If we are being honest, everyone has thought about hell at one time or another. Some of us may try not to think about it, but that effort is sort of like trying to ignore a chipped tooth or a man adorned with a rainbow-colored tutu; it’s just not possible.
Granted, this is a very thorny topic. This subject is the stuff of nightmares and medieval paintings. However, it is also something that I discuss in The Death Myth. But why? — you may ask. Believe it or not, the biblical descriptions of hell can actually tell us quite a lot about the state of the dead and the interim period (the time between death and the resurrection); odd as it may be, hell can actually tell us something about our own futures.
While Jesus may not have spoken directly about hell as frequently as some believe—certain thinkers have speculated that Jesus spoke twice as much about hell as he did about heaven—there is no question that hell (Gehenna), and the issues surrounding it, was a very common topic for Jesus. I find this to be particularly interesting, since I have often been told that “hell has no place in Christian theology!”
I think Jesus’ main purpose for talking about hell is that deterrents typically work as well (or better) than incentives. Avoiding a punishment can be as good as receiving a reward, particularly when eternal separation from God is the consequence. But let’s get to the real point here. In a strange way, it would be satisfying to know that the monsters of the world are now “getting theirs” in hell. We all yearn for justice. We would like to think that tyrants like Adolph Hitler, Joseph Stalin, Pol Pot, Jim Jones, and the child rapists of the world, are all “burning.”
Don’t pretend the thought hasn’t crossed your mind.
But they aren’t. None of these people, or the countless others that could be mentioned, are living in hell. Not according to the Bible, at least. I will go one step further on this. Satan—the most renowned villain in all of human history—is not living in hell, either.
I realize that almost everyone who is reading this blog (thank you, by the way) is probably a little confused. Just as you may have been taught that believers go to heaven immediately after death, my hunch is that you have also been taught that the wicked go to hell at that time.
I have the same response to both propositions: NO. Deceased believers are not living in heaven right now, and no one—not even Satan or the demons—is living in hell at this moment, either. Don’t get me wrong, both will happen: just not now.
What follows is a cross section of passages taken directly from The Death Myth. Along with providing another free sample of the book (parts of pages 82-84), I hope that it will also explain why no one is currently living in hell.
“There is a good reason why the forces of darkness are not associated (in the present tense) with hell in the Bible—hell is not currently a reality for anyone. It was previously noted that hell is the place prepared for Satan and his angels. In the same verse, we see that hell is also the destination for those who choose to follow Satan rather than Christ (Mt. 25:41). But the main point remains the most pivotal—Satan and the fallen angels, the very entities that hell is/will be designed for, do not even exist there at the present time. As a matter of logic, it stands to reason that Satan’s deceased followers do not exist in hell right now, either. At the moment, no one is suffering in hell.
Within the New Testament, any discussion about the “lake of fire” (Gehenna) or the place of everlasting punishment revolves around the end of this age. The book of Revelation summarizes this point well: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (20:10). This exact point in time quite obviously occurs in the context of Christ’s return and the ultimate separation of the righteous and the wicked. It appears that even the fallen angels (demons) are well aware that God is going to administer their punishment at a specific point in the future. The Gospel of Matthew (and its synoptic parallels) makes this point clear for us when it tells of Jesus’ confrontation with two demon-possessed men:
“When he arrived at the other side in the region of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men coming from the tombs met him. They were so violent that no one could pass that way. ‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?”
Clearly, hell is the future place of punishment for the forces of evil. If hell is an existence yet to be experienced by Satan (or anyone), what could that potentially reveal to us about the state of the dead? What does this have to do with deceased believers? While the biblical descriptions of hell do not directly tell us something about heaven, they certainly do so indirectly. The question really comes down to this: if the unrepentant do not go directly to Gehenna when they die, then why should we believe that the faithful go directly to heaven when they die?
. . . It should be noted that a story like Jesus’ parable of the Weeds is absolutely incompatible with the perspective that we will go straight to heaven or hell at death. If this were true, then the landowner doesn’t actually separate the wheat from the weeds when the harvest time comes, as Jesus so clearly revealed. Instead, the story would have to be rewritten, and the landowner (God) would need to tell the servants to separate the weeds (the unrepentant) from the wheat (the righteous) on the spot. If the weeds are not being sent to their everlasting destination during this age, how can the wheat be? They are both supposed to be living together until the harvest, after all. More than that, they are supposed to be completely separated when—and only when—that day comes. As Jesus tells us in his own interpretation of the parable, the harvest is clearly an allusion to the judgment that will occur upon his return (Mt. 13:39).
Now, what does all of this mean to us? Simply put, it means that if believers are entering heaven before the harvest occurs, then Jesus was wrong in his assessment of the judgment and the afterlife. Suffice it to say that this should be a deeply troubling problem for those who think that heaven is the immediate destination for the souls of deceased believers. While heaven and hell are on completely opposite sides of the spectrum, they are inextricably bound in terms of their temporal placement. No one goes to hell immediately after death, and no one instantly goes to live in heaven, either.”
Thank you for reading! If you found this blog interesting, please see all the other posts on this site. You can purchase The Death Myth by clicking here.
Rossiter, Brian. The Death Myth: Uncovering What the Bible Really Says about the Afterlife. pg. 136. iUniverse. Bloomington, IN. Copyright, 2018. Print.
Wilkinson, Dan. “Did Jesus speak more about Hell than about Heaven?”. Jan. 14, 2015. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/unfundamentalistchristians/2015/01/did-jesus-speak-more-about-hell-than-about-heaven/