Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Eternal Torment, Annihilation, Ultimate Reconciliation? How about a little of each?

This is Part 2 of 2, See Part 1:  Saved? Saved from What?
Revelation 20:10 says, "The devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." There is no mention of this eternal torment for the people that are thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20:14-15. For them it is described as "the second death."

"The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out justice to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (obeying the gospel means trusting in Jesus). These people will pay the penalty of eternal DESTRUCTION, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power" (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9). Here, as Revelation 20:14-15 suggests, those who fully reject Christ are destroyed forever, as in annihilated, never to come back to life. To come back from death requires a resurrection. No resurrection is spoken of for these people after the lake of fire. There is no resurrection from the second death. Even John 3:16 has perishing (destruction/death) as the opposite of everlasting life. The opposite is not eternal torment.

A Second Chance?
Once people are thrown into the lake of fire there can be no resurrection or "ultimate reconciliation." If there were an afterlife reconciliation available it would have to be before someone is thrown into the lake of fire. Scripture says that old testament people were given a chance in the afterlife to be saved by faith. "The gospel was proclaimed to those who are now dead so that they could live like God in the spirit" (1 Peter 4:6). "Jesus went and made proclamation of the gospel to the spirits in prison, who once were disobedient" (1 Peter 3:18-19). Notice it says they were "once disobedient" suggesting that they became obedient to the gospel and are now saved. The context says the people from the days of Noah, the worst people ever in the history of the world who were presumably warned by Noah for years, were given this chance to hear the gospel & trust Jesus. Jesus died for everyone past, present, & future so it would have been unjust for God to leave these people condemned without knowing about the freedom Christ has made available. I think it is possible that everyone who died before Christ died could indeed be saved & born again.

Every Knee Shall Bow..
"For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God. For it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee will bow to me, and every tongue will give praise to God” (Romans 14:10-12). This scripture lets us know that the "every knee bowing" event clearly happens on judgment day, the same day people are later thrown in the lake of fire. This event is described in Isaiah 45, showing EXACTLY what God says to people on that day.

“Thus says the Lord, who created the heavens, “I am the Lord, and there is none else. I have not spoken in secret, I, the Lord, speak righteousness, Declaring things that are upright. Gather yourselves and come; Draw near together, you fugitives of the nations. They have no knowledge, Who carry about their wooden idol and pray to a god who cannot save. Declare and set forth your case; Indeed, let them consult together. Who has announced this from of old? Who has long since declared it? Is it not I, the Lord? And there is no other God besides Me, A righteous God and a Savior; There is none except Me. Turn to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth; For I am God, and there is no other. I have sworn by Myself, The word has gone forth from My mouth in righteousness and will not turn back, That to Me every knee will bow, every tongue will swear allegiance. They will say of Me, ‘Only in the Lord are righteousness and strength."
Men will come to Him, and all who were angry at Him will be put to shame. In the Lord all the offspring of Israel Will be justified and will glory” (Isaiah 45:18-25).

Here we have God telling people who He is, even calling Himself a Savior on the day of judgment. He says, "Turn to me & be saved." God offers "all the ends of the earth" salvation on judgment day. It is beautiful & worth rereading. Isaiah then writes that "all who are angry at him will be put to shame." In SEVEN places God promises, “Whoever trusts in the Lord will NEVER be put to shame” (Isaiah 28:16, Romans 9:33, 10:11, 1 Peter 2:6, Joel 2:26-27, Isaiah 45:17, 54:4). If you are put to shame you are not saved. Shame is literally the opposite of grace. If you are put to shame you have not chosen to receive God's grace. So we see that there are some who choose to retain anger towards God. They angrily bow. Those who come before the Lord in judgement will acknowledge Him as God and give Him praise at the very least by the fact that they are in His almighty presence at judgement. But those who retain anger (hatred, murderous feelings & thoughts) towards Him in their hearts are thrown into the lake of fire. They did not call Him Lord from their heart. "If you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and trust in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved" (Romans 10:9). This statement from Romans 10:9 does not have an expiration date just because your body dies. We see that the resurrection is so integral to the gospel that if someone even in the next life does not trust in it, they will not be saved. You cannot hate God & live forever. God is life. If you hate God you hate life & thus you have chosen death for yourself.

Isaiah says, "In the Lord all the seed of Israel Will be justified and will glory." The true seed of Israel are all who are saved. "God exalted Jesus and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee will bow – in heaven and on earth and under the earth – and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father" (Philippians 2:9-11).

Eternal Torment
Scriptures (Matthew 18:8, 25:41; Jude 1:7) still speak of "eternal fire" and it is true that the lake of fire is eternal. However eternal experience (torture) in this fire is only said to be for the devil, the beast, & the false prophet. Below some scriptures are examined to this point.

Revelation 14:9-11 says, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in FULL STRENGTH in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

It says the smoke of their torment goes up forever but doesn't say that their torment lasts forever as it does about the torment of those mentioned in Revelation 20:10. These subtleties of language reveal the truth! It also says that they are tormented in the presence of Jesus "day and night." Later on in Revelation 22:5 it is said that "There will no longer be any night because the Lord God will illumine his people forever and ever." So it is impossible for this to be speaking of eternal torture because in God's presence there will eventually only be day. Those 3 mentioned in Revelation 20:10 are away from God's presence & still have night. Thus those who take the mark of the beast are tortured at least one day & one night but no longer than the time span between Revelation 14:11-22:5.

Jude speaks of people for whom "the utter depths of eternal darkness have been reserved." The darkness is eternal but the experience thereof is not. It says these people will perish (be annihilated) unless they are "snatched out of the fire." Matthew 25:41 says that God prepared the eternal fire for the devil & his angels. The devil's angels are not mentioned in Revelation 20:21 but Jude says that certain angels are being kept in eternal bonds under eternal darkness. Jude hints that the place of eternal darkness is also the place of eternal fire, which is the lake of fire.

Jesus said in Mark 3:29, "Whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be pardoned, but is guilty of an eternal sin." Some of the Pharisees did this specific blaspheming, which was to credit to Satan the works of God (ie Satan empowered Jesus to heal people). If the sin is eternal one could think the punishment could be as well. But of course the 2nd death is a punishment of eternal death.

God's Wrath on Judgment Day
Scripture refers to judgment day as, "the day of wrath." It is just one day of wrath for mankind. God "stores up wrath for the day of judgment" for the sake of justice (Romans 2:5) so that those who hate Him, even after He offers them one more chance on that judgment day, can justly have the second death (which is annihilation) that they have chosen.

Why does Revelation 20:12 say God judges by deeds? Why oh, why wouldn't it say He judges them by sins? Because Jesus has already taken the sinful deeds of the world away! "The sting of death is sin" (1 Corinthians 15:56). God wants to take away that sting as much as He can, even for those who reject Him! He judges them by their deeds to ease the sting of death that sin has earned them.

But still how can a loving God punish anyone? God tormenting Satan isn't out of love for Satan but out of love for those who Satan has deceived. Likewise God's wrath for those who hate Him & those who embraced the beast is out of love for Jesus.

God is the giver of all good things and He holds all things together. If God's wrath includes separation from God His mere absence is the cause of the torture. Perhaps where God's goodness does not have influence there can only be torture and pain. Without Him there is no good left. All good things on earth are because of Him. His love is spread all over the world.

What about Hell?
There are three words translated as "hell" in the bible & two of them are different things.

Gehenna, also called "Gehenna of fire," referred to a literal place, the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned. Gehenna pictures the lake of fire. That lake is also called the "lake of fire & sulfur" meaning it smells, Gehenna smelled.

Hades pictures the realm of the dead or the grave. Sheol is the old testament (Hebrew) word for Hades (a Greek word). The "hell" spoken of being thrown into the lake of fire in Revelation 20 is Hades, not Gehenna. The lake of fire will not be thrown into itself. Hades is also spoken of as the grave in contrast to Jesus' resurrection.

The "parable" of Lazarus happened in Hades not Gehenna & it is told as a true story not as a parable. It speaks of flames & torment. Christ spoke the good news to these people in Hades after He died (1 Peter 3:18-19,4:6, quoted above). Interesting it says, "they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead." But the "they" that are spoken of aren't the people in Hades, it is the people living on earth. Lazarus sounds like he would be persuaded & he likely was when Jesus spoke to him there after His death on the cross. Hades & wrath reveal God's desperate love to save the otherwise unwilling.

Today there is still a Hades because it is spoken of as something that is thrown in the lake of fire in the future, not something abolished at the cross. Remember Hades is Sheol, "the grave."

Jesus often spoke of an "outer darkness" & a "furnace of fire." In Luke 13:28 He said of it, "In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out." He says the people in that place will see Abraham, just like Lazarus did! He was speaking of Hades, a temporary place with pain & misery.

"The gates of hell" that will not prevail against the body of Christ are the gates of Hades. Jesus was saying that death will not prevail over His people because they have His resurrection power within them & live an everlasting life. Remember He broke the power of sin & death. In Revelation 1:18 Jesus said, "I am he that lives, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and of Hades." Jesus has the keys of Hades and thus the power to release people from there who will trust Him on the judgment day. Hades itself will be thrown into the lake of fire.

Perhaps Jesus' gates of hell statement speaks of His people speaking to those in Hades as Abraham did because they cannot be stopped by the gates & Jesus holds the keys to the gates. I have not seen any place in scripture where Satan & Hades are even mentioned together. The gates of Hades does not picture the power of Satan & his forces but instead the power of the grave to stop the gospel. The grave will not stop God's people from proclaiming the gospel to those who have died! As Jesus & Abraham spoke to the "spirits in prison" so shall we. The gospel is about Christ conquering death so why assume He cannot conquer some one's first, bodily, death when it comes to saving them?

Why does God pour wrath out on the earth in Revelation?
Revelation 16:9 says, "Men were scorched with fierce heat; and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues, and they did not change their minds so as to give Him glory." We can see that in torment there are people who refuse to glorify God & live. They choose to suffer instead. The wrath of God that comes upon the earth in Revelation is God's last resort in getting people to choose Him & live because they would by no other means do so. This is also part of why people suffer in Hades. There is little to no time left for these people in Revelation to suffer in Hades so God has to bring wrath to the earth. "During those days men will seek death, but will not find it; they will long to die, but death will elude them" (Revelation 9:6). God makes these people suffer but without killing them. God does not kill people. He is not a murderer but a rescuer. So during His wrath people will suffer and not die. Likewise in Hades people suffer without a "death" event to end it. God essentially brings "hell on earth" because there is almost no time left for people to choose God & live. Wrath is the worst way of getting people to choose life but in the most extreme cases people need to be scorched to wake up & realize the danger of death.

What about "Narrow is the Way?"
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14).

Jesus says, "the broad gate LEADS to destruction." He did not say, "to enter the broad gate is to guarantee destruction." Also note that it leads to destruction, not to eternal torment. The narrow way is eternal life begun on earth. Eternal life on earth is important & it guarantees no second death. Life & love matter now!

Jesus says, "few find it." He uses comparative terms. Few are reborn on earth compared to the many who are reborn on judgment day. Few find it because most people look for God in religion which distorts & misrepresents Him. An innumerable amount of people will have been saved even before judgment day as Revelation 7:10 says, "I looked, and behold, a great multitude that no one could number, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed in white robes."

What's the point?
People who ask, "Well what is the point of doing good if people will go to heaven anyway?" don't understand grace or salvation & especially don't understand love. God is love. If we know Him we will want to love others with Him.

Why spread the gospel? 1. Because knowing God is good news! 2. Because people are suffering & are missing out on our amazing Father. The gospel is not spread out of obligation or fear for some one's eternal destiny. It all comes out of our love for the goodness of God & our love for people. Why wouldn't you want someone to experience the enjoyment of the greatest gift of all time as soon as they possibly can? The gospel isn't urgent because of the danger people are in. The gospel is urgent because of the good people are missing out on! Someone who loves would want others to enjoy the goodness of Jesus ASAP. It is not just good but good news!

I've personally never heard the viewpoint which I've adopted espoused by anyone else. Scripture doesn't have to be justified by men who hold polarized viewpoints to back themselves up, it just needs to be studied out by the leading of the Spirit. He leads you to truth. You don't lead yourself.

Those who retain their anger towards God at judgment will be annihilated in the lake of fire. God is love AND God is not unjust. God gives everyone a chance on the day of judgment to trust Him. Some are annihilated. Most, I think, are saved.

Is everyone saved in the end? No, but God is completely loving & completely just in all His dealings with mankind. Some men simply loved the darkness too much to ever embrace the light of life.

So with God all things are possible but nothing is forced. Mankind's free will determines their destiny. God doesn't force a totally two-way reconciliation nor has He left anyone without a second chance. God gives opportunities but the expiration date is the day of judgment where people will either choose Him & live or reject Him and die.

God created a universe where you can "have it your way." A universe where love is not something that manipulates you into servitude but instead is something to be enjoyed at will. "Your way" is not without consequences in this universe. God wants to show you His Way, Jesus, so you can have abundant life & never face the consequence of death. His way is to love you at all costs. You can have His love as long as you want His love.

"Whoever trusts in me has victory over sin & death, he will not be hurt by the second death. I will grant to him to sit down with Me on My throne, as I also was victorious and sat down with My Father on His throne" (Revelation 2:11, 3:21).

"As I live!" declares the Lord God, "I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that the wicked turn from his way to My Way, Jesus the Savior of mankind, and live. Why then will you die?" (Ezekiel 33:11, New Covenant paraphrase)

"I have set before you life and death. Therefore choose life, that you may live!" (Deuteronomy 30:19)

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