Before I respond to these questions, I want to state that I am not a Universalist (as our modern understanding of the word is - I do not believe all paths, or all religions, lead to salvation - salvation comes only through Christ). I am trusting God for the reconciliation of all men, of all creation. Though I do accept the ideology and theology of “Christian” Universalism, I see how much that one word, “Universalism” can make many turn against the idea of the ultimate restoration of all things. Consequently, before they even search out why anyone believes these things, or the proof in scripture for it, they condemn it and don’t search at all. I’d like to refer all of you, before reading these responses, to an article written by Gerard Beauchemin called “Universalism? NO!”. Please read that either before or after you read this post for clarity on the subject of “Christian” Universalism.
Also notice I didn’t respond to the 10th question, because Matt didn’t ask a 10th, he left the 10th question open for further dialogue on these topics, and that is where I come in.
1. If hell is there to correct us so that all ultimately end up in heaven, wouldn’t it have been a lot more humane for God to just stick us in hell the first time around rather than have us live this life and then have hell too?
God did stick us in hell. He allowed us to “die unto the death” because of our sin. “The wages of sin is death”, not hell. Death is hell. If it wasn’t for Jesus coming and giving His life as a sacrifice, we would have continued to live in death forever. But now, Jesus cancelled our condemnation as a result of our sinful nature and death, and will utterly destroy all sin and death, and bring us all into life!
Gods plan has always been to cleanse us of sin and get rid of the death that sin has brought us. That is the story of salvation - bringing each and every human being out of death by cleansing us of sin and our flesh - and the fire of God is definitely a substance He used to cleanse us.
Jesus is cleansing us as if through fire right now - those who have dedicated themselves to the task of purging themselves of their sinful nature and their flesh, in order to enter Christ’s life now, and not later. Later, God will destroy some peoples’ souls and bodies (sinful nature/flesh) in Gehenna (Lake of Fire), but He will do this in order to give them the Spirit (something that cant be destroyed) in their own spirits in order to restore them, and then He will give them a new heart (soul) and a new body (earthly body - new heaven and new earth).
2. How do you teach pathways out of hell when scripture repeatedly teaches that there are no pathways out of hell (Luke 16:26) ?
Since you’re referring to the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man, let’s just say this: it’s a parable, and says nothing about a pathway out of hell.
In the beginning of the parable, it describes two different kinds of people: a rich man and a poor man. The rich man is very wealthy. The poor man is very hungry and desires to “be fed from the scraps from the rich mans table” (v. 21). Then, what do we see later? We see both have died, and gone to different places. One to Abrahams Bosom (analogy for ‘rest in Christ’?) and the other to Hades (the “Grave” - Hebrew “Sheol”). The rich man is in Hades and talks to Lazarus, asking for “a drip of water”… What is this rich man doing? He’s doing the very same thing that he did on earth to the poor man - still acting as if the poor man is below him, and he is more important.
The most important thing to know here is that this parable Jesus spoke was about the “grave” (Hades/Sheol) BEFORE the Judgement. So we’re seeing the reality of what the grave will be like for those who do not believe and follow Christ in this life - a place that is tormenting to those who are there. It’s not that God is tormenting people, it’s that it’s a place of such darkness, that they feel tormented from being so far away from God, their Father, who is the giver of life.
But that is not the end. Hades/Sheol will be destroyed, and all those in the grave will be resurrected to be judged. So this parable is not speaking of an unending torment in hell. Hades does not equal hell. Hades is the same as Sheol, which was simply “the Grave” or a place where the dead reside UNTIL the Judgement.
Two verses that speak of this judgement, resulting in condemnation, also speak of the reconciliation and ultimate restoration of all people.
“As through one man’s offense (Adam) judgment came to all men, resulting in condemnation, even so through one Man’s righteous act (Jesus) the free gift came to all men, resulting in justification of life.” (Romans 5:18) “For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all will be made alive, but each in his own order.” (1 Cor. 15:22)
Both of these verses speak on the ultimate judgement brought on all men through Adam, which supports the idea of an eternal hell (death) without Christ. But as we see in these two verses after the condemnation is mentioned, “all shall be made alive” and “justification of life” to “all men.” Jesus abolished hell on the cross (hell=death). Because of Christ, all death and sin has been atoned for, and not one human being is excluded or lost, but “all will be made alive.”
But we also have to realize the significance of that last part, “but each in his own order”, or as said in other verses, “all in due season.” This is significant, because it refers to how God will restore all mankind to right relationship to Him (Life). It signifies a “process” into which God “is restoring” (a continual process within ages of time) all creation, all mankind, all men.
There is a pathway out of hell (death), its Jesus; Jesus atoned for ALL sin, He will destroy all death (hell - Hades/Sheol), and will restore all creation! Hell can’t possibly be forever, because then God wouldn’t have completed His work, because part of His creation would still be in death.
3. How can you teach both an eternal heaven and a temporary hell when the same language is used of both places often set side-by-side. If you teach a temporary hell why not teach a temporary heaven? At least be consistent.
I’m guessing you are referring to passages like Matthew 25, where it speaks on “eternal life” and “eternal punishment”…
One thing that has been so misunderstood is that “eternity” or “eternal” means forever. It actually doesn’t. It means an indefinite amount of time; it means an “age of the ages”, depending on the topic being discussed. And God is the One who is the decider of the times; He holds ALL things together and sustains the whole universe.
For example, if we put “eternal” in front of God (“eternal God”), it means forever, because God has always been and always will be, He is the beginning and the end, and everything before and after. He is “uncreated”.
So the important thing to understand is that depending on the subject spoken of, eternal means different time-spans when spoken of different subjects.
Now, when we put it in front of death (eternal death), it cant mean forever, because death hasn’t be around forever. Death came, at a certain time, as a result of sin. Death was inherited - now God has called all to inherit life. And in Revelations 21:3-5, we see God destroying all death. So death can possibly go on forever, and neither can Hades, for Hades/Sheol is the “abode of those who have died.”
Also to mention, the four Greek/Hebrew words translated to be “Hell” are Hades, Sheol, Gehenna and Tartarus. Below is what each is referring too.
Sheol is Hebrew for “the grave” - the “abode of those who are dead” (this is where Jesus went after he died, not hell). In the Old Testament, only Sheol was ever mentioned; no one ever mentioned hell. No mention of Gehenna or the Lake of Fire or any such thing. And Sheol is not hell (as we’ve understood it today). So to be realistic, the idea of hell (as we know it today) wasn’t even heard of for the first 5000 years of the world. Not until Jesus came did we hear of it (which we didn’t, and ill make that case below that Gehenna isn’t hell either)…
Hades is the Greek version of the Hebrew “Sheol”, and means the same thing - “the grave”… (Some say this is hell, but it is impossible, because it is the same thing as Sheol, just in a different language).
Gehenna is better known as a location right outside the walls of the city of Jerusalem, which was a sort of trash dump, and where all the wicked sinners were thrown after they had died… It is also the same location where the mothers sacrificed their children to Molech in the time of the reign of King Josiah; better known as the “Valley of the Son of Hinnom.”
In the trash dump, the fire never stopped burning, and there were dogs there who were without a home, who “gnashed” their teeth together at how horrible the conditions were and went on “weeping” for the same reasons. The idea of the “weeping and gnashing of teeth” was not an act, as it has been traditionally taught, of grinding the teeth together in torment, but rather gnashing their teeth together as a physical representation of mourning and anguish at their state of living. It was an act showing anger at themselves. Another part of scripture that speaks on the “gnashing of teeth” is when Stephen was martyred. Saul and those who were stoning him gnashed their teeth together at him in anger and disgust.
Of course, Jesus used this as a metaphor, and he never spoke of Gehenna among the crowds, only in private to the Pharisees and the disciples. So Jesus never warned any of the masses of crowds he spoke to of an eternal hell. How horrible would that be if hell were real and forever tormenting, and Jesus never warned the masses! It must not be forever torment, then, if it wasn’t as serious to him as to share with as many people as He could. In fact, after His ascension, the disciples, when they went out preaching the good news (gospel), they never mentioned an eternal hell, they only preach “believe on Jesus” and “be reconciled!”
But yet, Gehenna is very important. This is where the “Lake of Fire” comes in. Both Gehenna and the Lake of Fire are metaphors for something else, and both are one in the same thing! Both are characterized as having the same attributes, as well as when Jesus mentioned it, he was speaking of the age of judgment, and what many would go through in that time…
Gehenna is NOT hell. For it says in Revelations 20 that both “Death and Hades will be cast into the Lake of Fire.”
If Hades is hell, and so is the lake of fire, as we have been traditionally taught, then this verse would read like this: “Death and Hell will be cast into Hell fire.“ That makes no sense, does it? Hades is the grave, the place after physical death. And what is the Lake of Fire/Gehenna?
It is the SECOND DEATH. In Revelations, the second death is said to be what the lake of fire is for. As Mark 9:47-49 speaks, “all will be salted with fire” in “Gehenna” (Lake of Fire)… They will go through the dying of their flesh and sinful nature, and be rid of death and enter life, through the Lake of Fire!
What is the second death right now? It is what us, believer, go through - the fire of God - to cleanse us of our flesh and make us holy and righteous in the eyes of God - “dying to our flesh?”
This is important, because this is the purpose of the Lake of Fire - to cleanse ALL creation of evil, sin and death, and to bring them into a purified state of Life; its purpose is to bring the life of God into each and every human being!
“I have decided to deliver such a one to the Adversary for the destruction of the flesh (soul and body in Gehenna - Mark 9), so that his spirit will be saved in the day of the Lord Jesus.” (1 Corinthians 5:5)
This is exactly what the Lord does. Those who continually sin and follow after the flesh are, on this earth, handed over to the Adversary (Satan) for the “destruction of the flesh” — this is the purpose of the Lake of Fire — so that his spirit will be saved in the day the Lord Jesus (the Day of Judgement)… He will be judged, go as if through fire, and come out saved! If God did this to many others, and the idea that we have to believe to be saved was true, then this is simply cruel and evil in itself to do to any human being. But that is not the case - for God will save his spirit, bringing it together with His Spirit, giving him a new body and soul, purified and new, connected with Gods spirit and his spirit.
So God judgements are good after all! For as Isaiah 26:9 says, “When the judgements of God are put on the earth, the earth learns righteousness.” — The Age of Judgement is for this purpose - to produce righteousness (right-living) in each and every human being, and in every part of creation!
Tartarus comes from ancient pagan tradition and Greek myth, and is said to be a place below Hades. This translation of hell is only used once in scripture in 2 Peter 2:4 - ”For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell (Tartarus) and committed them to pits of darkness until the age of judgment.”
On Wikpedia, this is a short definition of Tartarus and a brief history of where it came from: ”It is a deep, gloomy place, a pit, or an abyss used as a dungeon of torment and suffering that resides beneath the underworld (?). In the Gorgias, Plato (c. 400 BC) wrote that souls were judged after death and those who received punishment were sent to Tartarus.”
Notice the falsehood in the statement - “Those who received punishment were sent to Tartarus.” Only angels are sent there, according to scripture!! Plato, who pulled this idea of people being sent to Tartarus, got it from pagan traditions and philosophy.
Where did we get the doctrine of an eternal, unending torment in hell? We got it from Plato, a believer in Greek myth and teacher of pagan traditions. Where did Augustine get his idea of an unending torment? He got it from Plato. Where to John Calvin get his idea of eternal hell? Augustine!! Where did the Church for the last several centuries get the idea of eternal conscious torment? — Justus Arminius, Augustine, Plato, and John Calvin!
Do you see how much pagan tradition and Greek mythology has been brought into Christianity and Christian theology over the centuries? Hell is not biblical, because it was brought into our theology through pagan tradition and Greek mythology!
Life doesn’t end, because God gives life, His very existence is all that life encompasses. He promises to give us life, and that’s where we trust Him. “Eternal life” doesn’t mean forever life, but we know that God has promised to sustain us in His Life, and that we will reign and rule and be with Him, and in His life, forever.
“Eternal” simply means (if you look at the Greek/Hebrew root words - “Aion”, “Aionias”, “Eon”, “Eons” and “Olam”) “Age-abiding” or “Age-during”… It refers to the ages. We are in an “evil age” right now. In the past we’ve had the “age of creation” and so forth. And in the future we’ll have the “Age of Judgement” and the “Age of Restoration”. The judgement doesn’t last forever because God will not be angry with us forever, because of His great mercy and “unfailing love”.
For a more detailed description of the word “Eternal”, please check out Gerard Beauchemin’s article, “Eternity in the Bible” — http://www.hopebeyondhell.net/blog/articles/further-study/eternity/
For verses on the anger and judgements of God, see Lam. 3:31-33; Ps. 30:5; Psalm 145:9.
4. How can you teach an inclusive heaven but exclusive hell when scripture teaches the opposite (narrow and broad were Jesus’ words)?
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” (Matthew 7:13)
We have to notice this is a parable Jesus is speaking; it is metaphorical. So we can’t just read it and take it literally, otherwise we’ll misinterpret it.
What is the gate for? Where does this gate lead?
The narrow gate leads to life. What life? The life Jesus died to give us. And this is talking about those who enter into life in this age (Evil Age), not those who come into life in the age(s) to come (Restoration Age specifically).
And another gate leads to “destruction”. Destruction of what? It is the destruction of the flesh; the destruction of our sinful nature and a way to bring us out of death!
Notice this passage mentions nothing about Hell. It only mentions “destruction”, and that word cannot be mistranslated like Hades/Sheol has been as Hell. It has a meaning, and we must search to find out what destruction is meant to mean.
We also have to notice this verse is talking about Gehenna as well (or the Lake of Fire). Refer to question #3 for a description of Gehenna/Lake of Fire.
Scripture does not teach an eternal hell. It does teach the “hope of life eternal”, but “eternal life” according the Matthew 25 is not referring to a life lived forever (in heaven). It’s referring to the life we live in this age (this evil age) and the ages to come (Judgement age and Restoration age). But it’s not limited to these ages only. God, in Revelations 21:3-5 says:
And I heard a loud voice from the throne, saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is among men, and He will dwell among them, and they shall be His people (all men), and God Himself will be among them, and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes; and there will no longer be any death; there will no longer be any mourning, or crying, or pain; the first things have passed away.”
And He who sits on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” And He said, “Write, for these words are faithful and true.”
Notice here that the age of Judgement is over. Also notice that God says, “Behold, I am making all things new!” This life God has promised us will go on beyond the ages of judgement and restoration (notice we don’t know anything about this next age, it only says there will be “no more death, mourning, crying, pain, and every tear will be wiped away from ALL faces).
The final word is, “It is finished” - death and all evil is destroyed, and ALL creation is being made new! God is restoring all flesh, drawing all men unto Himself, and will not allow one lost person to remain lost forever (99 sheep is not all that are rescued, the 1 sheep lost WILL be found!).
Also see - 1 Tm. 4:9-11, Rom. 5:18, Titus 2:11-15, 1 Cor. 15:22-23, 1 Tim. 2:3-6, Isaiah 25, John 12:47, Acts 3:19-21, 2 Peter 3:9, 15, Romans 11:32-35, Romans 9:15-17, Rev. 21:3-5
And also see references to Gods judgements NOT being forever, but for a time to bring righteousness — Isaiah 26:9; Gen. 18:25; Micah 7:18-19; Ps. 33:3-5; Ps. 96:10-13; Ps. 98:8-9.
Please refer to this post on “The Meaning of Destruction” I made recently here on my blog — http://stephenclayton.tumblr.com/post/16307475706/the-meaning-of-destruction
Also read this article by G. E. Knoch, “The Meaning of Destruction” — http://www.gtft.org/Library/knoch/TheMeaningOfDestruction.htm
5. When you ask the same question that was asked of Jesus in Luke 13:23, “Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?” How can you come up with a different answer than Jesus but then claim Jesus has the same belief as you do? See 13:24ff
Lets look at a similar passage in Mark 10:26-27, where Jesus speaks about the Rich Young Ruler, and we see the same question arise from the disciples.
”They were even more astonished and said to Him, “Then who can be saved?” Looking at them, Jesus said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for all things are possible with God.”
Notice also that Jesus just said that any rich man cannot enter the Kingdom (enter life) unless he is willing to give up everything. My question for you - How many people in today’s society are Christian and filthy rich? How many of these people would be willing to sell all their possessions, and give all their money to the poor, and follow Jesus? Yet, if they are not willing, they’ll go to hell forever? I dont think so.
I believe Jesus is simply saying those who are not willing to give up their flesh-filled desires and their possessions in this life for Him, then they can’t receive life eternally (age-during - in this age)… But that doesn’t mean that this is the final word; everything we have now will be burned up. All our possessions and earthly, flesh-filled passions will be destroyed, and all that is left is Life eternal (in the coming ages, and the ages beyond those ages - which is forever pretty much).
Eternal life has to be forever, for God is Life, and nothing is alive a part from Him. God is the Alpha and Omega, the Eternal God, and His life will never be over; it will go on forever, and this is what He promises to complete in all people!
What else do we see in this verse in Mark 10? We see Jesus saying that it is impossible for man to save himself. He’s not talking about saving people from hell, he’s talking about saving people from their sins, from death. All will be saved from sin and death, because sin and death (the ultimate enemy of God) will be destroyed! So no one will go on dying in the end. No one will go on sinning. It’s impossible. And if it does go on, as many think Hell is where this will happen, then God’s work is not complete.
But with God, “ALL things are possible!” Paul says that God desires ALL to be saved and brought into life (2 Peter 3:9)! If God desires it, and it is possible for God, then don’t you think He’ll do it? I believe He will.
6. How do you teach that people can pound on God’s door from hell and God allow them out of hell when Jesus laid out exactly that scenario and taught exactly what God would do given those circumstances (Luke 13:22-30) and it is opposite of Christian universalism?
Remember this is referring to the Judgement Age, not eternity (eternal - age-during)…
Notice in the last part of that passage in verse 30 - “And behold, some are last who will be first and some are first who will be last.”
Some will be first to enter salvation (life) and others will be last? This must mean that all will be brought into life, just in a different order then we thought… — “But all in due season.” (1 Cor. 15:22-23)
Who was He talking to in this passage? It says, “‘We ate and drank in Your presence, and You taught in our streets”… Jesus is talking about those who will hear the message but did not believe and follow. This is specifically speaking of the Jews, for Jesus preached to the Jews almost 100% of the time, and Paul preached the message to the Gentiles.
Jesus is NOT referring to an eternal hell in this passage of scripture! He’s speaking of Gehenna, of the Lake of Fire, where many believers (who didn’t obey His commandments) and those who listened to His message, and didn’t believe, will be.
7. If there is no hell, why did Jesus die for our sins? Chad Holtz weighed in on this recently. His answer was in two parts:
“Jesus did not die to save us from an eternity in hell after death. Jesus died because hell cannot stand the presence of God. Our sin killed Christ. All of us nailed him to the cross.”
“The question is not, “Is there hell?” The question is, “Does hell win?” – There are several problems with Chad’s line of reasoning here. This is framed all wrong. Scripture never postures hell against God. Scripture postures God against the forces of evil and darkness in the world. In fact, in Revelation 20 hell is a place used by God to judge death, sin, the devil, the beast, Hades and those not in the book of life and all are cast into hell. My question is, who is doing the casting? If it is God, then is hell God’s enemy or are sin, death, and Satan God’s enemies? Hell is not judged. Hell is a place of judgment. Matthew 25:41 seems to say that hell is prepared or created by God so you end up in one of those Luke 11:14-28 moments where people were accusing Jesus of casting out demons by the power of the devil. Jesus taught a house divided against itself won’t stand. That is the problem I have with the question “Does hell win” if scripture teaches that hell is something either God created and/or uses for his own purposes.
Refer to the responses above for the topic of Matthew 25…
You said in your question, “A house divided against itself won’t stand.”
My question for you - If hell is forever, then won’t Gods Kingdom be divided against itself forever? Gods Kingdom cannot stand if people are divided away from His life forever. He either has to annihilate them or restore them. And isn’t He more than able to restore? We can’t say He is not able to restore all things, for He most definitely desires it and has the power to complete it. And that is the Great Hope!
What Chad Holtz I believe was trying to say is Jesus came to save us from death and our sinful nature, not hell. Jesus came to save us from the condemnation as a result of our sinful nature and death (Romans 5:18; 1 Cor. 15:22-23; 1 Timothy 2:5-6)
If Hell is forever, then the cross of Christ was for nothing. For hell is the same thing as eternal death, and death will not be forever. Jesus came to save us from the condemnation that resulted from our sins, which is death (which, if not for Christ, there would be no hope for anyone to be free from death — all would die and be in Sheol/Hades forever if it wasn’t for Jesus).
Jesus cancelled Hades/Sheol, because He cancelled our sins and our ultimate death, and brought us ALL life, that one day will be fully manifested in every creature, every man, women and child on earth.
That’s the point. Christ’s finished work is not fully manifested in all creation yet, and the earth groans for that day, when He will do that very thing - restore all creation — and His Life will be fully manifested in everyone!
8. Why do people make the hell issue a “God’s power issue”? It always seems people are trying to prove that the existence of hell and an all powerful God are mutually exclusive. If I am interpreting Revelation 20 accurately it seems to me God is the one who puts people in hell (as we also see in Matthew 25 and many other places). So people are in hell by the power of God. It is not that the existence of hell would prove God has any shortcoming in the power department.
As I stated above, God has the power (the ability) and He has the desire (will) to save all mankind and restore all creation! So when we say He won’t do it, it’s like saying we don’t believe in His power and His desires to save all mankind. As so many verses I shared above state, all mankind will be restored, reconciled, saved, be given salvation, and God will use the Lake of Fire/Gehenna (which is what is talked about in Rev. 20) to fulfill His work — restoring all creation.
If you say God won’t save everyone, there are over 50 verses that condradict that belief, if not many more… There are so many references that speak of Gods anger being for a minute, but His unfailing love and His mercy never ending. There are so may verses that speak of Gods desire to save all, and Gods plan to restore all mankind, that “all will be made alive” (1 Cor. 15:22-23), that we can’t say He won’t do it, otherwise we are not believing in Gods sovereignty and power to save all if He desires it (which He does).
9. Why turn hell into something that we only experience here and now when that doesn’t have any scriptural basis at all? Are we just coming up with whatever we want to hear or will the hell discussion actually include solid exegesis/interpretation?
Death is what we experience now. THAT is what I believe most people who say such things are referring too when they speak of “hell on earth, here and now”…
Hell on earth is true - because so many are imprisoned in sinful slavery; so many are being murdered by dictators and terrorists and blood thristy men; so many are being enslaved in the sex trade; so many young children are dying of hunger and thirst (the numbers are in the millions each year); so many people are hurting, are broken, are dying…
THAT is hell on earth - because people are still living in death, and have not been reconciled to God! We are called to go and bring the good news of Jesus (that is even better then we thought) and to call all to “be reconciled!” But even more than that, we are called to show people what that reconciliation looks like; we are called to reconcile the physical (feed, cloth, cover, cleanse, visit the orphans and widows, make whole, heal, restore) in order to show the great love of God and plan to reconcile all of mankind to life and to His love!
There is so much to do, so much to share, so much to be thankful for. And I am so thankful for the great hope of Gods ultimate salvation and restoration of all mankind that has been revealed to me through Christ and through scripture. I am thankful for others’ input and conversations, for my elders and mentors for sharing these truths with me, for encouraging me and for helping me as I discover the UNFAILING and UNENDING love of God for ALL He created!
Matt, and any others who have similar questions in response to the response I gave, please feel free to ask more questions! Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or message me on Facebook, and I will continue to post here on my blog in response to your questions!
Also, for any further study and reading on these topics, please go to my Resources page where you can see books, articles, and scripture references (coming soon) to all of these thoughts and discussions!
Peace to you, my brother Matt and to all those reading! I am so pleased to have had the opportunity to continue this conversation with you, and I pray we all continue, with an open mind, to discuss and to wrestle with these vital and important fundamental topics. May God give you continued wisdom and knowledge through His Spirit, and a humble mindset to continue in the way of righteousness, as we all continue to search for Truth and for Love.