In March 2011 a well know mega-church pastor in America, Rob Bell, published a book called “Love Wins: Heaven, Hell and the fate of every person who ever lived.” The book cause a storm of criticism in the evangelical community and also invoked much comment here in South Africa with Joy magazine featuring Rob Bell on their June cover with the provocative title “Rob Bell: No Hell”. The issue of course is the old debate of whether a loving God will send sinners to hell. The new controversy is that a rising number of evangelical leaders like Rob Bell do not believe God will. This is a serious topic with a lot at stake fore both saints and sinners and I want to use this short essay to give you some guidelines in making up your own mind as to what the Word of God actually teaches on this topic. I actually want to do a full length teaching article on this important topic but for now let me give you some advice guidelines for your own study on the topic.

Let me say right from the start that there are two extreme positions on this issue and they are both wrong. I am going to give you a suggested middle road that I believe is Biblically sound but I must warn you that I have yet to find a fellow evangelical preacher who agrees with me. But I give it to you in any case, you decide.

Two Extremes

There are two extreme positions in the Christian world on hell and they are both wrong because they both rely on believing Satan’s lie to Adam, “You shall not die”. God told Adam, “…you will die” and repeated it later in scripture “The soul that sins it shall die.” (Ez. 18:20). The one extreme as now espoused by Rob Bell and long held by liberals is that all men will be saved. Thus you will not die. Reincarnation is another theme on the lie “you shall not die”.

The other extreme is Catholic theology and never corrected by the Reformation and still carried on today by evangelical preachers and it is this: God gives sinners eternal life keeping their souls alive eternally with faculties of consciousness and pain and then prepares the most horrifically imaginable torture chamber and then proceeds to torture them endlessly with no prospect or even idea to try to correct their behavior or to bring them to repentance but just to torture them endlessly. Which of course is why the Catholic Inquisition burned people at the stake and tortured them. What is the difference between the church torturing people a few days as a warning to sinners and God torturing people endlessly for no purpose except endless punishment.

If you object to this characterization that God keeps sinners alive to torture them by saying you believe in “the immortality of the soul” and therefore God is not responsible for their endless existence in hell then you believe Satan’s lie “you shall not die” and you clearly deny what God said “The soul that sins it shall die”. Jesus confirmed this in Math. 10:28 “Fear not them who are able to kill the body but not able to kill the soul; but rather fear him which is able to destroy both the body and the soul in hell.” This is repeated in Rev. 20:14 states that “death and hell were cast into the lake of fire, this is the second death”. That is what scripture teaches, two deaths for sinners, one of the body and another of the soul. Paul states only God is immortal (1Tim.6:16). There is therefore no such thing as the immortality of the soul of man…it is a lie of Satan. So after God has destroyed both the body and the soul exactly what do you think is left over to torture endlessly?  But what about the fires of hell that scripture speaks of?

The Fires of Destruction

Make no mistake there is punishment for sinners as there are rewards for the saints. But be careful when you try to quantify either the punishment or the rewards. We have no idea of the awfulness of sin and we have no idea of the wonderful rewards of heaven. I have a major problem with people who try to base their theology on other people’s experiences. People say this one went up to heaven and saw this and another one went to hell and saw that. I stand on the word of God that says (1Co.2:9) that nobody has seen or heard what God has prepared for those who love him…and that applies to those who hate him. So when people see mansions in heaven, fine for them but I don’t believe that is actually what heaven is all about (who needs kitchens and bedrooms and a roof over your head in heaven?) and the same goes for visions of sinners being tortured by demons in hell. The bible says nobody has seen the reality of the other side! What these represent are warnings and admonishings: There are rewards for righteousness and there are punishments for wickedness.

Paul describes the process that all of us must face when we must all stand before God. Hebrews says that our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:29) and that it is a terrible thing to fall into the hands of the living God! Paul says in 1 Cor 3:13 that “every man’s work shall be made manifest…because it shall be revealed by fire and fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is…if any man’s work shall be burned he shall suffer loss but he himself shall be saved yet so as by fire.” Rev.15;2 describes this fire that proceeds from God and forms a sea of glass and fire and the righteous stood in this sea of fire praising God. The unrighteous are consumed by God’s Holy presence. Nobody can describe the joy of the saints or the horror of the sinner exposed to the presence of God.

Righteous Judgment of God

“Shall not the judge of the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). Of course He will. His judgments are true. Anyone who teaches that God tortures people endlessly is blaspheming His Holy name: The Righteous Judge! Jesus gave us the guidelines for punishment. In Luke 12:47-48 He teaches some will be beaten with many stripes others with few stripes. Punishment is always proportional and never endless. That is the law of the Lord as He taught us in His word. That is why there is debt release and that is why punishment is limited to an eye for an eye. Punishment is always proportional not endless and purposeless.

Eternal Punishment

But what about the many verses that describe “eternal” fire and punishment.  This requires an entire word study of the Greek word “eion” that is used in scripture. But when you do this study you will find that Greek word is not used to convey eternity as we understand the concept but “ages”.  Thus the idea is not one of endless time but ages of time. But you need to be very careful of this entire idea of time and eternity. We live in a realm bounded by time. Modern physics of today informs us that time itself is not constant; it can speed up or slow down depending on your acceleration to the speed of light. Whatever the length of punishment for sin is in the spirit world, the reality in our world time frame is that Jesus paid that full penalty of sin for you and I within three days of His death on the cross and His resurrection from the grave.

Savior of All Mankind

To be fair to Rob Bell and others in the evangelical community who believe that all men will be saved let me say that there are plenty of verses in scripture to support their view. Just take a concordance and look up scriptures with “all” in them and you will begin to wonder at the incredible extent of the work of Christ for lost mankind. But like with all sound doctrine you don’t just take your favourite scriptures to prove a point. You take the full counsel of scripture to get a balanced view. To me the balance is between the extremes of all people get saved and God gives eternal life to sinners so He can torture them endlessly. The middle ground is heaven and rewards are real and hell and punishments are real but what is equally real is that the Lord judges righteously, proportionately and with love. And for twisted souls who have destroyed the image of God in their hearts through their sin and rebellion the only option is the destruction of that soul.

But let me make a final comment on a proof verse for the idea that all men will be saved. It is found in 1 Tim.4:10-11, “…because we trust in the living God who is the savior of all men, especially of those that believe.” Read this carefully. If I had written it I would have said Jesus is the savior of all those that believe. That is what we evangelicals believe. Salvation only comes through faith in the atoning work of Jesus Christ. Paul says that Jesus is the savior of all men but especially of those who believe in Him.  I do not believe that Paul is saying that all men are saved. That is universalism. I believe he is saying that throughout time there have been people who are saved that have never heard of Jesus. But their salvation was made possible because of the saving work of Jesus on the cross.  So throughout time there are those who will have found salvation through faith in Jesus Christ and there will be those who have never heard of Christ but who are indeed saved. How? Salvation through all ages has only come by one means: Heartfelt, tearful repentance from sin and turning to God for salvation. David did it without ever hearing the name Jesus but read his Psalms of repentance before God and you can see that men have through the ages found a relationship with God through repentance, faith and prayer. But the remission of sins was only possible for them through the redemptive work of Christ on the cross. Thus the righteousness of Christ was imputed to them as so with us who believe on His name.

So to the Universalists I say: all faiths are not equal, truth is not relative and there is only one way to God and that is through Jesus Christ. All men must repent of sin or be lost. Jesus Christ is the savior of all mankind who are indeed saved one day before the throne of God. To my fellow evangelicals I say this: those who are not saved in that day will be cast into the lake of fire that is the Holy Presence of God and will be consumed by the second death. The soul that sins will die, not tortured endlessly.

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