The central point of this chapter is to argue that hell is a real place. But, and most importantly, the reality of hell is not only or even primarily a future place. Hell is present in the world today. Hell is the outcome of people’s choices when they reject “the good and true and beautiful life” God has for them.
Here’s a statement of summary:
And that’s what we find in Jesus’ teaching about hell—a volatile mixture of images, pictures, and metaphors that describe the very real experiences and consequences of rejecting our God-given goodness and humanity. Something we are all free to do, anytime, anywhere, with anyone (73).Before reading my bullet point comments, think about the idea:
Aside from the Bible’s teaching on the subject, do you think this idea of hell is a sufficient answer to humanity’s universal longing for justice?
Now for my quick hits.
1. Hell is not for the victims; what a victim of a hate crime or a rape or genocide has had to endure can be absolutely called “hellish”, but hell is not for them. Hell’s purpose is the final judgment of evil in any form: human and non-human—angels and people.
2. Jewish people at the time of Jesus, and Jesus himself, had no problem believing in eternal punishment. I suspect that most oppressed people don’t.
3. There is plenty of ancient Jewish evidence about hell that would make the most graphic images of hell in the New Testament look like watercolor paintings. I could give references if you want them.
4. Gehenna, to the best of our knowledge, was not a “trash dump”. There’s not one shred of evidence to support this idea that has become self-evident.
5. In the Bible, restorative punishment, punishment whose purpose is to restore, is generally corporate and only for Israel in the OT. What I mean here is that individuals are not the objects of restorative punishment in the OT. Much is made of Ezekiel’s vision of the restoration of Sodom (Ezek 16:44-58) in the chapter. Rob overreaches to make his point. A careful reading of the passage reveals that Ezekiel is speaking of Sodom corporately. The city will be restored with Samaria and with Jerusalem. In the NT, members of the church are chastised in order that they might be restored. There’s no scenario presented that gives even the hint that the unrighteous suffer divine judgment in order to bring them to faith and salvation. See Romans 1:18-32.
6. As the presence of heaven has broken in to the present the present age in the coming of Jesus, so too has the presence of hell. God’s wrath, indeed, is presently being poured out in the present (Rom 1:18-32). But this is not hell.
7. The warnings of judgment on the lips of Jesus transcend the Jewish War of 68-70 and the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. I am in no way suggesting that these were not within the scope of the judgment, but they do not exhaust the reality of the judgment Jesus predicted.
8. The interpretation of the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus told in Luke 16 is formative for the teaching on hell espoused in the chapter. Rob's reading just doesn't stand up under scrutiny. You can look it over for yourself. In the parable Jesus is teaching that deeds of mercy or lack there of in this life are determinative for the life to come. What one does in this life determines where one will spend the life to come and that final state is unalterable.
In addition, a brief word is required on the interpretation of the phrase “aion kolazo” (“eternal punishment”) in Matthew 25:46. First, the word “kolazo”. The term in Matt 25:46 is the noun not the verb, but both are only used twice in the NT (verb Acts 4:21; 2 Pet 2:9; noun 1 Jn 4:18; Matt 25:46). In none of its uses either in the verb or noun form does it speak of “pruning” or does it refer to a restorative punishment. Second, Rob again, as in the chapter on heaven, insists that Jews didn’t have a category for the idea of forever. This is just wrong. Let me show you a passage where the concept of forever is meant in a context of divine punishment: Revelation 20:10 and 14-15.
Rev. 20:10These two texts are related and express a vision of the final fate of God’s enemies. In the first text were told that the devil, the beast and the false prophet will be “thrown” into the “lake of burning sulfur” to be “tormented day and night. This torment according to John will be “for ever and ever”. This phrase is created by repeating the word aion twice. It means something like “for ages upon ages”. In this way John is expressing the idea behind our term “forever”. While the term aion may mean a distinct period of time with a beginning and an end, it can be and is used by biblical authors to express an unending period or set of periods.
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 All whose names were not found written in the book of life were thrown into the lake of fire.
Another observation about these passages is the assumption that the lake of fire is not only for God’s explicit enemies. Anyone whose name is not written in the “book of life” will suffer the same fate with the devil, the beast and the false prophet. A so-called neutral position (even giving someone the benefit of the doubt) for John is implicit support for God’s enemies. As someone said once, “You’re either with us, or with them”.
Finally, it appears that Hades, hell that is, is not the same thing as the “lake of fire”. If we harmonize Jesus’ parable about the Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16 with the teaching of Revelation here, we would have to say that the Rich man who died and was in Hades in his first death, will be thrown into the lake of fire in the “second death”.
For earlier posts for Love Wins see: Post When your wife . . ., 1, 2, 3, 4.
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