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All Bible references are to the Anglicised New International Version (NIV-UK), unless noted otherwise.
Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad; let them say among the nations, ‘The LORD reigns!’ Let the sea resound, and all that is in it; let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them!
― 1 Chronicles 16: 31–33 ―
DO SINNERS REALLY GO TO HELL? Rather surprisingly, this topic was recently discussed in ‘The Big Question’, the popular BBC television programme. It elicited fierce defence of the notion on the one hand, and scornful ridicule on the other. Surprising? Yes. At this point in human history, where the increase of knowledge has tended to undermine religious belief, and faith in the Christian Bible in particular, doctrinal topics have little appeal to the majority, merely providing an opportunity for unbelievers to mock the stubbornly credulous who cling to the old ideas. Yet the discussion was conducted seriously, showing that what the future holds for the human race, and more particularly for each of us as individuals, is still a cause for serious concern. It matters! But it was an atheist who had the last word, paradoxically nearer to the truth than most Christians: ‘When I come to the end of this life,’ he said, ‘I shall be dead.’
Can any evidence be presented to prove that the numberless deceased of humanity are surviving somewhere? Are they in some Heaven of bliss, or in some dreadful Hell of torment? But ah! some would say ― their bodies are dead, but their souls live on, continuing in a conscious existence. Not so! It was not until the Creator had breathed into his nostrils the breath of life that man became a living soul. When that breath ceases, the living soul dies (Genesis 2: 7; Ezekiel 18: 1-3, King James Version).
Of course there can be no scientific evidence, but any who are not fully prejudiced against Biblical teaching may glean from the Scriptures some nuggets of truth that appeal to reason, and may open up a fascinating and intriguing new way of viewing the question of life, death and Divine Judgment. It must be noted that at Jesus’ first advent special heavenly prospects were opened for the members of the Body of Christ, those saintly ones who have laid down their lives in sacrifice with their Lord ― the subject of another study.
Definitions will of course vary according to inherited or acquired values and standards of conduct, and while without doubt many non-religious people live exemplary lives, the question of dealing with those who fail to live according to right principles has never been satisfactorily resolved. For the God-fearing minority, sin is understood to mean, succinctly, the violation of God’s Law, a definition commonly held by several faith groups. But in this exposition we discuss it from the Christian standpoint which, as we hope to show, reveals the Divine wisdom and the glorious recovery of the willing from sin and death, to perfection and life everlasting.
There are standards of right-doing and equity which cannot be violated without incurring serious consequences. In the Bible the abuse of those principles is called sin, and the consequence of continued and incorrigible sin is the withdrawal of life. Thus it was that early in the dawn of human history the process of sin and death set in when Adam, in yielding to his own desire, lost the privilege of perpetual, enduring life, both for himself and for his offspring (Genesis 2: 17). But a veiled hope of eventual recovery was given, which many God-fearing people of succeeding generations trusted as implying the eventual release of the race from the sentence of death, and restoration to the original perfection of life (Genesis 3: 15).
The penalty for sin is death ― not life in a place of torment. Job in his distress longed to die, knowing he would be restored to life in due time (Job 14: 12–14):
[M]an lies down and does not rise; till the heavens are no more, men will not awake or be roused from their sleep. If only you would hide me in the grave and conceal me till your anger has passed! If only you would set me a time and then remember me! If a man dies, will he live again? All the days of my hard service I will wait for my renewal to come.
Abraham believed God’s promise that through his offspring all people on earth would be blessed ― a reversal of the curse of death imposed on account of sin (Genesis 28: 14). And in the New Testament the Apostle Paul takes up the theme, declaring that ‘The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord’ (Romans 6: 23). Linking God’s ancient promises to events current in his day, Paul identifies Christ Jesus as that son of Abraham who would bless all people (Galatians 3: 8, 16, 29):
 The Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announced the gospel in advance to Abraham: ‘All nations will be blessed through you.’  The Scripture does not say ‘and to seeds,’ meaning many people, but ‘to your seed,’ meaning one person, who is Christ.  If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.
In the Old Testament, the word ‘hell’ is translated from the Hebrew sheol, which means ‘grave’. The New International Version and most other modern translations give it this way. Hell – the grave – is the state of non-existence, the inevitable prospect for everyone. Jesus told His disciples that ‘No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven — the Son of Man’ (John 3: 13), and Paul some years later referred to deceased believers as being asleep, awaiting the resurrection (1 Corinthians 15: 6, 18).
All entered Hell, the sheol of the Hebrew scriptures, the place grossly misrepresented from mediaeval times as a place of torture. Like wolves among the lambs, ambitious worldly men within the Church system found that they could use the fear of eternal punishment to control the minds and lives of superstitious millions. In the New Testament it is rendered chiefly from the Greek word hades, which corresponds to the Hebrew sheol, and has the same meaning.
Yes – and so do the righteous. The grave is our resting place until the Son of Man calls us to awaken, not to a Judgment Day of 24 hours, but to a remarkable opportunity to gain everlasting life! In John 5: 28, 29 (American Standard Version), Jesus expresses it thus:
Marvel not at this: for the hour cometh, in which all that are in the tombs shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of judgment.
The word ‘judgment’ here is translated from krisis, and signifies a trial, including the verdict at its close, which will be everlasting life on the one hand, or annihilation on the other, depending on one’s response to the conditions of that period the Scriptures call Judgment Day. In Acts 17: 31 it is written,
[H]e has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.
What a reassuring prospect! Note that it is the world’s judgment that Paul is discussing here. The common conception of it is entirely out of harmony with God’s righteous character and the promises recorded in His inspired Word. The term day, in both Scripture and ordinary speech, often means a period other than twenty-four hours. For example, St. Paul refers to the era during which the Gospel is preached as ‘the day of salvation’ (2 Corinthians 6: 2). And, again, the Apostle Peter, writing of the coming ‘day of judgment’ reminds us of Moses’ statement that a day with the Lord is as a thousand years, and vice versa (Psalm 90: 4; 2 Peter 3: 8).
There is, therefore, good reason to believe that the duration of the ‘day of judgment’ is a thousand years, and that this judgment is a vital feature of the Millennium, the Kingdom of Christ on earth, prayed for by countless generations of believers in the Lord’s Prayer.
Usually our first reaction to the word ‘judgment’ is one of dread – an offence has been committed for which the guilty is brought to trial and punished. Indeed, as stark as it may seem, when at the dawn of human history Adam’s disobedience brought the death penalty upon him, the entire race he generated suffered the same sentence. That the Creator’s justice, wisdom and love prompted this course is another subject and is dealt with elsewhere on this site, but suffice it to state that the sentence against Adam served the Divine purpose of teaching mankind the consequences of sin. But Judgment Day will not be merely an opportunity to pronounce new, even harsher verdicts.
The Divine Judgment Day includes beneficial instruction. All will learn of the salvation provided through Christ the Saviour. Let the Scriptures speak: ‘For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the LORD, as the waters cover the sea.’ (Habakkuk 2: 14). ‘All your sons will be taught by the LORD, and great will be your children’s peace’ (Isaiah 54: 13). In the earthly Kingdom, conditions will be conducive to full recovery from the fallen state, and the King of Kings will administer a righteous government (Jeremiah 23: 5).
Testing for loyalty to the Lord will be another feature of Judgment day. But this trial will be more favourable than the first in Eden, the dying process and mankind’s long experience under the Curse having taught powerful lessons. The death sentence inherited from Adam will be rescinded, each man and woman judged as individually responsible under the laws of the New Covenant, then in operation.
The final judgment ― the vital decision as to worthiness of everlasting life, is generally accepted as being depicted in Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25: 31–46). The essence of the parable of the sheep and the goats is the heart condition of the redeemed millions of mankind. Some may outwardly conform to the law, while inwardly resenting its strictures. Their sentence will be – not eternal torment but – annihilation. They will cease to exist. The Bible testimony is that the penalty for sin is withdrawal of life, the end of conscious existence ― a merciful end for them, and a relief for the loyal citizens of the new earth, for whom an eternity of joy awaits.
Genesis 2: 7 (King James Version)
‘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.
Ezekiel 18: 1-3 (King James Version)
‘1 The word of the LORD came unto me again, saying, 2 What mean ye, that ye use this proverb concerning the land of Israel, saying, The fathers have eaten sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge? 3 As I live, saith the Lord GOD, ye shall not have occasion any more to use this proverb in Israel.’
Genesis 2: 17 (NIV-UK)
‘[B]ut you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die.’
Genesis 3: 15 (NIV-UK)
‘And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.’
Genesis 28: 14 (NIV-UK)
‘Your descendants will be like the dust of the earth, and you will spread out to the west and to the east, to the north and to the south. All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.’
1 Corinthians 15: 6, 18 (NIV-UK)
‘6 After that, he appeared to more than five hundred of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. . . . 18 Then those also who have fallen asleep in Christ are lost.’
2 Corinthians 6: 2 (NIV-UK)
‘For he says, “In the time of my favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation.’
Psalm 90: 4 (NIV-UK)
‘For a thousand years in your sight are like a day that has just gone by, or like a watch in the night.’
2 Peter 3: 8 (NIV-UK)
‘But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.’
Jeremiah 23: 5 (NIV-UK)
‘”The days are coming,” declares the LORD, “when I will raise up to David a righteous Branch, a King who will reign wisely and do what is just and right in the land.”’
Matthew 25: 31-46 (NIV-UK)
‘31 When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?”
40 The King will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”
41 Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.”
44 They also will answer, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?”
45< He will reply, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
46 Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.’
July 2010 ukbiblestudents.co.uk
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