The Doctrine of Hell: Eternal, Annihilation, or Restoration?

December 29, 2014 2:03 am

Hell 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Question: What is the biblical teaching about hell? Is it never, forever, of just for a while? Who is it reserved for?

Answer: The doctrine of hell is one of the most difficult ones to fathom. It is so unimaginable and frightening that it has caused many liberal Christians (and even some conservatives) and heretical groups (ex. Mormons, Jehovah’s Witnesses) to redefine this teaching according to their preference and reason. However, hell is one of the most important doctrines in Scripture because it is directly related to the gospel message. Any tampering, miscommunication, or misunderstanding of this teaching is a serious offense to God’s revealed word, and may even reveal a professing Christian to be a false teacher, if not a false convert.

The debated question concerning the duration of hell is, “Is it never, forever, or just for a while?” Based on the grammatical-historical (literal) method of interpreting Scripture, the most obvious answer is that is it forever. Eternal. The Old Testament, the New Testament, and the greatest theologians in church history attest to this view of hell, not because it is the most emotionally preferred or pleasurable view, but because it is evident in accordance with the perspicuity of Scripture. The Bible speaks clearly and understandably on this issue. Although the eternal nature of such torment is hard to fathom (as is other concepts in the Bible such as the Trinity, God’s unconditional election), it does not make it any less true. We must humbly accept the reality of this truth, and use it as a platform for urgent evangelization of the lost.

Who is hell reserved for? It’s interesting to note that hell was originally created for Satan and the fallen angels (Matt 25:41). Their act of defiance against a holy, infinite God brought about not only their exile from heaven (Ezek 28:17-19), but future punishment in eternal hell, with no hope of redemption or parole. That is what sin – which is an abominably infinite offense against God – deserves. Likewise, this is the punishment that awaits guilty humanity. They, like angels, have been made with an understanding of God’s law (right and wrong) and are held accountable as moral agents for their course of action. Mankind will also spend eternity in hell with the fallen angels. However, mankind is different in that they are made uniquely in God’s image. This is one of the reasons that God decreed in His plan to redeem some from the penalty of their sin, while the rest will die in guilt and be the recipients of God’s justice, which testifies to the glory of His righteous character.Hell 2

The concept of hell is implied in a few places throughout the Old Testament, but given full light in the New Testament due to progressive revelation. The Hebrew word Sheol has often been noted by biblical scholars as referring to hell (a.k.a. the abode of the dead) (Deut 32:22; Ps 88:3; Isa 7:11). However, this is not a definite reference to hell, because Sheol at times refers to merely the physical grave that people go into when they pass away (Job 10:21; Eccl 9:2-3; Ps 89:48). The Old Testament does make two good references that point to the reality of hell, both of which are found in prophetic passages.

The first one is in Isaiah 66:24, which speaks about Jerusalem’s future when Christ sets up His millennial rule on earth. The verse reads, “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” This prophecy clearly explains the nature of God’s future punishment on the guilty – that they will suffer non-stop punishment. “Their fire will not be quenched” is the exact phrase that Jesus used to describe the duration and horrors of postmortem judgment on sinners (Mk 9:48).

The second reference is found in Daniel 12:2, which speaks about the resurrection of all mankind in the last days. The verse reads, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” The word of Daniel prophesies of eternal life for the saints, but eternal damnation for the reprobates. What exactly does “everlasting disgrace and contempt” mean? If Isaiah 66:24 is not enough to qualify this description, many passages in the New Testament do just that.

Jesus Himself was the most prominent preaching concerning the topic of hell. He preached about it more than eternal heaven. He preached about it more than any other topic in His ministry, because it is directly related to why He came to earth, which is to die as the penal substitution for the believing in order that they be saved from their sins, which result in the just punishment of eternal hell.Hell 1

Jesus presents hell graphically as a place of undesirable torment. It is described as fiery (Matt 5:22), where the worm never dies (Mk 9:48), and a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:12). Although some claim that these descriptions are merely figurative, it does not downplay the horrors of hell in anyway. Even if by chance Jesus was using figurative language, and not speaking about the objective sights and experiences of hell, His descriptions make it crystal clear that it is not a place that anybody wants to go. It is a destination to be avoided at all costs, which is shows how costly Christ’s sacrifice was and how important it is to proclaim the gospel to unbelievers.

Finally, Jesus presents hell as eternal (Matt 3:12; 25:41; 2 Thess 1:9). Some Christians try to argue otherwise. Annihilationists believe that sinners suffer temporary in hell before going out of conscious existence, while restorationists believe that the guilty will ultimately be restored to eternal fellowship with God, with hell serving as a type of temporary purgatory. However, the case for these two views are weak and without much clear biblical support in contrast to the more lucid statement by both Jesus and the apostles concerning the eternal nature of the unbeliever’s afterlife. Even looking at the nature of Gehena in Matthew 5:22 (which unorthodox Christians have used to debunk the literalness of eternal hell) is actually a solid case for the eternity of hell. Gehena (the Valley of Hinnom) was a valley southwest of Jerusalem. It was a valley used to burn refuse from Jerusalem, in which the fire burned day and night continually. Jewish apocalyptic literature even deemed this valley as the entrance to hell, later hell itself (4 Ezra 7:36). Jesus used this imagery as the perfect metaphor for hell – the eternal fiery judgment that unbelievers, or the refuse of humanity, will face if they die in their sins.

The last, and most potent, argument for everlasting punishment is found in Revelation 20:11-15. This prophetic passage speaks about the coming Great White Throne Judgment, when all who die in their sins will be judged by the ultimate Judge of the Universe and cast into the lake of fire forever, where the smoke of the inhabitant’s torment goes up forever and ever (Rev 20:10). This event is God’s ultimate solution for dealing with sin once and for all. It is cast away forever while the sons of righteousness dwell with God in His holy habitat of the new earth forever (Rev 22).

The eternality of hell is the most biblically supported view, which I hold to. I don’t believe in the eternity of hell because I enjoy the thought of people suffering for all eternity. If I truly had it my way, I would much rather go with the annihilationist view of hell. But I cannot do this as a Christian because God’s word does not teach such a thing. The perspicuity of Scripture (Ps 119:130; 2 Tim 3:16-17) makes the message of salvation and Christian living obvious to every person on earth (so they are without excuse), although that doesn’t mean that every doctrine is easy for me to grasp or digest. Nevertheless, I must trust in it with utmost humility, with the faith such results will bring the most glory to God and testify of His eternal attributes.

It is important to get this doctrine right. Distorting the teaching of hell does a major disservice to the sacrifice of Christ, the high cost of the gospel, and what is really at stake in the life and soul of an unbeliever. It gives sinners a false sense of complacency concerning their eternal fate, as well as a low regard for the seriousness of their sin and the majesty of God’s righteous law. At many times, the eternality of hell versus the temporary or non-existent nature of hell could really make the difference in man’s decision to come to faith in Christ, if not come to the right gospel.

Recommended Resource: Hell Under Fire by Christopher W. Morgan

No One Beyond God’s Reach

December 24, 2014 11:47 pm

Today I came across an incredible testimony of how Living Waters’ has impacted this man’s life, and the difference that biblical evangelism can make (in contrast to the water-downed “gospel” message that is being taught in so many churches in the US. Truly mind boggling: 

Letter of Appeal to Todd Friel: An Analysis of the new Biggest Question DVD

December 23, 2014 8:59 pm

Todd Friel

The Biggest Question (by Wretched Radio) is a short film known for presenting one of the clearest, most straight forward presentation of the gospel. Just recently, Wretched released a new version of The Biggest Question, which, in Todd Friel’s observation, is suppose to be a better version than the already stellar original. This DVD can be found at www.wretchedradio.com, in the store section. 

Having heard this, I was excited for this project. I thought that the new version would perhaps improve on some of the minor issues with the first one by Todd, Kirk Cameron, and R.W. Glenn, and be an even more ideal, if not powerful, documentation of the gospel message to unbelieving receivers of the DVD. I remember when I saw the original Biggest Question for the first time last year at a church Bible study, I was blown away. It was, without a doubt, the greatest explanation of the gospel message, which covered everything from God’s attributes to an in depth discussion of repentance and faith. It even had a surprisingly helpful explanation of sanctification, which I had never seen in any evangelism DVD. All of these factors caused me to start giving out The Biggest Question DVDs to unbelievers, replacing the DVDs I used to buy from Living Waters (most specifically The Greatest Gamble).

I got my new Biggest Question DVD (by Friel, Ray Comfort, E.Z., and Voddie Baucham) in the mail and watched it immediately. However, this new version did not have the same impact on me than the original. In fact, I felt curiously umoved by the new version. It wasn’t, by any means, bad. It was a sound explanation of the gospel with great insights and exhortation to the unbeliever, but it just didn’t have that same sense of awe factor that I felt when I watched the original for the first time last year. The new version is pretty much a butchered down version of the original, with less heart and soul.

Biggest QuestionNow I’m going to analyze the pros and cons of both versions. The new Biggest Question has some features that were better than the original. For one, the production value was better. I’m speaking about the sets, and even the opening sequence that asked the question, “Why do we…” The opening was better not so much because of the questions, but because it introduces the film in a way that does not seem overtly “Christian” from the get go. The original version had Todd starting out with the question, “You went to church as a child, but quite frankly, not a whole lot of it made sense.” This was one of the features that could have been changed in the original, because if I were an atheist or even a Jew, I would automatically stop the movie because I know it is was going to proselytize me. The new version improves on this in that it starts the light dim before turning it up moments later instead of identifying the viewer as a former churchgoer, which is not true of some people.

The new version is also better than the original in its exposition of God’s Law and justice. Ray Comfort does the same explanation than Kirk, but adds the powerful verse of 1 Corinthians 6:9 to it. E.Z.’s explanation of God’s coming justice is also convicting and thought provoking. The ending exhortation for the audience to come to repentance and faith is also a highlight of this new version, which is more direct and clearly communicates the application of the gospel for an unbeliever. And finally, the new version contains both the English and Spanish, which makes it easier to give out instead of having to buy two separate DVDs.

However, the pros of the new version pretty much end here. Many features of the original were lost in the making of the new version. One of the best features of the original was the video montages (“O Sacred Head,” the doctor interview concerning the crucifixion, the “you are not too dirty” sequence, and the excellent “Jesus, I Love Thee” video). These video illustrations are what added emotional depth to this film. Without it, all we have in the new version is an endless series of lectures, each taking their turn. This isn’t necessarily bad, but it just doesn’t seem to communicate the depth and story quite like the original. The original was a little more creative and inspiring in this department, whereas the new version felt like it was merely going through the motions. Even the presentations by Voddie Baucham (an excellent preacher and theologian) seemed passive compared to the excitement and clarity of R.W. Glenn’s presentation in the original.

Biggest Question 2The explanation of the gospel, along with the illustrations and theological insight, seemed more interesting in the original. Some of these include Kirk Cameron’s illustration of sacrificial atonement and God’s kindness when he spoke about the adopted boy in Washington D.C., Todd’s explanation of Rahab the prostitute, and R.W. Glenn’s explanation of the cross (“done religion versus do religion,” the doctrine of imputed righteousness which results in one not having to feel like he is “better or worse” than others), which definitely hit home in a way that was somewhat missing in the new version. In a nutshell, the original version’s explanation of the atonement, propitiation, imputed righteousness, and repentance was more interesting in the original than in the new. It was also a little easier to follow. Voddie Baucham’s use of terms like “federal headship” and “active and passive obedience” can really fly over the heads of unbelievers who may not know what these terms mean. I can understand these because I am a Christian and a seminary student, but most people do not.

This is not to say that the original version is not without its cons. One of the feedbacks I’ve heard regarding the original is that it is a bit long. The new version capitalizes on this (although I think by cutting it down to 27 minutes, it is a bit too short now). The original version could have easily curtailed the discussion of Jesus’ beating and crucifixion, the false views of “accepting Jesus” (which the new version did wonderfully), and the discussion on the meaning of sanctification (because unbelievers are not quite to the point where they should be taught about sanctification. They need to be saved first). However, these quibbles are pretty minor compared to the overwhelming pros of the original.

In conclusion, I have mixed feelings about the new version. I suppose God will still use it to accomplish His purposes (since it is the gospel that is the power of God onto salvation, Rom 1:16), but I don’t think the film is as convicting, interesting, and moving as the original. Even the ending of the new version (“Why? Why would you reject it?”) with the closing soundtrack left me feeling clueless as to what to think of the gravity of the message I heard, in contrast to the inspiring close of the original.

It’s unfortunate that we may never see the original distributed again, partly because of the R.W. Glenn incident. But my appeal to Mr. Todd Friel and Wretched radio is, if possible, have the original available as an option or remake the new version so it contains the wonderful elements that made the original so good. Because as of right now, it is a good gospel DVD, but not a great gospel DVD. I don’t think I would have felt the same way about the Biggest Question had the new version been screened in my Bible study last year. I probably would have continued to buy the Greatest Gamble DVDs. 

Once again, this is not intended to be a harsh rebuttal of the efforts in putting together the new version (because I am giving them out to unbelievers as we speak). Just a suggestion for Mr. Friel concerning the merits of the original. Because if I were an unbeliever, I probably would be more impacted and be willing to consider the gospel through the presentation of the gospel through version one.

Your friend, Steve

Exhortations to the Children of Hope: 1 Thessalonians 5:12-18 Sermon

December 18, 2014 12:45 am

Lifelines

 

Currently Reading:

Lifelines for Tough Times: God’s Presence and Help When You Hurt

by Mike Fabarez

Category: Christian Living

2014, Harvest House

 

 

 

 

Here is a sermon titled Exhortations to the Children of Hope, which I think is probably my best sermon yet (in terms of clarity, content, and practicality). I hope this message is beneficial and edifying for you: 

That Time of Year (Again)

December 6, 2014 10:19 pm

Charismatic

 

Currently Reading:

Charismatic Chaos

by John MacArthur

Category: Theology / Christian Living

1993, Zondervan

 

 

 

 

When you see decorations like these in public places, you know it’s that time of the year again. Christmas. These sights just make me happy. I wish it could last all year.

Do not be afraid; for behold, I bring you good news of great joy which will be for all the people; for today in the city of David there has been born for you a Savior, who is Christ the Lord” – Luke 2:10-12

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