We only have one objective for investigating this very important Watchtower teaching – and that is to reach out in a caring way to many sincere, devoted believers, who love the Truth and deserve every opportunity to find it.

Jehovah’s Witnesses believe that a literal 144,000 believers will go to heaven and become immortal to rule over the other unnumbered class who are considered the ‘subjects’ of the Kingdom Age. These subjects, according to the Watchtower, live on earth and do not receive immortality but eventually over time, attain to ‘human perfection.’ This belief is based on a handful of passages that we will consider in this investigation, such as John 10:16; Luke 12:32; Matthew 11:11; Revelation 7:1-10.

The Watchtower freely admits that this teaching of the 144,000 is not taught anywhere in the Hebrew Scriptures. Jehovah’s Witnesses say this teaching was first realised by Jesus’ disciples at Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. The disciples were still expecting Jesus to reign on earth in Acts chapter 1:6. Therefore anyone who died prior to Pentecost would have no idea of what is termed the ‘Heavenly Hope.’ Up until the Pentecost of Acts 2, the hope of every believer was to live on earth forever.

The official position many years ago was that the calling of this ‘little flock of 144,000’ began at Pentecost and ended in 1935 – which is when the full number had been chosen. The only way for someone else to be part of the 144,000 would be if one of the chosen became unfaithful and then someone else would have to take their place.

In the 1950’s the Watchtower taught that there was about 12,000 of the 144,000 left. We are now in the year 2019. No doubt changes to this number have been made to accommodate this unexpected passage of time.

Special Terms Applying Only to the 144,000

In Watchtower theology only the 144,000 have these scriptural terms applied to them:

  • born again,
  • born of God,
  • born from above,
  • spiritual Israel,
  • anointed,
  • born of the spirit,
  • and Christ is only a mediator for the 144,000.

The Watchtower teaches that only the 144,000 are ‘Abraham’s seed’ (Galatians 3:29 – ‘heirs with reference to a promise’). Only the 144,000 have this ‘heavenly hope’ and prior to Pentecost in Acts 2, it was an unknown belief for anyone except for Christ. Therefore, the ‘new covenant’ is only for the 144,000, which is why they are the only Witnesses who can partake of the bread and wine.

Can this complex teaching withstand a series of Biblical passages that would indicate otherwise? Additionally, are the passages used to support this teaching clear enough to teach it in the first place?

We will consider the actual number 144,000 last, because it stands as a literal number on the basis of two things:

  • Is 144,000 supported as a literal number by the rest of Scripture?
  • Is a literal 144,000 supported by the description recorded in the book of Revelation itself?

Hebrews 11:6 – the ‘Heavenly’ Homeland

There are several Scriptures which demonstrate there are not two separate classes of believers. Hebrews 11:16, describes the hope of many faithful men and women who died prior to Pentecost in Acts 2. According to Watchtower teaching, the O.T. faithful had no idea that there would be a ‘Heavenly Kingdom’ as they lived before the revelation of the ‘Heavenly Hope’ at Pentecost.

Here are the various ways Hebrews 11:16 is translated:

“…but in fact they were longing for a better homeland, their heavenly homeland…” Jerusalem Bible

“But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one…” NRSV

“But they were looking for a better place, a heavenly homeland…” NLT

“But now they desire a better country, that is an heavenly…” KJV

“Instead they were longing for a better country – a heavenly one…” NIV

These versions make it very clear that all the faithful prior to Pentecost were hoping for a ‘heavenly’ country or homeland.

This same passage in the Watchtower’s NWT reads,

“But now they are reaching out for a better place, that is, one belonging to heaven.”

The NWT is the only Bible translation that chooses to paraphrase the Greek word ‘epouranious’ as ‘one belonging to heaven’ – as opposed to simply translating it as ‘heavenly.’ Why would they do so, especially in light of the introduction to the 1984 Large Print Edition of the NWT? This introduction says,

Paraphrases of the Scriptures are not offered. Rather, an effort has been made to give as literal a translation as possible where the modern-English idiom allows and where a literal rendition does not, by any awkwardness, hide the thought… Uniformity of rendering has been maintained by assigning one meaning to each major word and by holding to that meaning as far as the context permits.”(Page 7, paragraph 3 and 4)

Is there a reason to ‘hide the thought’ in Hebrews 11:16?

The thought is certainly not hidden in the Watchtower’s Kingdom Interlinear Translation of the Greek Scriptures. The word-for-word English found under the Greek text for Hebrews 11:16 reads, “now but of better (one) they are reaching out for, this is of heavenly (one)…”

In the very next chapter – Hebrews 12:22 – the NWT translates the same word ‘epouranious’ as ‘heavenly.’ “But you have approached Mount Zion and a city of the living God, heavenly Jerusalem.

The author of “Truth in Translation,” Jason David BeDuhn, speaks very highly of the NWT saying it is the most reliable of the nine Bible translations he compared. BeDuhn is a competent Scholar and his conclusions are generally accepted. However, BeDuhn also concluded that all the translations he examined were bias toward their theological views, with the NWT being less inconsistent than the other eight. For BeDuhn, “inconsistency in translation is often an indicator of bias,” (Pg 108).

As seen in Hebrews 11:16, the NWT has been inconsistent in translating this verse. Due to their unique ‘Two Class’ belief, a literal translation would be very confusing to their members.

MATTHEW 8:11 – the O.T. Faithful in the ‘Kingdom of the Heavens’

The next passage, is Matthew 8:11, which reads, “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.

For the Watchtower it is not possible that Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will be in the ‘Kingdom of the heavens’ as they believe the patriarchs have an ‘Earthly Hope.’ Thus Jesus’ statement here, presents for them a major problem. The Watchtower explanation of Matthew 8:11 is that Abraham, Isaac and Jacob are ‘symbolic’ of ‘Jehovah God, Jesus Christ and the 144,000.’ Yet the parallel statement in Luke 13:28, 29, referenced in the NWT margin, adds ‘all the prophets’. “There is where your weeping and the gnashing of your teeth will be, when you see Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and all the prophets in the Kingdom of God, but you yourselves thrown outside. Furthermore, people will come from east and west…”

The Watchtower’s own cross-reference to Luke 13:28, 29 shows that they accept it as a parallel statement. If Matthew 8:11 is symbolic – then Luke 13:28 must be as well. So then, ‘all the prophets’ must be symbolic. Who does the prophet Jeremiah symbolise? Or Ezekiel? Or Elisha? This becomes quite complicated and is not explained in Watchtower writings. However, if Luke 13:28 is literal, then it proves Matthew’s account to be literal as well.

Reading Matthew 8:11 and Luke 13:28 literally, we have the simple, clear teaching that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and all the prophets will be together in the heavenly Kingdom, with all other believers – one hope – one class.

One class of believers is very clearly endorsed in the book of Galatians. Paul makes this statement in Galatians 3:29, “Moreover, if you belong to Christ, you are really Abraham’s offspring, heirs with reference to a promise.Yet, according to Watchtower teaching, the Christians in Galatia are going to heaven to be part of the ‘Heavenly Kingdom’, of which only the literal number of 144,000 will partake. These 144,000 have been chosen ‘from Pentecost and onward.’ They believe that NO ONE prior to Pentecost in Acts 2 has the ‘hope’ of ‘going to heaven.’ All the faithful who died prior to this event, receive what they term ‘the Earthly Hope’, thus separating believers into two ‘classes’ with two separate ‘hopes’ – the Heavenly Hope and the Earthly Hope.

GALATIANS 4:28 – Children of the Promise

Notice Paul’s words to the Galatian believers in Galatians 4:28. “Now you, brothers, are children of the promise the same as Isaac was.”

According to Paul, Isaac receives the same promise as the believers in Galatia. Isaac is not separated into another class who receives a hope different from the Galatian believers.

Consider also Paul’s words in Galatians 3:9, “So those who adhere to faith are being blessed together with Abraham, who had faith.” The Gentile Galatians are viewed as Abraham’s seed due to their faith. They are blessed WITH Abraham, not as a separate class with a different destiny. It doesn’t make sense that Abraham’s descendants would receive a greater promise than their father.

Notice the consistency of the three passages we have considered in Galatians 4 and Hebrews 11, with Jesus’ words in Matthew 8:11. These passages are very clear; there are not two classes of believers and there is only one hope. However, in all fairness, let’s take a look at the most oft-quoted passages the Watchtower uses in support of their teaching. We’ll begin with John 10:16.

JOHN 10:16 – The Other Sheep

“And I have other sheep, which are not of this fold; those too I must bring in, and they will listen to my voice, and they will become one flock, one shepherd.”

Jehovah’s Witnesses teach that since Jesus references ‘other sheep’ there must be two classes of believers, with two separate hopes.

However, when Jesus spoke about these ‘other sheep’, the Gentiles had not yet been included into the Jewish fold. In Ephesians 2:15-16, Paul talks about the inclusion of the Gentiles and the union of the two groups INTO ONE. “By means of his flesh he abolished the enmity, the Law of commandments consisting in decrees, in order to make the two groups in union with himself into one new man and to make peace, and to reconcile fully both peoples in one body to God through the torture stake, because he had killed off the enmity by means of himself.” This is a perfect explanation for John 10:16 because it accurately describes what Jesus said – they will become ‘one flock.’

The Watchtower teaching is contradictory within itself. Within the organisation there are still TWO CLASSES – they have not been made into one. That is why only the 144,000 partake of bread and wine. Yet, Jesus said they would all become ‘ONE FLOCK,” one shepherd.’ If Jesus’ words are taken verbatim as he said, all Jehovah’s Witnesses would partake of the bread and wine. Instead we see that the ‘other sheep’ which Jesus referenced, are simply the Gentiles, who are now included in the one flock.

LUKE 12:32 – The ‘Little Flock’

In Luke 12:32, Jesus assured his disciples, “Have no fear, little flock, for your Father has approved of giving you the Kingdom.”

The emphasis that the Watchtower places here is on the term, ‘little flock,’ in contrast to the “great crowd’ in Revelation 7:9. The inference is that the ‘little flock’ is fewer in number than the ‘great crowd.’ It would appear from these terms that the Watchtower has a relatively sound argument. But context and an overall knowledge of Scripture has to be the final arbitrator in understanding each statement.

The overall teaching of Scripture is that very few will be saved, in contrast to the many who are not. For example, in Israel as a nation, very few were faithful in comparison to the unfaithful. Jesus himself, talked about two roads – one leading to life and one to destruction. The one leading to life had very few that found it, the one leading to destruction had many. (Matthew 7:13-14). When taken in context, the ‘little flock’ of Luke 12 is consistent with the overall teaching of Scripture, that very few find the road to eternal life.

However, depending on the context, a different emphasis may be used. Context is vital. We can see this from Acts 6:7 where we read, “and a GREAT CROWD of priests began to be obedient to the faith.” (NWT 1984 Large-Print Edition) How many priests were converted? Was a ‘great crowd’ considered hundreds of priests, or hundreds of thousands?

It is very interesting that the 2013 Revised Edition of the NWT translates this verse as ‘large crowd’ as opposed to ‘great crowd.’ This is done despite the fact that the Greek word in Acts 6:7 and Revelation 7:9 is the same (‘polus’). It is doubtful that the Watchtower would have changed this word, creating inconsistency, had they not been sufficiently challenged on this very point. The term ‘great crowd’ is one of the most common terms in Witness vocabulary.

Once again the Watchtower has gone against their own policy – “an effort has been made to give as literal a translation as possible where the modern-English idiom allows and where a literal rendition does not, by any awkwardness, hide the thought… Uniformity of rendering has been maintained by assigning one meaning to each major word and by holding to that meaning as far as the context permits.” (NWT 1984 Large-Print Edition, page 7, paragraph 3 and 4) The change to ‘large crowd’ from ‘great crowd’ only confirms that this is one of the most challenged doctrines within the organisation, enough so as to warrant a resort to inconsistency.

Luke 12:32 then provides no proof that there are two classes, based upon the terms ‘little flock’ and ‘great crowd.’ If it did, were there more than 144,000 priests who converted in Acts 6:7?

MATTHEW 11:11 – A Lesser Person

Matthew 11:11 reads, “Truly, I say to you, among those born of women, there has not been raised up anyone greater than John the Baptist, but a lesser person in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.”

Watchtower teaching is that only those with the ‘Heavenly Hope’ receive immortality in the ‘Kingdom of the heavens’, while those with the ‘Earthly Hope’ remain on earth and receive ‘human perfection’- a state which they liken to Adam and Eve before the fall – very good – but not immortal. Therefore, they say, those who receive immortality are ‘greater’ than those who remain on earth. Matthew 11:11 then, for Jehovah’s Witnesses, is a contrast between the two ‘hopes.’ Matthew 11:11 certainly does teach a contrast, but what is the contrast between? Is it between two different ‘hopes’ of believers, or between our mortal life now compared to immortal life in the world to come?

Luke 20:34-36 describes the superior state of immortality, saying, “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 like the angels, and they are God’s children by being children of the resurrection.

Jesus himself was “made a little lower than angels…” Hebrews 2:7. This all changed of course when he was raised from the dead and given immortality.

The question then, is what is the contrast, described in Matthew 11:11, in regards to John the Baptist? Is it a contrast between an alleged ‘earthly hope’ and a ‘heavenly hope’, or is it a contrast between life in our present age and life in the future when the ‘Kingdom of the heavens’ is established as described by Christ in Luke 20:34-36?

Jesus states that “among those born of women,” there are none that are “greater than John.” Was it necessary for Jesus to state that John was born of a woman? We know from Job, the outcome of everyone that is born from woman:

“Man, born of a woman, is short-lived and filled with trouble. He comes up like a blossom and then withers away;Job 14:1-2

Regardless of who we are, we are all in need of redemption – just as John the Baptist was. Jesus’ statement about John was referring to his present state. “But a lesser person in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than he is.This statement is in the PRESENT TENSE. The ‘Kingdom of the heavens’ was still future at this time – even the Watchtower wouldn’t claim it was established until 1914. If the Watchtower’s understanding of this verse is correct, then that would be indicated by the tenses in the Scripture. Jesus would have referred to John in the future tense, saying, “But a lesser person in the Kingdom of the heavens is greater than HE WILL BE.”

Matthew 11:11, then, is a contrast Jesus is making between the superior state of those enjoying the future hope of immortality, as opposed to the mortal state that we all share in this life – however great we may be.

ROMANS 8:16 – to be ‘Born Again’

So what is the Biblical criteria to be one of the 144,000? Within Watchtower theology only the 144,000 know that they are of the Heavenly class. It is often stated that if you have to question if you are one of the Heavenly Class, then you are not one of them. For the Watchtower, the criteria is a personal ‘experience’. The standard passage quoted to support this view, is Romans 8:16, “The spirit itself bears witness with our spirit that we are God’s children.” This statement is taken to show that there is a direct communication from God to the individual.

Has the Watchtower accurately presented the Biblical criteria for someone to be part of this Heavenly class? The criteria that God has revealed is seen in 1 John 5:1:

“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God, and everyone who loves the one who caused to be born loves him who has been born from that one.”

The criteria according to John is ‘belief’ and not an experience. It’s available for ‘everyone.’ To demonstrate that it is truly for ‘everyone’ consider Jesus’ dialogue with Nicodemus.

The exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus is in John 3:1-10. In verse 3, Jesus says to Nicodemus, “Most truly I say to you, unless anyone is born again, he cannot see the Kingdom of God.” Nicodemus had no idea of what Jesus is speaking about – but how could he, if the ‘heavenly hope’ had not yet been revealed? Despite this, Jesus goes on to rebuke Nicodemus, saying, “Are you a teacher of Israel and yet do not know these things?”

Why would Jesus rebuke anyone for something that is impossible for them to know? This exchange between Jesus and Nicodemus contradicts any idea that there was a future revelation with regard to those who are born again, because this exchange took place about 3 years before the Pentecost of Acts 2. If it wasn’t until Pentecost that the new ‘revelation’ was given to them, then why would Jesus have rebuked Nicodemus 3 years earlier, for not understanding what it meant to be ‘born again’?

What is the ‘born again’ experience that is spoken of in the Scriptures? It is the experience that we read about in 1 John 5:1, Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ has been born from God.That Nicodemus could be rightfully rebuked by Jesus is seen in Acts 2:29-31, “Men, brothers, it is permissible to speak with freeness of speech to you about the family head David, that he died and was buried, and his tomb is with us to this day. Because he was a prophet and knew that God had sworn to him with an oath that he would seat one of his offspring on his throne, he foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that neither was he forsaken in the Grave nor did his flesh see corruption.”

Very simply, David believed in the coming Messiah and even predicted his death and resurrection. David predicted this through the Holy Spirit. He was a man after God’s own heart, born of the spirit. The criteria of ‘belief’ is clearly provided in the Hebrew Scriptures itself.

Consider another example, Moses, who chose “to be mistreated with the people of God rather than to have the temporary enjoyment of sin, because he considered the reproach of THE CHRIST to be riches greater than the treasures of Egypt…” (Hebrews 11:24-26)

In John 8:56, Jesus states, “Abraham your father rejoiced greatly at the prospect of seeing my day, and he saw it and rejoiced.” With the eye of faith, Abraham looked forward to the coming of Messiah because the ‘good news’ was preached to him (Galatians 3:8-9). His faith or belief was such, that he could be termed “the father of us all.” (Romans 4:16)

Jeremiah, the prophet, speaking to wayward Israel, in Jeremiah 4:4, “Circumcise yourselves to Jehovah, and remove the foreskins of your hearts, you men of Judah and inhabitants of Jerusalem, so that my wrath may not blaze up like a fire and burn with no one to extinguish it, because of your evil deeds.” Jeremiah is telling them that they have to be spiritually-minded, instead of minding the flesh… the same concept as in Romans chapter 8, where the Watchtower has plucked verse 16 out of context. Paul’s whole argument in Romans 8 is about our conduct:

Verse 5-7, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit, on the things of the spirit. For setting the mind on the flesh means death, but setting the mind on the spirit means life and peace; because setting the mind on the flesh means enmity with God, for it is not in subjection to the law of God, nor, in fact, can it be.”

“For if you LIVE according to the flesh you are sure to die; but if you put the practices of the body to death by the spirit, you will live.” (Romans 8:13)

Romans 8:16, then, is not about an ‘experience.’ It has everything to do with an individual putting aside his fleshly desires in order for his thinking to correspond with the thinking of God. “Therefore, become imitators of God, as beloved children, and go on walking in love, just as the Christ also loved us and gave himself for us… ” (Ephesians 5:1) The subject matter in Ephesians 5:1-6 is very similar to Romans 8.

Therefore, to be ‘born from above’ or ‘born of the spirit’ is nothing more than to allow God’s Word to transform us to be spiritually-minded, as opposed to ‘fleshly-minded.’ Every true believer is required to become spiritually-minded. As Jesus explained to Nicodemus, in John 3:6, “What has been born from the flesh is flesh, and what has been born from the spirit is spirit.” We are all born from flesh naturally. To have any hope of changing from the natural way of thinking, we must be born of the spirit. Jesus also tells Nicodemus in John 3:16, “For God loved the world so much that he gave his only–begotten Son, so that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

Salvation for anyone, regardless of the time-period in which they lived is based upon their exercising faith in the Messiah, whether they looked forward in faith as Abraham, David, Moses, etc, or whether they lived in Jesus’ own day, or whether like today, we look back in belief through the Biblical record.

REVELATION 7:1-9 – The 144,000

Is 144,000 a literal number? Thus far, Scripture has provided no evidence that there are two classes of believers, one ruling over the other. Can it be demonstrated from Revelation itself, that the number 144,000 is not a literal number, but symbolic?

The whole nature of Revelation is one of symbolism. If the 144,000 was a literal number, then the 12 tribes of Israel referred to in chapter 7 would have to be literal as well. How can we take the number 144,000 as literal when every other aspect of this description from verse one to verse eight, is symbolic?

The fact that Revelation 7:1-8 describes John hearing the number 144,000 and then after that, John sees a ‘great crowd,’ does not necessarily mean that they are two separate groups of people, but viewed from a different perspective. The symbolic 144,000 are more likely the ‘great crowd’ – which no man can literally number.

For example, the Watchtower themselves teach that the 24 elders in Revelation 4:4, are representative of the 144,000. The 24 elders they do not take as a literal number at all. So, in like manner, the 144,000 could very well represent the ‘great crowd’ out of all tribes, peoples and nations. (Revelation 5:9-10)

This very point can be seen in the description of the ‘great crowd’ of verse 9, who come from ‘all nations and tribes and peoples and tongues.’ This exact description is given of the 144,000 in Revelation 5:9-10. “And they sing a new song, saying: ‘You are worthy to take the scroll and open its seals, for you were slaughtered and with your blood you bought people for God out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation, and you made them to be a kingdom and priests to our God, and they are to rule as kings over the earth.”

The Watchtower teaches that this group in Revelation 5, is the 144,000 because they are made ‘to be a kingdom.’ According to the Watchtower’s beliefs, the 144,000 in Revelation 5, comes from ‘every tribe and tongue and people and nation’, which is exactly where the ‘great crowd’ of Revelation 7:9 is drawn from.

In Galatians 6:15-16, the Gentiles are referred to as the “Israel of God”:

“For neither is circumcision anything nor is uncircumcision, but a new creation is. As for all those who walk orderly by this rule of conduct, peace and mercy be upon them, yes, upon the Israel of God.”

There is far more evidence to suggest that the 144,000 is a symbolic number to represent the vast number of all believers from every ‘tribe and tongue and people and nation’ and all those from ‘east and west’ who ‘will come and recline with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of the heavens.’ (Matthew 8:11)

Abraham’s Offspring

It can be demonstrated from the Bible and by using the Watchtower’s own beliefs, that it is impossible for the 144,000 to be a literal number.

According to Watchtower teaching, ‘Abraham’s offspring’ in Galatians 3:29 is the 144,000. They become Abraham’s ‘offspring’ by virtue of their ‘belonging to Christ’ (vs. 29). In Galatians 3:16 we read that the primary seed or offspring of Abraham is Christ – “‘and to your offspring,’ in the sense of one, who is Christ.”

Gentile believers become Abraham’s seed by being ‘baptised into Christ’ (vs. 27). The key point here is that Paul is not providing some new revelation but quoting from Genesis. Galatians 3:16 is a quote from Genesis 13:15 which is actually cross-referenced in the NWT Bible. Notice a detail provided in Genesis 13:16, about Abraham’s seed – a detail which cannot be explained by the Watchtower. “And I will make your offspring like the dust particles of the earth, so that if anyone could count the dust particles of the earth, then your offspring could be counted.”

Anyone can count to 144,000. The seed of Genesis 13:16 cannot be counted, thus corresponding to the ‘great crowd’ ‘which no man can number’ of Revelation 7:9, and demonstrating that 144,000 is a symbolic number.

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

Norman Smith

reinodejesus@aol.com

Many articles have been written concerning the prophecies of Messiah. However, there are some hidden gems which are often overlooked or misinterpreted. It is these gems that we wish to consider.

First Promise After the First Sin

In the very first book which Moses penned under God’s inspiration – Genesis, we find the first promise of a saviour. The promise was given right after the very first sin, when Adam and Eve ate the forbidden fruit, disobeying the only command God had given them. God had clearly told them, “but of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil you shall not eat, for in the day that you eat of it you shall surely die.” (Genesis 2:17) Adam and Eve ate of the tree and became sinners deserving death in the brand new world. However, once our Heavenly Father had received their confession of sin, he gave the promise of a saviour to come, even before telling them the consequences of their sin! God’s mercy comes before His judgement! 

Ironically, God’s first promise of a Messiah was directed towards the lying serpent in Genesis 3:15, “I will put enmity between you [the serpent] and the woman, and between your offspring [serpent’s seed] and her offspring [woman’s seed]; he shall bruise your head [the serpent], and you [the serpent] shall bruise his [the offspring] heel.”

Why would the first promise be directed to the serpent?

Enmity = Hatred

Enmity means “hostility, by implication a reason for opposition: – enmity, hatred.” At first read this sounds like God is saying that women and snakes would hate one another. While this may generally be true, is it only true for women and snakes? And why would God put hatred between baby snakes and the children of women… not men? Surely, this has much deeper implications… hidden gems! Let’s begin our investigation by determining what the serpent symbolizes in Scripture.

The Serpent Twisted God’s Word

To understand what the snake symbolizes, it is helpful to consider the serpent’s role in the first sin. The serpent began his appeal to Eve, putting forth the idea that God had said none of the trees of the garden were to be eaten. This was not true. God had provided all the trees for food, except one. The serpent wanted to make God seem unfair. 

Then the serpent told a lie, “You will not surely die,” to insinuate that God was a liar. 

He added ‘top-secret’ information saying, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” Having painted God as an unfair, lying tyrant, now the serpent caused Eve to believe that God was hiding wonderful opportunities from her, and question whether God truly wanted what was best for His creation?

Through his cunning words, the serpent deceived the first woman to doubt God’s love, sincerity and wisdom, and make a wrong choice. “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise,” she chose to disobey God and ate the fruit.

We are told in 1 John 2, that these same promptings that led to the first sin, are also promptings we receive from ‘the world’, the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.” Any one who has ever faced temptation, (all of us!) knows that these are the very promptings which lead us to sin. And generally, when we sin, the same doubts lead us to dismiss God’s commands.

Who or What Was the Serpent?

Genesis refers to the serpent as ‘a beast of the field’ (Genesis 3:1). Therefore the serpent was part of God’s creation. Yet, he was more subtil than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made.” ‘Subtil’ means shrewd, crafty, sly, sensible, prudent’. It is translated in the Old Testament as ‘prudent’ – a good quality – more often than anything else (ie. Proverbs 13:16;14:8). ‘Subtil’ doesn’t necessarily imply the serpent was evil, just an animal with higher than average intelligence, and the ability to speak… but still an animal. It is possible that the serpent may have seen the angels eating fruit from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, and based his faulty assumptions upon what he saw.

It is indeed strange that the serpent could speak, just as Balaam should have thought it was strange when his donkey questioned why he was being flogged. However, we are told that God opened the donkey’s mouth (Numbers 22:23-30). It is possible that God opened the serpent’s mouth and allowed the serpent’s cunning but faulty reasoning, to put his new creation to the test. God has often put people to the test to see if they will obey His commands or not. (Genesis 22:1-2,12; Deuteronomy 8:1-5; Judges 3:1-7; Luke 4:1-13; 2 Thessalonians 2:9-12)

 Paul refers to the temptation of Genesis 3, in making reference to believers who are led astray by wrong teaching, saying in 2 Corinthians 11:2, “But I am afraid that as the serpent deceived Eve by his cunning, your thoughts will be led astray from a sincere and pure devotion to Christ.”

What Does the Serpent Represent in Scripture?

Since the first sin, mankind has been cursed with a mind that naturally ‘opposes’ God; it is referred to as ‘human nature’, ‘the flesh’, ‘the carnal mind’, ‘the world’, ‘the devil’. Notice in the following verses, what else is at ‘enmity’ with God:

“Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” Romans 8:7-8 

“Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God.James 4:4-5 (see also 1 John 2:15-17)

The World and the Carnal Mind are at Enmity with God!

If we were to look up the word ‘carnal’, we would get this definition from the Greek word ‘sarx’: “fleshly, the animal nature with cravings which incite to sin, the flesh, denotes mere human nature, the earthly nature of man apart from divine influence, and therefore prone to sin and opposed to God.

Since the fall of our first parents, we don’t require a serpent to create doubt in our minds towards God and His commands. Our human nature (carnal mind, flesh) is constantly prompting us with plenty of questions and doubts.  Is then the serpent representative of the deceitful opposition of our natural minds, and those who choose not to be restrained by Divine influence?

Who or What is the Serpent’s Offspring Today?

Four times in the New Testament, the religious leaders were specifically referred to as a generation of vipers’ – in other words, the serpent’s offspring! (Matt. 3:7, 12:34; 23:33; Luke 3:7) Their teachings were dangerous, especially since they were esteemed by the people to be trustworthy religious teachers. However, at this time, these religious leaders were teaching as ‘doctrine’ the “commandments of men” (Matthew 15:9) – not the commandments of God. Just like the serpent, their ‘half-truths’ were more deceitful than an outright lie. They put on a ‘righteous’ show, but inside they were giving full reign to the animal nature. (Matthew 23:27)

To these same rulers, Jesus said:

“You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.” (John 8:44 see also Rev. 12:9)

These religious leaders were singled out as being ‘the serpent’s offspring’, and children of the devil – based on lies that lead to death.  Throughout mankind’s history, many have followed the same course… and not always with a religious veneer.

Who is the Woman’s Seed?

The Old Testament tells us that Immanuel, or Messiah would be born of a virgin. 

“Behold, the virgin shall conceive and bear a son, and shall call his name Immanuel.” Isaiah 7:14. There is no reference here to a human father…only a mother… a virgin mother. The Messiah would be the woman’s seed in a special way that is true for no other human being.

Was Jesus Christ the Woman’s Seed?

“But when the fullness of time had come, God sent forth his Son, born of woman, born under the law,”  Galatians 4:4.

Jesus Christ was conceived when God’s Holy Spirit power miraculously caused an egg in Mary’s womb to become a child without the involvement of a human father. (Luke 1:30-38) Many times in the Old Testament, barren women had miraculously given birth to ‘promised’ children, but this was the first time that God used only a woman to conceive a promised child. Jesus Christ literally fulfils this unusual detail of the prophecy.

There is however, a spiritual application, in which all those who try to follow God’s commands are ‘in Christ’ and therefore part of the ‘woman’s seed’ (Revelation 12:17).

Who was the Woman?

If Jesus is the literal woman’s seed, then the woman is literally Mary.

However, spiritually ‘a woman’ in Scripture often symbolizes the ‘bride of Christ’, or God’s betrothed, the body of believers, or when true followers go astray – an unfaithful harlot (Revelation 19:7-8; Hosea 2:16-20; 2 Corinthians 11:1-3; Revelation 17).

There will always be opposition/hatred between those who want to follow God’s commands, and those who choose to be governed only by the carnal mind (John 15:18-29; 17:14-16; Romans 8:5-8).

There will always be opposition within our own minds between the ‘mind of the spirit’ and the ‘mind of the flesh’ (Romans 7:15-25).

Bruised on the Head and Bruised on the Heel

In the Genesis 3:15 prophecy, the serpent was to bruise the woman’s seed on the heel, but the woman’s seed would bruise the serpent on the head. One is a fatal blow, the other a wound. Much has been made of the blow to the heel. Many Christians would see this promise being fulfilled when Jesus was crucified by sinners (the seed of the serpent), because it was only a temporary wound, since he was raised to eternal life three days later. But, how did Jesus deliver a fatal blow to the serpent? This is not so clearly expounded.

The Serpent in the Wilderness?

There is a seemingly strange remark made by Jesus in John 3:14, “And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.” 

When did Moses Lift up a Serpent in the Wilderness?

If you look up Numbers 21, you will read of the incident in the wilderness when the people of Israel were complaining against God and Moses and despising the daily, miraculous provision of manna. God sent poisonous snakes which bit the people and many died. Then, when the people begged for mercy and salvation, God directed Moses to build a bronze statue of a snake and put it on a pole. Those who looked at it were saved from death. Why did God direct Moses to a make an image – something against his commands in Deuteronomy 5:8? Did He want people to ponder this incident very carefully?

Why does Jesus compare his crucifixion to a bronze statue of a serpent on a pole? In what way does this incident in Number 21, symbolize the sufferings of Jesus?

Serpent on the Pole = Jesus on the Cross? 

Hebrews chapter 2, sheds some light on this dilemma:

“Since therefore the children share in flesh and blood, he himself likewise partook of the same things, that through death he might destroy the one who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and deliver all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong slavery. For surely it is not angels that he helps, but he helps the offspring of Abraham. 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.(Hebrews 2:14-18)

If the serpent represents human nature, then this Hebrews passage fits perfectly with Genesis 3:15. Hebrews 2 tells us that Jesus partook of ‘flesh’- which is the same word ‘sarx’ referring to the carnal mind, and human nature (Romans 7:18; 8:3,6-7). Jesus crucified this human nature on the cross… he put it to death literally! Throughout his life, Jesus refused to give in to the thinking of the flesh (the voice of the serpent), and the inclination to doubt God, and to serve himself rather than his Father in heaven. On the cross he refused the strongest human inclination of all – the desire to preserve life and escape brutality. Jesus submitted to God’s law – and His will for his Son’s life, even though in the Garden of Gethsemane Jesus struggled in prayer to resign himself to the torture that lay ahead (Luke 22:39-46). So in his life, Jesus was continuously victorious over the voice of the serpent. In his death, Jesus completely destroyed the devil within (the carnal mind, the serpent). The voice of temptation would never speak to his mind again. Even though Jesus died on the cross, it was only a temporary blow to the heel, as he was raised to eternal life three days later. 

Not only did Jesus completely defeat the serpent within, but as it says in the Hebrews 2 passage above, Jesus also provided the way of escape for all of mankind, from the ‘lifelong slavery’ to our sinful nature, and the ‘fear of death’. And we are so thankful!

“For when you were slaves of sin, you were free in regard to righteousness. But what fruit were you getting at that time from the things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Romans 6:20-23 (the whole chapter relates to this topic!)

We have put together a pictorial overview of this subject. Click here to see or download: genesis 3 vs 15 pic

In our next blog, we will consider the second promise of a saviour, made to Abraham in Genesis 12.

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 2 Peter. 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.