published by the Dawn Bible Students Association
There are very few of the teeming millions of
mankind who do not give some thought to what may be their lot when they die. Some wonder
whether there is a future life. Others, believing in a future life, wonder whether it will
be one of happiness or one of sorrow. The question, "Where will I spend
eternity?" is one to which not many have found a definite and satisfying answer.
The question whether our eternal destiny is unalterably
fixed at death is also of vital importance. If it is, then many questions are raised about
God's justice and love, for millions have died who have never had a real opportunity to
Many of these, by the standards of this world, are good
and noble, yet they do not profess to be Christian. They are congenial as neighbors, fair
in their business dealings, and are always ready to do a good turn to those in need; yet,
according the standards of this to the biblical conception of Christianity, they are not
good enough to go to heaven when they die. On the other hand, they are too good to be
Also, there are many who profess Christianity who frankly
admit they do not always live as they should, yet they are not what we would call wicked
people. What about these? There is a story of one such whose name was Jack Dawson. Jack,
it seems, dreamed that he died and appeared before the judge of all. Questioned as to his
standing in the church, he could answer with assurance. Furthermore, he had enjoyed the
study of the Bible. But it seems that when he got excited he did not always control his
language as he should, and in his dream it seemed that this was to debar him from heaven.
According to the story, Jack awakened from his dream screaming, "Don’t send me
Of course this is only a story and, according to the
Scriptures, not in keeping with the actual experiences of those who die. But it
illustrates the fact that there are millions of people whose status in the future life is
to them uncertain. Besides, there are the millions who have died without even hearing the
name of Jesus, the only name given under heaven or among men by which anyone can be saved.
What about these? It is fitting that both believers and unbelievers ponder well this
subject of the hereafter, for it is an issue which ultimately must be faced. Eventually
the Grim Reaper gets around to all of us.
In our present examination we will appeal directly to the
Bible. Is there any scriptural authority for Jack Dawson’s fear of being sent to hell
to be tortured forever by fireproof demons? When we examine the inspired records, this is
what we find:
In the Old Testament (King James Protestant translation)
the English word "hell" appears 31 times. It is a translation of the Hebrew word
sheol. In addition to the 31 times this word is translated "hell," it appears 31
times where it is translated "grave" and three times where it is translated
"pit" It should be apparent to all that this Hebrew word must mean the same when
translated by the English words grave and pit as when it is translated by the English word
That the scholars who translated the Standard American
Edition of the Bible recognized this fact is evidenced by their criticism of the English
revisers, expressed in the preface to the American edition. We quote: "The uniform
substitution of sheol for grave, pit, and hell in the place where these terms have been
retained by the English revision has little need of justification. The English revisers
use sheol twenty-nine times out of the sixty-five times it occurs in the original. No good
reason has been given for such discrimination. If the term can be used at all it is clear
that it ought to be used uniformly."
The first of God's servants to use the word sheol was
Jacob. This holy man of old was led to believe that his beloved son Joseph had been killed
by a wild beast. It was heartbreaking news. When Jacob heard it, he declared that he would
continue to mourn this tragic loss until he died. He said, "I will go down into the
grave [Sheol] unto my son mourning'Gen. 37:35
The Hebrew word translated grave in jacous expression of
grief is sheol-the only word translated hell in the Old Testament. By its use Jacob
expressed his expectation of going to the only hell mentioned throughout the entire period
covered by the Old Testament. Moreover, Jacob indicated that to his understanding Joseph
was already in this hell, and would remain there, and that Jacob would join his son when
Jacob was one of God's faithful servants; so was Joseph.
It is unthinkable to suppose that when they died they went to a place of torture such as
hell is often claimed to be. Like Jack Dawson of the dream, they were both entirely too
good to go to a place of torture, and yet, according to Jacob"s own testimony, he
expected to go to hell when he died. What kind of hell was it to which Jacob expected to
Let us not assume to know the answer to this question, but
instead pursue our investigation further. The Prophet job was another godly man. The Bible
tells us that he walked "perfect" before God. (Job 1:1) Here was a man so holy
that it would seem he should be qualified to go immediately to heaven when he died. He was
not only too good to go to a traditional hell of torment, but according to the record his
integrity was such that ordinarily we would suppose he was worthy of going directly to
heaven to be with God and the angels. But job did not expect to go to heaven!
Although Job was accounted a righteous man, God permitted
much calamity and suffering to come upon him. We have all heard of the patience of job in
bearing these trying experiences. (James 5:11) But on one occasion job felt that it would
be better for him to die than to continue enduring the tortures of disease and the ill
will of his friends and relatives, including his wife. So he asked God to let him die. In
fact, he urged God to destroy him, praying, "O that thou wouldest hide me in the
grave, that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past."
The Hebrew word used by Job, translated "grave"
in the prayer just quoted, was sheol, the Bible hell. Truly truth is stranger than
fiction! Here was a man who already was suffering untold agony of both body and soul. His
children had been destroyed. His flocks and herds were gone. His wife had turned against
him, and he was covered with a loathsome skin disease. Surely he would not ask God to take
him to a place where his suffering would be increased, and where there would be no hope of
escape! – Job 14:13
Why did job pray to go to hell? Because he knew, being one
of God’s inspired servants, that hell is a condition of quietness and of rest.
Solomon, the wisest man of the Old Testament, and one of God's inspired writers, declares
of sheol, or hell, that there is no "device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom."
(Eccles. 9:10) Without doubt Job knew this, hence the reason for his prayer that God let
him die and go to hell.
Job was weary of suffering and he wanted it to end. He
knew that in death he would find relief from suffering, not an increase of it. In death,
job declares, "the wicked cease from troubling; and there the weary be at rest:' and
the dead "hear not the voice of the oppressor." (Job 3:13-19) It is apparent
that his understanding of hell was quite different from that held by many today.
And still another point emerges from this inspired record.
While job prayed to go to hell, it was not with the expectation that he would remain there
forever. In his prayer he expressed his belief that later he would be called out of it.
"O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave [sheol, hell] ... until thy wrath be past,
that thou wouldest appoint a set time, and remember me! Thou shalt call, and I will answer
thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands." (Job 14:13, 15) Job wanted
to remain in the Bible hell only until God's wrath was past, and then be called back to
earth again. That Job was justified in entertaining such a hope is borne out by
Jesus’ promise that a time would come when "all that are in the graves shall
hear his voice and shall come forth" – John 5:28, 29
As the faithful and inspired Job viewed the matter, the
traditional view of hell is wrong in at least three important aspects. 1) It is not a
place where God’s wrath is visited upon the sinner, but a condition in which both
sinners and saints escape the suffering that is in the world due to God's wrath. (2) It is
a condition of unconsciousness, hence of rest, and not a place of suffering. (3) Those who
go to the Bible hell do not remain there forever, as usually believed, but will return and
have an opportunity of living upon the earth at a later time.
Hell to Be Destroyed
Another truth-revealing promise of God recorded in the Old
Testament is that of Hosea 13:14. Here the Lord assures us of his intention to destroy
hell. "I will ransom them from the power of the grave [sheol, hell]; I will redeem
them from death: 0 death, I will be thy plagues: 0 grave [sheol, hell], I will be thy
Hell, sheol, is simply the death condition. And the
Apostle Paul tell us that Christ will destroy death. (I Cor. 15:26) This confirms the
words of the prophet, and gives us the assurance that it is not God's purpose to torment
nearly all the human race in hell forever. Indeed, it is not God’s purpose to torment
people at all. "God is love," the Bible tells us, and there is nothing in the
Bible to indicate that he has prepared a hell of fire and brimstone to torture his human
creatures. (I John 4:8, 16) This view traduces the good name of the Creator of the
Hell in the New
The New Testament records concerning hell agree with those
of the Old Testament. Originally, the New Testament was written in the Greek language, and
it employs three Greek words which are translated hell in our English Bibles. One of these
is tartaroo, and it is found only once in the Bible. The passage in which it appears is
not discussing the death state of human beings, so we will not digress from our subject to
examine the meaning of this word. Another Greek word in the New Testament translated hell
in our Bibles is Gehenna. And there is still another, which is hades.
The Greek word Gehenna refers to the ancient Valley of
Hinnom. This valley was located just outside the city of Jerusalem, and the people used it
as a place to dump the refuse and offal of the city. Fires were constantly kept burning in
this valley, since it served as an incinerator. The hell fire of the New Testament is
therefore actually the fire that was kept burning in this valley and used to burn garbage.
Many wondered where the hell of fire mentioned in the New
Testament is located. Well, here is the answer. It was located just outside the city of
Jerusalem. But of course those fires are no longer there, and Jesus knew that eventually
they would die out. Jesus did not want us to believe that all wicked people of the earth
were to be transported to Jerusalem when they died and cast into the fires of the literal
Valley of Hinnom. He merely used this valley as an illustration of destruction – the
destruction of that which was useless – for such will all be who, when given a full
opportunity for everlasting salvation and life, continue willfully to oppose God and his
The Valley of Hinnon, or Gehenna, does not represent a
place. It is a symbol of destruction. We know this, for Jesus said to his disciples,
"Fear not them which kill the body ... but rather fear him which is able to destroy
both soul and body in hell [Gehenna]" – Matt. 10:28
Hades in the New
Hades is also translated "grave" in some in.
stances. This Greek word has the same meaning as the Hebrew word sheol, the state, or
condition, of death. We know that hades (Greek) means the same as sheol (Hebrew) because
the Apostle Peter quotes a prophecy from the Old Testament in which the word sheol
appears, and he translates sheol by the Greek word hades.
Peter's quotation is in Acts 2:27, 31. The prophecy he
quotes is from Psalms 16:10, written by David. In this psalm the prophet forecasts the
death of Jesus, saying that his flesh would "rest in hope" and indicates that
when Jesus died his soul went to sheol, the Old Testament hell. Peter quotes part of the
prophecy and uses it to prove that Jesus had been raised from the dead, for the prophet
had foretold that Jesus’ soul would not be left in hell.
Now this is very strange if hell is a place where wicked
souls are tormented forever. According to the Prophet David and the Apostle Peter, the
holy Jesus went to hell when he died, and was delivered from there on the third day after
his death. This proves, first, that holy, righteous people go to hell as well as sinners,
and second, that those who do go to hell do not necessarily remain there. As a matter of
fact, we think it also proves that hell is not a place of torment at all, for we cannot
conceive that the Creator would permit his holy Son, Jesus, to be tormented by the Devil
and his imps-not even for three days.
The Keys of Hell
Traditionally, Satan was supposed to be the one who
possessed the keys of hell. But this is also untrue. In Revelation 1:18, Jesus, speaking
of his own death and resurrection, tells us that he has the keys of death and hell. This
is both interesting and comforting; for we know that if Jesus possesses the keys of hell
there is hope for those who are shut up therein. The loving Jesus who, without money and
without price, healed the sick, cleansed the lepers, cast out demons from maniacs, and
raised the dead to life, will surely one day use the keys of hell to unlock its gates and
set its prisoners free. This, as a matter of fact, is exactly what the Bible tells us
Jesus will do. It is this glorious work that is described in the Bible as the
"resurrection of the dead" – Acts 24:15
Just as hades, or hell, is symbolically said to have keys,
so Jesus speaks also of its having gates. A reference to the "gates of hell" is
found in Matthew 16:18. "... I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not
prevail against it"
In what sense, then, is it impossible for the gates of
hell to prevail against the church? Every Christian, every member of the true church of
Jesus Christ, will be awakened from the sleep of death in what the Scriptures term the
"first resurrection." The gates of hell will not prevail to keep these in the
death condition. Jesus himself was raised from the dead, and the power of God through him
will be used to raise all his true followers from the dead, that they may "reign with
Christ a thousand years" – Rev. 20:4, 6
But a first resurrection implies more to follow. And
during that thousand year Kingdom, the remainder of earth’s dead will be raised
again, on earth. This blessed assurance appears in Revelation 20:12-14. Here John tells us
that in the prophetic vision given to him he saw death and hell giving up the dead which
were in them.
They will return to be taught, corrected, and judged
– to make amends for all misdeeds and willful transgressions. It will not be an easy
road, for "God is not mocked ... whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also
reap" It will be a time of correction in righteousness under the iron rule of the
greatjudge, Christ. No favoritism will be shown to rich or poor, great or small. But all
will have the opportunity, when humbly corrected, to enjoy everlasting life here on the
earth, free of sickness, pain, and death. (Rev. 21:1-4) For then, "Death and hell
[hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death"-Rev. 20:14
We have now explained the general testimony of the entire
Bible as it relates to the subject of hell, and have found that there is no authority from
God for believing that a hell of torment exists anywhere in his great universe. And there
is no text of Scripture, either in the Old Testament or the New, which is contrary to
those we have examined, when properly understood. (See "The Truth about Hell,"
published by Dawn Bible Students Association, East Rutherford, NJ 07073. It examines every
text in the Bible in which the word hell appears. Ten cents.)
The origin of this teaching of torment is found in the
first, the blackest, and the most far-reaching lie that ever fell upon human ears. This
lie was invented by the Devil himself and communicated to mother Eve through the serpent.
God had said to our first parents that if they disobeyed him by partaking of the forbidden
fruit they would die. But Satan denied this, saying, "Ye shall not surely die"
– Gen. 3:4 The Bible indicates that the Devil has deceived practically the entire
world. Nearly all believe his lie, "Ye shall not surely die" They don"t
think of it in just these words, but the same erroneous viewpoint finds expression in all
the various no-death theories of both heathendom and Christendom. Nearly all religionists,
wherever found, attempt to believe that when they seem to die they do not actually die.
There is no death, they claim.
Oh, yes, all admit that the body dies. It is just about
impossible to deny this apparent fact. But the claim is that within our bodies there lurks
an invisible entity which they call the soul, and the claim is that this soul escapes when
the body dies and that it continues to live elsewhere. In fact, the claim is that the soul
cannot die, that it is indestructible. It is often unscripturally referred to as the
"But is there such a thing as an immortal soul?"
some may ask. To which we answer, "No!" This theory is purely an invention of
misguided human wisdom. The expression immortal soul does not appear anywhere in the
Bible. The term soul does appear in the Bible, but it is not descriptive of an invisible
entity which dwells within us, and which can exist after the body dies. As used in the
Bible, the term soul applies to our whole being. It means a living, sentient being.
In Genesis 2:7 the word soul appears in the Bible for the
first time, and in this text we are told just how God created the soul, and of what it is
made. We read, "And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed
into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul" Notice that God
did not breathe an immortal soul into man, but rather, as a result of the union of the
body and the breath of life, man became a soul.
Hence, when man dies, the soul dies, for man is the soul.
This agrees with Ezekiel 18:4: "The soul that sinneth, it shall die" Adam, the
first human soul, sinned, and the penalty of death came upon him. All his posterity have
also been sinful souls; hence the entire human race has been dying because "the wages
of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23) It is plain, then, that death, not torment after
apparent death, is the penalty for sin, and it is this penalty that is being inflicted
upon the entire race. Graveyards, funeral processions, sickness, and pain, are all
evidences of the fact that the wages of sin are being paid by a dying race.
The Sleep of Death
Throughout the Scriptures, in both the Old Testament and
the New, death is referred to as sleep. Abraham, when he died, "was gathered to his
people" (Gen. 25:8) Abraham’s people were heathen, yet faithful Abraham slept
with them in death. King David also is said to have slept with his fathers. (I Kings 2:10)
When Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary, died, Jesus said of him, "Our friend
Lazarus sleepeth," (John 11:11) When Jesus awakened Lazarus from the sleep of death,
the account says "he who was dead came forth" (John 11:44) The Bible does not
say that he who was in purgatory returned, nor he who was in a place of torture came back.
The simple truth is that Lazarus was asleep in death – unconscious – and when he
was awakened, he who was dead came forth.
We have the biblical record of several who were awakened
from the sleep of death, yet none of them ever said a word about being either in hell or
purgatory. Obviously they could not make a report on either of these places, for the
simple reason that no such places existed; and besides, they had been unconscious in
death. They had not gone anywhere. They had been dead!
When a man dies, "His breath goeth forth, he
returneth to his earth; in that very day his thoughts perish" – Psa. 146:4
There is hope of life after death-a glorious hope! But
that hope is not based on the error that there is no death, but on the great truth that
God will restore the dead to life.,Iob asked, "If a man die, shall he live
again?" (job 14:14) job knew better than to ask. "If a man die, is he really
dead?"Job knew that those who die have gone out of existence forever unless God
restores them to life. This is the teaching of the entire Word of God. Paul affirms it,
saying, "If there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen, ... then
they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished" -I Cor. 15:13-18
Yes, the dead are to be restored. Jesus said to Martha,
"He that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: and whosoever
liveth and believeth in me shall never die" Uohn 11:25, 26) Jesus has the keys of
death. He will use them to unlock the great prison house of death and set its captives
The sinful race would have remained dead forever had not
the love of God made a provision whereby the penalty of death could be paid by another.
That provision was through his own beloved son, Christjesus. That is why Jesus is called
the Redeemer. He it is who ran. soms the world "from the power of the
The Prophet Isaiah says concerning Jesus, "He was
wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our
peace was upon him; and with his stripes we are healed" (Isa. 53:5) The Apostle Paul
said of Jesus, he "gave himself a ransom for all." (1 Tim. 2:6) Jesus said to
his disciples, "The bread that I will give is my flesh, which I will give for the
life of the world," (John 6:51) All of these inspired statements of the Word of God
indicate that the first requisite to salvation and peace with God for any of the fallen
human race is this provision the Creator has made through the sacrificial work of the
Redeemer. The Apostle Peter declares there is no other name given under heaven or among
men whereby we must be saved. – Acts 4:12
But the sacrificial work of Christ alone does not provide
escape from death. In addition to this, it is necessary that the individual repent of sin
and exercise faith in the atoning blood of Christ. Beyond this, it is also essential to
strive against inherited sin and so far as possible to be cleansed from its defiling
Purgatory Before Death
There is much said in the Bible about Christian cleansing,
or purging from sin. But unlike the traditional view of purgatory, which claims that
believers pass through purgatory after death and finally enter into heavenly bliss and
glory, the Bible shows that the Christian’s purgation or cleansing takes place before
"Let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the
flesh and spirit,"' writes the apostle. (2 Cor. 7:1) The Christian is expected to do
this before he dies, not afterward. Jesus likened himself to a vine and his followers to
branches of that vine. (John 15:1-8) Then he said that his Heavenly Father purged or
pruned the branches in order that they might bring forth more fruit. Here again is
described a work of purging which takes place in the Christian before death, not
The Apostle Peter said, "Think it not strange
concerning the fiery trial which is to try you, as though some strange thing happened unto
you: but rejoice, inasmuch as ye are partakers of Christ's sufferings." (1 Pet. 4:12,
13) Here is the unmistakable mention of fire in connection with Christian experience, but
it has no reference to literal fire which it is alleged will torment people after death,
but to the purging experiences which come to the Christian in this life.
The Apostle Paul wrote, "For whom the Lord loveth he
chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom he receiveth." (Heb. 12:6) There is nothing
in this text to indicate that the scourging mentioned is to take place after death.
Rather, the apostle is telling Christians what to expect in this life. If we love the
Lord, and he loves us and is dealing with us, we must expect to be scourged or
disciplined, in order that we might learn his will more perfectly and be trained to do it
Some of the purging experiences of the Christian are at
the instance of the Lord, for by his kind providence his people are properly trained. But
the Christian is also expected to take himself in hand and do some of the purging on a
voluntary basis. Paul wrote, "I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection:
lest that bv anv means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a
castaway." – l Cor. 9:27
All of these passages from God's holy Word indicate beyond
doubt that purging work must go on in the life of every follower of the Master. The
Scriptures also reveal that the great objective of this purging work is that Christians
may be developed into the likeness of their Lord. Paul writes that it is God’s will
that all who are called of him should be made copies of his dear Son. (Rom. 8:28, 29) And
there are many promises in the Bible to indicate that those who repent of their sins,
accept Jesus as their Redeemer, and then follow faithfully in his steps of sacrifice,
striving to be made like him, will, when resurrected from the dead, share his heavenly
home and reign with him for a thousand years for the blessing of the remainder of the
world of mankind.
A Thousand Years of
The purgatorial cleansings which we have just described
involve but a very small minority of the human race. Jesus referred to this minority as a
"little flock," but he said of these, "It is your Father's good pleasure to
give you the kingdom." – Luke 12:32
We have already mentioned the thousand year reign of
Christ. Now we learn from Jesus that his true followers during the present age, in passing
through their period of cleansing, are being prepared, not merely to enjoy a heavenly home
with him, but also to work with him to rehabilitate the remainder of the human race.
Together, they will restore mankind to a worldwide paradise. This is the work to be
accomplished by the kingdom of Christ. This gigantic undertaking, the Scriptures reveal,
will require an entire thousand years for completion.
During that thousand years, mankind will go through their
purgatorial experiences – their purging, or cleansing, from the imperfection due to
the fall of Adam. This thousand-year period, during which Jesus and his church will be
reigning over the earth, is also described in the Bible as a judgment day – this
particular day being a thousand years long. – 2 Pet. 3:8; Acts 17:31; Rev. 5:10
The judgment work of that day will involve disciplinary
training, or, as the prophet puts it, the Lord will "rebuke strong nations afar
off" (Mic. 4:3) The Prophet Isaiah declares that when God’s "judgments are
in the earth, the inhabitants of the world will learn righteousness." (Isa. 26:9)
Jesus will be the great judge of that day, and concerning him the prophet declares,
"But with righteousness shall he judge the poor, and reprove with equity for the meek
of the earth: and he shall smite the earth with the rod of his mouth, and with the breath
of his lips shall he slay the wicked" – Isa. 11:4
Sleeping Ones Awakened
The blessings of the kingdom age will be available for
those who have died as well as for those who are alive when it begins, for those who sleep
in death will be awakened in order to share in those blessings.
We have already referred to some scriptures in Revelation
which teach this. But other passages are equally clear on this point. The Prophet Daniel
wrote, "... them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake." – Dan.
12:2 Jesus said the time is coming when all who are in their graves shall hear the voice
of the Son of man and shall come forth. And then the master adds, "Those who have
done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection
of judgment." John 5:28, 29, RSV
Those who have done good are primarily those who have
followed in the footsteps of Jesus-those who have been purged or cleansed from sin in this
life. In the resurrection, these will be raised immediately to heavenly glory, to reign
with Christ. But those who have not done good, but evil, will come forth to a resurrection
of judgment. That is, the judgment, corrective process of the 1000 year Kingdom, designed
to reclaim mankind.
Their awakening from death will be only the first step on
the return road to human perfection. Other steps will be taken as they pass the tests of
obedience which will be given all individuals at that time. Thus their resurrection, or
raising up to perfection, will be by judgment, or krisis (Greek); all of their cleansing
and disciplinary experiences serving as tests will, as those tests are passed, result in
their being raised a little nearer to the ultimate perfection which will be their goal.
There is every indication now that the time for the
blessing of mankind – the living and the dead – is near. The prophecies of the
Bible pertaining to the end of Satan's misrule are being fulfilled. This, of necessity,
causes a great time of trouble throughout the earth, but soon the governing power of the
kingdom of Christ will manifest itself, and the blessings of peace and joy and life will
begin to flow to the people.
It is this glorious consummation of the divine plan of
salvation that is expressed by those well-known words of the Lord's prayer, "Thy
kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven." Let us, then, continue
to offer this inspired prayer, in faith, believing that the answer to it is near.