246. Gnashing Teeth and Goats

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott – 

Recent posts on ‘hell’ have prompted questioning among our readers. That was their purpose – not to stir up controversy for the sake of it but to encourage us all to examine our beliefs about this subject and where those beliefs have come from.

We have looked at the occasions on which the actual word appears in English translations of the Bible, and then in the last post I shared with you the series of encounters with God which led me down this route in the first place. But we promised that before we move on we would also examine the passages where the word itself does not appear, but ‘the Bible clearly says’ that some people go to a place of eternal torture when they die.

Weeping, Gnashing of Teeth and Outer Darkness

“Weeping and gnashing of teeth in the outer darkness! That is obviously a reference to suffering eternal physical torture in hell.”

Is that so?

Look at what happened leading up to Stephen being martyred in Acts 7:54: his accusers (members of the Sanhedrin) became furious and gnashed their teeth at him. Weeping and gnashing of teeth was an expression not of tormented pain and anguish, but of rage.

When the chief priests and the Pharisees heard His parables, they understood that He was speaking about them (Matt 21:45). The only reason they did not seize Jesus then and there was because they were afraid of the public outcry.

It was not the general mass of humanity that Jesus was speaking of when He talked about gnashing of teeth and the outer darkness in Matt 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30 and Luke 13:28. It was this group of self-righteous individuals who would find themselves outside the covenant they were so sure was their birthright. In that ‘outer darkness’, having failed to heed Jesus’ warnings, they would respond with defiant anger.

Sheep and goats

Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life (Matt 25:46).

To be fair, you can understand why people tell us ‘the Bible clearly says…’. Our English Bibles certainly seem to. But we need to look at the Greek words used by the original writers of the New Testament books.

Firstly, what do we understand by ‘punishment’? Kolasis is the word used here, and it means ‘correction’, not ‘retribution’. Greek had a word for retributive punishment, timoria, which is never used of God in the New Testament. God’s discipline is always restorative.

Secondly, the Greek language had no word for ‘eternal’. They could have invented one if they had wished to: the language was exceptionally well-suited to building new words from component parts. They did not need the word because they did not have the concept. The root of the word used here, aionios, is ‘age’. For Greek speakers, an aion could mean a lifetime, a generation, or a longer period of time – but always of finite length. So not never-ending, not forever and ever, not eternal.

“Ah, but the same word appears in both halves of this sentence, and since ‘eternal life’ is everlasting, then the punishment must be, too.”

That depends on what aspect of the life we focus on when we read ‘eternal’. Surely it is not primarily the length, but the quality. The life being promised is the-God-kind-of-life: and the punishment therefore is the-God-kind-of-punishment: restorative and corrective, not retributive.

There are other reasons to treat this passage with caution, too. The sheep and goats in the parable are nations, not individuals. The criterion for escaping ‘eternal punishment’ is good works, not faith in Jesus. So if you are prepared to assert that whole nations will be sent to heaven or hell – based on their works, not on faith – then you can reasonably use this passage to argue your case for an ‘eternal hell’. So far I have not come across anyone in any theological stream who is prepared to do so.

“The eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels? That’s clear enough.”

The more I consider this phrase, the more I am inclined to Chuck Crisco’s view that it refers to ‘the accuser and his messengers’, which is a perfectly valid translation of the Greek words used. The Law, the religious system and those who fought to preserve it were heading for the fires of the Temple Mount and Gehenna at the end of the Old Covenant age (aion) in the destruction of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome (AD70).

But if that is a step too far for some, let’s consider the purpose of fire. The Greek word is pur, from which we get words like ‘pure’ and ‘purify’. Jesus came baptising with the Holy Spirit and with fire and Paul said that everyone’s work will be tested with fire. I believe we will all go through the fires of purification to restore us to our original design and identity as sons by removing anything that distorts that image. We can engage with that fire now, or wait until we die (I advise option 1). There is a fire which awaits everyone who has not gone through it already but it is for purifying and correcting, not for destroying. It is the consuming fire of God’s passionate love. And my testimony is that even those who did not accept Jesus while alive will still get to choose when they experience that fire after death.

So what was Jesus’ point in this story of sheep and goats? ‘Brothers’ was a term used by Jews to refer exclusively to other Jews. Again (as throughout these chapters of Matthew’s gospel) I would suggest that in His love He was setting out a warning to the religious-yet-unbelieving Jews, especially the leaders, who instead of serving ‘the least of these my brothers’ (the believing Jews) would imprison and kill them instead.

Lazarus and the rich man

We touched on this before, and for an in-depth look into this parable we recommend Brad Jersak’s analysis in Hell in a Handbasket.

The context of Luke 16 is all about wealth and true riches. In the verses immediately preceding this parable Luke tells us that the Pharisees were lovers of money. Jesus is not offering a treatise on the afterlife, but a warning about putting your trust in riches and failing to help the poor. Jesus quite literally means that the rich and poor of that age will see a reversal of fortunes in the next.  Losing your soul for temporal gain is the cost of materialism and the results of living a DIY self-righteous life (Matt 16:26).

Abraham’s bosom is not a biblical phrase but a mythological or cultural one found in the Babylonian Talmud. Jesus is using a culturally accepted idea as the background for his story.

Aspects of the story make a crass literalism awkward: how does the rich man communicate with Abraham across the chasm? Does everyone there have a direct line to the patriarch? Does someone being incinerated in a furnace care about thirst? Are these literal flames? And since hades precedes the resurrection of the body, do we have literal tongues with which to feel thirst? Is this also the literal Abraham? Do the millions in his care take turns snuggling with him? Or is his bosom big enough to contain us all at once? How big he must be! And so on into implausibility. Taking the parable seriously means we mustn’t take it so literally. (Brad Jerzak – Why The Lake of Fire, Tormented Lazarus & Gnashing Teeth Can’t Conjure Up Eternal Torture).

Do we think that when we are in heaven we will be able to see our loved ones in ‘hell’, talk to them but offer them no hope, yet be happy with that?

Eternal destruction, away from the presence

… when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Thess 1:7b-9).

If you believe in hell as eternal conscious torment, the word ‘destruction’ does not work for you. If you believe in the annihilation of the wicked, the combination of ‘eternal’ and ‘destruction’ makes no sense. However you look at it, we need to delve deeper.

The words in bold are all poor translations: diké (translated penalty) means justice, judicial hearing, legal decision; the related word ekdikesis (translated retribution) means that which arises out of justice; aionion (eternal) we know means pertaining to the age; olethros (destruction) means the state of being lost, lostness; apo (translated away from and from) does indeed mean from, but in the sense of coming out of or coming from and not separated from. Matthew DiStefano points out that the phrase Eternal destruction from the presence of the Lord (olethron aionion apo prosopou tou Kyriou) in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 mirrors exactly that in Acts 3:19: Times of refreshing from the presence of the Lord (kairoi anapsyxeos apo prosopou tou Kyriou). No one translates that ‘times of refreshing away from the presence of the Lord’.

So Paul was encouraging the Thessalonians that there was a judicial decision about to come from the Presence of the Lord which would have a consequence for those who were persecuting them: it would involve a state of lostness pertaining to the age. Or you can read it as God’s consuming-fire-presence delivering a justice that totally ruins their lostness.

This is not about some future end of the world event or afterlife experience but what Jesus prophesied would occur in that generation (and did occur in AD70) – but even then, God’s justice is always restorative for everyone.

The Lake of Fire

Four verses mention the lake of fire in the Bible, all in Revelation 19 and 20. Revelation is an apocalyptic book, symbolic and cryptic in nature, the only one of its kind in the New Testament but very common in Jewish and Greek literature. Only those ‘in the know’ and immersed in the culture in which it is written will fully understand the symbolism. Symbols can represent multiple concepts. One thing is certain: apocalyptic literature is never intended to be read literally.

We can get clues about some of the symbols because they also appear in the book of Daniel, including the beast being cast into the blazing fire (Dan 7:11). Just as Daniel’s beasts were figurative, representing various nations, so too is the lake of burning sulphur figurative. The book of Revelation is not a prophecy for the far distant future but was an immediate warning to first-century Israel that just as Sodom and Gomorrah fell in fiery destruction, so too the Jewish religious system was in danger of ending in the same manner.

The ‘book of life‘ mentioned is a commonly understood concept in the Jewish tradition and refers back to the law where according to the Talmud this book is opened every Jewish new year on Rosh Hashanah.

In Revelation 20:14, we see Death and Hades thrown into the lake of fire. Here the lake of fire may well represent God’s (completed) triumph over evil, sin, the grave and death through the power of the cross. Many of the early church Fathers saw the lake of fire as a spiritual place where everyone in humanity was purged of their unbelief and sins so that they could eventually believe in God. I believe it is fed by the river of fire which flows from God’s throne.

And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (Rev 20:10).

Forever and ever is a poor translation of to the ages of ages. Brimstone (Greek: theios, closely related to the word for ‘God’) was regarded as having power to heal and purify. Basanizo (translated torment) is ‘testing with a touchstone’ (in other scriptures it is translated as tossed or battered by waves, straining at the oars of a boat, and being in labour while giving birth).

Conclusion

Enough! No matter how many objections we address, how many scriptures we dig into, we know that some will not be persuaded. These posts are really not intended for them but for those who discover that God is already on their case – and even they will probably come up with other verses or passages not included in this brief survey. There are far more comprehensive treatments of the subject elsewhere; we have referenced some of them in the text and below. But ultimately all of us are going to need to go to God, in whatever way we know how, and hear what He has to say to us about the questions we have.

Fire and passion

We can all experience the fire and passion of God’s love today for ourselves. Let’s not hide from it or try to avoid it.

Son, it is time for everyone to embrace the fire
to experience deeper love
and the purification that My consuming fiery love brings.

Son, call on Me to stoke the fires
and increase the intensity of the heat
to reveal hearts, minds and motives. 

So I call for the purification of fire.
I call for the fire of love to penetrate the hardest, darkest areas of our hearts.
I call for the refiner’s fire to burn away the dross of self.
I call for the light to shine, to expose the things hidden because of shame.
I call for love’s overcoming power to reveal and break every chain tethering God’s people to the DIY path.
I call for the passion of God’s heart to be revealed in His wrath directed towards all brokenness and lost identity.

Let the consuming fire of God’s love burn in our hearts and minds to restore us to true sonship.

Recent articles from Freedom ARC
Older related posts
Resources on the topic of ‘hell’

These publications and websites raise issues we believe God is drawing to our attention today. The fact that they are listed here should not be taken to imply that we agree with all the doctrinal positions, conclusions or opinions of the authors.

*Freedom Apostolic Ministries receives a small commission for sales of the book through this link.

View story at Medium.com

Author: Freedom ARC

Freedom Apostolic Resource Centre, Barnstaple, UK.

8 thoughts on “246. Gnashing Teeth and Goats”

  1. I think that Mike is not the only one having this revelation at this time. I always enjoy being challenged on my beliefs. For me personally, I have changed my theology on more than one occasion. I have always believed that Jesus was the way, but I would say that my theology is not even the same as I thought one year ago. I think we put God into a tiny little box that our small human brain can only understand, yet the spiritual world does not have the same laws as the natural. The only reason we assume that fire is hot burns and is torture, is because we have a natural definition of fire. Spiritual fire and heat seems to be completely different. Look at the book of Isaiah when the angel brings him a coal of fire in the throne room of God. Getting the coal seems to be amazing because Isaiah gets cleansed. Furthermore, he does not complain about the hot fire coal that the angel brings him with tongs. Long story short, be open. I would also suggest anyone looking for more answers to read the following book written over 100 years ago. This christian believer had encounters in the spiritual world just like Mike parsons has had and Ian clayton and Peter Tan and many many others. This is 44 page book with examples and explanations of what happens after death for humans. The angels and spirits also gave biblical references. Food for thought. found on amazon for $5.

    Visions of the Spiritual World: A Brief Description of the Spiritual Realm, Its Different States of Existence, and the Destiny of Good and Evil Men as Seen in Visions
    Singh, Sadhu Sundar

  2. Here’s a conundrum to ponder, Jo Ann and Mark: I had AMAZING spirit-realm encounters with Father God starting at age 3, totally outside of any knowledge about church, religion, faith, etc. About age 8 I encountered “church” and thought I was to gather with others who’d had these awesome encounters…only none of them had. After a couple decades of disappointment, disillusionment, confusion, rejection by my church peers, etc, I had actually come to a place where I sure didn’t want to go to hell, but I didn’t want to go to Heaven either–who in their right mind would want to wander aimlessly down here for 75+ years [if you were “blessed.”], tossed to and fro by an angry God Who had all the secrets to an “abundant life” but didn’t want to make them known [that’s how I was being taught], and always pursuing some elusive “wraithe of faith,’ only to PERHAPS make it to Heaven to spend ETERNITY ignored and rejected by the same God that made your life on earth a misery? And I couldn’t go to the One Who had the answers, because He was the One by Whom I felt most betrayed….until I came out [from] that religious vortex and returned to the RELATIONAL (thank you, Jo Ann) encounters I’d had with my Daddy God as a child…and WOW, has He been faithful to purge my stinkin’ thinkin, pull me up and out of that “miry clay” , “keep me from evil” [which, I believe, is more about avoiding the lawmakers than skirting sin], to redirect my steps toward & into a New Covenant Reality LIFE with a LOVING God and Bridegroom, Jesus Christ!!! ❤

  3. The last vision Steve Hill had before he died as written in his final book, “Spiritual Avalanche” addresses this very topic as a teaching that will infiltrate the church in the last days. Now, would that make him a false prophet? A firey evangelist with a God given passion for souls who just got it wrong because he “believed” in eternal judgement ? Did God truly warn the Body of Christ through him to be aware of what was coming by way of teachings such as “no hell” or did Steve simply misunderstand “hell” for lack of revelation and spiritual experiences? These are the questions I add to my list for you as well as to God . I’ve read all of your Scriptural references that you use to back your experiences and it just seems to me you are stretching each definition and even redefining some words to suit the experience. For you can easily back up the traditional position of hell with both Scriptures and experience as well. (Such as Mary Baxter’s book , “A Divine Revelation of Hell” along with others..etc.
    No doubt we are living in a new season or spiritual era and all revelation need be tested as well as the spirits according to Scripture. One concern I have is when Mike said that Jesus told him he could not “see the door” that led to this new revelation because the framework of his mind would not allow it. Wouldn’t that make revelation dependent on our ability to receive by what we already believe and not God’s sovereignty to reveal such as He did to John on the island of Patmos. I’m sure John had no framework in his mind or grid to plant 99% of what he saw.

    I do appreciate the posts and what is being written to provoke people to ponder and seek out but however you go about it, a debate will be sparked and frankly, should be. And so far the Scriptural references you have used to back up your new position seem to be somewhat weak and used to confirm experiences not the other way around. I’m just asking…. does anyone ever test their experiences or are you all at a point, you believe, in your relationship with God that testing is no longer necessary and no longer needed at your “level” of maturity? What makes you so sure you were wrong then and now right? Are you now past deception? Like I said, I’m genuinely just asking and not criticizing at all.

    Lastly, I just want to say “Blessings” to you all even though at this point, I disagree with this position of hell you are presenting and your teaching on this subject to which I have carefully sought out and read as well yet not convinced of your interpretation.

    One final thing though.. I know God loves me. That’s never been a question since He saved me yet I also can accept Him as judge to which seems to be the similar thread to all who embrace “no eternal judgement”, the ability to accept that He can be both both Love and Judge. For me, the two never did conflict as part of His character for I know He is both good and severe which make me love and fear Him all the more.

    So, where does this teaching lead to down the road? Satan and his demons restored to their domain as well, aka, the restoration of all things?

  4. I guess people will continue to like having their ears tickled… your knowledge of Greek and Hebrew seems to be just deep enough for you to re-interpret the text to suit what you want to believe…

  5. Mike, keep up these amazing revelations. I’m praying for the Holy Spirit to continue to release significant truth and hunger through you and to those will read your writings.

  6. I have done a bit of research online as to the meaning of “to the ages of ages”, usually translated as “for ever and ever”, and the basic answer is no-one really knows. From, what I have found, the phrase never appears in Greek literature outside of the Bible, so there are no other contexts to compare it against. I believe it is a Hebrew-ism transliterated into Greek – the writers did not have Greek as their native language. I believe it is simply a double superlative. In English, we express this kind of thing by repeating the word “very”, as in “a very, very long time”, which is what I believe it means. Of course, why the lake of fire should take so long to achieve its purpose, is another matter.

  7. This is a subject that takes much soul and spirit searching. I was raised a Baptist all my young life with Baptist preachers through out the family! As I got older I realized there must be more than sitting in church on Sunday and listening to a hell and brimstone message and then trying to figure out how to live to avoid that during the week. When I was in my 30’s I told the Lord that I couldn’t see any relevance between the church of Acts and the ‘present day church’ nor did I see where there was an early day church and a different latter day church! If He wasn’t the same as the Acts church, I wanted out and asked Him to show me if He was still real. A couple of months later I was filled with the Holy Spirit and He started teaching me about real faith. Then several years later I heard there might not really be a hell! WHAT!!! The crux the whole church seemed to be built on! You don’t want to go there so get saved!. That revelation for me was 15 years ago now and I have learned so much about how He LOVES US (ALL) and wants nothing more than our best. I learned about aionian ages, and hades, ‘hell’ the grave etc. and through it all the Love of the Lord has shown me that everyone will eventually be part of the ‘family’ because our Father LOVES HIS MAN! A spiritual jubilee for man – all debt removed!
    I am so pleased you are willing to take the ‘heat’ to put this out there for others to consider. It will take most people some time to transition out of religious belief to true relational understanding but it’s a start and the path will get easier as understanding comes as to who our Father really is and what His plan is for His man.
    Thank you for being true to your heart!
    In Him,
    Jo Ann Bauer

    1. Man Jo Ann, I thought you were in my head and knew my past and thoughts. I was so frustrated with what the church was projecting, the division, who’s right with their doctrine, the lack of unity and most important the lack of love. I told God I was sick of all of it and I knew He was not like this. I asked Him to help me please cause I was done with all of it, then I came across Jeremiah 33:3 one day and everything changed. I was relentless to God with my questions and it has been an amazing journey ever since. I believe I’m more than normal being outside the religious box that has been set up for most of us under the mountain of religion.

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