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The Truth About Hell
by R.S. Neaville
The scriptural facts concerning Hell are very different from the popular conceptions. When most of us think of Hell we picture a dark and fiery cavern somewhere deep beneath the earth where a behorned Devil sits on his throne as ruler of the underworld. We imagine a host of demons torturing the souls of the damned in its darkest recesses. It is a fearful picture indeed but it is not scriptural.
In order to understand the truth about Hell we must first understand the truth of our own nature as creatures made in God's image. Mankind was created to exist in two realms: The physical and the spiritual. We abide in both these realms in body and spirit, the two component parts of our whole. Each component has its own realm, joining both realms in to one being, a living soul.
Genesis 2:7. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.
The spirit can exist in the realm of the physical only as long as it has a body to be attached to. If the body dies then the spirit no longer has a place in the physical, and must exist totally in the spiritual. Where it comes to rest in the spirit realm is dependent on God's judgment alone, according to the life it lived while in the body.
The body is temporary and the spirit is eternal. We can see in this set of facts that we all die, or cease to exist in the physical realm. Though in the spiritual we do not cease to exist, some of us will not be allowed to dwell in God's presence because of sin. This is a spiritual death, for God is life. To be put away from Life is death. Those spirits who left the physical realm in right standing with God through Jesus and his sacrifice are whisked away to paradise and God (2 Cor. 5:8). Those who disobey the Gospel of Christ are taken to another place in the spirit realm, a place of darkness and deepest gloom, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt.8:12).
Since there are two states of being for each one of us, we must understand both of their roles in the grand scheme of creation, how one is representative of the other. The physical is typical of the spiritual. This point has been demonstrated in previous studies here and is a central theme throughout scripture. In the biblical picture of Hell this theme is expressed as well. There are two Hells according to scripture, or rather one Hell in both realms of the physical and the spiritual. The physical Hell is the grave. This grave is symbolic of the spiritual Hell which is a prison for the disobedient spirits of mankind.
1Peter 3: 18. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the spirit:
19. By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison;
20. Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water.
21. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:
22. Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God; angels and authorities and powers being made subject unto him.
Both body and spirit are shut away from life. The body from the land of the living, and the spirit from the spiritual land of the living, Heaven: the place of God's throne.
In the grave there is no hope, just as in its spiritual counterpart of Hell. Both are a prison of death. These circumstances are different where the Christian is concerned. While the grave is a prison of death for the body of a person who does not know Christ, it is considered a bed of hope for those who die in Christ Jesus. They are as dead as the non-believer, but the Christian dies with the hope of the resurrection of the dead, so he or she is considered to be only sleeping, for one day they will get up again.
13. But I would not have you to be ignorant, brethren, concerning them which are asleep, that ye sorrow not, even as others which have no hope.
14. For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so them also which sleep in Jesus will God bring with him.
15. For this we say unto you by the word of the Lord, that we which are alive and remain unto the coming of the Lord shall not prevent them which are asleep.
16. For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with the trump of God: and the dead in Christ shall rise first:
17. Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air: and so shall we ever be with the Lord.
18. Wherefore comfort one another with these words.
Their spirits are with God and not in the prison of souls known as Hell.
There is however a resurrection for the soul who dies without Christ. It is known as the resurrection for God's judgment (Rev. 20:12-15). Those who enter into this judgment are cast into the lake of fire, which is the second death. This is not a resurrection to life, but rather to the second and final death. In this resurrection, death and Hell give up its inhabitants and is thrown along with them into the fiery lake. The Apostle told us 1Cor.15: 22-26:
For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive.
But every man in his own order: Christ the firstfruits; afterward they that are Christ's at his coming.
Then cometh the end, when he shall have delivered up the kingdom to God, even the Father; when he shall have put down all rule and all authority and power.
For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet.
The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Death is the last enemy. All those in Adam only, that is in the carnal, will suffer the second death because as the scriptures make clear, all those in Adam will die. The Christian is never considered dead and by faith in Christ overcomes death (John11:25-26). Jesus by his death and resurrection overcame sin and death for us all. It is he who possesses the figurative keys of Hell and death because of this victory over sin and death through the cross and the tomb. It is only with this foundation of understanding that we can now precede to explain some of the specifics of Hell.
In chapter 16 in the gospel of Luke, Jesus gives us a picture of Hell. In this picture we see two compartments of Hell, or Hades (same meaning), a place for the righteous dead and a separate place for the unrighteous dead. These two compartments are separated by a great and fiery gulf, also known as the lake of fire.
The place of the righteous dead was known as Abraham's bosom, or Paradise. Before Jesus died all the righteous dead were carried there by the angels (Luke 16:22). It was a good place to be for those spirits who obeyed God in their lives, but it was not yet in Heaven. It was not moved to Heaven until Jesus made his sacrifice on the cross and rose again. The law had to first be paid and fulfilled in Christ the messiah before those considered righteous by faith could gain entrance to Heaven. This place of waiting was prepared for them in advance of the promised savior who would cleanse them of their sin. Once Jesus accomplished this, and he descended into Hell, it is reported in the scriptures that he ascended into Heaven to the right hand of the Father, leading captives in his train (Eph.4:8-11). The Bible also tells us that when Jesus descended into Hell in 1Peter 3:18-22 and he preached to those spirits who died in the flood before he took his seat at the right hand of the Father:
For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the long-suffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water. The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: Who is gone into heaven, and is on the right hand of God;
This is why Jesus told the thief crucified next to him that he would indeed be with him in Paradise that day (Luke 23:43). Jesus was then about to descend to Hell, the prison of the spirits, in which Paradise was located. After three days in the deep, Christ rose and then ascended to the Father, taking Paradise and all its prisoners with him. We know that Paradise is in Heaven now because Paul told us in 2Cor. 12: 2-4:
I knew a man in Christ above fourteen years ago, (whether in the body, I cannot tell; or whether out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth;) such an one caught up to the third heaven.
And I knew such a man, (whether in the body, or out of the body, I cannot tell: God knoweth; How that he was caught up into paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.
Another compartment of Hell is known as the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:11; 20:1-3) this is where the angels who disobeyed God are chained. These are those who left their abodes in Heaven to couple with women of earth ( Jude :6-7; 2 Peter 2:4 ; Gen. 6:2-4). In the last days some of these will be loosed to wreak havoc on those who live on the earth (Rev.9:1-11). Hell and the lake of fire was made originally for the Devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41).
A few different names for this region of lost souls have been presented by scripture. Hell, Hades, Sheol (from the old testament), and Gehenna. These names have a wide and varied band of translation among scholars and theologians. It is true however, that all these differing labels do have reference to the same general place, and the same general theme of damnation and death. Hades and Hell as far as most scholars can decipher, concerns the grave and spiritually concerns what the grave represents: the prison of death. Sheol seems to be the old testament counterpart to this same concept. Only Gehenna has an added meaning. Gehenna was in short, a place where the people of Jesus's time took their trash to be burned. This was a spiritual reference to the lake of fire. Jesus often spoke in his parables and teachings of useless things being gathered and burned as in
John 15: 5-6:
I am the vine, ye are the branches: He that abideth in me, and I in him, the same bringeth forth much fruit: for without me ye can do nothing. If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.
The concept of physical terms relating spiritual truths is largely ignored by many who have written about Hell. They did not understand that one is representative of the other. This understanding of how things we can see bear witness to things that we cannot see has eluded many of those who seek to understand and teach. This results in a confusion over words. One scholar will pick up on the physical meaning of a word, and another on the spiritual meaning. Though they may both be right, they end up in debate and at cross purposes. This is what I believe has happened with the subject of Hell. It is both the grave and the prison of the damned. Both physical and spiritual respectively.
There are many other misconceptions where the subject of Hades is concerned. Some Christian teachers believe Satan rules Hell. They teach that the netherworld is his place of residence. This is shown to be error, for Satan in the scripture is called the God of this world, and the prince and the power of the air (Eph. 2:2). He resides in the atmosphere of this earth on a spiritual level. He rules his kingdom from the heavenlies, He is that wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12). In fact, Hell is the last place he desires to be for one day he will be bound with a chain and cast into it for a thousand years (Rev. 20:2-3). A favorite verse of those that believe that Satan rules Hell is Matt. 16:18:
And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
They think that this verse must insinuate Satan's Kingdom. This portion of scripture is actually a reference to death and the grave. Jesus has the keys to Hell and death because he overcame death and Hell. Hell, this prison of death, could not hold him. It is the same for us, His church. Death shall not prevail against us.
Their are even some who teach things that are even more absurd, like Jesus going to Hell and fighting the Devil, or taking the keys of death and hell from the Devil. Satan never had the keys of Hell and death. There are no literal keys. This is nothing more than carnal thinking and pagan imagery. Christianity has no Lord of the dead who rules the underworld, but pagan religion has many of these. In ancient Greece it was Hades, God of the dead and underworld. In Rome it was Pluto. In Canaan it was Mot the death god. In Egypt it was Osirus. One particular doctrine has Jesus suffering in Hell at the hands of the Devil and his demons, suffering for our sin. This is not only unscriptural but borders on blasphemy.
That Satan had the power of death, on this the scripture from Heb. 2:14 is plain :
Forasmuch then as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil;
The manner in which Satan held the power of death is in the fact that we were as sinners sentenced to death and in fear of it, and so in bondage to the law of sin and death and in bondage as well to the fear of death. It is by the law that the Devil had the means to accuse us. This is his power over us. Jesus has the keys of Hell and death by virtue of his innocent life, a life that Satan could not accuse according to the law. This was Jesus's key to the pit, the fact that he had fulfilled the righteous requirements of the law. Hell is for sinners, not innocent men. It is written 1Cor. 15:54-57:
So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory.
O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?
The sting of death is sin; and the strength of sin is the law.
But thanks be to God, which giveth us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.
Satan held the power of death through the sting of sin empowered by the law. When Christ removed the law by fulfilling it, the Devil lost his power over us. Jesus's resurrection was proof of his triumph over the law of sin and death. It was here that his triumph spoiled the devil of his power to accuse the brethern
Col. 2: 8-15
8. Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.
9. For in him dwelleth all the fulness of the Godhead bodily.
10. And ye are complete in him, which is the head of all principality and power:
11. In whom also ye are circumcised with the circumcision made without hands, in putting off the body of the sins of the flesh by the circumcision of Christ:
12. Buried with him in baptism, wherein also ye are risen with him through the faith of the operation of God, who hath raised him from the dead.
13. And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses;
14. Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross;
15. And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it.
No, Satan does not rule hell. He is the accuser of the bretheren. He is a celestial dignitary. That doesnt make him a good guy, but mere men should not slander what they do not understand. He is the smith that blows the coals.
Isa. 54:16. Behold, I have created the smith that bloweth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.
17. No weapon that is formed against thee shall prosper; and every tongue that shall rise against thee in judgment thou shalt condemn. This is the heritage of the servants of the Lord, and their righteousness is of me, saith the Lord.
10. But chiefly them that walk after the flesh in the lust of uncleanness, and despise government. Presumptuous are they, selfwilled, they are not afraid to speak evil of dignities.
11. Whereas angels, which are greater in power and might, bring not railing accusation against them before the Lord.
12. But these, as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption;
8. Likewise also these filthy dreamers defile the flesh, despise dominion, and speak evil of dignities.
9. Yet Michael the archangel, when contending with the devil he disputed about the body of Moses, durst not bring against him a railing accusation, but said, The Lord rebuke thee.
10. But these speak evil of those things which they know not: but what they know naturally, as brute beasts, in those things they corrupt themselves.
11. Woe unto them! for they have gone in the way of Cain, and ran greedily after the error of Balaam for reward, and perished in the gainsaying of Core.
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