The Death of Hell
"Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved" Acts 16:31 NAS
Many Bible-believing Christians today are in a whirling dilemma! How do we understand how good non-Christian people—like Gandhi—can be in the burning hell as taught for centuries by Christians? A new holy war has been reignited by one young Pastor’s book, Love Wins, A Book about Heaven and Hell and the Fate of everyone that has ever Lived. The question is, How could a God of love plan an eternal place of torture for billions of people who simply have not accepted Jesus as their Savior?
On the other hand, where to go? Who is going to be in heaven? Everybody? Are murderers going to heaven? How about rapists? Will Hitler be in heaven? What about the Jews who died in the Holocaust who never believed in Jesus? What about innocent babies in Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, or Atheist families?
Is God truly a God of Love? Is He even just? Does the Bible contradict itself? Is the Bible at all consistent and reasonable? What really is the Biblical doctrine of "Hell"? Does Man really die?
The Penalty for Sin—Death
The opening verses of the Bible begin with the preparation of an earth for the habitation of man. After an indefinite time for the earth being "without form and void" (Genesis 1:1), God began a creative week of "days." At the end of the sixth day, "God created man in his own image" (vs. 26).
When a human body was prepared from the elements of earth, the "breath of life" was breathed into it. Clearly, the Bible does not say Man was given a soul. He actually "became a living soul."
"And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul." (Genesis 2:7)
Because Adam was not a robot, but a human with free will, God needed to teach man the advantages of obeying God and learning righteousness. So He placed a simple test of obedience on Adam. The fruit of all the trees of Adam and Eve’s Paradise home was provided by the Creator for eating—except one.
What was the penalty for eating of that forbidden tree? Many have concluded it was an eternity of torture in a fiery Hell. "But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die" (literally "dying you will die"—Genesis 2:17). However, Eve believed Satan’s deception, "Ye shall not surely die" (Genesis 3:4). Although Adam was not deceived, he disobeyed and brought the death penalty on us all (1 Timothy 2:14).*
Certainly, the penalty for sinning was death. "The wages of sin is death" (Romans 6:23). But did the soul somehow continue to live somewhere? "The soul that sinneth, it shall die (Ezekiel 18:20). Satan is certainly "the father of lies" who has largely "blinded" mankind to the character of our loving Creator God (John 8:44). So how did the idea of a soul living on somewhere after death become the common belief?
Satan’s Lie—the Basis for a Literal Hell Fire
The earliest civilizations—Sumerians, Babylonians —believed in a continuing "afterlife." The Egyptians believed the soul of the deceased took a journey through the underworld to face the god of the dead, Anubis. The heart of the deceased was put on a scale to weigh the good deeds and bad deeds against the "feather of truth." Then, if not worthy of a perfect afterlife, he or she would be sent to the Devourer of the Dead (a combination crocodile-lion-hippopotamus god).
The foremost advocate among the ancient Greeks of the idea of an "immortal soul" was the Athenian philosopher Plato (428-348 B.C.), the pupil of Socrates. In Book X of The Republic, Plato wrote, "The soul of man is immortal and imperishable." The Jewish Encyclopedia confirms this saying, "The belief that the soul continues its existence after the dissolution of the body is…nowhere expressly taught in Holy Scripture…The belief in the immortality of the soul came to the Jews from contact with Greek [Hellenistic] thought and chiefly through the philosophy of Plato its principal exponent."
So, if a man believes he does not die but has an immortal soul, whom is he believing? Yes, the same "god of this world," has "blinded the minds of the unbelieving…" (2 Corinthians 4:4). For thousands of years mankind has generally believed Satan’s lie, "You will not surely die."
So for millennia religious as well as civil leaders of virtually every civilization have used the fear and terror of a future life of torture to scare the masses into being good citizens. Christianity’s "hell fire" (including Islam’s copy) of eternal torture for non-believers is based on the pagan Roman belief which came from pagan Greek "hell"—which in turn was borrowed from the pagan Egyptian "hell" called amenti. In ancient Babylonian and Assyrian beliefs, "the nether world…is pictured as a place full of horrors presided over by gods and demons of great strength and fierceness" (The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria, Morris Jastrow, p. 581).
Christian Adaptation of Pagan Philosophy
Many of the early Christian theologians and scholars—including Tertullian and Augustine—adapted Plato’s conclusions. Tertullian (A.D.155-220) wrote: "For some things are known even by nature: the immortality of the soul…I may use, therefore, the opinion of Plato, ‘Every soul is immortal.’" (The Ante-Nicene Fathers, Vol. III). Eventually, under the influence of Augustine, A.D. 430, the concept of endless conscious torment became the generally accepted belief of the Church.
In ancient Egypt, payments were made to priests for them to intercede for the dead. A fiery "Purgatory" was added to the Christian Church—and confirmed by Pope Gregory the Great in about A.D. 582. Paying for indulgences were supposed to reduce the years of purification spent by loved ones in "Purgatory"—instead of spending an eternity in "hellfire."
The Language of the Bible
True, there are instances in the Bible where the word "hell" is translated with "fire." But in the figurative language of the Bible, we also have Jesus called a "Lamb," sometimes a "Lion" (1 Peter 1:19; Revelation 5:5). And Christians are depicted as "Sheep," "Wheat," "Fish" or even a city—the "New Jerusalem," etc. (John 10:27; Luke 22:31; Revelation 21:2).
The Bible is its own interpreter and is completely harmonious. "Fire" basically represents destruction. For example, faithful Christians are "proved" in the "fire" before receiving their heavenly "reward." The dross of any human mindedness is symbolically burned away by a figurative "fire."
"Now if any man builds upon the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man's work will become evident; for the day will show it, because it is to be revealed with fire; and the fire itself will test the quality of each man's work. If any man's work which he has built upon it remains, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work is burned up, he shall suffer loss; but he himself shall be saved, yet so as through fire." nas 1 Corinthians 3:11-15
Jesus’ Death—Basis for a Resurrection
Jesus proclaimed, "I am the resurrection and the life" (John 11:25). Since "resurrection" (St. # 386 anastasis) means "a standing up again," why would anyone need to be revived if he or she never really died? Again, the first Man was not given a soul, but he "became a living soul." And, "the soul that sins, it shall die." The soul is resurrected when given a new body.
After Jesus finally explained Lazarus being "asleep," actually meant "Lazarus is dead" (John 11:15-25)—he demonstrated his power to awaken him from the grave. Lazarus was not being recalled from heaven. He was asleep in sheol—hell—the grave!
One of Jesus’ most quoted parables used to "prove" a literal hell of fire is "the rich man" and Lazarus in Luke 16. But the rich man pictured Israel as a nation which was "rich" in God’s favor— figuratively at Abraham’s "bosom." Israel would die as a nation when it rejected their Messiah. The Gentile "dogs" would then be favored (vs. 21). Thus, because the "rich man" with his "five brothers" did not listen to "Moses and the Prophets" (vss. 28-31)—although Israel died nationally—the people were scattered in "torment" for centuries. That’s why the restoration of Israel appears in vision as a resurrection of gathering "dry bones," adding sinews and skin and finally "breath" (Ezekiel 37:1-14).
The First Resurrection
Jesus himself took the sinner Adam’s place in hell—sheol—because he "poured out his soul unto death" (Isaiah 53:12). However, because he was faithful, "his soul was not left in hell [hades]." On the third day Jesus was resurrected (Acts 2:31).
Who has part in the First Resurrection? "For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him" (2 Timothy 2:11). Those also who "suffer with him shall reign with him" (Romans 8:17) during Christ’s Thousand Years of his Kingdom.
"Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years." Revelation 20:6
These who "believe on Jesus" are "saved" first from the condemnation of sin. But only on the condition of being faithful are they then rewarded with immortality. "To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life" (Romans 2:7). Immortality is conditional. Thus, as Apostle Paul encouraged, "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12).
But if only faithful Christians as "firstfruits" (James 1:18) receive the "first resurrection"—does that mean everybody else will automatically be resurrected next? Isn’t that called "universalism"?
Satan Bound—1, 000-Year Day of Judgment
Actually the rest of earth’s billions will be raised to "judgment"—for a 1,000-year Judgment Day—which is not a sentencing, but a crisis opportunity:
"Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a  resurrection of life,  those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment [krisis]*" John 5:28-29 NAS
*Strong’s #2920 "decision for or against"
When all in their graves—including ancient Judah, Samaria and even Sodom (Ezekiel 16:53-63)—come forth, they all will have their trial period for life during Christ’s 1000-year Kingdom.
Would this be a "second chance" for those who did not "believe in the Lord Jesus"? Not really. But it will be the first real opportunity for most—including many good as well as bad people—to walk up a "highway of holiness" without the "lion" Satan to blind and tempt them (1 Peter 5:8; Isaiah 35:8, 9).
The Highway of Holiness for Mankind
Instead of the "way [that] is narrow which leads to [immortal] life" (Matthew 7:14)—it will be a wide Highway that leads to human perfection and holiness. Some will make easy, fast progress. Some will be slow. A few won’t make it. But these "ransomed of the LORD" will "return" to what they lost because of Adam’s sin—a Paradise home on earth. "Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool" (Acts 7:49; Isaiah 66:1).
Apostle Peter clearly tells us the "Day of Judgment" is 1,000 years (2 Peter 3:8). It is, of course, the same 1,000 years during which the faithful Church will reign with Christ. And it is during the same 1,000 years Satan—"the god of this world" (2 Corinthians 4:4) who has "blinded" most of humanity—will be bound "to deceive the nations no more" (Revelation 20:1-3).
At the end of this Thousand Years, Satan will be "loosed a little season" (Revelation 20:3,7). He will tempt all to openly rebel. Those who have not developed perfect love in their hearts for God and their fellowman are pictured by the "goats" who only "feigned" to obey Kingdom law principles (Matthew 25:31-46; Psalm 66:3 nas). These few will not be written in the "Book of Life."
Hell Itself will be Forever Destroyed
Thus God’s grand Plan for mankind will be very successful! Both man’s dying process leading to his grave as well as the condition of death itself—Hell—will be permanently destroyed in the "lake of fire." And only those who refuse to be healed of their perversities, will be mercifully destroyed also.
"And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." Revelation 20:14-15
Therefore, our just and loving God did not plan a burning hell of literal fire—but a wonderful recovery Plan for all mankind....
Still, one might ask, Where is God now in all the human tragedies and natural catastrophes of this life?