What is Hell Like?

Personal opinions on the subject of hell range from a profession of its existence as the fire-and-brimstone punishment for the person with unrepentant sin to a belief that it’s a mythical place since, “A good god would never kill his people!” The truth is that God is a just god who offered us a choice: follow Him and His Christ and live or don’t and die (spiritually). He created a place within the earth to serve as a means of destruction – a consequence that awaits the spirits of those who didn’t choose life through faith and resulting obedience.

Originally created for eventual judgment of the fallen angels (including their leader, Lucifer) hell will also be the final destination for the spirits of unrighteous humans. As well, this is the holding place of those spirits of the unrighteous awaiting judgment. Scripture is pretty clear about this. We also find references to this holding place and the fiery judgment from others like Enoch, the grandson of Adam.

  • Hell – holding place Hades = Sheol: holding place of the spirits of those whose names aren’t recorded in heaven as they await judgment. This place will be unnecessary and eliminated when death is abolished at God’s great judgment (cf. Revelation 20:15).

References include: Matthew 11:23 and 16:18; Luke 10:15 and 16:22-23; Acts 2:27 & 31; 1Corinthians 15:55; 2Peter 2:4; Revelation 1:18, 6:8, and 20:13-14

  • Hell – fiery judgment Gehenna & Lake of Fire: last-days consequences for the wicked after judgment. Scripture and the Book of Enoch describe this as a place within the earth that produces incredible heat and flames. Read Luke 16:23-24 and you’ll see words and phrases like ‘hades’ and ‘torment’ and “I am in agony in this flame”. So, for those who believe hell is figurative or a parable – I’d reconsider.
  • Gehenna references include: Matthew 5:22-30, 10:28, 18:9 and 23:15 & 33; Mark 9:43, 45, & 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. —Matthew 10:28.

  • Lake of fire references include: Revelation 19:20, 20:10 & 14-15, and 21:8

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. —Revelation 20:14-15.

Now that we know what hell is, let’s address what it isn’t. Contrary to popular opinion, hell isn’t a multi-layered furnace where sinners are divided and placed based on the bad things they did on earth. This concept is fantasy based on “Dante’s Inferno” – the first part of a poem titled Divine Comedy. It’s not even loosely based on Scripture and shouldn’t be taken as such. Anyone whose name isn’t recorded in heaven among the righteous at their time of death will find their spirit waiting in holding-place hell until their final disposition: hell as a fiery judgment.

What’s your destination?

The Sign of the End

If there will be a single significant sign immediately preceding the gathering of Jesus’ followers (dead and alive) and the wrath of God against the remaining population of earth, it’ll be a complete darkening of the natural lights. Ancient prophets foretold this. Jesus confirmed it to His disciples on the Mount of Olives in about 27 AD and in the Revelation given to John in roughly 90 AD. It’s the one event that will signal the end of the greatest time of tribulation known to humankind. The complete darkening will also be a clear indication that the time of harvests has come: the gathering of Jesus’ followers and preparation of the rest for destruction.

Foretelling of the darkening that will precede God’s great wrath:

 I will display wonders in the sky and on the earth, Blood, fire and columns of smoke. The sun will be turned into darkness And the moon into blood Before the great and awesome day of the LORD comes. —Joel 2:30-31.

Jesus’ confirmation that the darkening will precede God’s wrath:

I looked when He broke the sixth seal, and there was a great earthquake; and the sun became black as sackcloth made of hair, and the whole moon became like blood; and the stars of the sky fell to the earth, . . .  Then the kings of the earth and the great men and the commanders and the rich and the strong and every slave and free man . . . said to the mountains and to the rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the presence of Him who sits on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?” —Revelation 6:12-17.

Jesus’ revelation that the darkening will also precede the gathering of His true followers:

But immediately after the tribulation of those days THE SUN WILL BE DARKENED, AND THE MOON WILL NOT GIVE ITS LIGHT, AND THE STARS WILL FALL from the sky, and the powers of the heavens will be shaken. . . .  and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY . . . and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. —Matthew 24:29-31.

‘Lights out’ will mean salvation for some and destruction for others. Which will it be for you?

 

 

The Church: Then and Now

People have asked me several times to explain how today’s churches compare to the first-century Church. Good things can come from the Christian culture and church business model we experience today (some missions, some training, some benevolence, and governance).  However, they’re limited in scope and pale in comparison to the overshadowing abuse of Scripture, lack of discipleship training, and overarching concern about supporting the business of church.

Jesus intended for us to do three things per His commandments: treat God the Father appropriately, treat our fellow humans charitably, and spread the good news of salvation. This is what the early Church did despite great persecution and poverty, and they succeeded by sharing resources and using spiritual gifts. Everyone was on the same functional level and they filled roles as the Spirit of God enabled them. Today, churches are segregated business units with paid professionals, organizational charts, and exorbitant capital and operational expenses. The focus has, therefore, shifted from evangelism and charity to managing the business, and attracting and appeasing consumers of religious and emotional experiences.

A picture is certainly worth a thousand words, so you’ll find below a table that summarizes Church roles and responsibilities. It includes a comparison of the ancient and modern Churches and related Scripture references.

 

Function or Role

1st-Century Church

Today’s Church

Related Scripture

       
Evangelism One of three critical functions; To be done by all Not a priority or typically nurtured; Related to a lack of discipleship and training efforts Psalms 96

Matthew 28:19-20

Mark 16:15

Luke 24:47

Acts 1:8

Romans 1:16 and 10:12-15

2Corinthians 5:18-20

Benevolence: Brothers & Sisters in Christ Critical for survival; benevolence is one of three critical functions of the Church; we’ll be judged by Jesus for our involvement;  To be done by all Not a focus for resources or activities (only about 1% of funds collected) Matthew 25:41-43

Acts 2:45, 4:32-35, and 6:1-5

Romans 12:5-13

1Corinthians 16:1-5

2Corinthians 8:10-20 and 9:1-5

Ephesians 4:28

James 2:13-17

1John 3:14-18

Benevolence: Traveling Evangelists Critical for survival; benevolence is one of three critical functions of the Church Some missionary support; most care of missionaries/traveling evangelists comes from individual followers of Jesus outside normal ‘tithes’ Acts 20:34-35

Romans 16:1-2

1Corinthians 9:1-14

2Corinthians 11:7-9

Philippians 4:14-19

Titus 3:13-14

3John 1:7-8

Discipleship One of three important functions of the Church (the other two: benevolence and evangelism); done by those more mature in their faith Not generally a priority as evidenced by Scriptural illiteracy and lack of programs (95% or more of those who say they believe in Jesus don’t read the Bible or regularly engage in study) Matthew 28:19-20

Romans 6:17 and 10:17

Colossians 1:28 and 3:16

2Timothy 3:16

Titus 1:9 and 2:3

Hebrews 5:12-14

Governance Oversight through mature Christians and Bishops (overseers) Multiple levels of responsibilities; incumbents are usually paid Acts 14:23;

1Corinthians 12:27-29

1Timothy 3:1-13 and 5:17

Fund Raising Done for benevolence without mandate or limit Done through threats of robbing God (OT Scriptural misuse) or promises of prosperity; Funds are used primarily for salaries, real-estate, or related business expenses See ‘Benevolence’ scriptures above
Worship Outward; participatory More inward; audience and performance-based Ephesians 5:19

Colossians 3:16

 

Which ‘Church’ do you belong to?

Generation Gap

On the Mount of Olives, just before His crucifixion and resurrection, Jesus answered these questions from His disciples: “When will the destruction of the Temple happen?” “What will be the sign of your return and the end of the world?

In a near-far prophecy that will span thousands of years, Jesus attempted to provide answers that will comprise many events from the Roman siege of Jerusalem and destruction of the Temple in 70 CE to the end-times judgment. These milestones, among others, can be found in complementary texts Matthew Chapters 24-25 and Revelation 6-22:5.

After providing many signs to come including the persecution of the saints by Satan through the future Antichrist (cf. Matthew 24:15-31, Mark 13:14-27, and Luke 21:24-28), Jesus said, “Truly I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all these things take place.” (Matthew 24:34, Mark 13:30, and Luke 21:32).

Be careful here! “This generation” is tied to the audience addressed in the previous passages – not to the disciples’ generation. The future generation that will see “these things” (e.g. the Antichrist, signs in the heavens, etc.) will also witness Jesus’ return. To support a belief that He returned in 70 CE, some have claimed that “this generation” depicts the generation of the disciples Jesus was talking to.

As we’ve previously discussed in another blog, the purpose of the parable of the fig tree given by Jesus (just after He provided signs of the end) was to illustrate that, “when you see this, you will see that . . .” In other words, the generation that sees the signs of the end (Antichrist’s persecution and destruction, darkening of the natural lights, etc.) will also see Jesus return to gather His faithful. It wasn’t some kind of cryptic, figurative reference to Israel becoming a nation as some have suggested. Again, it was just an association by Jesus of the last-days events to come to the generation that will witness them along with His coming.

Now learn the parable from the fig tree: when its branch has already become tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near; so, you too, when you see all these things, recognize that He is near, right at the door. (cf. Matthew 24:32-33, Mark 13:28-29, and Luke 29-31).

Be ready . . .

Judge Dread

The idea of judging really trips people up. Many know their own faults or past sins and feel they have no right to judge others about anything as a result. On the other hand, some people behave as though it’s their duty to inform everyone around them of every act they feel is contrary to God’s Word. The truth regarding judging others resides somewhere in the middle.

Are we to judge at all? Definitely! But, let’s take a look at what the word judge means before we go any further. It comes from the Greek word kree’-no, which means to ‘call into question’. Of course, we can’t call anything into question if we don’t know what should be questionable or why. Who should judge whom? According to Jesus, God will judge the world – those who aren’t Jesus’ followers – and Jesus will judge followers at His return and the end of this current age. Meanwhile, we’re to hold one another accountable for growth and moral positioning.

It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst . . . Your boasting is not good. Do you not know that a little leaven leavens the whole lump of dough? Clean out the old leaven so that you may be a new lump, just as you are in fact unleavened. . . . Do you not judge those who are within the church? But those who are outside, God judges. REMOVE THE WICKED MAN FROM AMONG YOURSELVES. —1Corinthians 5:1-13.

So, how are we to judge other followers of Jesus? We are to be careful and gentle, basing the ‘questioning’ on adherence to the Christ’s commandments and not on emotion. The goal must always be to help those followers who are ‘sinning’ to turn back to the truth and be reconciled with the church (e.g. James 15:19-20).  The text below not only confirms that but also reminds us that we’re not to tolerate the unrepentant practice of sinful behavior within the Church.

“If your brother sins, go and show him his fault in private; if he listens to you, you have won your brother. But if he does not listen to you, take one or two more with you, so that BY THE MOUTH OF TWO OR THREE WITNESSES EVERY FACT MAY BE CONFIRMED. If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, let him be to you as a Gentile and a tax collector.” —Matthew 18:15-17.

Want to ‘love’ your brother or sister in the Christ? Then judge them according to God and our Christ’s commandments with a sense of urgency before it’s too late for those who are practicing sinful behavior that will earn them a one-way ticket to God’s judgment!

Mark of the Beast

The “mark of the beast” has been speculated about and sensationalized throughout the ages through such movies as The Omen and over the Internet. Although Scripture tells us that understanding the number of the beast will take wisdom, we’ve seen it in the form of a 666 tattooed into the head of a small boy on TV (as in The Omen), believed it to be the Social Security number, and also reasoned it will take the form of an embedded microchip. Sigh. But what will it be really? What does Scripture tell us about this mark associated with the Antichrist? What will be its purpose?

Just as God will seal the 144,000 “redeemed from the earth” for protection before His wrath, the Antichrist will have sealed his followers for their protection, both physically and fiscally, as he unleashes his terror. That will be the purpose of the mark of the beast – to identify those who’ve made a choice to follow the Antichrist for the sake of their lives, forsaking the one true God.

The Bible tells us that the mark of the beast will be on the forehead or right hand and that it will be the number of man: 666. Is there significance to the number or location? Yes.

God gave the Israelites certain commandments after the exodus from Egypt (cf. Exodus 13:9 & 16 and Deuteronomy 6:8 & 11:18). He told the Israelites to remember how He’d saved them, and to remember His commandments – part of the covenant with Israel – and teach them to subsequent generations. God used the tangible and familiar “forehead” to represent the receiving and committing of His commandments to memory. Likewise, He used the “hand” as an identifier for action related to that knowledge. The learning, retaining, and acting upon God’s commandments would prove allegiance to Him while also completing the covenant.

What about the number itself – ‘666’? Remember that the number is that of a man, and that the Antichrist will be one part of an unholy trinity: Satan, Antichrist, and False Prophet. The number used historically to represent man is ‘6’, whereas God is represented by the number ‘7’ to indicate perfection. Because of this and the unholy trinity mentioned above, I suggest the number 666 was used in Scripture as a way to represent some kind of identification or sign of allegiance that will come from the Antichrist (empowered by Satan) through the False Prophet.

With whom will your allegiance rest during the 3 years or so before Jesus returns?

To Drink or Not to Drink. Is that the Question?

As with so much in God’s creation, we can use something for good or abuse it in rebellion. Alcohol use can be risky and one should always be aware of how much they’re drinking, how it’s affecting them, and why they’re drinking in the first place.

            With few exceptions that are primarily related to religious dedication and behavior in the ancient temple of God, Scripture tells us these things about alcohol use:

  1. It was common in ancient Israel and in fact, the entire Mediterranean region. There were (and still are) good reasons for responsibly consuming alcohol; here are but a few:
  • Positive health effects and relaxing qualities
  • Bacteria-free drink in areas without good drinking water
  • Being an integral part of festivities
  1. Intoxication (drunkenness) through alcohol abuse is sinful behavior that can result in separation from God and ultimate judgment.
  2. While its use isn’t prohibited, we must abstain when there’s a chance our partaking may cause someone else to stumble (sin) (cf. Romans 14:20-21).

Here are a few supporting Scriptures from both the Old and New Testaments.

  • Some wine, but not too much, is acceptable. “You may spend the money for whatever your heart desires: for oxen, or sheep, or wine, or strong drink, or whatever your heart desires; and there you shall eat in the presence of the LORD your God and rejoice, you and your household.” —Deuteronomy 14:26. And “The Son of Man has come eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Behold, a gluttonous man and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’” —Luke 7:34.
  • Don’t become intoxicated. And do not get drunk with wine, for that is dissipation, but be filled with the Spirit —Ephesians 5:18. (See also 1Timothy 3:3 and “nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” —1Corinthians 6:10.

How should we address alcohol use by others in the church? First, understand that the potential for addiction and abuse of a variety of what might otherwise be useful things exists in everyone. Some will be able to responsibly consume alcohol and others won’t. Some will be able to gamble as occasional entertainment and others won’t. And yet others will responsibly eat food while their neighbors will be gluttonous. We should always be on the lookout for our fellow followers of Jesus, correcting them as necessary (more on this later when we address the question of judging). But otherwise, we aren’t to judge others regarding their use of alcohol as long as it doesn’t cause them to sin.

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day —Colossians 2:16.

            Do you enjoy God’s creation in moderation? Or do you abuse some things, turning the good into bad?

War in Heaven: Past or Future?

And there was war in heaven, Michael and his angels waging war with the dragon. . . . And the great dragon was thrown down, the serpent of old who is called the devil and Satan . . . And when the dragon saw that he was thrown down to the earth, he persecuted the woman . . . So the dragon was enraged with the woman, and went off to make war with the rest of her children, who keep the commandments of God and hold to the testimony of Jesus. —Revelation 12:7-17.

Despite unnecessary awe and lots of misinformation, the Revelation given to John in about 90 AD is fairly simple, straightforward, and sequential. It’s not the to-be-avoided mystery most would like to make it out to be. It’s also not to be used out of context and out of sequence to support manmade doctrine. One example places the war in heaven seen in Chapter 12 at the very beginning of time before Adam and Eve.

This position is based on taking Isaiah 14:12-14 out of context. Isaiah chapter 14 is an apocalyptic writing that contains an unveiling of the last days. In it, Isaiah witnesses the end-times Antichrist (labeled as the “Assyrian” in a near-far prophecy), Satan’s influence on him, and his eventual destruction. Isaiah sees something that will happen in the future. John’s vision in Revelation Chapter 12 confirms this and puts the war in the heavenly realm in the context of the beginning of the future three-and-a-half year authority of the Antichrist. During this time, he’ll persecute and kill God’s people – both Jew and Christian.

So, if the war in heaven hasn’t happened yet, does Satan still have access to heaven? Yes! We understand that he lost his authority as one of the archangels created by God.  However, he has had, and still has, access to heaven. You only have to look at the Book of Job and John’s Revelation (i.e. Revelation 12:10) for confirmation.

Need more? Let’s look at the sequence of the Revelation and the war’s position within it. Here’s a breakdown of the entire apocalyptic book:

Chapters 1-5: Introduction by John, letters from Christ to 7 churches of Asia Minor, and an invitation to heaven to watch the end-times events.

Chapter 6: Seals 1-6 depicting birth pangs and Great Tribulation ending with a complete darkening of the sun, moon, and stars (see Matthew 24:29-31 for corroborating information!).

Chapter 7:  Protection of the 144,000 of the Jewish remnant against God’s imminent judgments; bride of Christ seen in heaven after the gathering at the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars.

Chapters 8-9: Seal 7; God’s trumpet judgments 1-6.

Chapter 10: Seventh trumpet judgment, which ends the 3.5-year reign of the Antichrist.

Chapters 11-13: Three-and-one-half-year period of Great Tribulation detailed (Chapter 11 = 3.5 year witness of God’s chosen two; Chapter 12 = 3.5 year persecution by Satan through the Antichrist after losing the war in heaven; Chapter 13 = details on the 3.5 year reign of the Antichrist).

Chapter 14-18: all things that will happen at about the end of the three-and-a-half-year Great Tribulation or shortly thereafter by the end of the trumpet judgments; Seven vial judgments that will complete God’s wrath; Description (and destruction) of figurative Babylon near the end of God’s wrath; Antichrist kingdom details.

Chapter 19-22: Armageddon at the end of God’s wrath; marriage supper of our Christ and His Thousand-year reign; great judgment following Christ’s kingdom; New heaven and earth after the judgment; Final admonishments and closure.

Rather than take a chunk out the middle of an otherwise sequential Revelation, let’s take it all together and in context. The future will reveal a defeated Satan, resulting reign of the Antichrist, and darkening of the natural lights after about 3.5 years. You may want to check out my 2011 book titled, “Finding the End of the World” (available from ronbraley.com, Amazon, or Barnes&Noble) to learn more about what the Bible and history have to say on the subject of the end of the world to include the war in heaven.

Tolerating the Detestable?

Want to know what God finds disgusting? Just look for the use of abomination in the Old Testament and you’ll find a short list made up mostly of sexual immorality to include homosexuality.

Yes, God finds sexual acts between members of the same sex very disgusting (cf. Leviticus 18:22). It’s easy to understand why: God created man and woman to become physical and emotional mates. We’re made differently and fit together well in both realms. Engaging in sexual acts with another member of the same sex is in direct contradiction to God’s desire for us and is pure rebellion that won’t go unpunished if continued. Just look at what happened to the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah in roughly the 19th century BC ( Genesis 19:4-5 and 24-25)!

I realize this behavior is very acceptable today (even by the Christian culture) but tolerance doesn’t change God’s view of it. We find homosexuality not only in the world around us but within the Church itself. This is despicable and something that must be reversed if we expect God’s blessing and salvation. Ever hear the phrase, “Love the sinner and hate the sin.”? Please remember that true love – agape love – is actionable. In the case of rebellious and unacceptable behavior within the Church, that action must be to tell the offender that they’re acting contrary to God’s ways and that consequences await them if they continue. And homosexuality is definitely rebellious (sinful) activity that will keep the offender out of God’s kingdom and invoke His end-days wrath.

In fact, Paul discussed this with prospective Christians in Rome (Romans 1:26-27) and Thessalonica (1Thessalonians 4:3), and with Timothy (1Timothy 1:9-10). There was a common theme: those practicing homosexuality will not see the kingdom of God but will suffer wrath at the last-days judgment.

Paul also wasted no words in telling an assembly of Jesus’ followers (the Church in Corinth) to remove someone involved in sexual immorality (1Corinthians 5:1-13). Why? Because immoral behavior is contrary to God’s ways. If someone is practicing immorality, their presence can corrupt the rest of the group in the same way that a single rotten apple can spoil an entire barrel full or bad yeast can spoil an entire batch of dough.

So, homosexuality is disgusting to God and a behavior that will guarantee His wrath at the end of our world. There’s no other way to put it, nor should it be justified in any way. If you’re practicing this abhorrent behavior, admit to the wrongdoing and stop before it’s too late! If you’re a church leader, then don’t tolerate this behavior in your congregation!

Is there anything offensive to God that you tolerate in your life or within the assembly of Jesus’ followers?

“When You See This, You’ll See That”

Two thousand years ago, Jesus answered His disciples’ questions about the impending destruction of Jerusalem and His return at the end of our world as we know it.  Jesus painted a picture of false messiahs, war, and famine that will increase with frequency and intensity as the end grows near. He then gave other signs to include a terrible time of destruction like never seen before or again and put it in the context of the terrible ruler we like to call the Antichrist.

He then gave hope by revealing that He would return and gather the faithful just after that terrible time. Probably wanting to get His disciples’ attention, Jesus said something to the effect of, “. . . when you see this, you’ll see that.” Jesus actually used the following analogy, which had been used for centuries by the likes of Job and probably others (i.e. Job 39:27-30): “Wherever the corpse is, there the vultures (eagles in some translations) will gather.” This is the first “when you see this, then you’ll see that” moment. The first occurrence is misused to support a Preterist end-times theology. The second, which utilizes the fig tree, has been misused by many to support a pre-tribulation rapture theology:

But when these things begin to take place, straighten up and lift up your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. Then He told them a parable: Behold the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they put forth leaves, you see it and know for yourselves that summer is now near. So you also, when you see these things happening, recognize that the kingdom of God is near. —Luke 21:28-31.

Again, Jesus is only stating, “When you see this, then you’ll see that” in a similar fashion as the verse about the eagle and carcass in Matthew 24:28. Unfortunately, some allegorize the budding fig tree parable to symbolize Israel and its becoming a nation in 1948.

So, when we see the signs of the times such as the terrible time of destruction and oppression by the Antichrist and the darkening of the sun, moon, and stars, we’ll know our redemption and gathering will be near. Again, when we see this, we’ll then see that.

Will you recognize the events that signal Jesus’ return and our gathering?