The Final Phase of the Judgment
With so much talk about judgment, we want to summarize what’s been going on before talking about the final phase in this post. Daniel’s vision in chapter 8 pointed to the judgment that would happen for God’s people before He comes the Second Coming. We also discussed in class the judgment that would happen to the wicked after the millennium, which you can read about in Revelation 20.
Today’s study looked the results of the judgment, particularly for those who choose not to be with Jesus. Yes, we discussed Hell. You can read about our earlier study by clicking here.
The Bible talks about the destruction of the wicked in 182 places (98 in the Old Testament and 84 in the New Testament). Each of these times the Bible declares that hell will end and that the wicked will no longer exist. This runs contrary to popular evangelical belief, which teaches that hell lasts forever and the wicked are burning forever.
Fortunately, this is not the truth, and its ideology runs counter to Scripture. The post we linked to earlier explains why. But to briefly recap, Revelation 20 reveals that Hell is an event, not a place. It will happen here on Earth. And when all is said and done (and the devil has been destroyed), God will make a new heaven and Earth and set up the center of the universe on this planet (Revelation 21).
Of the 182 texts, there are about five or six that are not as clear. The rest indicate that hell is an event with an end time, but the handful of others seems to be where the popular burn forever in hellfire seems to come from. We are going to examine those texts here and see how they are in harmony with the temporary (and Biblical) nature of Hell.
This text at surface value indicates that torment will occur infinitely. However, the word forever is either limited or unlimited, depending on what is being described. Think of the word tall. It can have different meanings, based on what is being described. It could be a tall dog, house, or even a mountain. There is no absolute standard determining what is tall that all objects are applied to. In similar fashion, the word forever is used 56 times in the Old Testament in regards to things already ended. As far as man is concerned (the thing being described), forever means “as long as a man lives” (1 Samuel 1:22,28). For hell, forever means until death, man burns until there is nothing left to burn.
Jerusalem was burned with unquenchable fire (Jeremiah 17:27), but it is not burning today. II Chronicles 36:19,21 says that Jerusalem was burned to fulfill Jeremiah’s prophecy. Unquenchable fire is so big it cannot be put out, but it goes out when there is nothing left to burn.
Jude 7 reveals that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah with eternal fire. II Peter 2:6 says those cities became ashes when the fire was done as an example of what will happen to the ungodly. Sodom and Gomorrah are not burning today. The eternal fire is eternal in its effect, not duration.
This text says that the wicked will go into everlasting punishment. Notice that it does not say eternal punishING. The punishment for sin is death. Revelation calls this death the second death (21:8). This punishment is finite until it is fulfilled, and it is eternal because there is no resurrection of the second death (Revelation 20:6).
The parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus has been the capstone in the “burning forever” argument. After all, it came from Jesus’ mouth, so it must be true, right? Well:
Parables cannot be taken literally – If you read the parable of Judges 9:8-15 and apply a literal interpretation, that means trees can talk. They may be able to talk in Lord of the Rings, but not in real life.
The events in the parable are not even logical or in agreement with the rest of Scripture if taken literally –
– Abraham’s bosom is not heaven. It is a metaphor for heaven in this parable. But you cannot pick and choose what is literal and what is metaphorical. Either both are literal or both are figurative.
– People in heaven cannot communicate with people in hell. Revelation 21:4 says the former things will pass away. Hell is a finite event, and the former things will not be remembered (Isaiah 65:17)
– The good and bad dead people are in their graves until Jesus calls them up in their respective resurrections. Once the righteous man dies, he is asleep until Jesus comes a second time. One the wicked man dies, he is asleep until Jesus comes after the millennium. They will hear His voice while they are in the grave, not when they are in heaven/hell.
– The Bible says that men will receive their reward at the second coming (Revelation 22:11,12)
– Jesus would be contradicting Himself if everything in the parable were to be taken literally (Matthew 13:38-42, Matthew 16:27)
Jesus was borrowing a popular belief many held in the day about heaven and hell to illustrate a point:
Those who refuse to be led by Scripture will have no hope of going to heaven. Plenty has been given to each and every one of us to make an informed decision on whether we should choose life with Jesus, or death. The choice is yours.