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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.

 

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.

Paul expressed his great longing to “attain unto the resurrection of the dead,” (Philippians 3:10-12). He encouraged other believers to “look for the Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ: who shall change our vile body, that it may be fashioned like unto his glorious body,” (Philippians 3:20-21). Paul’s hope was that when he was resurrected, his mortal body would ‘put on immortality’ (1 Corinthians 15:50-55). 

Does the New Testament teach an “immortal soul” concept?

Based on the fact that many individuals in the Bible expressed their future hope for the resurrection, we considered in previous blogs whether or not the teaching of the ‘immortal soul’ is Scriptural. We looked at the word for ‘soul’ in the Old Testament – the Hebrew word ‘nephesh’ and saw that it could be used for ‘body, person, creature, himself, person,’ etc. as well as ‘soul’. From looking at all the places where ‘nephesh’ is used, we found that any breathing thing, man, bird, fish, or animal, is referred to as a ‘living soul’. The equation in Genesis 2:7 is, “BODY OF DUST + BREATH OF LIFE = LIVING SOUL”. 

What is a soul in the New Testament?

Does the New Testament word for ‘soul’ have the same meaning as in the Old Testament? 

In the Greek New Testament, the word used for ‘soul’ is ‘psuche’, meaning ‘breath’, and translated into KJV English as ‘heart, life, mind, soul, heart, heartily’. Since the concept of an ‘immortal soul’ was introduced into the early Christian church from Greek mythology (see online Encyclopedia Britannica – The Soul – Religion and Philosophy) many modern translators and Christians still hold fast to this belief. Dr. Strong, who put together Strong’s Concordance believed in the immortal soul teaching. Therefore,  in his personal definition of the meaning of ‘psuche’, he writes that the soul as an essence which differs from the body and is not dissolved by death (distinguished from other parts of the body)”

Is Dr. Strong correct? If we examine all the places where ‘psuche’ is used, will we discover that the ‘soul’ differs from the body, and is not dissolved by death? How is this ‘psuche’ used in the Bible? 

A New Testament search on ‘psuche’

If you have a Bible program, a thorough search of how ‘psuche’ is used will be very informative. Occasionally, the word ‘psuche’ has been translated in the KJV as ‘soul’, quite often as ‘life’. We have listed out a few of the most ‘telling’ passages. The Discovery Lesson on “What is a Soul” will have others. Try reading the passages below, using ‘soul’ for every occurrence of ‘psuche’, and then try with the word ‘life’.

“For whoever would save his life <psuche> will lose it, but whoever loses his life <psuche>for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul <psuche>? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul <psuche>?” (Matthew 10:25-26)

“Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life <psuche>for the sheep.” (John 10:15; see also John 13:37-38

“Therefore did my heart rejoice, and my tongue was glad; moreover also my flesh shall rest in hope: Because thou wilt not leave my soul <psuche> in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.He seeing this before spake of the resurrection of Christ, that his soul <psuche> was not left in hell <hades> [hell or grave], neither his flesh did see corruption.” (Acts 2:26-27,31 KJV)

“It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul, Men that have hazarded their lives <psuche>for the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 15:25-26 KJV)

“And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life <psuche> is in him.” (Acts 20:10)

“And said unto them, Sirs, I perceive that this voyage will be with hurt and much damage, not only of the lading and ship, but also of our lives <psuche>… And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life <psuche> among you, but of the ship.” (Acts 27:10,22)

“And the third part of the creatures which were in the sea, and had life <psuche>, died; and the third part of the ships were destroyed.” (Revelation 8:9)

From the passages above, you can see that the Old and New Testaments are in agreement. Both use the words for soul to refer to animals, and a life that can be given up or ended. Since it’s clear from the passages above that a soul can die, we cannot validate Dr. Strong’s personal definition for this word. 

Is the ‘spirit’ immortal?

However, some would say that the ‘spirit’ of man is immortal. If you like to do your own research, click here on the Discovery Lesson, Do we have an Eternal Spirit?

When we considered the word ‘spirit’ in the Old Testament we found that it refers to wind, breath, emotions, special spirit gifts from God, and a life-giving force for both man and animals. 

What about the New Testament?

Is the New Testament word for ‘spirit’ consistent with what we have discovered in the Old Testament?

Looking up the word ‘spirit’ in the KJV, we discover the Greek word is ‘pneuma’. Dr. Strong says it means ‘a current of air, i.e. breath or a breeze; by analogy or figuratively, a spirit, I.e. (human) the rational soul, (by implication) vital principle, mental disposition, etc., or (superhuman) an angel, demon or (divine) God, Christ’s spirit, the Holy Spirit’. The word ‘pneuma’ has been translated into KJV English Bible as ‘ghost, life, spirit, mind.’ It is from this Greek word that we get English words such as pneumonia and pneumatics, both which have to do with the movement of air!

The Holy ‘Spirit’ Power

The word ‘pneuma’ is used for the ‘spirit’ part of the Holy Spirit in Matthew 1:18, when Mary was, “found with child of the Holy Spirit <pneuema>”. The Holy Spirit is God’s miraculous power. 

Unclean ‘spirits’ = mental disease

‘Pneuma’ is used often of unclean ‘spirits <pneuema>’ in Matthew 12:43-45; Mark 5:13, etc.. The symptoms displayed by those with the unclean ‘spirits’ are mental disorders, which we are now able to treat with medicine and counselling.

Emotions

‘Pneuma’ is used of Jesus’ ‘spirit’ in Mark 8:12, “And he sighed deeply in his spirit <pneuema>.  We are told to restore sinners in the ‘spirit <pneuema> of meekness’ (Galatians 6:1). It is good to be ‘poor in spirit <pneuema> (Matthew 5:3), in other words, ‘humble’. Emotions are a precious gift from our Heavenly Father, as He also feels anger, love, joy, jealousy and sadness. Animals don’t enjoy this gift to the full extent that we do. Life without emotion, would be dreadfully dull! However, we are expected to rule our emotions, not allow the emotions to rule us.  (Proverbs 16:32).

Holy ‘Spirit’ Gifts

When Jesus was baptized, the ‘spirit <pneuema> came down on him like a dove (John 1:32-33). The Holy spirit <pneuema> gave the Apostles gifts of tongues and healing. (Acts 1:8,16) The ‘spirit <pneuema> gave the apostles direction on where and what to preach, and even caught them away to various places (Acts 8:29,39; 11:12, 28; 16:7).

This very same ‘spirit’ of God which gives us life and animates our beings, is also a power that transcends anything that we experience in our human existence now!

Imagine being able to to speak in languages which we’ve never learned, to be unaffected by snake venom, to read the minds of others, to heal those who are sick and to raise the dead! God has occasionally given mortal men these special gifts in the Bible. Imagine being filled with the ‘spirit’ ‘without measure’, like Jesus was (John 3:34). If mortal men experienced the ‘spirit’ power to this extent, will not immortality in a spiritual body be an incredible experience? (Joel 2:28-31; Isaiah 32:15; 1 Corinthians 14:35-49)

The ‘Spirit’ Goes Back to God

Jesus “gave up the ghost <pneuema> when he died. When he was being stoned to death, Stephen asked for God to receive his ‘spirit <pneuema>. (Acts 7:59-60)

We are given the encouragement, “But if the Spirit <pneuema> of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ from the dead shall also quicken your mortal bodies by his Spirit <pneuema> that dwelleth in you.” (Romans 8:1)

Just like we saw in the Old Testament, when we die, the “spirit <ruwach>’ goes back to God who gave it’” (Ecclesiastes 12:7). BUT the Romans 8 passage tells us this ‘spirit’ will raise us up to life again!! Just like Jesus – the ‘first to rise from the dead’ – we have the hope of being reenergized by God’s ‘spirit’ in a new and much more powerful way that will last forever!

“Spiritually-Minded”

This higher calling of the ‘spirit’ mind is revealed to a greater extent in the New Testament than in the Old. In Romans 8, Paul discusses at length, the contrast to being ‘in the flesh’ – carnally-minded, or ‘in the spirit’spiritually-minded. “But ye are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.” (See also Romans 8:6-9)

Jesus said that we have to be “born of water and of the spirit” to enter into the Kingdom of God (John 3:5-8). God is looking for a change of allegiance in our minds and thinking. The recorded words of God and Jesus in the Bible have power to cause this transformation, if we take them in. As Jesus said to his disciples, “It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. (John 6:63)

In our investigation into the soul and spirit in the Bible, we have seen that a body created out of dust, plus the breath of God equals a LIVING SOUL  – whether man, animal, bird, insect or fish! We don’t ‘have a soul’, we are souls – i.e. living creatures. The breath breathed into mankind and all other breathing creatures, is the spirit of God, an animating life-force that gives us the ability to live, to think, to feel, and to react. Most importantly, God hopes that human-beings will use this ability He has given, to think spiritually, and respond in a loving, thankful way to Him.

1 Corinthians 2:12 “Now we have received, not the spirit of the world, but the spirit which is of God; that we might know the things that are freely given to us of God.”