The following was given as a devotional at Medicalodge,
Neosho, MO, on Feb. 4, 2001.
I grew up in a church right here in Neosho that believed in hellfire and eternal damnation. Worse, they believed that anyone who wasn't in their church, was going to hell when they died. That includes a whole lot of folks, probably most of us in this room today, if they were right. Thank God, they were not! When I was a kid, I asked one of the elders who was teaching my Sunday School class about the folks in Africa, lets say, who never, ever heard the name of Jesus, nor had any way to hear about Him. "Will they burn in hell when they die?" I asked, because that seemed horribly unfair to me, even as a child. He answered, sadly, "Well, yes, Jani, but we just don't understand these things." No, I guess not. It worried me terribly because some of my cousins didn't go to church and I knew that meant they would be "toast" if they didn't repent before they died. I read the Bible daily to try to find out the answers, but the trouble was, I only saw the scriptures the leaders used to prove their points, and missed the ones which disproved them. God stepped in and delivered me from this terrible teaching.
When I was about 25 years old, I met a man in California, Harry Robert Fox (End Note "A"), who was the son of a Church of Christ missionary to Japan, and who himself had been a Church of Christ missionary to Japan for many years. He shared the gospel of Christ with me for the first time, which is that ultimately, God is going to save everyone. Now, before you get all riled up, and ready to stone me, let me go on with my journey into truth. It is my journey, and I'm not trying to sell my conclusions to you, but rather, just report them to you. You can make up your own mind about it after you have heard what I have to say, and hopefully, you'll look up the many scriptures I have included here.
Harry's statement about God saving everyone found a home in my heart, because I could never figure out how to love a God who would fry you in hell if you didn't obey the rules, considering that no one agreed on what those rules were anyway. Once I accepted the truth of the gospel message, regarding God's plan of the ages, the scriptures started to leap out at me. Here are a few of them:
The Apostle Peter, under the anointing of the Holy Spirit, wrote, "The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (II Pet. 3:9). "Wow," I thought, "if God is not willing that any should perish, then how could anyone perish?" But, you know, it seems to me that some Christians act like they believe God's glory days were mostly in the Old Testament when He was fierce and vigorous, mighty and valiant. He sent armies here and angels there to defeat the enemies of Israel, and no one could stop Him. They also know that He did mighty works when Jesus walked the earth, but some appear to think that He grew old and tired along the way. I got a mental picture of how some folks see Him, sitting in His wheelchair in some celestial retirement home for weary gods, too tired and feeble to do much of anything anymore, except throw people into hell if they disobey the rules. That's pathetic, and certainly not true! Long ago, the prophet Isaiah declared, "Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save; neither his ear heavy, that it cannot hear" (Isa. 59:1). Today, in 2001, this is still true of Him. The answer to the question, "Is God so weak and feeble that He can't get His will done on earth?" is found in Eph. 1:11, where the Apostle Paul affirms that God, "works all things after the counsel of his own will." My heart leaped within me. Listen to it again. This verse says "He works all things according to His own will;" not my will or your will or some church leader's will, but His will! That put a new slant on things entirely.
Too often preachers and televangelists still threaten us that if we don't "obey the gospel, we will burn in hell." How many sermons have we all heard like that? I suppose they think they are doing us a favor by scaring us toward God, but it is entirely the wrong approach, which really has just the opposite effect. There surely can't be even one person in America who hasn't heard about hell, and yet our prisons are overflowing and church attendance is at an all time low. The threat of hell may have kept some timid types from committing certain sins, but in fact, it has turned millions away from church and our loving Heavenly Father. They want nothing to do with a god who will burn the majority of his children in hell for all eternity. We have an Internet Ministry, and a goodly number of these wounded and disillusioned folks are expressing themselves out there in Cyberspace, and often, they find our Glory Road website (link at the end) and write to say how blessed they are by our writings. Religion's whole deal about avoiding hell is for man to do something in response to God's invitation, rather than understanding what God has already done in Jesus Christ. Each church has a different spin on what man needs to do, and I don't want to "go there" right now, but let me talk about the one step that is at least part of everyone's formula for salvation. Acts 2:21 and Rom. 10:13, both say, "For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved." Now, most everyone adds something to that, but let's just take it by itself for now. The Apostle Peter in Acts and the Apostle Paul in Romans said that whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. Who am I to argue with two Apostles?
From there, the Spirit led me to Phil. 2:10-11, which declares, "that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth. And that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father." What hit me immediately, when God shined the light of His Spirit on that passage was that it says, every knee and every tongue, and goes further to say "in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth." Remember, that the ancients believed that the place of the dead, Sheol, (the Hebrew word), was under the earth. So Paul says that every tongue and every knee of those on earth, in heaven, and under the earth, (the dead), will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord. Putting that together with the verse that says whoever calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved, it's an easy step to the conclusion that all will be saved. There are actually over 100 Scriptures which declare the truth that all will be saved (End Note "B"), but let's just include one more here: I Jn. 2:2: "And he is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world." The word "propitiation" means "to make favorably inclined, to conciliate."
These are but a few of the scriptures which led me to believe as I do that no one will burn in hell forever and ever, but now, I want to talk about the word "gehenna," which is translated "hell" in many Bibles today, including the King James version. "Hell" is a mistranslation of the Greek word, "Gehenna," which refers to the Valley of Ben Hinnom (II Chr. 28:3; Jer. 7:32-33; 32:35). It was a literal place where refuse, carcasses of dead animals, bodies of criminals and other detritus of their lives were thrown to be burned up. The fires burned continuously, in order to dispose of the waste and keep germs under control. It was a place of horror to the Jews in Jesus' day, and this was the metaphor Jesus used in several passages when He describes it as a place, "where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched'" (Mk. 9:48). If you look at a Greek New Testament, like The Emphatic Diaglott, you can see that in almost every place the word "hell" is used, it is translated, "Gehenna."
My husband Lenny and I drove through the Hinnom Valley (Gehenna) still located southwest of the old City of Jerusalem, when we visited Israel in March, 2000, and our Israeli tour guide joked, "Now, you can go home and tell your friends that you went to hell and back." Without doubt, Gehenna was an EPA nightmare, but it had nothing to do with the afterlife. It symbolized judgment on this earth, and Jesus used it as a metaphor (figure of speech) to make a point about righteous living here and now, not our eternal destiny after we die. I wrote an in-depth article on this, entitled "Primrose Path to Gehenna," (End Note "C").
The professing church has held our feet to the fires of an everlasting hell, dear ones, because it has been good for business. This pagan doctrine, which originally came out of Egypt and Babylon, is used to keep church attendance up, cause money to flow into the contribution baskets, and insure that church leaders have the "proper" control over the flock. But, let's get real here. Hell may have kept a certain fearful few from doing some terrible things, but it never helped any of us to love God or each other. In fact, I would be so bold as to say, that if you are commanded to love God as the only way to avoid hell, you'll lie and say you do, when really, you want to run screaming into the night tearing out your hair along the way.
I want to make one last point here about what Paul calls the mystery of the gospel (Rom. 6:25; Eph. 6:19). In Eph. 3:6., he explains this mystery, hidden from the foundation of the world. There, he says "That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel." I've been praying and meditating on this topic all week, to be sure not to miss what God would have me share with you today. When I woke up Friday morning, He brought something into focus for me that I'd never seen quite this way. In Eph. 2:12, the Apostle Paul wrote, "That at that time (before Christ paid the price for us) you were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world." I mentioned to you on another occasion, that all of us would have fallen into the Gentile category. The Bible is basically the story of God's creation, of His covenant promise to Abraham (Heb. 6:13), that in him, all nations would be blessed (Gal. 3:8), and of His plan from before the foundation of the world to restore and redeem His creation (Acts 3:21; Rom. 16:25; I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:5,9; Col. 1:26; Tit. 1:2). In Bible times, there was only one true religion, the Jewish religion, because there was only one true God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The other people on earth were aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, strangers from the promise, with no hope and without God in the world. Today, we've got 30,000 different Christian denominations, plus Muslims, Hindus, Buddhists, and many, many more. The proliferation of religions keeps us from seeing the simple truth that the Bible portrays. In terms of Paul's doctrine, there were only two types of people, Jews and Gentiles. Jews had a covenant relationship with God because of His promise to Abraham, but the Gentiles were completely out in the cold before Christ came. They had nothing. Christ came and broke down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Greek, righteous and unrighteous, and brought those of us (Gentiles) who were far off, nigh unto God by the cross. (Eph. 2:13-14).
No wonder the Jews hounded the Apostle Paul from city to city, beating and stoning him, and blaspheming him everywhere he went. They didn't want to share what they had with those low class, slime ball sinners, the Gentiles, which includes all of us, of course. Sadly, many Christians feel the same way about the unsaved. They don't want to associate with sinners lest they be contaminated. Jesus said of Himself that He came eating and drinking and was scorned and ridiculed as a "winebibber and glutton, a friend of publicans and sinners." (Matt. 11:19; Lk. 7:34). Jesus was "the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (Jn. 1:9). This includes Jews and Greeks, nerds and geeks, blacks and whites, and Afghanites, Europe, Asia, Africa, all. God loves everyone, short and tall. Jesus came to seek and save the lost, which included everyone! (Lk. 19:10).
Yes, it is true that "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:20), (End Note "D") but He is also love (I Jn. 4:8, 16). All of us were sinners when Christ came. None were righteous, no not one (Rom. 3:12). One last passage and then we're done here: "But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him. For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life" (Rom. 5: 8-10). No one has to fear God. He loves us and it is a promise all through the Bible, when your spiritual eyes are opened to see it, that He will restore all things to Himself (Acts 3:21). He was never angry at us; we were angry at Him (End Note "E"), and Jesus came to reconcile us back to the Father's bosom (II Cor. 5:18). He came to bring us eternal life (Jn. 17:3). Hallelujah.
So let it be written, so let it be done in our lives.
The end of the story
by Jan Antonsson
Hell really is a four letter word,
the scariest word that I've ever heard.
(Matt. 25:46; II Thes. 1:8)
It makes sinners tremble and grown men weep,
but God has a secret, which is too good to keep.
(Mat. 13:11,13, 34-35; Amos 3:6)
When you listen with your spirit instead of your ears
(I Cor. 2:12-15),
you hear the truth, which has been hidden for years.
(Rom. 16:25; I Cor. 2:7; Eph. 3:5,9; Col. 1:26; Tit. 1:2)
God is not weary, weak, or faint.
There isn't any place at all, where He ain't. (Eph. 4:6)
"If I make my bed in hell," the Psalmist cheers,
God is there too, calming my fears. (Ps 139:8)
We call on the name of the Lord to be saved (Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13),
even those whose sin keeps them enslaved. (Rom. 5:8; Heb. 9:26)
"Every knee shall bow; every tongue confess (Rom. 14:11; I Jn. 4:15),
that Jesus is Lord" (Phil. 2:11), and thus, all shall be blessed.
It's impossible to believe our Father could fail
leaving most of His children to burn in hell.
God sent His only begotten Son
to save all in the world, every last one.
(Jn. 3:16-17; I Cor. 15:21-22; I Tim. 4:10; Tit. 2:11)
His hand is not shortened, that He cannot save;
(Isa. 50:2; 59:1; II Pet. 3:9)
The church says it's only for those who behave,
but before the world ever began, God had a plan.
(Matt. 25:34; Eph. 1:4; 2:6; I Pet. 1:20; Rev. 13:8)
It was "Jesus, the Lamb slain" to save every man.
(Jn. 1:7, 9; 12:32; Rom. 5:18; Heb. 9:26; I Jn. 2:2)
Hell is for the devil and his motley crew (Matt. 25:41);
it was never meant for me and you. (Heb. 2:14; I Jn. 3:8)
"The Victory is ours," thus saith the Lord
(Isa. 25:8; I Cor. 15:54, 57; I Jn. 3:8; 5:4)
our destiny rests on His glorious Word.
(Deut. 8:3; Isa. 40:5; 58:14; Heb. 11:3; I Jn. 2:14; Rev. 19:13)
He called us from a world of sin and strife (Eph. 2:1-7, 12);
He gave us His name (James 2:7; II Tim. 1:12) and eternal life!
(Jn. 10:28; Rom. 5:21; 6:23; I Tim. 6:12; Tit. 3:7; I Jn. 1:2; 2:25; 5:13, 20)
Written on 2/1/01 for the saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO.
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
End Note "A": Harry Fox's Home page!
End Note "C": Primrose Path to Gehenna
End Note "D": "Send in the Flames" by Lenny Antonsson
The Glory Road,
We would enjoy hearing from you!
This page was uploaded to the web
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister on 2/4/01
and last edited on 10/06/08