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" Hell: What is it? "

"And the devil, who led them astray, was cast into the Lake of Fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever... And Death and Hades were cast into the Lake of Fire. This is the second death... And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the Lake of Fire." (Rev20:10,14,15)

One thing we need to address, first, is the fact that the word "hell" does not appear anywhere in the Hebrew or Greek from which our English translations come. Many from the KJ-only persuasion go into quite the fits of indignation if "hell" doesn't appear in a translation, claiming that the compiler/translator has "changed the doctrine of hell", or of having "taken hell out"; and in their minds, the accompanying doctrine of God's 'punishment' of unrepentant sinners. Well, let's back up a bit. Many of them don't believe in the Scriptural doctrine of "repentance for the remission of sins". (Mk1:4,Lk3:3) To them, it doesn't matter if a person repented or not; in fact, some of them specifically proclaim that salvation is NOT through repentance; but if they lack Faith, they are deemed worthy of hell. So, they have changed that doctrine, as well.

But what does appear in Scripture are words like Sheol (Gen37:35, Job7:9) Abaddon (Job26:6, Rev9:11) Grave (Job17:1, Ps88:5) Hades (Mt11:23, Lk16:23) Tartarus (2Pet2:4) Death (1Co15:55, Re20:14) Gehenna (Mt5:22, 10:28), and of course, at the very end of the Scriptures, perhaps to tie together all the terms that came before? The "Lake of Fire" (Re19:20,20:14-15)

Let us have a look at a few instances of these words, and since it has been the 400 year standard, compare them to what the KJV says. For the word "sheol", the KJV mostly renders it as "grave"; a place where the body gets buried in the ground. But then there is Job11:8 where the KJV renders it as "hell"; in the context of how -high- heaven is, and in contrast how deep "sheol" is. Is the KJ "hell" in that passage talking of "fire" and judgment? In 2Sa22:6 (kjv), when David is saying that the "sorrows of hell surrounded me" is he talking about the hell of God's judgment? The actual word there is "sheol". David's distress was from the hands of his enemies (Saul) regarding potential -physical- death... not God's judgment. Not only does it not say "hell" there, "hell" (as it is traditionally understood) does not fit the context.

In Job26:6 Job speaks of both Sheol and Abaddon as places of the "spirits of the dead" (vs5) If Abaddon is a place of "destruction", is Sheol "hell", by comparison; or is it just the grave of death?

We pretty much know what the "grave" is: to be buried in the ground. That, in itself, is not 'eternal' destruction, because the resurrection raises "all who are in the graves" at the voice of Jesus. (Jn5:28) "...some to everlasting life, and some to reproach and everlasting abhorrence" (Dan12:2) Thus, the 'grave' is not 'hell'.

Hades is one word that is objected to most, as being a term from Greek mythology. And yet Jesus uses it. Hades (or Pluto) were gods of the "lower regions"; the "nether" world, the realm of the dead. Considered to be an "infernal" region in the depths of the earth; a dismal place; a receptacle of disembodied spirits; the abode of the wicked. Often the word "inferno" is commonly associated with a raging hot fire, such as when a building burns to the ground quickly with intense heat. But in actual definitions, inferno has to do with (from the Latin) things that are "lower, underground, below". Thus, Hades would seem to be a word in Greek, not at all unlike the Hebrew Sheol...the 'grave'; where dead bodies are buried 'under' ground. The word "hades", itself, is not one that tells us of "fire", the way "hell" is usually connoted; although through mythology, association and literature it has come to include that in many minds. And where the KJV uses "hell" in those places in the N.T., a correct association of definitions does not necessarily include "fire".

In one place Peter speaks of "tartarus" (2Pet2:4) Again, a subterranean region the Greeks think of for the wicked dead, suffering for their evil deeds. From my readings, it seems that this was a special place for the evil 'gods'; as opposed to Hades which might be for 'ordinary' evil people. And notice Peter, using the Greek term, defines how God uses it: a place were the wicked angels of Noah's day are being "reserved" for judgment. Again, not necessarily a place of "fire" such as is typically associated with "hell". But one of the definitions of tartarus is a "place of darkness". Jesus does speak of the "worthless servant" and "sons of the kingdom" (like the angels, those who, having a knowledge of God and knew better, rebelled) being cast into "outer darkness" where there is "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt8:12,22:13,25:30)

Now...as Jesus teaches the multitudes, He begins to give teeth to the realities of these various places that people spoke of, where they were used to using mythological terms of human speculation, to describe the unknown.

The "rich man" goes to Hades, and his "torment" is related to a "flame" (Lk16:23-24)

However, as Jesus goes about to describe in earnest the nature of this punishment of fire, He uses a different term: Gehenna. (which KJV continues to render with the -same- word: hell)

Gehenna is a term denoting the Valley of Hinnom just outside of Jerusalem. (Josh15:8,18:16,Neh11:30) Through this valley ran the Brook Kidron where objects of disgrace were thrown away, like when Josiah was destroying the objects of idolatry, he burned and pulverized the ashes at the Brook Kidron. (2Ki23:6) During Jesus' day tradition says that the ash heap was continually burning, that the fire was never extinguished; so when more garbage was taken out, it would be thrown on the pile, and added to the continual burning.

And so, from Gehenna, Jesus gives the comparative teaching about "where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" (Mk9:43-48) In most of the places that talk of judgment or death, Hades might be used. But Jesus continually used object lessons to explain things of God's Kingdom: seed, birds, flowers, fishing, face of the skies and weather, weddings, farming, business, etc. So when Jesus defines -exactly- 'what' the nature of that judgment is, He uses another object lesson of a place familiar to the Jewish nation: Gehenna; not from pagan mythology. And others throughout the N.T. after Jesus use it as well.

And so, when the Scriptures close with final mentions of judgment, no longer is it couched with the mythological terms that people in general were used to using. It is clearly stated as the "Lake of Fire", where the torment is "day and night forever" (Re20:10)

As flesh and blood, being children of Adam, we were all born into sin, and the "wages of sin is death" (Rom6:23) as God promised Adam and Eve, for disobedience, "you shall die the death" (Ge2:17); and as such, it is also written, "And as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this the judgment" (Heb9:27) But it seems, from the terminology used throughout the O.T. that they might not have been exactly sure the 'nature' of the eternal judgement. "Have the gates of death been disclosed to you? Or have you seen the gates of the shadow of death?" (Job38:17) We are not meant to know the details before the time.

But when Jesus came, He began to explain it and define the nature of it as being a perpetual fire, where the person never gets burned up.

And then, finally, as the full scope is given, the Lake of Fire, notice what category of death goes there: "Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them" to be judged "according to their works" (Rev20:13) I suspect, if Revelation had been written in Hebrew, it would have been Sheol, Grave and Abaddon that were cast into the Lake of Fire. Notice that Tartarus is not mentioned... but if we understand the mythological connotation, Tartarus -is- included, in that the devil, beast and false prophet are cast into the Lake of Fire. (Rev20:10) If Tartarus is known as the holding place of "the gods", Jesus said that the "everlasting fire" was prepared "for the devil and his angels" (Mt25:41) That's Tartarus, as people of that era were familiar with the terms.

Thus, if the unrepentant sinners from these variously labelled places come 'from' there, to be cast into the Lake of Fire; and if the Lake of Fire fully defines what we think of as "hell"; is it not obvious that all those designations are not the same as hell. Thus, it is not right to call them all "hell"; which Scripture, in fact, does not. (Yes, the KJV does, but Scripture [in the original Hebrew and Greek] does not)

Thus, perhaps now it is also obvious that our opening title is not going to be answered. What is hell? How do we, proposing to teach Scriptural truth, define something that is not -in- the Scriptures? But instead, hopefully we are coming to more of an inkling of an understanding of what comes after this life. Whatever label is attached to it, whatever the culture or period in history, until we traverse it, we do not fully know what is on the other side of death. Man likes to speculate. But we cannot know the fullness on 'this' side of mortality.

But is it not clear that, once history is all said and done, that those receiving judgment for their sins, being rousted out from 'wherever' they went at physical death, whether they thought it was called Sheol, Hades, Grave, place of the dead, etc.; -IF- their names were not found in the Lamb's Book of Life, their destination is a place of "fire", described by Jesus with the example of Gehenna, a refuse site where all the "worthless" things were thrown, where the fire is never quenched, and a living being (worm) is never burned up, but is "tormented day and night forever and ever" (Re20:10)

And that place has a Scriptural name: the "LAKE of FIRE"

But I know that old habits die hard. We have become so used to the expression "hell fire and brimstone" that we assume that "hell" is a real place. If we view Hell the way the Hebrews viewed Sheol, or the Greeks Hades, -which- way do we view it?

Traditionally, Fundamentalists synonymize it with the Lake of Fire. Rome's Vatican in recent years has made it out to be a state of being "separate from God", not necessarily a real 'place'. Some who claim to be Evangelicals, who otherwise have as part of their primary ministries the exposing of Rome's falsehoods, come up with similar notions that hell is not so much a 'place', as it is a -feeling- of deep regret and sorrow and emptiness at not being in God's presence; and such notions branch out to the concept that... for many, their "hell" is right here, now, on this earth.

Do we begin to see, yet again, WHY it is so important to translate God's Word correctly. Not 'picking' on the KJV here, but it has been the de facto 'standard' of the past four centuries in English against which others are compared... When the KJV uses the -same- word "Hell" all over the place, where the Hebrew and Greek say all the various words we've just looked at, equating the grave, place of the dead, places with fire, -equally- as "hell", IS IT ANY WONDER that different factions have gone into their own tangents of what Hell is! The KJV may have been instrumental in leading many to Saving Faith in Jesus Christ over the centuries; but with this kind of confusion, when people in their minds lessen the severity of God's judgment against sin, how many souls is the KJV (and others) also responsible for sending to the Lake of Fire?

The Heavenly mission isn't so much to "love them into the Kingdom" (I don't find any expression like that in Scripture), but "snatching them out of the fire" (Ju1:23) It's a "rescue" mission. How can people be properly warned -away- from the Lake of Fire, if it is not clearly defined to them? If Hell is merely a 'separation' from Heaven, some might belligerently taunt: So what? Big deal! Since they haven't been given a clear picture of God, either, they don't know they would even be missing anything. If you document through the Gospels, Jesus doesn't speak of Heaven nearly as often as He describes the nature of eternal judgment. But today's evangelists, like Luis Palau I heard years ago proclaim, "I'm not going to talk about hell. I don't like hell, so I'm not going to talk about it", do not proclaim as Jesus did, nor any of God's prophets, as recorded in the Scriptures...

"Say to them: As I live, declares the Lord Jehovah, I take no delight in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! For why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezk33:11)

Scripture, when observing WHAT GOD SAID, is quite clear. Those whose names are found in the Book of Life and "do His commandments" have "right to the Tree of Life" (Rev22:14) Those not found in the Book of Life are judged for their deeds, and the fact that their names were not found consigns them to the Lake of Fire, for eternal torments (20:13-15)

"And they shall go out and observe the dead corpses of the men who have rebelled against Me. For their worm does not die, nor is their fire quenched; and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh." (Is66:24)


See also: 23 minutes in hell?

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