Much of my preaching over the years has revolved around me selecting a book of the Bible and preaching straight through it. A recent series on Matthew messed me up on the topic of Hell as it didn’t seem to match the traditional view I grew up with. For example, in Matthew, Jesus says, “do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Both body and soul? I was taught that when you die your soul either goes to Heaven or Hell and stays there eternally. So first off, what is a body doing in Hell in Jesus’ teaching? And secondly, if both your body and soul dies, isn’t the entirety of your existence then gone? To make matters more confusing, I realized that much of the New Testament’s view on Hell looked more like this. So I dove into some additional Biblical and scholarly research. Here’s what I learned:
1. In the Old Testament there is Heaven and Sheol. Sheol is the underworld where Satan, demons, and the human dead are banished. There was hope that God-followers went to Heaven when they died, but it was generally thought that all humanity went to Sheol.
2. Sheol still exists in the New Testament, it just takes on the Greek name, “Hades.” Hades is not Hell as many preach, it’s the underworld where Satan, demons, and the human dead are banished. Though Jesus solidifies our old hope for us as truth: Yes, God-followers do in fact go to Heaven when they die, not Hades.
3. Hell is not here yet. In my opinion, the Bible shows us that Hell is Revelation’s “lake of fire” where things go to die forever. This is the place where the immortal gods of Psalm 82 go to die like humans. This is the place that Jesus said was designed for Satan and his angels. This is the place where things perish. The Bible says that even death and Hades are thrown into Hell to die, which means after you perish in Hell, there’s no death or Hades to return to. It’s just over.
The human soul is not immortal as Greek philosophers taught. Like it was in the Garden of Eden, humanity has a “conditional immortality.” If we follow God, we have access to the tree of life. If we do not, then we are forbidden from reaching it. This premise is already on the table for humanity, but in the age to come, it will be made fully manifest. In the coming age of eternity, there are two kinds of eternities: eternal life or eternal death.
This is not a less intense view of Hell as some propose. Jesus talked about Hell as a horror. He did not want people to go there and he gave many warnings about it. Sure, there may be an eventual eternal perishing, but we have no indication of how long it takes for a soul to perish and what that agony is like. Nor do we fully know how horrible Hades is leading up to Hell. It is eternal suffering before, during and after.
But the good news is that we don’t have to be sentenced there. Conditional immortality is offered to us if we make Jesus King of our lives and live out the eternal Kingdom of love that brings about life, rather than the eternal kingdom of hate that brings about judgment.
*This devotional was created out of the themes of Matthew 10:16-42 found in today’s reading at CommonPrayer.net. Below are the various AI-created pictures I typed into existence via Mid Journey to mock up artwork for today’s post.