262. Life and immortality

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

In this series of posts about the ‘Restoration of All Things’, we have seen that restoration deals with the sin that occurred at the fall when mankind lost their identity, and with the death which came as a result. In fact, Jesus’ death and resurrection dealt with everything that happened because we chose the DIY path.

Now if we have died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him, knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, is never to die again; death no longer is master over Him. For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God. Even so consider yourselves to be dead to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus… For sin shall not be master over you, for you are not under law but under grace (Rom 6 8-11, 14).

…our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:10).

Jesus holds the keys of death and Hades for all ages to come (see Rev 1:17-18), and He uses them to free everyone, not lock them up!

Death and resurrection

“Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power” (Rev 20:6).

There are several questions to consider here:

  • What is the second death?
  • What is the first death?
  • Who has a part in the first resurrection?

The second death

Some see the ‘second death’ as eternal separation from God. They believe either that when the unsaved physically die they will go to eternal conscious torment in hell or that when they die physically they will cease to exist (annihilation).

Neither of these views allow for ‘the restoration of all things’, nor do they accurately reflect the merciful, just, loving nature of God.

The Bible itself tells us what the second death actually is:

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire (Rev 20:14).

The lake of fire is not ‘hell’. In fact, if you insist on translating the Greek word Hades as ‘hell’ then it is where ‘hell’ ends up! It is the death of death itself, the destruction of all that prevents us experiencing fullness of life.  In the first death, Christ died the death of all men, receiving the ‘wages of sin’ on our behalf. The second death is the death of death itself. The second death cannot mean some kind of endless death, because Jesus destroyed death and “death is swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor 15:54).

We are not subject to the second death if we have experienced the first death (being co-crucified with Jesus) and the first resurrection (being made alive together with Him). Death is defeated. It will not triumph over billions of people forever by consigning them to a ‘lost eternity’. Jesus’ resurrection life brings an end to death, either through water (baptism) in this life or through fire (the consuming fire of God’s love) after this life is over. In place of death, He has given us life:

The wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is age-enduring life, through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 6:23).

We can voluntarily embrace being buried and resurrected with Jesus (which we acknowledge and identify with in baptism) or through fire. God Himself is that consuming fire. If we have died to self in this life, the second death has no jurisdiction over us.

Consuming fire

But many people are blind to the truth, and are unnecessarily living in their own DIY mindsets of lostness. They continue to live separated from God, although He has done everything necessary for their reconciliation, so they continue to experience the resultant sin and death. So what happens to them when they die physically and end up in the consuming fire of God’s love?

What is the purpose of fire? Fire refines and makes pure. The dross in their lives will be burned away until each person chooses life through Jesus and receives their new name which was written in the book of life from the foundation of the world. What has been stolen from them is restored to them. How long it takes is dependent on each individual’s resistance to the working of that consuming fire.

The end of choice?

…then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it (Eccl 12:7).

The physical body of everyone who dies returns to the earth, and everyone’s spirit returns to God. But what happens to the soul, our conscious understanding of who we are?

If people do not choose life through Jesus in this life, there is not an automatic ‘free pass’ to relationship with God in the next. But I cannot find even one Bible verse which indicates that physical death is the end of choice. I have asked others, especially those who contend that unbelievers go straight to the eternal conscious torment of hell when they die, and none of them can only come up with anything except a verse taken entirely out of context:

And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment… (Heb 9:27).

In context, the ‘once’ is the death of Jesus with which we identify. The word ‘judgment’ is not a synonym for ‘punishment’, it means ‘reaching a verdict’; and the verdict is ‘blamelessly innocent’. The only death that everyone needs to experience is inclusion in Jesus’ death.

On the other hand, there are plenty of Bible verses which speak of God rescuing people from the grave.

The Lord kills and makes alive; He brings down to Sheol and raises up (1 Sam 2:6).

For the Lord will not reject forever, For if He causes grief, Then He will have compassion according to His abundant loving kindness. For He does not afflict willingly or grieve the sons of men (Lam 3:31-33).

For we will surely die and are like water spilled on the ground which cannot be gathered up again. Yet God does not take away life, but plans ways so that the banished one will not be cast out from him (2 Sam 14:14).

Jesus went into Hades, preached there and led captivity captive: see Eph 4:8,9; Psalm 68:18; 1 Peter 3:18-20. Death is not the end of God’s power or desire to save. I have testimony of this myself, which I have posted about before.

A covenant with death

Jesus has restored what death robbed us of: access into God’s loving presence to experience restored face-to-face relationship.

Religion, meanwhile, has a covenant with death. To enter heaven and experience eternity, it teaches, you have to die. So even believers are expecting to have to die before they go to heaven.

Heaven is open now because we already died with Christ! The covenant with death needs to be broken so that we can live the abundant life that God intends. If you have a covenant with death, go ahead and break it! Do not agree that you have to die.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who believes has eternal [lit: age-enduring] life. I am the bread of life.Your fathers ate the manna in the wilderness, and they died. This is the bread which comes down out of heaven, so that one may eat of it and not die.I am the living bread that came down out of heaven; if anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever [lit: to the age]; and the bread also which I will give for the life of the world is My flesh” (John 6:47-51).

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261. The Final Judgment

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

To reconcile all things

…and through Him to reconcile all things to Himself, having made peace through the blood of His cross; through Him, I say, whether things on earth or things in heaven.  And although you were formerly alienated and hostile in mind, engaged in evil deeds, yet He has now reconciled you in His fleshly body through death, in order to present you before Him holy and blameless and beyond reproach (Col 1:20-22).

Jesus has reconciled only a certain, select group of people, according to what most of us have believed, in order to present us blameless and beyond reproach. We have limited the scope of this reconciliation, thinking it could not possibly include everyone and everything. Inevitably, different groups have had different opinions about who is in and who is out.

Everyone and everything is included. Jesus reconciled all things to Himself. If Jesus did it already, no one needs to do anything more. There is nothing we can do to make ourselves holy and blameless and beyond reproach because He already did it. He died our death, dealt with our separation and brought us back into a restored relationship.

…namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world (Greek: kosmos) to Himself, not counting their sins against them, and He has committed to us the word of reconciliation (2 Cor 5:19).

God is not counting anyone’s sins against them. That is forgiveness. Psalm 103 tells us that as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us. No matter how far you travel trying to find them, you never will.

Vine’s dictionary will tell you that kosmos means ‘the sum-total of human life in the ordered universe, considered apart from, and alienated from, and hostile to God, and of the earthly things which seduce from God.’ Even if you believe that, the kosmos is what ‘God so loved’ in John 3:16 and what ‘God was in Christ reconciling’ in 2 Cor 5:19. It has all been reconciled.

We have this word, that Jesus has reconciled everyone, but what have we done with it? Have we shared with people the good news of what God has done for them, or bad news, that they are not reconciled with, and still separated from, a God who doesn’t even like them?

The final judgment

For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is age-enduring life in Christ Jesus our Lord (Rom 6:23).

Jesus died our death and now there is no longer any sin, and therefore no wages due. If no one’s sin is counted against them, based on the power of the cross, then all subsequent judgments must produce life and not death. As Francois Du Toit says in the Mirror Bible translation of 2 Cor 5:19, “the fallen state of mankind was deleted.” There is no double jeopardy in God’s kingdom: you cannot be tried for the same thing twice. No one can be judged again for what Jesus already died for. The cross is the final judgment. There is no future ‘judgment day’: it already happened at the cross and we have all been declared blamelessly innocent.

Sadly, we judge people all the time, based on their behaviour and what we consider to be right or wrong rather than looking at them in love through the eyes of Jesus. We do not necessarily condone everyone’s behaviour, but we need to be careful not to think that it excludes them from God’s love and reconciliation.

Pleased to reveal His Son in me

Paul recounts his encounter (as Saul) on the road to Damascus:

But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles… (Gal 1:15-16).

He does not say that God revealed His Son in the bright light that blinded him, but that “God was pleased to reveal His Son in me”. God had been at work in him all along; Jesus had been in Him all along; now God revealed that to him. God is not separated from people, even from someone like Saul who was implacably opposed to Him. He is at work in all people to reveal Himself as love and light – and through them to others.

For too long the good news has been presented something like this: “There is a big gulf between you on one side and God on the other. The cross bridges the gap and you can walk across that bridge and engage God.” The real good news is that there is no gulf. God is already at work in everybody, and our job is to help them see that (not to tell them that they are dirty, rotten sinners who deserve to suffer eternal conscious torment as their punishment in hell). There is no separation.

The fullness of God was in Christ

Let us not imagine that the incarnation separated Father, Son and Spirit; nor even the crucifixion. Scripture tells us that all the fullness of God’s being dwells bodily in Christ (Col 2:9) and that God was in Christ, reconciling the world to Himself (2 Cor 5:19). On the cross, Jesus felt the agony of fallen humanity when he quoted the opening line of Psalm 22, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But every Jewish person who heard Him knew where the Psalm was going, with David crying triumphantly “He has not despised or abhorred the affliction of the afflicted; and he has not hid his face from him but has heard when he cried to him.” (Ps 22:24).

Resurrection

The restoration of all things is based on the victory of the cross over all things that would hinder our reconciliation and restoration to relationship.

All judgment and justice are based on the victory of the cross over sin, death and the grave; every hindrance or legal obstacle is overcome. Jesus holds the keys of death and of Hades (Rev 1:17) and He is using them to unlock the door, not lock it. That is totally contradictory to some of our belief systems. God has opened access to everyone. The gates of the New Jerusalem are never shut. Everyone is included, no one excluded.

…so that, as sin reigned in death, even so grace would reign through righteousness to age-enduring life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom 5:21).

The power of the resurrection has defeated death (and it is what enables everything to be restored). The resurrection has overcome death and grace now reigns.

All will be made alive

For since by a man came death, by a man also came the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:21-22).

Take note of the ‘all’ in both parts of that last sentence. It seems that no one has much trouble with the first ‘all’ meaning ‘all’. The second ‘all’ is where the trouble begins, because if it is the same ‘all’ then much of our theology bites the dust. So we have made ‘in Christ’ conditional, in a way that we do not with ‘in Adam’: so that only those who are ‘in Christ’ will be made alive. And we have gone on to define what being ‘in Christ’ looks like, according to our various denominations and streams.

Both mentions of ‘all’ are the same ‘all’. Christ was the last Adam and the Adamic race ended with Him. From this side of the cross, no one is descended from Adam any more but from Christ. From that point on, all are ‘in Christ’ (though some do not know it and the ‘gospel’ we have preached has consistently told them that they aren’t). And Paul says that ‘in Christ’ all of us are going to be made alive.

The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ (1 Cor 15:56).

For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death (Rom 8:2).

Those are very familiar scriptures and we read them as if they apply exclusively to ‘us’ (those we consider as being ‘in Christ’). But who is under the law, since the cross? No one, not even the Jewish people who were the ONLY ones under the law in the first place!

Everyone has victory over death and sin through the power of the cross.

…who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace which was granted us in Christ Jesus from all eternity [literally, from before the times of the ages] but now has been revealed by the appearing of our Saviour Christ Jesus, who abolished death and brought life and immortality to light through the gospel (2 Tim 1:9-10).

Death is abolished. It no longer has power over anyone. This was already decided ‘from before the times of the ages’ but has been ‘brought to light’ by the gospel.

More to come

God is not holding anything related to sin against the world and is restoring all things, first to original condition and then to His original intention. God is looking for all things to grow and mature from their original condition to fulfil their potential, His original intention. Original condition is just the start: there is more to come!

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The text, "Blamelessly innocent" is a reference to the Mirror Bible translation of Ephesians 1:3-4 by Francois Du Toit:
Let’s celebrate God! He lavished every blessing heaven has upon us in Christ! He associated us in Christ before the fall of the world! Jesus is God’s mind made up about us! He always knew in his love that he would present us again face-to-face before him in blameless innocence. God found us in Christ before he lost us in Adam!

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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.

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243. Not Counting Their Trespasses

Mike Parsons
and Jeremy Westcott – 

Good News?

As I have chronicled in these posts, God has personally started to walk me through encounters that continually challenge my perception of who He is.  I am on a journey of discovering the true nature of God as love and as a result I find myself questioning and often rejecting the established doctrines and theological positions of the modern-day evangelical church.

God has shown me that I (and the church, and the world) have been badly deceived by ‘do-it-yourself’ religion. Nowhere does this deception show up more clearly than in our approach to evangelism.

God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor 5:19).

This is the message of reconciliation at the heart of the gospel we are called to preach. And the word translated ‘world’ is actually the Greek word ‘kosmos‘, which is even wider than we might have thought. Yet when I looked closely at how we have done evangelism, even here at Freedom, I uncovered a fear-based system which originates from a wrong perception of God as angry, vindictive and cruel.

Religion has hijacked the gospel, made ‘escaping hell’ its focus and used the threat of eternal damnation to scare people into the kingdom. “Good news! (But first, the bad news…)”. My own conversion experience was like that. I heard sermons about hell and judgment week after week and decided I needed ‘fire insurance’.

Hell? Not going there…

For most Christians, hell is a given, an unquestioned doctrine. Hell fits their doctrinal system. God is love but He is also just. He must punish sin. Hell is the punishment for sin. Simple.

Or is it?

I knew it would take a while to address this issue properly, and I resisted broaching the question of ‘hell’ for some time, as if it were some kind of ‘no-go’ area, but God would not let me be. It just kept resurfacing, both in my encounters and as I prepared the ‘new versus old’ teaching module in the Engaging God programme. It is a concept that is generally accepted in most (if not all) religions and in wider society, but I knew deep down that something in what I had been taught was not consistent with the Father’s love.

Think again

This is where we come back to the scripture from 2 Corinthians which says that God is not counting their trespasses against anyone:

Namely, that God was in Christ reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them (2 Cor 5:19).

The whole cosmos has already been reconciled and no-one’s trespasses are counted against them. So from God’s perspective what need is there for a ‘hell’?

And, despite the limitations of the translations we use which I touched on in the last post, there are plenty of other familiar passages which might prompt us to think again too:

But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet
sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:8).
Who is the us that Christ died for, a select few or everyone?
For the love of Christ controls us, having concluded this, that one died for all… (2 Cor 5:14).

For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life (Rom 5:10).
God is not angry, even with those who may feel like His enemies.

When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions, having cancelled out the certificate of debt consisting of decrees against us, which was hostile to us; and He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Col 2:13-14).

For as in Adam all die, so also in Christ all will be made alive (1 Cor 15:22).
In each part of this statement, all refers to the same people… all, as Peter confirms:
For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God… (1 Peter 3:18).

Angry forever?

Pitying and merciful is the Lord; lenient and full of mercy. Not unto the end shall He be provoked to anger, nor into the eon (age) will He cherish wrath. Not according to our lawless deeds did He deal with us; nor according to our sins did He recompense to us (Psa 103:8-10, Septuagint).

“I shall not punish you into the eon (age), nor shall I be provoked to anger with you perpetually” (Isaiah 57:16)

“I will heal their apostasy (unbelief), I will love them freely, for My anger has turned away from them” (Hosea 14:4).

My own experiences of God are characterised by love, grace and mercy, not anger and fear. God does not stay angry forever, so why would He punish people forever? His love is more powerful than all our sin put together. It is far stronger than the lies and deception designed to keep us separated from Him:

“Put me like a seal over your heart, like a seal on your arm. For love is as strong as death, jealousy is as severe as Sheol; its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord. Many waters cannot quench love, nor will rivers overflow it” (Song of Solomon 8:6-7).

Rather than meaning torment and punishment, in this passage fire is a depiction of passion and unrelenting love: God’s love is a flame that can never be quenched or extinguished and He is unrelenting in pursuing us for relationship.

There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love (1 John 4:18).

How can God punish people if He is love? The two are incompatible. He cannot and He does not. God’s justice is always restorative.

Perpetual Conscious Torment

The idea of ‘hell’ as a place of perpetual torment is so prevalent in the world’s religions and cultures that if you mention ‘hell’, most people have a pretty clear image of what you are talking about: it probably includes fire, demons with pitchforks and people in torment. This image has been propagated by literature through the ages and more recently by films and TV shows but it was not the view of the early church.

The writings of the Old Testament and Jewish literature throw up various different views of the afterlife, including annihilation or sleep until judgment, but eternal torment after death was not a Hebrew concept at all. The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible comments, “Nowhere in the Old Testament is the abode of the dead regarded as a place of punishment or torment. The concept of an infernal ‘hell’ developed in Israel only during the Hellenistic [Greek] period” (i.e. beginning in the fourth century B.C.).

There are even some people today who teach that at the resurrection, God will give unbelievers new bodies specifically designed to withstand eternal torture. What kind of a god is that? Is that really the God who was perfectly revealed in Jesus?

But what about…?

By now, you may be thinking of passages of scripture, even of Jesus’ own teaching, which seem to contradict what I am saying. What about the sheep and the goats, or the rich man and Lazarus, or the outer darkness where their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched and there is weeping and gnashing of teeth? I promise we will look closely at each of those passages (and others) in coming posts.

Jesus never warned anyone about ‘hell’, nor did Paul or any of the other New Testament writers, nor did God tell Adam that he and his descendants would go to ‘hell’ as a result of the fall. There is no word for ‘hell’ in the Greek or Hebrew language. It is not a biblical concept at all.

Four separate words have been translated into the single English word ‘hell’ and in reality each word has a different meaning:

  • Sheol (Hebrew) grave or place of dead
  • Hades (Greek) unseen world, grave, underworld
  • Tartarus (Greek) prison for angels
  • Gehenna (Greek) name of a valley outside Jerusalem used as a fiery rubbish dump.
  • In English, the word ‘hell’ comes from Proto-Germanic ‘haljo’, whose root ‘halija’ means ‘a concealed or covered place’.
  • The Norse god Hel is Loki’s daughter, and in that mythology she rules over the evil dead.

Yet our most popular English translations are full of the word – including some you might be surprised at:

The Message=56
King James Version (Authorised Version)=54
New King James=32
New Living Translation=19
New Century Version=15
English Standard Version=14
New International Version=14
Amplified Bible=13
New American Standard=13

On each occasion that the translators have used the word ‘hell’ in these versions, they have only done so because they already believed the passage was about ‘hell’. Instead of translating what was there, they have read back into the text their preconceived notions of what it meant. Other versions do not include the word at all:

LXX (Septuagint)=0
Young’s Literal=0
Concordant Literal=0
Complete Jewish Bible=0
World English Bible=0

Orthodoxy

The religious institution and its supporters will insist that if you question the doctrine of ‘hell’, you are rejecting what has always been agreed upon by the Church. It is not so. Orthodoxy is a myth, and it is high time to rethink this subject.

Because if God is love, if God is good, if God is not angry, if God does not require appeasement or sacrifice, if God does not punish us then what is the purpose of ‘hell’?

Does ‘hell’ as we know it even exist?

We will look at this again.

Note: In these posts I can help you clear away some of your false preconceptions and assumptions (if you are willing) but I am not going to attempt to convince you to see things the way I do; if you really want to know where people go after they die, you will need to ask God to show you.

Free 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.

Recent articles from Freedom ARC
Older related posts

Engaging God

Our popular interactive modular programme developed by Mike Parsons now has a new, simpler subscription process – to find out more and get started today*, click here…

Learn how to access God through Jesus who is the Way, Truth and Life, in the realms of heaven and within your own spirit and heart; and how to take up your responsibility as a mature son [daughter] in God’s kingdom.

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Vision Destiny 2016

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Free!

Seven messages by Mike Parsons delivered at Freedom Church in January and February 2016. A review of 2015 and what to expect in 2016.

Digital download (mp3 and PDF) with links to streaming YouTube videos.

Click here to stream or download – absolutely free!

More recent free Vision Destiny series are also available from our website.

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Are you part of the Joshua Generation?

We developed this just for you:

eg free trial eg homepage 2019

Engaging God on the Heavenly Pathways of Relationship and Responsibility
Equipping a Joshua Generation of supernatural sons of God to live according to the order of Melchizedek

To find out more and get started today*, click here…

‘Engaging God’ is an interactive modular programme developed by Mike Parsons.

Through using it you will learn how to access God through Jesus who is the Way, Truth and Life, in the realms of heaven and within your own spirit and heart; and how to take up your responsibility as a mature son [daughter] in God’s kingdom.

Many people have had involuntary or ecstatic encounters or experiences where they have engaged God (Father, Son and Holy Spirit) and the realms of heaven in visions. Whether you have had such experiences yourself or not, through this programme you will learn to develop the ability to engage and re-engage those encounters at will, and to mature in outworking the revelation you receive from God on a daily basis.

Choose monthlyquarterly or annual options for your automatic recurring subscription payments via credit or debit card, and try Engaging God free for 2 weeks – no payment will be made until after 14 days, during which you can easily cancel if you wish.

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183. The Judgment Seat of Christ

Mike Parsons
with Jeremy Westcott

Judgment, coming to the house of God

Transformation is the ongoing process of restoring our lives to original condition and purpose; finding our unique true identity and eternal destiny. It is also preparation for God’s judgment that is coming to the church (1 Peter 4:17).

We are the church, an organic structure of relationships in the kingdom. In judgment, God is going to give His verdict (and the root of that word is ‘saying what is true’). He is going to say ‘yes’ and ‘no’ to the church: He will affirm and authenticate the true church, but there are aspects of the institution that we call ‘church’ that God is not pleased with, and He is going to make it abundantly clear that He is not pleased. Then people will face a choice: whether to stay with the institution, the religious structure, or whether to go for the relationship. And God is calling us into relationship.

Matching scrolls?

God is going to look at the scroll of our lives and see how it matches up with our scroll of destiny, all the vast thoughts God had about us; all that was written about our lives (Ps 139:16-17). Do our lives match up with how God intended them to be? We need to be ready to face that question and receive that judgment.

For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad (2 Cor 5:10).

We know this is not about sin; it is about whether or not we have done what God asked us to do, and with what motive. Each one of us will give an account of himself to God (Rom 14:11-12). The traditional understanding is that this only happens after we die, but my experience is that you can go to that judgment seat now.

If we build with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, or straw, the quality of our work will be tested with fire (see 1 Cor 3:11-13). It is the quality that is tested, not the quantity. The transforming fire of God will consume and burn up all those things that are not of Him, but will purify and affirm those things that are.

The Lamb and the Lion

In my personal experience of this, I was given a sealed scroll and brought to a place where there stood a Lamb. Many of the encounters we have in the heavenly realms are full of symbolism, and as I laid my hands on the head of the Lamb, just as the high priest laid his hands on the head of a sacrificial animal in the Old Testament, I understood that all my sin was laid on Jesus.

I still had the scroll in my hands, and now in front of me stood a huge Lion. I walked into the darkness of His open mouth. It was a journey into the dark, until I came out into a place where there was a pillar of fire; and the fire had eyes which were looking into and piercing my soul.

The Lamb and the Lion of the tribe of Judah is worthy to open the scroll (Rev 5). The seals on the scroll sprung open as I walked into that place and stood physically shaking and quaking in the presence of God. Everything I had done for Him was written on this scroll. Some things I knew immediately that He was really pleased about, because they were done in obedience and in the right heart. Others He was not pleased about, things I had done for the wrong motive, and I faced the fire of God’s presence as it consumed all that wood, hay and stubble,.and the scroll was purified.

Then the scroll was turned over, and on the back showed all that I had missed, the opportunities to serve God and to do His will that I had allowed to pass me by. Once the eyes of fire had burned through it all, it was completely wiped clean, and God gave me an opportunity for a fresh start, to see my scroll of destiny fulfilled in the scroll of my life.

It was a humbling, life-changing, difficult yet highly motivating experience.

That judgment seat is about recompense, about reward in the age to come. Our reward is to be able to serve His purpose, to operate in rulership, but only according to the measure that we have fulfilled our destiny in this time.

All of us can have access to that realm in heaven where our scroll gets dealt with in the fire of God’s presence. Ultimately, if we want real transformation, we will be glad to see the wood, hay and stubble burned up. The fire of judgment is not for punishment, but for transformation, purification and refining, so that our lives will better reflect Him.

Coals from the altar

In the year of King Uzziah’s death I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted, with the train of His robe filling the temple. Seraphim stood above Him, each having six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord of hosts, The whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa 6:1-3).

It is through us that His glory will fill the earth. The more we surrender to His purpose in our lives, to transformation, the more of His glory we will be able to display and the more that glory will fill the earth.

seraph

And the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. Then I said, Woe is me, for I am ruined! Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a burning coal in his hand, which he had taken from the altar with tongs. He touched my mouth with it and said, “Behold, this has touched your lips; and your iniquity is taken away and your sin is purged” (Isa 6:4-7).

In the fire of His presence there is nothing we can hide, nothing that is not revealed. In the presence of God, we see things for how they really are. This was a real experience for Isaiah. He knew he was ruined, undone. But there is something about patterns of sin and iniquity in our lives, over years and generations, which can be purged with the fire that comes from that altar. Angels are coming today, bringing the coals, looking for those who are willing to be refined and purified.

God wants us to pursue these experiences. He is still asking, “Whom shall I send, and who will go for Us?” He is looking for those who will fill the earth with glory. Like Isaiah, let us reply, “Here I am, Send me!”

Such encounters lead us to our destiny. Think of Moses, Joshua, and Saul on the Damascus road. Jesus lived a lifestyle of encountering the Father so that He could do what He saw the Father doing (John 5:19). Daily encounters with the living God in the heavenly Holy of Holies not of this creation will transform our lives, and give us direction day by day.

Identity, destiny and authority

We are being called into our identity and destiny as a Joshua Generation, a people transformed and ready for God’s judgment, authentication and mandated authority; a generation of believers who possess our heavenly and earthly kingdom inheritance and fulfil our eternal destinies; a people prepared to receive and disciple a harvest of supernatural labourers into their kingdom inheritance; a people to fill the earth with God’s glory.

As we come to the end of this series on Transformation, I make these declarations over you:

I call your spirit to attention.
Spirit, listen as a true son.

I call forth your identity as the Joshua Generation.
I call forth your destiny to manifest God’s kingdom
on earth as it is in heaven.
I call forth your destiny to fill the earth with God’s glory.

I call forth your identity, destiny and authority as lords
to administer God’s rule on earth as it is in heaven.
I call forth your identity, destiny and authority as kings
to have charge over God’s heavenly courts.
I call forth your identity, destiny and authority as sons
to stand in God’s presence and be displayed on the earth.

I call forth your identity, destiny and authority as sons of God
to answer the groan of creation
and restore to it to original condition and purpose.
I call forth the Joshua Generation
to rise up and take possession of your inheritance.

Related articles by Freedom ARC
Other resources from Freedom ARC

Support Freedom ARC

If our free or paid resources are a blessing to you, please consider making a donation to sow into and support this ministry. Thank you!

Are you part of the Joshua Generation?

We developed this just for you:

Engaging God on the Heavenly Pathways of Relationship and Responsibility
Equipping a Joshua Generation of supernatural sons of God to live according to the order of Melchizedek

Get started today!*

To find out more about the Engaging God programme, click here…

*Technology permitting: automated process on receipt of payment and completion of online registration form. Terms and conditions apply.

Vision Destiny 2015

Free download

Mike Parsons’ 3-session teaching series, Vision Destiny 2015, is available for free download from our website.

We believe that these messages contain important prophetic words for the people of God in 2015.

A reflection of God on earth?

Are we a shadow or reflection of God on earth so He can fully occupy us?

We are responsible for the revelation we have been given:
Are we aligned to that revelation?
Are we acting like forerunners?

“I am going to release the 7 spirits and your assigned councillors in greater measure
to those who will position themselves
and take the responsible seats of government.”

The Lion roars

This year will be the year where the Lion roars,
where Kingship will be revealed
and where enthronements take place,
where authority is released at a higher level.

You are a son of God, called to have dominion;
governmental authority,
in, and through, and around your life.

Judgment is coming

Judgment is coming:
God drawing a line, saying,
“This is me… and this is not”.

Judgment is not a punishment to death
but a decision to call us to choose life.

Impending upheaval

“The very stars are awaiting their repositioning orders, as Sons accept their call to action from their mandated positions of true governmental authority.

“Look to the constellations for the signs of impending upheaval
as the affairs of the nations are administered by the sons of God once more.
The stars will release their light and glory to the sons of God:
the resonance of their light and sound once again restored to divine order.”

You can download this latest 3-session teaching series, Vision Destiny 2015, completely free of charge from our website.

These key teaching sessions release important prophetic words for 2015. Whilst originally delivered in Freedom Church, so that some of the content relates specifically to the local body, much will be of value to the wider ekklesia of God (especially sessions 2 and 3, those titled ‘Vision Destiny 2015’).

Please click here to obtain your free audio mp3s, PDF slideshows (and for session 3 only, streaming video).

Support Freedom ARC

If our free or paid resources are a blessing to you, please consider making a donation to sow into and support this ministry. Thank you!

Are you part of the Joshua Generation?

We developed this just for you:

Engaging God on the Heavenly Pathways of Relationship and Responsibility
Equipping a Joshua Generation of supernatural sons of God to live according to the order of Melchizedek

Get started today!*

To find out more about the Engaging God programme, click here…

*Technology permitting: automated process on receipt of payment and completion of online registration form. Terms and conditions apply.