Hell



The common teaching on the state of the dead is that the moment a person dies he goes to one of three places; heaven, hell, or purgatory. This study was written to dispel the misconceptions of hell as a place of eternal torment where the wicked go to burn forever.

Judgment: Two Roads

Let’s begin with what the Bible teaches concerning the judgment of wicked people. John 3:16, perhaps the most quoted verse of Scripture reads;

For [Yahweh] so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Believers in Yahweh’s Son will be given the gift of eternal life, but all others will “perish.” Their judgment will result in their termination from existence. They will be destroyed. They will not remain alive burning in a fire that does not consume them. If they will remain alive forever burning, then they would have everlasting life as well. It wouldn’t be a life in bliss as believers will have, but it would be an everlasting life of pain and suffering. However, John 3:16 tells us only believers will be given everlasting life.

Another commonly quoted Scripture is Romans 6:23;

“For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of [Yahweh] is eternal life through Yeshua Messiah our Master.”

The “death” spoken of here must be eternal death (the second death). It cannot be the first death since even those who are given eternal life will experience the first death. Therefore, the life of sinners who are not believers will be terminated forever. They will have no conscious existence as we read in Ecclesiastes 9:5;

“For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten.” They will have no body, mind, or spirit. They will be nonexistent.

Judgment: When?

John 5:28,29 reads, ” Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation.” We learn from this that when a person dies he goes to the grave where he awaits Yeshua’s return. Upon the Savior’s return the dead are resurrected and rewarded according to their works. Therefore, no one has been judged and thrown into a “hell” to burn since Yeshua has not returned yet. When he does return, “they that have done evil” will come forth out of the graves, not out of the fires of hell.

We see this same time element of the judgment in Revelation 22:12;

And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be.”

The “reward” (which would include eternal life or eternal death) is not given until the Savior returns.

In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:24-30; 36-43) Yeshua taught that the tares (the wicked) are not burned until the wheat harvest takes place which is symbolic of the resurrection of those in Messiah. This will occur at the “end of the world (age)” (vss.30,39,40). Additional references concerning the time of judgment are Acts 17:31; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Timothy 4:1; 1 Thessalonians 1:7-10; 2 Peter 2:9.

Unquenchable Fire?

John the Baptist said the fires of judgment were “unquenchable” (Matthew 3:12). Yeshua implied the same in Matthew 25:41 where he calls it “everlasting fire” and Jude said the fire that fell on Sodom and Gomorrha was “eternal fire.” Did they mean the fire will burn forever along with the living wicked? We have already seen that the lives of the wicked will be terminated totally, but what of the fire?

In Jeremiah 17:27, Yahweh says He will kindle a fire in Jerusalem that “shall not be quenched” because Israel refused to hallow His Sabbath. This fire was literally fulfilled in 2 Chronicles 36:19-21. Is Jerusalem still burning today? Obviously not. Is Sodom and Gomorrha still burning today? No. “Unquenchable,” “everlasting,” and “eternal” fire mean the fire will not be put out or go out until it has served its purpose, that is, to consume totally whatever it was suppose to burn. That this fire of judgment will go out can be seen in the following verse;

” Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor fire to sit before it.”  (Isaiah 47:14)

Eventually the smoldering coals will grow cold and the fire will go out. There won’t be any flame left to warm the hands of those who sit before it.

Will The Wicked Burn Alive Forever?

What about those who are cast into the fire? Will they be tormented forever without being consumed or dying? We just saw, in Isaiah, that the wicked will turn to stubble in the fire. Now look at Psalm 37:10,20;

“For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be : yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be. . . But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of Yahweh shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.”

The wicked “shall not be”. In other words, they will not exist. They will be totally consumed by the fire, their smoke dispersed by the wind.

Consider also Malachi 4:1,3;

” For, behold, the day comes that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that comes shall burn them up, saith Yahweh of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch. . .And you shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, says Yahweh of hosts.”

The fate of the wicked will be to burn to stubble, ashes, and smoke, never to exist again. Their judgment will be eternal. It will last forever.

Even the supposed head torturer of hell, Satan, will experience the same fate if the following verses are truly referring to him. We read in Ezekiel 28:18,19;

“You have defiled your sanctuaries by the multitude of your iniquities, by the iniquity of your traffic; therefore will I bring forth a fire from the midst of you, it shall devour you, and I will bring you to ashes upon the earth in the sight of all them that behold you. All they that know you among the people shall be astonished at you: you shall be a terror, and never shall you be any more.”

I am not totally convinced this refers to Satan since it seems to conflict with Revelation 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.”

It is possible that Satan, being a spirit being, will be tormented forever in the lake of fire, but not flesh and blood humans. They will be consumed. Either that, or Ezekiel 28:18,19 is correct; Satan will be consumed to ashes and Revelation 20:10 must be understood differently. I await further light on this.

Did Yeshua Go To Hell? 

1 Peter 3:18-20 is often quoted to show how Yeshua went down to hell, during the time he was in the sepluchre, to preach to the disembodied spirits being tortured there. The passage reads;

“For Messiah also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to [Yahweh], being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long suffering of Elohim waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”

This view raises several questions. If Yeshua did that, then he really wasn’t dead for three days, was he? Why preach to them if they were already condemned to hell fire? Why is that small group who lived in Noah’s day singled out from the great mass who are in the same situation? Additionally, Ecclesiastes 12:7 says;

” Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto Elohim who gave it.”

The spirit does not go into hell or the grave, it returns to Elohim.

Another view is that it was actually the spirit of Yeshua in Noah that did the preaching to living people prior to the flood. This would presuppose a pre-existent Savior, a view which I reject. Consider a third view which appears to be more Scriptural.

Verse 19 reads, “By which” meaning “by the Spirit,” “he went” meaning “Messiah went” (Messiah being the subject of verse 18). Therefore, this cannot refer to Yeshua in his supposed preexistent days as the “logos” since he was not the “Messiah” at that time. He did not become “Messiah” until after his birth to Miriam. So verse 19 is referring to an event that took place after his birth to Miriam.

The word “preached” is the Greek “kerusso,” not “euaggelizo” which was normally used to refer to preaching the good news. “Kerusso” simply means “to herald or proclaim.” Next is the word “spirits.” Men are not spirits, men have spirits. Men also have flesh and blood bodies. Therefore, this cannot refer to living people in Noah’s day, nor can it refer to disembodied spirits of people burning in hell since no one is burning yet as we saw earlier. Angels, however, are called “spirits” in Psalm 104:4 and Hebrews 1:7,14. It is to angels that verse 19 is referring. But what angels are in prison? 2 Peter 2:4 says, ” For if [Yahweh] spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell (Gr. tartarus), and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;” These angels, or “spirits” (1 Peter 3:19), are chained in a prison known as “tartarus” where they are being held until their judgment. Their sin is noted in Jude 6,7;

” And the angels which kept not their first estate, but left their own habitation, he has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness unto the judgment of the great day. Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.”

These imprisoned angels left their first estate (margin – principality) in which they dwelt and left their own “habitation.” “Habitation” is from the Greek “oiketerion.” This word was used in only one other verse, 2 Corinthians 5:2, where it refers to a heavenly spiritual body. When did angels leave their heavenly principality and possibly their heavenly spiritual bodies? Genesis 6:1,2 reads;

“And it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born unto them, That the sons of Elohim saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose.”

The “sons of Elohim” have been understood to mean human kings, descendants of the righteous line of Seth, and angels. In all other O.T. passages where this phrase is used it refers to angels (Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:7; Psalm 29:1; 89:6; Daniel 3:25). Therefore, we have no right to give this phrase “sons of Elohim” any other meaning except angels. Additionally, the Septuagint translates it “angels” as well. It seems very doubtful that the “sons of Elohim”, if they were men, suddenly decided to marry these women after about 2,000 years.

These angels left heaven to marry the “daughters of men.” As Jude 7 says, they were “going after strange flesh” just as those in Sodom and Gomorrha did. Yahweh had set the boundaries of their habitation and they chose to disobey. As a result, they are imprisoned until the time of their judgment arrives.

Another verse used to show Messiah went to hell to preach to the burning wicked is Ephesians 4:8,9;

” Wherefore he said, When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts unto men. (Now that he ascended, what is it but that he also descended first into the lower parts of the earth?”

Does “lower parts of the earth” refer to the earth itself at Messiah’s birth; a subterranean place of fire and torment; or simply, the grave? Paul was trying to show that Yeshua had to descend to the grave before he could ascend out of it unto Yahweh. Paul knew Messiah had to be in the grave and ascend out of it in order to fulfill Psalm 16:10;

“For you will not leave my soul in hell; neither will you suffer your Holy One to see corruption.”

“Hell” in this verse of the KJV is from the Hebrew “sheol” meaning the grave in which all men see corruption, but not Messiah. He was destined to resurrect out of it prior to experiencing corruption. If “hell” meant a place of burning, how can those burning experience the corruption that Messiah wouldn’t? The common false teaching is that the wicked burn forever as they are preserved alive.

Back to Hell

The word “hell” appears 31 times in the O.T. Each time it is the translation of the Hebrew “sheol.” “Sheol” appears 65 times. It is also rendered “grave” 31 times, and “pit” 3 times. “Sheol” only has one meaning, the grave.

The word “hell” appears 33 times in the N.T. and is the translation of three different Greek words; hades, gehenna, and tartarus. Hades is used 11 times in the N.T. and is translated “hell” in all but one verse. It should have been rendered “grave” in all 11 occurrences. The Septuagint uses “hades” 60 times to translate “sheol.”

The second Greek word rendered “hell” is “gehenna” which refers to a garbage dump outside Jerusalem where fires were kept continually burning. Any carcass that was not burned was consumed by maggots (worms). Yeshua made a direct reference to this in Mk.9:48; ” Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” Gehenna does not refer to the grave, but to the lake of fire where the wicked will be destroyed in the future.

The last word translated “hell” is “tartarus” which we have already seen is the prison where fallen angels are held until judgment.

The Rich Man and Lazarus 

This portion of Scripture has led more people to accept the false doctrine of eternal torment than any other passage because it is viewed literally rather than as a symbolic parable. Yeshua was attempting to reprove the Pharisees of their hypocrisy and covetousness. To understand his intent and who he was referring to we must understand the last three verses of this parable;

“For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

The key phrase is in verse 29. Who has Moses and the prophets? Israel. The rich man’s brothers were Jews or Israelites. Therefore, the rich man symbolizes the Jews. The Jews would not hear Moses or the prophets and they would not hear one who rose from the dead. Yeshua was prophetically speaking of himself and how the Jews would reject him. Since they rejected both Moses and Yeshua, they lost their status and great wealth. Their roll was reversed with Lazarus who symbolizes all those who accept Yeshua and believe Moses.

The rich man was clothed in purple and fine linen symbolizing the blessings of Yahweh, the covenants, promises, and truth. Lazarus was poor and sick symbolizing those outside of Israel being without the truth, promises, and covenants, and being without Yahweh. But now, in verse 25, Lazarus is comforted, becoming a child of Yahweh, and the rich man is tormented as he finds himself separated from Yahweh.

Some clues that identify this as a parable not to be taken literally are;

1) Lazarus is placed into “Abraham’s bosom.” He was not literally sitting in Abraham’s lap or leaning on Abraham’s chest, but was now in an intimate, close relationship with him. Those that accept Yeshua become “Abraham’s seed and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29);

2) Everyone who dies sleeps in the grave awaiting the resurrection (John 5:28,29). The righteous dead are not carried anywhere by angels and the wicked dead do not burn in eternal fire.

3) The dead cannot see, nor do they hear or speak. As Ecclesiastes 9:5 says, “the dead know not any thing.”

4) Father Yahweh is whom we are to cry out to for mercy, not “father Abraham.”

5) A person roasting in fire would not call out for a drop of water to cool his tongue. A flood of water would be more appropriate.

6) Abraham has not received the promises (Hebrews 11:8,13,39,40), neither can he before those in Messiah do.

Accepting Luke 16:19-31 as a parable to be understood in a symbolic way makes this story more understandable and sensible.

Everlasting Life

John 3:16 reads, “For [Yahweh] so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”

Everlasting life is a promised reward for those who believe in Messiah Yeshua. Yet, if the wicked will burn alive forever in the Lake of Fire, then they too will receive eternal life, albeit an uncomfortable one.

The wicked are promised destruction.

“Yahweh preserves all them that love Him: but all the wicked will He destroy.” Psalm 145:20 

Conclusion 

Let’s close with Matthew 10:28;

” And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”

The time will come when the wicked will be “destroyed” in gehenna, the lake of fire. Both soul and body will be destroyed. The wicked will not be preserved alive to burn in torment forever and ever, but destroyed.

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