Some Difficult Texts Explained
We have studied the topic of hell and the error of teaching that the God of John 3:16 tortures the lost non-stop without mercy for eternity. A few verses misapplied weave the terrible story of a wrath so horrendous that it cannot be satisfied. People you and I have known for a lifetime have no way to escape the terrible agony of frying in the pan of a burning hell.
So far, we have seen this horrific misconception falls under the weight of a multitude of Bible passages that says clearly, the lost will die with no hope of eternal life and happiness. We have discovered using a systematic approach that it is not true that Jesus taught more about hell than heaven:
The parable of Jesus about the Rich Man and Lazarus is not a story of literal events, but a parable with a different objective than scaring people into a saving relationship with Jesus.
This time, we look closely at verses seemingly supportive of the idea of eternal torture. We will view comparable verses to get clarity.
1.) “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.”
Jesus clearly teaches in this text that the soul is not naturally immortal. It can and will be destroyed in hell. But what does He mean about killing the body, but not the soul? Is it possible for the soul to exist apart from the body? Some say it is, but the Bible indicates otherwise.
The Hebrew word “psuche” has been translated “soul” in this text, but in forty other texts it has been translated “life.” For example, Jesus said,
“Whosoever will lose his life [psuche] for my sake shall find it.” Matthew 16:25.
Obviously, “psuche” could not mean soul in this instance, or people could be said to lose their soul for Christ’s sake. It is properly translated “life.”
But what of Matthew 10:28? Put in the word “life” instead of “soul” and the text makes perfect sense in its consistency with the rest of the Bible. The contrast is between one who can take the physical life, and He who can take away eternal life. Here is proof in the words of Jesus:
“And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell.”
In other words, the word “soul” here means not only life, but also eternal life. Notice that Luke says everything just like Matthew except that he does not say “kills the soul.” Instead, he says, “cast into hell.” They mean the same thing. Men can only kill the body and take away the physical life. God will cast into hell and take away eternal life. Not only will their bodies be destroyed in that fire, but also their lives will be snuffed out for all eternity.
“And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
It is well to notice that Jesus did not say that the wicked would suffer “everlasting punishing.” He said “everlasting punishment.” What is the punishment for sin? The punishment is destruction, and it is of eternal duration
“Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;”
In other words, it is a destruction which never ends, because there will be no resurrection from that destruction.
“the wages of sin is death.”
John describes that death as “
the second death”
That death or destruction will be eternal.
2.) “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.”
In this verse, the word “hell” is translated from the Greek word “Gehenna,” which is another name for the Valley of Hinnom just outside the walls of Jerusalem.There the refuse and bodies of animals were cast into an ever-smoldering fire to be consumed. Maggots that fed on the dead bodies were constantly destroying what might escape the flames. Gehenna symbolized a place of total destruction.
Jesus taught in this verse that the fire of hell could not be quenched or put out by anyone. Isaiah said,
“They shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame.”
Yet, he hastened to say in the same verse,
“There shall not be a coal to warm at, nor a fire to sit before it.”
So the unquenchable fire will go out after it has finished its work. Jerusalem burned with unquenchable fire
….then swill I kindle a fire in the gates thereof, and it shall devour the palaces of Jerusalem, and it shall not be quenched.
yet it was totally destroyed
And they burnt the house of God, and brake down the wall of Jerusalem, and burnt all the palaces thereof with fire, and destroyed all the goodly vessels thereof.
The flames and worms of Gehenna represented the total annihilation and obliteration of sin and sinners. With the fires of Gehenna burning before their eyes, Jesus could not have spoken a more graphic word to the Pharisees to describe the final total destruction of sinners.
As a fireman if they have seen an “unquenchable fire.” They will tell you it is a fire they cannot put out, but eventually it will go out, once it has consumed the fuel it is burning. It does not continue to burn with no end.
Those who cite this text to support their doctrine of the natural immortality of the soul are thrown into a real dilemma. Why? Because the fire and worms are working, not upon disembodied souls, but bodies! Christ said, the
“whole body” would be cast into hell.”
In Isaiah 66:24, the same Gehenna picture of hell is presented with the unquenchable flame and the destroying worms. But in this case, the word “carcasses” is used, revealing the fact that the fire consumes dead bodies, not disembodied souls.
And they shall go forth, and look
Upon the carcases of the men that have transgressed against me:
For their worm shall not die,
Neither shall their fire be quenched;
And they shall be an abhorring unto all flesh.
3.) “And Jesus said unto him, Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise.”
Some have assumed from this verse that souls go to their reward immediately after death, contrary to scores of other Bible texts. But notice two things wrong with this assumption. First, even though Jesus told the thief,
“Verily I say unto thee, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise,”
three days later He told Mary that He had not yet ascended to His Father.
Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father:
His Father is in Paradise. Here is the evidence Revelation 2:7 says the tree of life
“is in the midst of the paradise of God,”
And he shewed me a pure river of water of life, clear as crystal, proceeding out of the throne of God and of the Lamb.
So there is no question about Paradise being where the Father’s throne is located. The question is: How could Jesus tell the thief that he would be with Him in Paradise that day, when He did not go there until three days later?
In the second place, Jesus and the thief did not even die on the same day. When the soldiers came just before sunset to take the bodies off the cross, Jesus was already dead (John 19:32-34). The thieves were very much alive, and their legs were broken to hasten death and to prevent them from escaping. They undoubtedly lived on past sunset into the hours of the Sabbath and possibly longer. So how could Jesus assure the thief of being with Him in Paradise that day when they did not both die on “that day”?
The apparent contradictions clear up when we consider that the punctuation of Luke 23:43 was added by uninspired men when our English Bible was translated. They placed a comma before the word “today,” when in reality it should have been placed after “today.” Then the verse would correctly read,
“Verily I say unto thee today, thou shalt be with me in paradise.”
In other words, Jesus was saying, “I give you the assurance today, when it seems I can save no man; today when my own disciples have forsaken me and I’m dying as a criminal dies—yet I assure you of salvation right now.”
Please notice that the thief did not ask to be taken to Paradise then. He asked,
“Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom.”
That’s exactly when he will be remembered and taken into that Kingdom.
4.) “Therefore we are always confident, knowing that, whilst we are at home in the body, we are absent from the Lord: … We are confident, I say, and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.”
In verses 1-8, Paul is contrasting the present mortal state with the future immortal life in heaven. Notice the expressions he uses for the two conditions:
|earthly house||building of God|
|this tabernacle||house not made with hands|
|mortality||our house from heaven|
|in the body||absent from the body|
|absent from the Lord||present with the Lord|
He also speaks of being clothed with “our house which is from heaven,” (verse 2) and again, he longs “that mortality might be swallowed up of life.” Verse 4.
But the key to the entire discourse lies in the description of a third condition. After desiring to be clothed upon with immortality, Paul states that “being clothed we shall not be found naked.” Verse 3. Putting it yet another way, he said,
“not for that we would be unclothed.”
Clearly, the naked or unclothed state was neither mortality nor immortality, but death and the grave. Paul realized that one did not pass instantly from being clothed with this tabernacle into being clothed with our house from heaven. Death and the grave came in between, and he referred to it as being unclothed and naked.
“The trumpet shall sound and this mortal must put on immortality.”
That will be when Jesus comes.
5.) “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, 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 longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.”
There has been considerable misunderstanding of these verses of Scripture. It has been preached that Christ actually descended into the lower regions of the earth and preached to lost souls that were imprisoned in some purgatory or limbo.
This is very far from what the text actually says. Let’s look at it closely now and get the real message of these verses. It says that Christ suffered once for sin that He might bring us to God by being put to death in the flesh. But He was quickened by the Spirit by which also He went and preached.
First of all, notice how Christ preached to those spirits in prison. He did it by the Spirit, and that word is capitalized in your Bible. It actually refers to the Holy Spirit. So whatever Christ did in preaching during this period of time, He did it through or by the Holy Spirit.
With that in view, let’s ask this: When was the preaching done? The answer is plainly given in verse 20,
“When once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing.”
So, the preaching was actually done while the ark was being built—during the preaching of Noah to that antediluvian world. Now, one more question: To whom was the preaching done? The text says here “to the spirits in prison.”
Throughout the Bible, we find this terminology used in describing those who are bound in the prison house of sin. David prayed,
“Bring my soul out of prison.”
Paul spoke of his experience in these words:
“bringing me into captivity to the law of sin.”
What Peter is telling us here is simply that Christ through the Holy Spirit was present while Noah preached; Christ was there through the Holy Spirit to speak conviction to their hearts and appeal to them to come into the ark. There is absolutely nothing here that indicates that Jesus departed from the body during the time He was dead to go to any subterranean place to minister to wicked spirits. The three questions are clearly answered in the text itself, that He preached by the Holy Spirit, He did it while the ark was being prepared, and He did it to the spirits in prison or to those individuals whose sinful lives were bound in the prison house of sin.
“The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall 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 ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.”
The words “for ever” do not necessarily mean “without end.” In fact, the Bible uses the term 56 times (“for ever” can be found in your biblical concordance under “ever”) in connection with the things that have already ended.
In Exodus 21:1-6 the Hebrew servant was to serve his master “for ever,” but it was obviously only as long as he lived. Hannah took her son Samuel to God’s house to abide “for ever,” but she plainly limited that time to “as long as he liveth.” 1 Samuel 1:22, 28.
The term is very clearly defined in Psalm 48:14,
“For this God is our God for ever and ever: he will be our guide even unto death.”
The desolation of Edom was to continue “for ever and ever.” Isaiah 34:10. Christ is called “a priest for ever” (Hebrews 5:6), yet after sin is blotted out Christ’s work as a priest will end. The Bible states, “The wicked … shall be destroyed for ever.” Psalm 92:7.
“And he said unto her, What form is he of? And she said, An old man cometh up; and he is covered with a mantle. And Saul perceived that it was Samuel, and he stooped with his face to the ground, and bowed himself.”
This spiritualistic séance has been cited as evidence for life after death. However, here are points to the contrary:
- Wizards had been sentenced to death and banned from the land (verse 3; Leviticus 20:27).
- God had left Saul and would not communicate with him (verse 15).
- Samuel was supposedly “brought up.” Other expressions: “ascending out of the earth,” “Cometh up,” and “Bring … up.” Is this where the righteous dead are—down in the earth? Not according to those who believe in the immortal soul. 4. Samuel is described as “an old man covered with a mantle.” Is this the way immortal souls appear? And where did the soul get the body? They’re supposed to be disembodied. Was there a resurrection? Did God obey the beck and call of the witch, and raise up Samuel? If not, can Satan raise the dead?
- The apparition of Samuel told Saul, “Tomorrow shalt thou and thy sons be with me.” Saul committed suicide on the battlefield the next day. Where did Samuel dwell, if the wicked Saul was to go to the same place?
- The record never says that Saul saw Samuel. He received his information as second hand from the witch, and only concluded it was Samuel from her description. The truth is that the devil deceived the dissolute old woman, and she deceived Saul. It was nothing more than a devil-generated séance.
- The enormity of Saul’s sin is revealed in these words, “So Saul died for asking counsel of one that had a familiar spirit, to inquire of it; And inquired not of the Lord: therefore he slew him.” 1 Chronicles 10:13, 14.
A careful study of these difficult passages show that they line up with the true fate of the lost. It is not a non-ending torture chamber, but a fate of eternal death and destruction. It will be as if they had never been. Because of this, when we arrive in heaven, there will be tears for them knowing they have passed away forever. These tears will be wiped away by a loving and understanding Savior who guarantees no more pain, sorrow, crying, or pain.
And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
If there were some space in the universe where uncle Bob was roasting in agony, would that be heaven for you? Would those tears every go away?
NO! God loves His creation so much that He sent His only Son to die for us so that we don’t have to die forever. We will not perish like the lost, but have eternal life.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.