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What Is This Place Called Hell?
Tomorrow's World Magazine
July-August 1970
Volume: Vol II, No. 7-8
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What Is This Place Called Hell?
William F Dankenbring   
Church of God

Member Since: 1957
Ambassador College: 1963
Office: ACE

Master of Arts Degree from Ambassador.

Millions are confused about "hell." What is it? Where is it? Who goes there? And why? Is "hell" a literal place a geographical location? Or is it merely "a state of mind"? What does the BIBLE say?

   IS THERE ANY chance YOU may "go to hell"? What would you think if somebody told you that even if you were righteous, your chances of going to "hell" would be exactly ONE HUNDRED PERCENT SURE?
   What about this thing or this place called "hell"? It is time the cobwebs of confusion were cleared away from this baffling, mysterious subject.

The Day "Hell" Froze Over

   A few years ago newspapers carried a tongue-in-cheek article about "Hell freezing over." There is a literal town called "Hell" in Michigan, 20 miles outside Detroit. It has a population of 150. The weather gets cold there during the winter, and "Hell" freezes over regularly.
   "Hell" is about 300 miles from another town called "Paradise," with a summer population of 1,000 and a winter population of 250. You didn't know Hell was so close to Paradise, did you?
   "Hell" is a very common word in the English language. Most people use it several times a day. It seems to be in vogue. Regardless of what a person wants to say, he seems to fit this word into his phraseology.
   "Hell" is also a name of several geographical areas. There is a "Hell's Canyon" in Idaho. It is a deep gorge through which the Snake River flows.
   There was even a movie depicting the horrors of World War II called "To Hell and Back." The title was catchy and drew many people to see the movie.
   The concept of "hell" is part and parcel of the folklore and mythology of the whole world. Most of the world's religions have some sort of a belief in a "hell" as a place of punishment and torture of the wicked.
   But what is "hell," really? Or, what, really, is "hell"?

Common Ideas

   A Gallup survey in 1967 showed that 68 percent of Americans believe in heaven, but only 54 percent are persuaded of the reality of hell. Why the difference? Probably, many of those who believe in a heaven simply cannot bring themselves to think that a loving, merciful God could consign any poor wretch to a place of eternal torment!
   A survey in New Zealand indicated that six out of ten believe hell is a state of mind. Only 26 percent believed hell was a literal place.
   Interviewers of passersby on the street in San Francisco obtained the following descriptions when asked: "How do you picture hell?"
   First person: "Honestly, I have doubts there is such a place. I feel hell is a means of scaring people, so they will lead a better life.... If there is such a place, I suppose it is craggy and filled with people feeding furnaces or breaking rocks."
   Second person: "When I was young I had a dear picture of what hell is like — flames and a devil with horns and a pitchfork. But a person gets over this, just as he does with Santa Claus."
   Third person: "The idea of hell is one of the greatest means in the world for teaching children good. Personally, however, I think it is just a Biblical term." (What did he mean by that?)
   Fourth person: "I would rather not think about it."
   Fifth person: "I have never thought of it except as I have seen it staged in operas or plays."
   Sixth person: "I picture hell as a big, hot, uncomfortable desert. I think it does exist. Not down in the ground. But since Someone put us here, then He could easily have a place for us afterward."
   Seventh person: "Hell is a place of unhappy confinement, like a prison. Not necessarily with flames. More a torment of the spirit. I believe it is an actual area, although not necessarily down any more than heaven must be up."
   All of these were interesting comments. But what about you? Are you one of those who would rather not think about it? Is the thought of "hell" too much for your mind to stand?

Baffled Theologians

   Today even theologians are perplexed. Most do not believe in a literal "hell." Said one: "The essence of hell is separation from God — not really torture, but torment."
   Another described hell as "a condition of human existence." Still another said: "I am fully convinced that Satan as an independent personality does not make sense in the 20th century...." He asserted that many theologians "argue that the devil is out-of-date."
   One minister claimed hell is "the loss of communication, insensitivity to spiritual values, the realization of how far short of our capacities we have fallen, the memory of some of the things we have done."
   What abysmal confusion!
   Isn't it time we learned the TRUTH?
   There is no reason why you should remain ignorant. The Bible speaks plainly about the subject of "hell."

The Two Extremes

   There are two extremes concerning "hell" in the world. One totally denies that hell exists. It passes hell off as a mere ancient superstition which has no relevance whatsoever to modem life!
   The other extreme, believed in by most so-called Bible fundamentalists, pictures hell as a terrible place of never-ending torment. It is ruled over by the devil and his demons who gleefully "roast" sinners like millions of wieners on a barbecue spit. According to this concept, there is a constant weeping, wailing, crying, cursing, shrieking and screaming coming from the mouths of those in hell. Their torment is for all eternity. They are forever doomed!
   But consider: If this concept is true, and if all sinners or non Christians go to such a fiery place of torment, doesn't it strike you as unjust and unmerciful since MOST OF THE WORLD IS (FOR MOST OF ALL TIME) NONCHRISTIAN?
   Look at the world! Most of its population of 3.6 billion inhabitants are Buddhists, Moslems, Taoists, Hindus, primitivists, atheists, animists, Communists, etc., etc. The Bible says none can be saved unless they believe — and obey — Christ (Acts 4:12).
   Therefore, if only Christians can be saved, and if all others are doomed to the fires of a never-ending hell, that must mean that the VAST MAJORITY of mankind has been and is DOOMED!
   Doesn't such a concept picture Satan the devil as frightfully more powerful, successful, and intelligent than God? Doesn't it picture God as being woefully impotent and weak, incapable of doing His job?
   Something is surely wrong with such a concept of hell! The Bible reveals that God IS ALL POWERFUL, the ALMIGHTY God. Satan can do nothing unless God permits it (Isa. 14:12-14, Luke 10:17, Job 1:8-12). When Christ Himself commanded the devil to leave, he immediately slunk away (Matt. 4:1-11).
   God is also ALL MERCIFUL. He is a God of LOVE (I John 4:8-10). Therefore, it is totally inconceivable that such a mighty, merciful God would allow Satan to thwart His plan, that He would allow billions of human beings to be lost and doomed to hell, even though they NEVER HEARD the name of Jesus Christ even so much as uttered during their whole lives! Such a God would not be a God of love, but a sadistic monster, an evil fiend!
   Thank God that such a concept of "hell" is totally erroneous — AND THE BIBLE PROVES IT SO.

The Greek Words

   Actually, there are three Greek words used in the Bible, all of them translated "hell." They do NOT refer to the same thing. Their meanings are totally different.
   One word is tartaroo. It is used only once in the entire Bible — II Peter 2:4 — and refers to the condition of restraint of the fallen angels. It never refers to men!

"Hades" — the Grave

   The second Greek word often translated "hell," in English, is hades. The word hades comes from two roots which literally mean "unseen," "unknown," "unperceived," or "unconsidered." It always refers to the grave, the place the dead are buried! You can see the connection easily. When a dead person is buried, he is out of sight, unseen — no longer known or perceived. He is gone. The word grave: is never used in the Bible to refer to gehenna fire, or the final hell fire! It always refers to the GRAVE! The Old Testament Hebrew word translated "hell" is Sheol. It has the same meaning as hades and refers to a grave or pit or hole in the ground.
   Hades (the grave) is the "hell" Christ was in for three days and nights (Acts 2:26-27). The Moffatt translation renders this verse: "because thou wilt not forsake my soul in the grave, nor let thy holy one suffer decay." (When the King James translation of the Bible was made, Englishmen commonly spoke of putting potatoes in "hell" for the winter. They used the word to refer to a pit or hole in the ground)
   The King James translators themselves knew that bade: meant "grave." They so translated it in I Corinthians 15:55. It could not possibly refer to the lake of fire or gehenna, because we read in Revelation 20:14 that "death and hell (the GRAVE)" will both be cast into "the lake of fire." Hades, then, refers to the grave — the abode of the dead — not God's final punishment upon the wicked!
   Hades is the "hell" that every human being, except those who are alive and changed to meet Christ at His second coming, go to when they die! All men alike, saint and sinner, rich and poor, kings and slaves, whether white, black, brown or yellow, go to this "hell" when they die. No one escapes!
   Solomon explained it clearly: "For that which befalleth the sons of men befalleth beasts, even one thing befalleth them: as the one dieth, so dieth the other; yea, they have all one breath; so that a man hath no preeminence above a beast: for all is vanity. All go unto one place (THE GRAVE); all are of the dust, and all turn to dust again" (Eccl. 3:19-20).
   Think on that a moment. If men go to a fiery hell when they die, then so do cats, dogs, rabbits, chipmunks, skunks, deer, elk, moose, and every kind of animal! Isn't it ridiculous to think "good" animals go to heaven, but "bad" animals go to hell forever and ever? Animals don't sin. But Solomon said men have the same fate as animals — one is no better than the other in death. Both go to the grave and turn to dust after they die!
   Solomon understood. He declared: "For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not anything, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten" (Ecd. 9:5). Solomon said in verse 10: "For there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, whither thou goest."
   How dear, then. When people die, they go to the GRAVE and remain there. Their bodies turn to dust. The Bible says nothing about them being plunged instantaneously into a fiery "hell."
   Yet there is one more Greek word translated "hell" which we have not covered. And, it does indeed refer to a fiery type of hell fire!
   Let's notice just what this "hell" is, when it occurs, and how long it lasts — and who will be sent there!

"Gehenna" — "Hell Fire"

   What is the fate of the wicked, those who reject God and despise Christ?
   John the Baptist spoke about the final fate or destiny of the wicked. Seeing evil-minded, blasphemous Pharisees and their ilk coming around him as he preached the Gospel, John was moved to exclaim: "O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bring forth therefore fruits meet [fitting) for repentance" (Matt. 3:7-8). He thundered to these hypocrites, "And now also the axe is laid unto the root of the trees: therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire" (verse 10). Speaking of Jesus Christ, he said, "Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will BURN UP the chaff with unquenchable fire" (verse 12).
   Here John described the fate of the wicked. Like worthless brush, thistles, or the chaff of the threshing floor, they will ultimately be cast into a fire and burned up! This fire doesn't just "singe," or scorch; it thoroughly CONSUMES whatever is cast into it!
   What strange fire was John talking about? Let's read on, and see what Jesus Himself had to say about this mystery.
   Jesus first mentioned hell in Matthew 5, the "Sermon on the Mount." Jesus declared, "But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say unto his brother, Raca, {"vain fellow") shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of HELL FIRE" (verse 22).
   What "hell" was Jesus talking about? And what did He mean by these strange-sounding remarks?
   The Greek word for "hell" Jesus used in these verses is geenna (usually spelled and pronounced Gehenna), and refers to the ancient dwelling place of the sons of Hinnom, a valley just outside the city of Jerusalem which came to be used as a garbage dump or rubbish pit. Filthy, dirty garbage, dead bodies, and corpses of criminals were thrown into this valley and burned up. Jesus used this figurative expression as a symbol of the final HELL FIRE which will consume the bodies of the incorrigibly wicked!
   But when will the wicked perish in this fire? When will unrepentant sinners be cast into Gehenna fire? Turn to the Book of Revelation, where we find the answer.

The Lake of Fire

   In the 20th chapter of Revelation we find a brief summary of God's plan for the future. We learn that when Christ returns, Satan the devil will be bound, the saints will be resurrected, and will reign on the earth with Him for one thousand years (verses 1-4).
   "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished," the Apostle John writes (verse 5). Therefore, at the end of the thousand years, all those who lived and died, who were not saints, will be resurrected. This tremendous resurrection, of untold billions of people, is recounted in verse 12.
   "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works."
   Notice. This is a resurrection to life. The book of LIFE was opened. Those coming up in this resurrection will be judged "according to their works"! This is not a resurrection to condemnation. Rather, these people will be the uncountable billions who lived and died in this life, who never even had a chance for salvation — those who lived and died in ignorance, those who never even heard the true Gospel of Christ during their lives! At that time they will be given a period of time in which God will open their eyes, show them His truth, and give them their first and only chance for salvation!
   But now, notice what will happen AFTER this period of time. "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell (hades, already explained) delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell [hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (Rev. 20:13-15).
   Here is another entirely different resurrection! This is the final resurrection to condemnation!
   This "lake of fire" is the Gehenna-fire Jesus spoke of; it is the "fire" that John the Baptist warned the hypocritical Pharisees about; it is the hell fire of your Bible!
   Notice. This fire is called the "second death" (Rev. 20:14). It is the FINAL DEATH from which there is no resurrection! This death is the penalty of sin (Rom. 6:23). It is the death Christ Jesus came to spare you from!
   John writes, "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death" (Rev. 21:8).

The Tremendous Holocaust

   What about this "hell fire"? Where will it be? How hot? How big? How long will it last?
   Peter helps us understand. "But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up" (II Peter 3:10).
   Notice verse 7: "But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men"!
   How plain. This great fire is the same as the "lake of fire," mentioned in Revelation, when God judges the incorrigibly wicked. It will sweep around the entire earth! The -elements themselves will be dissolved, the surface of the earth will be purged and consumed with tremendous heat. Every remnant of man's sin, every sign of iniquity, every last trace of evil will be devoured by the heat of this fire.
   Then there will be new heavens and a new earth, in which the immortal, everliving sons of God will live and reign, throughout all eternity (Rev. 21:1-2).
   But the incorrigibly wicked, those who deliberately persist in rebellion against God when they know better, will have no part in it. They will be annihilated in the lake of fire! (Mal. 4:1-3) God will never entrust the awesome powers of the God-Family to rebellious, selfish, spiteful, perverse men who have repudiated His love and despised His government throughout their lives.
   Those who refuse God's mercy, those who refuse to repent when they receive God's truths, will be blotted out of existence! Actually, this punishment will be merciful for them. How much better it will be for them to simply die, rather than to have to suffer the agony of living forever and SEEING what they have missed out on, forever.
   God is not a cruel, harsh monster. Nor is He vindictive. He does not intend to torment the wicked for all eternity. Rather, He is going to punish them for their sins, in justice — and give them merciful death instead of endless pain and eternal agony in some man-devised "hell"!
   Notice more proof.
   "But the wicked shall PERISH, and the enemies of the LORD shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away" (Ps. 37:20). This describes the true fate of the wicked.
   The prophet Malachi writes of this awesome day. "For, behold, the day cometh, that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch.... And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts" (Mal. 4:1, 3).
   These are not any man's words.
   These are the words of God.

Is "Hell" Everlasting?

   In the book of Matthew, Jesus Christ twice uses the expression "everlasting fire" (Matt. 18:8; 25:41). Notice 25:41 — "Then shall he say also to them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels."
   What did Jesus mean by "everlasting"? The Bible does not contradict itself (John 10:35).
   He used a Greek word — aionios — which comes from the Greek aion, meaning an "AGE." The word aion is translated "AGES" in Ephesians 2:7 and Colossians 1:26. The aionios fire Jesus spoke of refers to the age-ending fire which will occur at "the end of this world," and which will introduce the "World to come"! It is an epochal event!
   This is why Jesus calls it aionios or age-ending fire! The translation "everlasting" is misleading, since the fire itself will not burn forever. Obviously not, since God's Word clearly shows that when the present earth is purged and purified, it will be refashioned into a resplendent NEW EARTH!
   Notice a Bible example which proves Jesus was not talking about an "everlasting" fire, in the sense people assume.
   Turn to Jude 7, where the identical Greek expression is used, but where it is translated "eternal fire." Read this verse carefully: "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."
   Jude said the destruction of these two cities is an example for us. Their fate depicts the fate of all the wicked, at the end of the age! They suffered — notice it — the vengeance of "ETERNAL fire."
   Now, what happened to these two ill-fated cities?
   Read the answer in the book of Genesis. "Then the Lord rained upon Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire (a type of the "lake of fire"!) from the Lord out of heaven; and he overthrew those cities, and all the plain, and all the inhabitants of the cities, and that which grew upon the ground.... And Abraham gat up early in the morning to the place where he stood before the Lord: And he looked toward Sodom and Gomorrah, and toward all the land of the plain, and beheld, and, lo, the smoke of the country went up as the smoke of a furnace" (Gen. 19:24-28).
   This terrible destruction is a direct type of the age-end fire which will consume and annihilate the wicked!
   But did you notice? Jude calls this ancient punishment "eternal fire" — yet, the fire which devoured these cities in ancient times is not still burning in Palestine today! It burned itself out, long, long ago! Nevertheless, the awesome EFFECT of this tremendous fire IS "eternal" — and is a witness for us, today!
   Now you should be able to understand what the expression "everlasting" fire or "eternal" fire means. It does not mean the fire itself will burn forever, any more than the "eternal" fire which destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah is still burning, today. Rather, this expression refers to a great AGE-ENDING FIRE, whose awesome EFFECT will be eternal! The fire itself will not last forever, but its effect is complete, total, and permanent destruction!

"Unquenchable Fire"

   Another much misunderstood scripture is Mark 9:43 where Jesus speaks of "the fire that never shall be quenched."
   Does this mean the fire burns forever?
   Not at all. Take a match, light it and set a piece of paper on fire. Let it burn. Don't put it out, or snuff it out. Just let the paper burn, until it burns up. Soon it will burn itself out.
   Now, what do you have? A burned-up piece of paper. But did you put it out? Did you "quench" it? No. You left it unquenched. It was not quenched. Not at all!
   Even so the final Gehenna fire will not 'be "quenched," or "put out." Nevertheless, in time it will burn itself out, when the wicked and all their wicked works are burned up!
   Any fire will go out when it runs out of fuel. That's the way the final Gehenna fire will be. In time, it will naturally burn itself out!
   [EDITOR'S NOTE: There are several other scriptures — Luke 16:19-31; Matt. 25:46; Rev. 14:11; 20:10; Mark 9:48 — that some still wrest and twist to try to "prove" that there is an ever burning hell fire. All these scriptures are carefully and correctly explained in our free booklet Lazarus And The Rich Man and the article "There Is a Real Hell Fire!"]
   There you have it.
   The fate of the wicked, in the Bible, is death — the second death in the lake of fire. The wicked will die (Ezek. 18:4, 20). Their consciousness will be destroyed for all eternity. They will have no feelings, thoughts, emotions. They will be dust and ashes under the feet of the righteous!

Two Choices

   The wages of sin is DEATH — eternal death (Rom. 6:23). And that means death, not life in a different location!
   Only those who obey God — true Christians — will inherit eternal life (John 3:16). All others will die the second death. Those are the two alternatives God places before you: eternal life on the one hand, and everlasting death on the other hand.
   What about you?
   Now that you know the truth, what are you going to do about it?

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Tomorrow's World MagazineJuly-August 1970Vol II, No. 7-8
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