Thursday, September 11, 2008

What of the Lost?

We live in an age of pluralism that proclaims all viewpoints to be equally valid; that there is no such thing as absolute truth - or worse, to assert that we can find it is considered to be arrogant and bigoted. Where has this come from? I believe there are at least four factors in current society that have paved the way for moral and spiritual uncertainty and equivocation.

1) We have come to recognize the intolerable nature of racism, sexism, and other discriminatory attitudes and practices. Some see the distinction of saved and lost, believers and unbelievers, wicked and righteous as falling into the same category as other forms of discrimination. These distinctions have become cultural anathema. So we have come up with the words “churched” and "unchurched.” But Jesus did not participate in this squeamish language-doctoring. “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.” John 3:36 (NASB) Doesn't sound too "winsome," does it?
2) Christianity has become “seeker friendly” in ways that dilute the power of the gospel. New converts are taught that to be a Christian means prosperity and smooth sailing in this life. They are imprinted with the belief that their acceptance of Christ is mostly about them, and their blessing. They have not been equipped to pick up the cross and suffer for the gospel. To suggest that there could ever be something so distasteful as eternal punishment does not coexist easily with the “feel good” religion of today.

3) The growth of eastern thought and religion in the west has found its way into Christian thought and practice. Even at Loma Linda University’s Drayson Center, classes on Yoga are offered. Yoga is a practice taken directly from Hinduism and cannot be separated from the “gods” who inhabit its meditations and actions. Hinduism embraces 330,000,000 gods (one of which is Christ) and teaches that we are all a part of God. A Hindu can legitimately search for the “Christ” within. So, it is “inclusive” of things that God never intended His people to incorporate into their belief systems.

Buddhism offers oneness with the universe - merging into harmony with all things. Their teaching of reincarnation is a much more palatable alternative to eternal punishment, a sort of serial purgatory or “Groundhog Day.” But remember on Mt. Carmel when Elijah said, "How long will you hesitate between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; but if Baal, follow him." 1 Kings 18:21 (NASB) Where are the Elijah’s of today. Are these "The Days of Elijah", as the song asserts? Or are these the days of accommodation and compromise? We love to sing the song. Do we live it? If you are surprised by these words, I would highly recommend you watch Yoga Uncoiled which can be accessed by clicking on the title.

4) We live in an era in which the name of Jesus has become culturally incorrect. Christianity is singled out as the religion to be spurned and suppressed by those who consider themselves to be “non-judgmental.” It has become hip to embrace eastern religions, but the name of Christ is hushed, even from the lips of Christians, for fear of offense. We have acquiesced to pressure, even removing Christ's name from the celebration of His birth. To suggest that there is “one name given under heaven by which” we can be saved is to commit an unpardonable sin. This attitude has become a part of Christian sensibility, and for this reason, Universalism has become popular among more and more Christian theologians. For those who can’t quite step over that threshold, annihilation offers a kinder, gentler hell.

It's no wonder that we cringe at the prospects of tackling the questions of eternal destiny. It is admittedly a subject that stretches and exceeds our ability to grasp the workings of a mysterious God. But lack of understanding does not grant the freedom to modify and change the Bible to fit with our conceptions of the holy God. We must rely on the scriptures to instruct us about His kingdom. We will now view the events surrounding the resurrection and judgment from the perspective of the lost.

We have seen that those who believe in the Son “have eternal life,” but never are the lost said to have eternal life. God is life; they have separated themselves from life. The word “eternal” is used with regard to their fate but in an entirely different context: eternal ruin, eternal punishment, eternal judgment, eternal torment, and eternal contempt. Here is what God says of them.

"Then he will say to those on his left, 'depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’ Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Matt 25:41 & 46 (NIV)

The same word, aiônios (NASB Greek-Hebrew Dictionary), is used both for “eternal” punishment and for “eternal” life. This word is never translated in any other sense than eternal, 'Angel of the Lord' by Duncan Longeternity or forever. So if it means eternal life for the one, it has to
mean eternal punishment for the other. This word is never used to connote a temporary status such as “until it is finished.” Nor is it ever used to say that the event is completed and will stand for eternity. Trying to ascribe that usage to this word would completely distort the original meaning of the text. Here is an illustration of the usage of “eternal” with reference to the lost from the Old Testament. Of course, it agrees with the New Testament usage as well.

“Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.” Dan 12:2 (NIV)

So the saved go to eternal life, but the lost are given over to eternal punishment, ruin, contempt and destruction. The destruction is in the same sense that the lives of Jeffrey Skilling and founder Kenneth Lay were both destroyed by the Enron scandal, even before Kenneth Lay died. It is not used to convey annihilation, as you will see in the following texts.

“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Hosea 4:6 (NASB) God was not saying that His people ceased to exist, but that they had fallen into ruin.

Those who are alive at the second coming who have rejected Christ have willingly aligned themselves with the enemy. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God's wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:5 (NIV) They will not be able to withstand the brightness and glory of His presence. Scripture suggests this: “But the day Lot left Sodom, fire and sulfur rained down from heaven and destroyed them all. It will be just like this on the day the Son of Man is revealed.” Luke 17:29-30 (NIV)

Obviously, this does not refer to those who have been redeemed. We are told plainly that they are changed and caught up to be with the Lord. When fire and sulfur rained down on the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, it destroyed them - they were killed, not annihilated - since they still will face the judgment. In the same way, the glory of the returning King will destroy the wicked - not annihilate them - since we know they will be raised again in the second resurrection. Here “destroyed” clearly means that they were killed.

Those who have rejected the New Covenant do not have the Law of Christ written in their hearts, so have become darker and darker - lawless. “For the secret power of lawlessness is 'Eternal Punishment' by Duncan Longalready at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so till he is taken out of
the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord Jesus will overthrow with the breath of his mouth and destroy by the splendor of his coming.” 2 Thess 2:7-8 (NIV) Again, “destroy” does not mean annihilate, since we know that later they will be resurrected to storm the Holy City and be brought before the great white throne judgment.

The beast and the false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire at the second coming, and others who have worshipped the beast are cut down by the sword that comes from the One riding the white horse. “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone. And the rest were killed with the sword which came from the mouth of Him who sat on the horse, and all the birds were filled with their flesh.” Rev 19:20-21 (NASB)

Hades now is full of its prey. All of those who have “rejected so great a salvation” have been gathered together and held over for final judgment. “The Lord knows how to… keep the unrighteous under punishment for the Day of Judgment” 2 Peter 2:9 (NASB) There they will remain until a thousand years have passed.

Even in Hades, the souls of the lost weep and mourn, and on bended knee, acknowledge that the One whom they have rejected is, indeed, the King of kings. “Look, he is coming with the clouds, and every eye will see him, even those who pierced him; and all the peoples of the earth will mourn because of him. So shall it be! Amen.” Rev 1:7 (NIV) “For we will all stand before God's judgment seat. It is written: ‘as surely as I live,' says the Lord, ‘every knee will bow before me; every tongue will confess to God.'" Romans 14:10-12 (NIV)

At the second coming, Satan and his demons are gathered up and confined to the abyss (which may be the earth in chaos from the apocalypse and devoid of people whom he can deceive) for a thousand years. Here is a description of what happens to the lost and to the arch-deceiver.

"And I saw an angel coming down out of heaven, having the key to the Abyss and holding in his hand a great chain.  He seized the dragon, that ancient serpent, who is the devil, or Satan, and bound him for a thousand years. He threw him into the Abyss, and locked and sealed it over him, to keep him from deceiving the nations anymore until the thousand years were ended. After that, he must be set free for a short time. “I saw thrones on which were seated those who had been given authority to judge. And I saw the souls of those who had been beheaded because of their testimony for Jesus and because of the word of God. They had not worshiped the beast or his image and had not received his mark on their foreheads or their hands. They came to life [at the resurrection when they were joined with immortal bodies] and reigned with Christ a thousand years. The rest of the dead [the lost] did not come to life until the thousand years were ended. This is the first resurrection [the resurrection of the redeemed]. Blessed and holy are those who have part in the first resurrection. The second death has no power over them, but they will be priests of God and of Christ and will reign with him for a thousand years.

“When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the earth--Gog and Magog--to gather them for battle. [The wicked from all the ages are released from Hades in the second resurrection reserved for the lost.] In number they are like the sand on the seashore. They marched across the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of God's people, the city he loves. But fire came down from heaven and devoured them. [Kills them] And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

“Then [later] I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 

And I saw the dead, [their spirits – since Earth and'How Do You Picture God' by Duncan Long/Do Not Copy sky were now gone and there was no place for their bodies to exist. So they are brought before the great white throne as disembodied spirits.] great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. [Their names are not there] The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. [They have chosen not to have their sins blotted out by their Redeemer.] The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them [Here is confirmation that those standing before the great white throne are the wicked dead in spirit form], and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death [there would be no more appeal to death to escape the choices they have made] and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. [Just as Paradise and Heaven were merged at the resurrection of Christ, so Hades and Hell are merged at the final judgment of the wicked]. The lake of fire is the second death. [At the first death the lost enter Hades. At the second death Hades and Hell are one in the same.] Rev 20:1-14 (NIV)

Jesus tells us that the wicked are thrown into the same lake of fire into which the devil and his angels are cast. There they will suffer the consequences of choosing to live without the author of all good for ever and ever. “Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” Matt 25:41 (NIV)

Summary of What of the Lost?

1) Hell has become culturally incorrect for four major reasons:
a. Fear of seeming judgmental.
b. People have been taught to expect the Christian life to be trouble-free, involving no sacrifice or cost.
c. The insidious intrusion of eastern religious thought into all aspects of culture.
d. The name of Jesus as “the one name given under heaven by which” we can be saved, has become a stumbling block.
2) The Greek word aiônios (eternal) is the same word used both for eternal life and eternal punishment.
3) The Old Testament taught the same thing using the word “everlasting” for the reward of the faithful (everlasting life), and for the consequences of the wicked (everlasting contempt).
4) At the second coming, the lost are killed (destroyed) by the brightness of His coming.
5) “Destroyed” does not mean annihilated, because they are later raised to be sentenced to their eternal destination.
6) They will be in a conscious state of torment for a thousand years in Hades.
7) During the thousand years, Satan and his host are in the Abyss (perhaps the earth, desolate and abandoned), where he cannot have access to deceive the nations.
8) During the thousand years, the saints will reign with Christ and sit on thrones.
9) At the end of the thousand years, the wicked are raised in the second resurrection, and Satan and Co. will be released from isolation, and allowed access to the newly raised lost.
10) Together they will all make war on the city of God, and will be overcome.
11) Satan and his crowd will be thrown into the lake of fire where they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
12) The wicked are cast out of Hades and brought before the great white throne and judged according to their actions and hearts while on Earth.
13) They will be cast into the same lake of fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
14) Hades and death are merged with hell.

Quiz for What of the Lost? 

Choose the correct answers:

1. The doctrine of Hell has lost popularity in modern Christianity. All of the following play into that phenomenon except:
A. Christians don’t believe in hell because it is not taught in the Bible.
B. The fear of seeming judgmental
C. The inroads of pluralism into the teachings of Christianity
D. Claiming that Jesus is the only name by which we can be saved is seen as bigotry.

2. Matthew 25 employs two different words for “eternal,” one for “eternal life” and a completely different word for “eternal punishment”.
A. True
B. False

3. Daniel says that the wicked will be raised to everlasting:
A. Annihilation
B. Nonexistence
C. Death
D. Contempt

4. Daniel makes a parallel statement about the righteous in which he says they will be raised to everlasting life. But the word “everlasting” is a different word for the lost and the saved.
A. True
B. False

5. When Jesus says the wicked will be “destroyed” by the brightness of His coming He is saying that they:
A. Will be annihilated
B. Cease to exist
C. Will be killed, since they still have to face judgment.
D. Go into soul sleep

6. The word “destroyed” that Jesus used in Luke 17 is used elsewhere to mean:
A. Ruined or lost
B. Annihilated
C. Erased from existence
D. Soul sleep

7. Since the wicked are not raised until the second resurrection, at the end of the thousand years, they must be conscious in Hades because they will all see the Second Coming, mourn and bow to acknowledge Jesus as Lord.
A. True
B. False

8. At the Second Coming, what happens to Satan and his angels?
A. They experience soul sleep.
B. They are given one more chance and are taken to Heaven to see what they are missing.
C. They are bound and thrown into the Abyss for a thousand years.
D. They are sentenced to eat academy cafeteria food for all eternity.

9. How long does the Bible say the devil, the beast and the false prophet are tormented in the lake of fire (Gehenna)?
A. Until they have atoned for all of the sins they have committed
B. Day and night for ever and ever
C. Until they have atoned for all of the sins they have caused humanity to commit
D. Until they can’t hold on anymore and they are annihilated

10. Choose the incorrect statement regarding the lost:
A. They are cast out of Hades and brought before the Great White Throne for judgment.
B. They are thrown into the lake of fire prepared for Satan and his angels.
C. Hades and death are merged with hell.
D. The wicked are annihilated.

Answers below:

Answers: 1-A, 2-B, 3-D, 4-B, 5-C, 6-A, 7-A, 8-C, 9-B, 10-D Well done, once again.

The Next Chapter:
The Search For Hell

The topic of Hell is not on the top ten list for seeker-friendly church sermons. If, however, we believe that everything about God is good, then even Hell must be good news. How could that be? What have we missed?

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