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地狱之火——揭开被扭曲的真相

作者:乔·克鲁斯 牧师日期:2014-10-12 4:22:46浏览数:34542
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圣经中最令人困惑的神学课题之一,便是对地狱的认识。许多牧师与平信徒将其严重曲解,以至“地狱”一词竟成了人尽皆知的俗语和咒骂之辞。在世界各地,到处都有人在问着同样的问题:地狱是什么?地狱在哪儿?恶人的命运是什么?慈爱的上帝真的会让恶人永远受折磨吗?地狱之火会将罪人的罪恶焚烧净尽吗?

对于这些问题,我们需要听一听圣经中可靠的答案,不要让围绕该主题的诸多人为的辩论,妨碍了我们揭开基督所赐下的真理。首先,确实有一个天国要争取,有一个地狱要逃避。耶稣教导说,世上所有的人,要么得救,要么灭亡,无一例外,没有中间地带,也没有二等奖。“人子要差遣使者,把一切叫人跌倒的和作恶的,从祂国里挑出来,丢在火炉里,在那里必要哀哭切齿了。那时,义人在他们父的国里,要发出光来,像太阳一样。”(太13:41-43)

鉴于世人的终局不外乎这两种,我们该当以何等迫切的心去寻求真理与正路啊!基督说:“我就是道路、真理、生命。”(约14:6)接受基督关于“地狱”的教导才是唯一的安全之策——惟有祂的教导是绝对真实可靠的。耶稣说,有人要被丢进火湖,有人会在天国发光。 (太13:41-43)

奇怪的是,曾有众多的宗教领袖控告耶稣,称其在该问题上的教导是错误的。他们指责耶稣宣讲了“灵魂不死”的道理(肉体死亡时,不朽的灵魂出窍,有的入天堂,有的下地狱)——但这绝非耶稣的教导。祂从未说过人在死亡的那一刻会有一个魂灵与肉体分离。在祂的教训中,没有丝毫此类的暗示,也从未教导过恶人一死就要遭受永无止境的折磨。

下面,让我们来透过耶稣亲口的教训,来查明祂的真实观点。“倘若你一只手叫你跌倒,就把它砍下来。你缺了肢体进入永生,强如有两只手落到地狱,入那不灭的火里去。”(可9:43)这些话没有留下任何值得怀疑的余地:那被丢进火里的,是人的肉体,而非某种神秘的灵魂。耶稣在马太福音中曾论到“全身下入地狱”,这显然包括人的手、脚、眼睛和身上的“百体”。(太5:30)

令人不解的是,现今有无数的神职人员,在大讲特讲“灵魂不死”的道理,他们声称:人死后,会有一个虚无飘渺、无有无体的灵魂离开死亡的躯体而继续存在。这种观点纵然盛行,却与耶稣的教导大相径庭、背道而驰。切记,大教师基督在四福音中反复强调:被扔进地狱之火中的人,乃是有手、有脚、有眼睛和身上的百体。他们绝不会成为无形的灵魂,也不会进入某种缥缈、空灵的状态。

接下来,我们要检验圣经中的四个重大事实,它将解开人们关于“恶人的命运”的诸多疑问。

一、先有审判,后有刑罚

关于地狱的第一个重大事实:恶人死后不会立刻到某个地方受罚,而是留在坟墓中,等候末日的审判与刑罚。在麦子与稗子的比喻中,基督明确教导了这一真理。田主在田里撒了麦子,不料仆人报告说,麦子中间长了稗子,想问主人是否要将稗子薅出来。田主回答说:“不必,恐怕薅稗子,连麦子也拔出来。容这两样一齐长,等着收割。当收割的时候,我要对收割的人说:先将稗子薅出来,捆成捆,留着烧,惟有麦子要收在仓里。”(太13:29,30)

请听耶稣对这一比喻所作的解释:“那撒好种的就是人子,田地就是世界,好种就是天国之子,稗子就是那恶者之子,撒稗子的仇敌就是魔鬼,收割的时候就是世界的末了,收割的人就是天使。将稗子薅出来用火焚烧,世界的末了也要如此。人子要差遣使者,把一切叫人跌倒的和作恶的,从祂国里挑出来,丢在火炉里,在那里必要哀哭切齿了。”(太13:37-42)

任何人都不能再使这个比喻更为简单易懂了。连孩童都能明白耶稣清晰的讲解。祂说稗子代表恶人,在“在世界的末了”,他们要被“丢在火炉里”。分别义人与恶人的工作,要等到收割的时候。耶稣明说:“收割的时候就是世界的末了”。如此简明的陈述怎么会被误解呢?恶人一死就进入地狱之火的整套理论与耶稣的教导(恶人在世界的末了才会被丢进火里)格格不入。

既然恶人的审判是在耶稣再临之后进行,那么在此之前,怎么可能有人受罚呢?先受审后宣判,这才是正确的司法程序。彼得宣称:“主知道搭救敬虔的人脱离试探,把不义的人留在刑罚之下,等候审判的日子。”(彼后2:9)这才符合情理,对吗?假设一个人因盗窃被带到法庭,法官说:“先去蹲十年监狱,然后再审理你的案子。”我想世上不会有如此不公正的法官,这样的行为一定会受到检举。毫无疑问,上帝更不会作出这样的闹剧。

如果以经解经,对于这一点的疑问自会荡然无存。恶人要“留”到“审判之日”接受什么?“接受刑罚”。也就是说,他们必须要等到审判之后,才会受罚。圣经有没有透露他们要被留在什么地方?留到什么时候?基督亲口说道:“你们不要把这事看作希奇,时候要到,凡在坟墓里的,都要听见祂的声音,就出来。行善的复活得生,作恶的复活定罪。”(约5:28,29)

多么清晰啊!耶稣说义人和恶人都要从坟墓中复活,义人得生,恶人受罚。可见,在坟墓中等候复活期间,任何人都不会接受赏罚。报赏也好,刑罚也罢,都要等到复活之后。彼得说要留着他们等候审判的日子,而基督则清楚说明,他们要留在“坟墓里”。

如果还需要更加清晰的证据,请听耶稣的话:“因为他们没有什么可报答你。到义人复活的时候,你要得着报答。”(路14:14)下面还有:“人子要在祂父的荣耀里,同着众使者降临,那时候,祂要照各人的行为报应各人。”(太16:27)“那时”是什么时候?就是祂带着众使者降临的时候。义人到那时才会复活,接受永生的赏赐。这些经文无可争议。上下文中也没有任何歧义或隐含的意思。

圣经最后一章再次提到耶稣的话,“看哪,我必快来。赏罚在我,要照各人所行的报应他。”(启22:12)基督提醒我们,当祂重返地球时,“各人”——每一个人——都会接受公正的报偿。约伯说:“恶人要留到祸患的日子,被带到震怒之日。”(伯21:30;KJV直译)但以理说:“睡在尘埃中的,必有多人复醒,其中有得永生的,有受羞辱、永远被憎恶的。”(但12:2)关于恶人在复活、审判、及刑罚之前被留在何处,大家还有疑问吗?既有彼得、但以理、约伯、以及耶稣亲自的见证,我们没有丝毫辩驳的余地。恶人要留在坟墓里。

下面我们进入关于地狱的第二个重大事实:直等到世界的末了,耶稣重返地球时,恶人才会被丢在地狱的火中。虽然已经查考了大量确凿的证据,但我们还有很多。论到恶人的刑罚,约翰写道:“惟有胆怯的、不信的、可憎的、杀人的、淫乱的、行邪术的、拜偶像的和一切说谎话的,他们的份就在烧着硫磺的火湖里,这是第二次的死。”(启21:8)

二、复活之前不会有第二次的死

启示录21:8节的经文,是恶人为罪受罚的情形。那么具体的是什么刑罚呢?约翰说“是第二次的死”。这对罪人意味着什么?它表明罪人“复活之后”才会被丢在火湖里。他们要在火里遭受第二次的死。然而,若不先获得第二次生命,怎么会有第二次的死呢?他们在这个世界上经历了第一次生命,然后第一次死去,进入坟墓。在经历第二次的死之前,他们要先复活,接受第二次的生命。当然,这要等到世界的末了。耶稣说:“凡在坟墓里的,都要……出来。”(约5:28)

复活,获得第二次生命之后,恶人要在地狱之火中受罚,“就是第二次的死”。顺便解释一下,第二次的死就是永死,再也不会有复活了。我们需要注意这一事件发生的时间:是在末了恶人复活之后,但许多人却误以为是紧随着第一次的死。

圣经有否记载恶人将如何被丢在火湖里?当然有。约翰曾描述了千禧年结束之后,那些引人注目的事件:“那一千年完了,撒但必从监牢里被释放,出来要迷惑地上四方的列国(‘方’原文作‘角’),就是歌革和玛各,叫他们聚集争战。他们的人数多如海沙。他们上来遍满了全地,围住圣徒的营与蒙爱的城,就有火从天上降下,烧灭了他们。”(启20:7-9)

千禧年结束时,也就是在第二次的复活中(第一次是义人复活,第二次是恶人复活),所有曾活在世上的恶人都要从坟墓中出来。在描述完义人如何得生,并与基督同掌王权一千年之后,约翰写道:“其余的死人还没有复活,直等那一千年完了。”(启20:5)

当然,这里所说的“其余的死人”是指恶人,他们的复活为撒但提供了机会,他要继续对抗上帝和圣徒。撒但召集复活的恶人,组成一支庞大的军队。他要再次欺骗他们,说服他们,及至恶人坚信他们能征服从天降下的新耶路撒冷。(启21:2)当浩浩荡荡的恶人围困圣城时,突然有烈火从天而降,烧灭了他们。这就是最后刑罚罪恶的地狱之火。

三、地狱在何处?

圣经清楚的说明这火要在“全地”(启20:9)吞灭恶人。每一位论及地狱之主题的圣经作者,都对恶人第二次的死提供了新的视野。彼得说:“但现在的天地还是凭着那命存留,直留到不敬虔之人受审判遭沉沦的日子,用火焚烧。”(彼后3:7)随后,他又论到在主的日子,一切有形质的都要被烈火销化。

关于恶人受罚的地点,彼得的论述非常清晰。他说“这地”要直留到不敬虔之人受审判遭沉沦的日子,用火焚烧。恶人受罚的地点就在这个地球。以赛亚说:“因耶和华有报仇之日,为锡安的争辩有报应之年。以东的河水要变为石油,尘埃要变为硫磺,地土成为烧着的石油。”(赛34:8,9)


先知描述整个地球要被火包围。甚至河水与灰尘都要变成易燃易爆的石油与硫磺。以赛亚说这是善恶之争结束时,上帝所采取的“报仇”与“报应”之举。

大卫用以下的话作见证说:“祂要向恶人密布网罗,有烈火、硫磺、热风作他们杯中的份。”(诗11:6)请注意,在论及恶人的命运时,大卫的用词几乎与约翰和彼得的话相同,他们一致提到受罚的地点(地球)和受罚的方式(烈火)。

这将我们引入关于地狱的第三个重大事实:作为受罚的地点,地狱就在地球上。在最后的审判大日,地球将变成一片火湖。但这又引发了其它关于恶人命运的有趣提问。其中最令人困惑的就是恶人受罚的时间。他们要在火湖里经受多长时间的痛苦呢?

没有人能精确回答这个问题,因为经上记着说,他们要照自己的行为受罚。可见,惩罚的程度各有不同。有人烧的时间长,有人烧的时间短。然而,有一点我们可以肯定:恶人不会永远在火湖里受痛苦。

四、地狱之火并非不灭

我们有如下理由坚信这一点。首先,地球也被称为义人最后的家乡。耶稣说:“温柔的人有福了,因为他们必承受地土。”(太5:5)彼得说:“天必大有响声废去……地和其上的物都要烧尽了。”(彼后3:10)之后,他看到一个充满公义的新天新地。“但我们照祂的应许,盼望新天新地,有义居在其中。”(彼后3:13)

恶人之所以不能继续活在地球上,是因为全地已经特别应许赐给亚伯拉罕和他的后裔了。(罗4:13)罪带来的一切咒诅被清除之后,地球的主权要归还原主,并要恢复上帝起初的计划。上帝最初的旨意终必实现,这里要成为完全之人的荣美家乡。

再者,恶人之所以不能继续活在世上,是因为他们不信靠基督而得永生。惟有义人接受了永生的赏赐。“上帝爱世人,甚至将祂的独生子赐给他们,叫一切信祂的,不至灭亡,反得永生。”(约3:16)不信的人会如何呢?他们的结局必是灭亡。经上记着说:“罪的工价乃是死;”(罗6:23)请牢记这些简明而清晰的经文。上帝从未应许恶人得生,他们结局乃是死亡——永远的死亡。惟有义人的份是生命——永远的生命。

信靠耶稣是得永生的唯一途径。约翰这样描述:“这见证就是上帝赐给我们永生,这永生也是在祂儿子里面。人有了上帝的儿子就有生命,没有上帝的儿子就没有生命。”(约一5:11,12)我问你一个问题:火湖中的恶人“有上帝的儿子”吗?当然没有。既然如此,他们怎能得生命呢?约翰说:“你们晓得凡杀人的,没有永生存在他里面。”(约一3:15)火湖中的杀人犯会有永生吗?绝不会。

有人宣称不靠着耶稣也能获得永生,这是世界上最可憎的邪说。恶人靠什么得生?保罗宣告说:基督耶稣“藉着福音,将不能坏的生命彰显出来。”(提后1:10)上帝所默示的圣言显明:若不藉着基督的福音,就没有人能得永生。圣经何处记载要将永生赐予恶人?义人得生的经文比比皆是,却从未提到不信的人能得永生。

保罗说:“我如今把一件奥秘的事告诉你们,我们不是都要睡觉,乃是都要改变,就在一霎时,眨眼之间,号筒末次吹响的时候;因号筒要响,死人要复活,成为不朽坏的,我们也要改变。这必朽坏的总要变成不朽坏的(‘变成’原文作‘穿’。下同),这必死的总要变成不死的。”(林前15:51-53)

这段经文提到,在某个时刻,义人要在眨眼间“变成不朽坏的”。这个时刻还未到来。要等到耶稣再临,号筒末次吹响,义人复活的时候。圣经从未提到恶人也要变成不朽坏的形体。显然,恶人没有永生,也不能“永远活在”火湖里。

有人捏造恶人会在火湖里永远受罚,此种说法是荒诞而不合情理的。这与圣经完全相悖。以西结说:“犯罪的灵魂必死亡。”(结18:4,KJV直译)不论我们如何理解灵魂,但请接受圣经简明的真理:灵魂会死,会因罪而死。

倘若恶人永远活在火湖里,他们岂不是和义人一样拥有了永生?只是享有永生的地点不同。除了基督谁还能赐予永生呢?约翰福音3章16节给出了清晰而简要的回答。不信上帝独生子的人将要灭亡。他们会死亡,也将承受第二次的死——永远的死,而且永不再复活。这样的死亡没有尽头。那是无尽的、永远的刑罚,是无止境的、永远彻底的死,而不是在烈火中永生。

五、无法熄灭之火

有人或许会提出这样的问题:焚烧恶人的不灭之火(太3:12)怎么解释?这火永不熄灭吗?当然不是。熄灭是指停止燃烧或扑灭。没有人能扑灭地狱之火,那是从上帝而出的烈火。谁都无法熄灭并逃生。以赛亚论到这火时说:“他们要像碎秸被火焚烧,不能救自己脱离火焰之力,这火并非可烤的炭火,也不是可以坐在其前的火。”(赛47:14)当它完成毁灭的任务之后,自然会熄灭。没有人能扑灭这火并获救,正如圣经所说,一切都要烧成灰烬。

耶利米曾预言耶路撒冷将被“不灭的”烈火焚烧,(耶17:27)但最后却成了灰烬。(代下36:19-21)阅读这些经文,想一想圣经中所说的“不灭”是什么意思。它并不是指这火永不熄灭。所谓的“不灭”是指不能被扑灭。

那么,用来形容地狱之火的“永远”(犹7)和“永无止境”又该作何解释呢?圣经对于这些词汇的定义足以排疑解惑。许多人的错误在于用现代的定义来诠释圣经的话,却不结合当时的背景。这与解经的最基本原则是相悖的。

事实上,永火并不是指永远不灭的火。犹大书7节也以同样的方式描述所多玛和蛾摩拉的毁灭。“又如所多玛、蛾摩拉和周围城邑的人,也照他们一味的行淫,随从逆性的情欲,就受永火的刑罚,作为鉴戒。”(犹7)

显然,所多玛今天已经不再燃烧。该城的遗址就是现在的死海。虽然他们被“永火”焚烧,但我们得知这要作为鉴戒。作为什么的鉴戒呢?“又判定所多玛、蛾摩拉,将二城倾覆,焚烧成灰,作为后世不敬虔人的鉴戒。”(彼后2:6)

正如我们所说,将所多玛变为灰烬的永火是末了毁灭恶人的鉴戒。按照这节经文的论述,毁灭所多玛和蛾摩拉的“永火”也要烧灭恶人。这是否意味着恶人也要烧成灰烬呢?圣经作出了肯定的回答:“万军之耶和华说:‘那日临近,势如烧着的火炉,凡狂傲的和行恶的必如碎秸,在那日必被烧尽,根本枝条一无存留。……你们必践踏恶人,在我所定的日子,他们必如灰尘在你们脚掌之下。这是万军之耶和华说的。”(玛4:1,3)

再没有比这更清晰有力的答复了。这永火要烧尽一切。甚至作为树“根”的撒但最后也要被烧灭。通过以经解经,我们发现整个画面是如此地一致。不顾这些确凿的证据,故意回避之人真是可怕。有人因为传统而一辈子怀有偏见,即使读到“将他们烧灭……成为灰烬”,也依然认为恶人要永远活着受苦。诚然,关于地狱有一些难解的经文,但通过参考上下文,我们发现它们都是一致的,而且圣经可以作为它本身的注释。

理解了它显而易见的含义之后,基督在马太福音的那段话就不再令人费解了。“这些人要往永刑里去,那些义人要往永生里去。”(太25:46)许多人对于“永刑”二字感到困惑,请注意,圣经并没有说“永无止境地刑罚人”,这刑罚并非要持续到永永远远。圣经有没有记载这刑罚是什么?当然有。“因为罪的工价乃是死。”(罗6:23)所以,耶稣只是说明那是没有终点的、彻底的死,而且永不再复活。

保罗用以下的话作了进一步的简化:“要报应那不认识上帝和那不听从我主耶稣福音的人。他们要受刑罚……”请注意,保罗接下来告诉我们这刑罚是什么。“就是永远沉沦,离开主的面和祂权能的荣光。”(帖后1:8,9)所以,这惩罚乃是永远的沉沦,再没有复活得生的希望。

但圣经中所说的不死之虫又是指什么呢?许多人读过耶稣对于地狱的论述:“在那里,虫是不死的,火是不灭的。”(可9:48)有人说这些虫是指人的灵魂。这真是耶稣的意思吗?圣经从未暗示灵魂是一只虫。

在这个例子中,耶稣用“欣嫩子谷”代指“地狱”。欣嫩子谷是耶路撒冷城外一个焚烧杂物的地方。毫无疑问,基督的听众可以看到欣嫩子谷(常年燃烧死尸与垃圾的地方)缓缓上腾的烟尘。若有什么东西脱离了那毁灭的火焰,立刻会被蛆虫和蠕虫啃噬。面对眼前所呈现的彻底毁灭之情景,耶稣就将欣嫩子谷的火比作地狱之火。这火是不灭的,那些虫子也在不断啃噬尸体,俨然是一幅彻底毁灭的悲惨场面。

约翰说:恶人“受痛苦的烟往上冒,直到永永远远。”(启14:11)关于地狱,这或许是最容易被曲解的经文了。不熟悉“永远”二字在圣经中用法的人确实会感到困惑。对照新旧约圣经,共有57次以“永远”来指代已经结束的事情。换句话说,“永远”并非总是指“没有止境”。

此类例证有很多,其中有两三处尤其值得注意。出埃及记21章论到奴隶得释放的律例。期满之后,奴隶若选择继续侍奉主人而不愿得自由,就要用锥子穿透他的耳朵,“他就永远服侍主人。”(出21:6)但他要服侍主人多久呢?当然是在有生之年。所以,这里的“永远”并非没有止境。哈拿带着儿子撒母耳去圣殿,“使他永远住在那里。”(撒上1:22)而在同一章的第28节又说:“使他终身归与耶和华。” “永远”一词的本义是指一段不确定的时期。通常来讲,它是指某个事物可以在特定环境中继续存在的一段时期。约拿在鱼腹中虽然只有三天,他却描述为“永远”。(拿2:6)

有人或许会提出反对的理由:这岂不说明义人在天国的时间也是有限的吗?因为圣经记载他们要在那里永远赞美上帝。“永远”一词同时适用于得赎之人与恶人。但情况却截然不同。圣徒已经领受了不朽的生命,他们的生命像上帝一样永无止境。永生意味着“不受死亡的辖制”。对于义人来讲,“永远”只有一个含义:“永无止境”,因为他们具备了不朽的身体。然而恶人却非如此,他们是必朽坏的、必死的生灵。对于他们来讲,“永远”也只有一个含义:按照自己的行为在火湖中受罚的时间。

六、灵魂与身体皆被毁灭

下面来学习关于恶人命运的最后一个真相:恶人按着各自的行为受罚之后,不论是他们的灵魂还是身体,全都要彻底消灭。耶稣清楚说道:“那杀身体不能杀灵魂的,不要怕他们;惟有能把身体和灵魂都灭在地狱里的,正要怕祂。”(太10:28)

读了这节经文,人怎能继续宣称恶人会永存呢?惟有耶稣能赐人生命,祂不允许地狱中的恶人以任何形式永远活着。他们必要永远灭亡,身体也要在烈火中化为灰烬。

诗人写道:“恶人却要灭亡。耶和华的仇敌要像羊羔的脂油(或作‘像草地的华美’),他们要消灭,要如烟消灭。”(诗37:20)“还有片时,恶人要归于无有。你就是细察他的住处,也要归于无有。”(诗37:10)

论到恶人遭毁灭,这可算是人类语言能达到的最为清晰有力的描述了。然而,仍有人坚持认为作者所传达的并非字面的意思。“毁灭”,“消灭”,“烧尽”,“吞噬”,“死亡”,难道这些词与在其它书卷中的意义不同,难道它们还蕴含着神秘的、甚至相反的含义?我们没有理由去这样想。事实上,此类神学把慈爱的上帝描绘成了食人魔。他们所描写的上帝比希特勒还要残忍。但希特勒在折磨人、完成人体实验之后,还让他们死去。而上帝竟然让这些灵魂永远不死,以便在永恒的岁月里“享受”恶人痛苦的挣扎和尖叫,这就是那些神学家所倡导的荒谬神学。

七、上帝的公正大白天下

此类错谬神学不仅误表了上帝的慈爱,也歪曲了祂的公正。请思考这个教义:每个灭亡之人的灵魂在死去的那一刻,立即被投入永无止境的地狱之火中。假设在5000年前,某个人怀藏着一种罪恶而死去,身体葬入坟墓,灵魂却立刻被投入地狱之中,受永远的折磨。而另一个人,阿道夫•希特勒,杀害了数以百万人,按照这种流行的教义,他的灵魂也会立刻进入地狱受永远的折磨。但那个因为一点罪而失丧的人,竟要比希特勒多受五千年的痛苦折磨。这公平吗?公义慈爱的上帝会这样处理问题吗?这与圣经所教导的“各人要照自己所行的受罚”之说法完全是背道而驰的。

关于罪人所受的刑罚,现在流行着两种极端的观点。一种是普救论,认为上帝极其仁慈,绝不容许任何人灭亡。另一种可怕的教义是:认为上帝会让人在黑暗的无底坑里受永远的折磨和痛苦。这两种教义都是错误的。真理介于两者之间。上帝会按照恶人的行为报应各人,但绝不会让邪恶之人在火湖里获得另一种永生。

此类误表上帝品格的道理,会让许多人对主产生反感,因而转离上帝。他们不能爱一位无缘无故就武断地、永远折磨恶人的上帝。况且没有复原的可能。这种可怕的安排,只能说明上帝有报复的精神。但上帝真是那样吗?听完圣经对于地狱的诠释后,一位银行总裁拍着我的肩膀说:“乔牧师,我要再次相信上帝了。多年来,我一直不肯接受上帝,我宁可相信不可知论,因为我曾受教认为上帝要永远折磨恶人。”

八、不再有痛苦和死亡

在不久的将来,上帝会拥有一个洁净的宇宙。一切罪恶的影响都将永远被扫除。不再有罪恶,不再有罪人,也不再有试探人的魔鬼。万物要恢复到起初被造时的样式。

约翰这样描述新天新地:“上帝要擦去他们一切的眼泪,不再有死亡,也不再有悲哀、哭号、疼痛,因为以前的事都过去了。”(启21:4)

透过这些宝贵的圣言,我们发现在整个更新的宇宙中,再也没有痛苦存在的余地。上帝说不再有哭号和疼痛。你相信上帝的话,还是相信人的推测?就在这一应许之前(向前推四节经文),约翰描述了恶人将如何被丢在火湖里。“若有人名字没有记在生命册上,他就被扔在火湖里。我又看见一个新天新地,因为先前的天地已经过去了。”(启20:15;21:1)按照启示录20章9节所说,这个火湖就在地球上。

但请注意,这个焚烧恶人的地方也要消失过去,上帝要再造一个新地。新耶路撒冷要在烈火吞灭恶人之前降下,之后,根据第四节的论述,将不再有悲哀、疼痛、哭号和死亡。

既然不再有痛苦,永恒的地狱自然也将不复存在。这两者不能共存。我们每日都当感谢上帝,因祂最后要终结一切的苦楚。再没有撒但给人制造痛苦,而且上帝应许,在祂的新国度里没有任何痛苦的踪影。

九、地狱并非为你我而准备

最后,我们应当欢呼,因为地狱并不是为你我而准备。耶稣说,那是“为魔鬼和他的使者所预备的”。 (太25:41)若跌入火湖,那将是我们所犯的最大错误。要想进入火湖,你必须践踏耶稣基督被钉的身体,轻看天父的慈爱,拒绝圣灵的感动以及成千上万服役的天使。世界上最难回答的问题是:“我们若忽略这么大的救恩,怎能逃罪呢?”(来2:3)这个问题没有答案,因为若非靠着基督和祂的十字架,没有人能逃罪。

没有人会因为犯罪而永远灭亡,因为世人都犯了罪。没有人会因为说谎、偷窃、奸淫而被撇在天国门外——人灭亡的唯一原因乃是:拒绝离弃罪恶,拒绝投向那位预备好要赦免我们,并洁净我们一切不义的、慈爱之救主的怀抱!我们需要时刻铭记:“上帝爱世人,甚至将祂的独生子赐给他们,叫一切信祂的,不至灭亡,反得永生。”(约3:16)

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英文:

Hell-Fire A Twisted Truth Untangled


One of the most theologically confused subjects in the Bible is that of hell. It has been fumbled by the clergy and distorted by the laity until the word has become best known as a common vulgarism and expletive. Everywhere people are asking the same questions: What and where is hell? What is the fate of the wicked? Will a God of love torture people throughout eternity? Will the fire of hell ever burn the wickedness out of sinners?

These are questions which deserve sound Bible answers, and the controversy surrounding the subject should not discour- age us from exposing all the truth as it is in Christ. First of all, we need to understand that there is a heaven to win and a hell to shun. Jesus taught that every soul will be either saved or lost. There is no neutral place, and there are no second prizes. "The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, And them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth as the sun in the kingdom of their Father." Matthew 13:41-43.

In view of these two ultimate destinies for all who have ever been born, how earnest we should be in seeking to find the right way. Christ said, "I am the way, the truth and the life." The only absolute safety for anyone is to take exactly what Jesus taught about hell. His doctrine is the only one which is wholly dependable and true. He said some will be cast into the fire, and some will shine forth in the kingdom.

Strangely enough, Christ has been charged by many religious leaders with teaching a falsehood on this subject. They have accused Him of teaching that an immortal soul flies away from the body at death to either heaven or hell. This is not what Jesus taught at all. He never gave the least intimation that some disembodied soul separates from the body at the time of death. And surely He did not ever give the impression that the wicked suffer an eternal torment as soon as they die.

Now let s get a sample of what Jesus really taught on the subject of hell. "And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell ..." Mark 9:43. These words of the Master prove beyond any shadow of doubt that it is the body which goes into the fire, and not some mystical soul. In Matthew 5:30 He spoke of the "whole body" being cast into hell. That means hands, feet, eyes, and all the other members of the physical body.

In contrast to the doctrine of Christ, modern pulpits resound with dramatic portrayals of imaginary souls leaving the body at death-souls that have neither substance nor shape. This view, popular though it may be, is totally contrary to what Jesus taught. Mark it well, for the great Master Teacher spelled it out repeatedly in the gospels-those who are cast into the fire of hell will go there with hands, feet, eyes, and all the physical features of the body. They will not go in some ethereal state of formless spirit or soul.

Now we are prepared to examine four great facts from the Bible which will illuminate most of the questions which have been asked about the fate of the wicked.

Punishment After the Judgment
The first important fact about hell is this: The unsaved do not go to any place of punishment as soon as they die, but are reserved in the grave until the day of judgment to be punished. Christ explicitly taught this truth in the well-known parable of the wheat and the tares. After the householder had sown the wheat in the field, his servant came to report that tares were growing among the grain. His question was whether he should pull up the weeds while they were still very small. The householder s answer was, "Nay; lest while ye gather up the tares, ye root up also the wheat with them. Let both grow together until the harvest: and in the time of the harvest I will say to the reapers, Gather ye together first the tares, and bind them in bundles to burn them; but gather the wheat into my barn." Matthew 13:29, 30.

Now follow the words of Christ as He explains the meaning of the parable: "He that soweth the good seed is the Son of man; The field is the world; the good seed are the children of the kingdom; but the tares are the children of the wicked one; The enemy that sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the world; and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Matthew 13:37-42.

No one can simplify the parable by enlarging on what Jesus said. It is so clear that a child can understand it. He said the tares represented the wicked people, and that they would be cast into the fire "at the end of the world." It was in the harvest that the separation would take place, and He plainly stated, "The harvest is the end of the world." How can anyone misconstrue these words of Christ? The whole idea of the wicked going into the fire at the time of death contradicts our Lord s specific teaching that they would be cast into the fire at the end of the world.

Since the judgment also takes place after Christ comes we can see how impossible it would be for anyone to be punished before that time. Justice demands that a person be brought into judgment before being punished. Peter declared, "The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished." 2 Peter 2:9. That certainly makes sense, doesn t it? Suppose a man should be brought into the court accused of stealing, and the judge said, "Put him away for ten years; then we ll try his case." Listen, even a human judge would not be that unfair! He would be impeached for such an action. Surely God would not be guilty of such a farce.

If we let the Bible mean what it says, there can be no doubt on this point. The wicked are "reserved" until when? Until the "day of judgment." To be what? "To be punished"! This means they cannot be punished before that judgment day. Does the Bible tell where they are reserved until then? Christ Himself said, "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." John 5:28, 29.

How plain! Jesus said that both good and bad will come forth from their graves to receive either life or damnation. This proves that from the time of death until they come forth in the resurrection they are not receiving any recompense or punishment. It all happens after they come forth. They are reserved until that day just as Peter indicated, but Christ spelled out where they will be reserved-"in the graves."

If plainer words are needed, listen to Jesus speaking in Luke 14:14, "Thou shalt be recompensed at the resurrection of the just." Or hear Him again in Matthew 16:27, "For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works." When is "then"? When He comes with His angels. No reward or recompense is handed out until the resurrection of the just, when He comes with all the angels. These verses are beyond controversy. Taken in their context, they contain no ambiguity or hidden meaning.

Again Christ is quoted in the very last chapter of the Bible, "And, behold, I come quickly; and my reward is with me, to give every man according as his work shall be." Revelation 22:12. Here He reminds us that "every man"-every person-will receive his just reward when Christ returns to this earth. Job declares "that the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction. They shall be brought forth to the day of wrath." Daniel wrote that they which "sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt." Daniel 12:2. Can there be any doubt where the wicked are reserved before facing resurrection, judgment, and punishment? We have the testimony of Peter, Daniel, Job and the Master Himself. There is no room to quibble. They are reserved in the grave.

Now we come to the second great fact about hell: None of the unsaved will be cast into hell-fire until after the second coming of Jesus at the end of the world. Although we have already seen substantial evidence on this point, let s look even more. Describing the punishment of the wicked, John wrote: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Revelation 21:8.

No Second Death Before the Resurrection
Here the lost are pictured in the fires of hell, suffering the punishment for their sins. And what is that punishment? "The second death," says John. Do you realize what this proves about the wicked? It proves they will not be cast into the lake of fire until after the resurrection takes place. These people die the second death in the fire, but they cannot suffer a second death until they get a second life. They lived the first life in this world and died the first death, going into the grave. Before they can die a second death they must be resurrected-they must be given a second life. This, of course, is what happens at the end of the world. Jesus said, "All that are in the graves shall come forth."

Now after getting that second life in the resurrection, the wicked will be punished for their sins in hell-fire, "which is the second death." By the way, that second death is the final, eternal death from which there will be no resurrection. But the point to be noted is the time of this hell-fire punishment-it is after the resurrection at the end of the world. It does not take place at the time of the first death as so many have been led to believe.

Does the Bible tell us how the wicked will be cast into the lake of fire? Yes, it does. John describes the dramatic events that take place at the close of the millennium. "And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison, And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them." Revelation 20:7-9.

Here at the end of the millennium all the wicked people who have ever lived will come forth in the second resurrection. After describing how the righteous would come to life and reign with Christ during the thousand years, John wrote, "But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished." Revelation 20:5.

The rest of the dead, of course, had to be the wicked, and their resurrection will provide opportunity for Satan to take up his continuing battle against God and the saints. He goes out to gather the host of lost ones, who have been raised from the dead. He has people to deceive once more, and he convinces them that they can prevail against the New Jerusalem which has descended from God out of heaven (Revelation 21:2). As they march up and encompass the city, the wicked are suddenly cut down by the devouring fire which rains upon them from heaven. This is the hell-fire which is the final punishment for sin.

Location of Hell
The Bible clearly asserts that this fire devours the wicked right here on "the breadth of the earth." Every Bible writer who speaks on the subject of hell adds new insight on this second death of the wicked. Peter states: "But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men." 2 Peter 3:7. Then he goes on to describe the day of the Lord which will melt the very elements with fervent heat.

The language of Peter is very explicit about the place of punishment for the un- godly. He says this earth is reserved for that fire which will bring judgment and perdition to the wicked. Their punishment will be in this earth. Isaiah declared, "For it is the day of the Lord s vengeance, and the year of recompenses for the controversy of Zion. And the streams thereof shall be turned into brimstone, and the land thereof shall become burning pitch." Isaiah 34:8, 9.

The prophet portrays the entire planet enveloped in the destroying fire. Even the streams and dust are transformed into an exploding combustion of pitch and brimstone. Isaiah says this is God s vengeance and "recompense" at the end of the controversy.

David adds to the testimony with these words, "Upon the wicked he shall rain snares, fire, and brimstone, and an horrible tempest: this shall be the portion of their cup." Psalm 11:6. Notice that he uses almost the same words as John and Peter in describing the fate of the wicked. All agree as to the place of the punishment (the earth) and the agent of punishment (fire).

This brings us to the third great fact about the subject of hell. Hell as a place of punishment will be this earth turned into a lake of fire at the Day of Judgment. But this also raises some other very interesting questions about the fate of the lost. One of the most intriguing and puzzling has to do with the length of punishment. How long will the wicked continue to live and suffer in that fire?

No one can answer that question precisely because the Bible says they will be punished according to their works. This means there will be degrees of punishment. Some will suffer longer than others. But one thing we can say with certainty-the wicked won t live in that fire throughout eternity.

Hell-Fire Not Endless
There are several reasons for being so sure on this point. First of all, this earth is also declared to be the final home for the righteous. Jesus said, "Blessed are the meek: For they shall inherit the earth." Matthew 5:5. Peter, after describing this earth exploding and burning with a great noise, saw a new earth filled with righteousness. "Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein dwelleth righteousness." 2 Peter 3:13.

The wicked cannot continue to live in this planet because it has been specifically promised, in its entirety, to Abraham s spiritual seed (Romans 4:13). After being purged of all the curse of sin, it will revert to the first dominion, and to God s original plan for it. It will be finally what God intended it to be-a perfect home for a perfect people.

In the second place, the wicked cannot continue to live in this earth because they have never trusted Christ for eternal life. It is only the righteous who receive the gift of eternal life. "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish. ..." John 3:16. But what about those who don t believe in him? They surely will perish. The Bible says, "The wages of sin is death." Romans 6:23. Please don t miss the pointed simplicity of these verses. The wicked are never promised life. They are promised death-eternal death. Only the righteous are promised life-eternal life.

But there is only one way to get life without end, and that is through faith in Jesus. John describes it this way: "And this is the record, that God hath given to us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. He that hath the Son hath life; and he that hath not the Son of God hath not life." 1 John 5:11, 12. Let me ask you a question: Do those wicked ones in the lake of fire have the Son of God? Of course not. Then how could they have life? John says, "Ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." 1 John 3:15. Will those murderers in hell-fire continue to have life for eternity? Never.

It would be the rankest heresy to believe that eternal life could be obtained from some other source than Jesus. Where would the wicked get it? Paul declares that Jesus Christ "hath brought life and immortality to light through the gospel." 2 Timothy 1:10. Inspiration reveals no other source of immortality except through the gospel of Christ. Where is a text in the Bible which describes the conferring of immortality upon the wicked? You can read often about the righteous receiving it, but never the unbeliever.

Paul said, "Behold I shew you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality." 1 Corinthians 15:51-53.

This text speaks of a certain point in time when the righteous will be instantly changed into immortal beings. That time is still future. It occurs when Jesus returns, at the last trumpet sound, when the resurrection takes place. Nowhere in the Bible do we read of the wicked being changed in this manner. And it is precisely because they never receive this gift of eternal life that they are unable to keep living in the lake of fire.

It is inconceivable and unreasonable to fabricate such an event. It is contrary to the Bible and repugnant to the senses. Ezekiel declared, "The soul that sinneth, it shall die." Ezekiel 18:4. No matter what we understand a soul to be, let s accept the simple Bible fact that it can die and will die as a result of sin.

If the wicked live eternally in the fire, then they have the same thing as the righteous except in a different place. Who could give them eternal life but Christ? John 3:16 settles this issue so clearly and simply. Those who do not believe in the only begotten Son will perish. They will die. They will die the second death-an eternal death from which they will never be raised. That death will never end. It is an endless, eternal punishment, because it is an endless, eternal death.

Unquenchable Fire
Someone may raise this question: What about the unquenchable fire that burns the wicked? Doesn t that mean it will never go out? Of course, it doesn t. To quench means to extinguish or put out. No one will be able to put out the fire of hell. That is the strange fire of God. No one will be able to escape from it by extinguishing it. Isaiah says of that fire, "Behold, they shall be as stubble; the fire shall burn them; they shall not deliver themselves from the power of the flame: there shall not be a coal to warm at, nor a fire to sit before it." Isaiah 47:14. After it has accomplished its work of destruction, that fire will go out. No one can deliver themselves from its flame by putting it out, but finally not a coal will be left. So say the Scriptures.

Jeremiah prophesied that Jerusalem would burn with a fire that could not be quenched (Jeremiah 17:27), but it burned down to ashes (2 Chronicles 36:19-21). Read those verses and see how the Bible uses the word "quench." It does not mean fire that will never go out. It only means what it says, "unquenchable." It can t be quenched.

And what can we say about the expressions "eternal" "everlasting" which are used to describe the fires of hell? There is absolutely no confusion or contradiction when we allow the Bible to supply its own definition of terms. Many make the mistake of applying modern definitions to those biblical words without reference to their an- cient contextual usage. This violates one of the most fundamental rules of interpretation.

The fact is that eternal fire does not mean a fire that will never go out. The same expression is used in Jude 7 concerning the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrha. "Even as Sodom and Gomorrha, and the cities about them in like manner, giving themselves over to fornication, and going after strange flesh, are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire."

It is quite obvious that Sodom is not still burning today. The Dead Sea rolls over the place where those ancient cities once stood. Yet they burned with "eternal fire," and we are told that it was an example of something. What is it an example of? "And turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrha into ashes condemned them with an overthrow, making them an ensample unto those that after should live ungodly." 2 Peter 2:6.

There it is! That eternal fire which brought Sodom to ashes is an example of what will finally happen to the wicked. If this text is true, the same kind of fire that destroyed Sodom and Gomorrha will also burn the wicked in the lake of fire. It will have to be eternal fire. Does that mean it will also burn the wicked to ashes? The Bible says Yes. "For behold, the day cometh that shall burn as an oven; and all the proud, yea, and all that do wickedly, shall be stubble: and the day that cometh shall burn them up, saith the Lord of hosts, that it shall leave them neither root nor branch ... And ye shall tread down the wicked; for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet in the day that I shall do this, saith the Lord of hosts." Malachi 4:1, 3.

No words of any language could make it more forceful or clear. This eternal fire burns up eternally. Even Satan, the root, is finally consumed. How consistent the whole picture appears as we let the Bible explain its own terms. What devious manipulation of words would be required to evade the obvious meaning of these words. Yet those who have been prejudiced by a lifetime of tradition can read those words "burn them up ... they shall be ashes" and still insist that the wicked are alive and suffering. Admittedly, there are some ambiguous verses on this subject, but we are finding that they all harmonize when the context is considered, and the Bible is allowed to be its own commentary.

Even Christ s words in Matthew 25:46 are not confusing when we the obvious meaning. "And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal." Many are troubled over the expression, "everlasting punishment," but notice that it does not say "everlasting punishing." Whatever the punishment is, it will last eternally. Does the Bible tell us what the punishment is? Of course. "The wages of sin is death." Romans 6:23. So Jesus was simply saying that the death would be everlasting. It would never end. It would never be broken by a resurrection.

Paul simplifies it further with these words: "In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished ... " Now, listen, Paul is going to tell us what the punishment is. "Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." 2 Thessalonians 1:8, 9. So the punishment is everlasting destruction - a destruction that is everlasting. From it there will be no resurrection or hope of life.

But what about that worm which dieth not? Many have read the words of Jesus about hell, "Where their worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched." Mark 9:45, 46. Some have interpreted the worm to be the soul. Is that what Jesus meant? Nowhere in the Bible is there any allusion to the soul as a worm.

In this instance Jesus used the word "Gehenna" for the word "hell." It so happened that Gehenna was an actual place of burning just outside the walls of Jerusalem. No doubt, Christ s listeners could see the smoke curling up from the Valley of Gehenna, where dead bodies and garbage were constantly being burned. If anything fell outside the destructive flames, it was quickly consumed by maggots or worms. With the vivid scenes of utter extinction before their eyes, Jesus used the Gehenna fire as an example of the complete destruction of hell-fire. The fire was never quenched, and the worms were constantly at work upon the bodies-a picture of total destruction.

Perhaps the most easily misconstrued text about hell is John s allusion to the smoke ascending "for ever and ever." For those who are unfamiliar with other uses of this phrase in the Bible, it can be very confusing indeed. But a comparison of verses in both Old and New Testaments reveal that the words "for ever" are used 57 times in the Bible in reference to something that has already come to an end. In other words, "for ever" does not always mean "without end."

Many notable examples could be cited, but two or three are noteworthy. In Exodus 21, the conditions are laid down concerning the law of servitude. If a servant chose to continue serving the master he loved rather than his freedom when it came due, then his ear was to be pierced with an awl and the Scripture declares, "He shall serve him for ever." Verse 6. But how long would that servant serve his human master? Only as long as he lived, of course. So the words "for ever" did not mean without end. Hannah took her son Samuel to God s temple, where he would "there abide for ever." 1 Samuel 1:22. Yet in verse 28 we are plainly told, "As long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord." The original meaning of the term "for ever" indicates an indefinite period of time. Generally it defines the period of time in which something can continue to exist under the circumstances prevailing. Even Jonah s stay in the whale s belly is described by him as "for ever." Jonah 2:6.

Someone may object that this could also limit the life of the righteous in heaven, because they are described as glorifying God forever. The terms are the same for both the saved and the lost. But there is one tremendous difference in the circumstances involved. The saints have received the gift of immortality. Their life now measures with the life of God. Immortality means "not subject to death." The words "for ever" used in reference to them could only mean "without end," because they are immortal subjects already. But when "for ever" is used to describe the wicked, we are talking about mortal creatures who can die and must die. Their "for ever" is only as long as their mortal nature can survive in the fire which punishes them according to their works.

Soul and Body Destroyed
This brings us to the final fact concerning the fate of the wicked. After the unsaved are punished according to their sins, they will be wiped out of existence, both body and soul. Jesus states it very simply, "And fear not them which kill the body ... but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell." Matthew 10:28.

In the light of this statement, how can anyone continue to claim immortality for the wicked? Jesus, the only One who can bestow the gift of life, rejects the possibility that those in hell can continue to live in any form whatsoever. The life will be snuffed out for eternity, and the body will be annihilated in the flames.

The psalmist wrote: "But the wicked shall perish, and the enemies of the Lord shall be as the fat of lambs: they shall consume; into smoke shall they consume away." Psalm 37:20. "For yet a little while, and the wicked shall not be: yea, thou shalt diligently consider his place, and it shall not be." Verse 10.

The most powerful, definitive words in human language are used to describe the destruction in hell, but people still insist that the writers do not really mean what their words express. "Destroy," "consume," "burn up," "devour," "death"-do these words have some mysterious, opposite meaning in the Bible than they have in other books? We have no reason to think so. The fact is that theology has made an ogre out of our great God of love. He has been portrayed as more cruel than Hitler. Even though Hitler tortured people and experimented with them, finally he allowed them to die. But God will keep these deathless souls alive for the purpose of seeing them writhe and scream throughout eternity, so the theologians claim.

God s Justice Vindicated
Not only is such a picture misrepresentative of God s love, it also distorts His justice. Think for a moment about the implications of a doctrine that would consign every lost soul to an immediate, never-ending hell at the time of death. Suppose a man died 5,000 years ago with one cherished sin in his life. His soul would go instantly into the fire to be tormented for eternity. Then picture another death; that of Adolph Hitler, who supervised the deaths of millions of people. According to the popular doctrine, his soul also would immediately enter hell to suffer eternally. But the man who was lost because of only one sin, will burn 5,000 years longer than Hitler. How could that be just? Would God deal in such a manner? It would contradict the Bible statement that each one must be punished according to his works.

There are two extreme views in current circulation concerning the punishment of the wicked. One is Universalism, which contends that God is too good to allow anyone to be lost. The other is the awful doctrine of endless torment which would perpetuate for all eternity a dark abyss of anguish and suffering. Both are wrong. The truth lies in between. God will punish the wicked according to their works, but He will not immortalize evil in the process.

I truly believe that many honest souls have been turned away from God because of their revulsion at this misrepresentation of His character. They can t love someone who would arbitrarily keep evil people in endless torment with no purpose in view. No rehabilitation is possible. Only a vindictive spirit of revenge could be served by such an unspeakable arrangement. Is God like that? After hearing the Bible truth about hell, a bank president threw his arms around my shoulders and said, "Joe, I m a believer again. For years I ve been an agnostic because I had been taught that God would torture the wicked eternally."

No More Pain Or Death
Someday soon God will have a clean universe. All the effects of sin will be banished forever. There will be no sin, no sinners and no devil to tempt. It will be just exactly like God planned it in the beginning.

John described that future home in these words, "And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away." Revelation 21:4.

Can you find any room in those precious words for any suffering on the part of anybody in the whole recreated universe? God said crying and pain would be no more. Do you believe His Word or do you choose to believe man s surmising? Just four verses before writing this promise, John described how the wicked would be cast into the lake of fire. "And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away." Revelation 20:15; 21:1.

That lake of fire is right here on planet earth according to Revelation 20:9. But please notice that this place where the wicked burn will pass away, and God will re-create the new earth in its stead. The new Jerusalem descends before that fire devours the wicked, and afterwards, according to verse 4, there will be no more sorrow, pain, crying, or death. In order for no more pain to exist, there can be no eternal hell existing either. The two things are mutually exclusive of each other. We should thank God every day that His plan will finally bring an end to suffering. Satan will not be here to cause pain, and God promises that His new kingdom will not even contain a shadow of a pain.

Hell Not Intended For Us
Finally, we should rejoice that hell was never intended for you and me. Jesus said it was "prepared for the devil and his angels." Matthew 25:41. If we stumble into that fire, it will be the most colossal blunder we could ever make. You would have to go there over the broken body of Jesus Christ and in spite of the Father s love, the Holy Spirit s pleading, and the heavenly influence of a million angels. The most unanswerable question in the whole world is this: "How shall we escape if we neglect so great a salvation?" There is no answer because there is no escape except through Christ and His cross. No one will be lost because he sinned, because everyone has sinned. No one will be left out of heaven because he lied, stole, or committed adultery. The only reason anyone will be lost is because he refuses to turn away from his sin into the arms of a loving Saviour who stands ready to pardon and cleanse from all unrighteousness. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." John 3:16.