Sunday, 29 November -0001 18:42

The Doctrine of the Last Things (18) The Final State of the Wicked

Written by Rev. C.A Schouls
We again rely extensively on Wm. HendriksenÕs excellent little book The Bible on the Life Hereafter
2 Chronicles 28:1- 4 and Matthew 10:28 both mention a key word that comes into focus when we consider the final state of the wicked. That word is Òhell.Ó Back in Lesson 3 we considered another word translated ÒhellÓÑhades--and saw that it referred especially to the realm of the dead. Hades, in Biblical usage, usually refers not to punishment but to the fact of death. However, there is this term before us now, Gehenna, which requires our attention.

There are many who say there is no hell in the sense of a place of punishment. To them, hell is simply annihilation. The JehovahÕs Witnesses teach this. Yet, the translators of many Bible versions (KJV, AS, RSV, NIV, etc) have consistently translated this word Gehenna as Òhell.Ó Was this a plot? Are the ÒJWÕsÓ alone right? Where did this word Gehenna come from?

Outside old Jerusalem was a valley, Òthe valley of the sons of Hinnom.Ó In this valley (which is still very much evident today), a high place was built for the worship of heathen gods. We read of Josiah defiling this high place (2 Ki.23:10). This was the place where a hundred years before Josiah, Ahaz had caused his sons and daughters to be burnt to death (2 Chron.28:1-4). Manasseh, grandson of Ahaz and grandfather of Josiah, and others (Jer.32:35) had followed this wicked example. After Josiah destroyed this evil shrine, it became a garbage dump with a perpetually burning fire. God had also said this wicked behaviour would be punished in such a way that the place would become known as Òthe valley of slaughterÓ (Jer.7:31-34; 19:2; 32:35). If we draw all these ideas together--ever burning fire, wickedness, punishment and slaughter--it can easily be understood that this valley of the sons of Hinnom, or Ge-Hinnom, became a picture of everlasting punishment. The Greek form, Gehenna, is rightly translated as Òhell.Ó

This term appears 12 times in the New Testament and from these uses it is clear that the term refers to the place of torment and punishment. This punishment is everlasting. JehovahÕs Witnesses notwithstanding, the Bible makes it clear, if only we read it with an open mind: the wicked are consigned to hell.

Descriptions of Hell
When we try to understand what hell is like, we must be very sober. Take note that many of the mental images that we have are the product of mediaeval artists and poets. Boiling caldrons filled with screaming people, fires fed by grinning devils--all this we can find in paintings and drawings. There are also word pictures drawn by such poetic greats as the Italian Dante (in his Inferno) and the Englishman John Milton (Paradise Lost).

The Bible teaches us to be very sober. It teaches that the wicked will be sent away from the Lord, into everlasting punishment. They will be told, ÒDepart from Me;Ó they will be cast out. Forever they will sink into the bottomless pit. There they will have togetherness of the most horrible kind, for they will be forever with the devil and his demons. They will be both in fire and in darkness (Isa.33:14; Matt.3:12; Mark 9:43-48; Luke 3:17; Rev.14:10 and many other places re fire--Matt.8:12; Jude 6,13 re darkness.).

Some Questions:

This raises two questions: a) Is God present in hell? b) Is hellÕs fire real?

a. God is everywhere present, but that presence is not everywhere in love. In that sense, men cannot leave GodÕs presence--but the idea is that they are sent from His loving presence and that they experience nothing but His terrible wrath. Heaven is heaven because God is there with His love.

b. Do fire and darkness not exclude each other? Not necessarily so. For example, a person can be burned severely with radiation and be in darkness while this happens. We speak of burning thirst, burning fever. Think of the rich man asking for a drop of water to cool his tongue. It is quite possible that hell is the place of physical burning and the place of darkness at the same time. Nevertheless, we must not think in strictly literal or physical ways only. The literal does not exhaust the concept behind it. It may well be, and the Bible seems to indicate it is, the place of physical punishment, but the physical is only a part of the full punishment.

The greatest punishment will be that those in hell are forsaken of God and experience only His wrath. Our LordÕs cry on the cross, ÒWhy hast Thou forsaken me?Ó was a cry out of hell, in that sense. Because He descended into this hell for those who believe on Him, He is able to give us the greatest blessing: everlasting life with the Triune God. That will be the final state of the righteous.

The State of the Righteous
The Bible speaks of a process of transformation of the heavens and the earth. Romans 8:18-22 and 2 Peter 3:13 speak of this .It appears there are four elements to this: fire, renewal, self-realization and harmonization.

Fire: 2 Peter 3:7,11,12 make it very clear that the heavens and the earth have been stored up for fire. ÒHeavensÓ here refers not to GodÕs dwelling place, but to the heavens as we see them--that endless world of stars and planets. All this will be destroyed and every trace of sin will be removed, except from hell.

Renewal: 2 Peter 3:13 and Revelation 21:1-5 make it clear that this ÒdestructionÓ by fire is not absolute. A new heavens and earth will come out of this fire. Perhaps it is better to think of it all being purified by fire. John had a marvellous vision about all this. The heart of that vision is that God will be with His people, removing every trace of sorrow and making all things new.

Self-realization: This idea is so beautifully expressed in Romans 8:18-22. The creation now is still subject to vanity--that means, futility. As a result of manÕs sin, nature cannot reach its potentials. Everything is restricted, confined and stunted. Plant diseases wipes out crops; drought or floods destroy food supplies. Many natural disasters plague the human race. All of this is the result of sin. But, some day, these restraints will be removed and the children of God will freely stand in the glorious liberty of a creation renewed and made perfect.

Harmonization: Part of this self-realization will be the fact that everything in nature will perfectly blend together and be at manÕs service so that he can better serve his God. The words of Isaiah 11:6-9, which speaks of this harmony in a symbolic way, will then be fulfilled: wolf and lamb, leopard and kid, calf and young lion, cow and bear shall all be together in perfect harmony. And the greatest of all will be this: the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord.

A Glorious Future
This is the future for GodÕs people: a glorious, never ending future. First, there will be the intermediate state: glory with the Lord in the period between our death now and the return of the Lord Jesus Christ. We dealt with this earlier. Then, when all things have been made ready, when our souls and bodies shall have been reunited, and when the judgment shall have taken place and all evil shall have been removed and cast into that bottomless pit, then we shall ever be with the Lord to the praise of the Triune God.

Do we live out of the hope provided by this future? It all hinges on our current relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. To bless His name then, we will have to learn, by grace, to bless His name now.

In the new heaven and earth, what will be our relation to the angels?

2.Many people talk of Ògoing to heavenÓ--but the meek will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). How do you put this together?

3.In 1 Corinthians 15:50 we read that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God. Does this mean that our resurrection bodies will not be of flesh and blood but of some other material? (See also Philippians 3:21)

4.In general, regarding the state of future blessedness for the believers, what are some of the false ideas against which we should warn?

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