"But even if we or an Angel from Heaven should announce glad tidings to you different from what we announced to you, let him be accursed" (Gal.1:8, the Emphatic Diaglott).
Hell is a four letter word; a topic I'd much rather avoid. In our culture, it evokes either horror or mockery, but rarely indifference. This journal chapter is dedicated to my beloved Grandma Daisy. She was a God fearing, church going, Bible believing woman, but it didn't ease her fears about death, hell or anything else for that matter. Like many of us, she had been taught that God is severe and His punishments swift and sure. She believed in hell. I never meant to write about this controversial topic, but I was pressed into it by the Spirit, protesting and groaning all the way. "Please Lord," I moaned. "Don't make me write about this. I don't want to." Now that I have written it, I find, as usual, that whatever He compels me to do has freed me a little more from the ties that bind me. (Gal 3:23).
Decades ago, God began releasing me from the power of sin which comes from the law (I Cor. 15:56) and the fear of hell, by revealing that "He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ" (I Cor. 15:57). Yet in spite of the marvelous revelation of God's grace to my heart, some of Jesus' teachings have troubled me at times because I had no framework to put them in. We have recently acquired several works which shed considerable light on the cultural climate in which Jesus lived and taught. He spoke to ordinary people about the ordinary things they knew about and encountered in their every day lives. His illustrations and parables are rich with the icons, metaphors and concepts with which they were very familiar. The fact that no one ran screaming into the night when He talked about unquenchable fire (Mat:3:12; Luke 3:17) and the worm that never dies (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48) has always amazed me, for in my youth, just reading or hearing about it would make me want to shriek in terror and tear out my hair. The reason why Jesus' audiences didn't react that way is coming right up. Read on.
A popular saying has it that the primrose path to hell is strewn with, among other things, good intentions. What I have discovered is that this same path is strewn with misconceptions about it, largely due to inaccurate translations of the word hell itself and, of course, the political pressure exerted by the church to maintain control of the flock. As I said, we have come across several books and publications which have illuminated this painful, if not terrifying subject, i.e., everlasting hell for the damned. God delivered me from this accursed doctrine many years ago, when our dear friend Harry Robert Fox, preached to me for the very first time, the Gospel of Jesus Christ. This in itself was amazing, since I had attended "gospel meetings" since I was born, but was never delivered from the fear of death and hell (Heb. 2:14-15), by the message those preachers called the "good news." As a result of those experiences, and the Scriptures which they said proved their point, I have been troubled by certain passages which seem to say just the opposite of what the Spirit of God has impressed upon me to be the truth. Jesus told His disciples that it was necessary for Him to go away, explaining,"I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Counselor will not come to you; but if I go, I will send him to you... when the Spirit of truth comes, He will guide you into all the truth: for He will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come" (John 16:7,13, RSV).
Regarding the adulation we see everywhere among believers concerning "THE WORD OF GOD," by which the person using that phrase means the Bible, let me just say that, God has impressed upon me that Jesus Himself is the Word (John 1:1) of truth. (John 14:6) John the Revelator said about Him that "his name is called 'The Word of God'" (Rev. 19:13, KJ). So, I am troubled when zealous Christians refer to the Bible as "The Word" when what they mean is the authority, the dominion, and the reign of God. Jesus himself is all those things! He is the express image of God, (Col. 1:15) and in Him are hidden "all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge" (Col. 2:3). When people ascribe these glorious aspects, which belong only to Christ, unto a written document, they come dangerously close to idol worship, it seems to me. They have "changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man" (Rom. 1:23, KJ), and have proceeded to worship a book as life giving, when only Jesus can give us life. (John 6:47,51,54-58).
We know, of course, that God's truth is "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not on tables of stone, but on tablets of human hearts" (II Cor. 3:3, RSV). Why would Paul write that? Because, he goes on to say that our confidence is through Christ, not of ourselves, and not from our own ability to derive truth from a written source. (Rom. 7:6). He says, "Our sufficiency is from God, who has qualified us to be ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills, but the Spirit gives life" (II Cor. 3: 4-6). Certainly, I have seen in my own life, that depending on the written word, instead of the Living Word is lethal to Spiritual growth. Jesus encountered this dependence on written Scriptures to find truth throughout His ministry. You can feel His frustration in this passage, "You diligently study the Scriptures because you think that by them you possess eternal life. These are the Scriptures that testify about me, yet you refuse to come to me to have life" (John 5:39-40, NIV). The written word was never intended to be our Source of Light and Truth. The Apostle John wrote, "But the anointing which you received from him abides in you, and you have no need that any one should teach you; as, his anointing teaches you about everything, and is true, and is no lie, just as it has taught you, abide in him" (I Jn. 2:27, RSV). Thus, to finish this thought, it seems obvious to me from what the Lord and his disciples said, that it is the life of Christ abiding within us (Gal. 2:20) that leads us unto all truth, rather than reading the Bible, which leads often times to confusion, disagreement, and much diversity of opinion, if the more than 28,000 denominations who all claim to believe the Bible, are any indication.
We've been hearing about the many errors in the King James Version for some time now, and right after Christmas, we were able to obtain The Emphatic Diaglott, (A) which contains original Greek text, with an Interlinear Word For Word English Translation. It states of itself that it is "Based on the interlinear translation, on the renderings of eminent critics, and on the various readings of The Vatican Manuscript." Benjamin Wilson is the man who compiled this translation, and it has become a fascinating reference source for both of us. I quote from the beginning notes here,
"King James' Bible, or the Authorized Version, was published in 1611. In the year 1604, forty-seven persons learned in the languages were appointed to revise the translation then in use. They were ordered to use the Bishops' Bible as the basis of the new version, and to alter it as little as the original would allow: but if the prior translations of Tyndale, Coverdale, Matthew, Cranmer or Whitchurch, and the Geneva editors agreed better with the text, to adopt the same. This translation was perhaps the best that could be made at the time, and if it had not been published by kingly authority, it would not now be venerated by English and American Protestants, as though it had come direct from God. It has been convicted of containing over 20,000 errors."
Certainly, I grew up in an era when, it seemed like most folks believed that the King James Version of the Bible was dropped down from heaven on a golden thread. Hardly. I've known for a long time that if my eternal salvation depends on getting it right by reading the Bible, then I'd best find a translation with NO ERRORS! Since human kind has never produced perfection in anything, that's not a likely event. Another part of the problem is that in 1611, when the King James Version was published, the Church of England exerted enormous influence on its translators, who were admonished not to rock the boat, nor depart from party line, i.e. church authority and accepted orthodoxy. Failure to comply would have been a matter of life and death in those days, since heretics were excommunicated and/or burned at the stake. To say the least, this repressive atmosphere could not possibly have been conducive to absolute intellectual integrity.
I mentioned in the last journal that we have met new friends via the Internet, Gary and Michelle Amirault. They have a Web Site (B) which is a collection of books and tracts, and testimonies, and one of the most fascinating of these is an old work with the less than exciting title of, The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment, by Thomas B. Thayer. It was written in the mid-1800's and, in spite of the forbidding title, I found it fascinating, very scholarly, well researched, and compelling. It is a long work, but well worth reading. For inquiring minds who want to know, this man has exhaustive research to back up his findings.
For instance, the author goes into what I think is one of the most damaging translation errors, one which has deeply affected, and I would go so far as to say terrified millions of lives over the centuries, and that is the error which led to the doctrine of damnation to hell fire for all eternity. The author has researched the words which are commonly translated as hell. These words are Tartarus and Gehenna (at last we get to the title of this journal), and I'm going to include a section from the book here to illustrate the flavor of the work. With difficulty, I changed the Roman numerals to their more familiar form.
2. "TARTARUS. This word occurs only once, and then in a participial form, in II Peter 2: 4. "If God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, etc." Tartarosus. This is of the same character with the parable just considered, TARTARUS being the place of torment in Hades, where the rich man (Luke 16:20-31), was supposed to be. Bloomfield says that "Tartarus here is derived from the heathen, and chains of darkness from the Jewish mythology;" and adds "it is an expression truly Aeschylean," that is, dramatic, not literally true, a figure of something else.
3. "GEHENNA. This word occurs twelve times in the New Testament, and is always translated "hell." But as the Evangelists repeat the same discourses, the Savior did not really use it more than six or seven times in all His ministry. The following are the texts: Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6. By consulting these passages the reader will see how many of them are simply repetitions, and how very few times this word is used, on which, nevertheless, more reliance is placed than on all others, to prove that "hell" is a place of endless torment.
"The following from Schleusner, a distinguished lexicographer and critic, will show the origin of the word, and indicate its scriptural usage: "Gehenna, originally a Hebrew word, which signifies valley of Hinnon. Here the Jews placed that brazen image of Moloch. It is said, on the authority of the ancient Rabbins, that to this image the idolatrous Jews were wont not only to sacrifice doves, pigeons, lambs, etc., but even to offer their own children. In the prophecies of Jeremiah (Jer. 7: 31), this valley is called Tophet, from Toph, a drum; because they beat a drum during these horrible rites, lest the cries and shrieks of the infants who were burned should be heard by the assembly. At length these nefarious practices were abolished by Josiah, and the Jews brought back to the pure worship of God (II Kings 23). After this they held the place in such abomination that they cast into it all kinds of filth, and the carcasses of beasts, and the unburied bodies of criminals who had been executed. Continual fires were necessary in order to consume these, lest the putrefaction should infect the air; and there were always worms feeding on the remaining relics. Hence it came, that any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death, was described by the word Gehenna, or hell."
"Isaiah says, "They shall go forth, and look upon the carcasses of the men that have transgressed against me; for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh" (Is. 66: 23, 24.) Here the unquenchable fire and the undying worm of Gehenna, or hell, are used as figures of judgment to happen on the earth, where there are carcasses, new moons, Sabbaths, etc. Gehenna, with its accompaniments, was an object of utmost loathing to the Jew, and came to be employed as a symbol of any great judgment or woe.
"We say of a great military or political overthrow," It was a Waterloo defeat." So the Jews described a great desolation by a like use of the word Gehenna, "It was a Gehenna judgment" that is, a very terrible and destructive judgment.
"In Matt.5:29,30, there is mention of the "whole body cast into hell." No one supposes the body is literally cast into a hell in the future state. The severity of the judgments falling on those who would not give up their sins, is represented by Gehenna, which, as Schleusner says, was "a word in common use to describe any severe punishment, especially an infamous kind of death." These wicked people should perish in a manner as infamous as that of criminals, whose bodies, after execution, were cast into Gehenna (hell), and burned with the bodies of beasts and the offal of the city.
"The same thought is expressed in Matt.23:33, where "the damnation of hell" is a symbol of the tremendous judgments coming upon that guilty nation, when inquisition would be made for "all the righteous blood shed upon the earth, from the blood of righteous Abel unto the blood of Zacharias, son of Barachias, slain between the temple and the altar" (Mat. 23:34-39).
"Mark 9:33,45,47, are repetitions of Matt. 5:29,30, with the addition of "the undying worm and the unquenchable fire," which is a repetition of Isaiah 66:24. There is nothing in the passage to show that the Savior used these phrases in any sense different from that of the prophet; who, as we have seen, employs them to represent judgments on the earth, where, "they shall go forth to look on the carcasses of the men who have transgressed against me...for they shall bury in Tophet (the place of sacrifice in Gehenna or hell) till there is no place;...and the days shall come that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the Son of Hinnon (the Hebrew for Gehenna or hell), but the valley of Slaughter" (Jer.7:19-20; Isa. 66:24).
"Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matt. 10: 28. Luke says, "Fear him, which, after he hath killed, hath power to cast into hell."
"Here is a mixed reference, figurative and literal, to the valley of Hinnon, Gehenna, hell. There is a literal allusion to casting the dead bodies of criminals into the valley, to be burned in the perpetual or unquenchable fire kept up there for this purpose; but the association of soul and body in the same destruction indicates the figurative use to represent entire extinction of being, or annihilation.
"Isaiah employs the phrase in a similar way. "The Lord shall kindle a burning like the burning of a fire,...and it shall burn and devour his thorns and his briers in one day; and shall consume the glory of his forest, and of his fruitful field, both soul and body" (Is.10:16-18). Dr. Clarke says this is "a proverbial expression," signifying that they should be "entirely and altogether consumed." So Christ represents God as able to destroy the wicked and apostate, "soul and body in Gehenna, the word familiarly used to express any great judgment or calamity" End Quote. (C).
Being from Missouri, I tend to want anyone to "show me," proof of whatever point they are making. So, as I was reading these pages, I thought it would be interesting to get into the MacBible computer program we have and print out the references to hell and look them up one by one in The Emphatic Diaglott. I went through this exercise, and sure enough, in all but two of these passages, the word hell was translated from the Greek word Gehenna, the word familiarly used to express any great judgment or calamity. (The diligent can compare this list with that of Thayer's on the preceding pages.)
List of scriptures using the word hell, (NIV).
Mat. 5:22, "But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca,' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell" (Gehenna).
Mat. 5:29, "If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell" (Gehenna).
Mat. 5:30, "And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell" (Gehenna).
Mat. 10:28, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Gehenna).
Mat. 18:9, "And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell" (Gehenna of the fire).
Mat. 23:15, "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell, (Gehenna), as you are."
Mat. 23:33, "You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell?" (Gehenna).
Mark 9:43, "If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, (Gehenna), where the fire never goes out."
Mark 9:45, "And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell" (Gehenna).
Mark 9:47, "And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell" (Gehenna)
Luke 12:5, "But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell" (D) (Gehenna). "Yes, I tell you, fear him."
Luke 16:23, "In hell, (Hades - unseen), "where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
James 3:6, "The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell" (Gehenna).
II Pet. 2:4, "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell" (Tartarus), (E) putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment."
While The Emphatic Diaglott is very informative and useful as a tool for study, it would not be my favorite version to curl up with on the coach to read, due to the awkward syntax. Those of us who have studied a foreign language and/or have known one from birth understand the problems which translators have in moving words from one language to another. Here's an example: the NIV translates Matt. 16:18, as follows: "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it." The Diaglott word for word translation is: "Also I and to thee say, that thou art a rock, and upon this the rock I will build of me the church, and gates of Hades not shall prevail against her." Now, this verse is a case in point of the confusion among translations, because the King James renders the passage, "the gates of hell shall not prevail against it;" the Revised Standard Versions translates it, "and the powers of death shall not prevail against it." So which is right?
From the alphabetical appendix of the Emphatic Diaglott, I quote,
"HADES occurs 11 times in the Greek Testament, and is improperly translated in the common version 10 times by the word hell. It is the word used in the Septuagint, (The original Hebrew Bible translated into Greek by seventy scholars, hence called "The Septuagint," B.C. 200-300.) as a translation of the Hebrew word Sheol, denoting the abode or world of the dead, and means literally that which is in darkness, hidden, invisible, or obscure. As the word Hades did not come to the Hebrews from any classical source, or with any classical meaning, but through the Septuagint, as a translation of their own word Sheol, therefore in order to properly define its meaning, recourse must be had to the various passages where it is found. The Hebrew word Sheol is translated by Hades in the Septuagint 60 times out of 63; and though Sheol in many places, (such as Gen. 42:38; I Sam 2:6; I Kings 2:6; Job 14:13; 17:13,16, etc.), may signify keber, the grave, as the common receptacle of the dead, yet it has the more general meaning of death; a state of death; the dominion of death. To translate Hades by the word hell, as is done ten times out of eleven in the New Testament, is very improper, unless it has the Saxon meaning of helan, to cover, attached to it. The primitive signification of hell only denoting what was SECRET OR CONCEALED perfectly corresponds with the Greek term Hades and its Hebrew equivalent Sheol, but the theological definition to it at the present day by no means expresses it" (Diaglott, Page 892).
I also printed out all New Testament occurrences of the word Hades which occurred in the NIV. Then I read these from The Emphatic Diaglott. That list is as follows, with the meaning of Hades in parenthesis:
Mat. 16:18, "And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades (F) will not overcome it"
Rev. 1:18, "I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades." (Unseen).
Rev. 6:8, "I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades (unseen), was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth."
Rev. 20:13, "The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades (Invisible), gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done."
Rev. 20:14, "Then death and Hades (invisible), were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death."
As I was running references here and there, and looking through the Alphabetical Appendix of The Emphatic Diaglott, I chanced across the entry, "Wedding Garment." After I read it, I knew it was no chance encounter, but more of the Spirit's leading me to see beyond what the world and the church has said the Bible says, into what God wants us to know about these seemingly unknowable mysteries. Matthew, Chapter 22,(Mat. 22), recounts Jesus' parable in which He compares the kingdom of heaven to a king who gave a marriage feast for his son. In this frightening story, the king prepares a lavish wedding feast and sends his servants out to invite the favored guests. Instead of being welcomed, the ungrateful wretches treated his servants shamefully and killed them (Mat. 22:6). Furious at this rejection, the king sent out his troops who destroyed the murderers and burned their city, and then told another group of servants to go out into the thoroughfares and invite as many as they could find. This second group of servants went out and brought in as many people as they could round up, both good and bad (Mat. 22:10), so that the wedding hall was filled with guests. Now here's the terrifying part of the story:"But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment; and he said to him, 'Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?' And he was speechless. Then the king said to the attendants, 'Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness: there men will weep and gnash their teeth.' For many are called but few are chosen" (Mat. 22: 11-14, RSV).
Even after the Lord showed me through many passages of Scripture and in my heart that His will is being done (Eph. 1:11) on earth and that since it is not his will that any should perish (II Pet. 3:9), therefore none will, (Rom. 11:32; I Tim. 2:4; I Tim. 4:10; Titus 2:11) nevertheless, parables such as these triggered the terror I felt as a little girl sitting riveted in the pew while some well meaning evangelist was preaching his version of the Gospel, which he said was the Good News, but which was, in fact, VERY bad news indeed, i.e. that God is angry; difficult to please; and you're gonna get it big time if you do not obey Him exactly! So, imagine my delight today, when I happened across this reference to the wedding garment in the Appendix of the Diaglott:"It was usual for persons to appear at marriage feasts in sumptuous dress, adorned with florid embroidery. But as travelers were sometimes pressed in, and as they could not be provided with such garments, robes out of the wardrobes of the rich, were tendered to them. If such persons refused this offer, and appeared in their own apparel, it was highly resented, as a token of their pride and contempt for those who invited them." (Page. 922, The Emphatic Diaglott.)
My spirit jumped within me when I read this explanation of what must have been a very common metaphor in Jesus' time, so common in fact, that He didn't bother to explain it at all. He assumed that His listeners would get it. They probably did, but I never did until I read this account. I always thought it was terribly unfair that this poor devil was punished for not having a wedding garment, when he never had any plans to attend the feast until the king's servants dragged him in. Obviously, he did not have a wedding garment with him, or perhaps did not even own one at all. The Lord makes all things plain in His time.
It's easy to see why the above referenced explanation caused the flood lights to go on for me. What does this parable really mean to us reading it 2,000 years later? In addition to the obvious inference that the Jews were invited first into the kingdom, but since they stoned the prophets and killed His Son, He invited the Gentiles to come in, I believe the parable means this: God has invited all of us to the marriage feast of the Lamb (Luke 14:15; Rev. 19:9). From before the foundations of the world (Eph. 1:4 11; 2:10; 3:8-11; II Tim. 1:9-10), He has made elaborate preparations (I Cor. 2:9; Is. 64:4; II Tim. 4:18). He killed the fatted calf (Luke 15:23). He now stands waiting at the door (Rev. 3:20) with a ring, a robe (Luke. 15:22) and a crown (II Tim. 4:8; James 1:12; Rev. 2:10) to welcome us home, but some either don't believe it or perhaps are too busy with things of this world to attend. A few still see God as a despot, waiting to dangle them over the pits of hell like a spider held over a flame of fire and are therefore, too afraid to accept His invitation. Others believe they have to clean themselves up; make themselves worthy; work their way into His favor (Rom. 3:27-28); so despising the King's offer to provide royal robes for His guests, they are trying to get into the feast wearing their own soiled and ragged wedding garments (Rev. 3:4-5). Isaiah said that all our attempts to make ourselves righteous before God are as filthy rags (Is. 64:6), a reference to the cloths used to absorb a woman's monthly flux. You can't get a much more disgusting word picture than that, folks, and this vile imagery speaks to what God thinks of our puny, pitiful, and dangerous (G) efforts to earn (Eph. 2:8) what is given as a free gift (Rom. 6:23; 11:29; Jn. 4:10,14), paid for by the blood of Jesus (Rom. 3:24-25), and provided for us by God's grace! (Rom. 11:6).
God loves us! (Jn. 3:16-17; I Jn. 4:16, 19) He will never leave us nor forsake us! (Heb. 13:5). I believe that the liberating wind of the Spirit is blowing throughout this land, the planet and especially through the churches to reveal this passionate, undying, never ending love of the Father for His creation. The elect are those whom God has chosen to hear it first, and they in turn will speak this powerful Good News to the church and then to the rest of creation (I Cor. 15:22-27). It is my fervent belief that hell fire and damnation, the doctrine of endless punishment has done nothing but keep God's precious children chained in the charnel house of fear and rebellion throughout the centuries. That of course, like everything else, was totally part of God's plan (Is. 46:10, KJ), but I wonder if perhaps, now is the time in which He will pour out living water (John 4:14) to douse the flames of hell fanned by fear and ignorance. I pray that now is the moment when those who preach endless punishment will begin to speak "The Good News" to those cowering in fear in the pews. Would to God that they would be as passionate and persuasive about the love of God and Christ our Savior, as they have been about the wrath of God.
Again, this whole issue of endless punishment and hell fire seems to me more about zeal than knowledge, for the scriptures declare that our God is a consuming fire! (Heb. 12:29). He Himself is the fire that John the Baptizer said would come: "I baptize you with water, but one more powerful than I will come, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and WITH FIRE" (Luke 3:16, NIV). This messenger of the new covenant continues to describe the long awaited Messiah in the next verse: "His winnowing fork is in his hand to clear his threshing floor and to gather the wheat into his barn, but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire" (Luke 3: 17). We usually stop reading there, but let's read the next verse (Luke 3:18), "And with many other words John exhorted the people and preached the good news to them" Good News, John? Yes indeed. This mighty prophet of God understood something that most of us do not yet see, which is that it is Good News that Jesus is the fire that burns off our chaff and burns up the weeds which threaten to choke out our wheat. Why? So that we shall stand perfect before Him! (See Matt. 13:29-30). Therefore, my dear friends and family, if you smell smoke and feel the flames scorching your backside, do not despair, and do not worry about what is happening to you. You are experiencing one aspect of God's love! The truth is that like all of God's judgments, hell is God's refining fire and you don't have to die to reap the benefit of it's remedial work. Not only the chaff, but all of our self effort will be burned up. Paul explains it this way:"Now if any one builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble, each man's work will become manifest; for the Day will disclose it, because IT WILL BE REVEALED WITH FIRE, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. If the work which any man has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, BUT ONLY AS THROUGH FIRE" (I Cor. 4:12-15).
Hell fire and damnation preaching of the fundamentalists, notwithstanding, our God is love! (I Jn. 4:16). And, He is a consuming fire! (I Kings 18:24; Heb. 12:29). I've been accused of not believing in hell fire. Not true. There is a hell and there is judgment (Acts 17:31; Rom. 5:18; Heb. 9:27; I Peter 4:17; Rev. 20:12). I've experienced God's judgment many times. Remember, however, that Isaiah said that "When your judgments come upon the earth, the people of the world learn righteousness" (Is. 26:9). I believe it is in that sense, that Peter says "judgment must begin AT THE HOUSE OF GOD" (I Pet. 4:17). The purpose of it is so that we may learn righteousness. I've felt the flames, smelled the smoke, and received the correction thereof (Heb. 12:6-7). If Jesus learned obedience by the things that He suffered (Heb. 2:10), why should we, His children be any different? I've long said that when one who does not know God, passes to the other side, upon entering into the Divine presence, he will feel the pains of hell as the refining fire does its work. There is not a shred of evidence, however, to suggest that God will eternally punish man for ever and ever. That error has to do with another translation problem. The Greek word aionian, which is usually translated as eternal or forever, actually means "age-lasting." There are excellent discussions of these errors and much more information in The Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment. Suffice it to say here that God's love will burn off the dross; the deceit; the sin; the lies; the lust; the pride; the murderous rage and the rebellion, and when the refiner's fire has done its work, all which is left will be of God, through God and to God! (Rom. 11:36; Eph. 1:23).
Now that the Father has opened up so many, many scriptures which reveal His glorious plan, hidden from the ages (Rom. 16:25-26; I Cor. 2:7), the Gospel of Jesus Christ, though which He always intended to bring the Gentiles (Col. 1:26-27), into His fellowship, I find it incredible that any should imagine that He could possibly fail in this endeavor; that any could think His power so pitifully inadequate to the task; or His will so pathetically impotent, that the devil, a created being, could defeat Him and thwart His eternal purpose. To believe that God intended that all should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth (I Tim. 2:4), nevertheless, was unable to bring this to pass, with the horrible, mind-numbing result that 99% of His children, billions of human beings, will burn in hell, forever separated from the love of the one responsible for bringing them into the world, is unthinkable horror, insupportable error, and blasphemous to the power and authority of Almighty God!
In recent years, I heard a woman say about everlasting punishment, "Well, that's what the Bible says." My quick reply is, "No, that is not at all what the Bible says. That is what the church says the Bible says." The Bible is like a gold mine. You've got to dig through a lot of layers of rock to get to the goodies. In His time, God lets you in on His secrets, here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept (Is. 28:10,13). In his article entitled, "Orthodoxy," (F) A.P. Adams writes,"If everything in the Bible was plain and simple like a child's primer, it would require no effort to receive it, and hence, though we might obtain a certain number of truths, there would be but very little spiritual training. An order of men is now being fitted and trained to be the kings and priests of the "ages to come," the promised seed in whom all the families of the earth are to be blessed; the sons of God for whom the whole creation waits (Rom. 8:19), and this order must reach the perfect man condition by a gradual growth and development....To them it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven; but to those who do not belong to this order it is not given, because they do not need to see these deep things of God yet. But they shall see in the judgment age when the inhabitants of the world shall learn righteousness (Isa. 26:9). Thus taking God's plan into consideration, the apparently dark, puzzling, and mysterious character of the Word is fully accounted for and clearly shown to be but another manifestation of that 'wisdom and knowledge of God,' the depths of which are unsearchable and past finding out (Rom. 9:33. Pg. 108).
Pardon my cynicism, but I'll remind myself and anyone else who may have forgotten, that the Roman Catholic Church made a fortune in the dark ages by selling indulgences, the primary purpose of which was so people could buy their loved ones out of purgatory, the waiting room of hell. Hell was good for business, for at that moment, church was a business and the woman, symbolizing God's people, had long been riding the Scarlet beast, representing the world's system (Rev. 17:1-18). Hell is still good for business, actually. Church leaders are ever fearful that if people learn that God loves them unconditionally, they will escape the control which pastors and elders love to exercise, for the good of the flock, of course. Fear may not be the best motivator, but it keeps the kids in line and insures that the parishioners keep coming, giving, and serving.
Some will not get this truth, on this side of the veil, no matter how gifted the teacher or how diligent the search, for God has always hidden truth from the wise (Matt: 11:25; Luke 10:21; I Cor. 1:19-21), and revealed it to the simple. When Jesus disciples asked Him why He spoke in parables, He replied,
"The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him" (Matt. 13:11-12).
Though this is disconcerting, and not what most preachers want to hear, nevertheless, John the Beloved declared that Jesus "was the true Light, which lighteth EVERY MAN THAT COMETH INTO THE WORLD" (Jn. 1:9. See also Jn. 1:29; 3:17; 6:33; 1 Jn. 2:2; 4:14). Note that the Apostle says EVERY MAN. In I Jn. 2:2, He asserts, "And He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of THE WHOLE WORLD" There is no time limit and no qualifiers on these prophecies. Paul said that every tongue would confess and every knee would bow to the Lordship of Jesus (Is. 45:23; Phil. 2:10-11), and there's no time limit on that promise either, nor any indication whether it will happen here or "over there." This is why I believe that some will hear the Gospel on this side and some on "the other side" of Jordan. John the Revelator proclaimed, "And I saw another angel fly in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people" (Rev. 14:6). What I believe passionately is that when an unbeliever passes into the presence of the living God, and encounters Him face to face, he will then know as he is known; his eyes will be opened and his ears unstopped, and he will encounter a love that will not let him go; a love so white hot and passionate that it will burn off the dross, the chaff, and everything carnal in him. Everything in the universe that exalts itself above the throne of God will be brought down to the sides of the pit (Isaiah 14:13-15). Malachi penned these thrilling words,"Behold, I will send my messenger, and he shall prepare the way before me: and the Lord, whom ye seek, shall suddenly come to his temple, even the messenger of the covenant, whom ye delight in: behold, he shall come, saith the Lord of hosts. But who may abide the day of his coming? and who shall stand when he appeareth? for HE IS LIKE A REFINER'S FIRE, and like fullers' soap; And he shall sit as a refiner and purifier of silver: and he shall purify the sons of Levi, and purge them as gold and silver, that they may offer unto the Lord an offering in righteousness" (Mal. 3:1-3).
Thinking about that verse, I strongly suspect that when the Lord comes to his temple, where He is even now, none of us shall stand when He appears. Like Ezekial (Ezek 1:28), Daniel (Dan 8:17), Paul (Acts 9:4). & John, (Rev. 1:17), we will all fall flat on our faces before Him. We'll laugh and we'll cry and we'll praise and we'll soar, for "when He appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see Him as He is" (I Jn. 3:2). So in light of this glory, what's a little pain? a little privation? a little suffering? a little depression? Nothing at all, Paul assures us, compared to the eternal weight of glory which shall be worked into us (II Cor. 4:16-17). And not only us, but all men will share in God's bounty: Listen to this Good News:"For the grace of God has appeared for the salvation of all men, training us to renounce irreligion and worldly passions, and to live sober, upright, and godly lives in this world, awaiting our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all iniquity and to purify for himself a people of his own who are zealous for good deeds" (Titus 2:11-15, RSV).
What can make good news even better? "The Zeal of the Lord of Hosts will perform it" (II Kings 19:30-31; Is. 37:32) . He promised it through the prophets, and He will deliver. So, buckle your seat belts and get ready for the most glorious ride of your lives!"Now unto him that is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and ever. Amen" (Jude 24-25, KJ).
The graphic on the title page shows a little devil dancing in the flames of hell. I smiled when I first saw it, because in my opinion, the devil is the only one who deserves the traditionally depicted flames of hell. Jesus said in Matt. 25:41, "He will then also say to those on his left hand, 'Depart from me, you cursed ones, into that aionian (age lasting) fire, which is prepared for the adversary and his messengers." John the Revelator observed,"And the sea gave up those dead which were in it; and death and Hades (the unseen) gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged each one according to their works. And death and Hades (the invisible, in the literal Greek) were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second Death, the Lake of Fire" (Rev. 20:13-14).
This verse alone proves that hell is NOT everlasting, not forever. John prophesied that it will give up the dead in it and be destroyed in the lake of fire. If one person gets out of hell, then surely all have hope of such deliverance. No one resigned and appointed me "pope" in order to interpret the things of the Spirit for anyone else (I Cor. 2:11-13). The information in this journal has clearly been for my own redemption, but I gladly offer it and the scriptures therein to anyone else who resonates to it, no strings attached. As for me and my house, I'll take comfort from Psalm 36:5-6, which reads,"Your love, O Lord, reaches to the heavens,your faithfulness to the skies. Your righteousness is like the mighty mountains; your justice like the great deep. O Lord, you preserve both man and beast. How priceless is your unfailing love. Both high and low among men find refuge in the shadow of your wings."
Let him who has an ear hear. The Lake of Fire is God Himself! And who knows, it just may be that when he gets that close to God, even the devil will get the hell burned out of him and enjoy a second chance. Go ahead and pick up those stones. You can E-mail them to me at the address below. :O)
By Jan Austin Antonsson
Jan & Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
Below, you will find links to writings which will enhance your study of the salvation of all and the misinformation about hellfire and eternal punishment.
If all men are going to be saved, why did Christ have to die?
by Jan Antonsson
"Saved by His life," by Jan Antonsson
"Why did Christ have to Die," by Harry Fox
"Hell is a four letter word," by Jan Antonsson,
"Jubilee" by J. Preston Eby,
The Rich Man and Lazarus by J. Preston Eby
The Glory Road
A. The Emphatic Diaglott is an interlinear word For word translation of the Greek Text into English.
B. http://www.tentmaker.org. Or for those without Internet access, Gary and Michelle can be reached at Tentmaker, 118 Walnut, Hermann, MO 65401. Upon request, they will send you free of charge, a list of their articles and publications, including the Origin and History of the doctrine of Endless Punishment.
C. I think this is a marvelous exposition of passages which struck terror into my heart as a young person. I knew that there was another explanation of them, but until I saw this discussion, I was unsure what it was
D. In this passage, the word which is translated hell is Hades, which the in the literal Greek means unseen.
E. This word translated hell is Tartarus. See reference above from "Origin and History of the Doctrine of Endless Punishment."
F. The word Hades appears here in the Greek. According to the appendix, Hades means that which is in darkness, hidden, invisible, or obscure.
G. The man in Jesus' parable was cast out of the presence of the king into bitter darkness as a result of insisting on wearing his own garments instead of those provided for him.
H. From "The Best From A.P. Adams," published by Treasures of Truth, PO Box 99, Eagle ID. 83636.
A.P. Adams On-Line
We would enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web on Feb., 1998
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 11/07/08.