#33 – The Lake of Fire – Addendum

There are a few noteworthy details that are related to the Lake of Fire that I wanted to mention before we move on.  This blog is not complete by any means and I plan on expanding it at a later date, but for now I would like to just offer a few more thoughts.

Brimstone

#1 – The word “brimstone” used in describing the Lake of Fire, “these…were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone,” (Revelation 19:20, 20:10, 21:8) is the Greek word Theion.  Theion happens to also be the Greek word for Divine!  As in the Divine Nature!  It is another way of saying God (theos).  One of its definitions is, “the nature or state of being God.” (Louw and Nida English Greek Lexicon) (!!!)  The verb derived from Theion is the word Theioo; which means “to make holy, divine, to devote to a God.”  (Liddel and Scott Greek English Lexicon, 1897 Edition)

In other words it conveys sanctification.  After what we saw in the previous two blogs on the Lake of Fire it is far too much of a “coincidence” that this word “brimstone,” used to describe the Lake of Fire, conveys sanctification – to make one like God (divine).

Charles H. Pridgeon explains that,

“Sulpher or Brimstone was sacred to the diety among the ancient Greeks and was used to fumigate, to purify and to cleanse and to consecrate to the diety: for this purpose they burned it in their incense … To any Greek, or to any trained in the Greek language, a ‘lake of fire and brimstone’ would mean a ‘lake of divine purification.’”  (Is Hell Eternal, quoted by G.R. Hawtin, The Restitution of All Things, Artisan Publishers,1994, pp 26,27)

Pentecost

#2 – Each of the Feasts of Israel are prophetic of not only the various stages in History by which God is working out His plan to save man, but also the various phases by which the process of salvation is worked out (accomplished) within each individual.  Everyone must pass through 3 different phases of salvation (salvation of spirit, soul and body – see my blog about it here).

The Feast of Pentecost is the second feast and details the baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.  The Church began on the day of Pentecost 2000 years ago and perfectly fulfilled the original Pentecost that took place when Moses led the Israelites out of Egypt.  But the “harvest” taken in during that feast was to be offered to God with fire.  It was leavened and baked with fire.  Leaven is a type and shadow of sin (which is why the sacrifices were forbidden to have leaven in them, b/c they were types and shadows of Christ our Ultimate Sacrifice who was sinless).

The Church is leavened, we are all racked with sin in some fashion or other.  Leaven causes the dough to puff up and basically makes it empty inside and full of hot air.   It has no substance, just like us when we are full of sin.  The only way to stop the leavening action is with fire.  One of Pentecost’s main themes is fire.  Pentecost was when the Spirit was poured out within us; the Holy Spirit who writes the Law upon our hearts and minds and that law is pictured as fire (as we saw in the previous Lake of Fire blogs).  This is why tongues of fire were seen at the outpouring of the Spirit during Pentecost in Acts.  Its also why there was a blazing fire seen at the first Pentecost when the Law was given.

This fire is the Law being worked out within us by the Holy Spirit, and is the purpose of the second stage of Salvation.  The Feast of Pentecost has many more details concering this, but I have not been able to take the time to detail it at this point.  I will update this blog at a later date.

Sacrifices

#3 – the sacrifices were all burned with fire.  Fire was the process by which the flesh was not only consumed but transformed into smoke which rises to heaven.  God demanded that the flesh be burned (consumed) b/c sin had been imputed into it.  It was a substitutionary sacrifice and as such had to be fully destroyed (consumed) b/c it represented sin.  But in its consumption it was transformed into a “soothing aroma” which ascended to God and heaven in an acceptable form.

There is a lot more to all this that needs to be expounded, which I dont have the time to do at this point but I will do so at a later date.  What I want to point out is that it was through fire (destruction) that the sinful flesh was transformed into an acceptable form before God.

In conclusion, there is a wealth of evidence in Scripture that demonstrates fire as a consuming and purifying and transforming agent.

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#32 – The Lake of Fire, Part 2

In the previous blog we saw that the nature of fire is the Law and the purpose of this fire is to discipline and correct us, refining us until we are righteous and holy – as God is.  To clarify, we are actually imputed holiness and righteousness through faith in Christ and His righteousness, but while this is a legal standing before God we are still sinners and we are still imperfect.  In a word the old man, our rebellious nature is still alive and well. The baptism of the Spirit and fire that follows our justification by faith is what begins to make us actually righteous by killing the flesh; this process is called sanctification (1 Corinthians 1:30; Ephesians 5:26; 1 Thessalonians 5:23; 2 Thessalonians 2:13; 1 Peter 1:2; 1).  What we own by faith, we then begin to possess by experience (Hebrews 11:1).

There is much more that must be examined concerning salvation and other related issues in order to fully understand the process by which God will save all men, but that must wait until the next series.  For now, we must focus on the Lake of Fire and other judgments that take place in the after life.

Fire as a Future Judgment

Since the picture of fire throughout Scripture is almost universally God’s emblem for a purifying judgment, it becomes clear that the judgment of fire in the next life is also a purifying fire.  This explains the curious passage in 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 that says,

“…every man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work.  If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.

Have you ever stopped and considered this statement?  Those whose works were un-Christ-like in this life will watch everything they lived for get burned away…and yet they themselves will still be saved!  And their salvation will be wrought “through fire!”  This fire is very clearly and obviously referring to the Lake of Fire in the next life, where all men will be sanctified.  You will be amazed at how clear Scripture is on this point…and even more amazed that we have been blind to it for so many years!

2 Peter 3:9-13 is also unusual, notice all the similarities,

“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not willing that any should perish but for all to come to repentance (ahem… 😉 ). But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up.  Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heatBut according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. Therefore, beloved…regard the patience of our Lord as salvation.”

Notice all the themes we find here: 1 – God’s will for all men to be saved; 2 – God’s patience by which that will be accomplished; 3 – the destruction of the heavens, the earth and its works through fire; 4 – new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells!  Its very similar to the previous passage we looked at where a man’s works will be burned up yet he will be saved through that very fire.

It is the fire by which the old heavens and the old earth are changed into new heavens and a new earth.  Thus as Scripture says elsewhere,

the heavens will perish…and be changed!” (Hebrews 1:10-12)

The world will be burned with intense heat and fire b/c fire is the appointed means of delivering this present nature from its fallen state.  It is the fire that changes us.

Nature (which is a witness of God’s various truths – Romans 1:20) confirms this, for fire transforms whatever it touches into a higher form (from solid to vapor, the first state being material and of the earth, the latter state being immaterial [in a sense] and of the heavens [atmosphere]).

And so bringing it all back to the Lake of Fire – notice the same connection of themes as seen above,

This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away…” (Revelation 20:14-21:1)

The new heaven and new earth are seen immediately following the Lake of Fire!  For it is in the fire that the first heaven and earth “pass away.”  And in the passing of the Old the New emerges,

“And His voice shook the earth then, but now He has promised, saying, ‘yet once more I will shake not only the earth, but also the heaven.’  This expression, ‘Yet once more,’ denotes the removing of those things which can be shaken, as of created things, so that those things which cannot be shaken may remain. Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.” (Hebrews 12:26-29)

Notice the context with which Scripture declares God to be a consuming fire!?!  It is in the removing of the old, fallen creation that the unshakable kingdom of heaven emerges – the new heaven and the new earth!  This is the purpose of God’s consuming fire – to transform the old and fallen into the new and holy.

It ought to begin to be clear to us that the overarching context of “fire” in Scripture is that it is a refining and purifying agent – making all things new.  Consuming what is not of God, until all that remains is the character and image of Christ.  And there is not one soul who will skip this process for, “All men must be salted with fire!” (Mark 9:49)  All will undergo that “baptism of the Holy Spirit and fire.”  (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16)

As I pointed out in the last blog the Lake of Fire is the same imagery as the baptism of fire.  They both involve water and fire.  Those who don’t receive the baptism of the Spirit and fire in this life will endure it in the next life.  Even followers of God must go through the fire in the next life if they refuse that fire in this present life.  For Jesus declared of His servants that if they know His will and do not obey Him then they will receive their portion with the unbelievers (lake of fire) and be beaten with many stripes which He then describes as a fire! (Luke 12:46-49)

The Baptism of the Spirit is also described as a fire because it is how God conforms us to His Law.  Did you ever notice that in one of the descriptions of the New Covenant God declares,

“I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will be careful to observe My ordinances.”  (Ezekiel 36:26,27)

Statutes and ordinances are both synonymous with His Law and it is by His Spirit within us that we become obedient to His righteous standard – a.k.a the Law.  Therefore God declares concerning the New Covenant that,

“I will put My Laws upon your heart and write them upon your mind.” (Hebrews 10:16; Jeremiah 31:33)

Be assured that this process is painful, as our old man comes under the judgment of the Law and our New Man grows and matures into a fulfillment of that Law.  That is why fire is the main picture of the Law – it hurts but transforms.  Therefore when the Holy Spirit was poured out on the day of Pentecost we see that tongues of fire appeared over each person! (Acts 2:1-4)  That was when the Holy Spirit came to dwell within man and begin the process of writing His Laws upon our hearts and minds.

Fire also appeared at the original Pentecost that Israel observed when they came out of Egypt.

“Now Mount Sinai was all in smoke because the LORD descended upon it in fire; and its smoke ascended like the smoke of a furnace,” (Exodus 19:18)

Sounds a little bit like the description of the Lake of Fire doesn’t it?  And guess what happened when God came down as fire?  The 10 commandments were given!  (Exodus 20:1-17)  It was the beginning of the revelation of His Law!  And how did the people react?  After hearing the first 10 commandments,

“they said to Moses, ‘Speak to us yourself and we will listen; but let not God speak to us, or we will die.’”

They were afraid to hear His Law b/c the Law puts our old man to death and they didn’t want their flesh put to death.  That is why it is a fire and that is why the Lake of Fire is also called “the Second Death.”  The Law kills our flesh in order to conform us to God’s holy character.  That is why the Spirit is constantly at war with the flesh (Galatians 5:17).

And, as if there wasn’t enough in Scripture confirming all this, that section of Hebrews that I referenced earlier (about the destruction of the old creation and God being a consuming fire) actually begins by saying,

“For you have not come to a mountain that can be touched and to a blazing fire…” (Hebrews 12:18)

The author of Hebrews then goes on to describe the events of that original Pentecost where the Law was given (compare Hebrews 12:18-21 with Exodus 19:10-21).

I believe that the force of Scripture on this issue is clear.  God’s Law is a fire, and it puts our flesh (old man, sin nature) to death, but in that death we are made righteous and holy, for that is the process by which the New Man matures.  And all this is done by His Spirit dwelling within us.

At this point some of you might be thinking, “that may be so, but if people being cast into the Lake of Fire don’t believe in Christ, then they don’t have a New Man and therefore they would just be extinguished…”  This objection is the reason why some believe in Annihilation vs. Endless Torment.  But those who believe such only see half of the picture; the problem is solved with a simple reference to Isaiah 45:23, Romans 14:11 and Philippians 2:10,11 which states,

“that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”

It is at the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation that everybody will bow their knee and confess Jesus Christ is Lord.  And then they are cast into the Lake of Fire.  But at this point they are saved and beginning their baptism of the Spirit and Fire (their sanctification process).  For Scripture declares that,

“If you confess Jesus Christ is Lord…you will be saved!” (Romans 10:9)

And that,

“no one can confess ‘Jesus Christ is Lord’ except by the Holy Spirit!” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

Thus they are saved before being cast into their baptism of fire, and through it they will be made righteous, even as He is righteous.

Praise God!  The Gospel truly is Good News of Great Joy, which will be for ALL People!  (Luke 2:10)

Conclusion:

God’s Law is a fire, and it is administered by His Spirit.  And this law condemns our old man and puts him to death, but in his death the New Man is renewed and grows up into the fullness of the image of the One who created Him! (Colossians 3:10)

In the next blog we will take a look at what Scripture has to declare concerning Death.  This will help us understand what the “2nd Death” is, which will further confirm what we have noticed concerning the Lake of Fire (which is the 2nd Death).

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#31 – The Lake of Fire, Part 1

We saw in the previous series what Hell is not.  This left us with very little in Scripture to base the doctrine of a ‘fiery hell’ upon.  However, the Lake of Fire (found in the book of Revelation) is a straight forward declaration concerning an existence of punishment (torment even) for those who are disobedient to God in this life.  Hell, it appears, is founded upon truth, unfortunately that truth has been distorted.

So let’s take a closer look at the Lake of Fire.

To begin with, the Lake of Fire is found in the Book of Revelation; in chapters 19:17-21 and 20:10-15 (with a very similar description found in 14:9-13).  The Lake of Fire is most clearly described in the section of Revelation that talks about the Great White Throne Judgment.  This Great White Throne comes immediately after the Millennial Kingdom, which is the 1000 year reign of Christ on the earth (along with His overcomers – those that are worthy to attain to the first resurrection).  During this Great White Throne Judgment all the dead are resurrected, whether good or bad (see also John 5:28,29 and Acts 24:15).  Following this certain books are opened and anyone not found in the book of life is cast into the Lake of Fire.  Revelation describes this as “the Second Death,” which we will look at more closely later (the connection will become very clear).

I am sure that we have all read this scene in Revelation before, probably many times.  But what most do not realize, is that this is a continuation of a scene Daniel saw in his Apocalypse (apocalypse means ‘vision of the end times’).  You can find the whole scene in Daniel chapter 7, but for our purposes we need only look at verses 9-14.  In it (as in Revelation) we see the Great White Throne, where the Ancient of Days sits to judge the earth, and certain “books are opened!”  Interestingly enough, the Throne is described as being ablaze with fire and there is a River of Fire flowing from this flaming throne!  John apparently saw this same scene and described it with almost identical language.  However, where Daniel saw a River of Fire flowing from the Throne, John saw this River culminating in a giant Lake – a Lake of Fire.

The Law

The first thing that we need to notice is that this Fire comes from the Throne.  A throne is where a King sits to pass judgment; the throne room is where the King settles disputes and criminals are sentenced.  The throne room is also where the court meets to determine legal issues, with the King presiding over the hearing.  And every court determines its judgments based upon the Laws of the Kingdom (or at least it ought to).

This is the picture God is giving us to help us understand what is happening in the spirit (heaven).  You see, these are earthly descriptions of the heavenly court where God sits on His throne to rule His Kingdom and pass judgment (see also Ephesians 1:20).  All His judgments are based upon His Law.  This Law is the fire coming from the Throne.

This is further confirmed by the fact that Scripture refers to the Law as, “the fiery Law.” (Deuteronomy 33:2,3)  God Himself also declares, “Is not My Word like fire?” (Jeremiah 23:29)  So we see that the fire engulfing the Heavenly Throne is His Law, and the River of Fire flowing from the Throne, culminating in the Lake of Fire – is the outworking (or judgment) of that Law!

One of the prophecies concerning the Millennial Kingdom declares that all nations will come to the mountain of the LORD to learn His ways; and at that time,

“The Law will go forth from Zion, and the Word of the LORD from Jerusalem.” (Isaiah 2:3)

Zion was the headquarters for David’s Kingdom; it was the ruling name for Jerusalem where his throne was.  Of course this is all poetic language concerning the Heavenly Kingdom, New Jerusalem, where Christ sits to rule His Kingdom (see Galatians 4:25,26; Hebrews 12:22 and Revelation 3:12, 21:2,10).

But we see from this and many other pictures in Scripture that God’s Law is what He will judge all people with and this judgment is pictured as a fire.

The Nature and Purpose of Fire

In order to better understand the Lake of Fire as an outworking of God’s Law we need to see what Scripture has to say concerning fire.  If fire is the picture of the judgment of the Law then what exactly does this fire do?  What principles can we find in Scripture concerning fire?  The answer to that will clue us in on the purpose of the Lake of Fire.

First off, God likens Himself to a “consuming fire” (Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29) and His love is likened unto a violent flame that nothing can quench (Song 8:6,7).  God is love and the nature of love is that it must possess its beloved – ENTIRELY!  Therefore God is described as, “a consuming fire, a jealous God.”  He is jealous b/c He is not satisfied with possessing only part of us, He wants all of us for Himself.  So He consumes every part of us that is selfish and self-centered and un-Christ-like in order to have us all to Himself.

His love burns up all that is not of Him and it is painful to be sure but it is for our good. Thus Jesus encourages us that,

“Those whom [He] loves [He] reproves and disciplines.” (Revelation 3:19)

The Apostle Paul declares the same saying,

“For those whom the Lord loves He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives. … For [our earthly parents] disciplined us for a short time as seemed best to them, but [our heavenly Father] disciplines us for our good, so that we may share His holiness.” (Hebrews 12:6, 10)

God uses discipline to put our rebellious and fallen nature to death in order to make us more holy.  His discipline makes us partakers of His holiness!  That is our calling, to be holy even as He is holy (1 Peter 1:15; Leviticus 11:45).  So God uses the fire of discipline to change us and make us like Himself.  Because God is just all of His discipline is based upon His Law; discipline is God applying His Law to our life.

Therefore the Psalmist declares that,

“You have tried us, O God; You have refined us as silver is refined…We went through fire, but You brought us out to rich fulfillment.”  (66:10-12)

And Job states that,

“When He has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.”  (23:10)

Isaiah also says,

“the Lord has washed away the filth of the daughters of Zion…by the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning.”  (Isaiah 4:4)

For,

All discipline for the moment seems not to be joyful, but sorrowful; yet to those who have been trained by it, afterwards it yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness.” (Hebrews 12:11)

Thus Peter encourages us saying,

“do not be surprised at the fiery ordeal among you, which comes upon you for your testing, as though some strange thing were happening to you…for it is time for judgment to begin with the house of God.” (1 Pt. 4:12,17)

For God says,

“[I] will be a refiner’s fire.  [I] will sit as a smelter and purifier of silver, and [I] will purify the sons of Levi and refine them like gold and silver.” (Malachi 3:3)

“I refined you, but not as silver, I tested you in the furnace of affliction.”  (Isaiah 48:10)

When silver is refined and purified, it is heated to a very high temperature whereby any impurities within the silver separate and float to the surface.  The refiner then scoops the impurities away leaving only the silver.  As the temperature is raised higher and higher more and more impurities begin to come to the surface.  Eventually all the impurities are exposed and subsequently removed.  What is interesting is that impurities cloud the reflectivity of silver, and in the old days the purifier knew the silver was pure when he could clearly see his face reflected in the silver!

All this is an earthly witness of God’s ways.  For God will turn up the heat in our lives in order to bring all of our faults and shortcomings to the surface.  But He does this in order to remove them, and when He has fully removed them…His image will be perfectly reflected in us!

And so it is for this reason that we are,

“…distressed by various trials, so that the proof of [our] faith…even though tested by fire, may result in praise, glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.” (1 Peter 1:6,7)

This is the nature of fire; it purifies us and removes our old nature, conforming us into His image.  This is the purpose of thebaptism of the Holy Spirit and fire” that Christ baptizes us with  (Matthew 3:11; Luke 3:16).  And that is the exact picture that the Lake of Fire presents, a baptism of fire.  The imagery is identical, they are both a fire in the form of water (a lake and baptism are both pictures of water).  It is also interesting to note that in the Law all things were cleansed (washed pure) by either water or fire (Numbers 31:23).  This is the spiritual picture being presented to us in earthly imagery – a purifying, cleansing fire that washes away our filth.  It is this picture the Psalmist references when he describes his own afflictions,

“We went through fire and through water, yet You brought us out into abundance.” (66:12)

God is this consuming fire, therefore it is no wonder that He brings us through the fire, for He desires to make us like Himself.  That is why Scripture declares that He,makes His ministers a flame of fire.”  (Hebrews 1:7; see also 2 Thessalonians 1:7)  The end goal of His refining fire is to make us like Himself.  We stand through the fire till it no longer hurts and everything that could be consumed is burned away and we conform to the very nature of God Himself and become a Divine and pure and holy fire ourselves.

This is why we are encouraged to,

“…exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope; and hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out within our hearts through the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” (Romans 5:3-5)

Fire, therefore, is Scripture’s emblem of the Law, which comes upon us in the form of trials and tribulations; which are ordained by God to refine us and purify us and make us more like Him.  Fire is discipline, a judgment designed to expose and eliminate the sinful nature within us, and it is always administered out of a heart of love.  Everything He does is out of His nature of love, even judgment.  Therefore it is for our good – to conform us unto His image!

We will continue to look in detail at fire as a future judgment in the next blog and see that it is this process by which God “makes all things new.”

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#30 – Principles of Judgment – Part 1

Judgment.  It doesn’t sound good, it never sounds good.  When Christians think of judgment Hell is usually what comes to mind.  We usually connect it to the lost who have rejected Christ (or at least never put their faith in Him).  They have not possessed that special grace our Lord extended to us when He died on the cross for our sins, grace that moves us out from being under the condemnation of the law.

But Judgment is a large topic and is the special focus of this series of blogs.  So we are going to begin to look at it in more detail.  We have already seen some foundational things that are necessary to begin understanding God’s judgment – the 3 stages of salvation and a look at the righteousness (holiness) of God.  Its now time to begin looking at Judgment.

Judgment Begins With God’s People

To begin, where does Scripture say Judgment begins?  It might surprise you!  Peter says that judgment must begin with the house of the Lord!  As we noticed in the blog on God’s Righteousness, this is b/c a breach of love demands judgment in order to be restored to the purity of union it had before the breach.  And though God loves the whole world His elect enjoy a far more special and intimate love with God than the rest.  Thus our rebellious ways and our failures demand judgment.  That is why God says,

Those whom the Lord loves, He disciplines, and He scourges every son whom He receives.” (Hebrews 12:5,6; Proverbs 3:12)

and,

Those whom I love, I reprove and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (Revelation 3:19)

We ought not to think that b/c we are saved and have communion with God that we are excluded from judgment.  On the contrary, b/c of our close proximity to God we are judged all the more for our disobedience.

You only have I chosen among all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)

This judgment of God’s chosen people can further be seen all through Scripture in every instance that God’s people forsook Him and followed after the idols of their hearts (we also have idols; success, possessions, relationships, self, etc…).  Each time they failed God would judge them with disasters, plagues or captivity, until they repented and returned to Him with their whole heart.

God’s people have a high calling – to demonstrate to the lost the nature and character of God.  Thus the shortcomings of any saint demands discipline in order to prevent them from being an evil witness of God.  And God accomplishes this through making us take up our cross daily in order to truly follow Him (Luke 9:23).  Suffering/discipline is part of God’s process of growing us up, maturing us into His image.

“…[do not] be disturbed by these afflictions; for you yourselves know that we have been destined for this.”  (2 Thessalonians 3:1-3)

“For to you it has been granted for Christ’s sake, not only to believe in Him, but also to suffer for His sake,” (Philippians 1:29)

And so Paul says,

“For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until He comes. Therefore whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner, shall be guilty of the body and the blood of the Lord.  But a man must examine himself, and in so doing he is to eat of the bread and drink of the cup.  For he who eats and drinks, eats and drinks judgment to himself if he does not judge the body rightly.  For this reason many among you are weak and sick, and a number sleep. But if we judged ourselves rightly, we would not be judged.  But when we are judged, we are disciplined by the Lord so that we will not be condemned along with the world.” (1 Corinthians 11:26-32)

Lets take a minute to ponder that section of verses.  While it is not my intention to expound on the great mystery that communion is (in a word it is the fellowship of His sufferings), I would like to take note of some aspects of communion that apply to the topic at hand.

Firstly, communion “proclaims the Lord’s death, until He comes.”  This is to say that when Christ returns and raises His elect from the dead they will no longer need to proclaim His death, b/c they will now be proclaiming His life.  So how do we proclaim His death?  By following His example of crucifying the flesh (see Romans 8:13; Galatians 5:24; Colossians 3:1-51 and Peter 2:21).  We must die to our self and in so doing we are seen to be imitators of Christ.  Communion symbolizes this b/c it is a partaking of His body – which was broken for us – and His blood – which was poured out for us (1 Corinthians 10:16,17; Luke 22:19).  We are now that body which must be broken (Romans 12:4; 1 Corinthians 12:12-20; Ephesians 2:16, 4:4; Colossians 3:15, etc…) and it is our blood (life) that now must be poured out (Philippians 2:17; 2 Timothy 4:6).  This is the fellowship of His sufferings that Paul spoke about (Philippians 3:7-11).

Secondly, we must “examine” ourselves.  That is why we must not fear the exposure of those areas of our lives that are selfish and carnal.  Paul said elsewhere that we must test (or examine) ourselves to see whether we are truly in the faith – 2 Corinthians 13:5.  He employs the same Greek word in both cases.  This examination, this testing is to prove what areas are of Christ’s character and what are not.  And in so doing we are to then “judge the body,” that is judge our fleshly nature.  In doing so we will avoid being judged by God against our will.  For Paul says, “if we judged ourselves we would not be judged by God.”

And lastly, if we judge ourselves “we will not be condemned along with the world.”  That Greek word translated “along with” means “together with” or “to accompany.”  In other words it does not mean that we will avoid condemnation if we judge ourselves now, it means that we will avoid receiving our judgment at the same time that the unbelieving world receives their judgment (see also Luke 12:46 for the same principle).  This will be more clearly seen when we look at the Lake of Fire and the 2 resurrections.  To say it another way, we wont receive the humiliation of our corrective judgment at the same time that the unbelieving rebellious world receives their corrective judgment – IF we endure it now.  We have the chance to grow up first through discipline.  To abort such discipline now will be to prove ourselves no more mature than the unbelieving, rebellious world.

There must be judgment, whether we are of God’s household or not.  Those who put themselves in the position of being judged, of having their sinful nature exposed and crucified, will endure it humbly and with grace.  Those who refuse to accept that they must be judged will have to endure their judgment with angst and hostility.  The latter will be suffering against their will, they will therefore have the added horror of that pain being an inescapable and unrelenting violation of their will and desire.  Their will being overridden like this will produce the added discomfort of confusion, such people will be unable to understand why they are suffering such a hard (and seemingly harsh) judgment.

Those who understand the cross and that judgment IS necessary will be able to accept and receive its violence and fire with much more tolerance and grace.  They will know that it is for their good.  There will be love seen in it.  Those who do not – will feel it is something hostile towards them (and indeed it is, hostile towards our selfish nature/flesh that is).  They will have a much more difficult time enduring it than those who understand the purpose and necessity of the cross.

This makes Peter’s statement make much more sense when he says,

“For it is time for judgment to begin with the household of God; and if it begins with us first, what will be the outcome for those who do not obey the gospel of God?” (1 Peter 4:17)

Thus, the first thing we ought to understand is that Judgment begins with God’s people.

Judgment Corrects

The second thing we should know is that Judgment is corrective not punitive – this will become much clearer as we look at the various descriptions of judgment in Scripture in the next few blogs.  Judgment corrects; God’s heart is to restore the sinner, not damn them.  He restores through corrective discipline which we understand as judgment.  Scripture confirms this many times,

You have appointed them for judgment, You have marked them for correction.” (Habakkuk 1:12)

“When the earth experiences Your judgments, the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.” (Isaiah 26:9)

It was good that I was afflicted, that I might learn Your statutes.” (Psalm 119:71)

“Your judgments are right…in faithfulness you have afflicted me.” (Psalm 119:75)

Before I was afflicted I went astray, but now I keep Your word.” (Psalm 119:67)

Happy is the man whom God corrects, therefore do not despise the chastening of the Almighty.  For He bruises but He binds up, He wounds but His hands make whole.” (Job 5:17-18)

Judgment produces repentance, it makes us painfully aware of our faults and failures.  Many times we become confused when we suffer trials and afflictions, we cannot understand why this is happening to us.  But when our eyes are opened to see where we were wrong and that God was bringing discipline to correct us and to train us – we repent.  When you train up a child to be obedient and good, you must teach them through discipline (spanking).  Once they begin to understand the purpose of their discipline they stop their foolishness/disobedience.   In effect discipline causes children to repent.

Repentance by the way doesn’t mean to say your sorry, it means to turn around 180 degrees.  So that where you were going one way before, now you are going the opposite way.  When we repent we are turning away from that which we were doing (or the way we were going) and we turn our backs to it and walk towards what is right.

When a child learns through discipline to stop being naughty, they in effect are displaying true repentance.  We too learn correction and repent (turn around) through discipline/judgment.  And though it seems harsh and even opposed to grace (or our flawed idea of grace as a free ticket out of punishment), it is actually “God’s kindness (grace) that leads us to repentance.” (Romans 2:4)

True Justice Demands a Finite Judgment

The third thing we ought to discern about judgment is that it has a limit.  God demanded a limit on every punishment prescribed for sin in the Law.  I believe that the “Spirit of the Law” as Paul referenced reveals that true justice for a crime has a limit.  Even in our horrifyingly perverted justice system, if someone were to be given a life sentence, or worse yet a death sentence, for stealing a cell phone – we would consider that unjust.  To punish someone severely for such a minor offense is not true justice.  So it is with God’s Law.

True Justice Demands Restoration of both the Victim and the Criminal.

The fourth thing we desperately need to learn is that true justice restores the victim and the criminal.  This is a topic far too broad for me to detail in full, but suffice it to say that the judgments in the Law for each transgression had a unique process by which the transgressor was reformed.  The only example I am going to highlight is the law concerning theft.  (There are a multitude of other examples in the Law, I simply do not have the time or space to teach this.  But anyone who is willing to brave the books of Exodus through Deuteronomy will be able to discover them easy enough.)

The Law prescribes that a thief had to pay double what he stole.  Most likely he stole b/c he couldn’t afford the item himself, so there was no way he could pay back double.  And so the Law prescribed that a man who could not pay double was to be sold for his transgression in order to pay it off.  But this wasn’t permanent, the Law of the Jubilee demanded that he would only be able to work until the Jubilee set him free from all his debts (we will look at the prophetic significance of that in the next series).  What happened was a criminal would be sold into servitude to whoever had the most generous bid.  So say someone said, “I will pay off his double debt and he only has to work for me for two years.”  This not only restored the victim, but it also taught the thief a trade by which to make an honest living so he could afford the things that before he would have had to steal. The same principle is found in all the rest of the laws and their penalties.

Therefore it is clear to me that the Spirit of the Law is concerned not only for the victim but also the sinner.  And I do not think this is overstepping what we know of God’s heart towards the lost and depraved.  And if every sin is to be judged by God’s Law, God’s standard, then looking at the other principles of Judgment we have looked at I am convinced that the idea of sending a sinner away to be tormented for eternity is NOT true justice.  Rather it is a monstrous perversion of not only God’s heart, but His Law, which is what all true justice and judgment are based upon.   The idea of endless hell will provide neither restoration of the victim nor the sinner.

Justice is impartial and unbiased, it attributes equal value to all people.  The reason forgiveness is such an important issue with God is b/c according to His Law the criminal will eventually be rehabilitated and the victim will cross paths with him again.  In such a case forgiveness is crucial.

When I see people punished for certain mistakes, I have a lot compassion for them especially if they feel remorse for their mistake.  I believe that true discipline only works if the one being punished is comforted after said punishment.  Otherwise it just breeds resentment.  To comfort after discipline establishes that it came from a heart of love and not hatred.  And I know that the compassion in my heart is a million times smaller than the compassion in God’s heart.  Perhaps this is why God reminds us in the Law that the sinner should still be treated with dignity.

He may beat him forty times but no more, so that he does not beat him with many more stripes than these and your brother is not degraded in your eyes. (Deuteronomy 25:3)

For those with ears to hear the Spirit of the Law declares that endless punishment is anything but just.

Mercy Triumphs Over Judgment

The last thing I want us to walk away with concerning God’s judgment, is that even though,

“Judgment will be merciless to those who show no mercy; mercy triumphs over judgment.” (James 2:13).

God is a God of love and grace, and though He judges, He will not judge forever, and His judgment is to correct us from a heart of love.  So that no matter how severe the judgment is, He will eventually have mercy on the suffering soul.  And compared to His mercy, His wrath will be but a moment.

“His wrath is but a moment, but His mercy endures forever.” (Psalm 30:5)

He cannot deny His nature and He is the all wise Father; He knows what judgments will be most effective in turning His wayward children’s hearts back to Him.  Judgment is and always will be His tool for doing so.

Conclusion

I hope that what we have looked at so far gives you a much clearer idea that judgment will not be endless (even in the afterlife), but will be used to restore the sinner back to God. We will look at more principles concerning Judgment (Part 2) at the end of this series, but before we do there are a few items we must look at first.  If God’s Word truly is perfect, and I believe it is, then this concept should be confirmed by the imagery and language used to describe judgment in the after life – and that is exactly what we will find. In the next blog we will look at “The Lake of Fire,” the one actual description of what we could call Hell.

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#29 – The Righteousness of God

If we are going to attempt to discover the true nature of judgment (as I hope to do with this series), we must first grasp the reason why there must be judgment in the first place.  On top of this we must understand that all judgment is based upon God’s Character; it is an outworking of who He is.  His Character, who He is in His being, is namely – Love and Righteousness.  To put it another way, God is Love and God is Holy; and everything He does is an extension of BOTH of these qualities.

Righteousness AND Love

Most believers view God’s judgments as an extension of His holiness and righteousness.  God is holy therefore He must judge sin.  I absolutely agree with this.  However, it is also an extension of His Love.  Most people are either ignorant (unaware) of this and overlook it, or they deny it.  Therefore, if we want to rightly discern the purpose of judgment we must balance any view of His judgments with both righteousness and love.   It is not my intention to scope out the vast field of God’s love, I believe that there is already much great literature on this subject already, and therefore any attempt on my part would be unnecessary.  On top of this I believe most Christians have at least an elementary grasp of God’s infinite unending unchanging unconditional love.  It is probably the most popular concept in Christendom.  Although I must admit there is a deficit to our grasp of His love; for if we truly grasped how great and magnificent His love was, we would positively retch at the idea of such a Lover allowing an endless hell.

Anyways, His great love will not be a subject I am going to tackle.  But I do want us to remember that everything He does is from a heart of Love: even judgment.  The purpose of this blog will be to focus specifically on His Righteousness; while also showing how that righteousness is inseparable from His love.

Righteousness

God’s judgments being an extension of His righteousness is widely accepted; unfortunately most of us do not understand the true nature of His righteousness.  So let us take a minute to explore what true righteousness implies.

It is safe to say that all judgment is due to (the consequence of) sin; without sin there would be no need for judgment.  And sin is defined by the Law for without Law there is no definition of right or wrong. Scripture says this plainly,  “I would not have come to know sin except through the Law…for apart from the Law sin is dead.” (Romans 7:7,8)  And, “sin is a transgression of the Law.” (1 John 3:4)

The Law is righteous and holy,” (Romans 7:12) b/c it is based upon God’s Righteousness.  Righteousness is the standard to which we are all called; and falling short of that standard is sin; which incurs judgment.  God is unconditional love and the perfect union we have with Him is broken when there is sin.  All sin is a breach of love and trust; and true love cannot turn a blind eye to such a violation.   To do so would be to approve the evil and accept the breach, but love seeks union and there can be no union where sin causes separation.

Therefore though God is unconditional love, that love demands righteousness.  For God not only loves us despite our wretchedness, but He desires that we would partake of the fullness of His love, which necessarily requires unity (and thus righteousness in order to be in perfect union with Him to enjoy the fulness of His love).

Thus all unrighteousness must be condemned. True love requires such.  But such condemnation/ judgment grieves Him as it would any good Father.  Our sin grieves Him b/c He loves us and knows the pain that judgment brings and the sorrow that we must endure b/c of it.

I am utterly indebted to Andrew Jukes and his book The Names of God for this thought and I feel he is far more capable of expressing the truth of this matter than myself.  So I want to quote him at length to complete this picture.  He is sharing about how the Name Jehovah (Yahweh) reveals God’s Righteousness.

And yet with Israel, even as in Eden, and with the world before the Flood, while He most inflexibly inflicts judgment, we are shewn again and again, what so few think of, that sin grieves and wounds “Jehovah,” and that He also suffers, if His people are disobedient. He Himself is pained by the destructions which sin must bring with it. Unless we see this, we do not know “Jehovah.” But here, as throughout the whole record of “Jehovah,” the testimony is most clear. Again and again, when Israel sinned, “the anger of Jehovah was kindled against His people, and Jehovah sold them into the hands of their enemies;” but it is not Israel only that is “sore distressed;” for of “Jehovah” also it is written, “And His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel” (Judges 10:6,7,9,16). So, again the Prophet declares, “Behold, I am pressed under you, as a cart is pressed that is full of sheaves” (Amos 2:13); that is, He is pressed and burdened, and goes groaning. So again the Psalmist says, “Forty years long was I grieved with this generation in the wilderness” (Psalm 95:10). “In all their afflictions He was afflicted” (Isa. 63:9). Who can measure the anguish of His words:—”How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? how shall I deliver thee, Israel? how shall I make thee as Admah? how shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is turned within me, my repentings are kindled together” (Hos. 11:8).
We are slow to see all this. And yet if Jesus Christ really reveals “Jehovah:” if He is indeed “the brightness of His glory, and the express image of His person” (Hebrews 1:3): if He is, as the Apostle says, “the image of the invisible God” (Colossians 1:15): then His cross and sufferings shew, not only that sin brings death and sorrow upon men, but (if we may say it) sorrow and trouble also on “Jehovah.” Christ’s cross is the witness of “Jehovah’s” cross, though by His cross He conquers all. “Surely He hath borne our griefs” (Isaiah 53:4). Was it no grief to Him that His people rejected Him? “When He was come near and beheld the city, He wept over it” (Luke 19:41). Was He not crossed? He makes a feast, and none will come but those who are compelled. He says, “Come, for all things are now ready; and they all with one consent began to make excuse” (Matthew 22:4,5; Luke 14:16-18). Can we misunderstand His oft repeated words:—”How often would I have gathered you, and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37; Luke 13:34)? His complaint is, “All the day long have I stretched forth my hands to a disobedient and gainsaying people” (Isaiah 65:2; Romans 10:21). For a time at least His will is crossed. Oh wonder of all wonders! “Jehovah” suffers as only righteous Love can suffer.
But there is more even than this in the revelation of “Jehovah,” though the crowning glory of the revelation is only yet dimly seen by many of His people.  Not only is He the God who requires righteousness; not only is He Himself affected by the destructions which sin has brought upon His creature; but still more, blessed be His name, His righteousness is not fully declared until He makes His creatures righteous with His own righteousness. What we first see in Him is law, and that, because He is righteous, He must condemn evil. But we should greatly err if we therefore concluded that this could be the end, for the new covenant of grace is His also (Jeremiah 31:31-34; Hebrews 8:8-12). It is “Jehovah” who says, “This is the covenant that I will make after those days,”—(that is after law has done its work of condemnation,)—”I will put my law into their mind, and will write it in their hearts, and I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people.” Righteousness is not complete, if it only judges and condemns; for the devil also can condemn. The highest righteousness, while it judges sin, can never rest until it also makes the sinner righteous. The saints have always felt this, and that God’s righteousness is for them, not against them; saying, “I know, O Jehovah, that thy judgments are right, and that in very faithfulness thou hast afflicted me” (Psalm 119:75). “Quicken me, O Jehovah, for thy name’s sake: for thy righteousness sake bring my soul out of trouble” (Psalm 143:11). “In thy name shall thy people rejoice all the day, and in thy righteousness shall they be exalted” (Psalm 89:15,16). Because He is righteous, evil must be judged: the evil-doer must be punished. But the evil being thus judged, and the sinner condemned, the righteous God is no less righteous,—rather He is yet more righteous,—in making the judged creature a “partaker of His holiness” (Hebrews 12:10)…Therefore he says again, that our “being made righteous freely by His grace” is “to declare God’s righteousness” (Romans 3:24,25)…For “Jehovah” is not content to be righteous Himself. Unlike the Pharisee, who thanks God that “he is not as other men” (Luke 18:11), “Jehovah” will have the creature made like Himself, by coming into its place, and making it sharer in His own righteousness. In a word, “He is just, and (therefore) the justifier” (Romans 3:26). “He leadeth me in paths of righteousness for His name’s sake” (Psalm 23:3). For to sum up all, as the Prophet says, “This is the name whereby He shall be called, The Lord, that is, Jehovah, our righteousness” (Jeremiah 23:6). This, and nothing less, is “the end of the Lord” (James 5:11). He condemns to justify; He kills to make alive; that is to make the creature righteous as He is righteous. (Pgs. 53-55)

Andrew Jukes continues his thoughts about Yahweh and His Righteousness later on in the book when He shows how Christ and His Church manifest the name of Yahweh.

Some of His elect may think, that, because they are elect, He will not judge them.  But because He is the Truth, He must judge all wrong, and judge even more in those who know and are near Him, than in those who know Him not.  For He reveals Him who said of old, “You only have I known of all the families of the earth: therefore will I punish you for your iniquities.” (Amos 3:2)  He is indeed perfect love to those, who by confession shew that, though ruined, they are true; but He is no less unswerving truth and justice to such as would appear what they are not, and cover sin by a cloak of religiousness.  Need I give examples from His words to Pharisees and Scribes (Matthew 23:13-33), and still more to the Churches, to whom He says, “I will give to every one of you according to your works”? (Revelation 2:23)  To all He is the faithful and true witness, whose eyes are as a flame of fire, and out of whose mouth goeth the sharp two edged sword, to smite the nations. (Revelation 2:11,12,18, 3:14, 19:15)   And yet, with all this, His people’s sin and judgment pain Him.  Like “Jehovah,” He suffers with, and grieves for, them. Again and again “He sighed,” (Mark 7:34, 8:12) and “groaned in spirit,” (John 11:33,38) and “wept over jerusalem, saying If thou hadst known, in this thy day, the things which belong to thy peace;” (Luke 19:41,42) and again, “How often would I have gathered you, but ye would not.” (Matthew 23:37) Still more did He suffer, when “He himself bare our sins in His own body on the tree,” (1 Peter 2:24) thus making atonement for sinners by giving Himself to be their righteousness.  In all such acts, He was revealing “Jehovah,” who, if there is evil, must judge and take it away, even if He Himself is pained and suffers through the judgment.  (pgs 203-4)

This is the truest and highest standard of righteous judgment – that it suffers with those being judged and ultimately makes the sinner righteous with His own righteousness.  This is b/c true righteousness, God’s Righteous, cannot be separated from His Love.  He loves the sinner, and therefore must judge his sin, but His judgment restores the sinner back into full communion with Him and makes him righteous as He is righteous.

I will leave you with that.  I know it is not some grand exposition on the heights and depths of God’s Righteousness, but it gives us what we need to know concerning its relationship to Judgment.  God’s righteousness does not simply condemn sin (as Andrew Jukes pointed out, even the Devil can do that) it also enters into the condemnation and lifts the sinner up into His own righteousness.

The following blogs in this series will bring great clarity concerning the purpose of Judgment. You will find how every instance and every description by which judgment or future judgment is addressed reveals that God will restore the sinner.  Judgment corrects and refines, it does not abandon.  The next blog will show how true justice is defined by God’s Law, and that His Laws establish judgments that fit the crime and that no crime deserves a never ending punishment.

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#28 – The Three Stages of Salvation

Before we begin any sort of inquiry into the nature and process of judgment in the afterlife, there are a few things that we need to understand.  Things that, without which, will cause a bit of confusion.  So even though this present blog wont necessarily be addressing judgment in the afterlife, it will set the stage for it.

That being said, we must understand firstly that the judgment of all men will take place in the next life – obviously that is why we call it the “afterlife.”  That means that those who endure such judgment have already lived on earth, died and are being raised back to life in order to undergo judgment.

Resurrection of the Wicked

B/c of our misunderstanding of hell, we assume that as soon as an unbelieving person dies they go straight to hell.  But we have already looked at what happens when we die in the previous series (see the blogs on Sheol and Hades here).  B/c of this misunderstanding we tend to forget that the unbelievers are also raised from the dead.  Jesus Himself declared this when He said,

“an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth;  those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28,29)

Paul and Daniel also mention this,

“having a hope in God…that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”  (Acts 24:15)

“Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting (olam; age-long) life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting (olam; age-long) contempt.” (Daniel 12:2)

We overlook this fact b/c it doesn’t make logical sense in the context of the modern view of hell.  The idea that a soul should suffer in hell after death but then at some point they are taken out of it given a new body and then once again thrown back into hell seems ridiculous.  And for good reason.

First of all, we need to realize that the judgment in the afterlife begins after the resurrection of the wicked.  You can find the whole scene in Revelation 20 where it deals with both the 1st and 2nd resurrections.  The 2nd resurrection takes place 1000 years after the 1st resurrection (which exclusively raised followers of Christ).  After this 2nd resurrection, the dead are judged according to their deeds in life.  This is the Great White Throne Judgment that both Daniel and John describe.  Those who are judged as wicked are then thrown into the Lake of Fire.

Every Tongue Will Confess Jesus Christ as Lord

But here is where we need to understand something, which happens to be the whole purpose of this specific blog: – namely that it is at the Great White Throne Judgment that all men will be saved.  For when all the dead are raised (both good and bad) the Scriptures will be fulfilled that say,

Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; for I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, the word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, that to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance.” (Isaiah 45:22,23)

“God  highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus ‘every knee will bow,’ of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and that every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.”  (Philippians 2:9-11)

You have probably heard this statement many times, probably with an image of rebellious people spitting the words out in spite, being forced to bow and finally admit that God is God – before being cast away forever.  Or perhaps you’ve imagined something more along the lines of these words being spoken by people who now know the truth and are full of regret, but its far too late for them.  Their endless fate has been sealed, so they utter the words in stunned shock and resignation as they are carted off to their unending doom.

However, that is not the picture being painted here.  They are not just finally admitting that God exists, they are uttering the words of salvation.  For,

“…if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.”  (Romans 10:9,10)

and couple verses later Paul concludes his remarks on salvation saying,

“…the same Lord is Lord of  all, abounding in riches for all who call on Him; for whoever will call on the name of the Lord will be saved.”  (Romans 10:13)

You see, confessing Jesus Christ as Lord produces salvation, no matter when and no matter what kind of person you were.   This is b/c,

“no one can say, ‘Jesus is  Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” (1 Corinthians 12:3)

So at the Great White Throne Judgment, when every knee bows and every tongue confesses that Jesus Christ is Lord, they are all saved and baptized into His Spirit.

This is the background to the judgment of the Lake of Fire.  This is crucial to understanding what the Lake of Fire is and why it is necessary.

3 Stages of Salvation

In conjunction with that, we must also understand the Salvation process.  Salvation is not what many think it is.  Most have fallen prey to the assumption that salvation means to be rescued from an afterlife spent in the fires of hell.  Or to put it positively – a ticket to heaven.  But those who wrote the New Testament understood it to mean SO much more than that.

What most don’t know…is that salvation is a 3 stage process, which is accomplished through 2 works of Christ.  I know that might sound confusing, but just bear with me a moment.

The 2 works of Christ are His Death and His Life.  The fulfillment of both the Old and the New Covenant.  Law and Grace.  He accomplished a death work on the Cross, and He will accomplish a life work at His Return (with the Resurrection from the dead).  For though He rose from the dead Himself, He has yet to accomplish this same life work in us (for we are still mortal and are going to die).   It’s also interesting to notice how the New Testament always refers to the living half of Christ’s Work as a promise to be fulfilled sometime in the future.  For instance,

“If we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him.” (Romans 6:8)

“It is a trustworthy statement: for if we died with Him, we will also live with Him;”  (2 Timothy 2:11).

Paul states the first as a fact, and the second as a hope.  For more verses just like these; see Romans 5:9,10, 6:5; 2 Corinthians 4:10,11; 2 Tim. 2:11; 1 John 2:25, etc….

So these 2 works of Christ accomplish for us our entire salvation.  But that salvation is worked out within us in 3 stages.  For like God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and Creation (Time, Space, Matter) we are also a triune being – we have a spirit, soul and body.  And each aspect of our being needs to be saved.   That is why Paul speaks of a salvation of our entire being.

“Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you entirely; and may your spirit and soul and body be preserved complete,” (1 Thessalonians 5:23)

This is what Paul means when he declares elsewhere,

“Therefore [Christ] is able to save to the uttermost.”  (Hebrews 7:25)

Corresponding to this, the Bible refers to being “saved” in both past, present and future tenses.

Past tense:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God;” (Ephesians 2:8)

“For in hope we have been saved, but hope that is seen is not hope; for who hopes for what he already sees?”  (Romans 8:24)

See also 2 Timothy 1:9 and Titus 3:5

Present Tense:

“For the word of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:18)

“For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing;” (2 Corinthians 2:15)

Future Tense:

“But the one who endures to the end, he will be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)

“Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” (Romans 5:9)

“If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.” (1 Corinthians 3:15)

“But since we are of the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a  helmet, the hope of salvation.” (1 Thessalonians 5:8)

“[we] are  protected by the power of God through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.” (1 Peter 1:5)

“For our citizenship is in heaven, from which also we eagerly wait for a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ;” (Philippians 3:20)

For now salvation is nearer to us than when we first believed.” (Romans 13:11)

These 3 salvations correspond to the spirit, soul and body.  Our SPIRIT is saved when we believe in Jesus Christ and confess Him as Lord (see Romans 10:9).  This is by grace through faith and not by works.  This is called “Justification” which is the Greek word that is also translated into “made righteous” or “righteousness.”  We are justified/made righteous by faith.  It is a legal standing, not an actual state of being.  (I realize this is all very crude, volumes could be written on this aspect alone, but that is not our purpose.)

Next we begin the process whereby our SOUL is saved, which is a present work.  This will span our entire earthly life.  This is called “Sanctification” and it is also entirely by grace, by the work of the Holy Spirit within us.

“But we should always give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God has chosen you from the beginning for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit.” (2 Thessalonians 2:13).

This sanctification is through our baptism with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Luke 3:16).  It is the Spirit who refines us and purifies us in the fires of affliction, trials and tribulations.  It is the Spirit who writes the law upon our hearts. God’s law opposes our selfish nature and thus it feels like a fire as it consumes our flesh.  For God Himself is a consuming fire (Deuteronomy 4:24; Hebrews 12:29), and His law and His word are both described as a fire (Deuteronomy 33:2; Jeremiah 23:29).

When I was disciplined as a child my behind would always feel like fire after a spanking!  This is what discipline feels like and it is the process by which we are sanctified, whereby the old man is put to death and the new man grows more alive (2 Corinthians 4:16).  For,

“Foolishness (rebellious/sinful nature) is bound up in the heart of a child, but the rod of discipline drives it far from him.” (Proverbs 22:15)

But I am getting ahead of myself here.  We will look in detail at the refining process in a later blog.

And lastly our BODY will be saved in the future where Christ raises us from the dead into a state of incorruption; or immortality,

“Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. … For this perishable must put on the imperishable, and this mortal must put on immortality.  But when this perishable will have put on the imperishable, and this mortal will have put on immortality, then will come about the saying that is written, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory.’”  (1 Corinthians 15:50,53,54)

In the future we will receive transfigured bodies that will never die.  This is called glorification.  When our bodies shine forth the glory of God, which is the image of Christ.

“who will  transform the body of our humble state into conformity with  the body of His glory, by the exertion of the power that He has even to  subject all things to Himself.”  (Philippians 3:21)

“when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed — for our  testimony to you was believed.” (2 Thessalonians 1:10)

“The Spirit Himself testifies with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children,  heirs also, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,  if indeed we suffer with Him so that we may also be glorified with Him.” (Romans 8:16,17)

“and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified.” (Romans 8:30)

It is also referred to as the redemption of the body.

“And not only this, but also we ourselves, having the first fruits of the Spirit, even we ourselves groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body.” (Romans 8:23)

“But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, and righteousness (salvation of spirit) and sanctification (salvation of soul), and redemption (salvation of body),” (1 Corinthians 1:30)

Therefore, there is no theological inconsistency when the Scriptures speaks of all men being saved yet also enduring judgment (1 Corinthians 3:15 has both in one verse).  For they will all be saved in their spirits when “every knee bows and every tongue confesses Jesus Christ as Lord.”  But then they begin their process of sanctification by the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire – the Lake of fire (a.k.a – hell).  This will ultimately end with their restoration and the transfiguration of their bodies, whereby they reflect the glory of God in the image of Christ.

This is all necessary to understand if we are to truly understand the judgment process in the next life.  For it is the sanctification process for all those who did not undergo it in this life.  That sanctification process is what we will be looking at.  It is the Lake of Fire where all who were wicked in this life will be disciplined in the next life.   But first we must have a proper understanding of God’s Righteousness, which is the basis of all Judgment/Justice.  And that will be the subject of the next blog.  🙂

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#27 – Judgment Intro

Having eliminated all the mistaken texts regarding Hell in Scripture in the last series, we can now take a honest look at what Judgment in the afterlife truly is (as it is revealed in Scripture).  This series will focus entirely upon that theme – Judgment.

Judgment is never fun, but it is necessary.  It teaches us righteousness.  “For when the earth experiences Your judgments the inhabitants of the world learn righteousness.”  (Isaiah 26:9)  God’s judgment leads us to a better place.  It’s a 2-step process, first destruction and then renewal.

God’s way is always to tear down the old in order to build up the new.  As we will see in this series especially, He destroys the old man (flesh) within us in order to renew the new man (Christ in us).  For, “He has torn us but He will heal us, He has wounded us but He will bandage us.”  (Hosea 6:1)  For “He kills and makes alive.” (1 Samuel 2:6)

And this is what we have been doing with the past 2 series of blogs; we have been tearing down in order that we may lay a firm foundation and build on it.  As God told Jeremiah,

“See, I have appointed you this day over the nations and over the kingdoms, to pluck up and to break down, to destroy and to overthrow, to build and to plant.”  (Jeremiah 1:10)

We have effectively torn down most (but not all) of the misconceptions of Scripture concerning endless torment, it is now time to start building up a proper understanding of judgment in the next life.  Which is good, b/c I am sure anyone who has read these blogs so far might be starting to wonder if I am arguing against there being any kind of future judgment at all.  There are certainly a fair amount of people who no longer believe in hell, but those who believe in Universal Reconciliation are NOT among them.  There IS a hell, and it is painful, but it is not endless; and its purpose is to correct, not to punish for the sake of punishment.  It truly is for the good of those who are judged.

And we truly need to discover this, for we cannot grow up until we understand and agree that discipline is for our good, especially since it comes from the hand of One who is the embodiment of Love.  So it is good that we seek to understand judgment, b/c Scripture declares that one of the elementary and foundational teachings that we must know in order to “press on to maturity” is – “aionian judgment.”  (Hebrews 6:1,2)  Or as I like to call it, ‘judgment in The Age.’  (See the 1st series for why aionian should be translated “The Age”)

http://makepeacewithjesus.org/category/word-studies/eternal

This series will be much more fascinating than the previous ones, for the simple reason that it won’t be correcting misconceptions, but revealing what Scripture has to say regarding various topics of future judgment.  Discovering what Scripture has to say on certain issues is always intriguing, and future judgment is even more fascinating because so few have sought to study it.  This is probably due to the fact that when people believe future judgment is one of endless torments the subject matter is too heavy and too dark to pursue.  So the majority remain ignorant concerning what Scripture has to say about this.

But if you have received anything I have written about so far, like me, you are beginning to be liberated from such darkness and can now proceed knowing that what we will be looking into is bright and full of hope!

We will certainly be dealing with things that will seem heavy (the cross and death to self), but ultimately it is for our good.  I often make the humerus point that, ‘you cant be raised from the dead if you haven’t died!’  And the glory that awaits us in the Resurrection is what we truly long for.

Therefore in this series, we will investigate what Scripture has to say about: the Righteousness of God (or the fact that He is holy and therefore must punish sin); Judgment and Justice; the Lake of Fire; Death; Destruction; Wrath; and a couple other related issues.  But before we get into that, we will take a quick look at the Stages of Salvation, b/c it is necessary if we want to understand why we must undergo judgment.  I think you will be surprised at what Scripture so clearly teaches about these concepts.  Its wonderful; its full of hope; it truly is – Good News!

God bless you as you read,

Luke Kessler

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#26 – A Brief History of Hell

If you have, perchance, managed to suffer through all the blogs in this series on hell, then I would like to applaud you; for you must have an incredibly high tolerance for pain! 😉  But in all seriousness, if you have read each blog and find the evidence compelling then you must be wondering how our modern idea of hell became part of accepted Church Doctrine?

Its no debate that our concept of hell has changed since the early days of the Church.  One of the first professions that the Early Church formulated, the Nicene Creed, declares, amongst other things, that, “Jesus descended into Hell…  But its obvious to any Christian that He did not descend into a place of future woe and torment!?  That begs the question, what exactly was their concept of hell?

This blog will answer those two questions,

“How did the Church incorporate the concept of endless torment as hell?”

And

“What exactly was the original concept of hell within the Church?”

The answers that I present, however, are going to be my perspective as I understand it.   I’m not going to give a history of hell as it evolved amongst the heathen nations (except for a few quick comments) but strictly  as it concerns God’s peculiar people.

One day I hope to write a well documented article on the history of hell.  As of right now, however, I do not have the adequate resources to do so with any kind of academic integrity.  What I present here I want to label strictly as “my opinion” simply b/c I will not be providing sources to prove what I share (although I have no doubt concerning its veracity).  I say this b/c I do not expect anyone to believe something simply b/c I say it.   I, therefore, feel compelled to offer this disclaimer.  It will be up to you if you want to cross check my facts to see if these things actually are true.

Egyptian Book of the Dead

So to begin, the concept of endless torment for the wicked is first recorded in the Egyptian Book of the Dead.  This book deals with many aspects that the Egyptians believed concerning death and the afterlife.  It is interesting to note that Moses was “educated in all the learning of the Egyptians;” (Acts 7:22) he therefore was most assuredly aware of such a doctrine.  Yet he remained conspicuously silent about it throughout the whole presentation of the Law and all its punishments for sin and the wicked.

This concept of endless torment for the wicked was also embraced by followers of Zoroastrianism which was also a major religion during those times.

The nation of Judah, however, firmly held to the rather obscure and mysterious concept of Sheol – believing that when a person died their soul went to sleep until sometime in the future where there would be a great resurrection of both the good and the bad (see my 2 part blog on Sheol).  This changed somewhat during the Inter-Testamental period, due in large part to the Jew’s exposure to Babylonian beliefs during their 70 + years of captivity there.  It was also during this time when the oral teachings  of well renown Rabbis began to be compiled into what was called the Talmud.  Their commentaries on the Law and Prophets contain numerous references to a place and period of judgment for the wicked in the next life/age.  However, almost none agreed on its duration, many, having been influenced by the doctrines of Babylon, claimed it would be endless; while many others limited judgment to a short period of time (varying in range from 7 days to 12 months depending on the Rabbi), after which the sinner would be purged and restored to peace.

And so by the time of Christ a certain sect of prominent religious Jews (the Pharisees) had begun to embrace the idea of endless torments, due mostly in part to the Rabbi’s that they endorsed.  Very similar to how people hold to Arminianism vs. Calvinism.  Josephus records in several places that the Pharisees specifically taught the doctrine of endless suffering for the wicked (see my blog on Greek words that DO mean endless; part of the previous series on “eternal” and “forever”).

However, despite what was passed down by the Rabbis through the Talmud or what the Pharisees believed, there was still no “official” Divine Revelation concerning a future place of judgment, for the Old Testament was silent concerning that point.  But with the advent of the New Testament it was revealed that the judgment of the wicked after they rise from the dead would be a place of refining – in the Lake of Fire (the next series on judgment will cover this in great detail).  And that refining would only last “for the ages” (see the previous series on “eternal and forever”).

This was in direct contrast to what the Pharisees taught and it was on purpose that Christ and His disciples refrained from using the words and descriptions that the Pharisees employed.  Instead of using words that meant “endless” they used words that meant “for the age” or “ages” depending.

It is not surprising then to discover that ALL of the early Church Fathers for the first 400 years of Church History believed and taught Universal Reconciliation!  If you think about it, that is a very weighty body of support against the idea of Endless Torment as being a Biblical concept.  They were the closest to Christ and His disciples and they most likely believed what had been handed down to them from Christ.  I have heard people claim that the truth was perverted quickly…which I could grant perhaps…but the idea that 2000 years later, somehow WE have managed to find the truth when the Apostle’s direct disciples lost it?!!  That is one of the most illogical and absurd claims I have ever heard.  Not to mention the sheer arrogance of it!

Anyways, there was one Church Father who didn’t believe in U.R.  His name was Tertullian and if you have read his writings you can taste the bitterness with which he wrote.  He was persecuted during his early years and became violently resentful.  He reveled in the thought that he would get to watch his enemies writhe in agony for all eternity from the comfort and safety of heaven.  I need not point out how contrary this is to the gospel.  Christ did not come and die on the cross to teach us that we should hate our enemies and derive pleasure from their suffering.  He came to show by example that we are to love our enemies and lay down our lives FOR them; to forgive any offense and to bless and pray for those who persecute us.  Tertullian no doubt must have overlooked this principle.  Which is not surprising seeing how easily bitterness blinds us to its poison.  Only God knows the heart, but it seems likely that Tertullian held to the idea of endless hell simply b/c he was harboring un-forgiveness.

Nevertheless, all of the rest of the Church Fathers believed that hell was only a refining place.  They obviously rejected the Pharisee’s doctrine of endless torments.  Hell as a place of refining and limited duration continued unabated for well over 400 years.  It wasn’t until Augustine comes along that things began to change.  The story is not without its irony b/c Augustine as it turns out was the ONLY Church Father who COULD NOT read either Greek or Hebrew!  Peter Brown, in his book, Augustine of Hippo, remarks about this fact,

“Augustine’s failure to learn Greek was a momentous casualty of the Late Roman educational system; he will become the only Latin philosopher in antiquity to be virtually ignorant of Greek.” (pg. 36)

Augustine was thus unable to read the Scriptures in their original language.  He had to rely upon the Latin translation (the Vulgate).

On top of this was the condition of the Church in which Augustine found himself.

Augustine’s Dilemma

Persecution of the Church began almost from its inception.  Christianity was protected for a few years behind the mask of being just another sect of Judaism.  But by the time Jerusalem was destroyed in 70 AD it had clearly separated from Judaism and as such it lost any semblance of protection that it had from Rome and Rome’s zero tolerance policy for any religion other than Emperor worship (Judaism was the one allowance).  For the most part to be a Christian was, if not a death sentence, a life of suffering.  This made the convert seriously count the cost of such a choice.

Fierce persecution continued until the time of Constantine (312 AD) when just before a pivotal battle Constantine saw a vision – a cross in the sky – and it was accompanied by the words, “In this sign – conquer.”  Constantine ended up winning the battle and dedicated the nation to the God of Christianity.  This marked the end of the persecution of Christians for Constantine declared Christianity to be the legal religion.

Many believe this was an act of God.  While I do not doubt that God is behind all of history, I believe this vision had a much darker source, for several reasons.  Number 1 – the Gospel does not encourage the taking of our enemies’ life, but the laying down of our life for our enemy.  With the advent of Christ warfare became spiritual and the sword became a message – preaching.  The Word of God is now the Sword of the Spirit by which He conquers people (Ephesians 6:17; Hebrews 4:12; Revelation 1:16, 19:5).  God no longer condones physical warfare.  The sign that Constantine saw was not a cross, but a sword, and it was in the spirit of the sword (violence) that he conquered.

Number 2 – nothing strips the Church of spiritual power better or quicker than complacency.  Where there is no persecution there is very little cost involved in becoming a Christian.  At this point an authentic Christian is no longer known by having given up his life and having counted it all as loss.  When there is no persecution a Christian can be fooled into thinking that he or she can keep THIS world AND gain heaven…or to put it another way, keep this life as well as the next.  At this point a Christian is known only by words (“I’m a Christian”), rather than manifesting the life of Christ as He demonstrated it on the cross.  Actions speak louder than words as they say, for words are no proof of authenticity (see Titus 1:16 and Matthew 7:15; 24:5; Revelation 2:2,9; 2 Corinthians 11:13).

When there is persecution the Church seems to explode.  Every time a Christian was thrown to the lions for sport, there would be many spontaneous conversions amongst those watching. Thus began the old proverb that, “the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church.”  Perhaps this is why China has the largest number of Christians in the world?  And so it is no surprise that when persecution came to an end many Christians fell into complacency; and the numbers began to fall.

Almost a century after Constantine legalized Christianity Augustine arrives on the scene.  At this point there had passed 85 years of peace and comfort for Christianity.  Think about it, 2 entire generations of people had passed who had not experienced persecution.  The Church was in a much poorer state than it was in the past and Augustine was visibly upset about it.

He eventually concluded that they best way to get people into church and keep them there was through fear.  He proposed that the Church change its position on the final state of sinners – from restoration to never ending damnation.  It was quite a task Augustine undertook, for even he admitted of the mass of Christians that,

“very many who, though not denying the Holy Scriptures, do not believe in endless torments.” (Enchirid. ad Laurent. chapter 29).

But despite the prevailing mindset he eventually managed to change the theological position of the Church at Rome, which earned him the title of “The Champion of Endless Torments.”  However, there were still other schools of Theology that remained faithful to Universal Reconciliation.  There were 6 schools of theology in Augustine’s time, 4 of which taught U.R., 1 taught Annihilation of the wicked and Augustine’s school changed their tune to one of Endless Torments.

The Roman Catholic Church

In case you haven’t put it together yet, Augustine’s school (located in Rome) was the Roman Catholic Church.  History students will immediately recognize the significance of this, b/c it was in Rome, shortly after this time in history, when the Roman Catholic Church began its terrible descent into the dark ages of manipulation, deception and perversion.  I’m sure I need not point out how many other horrifying, doctrines and practices they instituted; not to mention the terrible atrocities they eventually committed in the name of God.  Its no wonder that the horrifying doctrine of Endless Torment was first instituted by them.

In an interesting side note their later practice of burning heretics, or those who refused to convert, was justified on the grounds that if God is going to burn them forever in the unimaginable fires of hell, then burning them here on earth would be no crime at all.

It took many more centuries for this doctrine to encompass the entire known Christian world, but as the Roman Catholic Church began to conquer their enemies and subjugate nations, they also managed to squelch opposing doctrines.  Due to their tyrannical rule, the world was thrust into the dark ages, which took the world almost a thousand years to escape from.   If you ask me, if someone wanted to thwart the kingdom of God, they could not have come up with a more brilliant plan.  It was a sheer stroke of genius, and I am sure we are all aware of the unmatched cunning of our adversary (see 2 Corinthians 2:11, 11:14; Ephesians 6:11).

Nevertheless, U.R. was never condemned in any Church Council against heresies; and many faithful saints have continued to hold fast to it throughout the centuries despite the eventual overwhelming adherence to Endless Hell.

The concept of Endless Hell itself also changed quite drastically even within Christendom: from its being the domain of Satan and his throne where he and his demonic minions tortured the wicked, to its modern version where angels are the tormenters of the wicked (including Satan).  There are many great works that deal very effectively and in great detail on the evolution of Hell through Church History.  My intention here was merely to provide the background to how it became a doctrine of Endless Torment within the Church.

Conclusion:

It is my hope that readers find freedom and encouragement in this history, should they believe in U.R.    And if you do not, then I hope that you now have the information necessary to escape the darkness of that horrifying false doctrine.  Scripture warns us that God’s people are destroyed for a lack of knowledge (Isaiah 5:13; Hosea 4:6), so take what I’ve shared here and check it out for yourself.  Perhaps you will escape from the veil that lies over the minds of those who hold to the traditions of men.

We will now move into the next series which will be on “Judgment.”  We will cover all the concepts/words that are used in the New Testament to describe judgment in the next life, such as The Lake of Fire, Death (or the Second Death), Destruction, Judgment, Punishment and Wrath.  I think you will be as equally surprised to see what Scripture declares concerning these issues as you hopefully have been with the previous series on “Eternal and Forever” and this present series on “Hell.”

Thank you for reading.

Luke Kessler

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#25 – Hell Anomalies in the New Testament

We have now looked at how almost every instance of what we tend to presume is a reference to “hell” in the New Testament is really referring to something else.  Gehenna refers to the city dump which was used as a warning of national destruction (where the ruins of the city and people will be cast into the dump).  Hades refers to the Hebrew concept Sheol, a place where the dead wait in a sleep state until the resurrection.  Christ also has the keys of Hades and the Church will invade it, and even in the end Hades itself must give up all of its dead occupants.  Tartarus is a special place of darkness that holds the rebellious angels until the day of judgment.

Then there is the Outer Darkness; which is a warning of losing God’s privilege of special revelation.  The Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth refers to the mourning over losing one’s calling to carry God’s special revelation.   And the Furnace of Fire seems to be a farming term for fruitless crops (referring to His people not bearing fruit – the fruit of the Spirit which is His Character).  These last three are very peculiar b/c they are directed at God’s chosen people rather than those outside of the kingdom.

That being seen, I can now continue the assertion that the New Testament, like the Old, is remarkably silent on the topic of Hell.  To start, the Son of God arrives on the scene after 400 years of silence since the last prophet in the Old Testament.  Jesus (not surprisingly) continues the Old Testament’s trend of silence on the subject!  You would think that this fact (God finally speaking to us directly), would be a perfect opportunity to warn us of the unspeakable terror of hell!  But He doesn’t.

Then follows the book of Acts; the main purpose of which is to show the transition of the Kingdom of God from the unbelieving Jewish nation to the heathen nations of the Gentiles.  One would think that with all the heinous and wicked behavior found amongst the heathens that Acts would be full of warnings about hell in order to really convince people to turn from their wicked ways and be saved from the practical certainty of going there.  But there simply is no mention of it!  In the entire book of Acts there is only 1 mention of Hades and that reference is made by Peter quoting an Old Testament Psalm which speaks of the resurrection of Jesus saying,

“[David] looked ahead and spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that He was neither abandoned to Hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay.”  (Acts 2:27-31).

In other words, God wasn’t going to let Jesus’ body rot in the grave, and so His soul wouldn’t be asleep in Sheol/Hades waiting for the general resurrection from the dead.  There is no hint that it will be the final destination of the wicked.

The rest of Acts is silent on hell.  There is however one odd instance in Acts 24:15 where Paul makes a reference to a resurrection of the wicked; the context and his wording is somewhat strange, for in defending his faith he declares that he has,

“a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked.”

The reason it is strange is b/c this resurrection of the wicked is part of his “hope in God!”  Unless Paul is extremely cruel and his heart is full of lust for vengeance to see the wicked tormented in unspeakable horror for their crimes (and I personally do not see a tendency for vengeance in any of Paul’s writings or experiences), then he must be referring to something good in store for the wicked!  B/c whatever it is, it is hopeful!  The context certainly implies it.

Next we come to the Epistles, and (surprise!) once again there is no mention of hell.  Paul does reference Hades 1 time, in a kind of round about way, in 1 Corinthians 15:55 – and yet that one instance is to declare that Hades and death will be overcome!  When I say that Paul doesn’t reference Hades directly it is b/c he is quoting a verse in the Old Testament book of Hosea where it says, “O death where is your victory? O Sheol where is your sting?”  And the Greek word Hades is synonymous with Sheol (as we have seen previously), however Paul simply uses the word “death” twice, “O death where is your victory? O death where is your sting?”  After that, Paul doesn’t reference hell again (and he wrote 2/3ds of the New Testament).

Peter is the next one in line and he has one reference to “hell,” however he uses the word Tartarus, which was a special place for fallen angels as we also saw previously.

James comes after Peter and he uses the word Gehenna one time, which we also have already looked at.  He uses the city dump to describe the source of filth/pollution found within our hearts and which seems to flow so predictably out of our mouths!  Its use there is more metaphorical than literal.

John’s epistles come after James and he has no reference to hell.  Jude follows John and remains likewise silent.

And lastly we have the Book of Revelation with its reference to the Lake of Fire, and out of all of Scripture, this is the ONE PLACE where Hell is truly referenced.  And that will be part of what we will look at it in depth in the next series.

Conclusion:

If hell was truly a place of unending torment for not only the wicked, but those who, though never having done much wrong in this life, were unregenerate b/c they never believed in Christ, then we would think that God would have been prolific in warning us about it.  But what we find is the exact opposite – complete silence!

To be fair, with all we have seen, there are 4 instances that can “possibly” be interpreted as a reference to hell, though not without complications.  The first being the parable of the Rich man and Lazarus which remains somewhat ambiguous in its interpretation, but even if it were truly a warning about suffering in Hades…it isn’t forever, b/c even Hades will give up its dead.

The second is the instance where we are warned to fear God who can destroy/kill the body and soul in Gehenna, however we saw that “destruction” is the prerequisite for salvation (which we shall see very clearly in the next series).  Not only that but it’s a warning about the soul being destroyed and killed, not a warning of being in a place of unending living torment.  On top of the fact that the threat of Gehenna was a local, physical and national judgment.

Thirdly is the 2 Furnace of Fire references; for the imagery of fire certainly calls to mind the concept of hell and there is certainly room for a different interpretation than the one I present.  However, b/c they reference fire, I believe that they are a reference to the Lake of Fire; which we will look at in the next series, along with various pictures of fire found in Scripture.

The Lake of Fire obviously being the fourth and last possible reference to hell.

Most cults have more than 4 verses to support their heresies, so we ought to be begin to tread carefully in what we proclaim as truth.  Even with those 4 exceptions, I think it ought to be astonishing that the entire rest of the Bible is silent about hell.  Such a fact ought to give us reservation in believing and teaching a doctrine of endless hell.

But understanding all of this still leaves a gigantic question hanging in the air – what will become of the wicked?  Or, similarly – how will God bring about justice in light of so much evil?

Well I can assure you that the Bible does speak of justice being done, of judgment upon the wicked, of wrath poured out on all those who wrought evil upon their neighbor.  There will be recompense to all those who committed heinous sins and wickedness in the earth.  Their punishment will be equal to the gravity of their sins.   Though the wicked are comfortable in this life and seem to get away with all their atrocities Scott free, they will not be so lucky in the next life.   The Bible is clear about that, and that will be the subject of the next series.

We had to tear down the false concepts of hell in order to build up a correct understanding of righteous judgment.  Justice according to God’s law.  And so in the next series we will look at what the Bible teaches concerning Destruction, Judgment, Death, Wrath, Fire, Discipline and the Cross.  It will be heavy for sure, certainly not something to read for enjoyment.  But it will be true, and it will set you free.

For it applies to all, good and bad; as Jesus said, “everyone must be salted with fire.”  (Mark 9:49)  Nevertheless, “His wrath is but a moment, but His mercy endures forever,” (Psalm 30:5) for “mercy triumphs over judgment.”  (James 2:13) And in the end, it will be for our good, and even though “no discipline is enjoyable for the moment…yet afterwards, it yields a harvest of righteousness.”  (Hebrews 12:11)

But before we go there, I want to give a short history of how the concept of endless hell became part of Church doctrine.  That will be the subject of the next blog.

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#24 – The Fiery Furnace and the Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

In the last blog we looked at a few of the references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” that those who are “cast into the outer darkness” would suffer.  We saw that the warning was not towards the godless, but those that follow God, His people; which are now in this age Christians.  We saw how it speaks of losing the light of God’s special revelation.  Since His revelation is progressive it means that those with the privilege of having the previous revelation could possibly miss out on the next move of God.  Therefore since we don’t have all truth (for we only know in part 1 Corinthians 13:9,10) we are susceptible to losing God’s calling if we are not open to how and where God is moving in history.

We will now look at other references to “weeping and gnashing of teeth” that concern “the furnace of fire.”

The Furnace of Fire; The Wheat and the Tares

The first instance of this phrase is once again found in a parable and is recorded in Matthew 13:24-30, 36-42.  The parable is one that everyone is familiar with, the wheat and tares.  In the parable a certain farmer sows some good seed, but during the night his enemy comes in and sows tares.  The farmer doesn’t realize this until they start to sprout, but by then its too late, if he pulls the tares out, it will damage the wheat.  So he waits until harvest time and then he harvests both the wheat and the tares but separates them.  He then bundles all the tares together and burns them.  Jesus gives the interpretation of the parable a few verses later saying,

“So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.  The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The first thing that we ought to notice is that this takes place at the end of the age.  Jesus was not giving an immediate warning towards the Jewish nation, but a company of people who will be there at the end.  This, we must assume, is a reference to the Church, who will be there when Christ Returns.  We can also see plainly from the text that Christ’s angels will gather “out of His kingdom” those who are then thrown into “the furnace of fire.”  Therefore they must be part of the Christian community, for they cannot be in His kingdom to be removed out unless this was so.   We see here a very similar warning to the one Christ gave to the Jewish kingdom when God was beginning something new.  Only this time it applies to that move of God that will take us into the Millennial Kingdom.  Which means that it applies specifically to those who are presently God’s people – Christians.

Secondly, we must notice the symbolism of the parable.  Thus it is interesting to note that the tares are indistinguishable from the wheat (at first).  It is only when the wheat reaches maturity that the difference between the two can be clearly seen.  Wheat becomes heavy and begins to sag under the weight of its fruit, while a tare does not (for it is fruitless).  It is almost as if the wheat shows humility in its maturity (its fruit bearing), whereas tares manifest neither humility nor fruit.  The wheat is edible in contrast to the tares, which are poisonous.  In fact this is why the tares are thrown into the fire, so that their poisonous seeds will not contaminate the following year’s crop.  The fire is part of the farming picture Christ is painting.

Whatever the tares are, they are part of the wheat company until the “end of the age.”  Thus they are part of the Church and indistinguishable from a true follower of Christ, at least until Christ’s angels separate them from the wheat at His Return; much like the sheep and the goats were separated.

Shortly after this, in the same chapter of Matthew, Christ gives a similar parable about a fisherman who caught good fish and bad fish (vs. 47-50).  It’s a very short parable, probably b/c of how similar it is to the wheat and the tares.  Jesus then gives the interpretation saying,

“So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

At first glance this may not seem quite as clear about involving followers of God.  But this is simply b/c it is such a short parable; there are not as many details as there are in the other parable.  However, there are still a few details that we can notice.

Firstly, the parable itself is almost a mirror image of the parable of the wheat and tares.  Both involve some form of labor that produces a harvest, and both involve good and bad portions of the harvest.  The imagery only differs in occupation.  Furthermore Christ’s interpretation is almost exactly the same as His interpretation of the wheat and the tares.

Secondly, Christ said that the angels will take the wicked out from “among” the righteous, implying that they were among them – that they were part of them.  This reminds the listener of what Christ said in the previous parable about gathering the wicked out of His kingdom.

Lastly and most importantly, the picture of fishing is probably the single biggest image of Christianity next to the cross – for the Church is called to be fishers of men!  Christ told Peter, who was a professional fisherman, that he would become a fisher of men (Matthew 4:18,19; Mark 1:16,17) and this has taken deep root in the Church.  For from its inception the Church has adopted the picture of a fish as its symbol.  Even today the fish is universally recognized as a symbol of the Church.  Thus the parable is prophetic of those who are “caught” by and part of the Church, but are yet somehow no good.

That is the last “furnace of fire” reference.  However there yet remain two more instances where Christ refers simply to “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

One is found yet again in another parable (24:45-51).  This particular one concerns a Master who goes away for an undisclosed amount of time (symbolic of Christ’s disappearance into heaven until His Return).  He leaves a certain servant in charge of all His other servants.  Christ then describes 2 types of servant; the faithful obedient servant who will be rewarded on His Return; and the evil rebellious servant who will be judged when He returns.  Christ then declares the judgment of such an evil servant,

“…the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour which he does not know, and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the hypocrites; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The phrase “cut him in pieces” is a term of scourging, where one was whipped with a cat of nine tails, effectually ripping his back into shreds.  Thus his back was ‘cut into pieces.’  It does not refer to some sort of dismembering (as certain organizations so frequently do! ;))

I hardly need to point out how clear it is that this is referring to Christians, more specifically Christian leaders.  Christians are the only people considered “slaves” of God, and Christian leaders are the ones “put in charge of His household to give [the rest of the servants] their food in the proper season.”  Luke 12:42-48 records this same parable, but instead of saying that the wicked servant will be assigned a place with the “hypocrites,” it says he will be assigned a place with the “unbelievers.”  This is proof positive that Christ is speaking about believers.  The theme remains consistent, it is always God’s people who will suffer the fate of “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

The last instance of this terminology is found in Luke 13:22-30.  Here is the section in its entirety.

“Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able.  Once the head of the house gets up and shuts the door, and you begin to stand outside and knock on the door, saying, ‘Lord, open up to us!’ then He will answer and say to you, ‘I do not know where you are from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets’; and He will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you are from; depart from me, all you evildoers.’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.  And they will come from east and west and from north and south, and will recline at the table in the kingdom of God.”

We can see here that Luke’s record of Christ’s words include phrases that we saw earlier in one of Matthew’s referrals to  “the outer darkness.”  Once again it is easy to see how it is referring to God’s people, not unbelievers.  But to really drive the point home, let us take a look at Matthew’s account of this section.  It is found in 7:13-23

“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it. Beware of the false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will know them by their fruits… A good tree cannot produce bad fruit, nor can a bad tree produce good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. So then, you will know them by their fruits. Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter.  Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness.’”

You can see the similarities between the 2 Gospels.  Not only that, but you can see many of the themes that we noticed in earlier references to “the furnace of fire.”  On top of this we have many themes of authentic vs. counterfeit believers.  Almost nowhere in Scripture is it as clear as here that there will be “many” Christians who will miss out on the kingdom of heaven.  We know this is speaking of Christians b/c they call Him “Lord,” they prophecy in His name, they perform miracles in His name and even cast out demons all in His name.  It’s pretty hard to miss the significance of who Christ is addressing here.

It is not my intention to address the issue of exactly what the kingdom of heaven is…that would require a book all on its own.  Nor is it my intention to scare anyone.  But it would be wise for every Christian to be aware of these warnings and to seek God for themselves to discover His will and know what standard He requires of us.

That being said, I think that we have seen fairly clearly that every instance in Scripture that addresses “the outer darkness, furnace of fire and weeping and gnashing of teeth” – concerns certain disobedient followers of God.   It is crucial to understand this, not only b/c it applies to us, but so that we might better avoid misapplying these verses to unsaved people going to Hell.

To further establish this, let us look at one more instance where it is obvious that God’s people don’t make it into the Kingdom of Heaven.  It is found in Matthew 25:1-13.  It is the parable of the Ten Virgins.  I will not detail the parable, but I will point out two things.  First they missed out on partaking of the Kingdom and marriage feast (with Christ), which will be heartbreaking.  Second they were virgins engaged to the Bridegroom.  The Bridegroom is Christ, and Christians are supposed to be pure virgins b/c we are engaged to be married to Christ (see 2 Corinthians 11:2; Ephesians 5:22-25 and Revelation 21:2).  It is clear that this is a warning spoken to the Body of Christ, and not unbelievers.

Conclusion:

Seeing what we have seen thus far in the previous series on the words forever and eternal, as well as what we have seen in this series concerning the words we mistake for hell, as well as seeing how every other reference to some sort of hellish punishment actually applies to Christians, it becomes quite an obstacle to continue to believe in a doctrine of endless Hell reserved exclusively for non-Christians, as we have been traditionally taught.  There must be some sort of revision concerning our understanding of Hell.  And that will be the subject of the next series, where we address the themes of judgment found in the Scriptures.  But before we get there we have a couple more issues to tackle.  The next being anomalies in the New Testament concerning hell.

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