What does hell mean to you? And what kind of a god would create a hell for humanity? What does the Bible say about hell?
Last week we discussed what does the Bible really say about heaven. And today we’re going to cover another topic that I hope will be just as beneficial.
On an American troop ship a bunch of soldiers crowded around their chaplain and asked him a question. They simply asked him, "Sir, do you believe in hell?"
The chaplain came back. He said, "No, I do not."
"Well, then, will you please resign, for if there is no hell, we do not need you. And if there is a hell, we do not want to be lead astray."
Now these men that crowded around this chaplain on a troop ship were asking one of the big questions of life that you and I need to be able to answer. The subject of heaven that we discussed last week and the subject of hell are subjects that are on people’s minds, and amazingly even today on the early side of the twenty-first century, more people today believe in hell at least in the United States than even in the 1960’s or even a mere ten years ago. Allow me to quote from U. S. News and World Report , January 31, 2000, when it says, "Hell’s powerful images will no doubt continue to loom over humanity as they have for over 2,000 years as a grim and ominous reminder of the reality of evil and its consequences." Now this is out of the same article where it did mention that more people today in America in 2001 believe in a hell than ever before. For a moment with an audience this large and this big I think we need to provide a common working definition before we go any further. So I’d like to create a definition so that as we move forward in this message that we can all indeed be on the same page. And I’d like to quote for a moment from the Encyclopedia Americana regarding hell. And here’s the summation of this popular belief:
"As generally understood, hell is the abode of evil spirits, the infernal regions, where the lost and condemned souls go after, to suffer indescribable torments and eternal punishment. Some have thought of it as a place that has been created by the deity where He punishes with inconceivable severity and through all eternity the souls of those through unbelief or through the worship of false gods have angered Him. It is the place of divine revenge, untempered and never ending. This has been the idea most generally held by Christians, by Catholics and by Protestants alike." Now that is the common definition that we find in the Encyclopedia Americana .
My question to the audience today is how do you perceive hell. What does hell mean to you? And what kind of a god would create a hell for humanity? These are some of the big questions that we need to ask today and not only ask the big questions, but hopefully find even the bigger answers from our God regarding these scenarios.
As we ask the questions we come into a couple of quandaries that I’d like to share with you for a moment. The great quandary is simply this - how can a God who proclaims that He is indeed love seemingly torture individuals forever in a God-created inferno?
Number two: What about the billions, and I do mean billions with a "b" of individuals that have never been reached, touched or molded by the name and the life of Jesus Christ? Not only the name, not even knowing about the life, but knowing the mission and the ministry of Jesus Christ and what He is about - are they condemned to an ever-burning, ever-tortuous, tormentable abyss called hell? Simply, are they lost? What about some of your relatives that don’t have this message, that don’t know this message, that have never submitted to the rule of the kingdom of God through Jesus Christ. Are they condemned forever to an ever-burning hell? Is that the God that you currently worship? Is that the God that you can have trust and you can have confidence in? Is that the God that we just heard in the opening message that you really have a desire to invest in because you understand His great love for you? Or are we simply approaching God based upon fear and based upon trepidation and not knowing exactly what He wants of us.
You know when we think about this, we come to two conclusions, that if we do believe in this kind of a hell, number one, is it kind? And number two, is it simply fair to judge people based upon something that maybe they have never known about in their life? If this be the case, and with this knowledge and with this definition whether it be so or not it has been the case in many people’s minds that creates a deep cynicism or even a sarcasm towards God.
Let me talk about for a moment the life of Charles Darwin. Most of us know Charles Darwin as the father of evolution. It is very interesting what Charles Darwin once mentioned in a private autobiography when he wrote, "Thus this belief crept over me at a very slow rate, but was at last complete. I can indeed hardly see how anyone ought to wish that Christianity be true, for if so, the plain language of the text seems to show that men who do not believe will be everlastingly punished. His conclusion is that this is a damnable doctrine." Charles Darwin.
Let’s notice a verse found over in Hebrews 6 , if you’ll join me there that will set the stage for the rest of our discussion today as we probe what the Bible truly says about hell. And let’s use this as a springboard of discussion and understanding regarding this, because the answers do lie in your Bible, and we will find it. In Hebrews:6:1 the author of Hebrews discusses some of the very fundamental beliefs and doctrines of Christianity.
Hebrews:6:1 - "Therefore, leaving the discussion of the elementary principles of Christ, let us go on to perfection, not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works and of faith toward God.
Verse 2 - "Of the doctrine of baptisms, of the laying on of hands, of resurrection of the dead, and. . ." and then lastly, and notice. . . "and of eternal judgment." Now it is here that I would ask that our audience draw a focus, and if you haven’t opened up your Bible yet I encourage you to do so, or if you’re listening to this tape. . . now, if you’re on the freeway listening to this tape, please don’t open up your Bible. Keep your hands on the wheel. But beyond that, let’s notice what it says, and perhaps notice what it says by noticing what it doesn’t say for a moment, if I can add a few words. And it doesn’t say, "and of eternal torture." It does not say, "and/or of eternal punishment," but what it most assuredly says is that there is an eternal judgment. And that’s what we need to understand, and that is the answer that you and I are going to move forward to in the course of this message. Friends here and those in our Good News magazine mailing audience, the problem is not that the Bible and/or a loving Father teaches a "damnable doctrine," to quote Charles Darwin for a moment. But rather that men and women have misunderstood, or never seen what the Bible clearly states and shows out of its words. And because of that there have been men and women, families for generations that have been led astray just as much as those sailors on board that troop ship talking to that chaplain were afraid that they were going to be led astray, humanity at large has been led astray regarding this vital subject of eternal judgment and what is in store for humanity. So today let’s explore, if I can say it, let’s explore hell together in the Bible, and what does the Bible really say about hell?
First of all, we need to ask ourselves a basic question. Where in the world does our modern concept of hell come from? Where in the world does it come from? The reason being using that statement we will find very much that the common popular concept of hell very much is an earthly creation. It is not a creation of God. It does not come from God, but it comes from other sources, and I’d like to weave a web of thought here to allow you to understand where this earth-driven concept slowly moved into Christianity at large. We have to actually go back, afar back, at least to 800 B. C. to the Greeks.
The Greeks had for many centuries traded with the Egyptians in commerce and in trade. And they had very much borrowed many ideas from the Egyptians who were very much obsessed with the culture of death. Some of our first readings, of what the Greeks actually believed or were taught, come out of the writings of the classical Greek poet, Homer. I think all of us know of the blind poet of Asia Minor who wrote the great classics The Iliad, and The Odyssey. Homer called the place of the dead "the house of Hades." Hades was the Greek king of the underworld. He was the ruler of that which was underneath the earth. Later on the entire realm that he ruled over basically took on his name which simply was - Hades. The stage is set again then when we use that thought to recognize that later on in his second classical writing of The Odyssey, which is the story of Ulysses and his wanderings after the fall of Troy that Ulysses for many, many years wanders; he’s trying to get back to his beloved wife, Penelope. He cannot make it back so he wanders the world, goes into all sorts of places and one of the places that he goes into is the abode of departed spirits. And he does that in desperation. Odyssey, or Ulysses, repeatedly found his way into the abode of departed spirits to learn from the ghost of a famous seer how he might find his way home. It is at this point in remembering that the odes of Homer were about 800 B. C., the underworld described by Homer was a shadowy place of dreary darkness lying beneath the secret places of the earth. Though a place of gloom at this point, it was not pictured as one of punishment and torture as in the traditional Christian or Oriental hell.
But the story builds as so often happens as one story mixes in with another story and somebody begins to build on that, let’s take one of the classical writers, being Virgil, who writes actually the other sequel to Troy, and that is the story of the Aeneid. And Virgil writes this great Roman epic about the Trojan hero, Aeneas fleeing the burning ruins of Troy after the Greek victory. And what happens here is that Aeneas is brought over by the ferryman Charon for passage into an infernal region to consult his dead father. It’s interesting that Virgil’s reference to this place is not Hades , but he calls it Tartarus or Tartaroo for this fabled infernal region. And in this now the story develops Aeneas enters the underworld through a cavern at a foul-smelling lake near Naples, Italy. And descending on a road as mentioned in this epic, wrapped in shadows, this hero encounters numerous horrors and frightful terrors.
Now this is later on coupled as we go down through the centuries with Plato, Greek philosopher, student of Socrates, who writes in his P haedo the concept of the immortal soul. This, then is later on, as we go down through the centuries, not from above, but down here below, going back to the Egyptians, coming into the Greeks, Homer, Plato. Later on, this is cemented into Christianity by what is often times termed as the last great classical writer of the classical period, and that would be Augustine of Hippo, otherwise known as Saint Augustine. And it is with Augustine’s writings, as he cannot help but be effected by the Greek and the Roman and the Latin world of the classics around him, that what he does then is, he combines the underworld and the soul that in a sense cannot die and begins to mix it, and it is under Augustine then, that he reasons in places within religious thought the concept of a temporary cleansing of imperfect souls in a purgatorial fire.
Now interesting at this point, we’re at around 400 A. D. so please stay with me for a moment; we’re around the fall of Rome, but now we need to speed forward another eight hundred years because now we come to the concepts that perhaps you are all very familiar with, and that is by the writings of Dante Alighieri. Now please stay with me in this brief history lesson because this history moves toward why the subject of hell ultimately is a mystery for most of humanity. Many of us, to one degree or another, whether we’ve ever read the books or not, are familiar with the name Dante who lived in Italy during what we call the high middle ages of 1250 to 1300 A. D.
Dante is writing basically a satirical piece of literature really dealing with the personalities and the dramas of his day. But there is no mistaking beyond the poetry that Dante is basing his foundation upon the teachings and the theology of another great medieval theologian named Thomas Aquinas. And it is Thomas Aquinas who was a great student of, in that sense, of Aristotle, and Aristotle being the student of Plato, being the student of Socrates, that we are locked into the concept then of the Greek and the Latin world, not the Christian world, but the Greek and the Latin world infusing itself within the Bible. And it comes down then into what we call this section of the Divine Comedy which is actually divided into three sections, this section which is basically known as The Inferno.
Let me read just a little bit about that for a moment. Now so far, we haven’t even gone to scripture, but this is the basis of where it’s led to by 1300 A. D. Let me just mention a little bit of The Inferno to you. Dante is conducted through hell by the spirit of the Roman poet, Virgil. The trip begins on good Friday, 1300 A. D. in a wooded area near Jerusalem. Over the gate of hell, the two travelers find a fearful and now famous inscription that in today’s words would be: "abandon every hope, you who enter here." Dante then witnesses in his imagination the eternal torments of the wicked. He describes hell as being divided into varies levels, descending conically into the earth. Souls suffer punishments appropriate to their sins. For example, hypocrites wear gowns brilliant outwardly, but are made of heavy lead instead of cloth. They must bear the weight of them forever. Gluttons are doomed to forever lie like pigs in a foul-smelling sty under a cold eternal rain. Dante’s descriptions are vivid, are frightening. And those pictures locked into his writings, going back to the thoughts of Thomas Aquinas, to Augustine, back to Virgil, back to Homer, have nothing to do with what is written in your Bible, but is locked into many, many sincere people’s minds as to their vision and their image of what God is doing. Fearsome, tortuous, scary, forever, and some people, people that you may know, maybe yourself; you may feel for one reason or another that the way that an individual lived, that right now they are in that sense tasting the flames of hellfire.
Kind of reminds me of the story of the man that was preaching a sermon on hell. And the preacher quavered in his voice, "Oh, my brethren," and he begins quoting scripture, "for the wicked, there will be wailing in the world, weeping and wailing, and gnashing of teeth."
And one of the people out in the congregation, he raised his hand, and he said, "Pastor, Pastor," he said, "wonder if you don’t have teeth."
And the Pastor looked down at the individual and said, "Brother, teeth will be provided." Those teeth are supposed to gnash.
I hope by giving this brief discussion of the background of how so much has unfortunately entered the average mind of the average Christian that we can begin to realize that we cannot rely on Homer, or Virgil, or Augustine, or Dante to unlock the mystery of what the Bible really says about hell, but we do have One that has the keys. Would you join me please over in Revelation 1 , and let’s notice who holds the keys to understanding this, literally and figuratively.
Revelation:1:17 - " And when I saw Him, I fell at His feet as dead. But He laid His right hand on me, saying to me, ‘Do not be afraid." That’s one of the first things that God always says, " Do not be afraid." For why? "I am the First and the Last.
Verse 18 - "I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades," of hell , " and of Death." The good news in understanding who holds the keys of understanding on this subject is that we do not have to even one moment descend into what we might call a man-made hell. That’s the good news. The good news is you can understanding what eternal judgment, as mentioned in Hebrews:6:1-3 , is actually all about.
Let me, to begin with, offer you three simple scriptural keys to understand where and what God is all about. Let’s allow the Bible to define the Bible.
The first key that I’d like to share with you, and this will be our compass and our guide as we go through this subject. I John:4:8 - Come with me there for a moment. Let’s look at it with our own eyes. I John:4:8. These are the overarching principles that we must put everything else together with because God’s word does not contradict itself.
I John:4:8 - " He who does not love does not know God." Why? "For God is love." "God is love." That’s the overriding arching principle that we have to understand. Here we are the day before Father’s Day in America. And to think about it for a moment, fathers that you do love your children, your sons and your daughters, and for those of you that are grandfathers to think of the little ones that you love and you care for as your family extends. What would you do, or what would you not do, for your little ones? How would you treat them? What would you do for them? That doesn’t mean that there isn’t a time to discipline or punish, to direct, to guide towards a wrong action. But what would the discipline be? What would be the response? What would be the penalty? Would the penalty match what the action was all about?
Jesus Christ Himself said, "Look , y ou as fathers, if you think you love your children, just imagine what God’s great love must be." The first overriding, arching principle is that " God is love ."
The second principle that I would like to share with you is in Isaiah 55 . Join me there. The second principle. Isaiah 55 , and we need to understand this. Found in the middle of the old testament, Isaiah 55.
Isaiah:55:7 - "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts; let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy on him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon.
Verse 8 - "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways, says the Lord.
Verse 9 - "For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." As I’ve been mentioning, friends, God’s way, as we’re going to come to find, is not to torture immortal souls in an ever-burning hell. That is something that man has fashioned, something that man has conjured up. That doesn’t mean that there is not an eternal judgment, and we will discuss that. But that is not the eternal judgment that is being discussed in Hebrews:6:1-3. Our loving heavenly Father would not do that. That heinous thought comes from earth. It does not come from above, and so we must understand that humanly our ways are not God’s way; the way that we find God’s way is to search, blow the dust off of our Bible and to see what He has to say.
The third overriding arching principle that I’d like to share with you is found in II Peter 3.
In II Peter 3 , at the end of the new testament, II Peter 3:9. Let’s understand what it’s saying here.
II Peter 3:9 - "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing. . ." notice, "not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance." Now this is not talking necessarily about universal salvation. That can be a whole topic in another sermon for another time. But it is talking ultimately about a universal opportunity to come to understand God, the Father, and Jesus Christ. It allows us to understand that God does not - are you with me? God does not have a hit and miss gospel. He is on His throne. He knows what He is doing. He knows when and how He is going to reach all of humanity, and it is His desire that all of humanity have the building blocks to a wonderful and successful life, and then, once they have that understanding, then they will be judged, but they are not judged before they have the understanding, and we’ll come to find that out.
With that said, now, now with those three overriding principles in our mind - do you have them firmly squared? God is love; God’s ways are not our ways, and God’s will is that all human beings come to repentance. Let’s go a step further, and let’s find hell in the scripture. Come with me to Mark 9. In Mark 9 , join me there, because Jesus has some very powerful words in relationship to this subject. Mark:9:42 .
Mark:9:42 - "And whoever causes one of these little ones. . ." now Jesus Christ is giving a warning here, "those who cause these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it were better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were thrown into the sea.
Verse 43 - "And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched." So, Jesus Christ Himself is talking about hell, but you say, well, then why, Mr. Webber in discussing this so far, Jesus Christ Himself said there is a hell. What’s going on here? Let’s take it a step further.
Verse 44 - "where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.
Verse 45 - "And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame than having two feet, to be cast into. . ." where? "to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched
Verse 46 - " where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." It actually goes on to another set of verses that again says that it would be better for you to do this rather than to go into hell. The question is this, then, my friends - so there is a hell? What is the hell that Jesus Christ is discussing here?
To understand that we must understand first and foremost that the Bible is written primarily in two different languages. This may come as a revelation to some of you that have not had the chance to study the scriptures, or to have a background in Bible study, but the Bible’s basically written in two languages; in the Old Testament primarily Hebrew, and in the New Testament, Greek. The word, "hell," is an English translation. It’s an English word of four different words that are found in scripture with three entirely different meanings. And to understand what Jesus Christ is saying here we must understand that. Now what I’m basically telling you to a degree is you might be saying in a sense there is more than one hell in the Bible. Think of it that way. But wait a minute. What I’ve thought about hell so far, one is enough, and now you’re saying that there’s more. But we need to understand what the words mean out of the original languages that they were spoken in. Let’s go through a few of these for just a few minutes to build a basis of discussion where we move from here.
The first meaning: The first meaning that we find is found in the Old Testament in the Hebrew word is Sheol . It’s Hebrew. And in the New Testament, its counterpart that it is synonymous with is the word, Hades , that we already discussed when we were discussing Homer. So we have Sheol in the Hebrew and Hades in the Greek. And these words, two words, with one meaning, simply mean, "the grave or "death." It is very interesting that the English word for these words, Sheol and Hades, is hell. Research will lead you to understand that more than three hundred and fifty years ago, when the authorized version of the Bible was being written, that hell was a rather popular expression in merry old England. The people of England calmly talked about putting their potatoes in hell for the winter. Why? Because it’s a good way of preserving potatoes. For the word then simply meant a hole in the ground that was covered up, a dark and a silent place. Now when you think of a definition of grave, you think of a hole in the ground, and a dark and silent place that is covered up. But because of the misconceptions that have creeped in through religion it only went to mean something else.
Let’s notice this scripture for just a moment. Come with me to Psalm:16:10 . Let’s just peek at a few uses of these words. In Psalms:16:10 , notice what it says here:
Psalms:16:10 - "For you will not leave my soul in Sheol, nor will you allow Your Holy One to see corruption." What is being spoken of here is for you will not leave my soul in the grave, neither will you allow your Holy One to see corruption. We find this over in Act 2:27 , if you’ll join me there for a moment, because Peter in the sermon on Pentecost goes back and quotes this, but now he uses the other word, the Greek word, Hades, that Luke records here for our edification.
Acts:2:27 - " For you will not leave my soul," where? "in Hades." In the Old Testament, it was Sheol ; in the New Testament in the Greek language, it is Hades . " Neither will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption." In fact, the verse that we just read in Revelation, if you’ll join me there again, in Revelation:1:18 , when it speaks of Jesus having keys, notice what it says:
Revelation:1:18 - "And I have the keys. . ." of what? " Hades and of Death." And/or of the grave and of death . How can Jesus say that because we recognize what He claimed in the book of Luke when He said, " I am the resurrection. I am the life ." Jesus Christ is the son of God, and as our redeemer, has the keys to the grave. Now when you put all this together in its true Biblical usage, we come to understand something plain and simple. In one sense all the dead do go, are you with me? All the dead do go to this hell. It’s appointed for all men once to die. So in a sense if we simply use the word, "hell," it is appointed for all men to go to this hell based upon understanding what hell is.
Let’s look at the second meaning. Join me over in II Peter 2. Come with me, that you should explore the scriptures with me; we find it over here in II Peter 2:4 , the second word that is used; let’s notice what it says.
II Peter 2:4 - " For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to. . ." notice where? "t o hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;" Well, right there? Darkness, chains, but let’s understand something here. The Greek word here is Tartarus , or Tartaroo . And we need to understand as we look at the Bible and what it is saying or not saying in reading it in context, this not talking about human beings. This is not the fate for humanity, but is the fate for fallen spiritual angels that today we know as demons. And how much they would like humanity to think that their fate is ours. This is the only time that you’ll find this one rendering of hell by the Greek word, Tartaroo . Here it is known primarily, or defined primarily as a place of restraint.
The third meaning now, the third meaning that we find over in Luke 12 ; join me there for a moment. In Luke:12:4. We might say that this is where things begin to literally heat up. The third Greek word is the Greek word, Gehenna , and we will notice it here in Luke:12:4.
Luke:12:4 - "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do." But I will show you whom you should fear . "Fear him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell:" Now, that’s kind of a common parlance, to cast into hell. Sounds like you’re going down into a pit, and " Yes, I say to you, fear Him." Now the word here, as I said, is the word, Gehenna . And we need to understand that when Jesus Christ was saying this, and the Greek word that fits it exactly what was being talked about here. This particular word of Gehenna , the Greek word, is actually used twelve times in the scripture. And what it refers to is a fire that was made and kept burning in the valley of Hinnom. The valley of Hinnom was a rocky, narrow valley just outside the walls of Jerusalem. You might say that’s where the dump yard was; that’s where the trash was collected and taken to and burned. And not only was the trash burned in there, but the corpses of criminals, and the corpses of all sorts of different kind of animals, be they clean or unclean. So you have to understand that when Jesus was talking about this Gehenna or this fire in the valley of Hinnom, this was not lost on the audience that He was talking to. Ordinarily, everything that was thrown or cast into this pit that had fire burning in it was completely consumed. So that when Christ was talking about this, there was in a sense of an understanding of the dread and the destruction that this place meant. It was not lost on the audience, and there was only one certain meaning that came into the understanding of the hearer of Jesus Christ that this was a place of death and destruction. I beg you to understand this point. It was a place of death and destruction, not, not of eternal torture or punishment. That’s very important to understand.
Where do we go from here? We just looked at four different words, three Greek, one Hebrew. We need to understand something that the audience of Jesus Christ understood when He was speaking to them. Those people understood that when you’re dead, you’re dead. You say, wait a minute, that makes sense. But today much of the world is caught up with the underlying girder or thought that there is an immortal soul. That when the body dies, the soul either goes up, or the soul goes down. Some religions even have a middle ground for the soul because God doesn’t quite know what to do with it, whether it should go up or go down. Where did this begin? What is this all about? Come with me to Genesis:3:4 , if you will for just a second. We discussed this at length last week in the sermon, "What Does the Bible Really Say About Heaven?" And I don’t mean to go into the full discussion that we did last time, but let’s just notice for a moment who brought in the concept that somehow life goes on and on and on and on. When we understand what God told Adam and Eve in Genesis 2 , that if you eat of the tree of good and evil, you shall surely die. The serpent comes along in what we now know as Genesis:3:4.
Genesis:3:4 - "And then the serpent said to the woman. . ." " Oh, you can disobey God . You can go ahead and have of that tree . See, God’s afraid that you’re going to be like Him , and by the way ,. . . you shall not surely die." And from the very beginning, and that’s what we have to do, we have to go back to the beginning, that’s what Genesis means, foundation, or beginnings, or origins. We come to understand the greatest lie that has ever been perpetrated, that somehow humanity or this supposed soul that is within us is the captain of it’s own destiny, the master of its own fate, not recognizing that every human being ultimately is under the sovereignty of God, Almighty.
What does God say when it comes to the soul. Turn with me over to Ecclesiastes 3 for just a moment. Let’s go to the literature of wisdom in Ecclesiastes 3 . We notice what is mentioned here, Ecclesiastes:3:19. Notice the simple words here.
Ecclesiastes:3:19 - "For what happens to the sons of men also happens to animals; one thing befalls them;" one thing befalls them, " as one dies, so dies the other. Surely, they all have one breath: man has no advantage over animals, for all is vanity." Now this is primarily reminding us that when it says in Genesis that God created a living soul, that the word soul comes from the Hebrew word, Nephesh , and we do notice in that verse that man became - it doesn’t say that man had but that God created the Nephesh , the breathing, living object to live, and it had a purpose to live, but that when it dies, it dies.
Come with me to Ecclesiastes:9:10 . Let’s notice another scripture here.
Ecclesiastes:9:10 - "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work and there is no device or knowledge or wisdom in the grave where you are going." Now to put it in the modern-day parlance you might say, "There’s nothing happening down in hell, down in Hades , down in Sheol , down in the grave." There is no knowledge. We say, "But there must be the knowledge of God."
Join me for a moment, then, over in Psalms:6:5. Let’s notice something here in Psalms:6:5. What are the dead thinking about? Are they thinking about God? Maybe they’re not thinking about anything else; maybe they’re not thinking about the Lakers winning. They’re maybe not thinking about the two-peat, maybe there’s going to be a three-peat. That’s just simply not in their minds. They’re not thinking about what they’re going to do tonight, on Saturday night, or what movie they’re going to go to, but while they’re not doing that, at least they’re tied into God. Psalms:6:5.
Psalms:6:5 - "For in death there is no remembrance. . ." there’s no thought " of You . In the grave who will give You thanks?" The Bible clearly, my friends, points out that when you’re dead, you are dead. Another verse. And then I’ve got some very good news for you because there’s tremendous, wonderful news that I want to share with you today. Let’s go to John 5 for a moment, and look at this verse, understand what it says. It has a powerful meaning of hope and encouragement and in a sense, it nails a stake in the heart of the wrong-headed doctrine of hell as many people know it today.
John:5:26 - "For as the Father has life in Himself, so has He granted the Son to have life in Himself,
Verse 27 - "and has given Him authority to execute judgment also, because He is the Son of man.
Verse 28 - "Do not marvel at this. . ." Now why does God say that - because God’s ways are not our ways and our ways are not His, so He has to tell us, "Don’t marvel," because we will. Don’t marvel. ". . . for the hour is coming in which all who are. . ." Where? In heaven, or in hell? No. ". . . in the graves are going to hear His voice." Just look at what the Bible says. And throughout all of the misconceptions or what you think it has said, or what even Grandma said or taught you, and please understand there are a lot of well-meaning Grandmas. I said that last week; I love Grandmas. I’m married to one. I’ve had one. But you know you can be sincere, and you can be sincerely wrong. Just look at the first syllable of "sincere," and what’s that spell? You can be wrong. You can be devoted. You can be on fire; you can really believe in something; you can give your life for something. But is it where God wants you and me to be at? This call is going to go out, ". . . and those in the graves are going to hear His voice ."
Verse 29 - " They’re going to come forth - those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." Oh there is eternal judgment. There is a punishment for the wicked, but now notice
Verse 30 - "I can of Myself do nothing. As I hear, I judge; and My judgment is righteous, because I do not seek My own will but the will of the Father who has sent Me." Are you with me? Let’s look at this verse for what it says and what it doesn’t say. It says that the dead are going to be called out of the grave. Now a lot of people today think, when you look at this scripture then, does that mean that the dead are going to be called out of hell? And then brought up for judgment? Why would you do that? Remember, God is love and God is fair. You don’t punish somebody before they’re judged. The judgment of a righteous God and of a loving Father must precede the punishment. You wouldn’t do that to your own children, would you?
Hopefully if we’ve ever had to correct our children and give them a few little taps, maybe taps on the derriere. You’re explaining what you’re doing. You don’t just do that out of anger, do you? Or do you have principles and do you have rules that govern your household, and then you explain what happens when you do well. And what happens when you do bad. And then watch what happens. And then to make sure the punishment fits the - (I hate to say this about our young kids) the crime, or the incident. No, you don’t spank a little one before they know what’s happening. Well, if we don’t do that on earth, why in the world would our Father, who’s in heaven right now, do that to you and do that to me. I think these are questions that we need to ask ourselves. Romans:6:23 - Join me there for a moment. Now, we covered this last week, but again, this is one of the great verses of the Bible, and let’s read just very clearly, very plainly what it does say, and thinking then of tying this with Hebrews:6:1-3 , which is speaking of the basic doctrines of the church of eternal judgment.
Romans:6:23 - "For the wages of sin is. . . " burning in hell-fire, deep in the pits of a conical hell, tortured by little demons that tickle your feet forever and ever and ever and ever. Is that what it says? Or are we reading the same Bible? No, it says the wages . . . what you buy into, what you invest in, what you buy into in this life, where your life’s energy and devotion is, " for the wages of sin ," what you buy into, what you work for, " is death ." No discussion of an immortal soul here. You will not find the words, immortal and soul connected together in the Bible. That is an assumption that theologians make.
As I said last week, just break down the word, assume. Your mamma and your daddy probably taught you that. What happens when you assume? You make a - don’t go there - you make a donkey out of you and me. We’re talking about gigantic sweepstakes here that we cannot assume about. Let’s read the Bible for what it says.
Romans:6:23 - " For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus, our Lord." If there is an immortal soul, then there is life outside the orb of God. Only God has life inherent in Himself, and it is His to give, otherwise it’s by our works; it’s by what we’re doing, rather than by the great love and compassion and tenderness and mercy and patience that a loving Father in heaven has. So, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life."
Let’s understand something when we discuss this. Okay, that sound great, but wait a minute. What about those who have never been exposed to the purpose, or the name, or the function of Jesus Christ, our Lord and our Savior. Are they lost? Where do they come in? Remember what we mentioned as being one of the great three cardinal verses that we needed to understand in discussing the subject of hell? Number one, that "God is love"; number two, "God’s ways are not our ways"; number three, out of II Peter that God’s desire and will is that every human being have an opportunity to repent. Let’s understand this through scripture for a moment. Revelation:20:4. Join me there. Notice what it says here. Envision. John, the Apostle, is being given a revelation of God through Jesus Christ.
Revelation:20:4 - "I saw thrones, and they sat on them, and judgment was committed to them. And then I saw the souls of those who’d been beheaded for their witness to Jesus and for the word of God, who had not worshipped the beast or the image, and had not received his mark on their foreheads or on their hands. And they lived and they reigned with Christ for a thousand years." Now we discussed this last week as far as being the true reward of the righteous and the saints of God. That there is rulership in the family of God. It’s not simply playing a harp in heaven; it’s not just simply sitting on a cloud; it’s not simply being one more bleep in a beatific vision preceding from a throne. There is a government of God; there is a kingdom of God that is coming to this earth. But then let’s notice what this says.
Verse 5 - "But the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." Now there is a parenthetical thought in there when it says - " the rest of the dead did not live again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection." Shouldn’t that in one sense follow right along verse 4. And then we have mentioned here - "but the rest of the dead," those that have died, those that are in hell, Sheol, and Hades, and the grave, what about them? There is a marvelous truth that we find over in Ezekiel 37 . Join me there please. As we go to Ezekiel 37 , let’s understand that God made a compact, He made a covenant with the ancient nation of Israel. They were the first nation to come into connection with God. He, being their god, and they, being His people. And being the first fruit of humanity, not a monopoly, but a model of what ultimately will be in store for all of humanity, we understand that the first goes first; they were the first to have God revealed to them, His law, His love, what the blessings, what the cursings were. We also recognize that to a great degree the nation of Israel rejected the ways of God. Seemingly they were low on hope; they were helpless; they seemed discarded. And then we look at Ezekiel 37, and notice what it says here.
Ezekiel:37:2 - "Then He caused me to pass them all around, and behold there very many in the open valley; indeed they were very dry,
Verse 3 - "and He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ So I answered, ‘O Lord God, You know.’
Verse 4 - " Again He said to me, teach to these bones, and say to them, ‘O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord!" I know all of us are very familiar with the old Negro spiritual, "Them Bones, Them Bones, Them Dry Bones." This is where it comes from.
Verse 5 - "Thus says the Lord God to these bones: ‘Surely I will cause breath to enter into you," Now that’s not occurring yet because there is no knowledge and there is no device that goes into the grave. That’s the clear understanding of scripture, that the dead are dead. But there is a time in the future when the rest of the dead are going to be raised. Are you with me? And it says that breath is going to enter into them, " and you shall live."
Verse 6 - " And I’m going to put sinews on you and bring flesh upon you, and cover you with skin and put breath in you; and you are going to live." You’re not alive right now, but you’re going to live. You are going to live. Notice verse 11 . The plight, the plea of humanity. Israel speaking on behalf of all humanity:
Verse 11 - ". . .our hope is lost, and we ourselves are cut off!
Verse 12 - "Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God: Behold, O My people, I’m going to open. . ." they’re not open right now. "I’m going to open your graves and cause you to come up from your graves. I’m going to bring you to the land of Israel." But it’s not just simply going to be for the nation of Israel, join me over in Matthew:12:41. Let’s remember the kind of God that we worship. He has great, great scope, great depth, great love. Even those that have rejected Him in the past, He is going to give them the full opportunity to come to know Him. We notice in Matthew:12:41 speaking of the nation of the gentiles.
Matthew:12:41 - "The men of Nineveh are going to rise up. . ." That means they’re not going to stay down; it says they’re going to rise up. What that means is they’re not going to stay down. It says, "the men of Nineveh are going to rise up. . ." This is speaking of the Gentile world. ". . .in the judgment with this generation and condemn it, because they repented at the preaching of Jonah; and indeed a greater than Jonah is here." And then it goes on to talk about:
Verse 42 - " The queen of the south is going to rise up. . ." When? ". . .In the judgment with this generation and condemn it, for she came from the ends of the earth to hear the wisdom of Solomon; and indeed a greater one. . ." There’s a time in the future, brethren, and friends that are taking the "Good News" magazine that God is going to lift a veil from all humanity. Sometimes you say, well, why is it that seemingly so many of the people of Africa and Asia and other parts of the earth have not come to know Jesus Christ or God, the Father, or what the gospel is all about. Because you have somebody in a rain forest in the Amazon, not by their choice, but because of backing up to who their great, great, great, great granddaddy is, and because somehow they have not heard the name of Jesus Christ; are you with me? And because God has chosen for one reason or another not to deal with them at this point, does that mean then that they are lost? What kind of trust; what kind of confidence could we have in a God that picks and chooses that way?
Isaiah:25:7 You’re already there. Allow me to join you.
Isaiah:25:7 - "And He will destroy on this mountain the surface of the covering cast over all the people, and the veil. . ." It’s as if there’s a blinder right now; there’s a veil; there’s a covering ". . .that is spread over all the nations." It’s a curtain that much of humanity has not been allowed to see through at this point. That veil, that curtain is going to come down, and as it says so poignantly in the book of Revelation that " God will be their God and they will be his people."
Again, as we begin to conclude, let’s review some very basic principles. Are you with me?
God is a loving God. One of the shortest sentences in the Bible says it all. We must work off of that premise to guide us and give us light. God is love.
God is fair. God does not play favorites. Yes, God has first fruits, whether it be a first fruit nation of old like Israel, or the first fruits of Christians today. But first fruits also demand more fruits to come along that God has a plan for all of humanity to at least come to understand who He is, to understand what He is about, to have the ability to repent, to reconcile and be restored fully to the kingdom of God.
You know, it’s very interesting when we discuss this subject of hell, so many people think that all of the incorrigible are basically in a fiery prison down below us, here. Do you realize that in ancient Israel when God set forth the way to run the nation, to deal with people, that in ancient Israel there were not prisons. Do you realize that? There is no systematic prison system mentioned in the Old Testament that God devised. When you see the word, or the stories about prisons, these were among the gentile nations of Babylon or of Egypt.
God’s way is not to store up a whole bunch of problems together and warehouse bad attitudes, whether in this lifetime or whether for eternity. God’s way is never simply about ongoing punishment. It is about swift and sure punishment, but it’s also about, for those that can be worked with, repentance, reconciliation and restoration. It is true that there is eternal judgment, as mentioned in Hebrews . There’s an eternal judgment that will be visited upon the righteous to inherit the kingdom of God, and there’s also another punishment. You find it over in Revelation 20 defined. Revelation 20 , join me there
Revelation:20:6 - Notice what it says: "Blessed and holy is he who has part in the first resurrection, over such the second death has no power." This punishment is defined as not the first death, but is defined as the second death. We also find it again in verse 14 :
Verse 14 - "Then death and the grave were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death." What, then, is the second death? Join me over in II Peter 3 . There is a reckoning, brethren. There is a time that when individuals have come to full knowledge of God, the Father, Jesus Christ, what they are, what they need to be, and that they have the glorious truth of the gospel revealed to them, and to realize that the very son of God died for them, and lived for them, and lives for them, and wants them to be a part of His kingdom, there are going to be individuals, hopefully very, very few, but there are going to be individuals that are going to meet another fate. And we find this mentioned over in II Peter 3:8.
II Peter 3:8 - "But beloved, do not forget this one thing, that with the Lord one day is a thousand years, and a thousand years is one day.
Verse 9 - " The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us. . .
Verse 10 - "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens are going to pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it. . ." will burn . Is that what your Bible says? No, it’s not what it says. It says: ". . .and what is in it will be burned up." Let’s understand something. In speaking about the valley Hinnom and Gehenna , so often it talks about the fire that will not be quenched. Now kids, don’t go home and do this, except under parental supervision, and you’re on your own. But if you take a piece of paper and you wad, (shouldn’t tell this boys this at all!) but anyway, you wad up a piece of paper and you put it in the kitchen sink. And then you light a match, (I’m not liable for this,) you light a match, you stick it to the fire, not yourself, you stick it to the fire, and it begins to burn. And that fire is not quenched. The fire that is not quenched. If you don’t quench the fire, what happens to the paper? Paper doesn’t go on, keep on, burning, does it? If you have paper that keeps on burning, get the patent. Go out tonight. Get it. You need it. You’ll make a fortune! No, when you light a fire, you light a piece of paper with a match; the fire that is not quenched, what does the fire that is not quenched do? It burns the subject completely.
Join me, if you would, for a moment here, because this is made manifest at the end of the book of Malachi. Malachi 4, let’s notice what it says. Clean, pure and simple, what scripture says here, Malachi 4 .
Malachi:4:1 - "For behold, the day is coming. . ." sounds like II Peter, ". . .burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble." They’re not going to wear outward gowns like Dante brought out. They’re not going be wearing chains. They’re not going to be suffering forever and ever and ever. A loving God would not do that. ". . .and the day which is coming shall. . ." What? ". . .burn them up, says the Lord of hosts, that will leave them neither root nor branch.
Verse 2 - "But to you who fear the name the Son of Righteousness shall arise with healing in His wings; and you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves. . .
Verse 3 - " and you shall trample the wicked for they shall be. . ." What? ". . .ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,’ says the Lord of Hosts." You see, the plan of God is this: The eternal judgment that is mentioned in Hebrews:6:1-3 , eternal judgment is either life forever with God, the Father and Jesus Christ in the kingdom of God, that is eternal life. Or on the other hand, for the wicked, for those that will not repent; there’s eternal death. Eternal death. God has already seen problems in the spiritual realm with Satan. He’s not in the process of creating more spiritual problems to hang around forever. He means business. There is judgment.
With these thoughts, let’s conclude today by going back to II Peter . With the understanding that we have discussed, and these two messages, what the biblical reality of heaven is all about, and the glorious future that God has in store for every human being and the biblical reality of what hell is, and/or is not, we are then challenged with these questions in II Peter 3. And notice what it says.
II Peter 3:11 - Understanding that this world, everything that is around us, ultimately is going to come into the orb and the sovereignty of God . "Therefore, since all these things are going to be dissolved. . ." the question then comes. . . "what manner of persons ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness." After you’ve heard these messages; after you’ve heard about the glorious kingdom of God coming to this earth with Jesus Christ literally coming to Jerusalem bringing world peace once and for all and you can have an opportunity of that and also recognizing that somehow if we neglect or reject the wonderful call of God, on the other side of it, eternal death. ". . . what manner of men ought you to be. . .
Verse 12 - "looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God." When the heavens are going to be dissolved.
Verse 13 - "Nevertheless we, according to His promise, look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.
Verse 14 - "Therefore, beloved, looking forward to these things, be diligent. . ." We don’t need to be lead astray by tradition, or superstition, or what other people are telling us is in the Bible. God can lead us into truth. He can lead us into understanding. All we have to do is ask Him: "Father, take away that curtain. Take away that veil."
You know, friends, one of the hardest things to do in this life is to unlearn what you have learned. Have you ever done that one? It is hard to unlearn what you have learned, especially when you have learned from the unlearned. Now take that home and think about it a little bit. It’s even hard, humanly difficult, to unlearn what everybody else believes is happening out there. But let’s understand something, brethren, when Jesus Christ calls disciples, He doesn’t lower the bar, He raises the bar. And He says this is where I am; this is where you are, but if you will trust me, and if you will have confidence in Me, and if you will take Me at My word, and recognize that I alone have the keys of life, then I will bring you life.
Verse 17 - " Therefore, with these subjects at hand. . . " we are to
Verse 18 - ". . .grow in the grace and the knowledge of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ."
I hope these topics have been of interest to each and every one of you that are here, and those of you that are listening to this message in the months, maybe even the years ahead, I hope that we’ve been able to illuminate what the Bible says about these vital subjects of heaven and hell.
I want to mention that the United Church of God has booklets that I’d like to offer to you if you are interested. We’ve only been able to touch the top of the iceberg on both of these subjects of heaven and hell. If you are interested, you can request these two booklets: the first one is "Heaven and Hell, What Does the Bible Really Teach ," and the second one that I’d like to offer our "Good News" magazine audiences: "What Happens After Death? " You need to know. You can know those answers. I hope this series has been profitable to our own congregation here, to those of you that will be listening to this message in the future. You can indeed by God’s grace and God’s guidance know the answers, the big answers, to the big questions of life. Let’s always remember that we have a wonderful and great and a loving God, who has an awesome and an incredible future in store for you. And always remember it’s found right here in God’s word, in the Bible that’s on your lap.