This next part of our investigation centres on what we have called the “Grey” and “Black” regions of Hades. In order to present some Biblical material relevant to this study, it will be necessary to gather together some of our Lord’s sayings from the Gospels. These deal with various types of “failure” on the part of people, and the “punishment” predicted as a result.
Matt.7:21-22. “Not everyone who addresses me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdomof Heaven, but those who do the will of my Father in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, ‘Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name expelled demons, and in your name performed many mighty works?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you, depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.'”
Matt.22:12-13. “‘Friend, how did you enter here without a wedding dress?’ And he was silenced. Then the King said to His servants, ‘Bind him hand and foot, and throw him out into the Outer Darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.'”
Luke 12:45-46. “And if that servant shall say in his heart ‘My Lord has delayed His coming,’ and begins to strike his fellow-servants, both to eat and get drunk, the Lord will come to that servant in a day he does not expect and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him asunder and apportion him a place with unbelievers.”
Luke 12:47-48. “The servant who knew his Lord’s will but failed to prepare himself or do his Lord’s will, shall be beaten with many lashes, but the one who knew not his Lord’s will, but did those things worthy of lashes, will be beaten with few lashes.”
Luke 14:24. “For I say that not one of those men who were invited shall taste of my supper.”
Matt.25:11-12. “Afterwards the other five virgins came, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open to us.’ But He answered and said, ‘Truly I say to you, I know you not.'”
Matt.25:30. The Lord answered the ‘one talent’ man, saying, “Cast this useless servant out into the Outer Darkness, where there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Matt.25:41 – 46. “Then He shall say to the goats on His left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed ones, into Aionian Fire, prepared for the Devil and his angels. . . . . . . These shall go away into Aionian Punishment.”
Before saying anything else, is it not a fearful thing to read these passages lumped together in this fashion? Woe to all those Christians today who speak of their Lord in casual, pally, sloppy language, calling themselves “Kids of the King”, and saying that we should enjoy our “Easy believism” in “Happy-Clappy Services” with a “User-friendly Gospel.” Now, it is true to say that we should rejoice with exceeding great joy for the great gift of salvation granted us from heaven through the sacrificial work of our Saviour God, but at the same time we should remember that “The Lord will judge His people, and it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the Living God.” (Heb.10:31)
A careful perusal of the eight passages quoted above will show that all but the last, (the sheep and the goats) refer to believers who have failed to show an expected worthiness. The punishments meted out vary from ‘Depart from me’ to ‘Many or few lashes’, to being sent to the ‘Outer Darkness’, to the ‘Aionian Fire prepared for the Devil.’ Furthermore, the Lord spoke on several occasions, saying that “Few will find” the expected conclusion of their discipleship. And He was addressing His own people when He uttered these words, not the outside world.
Some have said the conditions presented in the Gospels no longer apply today, because of the death and resurrection of our Lord, but a careful reading of Jesus’ language when speaking to the seven churches in Revelation 2 – 3 will immediately dispel such loose thinking. “I will remove your candlestick”, “I will spew you out of my mouth.” (Rev.2:5,3:16) Others who declare that Paul preached a more “lenient” message should read such passages as Hebrews 10:26-29, “If we sin wilfully after receiving knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins, but a certain fearful expectation of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour His adversaries. He who despised Moses’ law died without mercy on the word of two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment, suppose you, shall he be thought worthy who has trodden underfoot the Son of God and counted the blood of the covenant, by which he was sanctified, a common thing, and insulted the spirit of grace.”
These are said to have “sinned wilfully”, but a parallel passage in Hebrews 6:1-6 speaks of those who “fall away”, words that suggest a total lack of seriousness in their lives as believers. “It is impossible for those once enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, shared in holy spiritual power, tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the coming age, if they fall away, again to renew them to repentance, seeing they crucify the Son of God afresh and put Him to open shame.”
It has been necessary to quote these passages in full, because they fill in that which is lacking in our Lord’s words in the Gospels, words that often create fear and perplexity to those who read them. Jesus said, for example, that many will come to Him saying “Lord, Lord,” but He declares He knows them not. Why is this? Because in each and every case it must come as a result of wilfully disobedient behaviour, or a careless, thoughtless, and unobservant way of life. All those who take our Lord seriously, and “purify themselves as He is pure” (1 John 3:3) have no need to be afraid of the Lord’s judgments, because He speaks about such in glowing terms, “Well done, good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in small things; you shall be put in charge of greater things.”(Matt.25:21)
We must now turn to the Old Testament to see that our Lord’s judgments in the Gospels were a parallel to His words to Moses for the children of Israel in the wilderness. In many cases He pronounced the words “They shall be cut off from my people.” Here is a list of many of the sins that were to be punished by this “cutting off.”
- Anyone who eats leavened bread during the feast of Unleavened Bread. Ex.12:15,19
- Anyone who refuses circumcision, which was the sign of the Covenant. Gen.17:14
- Anyone who eats blood, because the life of the soul is in the blood. Lev.7:27,17:10,14
- Anyone who causes any of his offspring to be passed through the fire to Moloch. Lev.20:3-5
- Anyone who turns to witchcraft, mediums, and spiritists. Lev.20:6
- Anyone who tries to make the Holy Anointing Oil, or the Holy Incense. Ex.30:33,38
- Anyone who profanes the Sabbath by working in it. Ex.31:14
- Anyone who engages in an improper marital relationship, as defined by Lev.18:1-18 and 20:17-21
- Anyone “who lies with man as one would lie with a woman”, or have sexual relations with animals. Lev.18:19-23
- Anyone who refuses to humble himself on the Day of Atonement. Lev.23:29
- Anyone who neglects to observe the Passover, without legitimate excuse. Num.9:13
- Anyone who sins defiantly, or who blasphemes. Num.15:30-31
- Anyone who touches a dead body, and then fails to purify himself. Num.19:13
What happened to those who were “cut off”, who had to live outside the camp of Israel, who effectively were cast into the “Outer Darkness”? Was it permanent? Were they left to die without nourishment in the wilderness? In some cases the ultimate penalty was exacted, as with Nadab and Abihu (Lev.10:1-2) Korah, Dathan and Abiram (Numb.16:33) and the man who gathered wood on the Sabbath. (Numb.15:32-36) Alternatively, although little is recorded, one finds an occasional answer, for example when Miriam committed sin, and was plagued with leprosy. She had to live “outside the camp” for seven days, but was afterwards restored when she repented. (Numbers 12:1-15) In later times, King Manasseh, one of the worst of Judah’s kings, was taken into Babylon and imprisoned. He repented, and the Lord restored him. (2 Chron.33:19) These two examples should be sufficient to show us that our Lord’s severity, in His uttered language, could be accompanied by mercy when true repentance was forthcoming.
However, there is one further item to take into account here. The whole nation of Israelwas guilty of rebellion after the 12 spies returned from their mission in the Promised Land. As a result that nation was excluded from entering the Promised Land, even though they had been forgiven by Moses’ pleading. (Numbers 14:11-35) Likewise, our Lord’s words in the Gospels always refer to the coming Kingdom of God, when He takes His place as the rightful King over the nations of the world. Only those who have been seen to be worthy are granted places in His reign, acting as His Royal Ambassadors. It doesn’t mean that all those who fail to achieve this distinction are cast away for ever in a fiery hell, and are never forgiven. Their punishment parallels that of the nation of Israel which lost its expected joy of entering the Land. Likewise these shall lose their expected joy of being a reigning part of Christ’s Kingdom.
At the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when the Kingdom of God was being preached, we read that “the Kingdom of Heaven is forcibly treated, and forceful men seize it.” In other words, once the message got around, there was a rush to be part of the King’s chosen men. (Matt.11:12) But towards the end of Jesus’ ministry He spoke by parable, saying that at the time of the great supper, the wedding banquet, all those who had been invited sent excuses why they couldn’t (i.e. didn’t want to) come. (Luke 14:18-20) Initial enthusiasm had worn off once they learned of the stringent requirements of discipleship.
All those who are sent away, either into the “Grey” zone of “Outer Darkness”, or the “Black” zone of the “Lake of fire and brimstone, prepared for the Devil and his angels” find themselves being punished according to their defections. But these punishments are always of a restorative nature, never purely penal. Furthermore, even though the picture language suggests a distancing from those who are accounted worthy, there is shown to be no such actual distance. Take for example the rich man of the parable, who can clearly see Lazarus. One of the miseries of such punishments is this visibility, which causes weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth.
Having investigated these lower regions of hell in this more general fashion, next time we shall look at some of the specific parables and examples of our Lord’s ministry to see what further may be learned from them concerning the actual nature of the punishments in Hades.