Truth about Death

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Does Hell Exist?

by Bill Wong

 

 

 

Many people today believe that we will go straight to heaven or straight to hell immediately or at some point after we die. We know heaven exists, because that is where God lives, but what about hell? Is there really such a place?

 

Though this is what many people believe, they will be surprised to learn that the Bible does not teach hell exists where people are eternally tormented.  Long-held traditions have given us the wrong idea about what happens after we die. The word 'hell' has been misused for centuries as meaning an eternal place of torture and flame, whether or not we believe Satan actually rules it. This idea of a hell is based on pagan religious beliefs of an underworld and its gods, and the immortal soul that continues to live after the body has perished.

 

However, the Bible teaches that the dead know nothing and do not go on living as spirits, but sleep awaiting resurrection and judgment (please see article ‘The Bible Truth about Death’).

 

This false belief about hell finds its “Christian” roots in the fertile imagination of the Roman Catholic Church where it is promoted in the Apostles Creed (uses erroneous interpretation of 1 Peter 3:18-21) and the belief in Purgatory which originated in the non-inspired books of the Apocrypha. The poetry of Dante has also played a large role in establishing this un-Biblical tradition of what happens after we die and hell. The incorrect interpretation of Luke 16 further misleads people as well. Please also see the articles ‘Did Jesus go to Hell in 1 Peter 3:18-20?’ and ‘The Truth about Lazarus and the Rich Man’.

 

The word ‘hell’ is an old English word derived from ‘helan’ which means a cold dark underground place where a hole is dug up in the ground and then covered. We can see how it can mean the grave when we say someone is dead or "6 feet under".  The grave is in fact how the Bible translates it from the Hebrew all the time and the Greek most times into English, but we have been conditioned by erroneous ancient traditions to think that the times 'hell' is used it means eternal torment in fire instead of the grave. 

 

If you stop to think about it, the belief in a place of eternal torment is contrary to the nature of God.  God is love.  God is also holy.  So there must be judgment.  However, there is a huge difference between allowing us to choose for ourselves to die forever in our unrepentant ways and God purposely tormenting us forever.  Because God is holy and there must be justice, eternal death is a viable penalty and in truth, it is merciful, because it is a quick and complete cessation of consciousness/life and not an eternity of suffering.  Just think for a moment: how can we reconcile an eternity of unbearable pain with a compassionate and loving God? Since God is love, then tormenting us forever cannot be true, because it is not loving or merciful at all.  There must be judgment, but God tries His very best to save us from ourselves and does not want us to perish:

 

2 Peter 3:

9   The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us,

    not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.   (NKJV)

 

 

We see in this verse alone that a place of eternal torment does not exist, because God gives us two choices: we can perish or we can live. To perish does not mean to live eternally being tormented in flame. To perish is placed opposite of to live. To perish is no more consciousness at all. This equation of death being opposite of life is easily seen in:

 

Romans 6:

23   For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.   (KJV)

 

 

If someone was to be thrown into hell for all eternity to be tormented, that is not perishing or ceasing our thoughts forever, but we are living eternally and still conscious – except that we are living eternally in a place of torment. Death is placed as opposite of eternal life in Romans 6.


And we see this even more clearly in:


John 3:

16   For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.    (NKJV)



Again, to perish and eternal life are opposites and contradictory.  We are shown that eternal life is very specific – it is given only to those who have faith.  This means that those who do not have faith will not have everlasting life at all, but they will perish or die (not live forever, but just in hell or torment).


The Bible makes it clear: if we are judged and found lacking, then we will die and we do not continue to live in hell:

 

Ezekiel 18:

20   The soul that sins, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son:

     the righteousness of the righteous shall be on him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be on him.   (AKJV)

 

 

 

 

Multiple words are translated ‘hell’ in English Bibles

 

 

‘Sheol’ – This Hebrew word occurs 65 times in the Old Testament and it means the grave or pit, the place where all men must go to sleep the sleep of death, awaiting resurrection and judgment. It is associated with decay (corruption). In the KJV, it is translated: hell 31 times; grave 30 times; grave’s 1 time; and pit 3 times.

 

‘Hades’ – This Greek word occurs 11 times in the New Testament (KJV) and is used as the equivalent of ‘sheol’, meaning when people die, they go to the grave. In the KJV, it is translated: hell 10 times and grave 1 time.  Also, in Greek mythology, this is the underworld where the god of death resides.

 

‘Tartaros’ – This Greek word occurs only once in the New Testament (KJV) and is translated hell. It means a dark abyss and/or a place of confinement (2 Peter 2:4). This is reserved for fallen angels (demons) only.

 

‘Gehenna’ – This Greek word occurs 11 times in the New Testament and is translated hell all 11 times in the KJV. It refers to the Valley of Hinnom (ga-Hinnom) outside of the southern gates of Jerusalem where pagan children fire sacrifices were performed in ancient times. Because of this evil practice which was eventually abolished, the Valley of Hinnom was then also used as a garbage dump/incinerator where corpses, animal carcasses and all kinds of waste were burned there in fires which were kept blazing all day and night. When ‘gehenna’ is used, it is meant to bring to mind the picture of an all-encompassing fire that consumes everything that is thrown into it.

 

 

From this breakdown of the four words which are all translated ‘hell’, we can see that the evidence overwhelmingly shows the real meaning of hell to be the grave or the pit, which simply means people die and are not eternally tormented in a flames. Hell would be the equivalent of ‘sheol’ which is the equivalent of ‘hades’.

 

For this reason, and also what ‘gehenna’ means, the word ‘gehenna’ should never have been translated as the word hell. Unfortunately, it is translated as hell, hence creating the false imagery of fire being associated with the sinner and the grave. When we say the dead is below, it is because they are buried in their graves ("6 feet under"), and not because they are in a netherworld "hell" with Satan as ruler. 

 

The belief in hell as a place of eternal torment is a blasphemous lie from the enemy.  He is trying to make people believe that the Almighty God is sadistic – allowing and enjoying the suffering of people for eternity.  This is absolutely false and contradicts who God is: abundantly longsuffering and merciful.  He does not want any of us to perish, but if this is the path we choose, then the Bible says our death – the second death, will be eternal/last forever with no more resurrections to judgment or life.  The Bible simply does not teach that we live forever in torment in a "hell".

 

 

 

 

Proofs refuted

 

 

People who believe hell is this place of eternal fiery torment often use Jude 1:7 as a proof of eternal suffering in hell:

 

Jude 1:

7     as Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them in a similar manner to these, having given themselves over to sexual

     immorality and gone after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.   (NKJV)

 

Comment: We must note, however, that Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning and nor are they still suffering. These two cities were utterly destroyed. It is their destruction that will last forever, not that they will be eternally suffering. Therefore, this cannot be used to support the long-held tradition of hell most people think it is.

 

 

This same reasoning applies in Revelation 20:10 as well. Hell is not where the enemy rules. The enemy currently rules this world and therefore has been able to deceive most people to believe hell is a literal place for eternal punishment (whether he is its ruler or not). But when God moves to restore all things – the lake of fire is where the enemy himself will be thrown into:

 

Revelation 20:

10   And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are,

     and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.   (KJV)

 

Comment: Note that the word ‘are’ is missing in the Greek. Translators place the present tense word ‘are’ there, perhaps in bias, which implies the Beast and False Prophet will remain there and not be destroyed when they were thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 19:20. Many newer translations even add the word ‘they’ to make it appear to apply to all three persons as being tormented forever:

 

Revelation 20:

10   The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are.

     And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.   (NKJV)

 

 

However, this conflicts with verses 14 & 15 which say the lake of fire is the second death and everything is destroyed – including even Death and Hell, so the Beast and False Prophet, who are mere humans, were most definitely destroyed when they were thrown into the lake of fire:

 

Revelation 20:

14   And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

15   And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.   (KJV)

 

 

Death is the end of life and consciousness; it does not mean we remain thinking conscious beings eternally in torment; that would be having eternal life – living eternally, but in torment. Just like in Jude 1:7, we are not going to be tortured for all eternity, but the punishment given will last forever – eternal death and destruction for sinners:

 

Matthew 25:

   41   "Then He will also say to those on the left hand, 'Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil

        and his angels:

42    for I was hungry and you gave Me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink;

43    I was a stranger and you did not take Me in, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.'

44   "Then they also will answer Him, saying, 'Lord, when did we see You hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked

      or sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?'

45    Then He will answer them, saying, 'Assuredly, I say to you, inasmuch as you did not do it to one of the least of these,

      you did not do it to Me.'

46    And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."   (NKJV)

 

 

 

 

‘Gehenna’ is figurative/parallel to the Lake of Fire

 

 

However, people still try to use ‘gehenna’ to justify their belief in “the fires of hell” for the eternal tormenting of sinners, but they have absolutely no good reason to do so. Why? Because as is evident in the origin and meaning of ‘gehenna’, this fire is meant to destroy all that is put into it – and this is exactly how it is used in the New Testament. Gehenna is used figuratively for the lake of fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 14-15) which destroys everything that is thrown into it as the second death or final destruction from which nothing can escape. Let us review the 11 verses in the New Testament that show this.

 

 

Matthew 5:

22   But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment.

     And whoever says to his brother, 'Raca!' shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says,

     'You fool!' shall be in danger of hell fire.   (NKJV)

 

Comment: The consuming and destructive fire of ‘gehenna’ is hinted at as it is described as punishment for a much higher degree of sinful behavior. If you only go for judgment you may yet live, but if you to hell fire, you will surely be destroyed.

 

 

Matthew 5:

29   If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you;

     for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.

30   And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you;

     for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.   (NKJV)

 

Comment: There are two very profound things the Lord Jesus declares to us:

 

1) He is saying that being thrown into ‘gehenna’ is to be destroyed as we can see in both verses, He says it is better to allow “one of your members perish”, instead of the whole body to perish. Therefore, going to “hell” cannot be going to a place where sinners are tortured forever in fire, but they are destroyed or perish.

 

2) The Lord Jesus says twice that the whole body will be cast into ‘gehenna’, showing that the body is what has life, not an “immortal” spirit that lives within the shell of a body and can also live separate from the body.

 

 

Matthew 10:

28   And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy

     both soul and body in hell.   (KJV)

 

Comment: It cannot be more clear: whatever is thrown into ‘gehenna’ or the lake of fire is completely destroyed.

 

 

Matthew 18:

8     "If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you;

      it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.

9     "If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye,

      than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.   (NASB)

 

Comment: Again, better to destroy one body member, than both or all. Note verse 8 which likens ‘gehenna’ fire to eternal fire, which is what the lake of fire is.

 

 

Matthew 23:

15   "Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won,

       you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.  

 

33     Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?   (NKJV)

 

Comment: The Lord Jesus directs much of His righteous anger to the scribes and Pharisees during His ministry, using very forceful words in both verses to express His displeasure, but also the magnitude of the problems/sins of the scribes and Pharisees (woe, hypocrites, serpents, son/condemnation of ‘gehenna’. Again, ‘gehenna’ is shown in a destructive manner, because the sinful behavior of the scribes and Pharisees will bring a negative judgment on them before the throne of God – they are in danger of the lake of fire and second death.

 

 

Mark 9:

43   If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands,

     to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched ---

 

45   And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet,

     to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched ---

 

47   And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye,

     rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire ---   (NKJV)

 

Comment: All three verses in Mark 9 show that ‘gehenna’ fire destroys (better to have one hand, foot or eye be destroyed instead of both hands, feet and eyes).

 

 

James 3:

6     And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defiles the whole body,

     and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell.   (AKJV)

 

Comment: As in Matthew 5:22, ‘gehenna’ fire is again shown to be an extremely severe measure of sin and the only reason for its existence is to utterly and totally destroy. This time, it is paired together with the disastrous power of the tongue which can defile our whole body and ruin our lives.

 

 

 

 

More proof that the wicked will be destroyed by fire, not tortured in it

 

 

Psalm 11:

6    Upon the wicked He will rain coals; Fire and brimstone and a burning wind Shall be the portion of their cup.   (NKJV)

 

            Comment: Brings to mind the utter destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah.

 

 

Psalm 145:

20   The LORD preserves all them that love him: but all the wicked will he destroy.   (AKJV)

 

Malachi 4:

1   “For behold, the day is coming, Burning like an oven, And all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble.

     And the day which is coming shall burn them up,” Says the LORD of hosts, “That will leave them neither root nor branch.   (NKJV)

 

Matthew 13:

38   The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one.

39   The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels.

40   Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.

41   The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness,

42   and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.   (NKJV)

 

John 15:

5     I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit,

     for apart from me you can do nothing.

6     If anyone does not abide in me he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered,

     thrown into the fire, and burned.   (ESV)

 

2 Thessalonians 1:

6     Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;

7     And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

8     In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

9     Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;   (KJV)

 

Hebrews 10:

26   For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins,

27   but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries.   (ESV)

 

2 Peter 3:

7   But by His word the present heavens and earth are being reserved for fire, kept for the day of judgment and destruction

    of ungodly men.   (NASB)

 

 

 

 

The Lake of Fire destroys

 

 

The Bible tells us of a lake of fire that will destroy everything that is evil:

 

Revelation 20:

14   And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

15   And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.   (KJV)

 

 

This lake of fire is so powerful that even death and hell would be thrown into it and be destroyed.

If hell itself is thrown into the lake of fire, how can hell be the place of fiery eternal torment for sinners? No, hell is not the place of fiery eternal punishment, but it is the grave. This is also evidenced in verse 15 which makes it very clear that all sinners who are not in the Book of Life will also be thrown into the lake of fire – to be destroyed and die the second and eternal death. These sinners are not put into hell to be tortured for eternity.  To live forever in torment is not dying at all; it is not the second death.

 

Ultimately, God will remake all creation in its pristine perfection, love and holiness.  The Bible says that all that is not holy and good, which would include sinful man, eternal suffering and death, has no place in His new creation:  

 

Revelation 21:

1     Now I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away. Also there was no more sea.

2     Then I, John, saw the holy city, New Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God,

     prepared as a bride adorned for her husband.

3     And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, "Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them,

     and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God.

4     And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying.

     There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away."

5     Then He who sat on the throne said, "Behold, I make all things new." And He said to me,

     "Write, for these words are true and faithful."

6     And He said to me, "It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.

     I will give of the fountain of the water of life freely to him who thirsts.

7     He who overcomes shall inherit all things, and I will be his God and he shall be My son.

8     But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters,

     and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death."   (NKJV)

 

 

Notice verse 8 again mentions second death. This is for those who have been raised to judgment and found lacking: they will die a second time – a second death, and this time they will remain dead forever with a complete extinguishing of life with no more consciousness. Nothing bad, evil and unclean will ever exist in the remade new heaven and new earth.

 

Sinners will not be tortured for all eternity, but they will be judged and reap an eternal punishment. This eternal punishment is the second death in the lake of fire, where there are no more resurrections, no more judgments – no more chances. If you end up in the lake of fire, you will be dead – forever. It is the wages of sin: eternal death, not eternal life.

 

We must always remember: God created man that we may live forever and not die. The Bible does not say God wants us to live forever “inside” or “outside” of hell. Remember, the wages of sin is death, but the gift of eternal life is in the Lord Jesus (Romans 6:23). This means we live forever with God and Christ, or we do not live forever at all. To supposedly spend eternity in hell as many people believe IS actually living forever, but just in a place of endless torment. The Bible does not teach this. It teaches we either live forever with God and Christ or we die the second and eternal death.

 

Remember, the enemy Satan is a liar and murderer from the beginning, so of course he creates a lie about what happens when we die which makes God look like a sadistic God who has sinners burn in fire for eternity.  That is not merciful and not true.  God is a God of love; God IS love (1 John 4:8, 16) – and He wants us to be with Him forever, but if we do not take that path, then we will live and die by our choices.

 

So we must make a choice: do we want to live forever with God and Christ or are we so steeped in our sins that we do not care, and then choose to be dead forever without anymore resurrections to judgment – the second death?  

 

Do not be fooled by traditions of men and doctrines of demons which lead us away from God and to our destruction. It is crucially important to know the truth about what happens when we die, because it will actually dictate how we live and ensure that we will be in the Book of Life and not in the lake of fire.