Episode 007: The Hell series crashes and burns, finally

Heaven and Hell podcast Theology / Biblical Studies

hell2And here it is, episode 7, the final part in the three part series on hell. This is the longest episode that I have ever done, and it is the longest I ever plan on doing. Don’t worry, this isn’t going to become a pattern, but I wasn’t about to do a fourth part, so I had to fit everything into this one.

As always, your comments and questions are welcome. Drop me a line – You can even send your comment or question as an audio clip, and I’ll play it on the show.

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{ 16 comments… add one }
  • Tim Spong June 20, 2008, 4:21 am

    I am really enjoying the podcast series so far. The only suggestion I have is of a technical nature; your podcast files are really big, the last one was over 40 MB. Most other podcasts I listen to are about 10MB and was wondering if you had experimented with testing out the different quality settings when publishing. I guess it doesn’t really matter for those with a big hard drive and on broadband, however, I’m in Nigeria and still on dial-up speed and it took me almost 4 hours to download that last episode.

    Anyhow, no biggie, just a thought.

  • Glenn June 20, 2008, 1:22 pm

    Hey Tim, thanks for listening! That last one was especially large, just because it was nearly an hour long. Most of the casts I listen to are about 20 MB for a half hour show, so mine are about average. I had to sacrifice sound quality to get it to that size though – a bitrate of 96kb per second. I might experiment with lower bitrates to see if the quality is good enough to use. Thanks for the comment.

  • Jeff December 23, 2011, 5:29 pm

    Hi Glenn, I thoroughly enjoyed your teaching on annihilationism. Traditionalism has never sat right with me – not because of emotional reasons, but because I have felt it always plays down the actual death of the soul. I don’t know if this is a correct correlation, but traditional teaching has always made me wonder back to Genesis, where the serpent claimed that you won’t really die.

    Anyway, your explanation of Rev 20:10 didn’t fully sit right with me. Perhaps it is just a case of we shouldn’t take it as literally as most do, but unlike Rev 14:11 we don’t have another scripture to help interpret it, and so we’re left with just the fact that this book is a vision. But even so, I believe we have to take at least some things literally – it begs the question of just how deep we go with explaining the book away as simply imagery.

    To get to the heart of the matter of my question to you regarding Rev 20:10, could someone not regard the beast as the people of the Godless kingdom? You stressed that the beast is a kingdom, as interpreted for us in Daniel 7, but this could in fact represent a conscious group of people. Dan 7:11 says that “the beast was slain, and his body destroyed.” Maybe I’m reading too deeply into it, but could it be that the body of the beast is the ungodly people, much like the opposing body of Christ is the group of believers in the one true God?

    Perhaps the annihilationist’s argument still is that the body is completely destroyed, but I feel a traditionalist could still use their spin on it, with reference to Rev 20:10, that destruction here means eternal torment.

    I’m almost fully convinced that your view is correct, but I’m still uneasy with this verse. What are your thoughts?

  • Glenn December 23, 2011, 6:47 pm

    “but unlike Rev 14:11 we don’t have another scripture to help interpret it, and so we’re left with just the fact that this book is a vision.”

    Well I’m not so sure about that, Jeff. In Revelation 20 we’ve got the Beasts, the false prophet and the devil being tormented forever in the lake of fire. That’s the vision.

    We have at least two other considerations to draw on here. We know from other parts of the book of Revelation that the lake of fire represents destruction. For example, nobody has a problem seeing that when death is cast into the lake of fire, that means the end of death. So that’s one passage to help interpret Revelation 20.

    The other is actually in the book of Daniel. As I noted (I think… it was a long time ago), in Daniel those beasts, representing kingdoms, were pictured as slain and their bodies burned. This was interpreted, in Daniel, to mean that those kingdoms would actually be no more. But here in Revelation we have those same beasts, and I submit, the same message. I think it’s fairly clear that the author intended to draw on Daniel to make the same point, but the imagery is different.

  • Jeff December 23, 2011, 10:54 pm

    Sorry, what I meant by having no supporting scripture for annihilationism is in regards to the understanding of “torment” and “forever and ever.” Rev 14:11 with its imagery of smoke ascending forever and ever was an easy one to clarify, as you pointed out. I think you showed that in the story of Edom – the scripture used the same imagery, although we know that the smoke isn’t (visibly) continuing to rise, and so we understand to not take the phrase literally. So you safely, and rightly I believe, applied the same understanding to Rev 14:11.

    However, when it comes to Rev 20:10, there is no scriptural basis to interpret “torment” as anything but that which detrimentally interferes with a conscious entity. You explained this torment away based on the fact that the beast is a system or government – which us therefore without conscious – and therefore the torment applied to it could not be seen in the usual sense of the word. However, I think it can be strongly argued that the beast is a conscious group of people, whether that be the government or the nation of the prophet, or perhaps another possibility.

    You could take the vision of Daniel 7:11 as a literal destruction, but then that would deny Rev 20:10 as literal. Both of visions, so how can we be certain to take Dan 7:11 on face value?

    I feel that comparing the point that death was thrown into the fire, signifying its end, is a weak one. Death is simply thrown in, whilst in contrast the devil, beast and false prophet are “tormented day and night forever and ever.”

    Also, there is no scriptural support, at least from the NT I think, to suggest that “forever and ever” is not a reference to literal eternity. In your attempt to explain why this phrase is used, you seemed to struggle, with only being able to suggest that it was used merely for conveying the shock and horror, rather than telling us that this was a literally eternal torment.

    I’m not really trying to refute your position, because I don’t know where to stand myself. I’m hoping your answers will help me reach a conclusion – one way or another.

  • Glenn December 23, 2011, 11:22 pm

    Oh OK. You’re right – the word torment isn’t used in another text to clearly mean destruction, no.

    The reason I think we’re safe to take Daniel literally is that it’s not just a vision. There’s the vision of the beast being slain and burned, but then after that there is the explicit interpretation of the vision, stating that it refers to a kingdom that will be done away with one day. So it’s not that both are visions: One is a vision which is explicitly interpreted (Daniel), while the other is a vision that is not interpreted. So here we have a real-world application of a kingdom that ceases to exist, and yet the book of Revelation describes that kingdom being tormented (something that doesn’t even make literal sense).

    And I daresay, the fact that death is thrown into the lake of fire is not weak. Remember, the writer doesn’t say what happens to death in the lake of fire, but all traditionalists recognise what it means: The end of death. So that raises the question that needs to be answered: What, in light of this fact, does the lake of fire signify?

    And you’re right, there’s no example in the NT where forever and ever means only for a while. But then, I don’t think that the events of the vision are literally real. The fate suffered by these entities in the vision is not the same as the real world application, it’s just a vision presented in a very figurative way. It’s like a political cartoon. The beast suffering forever in the lake of fire signifies a kingdom being ultimately overthrown and destroyed.

    What’s more, a kingdom can’t suffer sensible pain and suffering. That idea makes no sense. So whatever the lake of fire represents, it must be a fate that can be applied to non-personal entities like a kingdom – or like death. If my understanding is correct that death is destroyed, and the kingdoms are destroyed (which does make sense, even for non-personal entities), then the lake of fire, when interpreted and applied to the real world, signifies destruction.

  • Jeff December 24, 2011, 1:04 am

    I feel you’re missing my main point. I believe you can view the beast as being a conscious collection of people opposed to God. A kingdom can be hurt, in pain etc, because it’s the people who consist of it, not just the land, the cities etc.

    And there remains a stark contrast between those conscious entities – the devil, the beast, and the prophet – who are tormented forever and ever, as opposed to death, which is not subjected to torment, but is simply cast into the lake of fire.

  • Glenn December 24, 2011, 4:40 pm

    Jeff, I do indeed see your point. Your point (or at least one of them), is that death is only said to be cast into the lake of fire, but the beat is said to be tormented there. This is different, you say, and so one cannot explain the other.

    You now elaborate on the nature of the beast being conscious. I assume this wasn’t your main point, as you’ve just mentioned it now. However, I think it’s a mistake to see the beast as an actual conscious being in history. Rome, for example, is not a conscious thing. Rome doesn’t feel physical pain, Rome doesn’t speak words, Rome isn’t a creature of any kind. The beast stands for a kingdom. Of course I understand that the issue isn’t the land, cities etc, but the point is that a kingdom is a corporate entity, not an actual being. Corporate entities do not not have consciousness.

    Think of a political cartoon showing an eagle, representing America. Now imagine that in the cartoon, the eagle is shown sharpening its claws, ready to attack, and that this symbolises the fact that America is preparing for war. Obviously each American is not sharpening his or her claws. That doesn’t even make sense. That’s because America here would be a corporate entity, where what is depicted is the actions of the nation as a whole in terms of the direction it is taking.

    Now consider the corporate entity in the book of Revelation represented by the beast – a world kingdom. Showing that beast being thrown into a lake of fire and suffering torment clearly does not mean that every individual member of that kingdom will be thrown into a lake of fire and tormented. Again, the beast is symbolic of a corporate entity.

    Well then what does it mean? And here is where both Daniel and the other parts of the book of Revelation come to our aid. In Daniel we see a similar vision, where the beast is slain and burned. (“I kept looking until the beast was slain and its body destroyed and thrown into the blazing fire.”) But then after the vision comes the interpretation, “the court will sit, and his power will be taken away and completely destroyed forever.” That’s the fate of the beast – or rather, the kingdom. And that can help us see what Revelation 20:10 refers to.

    And you really are brushing off the fate of “death” much too quickly. I don’t think you’re seeing how significant it is. Nothing is said about what happens to death after it goes into the lake of fire. Not a word. And yet we all agree that it refers to the destruction of death. What this shows us (just as it did in the case of the beast) is that the lake of fire is a fate that can befall non-personal and even abstract entities. This means that the lake of fire cannot signify something that requires personal consciousness. Destruction does not require this, but endless torment does. And – look at the fate of human beings who follow the beast. They are said to be cast into the lake of fire, and likewise – exactly as in the case with death being cast into the lake of fire – nothing is said about what happens to them after they are cast in. Now, I take the fate of these people – and that of the beast – and that of the devil – to be the same. That fate is the lake of fire.

    * We all agree, I hope (taking Daniel into account as well), that the kingdoms that oppose God’s kingdom will actually be no more.
    * We agree, I hope, that death, according tot he New Testament, will be no more.
    * I am saying that we should say the same of the devil and those who follow the beast in Revelation 20, since they all likewise go into the lake of fire.
    * And lastly – I didn’t mention this before – the writer of the book of Revelation himself adds that the lake of fire “is the second death.” So in the vision, it’s a lake of fire, but what does it point to in the real world? The second death.

    So I think there is a smorgasboard of biblical clues, both in the book of Revelation and in the book of Daniel, that can come to our aid in interpreting Revelation 20:10.

    What’s more, if the other arguments for annihilationism – drawn from a very wide array of biblical passages in the Old and New Testaments – is as good as I have tried to show it is, then this one remaining passage should certainly not hold you back.

  • Justin April 23, 2012, 2:40 am

    Thanks for making this series on hell. In regards to Rev 20:10, do you think forever and ever could have been translated wrong? Ages of ages like some universalists teach. Meaning it could be a long time, not forever. Or do you think that is not plausible?

  • Glenn April 23, 2012, 7:59 am

    I think it just means forever and ever. Once we start making that phrase mean something else, we have to ask: OK, so just how would the biblical writers have expressed forever and ever, if not this way?

  • Gavin Cox November 28, 2012, 12:01 pm

    Thanks for all these comments: can I point out that the idea of eternity applies (I think, more logically) to the result and not the process. If something is completely destroyed, the result of the destruction is eternal, but not the process. The process may take just a minute to completely destroy something, but the result is that that object is forever destroyed. If I take a hammer to a vase and smash it, I can say the vase is for ever destroyed, but I am not required to smash the vase for all eternity. Also, flames that are not extinguished (even in our understanding), does not require that the flame is eternal. For instance, if your house catches fire and the fire brigade does not arrive on time, and your house burns down, we can rightly say the fire was not extinguished. The fire consumed your house, because it was not extinguished by the fire brigade. But it is logically not necessary to argue that the flame itself is eternal, the result of the destruction is eternal, i.e., you have forever lost your house, (because the flames were not extinguished). This is what I think all this lurid imagery in Revelation is trying to impress upon us, it is the imagery of the flame that emphasizes the eternal consequences of a one off destruction (being thrown into the lake of fire).
    Regarding the ‘torment’ word, in Revelation 18:7, 10, 15 torment is used three times for the personalized Babylon, which is clearly the corrupt financial, oppressive systems of the world:
    10 “standing at a distance for fear of her torment, saying,`Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! For in one hour your judgment has come.’ (Rev 18:10 NKJ); also:
    18 “and cried out when they saw the smoke of her burning, saying,`What is like this great city?’ (Rev 18:18 NKJ). So the use of torment here is a hermeneutic key to understanding Rev 20:10. As Glen said, it is not possible for a ‘political system’ to feel ‘torment’. We must understand the genre of Revelation, it is apocalyptic, which must NOT be read straightforwardly (literally), it requires a hermeneutic key and must be interpreted: whereas only historical narrative can be read straightforwardly (literally).
    So all this lurid, apocalyptic language (Re 20:10) is picture language describing the total destruction of the (individual) wicked, plus wicked institutions of the world, a destruction who’s consequences is eternal (but not the process). Hope this helps. Any comments?
    Thanks

  • Doug in CO January 1, 2013, 11:32 am

    I enjoyed your presentation. But, I think you passed too quickly through one of the more powerful options in dealing with Gehenna and Hades. As a prophetic threat, Jeremiah sets the tone for the use of Gehenna in chapter 7 where he threatens the apostate nation with destruction through military disaster. He is clear that the destiny of the bodies of the dead will be humiliating and ugly. Jesus uses this same imagery, I’d suggest quoting Jeremiah as well as Isaiah, to describe the outcome of divine judgment: The nation is destroyed and the dead are a permanent monument to God’s judgment. There are no uses of Gehenna in the New Testament (I applaud your suggestion that it be returned to a simple place name) outside of this context. And, Jesus’ uses of Hades fits this as well since they are descriptions of the physical destruction of sinful cities due to God’s judgment. The result is that neither of these words may have anything at all to do with a judgement in the afterlife. Since scripture declares that physical types are followed by spiritual anti-types I think this leaves the Lake of Fire as the New Testament description of what the Old Testament (Psalm 9, for example) vaguely, but universally, describes as the destinies of individuals after personal judgment by God, which is permanent destruction.

    Second, I’m surprised that you are able to find the complete elimination of evil in every context as the hope of scripture. Isaiah 65-66 define the New Heavens and New Earth for us, but they postulate the possibility of death and sin. Ezekiel 47 is drawn on by Revelation 21-22 to describe the river of life, but in Ezekiel there are perpetually salt marshes (representing places that aren’t renewed). In Revelation, you have the New Jerusalem hovering over the New Heaven and New Earth. Sinful people aren’t allowed in the New Jerusalem, but they certainly exist outside of the gates and are in fact encouraged perpetually to enter (the assumption is that they have to be cleansed of sin to do so). I can certainly see that Satan is destroyed (and with him what we call supernatural evil), but where do you get that in the New Heaven and New Earth there is no more sin or rebellion of any kind by humans?

  • Glenn January 2, 2013, 10:34 pm

    Hi Doug, yes that’s true – Jeremiah’s association of Gehenna with slaughter is an important interpretative tool.

    I think you’re also correct in saying that when Jesus talked about Sheol (hades), he wasn’t talking about punishment the afterlife. The reason I stayed away from that is that in general terms (apart from Luke 16), traditionalists realise this, so there’s little conflict.

    “Isaiah 65-66 define the New Heavens and New Earth for us, but they postulate the possibility of death and sin”

    That was a bit surprising, especially as Isaiah 66 closes on such an emphatic declaration that sin is no more – that all those who rebelled against God have met their end and that’s it (they were previously reduced to dead bodies in the final battle depicted in that chapter). So it seems that Isaiah doesn’t at all postulate the possibility of sin and death in the new heavens and the new earth.

    Ezekiel’s very brief comment about salt swamps are interesting – I hadn’t really looked at those at all before, and I think you’re right – it suggests that the new life from God is not universal. But I really don’t see in there the ongoing existence of evil. A passing reference in what is a heavily symbolic description isn’t a strong footing from which to criticise what I see as a very clear message of the complete removal of all evil that we do see proclaimed elsewhere in Scripture.

    As for interpreting the apocalyptic language of Revelation as fairly literal descriptions of what heaven and hell will be like, I think that’s a mistake. The New Jerusalem exists right now. It is the “bride,” an image used elsewhere to describe, not heaven in the future, but the church in the present. I don’t think the point in those verses was to say that there will be some people who live outside of heaven. I think the point is that there are some people who are not in the New Jerusalem (the church), and their destiny is the second death (depicted via a lake of fire). The point of the city’s gates being open isn’t that it welcomes all (although sure, it does). the point is that God is its protector (city gates were primarily a defence against attack).

  • Doug in CO January 3, 2013, 12:06 pm

    Glenn,

    I don’t know your eschatological position in detail, but from your Gehenna comment it sounds to me that you are sympathetic to some sort of preterism. If that is true, then I’d encourage you to follow your thought on Jeremiah 7 through.

    If Jesus’ comments about Gehenna are drawn from Jeremiah 7 and/or Isaiah 66, then both Jeremiah 7 and Isaiah 66 would seem to be talking about the same event. But, Jeremiah 7’s language is adopted to warn of the impending national military catastrophe of the Roman invasion. I think this strongly argues for Isaiah 66 arguing for the same.

    In Isaiah 65 the author is clearly defining the conditions of the New Heavens and New Earth (using the term for the first time in scripture). In it, he describes the fact that people will die and some will be sinners. Therefore, there will be sinners and physical death in the New Heaven and New Earth.

    Revelation is patterned very tightly after Ezekiel. Both of them describe the River of Life in similar terms, specifically that they have a regenerative and healing effect. Both of them refer to parts of the world that are not successfully renewed (salt marshes in Ezekiel, and various types of sinners standing outside of the gates of the New Jerusalem in Revelation). It seems to me that John is fleshing out the template Ezekiel provided and clearly says that there will be sinful people who exist at the time of the function of the New Jerusalem in the New Heaven and New Earth, but that they won’t be allowed into the New Jerusalem until those sinners become sinless. What would be the point of leaves that heal the nations if all of the nations were either healed or in the Lake of Fire?

    Psalm 9 records conditions after the Kingdom of the Lord is established with justice (meaning that he is reigning and judging the dead). This judgment according to annihilationism would require that people are resurrected to judgment and then returned to the grave. Verses 15-17 seem to describe this process. But, it also seems throughout the Psalm that God is still engaged with ongoing human history, rewarding and protecting the innocent. If human history continues after the establishment of final justice, then this must mean that this judgment is an ongoing institution behind the scenes of human history. But, it can’t start until the resurrection, which is the only means by which individuals can be raised from Sheol to be brought before the judgment seat. This argues strongly for a resurrection and judgment function that is ongoing behind the scenes in human history after the parousia/erchomai. It also requires sinful people to exist after the parousia/erchomai, which introduces the New Heaven and New Earth.

    If, in numerous scriptures, the Lord is seen as ruling from heaven with a rod of iron, and in Daniel 7 and Revelation 20 the saints are seen as participating in this rule (cf Matt. 19:28ff with Rev. 20:4ff as well), but, the saints don’t begin to reign until after the resurrection, then it would seem that human history continues after the resurrection. But, if part of the function of the reign is to rule the nations with a rod of iron, what’s the point of doing so if no one is in rebellion against God? If there is no more sin, there would be no point to a rod of iron, or for ruling for that matter.

    I wasn’t clear about your conception of the New Jerusalem. Hebrews clearly describes it as a heavenly city that exists in the 60’sAD. But, Revelation describes that at some point it would descend to earth (whatever that means). Would you envision that it has already descended by this point in history?

    Thanks.

    Doug

  • Glenn January 3, 2013, 11:28 pm

    Hi Doug – as I suggested earlier, I don’t think any reference to the new Jerusalem and people outside of it can show us what heaven and hell are like, because I just don’t think that’s what they mean. I don’t think a city will descend to earth in future. I think the point of that image is to show that this is a city of God, of God’s making, not man’s. It exists already, but one day it will be the only city remaining (other empires being cast into the lake of fire, signifying final overthrow and destruction). This is very in keeping with Daniel’s statue and beasts. It’s not clear why the “leaves” in John’s vision are a problem here. The “healing” of the nations is found in the kingdom of God (where else?), which is why those in the city of God enjoy their benefit but those outside do not.

    Re: Isaiah 66, I think that virtually all of Jesus’ contemporaries – although they would have held one of a range of views on what Gehenna was like, when people went there, how long it lasted etc – would have heard his usage of Isaiah 66 as a reference to punishment after death, and at very least I see it as looking forward beyond the temporal destruction of Jerusalem. Many of these images have elements that can certainly be seen in that event, but which also point to something much bigger. Although whichever event Isaiah 66 refers to, it clearly depicts the annihilation of evil (definitely not its survival). Jesus, in my view, has more than Jerusalem in mind when he warns that anyone who calls his brother a fool is in danger of Gehenna.

    You’re right that the rule of God/Christ is in the world of people (saints and sinners alike), but the very last enemy to be destroyed is death, as per 1 Corinthians 15. That’s when, according to St Paul, the resurrection of the dead occurs and all other enemies have already been vanquished. So yes – this reign occurs in human history, but prior to the consummation of all things.

    Lastly re: Psalm 9, it’s doubtful that the author had in mind anything like what we might think of in terms of the eternal state. His yearning there was for God’s reign in and through Israel as a temporal nation (and her enemies, as you note, are turned into sheol, or death/oblivion, verse 17) – but this in turn points to God’s ultimate victory, which the Psalmist could never have dreamed of.

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