Friday, June 25, 2010

Is There a Hell? Does it Really Exist?

*NOTE: unless otherwise mentioned, all biblical text comes from the
New King James Version (NKJV)*

There are many passages in the Bible that talk about hell. What this post will specifically do is to determine if hell really does exist. And also by what definition does it exist by. Most of the Biblical texts being used are mentioned during the end times. Most Biblical texts will be from the New Testament, however there will be several from the Old Testament prophets as well.

Hell is one of the most misunderstood points in the Bible. Some say that it does not exist altogether because God can’t be that cruel for people to burn all eternity. Some say that it does exist and that it is a burning pit of fire that burns eternally. And some still say that it’s a tool to scare people into believing in God. While all these positions can have a valid argument to each, neither is Biblically true.

What happens when we die?

First, to determine if there is a hell, one must determine what our “state” is when we die. The Bible tells us that when we die, we sleep.

9 Jesus answered, “Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. 10 But if one walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him.” 11 These things He said, and after that He said to them, “Our friend Lazarus sleeps, but I go that I may wake him up.”
12 Then His disciples said, “Lord, if he sleeps he will get well.” 13 However, Jesus spoke of his death, but they thought that He was speaking about taking rest in sleep.
14 Then Jesus said to them plainly, “Lazarus is dead. 15 And I am glad for your sakes that I was not there, that you may believe. Nevertheless let us go to him.” John 11:9-15

35 While He was still speaking, some came from the ruler of the synagogue’s house who said, “Your daughter is dead. Why trouble the Teacher any further?”
36 As soon as Jesus heard the word that was spoken, He said to the ruler of the synagogue, “Do not be afraid; only believe.” 37 And He permitted no one to follow Him except Peter, James, and John the brother of James. 38 Then He came to the house of the ruler of the synagogue, and saw a tumult and those who wept and wailed loudly. 39 When He came in, He said to them, “Why make this commotion and weep? The child is not dead, but sleeping.”
40 And they ridiculed Him. But when He had put them all outside, He took the father and the mother of the child, and those who were with Him, and entered where the child was lying. 41 Then He took the child by the hand, and said to her, “Talitha, cumi,” which is translated, “Little girl, I say to you, arise.” 42 Immediately the girl arose and walked, for she was twelve years of age. And they were overcome with great amazement. 43 But He commanded them strictly that no one should know it, and said that something should be given her to eat.
Mark 5:35-43

As we see from the two examples above, Jesus stated that Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter were sleeping, while the rest of the people stated that Lazarus and Jairus’ daughter were dead. How is it that death is actually sleep?

Death is called sleep at least 50 times in the Bible. If you look at old gravestones, some are engraved with phrases referencing sleep. One well known phrase is R.I.P., Rest In Peace. This is very fitting as we consider rest sleep.

Another misunderstood interpretation of death is what happens when one dies. Death is not a life in purgatory, hell, or heaven. Death is a sleep. The dead know nothing. The false assumption that we go to heaven/hell when we die is wrong. It would be cruel for loved ones up in heaven looking down and seeing the state of the world, heaven would not be a happy place for them if that were the case. Thankfully it is not.
5 For the living know that they will die;
But the dead know nothing,
And they have no more reward,
For the memory of them is forgotten. Ecclesiastes 9:5

This passage alone states that the dead know nothing. They don’t know about the lives they left behind, they don’t know about eternity ahead of them, they know nothing, they are asleep. In finishing with the topic of Death is Sleep, I conclude with a quote from the following website: The Bible Calls "Death" Sleep

So, if a man's thoughts perish at the moment he dies, how could he be "alive and well in heaven?" And if it's true that "the dead know not any thing," how is it that the dead can be in heaven in the presence of God? No, death is a sleep, and there are many proof texts in the Bible that support this view.

Think of it this way. Would it be fair say that Cain, who killed 1 man, was burning in hell for for approximately 6000 years to this day as compared to Hitler who killed millions not even 100 years ago? Would that seem fair? If you answered no, I agree with you. It is because of these scenarios that the possibility of hell being a real place that one goes when he dies is just not true. For where would justice be for a man who lived many centuries ago killing only 1 man compared to Hitler who lived not even 100 years ago and killed millions? This is why for those who believe that one goes to heaven and hell when they die, is simply not true. We are asleep when we die, we know nothing, we can do nothing, we can’t hear, see, touch, nodda.

Where is Hell if it exists?

If hell was a place, most people would attribute it to their lives as a living hell or as some would portray it as a very hot place underneath the ground we stand on. These two ideas of hell have simply misguided. Hell does not exist as a place where one burns for all eternity.

Jesus teaches that everyone will either be saved or lost. You are either for God or against God. There are no fences or gray area. There is a reason why I say this. No where in the Bible does it say ‘those who have neither accepted nor denied God will go either way’. You are either for or against God, there is no in-between.

Now let’s look at the first passage about hell.

I always like to use whole passages rather than verses, especially if the verse I want to use starts with “Therefore” or “Whosoever”. The key to understanding these is to read the context before and after the verse. With this in mind, I will quote the Parable of the Tares.

The Parable of the Wheat and the Tares
24 Another parable He put forth to them, saying: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field; 25 but while men slept, his enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way. 26 But when the grain had sprouted and produced a crop, then the tares also appeared. 27 So the servants of the owner came and said to him, ‘Sir, did you not sow good seed in your field? How then does it have tares?’ 28 He said to them, ‘An enemy has done this.’ The servants said to him, ‘Do you want us then to go and gather them up?’ 29 But he said, ‘No, lest while you gather up the tares you also uproot the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest, and at the time of harvest I will say to the reapers, “First gather together the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matthew 13:24-30

When reading in parables, one must realize that Jesus used the earth as a teaching tool. Whether it was the birds of the air or the fish in the sea, they each present a lesson within themselves. Because farming was a big industry of the time (as well as fishing), Jesus used every day tasks as a teaching method. The above parable basically states that instead of taking out what is rotten and risk uprooting the good, it would be best to wait until harvest time, at which all the tares would be gathered and burned first. The wheat, however, would remain in the man’s barn. Jesus explains this parable to His disciples:

The Parable of the Tares Explained
36 Then Jesus sent the multitude away and went into the house. And His disciples came to Him, saying, “Explain to us the parable of the tares of the field.”
37 He answered and said to them: “He who sows the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. 39 The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. 40 Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. 41 The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, 42 and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear! Matthew 13:36-43

Remember, remember, and remember! All the parables that Jesus taught were taught with symbols and were not meant to take literally as it says within the verse. Rather, one should focus on what the symbols mean. Jesus already did this with the Parable of the Tares, but I will present it in a way that is easy to understand.

Within the explanation we understand the following:
  • The man who sows seeds is the Son of Man
  • The field is the world, the earth.
  • The good seeds are the sons of the kingdom (or in other words, those who are saved)
  • The tares are the sons of the wicked one (or in other words, those who wish to deny God and not believe in him).
  • The enemy who sowed the tares is the devil (Satan)
  • The harvest is the end of the age (when Jesus returns)
  • The reapers are the angels of God.

Those are the basic symbols. Jesus goes on to say what will happen. The angels will gather out all those who practiced lawlessness and all things that offended. They will be cast into the furnace of fire. Then the righteous will shine forth in the kingdom of God.

What I think is misinterpreted is the part where they are cast into the furnace of fire. To one simply reading that it would seem that hell is a place. BUT, remember that this is a parable; Jesus is discussing this parable, and remember He is talking about the end of the age. The furnace of fire, although may present the idea of a hell as a place, is simply not so.

Let’s take a look at another Parable. This parable has been one of the ones that is most scrutinized as well as misinterpreted.

The Rich Man and Lazarus
19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell[d] from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores . 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24 “Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’” Luke 16: 19-31

At a first read, this parable seems to teach that Hell is a real place where one goes when they die. But again, we are dealing with a parable that with all parables uses symbols as a representation of something else. We learned this from the previous parable as Jesus clearly explained it. However, we are not so fortunate this time and need to be as open and truthful to the context as possible. There are several facts within the parable that clearly show that it is a parable and should not be taken literally (taken from Hell Truth).
  • Abraham's bosom is not heaven (Hebrews 11:8-10, 16)
  • People in hell can't talk to those in heaven (Isaiah 65: 17)
  • The dead are in their graves (Job 17:13; John 5:28, 29). The rich man was in bodily form with eyes, a tongue, etc., yet we know that the body does not go to hell at death. It is very obvious that the body remains in the grave, as the Bible says.
  • Men are rewarded at Christ's second coming, not at death (Revelation 22:11, 12)
  • The lost are punished in hell at the end of the world, not when they die (Matthew 13:40-42). The point of the story is found in verse 31 of Luke 16. Parables cannot be taken literally. If we took parables literally, then we must believe that trees talk! (See this parable in Judges 9:8-15).
What Jesus was teaching within this parable was just because you are rich within your wealth doesn’t mean you are going to heaven. Jesus was demonstrating that anyone can be included in heaven, not just those who are rich and well off in their lives. As Jesus was saying this parable to the Jews, he was also telling them that just because they were Jews didn’t mean that they would automatically be accepted in the kingdom. It isn’t their birthright (we all know that the way to Heaven is to believe that Jesus is the Son of God and that by believing in the Son, we would have everlasting life.) The Jews did not want to say Jesus was the Son of God, as they were only looking for a Messiah to free them from the Romans. However, as shown that is not so.

This parable was not meant to say that there is a physical hell. I will use the conclusion from the link Hell Truth -- Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus as it sums it up the best.

Furthermore, Jesus was seeking to lead His hearers to understand that only faithfulness to God's Word would prepare them to enter into eternal life. He told them, "If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead" (Luke 16:31).

To use the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in order to promote the false doctrine of an eternally burning hell is to misuse God's Word and to misrepresent His character.

The Jews of Jesus’ time believed that it was based on their heritage that they would enter the kingdom of God.

So what is Hell, if it is Not a Physical Place?

We now understand that when we die, we are in a state of sleep. We know nothing, can hear nothing, one cannot even think his own thoughts.

It is taught that the soul is released from the body and goes to be with God. However, this is not the case. Once one is in the grave, they await judgment. The only thing that goes back to God is the breath of life that was given to us to live. But what about the last verse in the Bible to which Jesus says:

1 Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea. 2 Then I, John,[a] saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. 4 And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”
5 Then He who sat on the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” And He said to me,[b] “Write, for these words are true and faithful.”
6 And He said to me, “It is done![c] I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts. 7 He who overcomes shall inherit all things,[d] and I will be his God and he shall be My son. 8 But the cowardly, unbelieving,[e] abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” Revelation 21:1-8

Again, we need to remember that this is a prophetic dream that John is having. Just like the prophetic dreams that Daniel had, none of this should be taken literally.

Jesus states at the end that all those who have done evil will have their part in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, the second death. Remember, that the punishment is the second death. The second death is the result of sin, it is in essence what hell really is. It is not a place. I will write a post specifically on this topic as it furthers understanding in what "Hell" really is.

For more information on this subject, please follow this link. It opens as a PDF within your web browser, so you will need the latest Adobe reader installed on your computer. Click on the titled article to go to the page.

Hellfire: A Twisted Truth Untangled

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