What Happens When You Die? 2: Is Hell the Punishment for Sinners?

1896 tract on “The Roads to Heaven and Hell”
In English and German, Public domain, (click to enlarge)

What happens when you die? We saw in Part 1 that many people do not understand what their Bibles say about the reward of the saved! They mistakenly believe they will go to Heaven when they die, but the Bible says the reward of the saved is to dwell for eternity on the earth. So, what about “bad people”? Do they go to Hell when they die? This answer may shock you as well!

First off, which hell? Yes, that is a serious question! Did you know that there are no less than 3 Greek words for “hell” in the NT? What would the audience Jesus was talking to have thought about when He taught about “hell”? Did you know you can visit “hell” today in this lifetime?

“Hell” in the Old Testament

Well, in order to answer that, we have to remember that the NT builds upon the Old. The OT language was Hebrew, and the word that is commonly translated “hell” is “sheol”. It is variously translated “hell”, “grave” or “pit”. It actually means “hell”, but the problem is that people do not even know the origin of the English word “hell”. Farmers used to put their potatoes into “hell”, a hole in the ground. “Hell” and “hole” have the same origins. It comes from the Germanic “kel”, which meant “concealed place” and mutated into “hall”, “hole”, “hollow” and “helmet” as well as “hell” (see dictionary.com for details). “Hell”, then, is just a hole in the ground! In most cases, it is simply the grave!

So, “hell” in the OT was not a place of torment. In fact, there never is any indication of a place of eternal torment in the OT at all!

One of the great difficulties with the popular view of final punishment or hell is the profound silence of the Old Testament. Everywhere we find God warning sinners to repent. He threatens judgment for disobedience and carries it out on many occasions. But the idea of endless torture after death is extremely obscure.

~ “Endless Torture Unbiblical, http://www.auburn.edu/~allenkc/openhse/endless.html [This is a Universalist site, not associated with the COG]

Think about this! Is God fair? Would He have sent people who lived up to NT times to an ever torturing hell, but not warn them about it? Does this make sense

The absence of explicit instructions regarding the punishment due Adam and Eve – and their posterity – is bewildering in light of the common view. Did God send sinners to hell for thousands of years before He ever disclosed this awful fact? We wonder how God could have warned Israel in precise detail about plagues, droughts and other punishments without saying a word about the worst punishment of all. Read the penalties for disobedience to the Mosaic Law (Deut. 28:15-68). Where are the warnings of hellfire in a future life?

~ ibid

What, then, does the OT say about the fate of the unrighteous?

4 Behold, all souls are mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die.

~ Eze 18:4

20 The soul that sinneth, it shall die. …

~ v20

30 That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.

31 Who shall declare his way to his face? and who shall repay him what he hath done?

32 Yet shall he be brought to the grave, and shall remain in the tomb.

~ Job 21:30-32

9 What do ye imagine against the Lord? he will make an utter end: affliction shall not rise up the second time.

10 For while they be folden together as thorns, and while they are drunken as drunkards, they shall be devoured [ate up! no longer exist!] as stubble fully dry.

~ Na 1:9-10

20 But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away.

~ Ps 37:20

3 And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts.

~ Mal 4:3

In addition, I suggest you lookup Ps 2:9; Ps 49:20; Ps 58:8-9; Ps 68:2; Pr 10:25; Isa 1:30-31; Ps 1:4; Isa 51:8; Ps 37:20.

“Hell” in the New Testament

OK, but what about the NT? Surely that is where mainstream Christianity gets its ideas of Hell, right?

There are 3 Greek words translated “hell” in the KJV. The first is “hades”, which means basically the same thing as “sheol”, that is, the grave. Jesus uses it in Mt 11:23 to upbraid Capernaum. He also uses it in Mt 16:18 to signify that the Church will not die out.

The most interesting place where “hades” is used, though, has to be in the Book of Revelation:

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

~ Rev 20:14

Now, if “hell” was the Lake of Fire, then why would “hell” be cast into “hell”? That just wouldn’t make sense, would it?

Speaking of the Lake of Fire, that term is used literally in Revelation. However, often when Jesus referred to it, He used the word “Gehenna”.

Hell is the place of the future punishment call “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire”. This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.

~ crosswalk.com, http://bible.crosswalk.com/Lexicons/Greek/grk.cgi?number=1067&version=nas

This place was defiled by child sacrifices (2Ki 23:10). Not only were dead animals thrown there, but often the bodies of dead criminals were as well. What a fitting picture of the death of the wicked! It also explains how there can be a “worm” that “dieth not”. Flies lay eggs on dead bodies, and “worms” or maggots hatch and feed on the rotting flesh. Instead of dying like normal worms do, they turn into flies and repeat the cycle all over again. Jesus used this to indicate the type of dishonorable death the wicked will be punished with.

Let me ask you something: Is Gehenna still burning today? No, of course not! It was hot and blazing in Jesus’ day, and it probably rained upon it, but the fire was not quenched by the rain. The Lake of Fire will also be “not quenched” because no amount of water will be able to put it out. However, once it runs out of fuel, it will go out!

Want proof? Why not take a visit to “hell” today? Here are some more pictures of “hell”, showing that there are no flames today.

What about Sodom and Gomorrah? Are they still burning today? No, of course not! Why, then would Jude write:

7 Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.

~ Jude 1:7

The consequences were eternal, not the combustion of the fire! Notice how the NIV puts it:

They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.

Do you see it yet? They suffered eternal punishment, not eternal punishing!

6 And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly;

~ 2Pe 2:6

How many times have you heard that salvation is a “free gift”? How many times have you heard that eternal life is a “gift from God”? If you aren’t really dead, but just alive and feeling torment in another place, then how is eternal life “a gift”? What are the wages of sin, anyhow?

23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

~ Ro 6:23

13 For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.

~ Ro 8:13

What is the opposite of life? Death! What is death? The cessation of life!

14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

~ Rev 20:14

Notice that the NT also teaches the destruction of the wicked in Ac 3:23; Php 3:19 and 2Th 1:8-9.

What is this 3rd “Hell”?

There is one more word for “hell” in the NT, and it is “tartaroo”. It is only found in 2Pe 2:4:

4 For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

There is a special place where the demons are kept. It is a place of darkness. Jesus often spoke of darkness, outer darkness and weeping and gnashing of teeth. If this were a burning hellfire, then there would be light. Once the fire goes out, Satan and his demons will be cast into outer darkness where they cannot bother anyone.

They will be eternally tormented, for they are spirit and cannot die. However, their torments will not come from God; they will be cast out of His presence. Rather, they will be tormenting each other! Satan has limited control over this earth right now, and look at the mess it is in! Oppression, disrespect and war is his way of life. God won’t have to torment the demons, for they will have each other for that.

In other words, Satan would like you to believe that mankind will suffer the fate that is in store for him! He has cleverly obscured the fact that it is his fate to be eternally tormented. He would rather have you believe that God created billions of human beings knowing that the majority of them would go to hell than to be saved. The doctrine of eternal torture in hell makes God out to be too weak to save the majority of mankind and too sadistic to stop it!

Yet, the picture is not yet complete. There is one more false doctrine to expose, and that will bring the whole house of cards tumbling down! Furthermore, this false doctrine obscures one of the fundamental doctrines of the Bible! Hebrews 6 clearly tells us that the resurrection is a fundamental doctrine of the Christian faith. The doctrines of heaven and hell obscure that fundamental doctrine! For more informaiton, see “God’s Plan 2: What Is Man?

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