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Archive for June, 2011

[[[ Continuing the series on What Jesus Says About Hell ]]]

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And 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 crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.
Matthew 18:8, 9

These verses from Matthew tell how even the extreme consequences of amputation are preferable to the unquenchable, eternal fire of Gehenna. This will be discussed more fully in a corresponding quote from Mark 9. I mention it here because this blog is going straight through the gospels and picking out the verses where Jesus mentions hell.

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And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hades shall not prevail against it.
Matthew 16:18

Nearly everyone who has hung around “church culture” for awhile has probably heard that in the original Greek, there is a nice little bit of wordplay going on here. “Peter” is Petros, having a masculine gender and meaning pebble or little rock; whist ‘rock’ is petra, having a feminine gender and meaning a larger ledge-size rock, which would be suitable for use in a foundation.

This study, however, is concentrating on the Gates of Hades, plural. Every commentator seems to have his own pet theory on the meaning of the ‘Gates.” Those who do not want to take it too literally often interpret it as meaning death. Some believe that ‘gates’ denotes a military style stronghold where demons strategize against either the church or the knowledge of the Truth. Still others believe that this was prophetic—a scene of Jesus preparing his disciples for His own death, which would come at the hands of the Pharisees just a few months into the future.

So what of the gates, the gates of the abode of the dead? Hades is a “temporary” abode until the final Judgment. And it has gates.

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The first couple verses of Matthew 13, loosely paraphrased, say, Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. So great a crowd began gathering that he got in a boat so that he could preach to all the people on shore.

The rest of the chapter covers several parables and explanations. The relevant ones for this study on what Jesus said about Hell are:

verses 40-42

40 “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. 41 “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, 42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

and verses 49-50

49 “So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, 50 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

The ‘furnace of fire’ here is translated from the Greek word used for an oven or kiln, and it is being used as a symbol for divine judgment. Bible commentators split over the meaning of “gnashing of teeth.” Some see it as paired with weeping, so the wicked are gnashing of teeth because of the futility of the situation. Others contrast it with weeping and see a motivation of rage.

The Parable of the Tares offers us a bonus here in that, not only did Jesus tell the parable, He also interpreted it. Had he just told the parable, interpreting the furnace as strictly figurative might be justified. Certainly it would be hard to argue that that the furnace cannot be metaphorical. But Jesus’ own interpretation of his parable treats the fiery place that where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth just as literally as it treats angels.

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[[[ Continuing the series on What Jesus Says About Hell ]]]

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In Matthew 11:23, Jesus speaks directly about a city—the city of Capernaum—being sent to hell. Many find this concept confusing, so other near-by texts of judgments upon cities are included here, even it they do not specifically mention hell or Hades.

And you, Capernaum, will you be exalted to heaven? You will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
Matthew 11:23

and similar statements:

Truly, I say to you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah than for that town.
Matthew 10:15

(“that town” refers to any of the towns where the disciples were being sent)

“Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon than for you.
Matthew 11:21, 22

All of the cities singled out had been given the advantage of having either Christ himself or his first-string representatives preach there. These cities did meet with physical destruction in a temporal capacity and their inhabitants are serving an eternal one.

Here is a principle that was never stressed in Sunday school: Once the truth is given, there is an accountability that goes along with it. If the truth is rejected, whatever was there to begin with becomes even more vile.

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Who to Fear

And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell. Are not two sparrows sold for a penny?  And not one of them will fall to the ground apart from your Father.
Matthew 10:28, 29

Verse 28 makes several things very clear: (a) Jesus made a distinction between soul and body, (b) God can destroy both in hell, and (c) hell is a real location capable of housing bodies and souls. Strongly implied is that, while one human could destroy another person’s body, one human cannot directly destroy another person’s soul. The Greek word for ‘hell’ here is gehenna.

I included verse 29 here because it sets a context. Immediately after telling the disciples to fear God, Jesus adds an illustration that shows God is aware of the details. Although the disciples were told that they should fear God, they do not have to fear the outcome; they are of more value than many sparrows.

For the purposes of this study about hell, the salient point is that when Jesus commissioned the apostles to fulfill divine purpose, Gehenna was seriously real.

 

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11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 8:11-12


I read an interpretation of this verse by someone who does not believe in a literal hell. The stretching of the logic was just—painful.

The Bible speaks of at least two different hells, and the chief distinction has to do with the timeline. One is pre-Final Judgment, and one is post-Final Judgment. The current pre-White Throne Final Judgment is Gehenna, and the future post-White Throne Final Judgment hell is Outer Darkness.

[Justice has to be immortal for it to be fully just.]

Anyway, back to this verse, the interpretation of it by someone who does not believe in a literal hell: The preceding verse speaks of a feast where people recline at tables. This is generally understood to be a marriage feast taking place in heaven. “Outer darkness” then is where those who show up late are left. Inside the party torches are lit, and the latecomers are left outside in the dark.

At least one problem with that explanation is what to do with the term “cast out” which is done into “outer darkness.” I guess attempting to crash a party could result in being cast out, but even granted that premise, it is a stretch to claim that “outer darkness” means only that it is nighttime outside the banquet hall, not to mention the weeping an gnashing of teeth part.

Others say the feast is Christ’s marriage supper and the verse applied only to the Jews, so that being cast out means they were cast into the dark Gentile world for their lack of faith.

Well, let us drag out the Venn diagrams to prove that not being in the circle of heaven is not the same as being in the circle of hell. Apparently these logicians found ‘living space for the dead’ outside either circle.

I do not mean to discount the possibility of interpreting this verse on different levels, but if Jesus is going to use one thing to illustrate another thing, the first thing ought to be real. Jesus believed in the reality of outer darkness.

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The infamous Highway to Hell is pictured here.

Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.
Matthew 7:13

Okay, so it doesn’t say “hell” in this verse, but the contrast cannot be missed.
narrow :: wide
difficult :: easy
good :: bad
right :: wrong
life :: death
heaven :: hell

Points of note: Both ways have gates. A choice is offered. The correct answer is specified.

Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.
Matthew 7:19

This does have a literal meaning. In caring for an orchard, the deadwood is burned to keep it from harboring disease and attracting pests. Nearly all commentators agree, and even the most liberal admit, that it is also a figure of destiny— whatever is useless (and evil) shall eventually be burned.

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