The Truth About Hell That You Probably Can't Accept
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“And the bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:2: 'There is a time to be born, and a time to die.' And, the judgment is not going to be to decide whether you’re saved or lost. The judgment is going to be to decide your place in hell. Because the decision is being made by you, here and now. To be in hell is to be out of the presence of God.” ~Billy Graham
Uh, not so fast, Billy...
Billy Graham (1918-2018) was an iconic American hellfire and damnation preacher. But, the damage is already done. The undoing of his hellfire teachings (and the many who came before and after him who've taught the same or similar) may be beyond human capability. Eternal hellfire damnation is rooted so deeply in the minds and hearts of American Christians that it might take a mighty move from God to clear the wreckage.
Eternal hellfire damnation ideology is so prevalent among modern television evangelists and mainstream churches, and is probably responsible for turning more seekers away from God than even Satan himself. And, it’s no wonder. How can one be open to love and worship our living God out of fear and dread? It's not possible to love this way.
You're probably thinking that this is yet another blathering discourse on how hell doesn't really exist and there are no real consequences for sin. And, probably right at this moment your mind is telling you that this entire article is full of malarkey, it must be. Because that's precisely the trained reaction that hellfire preachers have drilled into our skulls for decades - that anyone who tells you anything different is offering you a dangerously false teaching to be avoided at all cost...or else, hellfire! None of these things apply here and I exhort you to stay the course, resist the fear, and read this article until the end.
I’m going to show you with scripture the truth about hell, put it in proper perspective point-by-point, and put an end to probably the most damaging Christian teaching to the kingdom since the 18th century when this despicable teaching began.
You have been taught that hell is an eternal separation from God, an undisclosed location of everlasting suffering outside of the presence of God. I don’t know where they got this idea, but it is not found in the bible. You have probably been taught that upon judgment, God decides your place in hell. This is radically unscriptural and more than that, it makes God appear as a cold-hearted punishing monster. Certainly not the character of God described in scripture.
Jonathan Edwards, American Revivalist Preacher
and grandfather of hellfire ideology, 1701-1758
You have probably been taught that an unsaved person, one who does not know Jesus as their savior, immediately upon their death will spend eternity in screaming, unspeakable pain and fiery torment with Satan, forever and ever. Again, not true, not scriptural, and diabolical in its gross misinterpretation of God’s love for His people.
So what is hell? And, who’s going there? What happens when they get there?
Is it true that simply not believing in Jesus will condemn one to hell? That mankind is condemned for all eternity based on the error of one early man, a caveman from more than 5000 years ago?
There are good people who might go to hell simply because they didn’t believe in Jesus while there are people who aren’t so good who will go to heaven just because they did?
What about the people who were born and died before Jesus? Or the people who will never have a chance to know Him, or hear the gospel? Are these people condemned to hell? There are millions of people who would be executed for even attempting to hear the gospel. If they died tomorrow, are they going to hell? How about the mentally ill? The emotionally damaged or the intellectually challenged? Are these people going to hell because they were unable to grasp or embrace the concept?
At what age are children responsible for their own salvation? When do people go to hell? Immediately when they die? Are there people burning in hell now?
The idea of eternal hellfire damnation is cruel and unusual. Even the fruit that it produces is wicked and foul. Hellfire and damnation...an idea so repugnant, so gruesome and utterly outrageous that has expertly removed the love message in it's entirety from God’s holy word and from the breathtaking beauty and strength of His character, who sacrificed His own Son so we could be with him, turning Him into a merciless, bloodthirsty tyrant in the minds of the secular world.
There is nothing more revolting than watching a Christian delight in the eternal damnation of another human being. How many Christians have you encountered that celebrate the everlasting burning of sinners? I have personally witnessed the change to their countenance as they beam with joy and self-righteous satisfaction at the very idea of someone they’ve judged as wicked suffering unending fiery torment, all the while ignoring the plank that’s wedged like a peg in the socket of their own eye.
How many bleating hellfire preachers proselytizing from the pulpit, who have subverted their flock delivering a fear message that describes a merciless judge who is perfectly comfortable damning His carefully created people, the very same people of whom God has knitted together in their mother’s wombs, forever and ever for crimes committed across the fleeting span of a human life? Even our own criminal punitive measures for the most heinous crimes are not near as extreme.
Eternal hellfire damnation is a cult. The fad that has inflamed congregations, particularly in the Southern Baptist, Pentecostal and Charismatic bible and rust belts in the 50s, 60s and 70s has ground a deep grove in the foundation of American Christianity that remains to this day. And while the pulpit damnation pumpers had spent decades whipping believers into a terrorized frenzy, the fruit of that cult movement, a movement based in false teaching, scripture misinterpretation and misunderstanding, was to systematically remove the essentials from the message of God to all mankind. The message of love, mercy, and grace.
So, what then is the consequence of sin and where did the idea of eternal damnation come from?
Apostle Paul said that the wages of sin is death. But, before we look at death, let’s look at what Jesus taught about eternal life. Did Jesus say that anyone who simply believes in him will have eternal life?
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that hears my word, and believes on him that sent me, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
The implication of his word “believe” has been lost in many bible translations. It actually had the connotation of not only believing but also obeying. Believing, in the ancient Hebrew, was thought to mean the combination of conversion to the faith, proclamation of the faith, and obedience in the form of works. All these things are one act in totality.
So, does not believing in Jesus condemn one to hell?
God desires to reconcile all mankind. That means everyone.
We trust in the living God, who is the Savior of all men, especially of those who believe. ~John 5:24
That verse identifies two groups to be saved; non-believers and believers.
Therefore, because the disobedience of one man led all men into condemnation, even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. Romans 5:18
And having made peace through the blood of his cross, to reconcile by him, all things to himself, by him I say whether they are things on earth, or things in heaven. ~Colossians 1:20
So, why didn’t God prevent condemnation in the first place if He knew the eternal suffering that would befall so many people?
We know that mankind was given the ability to choose to comply. We know that God was well aware of man’s error in advance and that the inevitability of error is the pathway to understanding.
It is not possible to understand the value of one without the other. Mankind was given a choice in a setting that facilitated the making of it. And, knowing the outcome in advance, had already created a plan for redemption. So, it would stand to reason that God knew the importance of choice, and it’s enormous value.
But, eternal damnation for an error? What were the consequences for this error?
According to the bible, the consequence for their error was death. But, we know that Adam and Eve went on to live long lives and produce many children. The consequences of their sin which was carried forward to all mankind was that after the course of a human life comes physical death, not eternal hellfire damnation. Every person is appointed to die and enter the grave.
So, what is the biblical definition of death and what happens when we die?
There are several words used in the Old and New Testament for hell. "Sheol" in the Hebrew, "Hades" in the Greek. "The pit", "Tartarus" and "Gehenna" are additional words used in the bible, all of which have been translated into our English bibles as the word for hell, lending to all the confusion.
Sheol is found in the bible sixty-five times. It is translated as “the grave” thirty-one times, “hell” thirty-one times, and “the pit” three times. Hades is used eleven times, translated as “hell” ten times and “the grave” once. Tartarus is found once and Gehenna is found twelve times, all translated in our English bibles to mean “hell.”
Sheol and Hades are equivalent in their meaning and describe the same place. While it has been translated to mean hell in our English bibles, the actual definition of the words are “grave.” But what kind of grave would that be?
The Old Testament word for an actual burial place for a dead body is “qeber” (Strong’s number H6913) and is found sixty-four times in the bible. It is translated as “grave” thirty-four times, “sepulcher” twenty-six times, and “burying place” four times. This strongly suggests that Sheol and Hades might be a grave, but not the same type or in the same place as a human burial plot in the soil of the earth.
There is no verse that states the physical body goes into Sheol, but it states thirty-seven times that it does with qeber. Qeber is mentioned thirty-two times as being located on the earth, unlike Sheol which is never said to be located here. There is no mention of an individual’s own Sheol, but an individual owning a qeber is mentioned five times. Man can touch, posses, dig or fashion a qeber, but he cannot a do any of these things with Sheol.
Obviously, there is a great distance between the meaning of Sheol and a human burial plot, qeber, where the body of the dead are interred. Every human being is appointed to die a physical death and enter the grave. Even animals die and return to the soil of the earth.
There are many examples of verses that reveal that Sheol was not a burial plot as defined with the word "qeber." In Genesis 37, Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, then afterward they stained his coat with blood and used it to convince their father that he had been killed by a wild animal (Gen. 37:26-36). Jacob’s sons and daughters tried “to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, `for I will go down into the grave (Sheol) unto my son mourning’. Thus his father wept for him” (v. 35).
From Jacob’s words, he fully intended to be reunited with his son at some point in a tangible way. Obviously, he did not have in mind the idea of joining him in burial as he believed that Joseph’s body had not been buried at all, but was eaten by an animal (v. 33). This being the case, it was impossible for Jacob to think he would join Joseph in burial. He looked forward to being reunited with him in the place of the departed dead, not in burial. The word used in this passage for grave is Sheol, the abode of the souls of those who have died.
The account of Lazarus and the rich man found in the book of Luke, chapter 16, depicts two very different destinations after these two men had died. Lazarus, who was a poor beggar and sick with open sores had died and was greeted with open arms by Abraham in paradise, while the rich man, who lived a lavished life of wealth and plenty was a vast chasm away in Hades. The chapter in Luke reveals a few important clues. In verse 23 and 24 it states that the rich man was in “torment and agony in this flame” and asked for Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water to cool his tongue. Basically, the rich man was thirsty, extremely so.
But, thirsty for what?
The rich man describes a hot tongue, not searing, burning flesh and unspeakable abuse at the hands of a multitude of harassing demons. As a matter of fact, there is not one demon present throughout the entire account.
What I found most interesting is the word used for “torment.” While the meaning of the Greek word for torment, which is "basanos" can mean acute pain as with disease or physical punishment, the first meaning of the word is for a touchstone. A touchstone, or basanite from which the word is derived, is a type of black siliceous stone that is used to test the purity of gold or silver by the color of the streak produced on it by rubbing it with either metal.
Additionally, the rich man was able to see Abraham and Lazarus across the chasm. This does not suggest that the rich man was out of the presence of the omnipresent God at all. How can anyone or anything be outside of the omnipresent God at any time? The reality is, nobody can be outside of His presence, even in Hades. Neither of these men were unconscious or asleep. They were fully conscious and engaged in a meaningful, emotional conversation. Soul sleep, or the idea that the dead are in a perpetual state of unconsciousness until Judgement Day, is a false teaching.
Look at this verse in Revelation chapter 14:
"...he will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb" ~Revelation 14:10b
In this verse, the word "sulfur" is used for punishing those who follow the Beast, otherwise known as the antichrist. Also note that this is done in the presence of Jesus and not in some other-wordly fiery pit writhing under a heaping pile of violent, punishing demons outside of God’s presence. It is this very startling and intense presence of our holy God that is sure to be the cause of their agony.
So, what is sulfur? Well, in some Bibles it is translated "brimstone," but the Greek word here is "theion" which can also be translated "divine" as in something from God. Places that lightning touched were called "theia" and left a sulfurous smell. Also sulfur was used in purification ceremonies in that day by some outside of Judea. The real key here is that "theion" is derived from "theos" which is God. Theos is the word for God in Greek and the word "theion" comes directly from this source.
"Being then the children of God, we ought not to think that the Godhead is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and thought of man." ~Acts 17:29
The word translated here for the Godhead is "theion" which has been translated as “sulfur” in other passages like in Revelation. The lake of fire has a direct connection to the Divine because it comes directly from God. Not only is this a Divine Fire, but it is one that purifies anything that comes in contact with it. Are we to suppose that God has no purpose in this fire that torments those He created in His image and likeness? All that God does has purpose.
The first long-term judgment is found in Daniel 12:2:
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” ~Daniel 12:2
This is the first verse in the bible that refers to the long-term, post-death effects of this life for those who actively reject God’s goodness. Notice that the experience is described as 'disgrace' and 'contempt'—these are not terms used to describe mind-numbing, unspeakable torture at the hands of Satan and his demons.
While Daniel uses the word “sleep” in this verse, it does not suggest that the dead are asleep at all, as extrapolated with Lazarus and the rich man. But instead have closed their eyes in death and in burial but which will reopen them once in Hades (or Paradise) as this passage suggests.
Let’s look at some of the weeping and gnashing of teeth verses:
As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ~Matthew 13.40
This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. ~Matthew 13:49-50
There will be weeping there, and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown out. ~Luke 13:28
Notice, especially in the passage in Luke, the weeping occurs when they see their own exclusion. This suggests that the weeping and agony comes after they realize the separating issue. The discomfort described here is weeping and sorrow, not agonizing burning pain from being ravaged by an endless team of demons.
There are many passages that could be cited showing that "aion" or "olam" doesn't mean "forever" in every instance. This can be seen in the verses that use the word “eternal” versus the words “everlasting” and “age-lasting.” While the word can mean a seemingly endless span of time, the meaning of the word is for an "age" as in the word "aeon," or "age-lasting."
The usage of the word "aionios" translated as “eternal” forty-two times, as “everlasting” twenty-five times, as “the world began” two times, “since the world began” one time, and “forever” one time. Aionios is rendered "age-lasting" in better translations. The corrective punishment God uses is only for as long as it takes to bring godly sorrow and repentance. Aion means "an age," a limited period of time. And while it might seem to last for an eternity and forever, it does not.
And these shall go into everlasting punishment: And the righteous into life eternal. ~Matthew 25:46
The word for punishment here is "kolasis." The meaning is to punish, but intended for corrective purpose and not out of vengeance. This is godly correction, not eternal damnation while being out of the presence of God entirely, forever and ever, to be ravaged by a team of back stomping demons in burning, searing hellfire.
Kolasis will continue until the last day, the day of Judgment which will not occur until the end of Jesus’ millennial reign, Satan is loosed one last time for the final battle. It is at this time when all souls will be judged accordingly, including Satan and his demons, and not a minute before. And on that day, every soul will be judged accordingly. Every soul.
God is holy. Holiness and unholiness cannot share the same space. Hell is designed for Satan, the Beast (antichrist), the False Prophet, all of Satan’s demons, for death and Hades. However, we know sadly that some human souls will end up there.
Revelation 20:15 reveals that not every human name will be found in the Lamb’s book of life. Sinners cannot live in heaven with God or heaven will turn into hell. Purification, either in this life or after physical death must occur. Purification on earth is much easier than purification in Hades, with the latter to be avoided at all cost. The reward is much greater for those in Christ in this life, than without.
This is how all things in the final chapter occur (Revelation 20-21). Jesus returns to earth for His 1000 year millennial reign. Satan is bound in “the bottomless pit” for this period of time, the full 1000 years. He can no longer deceive another soul during this time.
The first resurrection of souls happens upon Jesus’ return at the start of the 1000 years. These are the Christian saints who were beheaded for the witness of Jesus and for the word of God, those who did not take the mark or worship the beast (the antichrist), or his image. These saints live, rule and reign with Christ for the 1000 year millennial reign. The second death has no power over these, who will be the priests of God and of Christ.
The remaining dead, both saved and unsaved remain in Sheol/Hades until the thousand years are finished. When the 1000 years are finished, Satan is loosed one final time and deceives the rest of the unbelieving living in the world. Satan, his demons, and the deceived are gathered together for one final battle at Armageddon. They encamp the Christians who are still alive on the earth during this time.
Fire from God comes down out of heaven and devours all those who come against these saints. Satan is cast into the lake of fire where the beast (the antichrist) and the false prophet are already there.
And at the face of Him who sits upon the throne, the heaven and earth flee. In other words, the old order of things, all of irrational creation that had been pressed down into the service of sin, the old heaven and the old earth, gone away forever. (Revelation 20:11)
All of the remaining dead, both saved and unsaved stand before God, the books are opened, one is the book of everyone’s works, the other is the book of life, and all are judged according to their works. This includes the dead from everywhere, the grave, Hades, Sheol, the sea, everywhere, all judged according to their works.
Death and hell now also cast into the lake of fire as well as those who are not written in the Lamb’s book of life.
Who is eternally separated from God?
Satan, the Beast (aka the Anti-Christ), the false prophet, death, Sheol, Hades, and any souls who cannot or will not be purified. This is the second death, and they are sent away, forever. In other words, utterly annihilated. This is not an eternal perpetual punishment, it is the literal destruction and dissolving of all of these beings, forever. Gone and never to return.