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Rainbow Divider

Chapter 7

Fate of the Wicked

Rev. 20:15 says, “And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.” Verse 14 identifies this as “the second death.”

Because of the great body of tradition regarding the lake of fire, or hell, as it is popularly called, it is necessary to consider from the scriptures both the purpose of the fire and also how long that purpose will take to carry out.

The traditional teaching is that hell is a place where the wicked are abandoned by God to be tortured in fire throughout all eternity without any hope of either escape or an end to their suffering — a terrifying prospect.

Jesus taught on this subject on a number of occasions. The principal word he used that is translated “hell” in the King James Version is the Greek word gehenna. Gehenna is taken from the Hebrew expression “valley of the son of Hinnom” and refers to a valley outside of Jerusalem.

This valley first appears in Joshua 15:8 and again in Joshua 18:16 where the conquering Israelites were dividing up the land of Canaan. The border between the tribes of Judah and Benjamin passed through this valley, apparently named for some previous owner.

In 2 Chronicles 28:3 we find a reference to the wickedness of King Ahaz: “Moreover he burned incense in the valley of the son of Hinnom, and burnt his children in the fire, after the abominations of the heathen whom the LORD had cast out before the children of Israel.” It is plain here that the valley of Hinnom had become a site of heathen wickedness, including human sacrifice.

In 2 Chronicles 33 we find similar references in connection with wicked king Manasseh who, like the heathen around him, “worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them” (verse 3). Verse 6 says, “And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the LORD, to provoke him to anger.”

On the other hand we have the account in 2 Kings 23 of the efforts of Josiah to cleanse the nation of its idolatry. Verse 10 says, “And he defiled Topheth, which is in the valley of the children of Hinnom, that no man might make his son or his daughter to pass through the fire to Molech.” Topheth seems to have been the actual place in the valley where the fires burned.

Jeremiah 7:30-32 says, “For the children of Judah have done evil in my sight, saith the LORD: they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name, to pollute it. And they have built the high places of Tophet, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire; which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart. Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Tophet, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but the valley of slaughter: for they shall bury in Tophet, till there be no place.”

By Jesus’ day the valley of Hinnom had become essentially the city dump for Jerusalem. Refuse of every kind was disposed of in the fires that burned continually. If a donkey or a horse died, its body was likely to be taken to this valley to be consumed in the fire.

Gehenna had become, even in the minds of some Jewish writers of the day, an apt symbol of hell, even being referred to as “the gate of hell.” With all this in mind let us consider some of Jesus’ references to gehenna.

Jesus’ Use Of Gehenna

In Luke 12:4-5 Jesus instructed his disciples concerning their ministry with these words: “And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.”

Obviously, the One they were to fear was God Himself. These words are recorded for us also in greater detail in Matthew 10:28: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.

How plain this is! How is it that tradition has blinded so many who read this verse, yet don’t see what it so plainly says? We know what is involved in killing the body, yet here the disciples are warned of One Who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell! As surely as the human body is subject to death, so is the human soul apart from God’s life.

The fires of Gehenna were not there to provide a place of torture but a place to burn up dead bodies and other refuse.

The Greek word translated “destroy” in this verse is apollumi and is translated in other places as “perish” or “lose.” As is the case with many words, apollumi is used in more than one sense. It is used of “lost” sheep that are found, for example. However, the predominant usage refers to a condition that cannot be reversed, usually death. Here are but a few examples:

Matthew 26:52: “... they that take the sword shall perish with the sword.”

Luke 11:51 refers to a man named Zacharias who “perished between the altar and the temple.”

Luke 13:1-2 refers to some that Pilate had brutally killed. In verse 3, Jesus said, “I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”

Luke 17:27 refers to those who died in the flood in Noah’s day by saying, “... and the flood came, and destroyed them all.”

Verse 29 says, “But the same day that Lot went out of Sodom it rained fire and brimstone from heaven, and destroyed them all.”

I Corinthians 10:9 refers to those in the wilderness who “were destroyed of serpents.”

The scripture we referred to earlier about the savour of death unto death concerned “them that perish” (2 Cor. 2:15).

Matthew 5:29-30 bring together “perish” and “hell” in each verse. Jesus said, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell. And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.”

Now what would happen to your hand if you were to cut it off and throw it away? It would most certainly die and decay and ultimately be no more. The alternative in these verses is for that to happen to the whole body in gehenna.

Whatever else Jesus meant to convey in this passage, it is clear that nothing in our lives, no matter how vital it may seem to be to us, is worth missing heaven and eternal life for. As He said in Matthew 16:24-26, “If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?”

Have you ever considered what it means to lose one’s soul? As we discussed earlier, a man’s soul is his life, that which animates him, makes him a living being. To lose one’s soul is to lose one’s life, to die. It is an end to one’s existence as a person. Remember, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:4, 20.

Jesus spoke of one’s “right eye” and “right hand.” Often in a person’s life there is one outstanding thing that rules him, that he considers vital, that he is unwilling to give up in order to possess eternal life.

Consider the rich young ruler of Matthew 19:16-22. In spite of all his efforts to be righteous and serve God, Jesus knew that riches possessed his heart. That is why He said, “yet lackest thou one thing.” God will not occupy second place in anyone’s life. Whatever is most important to us is in reality our “god.” Think of how the rich young ruler will feel on the judgment day when he fully realizes the consequences of his decision to reject Jesus.

Fire Not Quenched

Jesus’ words are also recorded in Mark 9:43-44: “And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” The following verses say the same of feet and eyes.

On the face of it this sounds like a never-ending process, particularly if you have been taught to believe that it is. Remember, however, that Jesus’ hearers were very familiar with gehenna, the city dump.

In the first place the word “never” would be more accurately translated “not.” The concern of anyone facing the prospect of such a fate would naturally be, “Is there a way of escape? How can I survive?” Jesus is simply saying that no one will survive who is cast into hell.

The point of Jesus’ description is not to teach of never-ending fire and immortal worms but of forces of destruction that are absolutely inevitable. No one will figure out a way of escape or a way to quench the fire. It will do its job.

There is a difference between “quenching” a fire, that is, putting it out, and a fire that goes out for lack of anything else to burn. In the city dump the fires burned and the worms feasted continually — but not on the same garbage. Any particular item of trash would soon be nothing but ashes and smoke and the fires would go to work on something else.

Twice in denouncing the religious leaders of his day in Matthew 23, Jesus used the word hell (gehenna). Verse 15 says, “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.” Verse 33 says, “Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?”

Both verses describe people spiritually begotten by the wrong spirit, sealed in their condition, who, though living, were as surely headed for the lake of fire as if they were already there. Though Jesus was speaking about people who were extremely zealous about the scriptures and sincere in their religious practices, he could see past their religion and discern that they were the offspring of snakes — demons. He said on another occasion, “Ye are of your father the devil ...” (John 8:44). This is a terrible condition to be in but it describes the overwhelming majority of earth’s population today.

Many other scriptures associate fire with judgment. In Matt. 3:7-12 John the Baptist spoke of the Pharisees and Sadducees who came to witness his baptizing of people in preparation for Christ’s ministry.

The Wrath To Come

In verse 7 he said, “O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?” In this verse he identifies their true spiritual condition and then relates what he is saying to the final judgment — “the wrath to come.” What is that wrath like? He goes on to tell us.

In verse 10 he compares men with trees that are expected to bear fruit. He says “... therefore every tree which bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.”

In verse 12 he speaks of Christ, “whose fan is in his hand, and he will throughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”

Two pretty clear pictures are drawn for us here. In one, unproductive fruit trees are thrown into the fire — obviously to be burned up, not tortured! In the other, a wheat harvest is pictured in which the kernels of wheat are separated from the useless chaff which is burned up.

John was not talking about literal fruit trees and chaff: he was speaking of the destiny of men who will experience God’s wrath. His wrath will result in their being burned up. As Heb. 12:29 warns, “... our God is a consuming fire.”

Malachi 4:1 says, “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.”

How plain is this language: “stubble”, “burn them up”, “leave them neither root nor branch”! This verse certainly describes a fire that does a thorough job. There is no future of any kind for a plant that has neither root nor branch!

In Matt. 7:19 Jesus said, “Every tree that bringeth not forth good fruit is hewn down, and cast into the fire.” Heb. 6:8 speaks of those who, having been fully exposed to the gospel, reject it and continue in sin: “But that which beareth thorns and briers is rejected, and is nigh unto cursing; whose end is to be burned.”

This is confirmed in Heb. 10:26-27: “For if we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins, But a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries.”

Matt. 13:40-42, part of the explanation of the parable of the wheat and tares, says, “As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Verses 49 and 50 repeats the same thought through another parable: “So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

All of these scriptures should make it pretty plain what the purpose of the lake of fire is, namely, to burn up the wicked completely.

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