Heaven and Earth Class: Week 3 (Hell)

Steve had the idea of posting this stuff on my blog so that we could continue to think about and discuss this stuff over the course of the week. Also, I am thinking we will need to pause next week and clean up the mess I made before we move on with the series. As Steve said Sunday afternoon, “You’ve poured out more than you’ve mopped up!”

So this is a great opportunity to mop up some of what I have poured out this week.

Here are some key scriptures that we worked from.

Isaiah 66 / Matthew 10:28 / Revelation 18 / Revelation 21:1-8 / I John 4:16-19 / John 3:16 / (also we talked about the meaning of the word “Aionos” that means “eternal” or “eternity” and how doesn’t always, perhaps even rarely, refers to an endless period of time. Rather it usually refers to the “Coming Age” or the “Aeon to Come”.

I’m not going to present in detail the ideas from class yesterday, however I do want to clarify a few things. First, I do not believe that the wicked are immediately annihilated. My source from Rev. 18 says that there will be torment, suffering, disease, and famine, and THEN they will be “consumed by the fire”.

So annihilation isn’t necessarily good news for the lost as brother Larry suggested. And about that comment from brother Larry (that I believe is a good and genuine concern!), I should have said two things and lost my train of thought.

1> It’s funny to me that lost people (and sadly Christians too!) will fear death all their life, and do almost anything to avoid it, but you are telling me that they are fearless in the face of this “second death” that I speak of? A death that is guaranteed to be “terrible” and “fearful”

2> Fear can never be a motivator for coming to Christ. We do not come to or follow Christ in order to avoid hell. Speaking of the day of judgment, I John 4:18 says, “God is love. Whoever lives in love lives in God, and God in them. 17 This is how love is made complete among us so that we will have confidence on the day of judgment: In this world we are like Jesus. 18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.”

So what are your thoughts, questions, concerns, angers, etc? Don’t be afraid now!

Peace –



  1. While doing some reading on the Apostles Creed, especially the “He descended into Hell” phrase, I discovered an interesting website with the following information. Tell me what you think.


    Did Jesus Descend Into Hell?

    I believe in God, the Father almighty,
    creator of heaven and earth;
    And in Jesus Christ His only Son our Lord;
    He was conceived by the power of the Holy Spirit,
    and born of the Virgin Mary,
    He suffered under Pontius Pilate,
    was crucified, died, and was buried.
    He descended to the dead. [in older translations, “He descended into hell” ]
    On the third day He rose again.
    He ascended into heaven,
    and is seated at the right hand of the Father.
    He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
    I believe in the Holy Spirit,
    the holy catholic Church,
    the communion of saints,
    the forgiveness of sins,
    the resurrection of the body,
    and the life everlasting. AMEN.
    —The Apostles Creed

    If you are a Methodist, you’ll notice that the Apostles Creed above has one extra line compared to the Apostles Creed you find in your hymnal at church. Apparently the phrase descended into hell offended someone’s sensitivities early on in American Methodism and that clause got left out. The phrase into hell in older translations and the phrase to the dead both translate the phrase into hades in the original Greek of the creed.

    The ancient teaching of the Church is that all who died before the time of the crucifixion, whether they were righteous or unrighteous, went to the same undifferentiated realm of the dead, where they wait for the resurrection and the judgment. This realm of the dead is called sheol in Hebrew and hades in Greek. Neither the word sheol nor the word hades connotes punishment. It’s just a waiting room for the resurrection and the judgment.

    When Jesus died on the cross, He really did die. That really is the same as saying that He went to hades, because hades is the realm of the dead. However, while Jesus was dying, He promised to take the thief on the cross into Paradise. So the historic teaching of the Church is that when Jesus went to hades, He established a special waiting room for His own, called Paradise. He preached to the spirits who were already dead and took the Old Testament saints into Paradise also, along with the thief on the cross.

    For Christ died for sins once for all, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive by the Spirit, through whom also he went and preached to the spirits in prison who disobeyed long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built. In it only a few people, eight in all, were saved through water, and this water symbolizes baptism that now saves you also—not the removal of dirt from the body but the pledge of a good conscience toward God. It saves you by the resurrection of Jesus Christ, who has gone into heaven and is at God’s right hand—with angels, authorities, and powers in submission to him.
    —1 Peter 3:18-22, NIV

    Anyone who dies after the crucifixion, such as you and me, therefore face a particular judgment at death to determine whether we wait for the resurrection and the last judgment in hades or in paradise. I have witnessed this particular judgment in a dying man.

    Old translations of the Apostles Creed use hell to translate the Greek word hades, but nowadays we have a completely unbiblical belief that when we die, we just zip right off into reward or punishment, without waiting for the resurrection or the judgment. Many of us give lip service to the doctrine of the resurrection on the last day, without really believing it, because we don’t think things through as thoroughly as the ancients, and we don’t realize that finite creatures need a body of some sort in order to maintain a point of reference for their identity and their consciousness. So for us, the word hell has come to mean a realm of eternal punishment and the old translations of the Apostles Creed no longer make sense—after all, why would Jesus go to hell in the modern sense of the word?

    Modern translations of the Apostles Creed say that Jesus descended to the dead. That is a more accurate translation of the word hades. It says that Jesus really did die, He didn’t fake it.

    You can get more information about the Apostles Creed.

    Starting Page > Questions > Top of this Page

    Copyright ©1995-2009 by the Rev. Kenneth W. Collins and his licensors. All rights reserved.
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  2. I also will add this statement from the Catechism of the Roman Catholic Church.





    631 Jesus “descended into the lower parts of the earth. He who descended is he who also ascended far above all the heavens.”475 The Apostles’ Creed confesses in the same article Christ’s descent into hell and his Resurrection from the dead on the third day, because in his Passover it was precisely out of the depths of death that he made life spring forth:

    Christ, that Morning Star, who came back from the dead, and shed his peaceful light on all mankind, your Son who lives and reigns for ever and ever. Amen.476
    Paragraph 1. Christ Descended into Hell

    632 The frequent New Testament affirmations that Jesus was “raised from the dead” presuppose that the crucified one sojourned in the realm of the dead prior to his resurrection.477 This was the first meaning given in the apostolic preaching to Christ’s descent into hell: that Jesus, like all men, experienced death and in his soul joined the others in the realm of the dead. But he descended there as Savior, proclaiming the Good News to the spirits imprisoned there.478

    633 Scripture calls the abode of the dead, to which the dead Christ went down, “hell” – Sheol in Hebrew or Hades in Greek – because those who are there are deprived of the vision of God.479 Such is the case for all the dead, whether evil or righteous, while they await the Redeemer: which does not mean that their lot is identical, as Jesus shows through the parable of the poor man Lazarus who was received into “Abraham’s bosom”:480 “It is precisely these holy souls, who awaited their Savior in Abraham’s bosom, whom Christ the Lord delivered when he descended into hell.”481 Jesus did not descend into hell to deliver the damned, nor to destroy the hell of damnation, but to free the just who had gone before him.482

    634 “The gospel was preached even to the dead.”483 The descent into hell brings the Gospel message of salvation to complete fulfilment. This is the last phase of Jesus’ messianic mission, a phase which is condensed in time but vast in its real significance: the spread of Christ’s redemptive work to all men of all times and all places, for all who are saved have been made sharers in the redemption.

    635 Christ went down into the depths of death so that “the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live.”484 Jesus, “the Author of life”, by dying destroyed “him who has the power of death, that is, the devil, and [delivered] all those who through fear of death were subject to lifelong bondage.”485 Henceforth the risen Christ holds “the keys of Death and Hades”, so that “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth.”486

    Today a great silence reigns on earth, a great silence and a great stillness. A great silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. . . He has gone to search for Adam, our first father, as for a lost sheep. Greatly desiring to visit those who live in darkness and in the shadow of death, he has gone to free from sorrow Adam in his bonds and Eve, captive with him – He who is both their God and the son of Eve. . . “I am your God, who for your sake have become your son. . . I order you, O sleeper, to awake. I did not create you to be a prisoner in hell. Rise from the dead, for I am the life of the dead.”487

    636 By the expression “He descended into hell”, the Apostles’ Creed confesses that Jesus did really die and through his death for us conquered death and the devil “who has the power of death” (Heb 2:14).

    637 In his human soul united to his divine person, the dead Christ went down to the realm of the dead. He opened heaven’s gates for the just who had gone before him.

    475 Eph 4:9-10.
    476 Roman Missal, Easter Vigil 18, Exsultet.
    477 Acts 3:15; Rom 8:11; I Cor 15:20; cf. Heb 13:20.
    478 Cf. I Pt 3:18-19.
    479 Cf. Phil 2:10; Acts 2:24; Rev 1:18; Eph 4:9; Pss 6:6; 88:11-13.
    480 Cf. Ps 89:49; I Sam 28:19; Ezek 32:17-32; Lk 16:22-26.
    481 Roman Catechism 1, 6, 3.
    482 Cf. Council of Rome (745): DS 587; Benedict XII, Cum dudum (1341): DS 1011; Clement VI, Super quibusdam (1351): DS 1077; Council of Toledo IV (625): DS 485; Mt 27:52-53.
    483 I Pt 4:6.
    484 Jn 5:25; cf. Mt 12:40; Rom 10:7; Eph 4:9.
    485 Heb 2:14-15; cf. Acts 3:15.
    486 Rev 1:18; Phil 2:10.
    487 Ancient Homily for Holy Saturday: PG 43, 440A, 452C; LH, Holy Saturday, OR.

  3. And yet one more expression about the Apostles Creed and its reference to Jesus experience of death.


    The Apostles’ Creed

    “The Old Roman Creed”

    BELIEVE in God almighty [the Father almighty—(Rufinus)]
    And in Christ Jesus, his only Son, our Lord
    Who was born of the Holy Spirit and the Virgin Mary
    Who was crucified under Pontius Pilate and was buried
    And the third day rose from the dead
    Who ascended into heaven
    And sitteth on the right hand of the Father
    Whence he cometh to judge the living and the dead.
    And in the Holy Spirit
    The holy church
    The remission of sins
    The resurrection of the flesh
    The life everlasting. [Rufinus omits this line.]
    The Apostles’ Creed (sixth-century Gallican version)

    BELIEVE in God the Father almighty,
    I also believe in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord,
    conceived of the Holy Spirit, born of the Virgin Mary.
    suffered under Pontius Pilate, crucified, dead and buried; he descended into hell,
    rose again the third day,
    ascended into heaven,
    sat down at the right hand of the Father,
    thence he is to come to judge the living and the dead.
    I believe in the Holy Ghost,
    the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints,
    the remission of sins,
    the resurrection of the flesh and life eternal.
    The Apostles’ Creed (as usually recited today)

    BELIEVE in God the Father Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ his only Son, our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead; he ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father Almighty; from thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead.
    I believe in the Holy Ghost; the holy catholic church; the communion of saints; the forgiveness of sins; the resurrection of the body; and the life everlasting. Amen
    The Apostles’ Creed vs. Gnosticism

    By James Kiefer, L-Soft list server at ASUACAD

    CREED generally emphasizes the beliefs opposing those errors that the compilers of the creed think most dangerous at the time. The Creed of the Council of Trent, which was drawn up by the Roman Catholics in the 1500’s, emphasized those beliefs that Roman Catholics and Protestants were arguing about most furiously at the time. The Nicene Creed, drawn up in the fourth century, is emphatic in affirming the Deity of Christ, since it is directed against the Arians, who denied that Christ was fully God. The Apostles’ Creed, drawn up in the first or second century, emphasizes the true Humanity, including the material body, of Jesus, since that is the point that the heretics of the time (Gnostics, Marcionites, and later Manicheans) denied. (See 1 John 4:1-3)
    Thus the Apostles’ Creed is as follows:

    * I believe in God the Father Almighty,
    * Maker of Heaven and Earth,

    The Gnostics held that the physical universe is evil and that God did not make it.

    * And in Jesus Christ, His only Son, Our Lord,
    * Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost,
    * Born of the Virgin Mary,

    The Gnostics were agreed that the orthodox Christians were wrong in supposing that God had taken human nature or a human body. Some of them distinguished between Christ, whom they acknowledged to be in some sense divine, and the man Jesus, who was at most an instrument through whom the Christ spoke. They held that the man Jesus did not become the bearer or instrument of the Christ until the Spirit descended upon him at his baptism, and that the Spirit left him before the crucifixion, so that the Spirit had only a brief and tenuous association with matter and humanity. Others affirmed that there was never a man Jesus at all, but only the appearance of a man, through which appearance wise teachings were given to the first disciples. Against this the orthodox Christians affirmed that Jesus was conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit (thus denying the Gnostic position that the Spirit had nothing to do with Jesus until his Baptism), that he was born (which meant that he had a real physical body, and not just an appearance) of a virgin (which implied that he had been special from the first moment of his life, and not just from the baptism on.

    * Suffered under Pontius Pilate,

    There were many stories then current about gods who died and were resurrected, but they were offered quite frankly as myths, as non-historical stories symbolic of the renewal of the vegetation every spring after the seeming death of winter. If you asked, “When did Adonis die, you would be told either, “Long ago and far away,” or else, “His death is not an event in earthly time.” Jesus, on the other hand, died at a particular time and place in history, under the jurisdiction of Pontius Pilate, Procurator of Judea from 26 to 36 CE, or during the last ten years of the reign of the Emperor Tiberius.

    * was crucified, dead, and buried; he descended into Hades.

    Here the creed hammers home the point that he was really dead. He was not an illusion. He was nailed to a post. He died. He had a real body, a corpse, that was placed in a tomb. He was not merely unconscious — his spirit left his body and went to the realm of the dead. It is a common belief among Christians that on this occasion he took the souls of those who had died trusting in the promises made under the Old Covenant — Abraham, Moses, David, Elijah, Isaiah, and many others — and brought them out of the realm of the dead and into heavenly glory. But the creed is not concerned with this point. The reference to the descent into Hades (or Hell, or Sheol) is here to make it clear that the death of Jesus was not just a swoon or a coma, but death in every sense of the word.

    * The third day he rose from the dead, he ascended into heaven,
    * and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.
    * From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead.

    * I believe in the Holy Ghost,
    * the holy catholic church,

    The Gnostics believed that the most important Christian doctrines were reserved for a select few. The orthodox belief was that the fullness of the Gospel was to be preached to the entire human race. Hence the term “catholic,” or universal, which distinguished them from the Gnostics.

    * the communion of saints,
    * the forgiveness of sins,

    The Gnostics considered that what men needed was not forgiveness, but enlightenment. Ignorance, not sin, was the problem. Some of them, believing the body to be a snare and delusion, led lives of great asceticism. Others, believing the body to be quite separate from the soul, held that it did not matter what the body did, since it was completely foul anyway, and its actions had no effect on the soul. They accordingly led lives that were not ascetic at all. Either way, the notion of forgiveness was alien to them.

    * the resurrection of the body,

    The chief goal of the Gnostics was to become free forever from the taint of matter and the shackles of the body, and to return to the heavenly realm as Pure Spirit. They totally rejected any idea of the resurrection of the body.

    * and the life everlasting. AMEN

    . . . or why not visit

    on your way out?
    Copyright © 2001 by Phillip R. Johnson. All rights reserved. hits

  4. Steve –

    Good stuff. Thanks for the research in this. Orthodoxy, as you know, is important to me. It’s intriguing to me that modern Christians can so carelessly depart from what has long been held as Orthodox views. It shouldn’t be so “easy” for us to depart from historical orthodoxy.

    I mentioned in class that the part of the creeds in question, in my estimation, was based on an obscure passage in Ephesians. “He decsended into the lower earthly regions.” The word pairing that forms the phrase “lower earthly regions” is like the word Gehenna that means (or frequently meant) grave. IT wouldn’t be a stretch to assume that the authors of the creeds did not have in mind “hell” when they wrote this, rather hades or sheol. This is the place of the dead. We will cover this, of course, extensively as we continue in coming weeks to look at death, heaven, and earth.

    I don’t believe that the creeds or the creed authors deny me my view of hell.

    And thanks, Steve, for pointing us toward Gnosticism. I think the kind of gnosticism the Western church is guilty of is Docetism. That is a kind of dichotomy between body and soul. The view that all flesh and world are inherently evil, and that death is the welcome friend that frees us from the prison of the body and earth. Justin Martyr taught that this is heresy, and not too far from blasphemy (BTW – John taught that this was blasphemy).

    I think we have to be very careful with the word “spiritual” these days. I love Jimmy’s sermon series, and I of course fully understand what he meant this past Sunday when he was talking about “spiritual” in juxtaposition to political, social, etc. But I fear what people hear when such slicing of the world passes through their ears? Do we subconsciously build for ourselves as faith that is spiritualized and privatized? In other words, do we assume that because Jimmy said that all that matters is “spiritual” things, that as long as I love my enemy in my heart, it is okay if in reality I have to kill him. Or because the “answer” is spiritual and not social, then as long as I pray for the poor and love them in my heart, then I don’t have to engage in real social activism that redeems them in any concrete sense. That is just a fear, and an example of Docetism at work in Western Christianity.

  5. Not certain exactly what is happening in class, but what I caught was that Mr. James belives the punishment for sinners is immediate and not eternal damnation. (Is this NT Wright’s view?) Also, that sinners can never be brought to Christ through fear.
    I am dumb in considering annihilation vs damnation. However, I do believe that a heaping amount of fear plays a great role in all of our conversions. The initial response from all of our old Testament heroes was fear. The “dark night of the soul” our more recent heroes speak of hinges on the awakening that we are lost and then, when God is encountered, fear can not be avoided. Then after one has had this experience the fear never leaves does it? I am not suggesting we should preach fear but rather that it is an inevitable and healthy part of the process. A part of life that those who face annihilation and/or damnation oppress and a part that we should be regularly reminded of just by observing nature. Probably not close to what you are actually talking about, but just thoughts. Peace
    Cory McDaniel

  6. Amen Brother Cory! I actually do not disagree at all! One of my key verses is about appropriate fear. Matthew 10:28. “Do not fear one who can destroy the body and not the soul. Rather fear the One who can destroy both the body and soul in hell.”

    It’s not that fear is useless or unholy. It’s rather the distinction that scripture makes between fear, and fear-of-the-lord. I believe we have a misplaced fear. We fear an idea called hell. Furthermore, I believe we have over-emphasized that fear and left fearing God out of the mix.

    “Fear the One” Jesus says. BTW, I have some internal struggles reconciling this text to I John 4:18 that says “Perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment.”

    So, I don’t have all that worked out in my mind – and may never get it worked out!


  7. Cory –

    Also, this view is N.T. Wright’s view. Also, it is John Stott’s view and Edward Fudge’s view. Other noted theologians holding this view of hell are W.D. Davies, C.H. Dodd, John Howard Yoder, Lee C. Camp, Stanley Hauerwas, Will Willimon, Brian McLaren (if you consider him a theologian), and probably even Stanley Grenz (the famous baptist theologian). I could of course name countless Early church fathers, but for now I will note that St. Anthony and Justin Martyr both held this. And then of course I believe Jesus and Paul most notably held this view.

    Peace –



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