"Judgments of a Loving God" - Chapter 38





Chapter 38: Judgments & the New Testament (6)

- The Final Judgment (3) Hell?



Chapter 38 Contents

38.1 Introduction

38.2 Definitions and Meanings

38.3 Jesus' teaching about Hell

38.4 Beyond the Gospels

38.5 The Awfulness of Hell?

38.6 Why the Church liked Hell

38.7 Summary



38.1 Introduction


We concluded the previous chapter referring to unbelievers who are cast into the lake of fire, the second death, where they are destroyed, and I acknowledged the fact that this flies in the face of tradition and much teaching from the past.


We have emphasised again and again in the opening chapters of this book that we will seek to observe exactly what the Bible says and work from that. Now when we move into the area we are about to enter, I find I am about to go where angels fear to tread, i.e. in direct opposition to some of those teachers or prophets who I have always held in the highest esteem, and I will try and show logically why I do that. In doing that, I want to emphasise that my intent is to observe exactly what the Bible says on this subject and what it doesn't say.


Personal Testimony


Now I have to confess that until I came to write this book I have always accepted the traditional evangelical view – that ‘hell', the destination of unbelievers, means an ongoing eternal punishment – but since researching more carefully I am horrified to have to suggest that in reality (which we will consider in detail shortly) that ‘eternal punishment' teaching is very difficult to uphold in the light of the full spectrum of scripture.


A New Starting Point


May I start this chapter with a proposition that I intend to prove as we go through this chapter:


The clear teaching of the New Testament on hell is NOT as specific as many would like to make it, but instead the Scriptures about ‘hell' are so open as to appear to permit two possibilities, summarised as “eternal punishment versus annihilation”, BUT I believe the evidence is overwhelmingly in favour of the latter.


To work on that proposition we will consider

a) what words are used in connection with hell in the New Testament, and what they usually mean and

b) what Jesus and then other writers exactly said about hell in the New Testament.


How many references?

One Internet researcher, who I have checked out, said, “Only about 60 verses in total in the Gospels might be construed as either directly or indirectly referring to hell” (1.58%) whereas “192 verses have Jesus referring to heaven, eternal life, or his coming kingdom” (5%)


When I have checked out those verses, many of them are basic references to hell (or its Jewish equivalent) with no guiding descriptions. When I take those basic ones that leave big questions and remove them from his researches I find that leaves less that 20 verses giving content about ‘hell' in the four Gospels, which is about 0.5% or to put it in another way, is less than half of one hundredth of the contents of the Gospels!


God's true intent?


Now I would like to make a simple starting comment: If such a tiny part of the four Gospels is given over to the subject of the end outcome for unbelievers, it cannot be such a big issue on God's agenda.


If I add into this equation all the thoughts, outcomes and conclusions I have been getting throughout the duration of this book, I have to say that although in God's eyes justice is vitally important (hence the Cross to bring moral justification), I am left seriously wondering if God has a bigger alternative concern.


Yes, and I obviously need to emphasise this in the face of the wave of objections that misunderstanding might produce, when it comes to His acts of judgment and, specifically, this end ‘Final Judgment', I wonder two things in respect of God,

  •   if bringing punishment is just a secondary (but important) issue but
  •   the main issue is about removing from His eternal existence (portrayed at the end by the new heavens and new earth and new Jerusalem), those who clearly have decided they do not want it.


Modern theology has suggested that ‘justification' is as much about God creating a new redeemed people on the earth, as it is about producing an ethical or moral justification. What I have written above, complies with that.


Rather than the picture of a God who brings endless pain and anguish in a lake of fire, the picture becomes a loving God who says, “Regretfully, I agree with you that you do not want a part in my world,” and therefore consigns them to death which is the literal end of their existence. I will say more about this as we go on (and indeed add a comment or two about the more traditional view of hell).


When I have read a variety of commentators supporting ‘eternal punishment', I find again and again either

  • an almost arrogant definiteness but without careful analysis of words or verses, or
  • an unhappy uncertainty that wants to skirt round the apparent fact of an uncaring and harsh God who clearly wants to cause awful pain for ever and ever.

Both provide a very unsatisfactory answer. May I suggest a valid alternative that neither challenges intellectual integrity nor damages the name and honour of God.



38.2 Definitions & Meanings


Language used in connection with the concept of hell


We have seen something of this in the Revelation verses already covered, but let's see what the Gospel verses actually have Jesus saying. However, before we do that there are two pictures or two words that come up again and again and which convey something we need to note, darkness and fire. Now I believe commentators are so often guilty of ignoring the simple meaning of words used. So, consider:



  • an existence where there is a complete absence of light, i.e. where it is impossible to carry on a proper life and which therefore is miserable.
  • As the origins of these concepts are unclear and there is no specific teaching from God as to their original meaning, we might suggest here is a more cultural use that may even suggest a temporary place of misery.
  • Darkness isn't usually used to note eternal pain but more has a short-term disciplinary feel about it or simply describes the state of unbelievers (e.g. Jn 1:5, 1 Jn 2:9,11)



  • an element that utterly destroys what it engulfs. Wherever fire comes down from heaven it destroys.
  • The only exceptions that specifically go against that are ones we have already seen involving Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet – all demonic spirit (fallen angel) beings.


Now there will be some who have come across the relevant verses before who will immediately say, “Ah, but doesn't it refer to everlasting fire?” My complementary question is, “Which is everlasting – the existence of the fire that is always there available throughout history, or the pain of those cast into it?”




Our problem is that ‘Hell' is not really the correct word used in the text of the Bible. The interpreters of our Bible have clearly struggled with this, for example:


Psa 16:10 because you will not abandon me to the grave , nor will you let your Holy One see decay.

  •   In the NIV there is a footnote after ‘grave' which indicates the Hebrew is ‘Sheol'
  •  The more recent ESV has, For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol”
  •  You also find ‘Sheol' in Job 21:13, 7:9, 14:13, 17:13 etc. etc.
  •  Although the old King James Version used ‘hell', the NKJV now uses ‘Sheol'

The Three words used:


  •   Sheol, a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament, is normally simply defined as ‘the state or resting place of the dead.'
  •  When the Hebrew scriptures were translated into Greek, ‘Hades' was substituted for ‘Sheol'
  •  Hades is similarly ‘ the state or resting place of the dead'
  •  Gehenna, a Greek word used in the New Testament, is ‘the destination of the wicked', and derives its name from a deep ravine south of Jerusalem, the "Valley of (the Sons of) Hinnom" (Hebrew ge hinnom ).
  •  Some point out that this was an ongoing rubbish dump where rubbish was burned but, please consider, it could only continue burning as long as material was thrown in. As such it was not eternal. It is more a picture of destruction.
  •  In the case of all three, origins and usage are NOT clear.

The New Bible Dictionary states, “In the later Jewish literature we meet with the idea of divisions within Sheol for the wicked and the righteous, in which each experiences a foretaste of his final destiny (Enoch 22:1-14). This idea appears to underlie the image of the parable of Dives and Lazarus in the New Testament.”


NB. The book of Enoch is described as an ancient religious work that predates Jesus and would be known by the Jews of Jesus' day. Jesus' use of the parable mentioned above (Lk 16:19-31) may therefore simply be using Jewish understanding of the day to convey certain truths:

  • We end up in a place determined by our present lives
  • That ‘place' is really somewhere to be avoided.
  • Once we die there is no swapping over

Lake of Fire


Let us note more carefully the references to this ‘lake of fire:


Rev 19:20,21 The two of them (the beast & false prophet) were thrown alive into the fiery lake of burning sulfur. The rest of them were killed with the sword that came out of the mouth of the rider on the horse.

  •  This, we have noted before, is the consequences of the coming of the King of Kings, Jesus.
  • The beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake
  • Their followers, rebellious people, are killed by the word of God.


Rev 20:9,10 They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. And the devil , who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

  •   This again, we have noted previously, is the dealing of God with Satan and those who have followed him in rebellion after the thousand year period of peace.
  •   The human armies are killed by fire from heaven.
  •   Satan is cast into the fire where he joins the beast and the false prophet – for ever. i.e. this is truly the end of Satan and his agents on the earth.


Rev 20:13-15 each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire

  •   This is strange and needs some discernment
  •   Every person is judged before the Final Judgment Throne of God as we've seen previously.
  •  Intriguingly death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire which is referred to as ‘the second death'. (i.e. the concepts or experiences were no longer needed or applicable).
  •   Anyone who is not in the book of life, i.e. a follower of the Son of God, trusting in the Cross of Christ, as we noted above, is cast into this lake.
  •   Now here we come to a major assumption of evangelical Christianity, that these unbelievers go into an eternal punishment – but is that what the Bible actually teaches?
  •   An alternative that has often been disparaged is called Annihilation i.e. they are destroyed and arguments go on as to whether it is after a time or immediate.
  • Note from the above two sets of verses, the words They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever, are NOT used of human beings in the lake of fire, only of Satan and his two primary agents.



38.3 Jesus' Teaching about hell


I referred earlier about one Internet researcher's list of words of Jesus about hell. Here is his list and I have changed the colour of those that I believe are just the very basic ones mentioning hell:


Matthew: 5:22, 29-30, 7:13, 19, 21-23, 27, 8:12, 10: 15, 28, 11:22-24, 12:32, 36 , 40-42, 13: 30, 40, 42, 48-50, 16:18, 26-27, 18:8-9, 34 , 21:44, 22: 7, 13, 23:13,15,33 24:51, 25:30,41,46.

Mark: 9:43, 45-48, 12:40

Luke: 10:15, 12: 5, 46, 13:3,27-28, 16:23-24

John: 3:16, 5:29, 15:6


Now let's consider some of those verses, one by one.


Matthew's Gospel


Mt 5:22,29 But anyone who says, `You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell (Gehenna). ….. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.

  •   Gehenna again – see above. Place of destruction.
  •   No duration given.


Mt 8:11,12 I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven . But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

  •   Many commentators have suggested that this darkness is everlasting and that the experience of it will therefore be ongoing weeping and gnashing of teeth but that's not the emphasis of the two verses. No duration is implied.
  •   There is a comparison between two kingdoms: the kingdom of heaven and the kingdom that is Israel on earth who should have been the expression of God's will.
  •   As we noted above ‘darkness' indicates the limitation of life as we know it (with light).
  •   The point of Jesus' language must surely be to warn complacent Jews of that time against assuming they were all right, for some will clearly be rejected by God because of their lack of faith (faith is the big issue with the centurion, who has provoked these present comments from Jesus.)
  •   It might be argued that the wailing and gnashing of teeth is actually more about losing the wonder of a place in the kingdom of heaven (which is being contrasted) and the fear of darkness, than anything else. Duration is NOT specified.


Mt 10:28   Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

  •   This appears, I would suggest, a clear description of ‘hell' – a place of complete destruction (no ongoing [punishment).


Mt 13:40-42   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.

  •  Weeds in a fire are not left unburnt – they are destroyed.
  •   Is the weeping in the furnace or just prior to it? If you are committed to an eternal pain, it will be in it, otherwise it is more sensible to suggest that the very thought of having your life terminated is sufficient to cause anguish (watch hostages being threatened with being shot).

Mt 13:49,50   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.

  •   Ditto the latter comment above


Mt 18:8,9 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

  •   As we commented previously, the contentious word is ‘eternal' but it is the fire that is so described, not the anguish which so many are so quick to suggest.
  •   Note that the text says wrong doers will simply be “thrown into” the fire but unlike the Revelation references (Rev 20:9,10) to Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet it does NOT say it is where they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever
  •   The thrust of Jesus' teaching is surely more about avoiding or stopping sin.
  •   The consequence of death (the thing all fear as a punishment) is the ultimate punishment, the cessation of your present life, which is at the heart of this example.
  •   NOWHERE ELSE, except in Revelation applied to Satan, the Beast and the False Prophet, is the punishment expressly spoken of as ONGOING.
  •   In NONE of the verses of the New Testament, outside those Revelation verses we've just referred to, is there specific reference to ONGOING PUNISHMENT as against ongoing fire, except with one possible exception we'll come to in a moment.


Mt 22:13 Then the king told the attendants, `Tie him hand and foot, and throw him outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.'

  •   Ditto similar above verses in this parable of the great banquet.
  •   The weeping is more, in this context, about being ejected from the great banquet than about the darkness of being outside.


Mt 25:30  And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth .'

  •   Part of the parable of the talents, a similar outcome as above.
  •  The weeping can be attributed to a sense of failure, and rejection as part of accountability.


Mt 25:41,46 Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels . ….. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

  •   Part of the parable of sheep and goats, this is the only one where eternal punishment is contrasted with eternal life, although as soon as we put it like that we may suggest that the ‘eternal death' (contrasted with eternal life) may be more about emphasizing the impossibility of there being any further hope after this, i.e. death is the end – for ever! After destruction there is nothing. After death, in common parlance generally understood, there is nothing. It is only scripture that portrays another possibility – another form of ‘life' that overrides the death experience, we know of.
  •   We have underlined a key element of these verses which is the description of the eternal fire as being there to deal with Satan and his fellow fallen angels (or evil spirits)


Mark's Gospel


Mk 9:43  If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out (Alt. where / " `their worm does not die, / and the fire is not quenched.

  •   An intriguing alternative that suggests the fire is always there waiting for you!!!
  •  Again the emphasis is on the eternal fire, not the punishment.


Mk 9:47,48  And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where " `their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'

  •   Ditto, apparently a quote from Isa 66:24
  •  Isa 66 in Message Version: “And then they'll go out and look at what happened   to those who rebelled against me. Corpses! Maggots endlessly eating away on them, an endless supply of fuel for fires. Everyone who sees what's happened   and smells the stench, retches.”

Luke's Gospel


Luke 12:46  The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers.

  • i.e. he will kill him – cut him to pieces
  • i.e. he will end up in the grave – the place of unbelievers.

Luke 13:3,5  unless you repent, you too will all perish.

  •   Perish surely simply means will be destroyed.

Luke 13:27,29  But he will reply, `I don't know you or where you come from. Away from me, all you evildoers!' "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.

  •   The cause of the wailing and gnashing of teach is here clearly identified as the anguish of being rejected from the divine inheritance, the kingdom of God , that was promised to Abraham etc. (see later comment)

Luke 16:23,24   In hell, (Hades - the place of the dead) where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

  •   Earlier we referred to this parable which takes current Jewish understanding (which may not be the full truth) and uses it to emphasise the horror of being rejected by God.
  •  Abraham is surely a figure portraying the promised place of inheritance of the goodness of God, and the alternative is more about having failed to receive that, than about duration of the rejection and its accompanying punishment.

John's Gospel


Jn 10:27,28 My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.

  •   Perish can simply mean being destroyed.

Jn 3:16 For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

  •   ditto

Jn 15:6 If anyone does not remain in me, he is like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.

  •   ‘and burned' – in any other context we would take this to mean, ‘and be destroyed'.


38.4 Beyond the Gospels


What do we find in other parts of the New Testament?


Rom 9:22   What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath--prepared for destruction?

  •   ‘destruction' seems to be a key word! i.e. total end of existence

2 Thess 1:8-10  He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

  •   Paul is clearly referring to the Second Coming of Christ and we have previously seen that in Revelation when he does come, sinners are destroyed by his word and the Beast and the False Prophet are cast into the ongoing fire for ongoing punishment- but only them! (see Rev 19:20,21)
  •  Again, everlasting destruction appears to create a finality, a cessation of existence.


Jude 7 They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

  •   Undefined, it sounds it is being used in the same way we might say of someone, “they had to suffer the punishment of the firing squad”, i.e. they will die.


2 Pet 3:7   By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.

  •  Rev 20:9,10 we saw earlier shows fire coming down on the followers of Satan, prior to the Final Judgment, ending that particular phase.
  •   With the ending of that phase, we also see Rev 20:11 simply saying, “Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them,” suggesting that God winds up all of present existence on the Day of Final Judgment, possibly echoing some of the Old Testament prophecies hinting about God's use of fire on  the last day to do that.
  •  Note yet again the use of destruction - cessation of existence.

NB Rev 14:9-12   A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever . There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God's commandments and remain faithful to Jesus.”

  •  Is this an outworking or immediate consequence of worshipping this demonic spirit – the fruit of such worship. There is a present tense sense within these verses.
  •  Seen elsewhere such pain and torment are present time disciplinary judgments.


Note on ‘for ever and ever'


Rev 19:3 And again they shouted: "Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever."

  •  Literally this will not be true – Babylon's smoke will not still be seen once the new heaven and new earth are created
  •  In the verses above, is ‘the smoke of their torment' allegorical?

Destruction view


We might do well to also note that in the New Testament there are also a number of other references to destruction, not ongoing punishment, for example:


Phil 3:18,19 many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their destiny is destruction


1 Thess 5:3 While people are saying, “Peace and safety,” destruction will come on them suddenly, as labor pains on a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.


2 Thess 18-10 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed.

  •  Here ‘everlasting destruction' means there are no second chances.

2 Pet 3:7 the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men.


In each case the word appears quite clear, i.e. destruction = ceases to exist.



38.5 The Awfulness of Hell as 'The End!'?


Historically hell, or whatever other word is used for it, has been conveyed by preachers as an absolutely terrible place, a place of eternal torment – although no sound reason is usually given why a God who is described as love would create such a possibility.


I used to rationalize that the only reason I could see that this might be so, is that once ‘spirit' is created it cannot be destroyed and therefore for those who rejected God, hell is the abode of the spirits of those unbelievers. However, as I have sought to apply more rigorous logic to the meanings of words, I see that in the Bible, spirit or Spirit is often synonymous with ‘breath' or ‘wind' or ‘water' or ‘fire', none of which suggest an element that is eternal – except when it is used in respect of God Himself or of the fallen angels, Satan, the Beast and The False Prophet, the only ones specified in the Scriptures as suffering ongoing eternal punishment, presumably for my reasoning above.


So what has been conveyed as the awfulness of ‘hell'? Ongoing, eternal pain. Fire that burns but doesn't destroy but causes pain; that is the traditional picture, but I have sought to convey that is questionable in the pure light of scripture NOT added to by human speculation.


As I have briefly mentioned earlier, I would suggest that a much more valid reason for there to be anguish and ‘gnashing of teeth' is the thought of death. In the presence of Almighty, Wonderful and Beautiful God at the Final Judgment, the realization of just who it is who was rejected and the wonder of what had been rejected, may also add to that anguish.


One must assume that facing God face to face is such a monumental experience that the Lord does not let that response count as ‘repentance' for, as previously noted, the grounds for repentance only operate within this lifetime experience, not after it.


Addendum: Alternatives


Having pondered these questions more fully than I have ever done before, I want to try to cover all eventualities and therefore there are two things I would like to add for us to consider that are to do with the anguish that is referred to in the verses we've considered:

i) Indestructible Beings and Ongoing 'Punishment

Although I am not happy with it, let's assume that the traditional approach to hell as an everlasting punishment is valid. Is it possible that 'hardness of heart', say as witnessed in Pharaoh against Moses, is a 'normal' experience or state of the unbeliever? i.e. is the unbeliever who never comes to salvation throughout their lifetime here on earth, so set in their rejection of God, that when they finally meet Him they find Him utterly objectionable and so remain fixed in their horror and hatred of Him so that, if they are eternal beings, they clearly have no place (and want no place) in the new heaven and new earth, and they are (for their own sake as much as anything else) consigned to some other existence 'away from God' - but even there they will hold on to their revulsion of Him and this will eat at them like a cancer but never dissipating. Having seen Him in His reality, their 'hard-heartedness' or inner ongoing revulsion against the perfection that is God, will continue as an anguish that fits the descriptions of the New Testament.  Think on it.

ii) The Awfulness of not staying with God and heaven

Another reason for the anguish that is described in some of the verses we have considered may, as I've already hinted at previously, be not so much about the matter of facing total death, as having lost the shear wonder of living in the very presence of the God who is so wonderful that He defies description this side of eternity. i.e. it is anguish at the realisation of the loss of what could be, tied together with the recognition that they have missed all this throughout their life on earth and now in eternity. I recognise that it will only be in eternity that we will be able to fully see and appreciate the wonder of God and of heaven and eternity. The loss of this wonder, once it has been seen, will be terrible, and yet inevitable for those whose hearts are set now and set then against God.



38.6 So why has the Church persisted with ‘Eternal Punishment'?


Well, of course the answer is, that not all the Church has accepted that traditional, if poorly founded belief; there have been those who have opted for alternatives. As I have pondered on this at great length while writing these last three chapters, I have concluded that ultimately there may be a number of reasons as follows:

  • We have accepted tradition which built up from ancient or medieval sources and not being willing to face the contradictions involved, stuck with that belief. Answer: we need to honestly face how we use words and what they mean and the limitations of the verses in the New Testament that apply.
  • It may be that we have also felt that to accept anything less than this awful eternal punishment would somehow demean the holiness of God, i.e. God is so holy that surely He cannot tolerate ongoing unrepentant sinners and needs to make an example of them to the rest of us. Answer: we need to look again at how the Son of God himself lived among and tolerated sinners.
  • Some have clearly used it as a weapon of fear, going on from the above, to scare people into the kingdom of God by fearful repentance. Answer: although it is valid to consider the fear of God and recognize our accountability to Him on the last day, Jesus emphasis was on opening doors of faith in people by teaching and blessing people. His ministry was clearly one of power life transformation and that is at the heart of the Gospels. We need to learn to minister similarly so that more see a valid expression of the Christian Faith and turn and receive it.
  • Many struggle with the concept of “God IS love” (1 Jn 4:8,16) and therefore find a harsh and heavy discipline Gospel easier to align with their own life experiences. Answer: we need to pray for our eyes to be opened to see just how much God loves us and loves others so that we will do all we can to present this Gospel of Love.


  • Again many misunderstand the trials that living in a Fallen World produce and therefore attribute such things carelessly to God (without specific revelation) rather than to Satan, to Sin, and to the ways of this world, and so easily transition to a God who is careless of human eternal suffering. Answer: hopefully the concepts and lessons that have come through this book may shed light. We will consider this more fully in the penultimate chapter that follows.


38.7 Summary


In this chapter we have postulated an alternative to the traditional view of ‘eternal punishment' by considering the use and meanings of such words as

  • Darkness and fire, as linked with punishment
  • Hell, Sheol, Hades & Gehenna as cultural icons for the afterlife

We also considered the use of these words

  • By Jesus and
  • By other New Testament writers.

In particular we noted that references to the everlasting lake of fire

  • Can refer to the ongoing nature of the availability of the fire
  • Rather than ongoing pain and punishment
  • More likely suggest destruction (which IS used in a number of verses) rather than ongoing punishment.

We also briefly considered

  • What actually is awful about the idea of hell, and,
  • Why the Church has so often opted for the ‘eternal punishment' option.

Well, I may not have convinced you, perhaps your traditions are too strong (or maybe I am wrong), but if you have doubts, may I ask you to go back through all the verses we have quoted at length and honestly face the possibility that perhaps, just perhaps, we have for so long unjustly besmirched the name of the One who the Bible says IS love.


We should not finish this chapter without reminding ourselves, and therefore our neighbours, that we live in a world with a God who WILL hold us accountable at the Final Judgment, and that belief in Jesus is the ONLY escape card that

  • prevents death that eradicates our existence and makes all these years of our existence here on earth a waste of time,
  • AND keeps us from missing out on the shear wonder of all that God has for us in eternity.

These are about the most important issues we can ever consider in life, so I hope you have been given much food for thought here.



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