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!