about hell? I put them all on the screen. They are all there. [A blank screen] Those are all the Old Testament verses on hell. In other words, none. So right away, you can see we are making great progress because we have just thrown out the whole Old Testament, so we should be done in just a few minutes.
The Old Testament is silent when it comes to our doctrine, and I mean a New Testament doctrine, of hell. Now, I do want to dispense with a couple of things: you’ve probably heard, in short hand format, that, “Well in the Old Testament, they have a concept of sheol, and that’s kind of roughly the equivalent of Hades. It’s kind of like a land of the dead. It’s not really hell. It’s just where dead people go.” And, yes, that’s short hand, but I want to just say that the argument there and the issue there is way more complicated than that. There are so many Hebrew words that describe the grave, the pit, the abyss, the land of the dead, and you have to look at them because they mean different things in different contexts. But all that being said, the reason I am not going to spend time here is because there really isn’t a description of an afterworld place of torment. So while the concept of sheol is difficult, it is not really going to be very relevant to help us.
Now, I am going to change the screen a little bit and say, instead of Old Testament verses on hell, are there any Old Testament verses on judgment after death? Because you have also probably heard, that in the Old Testament, well they just didn’t have a concept of life after death, and that’s not totally true. I would say it is mostly true. I am going to just look at two verses. One of them is Isaiah 66, verses 22-24, it says this (and he is talking about an eschatological future):
“’As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so will your name and descendants endure. From one new moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me,’ says the Lord. ‘And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.'”
Now by itself, if you read the context of what I say it is talking about, he’s talking about the people who are rising up against the Lord, like physically, as armies. And normally, you could just dismiss this verse entirely, except you are going to see that Jesus actually picks up on it and uses this verse. So it becomes a little harder to just say, “That’s not what he [Isaiah] was talking about,” because apparently Jesus thinks that he [Isaiah] was talking about this. So there is just one verse, just to kind of keep it in the back of our mind. Let me give you the other one. It is in Daniel, Daniel 12, verses 1-3. “At that time,” which he is talking in all of chapter 11 about the end time. “Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people — everyone whose name is found written in the book — will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars forever and ever.”
Clearly, the point I want to show is this, there will be this awakening, this feeling, this illusion to resurrection: some to everlasting life, other to shame and everlasting contempt. That’s the closes we have in the Old Testament of a concept of judgment in the afterlife for good and for bad. And some would say that’s the first time you have this double judgment pronounced in the entire Old Testament and probably the last time.
Further Development of the Doctrine of Hell in the Inter-Testamentary Time
John: As I mentioned last week, in the inter-testamentary times, the development of the theology about life and the resurrection and everlasting life began to develop even more in Jewish thought, and it was very well developed by the time Jesus begins to talk about it and teach about it. And we see that in some of the debates that go on between the Pharisees and other rabbinical schools. That’s the Old Testament view. I just wanted to throw it up there. But I would say on balance, we can’t use much of it. It’s not going to help us much in our inquiry. Anyone want to comment on this? Anything?
Monique: Was the idea of like a heaven or a life after death in like the Old Testament, because obviously Elijah was taken in a chariot somewhere, and like Moses we’re not sure, like he died or not, whatever, he just was no more, and things like that. So, what kind of thought do they have about that? Not the punishment, but like heaven, or was there no thoughts? Like the law was just for while you were living, except for a chosen few?
John: If you’re just going to take what people would say, the historical view of the Hebrews, is that once you die, you pass into the realm of the dead. So, you have heard people talk about a three-storied universe, like the spirits and God in one, “the heavens,” the earth being the place of the living, and the concept of sheol — or just the aboard of the dead — would be the place you pass into. The interesting thing is, your life continued, but there is not a uniformity of thoughts. Some thought you were asleep, some of the traditions believed that there was varying levels depending on what you were doing, but everybody was in the same place, just there was varying levels. Some people believed that you continue to experience almost a walking deadness, like your body was decaying but somehow you had some form of it; like some people would say even a skeleton of it — No real uniform thought as to what happened. I mean, people try to say, “Oh, this is just the view of the Old Testament,” and it’s just more complicated than that
Monique: So would you say maybe like the faith that they had, like the Jewish faith, for them wasn’t about like, “because I want to go to heaven” and I want to be “saved,”, it was more or a way of life to honor God and, like, fear who He was in his righteousness, as opposed to do “I need to do this so that when I die, I don’t go here or I can’t go there.”
John: Yes. It was mostly — I would say almost entirely — about the hear and now, about this life that God has given. And so, last week, I think it was Jeremy who pointed out, when I said something like, “You know if you believed in a universalist view, then what would be the point of believing in Christ?” Like why even believing in Him? And he made a very astute observation, which is that, “So the only reason we believe in Jesus is to go to heaven?” Like imagine if you just found out that everyone is going to heaven and that it doesn’t matter. Would you still believe in God? Would you still serve God? Would you still obey God? Would you still put God as your master and your Lord and the center of your life? — where you think, the only reason I was doing this just got “X”ed, so what’s the point? And that’s a very interesting question to see either, why there was so much of this back and forth between obedience and not obedience in the Old Testament, or maybe you will look at it from a completely positive light and say, these people didn’t have a belief in eternal rewards and punishment, they just looked at God as you are worthy and my life should be in your presence. That would be beautiful.
Jesus’ Teachings Referencing Hell
John: Alright, so, done with the Old Testament. Let’s get to Jesus. I’m going to read the number of places that Jesus talked about hell, and I’ll tell you the ending before we even start: it’s Jesus who talked the most about hell, if not exclusively, close to exclusively. He is by far and away the one who speaks the most about hell, which creates a problem for those of us who believe in Jesus. Matthew 5:22, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says, “But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell.” So he seems to think there is a hell, I would say, you can disagree with that?
Participant: There’s a point on the hot meter.
John: Oh, right. There’s one. [Laughter] So Jesus pronounces hell and describes it as the fire of hell. Push back? Yes.
Ben: I think when we are going through this in the series in Matthew, like kind of took this verse as a little bit of hyperbole, so it seems weird that we’re not looking at it and saying, “Ah-ha,” there’s proof.
John: That’s very good, that’s exactly the objection to this verse, is that we have to analyze the genre with which He is speaking. Let me put up the next one because we are going to talk about them together. The next one in Matthew 5:29 and 30, also the Sermon on the Mount, he says:
“If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.“
So, let’s talk about Ben’s point. Yes, it’s clear that Jesus is using hyperbole. Virtually all scholars agree that that’s what He is doing, that He’s probably not instructing His followers to literally gouge out their eye or cut off their hand. But the question that we have to answer — and I am just going to leave it out there, and you have to answer it is — the fact that He is exaggerating what you would rather do than go to hell, does that mean He’s also exaggerating hell itself? The other question about the fire of hell that you have to ask yourself is, is He describing that there is going to literally be fire in hell? Or is He just trying to make the point so strong using the strongest imagery that you could think of? Because there is already probably some sort of idea developing somewhere in the culture that this place might have fire, so He is going to use the strongest words He can, just like He is saying gouge out your eye or cut off your hand. Rae?
Rachel: I am a little bit confused as to historically. So Jesus was Jewish, so theoretically His ideas about hell developed from the Judaism perspective, but there’s no scripture on it in the Old Testament, so when did that theology about hell develop, and where did it come?
John: It would be what I referenced, is during the 400 year or so inter-testamentary time, you see an increasing theology of hell developing, right?. So we are talking about, like in extra- Biblical sources, they actually start to describe…
Rachel: So it is in non-canonical literature.
John: Yes, so if — and it is an if, because we don’t know what H’s relying on — if He’s relying on sources that are common to His tradition, then that’s most likely what He’d be relying on. Because we know He has arguments that start to rely on this developing theology that is going on with the Pharisees, like even about the resurrection, right? Like He’s already alluding to the fact that there’s debates about, between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, about whether there is a bodily resurrection or not, and He is actually beginning to engage in that. So, clearly around this time, people are discussing the issues. But I think you have to also consider, maybe He’s not relying on any tradition. I mean, if you want to make Jesus just a man who is limited to what He knows in His culture, then that argument takes on greater weight, the one you just made. If you think that Jesus is different in some way and speaks with authority that others couldn’t have, whether they had scriptures or not, then we have a totally different issue going on here. Jeremy.
Jeremy: And, just to add that, there is a lot of research that shows a really good connection between the Jewish, the Jewish people being influenced by the Persian faith of Zoroastrianism, and that there was an interaction of culture around the same time. John’s talking about this inter-testament period. So, it also poses a very legitimate question about the impact of another society’s culture because that is where you see development of things like heaven and hell and you also see a change in the Jewish perspective of a more cyclical view of life, to a more linear view, like a beginning and an end and those kinds of things. So, all that to say, there is a lot of interesting research about the kind of cultural environment of that whole area, especially with Persia, Cyrus the Great, and all those things.
John: You know, if you ask somebody this question point blank, like of you ask a believer of the traditional view, “You know, if this is such a big doctrine or if this is such a big important thing, why is it not mentioned in the Old Testament at all?” Like, don’t you think it is strange that God revealed himself to the Israelites for so long and never mentioned this or this never came out? And that’s a very good question, and I’m not sure that there’s a very good answer. But the answer that keeps coming up over and over — not just in this area — but there seems to be a gradual development of God’s revelation that goes on throughout time. And so the argument has been that in the Old Testament it is almost not discussed, even though if we went through all of those verses about sheol and the pit, you’d see hints of it. That’s what they would say. By the time you get to the inter-testamentary time, that revelation is gradually increasing in the tradition to the point where, they are starting to talk about things like the resurrection of the body and judgment and even the development of these ideas. Is it because they are influenced by people around them? Is it because God is revealing more of himself to His people? And then they would say that crescendos, of course, and comes to a huge point by the time Jesus expands on it, right? So it isn’t like one day it’s not there and then suddenly He comes in and announces it for the first time and people are like, “What, wait, say that again, we’ve never heard that.” But I think we have to evaluate that with a lot of scrutiny.
Alright, how about this one, Matthew 18: 8-9, also one of the same passages, I put them together:
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. [Ding] And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.”
By the way, you only get one point if they are in the same verse pairing, alright? So maybe your count is higher than mine, but we are only on two so far. If they are tied together into a verse pairing then you only get one point. Yes.
Jeremy: I’m curious to know, you know a lot of different words are translated “hell” and some of them, you know, if we didn’t translate them that way, if we knew their context, I think it would be even more clear that it is not talking about a place of torment, like for example, the word for the garbage heap that was possibly burning outside the town is often used as a translation for “hell.” But Jesus may have been making a reference to, like a very physical firey thing that would have a different kind of meaning. So, I wonder, you know, if you can tell us what words here are getting translated, because that might again change the understanding.
John: If I clicked the button rand that happened right now, would that be the coolest thing you had ever seen? Okay, but I didn’t do it. [Laughter] I am going to be doing it next week and there Is a reason for that, because what you are onto is something that I really believe is the right thing to do. We have to actually look at what the word “hell” is in many of these contexts, okay? And it’s going to be part of our response to the traditional view, is to look and see those. Now, the thing with Jeremy was just highlighting or alluding to, is something we should look at: In most of these cases, the word for “hell” is “gehena,” and when it is capitalized, it is referring to a historic site outside of Jerusalem that was a trash heap, alright? So, sometimes this reference to where the “worms don’t die” and where the “fire never goes out” it was believed to be — that’s because “gehena” was the actual place where they burn the trash and where they dumped the bodies that didn’t deserve burial. Criminals, soldiers that were enemies, they would just dump their bodies there and the maggots would continue to feast on this great buffet of decaying corpses. And the trash heap was burned, okay? That’s the reference you are making. However, the interesting thing is, there is a word that Jesus used as well, which some people think, like, the root word might come from this, and is ‘giyana’ not ‘gehena’ and actually people believe, yes, its root comes from the fact that that was the allusion that people used to. So that becomes an important thing, of is He using that word? Does it matter? I mean again, is He making an illusion to something people know? Or is He just using a root word that is very similar to the physical place, but actually had developed to mean a burning place of afterlife judgment. We have to look at that, we will come to that in the traditional view; I just want you to know what he was referring to. Rae?
Rachael: Well, correct me if I am remembering wrong, but I seem to remember in the book of Luke in the story of the rich man and Lazarus, He refers to Hades, which is Hellenistic, and seems to be something different than different than this idea of gahena and introduces almost another idea of an afterlife.
John: Right, that is absolutely right, that Hades is another — like Hades would be the equivalent, close equivalent, they’re not perfect equivalents, of sheol, like a place of the dead. Now in the parable in Luke, which we are going to get to in a moment, the reason He uses Hades maybe is significant, because He’s actually not talking about a final place. He’s talking about a holding place. But even in His picture of Hades, there is a separation. I mean, one person is in the bosom of Abraham, one person is suffering, right? So we are going to get to that in just a second. Yes.
Jill: Do you think it’s weird that this Matthew verse at the bottom talks about entering life maimed, or entering life with an eye gouged out. Does this seem like it would be something that happens while you are already in your life?
John: He is talking about entering the next life, right? Like He’s literally talking about, like it’s better to go in that way.
Jill: But then doesn’t that contradict our views that when you get to heaven you are made perfect?
John: You mean bodily? Like, if you don’t have an arm, you would have an arm in heaven? Yeah, I think that’s a fair point, and that’s why, that if you look at this, you are saying, “He must be talking and using hyperbole, because that isn’t even the total New Testament theology of bodily resurrection.” Not even just New Testament theology, there just isn’t the idea that they had a bodily resurrection. I mean His point is clearly, like it’s better to go through this life with one eye and to enter life, even if you entered it that way, than to burn in hell and have both eyes the whole time or both hands. So again, His point is more to teach. But it does leave this lingering question of like, well, why use that example? Is it just an example? Are you just trying to show the gravity, or do you really think as Christ the God man that there is a hell, and does it include eternal fire?
Let’s move on. Matthew 10: 28, Jesus says, “Do not be afraid…” — He’s instructing the the disciples, by the way, before they go out into the towns, and they’re a little worried about the reception they are going to get from the people they preach to — He says, in Matthew 10:28: “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both the soul and body in hell.”
So if you are asking the question like, “Does Jesus believe in hell?” — and this isn’t a parable. And I don’t know that this is hyperbole. This would be classified as a warning passage to His disciples. Yes.
Monique: What does “destroy” mean? Because that’s not like everlasting torment, it doesn’t seem. It seems like a….
John: That’s what I want you to be looking for. So, if this verse supports the idea of hell, your objection is it seems to support…
Monique: Maybe like annihilation or something, or like a punishment at first, and then you’re done.
Joseph: Yeah, I think it looks more like you go to hell and you could get annihilated, maybe not, when you get there, like there is something else when you get there.
John: Good. That’s what I want us to be thinking about. Matthew 23:15: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when you have succeeded, you make them twice as much a child of hell as you are.” “Child of hell” is not a reference to Chucky, by the way. [Laughter] In the Semtic expression, a “son of hell” or a “child of hell” means that you are associated so closely with that thing, that you have become the same nature and the same thing, as almost as if you were born of it. So a “son of hell,” or many translations would say, “as much of a son of hell as you are,” basically, “destined to be in hell,” like you are so much going there that you might as well be the thing itself. You are familially associated with it.
He goes on in another woe and says, “You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?” (Matthew 23:33) I don’t want to answer the question for you, but it seems to me Jesus believes there is a hell. Just, I think that if we’re going to answer that question, “does Jesus believe there’s a hell?” — I mean again, He could be trying to make a strong, strong point. But why not use “death?”
Luke 12:5: “But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him.” It’s not a parable, it’s just a warning passage that Jesus is giving to people who are listening. “Fear God, He has the power to throw you into hell; that’s whom you should fear.” And then the one that Rae mentioned earlier, the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, which we won’t go into because it is very long. But if you look up Luke 16, in that one, Lazarus is the beggar at the gate, and the rich man, both of them die. In the next life, they seem to have a reversal of fortune. Lazarus is in the bosom of Abraham, a place of comfort; the rich man is in torment. He is in a hot place. He is asking for someone to just come and just sew his tongue, and there is a whole discussion that ensues as Jesus is commenting on the parable. But again, since they are in that place, I have to give it a point, so there is number 3, you have to give that one a hot point. Alright?
Mark 9: This is a repetition, verses 43-49 of another of the warning passages about cutting off your hand and doing those things. But again, in this one, He expands a little bit in the Markan passage on hell and fire. He says, that it is better to “enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” You want a point?
But this is interesting because this is the place where Jesus cites Isaiah 66, that verse that we looked up from the Old Testament. Jesus incorporates that passage into His discussion on hell. Jesus expressly goes back to the “worms that do not die,” the “fire [that] is not quenched.” He is citing to Isaiah 66. So He seems to think that Isaiah was talking, not just about the enemies of God in this life, and some pit outside of Jerusalem which people believe existed all the way back even to Isaiah’s time, but He’s actually making a direct reference — and maybe Isaiah was too — to an actual hell. Monique.
Monique: What would be interesting to know, and I don’t know we do know that or someone’s done research, is how closely Isaiah was tied to hell at that time to the Jewish people; if it was something that was cited by them and had began to sort of make that correlation, or if Christ was the first one to sort of go back and make that correlation. Because if you do look at Jesus as just like a prophet, not from like a Christian perspective, like not God, a prophet, a man who is speaking, that’s why I think people get really touchy about hell. Because I feel like it would have been revealed in the Old Testament, because it sort of looks like you take it as a whole and it’s just the formation of a culture. Like if you study culture or like anthropology or ides like how Jeremy was saying, ideas can be infused into other cultures, it just looks like the normal development of how thoughts change. Or you can say, no, God is fully human, and fully God, and He’s Jesus and He’s the Christ, and so He’s going back and maybe making connections, speaking from authority as God to say, “No, this is something to be taken seriously.” So, I am curious to know if this was sort of His idea or a popular idea already.
John: It was less than popular, but it was already an idea. In truth, probably the majority of people would look at Isaiah’s words and say, if you are looking at it from an entirely Jewish, Old Testament perspective, you’d say he’s talking, he’s making a prophecy about the enemies of God and the here and now. But as time went on, especially during that period that I am talking about, between the testaments, when they started developing further their theology, what I saw was that the attribution given was using that verse. There weren’t many. It was developing, and they were likely pointing back to that, if to anything. But I think the second part of what you said is true. Jesus does come and make connections that we don’t have. If you want a non-hell example of that, on the road to Emmaus, you remember it says that Jesus walked with them, and along the way He opened their eyes to all the scriptures and the prophecies concerning himself. Right? So He does have that role. He does have the ability to come and say, the same in Sermon on the Mount, like “I have not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it,” and “none of these things are going to pass away,” but “you have heard it said and now I say to you even further.” Like He has that authority when He speaks, and I think, especially on the road to Emmaus, He is actually saying, “Let me explain to you how all of the prophets point to me. You might not even see how this all works, but I am going to open your eyes to do it.” Now, we don’t have the transcript of what He was saying, but it is very clear that the church was doing that, in the first century and later, going back and saying, “Yes, we have to re-understand everything, because He is the center of what this has all been about, and He Himself seems to have been pointing to Himself and saying it is right to do that.” So, I think He can do that.
By the way, He says here in verse 49, “Everyone will be salted with fire.” So, they are all part of that one paragraph of verses. Yes, Cormack.
Cormack: I want to point out is that I think it’s a fallacy to say that, because God or Jesus communicates to us using our language, and in referring to things that we understand, that it necessarily buys into them, or believes those, and any universal objections fail. Because, I mean, that just the way God has to communicate with us, and whatever culture we’re in, or using whatever language we use, and whether that makes sense to us in order to communicate any of the points He’s trying to make to us in a way that we will understand them.
John: So you are saying that because Jesus is using “fire,” or “hell,” He may not really mean that, but He is using language that we would understand?
Cormack: Yeah, to communicate a point, I guess, if you want to look at the forest, instead of the trees, He’s trying to make a point that may not be 100% accurate when you look at every single tree, or whatever…
John: Okay. That’s a point that’s repeatedly made, and I don’t think that it is an invalid point to raise. But we still have to keep thinking like, “Why would He use that example.” He could use something else. Right? So, is there a reason? I am not even answering it. I am just saying, “Is there a reason that He would continually use this one,” and are we unable to understand? Maybe He would dumb it down for us, but I don’t know that He would just completely — I feel uncomfortable saying that He would completely just kind of — make something up.
Cormack: Well, I mean, even like, if you look at just the history of Judaism and Christianity, it does evolve and our understanding of things do change and God connects to us on our level.
Jeremy: Yeah, another point to keep in mind, which we can possibly do in this series, is that there is another analysis that goes on when it comes to the relationship of the very verses and the text themselves, so there is always the question, that never goes away, no matter what one says about their view of the Bible, that these Gospels in particular were put together after Jesus had died by other people. And so there is, even if we say like minimally occurs, there is like arranging that happens and, I don’t know, I mean I don’t know this text at all, whether I would say is something Jesus did say, or something He didn’t say. You know, the scribe says, let’s put these two together, does it make sense? That does happen in the text, though, and I am really curious though to go through these and have an analysis — not that we have to fall in one place or the other, but just to say, here’s what liberal scholars say, here’s what conservative scholars says about it, and then see what kind of consensus happens there, because that I think be a little bit eye-opening as well.
Heather: I agree with Jeremy, but I think that to have a balance view we also have to look at the culture and say that there major way of communicating information was orally, and they took that seriously. It wasn’t something like, when they told stories, it wasn’t like, “Oh, this was just a flippant story and these are the ideas I remember about it, kind of.” It was like, no, they took the time to like memorize it and purposely like keep that intact and keep that pure.
John: Well the argument never goes away. Never. In any subject I’m reading, whenever we get to Gospels, the argument never goes away, “Well, we don’t know if Jesus really said those things,” right? That just never goes away. I’m staying away from scriptural arguments in this series so far because, if you don’t really look at the integrity of the text the way that it is, we don’t have a problem to begin with. We’re not even dealing with hell. It is like, “Whatever, I don’t even know that it says what it says, so that’s not a problem for me.” That’s why I am not sliding into that in this series if I can. With that being said, one of the things that is an interesting observation that I have seen so far is that normally, people who don’t like the Gospels hate John the most. Like, “Well the three gospels seem to go in one way, and then John just invents a whole new theology.” What is interesting in this study of hell is John says virtually nothing about hell. So the people who are John-haters, which are usually the more liberal wing of scholarly analysis, or at least John-critics, really don’t say anything at all this time, in this case, because it is actually the Synoptic [Gospels] that gives them the most problems. And also to be fair, the Synoptics kind of look like they were sourced, you know, like it looks like Matthew and Luke were looking at Mark, or some sort of common source, so just saying they’re in all three doesn’t totally answer it either. I think your idea about some sort of oral tradition helps. Jeremy.
Jeremy: Yeah, I think would just push back on that a little bit. I mean clearly, there was an oral tradition and there is great interest into whether or not Q source, the common source, was an oral tradition or a written tradition. But I wouldn’t say that at this point that all traditions had the same kind of integrity that — like with the Torah, or like with the early part of the faith of ancient Israel.
John: Okay. Well I just mentioned John, so let me just show you this. The closest that the book of John comes is in John 5:29, it says “Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out —” so that’s clearly a teaching about resurrection — “those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned.” So there’s a judgment, but it doesn’t give us a duration, it doesn’t say where you go. That’s the closest really. But again, scholars who love to defend the traditional view will piece together all sorts of things in John that make it sound like it wouldn’t make sense not to believe in hell. That being said, the word is not really cited there. Okay?
Paul’s Teachings About Hell
John: Here is a big long passage from Paul on hell. [Blank screen] That’s what Paul has to say about hell — about the same as the Old Testament. So the word “hell,” if you look up a concordance and just want to read through Paul’s letters on “hell,” you would end up with a big zero.
However, if we change it slightly, Paul does spend a lot of time talking about destruction and death. Just think of a simple verse like, “for the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23) Death to him [Paul] meant something different, it meant something more, we may have to go into it a little bit more when we talk about the view of annihilationism, because they pick up a lot on his destruction language. But I will say that the closest we come is in 2 Thessalonians, the first chapter, verses 5-10. It’s a long verse about punishment, it’s a long verse about the justice of God, and in the middle of that verse is “They will be punished with everlasting destruction” — so that’s a strange kind of juxtaposition of two words, “everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord.” So for those of you who are talking about the cold, dark, outside-of-the-presence-of-the-Lord kind of hell, you might want to hang onto this verse. That’s the closest that he comes to.
Hell Elsewhere in the New Testament
John: Let me must go through a couple and then we will kind of close it off for tonight. Hell elsewhere in the New Testament, other places that we find it: In James, he says “The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell.” So there is another point. 2 Peter 9 and 10, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them in chains of darkness to be held for judgment; . . . if this is so, then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials and to hold the unrighteous for punishment on the day of judgment. This is especially true of those who follow the corrupt desire of the flesh and despise authority.”
Not surprisingly, you are going to find a few of these in Revelation, but actually, there is a main three.
Heather: Isn’t that interesting though that John wrote Revelation, but he doesn’t have about it in his gospel, but he talks about it in Revelation…
John: In a vision, right. Supposedly after the Gospels completed, right? Yes. Yes, that is interesting. So here in Revelation 14:9-12, we have this kind of vision of the coming, the end. “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: ‘If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.‘” Fire!
I actually thought about bringing in the little Beavis and Butthead thing, where they go, “Fire! Fire! Fire!” [Laughter] but then I thought, “That has no place among God’s people,” [Laughter] but it still would have been funny. Yes.
Rachael: I just want to say that, to me, it seems like fire isn’t always necessarily always associated with torment and hell. For example, in another vision about being in the presence of God, there is a burning coal that cleanses the lips. There’s this idea of redeeming fire, cleansing fire — it doesn’t seem like it is always — like I wonder if we took look also at verses that talk about fire in positive way as opposed to punishment. I wonder if we would find that it’s just a symbol of intensity and not as punishment.
John: Yes, and the Spirit Himself is often referred to as the fire, like the whole idea of baptism by fire. Like none of us actually think that when the Spirit comes upon us, we are like set ablaze, right? So, there is that imagery, and you are right, and I did do a word search on fire, and saw the other passages and made sure, first of all, at least in our study here, to take those out to make sure that we are not confusing the fact that the New Testament talks about fire in ways that it is not talking about hell and fire. But yes, that’s actually a counterbalancing point of the imagery. But before we even get to that, some of you should say like, “Well, I don’t even know what Revelation means anyway, why would I take this part to be literal and then all those other like four-headed monsters or whatever to be, oh, that’s just a kingdom somewhere.” Like why is that going to be. So that’s an objection that some of you should be making.
Monique: And like, the full context of this passage is the wrath of God. Are we sure that it is talking about after death, or perhaps like, while we are still living and worshipping the beast or taking the mark of the beast, or whatever.
John: Yes, well the “forever and ever” should give us a clue, I would think [Laughing]. There is a special emphasis on the “no rest day and night forever and ever, the smoke of their torment,” like it probably might begin earlier. Yes, Ben?
Ben C.: At least here, this is talking about the same type of eternal hell. This one makes a point that it’s in the presence of holy angels and the lamb as opposed to being separate from them.
John: Yeah, and actually, way more than I want to go into, but these lines, “tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of holy angels,” “the smoke of their torment rises,” there’s actually like whole articles written about explaining those images. Those images were not just something that like — John was probably incorporating something, using specific words to explain what he was seeing — that those words actually had some weight and some usage outside of just like looking at Revelation saying, “Oh, what does that mean?” Like he’s actually using words that might have been common for people to understand. But it does take away what you said, like. at least in this verse, it doesn’t seem to be like some abandonment far away.
Give you a few more: Revelation 20:10, “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” You might point out your objection is, “Well, that’s talking about the devil and false prophet and the beast, but it doesn’t talk about people.” True. It might just help you establish that there is such a place. Another Revelation passage, 20:14. And this one really refers — in response to what Monique, you were asking about — this is the White Throne Judgment scene, which is really like the judgment at the very, very end — which talks about, “I saw the great white throne …” And this is actually a beautiful thing, I shouldn’t just skim it, I should actually read it because it is beautiful imagery and it talks about God’s holiness, we shouldn’t just kind of skim that:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
So that answers the question about, “Well, the first one seems like it is about the devil, the beast and the false prophet.” But closely on its heels, four verses later, all those people not in the book of life. So there is a point there. And I think I’ll end with just one more and stop for tonight. Hebrews 10:26-27 gives this warning, which has been a subject of a lot of writing: “If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.” [Ding]
We are up to nine [points]. In this one, you can say, “Consume,” like what does that mean? A lot of people focus on that word. Like that doesn’t maybe say that they’ll be eternally tormented, that’s the question that is left over by annihilationist, that we’ll come back to.
Back to the Questions We Started With
John: So, how do you feel, if we go back to those questions that we started with? Just check yourself right now, as we kind of somewhat through it, do you think that there is evidence from the scriptures so far just from what you have read that there is a hell. Maybe a better way to describe it, as I said earlier is, do you think that Jesus seemed to think there was? Was He teaching about what? I think it’s an important question, because if you don’t think that, then the rest of the questions are really moot. And how is hell described? Hot, cold, dark, distant? Who goes there? And what about its duration? Is it eternal? Is it conscious eternal torment?
We’ll pick up next week and continue with some verses, but it does say something about what you believe about what we know about Jesus. The people who live in these issues say, “You know if you want to look at Jesus and say, ‘I don’t really believe He was teaching that,’ it does open the door to say, how do we know what he was teaching about anything then?”
But the most important reason I want to do this series is because there are people that you know, including sitting in this room who don’t buy this. You have to just maybe together wrestle with, does it matter? Can we just shove this doctrine under the rug? Can we just say, “There are just some things in the Bible that, no matter what, I just don’t believe them. And if they are in there, I don’t believe they are in there. And if somebody convinces me they are in there, then they shouldn’t have been.”
I read to you last week one of those testimonies from people who had left Christianity over this issue. And I had said, I bemoan the fact that none of us had been able to speak to them. But here’s the reason that we’re doing this series: could you have talked to them? What would you have said? What would you have said if they came to you and said, “You know what, I can’t believe in God who would even let a place like hell exist. And for my simple, temporal, finite sins, or my inability to find Him, condemn me to like some sort of eternal torment in this place. I just can’t believe that.” What would you have said? That’s the reason why we are doing this series. I want you to have an answer for the hope that you believe. And if your answer is Jeremy’s answer, “it doesn’t exist,” don’t worry about it, you are totally fine. [Laughing] If that’s your answer, that’s at least an answer. That’s at least an answer. At least one thing I respect about Jeremy — as much as we disagree about that answer — is that he has an answer. Many of us who would look at this and go, “Why are we even doing this?” It’s because I want you to have an answer. Because I would tell you the vast number of people who have trouble with Christ, have trouble with this answer. And maybe by the end of the series, you’ll be able to help them with at least your answer. Let’s pray:
Lord be patient with us, and let us be patient with one another, and let us even be patient with this series. Let us sit before you in a spirit of openness, Lord, and allow you to trouble us, allow you to let us deliberate and wrestle with one another. And in that moment when we are tempted to say, “I don’t want to do this, I don’t want to think about this, it will just be easier to do something else,” will you surprise us, Lord? And let our patience pay off, that somehow, just as you spoke and you gave us your word to say these very things, that you would want us to study them and to wrestle with them, and to understand the great wisdom that — yes, even though we will never comprehend you, Lord — your revelation to us is for a reason. And it is not to ignore it, it is not to look past it, it is not just to busy ourselves so we don’t have to think about it. Lord, let this produce wisdom, and let this produce truth. We pray this in your name, Amen.