We are familiar with our 3-dimensional realm, and what we perceive is mostly through our five physical senses. Although time is a fourth dimension, we actually cannot travel backward or forward through it at will. The best means of “time” travel we have is via our faulty memories or our imperfect imaginations (components of our spirit-minds) to remember the past or to make guesses about the future. And we are completely at a loss to comprehend dimensions and realms beyond that of time.
On a day-to-day basis, most of us tend not to think about what might exist outside (dimensionally speaking) of our own domain. Just as the people in 2-dimensional “Flatland” (see “extra dimensions”: C-6, P-I) could not comprehend fully things in any dimension higher than their own, we indeed are unable to move into dimensions above our own. Yet the Bible clearly tells us that domains—specifically hell and heaven—outside of the ones we experience with our natural senses do, in fact, exist. Within these two extra-dimensional domains exist the spirits and souls of those who have passed on, good and bad angels, other supernatural hosts, and God Himself.
This book, including this chapter, was written in the early-to-mid 1990s. Since then, I have altered my views on some of the topics. These modifications are reflected in my Bible commentaries (see the links below), all of which have been written since 2004. As such I no longer am 100% convinced of the concept of eternal torment and punishment, and this is reflected in the old and new Creations section of my Creation commentary.
It seems that the only times most of us hear or think about “hell” is when it is used jokingly: “I’d go to hell and back to get that”; “Sure as hell, the underdogs won”; “He’ll change his ways when hell freezes over”; or “That marriage has about a snowball’s chance in hell of surviving.” But is there really a place called hell? I am convinced there is; in fact, the Bible speaks more about hell than it does about heaven. Hell is not simply a “bad state of consciousness in this life,” as “New Age” thinking suggests (see “infiltration of ‘New Age’ theology”: C-9, P-I). Jesus implied that there is a place of “...eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Although most evil angels still have access to heaven (Job 1:6, 2:1), some angels, who sinned on earth before the Great Flood (see “sons of God; angels in chains”: C-8, P-I, S-2), now are in the “Tartarus” section of hell, awaiting their final judgment (1 Pet. 3:19,20a; 2 Pet. 2:4; Jude 6).
Thus, hell was created by God as a place to exclude, from His presence forever, those angels (including, eventually, Satan—Rev. 20:10) who have rebelled against Him. However, it additionally will serve as the eternal abode of people who have refused the Father’s supreme Authority and Jesus’ personal blood sacrifice to avert the wrath of God from humanity. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those [people] who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). “Kill” and “destroy” here, I believe, do not imply a cessation of consciousness; rather, they mean a permanent removal of the Spirit of Life—that is, God’s Holy Spirit—and of the awareness of anything good. Mere “existence,” without Life (see “Life”: C-6, P-IV), will be the result.
sheol or hades: In the Old Testament, hell (or “nether-world” or “grave” or “death”) is a translation of the Hebrew sheol. (The New International Version almost always translates “sheol” as “grave,” whether it means hell or the resting place of the body after death.) In the New Testament, hell is translated from the Greek hades (“unseen world”), gehenna (“Valley of Hinnom”), or limnen tou puros (“lake of fire”).
“Sheol” usually is equivalent to “hades.” “Sheol” in some cases refers to hell and in other cases to the grave. “Hades” always refers to hell. It seems to be a “compartment” of hell where the unsaved spirits and souls of those who have rejected the redemptive Plan of God in life are translated after death. There they await the reunification with their resurrected bodies, the final Judgment, and the assignment to the “lake of fire” (see “lake of fire; fiery furnace” coming up in this section). The grave merely is where the physical body lies, awaiting resurrection.
“Sheol” is translated “hell” in Deut. 32:22a, 2 Sam. 22:6a; Job 11:8b, 26:6b; Psalm 9:17a, 16:10a, 18:5a, 55:15b, 86:13b, 116:3a, 139:8b; Prov. 5:5b, 7:27, 9:18b, 15:11a,24, 23:14b, 27:20a; Isa. 5:14a, 14:9a,15a, 28:15a,18b, 57:9c; Ezek. 31:15a,16a,17, 32:21,27a; Hosea 13:14ad; Amos 9:2a; Jonah 2:2b; Hab. 2:5c.
“Hades” is translated “hell” in Matt. 11:23b, 16:18c; Luke 10:15b, 16:23; Acts 2:27a,31b; Rev. 1:18c, 6:8b, 20:13b,14a.
gehenna: The Valley of Hinnom in Jerusalem (see “God’s Name on the City of Peace”: C-2, P-I) is referred to by the word, “gehenna.” In this valley, fires were kept burning perpetually to destroy refuse, waste materials, and dead animals. Smoke from the burning debris rose upward continually, day and night. It came to be known as an appropriate earthly illustration or counterpart of eternal hell and punishment.
Accordingly, John described the fate of those worshiping the Antichrist and receiving his mark during the future 70th Week: “And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:11). I believe this torment refers to the chaotic spiritual “burning” of the guilty spirit and soul which never will find peace outside of the presence of God (Isa. 57:20,21). Jesus used “gehenna” to refer to hell eleven times, and James (a half-brother of Jesus) used it once. “Gehenna” is translated “hell” in Matt. 5:22c,29b,30b, 10:28b, 18:9b, 23:15b,33c; Mark 9:43b,45b; Luke 12:5a; James 3:6b.
lake of fire; fiery furnace: The “...fiery lake of burning sulphur...” (Rev. 19:20c), the ultimate and eternal “gehenna,” is described as the “second death” (20:14b). It is hell to the extreme, for even “death” and “hades” are thrown into it (20:14a).
For a fire has been kindled by [God’s] wrath, one that burns to the realm of death [sheol or hell] below (Deut. 32:22a).
The “first death” is death of the body when its spirit and soul depart from it; the “second death” is death of the spirit and soul when the Life of God’s Holy Spirit leaves them. The latter will occur to those who never have been reborn by the Holy Spirit into an eternal union with God, because they will have refused to accept the mercy and grace available only through His Plan of salvation (see “God’s Plan”: C-15, P-I). They are those unwilling to love Him with the everlasting Love He desires and would have given in return (see “people’s purpose”: C-15, P-I).
John the Baptist, who prepared the people for the First Advent of Jesus, actually made a statement which will apply to a “harvest” to occur soon after Jesus physically returns: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering the wheat into his barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12—see “wheat and weeds” later in this part). Jesus Himself could not have been more succinct and to the point when He later said, “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (13:49,50). But, just as Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were protected miraculously from the heat of an earthly fiery furnace because they refused to worship an idol of gold (Dan. 3:1-27), those who want to give all of their worship and allegiance only to God, forever, will be protected from the supernatural furnace of fire in hell.
Referring to Sodom and Gomorrah and their fiery devastation long ago (Gen. 19:24,27,28), Jude said, “They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire” (Jude 7). After the supernatural destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah, the “...dense smoke rising from the land, like smoke from a furnace” (Gen. 19:28b), as seen by Abraham, was a foreshadowing of “gehenna” (described earlier in this section). Peter also indicated that by condemning Sodom and Gomorrah and burning them to ashes, God “...made them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly” (2 Pet. 2:6). The fiery judgments during the Day of the Lord period (Rev. 8:5,7,8a,10a, 9:17b,18, 11:5a, 13:13, 16:8,9a, 17:16c, 18:8b) also will be examples or forewarnings of such.
Apparently, both sulfur and salt rained down with the fire upon Sodom and Gomorrah, causing the land to be completely sterile (Deut. 29:23). Now, salt also preserves indefinitely something with which it is mixed. Therefore, the “salty” fire of hell, while trapping the inhabitants within it and preventing them from ever being productive, will, at the same time, be “preserving” their spirits, souls, and bodies from being consumed by the fire. This process will continue forever because Jesus said that, in hell, “...the fire is not quenched. Everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:48b,49).
Referrences to the fire or burning of hell are in Deut. 32:22a; Isa. 66:24b; Dan. 7:11b; Matt. 3:12b, 5:22c, 7:19, 13:40,42a,50a, 18:8b,9b, 25:41; Mark 9:43b,45b,47b,48b,49; Luke 3:17b; John 15:6b; James 3:6; 2 Pet. 2:6; Jude 7b,23a; Rev. 14:10b, 19:20c, 20:10a,14,15, 21:8a.
outer darkness: Jesus told a parable of a king (God, the Father) who prepared a wedding banquet for his son (Jesus, the Son) and who sent his servants (the Jewish prophets) to tell those whom he had invited (the chosen Jewish people) to come; but they refused to come (Matt. 22:1-3). So he sent more servants (prophets) saying that the banquet was ready and to please come (22:4). They paid no attention and, instead, killed the servants (prophets, including Jesus); so the king (the Father) had them and their city (Jerusalem in 70 A.D.) destroyed (22:6,7). Then the king (the Father, through Jesus) told his servants (the apostles) to invite anyone they could find to the banquet, whether good or bad (Jew or Gentile), which they did; and a multitude of wedding guests (saved people who will attend the wedding supper of the Lamb) filled the wedding hall (22:8-10). At the banquet, though, the king (God) noticed someone there (an unsaved unbeliever) without wedding clothes (not having a glorified body); he was questioned (judged), found speechless (having no justification for his sins), and thrown into outer darkness (hell), “...where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (22:11-13).
Now, if hell is described as “fiery,” how can it also be dark? Consider a black hole in outer space, at the center of which is a tiny celestial object which may be millions of times more massive than our sun. Outwardly, it appears totally dark because the extreme gravity prevents any light from escaping. Yet, inside, the fire must be so intense as to defy imagination. I see the outer darkness of hell as being separate from the heavenly realm of brightness (see “the New Jerusalem”: P-II) outside of it. It implies “spiritual darkness,” a state in which the lost spirit/soul entity will forever remain immersed in “fire,” permanently blind to God’s infinite truths and unaware of His great knowledge, because that person refused His saving Light. The Holy Spirit’s Love and Peace will be withdrawn from the person, leaving him/her spiritually dead and mentally dark. References to hell’s darkness (like a gloomy dungeon) are found in Matt. 8:12, 22:13, 25:30; 2 Pet. 2:4,17b; Jude 6,13b.
Abyss: The shaft of the “Abyss” (or the “bottomless pit” or the “deep”) may be the entrance to certain chambers of hell. The legion of demons, whom Jesus ordered out of a madman (Luke 8:27,29a), begged Jesus not to send them to the Abyss (8:31); they obviously knew it was an unpleasant place of torment (8:28). Jesus may have descended into the “deep” (literally, “abyss”—Rom. 10:7), immediately after His crucifixion, to relate the Gospel message to the angels (1 Pet. 3:19; Jude 6) in Tartarus (2 Pet. 2:4—see “sons of God; angels in chains”: C-8, P-I), a prison where inhabitants await eventual judgment (Isa. 24:22). At the beginning of the Millennium, an angel from heaven, with the key to the Abyss, will bind up Satan with a great chain and throw him into the Abyss, in which Satan will be sealed and locked for 1,000 years (Rev. 20:1-3a).
When a fallen angel opens the shaft of the Abyss during the 70th Week and demon locusts (headed by Apollyon, the “Destroyer” angel) come out (see “Trumpet Judgments”: C-12, P-IV, S-1; and “interpretations”: C-12, P-IV, S-2), smoke will rise “...from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace” (Rev. 9:1-3). Evidently, the Abyss is connected in some way to the “fiery furnace” of hell (Matt. 13:42a,50a), whose smoke of “...torment rises for ever and ever” (Rev. 14:11a). This scene is reminiscent of “gehenna,” described earlier in this section. An allusion and references to the “Abyss” are in Isa. 24:21,22; Luke 8:31; Rom. 10:7; Rev. 9:1b,2,11a, 11:7, 17:8a, 20:1,3a.
Hell is where the spirits, souls, and resurrected bodies (Rev. 20:12a,13ab) of those who have rejected God’s ultimate Plan of salvation (see “God’s Plan”: C-15, P-I) will spend an eternity separate and apart from their Creator (Rev. 14:10b,11a, 20:15). Apparently, these people are not capable of ever submitting to God’s Authority, because they find it impossible to love and to serve God forever—the major purposes for which He created people (see “people’s purpose”: C-15, P-I).
There are those who believe that, at some point after being banned from God’s presence, these people will “regret” not accepting God’s Plan of salvation after they die. I tend to disagree. Even though, after they die, they will be fully aware of God’s Plan of salvation, they still will choose not to accept it—throughout eternity. The only thing they may regret is that there is no way to obtain peace of spirit, soul, and body other than through Jesus Christ, whom they never will accept as Savior and Lord. It is similar to the situation of someone who is in the “rut” of an unhappy relationship, bad job, or any negative circumstance in which one would just as soon remain, as unpleasant as it is, rather than take steps to get out of it. Those ultimately existing in hell, I believe, will not enjoy being there but will be “resigned” to their bleak existences, never choosing to humble themselves nor to accept the good and perfect Will of God. Had they ever wanted to do so, they would have had ample opportunity to do so during their lives on earth (see “purpose of time”: C-15, P-I).
As for those individuals who, seemingly, never have had a chance to make a choice for or against God (for instance, aborted fetuses, stillborn babies, and those severely brain-damaged at birth or at a young age), I am confident that God, the perfect Judge, will decide fairly the destiny of such people. It may be that God, who knows the infinite number of outcomes that would result for each of us when we are confronted with any decision, also knows the choice (for or against God) that each person would have made had he/she been given the life or the mental capacity to do so. God’s ways and thoughts are immeasurably higher than ours (Isa. 55:9), and we cannot understand how He possibly could make decisions that we would see as impossible to make.
The view of a few Christian denominations is that every human being will be saved and that none will end up in hell. They feel certain passages in the Bible imply that people will be given the opportunity of a “second chance” to accept God and that, eventually, everyone will be brought into His presence. I will list some of these passages and describe why I believe they are misinterpreted.
Acts 3:21: “He [Jesus] must remain in heaven until the time comes for God to restore everything, as he promised long ago through his holy prophets.” At the time that everything is restored, then all the lost people also should be restored to oneness with God.
rebuttal: The Old Testament prophets did prophecy that the heavens and the earth again would be restored to a new state of being (Isa. 65:17a), that the fortunes of Israel would be restored (Jer. 33:25,26), and that the souls of those who love God (as King David did) would be restored to Life with God forever (Psalm 23:3a,6). However, there is no promise nor prophecy indicating that anyone who fails to accept and embrace God’s Plan of redemption will enter the Kingdom of God. The idea that everyone will return permanently to the presence of God at the restoration of Creation is a very risky, and I feel an incorrect, presumption.
1 Cor. 5:22: “For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive.” If everyone is made alive in Christ, then everyone also should be saved and taken to be with Him.
rebuttal: It is true that death (physical and spiritual) is the natural consequence of sin (Gen. 2:17, 3:19). It also is true that those who experience physical death will have a bodily resurrection from the dead, though not all at the same time (Dan. 12:2; 1 Cor. 15:52b; Rev. 11:11ab,18c, 20:4bcd,12a,13ab). And it is Jesus Christ who will raise every person’s body from death. (Exceptions to the rule of bodily resurrection, I believe, are many people at the end of the 70th Week who will experience both the first and the second deaths at once—see the following section, “sheep and goat nations”). However, the verse says no more than this. In fact, though virtually everyone will die and be raised, all whose names are “...not found written in the book of life [will be] thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:15). “The lake of fire is the second death” (20:14b). Thus, not all, ultimately, will live with Christ.
Phil. 2:9-11: “Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.” If every tongue ultimately confesses that Jesus (who is above all things) is Lord, then, according to Rom. 10:9a, everyone should be saved.
rebuttal: The confession referred to in Rom. 10:9a is voluntary, while that of Phil. 2:11, for many, will be forced. God’s saving grace is extended to those who gladly acknowledge the Authority and Power of God and who are willing to submit to God readily and without rebellion; otherwise, the free choice He has given us would be meaningless. Demons acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God (Matt. 8:29a; Luke 4:41a) and even shudder at the thought of God (James 2:19c); but they do not accept Jesus as Lord, and they are fully aware of their ultimate destiny (Matt. 8:29b; Luke 8:31), which is the same for everyone who does not accept Jesus as Lord and Savior willingly.
Col. 1:19,20: “For God was pleased to have all his fullness dwell in him [Jesus], and through him to reconcile to himself all things, whether things on earth or things in heaven, by making peace through his blood, shed on the cross.” If all things have been reconciled to God, through Jesus, then all people eventually should be reunited with God.
rebuttal: If one continues to read what Paul has to say in this chapter, one will see that he also stated,
But now [God] has reconciled you by Christ’s physical body through death to present you holy in his sight, without blemish and free from accusation—if you continue in your faith, established and firm, not moved from the hope held out in the gospel (Col. 1:22,23a).
Clearly, there is a condition upon which one will be reconciled back to God: if one abides in immovable faith in the steadfast message of the Gospel.
There are other passages as well which speak of our being reconciled back to God through Jesus’ blood and death (Rom. 5:10; 2 Cor. 5:18,19a; Eph. 2:16). But, at the Last Supper, when Jesus offered the wine representing His blood to His disciples, He said, “This is my blood of the [new] covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matt. 26:28). His implication was that many would accept His blood atonement for sin on the cross (Heb. 9:28a), resulting in reconciliation back to God, but not all would accept it.
God does not want anyone to “perish” (experience permanent spiritual death) but would rather that everyone would “...come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9b). However, though God’s Son shed His blood for all, not all will accept this sacrifice. And this is the testimony God (the Father) gives about Himself and His Son: “God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:11,12). Unfortunately, there will be many who will choose not to have eternal spiritual Life.
1 Tim. 2:5,6: “For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time.” Jesus paid the ransom for all people, so eventually the testimony of the Gospel should be presented “in due time” to everybody. Therefore, for the ones not hearing it in life or hearing it under conditions unfavorable to believing, it will be presented to them after death.
rebuttal: Indeed, Jesus died for the sins of all people (Rom. 5:8; 1 Cor. 15:3; 2 Cor. 5:15a), and truly God would prefer that all would come to a saving knowledge of Him (1 Tim. 2:4; 2 Pet. 3:9b). In this passage (1 Tim. 2:1-7), Paul was urging believers to pray for living people everywhere, whether Jew or Gentile, requesting and interceding to God on their behalf that they would accept the message and thanking God for those who did. There is no reference here by Paul to making “requests, prayers, intercession, and thanksgiving” for anyone who has died.
1 Pet. 3:18a: “For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God.” If Christ died for sins once for all, then He died for everybody’s sins. Thus, everyone should be saved.
rebuttal: The opportunity to accept God’s redemption, and thus to be saved from eternal separation from Him, has been or will be made available to all people, one way or another. Unfortunately, not everyone will receive this gift voluntarily; those who choose not to belong to God (who do not humble themselves nor claim Him as the only Lord) will reject it. An angel said that “...Jesus...will save his people from their sins” (Matt. 1:21bc). Only His people will welcome the free gift of salvation joyfully, which has to be taken voluntarily to be in effect; it is offered to everyone but will be forced upon no one.
1 Pet. 4:6: “For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to men in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.” If people will hear the Gospel after they die, then the ones who do not accept it while alive still have another chance to accept it after death.
rebuttal: This verse does not say that people will hear the Gospel after they die (and thus be given a “second chance” at salvation). It means that the Gospel message was preached to the ones who are now dead when they were yet alive. In the entire passage (1 Pet. 4:1-6), Peter is describing those who, while alive, prefer to live to please God rather than to be overcome by worldly desires. Those who have no interest in pleasing God do not understand why those who live for God do not indulge in the pleasures of the world. The God-focused people now dead, who were ridiculed by non-believers in life for trying to please God, are enjoying the incomprehensible happiness and pleasures of heaven.
The Gospel was announced to people before Jesus’ First Advent, for instance to Abraham (Gal. 3:8b) and to the rebellious children of Israel led out of Egypt by Moses (Heb. 3:16, 4:2a). And all living persons in Creation clearly have witnessed the manifestation of God and His Gospel message around them (Psalm 19:1-4), so that people “...are without excuse” (Rom. 1:20). I believe that, after death, everyone fully will acknowledge the truth of the Gospel message. But those who refused it during life will continue to reject it after death—forever—because their pride and apathy will remain integral, fundamental aspects of their nature, just as properties and qualities of a piece of pottery are embedded permanently into it by its maker (Rom. 9:21,22). Furthermore, they unremittingly will wish to retain the knowledge of evil, never choosing to allow God to remove it from their minds.
I feel that every person throughout history has been (and will be) given the opportunity to accept or to reject God’s wonderful Plan of salvation. Each person has been given by God the ability to decide whether he/she would prefer to live in or out of God’s presence for eternity; and God has given us adequate time during our lives to make such a determination (see “purpose of time”: C-15, P-I). (As stated before, for those presumably incapable of making a conscious decision, I do not question God’s ability to make perfect judgments of their eternal fate in these and in all cases.) The bottom line is that I think it is most unwise to risk one’s eternal destiny on the chance that a few Bible verses might mean what one hopes they mean rather than what many other passages clearly indicate that they must mean.
David wrote, “The wicked shall depart to Sheol, all the nations that forget God” (Psalm 9:17—Revised Standard). Jesus spoke in more detail about this subject:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. ...
Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” ...
Then they will go away to eternal punishment... (Matt. 25:31-33,41,46a).
After His bodily return to earth at the end of the 70th Week (see “physical return of Jesus”: C-12, P-IV, S-1), and after He has neutralized the armies of all the nations coming against Jerusalem and against Himself (see “blood-stained garments”: C-12, P-IV, S-1; and “destruction of Antichrist and his armies”: C-12, P-IV, S-3), Jesus will judge all the mortal people still alive at that time, nation by nation. This judgment, given solely to Jesus (John 5:22,27,30), is by Authority of the Father (see “Authority”: C-6, P-II). The Father is the “Ancient of Days” who, at the same time in heaven, will be reviewing the books opened before Him (Dan. 7:9,10). Presumably, these books contain the recorded acts of all those alive who have rejected God’s Plan of salvation and redemption. One of the books will be the Book of Life; anyone not found in it will be separated from God.
Although these are the same books again opened at the end of the Millennium (Rev. 20:12bcd—see “conclusion of the Millennium”: C-13, P-III), this is not the same judgment; the two judgments are separated by 1,000 years. I believe that during this first judgment at the end of the Day of the Lord segment of the 70th Week, all the unsaved living will be separated from the saved living and translated alive into the eternal fiery lake, just as the resurrected unsaved dead will be at the end of the Millennium (20:15). The former group will experience the first death and the second death at the same time. Just as a believer alive at the Rapture will receive a brand new spirit, soul, and body at once, it seems plausible to consider that someone alive who has not accepted Jesus by the end of the Day of the Lord will be thrown spirit, soul, and body into the lake of fire. The Antichrist and the False Prophet are two of the people for which this fate is determined (19:20ac); but I do not feel they will be the only two.
In a parallel parable (Matt. 13:24-30,36-43), Jesus explained how the kingdom of God is like a field (the world), the good seeds (wheat) are those who follow God (and have accepted His Plan of redemption), and the bad seeds (weeds) are those who, knowingly or unknowingly, follow Satan (and have rejected God’s Plan). Following Jesus’ physical return to earth, the angels who have come with Him will “harvest” the crop; they “...will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil” (13:41b). Presumably, this is how the people of the nations will be separated (see the previous section, “sheep and goat nations”).
After Jesus’ judgment upon the unsaved has been pronounced, the angels “...will throw them into the fiery furnace [hell], where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 13:42). To me, the idea of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12, 13:42,50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30; Luke 13:28) implies an overwhelming sense of anger mixed with frustration and hopelessness. Sometimes we shed tears and/or grind our teeth together when the emotions of our soul are stressed to the breaking point or even shattered. The soul and body in hell will experience this, only it will be constant and relentless.
Jesus related the account of a rich man who lived in luxury and a beggar, Lazarus, who longed to eat what fell from the table of the rich man (Luke 16:19-21).
The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell [hades], where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, “Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.”
But Abraham replied, “Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:22-26).
The rich man went on to plead that Lazarus be allowed to return from the dead to warn the rich man’s five brothers so that they would not also go to his place of torment (Luke 16:27,28,30). However, Abraham told him that if the brothers would not heed the warnings in the writings of Moses and the old Jewish prophets, they would not be convinced even if someone from the dead were to appear to them and tell them (16:29,31).
This story by no means implies that all rich people will end up in hell. However, at another time, Jesus made the statement,
...I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God (Matt. 19:23,24).
This idea is related to another declaration by Jesus, “No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).
The fact is that “money”—and just about anything else—can be a “god” which is acknowledged or “served” rather than the True God (thus breaking the first and second commandments—Exo. 20:3-5a). If one is not devoted to the True God, one will not accept his Plan of salvation and will remain apart from Him in hell after death. The temporary pleasures of the luxuries in this world have drawn countless people away from God and from His eternal, infinitely greater pleasures. We have the choice to unwisely focus now on the former or to wisely look forward to the latter.
Many people do not believe that there could be a literal hell, because they cannot imagine that anyone could be abandoned by God to eternal punishment. Some prefer to believe that the unsaved dead are judged and punished in some way for their wicked deeds; and then their bodies, souls, and spirits simply are annihilated. Thus, their punishment is an eternal lack of consciousness and forfeiture of rewards and communion with God in heaven.
Paul indicated that, at Jesus’ Second Advent,
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power... (2 Ths. 1:8,9).
The Greek olethros, for “destruction,” also is used in 1 Cor. 5:5; and 1 Ths. 5:3a; 1 Tim. 6:9. It means “calamity,” “disaster,” or “ruin”; these are words which I feel will describe those who ultimately reach hell. And Jesus said that this destruction will be “everlasting.” I agree with the opinion of Gary R. Habermas and J. P. Moreland in their book, Immortality, the Other Side of Death:
It is reasonable to argue that it is wrong to destroy the type of intrinsic value humans have. If God is the source and preserver of values, and if persons have the high degree of intrinsic value Christianity claims they have, then God is the preserver of persons. He would be wrong to destroy something of such value just because it has chosen a life it was not intended to live. Thus, one way God can respect persons is to sustain them in existence and not annihilate them. Annihilation destroys creatures of intrinsic value.
reasons for going to hell
The people who will find themselves in hell are those who have chosen, in their lives, not to concede to the existence of God, or else who have acknowledged God but have refused to accept Him as Lord as well as to receive His grace, the only means of salvation from hell (Rom. 10:9; Eph. 2:8). In the latter case, either their pride has not allowed them to ask for this gift of grace from God (through Jesus), even though they may recognize their own unrighteousness and shortcomings; or their pride has prevented them from admitting that they need God’s grace to be saved from hell in the first place, believing that they have not done anything so “bad” as to deserve hell.
Caught up in their own self-righteousness, people in the latter group view their sins merely as “weaknesses” or “mistakes” not meriting any penalty or punishment. God has said, “[Y]ou say, ‘I am innocent; [God] is not angry with me.’ But I will pass judgment on you because you say, ‘I have not sinned’” (Jer. 2:35). The truth is, “There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins” (Eccl. 7:20). The self-righteousness of these people will be “stripped away” at the final Judgment (Rev. 20:11,12), their true selves will be laid bare, and they will be “speechless” because there will be no argument to justify their guilt.
Anyone who ends up in hell will have chosen to be judged by God’s eternal Word (John 12:48) and Law (Rom. 2:12b) rather than to allow the penalty for disobedience to be waved by accepting the atoning sacrifice of Jesus Christ for one’s sins (3:24-26). Laws were provided to show us, when we realize that we have broken them, that we are imperfect and, therefore, that we all are sinners. Paul said that “...no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin” (3:20). Anyone trying to gain God’s favor by obeying the law does not understand the primary purpose God created laws: to make us realize that we cannot keep them all and, therefore, that we all fall short of the perfect expectations of God. In God’s sight, we are “...not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ” (Gal. 2:16a).
Paul also wrote,
All who rely on observing the law are under a curse, for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not continue to do everything written in the Book of the Law” [Deut. 27:26a]. Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, “The righteous will live by faith” [Hab. 2:4c] (Gal. 3:10,11).
Jesus Christ, the only person who never broke God’s Law nor any earthly law (1 Pet. 2:22; 1 John 3:5b), has allowed us to be “justified” and to become “righteous” in the eyes of God the Father if we demonstrate the faith to adopt His perfect righteousness, supernaturally, as our own. Those who fail to do this are under the curse of eternal spiritual death, which will be manifested in its fullness in the realm of hell.
In an interesting booklet, What Does the Bible Say about Hell?, available through Radio Bible Class Ministries, Martin R. De Haan II explains why it is not only those we would classify as “bad people” who will find their ways to hell:
We don’t like to think that good people deserve to go to hell. But our good impression of decent law-abiding neighbors is not a real reflection of the truth. We think naturally in very man-centered ways rather than in the God-centered measurement described in Romans 3[:10-18]. Man wasn’t made to be a decent public servant. He was made to glorify his Maker and to enjoy Him forever. We weren’t made to live decent, self-serving lives. We were made to depend gratefully on the love and goodness of God. We weren’t made just to abide by the external requirements of civil and religious law. We were made to worship God from our hearts and to love one another as He has loved us.
When we measure ourselves by that evaluation, the threat of hell becomes more of an issue. The irresistible fire of judgment will expose the enormous deception that now hides behind social and religious courtesies and proprieties.
We have good reason to shudder at the thought of standing in God’s presence on our own merits. If we’re honest, we must admit that apart from Christ we deserve to hear Him sentence us to hell. In God’s sight, no one is really a good person.
degrees of punishment in hell
If there is a hell (and I fully am convinced that there is) in which unsaved persons consciously spend an eternity after death, then either all the people there will experience the same amount of torment and punishment, or else there will be varying degrees of these. As for myself, I cannot see hell as being anything other than a place of fair, impartial treatment prepared by a just and unbiased God (Col. 3:25).
In a parable, Jesus described how servants (people), who are given various responsibilities by their master (God), will be rewarded if they do what he has assigned them to do (Luke 12:42-44). However, for the servant (person) who abuses his privileges and ignores the assigned responsibilities, the master (God) will catch him when he least expects it, destroy him, and send him to the place of unbelievers (hell) to be punished (12:45,46). Furthermore,
That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows (Luke 12:47,48a).
This idea was reiterated by Paul:
All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law (Rom. 2:12).
The ramifications are far-reaching. Those who never have been told of God’s laws, have not heard the Gospel message (and have failed to observe its presentation in nature—Psalm 19:1-4), and have broken laws (which everyone has), will be punished less severely than those who fully are aware of God’s laws, commands, and the Gospel message but who still reject salvation and carelessly, purposefully break the laws. This is why John said of those standing before the great white throne of God on the Day of Judgment, “The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books” (Rev. 20:12c). These books contain every bit of knowledge learned, every decision made, and every act performed by each person in life. No unsaved person will have valid grounds to argue against the type and degree of punishment he/she will receive, commencing on that day.
Only Jesus knows each person thoroughly, only He completely is aware how accountable each one is, and only He can judge everyone with true objectivity and fairness. As those who go to heaven will be rewarded according to the good things they have done (see “eternal rewards, heavenly treasures”: P-II), it seems equitable that those in hell will receive punishment in direct relation to the offenses committed in their lives. I believe the conscience of someone in hell will be “unveiled” or “opened up” (at the resurrection) if it previously was “seared” (1 Tim. 4:2), and it forever will convict the spirit and soul, continuously and unendingly, of that person’s transgressions, misdeeds, and failures during his/her life. The more self-centered and materialistically self-serving of a life the person lived on earth and the more of God’s laws and commands he/she broke, the more accusations, over and over again, the conscience (forever aware of God’s laws) will lay upon the spirit/soul consciousness, and the deeper the pain and emptiness (and thus punishment) he/she will experience.
God gives each of us a certain amount of responsibility and accountability, and he understands all the circumstances surrounding every single decision we make. Does it make sense that godless people like Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin, who were responsible for the deaths of innocent millions, would receive the same punishment in the “lake of fire” (assuming that is where they will go after the Judgment) as a young, misguided gang member in South Los Angeles? Or should a wealthy, corrupt slumlord be judged to be given the equivalent penalty that a disadvantaged but honest tenant will receive? I think not. Solomon said, “Will [God] not repay each person according to what he has done?” (Prov. 24:12c). How could a fair God do otherwise?
Jesus told his disciples to spread the message of the Gospel throughout Israel (Matt. 10:5,6). He commanded,
If anyone will not welcome you or listen to your words, shake the dust off your feet when you leave that home or town. I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matt. 10:14,15).
Also, Jesus expressed discontent with the cities where He performed many miracles but where the people refused to turn away from their sins and believe in Him (Matt. 11:20). He said,
Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you (Matt. 11:21,22).
If the punishment assigned on Judgment Day (in hell) will be “more bearable” for the people of some cities than for others, then this must indicate that some will receive a more severe penalty in hell than others.
To the hypocritical religious leaders (Pharisees) of the time, Jesus said,
Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.
... You devour widows’ houses and for a show make lengthy prayers. Therefore you will be punished more severely [in hell].
... You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are (Matt. 23:13-15).
Again, Jesus was indicating that some sins are worthy of more punishment in hell than others, particularly those of certain self-righteous religious leaders who pretended to bring people to God but, in reality, only were interested in what they themselves could get out of these individuals, who had been deceived with lies. Such hypocrites were easily spotted because, as Jesus added, “They like to walk around in flowing robes and be greeted in the marketplaces, and have the most important seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at banquets” (Mark 12:38b,39). Obviously, humility was not a strong-point for these teachers of the law and Pharisees.
The bottom line is this: God is a fair God, in every instance. For those who do not humble themselves to the point of admitting their sins to a perfect God and asking for His mercy and grace through the blood of the Son, a just punishment in hell is in store—tragic but true. The Lord Jesus, before allowing His eternal Word to judge anyone not accepting His gift of salvation, will take into consideration all the factors of accountability in the person’s life. He will balance all the greed, selfishness, and pride with all the generosity, selflessness, and humility; and He will understand and will consider all the favorable or unfavorable conditions in which the person lived. Martin R. De Haan II has said appropriately,
The Lord Jesus Christ will take into account every circumstance, overlooking nothing. He will be the Supreme Court of the universe. No one will be able to appeal His decisions. In fact, no one will feel the need to do so. Every person will acknowledge Him as Lord and admit that His verdict has been absolutely fair and right. It is at this time that everyone will recognize Him to be all He claimed to be, fulfilling the words of Philippians 2:9-11.
Many people choose not to believe in hell, because they do not wish to think it is possible that a good, merciful God could send anyone to such a horrible place. But they deceive themselves. Jesus Himself said, “Do not be afraid of those [people] who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the one [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). If such a realm did not exist in which to place those who have rejected God and His Plan of the ages (see “God’s Plan”: C-15, P-I), as well as to place “death” so as to separate it from eternal Life (Rev. 20:14a), it would not be fair for those who have accepted God and His means of eternal salvation. God certainly is capable of allowing those who do not respond to His ultimate gift of Love—salvation through Jesus Christ—eventually to be transported to hell, a place of eternal “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
On TBN’s “Praise the Lord Show” (tape #1112-92), Dr. Donald Whitaker testified to a truly horrifying experience which makes his hair stand on end whenever he thinks about it. Before accepting Jesus as his Savior and Lord and being healed of the fatal effects of acute hemorrhagic necrotic pancreatitis (see “Healer (physical)”: C-6, P-III), he drifted in and out of comas in the hospital. One night, he slipped out of his body three times. Each time, fully aware that he was in a completely dark place, he felt himself sliding gradually down an incline. And, each time, he perceived an eerie flickering below him, somewhat like the movement of shadows cast by the flames of a fire. Experiencing unimaginable terror, he knew that he was being drawn into hell; struggling against it was to no avail. But then, all three times before he reached the “point of no return,” he felt himself being drawn back up into his body, where he would regain consciousness. Dr. Whitaker agrees that it is easy not to believe in hell as we live our daily lives securely in this realm; but he adamantly states that there is a hell, because he actually has seen it.
Some might wonder how anyone could be headed immediately to hell (or, actually, to hades, a “waiting compartment” within the realm of hell) prior to the Last Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15). The explanation is this: Where one will spend eternity is determined during one’s earthly life. Everyone makes a conscious decision as to whether one wants to dwell in or out of God’s presence forever. If one has chosen not to humble oneself before God, or if one has the knowledge that the gift of salvation comes only by and through Jesus Christ and yet rejects this unique gift, one automatically (after death) will have the Life of the Holy Spirit withdrawn and will not be allowed into God’s presence.
This person will have to wait in hades for the body’s resurrection and the Last Judgment, at which time all of one’s deeds will be examined to determine the degree of eternal punishment for one’s sins. (Good deeds do not “cover up” or “balance out” bad deeds and other sins; only the blood of the slain Messiah, Jesus, can do so.) God’s purpose at His Last Judgment will not be to determine to accept anyone into or eject anyone from His presence; each person will have made this determination on his/her own, via freedom of choice.
If you are not certain of where you will go after you die, you can be assured of your eternal place of residence in heaven (a description of which is in the next part), the polar opposite of hell, by accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior. If you have not yet made this eternal decision, I invite you to do so now (see “real eternal choice”: C-15, P-III). Then, with a new peace and joy in your heart, continue reading the next part about heaven, your eternal home!
Proceed to Chapter 14, Part II
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Copyright © 1998– by Ted M. Montgomery, O.D. Most rights reserved.