Why I Love Hell

Summary: Hell is not a place of eternal torment in the next life. Hell is a tool of purification, both in this life and the next.

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I first encountered hell in church. I was in the second grade Sunday school class and my teacher explained my options to me. I could receive Jesus into my heart and live forever in a wonderful place called heaven or I could reject Jesus and spend eternity in a fiery place of torment called hell. Guess which I chose?

This simplistic view of the afterlife is not what the Bible describes at all. But what does it describe? This is not an easy question to answer. It is difficult to paint a clear picture, partly because in the New Testament ideas about the afterlife were fluid and developing.1 Not only that; thinking about hell is unpleasant. It is tempting to deal with hell by ignoring it.

But as much as I would like to turn Jesus into a heavenly Mr. Rogers, he doesn’t fit the bill. Jesus warned of danger, both in this age and the age to come. Still, it’s not like he went from city to city preaching fire and brimstone. For every teaspoon of hell there is a quart of heaven. But that teaspoon is essential. 

I have undergone a massive shift in the way I think of hell. In this chapter I’ll describe the shift, first by looking at the world “hell,” then by examining two major images of hell in the Bible (shadows and fire) and finally, I’ll tell you why I have come to love hell. 

The Word “Hell”

The word “hell” is a clumsy translation of several different words used in the Bible to depict the afterlife, none of which mean what we mean by “hell.” The word hell comes to us from the Old English “hel,” or “helle,” which was the nether world, a place where the wicked were tormented after death.2 The Online Etymology Dictionary calls hell “a pagan concept fitted to a Christian idiom.”3 Wikipedia makes a similar remark: “The word was used to transfer a pagan concept to Christian theology and its vocabulary.” 4

Why has the church been so eager to adopt this pagan term? I suspect it to be an issue of power. When the church and state were united, the terrors of hell were useful to keep the peasants in line. To mount a revolution against the King/Pope was to mount a revolution against God. You might improve your earthly lot for a few years but what would that compare with an eternity in hell? Best to shut up and hoe your corn. To this day, many Christian groups use hell as a big flaming stick to keep people in line.

In spite of its pagan origins, most people today think of hell this way. It is the alternative to heaven, the place where bad people go to spend eternity with the Devil and his demons. It is part of the Plato-Dante cosmology I described in the last chapter. It would be a big step forward to stop using the word “hell” completely and begin instead to use the Bible’s own images. Two of the most common are shadows and fire.

Land of Shadows

Put yourself back in the ancient world. The earth is a flat surface and “the heavens” are a dome overhead. When your loved ones die, they are buried beneath the flat surface. What’s it like down there? Muddy! Murky! In the Old Testament, this underworld is called Sheol. It is not a happy place. Everyone, without exception, goes to Sheol when they die. The only way to stay out of Sheol is not to die. No one wants to be in Sheol.5

When a cloud vanishes, it is gone, So he who goes down to Sheol does not come up. (Job 7:9)

For there is no mention of You in death; In Sheol who will give You thanks? (Psalm 6:5)

I have been reading Greek mythology lately. What amazing stories! The Greek underworld is very much like the Hebrew one. It is sometimes called Tartarus6

but more commonly is called by the name of its ruling god, Hades. I was surprised to find this term used by Jesus to describe the afterlife. Peter’s great confession is one example.

I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.  (Matthew 16:18)7

Hades? Why does Jesus lift this term from Greek mythology? Will I need a coin under my tongue to pay the fare across the river Styx? Will I meet Tantalus and Sisyphus there? The only sense I can make of this is that Jesus used this image loosely, as a metaphor to describe the afterlife. 

In both Sheol and Hades, the solution to death is not an escape to heaven. The solution to death is life. This is why the Jewish answer to Sheol was not heaven but resurrection. The hope was that God would rescue you from Sheol by bringing you back to life.

On a side not, this raises the question of where souls reside between the time they die and the time they are resurrected. One answer is that they wait in the underworld (Sheol or Hades). In the Christian tradition two other answers are commonly given.

  1. Soul sleep. When I wake from a nap I don’t know if I have slept ten minutes or an hour. It will be the same when I die. I’ll “konk out.” It will be like going under anesthetic. I will go to sleep in this world and wake up in the next.
     
  2. The Intermediate State. The idea here is that we will have conscious existence somewhere while we wait for the resurrection. Evidence for this is found Jesus’ promise to the thief on the cross that “today you will be with me in Paradise” as well as Paul’s assumption in Philippians 1 that to die is to be with Christ. The “saints above” in Revelation can also be seen as evidence.

I consider the intermediate state to be most likely but there is mystery here that the Bible does not erase. The most encouraging thing to me is that, whatever the path, Jesus will be my guide.

Land of Fire

One of our first observations about this world is that it isn’t fair. Why? People have long wondered how evil people get away with their crimes in this life. Where’s the justice? One resolution to this problem is that justice comes in the next life. Jesus assumed this to be the case and warned of it repeatedly, using a variety of images.

Gehenna

The word gehenna occurs twelve times in the New Testament, mostly in Matthew.8 Gehenna is actually a transliteration of the Hebrew phrase “Valley of Hinnom” (גֵיהִנָּם). This was a ravine just south of Jerusalem. When I was growing up, I often heard that in Jesus’ day the Valley of Hinnom was used as Jerusalem’s garbage dump, where garbage burned constantly. Most scholars consider this very unlikely. In any case, the Valley of Hinnom had a bad reputation. It was there that Israel sacrificed offerings to Moloch in it in the days of Ahaz and Manasseh.9 God issued threats of judgment over this evil valley,10 which is why it took on the reputation of being a place of condemnation. Here is a sample of how Jesus used the word.

“If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into Gehenna” (Matthew 5:29). 

Nearly every modern translation translates “Gehenna” as “Hell.” But Gehenna is a place, like the Kidron Valley or the Garden of Gethsemane. When Jesus says it is better to tear out an eye than for your whole body to be thrown into the Valley of Hinnom, he is warning of joining Israel in her infidelity and falling under God’s judgment. He is not threatening eternal, conscious torment in a fiery prison which is what most people understand the world hell to mean. 

Outer Darkness, Furnace of Fire, Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth

Matthew is also by far the most common user of other terrifying images of fiery judgment.11 The most famous comes at the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25: 41, 46)

Eternal fire? Eternal punishment? That sounds a lot like hell. It’s not. I will explain in a moment.

Punishment in Hades?

The main passage used to defend the Plato-Dante idea of heaven and hell is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus.12 You probably know the story. The rich man lives a decadent life in total disregard of the poor man literally beneath his table. In the afterlife, the situation is reversed. The rich man is in torment in Hades while Lazarus is personally escorted by angels to Abraham’s bosom. In spite of the rich man’s pleas, there is no undoing this. 

This story is a stern warning to those who lead gluttonous lives with no regard for the needs of those around them. But the parable should not be taken as a literal description of places of existence in the afterlife. Nowhere else is “Abraham’s bosom” a description of heaven and the rich man is tormented in Hades. If we insist on literalism we’ll have to import Greek mythology.  This would be a mistake. Jesus is using a Greek image to describe the mystery of the afterlife. The image should not be taken as a literal description.

Paul

When Paul speaks about those who miss the life to come, his normal phrase is “they will not inherit the Kingdom of God.”13 What exactly this entails is not spelled out. But there are two passages where Paul describes judgment in the afterlife. The first is 1 Corinthians 3:12-15.

Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw,  each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

The person is saved but their evil deeds are burned up. More on this in a moment, but first, here is the harshest description of judgment in Paul’s writing.

For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9)

I will return to this bone chilling description shortly. 

Peter

Peter speaks about the fire of judgment in one cosmos-melting passage.

But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, in which the heavens will pass away with a roar and the elements will be destroyed with intense heat, and the earth and its works will be burned up. Since all these things are to be destroyed in this way, what sort of people ought you to be in holy conduct and godliness, looking for and hastening the coming of the day of God, because of which the heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat! But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:10-13)

Notice that the heavens as well as the earth will be burned in this passage and that the end result is not the annihilation of the heavens and earth but their re-creation. 

The Lake of Fire

The book of Revelation speaks of a “Lake of Fire.”14 

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:13-15)

Again, Hades is the place of the dead and that judgment is according to deeds, not according to “accepting Jesus.”

Why I Love Hell

By focusing only on these passages you might conclude that the pages of the Bible spurt fire and brimstone like a dragon. Remember that the Bible is a very thick book and the vast majority is devoted to more positive themes. The dark pages are essential but it would be a distortion to regard them as the primary focus. What are we to make of this frightful assortment of images? As I said at the beginning of this chapter, I am far from having this sorted out. But two truths are very clear and they have caused me to change the way of I think of hell completely.

Hell Is Not a Place of Eternal Torment

The first truth is that hell is not a place of eternal torment. Images to describe punishment in the afterlife are used loosely and the details are not consistent. Clearly we are in the realm of metaphors, not literal descriptions. Judgment to come is certain, but there is no teaching that says there is a literal place where people live in horrific pain for all eternity. 

The word that is commonly used to ague that hell is a place of everlasting torment is the word “eternal.” Most of these (no surprise) are in Matthew. Let’s return to the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; … These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25: 41, 46)

“Eternal punishment?” That sounds pretty clear. But in chapter 2, I argued that the phrase translated “eternal life” (zōē aiōn) is better translated “life of the coming age.” In the same way, all of the “eternals” in this passage and those like it are better translated “of the coming age” rather than “eternal.” They derive from the same root, aiōn (αιων). Here is how the passage would look if it were translated with aiōn as a description of the coming age.

Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the fire of the coming age which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; … These will go away into punishment of the coming age, but the righteous into life of the coming age.”  (Matthew 25: 41, 46)

What’s the difference? An eternity! The word does not lay stress on the never-ending nature of the punishment, it simply identifies it as a part of the coming age. The duration of the punishment is not defined.

Paul’s terrifying description in 2 Thessalonians can be understood similarly.

These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

The danger here is not never-ending destruction but destruction in the age to come. Here is a better translation.

These will pay the penalty of destruction in the age to come, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power. (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

I do not mean to trivialize the punishment and destruction of the age to come. I just deny the assumption that the Bible describes a place called hell where this happens forever and ever. 

Hell Is a Tool of Grace

A second truth that stands out uncomfortably for me is that in every case, without exception, the basis of judgment in the age to come is the quality of a person’s life. It is never whether or not they have had a “conversion experience” or “accepted Jesus.” This threw me for a loop. I thought I had a get out of jail free pass. Here’s how I used to see it.

My life was a mixture of gold and dross. So where would I go when I died? Heaven! How? Well, judgment had nothing to do with the quality my life. The slightest violation of God’s rules condemned me to eternal torment.15 Thankfully, Christ stepped in to take the rap for my sin and offered me a free ticket to heaven. I had a ticket and could rest easy. I was bound for glory. Judgment for me would be a one question exam that I would pass with flying colors.

   St. Peter: Have you received Jesus?
   Me: Yes
   St. Peter: You’re in!

I no longer expect standing before God to be so simple. I expect a more nuanced reception. My life will be weighed in the balance. I expect both rewards and punishment. This has forced me to rethink what it means to be “saved by grace.”

When I stand back and look at all the passages on final judgment, three purposes emerge: destruction, punishment, and purification.

Destruction

If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss (1 Corinthians 3:15)
These will pay the penalty of destruction of the coming age (2 Thessalonians 1:9)

Punishment

These will go away into eternal punishment… (Matthew 25:46)
It is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you… (2 Thessalonians 1:6)

Purification

In Greek, the word for fire is pur (πυρ). Purification is an essential component of the word. This can be seen in English words like purify, purge, and Purgatory.16 The same purifying effect of fire is clear in many passages of Scripture, including those we have already looked at, for example 1 Corinthians 3:12-15:

 Now if any man builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw, each man’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each man’s work. If any man’s work which he has built on it remains, he will receive a reward. If any man’s work is burned up, he will suffer loss; but he himself will be saved, yet so as through fire. (1 Corinthians 3:12-15)

The terrifying fire of 2 Peter is also focused on purification. When the former cosmos has passed, the new one emerges.

The heavens will be destroyed by burning, and the elements will melt with intense heat. But according to His promise we are looking for new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. (2 Peter 3:12-13)

So which is it? Does hell destroy, punish, or purify? All three! And thank God for this grace!

  • Hell destroys sin. At the end of many great stories, there is a scene of destruction. In The Lord of the Rings, Mordor and its twisted pieces go up in smoke. In Star Wars, the death star explodes. We cheer. When I look at myself, I see pieces that cry out for a similar fate. Their destruction will be a great mercy and no one will be cheering louder than me when it happens.
  • Hell punishes sin. I used to be quick to object there is no need for punishment since Christ took all my punishment on the cross, but as Hebrews 12 makes clear, there remains a place for followers of Jesus to feel pain. I need it to grow.
  • Hell purifies. Punishment and destruction are the means to an end, not an end in themselves. The goal is a new me. God destroys and punishes so that I can be made whole.  As much as I dislike the process, I love the result.

This is why I no longer flee hell. I embrace it as a necessary part of God’s redemptive work both in this age and the age to come. 

So will I go to heaven or hell when I die? This is not a question the Bible answers because it is based on assumptions that are not in the Bible. It is a nonsensical question, like walking into a grocery store and asking where they keep the boat motors. 

What the Bible offers is not a way out of hell and into heaven. What the Bible offers is a way to live, both now and in the age to come. This way is called “The Kingdom of God.” To reject God’s Kingdom is painful, both in this life and the life to come. The images of Gehenna, fire, being shut out, destroyed, punished, etc. all describe this. 

The fires of hell are part of our present world and will be a part of the world to come. The deadly lie is that you can live like the devil in this world and wind up as an angel in the next.17 No. There is fire, punishment, and destruction in the coming age and it will be applied as needed. This is what Jesus warns so sternly about. However, it is a big leap to assume that this fire is a “place of eternal torment.” Fire in the age to come will be like fire in the present age: a purifying force.

What about grace? I used to think that grace meant I would never face judgment of any kind. I now see that fire is a tool of grace, not its enemy. Fire is used by God. It trains me by punishment. It frees my be destroying my sins. It makes me whole be purifying my life. I see salvation as a gift. But I no longer regard this gift as a free train ride to heaven for a piece of shit (me). I see it as a transformation of this piece of shit into a child of God. Fire is a necessary part of this process. I have every reason to believe that the transformation that has begun in this age will continue in the next.

That’s why I love hell. I find God’s mercy in it. I do not enjoy it but I let the flames do their work. A loving God is punishing my sin, destroying my darkness, and making me whole. The goal is not to avoid going to hell and go to heaven instead. The goal is to live. How do I live? By embracing the Kingdom of God. Christ offers me life right now, in the middle of Adam’s messy world. God is working mysteriously in this groaning world to create a new heavens and a new earth. I live by trusting God even when I don’t see or understand it. I pray with all my heart, “Thy Kingdom come!” 

Note: This chapter may leave you with many questions about the purpose of the cross. This will be our next subject. Read on!

Footnotes

  1. “Jewish representations of the after-life were fluid and developing, so that consistent pictures are hardly to be expected.”  Marshall, I. H. (1978). The Gospel of Luke: a commentary on the Greek text (p. 637). Exeter: Paternoster Press.

  2. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hell
  3. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hell
  4. http://www.etymonline.com/index.php?term=hell
  5. The King James Version translates “Sheol” as “hell.” Modern translations either just transliterate the word, and just call it “Sheol” (ESV, NASB) or try to capture the concept by translating it “the grave.” (NIV, NLT)

  6. The word “Tartarus” is used in 2 Peter 2:4

  7. Here the ESV, KJV and NLT translate this with the word “hell.” The NASB and NIV stick with “Hades.”

  8.  Images of fiery judgment are far more common in Matthew than in any other place in the New Testament. Here’s the breakdown of the uses of Gehenna:
       7 times in Matthew (5:22, 29, 30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33).
       3 times in Mark (9:43, 45, 47)
       1 time in Luke (12:5)
       1 time in James (3:6)
  9. 2 Kings 16:3; 21:6

  10. Jeremiah 7:32, 19:6

  11. Matthew 8:11-12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28

  12. Luke 16:19-31

  13. 1 Corinthians 6:9–11; 1 Corinthians 15:50; Galatians 5:19-23

  14. Revelation 19:20; 20:10, 13-15; 21:8

  15. The biblical case for this idea is not as strong as I used to think. Certainly there are verses that say we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). There are also verses that say sin must be punished (Romans 6:23). But  a verse that says the tiniest sin requires horrifying eternal suffering in hell cannot be found. Instead, pictures of the afterlife look much more nuanced, as if good and evil are being dealt with more justly.

  16. Dante’s Divine Comedy is an allegorical journey out of Hell toward Heaven, something along the lines of Pilgrim’s Progress. It was not intended by Dante to become a literal description of the afterlife. Significantly, Protestants have done away with Purgatory, leaving no way out of hell. Also, some of the earliest Rabbinic literature had a place of gehenna as purifying. Jeremias, J. (1964–). γέεννα. G. Kittel, G. W. Bromiley, & G. Friedrich (Eds.), Theological dictionary of the New Testament (electronic ed., Vol. 1, p. 658). Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

  17. This is exactly the conclusion I arrived when I lived under my simplistic idea of heaven and hell rather than the Kingdom of God. I was coated with a reality-defying superpower. I had punched my Jesus card so I was heaven bound. I could live like hell and wind up in heaven. I now regard this line of thought to be diabolical.

4 Comments

  1. jemd1966 on July 10, 2017 at 8:46 pm

    This seems like an incomplete discussion of the imagery found in in Revelation 20.
    1)Verse 10 says that the devil, the beast, and the false prophet will be tormented in the lake of burning sulfur for ever and ever. I see from my concordance that “for ever and ever ” is basically the same word as the one that is commonly interpreted “eternal” or as you say ” in the coming age”. So, does this then imply that the punishment of the devil, the false prophet, and the beast will of a certain limited duration?
    2)Also, death and Hades are thrown in. I have always thought that this implied that there would be no more death. However, in this train of thought, death would only be gone for a limited time.
    3)Another point: what is the criterion for a person’s name to be written in the book of life? (vs15) I believe that it is based on what is stated in Romans 10: 6-13 “But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the deep?’” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning faith that we proclaim: If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved. As Scripture says, “Anyone who believes in him will never be put to shame.” For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.” This passage is heavily based on the passed from Deuteronomy 30: 11-20 “Now what I am commanding you today is not too difficult for you or beyond your reach. It is not up in heaven, so that you have to ask, “Who will ascend into heaven to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” Nor is it beyond the sea, so that you have to ask, “Who will cross the sea to get it and proclaim it to us so we may obey it?” No, the word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart so you may obey it.
    See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the Lord your God, to walk in obedience to him, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the Lord your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess.
    But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess.
    This day I call the heavens and the earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the Lord your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the Lord is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
    Sorry for all the verses, but I think they are important in this discussion. They show that indeed salvation is not just a formula of saying certain words, but a whole life process of learning to live in relationship with God. In light of this, I repeat my question: what is the criterion for a person’s name to be written in the book of life?

    • Maury on July 30, 2017 at 10:29 am

      Sorry for the slow response, jemd! Somehow I missed this. I really appreciate your thoughtful comments! Here are a few thoughts.

      1. “Forever and ever” is literally translated “into the ages of the ages.” (εἰς τοὺς αἰῶνας τῶν αἰώνων). It may mean “forever” but it could also be understood as a REALLY long time. Obviously in the case of the devil, the false prophet and the deceiver there will be a lot of fire involved. I do think it possible that universal reconciliation means that fallen creatures of all kinds will be redeemed in the end, even the devil.

      2. As for death and Hades, being redeemed, that’s harder. For one thing, 21:4 says there will be no more death in the coming age. So perhaps death is something evil that must be destroyed completely. After all, “death” is nothing in itself. Death is just the absence of life. So when life comes, death is automatically destroyed. As for Hades, I’m not sure. What exactly is Hades anyway? Surely not the Hades of Greek mythology. What is John doing borrowing these Greek myths? Is he describing the Sheol of the Old Testament? A place where people wait for Christ’s final triumph in various states? This is mysterious. I hesitate to even hazard a guess as to the fate of this place/state that I can barely even understand.

      3. As for the book of life, I LOVE where you went with this. In the past, I read 20:13 with concern. People are judged “according to their deeds.” Yikes! 20:15 got me off the hook. My name was in the “book of life” since I had had a conversion experience. My deeds didn’t matter anymore. I think that idea is importing the whole life raft theology into the verse.

      Having my name in the book of life means proving to be a follower of Christ. Romans 10 and Deuteronomy 30 describe this. Deut 30 is about the covenant blessings and curses.. The point in Deut 30:14, quoted in Romans 10:8, is that the choice is whether to trust God or false gods. The true God, the Messiah is present. No need to look far and wide. Trust him now! Salvation comes as a result of trusting in God’s Messiah. This results in a transformed life which fulfills the requirements for the covenant blessings. The name of those who do this is written in what John calls “the book of life.”

      Many difficult questions in Revelation arise from pressing highly metaphorical language too literally. For example, in Rev 21:1 it says there is no more sea. Will the new creation be devoid of oceans? I love the ocean! I see God there. Why would it need to be destroyed? In this case, “sea” is a description of chaos. The Jewish people were not fans of the ocean. It was a place of watery chaos, filled with monsters. So to say “there will be no more sea” is not a geographical description of the new age. In the same way there need not be a literal “book of life.” To have your “name written in the book of life” is just a pictorial way to describe being a follower of the Messiah (with all that this entails).

      I will go into Revelation 21 in a bit of detail in a couple of weeks in the podcast on the rapture.

      Thanks again for this excellent post! Keep ’em coming!

  2. Sandra Snider on July 27, 2017 at 12:13 pm

    Wow. !! What a helpful explanation of the troubling and contradictory images
    In the New Testament!,

    Your insights are so helpful. I wish more believers and seekers had access to your
    Commentaries.

    • Maury on July 30, 2017 at 10:30 am

      I’m so glad you’re enjoying these! Thanks!

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