Friday, December 26, 2014

It never entered My mind

As I am reading through Isaiah and Jeremiah, there is a reoccurring mention of Israel's and Judah's rebellion and unfaithfulness. Specifically, I noted the abhorrent practice of infant sacrifice that 'God's chosen people' adopted from surrounding nations. I also noticed how vehemently God speaks against this practice:

“They have built the high places of Topheth (means 'fire place') in the Valley of Ben Hinnom (Gehenna) to burn their sons and daughters in the fire – something I did not command, nor did it enter My mind.”                                                                                                           - Jer. 7:31

In the NASB, they translate Jer. 19:5 (which basically repeats the above verse) as, “...a thing which I never commanded or spoke of, nor did it ever enter My mind...”

Jeremiah 32:35 again reiterates this sin and states, “...nor did it enter my mind... that they should do such a detestable thing...”

As I read about this detestable practice of placing children in the burning arms of the idol Molech (or Baal) to suffer in the fire, it reminds me of this idea of eternal conscious torment. Except in this scenario, those that God 'fathered' (created) will be thrown in the fire and instead of dying, they will be kept alive to suffer this burning forever.

Tell me, could a fate such as this ever come from the Father's mind?

Thursday, December 25, 2014

Christians - is this what you believe?

You are about to read some disturbing descriptions about hell. As they say, if it is true then it ought to be taught to the world. However, we don't hear many pastors preaching the old fire and brimstone sermons much these days. So terribly unpopular they are.

Personally, I am relieved that traditionalists are mostly ashamed and embarrassed by their doctrine of hell and therefore have retreated to silence on the subject. Whatever the reason, I am thankful for silence when it comes to false teaching. Of course, if it were a solid Bible teaching, then no matter the cost it would need to be spoken.

"Traditionalists believe that Jesus taught about hell to scare people from it, and that everyone who follows Him ought to do the same. In this day, therefore, when many traditionalists work so hard to minimize the gross horror of their own doctrine, preaching samples of traditionalists from an earlier age are in order."1

"When thou diest thy soul will be tormented alone - that will be a hell for it - but at the day of judgment thy body will join they soul, and then thou wilt have twin hells, body and soul shall be together, each brimful of pain, thy soul sweating in its inmost pore drops of blood and thy body from head to foot suffused with agony; conscience, judgment, memory, all tortured... Thine heart beating high with fever they pulse rattling at an enormous rate in agony, thy limbs cracking like the martyrs in the fire and yet unburnt, thyself put in a vessel of hot oil, pained yet coming out undestroyed, all thy veins becoming a road for the hot feet of pain to travel on, every nerve a string on which the devil shall ever play his diabolical tune...If God be true, and this Bible be true, what I have said is the truth, and you will find it one day to be so."   - Spurgeon

If that quote from Spurgeon is not graphic enough for you, how about this colorful description by A.W. Pink:

"So it will be with the soul in Hell... imagine yourself to be cast into a fiery oven, all of a glowing heat, or into the midst of a blowing brick-kiln, or of a great furnace, where your pain would be as much greater than that occasioned by accidentally touching a coal of fire, as the heat is greater. Imagine also that your body were to lie there for a quarter of an hour, full of fire, as full within and without as a bright coal of fire, all the while full of quick sense; what horror would you feel at the entrance of such a furnace! And how long would that quarter of an hour seem to you!...And how much greater would be the effect, if you knew you must endure it for a whole year, and low vastly greater still, if you knew, that you must bear it forever and ever!... That after millions of millions of ages, your torment would be no nearer to an end, than ever it was; and that you never, never should be delivered!But your torment in Hell will be immeasurably greater than this illustration represents. How then will the heart of a poor creature sink under it! How utterly inexpressible and inconceivable must the sinking of the soul be in such a case."

So, Christian, is this what you believe? When a believer mocks the idea that the Bible teaches destruction as a final end, and holds out eternal conscious torment as the 'truth', then why do they not profess the forever torments as our bold friend Mr. Pink does?

"In popular traditionalist preaching and writing, hell 'is almost invariably understood as a real, material, inextinguishable fire, ceaselessly tormenting the damned.' And, if that is what Scripture reaches, no one who believes the Bible has any right to object... If God's Word teaches that hell will be the scene of unending conscious torment, it should be preached as a terrible place of unimaginable pain and horror. If the traditionalist view of hell is correct, most of its modern advocates owe their fire-and-brimstone ancestors a profound apology. The fundamental issue is not whether the pain is physical or spiritual, literal or metaphorical. The issue is whether Scripture intends to denote conscious suffering that never ends, of whatever sort or description."2

"Rather than make apologies for such vivid and earthy descriptions of unending torment, traditionalists ought to emulate them all the more. If the wicked are to be made immortal for the purpose of enduring everlasting torture in agony, writers like Pink and preachers like Spurgeon do sinners an inestimable favor by making that very, very plain.

We ought not to retreat from the language of... Spurgeon and Edwards on grounds that is is unduly harsh, out of step with postmodern sentiment, or that it is intolerant or politically incorrect. We should instead reject all such statements because they are unscriptural, lack any biblical basis, and represent a theological dogma whose history we can trace back through the centuries to its first explicit pronouncement among Christians more than a hundred years after Jesus. Traditionalism did not originate in an exegesis of Scripture, and its advocates admit that it contradicts what the Bible repeatedly appears to say. Traditionalism's problem is not that it is unsympathetic but that it is unscriptural. Scripture - not sympathy - provides its only cure."3

If you have doubts about hell and the fact that it seems unbiblical, do not be overcome with guilt, as if you are going against God. Instead, study out the subject in full, depending on the Holy Spirit as your guide to truth, and then make your judgment. You may find that the shame and embarrassment you feel about this hell doctrine are founded afterall.

1,2,3 - Edward Fudge, "The Fire That Consumes", pgs. 362-365

Monday, December 22, 2014

What really happens to Satan?

Taken from the July post called "The Adversaries"

"Your enemies… Your foes… You will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The LORD will swallow them up in His wrath, and His fire will consume them."  - Ps. 21:8-9

What is the final end of God's enemy Satan, the devil?

Let's look at some verses about what God intends to do with His enemies in general:

"Speaking of the wicked: "I perceived their end... You cast them down to destruction. How they are destroyed in a moment! They are utterly swept away...! " - Read Psalm 73

"For, behold, those who are far from you will perish; You have destroyed all those who are unfaithful to You."  - Psalm 73:27

"For, behold, Your enemies, O LORD,
For, behold, Your enemies will perish..."  - Ps. 92:9

"Fire goes before Him and consumes His foes on every side…" Ps. 97:3

"O LORD… fire will devour Your enemies." Is. 26:11

"Then the end will come, when He hands over the Kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power."  - 1 Cor. 15:24

"…they are enemies of the cross of Christ, whose end is destruction."  - Phil. 3:19

"[…there is] a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God's enemies." - Heb. 10:27


Some facts to keep straight: Satan is thrown into the lake of fire. Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire. We are told specifically that death is the last enemy to be abolished (see below). We know that death was abolished by being 'thrown into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:14), thereby fulfilling the Scripture "death is no more" (Rev. 21:4). What can we deduce about Hades, Satan or anyone/thing that also gets thrown in the lake of fire (which is the second death)?

You may ask, what about the rest of Rev. 20:10… "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever."?
Taken from "The Greek word translated as forever is aion (G165), which does not always mean forever as we understand it. From this Greek word aion we derive the word eon. An eon is an unspecified, indefinite period of time, but it does have an end. Geologists use the word to describe very long periods of geologic time or ages, but one eon does end and another begin."
From Strong's (emphasis is mine): 165. aion, ahee-ohn'; from the same as G104; prop. an age; by extens. perpetuity (also past); by impl. the world; spec. (Jewish) a Messianic period (present or future):-- age, course, eternal, (for) ever (-more), [n-]ever, (beginning of the, while the) world (began, without end). Comp. G5550.
Here is another case for aion meaning an age, but not in perpetuity: The term Aeon appears in the New Testament where Paul refers to "the rulers of this age (aion)" [1 Cor 2:6]. "
Let's look at some other verses that shed light on the final end of Satan, the devil:
“You were the anointed cherub who covers, 
And I placed you there. 
You were on the holy mountain of God; 
You walked in the midst of the stones of fire.
You were blameless in your ways 
From the day you were created 
Until unrighteousness was found in you.
By the abundance of your trade 
You were internally filled with violence, 
And you sinned; 
Therefore I have cast you as profane 
From the mountain of God. 
And I have destroyed you, O covering cherub, 
From the midst of the stones of fire.
Your heart was lifted up because of your beauty; 
You corrupted your wisdom by reason of your splendor. 
I cast you to the ground; 
I put you before kings, 
That they may see you.
By the multitude of your iniquities, 
In the unrighteousness of your trade 
You profaned your sanctuaries. 
Therefore I have brought fire from the midst of you; 
It has consumed you
And I have turned you to ashes on the earth 
In the eyes of all who see you. have come to a horrible end
and will be no more."  - Eze. 28:14-19

"And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush his head, and you will strike his heel."   - Gen. 3:15  (NIV)  When a head is crushed that means death. See also Rom. 16:20: "The God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet."

"Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil."  Heb. 2:14 (KJV)

"Then the end will come, when He hands over the kingdom to God the Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power…"   - 1 Cor. 15:24 (NIV) 

"Yet we do speak wisdom among those who are mature; a wisdom, however, not of this age nor of the rulers of this age, who are passing away."   - 1 Cor. 2:6

"[…there is] a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God's enemies.- Heb. 10:27

"O LORD… fire will devour Your enemies."  - Is. 26:11

From this study, it became clear that God is going to wipe out all enemies: wicked creatures (including Satan), death, hades, sin and the like... "for our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29). He will accomplish this destruction with the lake of fire.

His mercy and compassion run deep. But even now as "mercy triumphs over judgment" (James 2:13) there is coming a Day of wrath, "a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire which will consume the adversaries" (Heb. 10:27).

[For a more in-depth study on this subject, please read 'The Adversaries' post from July.]

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Did Jesus take our punishment?

Torture. Forever. Torment. Forever. Consciously suffering. Forever and ever and ever. Can any human really fathom that? Believe me, I've tried. It will actually make you insane if you try for too long. When men and women teach and preach eternal conscious torment, I wonder if they have really pondered the reality of what they are saying?

When I really weigh Scripture and the character of Jesus, this whole idea of God tormenting humans without letting them die - for all eternity - sounds so very wrong. Just wrong. And, yes, I realize that our understanding and our reasoning falls short in many ways. But, as my husband says, our sense of justice comes from a Source. God promised to write His laws on our heart. He promises us His Holy Spirit who can 'lead us into all truth'. Should we discount the sense of wrong and the mountain of evidence (from God's word) that says He doesn't torture His created ones forever? Take, for example, the teaching that Jesus took the punishment we deserve.

I hear it over and over. “Jesus took your place – he took the punishment that YOU deserve so when you believe in Him, you won't have to pay that price. He paid it on the cross.”

I wonder if those who teach this really believe it. Why? Because I also know that there is another popular teaching that says if you reject Jesus (some say even if you never heard of Him) you will be thrown into hell, which is eternal conscious torment. If you die without Jesus then the consequence is... you go to hell to suffer forever. End of story.

I don't agree with the popular idea about hell, of course, but I do try to understand the teaching and why folks hold to that belief. So, my brain is having a hard time reconciling these two teachings. If Jesus took our punishment, then what was the punishment? Let's take a look at some Scripture.

But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” - Romans 5:8

He died for us so that, whether we are awake or asleep, we may live together with Him.” - 1 Thess. 5:10

Thank you, Lord and Savior! I just breathed a huge sigh of thankfulness and relief as I once again realize how my Savior died for me while I was still a sinner. I didn't have to go get cleaned up first. The Bible says, “while we were God's enemies we were reconciled to Him through the death of His Son...” (Rom. 5:10).

What other punishment did Jesus suffer for us? We can discover this through the famous passage in Isaiah 53:
Surely He took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered Him punished by God, stricken by Him, and afflicted. But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way, and the LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all... He was cut off from the land of the living; for the transgression of my people He was punished.... Yet it was the LORD's will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer... He poured out His life unto death, and was numbered with the transgressors. For He bore the sin of many, and made intercession for the transgressors.”

“He made intercession for the transgressors.” That's us – the sinners. I picture the Man stepping in front of me to intercept an arrow that was screaming towards my own heart. Instead of death [the death I deserved] - this righteous, innocent Man took the pain, the suffering and the death that was mine. The Scriptures describe this as God's love. “For God so loved the world...” Perfectly executed to perfectly save us. That thought is so captivating that I am losing sight of my point. No matter, God's love is always the point!

Ok, having let that sink in for a bit, I am coming back to my original questions. So, Jesus took my place. He took my punishment. He died for me. Got it. So, where does the fiery, forever tormenting hell come in? If Jesus took my punishment for sin and I have been “saved”, what have I been saved from?

Very truly I tell you, whoever hears my word and believes Him who sent me has eternal life and will not be judged but has crossed over from death to life.” John 5:24

...offer yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life...” Rom. 6:13

We know that we have passed from death to life...” 1 John 3:14

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction... I have set before you life and death... Now choose life...” Deut. 30:15,19

Where does it ever say that Jesus saves us from hell [eternal conscious torment]? He saves us from death, yes. He rescues us from God's wrath, yes. From destruction and perishing, yes. Where do the traditional hell ideas come from - Scripture or tradition?

Does the Bible teach “choose Life or be tormented forever”? That is an honest question. As sinful mortals we should tremble at the thought of eternal torture. Give some thought to it.

Ask yourself: Will this Jesus, who died a horrible death in our place, really choose to torment millions of His creations throughout eternity?

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Atheists, evangelism and a rant

(Excerpt from the post "The Character of God")

I have had many conversations with agnostics and atheists alike. The one argument they never fail to bring up is this idea of forever torment in hell for those who decide not to believe in God. Way back when, before I studied the subject thoroughly in the Bible, I would do my best to defend the doctrine and water it down like everyone does these days. I would say, "Well, God doesn't send anyone to hell - they choose to go there themselves." You know, those kind of cop-out statements.

Another example of this soft-pedaling arrived in my inbox from "Focus on the Family". They wrote:
"At its core, hell is about being in a wrong relationship to the Source of all Love, Goodness and Life... As the writer of Hebrews puts it, "Our God is a consuming fire". We can be warmed and comforted, or we can be scorched and burned."

Lord Jesus forgive me, but that is the one of the most stupid things I have ever read! I can't tell you how that makes my blood pressure rise.

What you mean is your loving Father will throw multitudes of people into a torturous lake of fire and keep them alive - without end - so that they can suffer and be conscious of their suffering for eternity - while the folks at Focus on the Family live in the eternal comfort and joy of heaven! Warmed and comforted... Scorched and burned! What a joke. They believe in this fiery torment and they can't even say it. They are embarrassed and ashamed of the traditional doctrine of hell - and they should be.

The truth is if they just look at the Bible verses they use to teach others, they will learn the nature of God's wrath and final punishment. "God is a consuming fire." Consuming. He is not a tormenting fire - His Judgment will either refine or consume.
"...Your enemies...Your foes... You will burn them up as in a blazing furnace. The LORD will swallow them up in His wrath, and His fire will consume them..." - Psalm 21:8-9
"His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire."  - Matt. 3:12, Luke 3:17 (remember that 'unquenchable' means that no one can put out or resist the fire, it does not mean that the chaff will be burning forever.)
 "If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them, and cast them into the fire and they are burned." - Jesus (John 15:6)
"... a certain fearful expectation of judgment and a fury of fire that will consume God's enemies."  - Hebrews 10:27
Still, the wrath of God is not a pretty picture. It is heart-breaking and frightening and final. Final = eternal. However, in my opinion it is a far cry from painting our Creator as an everlasting tormentor. Complete destruction of evil and God's enemies lines up with a righteous and just Judge who will not dwell with sin.

I would venture that even the atheists could recognize the justice of the Owner cleaning His own house.

Saturday, October 18, 2014

I'm not a Universalist...

but maybe God is.

- unknown author

And maybe you are not a conditionalist, but maybe God is.

Let us be careful of the idol of certainty!

Friday, October 17, 2014

What if God wasn't good?

"No one is good except God alone."  - Mark 10:18, Luke 18:19

"For You, Lord, are good, and ready to forgive, and abundant in lovingkindness to all who call upon You."       - Psalm 86:5

"We have come to know and have believed the love which God has for us. God is love..."  - 1 John 4:16

I don't know about you, but I am so thankful that God is good!  We may declare, "God is good!" in word or song; we may even think to ourselves, "Of course God is good! What else?"

What else. Well, I actually stopped recently to think that very thought. I asked myself: what if God WASN'T good. (Scary right?) What would that be like? What would He do?

This line of thinking is a bit disturbing, and I'm sure there are those who will really think I'm over-the-top here (or heretical), but it seemed like a valid question. Ask yourself: If God wasn't good, what would that look like? What evil could you imagine that an all-powerful Creator would inflict? What is the worst He could do, if he were to create beings as ourselves?

I know, it's hard to go there. I don't suggest staying 'there' for long. It's not really healthy thinking, but it may give some perspective to our idea of GOOD. When you consider the alternative to God being good, then you really begin to grasp how thankful we ought to be for His love, mercy, compassion, forgiveness, comfort and fatherly care. The list could go on and on. What a relief that we are not created by an unloving, sadistic tyrant.

So, what have you thought of? If God wasn't good He would... 

_____________________________________________________________________ .

I'm curious what you would come up with. If it isn't too detailed (or inappropriate for all audiences), I would like to hear your answers.

I actually thought of somehow doing a survey of folks and asking them what they thought would be the worst thing an all-powerful 'bad' God would do to them. I decided against it, as that probably wouldn't go over very well! So, I asked myself.

Perhaps I lack imagination, but as I thought this over, I kept coming back to different forms of torture that such a One could inflict (even mental torture, for example, those you love being hurt mercilessly). And of course the person couldn't escape, either through unconsciousness or even death. It would be this suffering (with no purpose but to inflict pain and anguish) but the person couldn't escape and couldn't die because the all-powerful One is able to keep them alive even against their own will. This torture would go on and on, maybe even forever because that is the worst possible thing that could happen, right?

And that scenario sounds very familiar. Very familiar.

Don't think for a moment that I am saying God isn't good. He is good. If that thought crossed your mind it is because of what you believe about God, not what I believe. I don't believe that He will torment His fearfully and wonderfully made creations for eternity. (However, beyond me and my beliefs, whatever God does is righteous and just and His ways will prevail. "Let God be found true, though every man be found a liar." Rom. 3:4)

So, there it is. Something to ponder, to wonder, to consider.

I told my husband I was a bit reluctant to post these thoughts because of their offensive and controversial nature. He read it and said, "Post it now" so I did. God's word has nothing to do with people-pleasing, but with Spirit and truth. So, go to God's word and learn who He is, through the Spirit, and reject traditions of men and doctrines of demons.

The God I know is Jesus revealed in His word, the Holy Scriptures. He is good.

What else?

Monday, October 13, 2014

See whether these things are so

The teaching of eternal torment in hell has been a subject that has burdened me throughout my Christian walk. Other biblical questions were slowly answered through the years concerning various aspects of Christian life and teachings. However, this one topic... one year, five years, ten years... it would not be settled.

I was diligent to speak to the wise and learned Christians that I thought could shed light on the difficult subject. I would be pacified for a time, but the explanations did not satisfy the heart of the matter. Does God really intend to torment (with unspeakable pain) masses of His 'fearfully and wonderfully made" created beings for ever and ever without end? I mean, really - without EVER stopping the apparent physical and mental torment and pain?

I considered it from every possible biblical position. It was unbelievable. I could not believe it.

It is not that I wanted to get rid of judgment. Judgment was clearly taught in the Bible, along with God's wrath. However, was a life (as fleeting as a puff of smoke) full of sin and rebellion on earth to end in a 'life' of eternal suffering?

If you are conscious and feeling pain then you are experiencing a 'life' of some kind - it just happens to be a nightmarish existence. However, I thought the Bible said that sin leads to death! (And only the blood of Jesus and the saving grace of the Father would allow us to escape that sentence.)

When I studied through the Bible about this subject, I was astounded. There are SO many verses about final punishment. Most describe the end of the wicked as 'death', 'destruction' or 'perishing'. (That is New Testament as well as Old) My prayers for some understanding were being answered!

Naturally, I wanted to share my study and the very clear teachings from the Scriptures about final punishment and what we call 'hell'. My husband listened and responded with great interest; he concurred that indeed the Bible taught something different than the church has been teaching. I was encouraged to continue to share. I fully expected to be sharing with 'Bereans' - those who were eager to search the Scriptures to see if these things were so.

"Now these [Bereans] were more noble-minded than those in Thessalonica, for they received the word with great eagerness, examining the Scriptures daily to see whether these things were so."  Acts 17:11

My point with the above Scripture is to focus on the attitude to search out a matter to see if it is true. I am not implying that I am bringing a word as the Apostle Paul did. However, I am convinced that the doctrine I understand from Scripture is the same as what Paul believed and taught. Search his teachings and see if you find him teaching eternal conscious torment anywhere. [See "We all trust Paul"] Please let me know if you search and find something!

Many comment that Revelation says that Satan will be tormented day and night forever, and that is the end of their search. Throw in Lazarus and the Rich Man plus the worms and the case is closed. I say, make a thorough search and exhaust the whole of God's word. You will find more. [For springboards for study, see "The Adversaries", "The Parable about Hell - or not" and "The Worm that Never dies".]

Consider those that were so convinced that Jesus was not the Messiah (the "Prophet"). They had a verse or two from their Scriptures that proved Jesus was not their Man. When the people were arguing over whether he was the Christ, the Pharisees defended their rejection of Him with their 'biblical' proof:

“Search [the Scriptures], and see that no prophet arises out of Galilee.”  John 7:52

They were technically correct (that He was from Galilee) but missed all the other Scripture about Jesus and failed to recognize His authority. They were also missing the fact that Jesus was born in Bethlehem. They were 'right' in the detail but wrong in their conclusions. Sincerely wrong.

Let us be Bereans in our search for truth. When we meet a teaching, let it be scrutinized by Scripture. 

And see whether these things be so.

Saturday, October 11, 2014

In the Presence of the Lamb

"Tender Shepherd" by Theresa Gomes

There are some sobering realities associated with final punishment. The wrath of God is a frightening future outpouring that is described throughout Scripture (Ps. 59:13, Rom. 1:18). There is punishment - including torment, retribution (God repaying for what we have done, Heb. 10:30) and death. Some will suffer greater condemnation (Matt. 11:24, Luke 20:47) and therefore have more severe consequences (more lashes, Luke 12:47-48). Some will not be released from their punishment and suffering until they have 'paid the last cent' (Matt. 5:26, Luke 12:59).

I believe Revelation describes an unremitting (day and night), extended period of torment specifically for Satan, his angels, the beast and the false prophet. In the end, however, I believe the lake of fire will consume them also (Rev. 17:8,11) and God's unstoppable fire will succeed in burning up all the chaff and all the refuse. The Lord's creation will be clean! Free from sin and evil. (Rev. 21:27)

One verse I would like to take a closer look at is Rev. 14:9-10. It describes some really harsh consequences for those that receive the mark (note the very specific group description) in the last days: 

"Then another angel,… saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name." (Rev. 14:9-11)

There is so much information that we could explore in there. For example, the phrase "…with fire and brimstone" deserves a whole study on its own and I plan to do that (along with studies on weeping, gnashing teeth, and smoke rising). But for now, I would like to zero in on the statement that anyone who worships the beast "will be tormented… in the presence of the Lamb." Yikes, that is really scary. What a paradox! Kind of like "…the God of peace will soon crush Satan under your feet." (Rom. 16:20). 

The question I am asking is: does this describe people in hell who will be there eternally or is it a provisory punishment (eventually having an end)?

So let's start with first things first.

We know the Lamb is Jesus (John 1:36, Acts 8:32, 1 Pet. 1:19, Rev. 5:12). The tormented are specifically people on earth who are deceived by the false prophet and worship the beast and his image. We also read descriptions of this group suffering in Rev. 16:2 and 10 in various judgments - and possibly in Rev. 9:4-6.

There is one problem for the traditionalists saying this is the everlasting suffering of hell - the torment is happening in Jesus' presence. We know 2 Thess.1:9 says clearly about final punishment:

"These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power."

Three times Jesus also declared that as Judge he will say to the condemned, "…depart from Me." (Matt. 7:23, 25:41, Luke 13:27)

We understand that final punishment includes being 'thrown out' (Matt. 22:13, 25:30, Luke 13:28) of His presence. So why does John say the beast worshippers are tormented in the presence of the Lord?

Remember the promises of God to repay according to His justice:

"According to their deeds, so He will repay, Wrath to His adversaries, recompense to His enemies… He will make recompense."  -  Isaiah 59:18 

"For the LORD is a God of recompense, He will fully repay."  -  Jer. 51:56 

“For the Son of Man is going to come in the glory of His Father with His angels, and WILL THEN REPAY EVERY MAN ACCORDING TO HIS DEEDS."  -  Matt. 16:27 

"Never take your own revenge, beloved, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “VENGEANCE IS MINE, I WILL REPAY,” says the Lord."  -  Rom. 12:19, Heb. 10:30 

"For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you."  2 Thess. 1:6 (see also Rev. 6:9-11)

This principle is illustrated in Deut. 25:2* as the judge in court finds a man guilty: "…then it shall be if the wicked man deserves to be beaten, the judge shall then make him lie down and be beaten in his presence with the number of stripes according to his guilt."  It sounds harsh, but no different than being punished in Jesus' presence.

We should also touch on the other 'hell-sounding' part of the verses we are considering: "…the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast…"

Smoke rising forever

Scripture uses the image of smoke rising as a recurring symbol of destruction. It comes from Genesis 19 where we read about the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah. When Abraham got up early the next morning and looked out over the valley, he saw, "…the smoke of the land ascended like the smoke of a furnace." (19:28) We know that these cities were completely destroyed (Gen. 19:13,29, Deut. 29:23, Is. 1:9, Jer. 50:40, Lam. 4:6, Luke 17:29).

The destruction of Sodom is an illustration (example) of the coming wrath of God:

“...the Lord, after saving a people out of the land of Egypt, subsequently destroyed those who did not believe... just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, ... are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." (See Jude) 

"… in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building; but on the day that Lot went out from Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them allIt will be just the same on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.”  (Luke 17:26-30) 

“He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter.”  2 Peter 2:6

Talk about unambiguous. It doesn't get any more clear-cut than that!

Sodom's destruction is the most well-known example, but the illustrative principle of smoke rising from a destroyed city is repeated through the Bible (see Joshua 8:20-21, Judges 20:40, Isaiah 34:9-10 and Rev. 19:3).

God so often describes His judgments on wickedness with the picture of burning up with fire (Ps. 21:9, Is. 29:6, 66:24, Matt. 3:12, John 15:6 ).

"Upon the wicked He will rain coals of fire; Fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup."  (Psalm 11:6)

One of the most graphic descriptions of judgment executed by the Lord is found in Isaiah chapter 34. I recommend reading the whole context. It speaks of His anger toward all nations and that "He will totally destroy them." (34:2) The text goes on to describe God's judgment on "Edom, the people I have totally destroyed." (34:5)

"Edom's streams will be turned into pitch, And its loose earth into brimstone, And its land will become burning pitch.It will not be quenched night or day; Its smoke will go up forever. From generation to generation it will be desolate; None will pass through it forever and ever."  - Isaiah 34:10

So, the destruction is complete and the smoke still rises. It symbolizes the finality and the complete end of those destroyed. It announces God's triumph over His enemies and that they are destroyed forever. John borrows the imagery from Genesis and Isaiah to illustrate the destructive and complete end of 'the great harlot', also called 'the great city':

Again, we see the same picture of the Lord in His judgment, tormenting and destroying this 'harlot': "…and she will be burned up with fire…" (18:8) The kings of the earth will lament  "…when they see the smoke of her burning."  (18:9)  "…and were crying out as they saw the smoke of her burning, saying, ‘What city is like the great city? …in one hour she has been laid waste!’ (18:18-19) "…the great city, …thrown down with violence, and will not be found any longer." (18:21)

So, now we can read the following verses with a context to the smoke rising forever and ever. It does not mean that 'the harlot' will be judged continually into eternity, but that her destruction is accomplished forever.

“Hallelujah! Salvation and glory and power belong to our God; BECAUSE HIS JUDGMENTS ARE TRUE AND RIGHTEOUS; for He has judged the great harlot who was corrupting the earth with her immorality, and HE HAS AVENGED THE BLOOD OF HIS BOND-SERVANTS ON HER.” And a second time they said, “Hallelujah! HER SMOKE RISES UP FOREVER AND EVER.” Rev. 19:1-3

Whew. So now we can again apply the smoke-rising-forever imagery on our verse at-hand. Let's look at it again: "…and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image…" (14:10-11) Just like the great harlot, these will be tormented and done away with in the lake of fire. Their torment is continual while it lasts (no rest day and night). I wonder if this event corresponds to the non-stop torment by the 'scorpions' where the victims are unable to die for five months, even though they wish for it (Rev. 9:5-6)?

Also, why does it say immediately, in the same paragraph: "This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints…" (14:12)? Why would the saints need to endure and have patience during this event, if the final judgment had taken place and they were experiencing eternal life? We haven't even gotten to the Bowl Judgments yet (chapter 16). We appear to be in the middle of the tribulation with these tragic events taking place on earth. Jesus' second coming to earth happens in chapter 19 where "He treads the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God Almighty." (19:15) This demonstrates why context is so important - the context of the chapter, the book and the entire Bible.

Revelation is a very difficult book. It is full of allegorical language and symbolic images. I don't pretend to understand it all. However, there are many clues as to the meaning of much of the text. If the whole counsel of the Word is taken into account, the concept of human souls being tormented forever begins to lose its footing.

One thing we know: the BIble is always true. "It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Heb. 10:31) "…fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." (Matt. 10:28)

[If you actually read through this study (also posted under 'studies') please leave a quick comment and let me know your thoughts - critical or otherwise. Thank you!]

*[If you are wondering that a law from the Torah illustrates a truth for Christians today just look a few verses down to Deut. 25:4 - “You shall not muzzle the ox while he is threshing." You will find the principle spelled out in the New Testament: For it is written in the Law of Moses, “YOU SHALL NOT MUZZLE THE OX WHILE HE IS THRESHING.” God is not concerned about oxen, is He? Or is He speaking altogether for our sake? Yes, for our sake it was written…" 1 Cor. 9:10-11]

Monday, August 4, 2014

The quality and quantity of 'eternal'

Eternal can be defined as...

Quantitative (durational)- 1) without beginning and end, that which has been and always will be  2) without beginning  3) without end, never to cease

Qualitative (quality of life) - of the age to come*

It is easy to see examples of the quantitative aspect in the many verses that call God eternal and those that refer to eternal life.

For an example of the qualitative aspect, let's look at a verse that traditionalists and conditionalists alike claim to support their view:
“These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  (2 Thess. 1:9)
Can we know what is meant by eternal destruction? Are the traditionalists correct when they say it means forever torment?

Consider three other 'eternal' verses from Hebrews: eternal salvation (Heb. 5:9), eternal judgment (Heb. 6:2) and eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12) it is clear that 'eternal' is an adjective that modifies the result-noun.

So, as we consider 'eternal salvation', we are not being continually saved throughout eternity, but our salvation is eternal - of the age to come and permanent. Concerning 'eternal judgment' Jesus does not continue judging through eternity but His judgment, once handed down, is eternal. And so on. As we read about 'eternal redemption', God is not redeeming His people forever, it is a complete redemption that lasts forever.

And finally as we look at our verse at hand, we consider 'eternal destruction'. God will not be 'destroying' people for eternity (that doesn't even make sense). The penalty of destruction is eternal - of the age to come and permanent. Read Matthew 10:28 where Jesus says, …fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell [Gehenna].” 

*The Quality of Another Aeon

"While it is unquestionably true that the Bible uses "eternal"  to describe also the is clear that the New Testament sometimes uses the word in a qualitative sense... In this view time is divided into two ages - the present age and the age to come (Matt. 12:32, Luke 20:34-35)." See also Eph. 1:21.

"The present age is under Satan's dominion (2 Cor. 4:4), and Christ gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from it (Gal. 1:4). The age to come is of another order that may be called 'eternal'."

"That the age to come is eternal in quality is seen in the fact that the life of the age to come (eternal life) is possible even in the present age through faith in Jesus. (It indicates a life that is different in quality from the life which characterizes the present age.)"

"Based on... Jewish eschatological usage, aionios sometimes suggests 'quality of being, almost meaning 'divine' rather than enduring.' It describes things that are bound to the kingdom of God... The word speaks of 'being of which time is not a measure.'"

Given this definition, 'eternal' punishment and 'eternal' fire are fire and punishment that 'partake of the nature of the aion,' that are 'peculiar to the realm and the nature of God.' The real point is the character of the punishment. It is 'that of the order of the age to come as contrasted with any earthly penalties.' When the New Testament speaks of 'eternal' life... the adjective aionios refers to 'the quality more than to the length of life.'"

"Traditionalist Bruce Milne correctly states: 'The word commonly rendered 'eternal' in our New Testament translations is in fact literally 'of the age (to come).' Thus it refers in the first instance to a particular quality of life, rather than to its durational quantity.'"

"To say that aionios has a qualitative meaning...represents the sober thinking of a cross section of scholars, including several who hold the traditional view of hell." 1

1 Edward Fudge, "The Fire That Consumes" pages 36-37