no “hope on the other side of the lake”

clip_image002Review of Erasing Hell by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle (Colorado Springs:, Colorado: David C. Cook, 2011) Kindle edition.

Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle have joined forces to produce a contemporary book on hell that speaks to the hearts of today’s evangelicals, but engages our minds as well. Although admitting a reluctance to take up the subject, their approach flows from people who are serious about it, and who want to faithfully represent what the Bible says about it. They did not want to “get so lost in deciphering” and “forget to tremble” (87).

The title is a bit misleading – since the authors have no intention of actually erasing hell – or letting their readers forget it. Instead, the title speaks to the almost universal reluctance that modern humanity has of even thinking about the possibility of divine punishment. Most of us “would love to erase hell from the pages of Scripture” (13), but the references to final punishment are there, nonetheless.

Some have tried to erase hell by suggesting that it is merely a temporary phenomenon – that eventually all nonbelievers will be restored and God’s love will finally win the day. The problem is, nothing in Scripture “suggests that there’s hope on the other side of the lake (of fire)” (33).

The book prescribes a solution to our problems with hell – that we wise up to the fact that God is sovereign, and he is going to punish the lost so we might as well accept it. He is the potter, we are the clay. If he chooses not to save everyone, his love still wins, because his love is intrinsic. It is not defined by what we might expect it to do. The book defends God and hell, and encourages its readers to accept both as reality.

With one exception, that reality is exactly the teachings of popular Christianity that Rob bell reacted so strongly against.[1] Chan and Sprinkler defend what the modern universalist might call the traditional view of hell – as a place where God will torment unbelievers perpetually for all eternity. The only exception is that for Chan and Sprinkler, hell takes place after the final judgment, not immediately after death. They rightly conclude that the intermediate state is “where the wicked await their judgment” (156). What they do not admit is that it (sheol/hades) is also where the righteous await resurrection, and that for both it is a state of unconsciousness the Bible calls sleep.

No, Chan and Sprinkler will not erase hell. They are uncomfortable with the thought of people suffering for eternity, but conclude that they should not “erase God’s revealed plan of punishment because it doesn’t sit well with” them (135).

The book avoids any discussion of the essential nature of humanity, but proceeds from the same presuppositions regarding that question that Rob Bell did – that human souls are indestructible. This is seen in the explanation of Matthew 25:46, where Jesus speaks of the two destinies. The book argues that “Because the life in this age will never end, given the parallel, it also seems that the punishment in this age will never end” (85). If the authors had not already concluded that both destinies involve life, they could perhaps see that Jesus is not giving a description of two parallel destinies, but contrasting two permanent destinies, where only one involves life. The punishment is not life, but death, and it is just as permanent (Gk. aionios) as the believer’s life.[2]

Since they hold this presupposition of innate immortality, although the authors quote numerous texts of Scripture where hell is described as destruction (26-29, 80, 101-102, 109-111, 130), they conclude that this cannot be taken literally in any of them. They also conclude that the fire of hell is not a literal fire (154), and that the second death will not be a literal death (106-107). Neither of those conclusions can be established by exegesis of the texts themselves. They are all based on the presupposition of the innate immortality of the soul – a doctrine borrowed from paganism and infused into Christian thought by syncretism.

For those convinced that humans already have eternal life, Erasing Hell might achieve its purpose: to encourage them to accept the traditional notion of hell as God’s best — even if it is repugnant to them. Chan admits that he does not feel that God is doing right by tormenting people for eternity, but adds “Maybe someday I will stand in complete agreement with (God), but for now I attribute the discrepancy to an underdeveloped sense of justice on my part” (141).

For me, the problem is not with God’s justice. If God created human beings immortal, his justice demands that they spend eternity suffering for their rejection of him. But that is just it. The Bible insists that humanity lost its chance at immortality in the garden of Eden. Since then, the only hope for anyone to live forever is found in Christ. Hell is designed for those outside of Christ. They have nothing immortal that would burn forever if thrown into a lake of fire. The fires of Hell will do what God says they will do. They will destroy those thrown into them, body and soul.[3]

This is both God’s justice and his love, because his new creation will be purged of all sin and evil. There will be no hell existing perpetually beside the kingdom. Christ will destroy all of God’s enemies.[4] That is the biblical hell. It ends God’s judgment and makes room for the eternal kingdom of life and love. That event is absolutely essential to God’s plan in history. No one should want to erase it.

[1] Rob Bell, LOVE WINS: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived. (Robert H. Bell, Jr. Trust, 2011).

[2] For more on the meaning of aionios, see my article “Solving the Problem of Hell.”

[3] Matthew 10:28. For more on this fate, see Edward Fudge, The Fire that Consumes, third edition. (Eugene Oregon: Cascade Books, 2011).

[4] 1 Corinthians 15:24-26.

ACST 44. The Fallen

Bruegel, the fall of the rebel angels

The Bible says a great deal about Satan, but perhaps a great deal less than one would expect. Satan was the first to rebel against God’s sovereignty in heaven, and the leader of humanity’s rebellion through deception. One would think that whole books would have been written explaining who this prince of darkness is, and preparing believers to do spiritual warfare against him. But in spite of his threat to us, God has given us relatively little information about him.

The Bible is written to humans, and reveals only enough about Satan and his kingdom to prepare us for the battles with him we will face. While it is important to know one’s enemy, it is even more important for Christians to know themselves, and the resources available to them for engaging the enemy. Too much fascination with the enemy can lead to an overemphasis on his power, and a fatalistic attitude about the times we face him. For that reason, there is more emphasis in the Bible on Christ than antichrist. There is more said about God’s kingdom than Satan’s counterfeit.

Some of the most significant passages that inform readers of Satan and his influence are those where he appears almost by accident. Jesus rebuked Peter for insisting that he would never go to the cross. He says “Get behind me, Satan.”[1] His rebuke is scathing, and suggests that when we oppose God’s plan, Satan is behind it.

When Satan first appears in the Old Testament narrative, he has possessed the body of a beautiful and wise animal called the serpent. This serpent in Eden is capable of conversing with our ancestors, and leads them to rebel against their maker. The serpent is condemned for his incitement of that rebellion, and God seems to speak through him to Satan himself when he promises that a seed of the woman would do battle with him, be injured in that battle, and finally prevail by crushing the serpent’s head.[2]

Another passage where we suddenly discover that Satan has slipped into the story is found in Ezekiel 28.

“The word of the LORD came to me: 2 “Son of man,

say to the prince of Tyre, Thus says the Lord GOD:

“Because your heart is proud, and you have said, ‘I

am a god, I sit in the seat of the gods, in the heart

of the seas,’ yet you are but a man, and no god,

though you make your heart like the heart of a god-

3 you are indeed wiser than Daniel; no secret is

hidden from you; 4 by your wisdom and your under-

standing you have made wealth for yourself, and

have gathered gold and silver into your treasuries;

5 by your great wisdom in your trade you have

increased your wealth, and your heart has become

proud in your wealth- 6 therefore thus says the Lord

GOD: Because you make your heart like the heart of

a god, 7 therefore, behold, I will bring foreigners

upon you, the most ruthless of the nations; and

they shall draw their swords against the beauty of

your wisdom and defile your splendor. 8 They shall

thrust you down into the pit, and you shall die the

death of the slain in the heart of the seas. 9 Will

you still say, ‘I am a god,’ in the presence of those

who kill you, though you are but a man, and no god,

in the hands of those who slay you? 10 You shall

die the death of the uncircumcised by the hand of

foreigners; for I have spoken, declares the Lord GOD.””[3]

The chapter starts out with an obvious prophecy directed toward the ruler of Tyre. He is called the prince of Tyre, and he is guilty of such pride due to his wealth and accomplishments that he fancies himself a god. Ezekiel predicts that the real God will humble this false god by bringing foreign armies who will “draw their swords against the beauty of (his) wisdom and defile (his) splendor.” As a result this great prince of Tyre will “die the death of the slain in the heart of the seas.” God asks him, “Will you still say ‘I am a god’ in the presence of those who kill you?” No, this ruler of Tyre is not a god. He will be punished for his arrogance.

In the next section of his prophecy, Ezekiel goes so far to the extreme in both condemning and praising Tyre’s ruler that it appears he is looking beyond the earthly ruler to Satan himself – his spirit-being counterpart.

“Moreover, the word of the LORD came to me:

12 “Son of man, raise a lamentation over the

king of Tyre, and say to him, Thus says the Lord

GOD: “You were the signet of perfection, full of

wisdom and perfect in beauty. 13 You were in

Eden, the garden of God; every precious stone

was your covering, sardius, topaz, and diamond,

beryl, onyx, and jasper, sapphire, emerald, and

carbuncle; and crafted in gold were your settings

and your engravings. On the day that you were

created they were prepared. 14 You were an

anointed guardian cherub. I placed you; you were

on the holy mountain of God; in the midst of the

stones of fire you walked. 15 You were blameless

in your ways from the day you were created, till

unrighteousness was found in you. 16 In the

abundance of your trade you were filled with

violence in your midst, and you sinned; so I cast

you as a profane thing from the mountain of God,

and I destroyed you, O guardian cherub, from the

midst of the stones of fire. 17 Your heart was

proud because of your beauty; you corrupted your

wisdom for the sake of your splendor. I cast you to

the ground; I exposed you before kings, to feast

their eyes on you. 18 By the multitude of your

iniquities, in the unrighteousness of your trade

you profaned your sanctuaries; so I brought fire

out from your midst; it consumed you, and I

turned you to ashes on the earth in the sight of

all who saw you. 19 All who know you among the

peoples are appalled at you; you have come to a

dreadful end and shall be no more forever.””[4]

Whoever the referent of this lamentation is, he is called the “king of Tyre” as opposed to the “prince of Tyre” (vs. 1). While other rulers are called kings in Ezekiel,[5] there must be a reason that a new title is used at this juncture in the prophecy. Since the king of Tyre is called a prince, perhaps Satan is referred to as king in that he is the power behind the power, the pride behind the pride.

Such superlatives are used of the king of Tyre that it seems strange for these words to be referring to a mere man. He was “the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” He was “blameless in (his) ways “till unrighteousness was found (in him).” His “heart was proud because of (his) beauty.” He “corrupted (his) wisdom for the sake of (his) splendor.” These descriptions seem to be speaking of – and to – someone greater than a mere human king.

The descriptions of the referent’s past are also problematic if they only refer to a human ruler. Was the king of Tyre “in Eden, the garden of God”? Was he “an anointed guardian cherub” placed “on the holy mountain of God”?

For these reasons, some scholars conclude that the ultimate message of Ezekiel 28:11-19 speaks through the human ruler of Tyre and to the spirit being that inspired him.[6]

The good news in all this is that if God’s message in Ezekiel 28:12b-16a described the rebellion of Satan, then we would expect 28:16b-19 to describe God’s judgment upon Satan. Notice the specific judgments that are described here:

1. He is cast from the mountain on which

he had been placed as guardian cherub,[7]

2. He is destroyed,

3. He is cast to the ground,

4. He is exposed before kings,

5. He is consumed by fire,

6. He is turned to ashes,

7. He comes to a dreadful end,

8. He shall be no more forever.

Any one of those descriptions of the judgment of Satan might be taken figuratively, were it simply standing alone. But the mass of them seen together seems to prove beyond question that Satan is not an immortal being. God is not going to have to put up with that creature and his prideful rebellion forever. He will come to an end. His future is sealed. Tyre as a nation was destroyed, and its prince with it. Is there any doubt that this king of Tyre will suffer the same fate?

The fact of Satan’s eventual complete destruction could be a major means of encouragement to believers, who often (for the time being) suffer at his hands. But this very fact is often ignored completely in Christian theology. Those who are convinced that no beings (either angels or humans) will ever die overlook or redefine the Bible when it speaks about the demise of Satan.

When John saw the vision of everything that is going to make it into the next age, Satan was not there. John said “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth.” He saw no lake of fire, no hell, no grave, no tartarus, no part of the old creation. John said “for the first heaven and the first earth” – i.e. all that was part of the original creation – including Satan – “had passed away.” Satan will pass away.[8]

After describing the glories of the holy city, new Jerusalem, John said “The one who conquers will have this heritage, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars [all of these terms describe Satan], their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”[9] Satan will experience the second death.

Satan was said to have been thrown into that lake of fire and tormented day and night for “ages and ages” (the literal rendering of what is usually translated “forever and ever.”[10] No doubt God is going to take a long time to destroy Satan and his evil angels. But to insist that “ages and ages” means eternity makes it impossible for the lake of fire to be what God says it is – the second death.

God created hell for the purpose of destroying his enemies entirely – both soul and body.[11] When the demons saw Jesus, they asked him if he had come to destroy them.[12] They knew that their ultimate fate would be destruction at the hands of our savior. The author of Hebrews says that Jesus became a human being so that he could deliver us who fear death – and “destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil.”[13] God has prepared a fire for the devil and his angels.[14] Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed in such a fire.[15] Their destruction serves “as an example” of that destruction that awaits Satan and the fallen angels. Those cities are not burning today. They were totally, permanently destroyed. The adjective aionios, usually translated “eternal” described the fire of Sodom and Gomorrah and will describe the fire of hell because it will destroy eternally, that is, permanently. This is the usual meaning of the term aionios in the New Testament, as seen in the following examples:

  • the permanent sin which can never be forgiven (Mark 3:29).
  • the permanent weight of glory compared with our slight momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 5:10).
  • the permanent things that are unseen compared to the transient things that are seen (2 Corinthians 4:18).
  • the permanent house (body) in the heavens compared to our temporary tent (body) on earth (2 Corinthians 5:1).
  • the permanent destruction the lost will face at Christ’s return (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
  • the permanent comfort and good hope we have through God’s grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16).
  • the permanent glory that accompanies salvation in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10).
  • Philemon’s permanent return to Colossae, after being parted from them for a while (Philemon 1:15).
  • the permanent salvation made possible by Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 5:9).
  • the permanent judgment that will take place after the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 6:2).
  • the permanent redemption secured by Christ’s sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:12).
  • the permanent covenant made possible by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 13:20).
  • entrance into the permanent kingdom provided for all those who make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Paul describes Jesus as the ruler who will destroy all of his enemies before delivering the kingdom over to the Father. He will destroy “every rule and every authority and power” — terms that refer to demonic spirits.[16] He must do that or God’s plan cannot be accomplished. He must do that before he puts an end to death. Before that happens, everyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s book of life will have been throne into that lake, and will have experienced the second death. Is Satan’s name in the Lamb’s book of life? No, so his fate is to be destroyed in hell, along with all he has deceived into joining him.

Satan has rebelled against God, and has convinced an undisclosed number of angels to follow him in that rebellion. They have lost their original authority in heaven, and have fallen from their positions of God-ordained rank. They appear to have reorganized into ranks through which they seek to influence humanity by various means. Paul teaches this when he described them as rulers, authorities, cosmic powers, and spiritual forces of evil.[17] Their goal is to corrupt the earth, and to get as many human beings as possible to share their ultimate fate – complete destruction.

The succeeding chapters will outline the various means that Satan and the demons use to accomplish their purposes. It is best to know what one’s enemies are up to. Perhaps this knowledge will assist us in doing battle with them, and resisting their influence until Christ comes and defeats them for good.

[1] Matthew 16:23; Mark 8:33.

[2] Genesis 3:15.

[3] Ezekiel 28:1-10.

[4] Ezekiel 28:11-19.

[5] Ezekiel 1:2; 7:27; 17:12, 16; 19:9; 20:33; 21:19, 21; 24:2; 26:7; 29:2f, 18f; 30:10, 21f, 24f; 31:2; 32:2, 11; 37:22, 24.

[6] Ron Rhodes, Commonly Misunderstood Bible Verses (Eugene, Oregon: Harvest House Publishers, 2008), 106-107. “…the king is portrayed as having a different nature than man (he is a cherub, considered to be in the inner circle of angels with closest access to God – verse 14). He had a different status than man (he was blameless and sinless – verse 15). He was in a different realm than man (the holy Mount of God – verses 13-14). He received a different judgment than man (verse 16 – he was cast out of the mountain of God and thrown to earth, which seems parallel to description of Satan’s fall in revelation 12).”

[7] J. Dwight Pentecost, Your Adversary the Devil (Grand Rapids: Kregel Publications, 1997), 15. “Now if we were to try to assign positions to the different orders of angels, we would conclude that the cherubim who could stand and look Godward, or minister throneward occupied the highest position of all and had the greatest privilege of any created being. It was over such a privileged class of angels that Lucifer was placed in authority by Divine appointment.”

[8] Revelation 21:1.

[9] Revelation 21:7-8.

[10] Revelation 20:10.

[11] Matthew 10:28.

[12] Mark 1:24.

[13] Hebrews 2:14.

[14] Matthew 25:41.

[15] Jude 7.

[16] 1 Corinthians 15:24-26.

[17] Ephesians 6:12.

Solving the Problem of Hell

Travel-Insurance-For-People-With-Health-ProblemOur ancestors’ rebellion in Eden has changed humanity from what God originally intended. Because of that rebellion, humanity has inherited a sinful inclination that devastates all our attempts at being good and doing good things. We are tainted with evil, depraved to the core. Legally, we stand condemned before God, so that even our obedience is never enough to justify us. We all sin in so many ways and so many times throughout our lives that destruction in Gehenna hell is almost the only solution for a just God to apply to the problem of us.


Every life so corrupted by the initial rebellion of Adam – so separated from God by its inherently selfish sinful inclination – deserves the punishment that God warns us of in the Bible. Unfortunately, there has been so much unbiblical tradition added to what the scripture says about that punishment that the term “hell” has ceased to be a helpful word to describe it. A better term – the one Jesus used – is Gehenna. Unlike the hell of tradition, this hell does not begin at death, but begins on judgment day at the end of the age. Also, unlike the hell of tradition, this hell is not a place for the torment of disembodied spirits, but is the place for the punishment and destruction of the whole person – body and spirit.

Originally designating a valley near Jerusalem where garbage was burned, Gehenna for Jesus is a place where every sin – no matter how small it might seem – counts. It is an event and a place for the punishment of every act of violence. It is also a place for the punishment of every careless thought and word of violence. Jesus said “everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment … and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.”[1] The reality of hell should make us careful about how we express our emotions.

Gehenna will also punish all those who have followed false teachers, and willfully passed on their deceptions. This idea makes modern humanity a little less comfortable, because it implies that humans are held accountable for the lies they are told as well as the lies they tell. But Jesus clearly taught that the religious leaders of his day were going to Gehenna, and taking with them all of their converts. He called the scribes and Pharisees hypocrites, because they “travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, (they) make him twice as much a child of hell as (them) selves.”[2] The reality of Gehenna should make us all wary of accepting any “new” doctrine.

The scribes and Pharisees were considered the super-spiritual of their day. If anyone envisioned what a holy man looked like, the appearance would be similar to that of a scribe (scripture expert) or Pharisee (law expert). Yet Jesus detected an inner spiritual defilement in these religious leaders. He said they “outwardly appear righteous to others, but within (they) are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.”[3] He warned them by saying “You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?”[4] The reality of Gehenna should make us all yearn for genuineness in our relationship to God and obedience to his word.

The hell of tradition is a different matter. Rather than teaching that hell is a place where sin is dealt with ultimately by God, tradition teaches a hell that is a sort of repository where God puts all those pesky sinners that he could not cure. It is a place of punishment and confinement, but not destruction. Having bought into the Greek concept of the immortality of the human soul, tradition is not in a place where it can accept what Jesus literally says about Gehenna. For Jesus, the judgment will take place not during the intermediate state (between death and the resurrection), but “on the last day.”[5]

That “last day” will be truly the last day for all sinners, because they will be raised not for life but for condemnation,[6] punishment (including torment) appropriate for each of their personal sins,[7] and then destruction. Yes, destruction. God has not created anything that he cannot destroy. Jesus said that he “can destroy both soul and body in hell.”[8] Jesus compared the Day of Judgment to the day the world was destroyed by Noah’s flood,[9] and the day the people of Sodom were destroyed by fire.[10] In calling people to himself, he urged them to take the narrow gate which leads to life, not the broad gate, which leads to destruction.[11]

Gehenna is a place for that destruction of both soul and body. That is why Jesus said “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.”[12]

Gehenna is not a place known for life, but death. Those who suffer on judgment day will suffer for only as long as it takes to punish them for their sins, and then they will experience the same reality as anything else that is thrown into fire: they will die. The redeemed who are not condemned to Gehenna are said to “enter life.” But those condemned to Gehenna have entered death. That is why Jesus said “if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.”[13]

Destruction in Gehenna hell is almost the only solution for a just God to apply to the problem of sinful us. Thankfully, there is another solution. Since sin is so pervasive, and its consequences in our lives so comprehensive – God has provided in salvation a solution which touches upon every problem that sin has caused for his creatures. That solution is the gospel, which explains what Christ did for us (substitutionary atonement), and what he will do (resurrection and glorification).

Substitutionary Atonement

The apostle Paul put forth an axiom which applies to every aspect of sin discussed. He said “the wages of sin is death.”[14] Carried to its logical conclusion, that axiom would place every human being who has ever lived in the fires of Gehenna for a just destruction. Fortunately, there is a “but” in Paul’s statement: “but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” The gospel tells us that Christ’s death on the cross can serve as a substitute punishment for the personal sins of everyone who turns to him in faith.

This substitutionary atonement is God’s idea. It is a free gift from a loving God who is determined to destroy all sin, but does not want to depopulate his universe in doing so. It is a manifestation of God’s attribute of grace. It is also a manifestation of his attribute of justice, since the punishment and death due us for our sins has been meted out on the substitute. The lesson Abraham learned on Mt. Moriah was that God will provide.[15] In that case, he provided a ram, whose head was caught in thorns. That ram served as a substitute for Abraham’s son, Isaac. The event prefigured another substitute God provided, when he allowed his own son to wear a crown of thorns, suffer punishment he did not deserve, and die. The wages of our sin was his death on the cross.


Since the wages of sin is death, the countryside of every country on this planet is littered with cemeteries. The sin imputed to all humanity as a result of Adam and Eve’s rebellion has resulted in just what God predicted: mortality and eventual – inevitable death. God offers a solution to this problem as well. He cannot simply reverse the curse and make it so that human beings will never die. He will not undo his just penalty. Instead, he offers a resurrection unto eternal life at Christ’s return.

This solution is once again a miraculous combination of God’s justice and his grace. His just punishment of mortality and eventual death still reigns. The cemeteries are still being filled. But the free gift of God is eternal life. This life will begin with a resurrection unto eternal, immortal life. It is the believer’s inheritance.[16] Peter says that God “has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.”[17] Resurrection life is God’s solution to the problem of imputed sin, which keeps us heading to the grave.


The axiom “the wages of sin is death” is also true spiritually. Our inherited sin has resulted in spiritual death. We not only experience death because of God’s justice, we also have died to his justice (and his grace too). Paul described this dilemma well: “For I delight in the law of God, in my inner being, but I see in my members another law waging war against the law of my mind and making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members. Wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?”[18] As much as we might want to do the right thing, spiritual death causes us to continue to sin.

God has provided a solution for this sin-reality as well. For every believer who trusts in Christ for his justification, God initiates through his Holy Spirit a process that will eventually lead to glorification – a complete restoration to a sinless state. This is a work of God from start to finish. Paul says “those whom he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.”[19] He speaks of glorification as a past tense event because he is emphasizing that it is a work of God.

In the present, however, most of us do not feel all that glorified yet. Our lives are a struggle where we keep getting in the way of the Holy Spirit as he seeks to sanctify us more and more. In fact, if anyone ever starts boasting that she has arrived and no longer sins, she is calling God a liar, and his word is not in her.[20] But we can look forward to more and more victories over sin as we yield to the Holy Spirit. He is the seal and guarantee of the glorified life that awaits us.[21]

In this life, believers do not have to experience the wages of spiritual death. This is true because “those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh (sinful inclination) with its passions and desires.”[22] We have been spiritually resurrected. Our baptism symbolizes this truth. Paul says “we were buried … with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”[23] Our death to sin allows Christ to live his resurrected life through us. This allows us to experience a glimpse of the glorified life now – in victory over sin.

The only way to solve the problem of the hell of destruction we all deserve is to trust in Christ for salvation now. All who do so will receive forgiveness from sins now, and the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives leading to their resurrection and glorification at Christ’s return. All others will face hell, which the Bible calls the second death. That hell is permanent. There will be no coming back, and no second chance. For sinners today, Christ is the only way to avoid destruction in hell tomorrow.

Recently, pastor Rob Bell has suggested that God’s love will eventually restore even those who are thrown into hell itself. In his bestselling book, Love Wins, Bell speaks of “a long tradition of Christians who believe that God will ultimately restore everything and everybody”[24] – even those he has thrown into hell. That long standing tradition was the belief in purgatory. It was based on another long tradition in the church – the doctrine of the immortality of souls. The reasoning was that since souls burning in hell will be alive for eternity, there is a chance that God’s mercy might eventually restore them. Bell suggests that this is God’s plan – to eventually restore all to himself and through that restoration his love will win over his wrath.

Bell’s solution to the problem of hell has much appeal to today’s society, just as the invented doctrine of purgatory did in the dark ages. It allows humanity to continue to reject Christ – the only solution God offers – and still come out alive. Bell’s problem with the traditional hell is that in it God never gets what he wants. He points out two conflicting facts: “ ‘that God is mighty, powerful, and “in control” and that billions of people will spend forever apart from this God, who is their creator, even though it’s written in the Bible that “God wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2). So does God get what God wants?”[25] Bell’s solution is to suggest what pagan Christianity did: that Hell is not permanent.

But everything the Bible says about hell suggests otherwise. Hell is a second death from which there is no resurrection. The first death is temporary, because all will be raised from it to stand before God on Judgment Day. Only those whose names are on the Lamb’s book of life will be rescued from that second death.[26] Those who are not listed as having been saved will perish,[27] be destroyed,[28] and be burned up.[29]

This destruction is permanent. The New Testament had many ways of describing something that is permanent. It could talk about things that remain after other things disintegrate. In such cases it would use the Greek verb meno. Paul said that the new covenant has more glory than the old, because the new covenant remains (meno), while the old covenant was being brought to an end.[30]

Sometimes a word indicating the impossibility of destruction would be used of permanent things. Examples include the adjective afthartos (imperishable)[31] and the noun athanasia (immortality).[32] These words are never used to describe the people in hell. They are only used of God, and of those who come to Christ and so never see hell.

The word the New Testament uses of hell that causes the most confusion is the adjective aionios, usually translated eternal. The English word eternal suggests a process that goes on forever. The way the New Testament uses the word, it usually depicts something that is permanent in contrast with things that are temporary.

Notice, for example how the New Testament uses aionios to compare some things that were permanent with some things that were temporary:

• the permanent sin which can never be forgiven (Mark 3:29).

• the permanent weight of glory compared with our slight momentary affliction (2 Corinthians 4:17; 1 Peter 5:10).

• the permanent things that are unseen compared to the transient things that are seen (2 Corinthians 4:18).

• the permanent house (body) in the heavens compared to our temporary tent (body) on earth (2 Corinthians 5:1).

• the permanent destruction the lost will face at Christ’s return (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

• the permanent comfort and good hope we have through God’s grace (2 Thessalonians 2:16).

• the permanent glory that accompanies salvation in Christ (2 Timothy 2:10).

• Philemon’s permanent return to Colossae, after being parted from them for a while (Philemon 1:15).

• The permanent salvation made possible by Jesus, our great high priest (Hebrews 5:9).

• The permanent judgment that will take place after the resurrection of the dead (Hebrews 6:2).

• The permanent redemption secured by Christ’s sacrifice in the heavenly sanctuary (Hebrews 9:12).

• the permanent covenant made possible by the shedding of the blood of Christ (Hebrews 13:20).

• entrance into the permanent kingdom provided for all those who make their calling and election sure (2 Peter 1:10-11).

Use of this adjective was never intended to negate the concepts of destruction and coming to an end already inherent in the idea of hell. The adjective aionios was used to show that the event of hell could not be reversed. Sadly, this reversal is exactly what Bell is suggesting. He attempts to solve the problem of hell by making it a temporary phenomenon.

God’s justice demands a hell that is hot enough to destroy, and to do so permanently. The problem of hell cannot be solved until hell itself is destroyed. Paul envisioned a reign of Christ which would destroy all his enemies, including death itself. Death would be the last enemy destroyed.[33] That means all other enemies will be destroyed – not punished for a while and then restored. Sadly, there will probably be billions in that number. Jesus said “the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many.”[34] That is a terrible tragedy, but pretending that it will not be so is not going to help.

We should question the traditional view of hell (that of unending torment), because it is wrong. But suggesting that God is not serious when he warns people of their impending destruction is also wrong. Those who know about God’s grace, and his limited time offer of eternal life through Christ should be finding fresh new ways of proclaiming that truth to this generation on its way to hell. The gospel is the only solution to the problem of hell.

[1] Matt. 5:22.

[2] Matt. 23:15.

[3] Matt. 23:28.

[4] Matt. 23:33.

[5] John 12:48.

[6] Matt. 12:37; Mark 12:40; 16:16; Luke 20:47; James 5:12; 2 Pet. 2:3.

[7] Rev. 20:13.

[8] Matt. 10:28.

[9] Luke 17:27.

[10] Luke 17:29.

[11] Matt. 7:13-14.

[12] Matt. 5:29-30.

[13] Matt. 18:9.

[14] Rom. 6:23.

[15] Gen. 22.

[16] Gal. 3:18; Eph. 1:11,14,18; 5:5; Col. 1:12; 3:24; Heb. 9:15.

[17] 1 Pet. 1:3-5.

[18] Rom. 7:22-24.

[19] Rom. 8:30.

[20] 1 John 1:10.

[21] 2 Cor. 1:22; 5:5; Eph. 1:13-14.

[22] Gal. 5:24.

[23] Rom. 6:4.

[24] Rob Bell, Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived (Harper Collins, Inc.. Kindle Edition, 2011), 107.

[25] Bell, 97.

[26] Philippians 4:3; Revelation 3:5; 13:8; 17:8; 20:12, 15; 21:27.

[27] Luke 13:3, 5; John 3:16; 10:28; Acts 8:20; 13:41; Romans 2:12; 2 Pet. 3:9.

[28] Matthew 7:13; 22:7; Luke 17:27, 29; Acts 3:23; Romans 9:22; 1 Cor. 8:11; 10:9f; 15:26; Philippians 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:9; Heb. 10:39; 2 Pet. 2:12; 3:7.

[29] Malachi 4:1, 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7.

[30] 2 Cor. 3:11.

[31] Mark 16:8; Rom. 1:23; 1 Cor. 9:25; 15:52; 1 Tim. 1:17; 1 Pet. 1:4, 23; 3:4.

[32] 1 Cor. 15:53f; 1 Tim. 6:16.

[33] 1 Cor. 15:26.

[34] Matthew 7:13.

“life has no meaning without destiny”


Review of Earth’s Final Dawn by Clinton E. Taber.

The subtitle of Clint Taber’s new book Earth’s Final Dawn[1] is “understanding this age in view of the coming new age.” It is a systematic eschatology with numerous practical insights. Taber believes that “life has no meaning without destiny” (43). The destiny he envisions is the restoration of Edenic Paradise for eternity, cleansed of all things temporary – like sickness, pain, sin and death. The Bible is the story of how those temporary things came to be, and what God is doing to bring them to an end. It reveals how God has worked through history to replace the temporary kingdoms of Satan and men with his permanent kingdom, ruled by Christ. That kingdom is now in its formation phase – where God is preparing “a people who would live in fellowship with Him in His Kingdom Paradise for His glory forever (xxii).

Humanity is on the verge of witnessing earth’s final dawn – the dawn of the age to come. In this present age, Christ dealt with our sin problem by becoming our sacrifice of atonement. In the new age, after Christ returns, he will destroy death by raising his own from their graves, and destroy all his enemies by consuming them with the fires of hell. All of this is immanent – it could happen at any moment. All of this is necessary – because God’s plan for a restored Edenic Paradise cannot happen without it.

In Taber’s explanation of these things, you will find exegetical overviews of significant eschatological books of the Bible (like Daniel and Revelation) and extensive treatments of relevant doctrines (like the resurrection, the timing of the second coming, and conditional immortality).[2] His treatments are thorough, biblically sound, and up-to-date. He avoids following the party-line of popular end-times teachings, but points out that their popularity is due to the relevance that eschatology has for everyone.

Taber is not an extremist. He encourages balanced, biblical thinking on these important issues. He discourages the kind of date-setting fanaticism that has brought shame to the Church historically, and recently. He presents a powerful case that Christ could come in this generation, but stops short of saying that he definitely will. His evidence is compelling to anyone, but especially to those of us who long for our coming king.

Taber goes beyond simply proving that Christ is coming again. He gives his readers an appetite for the event. His descriptions of “main street” and “paradise park” (chapter 7) paint emotionally charged portraits of why Christ must come back. He captures the angst of this age with his descriptions of the pain, anxiety, trouble and sorrow that this world is now facing. He offers glimpses of a new age where the old limitations and sorrows are erased – the old bondages destroyed. He speaks as a man, and as a man of God who has seen much suffering, but who still believes that “God will not leave man forever in a world that falls short of his glory and purpose” (247).

Tabor neither expects nor demands complete agreement with everything he has presented. He encourages investigation. I took exception with Taber’s treatment of Rev. 20, and of some of his exegesis of Matthew 24. But these minor differences of exegesis did not deter me from my enjoyment of the work, or my benefit from it. Taber’s work is a well-written reminder that the second coming of Christ is the believer’s blessed hope. Come, Lord Jesus.

[1] Clinton E. Taber, Earth’s Final Dawn (Xulon Press, 2011) hereafter referred to by page number or chapter.

[2] Conditionalists will find particular interest in chapter 2, where Taber shows that Christ was sent to fight the battle of the ages in his own grave (63). Taber points out that “Death is the antithesis of life. Contrary to popular opinion, it is not the same as life. Death prevents man (even a believer) from experiencing the glories of God’s Kingdom Paradise. Without resurrection, there isn’t any future for man” (64). In chapter 5, Taber argues against the notion of innate immortality and for the notion of humanity’s complete dependence upon God. He investigates three views of what happens at death (reincarnation, relocation and resurrection) and concludes that “our problem with death stems from the fact that we were created for something better” (157). In chapter 6, Taber explains why the adjective eternal describes both destinies: “Eternal death is death forever. Eternal life is life forever” (193).

living as people of the promise

2 Peter 3 (ESV)


The apostle Peter was marked for death. He had been pursued and persecuted by his own Jewish brothers, and now the Roman government had put him on their hit list. He knew that his time was short. This letter (2 Peter) was probably his last chance to communicate with a group of believers and churches that he felt responsible for. He was not going to waste his words. Peter’s words were to be his legacy. He wanted his readers to recall them long after he was dead (1:14-15). He wanted them to live as people of the promise.


The whole chapter is about the second coming. He mentions the second coming of Christ six times:

•Skeptics are going to try to get people to believe that the promise will always be unfulfilled (4,9).

•He shows that it will be bad news for some because it will bring judgment and destruction on the ungodly (7).

•It will be the Day of the LORD that divides this age from the next (10).

•It will dissolve the temporary things to make room for the permanent (11).

•It is the day of God (not creation, incarnation, or even the resurrection of Christ) 12.



Now, look at how Peter frames his argument. He uses the same word each time he begins a new section. That word is beloved. Look at verses 1,8,14,17. I asked myself why he is breaking up his letter like that. I think the answer lies back in 2:1, where he warns of false teachers bringing in “destructive heresies.” Peter responds to four different destructive heresies that were going to be introduced to the church. We have to use our imaginations to discover which heresies he responds to, because we only have his responses. But it is clear that each heresy is about the second coming.


2 Peter 3:1-7  This is now the second letter that I am writing to you, beloved. In both of them I am stirring up your sincere mind by way of reminder,  2 that you should remember the predictions of the holy prophets and the commandment of the Lord and Savior through your apostles,  3 knowing this first of all, that scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires.  4 They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.”  5 For they deliberately overlook this fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God,  6 and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished.  7 But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.

Peter is responding to those who say that nothing ever changes in this world. They would probably argue that Jesus does not need to come because we can eventually figure out the world’s problems and take care of them. There is some truth in every heresy. Truth: the world is predictable. Truth: Christ has not yet come. Peter responded by pointing out that creation happened when God said GO. The flood happened when God said GO. Jesus is going to come again as soon as God says GO! We are people of the promise. We should focus on what will be, not what has been.


2 Peter 3:8-13   But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.  9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.  10 But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done on it will be exposed.  11 Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness,  12 waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be set on fire and dissolved, and the heavenly bodies will melt as they burn!  13 But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.

Peter is responding to those who say that God is too good and kind and patient to ever make good on his threat to annihilate the universe. Once again, there is truth here. Psalm 136 celebrates the steadfast love of God which endures forever. But Peter says the purpose of God’s patience is to populate a new universe after he has destroyed the old one. We can actually hasten the coming by getting involved in that redemptive work. God’s justice will eventually prevail, so his mercy is not infinite.


2 Peter 3:14-16  Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.  15 And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him,  16 as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Peter is responding to those who say that when you look at all the isms and conflicting teachings about the second coming, the whole thing is too confusing and impossible to explain. Peter says, true, it is confusing, and people distort the truth just like they do Paul’s writings. We need good solid systematic teaching on these issues. But the most important thing is not being able to explain the second coming, but being ready for it when it comes.


2 Peter 3:17-18  You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, take care that you are not carried away with the error of lawless people and lose your own stability.  18 But grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen.

Peter is responding to those who say that all those doctrines the church teaches are irrelevant: they don’t matter, and the second coming is one of those doctrines. True, good theology cannot save you, but bad theology can destroy you. It can make you lose your stability. Destructive heresies can destroy your walk and keep you from the coming kingdom. There are two eternal destinies: permanent life or permanent death. Peter warns against turning from this truth back to defilements of the world. To know the gospel and turn against it is worse that not knowing it at all.


This may be the last gospel message you ever hear. I challenge you to live in the reality of the promise of Christ’s second coming. Peter said it this way: “Since all these things are thus to be dissolved, what sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God” (11-12). Living in the light of the second coming is learning to live as we shall – not as we have, not as we are. God accepts us by grace, and sees us just as we will be. John says that when he appears we will be like him. Peter says be diligent to be found by him spotless.

LORD, we ask you to transform us now, and commit ourselves to living that transformation so that we hasten Christ’s coming. Make us people of the promise!