Heaven and Earth Class: Week 4 (Hell Cont’d)

This week we took some time to further discuss Hell. I continued to make my case that Hell is annihilation. Again, my key texts were – Isaiah 66 – Matthew 10:28 – Revelation 18 – Revelation 21:1-8 – John 3:16 – and of course my definition of the word for eternal “Aionos”.

I also made my case that the purpose of the Gospel is not to rescue individuals from Hell. Rather atonement makes possible a life with God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Indeed we are saved by Jesus’ atoning sacrifice – but the biblical picture is much more robust than a view that says Atonement is solely to save individual soul’s from burning in Hell.

Atonement is so much more. Atonement (or the cross) secures the table at which we commune with God and others. Atonement frees us from the empire’s clutches, because in His sacrifice Jesus unmasked the principalities and powers and showed them for who they are – weak, cowardly, fearful, murderous, and full of deceit. Atonement forgives and redeems – and this forgiveness makes possible a new way of life – a life like Jesus Christ. The biblical view of sin is not just past immoral behaviors. Rather sin (especially in Paul’s writings) is seen as a force over our lives that seeks to enslave and oppress us. The cross frees us from this enslavement and gives us power to confront our evil oppressor and break the chains and cycles of sinful behavior.

So then, a limited view of atonement (or the cross) leads to a skewed view of hell – at least it leads us to assume that atonement is only to rescue us from hell and that such rescue is the sole purpose of the gospel message. Such misuse of hell in the role of the gospel has led to all kinds of evil tactics and means that are intended to get people to come to Christ. So when people “come to Christ” they are not so much “coming to Christ” as they are “fleeing hell”. It’s no surprise then, that so many Christians do not understand the “way of Christ” that they have been “called to” and thereby form whatever comfortable religion that suits their previous sinful life-style. Because (remember) they did not necessarily turn from a “way of life” as much as they turned to the belief that Jesus has saved them from an arbitrary future place called hell. If such belief is all one needs to go to heaven, then there is no real reason to embody the radical way of Christ envisioned in Jesus’ sermon on the Mount.

We also talked about Lazzarus in Luke 16. We read it both literally and figuratively. My contention was that either way you read it, it still does not disprove my case that hell is annihilation. Just that prior to the final destruction there is a period of torment and conscious punishment (I like to think of them as natural consequences).

So thoughts? Further Questions or Comments?

Peace –



  1. Joe,

    I have heard the theory that there is still an eternal torment and Hell, and that the Lazarus story “proves” that when we die, we don’t AUTOMATICALLY go to Heaven….We either go to Paradise (Jesus says’ He’ll see the robber in Paradise) or we go to Hades – not Hell, just Hell’s waiting room.

    Would this still go along with the annihilation theme of Hell, or is the annihilation you’re talking about at the final judgment?

    Just an idea I was told growing up… 🙂

  2. Well… We just barely touched on this during class Sunday morning. I will say this in response to the Lazarus story “proving” things. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus isn’t about Heaven or Hell or anything about the afterlife. The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus is a story that Jesus told to address the problem of the Pharisees love for money. If I remember correctly the story begins in Luke 16:19 (or thereabouts), but if you scan back to verse 14 you find that Jesus was really trying to expose the realities of money love, and perhaps point toward a consequence. Now I don’t suppose that this means that there is nothing in the story for us to glean about afterlife. But really the story conjures up images of Luke’s Sermon on the Plain (Blessed are you who are poor, for the kingdom of God belongs to you – But woe to you who are rich now, for you have already received your comfort.)

    If you want me to be totally honest, I don’t see how one could make a case for reading this passage literally. So I would be cautious of building a theology of the afterlife based on this story that is meant to expose the fruitlessness of claiming to know God and neglecting the poor.

    About the Paradise / Hades being the waiting rooms for Heaven / Hell… we will get to that. I will just initially say that it doesn’t seem to be so cookie-cutter clean in scripture. Gehenna is a word that some have translated “the grave” and then “the place of the dead”. Orthodox Christians have always held that Jesus went to the place of the dead. Jesus himself told the thief that he would be with him “today” in paradise. Couple all this with the Ephesians passage about descending into the “lower earthly regions” and it becomes plausible that it’s all the same “place”. This is something that we will explore in a couple of weeks during class – hoping to work through it with some good questions from you guys! I will say that I think Thessalonians has been the most helpful place for me to construct my theology here.

    Thanks for the question!

    Peace –


  3. Also, Jennifer, none of this seems to call into question my theology of Hell as punishment and consequences for a brief time, and then total annihilation. Honestly, I believe the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus only supports my case.

  4. Wasn’t really trying to call into question the theology of Hell…but I had heard that the “waiting room” theory supported the case for their being eternal torment and NOT annihilation. Now, granted, I think the person I heard this from WAS taking it literally…just wanted to see what your view point on that was…. 🙂 Sorry if I got ahead of the class….

  5. No, you weren’t ahead of the class. That’s what this is for! To throw out questions! I thought it was a fabulous question! I think I understand better what was meant by your waiting room theory you heard, now. About the idea that it supports eternal conscious torment… I would have 3 questions for whomever you heard that from. 1> Even if you do read it literally, (which is fine by me) couldn’t the story just as easily prove that the Rich Man was in the phase of Hell that is punishment, prior to the final annihilation? 2> Do you really want to take this story literally? The good ole, God-fearing, church-goin, law-abiding Jew is in Hell in this story! The lowly, neglected, marginalized, poor guy is at Abraham’s bosom. Do we really want to make a strict connection to our own context here? 3> Is it possible that this is a metaphor? I find it funny that we have said of Jesus “He doesn’t really mean to turn the other cheek” when he was speaking plainly about loving enemies, but when he is clearly telling a “story” we want to be strict literalists!

    Thanks for the question and the continued discourse! We have to live with these questions. We may as well share them with one another and see what insight we can glean! Thanks for looking at every angle and sharing what interpretations you have heard in your own journey. (There is the possibility, btw, that I am flat wrong – of course!)

    Peace –



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