What Does the Bible Say About
Eternal Judgment?

by Norman S. Edwards

August 2000 (revised title page and table of contents, new appendices added)


The appendices cover specific issues and do not necessarily need to be read in order. They were published several months after the original article. The first two appendices contain some significant new information which should have been in the main section.

Judgment After Second Resurrection Will Take Many Years (continued)

This is a continuation of the original section on this. An important concept was left out. that section ended with the following verse:

"And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last" (Luke 13:30, NKJV).

This verse is frequently quoted to show that "there are people who think they are important that are not, and people who think they are not important, who are." This is an understandable interpretation as the verse is similar to this one: "Sitting down, Jesus called the Twelve and said, ‘If anyone wants to be first, he must be the very last, and the servant of all’" (Mark 9:33). The context is clearly a discussion of humility among brethren; the phrase "servant of all" is added here, though it is not found in the other scriptures that talk about people being "first" and "last".

Nevertheless, the emphasis on importance and greatness does not necessarily belong in Luke 13:30 and the other scriptures below. The primary meaning of the Greek words is "first" and "last" in "time sequence" ("first", protos, Strong’s #4413 and "last", eschatos, Strong’s #2078). Looking through a concordance will show that this is their common usage. The subject in Luke 13 (see entire quote on page *) is "when will people go into the kingdom of God?" We find this same statement at the end of another discussion about the kingdom of God:

25 When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, "Who then can be saved?" 26 Jesus looked at them and said, "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." 27 Peter answered him, "We have left everything to follow you! What then will there be for us?" 28 Jesus said to them, "I tell you the truth, at the renewal of all things, when the Son of Man sits on his glorious throne, you who have followed me will also sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel. 29 And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for my sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life. 30 But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first (Matt 19:25-30—Mark 10:26-31 is similar).

Another valuable parable about eternal life in the Kingdom of God shows that people will enter into it from a diversity of backgrounds.

1 For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire men to work in his vineyard. 2 He agreed to pay them a denarius [symbolizing eternal life] for the day and sent them into his vineyard. About the third hour he went out and saw others standing in the marketplace doing nothing. 4 He told them, "You also go and work in my vineyard, and I will pay you whatever is right." 5 So they went. He went out again about the sixth hour and the ninth hour and did the same thing. 6 About the eleventh hour he went out and found still others standing around. He asked them, "Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?"’ 7 "Because no one has hired us," they answered. "He said to them, "You also go and work in my vineyard." 8 When evening came, the owner of the vineyard said to his foreman, "Call the workers and pay them their wages, beginning with the last ones hired and going on to the first." ["first" and "last" are clearly a time sequence]. 9 The workers who were hired about the eleventh hour came and each received a denarius. 10 So when those came who were hired first, they expected to receive more. But each one of them also received a denarius. 11 When they received it, they began to grumble against the landowner. 12 "These men who were hired last worked only one hour," they said, "and you have made them equal to us who have borne the burden of the work and the heat of the day." 13 But he answered one of them, "Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for a denarius? 14 Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you. 15 Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?" 16 So the last will be first, and the first will be last (Matt 20:1-16).

Rather than being thankful that these last workers received a day’s pay for their families, the all-day workers were envious that they did not receive more. The lesson of the parable is that if someone is envious of others who apparently did not "work as hard" to receive eternal life, they may take longer to get into the kingdom than those who accomplished less but are simply "grateful to be there". The attitude of those who will dwell with Christ forever is one of joy for anyone who repents and comes to Him, no matter how little they may be or how little good they may have done (Luke 15:7). Those who do not understand that will have to come into the Kingdom later—after they have learned it.

Scriptures About Punishment for Sin

An incredible variety of thought exists about the kind of punishment God will give in the judgment. Some believe He will make people suffer in "hell" forever simply because they died never having heard about Christ. Others believe that there will be no punishment at all in the afterlife—some will say "yes" to Christ and immediately be given Eternal life, others will die forever. But the Bible says a lot about punishment in the after life—even "torment". The "many stripes" and "few stripes" in Luke 12:42-49 have been covered extensively in previous sections. But there are many other verses that show what God intends to do.

The New Testament contains a lot of different Greek words for "punishment", each with a slightly different meaning. This makes me think that the way God will judge the world is indeed complex. Most Bible translations do not translate the Greek words regarding punishment consistently: one Greek word is translated to several different English words, and in other places several different Greek words are translated to the same English word.

Let us start with this passage.

6 Since it is a righteous thing with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, 8 in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. 9 These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2Thes 1:6-9).

The Greek word for "taking vengeance" is ekdikesis (Strong’s #1557), meaning to take vengeance or to revenge—doing something to somebody because of what they did to you. This word is used for situations among humans:

He saw one of them being mistreated by an Egyptian, so he went to his defense and avenged him by killing the Egyptian (Acts 7:24).

Or unto governors, as sent by him for vengeance on evil-doers and for praise to them that do well (1Pet 2:14, ASV).

Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, "Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the Lord (Rom 12:19, NKJV).

It is used even more often to show that God will take revenge on those who sin—not because He likes to see others suffer, but because they need to understand that their sin was wrong:

And shall God not avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him, though He bears long with them? I tell you that He will avenge them speedily. Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth? (Luke 18:7-8, NKJV.)

For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled (Luke 21:22, NKJV).

And they cried with a loud voice, saying, "How long, O Lord, holy and true, until You judge and avenge our blood on those who dwell on the earth?" (Rev 6:10, NKJV.)

"For true and righteous are His judgments, because He has judged the great harlot who corrupted the earth with her fornication; and He has avenged on her the blood of His servants shed by her" (Rev 19:2, NKJV).

The Greek word for "punishment" used in 1 Thessalonians 1:9 (the first quotation in this section) is dike (Strong’s #1349) which is a legal term for a sentence against someone. It is illustrated here:

When I was in Jerusalem, the chief priests and the elders of the Jews informed me about him and asked for a sentence against him (Acts 25:15, NRSV).

Sodom and Gomorrah, too, and the neighbouring towns, who with the same sexual immorality pursued unnatural lusts, are put before us as an example since they are paying the penalty of eternal fire (Jude 1:7, NJB).

Another Greek word for punishment is the verb timoreo (Strong’s #5097) and the corresponding noun timoria (Strong’s #5098). They describe the action of a person who serves as a guardian to make sure that a wrong was righted. Most translations simply say "punish", and the "righting of a wrong" aspect of this word is lost. Paul thought he was fulfilling this when he persecuted Christians for their belief. God will serve in that role toward those who knowingly reject Christ.

"And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities (Acts 26:11, NKJV).

Anyone who has rejected Moses’ law dies without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. Of how much worse punishment, do you suppose, will he be thought worthy who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, counted the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified a common thing, and insulted the Spirit of grace? (Heb 10:28-29, NKJV)

Yet another Greek word for punishment should convey the idea of correction, but it is lost in translation. The Greek kolazo (Strong’s 2849) literally means "to prune" such as one might do to a tree or bird’s wings. Even though it is sometimes used for a punishment that results in death, it is always used in a corrective sense—a punishment to stop something that the "punisher" does not want done. The book of Maccabees in the Greek Septuagint was translated in the same general timeframe as the writing of the New Testament. The word kolazo is used several times in it—we can see an example of what it refers to a corrective type of punishment here:

For the law prevails even over affection for parents, so that virtue is not abandoned for their sakes. It is superior to love for one’s wife, so that one rebukes her when she breaks the law. It takes precedence over love for children, so that one punishes [corrects] them for misdeeds (4 Maccabees 2:10-12).

It is also used in the New Testament when the leaders in Jerusalem tried to stop the Apostles from preaching:

After threatening them again, they let them go, finding no way to punish [correct] them because of the people, for all of them praised God for what had happened (Acts 4:21, NRSV).

The leaders certainly knew ways to punish the apostles—they could put them in jail or beat them, but they could not find a way to correct them—a way to stop them from working miracles and preaching about Christ.

Finally, this same word, kolazo, is used to describe what God will do on the day of judgment. Translations vary quite a bit as to meaning and order of words, but Darby seems to have it correct. Darby uses braces {} for words that were not in the original Greek.

{the} Lord knows {how} to deliver the godly out of trial, and to keep {the} unjust to {the} day of judgment {to be} punished [corrected] (2Pet 2:9, Darby).

The noun form of kolazo ("to punish for correction") is kolasis (Strong’s #2851), meaning "corrective punishment". It is used twice in the New Testament:

And these [that would not serve others] shall go away to punishment [correction] age-during, but the righteous to life age-during (Matt 25:46, YLT).

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear; for fear has to do with punishment [correction], and whoever fears has not reached perfection in love (1Jn 4:18, NRSV).

These verses show that corrective punishment will be given to those who do not follow God. Fear comes from knowing that one is "not right with God"—indeed, correction is what is needed!

The last pair of Greek words in this section have to do with torment—an arduous, difficult ordeal. This may not be a fun thing to think about, but God would not have put it in the Bible if He did not want us to think about it. Some translations actually use the word "torture", but that has a strictly negative meaning in English. The Greek words basanizo (Strong’s #928–verb) and basanismos (Strong’s #929–noun) came from the use of a touchstone to test molten metals for purity. These words deal with a purposeful ordeal, more than arbitrary pain or punishment. Notice some of the uses in Scripture:

Saying, "Lord, my servant is lying at home paralyzed, dreadfully tormented" (Matt 8:6, NKJV)

Then being with child, she cried out in labor and in pain [torment] to give birth (Rev 12:2, NKJV).

But by this time the boat, battered [tormented] by the waves, was far from the land, for the wind was against them (Matt 14:24, NRSV).

And he saw them harassed [tormented] in the rowing, for the wind was against them, and about the fourth watch of the night he doth come to them walking on the sea, and wished to pass by them (Mark 6:48, YLT).

And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man (Rev 9:5, NKJV).

And delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) (2Pet 2:7-8, NKJV).

And the inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and celebrate and exchange presents, because these two prophets had been a torment to the inhabitants of the earth (Rev 11:10, NRSV).

From the last two verses, above, we can see that "torment" can be mental as well as physical. Torment also applies to demons:

And he cried out with a loud voice and said, "What have I to do with You, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? I implore You by God that You do not torment me" (Mark 5:7, NKJV—Luke 8:28 is similar)

And suddenly they cried out, saying, "What have we to do with You, Jesus, You Son of God? Have You come here to torment us before the time?" (Matt 8:29, NKJV)

The verse immediately above seems to indicate that the demon knew of a time of torment coming in the future—and was complaining about it coming too soon.

With this background, it is much easier to understand one of the verses commonly used to "prove" that there is a place of "eternal torture": Revelation 14:11. Let us read the verse in context:

9 A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." 12 This calls for patient endurance on the part of the saints who obey God’s commandments and remain faithful to Jesus. 13 Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them" (Rev 14:9-13)

After this verse takes place, there is a blessing for physical human beings who will "die in the Lord from now on". All judgment has not taken place.

Verse 11 is not discussing the final end of the wicked, but part of the sequence of events during the "last days". It is important to note that verse 10 speaks of the future ("will be tormented"), where verse 11 is in the present tense ("smoke...rises", "there is no rest", "those who worship"). Verse 11 is talking about things that are happening at that time—it does not say "those who worshipped the beast". Young’s Literal Translation has it even more clearly:

And the smoke of their torment doth go up to ages of ages; and they have no rest day and night, who are bowing before the beast and his image, also if any doth receive the mark of his name (Rev 14;11, YLT).

This shows that the torment of those who accept the mark and follow the Beast will not "have it made", but will be miserable "day and night" because of their decision. These same people have additional trials and opportunities to repent described in chapter 16. It makes no sense for a person to "be in Hell forever" in one chapter, then go on to be a person on the earth in the next chapter. Why, then, does verse 11 use the expression "the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever"? Consider this story:

"The truck was right in front of me, so to avoid hitting it I drove into the ditch. The car turned over and I was upside down, still being held by my seatbelt. How do I unbuckle a seatbelt while I am hanging by it? I began to smell gasoline and I became frantic. It took me forever to get the belt undone, but I finally did and then crawled out the window just before the vehicle burst into flame."

The above story is perfectly correct English. The word "forever" here is used as a metaphor to represent only a few seconds, but seconds that "seemed like an eternity" at a very tense time. To those people who worship the beast or accept his mark, this corrective torment seems to take forever—even the "saints who obey God’s commands" require "patient endurance" (v 12). If you knew nothing about seatbelts, but someone falsely told you that they were designed to imprison people in cars, you might read the above story and think that it took a long time or even forever to loosen the belt. But if you read it carefully and realize that something else takes place after the "forever", then it is obvious that this is a metaphor—a comparison.

The following verse uses an even more complex expression "day and night forever and ever" to describe what happens to the devil for his evil work in deceiving the nations. It may mean a process that never ends. Fortunately, this does not apply to people.

And the devil who had deceived them [the nations of the Earth] 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 (Rev 20:10, NRSV).

How much punishment or torment will people receive in the judgment? The answer is neatly explained in this verse:

As she [Babylon] glorified herself and lived luxuriously, so give her a like measure of torment and grief. Since in her heart she says, "I rule as a queen; I am no widow, and I will never see grief" (Rev 18:7, NRSV).

The people of Babylon lived in luxury at the expense of other’s suffering. So they will receive a similar amount of suffering in return. As Christ said:

For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get (Matthew 7:2, NRSV).

These verses give the fundamental starting point for eternal judgment. All sins have their penalty and this is what people deserve. Christ extends mercy and forgiveness to those with real repentance who believe in Him. (But even this life teaches us that a person who squanders his money on worthless pursuits can repent before Christ and be forgiven but will probably not miraculously receive his money back.)

Most of the crimes and punishments listed in the Bible are very physical in nature: worshipping idols, murder, adultery and kidnapping deserve the death penalty; thieves restore twice what they stole; false witnesses receive the punishment that would have gone to the person whom they witnessed against; etc. The Bible also commands people not to hate others, not to speak evil of others, not to take advantage of the less fortunate and to help those in need. But it does not specify a penalty for men to invoke if someone does those things. Rather, God promises to take care of it Himself (Exodus 22:21-24). It is wise that God did not ask men to punish other men for "sins of the mind". It is not really possible to witness what is in a person’s mind, and corrupt administration of such punishment might produce more evil than the original crimes. Righteous, "read the person’s mind" judgment is necessary for this:

2 The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him [Christ]—the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord—3 and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. He will not judge by what he sees with his eyes, or decide by what he hears with his ears; 4 but with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked. 5 Righteousness will be his belt and faithfulness the sash around his waist. 6 The wolf will live with the lamb, the leopard will lie down with the goat, the calf and the lion and the yearling together; and a little child will lead them (Isa 11:2-6).

Christ will be able to judge people with evil thoughts and intents. His instrument of judgment will be "the rod of his mouth". The last verse, above indicates an atmosphere of great peace. While indeed the most rebellious may be literally "slain by Christ’s words," the same terminology is used for those who seeking God—convicted of their sin and desirous of repentance.

When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, "Brothers, what shall we do?" Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:37-38).

...The sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God (Eph 6:17).

Several scriptures picture Christ coming to judge with a "sword in his mouth" (Rev 1:16; 2:12; 19:15). This is obviously not a normal way to fight with a sword, but an analogy for the power of His words. One more scripture showing the "slaying" analogy used for judgment:

For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart (Heb 4:12).

As a sword could cut a person in pieces, so it can divide the good and bad thoughts in a person. The revealing of these evil thoughts is often punishment enough. The salesman who lies to his customers for his own profit will be utterly embarrassed when they find the truth of what he has been doing. So will the housewife who always claims to be "busy" when her neighbor asks her over, but really does not go because her neighbor’s house is so neat and she cannot stand to hear others praise her for it. These problems and thousands of others like them need to be irrefutably revealed by Christ in judgment so everyone can see every person for what they are (Luke 12:1-3; Rom 2:16; 1Cor 4:5).

While many scriptures mention physical punishment—or use physical punishment as an analogy to teach about God’s judgment, we should not envision judgment as a barbaric place where "everyone will be beaten until they are ready for the kingdom". (That sounds more like Dante’s concept of Hell or Purgatory.) Those who have sins of a violent nature may need physical punishment to learn their lesson. But those who have other kinds of sins will need other kinds of lessons.

Christ’s judgment and mercy will be perfect. No one will be treated too harshly, no unrepentant person will be able to "talk his way into the Kingdom". Those who repent and accept what Christ has done will receive eternal life, those who do not, the second death. Even a life-time of unrepentant sin does not qualify one to suffer forever in an ever-burning "hell".

Is Sin Really So Bad?

Some people have no question about the enormity of difficulty caused by the sins of others. They have suffered from war, oppressive government, man-induced disease, an abusive spouse or have been the victim of a major crime. They know how bad sin is. They understand why God needs to do judge it and do something about it so people will not go on repeating it.

Others of us may have grown up in a relatively peaceful atmosphere not having suffered from the sins of others in a great way. Nevertheless, we all probably suffer a lot more than we realize because of the sins of others. Think about these things that are the result of sin:

The economic cost of sin is indeed staggering if we think of all of the ways it affects us. Everyone could have a standard of living several times what they have without sin.

Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor his ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that he will not hear (Isa 59:1-2).

Sin separates us from God—both individually and collectively. How bad can this get? Bad enough that God considered the destruction of the entire human race:

The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that he had made man on the earth, and his heart was filled with pain. So the Lord said, "I will wipe mankind, whom I have created, from the face of the earth—men and animals, and creatures that move along the ground, and birds of the air—for I am grieved that I have made them" (Genesis 6:5-7).

Obviously, God allowed mankind to continue. But He still promises judgment of sin:

But with righteousness he will judge the needy, with justice he will give decisions for the poor of the earth. He will strike the earth with the rod of his mouth; with the breath of his lips he will slay the wicked (Isa 11:4).

“Universal Salvation” and “Predestination”

"Universal salvation" is the idea that God will eventually give salvation to everyone, whether they are now diligent to follow God or hate and oppose God. "Predestination" is similar, except that only certain people are included in the process—in other words, some will be saved no matter what they do, and the others cannot be saved no matter what they do. Both of these ideas assign little or no control to the individual over his or her own destiny. They assume that God has planned out every individual’s life before the world was created—that humans really do not make decisions, but are simply doing what God has already planned for them to do.

To a large degree, these concepts seem completely opposed to the concept of eternal judgment. How can God judge anyone if they are only doing what He planned for them to do? Furthermore, if we look at the previously quoted Bible verses (Gen 6:5-7), how could God have been "grieved that He made man" and consider destroying them, if He knew from the beginning exactly what they would do?

Part of the reason for this confusion comes from confusion related to the definition of God. If we look in the Bible for a definition of God, we see that He is the creator of all that exists (Gen 1:1). He is the one who "always exists" (Ex 3:14). He is above all other "gods" (Ex 18:11). He is love (1Jn 4:8). He teaches, heals, rules, forgives and judges. But if you look in a dictionary, you might something about Him being "omnipresent" (located everywhere at once) "omniscient" (knowing everything), and "omnipotent" (having all power—capable of doing anything). These terms are borrowed from Greek philosophy and do not correspond exactly to any word in the Bible. Philosophers like to define God in a theoretical sense, and then figure out what He must be like by human reason, rather than listen to what He says. They will ask questions like: "Can God make a stone so heavy that He can’t move it?" or "Can God kill Himself?" I believe the answer to both of these questions is either "no" or "He will not"—and that arguing the difference between the two is pointless. God has righteous character—He is not a mindless impersonal force that happens to be capable of anything. The Bible teaches us that no other has power like God (Deut 4:35), but does not try to completely define His power. Men might find it impossible to understand the full power of God if He explained it to us, so there is little reason to try to guess at His power through our own reason (Pslm 131:1). It is probably best to discard the omnipresent, omniscient and omnipotent ideas, and just believe that God can do whatever He wants (Isa 46:10).

We cannot impose our values on God. We cannot take a statement like "God is Love", and then say that it means He is going to save every single person because that is our definition of "love". There is no verse that says, "God knows what every person is going to do before they do it." But there are thousands of verses commanding people to make the right choice. Do they have a choice if God knew what they would do before they were born?

Nevertheless, there are some verses, when read by themselves, that seem to indicate that either "every last person will be saved" or that "certain select people will be saved no matter what they do". Those verses are listed below, with clarifications to their translation as necessary. They will be followed by verses that specifically show how God is both able to let people make decisions on their own and bring about his overall plan.

Verses Seeming to Support “Universal Salvation”

And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws (Ezk 36:27). [The word "translated "move" here is a very general word, shamar (Strong’s #8104) which means "to do" or "to make"—it does not mean "to force against one’s will".]

But in the Lord all the descendants of Israel will be found righteous and will exult (Isa 45:25).

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him (John 3:17).

And so all Israel will be saved... (Rom 11:26).

For as in Adam all die, so in Christ all will be made alive... (1Cor 15:22).

...we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.... God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting men’s sins against them (2Cor 5:14, 19).

[God] who wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. 5 For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, 6 who gave himself as a ransom for all men—the testimony given in its proper time (1Tim 2:4).

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2Pet 3:9).

He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world (1Jn 2:2).

Verses Clearly Refuting “Universal Salvation”

If all we read were the above and other similar verses, we might indeed conclude that God plans to give salvation to every person no matter what they do. But there are at least four things wrong with taking this approach.

1) The surrounding context of some of the above verses shows that there are exceptions—not every last person necessarily receives salvation. Immediately after John 3:17:

Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:18).

Similarly, after 1 John 2:2 comes verse 4:

The man who says, "I know him," but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in him (1Jn 2:4).

2) The word "all" used in many verses above does not necessarily mean "every single person". It means the overwhelming majority, but not "every last one". This can be easily shown with a concordance (either English or Hebrew and Greek). A number of verses use the word "all", but do not mean every last one—there can be exceptions to "all". Deuteronomy 2:16: "So it was, when all the men of war had finally perished from among the people." Joshua and Caleb were men of war, but had not perished. Numbers 14:30 explains the exceptions to "all": "Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun." In 2 Kings 11:1 Athalia destroyed all the royal seed, but there was a survivor mentioned in verse 2. Also, Mark 3:28 says: "I tell you the truth, all the sins and blasphemies of men will be forgiven them", but verse 29 goes on to say: "But whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit will never be forgiven; he is guilty of an eternal sin."

3) There are many other verses that show that some will not be saved. Several are listed in The "Unpardonable Sin" section. Other verses put clear requirements (like believing in Christ) on those who would be saved:

And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved (Acts 2:21).

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit" (Acts 2:38).

Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell (Matt 10:28).

"Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’" (Matthew 7:21-23.)

Romans 9:27 Isaiah cries out concerning Israel: "Though the number of the Israelites be like the sand by the sea, only the remnant will be saved.

4) Finally, most scriptures used to support "universal salvation" say something like "God wants all men to be saved". There are no scriptures that say that God will force repentance or salvation on those who do not want it.

Verses Seeming to Support “Predestination”

Woe to him who quarrels with his Maker, to him who is but a potsherd among the potsherds on the ground. Does the clay say to the potter, "What are you making?" Does your work say, "He has no hands"? (Isa 45:9.)

When the Gentiles heard this, they were glad and honored the word of the Lord; and all who were appointed for eternal life believed (Acts 13:48).

For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers. And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified (Rom 8:29).

18 Therefore God has mercy on whom he wants to have mercy, and he hardens whom he wants to harden. 19 One of you will say to me: "Then why does God still blame us? For who resists his will?" 20 But who are you, O man, to talk back to God? "Shall what is formed say to him who formed it, ‘Why did you make me like this?’" 21 Does not the potter have the right to make out of the same lump of clay some pottery for noble purposes and some for common use? 22 What if God, choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath—prepared for destruction? 23 What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory—24 even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles? (Rom 9:18-24.)

For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will (Eph 1:4-5).

In him we were also chosen, having been predestined according to the plan of him who works out everything in conformity with the purpose of his will (Eph 1:11).

For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do (Eph 2:10).

In addition to these verses, advocates of "predestination" will mention the cases where people were called of God before their birth. Cyrus was prophesied by name to rebuild Jerusalem (Isa 45). Jeremiah (Jer 1:5) and John the Baptist (Luke 1) were called before birth. People have been prepared to sit on either side of Christ (Mark 10:40). Twelve Apostles will judge 12 tribes (Matt 19:28). There other scriptures, but some of them probably do not apply to the authors of the books as the entire chapter is a prophecy about Christ (Pslm 22; Isa 49).

Verses Clearly Refuting “Predestination”

The above verses definitely show that God planned to call and put His Spirit in people before the world was created. They show that He had a specific purpose in mind for a few individuals before they were born. But there just are not any verses that say: "every person who is a member of the body of Christ was already selected before he was born". Nor is there a verse that says: "Once God has selected you, you are saved no matter what you do." Nor is there a verse that clearly says, "Some people were made having no possibility of salvation." (Even those who were made to be "objects of His wrath" in this life will still be judged in the resurrection.)

God has created the world and given men and women choices to make. He put Adam and Eve in a nice garden and told them not to eat of one tree (Gen 1-3). You probably know what they chose to do. On the other hand, God has His plans for what He will accomplish. He is quite able to alter, steer and control what is happening on this Earth, and still leave people free choice. He does this in a way that is complex beyond our understanding. "...He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end" (Eccl 3:11).

All we can do is see some of the ways He works—in the many instances recorded in the Bible. Isaiah 45 and Romans 9 (quoted above) certainly show that He does not always deal the same way with everyone all of the time. But to think that God’s prophetic plans are always fulfilled by Him writing the history of the world in advance, and then causing people to be born to "play each part" is wrong. He can plan events, and then find people who are willing to fulfill them. If He needs a righteous man for His plan, He can correct him each time he sins to make him more righteous (Heb 12:5-7). If He needs an evil sinner, He can allow him to go unpunished (Eccl 8:11). Notice:

Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen (Acts 4:27-28).

This verse does not say that Herod, Pilate, or individual Gentiles and Israelites were planned from birth to execute Christ. The events were planned and the various people fulfilled them. It is interesting to note they were fulfilled in many different ways. The Bible records that Herod mocked Jesus (Luke 23:11). Pilate wanted no part of His execution and, except for the crowd, would have released Him (Matt 27:15-24). Christ asked forgiveness for the soldiers who crucified Him (Luke 23:34), but no similar statement is recorded about those who scourged him, etc. Some of the Israelites gladly took responsibility for His death (Matt 27:25). But a Roman centurion and many other Israelites were saddened by what happened (Matt 27:54-60). God was able to make His plan happen with a diversity of people and attitudes.

A study of Abraham (Gen 12-26) shows that God made many promises to him as he continued to obey (Gen 26:4-5). God did not promise him everything right away because "He knew he would obey", but He had to "test" him:

Sometime later God tested Abraham. He said to him, "Abraham!" "Here I am," he replied.... "Do not lay a hand on the boy," he said. "Do not do anything to him. Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son" (Gen 22:1, 22).

Other scriptures show that God tests all of his people at various times:

Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands (Deut 8:2).

You must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. The Lord your God is testing you to find out whether you love him with all your heart and with all your soul (Deut 13:3).

In at least one case, God removed His presence from someone in order to see what he would do without it:

However, regarding the ambassadors of the princes of Babylon, whom they sent to him to inquire about the wonder that was done in the land, God withdrew from him, in order to test him, that He might know all that was in his heart (2Chr 32:31, NKJV).

Saul, David and Solomon are excellent examples of how God works with men. Each was chosen by God to be king in Israel and each was promised a perpetual dynasty if they would follow God. One failed soon, one did extremely well with only one big mistake, and the other did well for a long time but turned from God in the end.

The Spirit of the Lord will come upon you [Saul] in power, and you will prophesy with them; and you will be changed into a different person. Once these signs are fulfilled, do whatever your hand finds to do, for God is with you (1Sam 10:6-7).

Saul was given the Holy Spirit and a chance to be a successful king. But when he did not follow the big things that God gave him to do, that spirit was taken away from him:

Now the Spirit of the Lord had departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord tormented him (1Sam 16:14).

"You acted foolishly," Samuel said. "You have not kept the command the Lord your God gave you; if you had, he would have established your kingdom over Israel for all time. 14 But now your kingdom will not endure; the Lord has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the Lord’s command (1Sam 13:13-24).

Saul’s loss of the kingdom was clearly due to what he did, not what God did. God was so pleased with David that He promised him that he would establish his son’s thrown forever. Did that mean that his son was predestined to receive the Holy Spirit and have a place in the Kingdom? Did that mean that his son "had it made" no matter what kind of life he lived?

12 When your [King David’s] days are over and you rest with your fathers, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, who will come from your own body, and I will establish his kingdom. 13 He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever. 14 I will be his father, and he will be my son. When he does wrong, I will punish him with the rod of men, with floggings inflicted by men. 15 But my love will never be taken away from him, as I took it away from Saul, whom I removed from before you. 16 Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever’" (2Sam 7:12-16).

God has untold options. He removed the kingdom of many kings who disobeyed him, but in Solomon’s case, He promised not to do that, but "punish him with the rods of men". Solomon pleased God at first, and God gave him wisdom and riches like no other (1Kngs 3). Solomon built the magnificent temple of God and He appeared to him a second time:

I will establish your royal throne over Israel forever, as I promised David your father when I said, ‘You shall never fail to have a man on the throne of Israel.’ But if you or your sons turn away from me and do not observe the commands and decrees I have given you and go off to serve other gods and worship them, then I will cut off Israel from the land I have given them and will reject this temple I have consecrated for my Name (1Kngs 9:5-7).

Solomon knew exactly what God expected of him: not perfection, but a continual effort to follow God. What did Solomon do?

9 The Lord became angry with Solomon because his heart had turned away from the Lord, the God of Israel, who had appeared to him twice. 10 Although he had forbidden Solomon to follow other gods, Solomon did not keep the Lord’s command. 11 So the Lord said to Solomon, "Since this is your attitude and you have not kept my covenant and my decrees, which I commanded you, I will most certainly tear the kingdom away from you and give it to one of your subordinates. 12 Nevertheless, for the sake of David your father, I will not do it during your lifetime. I will tear it out of the hand of your son. 13 Yet I will not tear the whole kingdom from him, but will give him one tribe for the sake of David my servant and for the sake of Jerusalem, which I have chosen" (1Kngs 11:9-13).

Before this time, Solomon had had peace on all sides. But the rest of 1 Kings 11 shows that God allowed enemies of Solomon to rise up. One of Solomon’s officers, Jeroboam, rebelled against Solomon (vv. 16-28). At times, God punished people who rebelled against His leaders. But in this case, Solomon was to be punished "with the rod of men", and Jeroboam was given part of the majority of the kingdom by God (v 31). (The Bible does not give Jeroboam’s reasons for rebelling—they may have been good reasons.) Solomon tried to kill Jeroboam, but did not succeed (v 40). Both Jeroboam, and Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, turned out to be evil kings. When Rehoboam tried to fight Jeroboam to regain his part of the kingdom, God sent them a prophet and told them they were not going to do it (1Kngs 12:22-24). God can steer history through little events or big ones. Even in our day, we can think about which assassin’s bullets missed, and which hit. We can also think about big nations that failed in their military objective against a smaller nation—and vice versa.

We could consider many more specific examples of people to whom God gave a job—some following God while they did it, others displeasing God. Moses and Joshua are examples of men who obeyed. When Israel rebelled against God, He intended to destroy the nation and make a new nation from Moses, but Moses convinced Him not to (Num 14:11-20). That was a big decision. Jesus Christ descended through the tribe of Judah, not through Moses (Matt 1:2; Luke 3:33). Had Moses not spoken up, Christ would have come—but would have had a different genealogy.

Jehu was a disobedient example. He was anointed King of Israel and told to put an end to certain sins. But after he had killed the people and destroyed the idols, notice what God said:

The Lord said to Jehu, "Because you have done well in accomplishing what is right in my eyes and have done to the house of Ahab all I had in mind to do, your descendants will sit on the throne of Israel to the fourth generation." Yet Jehu was not careful to keep the law of the Lord, the God of Israel, with all his heart. He did not turn away from the sins of Jeroboam, which he had caused Israel to commit (2Kngs 10:30-31).

Most everyone knows what happened to Jonah when he tried to escape from his task of preaching to Nineveh: God made a fish swallow him and sent him on his way. After Jonah preached and his message was heard, he was unhappy with God (Jonah 4:1). Of interest, the people of Nineveh were told: "Forty more days and Nineveh will be overturned" (Jonah 3:4). There was no "if" in the message. But their king said: "Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from his fierce anger so that we will not perish." God heard and He changed! God’s general approach to dealing with prophecy is explained here:

7 If at any time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be uprooted, torn down and destroyed, 8 and if that nation I warned repents of its evil, then I will relent and not inflict on it the disaster I had planned. 9 And if at another time I announce that a nation or kingdom is to be built up and planted, 10 and if it does evil in my sight and does not obey me, then I will reconsider the good I had intended to do for it. 11 "Now therefore say to the people of Judah and those living in Jerusalem, ‘This is what the Lord says: Look! I am preparing a disaster for you and devising a plan against you. So turn from your evil ways, each one of you, and reform your ways and your actions’" (Jer 18:7-11).

Even when Jesus was on the Earth, He was able to be moved to change his mission by a pleading person:

22 A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to him, crying out, "Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession." 23 Jesus did not answer a word. So his disciples came to him and urged him, "Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us." 24 He answered, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel." 25 The woman came and knelt before him. "Lord, help me!" she said. 26 He replied, "It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs." 27 "Yes, Lord," she said, "but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table." 28 Then Jesus answered, "Woman, you have great faith! Your request is granted." And her daughter was healed from that very hour (Matt 15:22-28).

This Gentile woman received mercy from Christ because of what she said and did. Similarly, the first Gentile church member was already trying to please God, before God called him:

At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (Acts 10:1-2).

The entire concept of prayer seems to make little sense for those who believe in predestination. Why ask God for anything if He has already planned one’s life: Notice that when Christ had an important decision, He prayed a long time. Why would He take any time to pray about who His apostles should be if they had been picked out before the world was created? He also taught us that one reason we do not have things we need is because we do not ask:

One of those days Jesus went out to a mountainside to pray, and spent the night praying to God. When morning came, he called his disciples to him and chose twelve of them, whom he also designated apostles (Luke 6:12-13).

You want something but don’t get it. ... You quarrel and fight. You do not have, because you do not ask God (Jms 4:2).

Even in the important subject of salvation, we are frequently reminded that there are things that we need to do to receive it. This is not "salvation by works"—a child who asks his parent for a new change of clothes does not earn the clothes by asking, but he might not get them if he does not ask.

Peter replied, "Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:38).

Christ is the end of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes. ... That if you confess with your mouth, "Jesus is Lord," and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved... For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved (Rom 10:4,9,13)

And Peter having opened his mouth, said, ‘Of a truth, I perceive that God is no respecter of persons, 35 but in every nation he who is fearing Him, and is working righteousness, is acceptable to Him (Acts 10:34, YLT).

And you also were included in Christ when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation. Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit (Eph 1:13).

Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with me. To him who overcomes, I will give the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne (Rev 3:20-21).

If we want to have an understanding about how God looks at those who do good or evil, please read this rather specific passage:

11 Say to them, "As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live. Turn! Turn from your evil ways! Why will you die, O house of Israel?" 12 Therefore, son of man, say to your countrymen, "The righteousness of the righteous man will not save him when he disobeys, and the wickedness of the wicked man will not cause him to fall when he turns from it. The righteous man, if he sins, will not be allowed to live because of his former righteousness." 13 If I tell the righteous man that he will surely live, but then he trusts in his righteousness and does evil, none of the righteous things he has done will be remembered; he will die for the evil he has done. 14 And if I say to the wicked man, "You will surely die," but he then turns away from his sin and does what is just and right—15 if he gives back what he took in pledge for a loan, returns what he has stolen, follows the decrees that give life, and does no evil, he will surely live; he will not die. 16 None of the sins he has committed will be remembered against him. He has done what is just and right; he will surely live.... 20 Yet, O house of Israel, you say, "The way of the Lord is not just."’ But I will judge each of you according to his own ways (Ezk 33:11-16,20).

Even in regard to the salvation of other people, the Apostle Paul knew he was commissioned to preach, but also believed that his own actions could have a positive effect on the salvation of others:

I am talking to you Gentiles. Inasmuch as I am the apostle to the Gentiles, I make much of my ministry in the hope that I may somehow arouse my own people to envy and save some of them (Rom 11:13-14).

16 Yet when I preach the gospel, I cannot boast, for I am compelled to preach. Woe to me if I do not preach the gospel! 17 If I preach voluntarily, I have a reward; if not voluntarily, I am simply discharging the trust committed to me. 18 What then is my reward? Just this: that in preaching the gospel I may offer it free of charge, and so not make use of my rights in preaching it. 19 Though I am free and belong to no man, I make myself a slave to everyone, to win as many as possible. 20 To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews. To those under the law I became like one under the law (though I myself am not under the law), so as to win those under the law. 21 To those not having the law I became like one not having the law (though I am not free from God's law but am under Christ's law), so as to win those not having the law. 22 To the weak I became weak, to win the weak. I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings (1Cor 9:16-23).

Conclusion on Universal Salvation and Predestination

Even after reading these scriptures, it may still be hard to understand why God would leave such an important issue as who will be given eternal life in the hands of mere men and women. Could He leave such important decisions to people who do not fully understand His plan? Could He even leave some of them to chance? Think about the creation of human life. God commanded men and women to form lifetime marriages before "making babies"—but billions of children have been conceived by couples "having fun" and taking no thought for their future. Some children are raised by parents who love and care for them; other children are hated or killed by those who conceived them. God often does not stop most of the disasters that men create. Notice this teaching of Christ:

1 Now there were some present at that time who told Jesus about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mixed with their sacrifices. Jesus answered, "Do you think that these Galileans were worse sinners than all the other Galileans because they suffered this way? 3 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish. 4 Or those eighteen who died when the tower in Siloam fell on them—do you think they were more guilty than all the others living in Jerusalem? 5 I tell you, no! But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:1-5).

Christ taught that disastrous deaths sometimes happen to people who were not the worst sinners (but that death is the ultimate end for everyone who does not repent, because we all have sinned and deserve it). Nevertheless, Christ indicated that these two disasters were not specifically the "hand of God". But then He goes on to give a parable showing that some disasters are "the hand of God":

Then he told this parable: "A man had a fig tree, planted in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it, but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’ ‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down’" (Luke 13:6-9).

This parable shows that God goes out of His way to try to correct people who are not bearing fruit. It may seem difficult to the person at the time, but it is ultimately the best for them: "because the Lord disciplines those he loves, and he punishes everyone he accepts as a son" (Heb 12:6). God refers to himself as a Father and to people as his children in many Scriptures. A good parent will know in general what his small children will do, without specifically knowing exactly what they will do at any one time. He may be pleasantly surprised at some decisions, and disappointed in others—but capable of handling any situation and steering it for his children’s learning and benefit. Sometimes, he lets his children learn from their own mistakes, other times he saves them from what would otherwise be a disaster. Our father is a lot like that.

One final comment on the doctrines of "universal salvation" and "predestination": If they were true, there is still no point in teaching either doctrine. If everyone is going to be saved, or just certain "elect" are going to be saved, then whether or not people even know the doctrine makes no difference in who will be saved. If these doctrines were true, our entire lives would be pre-programmed and pointless. One could not argue against a person who believed these doctrines and wanted to commit suicide—if they were destined to be saved, suicide would instantly put them with God and if they were destined not to be saved, they would be "putting themselves out of their misery".

But the overwhelming teaching of the Bible is that our lives do matter. We need to "Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to" (Luke 13:24). We do not want to be like the man who hid his "talent in the earth" (Matt 25:25). God gave us minds to think and make decisions, a Bible to read, a Holy Spirit to teach us and a promise to hear our prayers. We need to use these gifts.

Does the Bible Teach a “Rapture”?

The word "rapture" means a state of extreme emotion or joy—being "carried away". In theology, it refers to the doctrine that all of those who are "saved" will physically rise in the air to meet Christ. There are many variants on this doctrine. Some religious groups teach that it will happen in a rather reckless fashion: planes will crash as "saved" pilots are "raptured" from their cockpits, thousands of auto crashes will occur as "saved’ drivers leave their vehicles and possibly "unsaved" passengers careening out of control. You may have seen bumper stickers that say: "Warning! In event of the rapture, this vehicle will be un-occupied!"

Obviously, a person using such a bumper sticker is trying to do God’s job of judgment for Him. How can he be sure he will be chosen? Actually, the entire concept of "chaotic rapture" is not in the Bible. Even the word "rapture" is not found in any common Bible translation. Nevertheless, some Bible teachers spend a great deal of time teaching this "sudden" or "secret rapture" doctrine—even producing whole books and movies on the subject. Some believe that the "rapture" will occur before the "great tribulation", and others believe it will occur after.

The Bible does teach that some believers will rise to meet Christ in the air. Let us see what it says, rather than basing our belief on a "rapture theory", and then finding scriptures that seem to fit the theory but do not really prove it. Here is what the Bible says:

38 For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark; 39 and they knew nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man. 40 Two men will be in the field; one will be taken and the other left. 41 Two women will be grinding with a hand mill; one will be taken and the other left (Matt 24:38-41).

I tell you, on that night two people will be in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. Two women will be grinding grain together; one will be taken and the other left (Luke 17:34-35).

According to the Lord’s own word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left till the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever (1Thes 4:15-17).

Listen, I tell you a mystery: We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed—in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed (1Cor 15:51).

There are many other scriptures where God promises protection to those who obey Him. But those scriptures say nothing about disappearing or rising to meet Christ. On the other hand, the verses above seem to indicate that the event described is not a secret event, but one that everyone will see. Notice, what we read only a few verses before the "one taken one left" scripture in Matthew 24:

At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory. And he will send his angels with a loud trumpet call, and they will gather his elect from the four winds, from one end of the heavens to the other (Matt 24:30).

This event seems to be known to everyone. There is no proof of a "secret rapture" There are no verses about accidents occurring because a "raptured" person suddenly left his farm animals, grain mill, oven or whatever. God could cause those that He is taking away to leave in an orderly manner or He could allow great destruction. The Bible does not say—so we should not make a doctrine out of it.

Are There “Go To Heaven” Verses?

Most people grow up believing that "when good people die, they go to heaven". Yet the Bible continually compares death to "sleep". Nevertheless, there are some scriptures that do seem to talk about people in heaven.

The book of Matthew contains many references to the "Kingdom of Heaven". Is this about believers "going to Heaven" to be with God when they die? Notice, however, that this Kingdom is not specifically in Heaven but of Heaven. "Kingdom from Heaven" or "Heavenly Kingdom" better translate Matthew’s words. We can be certain that the "Kingdom of Heaven" spoken of by Matthew is the same as the phrase "Kingdom of God" used by the other Gospel writers, Mark, Luke and John. There are places where several Gospel writers record the same words of Jesus and Matthew says "Kingdom of Heaven" and the others say "Kingdom of God" (see Matt 13:11; Mark 4:11; Luke 8:10). The "Kingdom of God" occurs at the return of Christ, when he returns to the earth to take over the earthly kingdoms and rule as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (Dan 2:44; Job 19:25; Rev 11:15; 17:12-14; 19:16-19).

Along a similar line, some people think this verse tells about mansions in heaven that are being prepared for believers:

"In My Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself; that where I am, there you may be also (John 14:2-3, NKJV).

If you will notice, though, this verse does not mention the word "Heaven" Verse 3 clearly shows that Christ will come again to Earth—that is the place he "came" the first time:

...This same Jesus, who has been taken from you into heaven, will come back in the same way you have seen him go into heaven (Acts 1:11).

I know that my Redeemer lives, and that in the end he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been destroyed, yet in my flesh I will see God (Job 19:25-26).

Did Jesus promise one of the criminals hanging on the crosses that he would go to "Heaven" that day? Notice what it says.

Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom." Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise." (Luke 23:43)

The original language word here is a Persian word for an ideal hunting ground—a wonderful place: paradeisos. Does it mean the "Heaven" where God dwells? Probably not. The same word is used in only two other places in the Bible, one in Revelation 2:7, which is a reference to the tree in the Garden of Eden (Gen 2:9). The other use of this word describes the location of a vision in 2 Corinthians 12:3-4. It is very unlikely that it means heaven as Paul just described a vision in verse 2 that did take place in the "third heaven". "Paradise" appears to be used for a non-specific, but happy place.

After that criminal died, the next thing he will remember is a favorable judgment—there is no consciousness between. He repented of his sin and suffered an awful death for it. It does seem impossible that he could be with Jesus in Heaven on that very same day because Jesus had to wait three days for His resurrection (1Cor 15:3-4) and He did not ascend to His Father until after he rose from the dead (John 20:17). The word for "today" in the above verse can be used for a time (a "today") in the future. Notice this scripture were the exact same word is used twice:

Therefore God again set a certain day, calling it Today, when a long time later he spoke through David, as was said before: "Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts" (Heb 4:7).

Another rather unusual scripture that some say proves that "the saved" are now alive in heaven is this rather unusual story:

7 Saul then said to his attendants, "Find me a woman who is a medium, so I may go and inquire of her." "There is one in Endor," they said.... 11 Then the woman asked, "Whom shall I bring up for you?" "Bring up Samuel," he said. 12 When the woman saw Samuel, she cried out at the top of her voice and said to Saul, "Why have you deceived me? You are Saul!" 13 The king said to her, "Don’t be afraid. What do you see?" The woman said, "I see a spirit coming up out of the ground." 14 "What does he look like?" he asked. "An old man wearing a robe is coming up," she said. Then Saul knew it was Samuel, and he bowed down and prostrated himself with his face to the ground. 15 Samuel said to Saul, "Why have you disturbed me by bringing me up?" "I am in great distress," Saul said. "The Philistines are fighting against me, and God has turned away from me. He no longer answers me, either by prophets or by dreams. So I have called on you to tell me what to do" (1Sam 28:7,11-15).

Was the prophet Samuel alive in heaven? Did he come back to speak to Saul? First, let us find God’s opinion of "mediums"—people who claim to communicate with the spirits of the dead: "A man or woman who is a medium or spiritist among you must be put to death. You are to stone them; their blood will be on their own heads" (Lev 20:27). Even though the message that this "Samuel" gave to Saul corresponded with what the God said before, could Saul really be sure that he was talking to Samuel? Notice, that God sometimes does His work through false prophets—especially when people trust in false prophets to begin with:

20 "And the Lord said, ‘Who will entice Ahab into attacking Ramoth Gilead and going to his death there?’ One suggested this, and another that. 21 Finally, a spirit came forward, stood before the Lord and said, ‘I will entice him.’ 22 ‘By what means?’ the Lord asked. ‘I will go out and be a lying spirit in the mouths of all his [Ahab’s] prophets,’ he said. ‘You will succeed in enticing him,’ said the Lord. ‘Go and do it.’ 23 So now the Lord has put a lying spirit in the mouths of all these prophets of yours. The Lord has decreed disaster for you" (1Kngs 22:20-23).

This writer thinks that a lying spirit pretending to be Samuel spoke to the medium and to Saul. False prophets sometimes speak true messages, because God requires them to do so (see Balaam’s example—Num 22:18). But even if one were to assume that the medium at Endor did really contact Samuel, what do the verses quoted above say? They say that Samuel came "up out of the ground" and asked "why did you disturb me". They do not say he "came down from heaven"! So either way, the "Samuel was in heaven" idea does not fit. But this writer certainly prefers the "lying spirit" explanation. There is no example in the scripture of Satan or his demons raising somebody from the dead.

The "transfiguration" (Matt 17:1-9) is sometimes thought to be evidence that the righteous of the Old Testament are already in the Bible. After all, here we find Jesus talking with Moses and Elijah (not some medium). Nevertheless, we need to realize that this was not reality of the time, but Jesus interacting with a "vision". "Now as they came down from the mountain, Jesus commanded them, saying, ‘Tell the vision to no one until the Son of Man is risen from the dead’" (Matt 17:9, NKJV). The Greek word horama (strong’s #5719) appears to have this same meaning in all of the 11 other places it is used. If modern technology can produce three-dimensional moving, talking images from the mind of an artist, so can the mind of God produce visions of the future to whomever He will.

Most of the other scriptures which might be used to claim that "people go to Heaven when they die" are in the book of Revelation. The words "heaven" and "earth" are found 56 and 81 times respectively in the book of Revelation. Beside this, there are references to temples, altars priests and other things that are in both Heaven and earth—it is not always easy to tell where a specific verse takes place.

Additional difficulty comes from the fact that most of the book is symbolic. For example, almost nobody believes that there is a literal, real animal with seven heads and ten horns (Rev 12:3, etc.). Whereas many Bible students believe that there will be a literal new Heaven and earth (Rev 20). But many other scriptures are uncertain: Are they literal or figurative in some way? Are the people and heavenly creatures mentioned prophecies of literal things in Heaven or on the earth? Or are they symbols of greater things? Our particular approach to prophetic interpretation will make a big difference as to whether any of these scriptures say that there are literal people in Heaven. Furthermore, we must ask the question, is it possible that all people who have died up to this point are still in the ground awaiting a resurrection (compatible with the rest of scripture), but that at some time in the future some will be in Heaven?

Before we accept an explanation of the meaning of the Book of Revelation from a particular teacher, we ought to realize that most teachers have borrowed much of their teaching from previous prophecy teachers—and almost all of those previous teachers came up with some prophetic time-table which proved to be in error. If they were in error, they were probably not inspired of God. (It seems preferable to simply ask God to give us understanding of the parts of prophecy that we need in our lives now. What if He does not reveal anything? It may be for the best. Think of the thousands of people who thought they had "figured out" how prophecy would be fulfilled and Christ would return in the 1800’s. They would have been better off admitting that they did not know, but living their lives in a way that would please Christ all the time.)

One outstanding example of questions between literal or symbolic are the "two witnesses". Are they two actual men, or do they represent groups of people?

3 And I will give power to my two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth." 4 These are the two olive trees and the two lampstands that stand before the Lord of the earth. 5 If anyone tries to harm them, fire comes from their mouths and devours their enemies. This is how anyone who wants to harm them must die. 6 These men have power to shut up the sky so that it will not rain during the time they are prophesying; and they have power to turn the waters into blood and to strike the earth with every kind of plague as often as they want. Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them. Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, which is figuratively called Sodom and Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified. For three and a half days men from every people, tribe, language and nation will gaze on their bodies and refuse them burial. 10 The inhabitants of the earth will gloat over them and will celebrate by sending each other gifts, because these two prophets had tormented those who live on the earth. 11 But after the three and a half days a breath of life from God entered them, and they stood on their feet, and terror struck those who saw them. 12 Then they heard a loud voice from heaven saying to them, "Come up here." And they went up to heaven in a cloud, while their enemies looked on. 13 At that very hour there was a severe earthquake and a tenth of the city collapsed. Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake, and the survivors were terrified and gave glory to the God of heaven (Rev 11:3-13).

The underlined words, above, sound like they apply to literal men. But, if we look at the definition of the "two witnesses" in verse 4, we find that they are "two olive trees" and "two lampstands". Revelation does not mention olive trees anywhere else, but Revelation 1:12-20 clearly show that Christ is among seven lampstands and "the seven lampstands are the seven churches" (Rev 12:20). Could the two witnesses be two churches? Could they be both churches ("lampstands) and men ("olive trees"—Zech 4:11-15)?

Without answering these prophecy questions, it is hard to say that this scripture teaches that the "two witnesses will go to heaven". We also must consider whether or not the two witnesses actually went to the heaven where God’s throne is, or simply up into the air. The verse says that they went in a cloud—clouds are around the earth. Similarly, Elijah was taken up to "heaven" in a "whirlwind" (winds are in the air, not in outer space) in 2 Kings 2:11, but must have continued living on earth because he later wrote a letter (2Chr 21:12). We must realize that the Bible uses the same words for the "heaven" that could be 1) the atmosphere, 2) outer space and 3) the dwelling place of God. Paul, to make his point clear, uses term "third heaven" one time (2Cor 12:2). All of these places were basically "off limits" to people of that time. Today, we can send airplanes into the atmosphere and rockets into nearby outer space. We can be fairly sure that the heaven where God dwells is either invisible to us, or very far away.

Let us look at some more scriptures which some people believe refer to "heaven".

When he opened the fifth seal, I saw under the altar the souls of those who had been slain because of the word of God and the testimony they had maintained. They called out in a loud voice, "How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?" Then each of them was given a white robe, and they were told to wait a little longer, until the number of their fellow servants and brothers who were to be killed as they had been was completed (Rev 6:9-11).

Are these souls under an altar in Heaven? Actually, the location of the altar is not given, though there probably is one in Heaven (Rev 9:13). But if we realize that the blood of sacrifices poured out under the altar, then it is easy to see that these "souls under the altar" represent martyrs who were slain, and the white robes symbolize the righteousness of the saints (Rev 19:8). When "righteous Abel" (Matt 23:35) was killed, we find very similar language: "What have you done? Listen! Your brother’s blood cries out to me from the ground. Now you are under a curse and driven from the ground, which opened its mouth to receive your brother’s blood from your hand" (Gen 4:10-11). The ground does not have a "mouth", Abel was dead and his blood did not make an audible sound. Similarly the souls under the altar need not be "alive" in order for their deaths and righteousness to be symbolically recognized.

But there are other cases that are not so simple:

9 After this I looked and there before me was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. They were wearing white robes and were holding palm branches in their hands. 11 All the angels were standing around the throne and around the elders and the four living creatures. They fell down on their faces before the throne and worshiped God, 14 ... "These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. 15 Therefore, they are before the throne of God and serve him day and night in his temple; and he who sits on the throne will spread his tent over them. 16 Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. 17 For the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd; he will lead them to springs of living water. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes" (Rev 7:9,11,14-17).

The "great multitude above appears to literally be around God’s throne in Heaven—serving Him. Yet, the underscored words in the last two verses seem very symbolic (do people need to avoid the sun and be lead to water in Heaven?) We must also realize that these are just people who have come out of "the great tribulation". This scripture does not apply to all believers everywhere.

1 Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. 2 And I heard a sound from heaven like the roar of rushing waters and like a loud peal of thunder. The sound I heard was like that of harpists playing their harps. 3 And they sang a new song before the throne and before the four living creatures and the elders. No one could learn the song except the 144,000 who had been redeemed from the earth. 4 These are those who did not defile themselves with women, for they kept themselves pure. They follow the Lamb wherever he goes. They were purchased from among men and offered as firstfruits to God and the Lamb. 5 No lie was found in their mouths; they are blameless. 6 Then I saw another angel flying in midair, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth—to every nation, tribe, language and people (Rev 14:1-6).

In these verses, Christ (the Lamb) is on Mount Zion—which is on the earth. There is no mention of a "Mount Zion" in Heaven in Revelation. The 144,000 follow the Lamb, so they must be where He is. Yet, the harpists playing and singing in verses 2 and 3 seem to be teaching a song to the 144,000. Are they hearing the heavenly song on the earth? Or did the Lamb take them back to Heaven. I cannot be sure.

14:20 They were trampled in the winepress outside the city, and blood flowed out of the press, rising as high as the horses’ bridles for a distance of 1,600 stadia. 15:1 I saw in heaven another great and marvelous sign: seven angels with the seven last plagues—last, because with them God’s wrath is completed. And I saw what looked like a sea of glass mixed with fire and, standing beside the sea, those who had been victorious over the beast and his image and over the number of his name. They held harps given them by God and sang the song of Moses the servant of God and the song of the Lamb: "Great and marvelous are your deeds, Lord God Almighty. Just and true are your ways, King of the ages. Who will not fear you, O Lord, and bring glory to your name? For you alone are holy. All nations will come and worship before you, for your righteous acts have been revealed." After this I looked and in heaven the temple, that is, the tabernacle of the Testimony, was opened (Rev 14:20-15:5)

Where are these harp players who were victorious over the beast? Chapter 1, verse 20 clearly takes place on the earth, but verse 1 mentions an angel in Heaven. This sea of glass in verse 2 is mixed with fire—not the same as the one in Revelation 4:6 which is "clear as crystal". In verse 4, the nations come to worship the Lamb—probably on earth? Then verse 5 is clearly in heaven, but it is introduced almost like a "change of scene". Only a few verses later we find:

Then I heard a voice from heaven say, "Write: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on." "Yes," says the Spirit, "they will rest from their labor, for their deeds will follow them" (Rev 14:13).

Here, as in most of the scripture, the dead are pictured as resting or asleep. One of the most detailed chapters about the resurrection of the dead is Revelation 20. Certainly some verses of Revelation could be interpreted to say that there are people in heaven—but we are dealing with a highly symbolic book. There are no scriptures that clearly say, "Righteous people go to heaven when they die." Nor are there any scriptures that describe deceased righteous people watching over living people, talking to God, etc.

Numerous studies have been made where people have promised to contact living friends or relatives after they died (if possible), and no provable results have been obtained. Some have advanced the theory that when people die, they go to some kind of state where they are alive but unable to communicate with either God or the Earth in any way. If this is true, but God has not told us about it, then it is impossible to study or confirm because by its own definition, we cannot communicate with it to find out anything about it.

If you still have some doubt about this section, please reread the chapter Is David in Heaven?

Fire is a Symbol of Judgment

Many scriptures show us that fire is a symbol of judgment in the Bible. The Bible certainly talks about many literal fires, but it also makes clear that many are symbolic. Fire burns things that are temporary in nature (straw, paper, wood, etc), but tends to strengthen and purify things that are durable in nature (metal, glass, brick, etc.). This is a good analogy to the trial and judging process of God. We need to understand this before we interpret every "judgment of fire" in the Bible as an eternal "hell fire".

This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, "They are my people," and they will say, "The Lord is our God" (Zech 13:9).

But who can endure the day of his coming? Who can stand when he appears? For he will be like a refiner’s fire or a launderer’s soap. He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the Lord will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness (Mal 3:2-3).

Beloved, do not think it strange concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened to you (1Pet 4:12, NKJV).

For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work (1Cor 3:11-13).

There are many other scriptures in the Bible where fire is used as a symbol of judgment, though it is not specifically explained. The first judgment in the Bible is against Adam and Eve for their sin. How does God mark this judgment?

So the Lord God banished him [Adam] from the Garden of Eden to work the ground from which he had been taken. After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life (Gen 3:23-24).

Much later, God began to work with Abraham, the father of the faithful (Rom 4:16). God told Abraham to "Leave your country, your people and your father’s household and go to the land I will show you" (Gen 12:1). Where did Abraham leave from? He left from the city of "Ur". What does "Ur" mean? A Bible dictionary or concordance will show that it means "flame". The Bible does not say that Ur was destroyed by flame, but Abraham had to leave that godless city.

Later, God told righteous Lot to leave the corrupt city of Sodom (Gen 19; Luke 17:29). "Sodom" means "burning". In this case, God actually sent "fire and brimstone" from Heaven to destroy the city. An interesting comment is made about this fire in the book of Jude:

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire (Jude 1:7).

Is the fire of Sodom still burning? Are the people suffering? No, it burned out and the people are dead. The expression "eternal fire" is probably a mistake in Bible translation. Most Bible translators believe in an ever-burning Hell, so they tended to write "ever-lasting" or "ever-burning" when the Greek word aionios (Strong’s #166) is used in conjunction with fire. However aionios simply means "age-lasting" (or "age-during" in Young’s Literal Translation)—referring to the end of a particular thing of long duration. The same Greek word, aionios, is also used for the expression "eternal life". Here, "eternal" probably is a good translation since the God’s "kingdom will never end" (Luke 1:33). No verse mentions any fire that will "never end". Young’s literal translation has this verse correct:

As Sodom and Gomorrah, and the cities around them, in like manner to these, having given themselves to whoredom, and gone after other flesh, have been set before—an example, of fire age-during, justice suffering (Jude 1:7, YLT).

This fire ended the age of those cities, they burned up ending the lives of those people at that time. But they will live again in a future age, another time of judgment:

I tell you the truth, it will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for that town (Matt 10:15).

The very same expression "age-during fire" is found in other verses in Young’s Literal Translation, but the New International Version unfortunately translates it "eternal fire":

If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal [age-during (YLT)] fire (Matt 18:8).

Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal [age-during (YLT)] fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt 25:41).

These verses show that the fire represents a judgment that ends an age, but not necessarily eternal, nor necessarily a final end. There are other scriptures that specifically spell out when people are raised from the dead and what can happen to them.

Let us look at some of the many more examples where fire represents judgment, and then conclude this section with the biblical explanation of why fire is used as such a symbol:

O house of David, this is what the Lord says: "Administer justice every morning; rescue from the hand of his oppressor the one who has been robbed, or my wrath will break out and burn like fire because of the evil you have done—burn with no one to quench it" (Jer 21:12).

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2Thes 2:8, NKJV).

For the Lord your God is a consuming fire, a jealous God (Deut 4:24).

The above verse is quoted in the New Testament, below:

25 See to it that you do not refuse him [God] who speaks. If they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, how much less will we, if we turn away from him who warns us from heaven? 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, "Once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens." 27 The words "once more" indicate the removing of what can be shaken—that is, created things—so that what cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, 29 for our "God is a consuming fire" (Heb 12:25-29).

The above verses clearly relate fire to judgment and rulership.

I saw heaven standing open and there before me was a white horse, whose rider is called Faithful and True. With justice he judges and makes war. His eyes are like blazing fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has a name written on him that no one knows but he himself (Rev 19:11-12).

I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire (Matt 3:11, similar in Luke 3:16).

Many scriptures show that Christ has a first and second coming. John said that He would baptize with both the Holy Spirit and with fire. When Christ came the first time, He left the gift of the Holy Spirit (John 16:7). The next time He comes, it will be for judgment and rulership—with fire. Notice the verse below, Jesus told that the baptism of the Holy Spirit would be coming, and then His disciples immediately asked Him about the rulership part. Christ told them that they did not need to know when that would come.

5 For John baptized with water, but in a few days you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit." 6 So when they met together, they asked him, "Lord, are you at this time going to restore the kingdom to Israel?" 7 He said to them: "It is not for you to know the times or dates the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:5-8).

But Christ wished that the time for Him to come and judge, symbolized by fire, was soon. Notice this verse that concludes a most important section on judgment in the Bible:

I have come to bring fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled! (Luke 12:49).

Another commonly misunderstood scripture:

6 By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. 7 By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. 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. 9 The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief. The heavens will disappear with a roar; the elements will be destroyed by fire, and the earth and everything in it will be laid bare. 11 Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives 12 as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming. That day will bring about the destruction of the heavens by fire, and the elements will melt in the heat. 13 But in keeping with his promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness. 14 So then, dear friends, since you are looking forward to this, make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with him (2Pet 3:6-14).

Some people believe this scripture is about the new heavens and earth in Revelation chapter 22. But the time looks more like the return of Christ, from the underlined portions of the verses, above. The Greek word stoicheion (Strong’s #4747) used here for "elements" means physical elements in other Greek literature (earth, air, water and fire), but never seems to be used that way in the Bible. The other five places it is used, it means "basic principles" or "governing law". In four places (Gal 4:3,9; Col 2:8,20) it refers to worldly principles, and in one place the principles of God (Heb 5:12). The meaning here is not "the destruction of the universe as we know it" because that does not fit the timing of the other prophecies about Christ returning as "a thief" (1Thes 5:1-11; Rev 3:3; 16:15). It fits much better with the "elements"—the foundational laws and political and military systems of man being destroyed by the judgment of the returning Christ. All the evil secrets will be "laid bare" by Christ. Fire is again a symbol of judgment here.

The final scripture in the Bible which speaks of fire and judgment is in Revelation 21. It clearly shows that this final fire is a "second death", not an eternity of suffering.

But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death (Rev 21:8, NKJV).

Verses Mentioning “Hell”

The Bible contains a number of different expressions for the place of the dead or various places of punishment. Before reading this section, please read the main section, What About Hell?, beginning on page * and the previous section, Fire is a Symbol of Judgment, beginning on page *. This section and the next two will cover virtually all of the scriptures that mention "hell" and other places of the "dead" or punishment. The reader may be surprised to find how many words from Greek mythology show up in the Greek New Testament. This does not mean that Christ and the Apostles were teaching Greek mythology. But sometimes, the only common word in a language to express an idea comes from its religion. In our own language, we could say "the fifth day of the week", but we almost always say "Thursday", even though it means Thor’s day (Thor was a Norse god). There are many other such examples in our language. We have to communicate with the words available to us.

The three Greek words translated "Hell" in the KJV New Testament are hades (used 11 times for the "grave" or the Greek "realm of the dead"), Gehenna (used 12 times for a "burning garbage dump") and tartarus (used 1 time for a place where fallen angels are confined).

Please try to throw away previous preconceived ideas and read what the Bible says.

The Hebrew sheol Used 65 Times

In most Bibles, there is only one Old Testament Hebrew word that is translated "hell": sheol (Strong’s #7585). In the King James Version, it is translated "hell" 31 times, "grave" 31 times and "pit" 3 times. However, all of these scriptures will make sense if one reads "grave" wherever sheol appears. The NIV translates sheol as "grave" in nearly every case. Some versions, such as the NKJV and NRSV actually say "Sheol" and let the reader decide what it means. There is no verse about anyone eternally suffering or for that matter, doing anything in sheol. It is nothing like Dante’s Inferno.

All the verses containing sheol are: Gen 37:35; 42:38; 44:29,31; Num 16:30,33; Deut 32:22; 1Sam 2:6; 2Sam 22:6; 1Kngs 2:6,9; Job 7:9; 11:8; 14:13; 17:13,16; 21:13; 24:19; 26:6; Pslm 6:5; 9:17; 16:10; 18:5; 30:3; 31:17; 49:14,15; 55:15; 86:13; 88:3; 89:48; 116:3; 139:8; 141:7; Prv 1:12; 5:5; 7:27; 9:18; 15:11,24; 23:14; 27:20; 30:16; Eccl 9:10; Isa 5:14; 14:9,11,15; 28:15,18; Isa 38:10,18; Isa 57:9; Ezk 31:15,16,17; 0; Hos 13:14; Amos 9:2; Jonah 2:2; Hab 2:5.

Some sample uses of sheol are:

But Jacob said, "My son will not go down there with you; his brother is dead and he is the only one left. If harm comes to him on the journey you are taking, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in sorrow" (Gen 42:38).

Jacob is going to be "in the Kingdom" (Luke 13:28). He did not "go to hell". This verse at the other end of the Old Testament is similar:

I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death. Where, O death, are your plagues? Where, O grave, is your destruction? I will have no compassion (Hosea 13:14).

At times, the King James version seems to be seriously distorted in an effort to support the idea of an ever-burning hell. Most modern translations are much more faithful to the Hebrew. Notice:

The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God (Pslm 9:17, KJV).

The wicked return to the grave, all the nations that forget God (Pslm 9:17, NIV).

The sorrows of hell compassed me about: the snares of death prevented me (Pslm 18:5, KVJ).

The cords of the grave coiled around me; the snares of death confronted me (Pslm 18:5).

The Hebrew schachath Used 23 Times

A second Hebrew word for a place of death is schachath (Strong’s #7845), though it is not translated "hell’ in most Bibles. Sometimes it means a literal pit or whole in the ground (Job 9:31; Job 17:14; Pslm 7:15; 9:15; 35:7; 94:13; Prv 26:27; Ezk 19:4,8). Here is one example:

Whoever digs a pit will fall into it, And he who rolls a stone will have it roll back on him (Prv 26:27, NKJV).

The word schachath is also used in a symbolic fashion to represent a place of death or destruction. It is still commonly translated "the Pit", but some Bibles capitalize it as if it were a specific place (though there is no capitalization in the Hebrew). All of the other occurrences of schachath are included below. Clearly, none the examples picture ongoing activity in "the Pit", but it represents death—and end of life.

He keeps back his soul from the Pit, And his life from perishing by the sword (Job 33:18, NKJV).

Yes, his soul draws near the Pit, And his life to the executioners (Job 33:22, NKJV).

Then He is gracious to him, and says, "Deliver him from going down to the Pit; I have found a ransom" (Job 33:24, NKJV)

He will redeem his soul from going down to the Pit, And his life shall see the light (Job 33:28, NKJV).

To bring back his soul from the Pit, That he may be enlightened with the light of life (Job 33:30, NKJV).

For you do not give me up to Sheol, or let your faithful one see the Pit (Pslm 16:10, NRSV).

What profit is there in my death, if I go down to the Pit? Will the dust praise you? Will it tell of your faithfulness? (Pslm 30:9, NRSV).

Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life, there is no price one can give to God for it. For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice that one should live on forever and never see the grave (Pslm 49:7-9, NRSV).

But You, O God, shall bring them down to the pit of destruction; Bloodthirsty and deceitful men shall not live out half their days; But I will trust in You (Pslm 55:23, NKJV).

Who redeems your life from the Pit, who crowns you with steadfast love and mercy (Pslm 103:4, NRSV).

Indeed it was for my own peace That I had great bitterness; But You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back (Isa 38:17, NKJV).

The captive exile hastens, that he may be loosed, That he should not die in the pit, And that his bread should not fail (Isa 51:14, NKJV)

They shall throw you down into the Pit, And you shall die the death of the slain In the midst of the seas (Ezk 28:8, NKJV).

At the roots of the mountains. I went down to the land whose bars closed upon me forever; yet you brought up my life from the Pit, O Lord my God (Jonah 2:6, NRSV).

The Greek hades Used 11 Times

In the New Testament, the Greek hades (Strong’s #86) means the "realm of the dead" without regard to good or bad. It appears 11 times and is always translated "hell" in the King James. However, its meaning appears to simply be "the grave"—many Bibles translate it that way. We have included all of the verses using hades from the NIV, which is not very consistent, as it translates them to "the grave", "the depths" and "death"—and does not translate some, but leaves them "Hades".

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day (Matt 11:23).

And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it (Matt 16:18).

And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths (Luke 10:15).

In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side (Luke 16:23).

because you will not abandon me to the grave, nor will you let your Holy One see decay (Acts 2:27).

Seeing what was ahead, he spoke of the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to the grave, nor did his body see decay (Acts 2:31).

"Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?" (1Cor 15:55)

I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades (Rev 1:18).

I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth (Rev 6:8).

The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death (Rev 20:13-14).

Of interest, the Greek mnemeion (Strong’s #3419) means a memorial-type grave and is usually translated "tomb" or "sepulchre" in most Bibles. The word refers to the structure whether there is anyone buried in it or not. It is used in Mark 16:2, 5; Luke 23:55; 24:12, 22, 24; John 11:31,38; 19:41,42; 20:1,3,4,6,8; Acts 13:29.

The Greek Gehenna Used 12 Times

Also in the New Testament, the Greek Gehenna (Strong’s #1067) is taken from the Hebrew name of the valley of Hinnom outside of Jerusalem where garbage was thrown. It has nothing to do with Greek mythology, but is consistently translated "hell" by most Bible versions. The word "hell" makes English speaking people think of a hot place where people suffer forever, but it is extremely unlikely that Gehenna meant that to any first-century believers.

Included in the trash of Gehenna were the bodies of dead animals and the bodies of criminals not deserving a burial. Those who were literally thrown into Gehenna were rejected by men, not necessarily by God. For sanitary reasons, the valley was frequently set on fire. Did the things that were thrown into the valley burn forever? No they were burned up. Were the fires of Gehenna ever quenched to spare things in the valley? No. They burned until they burned out. This information is helpful to understand this verse:

And if thine eye may cause thee to stumble, cast it out; it is better for thee one-eyed to enter into the reign of God, than having two eyes, to be cast to the gehenna of the fire—where their worm is not dying, and the fire is not being quenched (Mark 9:47-48,YLT);

Does this mean that people were to burn forever in fire? Does it mean that there are worms that live forever and never die? No! Fires in garbage dumps tend to burn slowly, wandering into areas where new fuel has been added. A body thrown into Gehenna might be destroyed by worms or fire, depending upon which got to it first. The point of the verse is that a person thrown into Gehenna will not be rescued. Matthew more clearly states that a person will be destroyed in Gehenna:

‘And be not afraid of those killing the body, and are not able to kill the soul, but fear rather Him who is able both soul and body to destroy in gehenna’ (Matt 10:28, YLT).

The Gehenna fire certainly matches the consistent biblical use of fire as a symbol of judgment. It also portends the destruction of the wicked who do not repent. It does not portray suffering forever. After God allowed the Romans to destroy Jerusalem and depopulate it in 70 A.D., the fires of Gehenna ceased—that age was over.

Here are all of the other scriptures that use Gehenna:

But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca, ‘is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell [Gehenna] (Matt 5:22).

If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell [Gehenna] (Matt 5:29).

And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell [Gehenna] (Matt 5:30).

And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell [Gehenna] (Matt 18:9).

"Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You travel over land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell [Gehenna] as you are (Matt 23:15).

"You snakes! You brood of vipers! How will you escape being condemned to hell? [Gehenna] (Matt 23:33)

If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell [Gehenna], where the fire never goes out (Mark 9:43).

And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell [Gehenna] (Mark 9:45)

But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell [Gehenna]. Yes, I tell you, fear him (Luke 12:5).

The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell [Gehenna] (Luke 12:5).

The Greek tartarus Used Only One Place
in the Bible:

For if God did not spare the angels when they sinned, but condemned them to the chains of Tartarus and handed them over to be kept for judgment; (2Pet 2:4, NAB)

The Greek word tartarus is used in Greek mythology as a lower section of hades reserved for punishment for evil, disobedient spirits. In Greek mythology, Tartarus might be likened to the common concept of "hell"—an awful place with endless suffering. However, the Bible never mentions any people going there. Apparently, the fallen angels, or demons, have deceived many people into thinking that they will receive the fallen angels’ punishment! The Bible never recommends prison or continual torment as a punishment for sin. It teaches that people should overcome their problems and work to compensate those whom they have injured or from whom they have stolen.

This concludes the words that have been translated "hell" in the King James Bible. However, there are far more words that are used to describe a place of holding or trial after death.

Other Words for “Places” or “States” of Trial and Punishment

Greek abussos ("Abyss") Used 9 Times

The Greek word abussos (Strong’s #12) is from Greek mythology. It is supposed to be the lowest part of hades (the realm of the dead). It is more of a place of confinement than a place of punishment as tartarus, above. The concept of an Abyss also shows up in Jewish mythology. The King James Version and many other translations use the words "bottomless pit" or "the deep"—most other translations say "Abyss" in all 9 places the word is used.

Some pagan religions of the first century had the idea that it was necessary for a hero to ascend to heaven to bring one of the gods down to earth—or to go down into the Abyss to bring him up from where he was imprisoned. Paul had to refute this pagan idea so that people would not bring it into Christianity:

But the righteousness of faith speaks in this way, "Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’ (that is, to bring Christ down from above) or, ‘Who will descend into the abyss?’ (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead)." But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach) (Rom 10:6-8, NKJV).

Paul needed to clearly show them that they had access to Christ now, there was no need for somebody to do some "great thing" first. Other references to the Abyss all regard the Devil and his demons. Apparently, they normally have access to the earth (Job 1:7) and are allowed to lie and cause a certain amount of trouble for people (John 8:44; 1Pet 5:8)—but only within limits God places on them (Job 1:12). If they try to go against specific commands of God, then they can be sent to "the Abyss" as a prison:

Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "Legion," he replied, because many demons had gone into him. And they begged him repeatedly not to order them to go into the Abyss (Luke 8:30-31).

The rest of the references to the Abyss are in Revelation. It is a place where the Devil and his demons are sometimes confined, and other times from which they are released.

The fifth angel sounded his trumpet, and I saw a star [symbol for an angel] that had fallen from the sky to the earth. The star was given the key to the shaft of the Abyss. When he opened the Abyss, smoke rose from it like the smoke from a gigantic furnace. The sun and sky were darkened by the smoke from the Abyss. And out of the smoke locusts came down upon the earth and were given power like that of scorpions of the earth.... They had as king over them the angel of the Abyss, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, and in Greek, Apollyon (Rev 9:1-3,11).

Now when they have finished their testimony, the beast that comes up from the Abyss will attack them, and overpower and kill them (Rev 11:7).

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come (Rev 17:8).

And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain. He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time (Rev 20:1-3).

The Greek phulake ("prison") Used 4 Times

The Greek phulake usually means a literal "prison" or a "night watch". It is used 43 times in a clear sense like this. However, four times, it is used as a "prison" for Satan and his demons. This is simply another way of talking about the Abyss. In Revelation 20:3, above, Satan is put in the Abyss for 1000 years, and then he is released from "his prison":

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison (Rev 20:7).

And he cried mightily with a loud voice, saying, "Babylon the great is fallen, is fallen, and has become a dwelling place of demons, a prison for every foul spirit, and a cage [same Greek phulake—"prison"] for every unclean and hated bird! (Rev 18:2.)

18 For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, 19 through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison 20 who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, 21 and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1Pet 3:18).

The last passage, above, contains very long sentences and can be hard to follow. Some Bible teachers claim that it means Christ preached to "spirits in prison" during the three days between his death and resurrection. Actually, this passage is drawing the relationship between two things:

1) The physical ark and the flood at the time of Noah and the corresponding spiritual event of putting evil spirits in prison.

2) The current physical practice of baptism and the corresponding spiritual events: the sacrifice of Christ for sins, the giving of the Holy Spirit, and the salvation of individuals.

Noah’s flood was a type of baptism for the world: the sinful people died—which was all but eight people. Similarly, when we are baptized, the sin in us dies, and we ask Christ to take over the little that is left. The ark represents Christ—both represent God’s method of salvation. The evil spirits disobeyed "long ago", probably before the flood—not when Christ died, which would have been only about 20 to 30 years before Peter wrote this. The spirits were put in this prison (the Abyss) to restrain their disobedience.

"Eternal Destruction" Phrase Used Once

These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2Thes 1:9, NKJV).

The word for "destruction" above is the Greek olethros (Strong’s #3639) which means, according to every lexicon I found, "destruction" or "ceasing to exist". Several lexicons claimed that Paul was clarifying it by saying that it was really "separation from the presence of the Lord", but the meaning of the Greek appears to mean "destruction (that comes from) the presence of the Lord". This is in exact agreement with:

And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming (2Thes 2:8, NKJV).

These and other scriptures seem to indicate that Satan and his demons will be destroyed forever. Others seem to indicate that he will be restrained forever. This writer is certain, though, that this question has so little effect upon us today that it is not worth one believer losing one friend over it. We should not let Satan divide us over which of two miserable outcomes he will receive.

For more about what will happen to the Devil and his demons, see the section titled Angels Judged, Also beginning on page *. The rest of the words used for places of punishment all apply to people to some degree.

"Eternal Fire" or "Age-during Fire Phrase Used 3 Times

Page * contains the explanation of the Greek word aionios. It is translated "eternal", but more accurately means "age-lasting" or "age-during" as Young’s Literal Translation translates it. The YLT uses King James English and is difficult to read in these verses, so we inserted its word ("age-during") into the appropriate places in the NIV:

If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal [age-during] fire (Matt 18:8).

Then he will say to those on his left, "Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal [age-during] fire prepared for the devil and his angels [messengers]" (Matt 25:41).

In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal [age-during] fire (Jude 1:7).

As previously noted, the "age-during fire" of Sodom and Gomorrah is not burning forever—those people and their cities were destroyed, the fire burnt out and they are awaiting judgment (Matt 10:15). The other two passages, above, may refer to a similar temporary judgment, or they may refer to an eternal "second death". In any case, I would hope we would all want to avoid either one!

While it may appear that Matt 25:41 applies just to Satan and his demons, the context of that verse is "people who have not helped others" (see quote on page *). The Greek aggelos (Strong’s #32) is used for both human and divine messengers. The YLT says "messengers" in this verse. This fire is reserved for the devil and those who follow him.

"Lake of fire" Used Five Times in Revelation

The Book of Revelation refers to a "lake of fire" five times—in three different places. This lake burns with sulfur (called "brimstone" in the King James). Why is sulfur mentioned? Sulfur is occasionally mentioned in other "judgment of fire" scriptures—including Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19:24, Pslm 11:6; Isa 30:33; Ezk 38:22; Rev 9:17-18; 14:10). Sulfur is used in the process of refining metals. It is also important to realize that metal-refining fires were the hottest fires known to the ancient world. They were created in specially-designed furnaces with air being forced in.

These "fires burning with sulfur" seemed to be emphasizing the destructive aspects of the fire far more than the refining or purifying ones. For example, the fire and sulfur that rained on Sodom and Gomorrah did not correct the people, but killed them (though they will live again—Matt 10:15). The sulfur fires below seem to deal more with destruction than with correction.

And the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who had performed in its presence the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur (Rev 19:20, NRSV).

And 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.... Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:10,14-15).

But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death (Rev 21:8, NRSV).

Sometimes, Revelation 20:10 (above) is used as a proof that people suffer in hell forever. The KJV and other translations say "the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are"—implying that they were still in the fire (having been thrown in Rev 19:20). But "are" is an incorrect translation. The NRSV and other translations correctly say "were" (past tense) or something similar.

The last two verses clearly say that this "lake of fire" is the second death. This seems like a final judgment—not a corrective judgment. Revelation 20:14 says that "death and Hades" were thrown into the lake of fire. This appears to mean that death (the action of humans, made in the image of God, dying) and Hades (the existence of dead humans with an as-yet uncertain fate) will be over. Those two things which both presently exist will exist no more. This fits well with this verse:

He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away (Rev 21:4).

"Darkness" Scriptures using "Zophos"

In great contrast to hot fires, we also find Scriptures that talk about "darkness" as a place for the unrepentant. Whether there is a literal place of darkness or if this is a symbol of spiritual darkness, is not clear. There are many Bible analogies to "light" being good and "darkness" being evil: "...God is light; in him there is no darkness at all (1Jn 1:5). One Greek word for "darkness" is zophos (Strong’s #2217). It means the "darkness and gloom of the nether world"—another Greek mythology word. It is used only in the following scriptures. When it appears as "blackest darkness", below, it is used along with another Greek word for "darkness", skotos (Strong’s #4655).

This place or state is apparently reserved for those who deliberately teach and practice error—knowing the truth. It seems that these scriptures refer both to men and to the fallen angels—demons.

For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell [tartarus] and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment (2Pet 2:4, NKJV).

17 These men are springs without water and mists driven by a storm. Blackest darkness is reserved for them. 18 For they mouth empty, boastful words and, by appealing to the lustful desires of sinful human nature, they entice people who are just escaping from those who live in error. 19 They promise them freedom, while they themselves are slaves of depravity—for a man is a slave to whatever has mastered him. 20 If they have escaped the corruption of the world by knowing our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and are again entangled in it and overcome, they are worse off at the end than they were at the beginning. 21 It would have been better for them not to have known the way of righteousness, than to have known it and then to turn their backs on the sacred command that was passed on to them (2Pet 2:17-21).

And the angels who did not keep their positions of authority but abandoned their own home—these he has kept in darkness, bound with everlasting chains for judgment on the great Day (Jude 1:6).

These men are blemishes at your love feasts, eating with you without the slightest qualm—shepherds who feed only themselves. They are clouds without rain, blown along by the wind; autumn trees, without fruit and uprooted—twice dead. 13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever ["to the age" in the YLT] (Jude 1:12).

The reference in Jude 1:6 says they are "awaiting judgment", so this zophos darkness is not some kind of "eternal punishment" place. The expression "twice dead" does not seem to mean the "second death" as it appears that the people spoken of are still alive when Jude was writing about them. Rather "twice dead" means that they have sinned, deserving death, received life from Christ, then rejected that, and are hence "dead" again.

"Outer darkness", Where There Will be "weeping and gnashing of teeth"

The expression "outer darkness" is used for people who are not ready to go into the kingdom, but are not the people who are knowingly evil as described in the "zophos darkness" verses above. Indeed, these verses describe people who thought they should have been in the Kingdom, but were not allowed in:

And I say to you that many will come from east and west, and sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. 12 But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 8:11, NKJV).

But when the king came in to see the guests, he saw a man there who did not have on a wedding garment. So he said to him, "Friend, how did you come in here without a wedding garment?" And he was speechless. Then the king said to the servants, "Bind him hand and foot, take him away, and cast him into outer darkness; there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt 22:11-13, NKJV)

And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 25:30, NKJV).

Some try to equate the "outer" part of "outer darkness" with "outer space" or outside the universe—maybe even in a "black hole". (A "black hole" is an astronomic body that is so large and has such powerful gravity that nothing physical can escape from it—not even light). While God certainly understands these things and may have written about them in scripture, this is probably not the meaning that was understood when the New Testament was written. The expression is more likely about being shut out of a city where there would be lights from fires and lamps on the inside, but none on the outside. Revelation 22:14-15 is an example: "Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood."

The "weeping and gnashing of teeth" comes about from people who are on the outside, but wish they were inside. "Weeping" is an expression of sorrow that things did not happen the way someone liked. It can include repentance—genuine admission of guilt and a desire to change—or it can simply be sorrow that one "got caught". "Gnashing of teeth" or "teeth grinding" usually comes with extreme emotional upset. Things are not going well for people in this condition. Hopefully, they will think about repenting and looking to God.

"Fiery furnace" Where There Will Be "weeping and gnashing of teeth"

This "weeping and gnashing of teeth" mentioned above also occurs in a "fiery furnace". This is probably symbolic in some way as one would not expect to see literal tears in the midst of a real burning fire. This seems to be another place where fire symbolizes judgment. The situation seems to be similar to the previous section—the people were among believers or thought they were believers, but Christ sent them out of the Kingdom. They weep and grind their teeth because they hoped to be in the Kingdom.

The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:41-42).

47 Once again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was let down into the lake and caught all kinds of fish. 48 When it was full, the fishermen pulled it up on the shore. Then they sat down and collected the good fish in baskets, but threw the bad away. 49 This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:47-50).

Miscellaneous Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

There are two more scripture that mention "weeping and gnashing of teeth", but do not have "outer darkness" or a "fiery furnace".

And will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 24:51).

27 But He will say, "I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity." 28 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, and yourselves thrust out. 29 They will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south, and sit down in the kingdom of God. 30 And indeed there are last who will be first, and there are first who will be last" (Luke 13:27-30).

The expression "cut him in two" is probably symbolic of exposing their sin as we saw in the several scriptures beginning with Isaiah 11:2 on page *. It is unlikely that the above verses mean people will be cut into two pieces but still literally live in order to cry and grind their teeth. The last wording again reminds us of the time sequence going into the Kingdom of God. Those who are not ready, even though they may think they are, will be "last" into the Kingdom.

Conclusion to "Punishment" Words

So what good are all of these "punishment" words if we do not know exactly what could happen to us? If we did completely understand them, would we try to structure our life so that we would avoid the punishments that sound the worst to us and maybe get one that we can handle better? We had better not!

God is interested in people who want to follow Him with their whole heart (Matt 22:37-38)—not in people who want to sin as much as they can "get away with". God wants to provide salvation to all through Christ and to make everyone righteous.

We can be assured from the Scriptures that the judgment of God will be fair, yet inescapable, and it will cover everything for which we have not repented and judged ourselves (1Cor 11:31; 1Jn 1:9). We also know that the more we sin, the more we will be judged, and the more punishment we will receive—the longer it will take to be in the Kingdom of God.

We should live our lives to please God—which will give us the most favorable eternal judgment. While eternal judgment may seem a long way off, it is in many ways more real than the earth we stand on and the air we breathe. We can look at any living thing on this earth and see a miracle—complexity far in excess of anything that mere men have ever designed. Men can map and alter the genes of a human, but they still can’t build bacteria from scratch. Whoever made the trillions of living things on this earth did all that work for a reason. Each time we see one of them, we should be reminded that we need to live our lives in accordance with that purpose, not in rebellion to God, our Father.

Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man

There is one more section of the Bible that seems to fit with the traditional concepts of "Heaven" and "Hell". To some people, these verses, by themselves are "proof" of the traditional teachings of "Heaven and Hell". Let us read them from Luke 16:

19 There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. 20 At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores 21 and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In hell [hades], where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, "Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire." 25 But Abraham replied, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us." 27 He answered, "Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment." 29 Abraham replied, "They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them." 30 "No, father Abraham," he said, "but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent." 31 He said to him, "If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead" (Luke 16:19-31).

Long after Jesus told this story, the Bible shows that Abraham was still dead, "in faith, not having received the promises" (Heb 11:13, NKJV). He is dead. Other parables of Jesus show that the time when evildoers see Abraham with God and themselves thrust out is in the future (Luke 13:23-39). When a real "Lazarus" died, "Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha answered, ‘I know he will rise again in the resurrection at the last day’" (John 11:23-24). That Lazarus was not in a parable, and even though he was dead for four days, the Bible says nothing about him going to "heaven" or "hell".

The question is, "Is Luke 16 a literal story of what happens at death, or is it another one of the symbolic parables of Jesus?" It is not specifically called a parable, but there are other parables told in the nearby chapters (Luke 15:3; 18:1,9). Furthermore, all of Christ’s major teaching seems to be in parables:

With many similar parables Jesus spoke the word to them, as much as they could understand. He did not say anything to them without using a parable. But when he was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything (Mark 4:33-34).

But would Luke, the Bible author, write a parable without telling us it is a parable? Yes, the parables of the "two debtors" (Luke 7:41-47); the "friend at midnight" (Luke 11:5-8) and even the famous "good Samaritan" (Luke 10:30-37) are not specifically labeled "parables" in the Bible. Nor are all parables explained.

So if this is a parable, what do the items in it represent? Lazarus obviously represents the poor and oppressed of the world. The "rich man" represents those with power, wealth and ability—those who could have made the world better, but used their capability to help themselves. The rich man was in Hades, the Greek realm of the dead, which here represents the afterlife in the second resurrection (see sections beginning on pages * and *). Lazarus with Abraham pictures the poor believers united with the great men of faith, such as Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, David, etc. (If this were a literal story about Lazarus, would not Lazarus be pictured as being with Christ or all believers, rather than just with Abraham?)

Lazarus and Abraham have names in this parable—they represent people who are known to God—whose names are in the "book of life" (see section beginning on page *). The rich man is not given a name—he represents those who may have been well known in the former life, but who in the latter resurrection will just be so many "former rich men". The "great chasm" between them and Lazarus is the difference between the first and later resurrections. The two are separate. Indeed, there will be a time of judgment and possibly torment for those in the second resurrection (see Scriptures About Punishment for Sin beginning on page *).

The fire in the above parable is a symbol of judgment (not Satan’s fire—note that Satan is not mentioned here at all). The rich man represents those being judged—they wish that they could have lived this life differently, so they would not have so much of a trial in the judgment. They think, "Could not someone have been sent back from the dead to warn those while they were living?" But people who are able to sin without immediate punishment frequently continue to sin no matter what kind of warning they have (Eccl 8:11). Moses, the prophets, or even people’s own conscience (Rom 2:15) give plenty of warning. The problem is that people do not seek Christ and follow it up with action. Indeed, Christ did rise from the dead and warn the living, and most continue living their own way.

Concluding that "Lazarus and the Rich Man" is a parable and not a literal story is in line with many other scriptures. Even if one does not accept this, the story does not describe a "hell" with Satan, demons, and eternal tortures, nor does it describe a "heaven" with "St. Peter", clouds, harps and people with wings. It is much better understood as a parable.

God’s “Book of Life” and Other Books

How is God going to judge everyone? Is He going to ask them to remember what they did? Is he going to tell them what they did from His memory? While I have little doubt that God could remember it perfectly, it seems that he writes the important information in a group of books:

And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books (Rev 20:12).

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days took his seat. His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire, and its wheels were all ablaze. A river of fire was flowing, coming out from before him. Thousands upon thousands attended him; ten thousand times ten thousand stood before him. The court was seated, and the books were opened (Dan 7:9-10).

The "book of life" is mentioned frequently in scripture, as we shall see below. But what are the other books? Jewish tradition indicates there is a "book of the dead" (those for which there is no hope) and another book for those in between. It is possible that this tradition comes from something God told one of the prophets, but was not written in the Bible. I cannot find it in scripture. All we know is that there are other books. This Psalm indicates that there will be sentences written against "bad" people when the saints judge them:

5 Let the saints rejoice in this honor and sing for joy on their beds. 6 May the praise of God be in their mouths and a double-edged sword in their hands, 7 to inflict vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples, to bind their kings with fetters, their nobles with shackles of iron, 9 to carry out the sentence written against them. This is the glory of all his saints. Praise the Lord (Pslm 149:5-9).

It seems that the "book of life" is by far the most important book to God. It is mentioned by numerous Bible writers, sometimes being referred to as "the book". Some writers hope that God will write people’s names in the book, others seem to know their name is already in the book and ask Him not to take it out.

But now, please forgive their sin—but if not, then blot me out of the book you have written." The Lord replied to Moses, "Whoever has sinned against me I will blot out of my book. Now go, lead the people to the place I spoke of, and my angel will go before you. However, when the time comes for me to punish, I will punish them for their sin" (Ex 32:32-34).

You number my wanderings; Put my tears into Your bottle; Are they not in Your book? (Pslm 56:8, NKJV.)

Charge them with crime upon crime; do not let them share in your salvation. May they be blotted out of the book of life and not be listed with the righteous (Pslm 69:27-28).

Those who are left in Zion, who remain in Jerusalem, will be called holy, all who are recorded among the living in Jerusalem (Isa 4:3, NIV).

At that time Michael, the great prince who protects your people, will arise. There will be a time of distress such as has not happened from the beginning of nations until then. But at that time your people—everyone whose name is found written in the book—will be delivered. Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever (Dan 12:1-3).

However, do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven (Luke 10:20).

Yes, and I ask you, loyal yokefellow, help these women who have contended at my side in the cause of the gospel, along with Clement and the rest of my fellow workers, whose names are in the book of life (Phlp 4:3).

To the church of the firstborn, whose names are written in heaven. You have come to God, the judge of all men, to the spirits of righteous men made perfect (Heb 12:23).

All inhabitants of the earth will worship the beast—all whose names have not been written in the book of life belonging to the Lamb that was slain from the creation of the world (Rev 13:8).

The beast, which you saw, once was, now is not, and will come up out of the Abyss and go to his destruction. The inhabitants of the earth whose names have not been written in the book of life from the creation of the world will be astonished when they see the beast, because he once was, now is not, and yet will come (Rev 17:8).

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev 20:14-15).

Nothing impure will ever enter it [the new Jerusalem], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life (Rev 21:27).

Finally, we might ask the question: what is the format of these books that will be used for judgment? Are they huge scrolls that are miles long, or are they giant books with millions of pages? Is God limited by the "technology" that was available when the Bible was written? Obviously, we do not really know the format of the "books". But when God communicates with people, He frequently does it by "vision"—a sort of three-dimensional presentation with sound—it is as if the people are actually there. When men receive these visions and need to record them, the best they can do is transfer it to books.

The whole vision has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed (Isa 29:11, NKJV).

The burden against Nineveh. The book of the vision of Nahum the Elkoshite (Nahum 1:1).

Then the Lord answered me and said: "Write the vision And make it plain on tablets, That he may run who reads it (Hab 2:2).

Is it possible that the "book of life" and other books from which people will be judged contain a complete vision—picture, sound, touch, taste and smell—not just writing? The only recording device available in the first century was hand-writing—books. While the Bible does not try to describe how these things are recorded (we really do not know), it is hard to believe that mere humans with video cameras are recording events in more detail than God does!

Angels Judged Also

The Bible clearly teaches that fallen angels know that they will be judged and that believers will do it:

Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! (1Cor 6:2-3.)

We have already covered numerous scriptures about punishment for sin and will not repeat them for brevity. (See the sections titled Scriptures About Punishment for Sin, Verses Mentioning "Hell" and Other Words for "Places" or "States" of Trial and Punishment) Some of those verses clearly applied to Satan and his demons, others to people, and some to both. They show conclusively that Satan and his fallen angels (demons) will be judged and punished. Some are being kept in "prison" awaiting punishment.

When we think of an unrighteous person, we usually think of someone who does not "believe in God" at all. As humans, that is possible to do if we do not "see" Him every day. (We can see His creation, but our educational systems have gone to great effort to put a scholarly stamp of approval on the otherwise ridiculous idea that the creation created itself!) But Satan and his demons know God exists, they just do not want to do what He says!

You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble! (Jms 2:19, NKJV.)

Christ’s words in the Gospels show that He frequently had to deal with demons. They sought to find either a person or an animal to "inhabit". They knew that their time of judgment and punishment was coming. They were never the least bit interested in repenting or obeying God, but seemed obsessed with simply not receiving their punishment now.

8 For Jesus had said to him, "Come out of this man, you evil spirit!" 9 Then Jesus asked him, "What is your name?" "My name is Legion," he replied, "for we are many." 10 And he begged Jesus again and again not to send them out of the area. 11 A large herd of pigs was feeding on the nearby hillside. 12 The demons begged Jesus, "Send us among the pigs; allow us to go into them" (Mark 5:8-12)

When an evil spirit comes out of a man, it goes through arid places seeking rest and does not find it. Then it says, "I will return to the house [person] I left" (Luke 11:24).

When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. "What do you want with us, Son of God?" they shouted. "Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?" (Matt 8:28).

He shouted at the top of his voice, "What do you want with me, Jesus, Son of the Most High God? Swear to God that you won’t torture me!" (Mark 5:7.)

Where will the judgment of Satan and his demons take place? It seems that it will take place here on earth:

The great dragon was hurled down—that ancient serpent called the devil, or Satan, who leads the whole world astray. He was hurled to the earth, and his angels with him (Rev 12:9).

Therefore rejoice, you heavens and you who dwell in them! But woe to the earth and the sea, because the devil has gone down to you! He is filled with fury, because he knows that his time is short (Rev 12:12).

Then another sign appeared in heaven: an enormous red dragon with seven heads and ten horns and seven crowns on his heads. His tail swept a third of the stars out of the sky and flung them to the earth (Rev 12:3-4).

The third of the "stars" that were swept down from heaven are probably the fallen angels. Stars are often used as a symbol for angels, usually righteous angels, but sometimes bad: "wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever" (Jude 1:13).

Situations Where We Must Judge Now

Christians sometimes say, "I don’t want to judge anyone—Christ will do the judging". They may cite scriptures such as:

Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God (1Cor 4:5).

Do not judge, or you too will be judged. For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you (Matt 7:1-2).

Those words sound quite definite. Yet, most of the rest of this section will cover scriptures about the need to judge others in some way. How can we reconcile the two?

One hint comes in the last scripture. We will be judged in the way that we judge others. Do we want to be judged by some "passerby" who sees us do something, asks few, if any, questions and then quickly renders a judgment? Yet how often do we do this to others? How often do we render a judgment about someone with the few limited facts we may see on TV or in an article or heard from someone else? There are so many times in life where we make judgments that we do not have to make—in matters that do not directly concern us. If we are not going to do anything different based on our judgment, why make it?

This is why the scripture tells us not to judge so many times. Most of the time that we render judgments, they are not necessary. We will cover the times when it is necessary. But there is one thing that the scripture does tell us that we should never do in this life: eternally condemn someone else:

"Do not judge, and you will not be judged. Do not condemn, and you will not be condemned. Forgive, and you will be forgiven. (Luke 6:37).

The Greek word for "condemn" here is katadikazo (Strong’s #2613) which means "condemn as someone definitely guilty and subject to punishment". It is used in only 4 verses. Unfortunately, many translators inconsistently render the several other Greek words sometimes as "judge", sometimes as "condemn" or even other English words. Other places were the word "condemn" is used, it means an unfavorable judgment. The word katadikazo in the New Testament seems to be used for either the death penalty or eternal condemnation. Here are the other three verses:

If you had known what these words mean, ‘I desire mercy, not sacrifice,’ you [the Pharisees] would not have condemned the innocent (Matt 12:7).

But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned (Matt 12:36-37).

You have condemned and murdered innocent men, who were not opposing you. Be patient, then, brothers, until the Lord’s coming. See how the farmer waits for the land to yield its valuable crop and how patient he is for the autumn and spring rains (Jms 5:6).

From these scriptures, it should be clear that we should not attempt to pronounce anyone’s eternal sentence. Eternal judgment is Christ’s job. Nevertheless, there are many religious publications that claim those with certain doctrines or in certain groups cannot have salvation. These publications may go to great lengths and use hundreds of scriptures to "prove" their point. Nevertheless, eternally condemning someone else seems like one of the most dangerous things we can do in this life. To pronounce another individual or group as "eternally worthless" to God represents an arrogant spirit that "we know as much as God does". That may be the attitude that He finds the most difficulty working with. We cannot see other’s hearts and minds and we just do not know them like God does. "...Do not [eternally] condemn, and you will not be [eternally] condemned... (Luke 16:37).

This will not be an exhaustive study of all scriptures on judging others, but will cover the two main reasons we need to judge others. The first one, nearly everyone does, even though they may not think about it. We need to judge which Bible teachers we will listen to. The scriptures clearly show that there are false teachers—even false apostles. We must examine their teaching and example to see if it agrees with the scriptures.

For such men are false apostles, deceitful workmen, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light (2Cor 11:13-14).

Dear friends, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, because many false prophets have gone out into the world (1Jn 4:1).

I know your deeds, your hard work and your perseverance. I know that you cannot tolerate wicked men, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false (Rev 2:2).

Watch out that you do not lose what you have worked for, but that you may be rewarded fully. Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son. If anyone comes to you and does not bring this teaching, do not take him into your house or welcome him. Anyone who welcomes him shares in his wicked work (2Jn 1:8-11).

Even if a teacher is "nice to us", but we know they are doing a "wicked work", we should not continue to help them and support them. This does not mean that we abandon a teacher because he makes one mistake. The problems must be substantial. Paul had to correct Peter one time for refusing to eat with Gentile believers (Gal 2:11). Paul told Timothy:

Do not entertain an accusation against an elder unless it is brought by two or three witnesses. Those who sin are to be rebuked publicly, so that the others may take warning (1Tim 5:19-20).

The purpose of judging leaders now is to be sure they are good examples and not leading believers astray. It is not to "snoop" into their business or to make us feel better because "we know something bad that they did". Any false purpose for judging them will bring judgment upon those doing the judging. The chapters of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 give qualifications for leaders in the Church.

The second main reason for judging is when one believer offends another. It may be a sin directly against us, or a sin that brings a bad name on our entire congregation. Before we cover the scriptures on this, please realize that there are hundreds of scriptures on patience, love, forgiveness and mercy. Many little offences and problems would be much better forgotten rather than applying these following scriptures. Nevertheless, there are significant, on-going problems that occur and these scriptures provide the best solution:

"If your brother sins against you, [1] go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over. But if he will not listen, [2] take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, [3] tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, [4] treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector (Matt 18:15-17).

The above four-step process is God’s way of dealing with problems with others. It starts by involving as few people as possible. It ends by involving the church (the whole body of believers). The goal is to solve the problem as early in the process as possible. This process is far better than going to the existing legal authorities.

1 If any of you has a dispute with another, dare he take it before the ungodly for judgment instead of before the saints? 2 Do you not know that the saints will judge the world? And if you are to judge the world, are you not competent to judge trivial cases? 3 Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more the things of this life! Therefore, if you have disputes about such matters, appoint as judges even men of little account in the church! 5 I say this to shame you. Is it possible that there is nobody among you wise enough to judge a dispute between believers? 6 But instead, one brother goes to law against another—and this in front of unbelievers! (1Cor 6:1-6.)

Frequently, problems center around believers who are offended or concerned about sins that they see in their fellow-believers. The human tendency is to tell others about the sin. But the Bible tells us what to do and gives us an example:

Brothers, if someone is caught in a sin, you who are spiritual should restore him gently. But watch yourself, or you also may be tempted (Gal 6:1).

1 It is actually reported [universally reported—Darby] that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that does not occur even among pagans: A man has his father’s wife. 2 And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have been filled with grief and have put out of your fellowship the man who did this? 3 Even though I am not physically present, I am with you in spirit. And I have already passed judgment on the one who did this, just as if I were present. 4 When you are assembled in the name of our Lord Jesus and I am with you in spirit, and the power of our Lord Jesus is present, 5 hand this man over to Satan, so that the sinful nature may be destroyed and his spirit saved on the day of the Lord (1Cor 5:1-5).

In this particular case, steps 1 and 2 of Matthew 18 had already been carried out. Everybody knew about this man’s sin—they just were not doing any thing about it. Paul gives his judgment from a distance, though he makes it clear that the people who assemble together should be the ones to put him out of the congregation ("hand him over to Satan"). In this particular example, all four steps of Matthew 18 have been followed. It appears that the man repented as a result. Paul speaks of restoring him in 2 Corinthians 2:5-8.

The ways in which a person might need to be involved in judging others vary considerably. Prayer for wisdom to do it correctly is always very important. We can illustrate

Suppose that your regular weekday driving takes you past a pornographic movie theater. Suppose that one day, you see a friend, a "pillar" in your church congregation, leaving that theater with another man whom you do not know. This is the first time you have seen this happen and you have no other evidence that the friend has a problem in this area. What should you do? This is probably a good time to "judge not that you not be judged". You do not know if it was a moment of weakness for your friend, or if your friend went there to get the other man out of that evil environment, or if the two of them were there to measure the building in preparation for remodeling it to some more worthwhile purpose. You do not need to judge your friend, and certainly should not need to tell others that you "think your friend might be sinning".

Now, suppose that you begin to see your friend and that same man coming from the same theater on a regular basis. Is it time to stay away from your friend and tell everyone else that your friend is "weird"? No. It is time to judge righteous judgment and to "go to your brother". You need to get the facts so you can begin to make a righteous judgment if necessary. Your friend may explain to you that the unknown man’s wife wanted someone to get her husband out of the theater—that the husband wants to change and hopes to overcome the problem very soon. You may think that your friend has no business trying to help that man if he has to go to such a place to do it. But you should be very slow to judge. God may want your friend to help that man. If you think your friend’s behavior is completely wrong, then tell him so and use the principle in Matthew 18 of taking others to him as witnesses. Do not judge your friend in your mind or tell your judgment to others.

As another possible outcome, suppose that when you told your friend that you saw him at the theater, but then your friend claimed it was only one time. Then you mention the other times, and your friend said, "Yes, maybe there were a few other times but not as many as you say." Suppose that your friend goes on to say it was a big mistake, that he or she has been trying to overcome it and promises never to do it again, but wants you to promise not to tell anybody else. You cannot judge whether or not your friend is truly repentant, but you must decide how you will deal with your friend in the future. You may decide to spend more time with your friend to try to help him or her out of their difficulties. On the other hand, you may conclude that your friend is not trying to overcome the problem, but simply trying to keep it a secret. You may decide to avoid this friend’s company and to never leave your family members alone with this "fiend" in the future. If you go as far as deciding that your friend is a danger to the congregation, then you should inform them of the facts about this person. Whatever you decide to do in this case, remember that "with the judgment you judge, you will be judged".

Finally, what would you do if your friend insists that he doesn’t go to that theater and it must be someone else you are seeing. So the next time you see the friend, you park your car, get out and confirm that you have the right person. What would you do if this "friend" tells you that you are like Satan—the accuser of the brethren—and that you have no right to be following people around, checking on their sins and judging them? What would you do if your "friend" went on to threaten you by saying: "If you tell any of the other church brethren about this, I’ll make you regret that you did"?

This later case (Acts 20:29) is clearly a wolf among the sheep. Dishonest, corrupt people often make more serious-sounding accusations than humble people who are slow to accuse. But we must fear God and not people. As the false apostles were detected and rejected in Revelation 2:2 (quoted above), so must a false "pillar" be rejected in a local congregation (1Tim 3; Titus 1). If the lying "friend" in the above story will not repent and change at the words of you, other witnesses, and then the entire congregation, then the person must be removed from the congregation. Obviously, this is still a time to judge with righteous judgment. Any procedure designed to punish offenders also opens up the possibility for someone to misuse it to remove a righteous person. All who do so will be judged by God.

No matter what decision is made by humans in a governing structure, we must never condemn anyone as being "worthless" or "eternally lost". That is not our decision to make.

Why Does God Allow People to Believe So Many Different Things?

We might start by asking why is this paper on eternal judgment so different than what other religious teachers teach on the subject? Actually, there are other people who have a view of Eternal judgment similar to this paper. If one reads "primitive" writings of pioneer Americans or missionaries who were cut off from main-stream church teaching, having only the Bible, they often place a big emphasis on the "resurrection" and "judgment day". There are thousands of verses in the Bible on these subjects and people left alone to read the Bible find them. No theology degree is required.

But even so, does every objective Bible reader come up with the same conclusions? No. Would it work for Bible students to study in groups so that they would all learn together and come to the same conclusions? Maybe. But what happens when one study group forms different conclusions than another study group?

One does not need to study the history of Christianity long to see the incredible diversity of doctrinal understanding that exists. There are hundreds of denominations. Some are old, some are new. Some are rich; some poor. Some baptize by sprinkling, some by immersion, and some do not baptize at all. Some believe God speaks through one leader; others believe He speaks through every believer. Some try to evangelize; others do not. Some groups are willing to accept and work with other groups even though their doctrinal differences are major. Other groups have incredibly minor differences, yet cannot get along with each other. At times, one "Christian" group has gone to war against another "Christian" group.

For many people, Christianity is more like a political party than it is a way of life. If you asked most who claim to be Christians, "What makes you a Christian?", they would probably talk about their membership in a particular church, or their participation in baptism or certain other ceremonies at some time in their life. Some might actually say that they were "born a Christian".

Others would say that their relationship with Christ makes them a Christian. They would talk about the time they came to an altar, accepted Christ or became "born again". Some of these would say that single act was all that was necessary to become a Christian and be guaranteed eternal life. Others of this group would see a need for continual evidence of living a "Christian life".

If asked difficult Bible questions, most Christians would refer the questioner to either the pastor of the church they attend, or the leadership of their organization. Most Christians believe that their church is the closest to what God wants a church to be. (Some believers will graciously acknowledge that they believe their congregation is right for them, not right for everybody.)

If you ask the leader of almost any religious group, "What is needed to produce peace and harmony among Christians and the world in general?", the answer would almost always be some variant of this: "Teach everyone to believe and practice what I believe and practice." (They will say this even though the members in their group do not get along well.) Indeed, many religions spend much time, effort, and money attempting to teach their doctrines to others. Some Christian groups go as far as trying to prove that they are the "One True Church" and that all other churches are "false".

Of course, many people who are actively seeking to follow God are looking for that "One True Church". Others, simply grow up assuming that the Church they attend is the "right one" and they never bother to find out what other groups teach—or even what their own group teaches.

All of these groups and all of these people cannot be completely right! Even if God were to powerfully appear to the entire world right now and tell everyone that one particular religious group was "The One" that understood "His Truth", we would still have to conclude that most of the world for most of history has not had access to that particular Truth. There simply is no history of any religious group teaching exactly the same doctrines to a significant part of the world for hundreds of years.

Some people take the opposite approach and say that God teaches truth primarily to individuals directly through the Holy Spirit. Those with His truth are then scattered around the world—some attending with various church groups, some probably removed from all church groups. While the Bible does show that God teaches individuals (1Jn 2:20,27), it is hard to show that He teaches them all the same truths in the same order. This writer has known thousands of serious Bible students—and cannot think of any two who believe exactly the same things. Furthermore, there are virtually no examples in the history of religion where numerous individuals study the Bible on their own, then come together to worship finding that they believe exactly the same thing about all doctrines.

If we were to limit our study to very basic and essential doctrines, more groups and individuals would agree—but still not perfectly. Most would agree that everyone ought to repent and accept Christ, though they might disagree on whether baptism was needed in that process, and the manner in which baptism is performed. Most groups would agree that everyone should "love their neighbor as themselves"—but some do not apply that to peoples of other nations or races. Most would agree that people should keep the Ten Commandments, though some would claim doing so is replacing "grace" with "legalism". There would certainly be disagreement on the keeping of the fourth commandment. When is the Sabbath? How does Christ want us to keep it?

I cannot solve all the sincere doctrinal controversies of the ages in one article. As a matter of fact, I cannot even read all the serious writing about doctrinal controversies within my lifetime. The only possible conclusion is this: Every person who strives to follow God is not given all of His truth. We are each given part of His truth, as He reveals it to us.

Solomon was the wisest man who ever lived (1Kngs 3:12). Yet he realized that God’s working was beyond our comprehension:

He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end (Eccl 3:11).

Then I saw all that God has done. No one can comprehend what goes on under the sun. Despite all his efforts to search it out, man cannot discover its meaning. Even if a wise man claims he knows, he cannot really comprehend it (Eccl 8:17).

The Apostle Paul echoed a similar statement:

Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out! (Rom 11:33.)

During the 1950’s, biologists talked about finding the "secret of life"—unlocking the mechanics of cells and learning to create life on our own. While these scientists have learned to alter life through genetics—the hope of actually unlocking the "secret of life" is now further away than it was in the 1950’s. The process of life has been found to be complex beyond belief.

Even if we forget about the complexity of life at the cellular level, we see incredible complexity in the world around us. God probably could have made our earth’s ecosystem work with only a few hundred kinds of plants and animals. But he made millions of different species. They are not all essential. Some become extinct and life goes on—diminished in some way—but it nevertheless goes on.

The section sub-titled The Purpose of God on page * gives many scriptures showing that God tests and tries the heart of each person. God has placed people in a great diversity of geographical environments. He has placed them in a great diversity of economic environments. He has allowed them to develop a great diversity of cultural environments. Is it possible that it is God’s purpose to place people in a great diversity of spiritual environments?

To some, He has given much truth in many areas. Others have some truth in some areas. Still others understand almost nothing about the true God. God is allowing man to write the history of human experience:

In some ways, our world is like a giant card game, where no two people are dealt exactly the same hand, and nobody can see anyone else’s hand. We can see our own hand, but we do not know what it will do against other hands until we play our cards. We only know what other people have as they play their cards.

By analogy, we all have different physical and spiritual abilities, we all grow up in different environments and we really don’t know exactly how different we are from the next person. If we compare our achievements with another, we do not know who is working harder. We really don’t know the fruit of what we do or how are life will turn out until we are done. Someone else may appear to be living a model life, then suddenly commit suicide or fall into some other tragedy. Only God can judge, fairly and righteously, what each has done with the resources we have been given.

This does not mean that our life is just a game or a joke. God has set us in a real world, with real people that really suffer sometimes, and really enjoy life other times. We can really make a difference in other’s lives and turn their sorrow into joy if we do the right things. The "giant card game" is only an analogy.

If we have the ability to grow in His grace and knowledge, we are responsible for doing it. If we have the ability to help someone who is suffering, or to teach His truth to someone who wants to know, we should do it. We will be judged for it. But understanding the intentional diversity of spiritual belief that God allows means that we do not have to worry or panic that so many people believe things differently than ourselves. God knows how to teach those He wants taught, to choose those He needs for the first resurrection and how to best bring everyone to eternal life if possible. He also knows how to leave part of the work for us—to see what we will do.

Now all has been heard; here is the conclusion of the matter: Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil (Eccl 12:13-14).

Jesus replied: "‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’" (Matt 22:37-39).

Blessed are those who do His commandments, that they may have the right to the tree of life, and may enter through the gates into the city. But outside are dogs and sorcerers and sexually immoral and murderers and idolaters, and whoever loves and practices a lie (Rev 22:14-15).

This basic message of loving God, doing good to others and being judged for what we do can be found throughout the Bible. The real question for each of us is "What will we do with the message?"

Or will we use the Bible to make each and every significant decision of our lives? What did you do yesterday? What did you do today? You are taking time to study this paper—hoping to learn or to be encouraged in the ways of God. That is one important step. What will you do tomorrow? What will happen at your judgment?

"Behold, I [Christ] am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to everyone according to what he has done" (Rev 11:12).

"I [Christ] have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world" (John 16:33).

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