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Hitler Did Not Go to Heaven (But Neither Will You or I)

In this post, I want to give you some food for thought and show some incredible things I’ve seen recently in the Bible about what happens as the rule/reign/kingdom of God is manifested on earth.  Remember, the central and most universal message of Jesus and the first apostles was about the arrival and the ways of the “Kingdom of God” or “Kingdom of Heaven” (both are used in the Biblical accounts and mean the same thing.  As I wrote last time, the word “heaven” literally means “the air/sky,” and is used to symbolize the ways of God which are “higher” than those of the earth.  The word Kingdom means “reign, rule.”  So, Jesus and the apostles were essentially declaring, describing, and demonstrating how those in and under the higher ways of God’s Kingdom are to operate – the central emphasis being unconditional love and humble service toward others.  There is nothing more heroic, restorative, or beautiful than such things.

In keeping with this central message, the Bible declares that as the kingdom/rule/reign of God comes, the wicked will be destroyed.  I’ve written before that it is much more accurate to say that it is wickedNESS, rather than wicked individuals, which will ultimately be destroyed by the manifestation of the light, love and Spirit of God Himself (which are often symbolized by fire) through His sons and daughters.  In fact, both Jesus and Paul taught that it is this destruction by fire which ACCOMPLISHES the reconciliation of all men with God.  It’s a startling truth – the thing that much of Christianity claims will torture unbelievers forever is actually the thing that will result in their reconciliation and salvation!

Here is something I only recently noticed, which I think is pretty awesome: not only did Jesus and Paul clearly teach that wickedness in ALL people will be destroyed by fire, but also, just as clearly, taught that what spiritual will “remain” after the fire has burned!  Here are a few scriptures that show this:

  • 1 Corinthians 3:13-15 WEB ®: “…each man’s work will be revealed. For the Day will declare it, because it is revealed in fire; and the fire itself will test what sort of work each man’s work is.  If any man’s work remains (Greek “meno,” meaning to remain, to stay) which he built on it, he will receive a reward.  If any man’s work is burned, he will suffer loss, but he himself will be saved, but as through fire.” 

  • John 15:16 WEB ®: “You didn’t choose me, but I chose you, and appointed you, that you should go and bear fruit, and that your fruit should remain (Greek “meno,” meaning to remain, to stay); that whatever you will ask of the Father in my name, he may give it to you.”

  • Matthew 6:19-20 ESV: “Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy and where thieves break in and steal (all treasures on earth will eventually be lost), but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust destroys and where thieves do not break in and steal (things in/of heaven cannot be lost).

  • Hebrews 12:27-29 ESV: “This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken–that is, things that have been made–in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain (Greek “meno,” meaning to remain, to stay, to abide).  Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, for our God is a consuming fire.”

~

All that being said, let me explain why I made the bold claim that, like Hitler, you and I will not “go to heaven”: no one has or will “go to heaven” except Christ 

I realize that “going to heaven” is a deep-seated, central idea within much of Christianity.  Understandably, such ideas often require a significant shift in understanding to let go of.  But there is one truth, taught all through the New Testament, that can help clarify things: EVERYTHING other than what is born of Christ/heaven will ultimately be destroyed.  Now, when I say “Christ,” I’m speaking of the Spirit of God, NOT the man named Jesus whom the Bible says was anointed by it. (see footnote 5).  The word “Christ” itself actually means “anointed/indwelt by the Spirit of God.”  The scriptures above are all saying this same thing in different ways: ultimately only what is in line with the Spirit of God will remain.  The manifestation of God’s ways is the point, NOT the destruction of wickedness!  For the sake of space I won’t try to quote all the scriptures that support this idea, but three others worth mentioning are Paul writing that God will ultimately be “All in all,” (see footnote 1), that IN CHRIST all people will be made alive (see footnote 2), and that the universe is heading toward the “restoration of all things” (see footnote 3).

Consider this: all things not born of Christ/heaven being destroyed means that at least part of what we think of as our “self” will be destroyed.  Without any doubt, the human personality known as “Hitler” was composed of things that were not born of Christ or in line with the Kingdom of God/Heaven.  Therefore, the personality known as “Hitler” does not and will not exist in the Kingdom.  But the thing is, the same is true of you and I!   Everything not born of/founded on the Spirit of God, including our ego, our opinions, our insecurities, fears, prejudices, idols, selfish and harmful ways of all sorts, even things we are not aware of, will not “remain” but are destined for destruction in the fire of God’s presence.  This is how the salvation and sanctification of all men is accomplished.  

Many of us have been taught to think of people as “saved” or “unsaved,” and maybe there’s a bit of truth in that, but it’s not that simple.  Paul wrote of believers BEING saved, and salvation as something that is “worked out,” (see footnote 4) indicating salvation is process which can increase over time.  He said such things because salvation is not merely going to heaven instead of hell when you die.   Again, what we often think of as our SELF – as the personhood referred to as “Ryan” or “Sarah” or “Ahmed” or “Camille” is not going to survive the fire of God’s unimaginable light and love.  (Revelation 2:17 even says the “overcomers” will get a “new name.”)  This is part of salvation: we will be CHANGED, as Paul wrote, and changed radically.  If you are striving for wholeness, love and goodness, then this is something to pursue and “work out,” not hide from.

In my next post, I hope to examine more closely the idea of “going to heaven,” which I believe has morphed out of eons of man’s ignorance and fear, becoming out of line with the Father’s heart and with the message of Jesus and the first apostles. 

Until then, love those around you and be humble  : )  Thanks for reading.

  1. 1 Corinthians 15:28, Ephesians 1:23
  2. 1 Corinthians 15:22 WEB (R): “For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive.”
  3. Acts 3:21
  4. 1 Corinthians 1:18, Philippians 2:12
  5. Matthew 16:20; Acts 4:10,27; 10:38 

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Posted by on December 2, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I Don’t Believe in Eternal Hell: The Scriptures!

In an online debate I was recently listening to, I heard a former Christian claim that the New Testament actually portrays God worse than the Old Testament, because only the New Testament teaches the doctrine of eternal torment in hell. He said that this doctrine amounts to “infinite punishment for finite crimes,” an idea which is cruel and terrible beyond description.

I actually agree with this conclusion, but the thing is, the Bible doesn’t really teach eternal torment! For the purposes of this post, I don’t really care if you believe the Bible is divinely inspired or superstitious nonsense; I simply hope to show is that the Bible itself makes a much stronger case in favor of the idea that all people will ultimately be reconciled to God through Christ, than the idea that anyone will be eternally tormented.

Im going to examine a few of the Bible’s passages which seem to most clearly and powerfully teach the ultimate reconciliation of all people, and in an upcoming post I’ll examine the most popular verses that are used to support eternal, conscious torment.  Genuine, divine love, 1 John says, actually casts out fear, but it is fear which lies at the root of many of the ideas about God we have created. There is much we have to learn.

On to the scriptures:

Philippians 2:9-11 ESV: Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, (10) so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, (11) and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.

1 Corinthians 12:3 ESV: Therefore I want you to understand that no one speaking in the Spirit of God ever says “Jesus is accursed!” and no one can say “Jesus is Lord” except in the Holy Spirit.

1 John 4:15 ESV: “Whoever confesses that Jesus is the Son of God, God abides in him, and he in God.”

Revelation 5:13:  “And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!”

 

Most Christians know the first passage, which says that EVERY knee will bow and tongue confess that Jesus is Lord.  (The passage from Revelation 5 says the very same thing).  To me, it seems this verse by itself should settle the question of whether or not all are reconciled to God in the end, and settle it in the affirmative!  Does it not state that everyone eventually comes to salvation, since everyone eventually confesses the Lordship of Jesus Christ and brings God glory?   As a matter of fact, it DOES say that, and says it plainly!  I’d also point out that while there are scriptures that seem to teach eternal torment, this verse is just as, if not more, plain and powerful than any of them.  An interesting question, which I won’t get into here for the sake of space, is why Christianity doesn’t accept that this verse teaches ultimate reconciliation.  

A friend of mine pointed out to me that this verse from Philippians 2 powerfully aligns with 1 Corinthians 12:3, the second passage above, which says that ONLY “in the Holy Spirit” can someone truly confess the Lordship of Jesus.  This means that those in Philippians 2 who are kneeling before Christ and confessing his Lordship and bringing God glory (which is ALL people) are “in the Holy Spirit.” Therefore, to believe in eternal torment, you are forced to claim that even though EVERYONE will “confess Jesus is Lord to the glory of God the Father” and will be “in the Holy Spirit,” they will still be eternally tormented.  Really?  That’s quite a claim, and is not at all what this passage is saying.

1 John 4:15 adds even more, going so far as to say that those confessing Jesus Christ are both indwelt by God and dwelling in God!  That is such a mind-blowing statement!  Here’s the truth: what we are reading about in Philippians 2:9-11 is the ultimate reconciliation of all people, since John tells us that in the confession of Jesus Christ as Lord that EVERYONE will make, they have come to dwell in God and be indwelt by God!  If these (all people) are in God and God is in them, but they are still eternally tormented, does that mean God is then going to eternally torment Himself?!  No, but what could such a radical statement as this mean other than they are reconciled and united with the Father!  They are sons and daughters!  As 1 Corinthians 15:28 (ESV) says:

“When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.”  

~

2 Peter 2:9 KJV: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished…”

This verse places people into two categories: the godly and the unjust.  Interestingly, it does NOT say either group, even the unjust, will be tormented (nor does it mention a thing about eternity).  Instead, it actually teaches the unjust will be chastised and corrected.  

Correctly interpreting this verse hinges on the meaning of the word “punished,” which is translated from the Greek word kolazo, which does not mean inflicting some sort of pain as a “repayment” for evil (which is very un-Christlike and therefore un-Godlike anyway).  Instead, kolazo means chastisement in order to correct. Eternal torment cannot be “corrective,” as it never changes or ends!  

The primary meaning for kolazo given by the popular and respected Strong’s Greek dictionary is: “To lop or prune, as trees or wings.” According to Greek scholars, kolazo was originally a horticultural term for pruning, which is the practice of cutting off certain parts of a plant to promote its health and fruitfulnessNo one prunes a plant to “punish” it, but to benefit it.  Over time, kolazo came to denote a similar idea with respect to people – “pruning” them (which is admittedly painful) so they will come to live properly.  The point is, the intention and ultimate outcome of kolazo is correction and restoration – especially since the one doing the pruning is a loving and wise Father!  

Interestingly, the Greek language does have a word, timoria, which means punishment in the sense of vengeance or repayment for evilArisotle, the famous Greek philosopher (who I’m pretty sure knew ancient Greek better than you or I), made this distinction between these two words in Rhetoric 1.10.17: “But there is a difference between revenge (timoria) and punishment (kolasin); the latter is inflicted in the interest of the sufferer, the former in the interest of him who inflicts it, that he may obtain satisfaction.”  So, kolasin is in the interest of (that is, beneficial and corrective) to the one being punished, while timoria is “beneficial” only to the one doing the punishingPaul, when describing his persecution of the believers in Jesus, used “timoria” to describe his actionsHe certainly wasn’t concerned with the well-being of those he was persecuting, but with meeting and satisfying his own thirst for perverted justice and revenge.  But God, and certainly love, is not like thatGod is love, remember? He’s not wrath…and He never has been. Love is always ultimately merciful and restorative.  Hence the use of the word kolazo. Though many have strayed far from it, the source and heart of the universe is one of love and restoration. How glorious!

Here is how this verse more accurately reads: “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be corrected…

 

~

 

1 Timothy 4:10 ESV: “For to this end we toil and strive, because we have our hope set on the living God, who is the Savior of all people, especially of those who believe.”

This verse says God is the savior of “ALL PEOPLE,” as many other verses say. And that’s what it means. Period. It also says that those who believe are “especially” saved. But what does that mean? The Greek word for “especially” is malista, and it means “chiefly, most of all.” It does NOT mean “only.” So the ones “chiefly” saved, the ones “saved to the uttermost” as Hebrews 7:25 says, are those who believe. But they are not the only ones saved – ALL PEOPLE are ultimately saved.  Believers are the ones who, in this life, recognize their inheritance as sons and daughters through Christ and are freed from ignorance, self-focus, and fear to commune with the Father and manifest His love.  They lose the things that hinder the Life of the Spirit within, seeking to grow in their salvation, and they will not have to undergo the painful purification of fire that awaits many.

 

~

Mark 9:43, 45, 47-49 ESV:  (43) And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. (45) And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. (47) And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, (48) ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (49) For everyone will be salted with fire.”

Verse 49 alone should cause some very serious reconsideration of the idea that Jesus thought of hell as a place in the afterlife where unbelievers are eternally tormented in fireChristianity often uses verses 43-48 to support this doctrine,  but in my experience verse 49, which is essential to understand Jesus’ point, is almost always neglected. In this critical verse, Jesus plainly says EVERYONE will be salted with the very same fire he was just associating with hell! (Pay attention to words/phrases like “all men,” “everyone” and “all,” as they are used surprisingly often).

Look again: Jesus speaks of the “unquenchable fire” of “hell” in verses 43 and 47-48, and then immediately, in verse 49, says EVERYONE will be “salted” by this fire!  So if the fire of hell is eternally tormenting, then was Jesus teaching that everyone will eternally burn in hell for eternity?  Obviously not! So, if we actually care about what Jesus meant, more than trying to support what we already believe, we have genuinely consider that what Jesus meant by “hell” and “fire” is different from what modern Christianity says.

I’ve written about the word “hell” extensively in recent posts, but please allow me to give a very brief refresher. First, the English word hell” is a very bad translation, because it has meanings that the Greek word it is translated from never had. In this passage, the Greek word translated as “hell” is Gehenna, which literally means “The Valley of Hinnom;” a valley near Jerusalem which is mentioned several times in the Old Testament and is still in existence today.  Yes, the “hell” Jesus spoke of was a nearby valley, not any afterlife destination! According to the Bible itself, this valley was used by the ancient Israelites to conduct pagan human sacrifices in fire, and King Josiah ordered the items Israel had used to worship foreign gods to be destroyed there. There is also some evidence that in Jesus’ day, Gehenna was used as garbage dump where trash and dead bodies would be burned. 

The important thing to understand is that those Jesus knew that those he was speaking to would NOT have thought of anything like our idea of “hell” when thinking of Gehenna.  It went without saying that Jesus was NOT claiming that all unbelievers or wicked people would end up burning eternally in this small nearby valley.  Jesus’ hearers would have understood he was using Gehenna metaphorically for a place of wickedness and destruction.

Another very important distinction to understand the reason Jesus said EVERYONE will be touched by the fire of hell is because it is not wicked individuals, but wickedness which is destined to be consumed in fire.   Consider this: if we believe heaven/the Kingdom of God is a place of pure love and perfection in the Spirit, where people truly love each-other as themselves and honor God in all things, then it’s clear that selfishness, oppression, and all other impurities must and WILL be eradicated. It’s also clear that even “believers” have things that need to be eradicated, given up or changed in order to fully walk in love. In the verses above, Jesus was (as he often did) using a familiar thing – the nearby valley of Gehenna, which was associated with fire and destruction, as a metaphor for the destruction of wickedness that must happen within EVERYONE. Paul, as you will see below in the passage from 1 Corinthians 3, writes about this very same idea in even more detail.  

Even if Jesus wasn’t talking of eternal torment, his words are undeniably serious and sobering. His primary point seems to have been that it’s better to willingly make even drastic sacrifices and painful changes during one’s natural life, than to enter the age to come with impurities and hindrances that both slow your progress and have to be burned up anyway. This is a serious thing, but far, far different from: “quit sinning or the God of love will ensure you are eternally tortured.”

Last, a quick point about the word “unquenchable.”  It does not mean “never-ending.”  Unquenchable fire simply means that this fire cannot be stopped, put out, or “quenched” until it consumes all that it can.  In verse 48, when Jesus mentions the worm that doesn’t die and the fire that isn’t quenched, he was actually quoting Isaiah 66:24, and seems to be prophesying the coming destruction of Jerusalem and it’s temple – an event which he talked of several times, said those in his generation were going to experience, and which took place in 70 AD.

~

1 Corinthians 15:20-22 ESV: (20) But in fact Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep. (21) For as by a man came death, by a man has come also the resurrection of the dead. (22) For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive.

Romans 5:18-19 ESV: Therefore, as one trespass led to condemnation for all men, so one act of righteousness leads to justification and life for all men. (19) For as by the one man’s disobedience the many were made sinners, so by the one man’s obedience the many will be made righteous.

These are other verse I feel are stronger in favor of ultimate reconciliation of all men than any in favor of eternal torment.  They strongly support (actually outright state) that all people will be “made alive,” “justified,” and “made righteous” in Christ.  EVERYONE.  Yes, it’s true!!! To say you believe these passages but simultaneously say you believe in eternal torment in hell, you essentially have to claim that Paul meant for the “all” or the “all men” who died in Adam to somehow be different than the “all” or “all men” who will be made righteous, justified, and alive in Christ. Such a conclusion is plainly not true. So if all men are ultimately made righteous and given life, how are they condemned to hell to be eternally tormented? THEY AREN’T!   These are plain and powerful passages, my friends! It’s time to look at scripture in a new light.

What I believe Paul is basically saying is that Jesus’ obedience was like a reversal of the events of the Garden of Eden, which brought about the self-awareness, fear and sense of separation from God that plague so many still todayHere’s the key thing though: our condemnation in Adam wasn’t about our choice, and neither is our righteousness in Christ!  This is absolutely the truth that the Bible declares!!!  

Think about it: whatever it means that all were condemned in Adam, did you have a choice in it?  Did you do anything to bring it about? Could you resist it? No, no, and no.  You weren’t born yet, and even if you were, it still wasn’t up to you. In the exact same way, Paul says that being made alive in Christ is not about our choice or even our actions, but about what God in Christ has done.  There are limitations to the power of our choice and things we simply cannot avoid or change.  Trying to resist or change the finished work of Christ in bringing righteousness to all men is like trying to resist gravity or stop the sun from rising. It’s beyond our capability (deeper, actually) and thank God for that! If all were condemned in Adam, then since the cross, all men are, right now, righteous, made alive, and justifiedThat’s what Paul wrote!

Of course, there is still evil in the world, because there is a difference between being made righteous in God’s sight and given Life, and actually knowing this and walking accordingly. It seems to me that our choice, to the extent we have it, is to begin to willingly let go of the fear and hurt and self-preservation and unbelief and indoctrination (all of which are spiritually classified as “death”) that we once walked in, to seek and allow for the expression of the divine righteousness and Life that is already within as our true nature.

Those who resist the accomplished, present reality of reconciliation with God and cling to lies and to what is dead are not bound to be eternally tormented, but they will have to undergo much “fire” to burn away the death and darkness they clung to, leaving them with little left, they will have forfeited much of the glory they could have manifested, and they will hinder others from seeing the glory of God in them.

 

~

 

John 12:32 ESVAnd I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.”

2 Corinthians 5:14-20 ESV:  For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded (deeply recognized) this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died; (15) and he died for all, that those who live might no longer live for (actually AS) themselves (no longer identifying with their previous, false identity of a sinner, separated from God, which “died”) but for (AS) him who for their sake died and was raised (we are the body of Christ, right?). (16) From now on, therefore (because we have concluded that “all have died”), we regard no one according to the flesh (we don’t “regard” that which is dead, even though many remain in it). Even though we once regarded Christ according to the flesh, we regard him thus no longer (no longer as a flesh-and-blood man!). (17) Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation (no longer to be identified as a mere human).  The old has passed away; behold, the new has come. (18) All this is from God, who through Christ reconciled us to himself (God made peace toward men) and gave us the ministry of reconciliation (to remove fear and bring about peace from men toward God); (19) that is, in Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation (this message: God has reconciled with us – there is no wrath or judgment, only love – so reconcile with Him and live from the divine Life within). (20) Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God.

Bear with me a bit as I try to unpack this and show how it relates to universal reconciliation.  Let’s start with John 12:32, which hinges on the understanding of the word “draw.”  It’s easy to say that “draw” means “invite,” and therefore that Jesus was saying all would be “invited” to him, but those that reject this invitation will be damned.  However, as we saw in the previous verses from 1 Corinthians 15 and Romans 5, Paul wrote that all people, apart from their choice or will, will be made righteous and made alive in Christ, just as all were condemned in Adam. This lines up perfectly with what Jesus was saying, because in saying all men will be “drawn” to him, he was saying that everyone, apart from their own will, were and will be included in the cross of Christ. Jesus didn’t just “invite” men to the cross, they were drug there.

The Greek word for “draw” is helkuo, and is probably best translated as “drag.” Helkuo is used six times in the New Testament, and I looked at each of the other 5 times it is used. Four of them have to do with being apprehended and taken against one’s will (such as being captured and drug to jail), and one was in reference to a sword being “drawn” (taken and used) by its owner.  In none of these cases does “draw” involve any choice at all!  It always references a force at work which is stronger than the subject’s will.  Once again, I believe the death of Christ at the cross is even stronger than the stubborn will of men, and that even without their acceptance, as Paul said later: “one died for all, therefore all died.”  It wasn’t and isn’t a choice!  

The longer passage above from 2 Corinthians 5 deals with this same idea of ALL being included in the cross of Christ.  I believe 2 Corinthians 5:14 in particular contains a CENTRAL truth, spoken from the perspective of the mind and heart of God: since Jesus died for ALL, then ALL have diedAgain, this is just like the previous passage which says that in the same way all were condemned in Adam, all will be made alive in Christ. The most holy and righteous person “died” in the cross of Christ right along with the most wicked.  It’s stated plainly, but it helps to understand what it means! 

In looking at the underlying Greek text and thinking about this idea many times over the last decade or so, I believe a more literal, accurate and deeper way of interpreting and understanding this statement isn’t that Jesus died “for” all, but that Jesus died AS all.  Just as Adam was somehow a representative of all, so was Jesus Christ. Think about it: how else could Paul make the claim: “Jesus died = all died,” unless Jesus died AS all!   If Jesus only died “for” me, then I could dispute that “I died.”  But I can’t really dispute that “I died” if Jesus died AS me, even in a representative sense.  Paul wrote about this in many other places, including Colossians 3:3, which says: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”  Do you see the pattern? Paul didn’t say that we needed to die, or that some died, but simply that allhave died.”  This is deep and amazing stuff! 

I believe Jesus was saying that ALL people, in a spiritual sense, and apart from their will, would be “drawn” into him at the cross, and that this means his death was to be, in some sense, as ALL men.  There is no eternal torment for anyone, because all have already died!  You don’t (and can’t) torment what is dead.  You burn it up and get rid of it.  So if “you” died, then who is the “you” that now lives?  The truth is, the only “life” in any of us is Christ, the Spirit of God!  It’s in there, and connecting with it and hearing the Father is the essence of why Jesus came and what he was about.

After claiming that Jesus died as all, beginning in verse 16 Paul says: “therefore,” (meaning “because”), Jesus died and therefore all died, God has reconciled the world to Himself and is not counting people’s trespasses and sins against them!  God is not counting sin against who?  Against the ALL MEN who died in Christ This forgiveness of sin is the outcome of Christ’s death as all!  If God is not counting anyone’s trespasses against them, where is this supposed wrath and eternal torment coming from that Christianity seems to feel obligated to constantly bring up?  It doesn’t exist, not as we think of it.  Paul plainly wrote elsewhere (like Romans 4:15) that wrath was a result of the law, which is taken away and which no one alive today was ever under to begin with.  No law = no wrath.  

~

 

1 Corinthians 3:11-17 ESV:  (11) For no one can lay a foundation other than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. (12) Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw– (13) each one’s work will become manifest, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed by fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each one has done. (14) If the work that anyone has built on the foundation survives, he will receive a reward. (15) If anyone’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss, though he himself will be saved, but only as through fire. (16) Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? (17) If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy him. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

I don’t see this passage mentioned very often, but I feel it is one of the primary writings in the Bible that deals with both the way the purifying fire of God works, and with the outcome of the things we do while in these physical bodies.  I’ll admit it’s not the simplest passage, but what does seem plain is that Paul meant for what he wrote to apply to ALL people, since he uses the terms “no one,” “anyone,” and “each one.”  While Christianity typically teaches that unbelievers will be “eternally lost” and tormented in hell for their sins, Paul says here that there are only two results based on the actions “anyone” takes in this life: to receive a reward, or suffer loss but be saved.  If those are the two outcomes, and if even those who suffer loss and whose work is “burned up” are saved, then where is eternal damnation?  The answer: only in our imagination.

I chose this passage because in it Paul seems to clearly refute two common ideas about hell which Christianity teaches.  First, contrary to the teaching that the “fire” of judgment day is reserved for the wicked and unbelievers, Paul (just like Jesus) plainly taught that it applies to EVERYONE.  Second, contrary to the teaching that this fire is a source of punishment and retribution, Paul says that it serves to “disclose” and “reveal” the true motives and substance of our works; saying that the fire will “test what sort of work each one has done” (v. 13).  When Paul writes that “each man’s” work will be “revealed by fire,” the Greek word for “reveal” is apokalupto (from which we get the English word “apocalypse”), which means: “to uncover, to disclose, to make known.” Here is the point: revealing the true nature of men’s hearts and eradicating impurity there, NOT punishment or vengeance, is the purpose of the “fire” mentioned many times in the New Testament.  This includes the lake of fire in Revelation and the fire of gehenna (hell) that Jesus spoke of.  

Christianity often interprets things written in the Bible as physical, when the author is simply using physical things to represent spiritual realities.  This passage is one such case.  There is no physical fire being discussed here – how can physical fire burn up “works,” or “test what sort of work” men and women have done?”  Does someone being saved “through fire” mean they only get second and third degree burns instead of burning to death?  Of course not. These are metaphors. I believe deeply that “fire” represents nothing other than the pure Spirit/presence of God Himself, a presence of love at such an incomprehensible intensity that everything except what was forged in and by this fire to begin with will be “burned up.Like the author of Hebrews wrote: “our God is a consuming fire.” The only “work” that survives is work that was forged in the fire to begin with – that is, work that was done from and in union with the Spirit of Christ within. 

With regards to those who suffer loss as their work is burned up, it’s enlightening to know the word “loss” in the passage above is the same root word Paul uses in Philippians 3:7-8 (ESV) in which he says:  “But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ.  Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ…” This “loss” isn’t being eternally tormented in hell, as Paul himself said he experienced this “loss,” though he experienced it willingly, while in his physical body.

To understand what this loss is, think about this: what exactly did Paul lose in knowing Christ?  It’s nothing as simple or shallow as sinful actions or physical possessions.  No, first and foremost, he lost his treasured identity as a holy and zealous Pharisee – an upholder of the law of Moses and an opponent of all that opposed it.  According to Paul himself, before he met Christ, being a Pharisee was his entire identity and existence, and no doubt he was 100% convinced he was on God’s side and ready to die for what he believed.  But on the road to Damascus, he encountered the fire of God’s presence of love, and allowed it to begin to consume the lie of who he thought he was.  Later, Paul was able to see and say, in Galatians 2:20 ESV:

I (false identity/adamic-life/self) have been crucified with Christ.  (I now see that) It is no longer I (false identity/adamic-life/self) who live, but Christ who lives in me. And (now that I see this,) the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in (many translations: “the faith of”) the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”  

The loss that Paul suffered in order to gain Christ is the same thing Jesus talked about when he spoke of cutting off your hands or feet or plucking out your eyes in order to enter the Kingdom of God or to “enter life.”  It has to do with shedding what is dead and false in order to walk in Life and truth.  In the same way, I believe everyone, including Christians, must lose any identity apart from a son or daughter of God and member of the body of Christ on earth, and then allow the Spirit to lead them.  This is separate and above any religion. It’s an inward Life, the same that was in Jesus.

This loss that is required can happen now, willingly, or later, in the lake of fire.  When scripture speaks of the wicked being “consumed” and “destroyed,” the words themselves tell you there is an end to it. This process of “burning up” in order to be saved is what it is speaking of.  In this way, the two outcomes for “anyone” are to receive a reward, or to suffer the loss of what was impure and carnal in order to be saved through this fire.  In a very real sense, the fire isn’t retribution, it’s salvation!   Obviously, to see your work survive and receive a reward is far preferable than watching and feeling all you did and all you thought you were burn up, but nevertheless, salvation ultimately reaches ALL.

 

~

 

Hebrews 1:3 ESV:  “He (Jesus) is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature…”

John 14:9 ESV:  “Jesus said to him, “Have I been with you so long, and you still do not know me, Philip? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?”

Luke 6:32-36 ESV:  “If you love those who love you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners love those who love them. (33) And if you do good to those who do good to you, what benefit is that to you? For even sinners do the same. (34) And if you lend to those from whom you expect to receive, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, to get back the same amount. (35) But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil. (36) Be merciful, even as your Father is merciful.”

These verses speak for themselves, really.  First, we are told that Jesus Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and THE EXACT IMPRINT of His nature.  Jesus seems to have known this, as he said that to see him was to see the Father.  Nowhere in all of history can we get a clearer image of God than in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.  So then, perhaps Jesus’ most important and all-encompassing teaching was what is known as the “sermon on the mount,” or the “beatitudes.”  In this sermon, Jesus teaches over and over that those who express the divine nature will love their enemies radically – they will be kind and do good to those who oppose them and do evil and harm to them.  In doing this, Jesus said they are being like God who is also “kind” to the “ungrateful and evil.”  Jesus NEVER said this kindness ends at physical death, to be replaced by its exact opposite!  God doesn’t change when we die. Our physical bodies are just shells in the first place!

Of course, love desires to see men repent of wickedness and begin to follow the way of love and unity as soon as possible, and love may expose hypocrisy and wickedness (as Jesus did very forcefully). But there is no good reason to think there are basically two Gods – a merciful one before physical death, and a wrathful one after. Jesus never taught this. Jesus didn’t even condemn or punish someone who was caught in the very act of adultery – a terrible sin in his day! 

I know that God can do what He wants, no matter how I feel about it.  But here’s something to think about – the self-sacrifice, mercy and love that humans find beautiful, and which are part of nearly all of humanities’ oldest and most treasured stories, is part of the divine nature within us all!  In other words, mercy and love and bravery are beautiful and appealing to us, because they are divine qualities that the divine within us rejoices in!  Didn’t Jesus say to be merciful, as God is merciful?  Fear, hate, greed, oppression and the like are ugly to us because they are contrary to our truest, deepest nature.  So if it’s the divine within me that finds mercy beautiful, something that isn’t merciful isn’t divine

 
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Posted by on August 12, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I Don’t Believe in “Eternal Hell,” Pt. 4: The Beautiful Meaning of The Cross

It’s time to tackle the question: “if there is no hell, why did Jesus die?”   This question is so often asked primarily because the religion of Christianity has created an extreme (and unbiblical) emphasis on the afterlife and has misunderstood what heaven and hell are referring to.  For that reason, it’s worth looking at here.   

Let’s look at two of the primary “theories” that theologians have identified regarding the meaning of Jesus’ death on the cross.  These theories are usually referred to as “Penal Substitution” and “Christus Victor.”  Penal Substitution, which is the predominant theory in modern, western Christianity, basically says that in dying on the cross, Jesus was acting as our “substitute” by experiencing the punishment and wrath of God that should, and otherwise would, have been inflicted upon you and I.  This theory says that God, in His holiness, HAD to let out his anger and wrath somehow, so in His love He chose to punish His son instead of us.  Thankfully, since His wrath was used up on Jesus, He can then be kind to us and ultimately let us into Heaven.  

As I have I become more familiar with the scriptures and (more importantly) the Father Himself, the more problems I see with the penal substitution theory – logically, scripturally, and otherwise.  From a logical perspective, this theory says that somehow (in a way no one can really explain), Jesus six-hour crucifixion was a complete and total “substitute” for what would have been never-ending torture in fire for billions or more people.  Some scholars do say that Jesus suffered in hell after he died, (a teaching I disagree with totally), but even still, you have to explain how 3 days in hell by one person (even the son of God) replaces what should have been ETERNITY in hell for untold numbers of precious people!  Jesus’ crucifixion does not, in any real way, seem to be “taking the punishment” of eternal torment that would have been inflicted upon untold numbers of people.  Additionally, it doesn’t seem like genuine forgiveness if God merely tormented someone else instead of us.  Is this really the God revealed in Jesus?

An even bigger problem I have  with penal substitution, (which I’ve mentioned before), is the way it portrays God’s nature; as being wrathful and vengeful, beyond that of the most sadistic people to ever live.  In John 14:9, Jesus famously told Philip: “he who has seen me, has seen the Father.”  Jesus, even according to himself, is the single truest and clearest representation of the Father that the earth has ever seen.  Hebrews 1:3 goes so far as to say that Jesus is “the exact imprint” of the Father’s nature.  To see what God is like, it makes sense then to look at what Jesus taught and how he acted!  While Jesus wasn’t directly speaking to you and I, we can still see the love of the Father all over Jesus’ teachings and actions.  Jesus taught that God will gladly leave 99 righteous to go after one that is unrighteous and lost, and searches till He finds it and brings it home.  He taught his followers NOT to resist evil, to give up their shirt to someone who takes their cloak, to turn the other cheek to someone who strikes them, to give generously to those who ask from you, to be like sheep among wolves, to be harmless as doves yet wise as serpents, to never repay evil for evil, to love and be kind to one’s enemies and persecutors, even to the point of one’s own death.  He also said that living this way is the mark of a son or daughter of God, because their Father, THE Father, is likewise kind both to good and evil people.  What Jesus never said is that the Father’s kindness somehow ends when we physically die, being somehow replaced by eternal rejection into a lake of fire for eternal torture.  What we see in Jesus simply does not line up with a God who, from some sense of “justice,” MUST inflict horrible, never-ending punishment on those who are out of line or believe the wrong thing.  In the life and teachings of Jesus, maybe more than anywhere else, we have solid ground to question the “penal substitution” and “God of wrath” ideas.

The second main theory regarding why Jesus died on the cross is known as “Christus Victor.”  This seems to have been the prevailing theory for most of early Christianity, and remains the dominant theory among Eastern and other parts of Christianity today.  It essentially says that Jesus died not to take God’s wrath on anyone’s behalf, but to defeat the devil and the powers of evil.  It wasn’t about taking punishment so others could avoid it.  It was about triumphing over sin and evil.

In doing some reading for this post, I came across an article that I think explains the Christus Victor idea better than I can, so I have decided to quote a large portion of it.  I don’t agree with everything in it, but I think it’s pretty good.  You can find the full article at: http://reknew.org/2008/01/the-christus-victor-view-of-the-atonement/  Any underlining or bolding was added by me.

~

“God accomplished many things by having his Son become incarnate and die on Calvary. Through Christ God revealed the definitive truth about himself (Rom 5:8, cf. Jn 14:7-10); reconciled all things, including humans, to himself (2 Cor 5:18-19Col 1:20-22), forgave us our sins (Ac 13:38Eph 1:7); healed us from our sin-diseased nature (1 Pet 2:24); poured his Spirit upon us and empowered us to live in relation to himself (Rom 8:2-16 ); and gave us an example of what it looks like when we live in the kingdom (Eph 5:1-21 Pet 2:21). Yet, I believe all these facets of Christ’s work can be understood as aspects of the most fundamental thing Christ came to accomplish: namely, to defeat the devil and his minions (Heb 2:141 Jn 3:8). He came to overcome evil with love.

When we understand Calvary and its conquest of the devil as the culmination of Christ’s whole ministry, it becomes apparent that Jesus wasn’t only pushing back the kingdom of evil during his lifetime with his healing and exorcism ministry. Rather, every aspect of Christ’s life must be understood as a pen-ultimate expression of the victory that Calvary accomplished, for every aspect of his life reflects Calvary-like love.

When Jesus broke religious taboos by fellowshipping with tax collectors, prostitutes and other sinners (e.gMt 11:19Mk 2:15Lk 5:29-3015:1, cf. Lk 7:31-37), and when he forsook religious traditions to lovingly heal and feed people on the Sabbath (Mt 12:110Lk 13:10-1814:1-5Jn 5:9-10), in the light of Calvary we can understand him to be waging war against the powers and exposing the systemic evil that fuels religious legalism and oppression. He was conquering evil with love.

When Jesus boldly crossed racial lines, fellowshipping and speaking highly of Samaritans and Gentiles (e.g. Lk 10:30-3717:11-16Jn 4Mt 8:5-1015:22-28 ), and when he crossed other social barriers — fellowshipping with and touching lepers for example (Mt 8:1-3Mt 14:3) — he was resisting and exposing the evils of the powers that fuel racism and social marginalization. He was conquering evil with love.

So too, when in the midst of an extremely patriarchal culture Jesus treated women with dignity and respect (Mt 26:6-10Lk 7:37-508:1-3210:38-4013:11-18Jn 4: 7-298:3-1011:512:1-7), in the light of Calvary we must understand him to be battling and exposing the powers that fuel sexism. He was conquering evil with love.

And when Jesus expressed mercy to people who knew they deserved judgment and whom the culture stipulated should be judged (Mk 2:15Lk 5:29-307:47-48;19:1-10Jn 8:3-10), he was resisting and exposing the powers that fuel social and religious cruelty and judgmentalism. It was, in fact, this on-going resistance to, and exposure of, the powers and those who do their bidding that evoked the wrath of the powers and ultimately led to Jesus’ crucifixion. Hence we see that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection cannot be separated from each other, not even theoretically.

Everything about Jesus’ life must be understood as an act of defiance against the powers, precisely because everything about his life was an act of self-sacrificial love. He rightfully owned the entire cosmos, but in loving service to others had no place to lay his head (Mt. 8:20). Though he had all power in heaven and earth, John reminds us, he used it to wash the dirty, smelly feet of his disciples – the very ones who would abandon him in a couple of hours (Jn 13:3-5). When Peter cut off a guard’s ear in self-defense, Jesus lovingly healed the attacker’s ear and rebuked Peter (Lk 22:50-51). When he could have called legions of angels to fight for him, out of love Jesus instead let himself be crucified (Mt 26:53). Forsaking the use of power over others for the sake of expressing the power of love towards others — this is what the kingdom of God looks like. And when it is manifested, as it is most decisively on Calvary, it defeats the rebellious gods of this age.

The Calvary Teachings of Jesus

Jesus’ ministry was centrally concerned with defeating demons and the devil, as we have seen. But his life and teachings were also permeated with a concern to demonstrate and teach an unprecedented kind of love. What has rarely been appreciated is the fact that these two themes are two sides of the same coin. While sickness and demons may need to be confronted with the healing and freeing power of God, the gods of the age, and the devil himself, can only be overcome through radical, Calvary-like, self-sacrificial love. Jesus says it with his death and resurrection. Jesus says it with his life. And Jesus says it with his teachings.

For example, few things in this demonically oppressed world feel as “natural” to humans as resorting to violence to defend ourselves and/or our country or retaliating against our enemies when we are threatened or harmed. This sentiment is the cornerstone of how things operate in “this present evil age” (Gal 1:4) and the reason why human history is largely a history of mindless, diabolical, cyclical carnage. Indeed, it seems positively foolish to most people — including, sadly, most contemporary western Christians — to not engage in this violent quid pro quo activity under certain conditions. Yet, expressing that “secret wisdom of God” that defeats the devil, Jesus expressly forbids his followers to give into this “natural” instinct toward violence.

For example, Jesus says:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.’ But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also… You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous” (Mt 5: 38-3943-45).

We are to love indiscriminately — like the sun shines and the rain falls — without any consideration of the merit of the person we love. This is to be a distinguishing mark of the “children of [the] Father.” And it centrally includes expressing Calvary-like love to our worst enemies.

Now, as Walter Wink and others have noted, the word translated “resist” (antistenai) in the above passage doesn’t imply passivity in the face of evil. It rather connotes resisting a forceful action with a similar forceful action. (15) Jesus is thus forbidding responding to violent action with similar violent action. Instead, followers of Jesus are to respond to their “enemies” in ways that are consistent with loving them and blessing them (cf. Lk 6:28). Feeding our enemies when they’re hungry and giving them something to drink when they’re thirsty rather than retaliating against them is the only way we can keep from being “overcome with evil” and the only way we can “overcome evil with good” — both in ourselves and in our “enemies” (Rom. 12: 17-21). Our Calvary-like response to our enemies exposes the evil of what they are doing, breaks the tit-for-tat cycle of violence that keeps the demonically oppressed world spinning, and opens up the possibility that our enemies will repent of their ways (cf. I Pet 2:233:13-18).

The point is that the meaning of Jesus’ death and resurrection cannot even theoretically be separated from the basic meaning of his life and teachings. They are all about one thing: overcoming evil with good. Which is to say, they are about establishing the loving reign of God while vanquishing the powers that resist it.

Jesus Substitutionary Death

Most evangelicals today understand Jesus’ death on Calvary in substitutionary terms (Jesus died in our place), not in Christus Victor terms. The Christus Victor model affirms that Jesus died as our substitute, bore our sin and guilt, was sacrificed for our forgiveness and was punished by the Father in our place (e.g Isa 53:4-510Rom 3:23-252 Cor 5:21Heb 2:179:26I Jn 2:2). But unlike the common substitutionary view espoused by many today, the Christus Victor view can affirm these important truths while avoiding a number of paradoxes that accompany the common substitutionary view — that is, without supposing that our individual sins, guilt and just punishment were somehow literally transferred onto Jesus and without supposing that Jesus had to literally placate the Father’s wrath.

In the Christus Victor view, Jesus died as our substitute and bore our sin and guilt by voluntarily experiencing the full force of the rebel kingdom we have all allowed to reign on the earth. To save us, he experienced the full consequences of sin that we otherwise would have experienced. In so doing, he broke open the gates of hell, destroyed the power of sin, erased the law that stood against us, and thereby freed us to receive the Holy Spirit and walk in right relatedness with God.

Along the same lines, in the Christus Victor view, Jesus was afflicted by the Father not in the sense that the Father’s rage burned directly toward his Son, but in the sense that God allowed evil agents to have their way with him for a greater good. This is how God’s wrath was usually expressed toward Israel in the Old Testament (e.g. Jud 2:11-19Isa 10:5-6). It’s just that with Jesus, the greater good was not to teach Jesus obedience, as it usually was with Israel in the Old Testament. Instead, God the Son bore the Father’s wrath, expressed through the powers, for the greater good of demonstrating God’s righteousness against the powers and sin (Rom 3:25) while defeating the powers and setting humans free from their oppression. (17)

So too, the Christus Victor model can wholeheartedly affirm that Jesus gave his life as a ransom for many, but without supposing that Jesus literally had to buy off either God or the devil (Mk 10:45Mt 20:28; cf. I Tim. 2:6Heb 9:15). The word “ransom” simply means “the price of release” and was most commonly used when purchasing slaves from the slave market. (18) Hence, the Christus Victor model can simply take this to mean that Christ did whatever it took to release us from slavery to the powers, and this he did by become incarnate, living an outrageously loving life in defiance of the powers, freeing people from the oppression of the devil through healings and exorcisms, teaching the way of self-sacrificial love, and most definitively by his sacrificial death and victorious resurrection.

The Practical Significance of the Christus Victor View

I’ll conclude by sharing a brief word about the practical significance of the Christus Victor model of the atonement.

One of the foremost problems with the western church today is that people understand what Jesus came to accomplish in legal terms. God is viewed as an austere and angry judge who wants to send us to hell, we are seen as guilty defendants deserving of hell, and Jesus is viewed as our defense attorney who wants to find a way to “get us off the hook” from going to hell. So he works out an arrangement whereby the Judge gets to vent his wrath, receiving full payment for sin, yet the guilty defendants are freed from their eternal sentence.

Now, there’s many problems associated with this legal-arrangement view of Jesus (such as, if the Father gets paid by Jesus’ death, did he really forgive our sin?). But what concerns me most is that this view easily divorces justification from sanctification. That is, so long as a person believes Jesus died as their substitute, they’re off the hook. How they actually live isn’t central to the legal arrangement. Given this view, it’s hardly surprising that there are millions of people in America who profess faith in Jesus but whose lives are indistinguishable from their pagan neighbors.

The Christus Victor understanding of the atonement avoids this completely. In this view, what Christ does for us cannot be separated, even theoretically, from what Christ does in us. One either participates in Christ’s cosmic victory over the powers or they do not. If they do, their lives by definition will be increasingly characterized by the ability and willingness to overcome evil with good as they imitate the Calvary-quality life of Jesus Christ (Eph 5:1-2). (19) The idea that one is “saved” by intellectually believing in the legal transaction Jesus allegedly engaged in with God the Father can thus be dismissed as magic.

A related practical advantage of the Christus Victor view of the atonement is that, in sharp contrast to the hyper-individualistic outlook of most Americans, the Christus Victor model puts on center stage the easily-overlooked demonic dimension of all fallen social structures. By calling on disciples to join Christ’s rebellion against the ever-present powers, the Christus Victor perspective inspires disciples to live counter-cultural lives that are persistently on-guard against the demonically seductive pull of nationalism, patriotism, culturally endorsed violence, greed, racism and a host of other structural evils that are part of the spiritually polluted air we all breathe. This view motivates believers to take seriously the revelation that the devil has power over the whole world (I Jn 5:19), including all the nations of the world (Lk 4: 5-6) and thereby helps them guard against all forms of idolatry while motivating them toward radical, non-violent, social action. (20)

As Christ established the kingdom of God by the ways his life, ministry, teachings and death contrasted with the power-dominated kingdom of the world, so his followers are called to advance the kingdom of God by living lives that sharply contrast with the kingdom of the world. Instead of trusting the power of worldly force, we are to trust the “foolish” power of the cross and thereby proclaim its wisdom to the gods of this age (Eph 3:10). Following the example of our captain, we are to always overcome evil with good, trusting that when Easter morning comes it is goodness that will have won the day – and the entire cosmos.

The fact that the American Church contrasts with the broader culture so little in this all-important respect is to me a sure indication of just how badly we need to embrace the early church’s Christus Victor understanding of the atonement.

~

The “good news” is largely that God is not angry at us or opposed to us, AND NEVER HAS BEEN.  God is reconciled to us, and we need not ever worry about sin (because there is no law), but rather enjoy and impart this reconciliation to a world that still clings to darkness and imagination and fear.  If we are operating from love and acceptance and union with God, what law could improve on that anyway!?  What was opposed to us was THE LAW, which Jesus fully and finally disposed of (and which, arguably, non-Jews were never under to begin with).  Colossians 2:14, for example, says that Jesus “cancelled,” “set aside,” and “nailed to the cross” the “record of debt” and “legal demands” that were AGAINST us.  Ephesians 2:15 says Jesus “abolished the law” which had created “hostility,” erasing the division of Jew and Gentile and establishing peace for both.  Paul wrote clearly that sin and law empower each-other, but that in Jesus Christ there has been made an entirely new and higher way – the “law” of the Spirit of Life.  The only people Jesus had harsh words for were the religious leaders who were imposing a sense of guilt and separation from God, and doing so for their own selfish ends.  Again, the good news is that God is for us and dwells within us, inviting us and enabling us to join His Kingdom by showing radical love in the face of wickedness.  This is how wickedness is defeated, as Jesus’ life and resurrection showed. 

A lot more could be said, and it’s true that some questions will likely remain.  There isn’t an “official” version of a “Christus Victor” understanding of Jesus’ death.  But that’s ok.  What I most appreciate is that Christus Victor is consistent with God’s nature of Love, showing Him to be truly and wildly merciful and kind and forgiving, rather than compelled to inflict wrath and pain as many pagan Gods are said to do.  Christus Victor recognizes the Lordship of Christ, recognizes the central importance of Jesus’ emphasis on love, and recognizes that the sign of a son of God is a life of sacrificial love and humility, just as Jesus taught.  Christus Victor doesn’t make the gospel about individuals escaping hell or going to heaven, but, like Jesus himself, has as its ultimate goal the establishment of the reign of God on earth through this same sacrificial love, wherein the corporate body of Christ worldwide lays down its life to defeat evil with love, just as Jesus did.  Amen!  

 
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Posted by on April 7, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Why Live for God If There is No Hell?

Traditional Christians seem to raise two main objections when presented with the idea that eternal, conscious torment does not exist.  The first is something like: “if everyone goes to heaven, why would anyone bother to avoid sin and live for God?,” and the second is something like: “if there is no hell, why did Jesus have to suffer and die on the cross?”  

The first of these questions I find simpler to answer, and is what I’ll focus on in this post.  The first thing I’d point out is that it seems odd that we would need a promise of pleasure or threat of punishment in order to live for God – especially since we say that the Christian life is the best and most joyous life to begin with.  Of course, it is perfectly normal, even healthy, to want to avoid pain (hell), or to desire pleasure (heaven).  But the issue is, these are NATURAL, NORMAL desires, which have NOTHING to do with spiritual enlightenment or Truth1, operating according to the Spirit instead of the soul2, or connecting with the life of Christ within3.  Even the wildest animals and the most wicked people desire to avoid pain and obtain pleasure.  Surely the life of the Spirit of God goes deeper than that!  

Over the years, as I have sought wisdom, it seems to me that there is a much higher and truer reason and way to “live for God,” “follow God,” “obey God,” “live righteously,” “deny our flesh”, or whatever other term you want to use, and that reason is this: because we have come to see and experience that the divine nature of Love, which was in Christ, is in us too – in fact this nature is our TRUE IDENTITY!  We see that we are in Him, and He is in us, and we are, right now, Sons and Daughters of God!   This realization, I believe, is both the beginning and the foundation of a genuine life of faith.  When we are enlightened to realize our ALREADY-ACCOMPLISHED union with God, and the ALREADY-ACCOMPLISHED crucifixion and burial of our flesh/old nature, we cannot help but increasingly and naturally manifest the eternal, resurrected Life and nature of God, which is our Life and nature tooMost if not all of us have at one time lived from a false identity such as “sinner,” “wretch,” “natural human,” etc.  As a consequence, we have formed and conformed to lifestyles and ways of operating which are not in line with Truth.  Furthermore, a false identity has made us vulnerable to indoctrination and has made us live from experiences, natural understanding, and fears.  When we have our true identity correct, from the core of our being, all the false ways of thinking and living begin to lose their hold and influence.  If the issue isn’t simply wrong behavior, but a need to become aware of and connect with our true identity, then rewards and punishments make a lot less sense and essentially become pointless.  How much sense does it make to punish someone if they are already what they should be, just ignorant of it?  Maybe a short illustration will help:

Imagine the child of a good and noble King was stolen as an infant by a band of thieves.  Soon, he was sold as a slave, and as an adult he ended up with a group of beggars who survived by begging and stealing.  After a long search, another of the King’s sons found his brother begging in a dirty alley.  The searching son is grieved to see his brother, a prince and beloved son of the King, not only living as a filthy beggar, but seeming to accept it!!!   At this point, the searching son could make great promises to his brother about how cleaning up his act will lead to a reward from his Father the King at some unknown point in the future, or he could threaten his brother with the fearful punishment that his Father will impose on him if he continues to live as a beggar, even though he was raised that way.  The searching brother could also try to shame the lost brother into changing by pointing out how ugly and terrible his life as a thief and beggar is. 

A bit of thought reveals a few reasons that this would likely fail to produce real, lasting change.  First and foremost, the brother who had been stolen would still believe he is a thief and beggar, and so would likely revert back to the ways of his false identity.  Along with that, the lifestyle he grew up in would have become deeply ingrained.  Maybe begging and stealing were the only things that kept him alive in the harsh and uncaring environment he lived in. 

I believe a far better strategy for the searching son to use would be to simply lead, or at least invite, his brother to come to the Kingdom, where the ignorant prince, though still believing he is a beggar and thief, and acting as such, was already accepted and wanted.  In the Kingdom, this “beggar” would be loved, kept safe, taught the King’s ways, and perhaps most importantly, treated as the royalty that he truly is, whether he accepts it yet or not.  In such a scenario, it’s easy to see how the beggar prince could, over time (or even quickly), become convinced of his identity, unlearn his fear-based ways and come to see the benefit and beauty of a higher way of life, full of purpose and glory.  While the life of a Son of God does require sacrifice and hardship, I think everyone, on some level, recognizes that sacrificial love, extravagant kindness and compassion, and steadfast conviction are all admirable qualities.  That’s why the most pervasive and lasting stories and movies all share a similar theme – sacrifice for the good of others, courage in the face of evil and danger, a deep purpose beyond the self, and the resurrection of a lost truth or beauty.  These things are ingrained into mankind.

A beautiful truth is that even before the “stolen son” accepts his identity and begins to act as a noble son of the King, he is still a son and remains accepted and loved by his Father and family.  Even as I write this illustration, I am seeing that one of the most transformative things that can happen is for this lost son’s family to show him patient, sacrificial love and acceptance, with no strings attached.  Eventually, I believe he will begin to adopt the noble ways of his household naturally and effortlessly, with no reward or punishment necessary, because his true identity has never changed.

For human beings, I believe the real “problem” isn’t a lack of something we need, but being unwilling or unable to see or believe who we are in Christ and what we already have been provided.  The Kingdom of God and the way of Truth can’t and won’t be established by an increase in the natural human desire to avoid pain or gain pleasure.  Instead, they will be established by the application of acceptance and love, coupled with the proclamation of Truth, by the sons and daughters of God, which have the power to dissolve the pride and fear that create a callous over the human heart and prevent people from letting go of the false identities, mindsets and resulting lifestyles that they have built or have had thrust upon them.  This, I believe, is what Paul had in mind when he wrote that the only “enmity” we have with God is in our own ignorant minds, and the primary problem is a calloused heart:  

Ephesians 4:17-18 ESV: “Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. They are darkened in their understanding, alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.”

Here are a few scriptures that attest to the ALREADY-ACCOMPLISHED AND THEREFORE PRESENT union with God and death of our flesh:

  • John 14:19-20 ESV: “Yet a little while and the world will see me no more, but you will see me. Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.”

  • Galatians 2:20 ESV: “I have been crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”

  • Romans 6:4-6 ESV: “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. For if we have been united with him in a death like his, we shall certainly be united with him in a resurrection like his. We know that our old self was crucified with him in order that the body of sin might be brought to nothing, so that we would no longer be enslaved to sin.”

  • Ephesians 2:4-6 ESV: “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ–by grace you have been saved– and raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”

  • 1 John 3:1 ESV: “See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.”

  • 1 John 5:20 ESV: “And we know that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true; and we are in him who is true, in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”

  • 1 Corinthians 1:30-31 ESV: “And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”

  • 2 Corinthians 5:14 ESV: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died…”

Please, don’t make people more aware of sin and death – that’s like trying to resurrect what is buried and gone!  Paul said that ministering “do’s and don’ts” (law) is ministering death.  Don’t threaten people with eternal torment – it doesn’t exist, and misrepresents the love of God!  It’s also not needed or even useful.  Instead, love them and point them to the love and Life of God within them.  Be patient with them, bear with them, and speak Truth to them.  Many have undergone terrible things at the hands of ignorant and wicked people, and have a hard time overcoming this.  I know that loving some people is difficult, but it’s the only way.  Sadly, even the world is beginning to figure this out, before much of the visible church is!   

 

 

 

  1. Ephesians 1: 17-18 (ESV): “…that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and of revelation in the knowledge of him, having the eyes of your hearts enlightened, that you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints…”
  2. Hebrews 4:12 (ESV): “For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. 
    1. 1 Thessalonians 5:23 (ESV): “Now may the God of peace himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit and soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ.
  3. Colossians 1:27 ESV: “To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.”
    1. Colossians 3:3-4 ESV: For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.  When Christ who is your[a] life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.”
 
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Posted by on March 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

Why I Don’t Believe in Eternal Hell, pt. 3: The Gospel of the Kingdom

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In two recent posts, I have outlined several reasons I don’t believe in the idea of “eternal conscious torment.”  The two most prominent ones I discussed are: first, because I find “eternal torment” to be starkly contradictory to the teachings and practices of Jesus (who we are told is the exact representation of the Father), and second, because the Bible’s uses of the word “hell” NEVER meant an afterlife destination of torment in the first place – in fact, the Greek word consistently translated “hell” actually means a valley near Jerusalem which many believe was used to burn trash and dead bodies.  In this third post, I’d like to look at the issue from another angle: if there is no eternal hell, then why did Jesus die?  What are we saved from?  What is the gospel?

I doubt you’ll be shocked to learn I do NOT think the gospel of Christ has anything to do with believing in Jesus to avoid hell or gain entrance into heaven when we die, and I don’t  think the scriptures, interpreted properly and looked at fully, support that idea at all.  I believe the “gospel” is all about the establishment of the KINGDOM of God – that is, the heart and way of God, based on love and unity, being recognized and received among the “elect,” then declared and ministered until in the ages to come it spreads over the earth.  That is true “good news” for ALL men, as the angels proclaimed at Jesus’ birth!  

Here is the first use of the word “gospel” in the New Testament: 

  • Matthew 4:23 ESV: “And he went throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom and healing every disease and every affliction among the people.” 

Do you see that?  In healing diseases and afflictions, in ministering Life and giving hope to the downtrodden, Jesus was embodying the Kingdom.  That is, he was making manifest the heart of God – the love and restorative justice and kindness that are at the core of who God is (and which is the opposite of what the law was).  Prior to this, most people in Israel (which are the ones Jesus was sent to, by the way), were totally immersed in the law of Moses, and were hindered from experiencing God on a deeper level by the “religious leaders” who used the law for their own status and profit.  The law was harsh and unbending, and these religious leaders, often referred to in the Bible as “pharisees” and “lawyers,” were blind and corrupt.  The Good News that Jesus came declaring and ministering had to do with being freed from this law and those who tried to selfishly enforce it, and to begin instead to commune with God in spirit and truth and freedom.  Glory!

It’s also interesting that Jesus and the apostles proclaimed the gospel BEFORE Jesus died on the cross.  How?  Because the gospel isn’t what so many of us were taught in western Christianity!  Here’s one of a few passages that shows this:  

  • Luke 9:1-6 ESV: “And he (Jesus) called the twelve together and gave them power and authority over all demons and to cure diseases, and he sent them out to proclaim the kingdom of God and to heal. And he said to them, “Take nothing for your journey, no staff, nor bag, nor bread, nor money; and do not have two tunics.  And whatever house you enter, stay there, and from there depart.  And wherever they do not receive you, when you leave that town shake off the dust from your feet as a testimony against them.”  And they departed and went through the villages, preaching the gospel and healing everywhere.”

Just what do you think this “gospel” was that the disciples were preaching while Jesus was still with them?  One thing is for sure: they weren’t preaching anything about Jesus’ death as an atonement for sin enabling us to go to heaven, because scripture records they found out Jesus was going to die on a Roman cross much later, and they were horrified and dismayed by the news!  Peter actually tried to prevent Jesus from going to the cross and was rebuked by Jesus himself, who called him satan (see Matthew 16:21-23)!  No, it seems clear to me that what they were proclaiming was exactly what they had seen and heard Jesus proclaiming: “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!”  The miracles and healings were both confirmation and manifestation of the Kingdom itself – proof that God was FOR men, not against them like the law often was.  Repentance has to do with seeing God as Father rather than “Judge” and accepting one’s sonship, letting go of contradictory mindsets and behaviors formed from fear and self-preservation. 

If you read some of the apostles’ messages in the book of Acts, you can see them declaring that through the messiah Jesus Christ, there was no need to go to temples built by human hands to worship God, and there was no need to look to priests to minister to God on one’s behalf (see 1 John 2:27 to see this declared plainly).  There was also no need (and never really had been) for animal sacrifices, because one perfect sacrifice had been made for all.  The gospel was (and is) that rather than reaching out to God through outward observances, God has come to us in His son to show us what He is like.  For the Jews, they were also told that soon the entire law-and-temple system would be taken away, once and for all (which happened when the curtain in the temple ripped from top to bottom and the Romans tore down the temple to the last stone).  

The apostle Paul, who wrote most of the New Testament and whose writings are read all over the world each Sunday, was not among the initial twelve disciples, yet he also understood the Kingdom (again, the heart of God expressed on earth) as the central component of the gospel.  He wrote, among other things: “For the kingdom of God is not a matter of eating and drinking (outward observances) but of righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit.”  I’m not meaning to minimize the cross of Christ.  Paul had a greater view of the cross than any other author of scripture, and wrote about its meaning in tremendous depth and mystical truth in several places, such as Romans 6.  Yet even Paul seems to have understood that the cross was part of the larger purpose of the Kingdom of God. 

I see the cross more as a demonstration and result of the gospel, rather than the gospel itself.  Assuming this is true, and the “gospel” is about the Kingdom/rule/way of the Spirit of God being received inwardly and lived out on the earth, the question still remains of why Jesus “had” to suffer and die, and what it is we are “saved” from.  I think I will save those questions for my next post, so I hope you’ll check back.  God bless you!

 

 
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Posted by on February 4, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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More on the Kingdom

If we believe that the Biblical phrases “Kingdom of God” and “Kingdom of Heaven” refer to the same thing (which I think is essentially true), then we can draw some important conclusions.  First, I’ll briefly try to show why I think these phrases are often, if not always, synonymous.

In Matthew 19:23-24, Jesus uses both phrases when speaking of the same thing.  He says:  “‘assuredly, I say to you that it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  And again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.’”  Matthew 4:17 records Jesus’ first words after beginning his ministry as: “repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.”  Mark 1:15 records these same words as: “…the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.”  These examples show that “Kingdom of Heaven” and “Kingdom of God” often, if not always, refer to the same thing.

Interestingly, the phrase “Kingdom of Heaven” is only found in Matthew’s gospel.  Some say this is because Matthew was writing to a Jewish audience, and was respecting the Jews’ tradition of using the name of God as sparingly as possible, using the word “heaven” instead.  The terms God and heaven aren’t as different as they might seem, since the writers of scripture understood “heaven” NOT as a specific place believers go, but as something like: “the higher ways of the divine, based on love and unity,” as opposed to the lower ways of natural man.  In that sense, “heaven” is not a “place” we will go to, but a spiritual life/power/realm which first comes to us and to which we then can begin to conform.

So having established that, (for those who are willing and able to hear it), I want to briefly share and expound on something that came to me while I was half-asleep and still in bed a few days ago.  Maybe it’s unusually profound, maybe not, but I want to get it down and share it.

Luke 17 (NKJV): 20 Now when Jesus was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God would come, He answered them and said, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; 21 nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” 

The pharisees, that is the religious leaders and scholars and experts of Jesus’ day, were often perplexed by Jesus.  I think they probably felt toward Jesus both curiosity and interest, and jealousy and resentment.  They would often ask him questions, sometimes to try to get him to make a “mistake” that they could expose.  In this passage, they are asking him when the Kingdom – that is, the reign, of God would come.  They expected that it would come in some sort of a violent overthrow of the existing political powers, and be established as a physical and domineering hierarchy, with Jews at the top.  STill today, most Christians look for Jesus to return and physically kill and overthrow those they view as “wicked.” 

However, what Jesus told them was very different than they expected. He told them to quit focusing on things that can be outwardly observed, because the rule and reign of God won’t arrive that way.  Instead, he taught that the rule and the reign of God -that is, the establishment of his Kingdom – is first and foremost invisible, inward, and spiritual.  What what may be going on in the outward world which we can “observe” is a separate issue (though not a trivial one).  Sadly, in our day and age, few have heeded this truth that Jesus was sharing.  Although the Roman government remained largely brutal, and the religion of the Jews remained corrupt and murderous, Jesus was saying that he walked in the Kingdom of God, and that anyone could do the same, by his Father’s grace, if they were willing. 

The primary thing I want to point out is that if, as Jesus said, the Kingdom of God is something spiritual and inward, then the same is true of the Kingdom of Heaven.  Remember, the two terms are interchangeable.  Despite this, most Christians are quite focused on “going to heaven” when they die…not realizing that Jesus said heaven is an inward kingdom, and that it is here and now that we are to begin to dwell in heaven.  Paul understood this as well, saying that we are “seated in heavenly places in Christ Jesusright now (Ephesians 2:6).

Yes, Jesus, the firstborn from the dead, is the one who made this possible.  Yes, it is in him that sins are forgiven, and in him that we are seated with God in heavenly places – RIGHT NOW.  I believe the sooner we realize this, realizing that heaven is a reign which has come to us, a reign characterized by radical love and mercy and forgiveness and reconciliation, the sooner we will begin to see these ways of heaven invade our lives, families, and world.  If we’re always waiting till later or till we die, we won’t expect or seek to establish and live in the Kingdom NOW.  But we have to!  Let’s bear with one-another, be patient and kind with one-another, until we all come to the unity of the faith and true maturity, that the body of Christ will truly rise and minister Life once again (Ephesians 4:13, Romans 5:17).  I am certain this will not be instant, elegant, or easy.  I am even more certain, however, that love will not fail as it eventually dissolves all things formed in the mind of man, all fear-based understandings and ways, and instead rejoices with the truth and abides in the Father through Christ to the ends of the earth, and even beyond.  Amen.

 

 

 

 
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Posted by on January 10, 2018 in Uncategorized

 

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Why I Don’t Believe in “Eternal Hell,” Pt 2: Hell Itself

Before I get into the meat of this post, I’d like to say a few things.  First, that I truly regret using the term “universalist” in my initial post, the chief reason being that I am not really a universalist!  I still believe Jesus Christ alone was and is THE savior – I just believe that this salvation will eventually encompass everyone.   If a title or label is needed for what I believe about the ultimate destiny of mankind, a better and more accurate one is probably something like “ultimate reconciliationism.”  I also regret using “universalist” because it seems that all labels and titles, whatever they may be, almost always do more harm than good; stifling humble, helpful dialogue and fostering knee-jerk reactions, polarization, defensiveness, hostility, etc.   Therefore, I feel my use of the universalist “label” was a significant (and stupid) mistake on my part, and I have edited it out of my original post.

I also want to say that I underestimated just how daunting a task it is to refute the idea of “eternal conscious torment.”  For one thing, it isn’t a single idea at all, but a compilation of several ideas, which include: this torment takes place in what the Bible calls hell, people who die “unsaved” go to hell instead of to heaven, one’s eternal destiny is immediately and permanently determined at the time of physical death, torment in hell is conscious and never-ending, this torment is due to God’s wrath against sin, Jesus’ purpose was to save us from hell, and the Bible is quite clear in affirming all of these things.  

Refuting ECT is also difficult because it has become an integral part of the belief system of millions, and a major driving force of the entire system of Christianity.  Because “eternal conscious torment” is such an inconceivably absurd and terrifying thing, it seems to have come to permeate and underlie nearly everything Christianity understands about the nature and character of both God and man, the purpose of Jesus’ incarnation and crucifixion, the meaning and message of the Kingdom of God, and the “good news” itself.   

Now, if it’s true that eternal conscious torment is a man-made idea which is out of line with the Spirit of love and the heart of God (which I firmly believe to be the case), then it is both inevitable and necessary that it not only be removed, but also replaced.  I am greatly in favor of this, actually.  HOWEVER, I do think this should be done carefully and with a desire to avoid harm or division whenever possible.  For this reason, I am taking pains in these blogs to explain and support what I believe to be true, rather than only exposing and tearing down what is false.  This will require some time and work, but I feel this topic, and whoever reads this, deserves it.  I will do my best.

The Biblical Words for Hell:

Maybe a good place to start is by looking at the word “hell” itself.  In the original languages the Bible was written in, the words which have been translated into English as “hell” mean nothing like “an eternal destination of torment.”  Even in English, “hell” didn’t originally mean that, originating with a root word simply meaning “a concealed place.  In my research, it seems the earliest uses of “hell” in the English language simply referred to the invisible place where everyone, good and bad, went to reside after death.  The association of “hell” with torment seems to have come later, likely due to the influence of pagan ideas and religions (which have had a far greater effect on Christianity than most realize).   

You may not know that a total of FOUR very different words are translated “hell” in the KJV Bible (twice that of most other modern translations such as the ESV and NASB, which only translate two words as “hell”).  Understanding that the KJV translated hell far more liberally than other translations is worth knowing,  because the KJV, by a very large margin, was the most commonly used Bible translation in America well into the 20th Century.  Thus, it has been hugely influential in the formation of Christian doctrine and practice in the western world, and thus into the rest of the world where American and European missionaries traveled and evangelized.

If you use a bit of common sense, the way “hell” has been translated should bother you – why take four (or even two) different words, with different meanings and contexts, from very different languages, locations, and time-periods, then translate them all with a single English word as if they all mean exactly the same, THEN insist “thus saith the Lord”!?  I honestly think such a scenario is nothing less than a tragedy, as there is almost no way NOT to “muddy the waters” and cause confusion and error on a large scale, which is exactly what has happened.  Translation issues aren’t that big of a deal if, for example, you’re trying to insist that unicorns are real (yes, unicorns are mentioned in the KJV), but when you are talking about insisting that God’s word declares that billions of people will end up in eternal torment for wrong beliefs, you are talking about an idea with the power to create great fear and control over people.  

In the KJV, three of the root words translated “hell” are Greek, found in the New Testament: these are hades, gehenna, and tartaroo.  The fourth is the Old Testament Hebrew word sheolAs I indicated earlier, among all translations in common modern use, ONLY the KJV translated either sheol OR hades as “hell,” (though the New King James Version (NKJV) translates sheol, but not hades, as “hell”).

Regarding the Hebrew sheol, I feel that “grave” is probably the best English translation, because it means “place of the dead,” with no extra meaning of what this place is or isn’t like.  The KJV actually does translate sheol as “grave,” but only about half the time.   It seems the translators used “hell” whenever they could, but were forced to use “grave” in the instances where “hell” was too obviously a bad translation.  Could this one word really mean “grave” and “hell?”  Those are extremely different!  Interestingly, the Old Testament contains zero mention of torment after death, and in some cases even says there is no consciousness after death at all! (see Ecclesiastes 9:10 below, for example).  My point is, sheol cannot and does not mean what we think of as “hell,” in part because there was and is no such concept as “eternal conscious torment” in ancient Israel, or even in Judaism today.  

  • Ecclesiastes 9:10 ESV: Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.”  -Not exactly the “eternal conscious torment” of “hell.”

As for hades, a Greek word used in the New Testament, it seems that all modern Bible versions chose to leave this word untranslated because, as with sheol, the translators recognized that it clearly does not refer to a place of eternal torment, but simply to the invisible residence of those who have physically died.  The use of hades in the Bible itself, as well as in other Greek writings from the same time-period, show this to be the case quite clearly.  Even the KJV translates hades as grave, but only in a single instance, where “hell” simply wouldn’t fit.  Giving further support to the notion that hades is not a place of eternal torment is the fact that the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Old Testament used widely in Jesus’ day, translates the Hebrew word sheol with the Greek word hades, indicating the two were understood to be synonymous.  The New Testament itself also shows this: Acts 2:27 records Peter quoting from Psalm 16:10, and uses the word hades to translate sheol

Another very interesting point about hades is that it is not a Christian word or concept at all, but originates in Greek mythology, hundreds of years before Christ.  It seems to me that the Biblical writers used such a word and idea from Greek mythology NOT because it is a literal place created by God, but very simply because it was the commonly-used word in that time and place to refer generally to the “place of the dead.”  That’s it.  Again, it seems the authors of the Bible were simply using the primary word in their language to convey “the place of the dead” to their readers.  They didn’t intend to mean “a place of eternal torment after death,” as “hell” has come to mean, because that’s not what hades meant!  It is the modern religion of Christianity, not Christ and the first apostles, which is fascinated with the afterlife, to the detriment of life NOW.

Gehenna:

Seeing that sheol and hades are usually (and ideally) NOT translated “hell,” this leaves us with two words which ARE consistently translated as “hell” in nearly all modern translations: Gehenna (about 12 times) and tartaroo (once).  You may have heard of hades and sheol, since many Bibles leave them untranslated, but Gehenna seems to be less known – since it’s almost always translated “hell,” the only way to have heard of it is to look at the Greek language, which few care to do.  Whenever Jesus speaks of “hell,” the word is always Gehenna.  Excuse the pun, but what the hell is Gehenna?  Before I explain what it is, allow me to show you a fairly recent picture of it:

Gehenna (“hell”) Today

 

This is not a joke – that is truly a picture of Gehenna, i.e. “hell”!   I am capitalizing Gehenna because it is the proper name of a physical place, pictured above.  Gehenna is one of those physical locations which is named after a person or family; very much like how the state of Pennsylvania is named after William Penn, or how America is named after the Italian explorer Amerigo Vespucci.  A simple biblical dictionary reveals that the Greek word Gehenna is a shortened word, adapted from two Hebrew words: ge (valley) and Hinnom (the proper name of some ancient person or family).  Gehenna, which is translated “hell” in virtually all Bibles, literally means “the valley of Hinnom,” or “the valley of the sons of Hinnom.”  That’s right, Gehenna was, and still is, a literal geographical place; a valley on the outskirts of Jerusalem very near where Jesus lived and ministered, which you can visit today, and which those alive when the Bible was written (especially in and around Israel, where Jesus ministered), would have been very familiar with.  No doubt many who heard Jesus speak of Gehenna had personally seen it with their own eyes.  Not only that, but the Old Testament, the only “Bible” the first believers had,  mentions Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom) multiple times, which would have made it even more familiar to them.    

I don’t want to be redundant, but feel it’s important to stress is that whenever Jesus mentioned Gehenna (“hell”), those whom he was actually talking to, and those who read his words not long after he lived, would absolutely NOT have thought about some after-death destination of eternal torment – not at all!  They would have simply thought of the familiar nearby valley (we will look at some of Jesus’ words below).  What comes to mind for a 21st Century American when they read of “hell” in the Bible is MUCH different from what Jesus had in mind, and what he intended for his hearers to have in mind.  This is no small matter!!!  Again, what we think of as “hell” is NOT what Jesus meant!  In warning about  the fires of hell, Jesus clearly wasn’t saying anyone was going to consciously burn in the small Valley of Hinnom, much less be eternally tormented there after they die.  Those are ideas which are entirely fabricated in the darkened mind and imagination of man – carnal in origin and spiritually damaging in effect. 

Here is one more picture of Gehenna/hell, taken in 1948:

Gehenna (“hell”) in 1948

At this point in my first draft of this post, I began to explain that Gehenna is connected with fire in the New Testament writings because it was used in Jesus’ day as a dump for trash and dead bodies, which was kept perpetually burning to dispose of its contents.  I have heard this for years, and read it myself in more than one “authoritative” source.  However, upon further research, it appears this is only a theory, and that the most ancient source that describes Gehenna in Jesus’ time as a perpetually burning dump was a Jewish Rabbi named Kimhi who wrote around 1,200 AD.  Not exactly a first-hand account.   So while the theory of Gehenna being a perpetually burning dump may well be true, it’s not a certainty, and I don’t want to present it as such. 

IF the “burning dump” theory is false, it seems plausible that the connection between Gehenna and fire has to do with the fact that the Valley of Hinnom was the location of pagan sacrifices, including human sacrifices, committed in and by ancient Israel.  This would likely have been known by nearly all Jews in Jesus’ time, and it seems they would have easily, even automatically, connected Gehenna with abomination,  idolatry, and death.  It is mentioned in such a capacity many times in the Old Testament.  A couple examples are:

  • 2 Chronicles 28:3 (NASB): “Moreover, (King Ahaz) burned incense in the valley of Ben-hinnom (literally “the sons of Hinnom, or Gehenna) and burned his sons in fire, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had driven out before the sons of Israel.”
  • Jeremiah 7:31 (ESV): “And they have built the high places of Topheth, which is in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom (Gehenna), to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I did not command, nor did it come into my mind.” 

This is a very important thing to realize: unless we truly think that millions or billions of people are going to be eternally tormented in this small valley in Jerusalem, which is obviously ridiculous, then we have to recognize that, at least on some level, Jesus’ warnings about the fires of Gehenna (hell) are not literal, but (like many things in the Bible) used as a spiritual metaphor or representation.  That’s just a fact.

All this said, it’s worth noting that the Bible is actually shockingly silent about Gehenna.  For instance, Paul, who single-handedly wrote 2/3 of the New Testament and whose letters are preached from constantly in churches all across the world, NEVER used either Gehenna OR hades – the two primary words translated hell in the Bible!  Read any of his letters, in any translation, and you will not find the word “hell” even once.  You can even read his speeches and teachings that are recorded in the book of Acts – hell is completely absent.  Even for those who choose to insist: “Paul taught about hell, he just never named it,” it has to be admitted that this strange.  Similarly, the entire gospel of John has ZERO mentions of it, and the gospel of Luke has just one.  These things, especially the total absence of Gehenna in any of Paul’s writings, seems almost inconceivable to me if Gehenna/hell is THE place of eternal, conscious torment (the worst thing imaginable) which Jesus personally came to deliver all mankind from, and if the Bible is the only place where we can reliably learn this. 

In fact, besides one use of Gehenna by James (which we will look at and which clearly has nothing to do with eternal torment), Jesus is the only one who used this word in the entirety of the Bible!  Again, this is almost impossible to believe if hell is truly a destination of eternal torment that awaits all unbelievers, and which believers are specifically called to rescue men from by preaching and warning?  The answer to this conundrum is that hell isn’t a place of eternal conscious torment that awaits unbelievers – we have simply been misled!  There’s no shame in that, though.  In fact, it’s great!  If we realize we’ve been misled, we are then enabled to receive the truth!  The real shame, if there is any, isn’t in changing, but in realizing we were stubbornly wrong for so long.

Jesus’ Warnings About Gehenna/Hell:

It’s sometimes said that Jesus spoke about hell more than heaven, but this seems to me to be absolutely false.   In fact, in the ESV version of the Bible, the word “hell” appears in the four gospels a total of 12 times, while the word “heaven” appears 132 times!!!  Other translations have similar numbers.  I don’t want to get into the idea of “heaven” too much here (maybe in the future), but I do want to mention that the Greek word translated “heaven” is ouranos, which literally means “the expanse of the sky,” and is used numerous times in scripture to refer simply to the physical sky.  Most of the time, ouranos/heaven is used a spiritual sense, referring to the “higher” rule and way of God/Spirit, as opposed to the more base, corrupt “lower” kingdoms and ways of the world.  Most of Jesus’ parables were directly about the “Kingdom of Heaven” which he indicated was both present and future.  It seems to me that Jesus was describing how believers should act as CURRENT citizens of the Kingdom of Heaven, and declaring that in doing so, we will literally be bringing heaven to earth.  In that sense, Jesus famous statement “the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand” makes more sense: Jesus was literally embodying what spiritual citizens of heaven live like, and then called those who would listen to him to likewise love one-another and and walk in the Spirit.  

More on that later, perhaps.  My point is that in a similar way, I am increasingly convinced that when Jesus spoke of Gehenna (hell), he absolutely did not mean a physical place we go forever when we die, but was using a familiar physical place, which was associated with corruption and fire, as a spiritual metaphor to illustrate the destructive, consuming fire that will burn ALL MEN.  Yes, I said ALL people will undergo the fires of Gehenna/hell – Jesus clearly said so himself, as you’ll see below I am also reminded of John the Baptist saying that Jesus will “baptize with the Holy Spirit and fire.”  That fire isn’t for “unbelievers,” but everyone!   The fire Jesus baptizes with, I believe, is the same fire represented by Gehenna.  The fire of Jesus is a fire of love.  Love NEVER torments as a means of justice, and never causes pain without purpose or end.  Perfect love consumes, without fail.  

In looking at the Biblical writings, it seems Jesus mentioned hell/Gehenna on four unique occasions (sometimes more than once per occasion): the sermon on the mount in Matthew 5 and Mark 9, when speaking of the persecution his disciples would face in Matthew 10, when warning about avoiding stumbling-blocks in Matthew 18, and when proclaiming woe to the Pharisees in Matthew 23.  I would again point out that those who Jesus was speaking to, being familiar with the nearby Valley of Hinnom, would have clearly understood Jesus was not speaking literally, but using a familiar place of corruption and pagan fire-sacrifices to make a spiritual point about the “fiery destruction” that awaits their own inward corruption.

I also noticed that only once, in Mark 9:43, did Jesus connect Gehenna with anything resembling “eternal.”   It’s not surprising that this one occasion is most often used by those who want to say that Jesus taught eternal conscious torment.  When this verse is looked at by itself, it’s easy to see how it came to be understood as something like: “avoid sin at all costs or you risk being eternally burned in hell.”  I don’t think that’s what it means at all, however (not to mention, doesn’t that contradict traditional gospel message of “saved by grace through faith, not of works?).  Here is the verse:

  • Mark 9:43-44 (NASB): “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.”

As a general rule, it is unwise to make a point using a verse separated from its context.  Allow me to quote the larger context of this verse, because there are some fascinating, shocking and very illuminating things that can be seen:

  • Mark 9:42-50 (NASB): “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe to stumble, it would be better for him if, with a heavy millstone hung around his neck, he had been cast into the sea. 43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire,44[where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 45 If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell, 46 [where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.] 47 If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell, 48 where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.  49 “For everyone will be salted with fire. (Did you catch that???)  50 Salt is good; but if the salt becomes unsalty, with what will you make it salty again? Have salt in yourselves, and be at peace with one another.” 

There are some really important points I’d like to make here. First of all, when Jesus mentions “unquenchable fire,” he’s not describing a physical place, but is actually quoting from Isaiah 66:24, using the words of Israel’s prophets to make a point, as he did many times when speaking to Israelites.  But more importantly, notice what Jesus says in verse 49: EVERYONE will be “salted” with this fire!  What this means, if you can accept it, is that the ”unquenchable”  fire of hell will burn EVERYONE.  This is what Jesus said, quite clearly in fact.  Does this mean everyone is going to be eternally tormented?  Of course not!  What it means is that this fire is spiritual, not physical, and serves to purify, not to eternally torment.   One might ask: how could “unquenchable” fire mean anything other than “never-ending” fire?   Unquenchable seems to simply mean that this fire cannot be avoided and cannot be snuffed out until it entirely consumes whatever it is burning. In that sense, it is very much “unquenchable.”  In Greek, the word translated “eternal” means “lasting an age” or “an undefined, long period of time,” not “never-ending into all eternity.” In a future post, I intend to look at the meaning and original words and true meaning behind “unquenchable,” “eternal,” and “everlasting.”

So if Jesus isn’t speaking of literal fire, then what IS he talking about? In the New Testament, fire is often used to represent purification and refining.  In actuality, I believe this Fire is the presence of God/perfect love Himself.  Here are a few examples:

  • Hebrews 12:28-29 (NASB): “Therefore, since we receive a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service (not composed of wood, hay, or stubble) with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire.”
  • James 5:2-3 (NASB): “Your riches have rotted and your garments have become moth-eaten. Your gold and your silver have rusted; and their rust will be a witness against you and will consume your flesh like fire.”
  • Jude 22-23 (NASB): “And have mercy on some, who are doubting; save others, snatching them out of the fire; and on some have mercy with fear, hating even the garment polluted by the flesh.”
  • Matthew 3:11 (NASB): “As for me, I baptize you with water for repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, and I am not fit to remove His sandals; He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.”

The fire of God, which according to Jesus ALL will be “salted” with, most certainly DOES unquenchably burn and consume, BUT, it only burns and consumes what is of the flesh, what is impure.  I believe flesh burns away in this fire in a similar way that darkness is dispelled in the presence of light, and lies vaporize in the presence of truth.  A primary message of Jesus (and the apostles) was to call men to repent of law-mindedness, embracing their identity as Sons of God, walking in the Spirit rather than by their traditions and darkened natural minds.  In other words, it seems to me that Jesus and the apostles were calling men to embrace the reconciliation which was already accomplished – not to “attain” it somehow.  The issue seems to be for us to let go of carnal ways of thought and action (which include a lot of our religious thinking and ways)!   Think about this: how many of us have any way of understanding and living that isn’t totally pure and spiritual?  Maybe it’s “good,” but still man-made?   How many of us also have been hypocritical or selfish?  How about misled, yet stubborn?  All of us!  Therefore, either in this age or in the ages to come, how many of us must and will undergo the “fire” of purification?  All of us – just as Jesus said!  Scripture teaches that the Kingdom of God is present and destined to increase, and we know that ultimately there will be no wickedness in it.  The unquenchable fire, I believe, if for this purpose.  It’s not about our personal destiny, it’s about the Kingdom of God!!!  

A common reaction to this line of thinking is: “if everyone goes to heaven, why even follow God at all?”  There are many reasons I don’t like that logic, and I won’t get into them all here.  One obvious answer is that even if the fire of God is ultimately purifying, that doesn’t mean it’s pleasant, right?  Having one’s entire life and identity revealed to have been based on a lie and without substance, then burned away is no trivial matter.  I also tend to agree that some people, who have greatly resisted the Spirit of God and been a source of stumbling and harm to others, will have to undergo more “burning” than others – there is more flammable “wood, hay and stubble” there – again, no trivial matter!

Another point is that scripture teaches that through Christ ALL men have ALREADY been reconciled.  This can’t change, because Jesus died and rose for all, AS all.  The fire of Gehenna and the lake of Fire in revelation can’t prevent this, and you don’t torture someone you are reconciled with.  Instead, it seems to me these fires serve to burn away what isn’t in line with that reconciliation.  In fact, everything that opposes God isn’t “real” anyway, if you define “real” as: “part of the New Creation.”  The old isn’t going to be tortured, it’s destined for destruction by fire.

This seems to be what Paul was speaking of in this passage:

  • 1 Corinthians 3:11-15 (NASB): “For no man can lay a foundation other than the one which is laid, which is Jesus Christ. Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire.”

Getting back to the passage from Mark 9 about being cast into hell, I also noticed that Jesus seems to be making one overall point using several metaphoric examples.  His basic point seems to be this: “it would be better” to undergo physical drowning, amputation or even death rather than to cause or experience spiritual “stumbling.”  Without question, this is a very sobering point!  HOWEVER, I think we all realize Jesus isn’t saying anyone who is a source of stumbling is going to be drowned in the ocean with a huge rock around their neck, or that the way to avoid hell is to literally amputate your extremities or rip out your eyes – both of those are clearly figures of speech to emphasize his point.  Therefore, we have no more reason from this passage to say that people who “stumble” will be literally cast into Gehenna to burn forever than we do to say that anyone who causes stumbling will or should be thrown into the ocean with a huge rock around their neck.   Both of these things, which Jesus mentioned together, are metaphors: physical examples used to make a spiritual point.   

Other Uses of Hell in the New Testament:

Outside of Jesus’ occasional mentions of Gehenna in the gospels, the word appears precisely ONCE in the rest of the New Testament.  I have to point out once again, if Gehenna/hell is THE place of eternal torment that Jesus came to save us from, couldn’t we expect at least Paul, Peter, or John to tell us about it by name at least once?  Anyway, here is the single non-Jesus use of Gehenna in the rest of the New Testament (notice how it is clearly metaphoric):

  • James 3:6 (NASB): “And the tongue is a fire, the very world of iniquity; the tongue is set among our members as that which defiles the entire body, and sets on fire the course of our life, and is set on fire by hell (Gehenna).”

Of course, the valley near Jerusalem is not actively inflaming anyone’s physical tongue.  Once again, Gehenna is chosen as a metaphor because it was a familiar and connected with fire and corruption.   What James seems to be saying is that our “tongue” (our thoughts put to speech) is, similar to fire, very powerful and destructive, being capable of quick and pervasive misery, both to ourselves and others.  To avoid being agents of such destruction, we must be sure that our speech is kept in check by and is in accordance with the Holy Spirit.  Our minds must be renewed to see the greatness and fullness of the Reconciliation, Love and Truth that has been at hand for at least the last 2,000 years.  

Finally, the last and only other use of the word “hell” in the New Testament (outside of the KJV’s poor translation of hades), is found in 2 Peter 2:4, which reads:

  • 2 Peter 2:4 NASB: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment…”

In this verse, the word translated hell is the Greek word tartaroo, a form of tartarus.  This is the only use of this word in the entire Bible.  Like hades, tartarus is not a Christian word or idea, but originates in Greek mythology, long before Christ.  In Greek mythology, tartarus was considered to be the lowest level of hades, serving as a prison for divine beings such as the Titans.  Once again, it seems to me that Peter was not trying to make a literal “doctrine” about tartarusa place that is thoroughly pagan in origin and meaning.  Instead, it seems most likely that, exactly as with hades, he was simply using a word and idea which would have been very familiar to his audience in order to make a larger point about the chastisement of the wicked. 

I will end with that!  I hope this was helpful and enlightening.  Do some more research yourself if you want, but please take these things seriously.  As I said last time, what is at stake is the way we understand and represent God’s nature and character, and those tend to permeate into our emotions and relationships.  I intend for much more to come on this overall subject!  Bless you all. 

 

Footnotes:

    1. 2 Corinthians 5:14 ESV: “For the love of Christ controls us, because we have concluded this: that one has died for all, therefore all have died;”
    2. Hebrews 2:9 ESV:  “But we see him who for a little while was made lower than the angels, namely Jesus, crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.”
    3. Hebrews 10:2,10,12-18 ESV:  (2) “Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins? (10) And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. (12) But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God, (13) waiting from that time until his enemies should be made a footstool for his feet. (14) For by a single offering he has perfected for all time those who are being sanctified. (15) And the Holy Spirit also bears witness to us; for after saying, (16) “This is the covenant that I will make with them after those days, declares the Lord: I will put my laws on their hearts, and write them on their minds,” (17) then he adds, “I will remember their sins and their lawless deeds no more.” (18) Where there is forgiveness of these, there is no longer any offering for sin.”
 
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Posted by on November 19, 2017 in Uncategorized

 

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