God's Creation 3: The Hells
--From James A. Scarborough, The Steppingstones (Merigold, MS: Merigold Spiritual Center, 1987) 83-90.
The great revolt had taken place in Heaven. The rebellious angels were ejected from their home in Heaven and exiled to another place, an entirely different dimension where they could no longer cause harm in Heaven. They were no longer seen or heard in that realm and were referred to as "the dead." Those spirits loyal to Christ retained their place in Heaven and were called "the living." The terms "living" and "dead" are used in the Scriptures in this sense quite frequently. They refer to whether a person holds allegiance to Christ or to Satan, not to whether that person is physically alive or physically dead. In a similar usage of these words, Christ, the leader of the "living," is called Life (see John 14:6), whereas Satan, the leader of the "dead," is called Death (see 1 Cor 15:26). These titles in the Bibles may occur with or without capital letters, depending on the beliefs of the translators.
The dead were separated from the living to be allowed to live according to their own desires and to reap the results of their thoughts. For this purpose a special realm was created. It is the place of confinement for the fallen spirits, where they are under the dominion of the Prince of Death (Rev 20:13-14 GNT). The realm ruled by Satan is known as Hell. Hell is usually thought of as a single location, but the Scriptures refer to several levels in Hell.
The various different dimensions, or levels, in Hell serve as places of confinement for the exiled spirits according to their degree of guilt in the revolt. Like Heaven, Hell is a collection of distinctly different regions. These regions are implied by the Scriptures by the use of the names Sheol, Gehenna, Tartarus, and Hades, but little is revealed about them. The bits of truth revealed in the Scriptures are, unfortunately, obscured by inconsistent translations and centuries of tradition based on errors. We sometimes find names referring to the hells translated simply as "hell," or as "grave," "pit," "abyss," and others.
The Hebrew word Sheol is often translated in the Old Testament as "grave," which is, in fact, a legitimate meaning of the word in certain contexts. Sheol corresponds closely with the New Testament Greek word, Hades, which the Greeks thought of as the unseen world of departed spirits. Eventually, Hades became a common name for the lower spirit world. Hades was used in the Septuagint as a translation of the word Sheol.
In the days when the King James Bible was translated, the English word "hell" meant a grave, a hole, or a pit. Englishmen buried potatoes in a hell to preserve them for winter. There is no suggestion of heat or fire in this usage.
Another Greek word translated as Hell in Gehenna. Gehenna is derived from an earlier Hebrew word meaning "valley of Hinnom," a narrow gorge southwest of Jerusalem. In this ravine, idolatrous rites and sacrifices once occurred. Children were sacrificed to the god Molech until King Josiah of ancient Judah ended these practices. The valley of Hinnom was later used as a dumping ground for garbage, dead animals, and other waste from Jerusalem. Bodies of criminals were also thrown there. Smoldering fires smoked there continuously amid the stench and decay.
The third region of the hells mentioned in the New Testament is Tartarus. This term is used in the Greek only in II Pet 2:4. It was the place to which Satan and his angels were banished. Tartarus was described by the ancient Greek writer Homer as lying as far below Hades as Hades lay below Earth. It was thought of as a bottomless pit into which Zeus, of Greek mythology, imprisoned those who resisted him.
The rebellious dead in the hells find themselves in dire conditions, indeed. They are still "sons of God" (Job 1:6), but they are prodigal sons who have deserted Him. Only a few clues have been revealed about the conditions these spirits endure. They are compared with prisoners gathered in a pit (see Isa 24:22). They are described as being in prison (see I Pet 3:19; Rev 20:3), in gloomy dungeons (see II Pet 2:4 NIV), or chained in darkness (see Jude 6). Certain sinful men have "blackest darkness" reserved for them (see II Pet 2:17 NIV).
Under such conditions the captive spirits naturally experience great sorrow (see II Sam 22:6; Psa 18:5, 116:3), pain and troubles (Psa 116:3), and tears and grinding of teeth (see Matt 13:40-42). The fallen spirits must endure these agonies without knowing the true cause of their condition, for they do not have the knowledge of the truth (see Eccl 9:5) and have no remembrance of their former glory (see Psa 6:5; Eccl 1:11). Hence, it is figuratively said that the dead know nothing (see Eccl 9:5 NIV) (see also Isa 8:19-20 NIV). The miserable conditions in the hells are symbolically referred to as the fires of Hell.
The symbol of fire as an agent of purification or destruction is widely used in the Scriptures, as is the literal word fire. The fire of Hell is figurative, as is shown by the use of that word in other places in the Scriptures. For example, God's words are like a burning fire (see Jer 20:9, 23:29), yet they are not for injury but for healing. God Himself is spoken of as a consuming fire (see Deut 4:24; Heb 12:29), and His anger and wrath are pictured as fire (see Deut 32:22; Psa 89:46; Jer 15:14; Ezek 22:31, 38:19). We will all be baptized with fire (see Matt 3:11), yet none shall be harmed by this figurative fire. Fire in these verses is clearly symbolic. It is the same fire which was to melt Jerusalem (see Jer 9:7; Ezek 22:18-22), where melting can only be in a symbolic sense. In another case, Israel (the house of Jacob) is called a fire which shall destroy the house of Esau, described as stubble (see Obad 18).
It is said that sin is a fire that produces destruction (see Job 31:12) and that wickedness burns like a flame (see Isa 9:18), yet in neither case is literal fire in evidence. The lips of evil men are likened to a burning fire (see Prov 16:27), while an uncontrolled tongue is a fire which "defileth the whole body . . . and it is set on fire of hell" (Jas 3:6). However, no literal fire issued from the tongue or lips.
The Scriptures further state that "people shall labor in the very fire" (Habb 2:13). In this connection, the slavery of the Hebrews in Egypt was described as a time when they were in a furnace of iron (see Deut 4:20). When David mourned that the pains of Hell had gotten hold of him he was sad and troubled, not on fire (see Psa 116:3).
The king of Tyre had already been, in symbol, burned up and reduced entirely to ashes (see Ezek 28:11-19 NAS) at the very moment he was the king and was receiving God's messages brought by Ezekiel.
We see that fire as a literal flame is not used in these conditions. The use of literal fire in Hell would be totally contradictory to the nature of our God, the essence of Whose nature is love (see I John 4:7-8). Jesus points out that everyone will, in fact, be salted with fire (see Mark 9:49), and then quite remarkably adds, "Salt [fire] is good" (Mark 9:50) (em add). What good can come from the fire of anguish and sorrow?
Salt was used as an agent of ritual purification. Sacrifices were sprinkled with salt before being presented to God on the altar. In a similar way, the purpose of the fire of suffering is to purify the thoughts of the spirits enduring it. The penalty is not for the sake of revenge by God, nor of punishment for its own sake. God's nature is love, and even the hardships of the hells are designed for the improvement of the incarcerated spirits. Little by little, each spirit, at his own rate, and according to his own volition, learns by reaping the results of his way of thinking. It is the same as with humans, who learn from the consequences of their own choices and thereby grow toward purity.
God's laws for our behavior, therefore, are not arbitrary guidelines laid down according to the tastes of the Creator. They are simply instructions which, if followed, lead to a life of harmony and love for God and our fellow man. His rules of behavior are designed for our good, not His. He is immune from harm. His laws are guidelines for finding joy and internal peace. We must follow them on faith that they are the true way to happiness. We may accept them and live them, or we may violate them and reap what we have sown. We eventually discover that God's way of love in the only way that results in a life fit for Heaven. The spirits in the hells are undergoing training of this same type. The fire of bitter experience is the tool for their teaching. The fire is not quenched until the learning is achieved. Thus it is written, "Behold, I have refined you, but not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction" (Isa 48:10 NAS).
God proves us as silver is tested for purity by melting it (see Psa 66:10). We are, in fact, now in God's symbolic refining pot for silver and His furnace for gold, wherein God assays the desires of our hearts (see Prov 17:3). The impurities in these melted metals are the dross which floats to the surface where it can be skimmed off, leaving the purified metal behind. "And I will bring the third part through the fire, and will refine them as silver is refined, and will try them as gold is tried; they shall call on my name, and I will hear them" (Zech 13:9).
Many are the people, indeed, who have been brought to call on God only by their suffering. But the end result is: "That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ" (I Pet 1:7).
The spirits confined to Satan's symbolic prisons, the hells, are therefore in a reform school of sorts. But what possible purpose could be served by an improvement in their attitudes, if their confinement were eternal? If there were no possibility of escape from the hells, it would be sadistic cruelty to instill in them a yearning for escape. It would have been a taunting and cruel Christ Who descended into Hell after His crucifixion and preached that message of salvation to the spirits imprisoned there (see I Pet 3:19), if these same spirits had been doomed to eternal imprisonment. That cannot be. (Note that these spirits to whom He preached were the same people who were disobedient in the days of Noah. They were in Satan's regions called "prisons," not in an earthly prison. Christ did not appear in any earthly prison, or at any place on Earth, for that matter, until Easter morning after the crucifixion. He was nowhere to be found on Earth).
Only one conclusion exists: God plans to free the captives. The length of time they must spend in Hell cannot, therefore, be infinite. There is no eternal stay in Hell.
Eternal punishment is a misconception so barbaric that it has driven many human souls away from Christianity. Other thinking Christians invent the most absurd rationalizations in their attempts to reconcile the diabolic doctrine of eternal , real fire with the loving nature of God, Who promises never to leave us. One denomination interprets eternal punishment to mean punishment by the Eternal One. Other groups of believers try other escapes from what the Scriptures seem to say. Most Christian churches teach the eternal Hell which they believe their Bible proclaims.
Therein lies the root of the problem. As we have seen in an earlier chapter, there is no such thing as "the" Bible, but many Bibles. There are no original manuscripts, but hundreds of disparate copies. Most of all, there are a great many ways in which these copies of manuscripts can be, and have been, translated imperfectly by honest men.
The Greek word translated "eternal" does not truly mean everlasting. It may, indeed, indicate a long period of time but, on occasion, it was used in the Greek to indicate as short a time as a man's life. The essence of the word is that it is a time period of indefinite length, not eternal length. In certain places where the Greek word occurred, it was nonsensical to translate it "eternal" or, in the noun form, "eternity." It was then translated as "world," or as "age," because "eternal" made no sense. This is the case in "[God] Hath in these last days spoken unto us by his Son . . . by whom also he made the WORLDS" (Heb 1:2) (em add). The word "eternities" would make no sense here. The same problem arises in: "Through faith we understand that the WORLDS were framed by the word of God" (Heb 11:3) (em add), where "eternities" would be nonsensical.
We conclude that, though a superficial reading of Bibles depicts Hell as eternal, it is not true. Several Biblical references verify this conclusion. The "everlasting chains" of Jude 6 are to last only until "the judgment of the great day," not everlastingly. This translation causes the verse to contradict itself. A clearer translation is: "For God did not spare even the fallen angels, but drove them down into hell, into the caverns of darkness, where they will be kept until they turn their hearts to God again" (II Pet 2:4 GNT). We are further told of a time when the dead will be released from Hell (see Rev 20:13), albeit for judgment according to their works. Souls are spoken of as being delivered from Hell (see Psa 86:13) or brought up from Hell (Sheol) (see I Sam 2:6 NAS). Certain erring humans were to be shut up in Satan's prison "and after many days shall they be visited" (Isa 24:22). They were confined and were visited by Christ when He descended (see 1 Pet 3:19). Other references to spirits being brought out of Sheol, or the pit, or Satan's dungeons, are found in Job 33:30; Psa 30:3, 86:13, 102:20; and Isa 42:7, 61:1.
The doctrine of eternal Hell has been used as a bludgeon to subdue Christians and to threaten non-Christians. Its claim to authenticity rests far more on centuries of tradition than on the Scriptures. Nor was it universally accepted in the formative years of the Christian doctrines.
Writing soon after the year 400 A.D., Saint Augustine, in the The Eight Questions of Dulcitus, argues against those who believe Hell to be eternal with the words, "They wish, in fact, to maintain that punishment endures as eternal as reward. But, in answer to them the judgment of the Gospel is prescribed which reads: 'Thou shalt not go out from thence till thou repay the last farthing' [see Matt 5:26]. In the end, therefore, when the debt has been paid, one can go forth." Even though Saint Augustine argues clearly and forcefully in this passage that Hell is not eternal, he writes in his treatise on patience (De Patientia), "For, it is good for a man to believe he will have to suffer eternal punishment if he denies Christ, and for him to endure and make light of any punishment whatsoever for that faith." In other words, St. Augustine judges it good to raise the false specter of eternal punishment in order to frighten Christians into stronger faith, even though he, himself, repudiated that very doctrine. Many religious teachers followed the same strategy. Now, centuries later, the teachers themselves have come to believe the falsehood.
We cannot rationally conclude that the One Who preached to the spirits trapped in torment and Who has "the keys of hell and of death" (Rev 1:18) will leave His erring children there. Surely He intends to use the keys. "I will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death" (Hosea 13:14). But the redemption had to wait until the coming of the Redeemer.
In summary, the fallen spirits are confined to Hell, a word referring to a group of levels, or hells, under the jurisdiction of Satan. The abysmal conditions there include pain, anguish, and sorrow, but not eternal fire. The cause of these conditions is the attitude of the confined spirits and their leader. The result of these conditions is improvement in the attitude of the spirits. This improvement is necessary because their release in planned. The length of their confinement is not eternal, but indefinite.
After the Fall from Heaven, Creation was divided into higher dimensions still under the rule of Christ, and lower dimensions under the rule of Satan. The higher dimensions are collectively called Heaven, while the lower ones are collectively called Hell. The angels were divided into the "living," those who remained loyal to Christ, and the "dead" who are bound to Satan. The dead could progress to higher hells, accordingly, as their attitudes improve, but they could not escape Satan's dominion, being totally unfit to enter Heaven again. The spirits were able to progress upward until they finally arrived in Hell's highest dimension, the physical universe. The particular place in the highest dimension of Hell that is of the most vital interest to us is the planet Earth.
We have already seen that Satan and his angels were cast from Heaven into Hell. If we locate some of those exiled spirits, then we may be certain that we have located a region in the hells. We are told that Satan "was cast unto the earth" (Rev 12:13), that "he was thrown down to the earth, and his angels were thrown down with him" (Rev 12:9 NAS). The Earth and the physical universe are, then, one of the hells. Since Christian humans go upward upon physical death and arrive in one of the heavens, not a higher dimension of Hell, the physical universe must be the highest, and therefore the least unpleasant, of the hells. Furthermore, the fact that we do not remain eternally on Earth is additional proof that Hell is not eternal.
From another point of view, observe that Satan is "the prince of the power of the air" (Eph 2:2), or, more emphatically, "the god of this world" (II Cor 4:4). The "whole world lies in the power of the evil one" (I John 5:19 NAS). Since the dimensions under Satan's rule are collectively called Hell, the Earth is, therefore, necessarily in one of those hells. Man's escape from Earth has been made possible by Christ's victory (see this website). But "What is man, that thou art mindful of him? . . . For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels" (Psa 8:4-5).