As the songwriter once asked,
What's going on under the ground?
Do you know?
Don't you wonder?
Is there indeed a place where eternal flames await their victims, or is there just endless sleep after death? Are we all to be resurrected to something, and if so to what? These are questions each of us have no doubt pondered from time to time, but as there are no trustworthy witnesses who have returned to us from that distant shore, how are we to know? Perhaps scripture can shed some light on this most important subject.
We have no record in scripture where GOD ever intends fire to be used for the purpose of torture or pain. Rather, it is used either to inspire or blind, to purify metals and harden clay, or to destroy. So when Yeshua spoke of someone being cast "into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched", to what was He referring?
Church Tradition has painted (literally) a ghastly scene of hell, complete with a fierce and ruthless devil humoring himself with the endless tortures of his helpless subjects. These pitiful souls have been banished to this everlasting dungeon of horrors, some for rejecting the Church's gospel, but the vast majority are imprisoned there simply for not ever hearing it.
And yet the Bible paints for us an entirely different picture. There we find a GOD who's very essence is love and compassion. Yeshua taught that His Father is longsuffering, merciful and forgiving, a Father who concerns Himself with the well being even of little sparrows. James testified that the LORD is very pitiful, and of tender mercy (JAMES 5:11), a far cry from the monstrous avenger whom Church Tradition has portrayed as casting billions of people into the fires of an eternal hell.
According to Church Tradition, hell is not simply for those evil wicked men who were responsible for the torture and anguish of GOD's Son, but more so it is the eternal destiny for any and all who believe not the gospel. This fiery place of torment has a space reserved for those in distant lands and previous ages who never had the opportunity to hear of Yeshua or His message; even little children and infants. It is a mad, totally insane notion to suggest such lunacy. And yet, this is what some professing Christians do in fact believe. This is their hope. Here, in this wicked lie is where they find their solace.
One of the most familiar verses in the Bible tells us that GOD so loved the world that HE gave His Son that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but instead have everlasting life (JOHN 3:16). These are the two ways, the two possibilities laid out before man. Either he will obtain everlasting life or he will perish (see also LUKE 19:27 ACTS 3:22-23 PHILIPPIANS 3:18-19 2 PETER 2:12). Nothing is said here or elsewhere about being tortured forever in a never ending fire?
So where do these ideas of endless suffering in a fiery hell come from? As is so often the case, many read into scripture what is just not there. They assume that because the fire is endless, therefore the suffering must be endless also. They further conclude that the fire must be for the purpose of causing pain and suffering, howbeit, the use of fire in the scriptures is usually used for one of two purposes, either as a purifier (see PSALM 66:10 PROVERBS 17:3 ZECHARIAH 13:9 MALACHI 3:2-3 1 PETER 1:7),
or for destruction (see MALACHI 4:1 MATTHEW 3:10-12:13:40-42 LUKE 17:28-29 JOHN 15:6 1 CORINTHIANS 3:13 HEBREWS 12:29 REVELATION 20:9,15; 21:8). Never does GOD sanction its use for either torture or pain.
Often it is used figuratively, as in Peter's epistle.
1 PETER 1:7 That the trial of your faith, being much more precious than of gold that perisheth, though it be tried with fire, might be found unto praise and honour and glory at the appearing of Jesus Christ.
As gold is tried by fire, so likewise their faith was going to tried by what they were soon to experience.
Howbeit, two other passages concerning the use of fire need a bit more explanation.
MATTHEW 25:41 Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels...46 And these shall go away into everlasting punishment [kolasis, meaning: correction, punishment, penalty] but the righteous into life eternal.
The reason that this punishment is everlasting, is simply because it is permanent. The righteous enter eternal life while these unrighteous enter eternal death. This eternal death is their eternal punishment.
REVELATION 14:10 The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented [basanizo, distressed or tested] with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb.
Tormented might not be the best translation here for the Greek word basanizo. It is used in Mark's Gospel when the disciples were struggling to control their boat in a fierce storm on the sea of Galilee.
MARK 6:48 And he saw them toiling [basanizo] in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them....
Thayer's Greek English Lexicon defines basanizo first as "1. to test (metals) by the touch stone." E.W. Bullinger in his Lexicon defines it as, examination, as by a touchstone; scrutiny, either by words or torture; hence, torture, torment.
Nothing is said here in REVELATION about this torment or examination being endless or in hell, only that the smoke of their torment ascends up forever. Most likely all that is meant is that the memory of their torment endures forever, not the torment itself.
Otherwise, a hundred million years later they would still be no closer to the end of their suffering than when they had begun. It is impossible to fathom. And what great evil are we to suppose that these poor wretched souls committed to justify an endless torture? They worshipped the beast (most probably the Emperor) and received his mark upon their forehead or hand.
To the surprise of some Christians, the Bible never describes or refers to hell as we commonly think of it. There is no mystical place in the underworld where the devil is torturing men and women with fire and brimstone. In the Jewish scriptures (the Old Testament), hell is translated from the Hebrew word sheol. In the King James Version, this sheol is translated 31 times as grave, 31 times as hell and three times as pit. Sheol literally means "realm of the dead" and is more of a state or status than it is a place. The first occurrence is in GENESIS.
GENESIS 37:35 And all his [Jacob's] sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave [sheol] unto my son mourning. Thus his father wept for him.
Thinking that his son Joseph was dead, Jacob expected to mourn the rest of his life until he too would die and go to sheol, the realm of the dead.
In the King James Version of the Christian scriptures (the New Testament), hell is translated 23 times from three different Greek words; hades 10 times, geenna 12 times and tartaroo once. The Greek word hades (like the Hebrew word sheol) also represented this realm of the dead. Gehenna is the Greek form of the Hebrew word that means "the vale of Hinnom" which was a valley just south of Jerusalem.
In the time of Jesus the Valley of Hinnom was used as the garbage dump of Jerusalem. Into it were thrown all the filth and garbage of the city, including the dead bodies of animals and executed criminals. To consume all this, fires burned constantly. Maggots worked in the filth. When the wind blew from that direction over the city, its awfulness was quite evident....
Jesus used this awful scene as a symbol of hell. In effect he said, "Do you want to know what hell is like? Look at the valley of Gehenna." So hell may be described as God's "cosmic garbage dump." All that is unfit for heaven will be thrown into it.
Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary
The word tartaroo was to the Romans what geenna was to the Jews and reflected a place of judgment. To see all of the occurrences in the Bible for each of these words, go here.
Scripture foretells that Yeshua was going to save His people from their sins (MATTHEW 1:21) and that repentance and remission of sins was to be preached in his name among all nations (LUKE 24:47). John the Baptist announced that Yeshua was to take away the sin of the world (JOHN 1:29). Yeshua Himself declared that it was His ministry to preach deliverance to the captives and set at liberty them that are bruised (LUKE 4:18).
The apostle Paul wrote that Yeshua's righteousness leads to acquittal and life for all men (ROMANS 5:18), that all Israel shall be saved (ROMANS 11:26) and that it is GOD's will that all men be saved (1 TIMOTHY 2:4). Peter writes that the LORD is not willing that any should perish (2 PETER 3:9). John writes that GOD's Son is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world (1 JOHN 2:2). How then can such a GOD as this establish and preserve a place of endless torment?
And further, concerning the work of HIS Son, how much of it was actually accomplished? He that was sent to save the world from its sins, how many have thus been saved? I would venture to guess, very very few. If therefore, the vast majority of mankind is burning endlessly somewhere in hell, how can Yeshua's life and ministry demonstrate the "manifold wisdom of GOD"? If we measure His success only by what we see here on this planet, He was a miserable failure.
His true victory, His great accomplishment was only to be realized and fully understood within the RESURRECTION. The RESURRECTION is the essence, the heart and soul of His gospel. Apart from the RESURRECTION His teaching makes little sense, but with the RESURRECTION all opens up and unfolds like a beautiful flower.
All is about the RESURRECTION. The RESURRECTION permeates the Christian scriptures. In the RESURRECTION He is the savior of all mankind. Only in the RESURRECTION is He Lord of lords and King of kings. His kingdom is found only in the RESURRECTION. His country, and city, and temple are in the RESURRECTION. Our rewards and inheritance are received in the RESURRECTION.
How are we able to love our enemy, to love those who despise us, apart from realizing that all will be put right in the RESURRECTION? How can we willingly turn the other cheek unless we first understand that GOD is endeavoring to awaken ourselves as well as our offender to the true purpose of life, the RESURRECTION? How easy it is to seek the kingdom of GOD first, once we realize all that awaits us after our RESURRECTION?
What's going on under the ground? Do you know? Don't you wonder? It's the RESURRECTION!
PHILIPPIANS 2:10 That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth.....