Last week we discussed greatness. Jesus’s definition of greatness is hugging children; being a servant to all, welcoming the other; doing precious acts of kindness; not discouraging the weak. Jesus is so serious about his definition of greatness, that he uses two metaphors as a warning…
Mark 9:42-48 "Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, (stumble, discourage) it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. 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. 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. 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, 'where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'”
There are two pictures here. The first is the sea. Anyone would be better off to be thrown into the sea than discourage a little one. If someone were thrown into the sea you would expect them to… drown.
The second picture is to be thrown into the garbage dump.
The word hell in these verses is a place… the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. In Jesus’ day, it was the local garbage dump. The fire at the dump was kept burning all the time. The worms ate the carcasses of dead things all the time. It was a graphic picture of a terrible place to be thrown into. But what would you expect to happen to someone who was thrown into a fiery, worm invested garbage dump? You would expect them to be burned up and/or eaten.
This morning we are going to take a time out from Mark, to study the doctrine of hell. I am going to advocate that that what you would expect to happen in the sea; drown, is basically what happens in the Gehenna; be consumed. I am going to advocate this morning that “hell” consumes. I believe that those who go to hell are burned up; cease to exist.
But first some disclaimers…
--The Bible is not written like Wikipedia. It is rare in Scripture where a topic is extensively organized and comprehensively addressed. Hell, as a topic, is not comprehensively explained in any one place.
--Consequently, to understand a subject like hell, you gather up clues and put them together. This method has problems… miss the context, bring your presumptions, miss clues, proof texting, all make this difficult to be 100% sure when you reach conclusion.
--It is hard to be honest/unbiased. You often find what you are looking for.
--Scholars are all over the place on their views of hell. They all can’t be right. They all could be wrong.
--I give myself a 53% chance that my view of hell is correct. That is higher than the percentage I give to other views.
--It is going to be hard for me to be extensive in the next 25 minutes. I will give you the basis for why I believe hell consumes. I invite you to study it more; on your own or with me.
--All I am talking about today is the ultimate fate of the wicked. Not the righteous. Not eternal life. Just what happens to the wicked.
“Enough already… get on with it.” Here we go. Buckle up we are going fast.
Let’s begin in the Old Testament book of Psalms. There are many clues to the what happens to the wicked. I think there are over 70 passages like the following…
Psalm 1:4-6 The wicked are not so, but they are like chaff which the wind drives away. Therefore, the wicked will not stand in the judgment, Nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous. For the LORD knows the way of the righteous, But the way of the wicked will perish.
The thought of the word perish is perish… destroyed… cease to exist… annihilated.
Psalm 21:8-9 Your hand will find out all your enemies; Your right hand will find out those who hate you. You will make them as a fiery oven in the time of your anger; The LORD will swallow them up in His wrath, and fire will devour them.
Eaten all up, consumed…
Psalm 58:8 Let them be as a snail which melts away as it goes along, Like the miscarriages of a woman which never see the sun.
Those are both terrible pictures… a snail on the sidewalk melts. A miscarriage…
Psalm 68:1-2 Let God arise, let His enemies be scattered, and let those who hate Him flee before Him. As smoke is driven away, so drive them away; As wax melts before the fire, so let the wicked perish before God.
Psalm 145:20 The LORD keeps all who love Him, but all the wicked He will destroy.
The consistent picture in the Psalms is the wicked will perish, be consumed, cease to exist.
Other OT References to destruction of wicked.
Deuteronomy 29:20 "The LORD shall never be willing to forgive him, but rather the anger of the LORD and His jealousy will burn against that man, and every curse which is written in this book will rest on him, and the LORD will blot out his name from under heaven.”
Isaiah 1:28, 31 But transgressors and sinners will be crushed together, And those who forsake the LORD will come to an end. 31 The strong man will become tinder, his work also a spark. Thus, they shall both burn together and there will be none to quench them.”
Isaiah 11:4 And He will strike the earth with the rod of His mouth, and with the breath of His lips He will slay the wicked.
From these, and lots of other verses, the expectation of the Old Testament is that the wicked would cease to exist.
Perhaps, I need to answer a related question… Are souls infinite?
John 3:16 "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.”
1 John 5:11-12 And the testimony is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.
Romans 2:7 to those who by patiently doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life;
Hebrews 10:26-27 For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.
Souls are not eternal, by default. Souls are given life as a gift. The wicked souls are consumed in hell. They cease to exist.
Let’s go back to Jesus to look at the rest of his teaching about Gehenna. Jesus speaks more about the Valley of the Sons of Hinnom than any other person.
Matthew 10:26-28 So have no fear of them, for nothing is covered that will not be revealed, or hidden that will not be known. What I tell you in the dark, say in the light, and what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
This is one of the main passages I go to establish that hell consumes. Jesus says clearly that the soul and the body can be destroyed in Gehenna; in the garbage dump.
Let me share the passage that kept me from adopting the hell consumes theology for a time. In Matthew 25 the goats and sheep are divided based upon how they treat the little ones.
Matthew 25:31-33 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.
Then at the end of separation we have…
Matthew 25:40-41 And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Note the fire is eternal not the people.
Matthew 25:46 "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
It seems that these are parallel. One life forever the other punishment forever. That is true. We must change our thinking a bit. Set aside our presuppositions. The life is eternal. The death is eternal. The ceasing to exist is eternal. The punishment is eternal. The ceasing to exist is a black, black no trade back. I think it could have been translated permanent ending.
Let me demonstrate the permanent usage of eternal from a couple other verses…
Jude 1:7 Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.
Sodom and Gomorrah were consumed in fire but the punishment of ceasing to exist is eternal.
Hebrews 6:2 …and the resurrection of the dead and eternal judgment. (not an eternal act of judging forever, but the result is eternal)
Hebrews 9:12 He entered the holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption. (not an eternal process of redeeming but result is eternal)
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 Then the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
The destruction is eternal. The meaning of destruction is destruction. The cease to exist away from God. Away from God there can be no life; no existence!
If we can get the idea out of our minds that God is going to torture people forever, we can see that the consequences of the punishment is permanent; the consequences are eternal.
Quickly, let me bang out some other verses which advocate for the wicked being destroyed. The straight forward meaning of destruction is destruction… not on-going conscious punishment.
1 Corinthians 3:17 If anyone destroys God's temple, God will destroy him. For God's temple is holy, and you are that temple.
Philippians 3:19 Their end is destruction, their god is their belly, and they glory in their shame, with minds set on earthly things.
Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
2 Peter 2:6 …if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly;
The simple meaning of all these words is… ending.
One other place we need to explore… The book of Revelation. Granted this is a difficult book. We need to be careful about importing our theology of hell into this letter. But I think the point is still the same. The word hell or Gehenna is not used in Revelation. The phrase in Revelation is… Lake of fire.
Revelation 20:9-15 And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Revelation 21:7-8 The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death."
What is interesting is the devil and his cohorts it specifically says will be tormented forever. But all the rest who are cast into the lake of fire it says it is the second death; the second ceasing; the permanent end.
What would you expect to happen to something thrown into a lake of fire? Perhaps, be burned up. There is no picture in Revelation of conscious on-going punishment of lost people. The lake of fire is the second death. The final death.
Let me close by sharing why I changed to hold the hell consumes position.
I can’t say that God is love in one breath and then in the next breath say God is going to torture anyone consciously for all eternity. I would not do that to my worst enemy. How could I love more than God? Hell, as conscious unstopping punishment, is inconsistent with God is love.
On the other hand, I can’t say God is just if there are no consequences to this life at all. God is going to set all things right. If this life is just a child’s game where everyone gets the same participation trophy at the end, there is no making of things right; no justice.
So, I hold the position that hell consumes the wicked. It seems to balance the love and justice of God. What this does not address is…
--who are the wicked?
--will there be a chance after death to repent?
--what about those who never heard of Jesus?
Once again let me say that I hold this position to be 57% correct. I could be wrong. I may find more clues or be persuaded by better understanding of scripture. I believe that hell consumes is the theology that does not slander God. It seems to be the simple teaching of the entire Bible.
2 Chronicles 28:1-3 Ahaz was twenty years old when he began to reign, and he reigned sixteen years in Jerusalem. And he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD, as his father David had done, but he walked in the ways of the kings of Israel. He even… made offerings in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom and burned his sons as an offering, according to the abominations of the nations whom the LORD drove out before the people of Israel.
The valley of the Sons of Hinnom was an ancient place of child sacrifice. Appropriately, Jesus used this garbage dumb as the place where those who would hurt a child, in any way, are thrown in to be consumed.
August 13, 2017
Los Alamos Church of Christ