Will Antichrist be a charming deceiver who leads the world astray just before the return of Jesus Christ? Or has Antichrist been around since the time of the Apostles? Will there be only one Antichrist, or has there already been many?

The Meaning of the Word ‘Antichrist’

If we search the Bible for the word ‘antichrist’ using PowerBible (a computer Bible program) we will discover 5 occurrences, and all are in the Epistles of John. 

While antichrist is referred to by other terms in the Bible, it makes sense to begin looking at this subject starting with the actual word. The Greek word ‘antichrist’, is broken down into ‘anti’, meaning ‘opposite, instead or because of, in the room of’, and ‘christos’, meaning ‘annointed one, i.e. the Messiah, or Christ’. So, ‘antichrist’ can mean someone opposite, or instead of Messiah’, or someone ‘in the place of Messiah’.

One Antichrist, or Many?

Looking at the very first place the word ‘antichrist’ occurs in 1 John 2:18, we read,

Little children, it is the last time: and as ye have heard that antichrist shall come, even now are there many antichrists; whereby we know that it is the last time.

This first occurrence of the word, tells us that ‘antichrist’ was ALREADY in the world, while John was writing his first Epistle. It also tells us that there is more than ONE antichrist, as in John’s day, he could already say that there were MANY antichrists.

Also, John says that they had heard that ‘antichrist shall come’, so this tells us that must be previous Bible prophecies of ‘antichrist’ using other terms.

The Origin of Antichrist

Looking at the next few verses in 1 John 2, we read in verse 19, They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.From this we learn that the ‘antichrists’ initially associated with the Christians in John’s day. Antichrist broke away from the true Christian church and is therefore related to Christianity. Antichrist has a Christian, religious origin; this is very important to keep in mind.

The Lie

A little further down in 1 John 2, we read in verse 21, I have not written unto you because ye know not the truth, but because ye know it, and that no lie is of the truth. Who is a liar but he that denieth that Jesus is the Christ? He is antichrist, that denieth the Father and the Son. From this, we learn that antichrist is associated with at least one lie. This lie has something to do with the relationship between the Father and the Son. This lie in some way denies that Jesus is the Messiah, or Christ.

So from just this one chapter in 1 John, we discovered that antichrist can mean someone who is ‘opposite or instead of Christ’, or someone ‘in the place of Christ’. We found out that the believers, in John’s day, had been warned that antichrist was to come, and there were already many antichrists. We are told that antichrist left the true Christian believers and began to teach lies, denying that Jesus is Christ and rejecting something about the relationship between the Father and the Son.

Test Case for Antichrist

1 John 4:1-3 is the next passage where we find the word ‘antichrist’. Here we read, “Beloved, believe not every spirit, but try the spirits whether they are of God: because many false prophets are gone out into the world. Hereby know ye the Spirit of God: Every spirit that confesseth that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is of God: And every spirit that confesseth not that Jesus Christ is come in the flesh is not of God: and this is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come; and even now already is it in the world.

John has given us a way in which we can determine truth from error! John warns us in the passage above that we need to carefully examine what we are told by others, even religious leaders, as there are ‘many false prophets’. John’s test case for truth vs. error is to examine what others tell us about Jesus Christ. Do they teach that Jesus came ‘in the flesh’?

‘In the Flesh’

Any religious leaders who respect the Bible, surely know about this important test-case passage, and realize the significance of ensuring their teachings are in agreement with 1 John. However, examine what you hear carefully. The meaning of the word ‘confesseth’ is ‘assent, concede, not to deny’. To come ‘in the flesh’ refers to Jesus’ humanity. The Greek word ‘flesh’ is ‘sarx’ and it means flesh (as stripped of the skin), i.e. (strictly) the meat of an animal (as food), or (by extension) the body (as opposed to the soul (or spirit), or as the symbol of what is external, or as the means of kindred), or (by implication) human nature (with its frailties (physically or morally) and passions), or (specially), a human being (as such):–carnal(-ly, + -ly minded), flesh(-ly).”

The Greek word ‘sarx’ is used of our mortal bodies, our human nature, and our susceptibility to be tempted to sin. (For instance Matthew 26:41; Romans 1:3; 7:18; 8:3-13; Galatians 5:19-24) Jesus came ‘in the flesh’.

Was Jesus Tempted to Sin?

In the New Testament book of Hebrews, there is much discussion on the nature of Jesus and how his priesthood surpasses the priesthood under the Law of Moses. The following passages give us insight into the struggle Jesus had against his nature, before he was crucified, resurrected and made immortal.

Hebrews 4:14-15 “Since then we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast our confession. For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin.”

Hebrews 5:7 “In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to him who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverence. Although he was a son, he learned obedience through what he suffered. And being made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him,”

Hebrews 2:17-18 “Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people. For because he himself has suffered when tempted, he is able to help those who are being tempted.”

It isn’t Sin to be Tempted

Keep in mind that temptation is not sin. We ‘sin’ when we give into temptation, as outlined in James 1:13-15:

“Let no one say when he is tempted, “I am being tempted by God,” for God cannot be tempted with evil, and he himself tempts no one. But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”

We are tempted by our desires. However, many of our desires are simply part of human survival. To desire to eat, to sleep, to drink, to be with friends, even to have intimate relations with our spouse, is not sinful, but needful for survival. If we choose to cheat, lie, steal, disobey God’s commands, or selfishly use talents or powers God has given us, in order to satisfy those desires – then sin occurs.

Unlike us, Jesus never sinned, not even when he hadn’t eaten for 40 days and considered using God’s Holy Spirit power to make a stone into bread for himself (Luke 4:1-4). Jesus didn’t sin in the Garden of Gethsemane even when he struggled to commit himself to God’s will that he should die in such a painful way. He struggled so hard in the Garden, that his sweat was like ‘drops of blood’, and an angel was sent to strengthen him (Luke 22:39-46). The struggle wasn’t sinful. To refuse to submit to death on the cross would have been… but Jesus overcame!

Other References to ‘Antichrist’

While the Epistles of John are the only place in the Bible where the word ‘antichrist’ appears, the concept is referred to in many other passages. The Old Testament book of Daniel has a detailed prophecy concerning antichrist, which is likely the prophecy John refers to, when he said, “ye have heard that antichrist shall come.

2 Thessalonians 2 and Revelation also add to the fuller picture of who and what antichrist is. In order to study this topic further, all of these important passages are referred to in the Discovery Lesson on Antichrist. 

A Departure From the Faith

In the New Testament there are also many warnings that there will be a Departure from the Faith. If you click on this link and look at these passages, you will find that many correlate to the prophecies concerning Antichrist.

The Old Testament proves that Jesus is the Messiah

While the topic of Antichrist is a fascinating study, we will digress in our upcoming blogs to look at the prophecies given about Jesus Christ in the Old Testament. When Jesus wished to prove his own Messiahship, he went to the Law, the Psalms and the Prophets. (Luke 24: 13-27). How did Jesus prove that he was the very Messiah from the Old Testament? Where are his death and resurrection mentioned? What promises were given that refer specifically to him? What promises are still waiting to be fulfilled? Are there promises that indicate he will physically return to this earth in the near future?

Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Truth. With so many different religions, is it possible to find truth in the Bible? Is it important to find truth? What happens if we don’t have truth? Well… should we consider what happened to the Jews when Jesus came as their Messiah? And… will truth, or the lack of it, alter the world’s response when Jesus comes again?

LOVE the Truth Even if You Don’t LIKE it!

In 2 Thessalonians 2 we are warned that those who don’t LOVE truth will be led astray by false signs and wonders and a strong delusion.

“The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. Therefore God sends them a strong delusion, so that they may believe what is false, in order that all may be condemned who did not believe the truth but had pleasure in unrighteousness. 2 Thessalonians 2:9-11

Verse 8 tells us that Jesus Christ will destroy this ‘lawless one’ at his appearing. Many Christians would conclude that 2 Thessalonians 2 refers to ‘antichrist’.

A Lack of Truth led to the Crucifixion

When Jesus first appeared to mankind, the Jews had a general expectation, based on Old Testament prophecy, about what their Messiah would do, but they had missed an essential detail. 

The Jewish people should have understood that Messiah’s sacrificial mission came first, because this was foretold in the Law, the Prophets and the Psalms. Jesus turned to these Scriptures after he rose from the dead, to prove he was the Messiah (Luke 24:24-27; 44-48). Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection were clearly foretold well ahead of time (Psalm 22; Isaiah 53, etc.) but none of the Jews had foreseen this tragedy. Why? Likely because this wasn’t the message they wanted to hear.

Instead, the Jewish people were fixated on the exciting prophecies that foretold of the Messiah becoming a King, restoring the Jewish nation and ruling the world… prophesies that are still waiting to be fulfilled (Acts 1:6-11).  Because so many of the Jews failed to receive the unpopular message, they personally became the instruments by which God brought the tragedy to pass. These Jewish people crucified their very own, long-awaited Messiah!! Truth mattered! To get it wrong meant to commit the most horrific crime! And truth was laid out clearly in the very Scriptures they read everyday. How did they miss it?

A Lack of Truth led the Disciples to Fail

On more than one occasion during his ministry, Jesus clearly explained to his disciples that he would suffer and die and be resurrected. Even then, his disciples didn’t accept the truth, likely because it wasn’t what they wanted to hear (Luke 18:31-34). Such devastating events didn’t fit with their long-held aspirations of what the Messiah was going to do for the nation. And sadly, because the disciples didn’t grasp truth, one betrayed him, most of the others forsook Jesus when he needed them most, and Peter denied that he knew Jesus three times. Truth mattered!

Truth About Jesus’ Return

Does truth matter in our future? Does the world understand what Jesus will do when he returns to this earth?

Some Christians don’t even expect Jesus to physically return to this earth – so if he does return physically, what will they think? Will it be obvious that Jesus is the Messiah when he comes back to earth? Is it possible that some will see him as an imposter?

Can you imagine how tragic it would be to fight against the very Messiah you thought you loved and worshipped? You may think this couldn’t happen, but this is exactly what occurred when Jesus came the first time.

Popular ideas of Antichrist

Today, there are various ideas about ‘antichrist’ which are shared as ‘truth’ among many, many Christians. Unfortunately, very few of these popular ideas begin with a consideration of the Epistles of John – the only book in the Bible where the actual word ‘antichrist’ is used.

Even more worrisome is the list of things that many people expect antichrist to do and to be. So many of these expectations for antichrist, are the very things the Scriptures claim Jesus Christ will do when he returns! We can’t overstate how seriously misleading many of the popular claims about antichrist have become! Because of these misunderstandings, many will believe the Lord Jesus Christ is an imposter when he returns. Only this time, Jesus will be returning in immortality with the God-given right to be King of the world! Click here to see a list comparing the Bible prophecies about what Jesus will do at his return, to the expectations for Antichrist, from the popular “Left Behind” series.

Yes, the Bible warns about Antichrist – many antichrists to be exact, and warns us that Antichrist will be there in the final battle. However, the Scriptural definition of antichrist is not the popular conclusion of today, even if was once the recogized conclusion in the forward of the 1611 King James Translation. How was this truth lost?

Expectation of Messiah

Today there is a general expectation among ChristiansJews and Muslims that the Messiah, or the Mahdi will soon appear! Everyone is expecting different outcomes, yet most foresee a Messiah, an Antichrist, and a final battle between good and evil.

Surely, we all hope to be on the side of the true Messiah! Who would ever want to fight against him? Therefore, it is really important to ascertain what the Scriptures say about Jesus and about Antichrist!  If you would like to do a Discovery Lesson on Antichrist, beginning with the Epistles of John, click on the underlined text.

Don’t be deluded!

To be saved, according to 2 Thessalonians 2, we need to love truth. Regardless of whatever ‘miraculous signs and wonders’ we may cling to as proof we are right, the warning of 2 Thessalonians 2 is to take time to carefully examine the matter. Don’t let yourself be deceived by the ‘false signs and wonders’. We may not LIKE the conclusions we find in the Scriptures, but must consider the history of those who only held to the beliefs they wanted to hear. Two very helpful books on this topic are  The Antichrist: Christendom’s Final Deception by Jason Hensley and Who Are You Looking For?

Truth Matters!!

The Scriptures indicate that there will be a battle between good and evil when Jesus appears and Antichrist refuses to serve him (Revelation 17 & 18). The Scriptures also indicate that some nations of the earth will not immediately accept or recognize Jesus for who he is (Psalm 2, Zechariah 14). Surely, we all want to recognize the true Messiah!

In our next blog we will take a look at the 5 places where ‘antichrist’ appears in the Epistles of John, and lay a foundation for a Scriptural understanding of the term.

As is so often said, what we believe determines our decisions. Our decisions determine our actions. Truth matters!! Truth will set us free!

Examining the topic of hell in the New Testament is more complicated than in the Old, due to the symbology in Revelation, and four different Greek words used by N.T. writers. In the Old Testament, the only word for ‘hell’ is ‘sheol’, which means grave, hell or pit. As we showed in the last blog, ‘hell’ in the Old Testament is a dark, quiet, peaceful place, where bodies return to dust, thoughts and emotions cease, and those in misery find rest.

Sheol = Hades

In the New Testament, the equivalent Greek word for ‘sheol’ is ‘hades’. However, the English word ‘hell’ can also come from the Greek word ‘Gehenna’ which is used frequently, and the Greek word ‘tartaroo’ which is used only once in Revelation. The concept of the ‘lake of fire’, and the abyss generally appear only in Revelation.

The Meaning of Hades

Starting with the Greek word ‘hades’, Strong’s Concordance says, that ‘hades’ means ‘properly, unseen.’ Dr. Strong defines ‘hades’ as ‘the place (state) of departed souls’, and tells us that in the KJV ‘hades’ is translated into the English words ‘grave or hell.’ If you look at all the occurrences of ‘hades’ you will find it is used in a similar way to ‘sheol’. 

Jesus was not left in Hades

For instance, in Acts 2:27-31 which uses the Greek word ‘hades’, the writer quotes from Psalm 16:8-11 which uses the Hebrew word ‘sheol’. This is a prophecy about Jesus, saying, “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell <hades>, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption. He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul was not left in hell <hades>, neither his flesh did see corruption.” We have already examined the concept of ‘soul’ in the Old and New Testament, and demonstrated that every living, breathing creature is a living soul. A soul without breath is a dead soul (Numbers 9:10; Joshua 11:11) Here in Acts 2, ‘hades’ refers to the dark grave where dead souls decay, and God brought Jesus out from ‘hades’ before decay had opportunity to corrupt his body.

Hades in Revelation

In Revelation, a vision full of signs and symbols,hades’ is thrown into the ‘lake of fire’ (Revelation 20:14).  We are told that the sea, death and ‘hades’ give up the dead for judgement (Revelation 20:13) – representing all places that a dead body might have been decaying. We learn that Jesus has been given the keys to death and ‘hades’ (Revelation 1:18) – in other words Jesus is the one with power to unlock the graves and bring us back to life in the resurrection (John 11:23-27).

Hades = hell or the grave

Some passages where ‘hades’ has been translated ‘hell’ rather than ‘grave’ may tend to sound initially like the prevailing fiery view of hell, unless one switches the English word ‘hell’ to ‘grave’. For instance, the following three examples:

1. Capernaum

“And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell <hades>: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, That it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment, than for thee.” (Matthew 11:23)

A city that is ‘exalted unto heaven’ simply means that they have been greatly elevated in privilege or status, much like we would talk about a ‘rising star’ today. To be ‘brought down to hell or the grave’ indicates the opposite – a complete humiliation and loss of privilege or status. Another example using these expressions is the prophecy against the King of Babylon in Isaiah 14.

2. Peter’s confession

“And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell <hades> shall not prevail against it.” (Matthew 16:18)

Peter’s confession to Jesus that, “Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God,” is the rock-solid foundation of the Gospel message. The Gospel hope involving resurrection means that the gates of hell or the grave will have no power to keep believers entombed. 

3. No more victory

“So when this corruptible shall have put on incorruption, and this mortal shall have put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave <hades>, where is thy victory?”( 1 Corinthians 15:54-55)

Both death and hades (hell or the grave), lose their victory when a mortal body is resurrected and puts on immortality. Never again will an immortalized individual succumb to the power of death.

The Rich Man and Lazarus

The only complicated ‘hades’ passage is the parable Jesus told about The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:23-31. Keep in mind that this is a story Jesus made-up and told to demonstrate that life is the time to believe and act charitably, and also that those “who hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead.”

“And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham’s bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell <hades> he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.”

From Wikipedia we read that the “Bosom of Abraham” refers to the “place of comfort in the Biblical Sheol (or Hades in the Greek Septuagint version of the Hebrew scriptures from around 200 BC, and therefore so described in the New Testament) where the righteous dead await Judgment Day.” The article goes on to show that “In First Temple Judaism, Sheol in the Hebrew Old Testament, or Hades in the Septuagint, is primarily a place of “silence” to which all humans go. However, during, or before, the exile in Babylon ideas of activity of the dead in Sheol began to enter Judaism.

Therefore, in the time of Jesus, this Babylonian concept of the ‘activity of the dead’ led to some strange pagan beliefs, which Jesus uses in this parable to illustrate his point…not to teach a new doctrinal concept. Ironically, after giving this parable, Jesus actually raised a Lazarus from the dead, and just as he foretold in his parable, the leaders of Israel not only wanted to kill Lazarus, they began in earnest to plot Jesus’ death as well. They refused to listen to Old Testament prophecy, relying rather on their own traditions and superstitions, and therefore even the awesome miraculous resurrection of Lazarus failed to have any impact.

Gehenna – the Garbage Dump

The other word often translated ‘hell’, is the Hebrew/Greek word ‘geenna’. This occurs about fifteen times in the New Testament. Strong’s Concordance definition says, “of Hebrew origin (1516 and 2011); valley of (the son of) Hinnom; ge-henna (or Ge-Hinnom), a valley of Jerusalem, used (figuratively) as a name for the place (or state) of everlasting punishment:–hell.” 

An excellent article on Gehenna (click here) showing pictures of the actual location in Israel, the history of the location as a burning garbage dump, and the intertwining of truth and error surrounding the place, can be found on Wikipedia.

If you were a criminal in Israel at the time of Christ, you didn’t receive a proper burial, but were thrown into this garbage dump which burned perpetually to incinerate the trash. Therefore, when ‘gehenna’ is used in the New Testament, the idea that a criminal would be ‘tossed into’ a place with perpetual fires and ‘immortal’ worms (Mark 9:44,46,48), was all part of the total consuming process. 

Concerning ‘gehenna’, Robertsons’ NT Word Pictures says, “Into hell, into the unquenchable fire (eis tên geennan, eis to pûr to asbeston). Not Hades, but Gehenna. Asbeston is alpha privative and sbestos from sbennumi to quench. It occurs often in Homer. Our word asbestos is this very word. Mt 18:8 has “into the eternal fire.” The Valley of Hinnom had been desecrated by the sacrifice of children to Moloch so that as an accursed place it was used for the city garbage where worms gnawed and fires burned. It is thus a vivid picture of eternal punishment.”  

The list of passages, using the word ‘gehenna’ are as follows: Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5, James 3:6. In these passages, Jesus warns that those who practice evil may be in danger of ‘hell fire’, referring to the Jewish practice of throwing criminal’s corpses into the perpetual fires burning in the valley of Gehenna, into a fire that ‘shall never be quenched’ (Mark 9:45) For instance in Matthew 5:29, Jesus says, “And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell<geenna>.”

So, Jesus uses the word ‘Gehenna’ to represent complete annihilation and destruction – the fate of anyone who is not ‘in Christ’.

Tartaroo

The Greek word ‘tartaroo’, is only used ONCE in the New Testament. Strong’s definition is “from Tartaros (the deepest abyss of Hades); to incarcerate in eternal torment:–cast down to hell.” This word is used only in 2 Peter 2:4, 

“For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell<tartaroo>, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment.”

This passage in 2 Peter 2 has led many to believe that God’s holy, immortal angels can sin and that those who have sinned are in a fiery hell awaiting judgment.

However, the word for angels<aggelos>, while referring to God’s holy angels 179 times,  simply means “a messenger, one who is sent, an envoy”. It is translated as a ‘messenger’ 7 times in the NT, referring to humans. For instance, referring to John the Baptist in Matthew 11:10, “For this is he, of whom it is written, Behold, I send my messenger<aggelos> before thy face, which shall prepare thy way before thee. Verily I say unto you, Among them that are born of women there hath not risen a greater than John the Baptist (see also Luke 7:27; 9:52; Mark 1:2; James 2:25) 

Therefore, if 2 Peter 2:4 is referring to human messengers who sinned and were cast down to the deepest parts of the earth – further down than a regular grave, this incident may refer to the rebellion of the leaders, Korah, Dathan and Abiram, who were swallowed alive by the earth in Numbers 16. This would fit the pattern in 2 Peter 2:4-7, as Peter goes on to list other Old Testament examples – Noah, Sodom and Gormorra, and Lot.

Jude also mentions the “angels<aggelos> who kept not their first estate”, in between his references to the Israelites God delivered from Egypt, and Sodom and Gomorrha. Jude says in verse 7, “Sodom and Gomorrha and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth for an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” This is helpful in understanding what ‘eternal fire’ means. If the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha are an example of ‘the vengeance of eternal fire’, they certainly aren’t still burning today, but they have been completely obliterated. The fire consumed until there was nothing left to burn, and the cities were never rebuilt.

The Lake of Fire

Revelation is the only book of the Bible which uses the phrase “lake of fire”. Revelation is also a highly symbolic book mainly composed of visions given to the Apostle John from the Lord Jesus Christ. Generally, the symbols of Revelation are not meant to be taken literally, but are symbolic language. Understanding how symbols are used in the Old Testament provides an understanding for the symbols in Revelation. For example, many beasts are seen in Revelation, often with more than one head, and parts un-related to actual beasts that we know today. The book of Daniel also uses beasts and tells us that beasts represent different nations, heads/horns represent kings, etc. (Daniel 7:15-22).

It’s interesting to note the characters and elements that are ‘thrown into the lake of fire’. In Revelation 19:10, the beast and the false prophet are thrown into this fiery lake. In Revelation 20:10, at the end of the 1000 years of Christ’s reign on earth the devil is also thrown in, as are ‘death and hell’ in verse 14, with the comment, “This is the second death”. In Revelation 20:15, whoever was not found written in the book of life was also cast into the lake of fire, thus terminating the age of mortality and opportunity for eternal life. After the 1000 years, everyone will either have become immortal, or received the punishment of eternal death.

The Abyss

One more term is often confused with the popular idea of hell. The ‘bottomless pit’, or the abyss primarily appears in Revelation. The Greek word “Abussos” has been defined by Strong’s Concordance as, “depthless, i.e. (specially) (infernal) “abyss”:–deep, (bottomless) pit.” The only other two places the word is used, aside from Revelation, is first in Luke 8:31, where the unclean spirits (mental illness) of the crazy man, Legion, begged to not be cast into the deep<abussos>, but Jesus did send them into the deep lake. Secondly, the word is used in Romans 10:7, “Or, Who shall descend into the deep<abussos>? (that is, to bring up Christ again from the dead.)” So, wherever this ‘bottomless pit’ is, Jesus was there at his death. We know from Acts 2, that Jesus’ soul/life was not left in hell (the pit, or grave).

Remembering that Revelation is a book of highly symbolic language, we discover in Revelation 9:1-11 and 20:1 that there is a key to the bottomless pit, and if it is opened, a lot of smoke comes out, and a destroying angel named Apollyon. In Revelation 11:7 and 17:8, we learn about a beast that comes out of the bottomless pit who goes into perdition and causes the whole unbelieving world to wonder about him. Finally, in Revelation 20:1-3, the devil is restrained and cast into this bottomless pit during the 1000 years that Jesus reigns over the earth. These symbols all have very important meanings, and will perhaps be the subject of another blog. To link this symbology in a literal way to ‘hades’ or ‘sheol’, greatly alters the meanings of these simple words.

In summary, the Hebrew word ‘sheol’ and the Greek word ‘hades’ are used interchangeably in reference to the grave – a covered place – where all people go when they die. The Christian hope is to be resurrected from the grave when Jesus returns, and to be given eternal life to live forever in God’s Kingdom on earth.

 

After attending the Kingdom Hall for about two years I was baptized by the Jehovah’s Witnesses on July 9, 1983. I was convinced, as most Witnesses are, that I was part of the only true religion on earth. I was in the antitypical “ark” of Noah, Jehovah’s visible Organization on earth. I believed that my membership in this organization was the only way to be saved.

I was very happy to be of the “great crowd of other sheep” because I had no desire to “go to heaven” – the destiny of the “144,000”. I looked forward to life on paradise earth. I was single, 25 years old, wanting to marry and have a family, which led me to seeing the first inconsistency in Watchtower teaching. Being part of the “great crowd” my destiny was to receive “human perfection” on earth. This is the hope of all who are of the “other sheep”. But what if I died or I was killed? Of course I would be resurrected to human perfection but I could not marry! This would mean that I and all those who are raised to “earthly life” would have to remain celibate forever while all those who lived through Armageddon and did not die could marry, and if already married could remain married and have children. I was perplexed as to why this was the case, since all who received earthly life would be in the exact same physical condition. I remember thinking “Lazarus was raised from the dead and there was nothing to stop him from carrying on his normal functions. If he wasn’t married I am sure he wasn’t told he could not marry.” I found this especially puzzling since we were told that all the resurrections in the Bible “pictured the earthly resurrection!” 

Looking back I can now see that the Witness’ teaching had forced them into a corner. Let me explain; the “other sheep” do not receive immortality as do the “144,000.” They will continue as flesh and blood humans who attain human perfection. They cannot apply Jesus’ words in Luke 20:34-36 to the 144,000 because they do not believe the angels are immortal. Luke 20:34-36 says, “The children of this system of things marry and are given in marriage, but those who have been counted worthy of gaining that system of things and the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. In fact, neither can they die anymore, for they are God’s children by being children of the resurrection.” Applying Luke 20 to the 144,000  would then require the Watchtower to teach that the angels are immortal. This they could not do – so their only choice was to apply it to the “other sheep”, but in doing so they created this contradiction. I was heartbroken. I did not want to be celibate while many of my family and friends would be enjoying family life in human perfection. Weren’t Adam and Eve told to “be fruitful and become many and fill the earth”?  I did not question the Scripture; it was the application that did not make sense. My constant prayer was that I would not be killed or die of some disease before Armageddon.

Despite this, I did not question the validity of the Watchtower. I was confident that it was some mistake and that a correct understanding would come in the future. Where else could I go? All the churches that I knew about taught the immortality of the soul, and going to heaven at death, or burning in “hellfire” – all teachings that I could never accept.

The next thing that puzzled me was what Jesus states about his apostles in Luke 22:28-30, “However, you are the ones who have stuck with me in my trials; and I make a covenant with you, just as my Father has made a covenant with me, for a kingdom, so that you may eat and drink at my table in my Kingdom, and sit on thrones to judge the 12 tribes of Israel. Such a promise to me, clearly contradicted what the Watchtower organization was teaching:

  • The nation of Israel no longer plays any role in God’s plan.
  • Among Jehovah’s Witnesses only the literal number of 144,000 are designated as spiritual Israel.
  • The great crowd of other sheep are not spiritual Jews, they are Gentiles who attach themselves to the 144,000. Zechariah 8:23 is used to support this view. 
  • In the Kingdom, the 144,000 – “spiritual Israel” – will rule over the “great crowd” – people of the “nations” (Zech. 8:23) as kings and priests.

 After reading the Luke 22 passage above, I sought out the Watchtower position on the identity of the “twelve tribes of Israel” of Luke 22:30. To my surprise they actually were teaching that these 12 tribes of Israel are the “nations” of Zechariah 8:23 – the “great crowd” of “other sheep”! In Watchtower theology the “other sheep” are not spiritual Jews. Luke 22 forces them to teach two contradictory teachings at the same time because they have to identify the 12 tribes apart from Spiritual Israel, because the Apostles will be judging them! Once natural Israel is eliminated from their understanding as having a part in God’s plan, they have no choice but to state that it is the other sheep who then become the 12 tribes of Israel in Luke 22. They are actually teaching two opposite teachings simultaneously – because they say that the other sheep are not spiritual Israel or Jews of any kind, but in Luke 22 they say these 12 tribes are the other sheep!

Although I was very puzzled I still did not question or doubt the validity of the organization because in my mind there was nowhere else to go. I was still convinced that I was “in the truth” and the Watchtower Society were devoted servants of God and that in time through their intense study of the word in Brooklyn they would clear up the inconsistencies that I saw. 

I continued actively in the “door to door service.” One day I was asked to explain Matthew 8:11, “But I tell you that many from east and west will come and recline at the table with Abraham and Isaac and Jacob in the Kingdom of the heavens;” As soon as I read it, I could hardly speak. I had never noticed this passage before. At the time I was convinced that there were “two classes” of believers. The 144,000 would go to heaven and receive the “heavenly kingdom” while all the rest would remain on earth. “All the rest” included Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. I could not escape the clear words of Jesus himself that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would be in the “kingdom of the heavens.” I told the man that I would come back with an explanation.

When I researched the Watchtower understanding of this passage, it was so unbelievable that I was too embarrassed to give the man the explanation. I felt it couldn’t possibly be true. The explanation given was that Abraham is “symbolic of Jehovah God”, Isaac is “symbolic of Jesus Christ”, and Jacob is “symbolic of the 144,000”. Additionally, what proved to me that this explanation was incorrect is the parallel statement in Luke 13:28 where Jesus adds “all the prophets” to his statement about Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Who did all the prophets “symbolize”?

From then on I started to read other translations as well as reading the Bible without the Watchtower Publications to guide me. My existing belief, at that point, was that all the faithful men and women in the Old Testament had the earthly hope and that they didn’t even know that there was such a thing as the “heavenly hope”. I was stunned when I read Hebrews 11:16 in the King James version. Since most Witnesses have the KJV it’s quite normal to see a Witness read this version. In referring to the faithful believers in the Old Testament, including Abel, Enoch, Noah and Abraham, the passage reads, “But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly…” How was that possible? I wondered. How could all these men and women of faith “desire” a “heavenly” country if this was not “revealed to them”? I turned immediately to my New World Translation which reads, “But now they are reaching out for a better [place], that is one belonging to heaven…”

This discovery in Hebrews 11 was very devastating; every Bible I could find read, “heavenly” or “celestial” in this passage. The most devastating of all was the Watchtower’s own Kingdom Interlinear. The word-for-word English beneath the Greek reads, “Now but of better(one) they are reaching out for, this is of heavenly one…” I wondered why they would paraphrase the Greek word to read “one belonging to heaven” in Hebrews 11:16 and translate it as “heavenly” in the very next chapter -12:12? 

In my heart I thought I knew the reason for this inconsistency. The Watchtower could not have their members read a verse that so thoroughly contradicted their fundamental beliefs.

For the very first time I was deeply troubled. In fact I was shattered, for my mental safety-net was gone. The man I had been talking to in my door-to-door service did not believe in the immortality of the soul, going to heaven when you die, hellfire or the trinity. He believed that the Kingdom of God would be on earth, all of which I believed and still believe to be Bible truths. 

The living nightmare began. I was now married to a Witness, I had a stepson and I had persuaded my mother to become a Witness. My brother in-law was a Witness and my two nephews were Witnesses. I knew what leaving meant – total shunning from family and friends. 

As each year passed, the nightmare deepened as I continued to see more and more from reading the Bible on my own and realizing that my belief-structure was probably wrong. I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown. I confided in my doctor who put me on antidepressants. I could not confide in any Witnesses because they would have immediately gone to the Elders and told them I was doubting. I wanted the freedom to sort this out myself.

 I eventually sent a lengthy letter to the Brooklyn headquarters. In the letter I pleaded for help. I told them that I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown and had been put on medications by my doctor. I did not mention the letter to anyone in my family or to anyone at my Kingdom Hall. About two months later a Witness Elder from my congregation phoned and told me that he was asked to deal with my issues. Brooklyn had contacted the Elders as opposed to addressing my letter personally. 

The Elder came to my house and pointed out all the “good works” the “organization was doing that no other organization was doing.To him this was “proof that Jehovah’s Witnesses had the Truth.” To put things in perspective I asked him to read Matthew 6:1-4, “Take care not to practice your righteousness in front of men to be noticed by them; otherwise you will have no reward with your Father who is in the heavens. So when you make gifts of mercy, do not blow a trumpet ahead of you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, so that they may be glorified by men. Truly I say to you, they have their reward in full.” I also asked him to read Matthew 23:15, “…you travel over sea and dry land to make one proselyte…” After he read these two passages he was furious! I pointed out to him that I was not trying to be disrespectful but the fact of the matter is that no one should boast. Secondly, all the preaching in the world does not make us right, as the inspired Word clearly says. Traveling over sea and dry land to make one proselyte is not proof that we have the Truth! I also pointed out to him that the contents of my letter was what I hoped to be discussing. He refused. 

Over 30 years later I still remember word-for-word what he told me. “If you cannot see that the Watchtower Organization has the truth,” he said, “there is nothing more I can do for you and if you even attempt to approach the other Elders over this matter there will be trouble.” He then picked up his case, stood up and walked out the door. My wife looked at me and said, “Your attitude stinks.” 

I was broken. Only those who have experienced a similar situation regardless of the particular religion they belong to, can understand. I asked for a fish and was handed a serpent. I asked for a loaf and was handed a stone. (Matthew 7:9-10)

I suppressed my doubts for a few more years and said nothing to anyone. Eventually we moved to another province “where the need was great” hoping that the Watchtower would receive “new light” and that everything would be ok. One evening speaking from the platform I happened to quote Romans 2:21 “Do you, however, the one teaching someone else, not teach yourself?…” How could I possibly go “door to door” and tell others to question the teachings of their church and act upon that questioning, when I was unwilling to do the same?

This time there was no turning back. I still had the hope that the Watchtower was right but I was not going to allow men to be masters of my faith. How ironic it was that I concluded that this was the reality – God was not the master of my faith but men. I was not the only witness in this position. 

This new harsh reality was brought home in an agonizing way when a young witness friend of mine committed suicide by jumping into the Atlantic Ocean. I had played table tennis together with this young man in my basement. He was a very handsome, God-fearing, clean-cut young man. He was just 23 years old. All the times we had played together neither of us could trust the other enough to confide our doubts. I had no excuse. I had become a Witness as an adult. No one forced me to join. Rodney, on the other hand, was raised a Witness. His whole family were Witnesses; his entire circle of friends were Witnesses. For Witness youth there is no way out. Even if you do not get baptized and leave, you are still shunned as a “disapproved associate.” Rodney was not a rebellious young man; he was a “regular pioneer” putting in 90 hours per month. He had nowhere to turn but the Atlantic Ocean. When he killed himself the thoughts expressed among the congregation were that he was “selfish” and “couldn’t face the difficulties of being a true Christian.” I found out later from neighbours that Rodney had actually confided in some of his school friends about his religious doubts. I found it ironic that he could not go to his own brothers and sisters when he was experiencing such traumatic difficulties in his life.

I began to wonder what place do Jesus’ words in Matthew 11:28-30 have for “Jehovah’s visible Organization”? The “faithful and discreet slave class?” The “anointed remnant?” “Come to me, all you who are toiling and loaded down, and I will refresh you…” 

For Witnesses “there is no way to leave” without experiencing the harsh consequences of doing so. The “reason” is irrelevant. If you leave to become a criminal or leave to pursue a path that you feel is a path of true righteousness, the treatment you experience is the same.

 Rodney’s suicide will haunt me all the days of my life. What if we both had had the freedom to confide in one another? He might still be alive today. 

In April 1991 I left the Watchtower religion. On April 28th I was baptized into Christ. My wife divorced me and my stepson hasn’t spoken to me in 27 years. My mother read the Bible from cover to cover without the Watchtower publications and three years later she left the Organization and was baptized into Christ. The ordeal almost killed her. She was 83 years old. On June 18, 2017 she fell asleep at 100 years of age awaiting the resurrection.

 I know that there are thousands of Witnesses young and old that are living the nightmare that I lived. I also know that there is tremendous guilt for those who do not have the courage to do a thorough research out of fear that their suspicions will be confirmed. For those who do realize that the Watchtower Society is not “Jehovah’s visible Organization” there is a lot of guilt for not leaving. For many, they think that suicide is the only way out. Who knows how many are so confused that they do not know what to believe? Too many so-called “counter-cult-ministries” run by Ex-Witnesses are more concerned with propounding their own doctrines as opposed to helping Witnesses end Ex-Witnesses to think for themselves. For them, if you do not believe in the “trinity” you are still shackled by “cult-mentality.” 

For the first time in my life I had actual faith. I had a firm belief that God and Christ would actually guide me. Is it frightening at first? Yes! Most importantly, it is a true promise from God and Christ that they will help you to find your way. “Keep on asking, and it will be given you; keep on seeking, and you will find; keep on knocking, and it will be opened to you; for everyone asking receives, and everyone seeking finds, and to everyone knocking, it will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7)  The very passages that I assured others with, now assures me, “Indeed, a man’s enemies will be those of his own household.” (Matthew 10:36) “… Do not forsake me and or leave me, my God of Salvation. Even if my own father and mother abandon me, Jehovah himself will take me in.” Psalm 27:9,10.

It’s one thing to be able to quote a Scripture, it’s another to be able to live it. 

In the 27 years since I’ve left the Watchtower Organization I have found freedom like never before. I can actually have discussions with those of my own congregation and disagree without fear that I’ll be cast out for doubting or questioning. It gives me so much joy to take out my Bible and read it for myself – whole chapters – all the way through. I feel so much relief that I no longer need to tally up my ‘good deeds’ in a monthly time card. My nagging questions are finally answered. I believe that I have found the Truth and the freedom to keep researching whenever necessary. In the end I am only concerned with whether or not I believe and teach the Truth according to God. It’s God’s Truth that I want to believe and teach to others – not the teachings of men. 

If anyone wishes to correspond with me I would be delighted to do so.

Norman Smith

reinodejesus@aol.com

 

Photo by Wendy van Zyl on Pexels.com

How was the concept of ‘hell’ understood in Old Testament times? Was hell a place of torment, that God warned his people to avoid? Did any faithful person ever long to go to hell? Of course not, you might say… but have another look.

Let’s begin by researching the Old Testament word for ‘hell’. In Strong’s Concordance the Hebrew word is ‘sheol’, and Dr. Strong defines it as ‘hades or the world of the dead (as if a subterranean retreat), including its accessories and inmates’. Dr. Strong also tells us that in the KJV ‘sheol’ has been translated into the English words, ‘grave, hell, pit.’ 

In order to find out if Dr. Strong’s personal definition of ‘hell’ is accurate, we need to examine the way ‘sheol’ has been used in the Bible. 

Jacob

The faithful man, Jacob, is the first person to talk about going to ‘sheol’. In Genesis 37:35 it says, And all his sons and all his daughters rose up to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, For I will go down into the grave <sheol> unto my son mourning.” In speaking about the grief he would feel if Benjamin did not return to him, Jacob also said, “if mischief befall him by the way in the which ye go, then shall ye bring down my gray hairs with sorrow to the grave <sheol>. (Genesis 42:38) So, the faithful man Jacob, believed that at death he would go to ‘sheol’. Jacob isn’t the one who longs to go to ‘sheol’, but he certainly believed that he will go there in death.

Jacob’s sons later reported the same belief to Joseph, saying that if they didn’t bring Benjamin back to their father, “that he will die: and thy servants shall bring down the gray hairs of thy servant our father with sorrow to the grave <sheol>.  (Genesis 44:3) Remember, this word ‘sheol’ can be translated into English synonymously as ‘grave, hell or pit’. Jacob’s sons believed their father would go to ‘hell, the grave, or the pit’. 

Wicked Leaders

 Korah, Dathan and Abiram, wicked leaders who challenged Moses’ leadership, were swallowed up by an earthquake and went down alive into the pit <sheol>. (Numbers 16:30-33) So, it’s possible to go to ‘sheol’ alive… although they wouldn’t have stayed alive for long.

Job Asks to Go to ‘Sheol’

In the book of Job, ‘sheol’ features fairly often, as Job in his sufferings, was consumed with dying. His friend, Zophar, talks about hell as being one of the deepest places, in Job 11:8. Job, himself, asks to be hidden in the grave <sheol>, in chapter 14:13! He speaks of ‘sheol’ as a dark place of rest in the dust, surrounded by worms, where bodies corrupt. “If I wait, the grave <sheol> is mine house: I have made my bed in the darkness. I have said to corruption, thou art my father: to the worm, thou art my mother, and my sister. And where is now my hope? As for my hope, who shall see it? They shall go down to the bars of the pit <sheol>, when our rest together is in the dust. (Job 17:13-16) Job certainly didn’t envision hell as a fiery place of torment. In his misery, Job longed to be at peace in the grave.

David

In the Psalms, David and the other psalmists, also refer to ‘sheol’ frequently. David says that no one gives God thanks in the grave <sheol> (Psalm 6:5). The wicked will be turned into hell <sheol> (Psalm 9:17) He speaks of the sorrows of hell <sheol> overwhelming him (Psalm 18:5), and is thankful that God has brought up his soul from the grave <sheol> and kept him from going down to the pit <sheol> (Psalm 30:3) Do any of these passages clearly indicate hell is a fiery place of torment? Or is hell just the place we go at the end of our life – the ‘world’ of the unconscious dead?

We have considered Psalms 16:10 in other blogs, as it is quoted in Acts 2, concerning Christ, “For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell <sheol>; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” In death, Jesus spent three days in ‘sheol’ – hell, the grave or the pit. If ‘sheol’ is a place reserved for the wicked, why would faithful Jesus be sent there? If ‘sheol’ is simply the grave, this is consistent with the New Testament message – Jesus spent three days in the grave.

In Psalm 89:48, the writer asks, “What man is he that liveth, and shall not see death? shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave <sheol>?” We are powerless to escape death and the grave, only God can rescue us through resurrection. From this passage it is clear that all people go to ‘hell’ when they die, not only the wicked.

Psalm 139:8 says, “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell <sheol>, behold, thou art there.” However, deep and dark ‘sheol’ is, it’s not too deep or dark for God to see us and bring us back to Him.

Proverbs 7:27 refers to a harlot, saying, Her house is the way to hell <sheol>, going down to the chambers of death.” This could potentially sound like a place of punishment for the wicked. However, if this passage is simply saying that the harlot’s house is the way to the grave, eternal death is a sufficient punishment. Proverbs 15:24 is similar, “The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell <sheol> beneath.”

Unconsciousness and Inactivity

Ecclesiastes 9:10, tells us that there is no work, or devices or knowledge or wisdom in the grave <sheol> where we are going. This passage indicates that ‘sheol’ is a place of unconsciousness and inactivity.

Lucifer – the King of Babylon

One oft-quoted passage in Isaiah 14, has very graphic language about hell. As you read it through, consider if this passage supports the fiery notion that hell is a place of torture, or the grave – a place where human life comes to an end and our bodies corrupt? Just to make it a little easier to read, we will use the ESV translation:

First take notice in Isaiah 14:4, that this passage is a PARABLE – a poetic story. Then, notice, who this proverb is speaking against?

 “…take up this proverb [parable] against the king of Babylon, and say, How hath the oppressor ceased! the golden city ceased!… Hell <sheol> from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? Thy pomp is brought down to the grave <sheol>, and the noise of thy viols: the worm is spread under thee, and the worms cover thee. How art thou fallen from heaven, O Lucifer [day star], son of the morning! how art thou cut down to the ground, which didst weaken the nations! For thou hast said in thine heart, I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God:…Yet thou shalt be brought down to hell <sheol>, to the sides of the pit. They that see thee shall narrowly look upon thee, and consider thee, saying, Is this the man that made the earth to tremble, that did shake kingdoms.”  

In the parable above, poetic language is used to describe the mighty King of Babylon, who thought he was equal to God, and was greatly humbled in death. Lucifer is a Hebrew word meaning ‘day star’. Just as we use ‘stars’ today to describe the rich and famous, so does the Bible. Death is the great equalizer for all mankind – rich and poor, wise and foolish, renown and obscure. Great riches and power cannot deliver us from death – it is the one certainty of life! Once again, the grave and pit are used synonymously with hell, and worms are in abundance! There is no mention of fire or torment.

Hezekiah

When faithful King Hezekiah heard that he was going to die, he cried out to God in Isaiah 38:10-18 and said, “I shall go to the gates of the grave <sheol>: I am deprived of the residue of my years.” In Isaiah 38:18, he says, “For the grave <sheol> cannot praise thee, death can not celebrate thee: they that go down into the pit cannot hope for thy truth.” 

Why would a faithful man like Hezekiah think he was going to the gates of ‘sheol’, if it is a place of fire and torment reserved for the wicked? If ‘sheol’ is simply the grave, this makes perfect sense, because all men die.

Pharaoh

Another Old Testament passage that is often quoted in relation to hell, is Ezekiel 31. Again, we will use the ESV for this passage. Rather than choose ‘grave, hell or pit’ for this parable, the ESV translators have used the actual Hebrew word ‘sheol’! Notice that in verse 2, God is specifically giving this parable about Pharaoh King of Egypt. Pharaoh is the cedar tree.

In verse 15 to 18, the passage says, “Thus says the Lord God: On the day the cedar went down to Sheol I caused mourning; I closed the deep over it, and restrained its rivers, and many waters were stopped. I clothed Lebanon in gloom for it, and all the trees of the field fainted because of it. I made the nations quake at the sound of its fall, when I cast it down to Sheol with those who go down to the pit. And all the trees of Eden, the choice and best of Lebanon, all that drink water, were comforted in the world below. They also went down to Sheol with it, to those who are slain by the sword; yes, those who were its arm, who lived under its shadow among the nations. “Whom are you thus like in glory and in greatness among the trees of Eden? You shall be brought down with the trees of Eden to the world below. You shall lie among the uncircumcised, with those who are slain by the sword. “This is Pharaoh and all his multitude, declares the Lord God.”

While this Ezekiel passage talks about ‘the world below’, there is no mention of fire or torment. Instead, there is the idea of rest, and lying among the dead.

Jonah

Our last passage is Jonah 2:2. Jonah was swallowed by a whale, and would have died in its belly, had not he been miraculously rescued by God. In speaking of his experience, he refers to the whale’s belly as ‘sheol’. “I cried by reason of mine affliction unto the LORD, and he heard me; out of the belly of hell <sheol> cried I, and thou heardest my voice.”

So, we can see from this little investigation, that in the Old Testament, hell, the grave and the pit are used synonymously. Never is there any mention of fire or torment. Instead, there are plenty of references to darkness, worms, unconsciousness, dust, corruption and the sorrows of death. For the first 4000 years of history, this was all that God revealed to mankind about hell – it was the place where all men go when they die. If however ‘hell’ was a fiery place of torment to punish the wicked, why wouldn’t God warn everyone that this was the case?

Incidentally,  if you google the definition of hell, you will get this comment on the origin of the word: “the Old English hel, hell, of Germanic origin; related to Dutch hel and German Hölle, from an Indo-European root meaning ‘to cover or hide.’” Hence, “helmet, to hell potatoes, etc.”

In the New Testament, the concept of hell is more complex, as there are four different Greek words that are used. We will investigate the New Testament hell, next blog, God Willing.