The purpose of our previous number was to dispose of the false assertion that we who espouse Universal Reconciliation don’t believe in Hell. Hell is a very real part of our theology, and it brings us face to face with God’s holy requirements. It was perhaps a rather sombre writing, but very necessary. No one can expect to be exonerated from blame of any sort for the things done in the body. It is often said that Paul’s letters toEphesus and Colosse contain the highest revelations God gave to His Church. If this be so, then listen to what Paul said. “Whatsoever good thing any man does, the same shall he receive of the Lord, . . . and there is no respect of persons with Him.” (Eph.6:8-9. “He who does wrong shall receive for the wrong he has done, and there is no respect of persons.” (Col.3:25) This is true for the children of God, and it is undoubtedly true for the rest of the world. There is no way in which anyone can be exempt from God’s judgments.
In this final number on Hell, we plan, first of all, to look at two parables, namely the Rich Man and Lazarus, and the Sheep and Goats. The reason for drawing these together is that the Rich Man comes from Israel, and therefore his punishment is appropriate for God’s people, whereas the Sheep and Goats are from the nations of the world, who are presumably outside the Church. We first of all notice that both the Rich Man and the Goats are consigned to a place of fire.
It matters not whether the Rich Man (we shall call him Dives) and Lazarus are parabolic, or factual. The truth contained in the Master’s words are appropriate either way. What was Dives’ sin? He was living in very comfortable circumstances, and could therefore have afforded to help Lazarus, but instead he passed by him daily without a thought to his plight. Not even the scraps were thrown to him. This may be summed up by selfishness, self-centeredness, and self-serving. See how this is identical to the sin of the Goats. Now this kind of sin is not given sufficient weight by us. We can easily gloss it over by saying that we are all more or less guilty of it in some measure, being the result of the fall. But the Lord saw this sin as being extremely sinful, so much so that He sent the Goats to a place“prepared for the Devil and his angels.”
On analysis those who serve only themselves become demanding. They crave all things that give them satisfaction, regardless of the cost to others. They make demands on other people without caring what hurt or ill results from their selfishness. A demanding nature becomes manipulative, and controlling, especially when the person is in a position to wield power. And this type of behaviour is by no means restricted to men in positions of political power, business executives, or religious ministers. It is found in the most humble of positions in life. One may draw examples from the literary world, which although purely fiction, yet tend to highlight such behaviour. Take Dr Gibson’s wife Hyacinth in Elizabeth Gaskell’s classic tale Wives and Daughters, or Dr Lydgate’s wife Rosamund in George Eliot’s classic tale, Middlemarch. Each wielded a dominating and destructive power through their own selfishness, and the damage to Dr Lydgate was considerable. Perhaps the most brazen example of self-worship is Scarlet O’Hara in Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind.
Yes, this type of sin is found right across the behavioural spectrum of humankind. Such people, who demand, whether vociferously, or with quiet power, exercising a controlling influence on other people, are also depicted in the Bible. A single example will suffice. King Saul decided to do things “his own way” rather than in accordance with divine law. As a result of his lawlessness, the prophet Samuel arrived on the scene to pronounce God’s word of judgment. “Has the Lord as much delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as in obeying the voice of the Lord? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed than the fat of rams. For rebellion is as the sin of witchcraft, and insubordination as the iniquity of idolatry. Because you have rejected the word of the Lord, He has also rejected you from being King.” (1 Samuel 15:22-23) Derek Prince, in his book Blessing or Curse, (1990) quoted this verse, and then made the following observation.
There are three key words that expose the activity of witchcraft: manipulate, intimidate,dominate. Domination is its ultimate purpose. Manipulation and intimidation are alternative ways of achieving this purpose. Wherever people use verbal or non-verbal tactics to manipulate, intimidate, and dominate those around them, witchcraft is at work.
No wonder the Lord used such strong language when speaking to the Goats. And what do we find as their punishment? They are sent to “Aionian Fire prepared for the Devil and his angels.” (Matt.25:41) But in verse 46, “These go away into Aionian Punishment.” Hence the Fire is also defined as their Punishment. Using our earlier suggestion that the word Aionian should be understood as meaning the Millennium, we then find that the Goats are excluded from any further blessing during the thousand year reign of Christ. This brings us to a most important conclusion, namely that God’s Sabbath Rest of 1,000 years is a time when only those who are deemed worthy will be allowed to enjoy God’s Bounty. This is also reflected in the various punishments apportioned to the Five Virgins, the One-talent man, the people called to the Supper but who declined the invitation, the man who failed to get a wedding garment, and all those who say “Lord, Lord” but failed to do the things the Lord asked of them. This last group were referred to by the Lord as “Workers of lawlessness.” (Matt.7:23) Lawlessness is not absence of law but failure to abide by law. The Lexicon tells us that it is a frame of mind that runs contrary to law, commits deeds that despise law, twist law, and dishonour law. Derek Prince said (in 1995) that in today’ssociety, lawlessness could equally well be translated “doing your own thing.”
Returning to the parable of Dives and Lazarus, it is informative to note that Dives, now “in torments”, at last seems to be getting the message. He asks that his brothers be informed of his plight, so that they do not join him. Perhaps this is the first time in his adult life that he has given thought to anyone else. He asks for mercy, when he failed to give mercy to Lazarus, so here again, he begins to appreciate where lay the source of his sin. But from our point of view we find interest in the fact that he asks for water to cool his tongue, “for I am tormented in this flame.” Now if being in flames in Hell is anything like being in literal flames on earth, he wouldn’t be asking for water. He’d be dead in a few minutes. Therefore, the flames of Hell are yet another figure to tell us that some of God’s punishments are very painful, based on the parallel of the acute pain we experience with earthly burns. The pain of torment is there, but the “fire” is figurative language. The Greek verb used here for torment is ODUNAO, and it is also used of labour pains, the tormenting pain of bringing to birth. Dives is experiencing something equivalent to a woman’s labour pains, but in his case the torment is more likely to have been mental. Even the request for water to cool the tongue is symptomatic of his words, language, verbal abuse that he had been used to. He doesn’t ask for water to cool other parts of his body. The fire is tormenting the very organ responsible for abuse.
The Sheep and Goats parable is set at the time when Christ is seated in the Kingdom ofHis Power. “All nations shall be gathered before Him.” (Matt.25:32) We are told that our Lord separates “them” one from another. What does He separate? Nations or individuals? The fact that “the righteous” answer Him, and then “the unrighteous” answer Him, shows that individuals are intended. Neither company seems to be aware of what the Lord is talking about. The punch line came when He said, Inasmuch as you did it unto one of these the least of my brethren, you did it unto me.” (verse 40) In other words, there is a third company present, known as the Lord’s “brethren.” Who are they? Some have said they are the Jews, but this whole scene is far wider than that. The company with the Lord is composed of all those who, from the foundation of the world, have walked by faith, and are now with the King, in readiness for His reign. Indeed, the Sheep and the Goats represent all nations from the foundation of the world, and those who had died as “Sheep” will be rewarded with a resurrection of the type depicted by Lazarus, the brother of Martha and Mary. It will be to a human life, not immortality, but could well issue into the higher state later.
The story of the five foolish virgins often produces sadness in contemplation. After all, they were no different to the wise virgins in respect of their waiting for the Lord. Neither were they without lamps or oil. And indeed, all ten of them slept whilst waiting for the “midnightcry”. So what was it that differentiated them? The only clue given to us is the lack ofreserve oil. What does that indicate? First of all, we must translate this parable into a scene from modern life. None of us will ever be waiting on some particular day. In fact the Lord specifically said, “No man knows the day or the hour” of His return. Therefore weare now in a time of waiting, day by day, month by month, not knowing when He will return. Therefore the lack of oil must refer to something relating to the continuity of our daily lives, a continual process rather than a specific day. It means that each day, every day, we must be living as though it were the last before His return. This signifies a purposeful, on-going, life of faith. The opposite type of behaviour was depicted by another parable, when a servant said “My Lord has delayed His coming”, and proceeded to behave in an irresponsible and faithless manner towards his brethren.
Surely Paul was referring to this parable when writing to Thessalonica. “The Day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. . . .You, brethren, are not in darkness that that day should overtake you as a thief. You are all children of the light, and children of the day, . . .therefore let us not sleep, as do others, but let us watch and be sober.” (1 Thess.5:2-6) The virgins’ lamps suggest light. How inappropriate to be without light when the Lord returns. He expects us to be lights, and not hide them under bushels. He expects us to be salt, and not salt that has lost its savour.
In all these cases there is a clear and clarion call for holiness of living, and a constant prayerful watching for the Lord’s return. It is no use at all being “Sunday Christians.” We are enjoined to be watchful and waiting 24/7. The “good and faithful servants” will be rewarded by sharing the Lord’s reign, as His emissaries, and His ambassadors. This will be for a thousand years, in which all that is evil will be restrained by divine decree. It is the Lord’s Sabbath, and He has prepared it as His own Rest Day, to be shared with all those who have lived a life of faith and obedience.
The Three Zones of Hell will be occupied by all those who fail to satisfy the Lord’s requirements. However, it seems that, like Dives, although he is at some distance in the parable, he is able to see and even to communicate with those who are at Rest with the Lord. Some may have read George MacDonald’s two-volume book about The Marquis ofLossie. In the story there is a very wicked woman, a midwife, who perpetrates much evil. At the end of the story, the Marquis decides on a suitable punishment for her. She is required to live in the same community where she has lived, lied and cheated. She is not allowed to get away. As a result, everyone knows her for what she is, and she is therefore totally restrained from any further evil. It is a torment for her to live under such conditions, but she is receiving just dues at the Marquis’s hands. Such will be the torment of those who have behaved in like manner towards the Lord’s “brethren,” as they watch others but are unable to join them.
We seem to have covered the subject of Hell in regard to the Millennial restraint. Clearly there is further punishment for some after the thousand years. But even if this is so, there is no punishment from God that will not fit the crime, neither will it last for ever, otherwise it cannot fit the crime, because there is no crime that warrants everlasting punishment. In all things, God is just. Death was the result of sin. Jesus overcame death at Calvary. “We see Jesus, made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man.”(Heb.2:9) Yes, Jesus now has the “keys of death and Hades.” (Rev.1:18) There is no power in heaven or on earth or under the earth that can close the door to Hades. Our Lord is in charge. He will eventually bring forth into resurrection all those who have died. Jesus, whom God “has appointed heir of all things, by whom He made the Ages,” (Heb.1:2) is the One who will use the Ages He designed, even the Ages of the Ages, to accomplish His great purpose. To Him be glory unto the Ages of the Ages, Amen.