Go to Hell

We have probably all said this to someone or something in anger.  Or we have said its more profane equivalent.  These words flow easily without understanding their literal meaning.  Hell is not a place I would wish on my worst enemy or on the worst of people.

Is Hell real or was it just a fable to control people with fear?  Without a doubt the fear of Hell has been abused by some, but Jesus clearly speaks of its reality.  If you take Heaven seriously, you have no ground for not taking Hell seriously since Jesus spoke of it often, maybe even more than Heaven as a destination for mankind.

To be specific, I make a contrast between two words that are often rendered as “Hell”.  Jesus speaks of Gehenna and Hades.  These are not synonyms, so they should not be translated as the same word.  Hades is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew Sheol.  It is the destiny of those without the forgiveness of sins prior to Judgment Day.  The characteristics of Hades do resemble that of Gehenna, so people have tended to conflate them.  Hades and Sheol constitute the majority of references to Hell in the Bible.

When I, and most people, think about Hell, they are thinking about the final place of judgement, not a temporary one.  Because of this, I prefer to reserve the word Hell for the post-Judgment Day destination of the damned.  That convention would limit the references to Hell to the following passages that I would like to handle a couple at a time over the next few entries.

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. (Matthew 25:46)

This passage comes at the end of the Sheep and the Goats story which definitely describes Judgment Day.  Just two words describe Hell here: eternal and punishment.  We will have to look elsewhere to find the nature of the punishment.  The disturbing thing here is “eternal”.  There is no end to it.  I would be more comfortable with “permanent destruction” suggesting that the evil people come to an end, or even “long” punishment.  Eternal is tough.  What could be bad enough to deserve eternal punishment?  The gravity of this has caused some to postulate that Hell doesn’t exist, or it doesn’t exist for any human, or it actually is temporary.  I think this passage is pretty clear.  People are going to eternal punishment.

In the same chapter are these words:

And throw that servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 25:30)

Does this refer to the eternal Hell, too?  It doesn’t expressly say, but a couple of things would make me conclude so.  First, Matthew 25 is all about preparation for Judgment Day, so this seems like an outcome of that.  Then the words “outside” and “darkness” imply a separation from God, which is the ultimate judgment.  When Jesus was forsaken by His Father on the cross, it seemed that was far worse than the nails or other torments.  Jesus being forsaken results in our not needing to be forsaken, if we are connected to Jesus.

The other descriptors are “weeping” and “gnashing of teeth”.  Both sound horrible.  They also sound physical.  The final judgment is a punishment of both body and soul.  More about this later.

I would love for Hell to be either fictional or empty, but I would rather know the truth rather than be surprised by it.  I would also prefer to learn about Hell from afar rather than from experience.  Though unpleasant, please follow me as I look at the other references in the Bible.

 

 

The River of Life

One feature of the New Earth, that hasn’t been mentioned yet is the River of Life.  Once again, I don’t think this is a metaphor, but rather a physical feature running through the New Jerusalem.  That said, this river is not your usual water running downhill.

If you are familiar with the River of Life it is because it is found in Revelation 22.  Just like with magazines, a lot of us like to start at the back; so many people have read Revelation 22–the last chapter of the Bible.  You may be less familiar with Ezekiel 47.  Here is description of what is clearly the same thing.  So what is so strange about this river?

Let’s start with the source.  The river emanates from under the altar of the temple in Ezekiel and from under the “throne of God” in Revelation 22.  The temple was seen as a mini-version of what really existed in Heaven.  This is a reason to equate the future New Jerusalem with the current throne room of God in Heaven.

Water, as it spreads out and flows away, should get shallower.  This water gets deeper until it forms a river.  Along the river are trees which are identified as the Tree of Life in Revelation 22.  A presumably singular Tree of Life is mentioned in Genesis in the Garden of Eden.

This river isn’t the only thing to ever flow from beneath the throne of God.  In Daniel 7:10 a river of fire flows.  So what is this river?  The Holy Spirit manifests himself as many things:  a dove, fiery tongues and Jesus speaks of the Spirit as Living Water.  I think it is fair to understand the river as a manifestation of the Holy Spirit, and all life initiates with Him.  In Heaven and the New Earth, we may experience the Father and the Son as persons like ourselves in many ways.  The Spirit may be experienced in other ways including this river.

The Tree of Life is seen lining the river.  It, too, is an outgrowth, tool or manifestation of the Holy Spirit.  Revelation 22 says, “The leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations.”  What healing will we need in the New Earth?

The honest answer is, “I don’t know”.   In Genesis, Adam and Eve were not forbidden access to the Tree of Life until after they had been exposed to the Tree of the Knowledge of Good and Evil.  The reason was so that they would not “live forever”.  Here the reason is so that we will live forever.  Our physical bodies, though recreated, still may need the steady input of the Tree of Life; and not to worry, the Tree of Life is always in season.

I expect that our resurrected bodies will have some type of genetic information within them and some type of chemical metabolism.  Sustaining this metabolism indefinitely is whatever is in the Tree of Life.  It is the Spirit’s way of keeping us whole and alive.