Did Jesus Talk more about Gehenna than He did about the Kingdom from Heaven?


Walvoord—All the references to gehenna, except James 3:6, are from the lips of Jesus Christ himself…” [ “The Literal View” in William Crockett (ed.), Four Views on Hell (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1992), 19-20.]

Glenn Peoples—“all the instances” of gehenna, in the Gospels actually amounts to very few. As it is a very Jewish word (a Greek term derived from a Hebrew word referring to the Valley of Hinnom),

Matthew 7:19 “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Glenn Peoples– I’m inclined to think that it’s not even a reference to the afterlife, but to the false teachers in Judaism who are going to be cut out of the kingdom in a judgement culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem. But – in spite of no obvious indicators in the context – let’s say that it’s a reference to punishment in the afterlife. If that’s what it is, then bear in mind that there’s also teaching here about acceptance in God’s kingdom too—“the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.”

Matthew 13:30, “Gather the weeds first and bind them in bundles to be burned, but gather the wheat into my barn.” In verses 44 and 45 Jesus gives a couple more parables of the kingdom of heaven where only the positive side is mentioned. Then in the same chapter, in verses 47-50, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a fishing net that caught good and bad fish. The good fish are kept and stored, but the bad fish are thrown away. Jesus says that this is like the way the evil will be thrown into a “fiery furnace.”

In Matthew 22:1-14, Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a wedding feast…. Most of the people in the story get to remain at the wedding banquet. But the king orders his servants to take one guest and “cast him into the outer darkness.”

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), two of the master’s servants, who used what he had given them wisely, are told to enter the joy of their master. The last one is sent “into the outer darkness.”

At the conclusion of the story of the sheep and goats, we read of the two types of people, “and these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into the lasting life of the age to come,

That’s five examples, plus the four contexts where the actual word gehenna is used, so we have nine in total. For three years of public teaching, nine times is not very often. Jesus taught on final punishment, but he didn’t say about it what many evangelicals believe about it.

It would hardly be fair to do a search for a subject in the letters of John and a search for a subject in the Gospels to see who cared more about a subject– John or Jesus! Jesus taught more about most of the things that he taught about than he did about hell, things like showing love to our neighbor, for example, or the importance of concern for the poor and outcast, the way we use money, or even the historical judgement of God that was about to come upon Jerusalem.

Glenn Peoples–“It’s a very Stoic sounding approach—not only did Jesus talk more about hell than other people, but also Jesus talked more about hell than about the kingdom of resurrection and lasting life and His gift of the forgiveness of sins, The beatitudes of Matthew 5 alone would tip the scales heavily. Then we have the treasures in heaven that \in Matthew 6, in others Gospels we have the party thrown for the returned prodigal son…””

Mark McCulley: Preachers (often more into rhetoric than truth) beat their chests and say, “I don’t like it either but it’s the truth.” Most of the preachers, including the “Reformed”, justify it all by saying that God also desired the salvation of the non-elect, and that Jesus was “available” to everybody but that “hell was the default” unless you “accepted Jesus”. Saying that Jesus talked about the destruction of the non-elect more than Jesus talked about resurrection life is NOT THE TRUTH!

Jesus talked more about gehenna than the apostle Paul did because the apostle Paul never talked about gehenna. But almost every reference by Jesus to gehenna in Matthew’s Gospel is coupled with a reference to entrance into the kingdom. Repent, the kingdom is at hand! So the count is about even between blessing and curse when we add up the texts that do refer to gehenna. But there are plenty of other texts that refer to God’s gift of salvation to the elect. For example, the non-elect are not even mentioned in texts like Romans 5 or in Romans 3:22-24. When we think of “judgment”, we must not only think of the condemnation of the non-elect but also about the fact that God’s justification of the elect is also “judgment”

John 5:21 And just as the Father raises the dead and gives them life, so the Son also gives life to anyone He wants to. 22 The Father, in fact, judges no one but has given all judgment to the Son, 23 so that all people will honor the Son just as they honor the Father. Anyone who does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent Him. 24 “I assure you: Anyone who hears My word and believes Him who sent Me has eternal life and will not come under judgment but has passed from death to life. 25 “I assure you: An hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. 26 For just as the Father has life in Himself, so also He has granted to the Son to have life in Himself. 27 And He has granted Him the right to pass judgment, because He is the Son of Man.

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18 Comments on “Did Jesus Talk more about Gehenna than He did about the Kingdom from Heaven?”

  1. markmcculley Says:

    Do you believe one’s view concerning the state of man after death is a non-negotiable Gospel issue? Or is this issue an in-house debate? This meme seems to intimate that anyone who holds to the eternal torment view concerning hell/punishment is somehow following Satan.

    Mark Mcculley Good question. I definitely do not. If I did, I would have very few friends in the gospel. The thing is, 99% percent of those who teach “immorality is God’s gift” are Arminians. But another thing is that 99% of those who teach “every human will live somewhere, even if it’s to keep sinning and getting tortured” are also Arminians. As a matter of fact, not everyone who believes in “torments never ends and therefore death is an experience in which you never get finally dead” is Arminian who says what I say in the essay above, like for example, that God loved and wanted to save everybody now living in hell. So, yes, I want you to study the issue. And I want you to not be afraid of men, or what they would say about you, if you think the Bible is saying something. So yes, I want you to cringe when you think of all the Arminian arguments being used to support torture which is never infinite enough for God to stop doing it. But also, I also cringe when i hear a lot of the Arminian arguments for “conferred immortality”. It’s like being a pacifist, and then hearing other pacifists say think that humans are basically good. And then i want to say, well don’t call me a pacifist, call me something else. But with all the Arminians, I want to say, since they are the “Christians”, don’t call me a “Christian.” I am an atheist with regard to the false god of Arminianism

  2. markmcculley Says:

    William Tyndale, 1530—- “Nay, Paul, thou art unlearned; go to Master More, and learn a new way. We be not most miserable, though we rise not again; for our souls go to heaven as soon as we be dead, and are there in as great joy as Christ that is risen again. And I marvel that Paul had not comforted the Thessalonians with that doctrine, if he had known it.” An Answer to Sir Thomas More’s Dialogue (Parker’s 1850 reprint), bk. 4, ch. 4, p. 180

    William Tyndale—“When More proveth that the saints be in heaven in glory with Christ already, saying, “If God be their God, they be in heaven, for he is not the God of the dead;” there he stealeth away Christ’s argument, wherewith he proveth the resurrection: that Abraham and all saints should rise again, and not that souls were now living hell or in purgatory or in heaven; which doctrine was not yet in the world. With that doctrine More taketh away the resurrection quite, and maketh Christ’s argument of none effect.”

    Luke 20: 34 Jesus told them, “The sons of this age marry and are given in marriage. 35 But those who are counted worthy to take part in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. 36 For they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are sons of God, since they are sons of the resurrection. 37 Moses even indicated in the passage about the burning bush that the dead are raised, where he calls the Lord the God of Abraham and the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.
    38 He is not God of the dead but of the living…


    • markmcculley Says:

      my brain
      is always ticking
      cool little cluster
      steady working
      flustered, losing power
      1200 neurons every hours
      getting pounded
      pretty soon i’ll be dumbfounded

      The God of the Living” (Matt. 22:32. Mark 12:27. Luke 20:38). In these scriptures it is stated that “God is not the God of the dead, but of the living.” But Traditionalists, believing that the “dead” are “the living,” making God the “God of the dead,” which He distinctly says He is not. Interpreting the words in this way, they utterly ignore the whole context, which shows that the words refer to the RESURRECTION, and not to the dead at all

      (i) “Then come unto Him the Sadducees, which say there is no RESURRECTION” (Matt. 22:23. Mark 12:18. Luke 20:27).

      (ii) The one issue raised by the Sadducees was the question, “Whose wife shall she be in the RESURRECTION?” (Matt. 22:28. Mark 12:23. Luke 20:33).

      (iii) The answer of our Lord deals solely with this one issue, which was RESURRECTION. Hence He says:
      Matt. 22, “as touching the RESURRECTION of the dead” (v. 31).
      Mark 12, “as touching the dead that they RISE” (v. 26).
      Luke 20, “now that the dead are RAISED, even Moses showed at the bush, when he called the Lord, the God of Abraham, and the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob, for he is not a God of the dead, but of the living, for all live unto him” (v. 38).

      These words were spoken by the Lord Jesus in order to prove “that the dead are RAISED.” Traditionalists use them to prove that the dead are “living” without being RAISED!

      Christ’s argument was:

      1. God’s words at the bush prove a life for the dead patriarchs.
      2. But there is no life for the dead without a resurrection.
      3. Therefore they must be RAISED FROM THE DEAD; or “live again” by Him. This argument held good, for it silenced the Sadducees. For if they are “living” now, and not dead, how does that prove a resurrection? And, moreover, what is the difference between them and those who are in “the land of the living”? For this is the expression constantly used ofthe present condition of life in contrast with the state of death. Psalms 27:13
      “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living.”
      Psalms 56:13
      “For thou hast delivered my soul from death: wilt not thou deliver my feet from falling, that I may walk before God in the light of the living?”

      Psalms 116:9
      “I will walk before the Lord in the land of the living.”

      Psalms 142:5
      “I cried unto thee, O Lord: I said, Thou art my refuge and my portion in the land of the living.”

  3. Torture in hell forever is a much greater profanity than Trump saying “what the hell”


    When discussing corporations who move abroad for tax advantages—“inversions,” in business speak—Trump said his rivals were dummies. “They don’t even know what the hell it means.”

    — On foreign affairs? “Afghanistan is going to hell.” A follow-up promise: “We’re going to knock the shit out of ISIS.”

    — On President Barack Obama’s vacation to Hawaii? “I’d want to stay in the White House and work my ass off.”

    — On China’s building of military bases in the South China Sea? “They’re ripping the shit out of the sea.”

    — On trade deals? “We’re going to win on trade and piss people off.”

  4. Blanchard — Jesus did not use the identical word in the same sentence about both heaven and hell if he intended it to have diametrically opposite meanings.”
    Paul G. Humber “ First, lasting is not “diametrically opposite” to everlasting. You used a mathematical expression (“diametrically”), so please allow me to use another (I taught mathematics for 30 years). Lasting is the “universal set” of which everlasting is a “subset”. All women are humans, but not all humans are women. ‘Women’ is a subset of humans. Similarly, all ‘everlastings’ are ‘lasting’, but not all ‘lastings’ are ‘everlasting.’ They are not diametrically opposite concepts. The Holy Spirit used olam (OT) and aionios (NT). Neither term means everlasting or eternal. Both mean lasting, and lasting has durational flexibility, just as olam and aionios do. ‘Humans’ has flexibility (could refer to either women or men). Eternal, however, does not have durational flexibility, and for that reason is a mistranslation of olam (aionios). Translators should respect the Holy Spirit’s word by using an equivalent. Everlasting is not equivalent; lasting is.

  5. Luke 9: 58 Jesus told him, “Foxes have dens, and birds of the sky have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay His head.” 59 Then He said to another, “Follow Me.” “Lord,” he said, “first let me go bury my father.” 60 But He told him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

    61 Another also said, “I will follow You, Lord, but first let me go and say good-bye to those at my house.”62 But Jesus said to him, “No one who puts his hand to the plow and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God

  6. markmcculley Says:

    But when the Bible talks about the place of provisional judgment before the resurrection, Gehenna is not the word used. In the Old Testament, the interim realm of departed souls was called “Sheol.” For example, when Jacob’s sons brought Joseph’s coat of many colors to him, torn and with blood on it, Jacob thought that Joseph was dead. He refused to be comforted and said, “I shall go down to Sheol to my son, mourning” (Gen 37:35).9 The word Sheol is used 65 times in the Hebrew Old Testament. In 61 of those 65 occurrences, the Septuagint translators used the Greek word “Hades” to render the Hebrew word “Sheol.” (See Appendix below.) The word Hades already had connotations from Greek mythology. Hades was both the name of the god who ruled in the underworld and the name of the underworld itself. When referring to the underworld itself, Hades could be a name for the gloomy dungeon of torment for bad people. Or, it could also be used in a neutral sense for the realm of the dead, whether good or bad. Because it was so similar to the biblical view of the afterlife, the Septuagint translators borrowed this word Hades to render the Hebrew word Sheol. Thus, Sheol and Hades are the same thing. It refers to the neutral place where all departed souls go, whether good and bad, whether saved or lost. The key point is that Sheol/Hades is a neutral concept, and is totally distinct from the negative concept of Hell or Gehenna

    Click to access descended-into-hell.pdf

    Click to access Biblical%20Use%20of%20the%20Word%20Sheol.pdf

  7. markmcculley Says:

    Burke begins with a parable; a grotesque and bizarre parable involving people pulling legs off of a variety of creatures. The purpose of the parable is make us believe that the punishment for sin is relative to “the value and worth of the one being sinned against.” Therefore, because God is of infinite value and worth, sin against God is deserving of an infinite punishment. The problem is that this is stated precisely nowhere in Scripture. Instead, we see evidence in Scripture which actually says that punishment for sin is equal to the nature of the sin, not the victim of the sin. The lex talionis of the Mosaic covenant lays out the principle of “eye for an eye” (Ex. 21:23-25). Death, that is capital punishment, is prescribed for certain severe sins. But the infliction of torment- physical, corporeal punishment- is very rarely prescribed, and when it is, the duration and severity is restricted significantly.
    “If the guilty person deserves to be beaten, the judge shall make them lie down and have them flogged in his presence with the number of lashes the crime deserves, but the judge must not impose more than forty lashes. If the guilty party is flogged more than that, your fellow Israelite will be degraded in your eyes. “(Deuteronomy 25:2-3). This text shows that going above 40 lashes for any crime which deserves lashes would be unjust and degrades an Israelite, and is not permitted. Inflicting prolonged physical torment is unbiblical and ungodly.

    When we get to Revelation 20, we see the devil, the beast, and the false prophet thrown into the Lake of Fire, “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (20:10) Then a few verses later we read, “Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire; and anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (20:14-15) Again, a surface reading might suggest that those who will not be welcomed into the New Heavens and the New Earth are thrown into hell along with the devil, the beast, and the false prophet to be tormented forever and ever. However, Hebrews 2:14 tells us that in death Jesus “might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil”. The beast and the false prophet are likely symbols of imperial power and false religion/idolatry. How do these things, as well as Hades, that is death itself, suffer an “unending experience” of torment in the Lake of Fire?


  8. Thanks, Mark.Appreciate you not only asserting the truth but also contrasting it with bad teaching that has a form of righteousness.

  9. markmcculley Says:

    Psalm 49: 10 For one can see that wise men die;
    foolish and stupid men also pass away.
    Then they leave their wealth to others.
    11 Their graves are their eternal homes,
    their homes from generation to generation,
    though they have named estates after themselves.
    12 But despite his assets,[ man will not last;
    he is like the animals that perish.
    13 This is the way of those who are arrogant,
    and of their followers,
    who approve of their words.
    14 Like sheep they are headed for Sheol;
    Death will shepherd them.
    The upright will rule over them in the morning,
    and their form will waste away in Sheol,
    far from their lofty abode.
    15 But God will redeem my life
    from the power of Sheol…

    Do not be afraid when a man gets rich,
    when the wealth of his house increases.
    17 For when he dies, he will take nothing at all;
    his wealth will not follow him down.
    18 Though he praises himself during his lifetime—
    and people praise you when you do well for yourself—
    19 he will go to the generation of his fathers;
    they will never see the light.
    20 A man with valuable possessions[
    but without understanding
    is like the animals that perish.

  10. markmcculley Says:

    This guy says that being put out of the garden is on the basis of works, and that staying in the garden is on the basis of works, but that getting back into the garden is not on the basis of works. But he doesn’t give any reason for the contrast he assumes. If you confuse law and mercy at the beginning, there is no reason to stop confusing law and mercy later on.

    To compare Adam being put out of the garden to somebody being put out of “the church” or out of “the covenant” is to claim that the punishment for sin is “mercy”. To say that God’s mercy keeps you from breaking the law is not to depend on God’s mercy in Christ.

    To say that Adam already had ‘spiritual life” and that Adam could have and would have earned justification by works is to make Christ plan B. There is no reason to deny that Adam ate from the tree of life before he sinned, but there is also no reason to think that the tree of life was the tree of justification.

    Those who assume that all humans will always exist deny that any humans ever really die. So they deny that being separated from the tree of life is the death which is the wages of sin. They only make a distinction between living in the presence of God, or living in “hell where God is not present”. But this guy knows that ‘returning to the dust” does not mean non-existence but something bad like exile or “spiritual death”

    The next time you hear somebody say that “eternal life” is not about continuing to exist in time but about “quality of life”, ask them why “eternal life” cannot be BOTH knowing Christ and knowing Christ in time forever. A false logic gives us false alternatives.


  11. markmcculley Says:

    2. The Word “Hell” in Scripture Automatically Means a Place of Eternal Torment

    As far as I can tell, White does not go nearly as far as arguing that since the Bible has the word “hell” in it, therefore the Bible teaches eternal torment. However, this idea of an eternal pit of fiery torment called “hell” is so deeply ingrained in our minds and culture that it can color how you interpret the various relevant passages. But to fairly read what the scripture truly teaches, you must be willing to acknowledge this bias and work past it.

    And remember, as mentioned above, Matthew 10:28 describes “hell” specifically as the place where God destroys both body and soul. Hell in the Bible might not be what you were taught to believe.

    3. Jesus Talked about Hell More Than He Talked About Heaven

    Under myth #2, titled “Jesus Didn’t Talk about Hell,” the claim is made that “Jesus talked about hell more often than he talked about heaven.”

    This claim gets made over and over and over again in evangelical circles, but it’s just a cliché without support. Have you, the reader, ever actually gone through the Gospels (and perhaps Revelation and the first chapter of Acts for good measure) and looked at how many times Jesus speaks about hell versus heaven? Or, did you simply hear the claim and accept it without any evidence? There is a good chance that the people you heard it from did the same.

    A detailed analysis of the examples would go beyond the scope of this article, but you might notice that when you go through the Gospels, almost every reference to hell also includes a reference to heaven. For example, the oft-cited Matthew 25:46, which speaks of “eternal punishment,” mentions going to “eternal life” in the same sentence, contrasting the two destinies. If Jesus mentions heaven and hell together, then obviously it nets out to zero in terms of which one Jesus talked about more.

    But Jesus also sometimes talks about the glorious fate of believers without mentioning hell, the resurrection unto damnation, or the like. He makes reference to the eternal life he brings his followers without making any sort of warning of the alternative. (e.g. Mark 10:30, John 6:35-40, John 10:10)7 He talks about treasures in heaven in Matthew 6:20. He tells his disciples of the amazingly glorious fact that he will eat with them in the kingdom of heaven in Matthew 26:29. There is no negative reinforcement.

    Ultimately, I would say that Jesus doesn’t talk that much about heaven or hell as destinations. He puts more emphasis on himself and how he’ll lead you to the right destination. But if you actually look at the Bible, claim #3 looks to be no less of a myth than the citation-free cliché that conditional immortality was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Constantinople.


  12. markmcculley Says:

    is death not really death but separation from God–“going to the other place”
    passing away

    passing from one place but still living in the bad place?

    Adam did not die but was sent into exile east of Eden

    but the New Testament assumes that exile (diaspora) is a good thing. because it means that Christians are not trying to take over or influence any nation-state

    does death mean “cease to exist”?

    does resurrection mean “recreated”?

    does death mean “living somewhere else but not in the presence of God”?

    Milton–Satan, at least I have a place of my own away from God

    Job 34: 14
    If withdrew the spirit and breath He gave,
    15 every living thing would PERISH together
    and mankind would return to the dust.

    but since we have “immortal souls”, perish does not men destruction but instead we think it means going to a place where there is no presence of the Holy Spirit in us, and where God will punish and torture forever without ever being satisfied by it

  13. markmcculley Says:

    you haven’t made peace with God

    but God didn’t make hell for you

    didn’t want you to die

    had the capacity to be infinitely tortured for you
    in a way that we cannot understand

    but Billy Graham knows that God loves yoou
    make a choice between the things in your life
    and accepting God’s love

  14. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Homer has Odysseus sail through the underworld in search of a way back home, to Ithaca. “The dead and gone came swarming up around me, each asking about the grief that touched him most,” Odysseus says. Some of the dead, such as Orion, “that huge hunter,” who keeps up his chase on the shadow world’s fields, undergo fates that seem like dim epilogues of their lives. Others suffer extravagantly. Sisyphus can’t get his boulder to keep to the high ground. Vultures peck at the rapist Tityus’ guts. Tantalus stands in a pool of water that flees when he stoops for a drink, and he takes shade under trees whose fruits shy away when he tries to grab a bite. An uncanny mirroring happens when Odysseus encounters Hercules, yesteryear’s great hero, who, in keeping with his half-divine nature, has been split in two after death: the ghost of his mortal side is stuck in the underworld, while “the man himself” lives in bliss on Mt. Olympus. Like an over-the-hill older brother recounting his athletic exploits, Hercules remembers his first turn through the pit. Comparing Odysseus’deathly journey to his own famous labors, he asks, wearily, “You too?”


  15. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Sinclair Ferguson—“Was the judgment of God against our sin, the
    eternal judgment which our Lord Jesus Christ received on the cross a means of his annihilation? I might point out that Jehovah’s Witnesses who believe that Jesus simply dissolved into gases would at least have logical consistency between Christology and divine judgment.

    Sinclar Ferguson—Jesus must have born exactly what that eternal
    judgment will be. And if annihilation is that judgment and Jesus did
    not experience annihilation, then from annihilation not one single one
    of us can be saved.”

    mark: therefore Jesus is still being tormented on the cross, and will
    be always being tormented on the cross.—“He must have borne exactly what that eternal judgment will be.

    Sinclair Ferguson–“The New Testament sees complete harmony between the intermediate state and the final state in terms of the experience of God which men and women have.

    mark: And the harmony is that death is not the end of experience, but instead that death is an experience that you keep experiencing, and therefore words like “destroy” and “perish” are misleading. Instead of the Romans 2 idea that we seek immortality, Ferguson’s idea is that we all already have immortality because we are all created in the image of God

  16. Mark Mcculley Says:

    Here are the problem texts for those who don’t believe in hell

    i don’t want to get into details, but they are in Revelation 14 and 20
    and somewhere in Matthew

    don’t want to get into debate about preterism or the second
    coming because that’s not the gospel but i just know that Jesus talked about hell more than anyone

    and I also happen to know that Jesus agreed with me about hell

    and i agree with those who have influence and who say that if you
    don’t believe in hell the way they do, then you don’t believe the
    gospel because you can’t see the problem and therefore you can’t see the solution

    Sinclair Ferguson—When the New Testament speaks of “ “the body of sin” being destroyed, it speaks about the THE LOOSENING OF THE POTENCY OF

    Ferguson—Some forfeit the blessing that baptism is supposed to be. And their baptism fails to accomplish its purpose. Their faith does not
    receive the message from baptism that there faith was suppose to
    receive. We can still presume that they are Christians because they
    are baptised but they should be persuaded that they can no longer live a lifestyle that will be condemned

  17. Mark Mcculley Says:

    “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mk 9:47-48 )


    Tiessen–To those who believe that God gives endless life, even to the wicked, this text, translated as by the RSV (“never dies” and “is never quenched;” emphasis supplied), is cited in support of that conviction. But I cite the ESV here because it better represents the Greek text’s use of a simple ou (“not,” rather than “never”). We can reasonably assume that Jesus (and Mark) had Isaiah 66:64 in mind with this statement. This is very important, because in that last verse of Isaiah, the objects that are being eaten by worms and consumed by fire are the “dead bodies” of those who rebel against the Lord when he comes to make the new heavens and the new earth (Isa 66:22-23). In quoting Isaiah, Jesus is not speaking about the fire of hell as a fire which will “never go out” (as per the unfortunate translation by the CSB), but as a fire which will not be quenched or put out. The fire of God’s judgment is a fire which will continue to burn until it has completely consumed the combustible material which the fire was destroying. Similarly, the point of Isaiah and Jesus is not that God will do a miracle in the eschaton, by keeping alive forever worms which are consuming human bodies, but that the worms will live for as long as there is rotting flesh for them to eat. Jesus is warning the hypocritical religious leaders of his day that if they continue on their course, they will end up in the fire of hell, and there will be no escaping that fire because no one can quench it, so it will burn until it has completely consumed all its combustible material, just as the corpses of dead bodies are burned on a funeral pyre or are consumed by worms eating the flesh of the dead.

    In Matthew 10:28, on the other hand, Jesus gives us one of the briefest, and most clear and vivid, differentiations between the first and second death that we find anywhere in Scripture. He is instructing his followers about whom they should fear. We all naturally shrink from putting our lives at risk. But, lest we be tempted to protect our lives now, at the grave risk of forfeiting eternal life, Jesus urges us: “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul; rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (Cf. James 4:12: “There is one lawgiver and judge who is able to save and to destroy.”) In Jesus’ portrait of eternal punishment on this occasion, it is analogous to the bodily death that brings to an end our life in this world/age. Both the first and the second deaths deprive us of life.

    Matthew depicts Jesus in sharp conflict with many of the Jewish religious leaders of his day (“scribes and Pharisees”), and the reason for his severe condemnation of those leaders is clearly explained in Matthew 23:13-15. Whereas the role of those teachers should have been to bring people into the “kingdom of heaven,” under the rule of God and in fellowship with him, Jesus charges the teachers with being personally hypocritical. More important than their own shocking failure to be citizens of God’s kingdom, living obediently under his rule, was the fact that they not only stayed out of the kingdom themselves, they “locked” other people out of God’s kingdom, even when those people were endeavoring to enter that kingdom (Mt 23:13-14). Jesus then equates the condition of being excluded from the kingdom of heaven with being “a child of hell” (Mt 23:15). Jesus identifies these hypocritical religious leaders as “descendants of those who murdered the prophets,” and he warns that they are on a course which will make it very difficult for them to “escape being sentenced to hell” (Mt 23:33).

    In Matthew 7:19 Jesus does not used the word Gehenna, but he seems clearly to be referring to the same reality when he warns us against false prophets. We will know them by their fruit, because they do not bear good fruit, since they are not good trees. “Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” Similarly, in the parable of the weeds (Mt 13:18-23), Jesus declares that the weeds will be gathered by the reapers and “burned” at harvest time (Mt 13:29). Again, in the parable of the sheep and the goats, concerning the judgment of the nations, in Matthew 25:31-46, the king “will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’” (25:41; emphasis supplied), and “these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (25:46).

    The writer to the Hebrews, similarly, does not use the term Gehenna, but he tells us that “if we willfully persist in sin after having received the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful prospect of judgment, and a “fury of fire that will consume the adversaries” (Heb 10:26-27; emphasis supplied).

    Four essential differences between first and second death
    I see four essential differences between first and second death, but I find it difficult to know how best to order these. Nonetheless, here are the differences:

    1. Universally normal vs. particular to some
    Since Adam disobeyed God in the garden, death as the wages of sin has become the experience of all human beings (Rom 5:12, 15-19). In two known instances (Enoch [Gen 5:24] and Elijah [2 Kgs 2:11), translation prevented death but, otherwise, unless we are still alive when Jesus returns, we will all die bodily. As Hebrews 9:27 tells us: “It is appointed for mortals to die once and after that the judgment.”

    In the case of second death, however, many (I have argued that we have reasons to hope most) of the human race will not experience it. There is only one way in which this can happen, and that is through participation in the benefits of the atoning death of Christ. That was the main thrust of Paul’s teaching in Rom 5:12-21. He certainly stated numerous times that all of us sinned, thereby being implicated with Adam in guilt and necessarily facing the punishment of second death. But, says Paul, “much more surely have the grace of God and the free gift in the grace of the one man, Jesus Christ, abounded for the many” (Rom 5:15), because “the free gift following many trespasses brings justification” (5:16). It is absolutely certain that “those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness exercise dominion in life through the one man, Jesus Christ” (5:17). The wonder of all this is that, although “sin exercised dominion in death,” grace exercises “dominion through justification leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (5:21).

    We can all expect to die bodily, and we know that we will all be raised from the dead to face either vindication or condemnation on the day God’s final judgment. Although resurrection will be universal, its significance will vary vastly. Those who died in Christ, having exercised the faith response required by God relative to their knowledge of God, will be raised again with him. Jesus himself was saved from death (Heb 5:7-10), which is clearly the second death, since he experienced the first one in accomplishing our salvation. Those who believe in Christ are therefore said to have “died with him” (Rom 6:8). Being vindicated by God as one who did not deserve eternal or second death, Christ rose again, and his resurrection was the firstfruits of a new order of resurrection. All who belong to Christ will be raised with him (1 Cor 15:23). Having died with him through faith, we will also be raised with him if we persist in that faith (Mt 24:13). In the Revelation of Christ to John, this is spoken about as two resurrections (Rev 20:4-6). Whether those occur at the same time (as amillennialists and postmillennialists believe) or with a long period of time in between (as premillennialists believe), is not important to us here.

    The critical truth being communicated through John is that there are two different kinds of resurrection, with vastly different ends. The resurrection of the wicked is not often mentioned in Scripture, but it is very clearly taught in both Testaments. In Daniel 12:2, we are taught that many who “sleep in the dust of the earth” will “awake, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” Jesus taught us that “the hour is coming when all who are in their graves will hear [the Son of Man’s] voice and will come out—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation” (Jn 5:28-29).

    John speaks of this critical difference of destinies among those whom God raises from the dead in terms of first and second death. Echoing Paul in 1 Corinthians 15, John tells us that those who lost their lives, as a result of their faithfulness to Christ, participate in the “first resurrection” (Rev 20:4-5). This is the resurrection of which Christ was the firstfruits, and in which all who die “in Christ” are raised “with Christ.” Those who “share in the first resurrection” are “blessed and holy,” and over them “the second death has no power, but they will be priests of God and Christ, and they will reign with him” (Rev 20:6).

    So, it is normal for everyone to die the first death, but only those who die in Christ experience the “first resurrection.” For these people, among whom I thank God I am one, by God’s grace through Christ, the first death is the only death we will experience. Being justified by God because of Christ, we are no longer under condemnation, and so we rise to the glory of becoming transformed into the likeness of Christ (1 Jn 3:2). We rise to everlasting life (Dan 12:2), so we will never die again. But those who suppressed God’s revelation, and who resisted his gracious overtures persistently throughout their lives, did not die to sin with Christ, were not justified by grace through faith, and must therefore rise to shame and contempt (Dan 12:2). They will acknowledge the justice of God’s sentencing them to eternal death from which there will be no second resurrection. They will be cast into the “hell of fire,” the “lake of fire,” the experience of God’s terrible, unmitigated, wrath. This will destroy them, for our righteous God is a “consuming fire” (Heb 12:29). None of us is inherently immortal; we exist, as all things other than God do, because he gives us existence, and if God does not give us life, which he promises to do only to those who are saved through Christ, then we die completely, cut off from God, the source of life.

    Through his death, Christ destroyed “the one who has “power of death, that is the devil” (Heb 2:14). But those who reject God’s gracious work of salvation in Christ remain under the devil’s power, and they must suffer God’s judgment upon them for their own submission to Satan, when God decisively brings to a culmination the victory of Christ over Satan, condemning him and all who serve him (Rev 20:10). Christ must reign until he has “destroyed every ruler and every authority and power” (1 Cor 15: 25), and since Satan will then have lost the power of death, death itself, which is God’s “last enemy,” is destroyed (1 Cor 15:26). In his highly symbolic vision, John saw this as an event in which “Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire,” which is “the second death,” and “anyone whose name was not written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev 20:14,15). Consequently, it is clear that, though death is the penalty for sin, and though God’s punishment of the wicked is an eternal punishment, the “eternal punishment” that is “eternal death” cannot be an endless dying or an endless experience of being punished, as in eternal conscious torment. Were that the case then God would be giving eternal life to everyone, which Scripture specifically denies is the case. Death, the deprivation of life, is the just penalty of unforgiven sin, and it is a never-ending penalty precisely because there is no second resurrection for those who experience the second death. Apart from life in Christ, there can be no life at all.

    All of us can expect to die the first death, and all of us will also die the second death, that is, we will “perish,” unless we receive God’s gift of eternal life through believing in Christ (Jn 3:16). “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (2 Cor 9:15).

    2. Negative consequence vs. punishment
    We have already observed that the first death is a negative consequence with universal impact on human beings, but it does not always have the same significance. Psalm 116:15 says: “Precious in the sight of the Lord is the death of his faithful ones.” But God tells us through Ezekiel, that he has “no pleasure in the death of anyone.” Since human death is inextricably connected to sin, as its necessary consequence, God would prefer that sinners would turn from their evil and live (Ezek. 18:32; cf. 3:18-21; 18:23; 33:10-20).

    On initial reflection, it seems to me that it would have been ideal if Adam and Eve had passed the probationary test, chosen to obey God’s command that they not eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and then been confirmed in their goodness, as the elect angels (1 Tim 5:21) were. As with the angels who remained faithfully obedient to God when rebellion occurred among them, there would then have been no further possibility of sin’s occurrence in the human world. Adam and Eve would not then have been prohibited from eating of the fruit of the tree of life, and the wonderful situation described in Revelation 21 and 22 could have been immediately implemented without the need for a new heaven and earth.

    On further consideration, however, it is not difficult to discern how much would have been lost, in the revelation of God’s holiness, justice, and wonderful grace to sinners through the incarnation, death and resurrection of the eternal Son, if God had chosen to take that option. I see no reason to doubt that a sinless world was a world possible for God to actualize, but I can understand why God considered this particular world a better choice, once he had determined to create a world at all. The apostle Paul grappled with this puzzle and offers what I take to be his best conjecture, in the form of a question:

    What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience the objects of wrath that are made for destruction; and what if he has done so in order to make known the riches of his glory for the objects of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory—including us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles?

    Since the fall of Adam, human death has become a “natural evil.” It exists because sin came into the world and all of the human race was implicated in it. But that is not the whole story. When God pronounces a curse on the S/serpent for his role in the fall of Adam and Eve, he includes what has been referred to as the “protevangelium,” or “the first glimmer of the gospel” (Derek Kidner, Genesis, 70), going back as far as Justin Martyr (ca. 160 AD) and Irenaeus (ca 180 AD) (David Wenham, Genesis 1-15, 80-81). God warned that he would “put enmity between [the S/serpent] and the woman,” and that the serpent would strike the heel of the woman’s offspring, but that her offspring would strike the serpent’s head. From the later narrative in the Bible, we learn that the Serpent would bring about the death of the descendant of Eve who was also uniquely the Son of God but that, in so doing, the Serpent would bring about his own demise because the grave could not hold the Righteous One. And his death, which looked to the disciples at the time as a terrible defeat, proved to be the means of God’s victory over Satan. Satan’s fatal miscalculation in bringing about the unjust capital punishment of Jesus, the only sinless human being, was God’s means of providing a vicarious atonement for all who would believe in him, and this in turn was climaxed by the casting of Satan and all his followers into the lake of fire.

    Because those who die in Christ have the sure hope that they will also be raised with Christ in the day of his return, the first (and only) death of believers is a legitimate cause of grief for those they leave behind, but not of the hopeless grief of unbelievers (1 Thess 4:13-18). By contrast, the first death of unbelievers is without hope, and when I read I Thessalonians 4 I am reminded of childhood nights in India when a Hindu funeral was under way. I hated those funerals. The cries of agony haunted me then, but they continue to give me a very grateful joy whenever I am reminded of what awaits believers in Christ who die. As I grow older, I am better able to identify with my father’s sentiments in the last months of his life: “I am not afraid of death, but I don’t look forward to dying.”

    Although the death of unbelievers provides no accompanying grounds for relieving the grief of survivors, its source of terror is multiplied for any who have the slightest indication of the unmitigated disaster of the second death. Consistently, that death is portrayed in Scripture, not as an ambiguous negative consequence of death’s having come into the world through sin, but as the inconceivable horror of facing the wrath of God unrelieved by his mercy. Hell, the lake of fire, and the second death are terrible, and they are the certain future of those who are raised from the dead to stand before God on the day of judgment.

    In thinking about the nature of the final divine judgment of the wicked which is most appropriately spoken of as “hell,” we are called upon to pay heed to the frequent mention of “fire,” in connection with Gehenna, and in other names or descriptions of the final judgment. I spent many years as a traditionalist, believing in hell as eternal conscious torment. For a long time, I was firmly convinced, but later my conviction became quite tenuous. In my tenuous days, I read William Crockett’s edited work on Four Views on Hell, published by Zondervan in 1992. Of the four views, although strongly impressed by Pinnock’s case for the “conditional” view, my choice as a traditionalist was then between the “literal” view propounded by John Walvoord and the “metaphorical” view put forward by Crockett himself.

    Walvoord argued that “the frequent mention of fire in connection with eternal punishment supports the conclusion that this is what the Scriptures mean (cf. Mt 5:22; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mk 9:43, 48; Lk 16:24; Jas 3:6; Jude 7; Rev 20:14-15)” (p. 28). Unfortunately, Walvoord chose “the case of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31,” as his primary instance of “sufficient evidence that the fire is literal.” I describe this as “unfortunate” because that story identifies the rich man as in hades, which Walvoord himself notes is “used of the temporary place of the unsaved after death but is not used in relationship to the lake of fire or eternal punishment” (p. 19; emphasis supplied). Consequently, Walvoord’s suggestion that the rich man’s asking for water because he was “in agony in this fire” (vs 24) is not good support for the literalness of the fire of hell. Even if it were, however, we ought not to assume that the fire would burn endlessly and that the people in it would likewise remain alive forever.

    Crockett, on the other hand, sides with John Calvin and Charles Hodge in the conviction that the Bible’s references to fire, when speaking of God’s judgment of the wicked, are best understood as “figurative expressions warning the wicked of impending doom” (p. 44). Crockett guessed from his own “informal survey” that “most evangelicals interpret hell’s fires metaphorically, or at least allow for the possibility that hell might be something other than literal fire” (p. 44). In a footnote, he lists as examples: Donald Carson, Millard J. Erickson, Carl F. H. Henry, Roger Nicole, Ronald Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, Billy Graham, Donald Gurthrie, Kenneth Kantzer, C. S. Lewis, Leon Morris, and J. I. Packer (fn 6, pp. 44-45). Crockett’s “strongest reason” for taking biblical references to hell as literal fire is that it is “also described as darkness” (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Pet 2:17; Jude 14), and these are “mutually exclusive terms” (p. 59). Similarly, he finds literally incongruous descriptions of the wicked as burning eternally “even though at the same time they are said to be rotting away with worms and maggots” (p. 59). Crockett also notes that “the eternal fire was created for spirit beings such as the devil and his angels (Mt 25:41),” and that believers will be raised with “spiritual bodies” (1 Cor 15:44), so “perhaps the fire is in some sense a spiritual fire” (p. 61).

    Like the many evangelical theologians Crockett named, when thinking as a traditionalist, I too leaned toward a metaphorical, perhaps more psychological than physical, understanding of the endless punishment of hell. Now that I have become convinced that God destroys the wicked, removing all wickedness completely from his creation, so that he can once more look at all he has made and declare it “very good,” I am less squeamish about reading literally the biblical descriptions of God’s judgment as “fire.” When we read it that way, we see again the similarity between the final fire and the fire which was God’s means of punishing sinners with the first death (cf. Num 11:1; 16:35 ; 26:10 ; Lev 10:2; 2 Kings 1:10, 12, 14; 2 Kings 1:12 2 Kings 1:14 ).

    More significant to me than whether “fire” is literal or metaphorical, as God’s means of pouring out his wrath upon the wicked in the second death, is the clear intention of Scripture to provide a depiction of God’s punishment of the condemned as destructive. The proposal that God will miraculously keep alive forever sinners, who would otherwise be consumed by the unmitigated outpouring of God’s wrath upon them, is strongly contrary to the dominant thrust of the biblical descriptions of hell. Given that the effect of God’s punishment of the wicked will be eternal death (not eternal life), the specific nature or means of God’s punishing, which leads to destruction of body and soul, is relatively insignificant. Darkness will certainly result from God’s withdrawal of his presence, given that he is light and the source of all light, but fire very vividly portrays the nature of God’s consuming wrath, whether or not it is exactly like the fire by which our houses are burned down and people are destroyed in this life.

    The Bible frequently speaks of fire as God means of punishing wicked people or cities, when he causes their first death for punitive purposes. In every instance the effect of that fire is to kill them or destroy them, not to torture or torment them. The apostle John used “second death” to describe the significance of the lake of fire. Unless we find clear reasons for considering the two deaths as fundamentally different in nature, we should assume that “death” has essentially the same sense in regard to the kind of death against which we are warned. That is to say: “death,” in both instances, describes the taking away of a person’s life. From the teaching of Jesus himself we get a strong picture of destruction in his descriptions of the end of the wicked, and he is clear about how this destruction differs. We’ll unpack that difference shortly, in item number 4.

    It may be worthwhile for us to recall at this point that bodily death by burning is a very painful process. I think it likely that God’s choice to describe the final punishment of the wicked as death in the lake of fire intentionally brings to our minds what we know about the first death in this regard. Without pretending to know more than Scripture tells us about the experience that awaits the wicked as their judgment leading to death is carried out, I think that we should assume a painful process. Since we have biblical indication that there will be gradations of severity in the punishing process (Lk 12:47-48), demonstrating the justice of God’s judgment, it is reasonable to conclude that the pain of the experience of God’s wrath, that finally leads to death for all the wicked, will vary in its nature and severity. Ultimately, no creature, however hardened through years of rebellion against God, will be able to tolerate the outpouring of the just wrath of God, which will finally lead to certain destruction of body and soul (Mt 10:28), in its culmination.

    3. Temporary vs. eternal
    Hades was temporary for everyone, both the righteous and the wicked. As we saw in Rev 20:13-14, the second death is not only the end of the wicked, it is the end of the first death and of Hades, the place where all the first dead went to wait for resurrection. For the righteous, their delivery from Hades results in their settling forever, with everlasting or eternal life (Jn 3:16; Mt 25:46), into their new dwelling place with God, the new heaven and earth. But, for the wicked, leaving Hades is a move to a far worse place, Gehenna, the lake of fire, the place where God is present only in wrath and not in grace. There, they do not receive eternal life, they perish (Jn 3:16). Unlike the first death, from which the wicked were raised, there will be no second resurrection from the second death. Their experience is like that of the righteous in that it is eternal (Mt:25:46), but it is an “eternal punishment.” It is analogous to the capital punishment of criminals with the first death, in that it is final and irrevocable. This punishment never comes to an end, and this brings us to the fourth difference: first death was partial in its destructiveness, but second death is total, consuming the entire person.

    4. Partial vs. total
    In our earlier consideration of the similarities between the first and second death, I made reference to the highly significant statement of Jesus in Matthew 10:28. There we saw that the first and second deaths are alike in that both of them deprive people of life.

    But Jesus’ point on that occasion was not to draw listeners’ attention to the similarities between first and second death, but to impress upon them how much more severe the second death, hell, is than the first. The second death entails not just a death of the body, which results in burial in the grave, but a destruction of “both soul and body in hell.” Note that the effect of the “hell of fire” is depicted by Jesus in Matthew as destruction, not as everlasting torment. What we dare not do is “deny [Jesus] before others,” because Jesus will deny those who do this before his Father in heaven (Mt 10:33) and we know that only those who come to the Father through the Son are given life in heaven with God (Jn 14:6). However highly we may value the preservation of our lives in this world, preserving them for eternity is far more important.

    I am aware, of course, that this point assumes the correctness of substance duality. I know that there are evangelical scholars who believe that Scripture teaches a physicalist understanding of human being. For them, this fourth point, if acceptable at all, would have to be very differently stated. Thus far, the reading I have done in the work of evangelical physicalists has not persuaded me that substance dualism is wrong. Some time, I hope to write a post spelling out my reasons for believing that the Bible leads us to affirm a substantial distinction between body and spirit.

    In an interesting address to a regional meeting of the Society of Christian Philosophers, at Fordham University, on March 18, 2011 (“Mind, Spirit, Soul and Body: All for One and One for All: Reflections on Paul’s Anthropology in his Complex Contexts”), N. T. Wright argues that we should “think in terms of a differentiated unity.” He is eager to avoid reductive materialism, but he doubts that the New Testament clearly teaches substance dualism as philosophers and theologians commonly assert it. He soundly rejects reductive materialism, but he also disavows “dualism.” Nonetheless, he asserts that,

    of course, we have to postulate that God looks after those who have died in the Messiah. They are “with the Messiah, which is far better”. But to say this we don’t need to invoke, and the New Testament doesn’t invoke, the concept of the “soul”, thereby offering, like the Wisdom of Solomon, a hostage to platonic, and ultimately anti-creational, fortune. What we need is what we have in scripture, . . . the concept of a creator God, sustaining all life, including the life of those who have died.

    Later in the paper, Wright says:

    But the God who in Jesus the Messiah has gone through death and defeated it has declared that “those who sleep through Jesus” are “with the Messiah,” and he with them. This “with”ness remains an act, an activity, of sheer grace, not of divine recognition of some part of the human being which can, as it were, hold its own despite death.

    Much of the time, I find myself saying “Amen” to what Wright states in this paper, and his discussion of the fluidity of the New Testament’s use of terms is particularly apt. He writes:

    Paul and the other early Christian writers didn’t reify their anthropological terms. Though Paul uses his language with remarkable consistency, he nowhere suggests that any of the key terms refers to a particular ‘part’ of the human being to be played off against any other.

    As a systematic theologian, however, I am not content to stop where N. T. Wright leaves things after his analysis of the biblical terminology for the aspects of human being. (I doubt that the Christian philosophers he addressed would have been willing to do so either.) With Wright, I certainly reject any denigration of the importance of the body or of physicality in general, and I affirm enthusiastically his insistence that any human personal existence that remains between bodily death and resurrection is an act of God’s grace. That God raises to life the bodies of the dead is a very fundamental truth of Christian eschatology, as is the renewal of all of creation.

    I concur with Wright that the New Testament does not use one particular term, always and only, to refer to the ongoing personal existence of human beings after death, or to identify the aspect of the human constitution which God keeps alive after bodily death has occurred. Following the common pattern in Christian theology, however, I have referred to the immaterial aspect of human being as “soul,” envisioning that term as then encompassing other super-physical aspects such as mind, spirit, conscience, and will. Nudged by Wright’s paper, however, I plan to change my language, and to speak generally of “spirit” rather than “soul,” when I speak of the non-material aspect of human being to which the NT frequently refers with terms such as heart, mind, soul, and spirit. Although “spirit,” like “soul,” is not always used as a reference to the immaterial aspect of human being which God keeps alive between death and the resurrection, its use is narrower than that of “soul,” and “spirit” much less often connotes the totality of human being, both material and immaterial, than “soul” does. A further advantage of speaking of “body and spirit,” rather than of “body and soul,” is that it might not immediately bring to hearers’ minds the philosophical history of the use of “soul” by the likes of Plato or Descartes.

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