Is Death a State of Annihilation?

We are continuing our meditation on eternal things and specifically thinking of the topic of Hell. Some say that Hell is a place where a person who rejects God’s free pardon for sin is annihilated. The word annihilation means “to reduce to utter ruin or nonexistence; to destroy utterly.” Three times in the passage we looked at yesterday (Scroll down for Matthew 25:41-46), though, Jesus used the same Greek word to describe the bliss of His followers, i.e. the word aiōnios, which means “Eternal, perpetual. When referring to eternal life, it means the life which is God’s and, hence, not affected by the limitation of time.”[1] That does not sound like annihilation. It is the clear teaching of Jesus that someone who rejects the gospel and continues in his sin, at the end of his life, will suffer eternal punishment.

Svetlana Stalin, the daughter of Josef Stalin, leader of Russia from 1922-1953, accompanied her father at death’s door and said that she would never sit alongside an unbeliever who was dying again. She said that he went into Hell kicking and screaming. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31). Voltaire was said to have died crying out in torment, as was King Charles the ninth of France, David Hume, and Thomas Pain. Speaking for those who do know God, C.M. Ward said, “No Christian has ever been known to recant on his death bed.”

Why would a loving God send anyone to Hell? How bad does a person have to be to be sent to Hell? Is there a line that a person crosses?

16For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son (John 3:16-18).

The creator God has established the way for salvation. The situation is that the entire human race is in the same boat. We have all fallen short of God’s ideal for living. None of us can say we have never sinned. If you have only sinned once, then it is enough to make you a sinner. We all suffer with the same disease. Sin is what eternally separates us from God. James puts it this way, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). If there could have been another way for God to get you to heaven, apart from sending His Son to die a cruel and torturous death, don’t you think He would have taken it? He has given man the gift of free will, but His justice demands that rebellion has to be penalized. A holy God cannot allow sin to be in His presence: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; you cannot tolerate wrongdoing” (Habakkuk 1:13). So, He honors the choices that a rebel who refuses to repent has made.

In His love for the human race, He initiated a rescue plan. The Son of God would take on human form and be a substitute to take the place of guilty man, taking the punishment upon Himself.  In that way, His justice would be satisfied, and He can reach out in love to save all who will turn their lives over to Him and walk in obedience to Him. When we repent and receive Christ, the Spirit of God gives us power to live for Christ. We also hold the answer for others, and the Holy Spirit gives us the power and boldness to speak to people about God’s rescue plan for the human race. We damage Satan’s kingdom when we speak the truth of God’s Word, and release precious people from his control. The church today is on the attack, breaking down every defense that Satan has raised against the kingdom of God. We are told that the gates of Hades (Hell) will not overcome the Church (Matthew 16:18). God has told us what happens in the end, and guess what, those that belong to Christ win!

Taken from the series Insights into Eternity found in the middle column. Click on the study The Truth About Hell. Keith Thomas

[1] Key Word Study Bible, New Lexical Study Aids, AMG Publishers, page 1580.

The place with the sign Too Late over the door

We are continuing to meditate on the topic of eternity, and for the next few days specifically thinking about what the Holy Scriptures say about that awful place called Hell. Some would say that there is no place called Hell and we are not brought to account before the Judge of the living and the dead. Let me ask you a question: If you were standing in line to board an aircraft, and coming off the plane you see an old friend who was the pilot. What if he were to tell you that there was only a one in six chance that the plane would get you to your destination, would you take the chance? Do you believe that there is a one in six chance that God is telling you the truth of a place called hell? Will you take the chance or respond today to the gospel? To believe in heaven but not in hell is to declare that there were times when Jesus was telling the truth and times when He was lying. Thomas Brooks wrote, “God has but one hell, and that is for those to whom sin has been commonly a heaven in this world.” Although it is hard for me to write about such things as hell, the love of Christ compels me to reach you before you are called to eternity at the end of your life. I do not want you, dear reader, to ever see that place where some say written over the gate are the words, TOO LATE.

While we wait for the return of Christ, our mission as Christians is to rescue people from Satan’s control in order that they should not be separated from God for eternity and sent to a place called Hell. Every man, woman and child are deeply loved by God who does not want any to perish, but everyone to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9). But what if they don’t? What if they die without coming to know Christ? What if they are unresponsive to God’s message of love and good news? At the Second Coming of Christ, He will separate the sheep (believers) from the goats (non-believers), and Jesus said twice that the punishment will be for eternity:

 41Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life  (Matthew 25:41-46. Emphasis mine).

The Lord talked often about Hell, and He devoted several of His parables to the subject of heaven, hell, eternal judgment, and eternal rewards. If it were important for Him to tell His disciples about such things, then we need to give serious attention to the subject of eternity and what the Bible teaches about heaven and hell. We must also remember that Satan is a deceiver, the father of lies, and is called an angel of light. Some of the near-death stories we shared yesterday may glorify God, and they could be true. However, our faith rests in God and in His Word. Satan seeks to counterfeit true accounts that give glory to God in order to dupe some into believing that all roads lead to God. We can only trust the Scriptures.

Taken from the series Insights into Eternity found in the middle column. Click on the study The Truth About Hell. Keith Thomas

Hell: A Subject not to be Avoided

We come today to study the subject that is most avoided by pastors and teachers, and one that we would all rather avoid if possible, that is the topic of Hell. The story has been told of C. S. Lewis’ listening to a young preacher’s sermon on the subject of God’s judgment on sin. At the end of his message, the young man said, “If you do not receive Christ as Savior, you will suffer grave eschatological ramifications!” After the service, Lewis asked him the question, “Do you mean that a person who doesn’t believe in Christ will go to Hell?” “Precisely,” was his response. “Then say so,” Lewis replied.”[1] Even though we may be uncomfortable in studying it, the topic is important for all of us.

Some would say, “Can’t we just bypass the topic of Hell?” Charles Spurgeon, the great English preacher, once said, “Think lightly of Hell, and you will think lightly of the cross. Think little of the sufferings of lost souls, and you will soon think little of the Savior who delivers you from them.” It is possible that some people avoid the issue of Hell because they want to view death as the end, when it is just the beginning. When we truly understand what is at stake, i.e. what was our destiny without Christ, we will much more appreciate what Christ has done for us at the cross.

There is a great deal of interest today in the topic of life after death and near-death experiences. It is not hard to find a book on the subject. Dr. Maurice Rawlings, in his book, To Hell and Back, researching near-death experiences, reports that some people experienced Hell, but had the memory of it repressed in a few days’ time. He said that, as a general rule, people remember that which is good and forget that which is bad, and so, if the interview is delayed just a little bit, days, weeks or months later, only the positive experiences will be found.

Dr. Rawlings tells the story of a young man who recounted his experience to him after an operation to insert a pacemaker into his heart. He told Dr. Rawlings what he saw and experienced, which he considered to be hell. He states that he saw a tunnel which led to light, then the tunnel caught fire. He had the sensation of moving fast toward a lake of fire, which looked to him like an oil spill on fire. He saw elongated shadows of people that were moving back and forth, like animals do that are caged in a zoo. The man called out “Jesus is Lord” and then suddenly, he was aware that he was back in his body.

Dr. Rawlings also gives an account of giving CPR to a patient who had also had a pacemaker installed, and who was in the throes of death. The patient kept coming back, slipping in and out of consciousness, and pleaded with Dr. Rawlings to pray for him, as he cried out that he was in hell. Dr. Rawlings did not want to pray for the man because he was not yet a believer himself, but finally because of the man’s distress, he did give the man a prayer to pray. He asked Jesus Christ to keep him out of hell. The man immediately calmed. He was no longer a screaming lunatic. Dr. Rawlings states that this incident impacted him so much that he gave his life to Christ. Dr. Rawlings is not a theologian or a minister; rather, he is an unbiased doctor who has written the findings of the patients he has resuscitated.

There are many people who claim to have had near-death experiences, but there is no way that we can really know for sure which ones are valid. It is reasonable to assume that, if God allowed Paul to be caught up into the third heaven (2 Corinthians 12:2), and if Stephen saw Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father before he died (Acts 7:55), then there may be those today who have been permitted to have a glimpse of what lies beyond this life.

Our faith, however, must rest on God’s Word and not an experience. After all, there are those who would have us believe that everyone, regardless of their beliefs or regardless of the life they lived, will be welcomed by brilliant light and ushered into a peaceful eternity. However, this does not agree with what we are told in Scripture. Jesus personified both love and truth. He did not hold anything back from His disciples, and we should not avoid this topic, for none of us wants to go there. Over the next few days we will talk about what the Holy Scriptures say about this topic.

Taken from the series Insights into Eternity found in the middle column. Click on the study The Truth About Hell. Keith Thomas

[1] Taken from: http://www.leaderu.com/orgs/probe/docs/Hell.html