Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “death

Does the Bible condone rape?

Rape-is-Rape

Rape-is-RapeI have received this question about the Bible: It seems that rape was condoned in the Bible, which seems inconsistent with a God who is against abortion and offers forgiveness to sinners … I ask these hard questions for myself as well as unbelievers who use this to justify their hatred of God and the Bible.

Instances in the Bible

Rape is mentioned several times in the Bible. Dinah the daughter of Jacob was raped by Shechem the Hivite (Gen. 34:1-31NIV). Her brothers were shocked and furious at this “outrageous thing … that should not be done” (v.7).  When Shechem’s father went to Jacob to arrange their marriage, he was told that the bride price would be that their men become circumcised like the Israelites. After they agreed and were in pain due to the circumcision, two of Dinah’s brothers attacked the city of Shechem and killed all the men because Dinah had been treated “like a prostitute”. However, the word “God” is not mentioned in this chapter of the Bible.

When an Israelite traveller stopped overnight at Gibeah in the territory of the tribe of Benjamin, “the wicked men of the city surrounded the house” and demanded to have homosexual sex with the visitor (Jud. 19:1-30). Instead they were given the Israelite’s concubine and “they raped her and abused her throughout the night, and at dawn they let her go” and she was found dead outside the door of the house. When the Israelites heard about this “lewd and outrageous act” and “awful thing”, they demanded that the perpetuators be handed over to be put to death (Jud. 20:1-48). After this was refused, most of the Benjamite warriors were killed in a war. The Bible’s description of this period is that “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as they saw fit” (Jud. 19:1; 21:23). It demonstrates the moral depravity that resulted when God’s people turned away from following Him.

King David’s son Amnon lusted after his beautiful half-sister Tamar – they had different mothers (2 Sam. 13:1-39).   When he grabbed her and said, “Come to bed with me, my sister”, she said “No, my brother! Don’t force me! Such a thing should not be done in Israel! Don’t do this wicked thing. What about me? Where could I get rid of my disgrace? And what about you? You would be like one of the wicked fools in Israel. Please speak to the king; he will not keep me from being married to you” (v.11-13) “But he refused to listen to her, and since he was stronger than she, he raped her” (v.14). “When king David heard all this, he was furious” (v.21). Two years later, Tamar’s brother Absalom took revenge by arranging for Amnon to be killed “because he had disgraced his sister Tamar” (v.22).

The passage of how the Benjamites obtained wives from Jabesh Gilead and Shiloh has been alleged to involve rape, but Judges 21:10-25 concerns marriage, not rape. As noted above, this was time of moral depravity. Likewise, the marriage of captive women from outside Canaan was marriage, not rape (Dt. 21:10-14). The taking of female prisoners of war has also been alleged to be rape, but in this instance they probably became slaves and there is no indication of rape or sex slavery, although they may have subsequently married an Israelite (Num. 31:18).

The Bible also records instances of the rape of female prisoners of war by ungodly men such as: when the Babylonians conquered Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lam. 5:11), when the Medes conquered Babylon in 539 BC (Isa. 13:16-17) and in a coming day when the nations attack Jerusalem before Christ returns to earth (Zech. 14:2).

Sexual immorality, including rape, was one of the sins of the Jews in Jerusalem (Ezek. 22:11). Because of these, they were conquered by the Babylonians and dispersed among the nations.

In all these cases, the Bible reports rape as an example of ungodly behavior.

What about Abram and Hagar?

Was Hagar was raped by Abram (Gen. 16:1-4)? When Abram’s husband, Sari, was unable to have children she thought “perhaps I can build a family through” Hagar, who was her slave. After Abram agreed, Sari gave Hagar to him “to be his wife”. This seems to be a euphemism for sexual intercourse because afterwards Hagar is still referred to as Sari’s slave and not Abram’s wife. Then Abram slept with Hagar and she became pregnant. As this was Sari’s idea and there is no indication that Hagar opposed it, there is no evidence of rape. Instead it seems to be an accepted practice in society at that time. This interpretation is supported by four instances in the life of Jacob (Gen. 30:1-13). On two occasions when Rachel was unable to have children she asked him to sleep with her servant Bilhah. This resulted in the births of Dan and Naphtali. Similarly, on two occasions when Leah was unable to have children she also asked him to sleep with her servant Zilpah. This resulted in the births of Gad and Asher. Later Bilhah is called Jacob’s concubine (Gen. 35:22). As secondary wives, concubines were associated with polygamy. While these cases seem to have been culturally acceptable at the time, they are contrary to God’s plan for marriage, which is monogamy (Gen. 2:24; Mt. 19:4-9).

Jewish law

According to the law that God gave to the Israelites, the crime of rape of a “young woman who was pledged to be married” was to be punished by death (Dt. 22:25-27). This penalty is the same as someone (male or female) guilty of adultery (Dt. 22:20-22). So rape was considered to be a serious crime.

However, if the young woman was not pledged to be married, the man was to marry her if her father agreed (Ex. 22:16-17; Dt. 22:28-29). In this case the penalty was to support her for the rest of her life. In those days a woman depended on her father or husband for her welfare. If the woman was no longer a virgin and was not pledged to be married, she would have been deemed undesirable for marriage and so would be subject to poverty after the death of her father. So this law moderated the penalty in order to provide for the welfare of the woman and her children. Taken in isolation, this could be used to assert that the Bible condoned rape. However, the rapist risked the revenge of the victim’s family as was the case with Shechem and Dinah (Gen. 34:1-31). Also, the rest of the Bible clearly condemns rape.

New Testament

Sexual immorality, such as rape, is a serious sin (1 Cor. 6:9-19) and a characteristic of the sinful nature (Gal. 5:19-21). It is a sign of those who are under God’s judgement (v.9-11) and Christians are told to flee from it (v.18).

Summary

The Bible reports sinful behavior such as rape. Like history books and the news media, the Bible doesn’t necessarily approve all it reports. Also, much of the Bible is descriptive and not prescriptive. Clearly, the bible condemns rape as a serious sin. To claim otherwise is to misinterpret the text and context of these Scriptures.

Written, May 2013


Looking back and looking ahead

Coffin Mar 2014 cropped

IMG_4587 resizedBased on a message given at my mother’s funeral on 3 April 2013

A funeral usually involves memories and reflections of the life of the person who has died. But the funeral of a Christian can also look ahead in anticipation of what lies ahead.

Help from God the Creator

The source of a Christian’s help and protection throughout life is described in Psalm 121NIV.

“I lift up my eyes to the mountains—where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.
He will not let your foot slip—He who watches over you will not slumber;
indeed, He who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
The Lord watches over you—the Lord is your shade at your right hand;
the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
The Lord will keep you from all harm— He will watch over your life;
the Lord will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore.”

When this song was written about 3,000 years ago, God’s people knew that the only reliable help and protection comes from the God who made the universe – “the Maker of heaven and earth”. In this context the Hebrew word for “heaven” means the atmosphere and the stars and galaxies. A God with the intelligence and power to create the universe and populate it with living plants, animals and people was surely able to help them! The Bible says He was the source of life on earth whereas all other gods and philosophies are the product of the human imagination.

Unfortunately in our modern world we have largely lost this knowledge and this confidence. We have forgotten about God the Creator. Even though we have wonderful technology, science can’t explain how matter was created from nothing or how life originated, and we often replace God the Creator with the idea that things created themselves.

So when we struggle in life where does our help come from? Some people go to counsellors for help who encourage them to get help from outside themselves. Because people usually can’t solve their own problems, they need to get help from someone else. In a similar way, we all need “outside help” to sustain us and God the Creator is the ultimate outside help!

Psalm 121 ends with, “The Lord will watch your coming and going both now and forevermore”. Here those who trusted God the Creator were promised that God would protect them throughout life and into the future. They could live with assurance and confidence that God would continue to help them. Likewise Christians can have the assurance that God will sustain them during their life and afterwards.

A different world

You may ask if God created everything in the beginning, why is there so much suffering in the world? The world today is very different from the one God made originally. We live in a different world. In the beginning it was a perfect world with harmony between God, people and the natural environment. But when people turned against their Maker, it changed and sin, evil, suffering and death came into the world. This change was caused by people like us. We live in a world with consequences – an act has a consequence and an effect has a cause. Because people turned against God our relationships have been ruined. We ignore God and are separated from Him, we can’t get along with other people, and we exploit the natural environment. Another consequence is that the Bible says we are destined to eternal punishment. Because we are the cause of this problem, we need outside help. Because each of us is guilty, we can’t help each other. The only reliable help available outside humanity is God the Creator.

Help from God the Lifesaver

Fortunately, God didn’t only create the universe and the laws of nature in the beginning, but He also continues to sustain it. He is not only incredibly powerful, but He is also incredibly loving. We remember His special act of love at Christmas and Easter when we celebrate the unique birth and death of Jesus Christ. God knew that mankind was doomed to eternal punishment unless He provided them with outside help. He did this about 2,000 years ago when Jesus Christ lived on earth and died and came alive again. Jesus was unique; He was God living as a human being. He showed His power over our world by the miracles He did. When He died by crucifixion, He took the eternal punishment that we deserve. If we turn towards God by being sorry for our behaviour and accepting the fact that Jesus has taken the penalty for our sin, then He promises eternal joy instead of eternal punishment. This is called eternal life. So Jesus is like a lifesaver – He can rescue us from the eternal consequence of our selfish behaviour. In this way God is making a new creation and He gives us the choice of being a part of it. Although we spoilt God’s original creation, and there is now sin, evil, pain, suffering and death, these will be absent in God’s new creation. Instead we can be reconciled with God, we can love one another and we can look forward to the restoration of creation like it was in the beginning.

Because a Christian has accepted Jesus as their Savior they can have an inner assurance, joy and peace.

Coffin Mar 2014 croppedDeath

What happens when a person dies? Not only do the lungs stop breathing and the heart stops pumping. The Bible says that at death a person’s invisible soul and spirit is separated from their body. If they trusted in Jesus the Savior, their soul and spirit goes immediately to be with God in heaven. After death they are enjoying a perfect place. That is why Paul could say, “To die is gain” (Phil. 1:21) and that he preferred to be “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). So they are in a better place. Their death is a loss for us, but a gain for them.

Resurrection

But there is more! On Easter Sunday we recall that the body of Jesus was raised back to life after being buried in a grave. The Bible describes a coming day when the bodies of believers, who trusted in Christ the Savior will also be raised back to life:

“What I am saying, dear brothers and sisters, is that our physical bodies cannot inherit the kingdom of God. These dying bodies cannot inherit what will last forever. But let me reveal to you a wonderful secret. We will not all die, but we will all be transformed! It will happen in a moment, in the blink of an eye, when the last trumpet is blown. For when the trumpet sounds, those who have died will be raised to live forever. And we who are living will also be transformed. For our dying bodies must be transformed into bodies that will never die; our mortal bodies must be transformed into immortal bodies. Then, when our dying bodies have been transformed into bodies that will never die, this Scripture will be fulfilled, ‘Death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is your victory? O death, where is your sting?’ For sin is the sting that results in death, and the law gives sin its power. But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:50-57NLT).

This is also described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-18. As part of God’s new creation they will have new bodies which won’t wear out and die (1 Cor. 15:42-49; Phil. 3:21; 1 Jn. 3:2) and they will be transported to be with God in heaven – spirit, soul and new body. This will be a great victory over the sin, suffering and death of our world. That’s why Christians can look forward confidently to the coming resurrection. There’s victory ahead!

Summary

The hymn, “How great Thou art”, summarises the greatness of God and the reasons for our Christian faith.

The first verse is about God the great Creator and source of life on earth. It says “Your power throughout the universe displayed”. Do we see God’s power in His creation?

The third verse is about Jesus Christ the great Lifesaver and source of eternal life. It says “On the cross, my burden gladly bearing, He bled and died to take away my sin”. When we stand before God, will He be like a lifesaver or like a judge? If we turn towards God by confessing our sins we can be ready to meet Him.

The last verse is about the great resurrection when the bodies of those who have trusted in Christ will be raised and changed to be with Him forever. It says “When Christ shall come with shout of acclamation and take me home – what joy shall fill my heart”. Are you ready to experience this joy?

Written, April 2013


If an infant dies, do they go to heaven?

Baby grave

Infant death is agonizing and raises many questions. The Bible teaches that we are sinful from birth and childhood: “Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me” (Ps. 51:5; 58:3NIV). “Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood (Gen. 8:21). We are all sinners (Rom. 3:10, 23). So infants are never innocent in the sense of being sinless. This is serious because spiritual death is a bigger issue than physical death. It leads to eternal separation from God, which is the opposite of eternal life (Jn. 3:16; Rom 6:23).

Three Bible verses teach that infants are not accountable for their sin. Firstly, when the Israelites rebelled and refused to enter Canaan, they were punished with all their army except Joshua and Caleb dying while they wandered 38 years in the desert. At this time God promised that their young children would enter Canaan, “And the little ones that you said would be taken captive, your children who do not yet know good from bad—they will enter the land. I will give it to them and they will take possession of it” (Dt. 1:39, Num. 14:31). Because they did not yet know good from bad, they were not responsible or accountable for the Israelites’ disobedience.

Secondly, when the king of Judah was being attacked by the kings of Syria and Israel, he was given a sign that his enemies would be defeated by Assyria. Isaiah was to have a son and before he “knows enough to reject the wrong and choose the right” the land of the two kings will be laid waste (Isa. 7:14-16). Children who are not accountable do not know the difference between right and wrong or good and evil. They are not yet aware of their sinful condition or God’s cure.

Thirdly, when God rebuked Jonah, He similarly distinguished between young children and adults,“And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a 120,000 people who cannot tell their right hand from their left—and also many animals?” (Jon. 4:11).

God judges people who haven’t heard the gospel message according to their response to the revelation of His eternal power and divine nature in the universe He created (Rom. 1:19-21). If they can discern what God has made, they have no excuse. However, if they are unable to discern what God has made (which is true for infants), then they have an excuse and will be saved instead of judged.

At what age can a child respond to God’s revelation in creation (Dt. 1:39; Isa. 7:15-16)? It is the age at which they can understand the issue and respond to the work of the Holy Spirit in their life (Jn. 16:8-9). It is when they can recognize His works of creation and choose to accept, honor and thank Him (Rom. 1:21). Those who die at a younger age go to heaven rather than be condemned to spiritual death.

Jesus “is the atoning sacrifice for … the sins of the whole world’ (1 Jn. 2:2). As a loving and merciful God, it is reasonable to assume that He accepts Christ’s payment for the sin of those who are unable to understand God’s revelation and their sinful state such as babies and young children. After all, Abraham said, “Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Gen. 18:25). But once children reach the age of God-consciousness, they are accountable for their sin.

We will now look at some other Scriptures that are sometimes used to answer this question.

Age of accountability

As all the Israelites over the age of 20 died in the desert before they reached Canaan, except for Joshua and Caleb, some think this is the age of accountability for one’s sins (Num. 14:29). However, this was the age above which men served in the army (Num. 1:3; 26:2; Josh. 5:4, 6). They were punished, not because 20 was the age of accountability, but because instead of serving the Lord by taking possession of Canaan, they grumbled against the Lord.

King David

When Bathsheba’s baby died, David stopped fasting and said “Can I bring him back again? I will go to him, but he will not return to me” (2 Sam. 12:23). Some believe that David believed that when he died he would go to heaven where his son would be. However, it is more likely that David was referring to death or the grave, not to heaven. There is little in the Old Testament about life after death. Job may have believed in a future resurrection (Job. 14:13-15) and the psalmists allude to an after-life (Ps. 16:10-11; 17:15; 49:14-15). The clearest passage is Daniel 12:2-3.

Child-like faith

Some believe that when Jesus said, “Let the little children come to me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as these”, He was saying that the little children belong to the kingdom of heaven and so would go to heaven if they died (Mt. 19:14; Mk. 10:14; Lk. 18:16). However, the verse seems to be explained in the following verse as “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mk. 10:15; Lk. 18:17). In the case of Matthew this thought is given in Mt. 18:3. The emphasis is that child-like faith is required to enter the kingdom of God, not that young children belong to the kingdom of heaven.

So infants go to heaven when they die, but what about us? We can join them in future by realizing our sinfulness and believing that Jesus Christ has taken the penalty for our sin (Acts 16:31).

Written, November 2012


The good thief went to “Paradise (Lk. 23:43). Lazarus went to “Abraham’s bosom” (Lk. 16:22NKJV). Are they two different places? Are they intermediate heavens or the real thing? And where do Christians go who die today?

Paul wrote that he had been “caught up to the third heaven”, which was “paradise” (2 Cor. 12:2-4NIV). In the New Testament, the Greek word “ouranos” (Strongs #3772) is translated as “heaven” or “heavens” and is used in three contexts: the earth’s atmosphere (Mt. 6:26), the realm of the stars (Heb. 11:12) and God’s dwelling place (Mt. 6:9; 12:50). So “paradise” is another name for the “heaven” where God is; they are synonyms. Furthermore, the term “third heaven” doesn’t mean that there are three levels or stages of heaven.

When Jesus died He committed His spirit to God the Father who lives in heaven (Lk. 23:46). This was soon after He told the good thief, “today you will be with me in paradise” (Lk. 23:43). So Jesus and the good thief both went to heaven after they died. As their bodies were placed in graves, the part of them that went to heaven was their spirit and soul.

When Lazarus died, “angels carried him to Abraham’s side” (Lk. 16:22). For a Jew to be with Abraham would be a place of bliss. If the setting of the story is after Christ’s resurrection, “Abraham’s side” is synonymous with heaven. If the setting is earlier, then we need to look at the Old Testament. At the end of his life on earth, “Elijah went up to heaven in a whirlwind” (2 Ki. 2:11). Although Elijah went to heaven without dying, this seems to indicate that at this time heaven would also be the destiny of the soul of the righteous after death, which supports “Abraham’s side” being synonymous with heaven. On the other hand, some say that the righteous of the Old Testament only went to heaven at Christ’s ascension. However, the passages they use to support this view are addressing Christ’s ascension and incarnation (Eph. 4:8-10) and His resurrection (Acts 2:27, 31), not events in the spirit world.

The three phases of the Christian’s life is described in 2 Corinthians 5:1-9. They are:

  • When alive on earth, their spirit and soul are united with their body. This phase is ended by death when the spirit and soul separate from the body (Eccl. 12:6-7).
  • Between death and the rapture, the spirit and soul are with Christ in heaven and the remains of the body are on earth.
  • At the rapture, the body is resurrected and changed and reunited with the spirit and soul in heaven.

For the believer, death is described as being “away from the body and at home with the Lord” (2 Cor. 5:8). Paul said that “to die is gain” because it meant being “with Christ” (Phil. 1:21-23). Therefore, when Christians die their spirit and soul immediately go to be with Christ in heaven.

Written, June 2012


Please explain Romans 8:28 in light of such disasters as the earthquakes in Haiti in 2010 and in Japan in 2011?

“And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters” (Rom. 8:28-29NIV).

The context

Disasters are one of the characteristics of our sinful world. Our present suffering and future glory is the theme of Romans 8:18-30. In this passage believers are given three things to help us through times of suffering. They are truths that we should know (eido in Greek). First, “we know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time …” (v.22-25). Christians are not the only ones suffering and it won’t last forever. As “the whole creation” is suffering, Christians are affected as well as the rest of God’s creation. Our suffering ends either when we die and go to be with the Lord or when we are resurrected to receive new bodies (1 Cor. 15:51-57; 2 Cor. 5:1-10; 1 Th. 4:15-18). Second, because “we do not know what we ought to pray for …”, the Holy Spirit prays for us (v.26-27). So, we can know that the Holy Spirit prays for us when we are going through difficult times. Third, “we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him …” (v.28-30). God’s desire is that believers would be “conformed to the image of His Son” because they have been “called”, “justified” and will be “glorified” (v.29-30). So, Romans 8:28 is set in the context of things to help us through difficult times.

The text

Romans 8:28 mentions two things to help Christians through difficult times:

  • Believers have “been called according to His purpose”. God wants to make all believers like Jesus Christ; so they share His character. He wants their lives to be transformed (2 Cor. 3:18). Everything that happens, whether good things or bad , has this purpose. This includes disasters, suffering and tragedy.
  • “In all things God works for the good of those who love Him”. What does “for the good” mean? Surely anything that is consistent with God’s purpose, which is to transform our lives to be more like our Lord’s. “All things” includes all the circumstances of life. So this verse is saying that God uses them to achieve His purposes. For example, although Joseph was treated harshly, he recognised that “God intended it for good” because it was used to save many lives, including the descendants of Abraham (Gen. 50:20). Also Hezekiah recognised that the anguish he went through during his serious illness “was good for me” (Isa. 38:17NLT) as it enabled him to praise God when his health was restored (Isa. 38:18-20).

The explanation

How can good come out of disasters such as the recent earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes that resulted in so much suffering and tragedy? We need to realize that “the good” Romans 8:28 is addressed to believers. God permits suffering and uses it for our good, for the blessing of others, and for His glory. The writer of Hebrews wrote, “No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). Also, when Peter addressed the end times, which are characterized by disasters, he advised us to keep praying, help the needy, and use our gifts to serve others (1 Pt. 4:7-11). Disasters provide opportunities for us to bring comfort and relief to those in need, and pray for them. Disasters provide opportunities for us to develop our divine nature by becoming more Christ-like (Eph.4:22-24).

But what about death? Death is the worst thing that can happen to unbelievers; but it ushers believers into God’s presence, which is the best thing that can happen to us! Paul said “to die is gain” because it means going to be with Christ (Phil. 1:21).

But it can be difficult to balance the physical and spiritual aspects of life. Paul said that God “has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ” (Eph. 1:3). Here we see that the blessings that are promised to believers are spiritual, not physical. Although disasters, suffering and tragedy may destroy our physical possessions, they don’t take away our spiritual blessings. God gives us what we need, not what we want. After all, Jesus died to save our spirits and souls, not our bodies. Of course, at the resurrection He gives us new bodies. We know God loves us, not because of how our lives go, but because of Christ’s death at Calvary.

So, Romans 8:28 says that God uses “all things” for our spiritual growth. When we apply this principle to disasters like earthquakes, tsunamis and tornadoes we begin to realize that even they can be used to help us become more Christ-like.

Written, April 2011

Also see: Where is God when disaster strikes?


Heaven and Hell: What is hell like?

The Bible teaches that our ultimate destiny is either heaven or hell. In the previous article in this series, we saw that heaven is God’s home and the home of all who trust in Him. It’s a place of great beauty where they will be no sin and we will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord Jesus. This article looks at what the Bible says about hell.

The Greek word “Gehenna” (Strongs #1067) meant “the Valley of Hinnom”, which was near Jerusalem. This place was known for its burning fires (Is. 30:33); it was where children were sacrificed by fire to the heathen gods of Baal and Molech (2 Chr. 28:3, 33:6; Jer. 7:31, 19:2-6; 32:35). After the practice of child sacrifice was outlawed by King Josiah (2 Ki. 23:10), it was the city waste dump (Jer. 19:2) and anything deemed unclean (including the bodies of executed criminals) was incinerated and a fire was constantly burning there. It also became their cemetery when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem (Jer. 7:32-33; 19:6-13). By the time of Jesus Christ, the deep, constantly-burning Valley of Gehenna, was thought of as the place “down there” where the wicked would eventually be cast into the flames for destruction. So in Scripture, the word “Gehenna” became a metaphor and synonym for hell, the place of eternal punishment.

God’s final judgement

The book of Revelation was the last to be written in the Bible and the one that says the most about the future. After the church has been raptured to heaven, Revelation describes a period of great judgement on earth called the tribulation, which is followed by Jesus returning to establish His kingdom on earth for 1,000 years, and then Satan will lead a final rebellion against God, which will be judged by fire from heaven.

Then we read, And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever (Rev. 20:10NIV). The fate of the trinity of evil (Satan, the beast, and the false prophet) is called the “lake of burning sulphur” where they will be tormented forever. So, hell is a place of eternal torment.

The next scene is a court with the accused before the judge, who is on a throne. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from His presence, and there was no place for them (Rev. 20:11). Here we see Jesus Christ on a great white throne about to judge mankind. This is after the end of the world as we know it (2 Pt. 3:10). Jesus is the judge because “the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (Jn. 5:22). It’s a great throne because of the issues involved and white because of His perfection holiness and purity. God’s greatest attribute is His holiness – the word is repeated “holy, holy holy is the Lord God Almighty” (Is. 6:3; Rev. 4:8).

Then John saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done (Rev. 20:12-13). Here we see two kinds of records: the book of life and records of people’s lives. The book of life lists all those who have received Christ as their personal Saviour and who will inherit eternal life. They are raised to life in what the Bible calls the first resurrection (Rev. 20:5). Jesus told His followers not to rejoice in what they had done, “but rejoice that your names are written in heaven” (Lk. 10:20). The most important thing in life is: “Is my name written in the book of life?”.

Others will be raised in the second resurrection (Rev. 20:5) and judged according to what they had done in life (Rom. 2:6). It is all preserved in God’s great library, like the YouTube website. Books are used as symbols here; we would probably use videos. Just as there will be degrees of reward in heaven (1 Cor. 3:12-15), so there will be degrees of punishment in hell (Mt. 11:22; Lk. 12:47-48). The depth of suffering in hell is conditional on the opportunities rejected and the sins indulged.

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:14-15). The judgement is to be thrown into the lake of fire, which is also called “the second death”. As death involves the separation of the body from the spirit and soul, and Hades is where the spirit and soul are after death, hell involves the body, spirit and soul.

So hell is the judgement for sinners who refuse or ignore God’s free gift of eternal life. The Bible is full of references of the punishment of the wicked (Rom. 2:5-12; Gal. 6:7-8; Heb. 10:29-31; Rev. 20:11-15). In fact it has more references to hell than it does to heaven.

We will now look at what else the Bible tells us about hell. As we are looking at eternity which we haven’t experienced, the Bible uses metaphors to express what it is like. A metaphor is figurative language which says that one thing is like another thing in certain ways.

Characteristics of hell

Eternal

In at least 9 verses, hell is described as being “eternal” or “everlasting” or “for ever” or “for ever and ever”, which means that it is endless (Mt. 18:8; 25:41, 46; Mk. 3:29; 2 Th. 1:9; Heb. 6:2; Jude 7, Rev. 14:11; 20:10). After all we are looking at eternity. For example, it is referred to as “eternal judgement” (Heb. 6:2). This is the only characteristic of hell that is like heaven; they are both eternal.

Made for Satan and demons

God made hell for Satan and his angels (demons), but unfortunately many people have chosen to go there as well: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt. 25:41). In contrast, heaven is the home of God and His angels and all true Christians. The sin that sends people to hell is the refusal to submit to Jesus Christ: “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them” (Jn. 3:36).

Like a fire

In at least 18 verses, hell is described as involving “fire” or “being burned” or a “blazing furnace” or a “lake of fire” or a “fiery lake of burning sulphur” (Mt. 3:12; 5:22; 13:30,40,42,50; 18:8, 9; 25:41; Mk. 9:44,48; Lk.3:17; Jude 7; Rev. 19:20; 20:10,14,15; 21:8). The fire symbolises God’s judgement: the process of judgement is likened to the action of fire. Fire is said to test the believer’s work or service at the Judgement Seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12-15; 2 Cor. 5:10). In heaven the judgement is for rewards, while in hell it is an eternal reminder of one’s sin.

Like a second death

In at least 3 verses hell is described as being a “second death” (Rev. 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8). Death involves separation and a change of state. In hell people are separated from God and all that is good. This is the opposite of heaven, where instead of eternal death there will be eternal life with God and all that is good.

Like destruction

In at least 6 verses hell is described as being “destroyed” or suffering “destruction” or to “destroy both body and soul” or to “perish” (Mt. 7:13; 10:28; Jn. 3:16; Phil. 3:19; 1 Th. 1:9; Heb. 10:39). “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might on the day He comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be marvelled at among all those who have believed” (2 Th. 1:9-10). It means separation from the Lord, never to see the glory of His power, and “everlasting destruction”, which means loss of well-being, or ruin as far as the purpose of existence is concerned (Lk. 5:37), not the end of existence. Although some people believe that unbelievers cease to exist before God sets up the new heaven and the new earth, the Bible calls hell “eternal punishment” (Mt. 25:46).

Torment

In at least 2 verses hell is described as involving “torment” or being “tormented” (Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example the rich man was in torment and agony when he was in Hades, which is a precursor to hell (Lk. 16:23). This is the result of being eternally reminded of one’s sin, and contrasted by the joy of heaven.

There is no relief

In at least 5 verses the suffering in hell is described as being “unquenchable” or the “fire never goes out” or it continues “day and night” or there is “no rest day or night” or “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mt. 3:12;  Mk. 9:44, 48; Lk.3:17; Rev. 14:11; 20:10). For example, Abraham told the rich man in Hades “between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us” (Lk. 16:26). Like water in a lake, there is no way out or means of escape. There is no relief. This means that the torment is continual, whereas there is always joy in heaven .

Weeping and gnashing of teeth

In at least 6 verses hell is described as involving “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30). Here we have weeping and strong emotions where one’s teeth are clenched and grinding together (either due to anger or pain). This is opposite to heaven, where there will be no more sorrow or crying or pain.

Like darkness

In at least 4 verses hell is described as involving “darkness” or “blackest darkness” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 2 Pt. 2:17; Jude 13). This means it is away from God who is the source of light. This is opposite to heaven, where people are with God.

Like being outside

In at least 4 verses hell is described as being “outside” (Mt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Rev. 22:15). This means it is outside heaven and away from God, which is the opposite of heaven.

What will people be doing?

From the above we can see that people in hell will be being reminded of their sins, separated from God and all that is good, which will lead to being continually tormented, without relief, crying, and angry. This is opposite to those in heaven who will be worshipping, serving and reigning with the Lord.

How soon?

Before the eternal state begins, Jesus promised to return for His people at the rapture and then to return in power and glory to judge the sinful world and usher in His millennial reign over the earth. Although believers look forward to this time, we don’t know when it will occur, but it could be soon. Although John wrote Revelation about 1,900 years ago and the Lord hasn’t come yet, our eternal destiny is set the moment we die, which could be very soon. In this sense, heaven and hell could be a breath away.

Lessons for us

The Bible has given us a glimpse into what hell is like. In the Bible, future events are always foretold in order to bring about changes in our present actions. What does this mean to us today?

First, don’t use the word “hell” as a swear word. It’s a place of eternal suffering, not a word to use when you are frustrated. The Bible warns about using “unwholesome talk” (Eph. 4:29).

Second, let’s fear God, because hell is a real place. Jesus told His disciples, “I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after your body has been killed, has authority to throw you into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear Him” (Lk 12:4-5).

Third, you don’t want to be there. The only way to avoid hell is to have your name written in the book of life. There are two possible destinies. If your name is written in the book of life, you enter into eternal life. If you refuse God’s offer, then your ultimate fate is the lake of fire.

The Bible says, that God loved the people of the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, that everyone who believes in Him will not perish in hell but have eternal life in heaven (Jn. 3:16). Also, the Lord “is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). That’s why we should reach out to people with the gospel message. Like Paul and Apollos, we can plant and water the seed of salvation that comes through Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit can make it grow (1 Cor. 3:6).

Written, July 2010

See the other article in this series:
- What is heaven like?


In the beginning. Part 3: The first sin

Written, July 2004

Temptation and its consequences

The first human beings, Adam and Eve lived as husband and wife in the garden in Eden. They were innocent and felt no shame. There was no sin and nothing to be ashamed about. God told them, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat of it you will surely die” (Gen. 2:16-17NIV). In this article we look at the next episode in the early history of mankind in Genesis 3:1-19.

The tempter

Here we see a new character introduced, which is “nachash” in Hebrew (v.1). Is this a mythical creature, or an animal called a snake or someone that was like a snake? The words associated with “nachash” in Genesis 3 are “wild animals” and “livestock”, which refer to animals (v.3,14); and “you will crawl on your belly” and “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”, which could refer to snakes as we know them today (v.14,15).

“Nachash” occurs in six other verses written by Moses. The descendants of Dan are likened to a snake in a metaphor (Gen. 49:17). A staff became a snake when Moses and Aaron visited Pharaoh, and Moses made a bronze snake to heal the Israelites who had been bitten by venomous snakes (Ex. 4:3; 7:15; Num. 21:6, 7,9). So, Moses used the word in both a literal way and a symbolic way and he seems to make the meaning clear in each instance.

Paul treats it as a real historical event and not an allegory: “Eve was deceived by the serpent’s cunning” (2 Cor. 11:3). The only other occasion he used the Greek word for serpent “ophis”, was when he said the Israelites “were killed by snakes” (1 Cor. 10:9). Therefore, the meaning for the Israelites to whom Genesis was written was an animal called a snake. But this was a talking animal! Now that is unusual, but according to the Bible, God caused Balaam’s donkey to speak and Peter accepted this as truth (Num. 22:28-30; 2 Pt. 2:16). So, some amazing things have happened in the past!

John helps us to understand what is going on when he described Satan metaphorically as a serpent (Rev. 12:9; 20:2). In fact, snakes have become the universal symbol of Satan. So Satan appeared in the garden in Eden as an animal that talks. We don’t know what he looked like, but Eve was not afraid to have a conversation with him. This animal was more cunning than any other creature God had made (v.1). It was Satan in disguise, as an “angel of light” (2 Cor. 11:14). God allowed Satan into the garden and allowed him to tempt Eve because God made mankind with a free will to make moral choices. This was a part of being made in the image of God.

The temptation

The tempter asked Eve a question, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (v.1). He was trying to get her to doubt God’s word and distrust God’s love by thinking that such a command was not fair. She answered, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” (v.2-3). Then the tempter said, “You will not surely die” (v.4). This is a lie; it is opposite to what God told Adam (Gen. 2:17). But he is cunning because it relates to a future event which she couldn’t verify herself. Of course, she could have checked with Adam or God, but she was deceived when the tempter backed up the lie with a distorted truth, “For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (v.5). He mixed truth and error. Their eyes would be opened, but it would be to sin and shame. Also, they would know good and evil, but it would be through the harsh experiences of life lived apart from dependence upon God. The tempter implied that they would have great knowledge be able to see things like God does and do whatever they wanted to. He also questioned God’s motives for the command not to eat the forbidden fruit. With this in her mind, Eve looked at the tree and “saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom” (v.6). Here we see that she was mixing up what God had told them and what the tempter had told her (Gen. 2:6; 3:5). She was seeking knowledge and wisdom outside the boundaries that had been established by God. Satan had infiltrated her mind.

The sin

As she looked at the fruit of the tree she must have thought. It’s good for food and I’m hungry. It’s beautiful and pleasing to the eye, a pleasure to experience, so it must be good (Heb. 11:25). It’s desirable for gaining wisdom. Then “she took some and ate it” (v.6). The thoughts sown in her mind by the tempter resulted in an action; she ate some of the forbidden fruit. She acted independently of her husband and God. She should have consulted with them before acting on such an important matter. Where was Adam at this time? If Adam was with her during her temptation, he should have spoken up and taken his leadership role. It’s always more difficult to resist temptation when we are alone. But evil can triumph if another is silent.

Then “She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (v.6). It seems as though Adam ate the forbidden fruit when he was given it by his wife; he was not deceived by the tempter—“Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived” (1 Tim. 2:14). We don’t know what she told him, but the fact that he “was with her” implies that he knew what had happened. He deliberately disobeyed God’s command and acted independently of God. This is the origin of sin. We are all sinners because we are descendants of Adam.

Now we see a radical change in their world. “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realized they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (v.7). But they had always been naked (Gen. 2:25). Something happened inside them. They felt naked, guilty and ashamed, so they fashioned some clothes out of fig leaves. This was the beginning of self-consciousness and clothing.

God’s questions

God visited the garden to talk with Adam and Eve (v.8). What a privilege for them to converse with the great Creator! But now they were so guilty and ashamed that they hid from God among the trees of the garden. Fancy trying to hide from the one who made themselves and the trees! It was impossible. This was not a game of hide and seek, it was a garden where joy and fellowship with God had changed into shame and fear and hiding from God. This is the first description of the human conscience.

Now we see how God addresses the situation, He takes the initiative. First He asked Adam, “Where are you?” (v.9). As God would have known their location, this was a rhetorical question. They had moved away from their position of close communion with God. God was asking the head of the human family to consider his new position. Adam answered, “I heard you in the garden, and I was afraid because I was naked; so I hid” (v.10). He was now afraid of God. God said, “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (v.11). So, God traces the source of their guilt and fear to their disobedience. Then Adam said, “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (v.12). This is called blame someone else, or pass the buck! He blames God and Eve. But he did acknowledge that he had eaten the forbidden fruit. Then God asked Eve “What is this you have done?” (v.13). She said, “The serpent deceived me, and I ate”. This is called ditto – blame someone else, or pass the buck once again! Here we see that when called to account by God, sinners excuse themselves. In this case they both ultimately blamed God, who allowed them to be tempted. But, like Adam, Eve did acknowledge having eaten the forbidden fruit.

God’s response

Now that Adam and Eve have failed the test and acknowledged this to God, what will God do? After all, He had promised that they would surely die, although the tempter had denied this. Now we see some changes in His creation that was originally said to be “very good”. He addressed each of the characters in turn and described what life will be like for them.

God said to the tempter, “Because you have done this, cursed are you above all the livestock and all the wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel” (v.14-15). God said that the tempter was the ultimate cause of the fall into sin. This curse can be taken at two levels. Firstly, the snake, which is symbolic of Satan, will crawl on the ground. That is the animal as we know it today. The implication is that previously it didn’t crawl on the ground. Eve would have hated this animal because of how Satan had used it to deceive her. This would have been the beginning of conflict between snakes and people. People often fear snakes and seek to kill them by crushing, while snakes generally attack the lower parts of the body. So, this was the beginning of conflict and hatred on earth.

Secondly, Satan and people who follow him will be the enemies of those who follow God. I believe that Eve followed God so she would have hated how Satan had deceived her. Here we have the first promise of the Messiah and a description of the battle between God and Satan. Christ’s victory over Satan is evident in “he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel”. The suffering and death He endured is like Satan striking at His heel. But Christ’s death and resurrection is said to crush Satan’s head, which indicates a decisive victory. Now the genealogies in the bible usually trace descent through men, not through women. The “he” in v.15 was a man who was the offspring of the woman. Jesus Christ was the offspring of Eve in special way; He had a virgin birth. This first prophecy would have only been known in general terms by the Israelites it was written for. But for us today, it sums up the gospel message of the Bible.

Then God said to Eve, “I will greatly increase your pains in childbearing; with pain you will give birth to children. Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (v.16). He brings consequences in two areas of her life. Firstly she will experience pain in childbirth. It may also imply that bringing up her children would be painful at times. So, this was the beginning of pain on earth. Secondly, the relationship between husbands and wives seems to be clarified. It states that the husband is to “rule” over the wife. The Hebrew word is “masal”, which means to have dominion. The same word is used to describe mankind ruling over the rest of creation (Gen. 1:26,28). It means that the husband is to lead the wife and the family in a benevolent way. This is a responsibility that husbands should take seriously.

Then God said to Adam, “Because you listened to your wife and ate from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat of it’, cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat of it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return” (v.17-19). Here we see that Adam neglected his leadership role. He listened to his wife when he should not have taken notice. Only take notice when she gives good advice, but not otherwise! God made Adam accountable and spelled out what he had done which led to two consequences. Firstly, God cursed the ground. Adam’s work changed; now it would take painful toil and sweat to make a living. Nature changed and cultivation would be more difficult with the introduction of weeds such as thorns and thistles. This is the beginning of the “bondage to decay” and “groaning as in the pains of childbirth” in “the whole creation” (Rom. 8:21,22). It is a fallen universe. Secondly, mankind would die. This is the beginning of death for the animals and people of the earth.

How temptation can lead to sin and death

Like Adam and Eve, we are always tempted to go beyond the limits that God has placed upon us. James described the strategy that Satan uses when he tempts mankind: “… each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.  Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death” (Jas. 1:14-15). Sin brings death, including the eternal spiritual death of being separated from God. (Rom. 5:12, 14; 6:23).

God does not tempt us to sin. He will test us (Gen. 2:16-17; 22:1, Deut 8:2), but it is Satan who tempts us (Mt. 4:1; 1 Cor. 7:5, 1 Th. 3:5). In fact Paul called Satan “the tempter” (1 Th. 3:5). Of course he disguises himself and makes the temptation seem to be something good rather than something bad. It begins with our feelings (evil desire). Then James uses the illustration of conception and birth. The pattern is: a temptation (an evil desire based on our feelings) is planted like a seed in the mind, it grows and develops like a baby and leads to the birth of sin, which in turn leads to death. So the evil desire influences the mind and leads to an action which results in death. When the emotions are aroused first, we rationalize instead of thinking rationally. We don’t think properly, for example thinking of an immediate need but not a long term consequence. This is what happened in the garden in Eden and what happens to us as well. We all face temptation and battle the desire to yield to it. Then when we fail once again, we feel guilty.

How to handle temptation

Where is the battle lost? At the beginning, when the temptation is planted in the mind. Eve was defeated after Satan’s first question when she accepted the possibility that God could not be trusted. But God provides a way out for believers, “… He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it” (1 Cor. 10:13).

After 40 days of fasting in the desert, Jesus was tempted by Satan who tried to get Him to use His supernatural powers for selfish reasons (Lk. 4:1-13). Satan said: “tell this stone to become bread” – get food for yourself; If you worship me, all the kingdoms of the world will be yours – become a king without going to the cross; and, throw yourself down from the highest point of the temple – attract public attention. On each occasion Jesus answered with Scripture. He said: we should rely on God for spiritual nourishment; God is the one we should worship; and do not test God. To do this we must know the bible, so that the Holy Spirit can bring it to mind when we need it. God “has given us His very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature and escape the corruption in the world caused by evil desires” (2 Pt. 1:4).

Fortunately God is greater than Satan and “is able to help those who are being tempted” (Heb. 2:18; 1 Jn. 4:4). We should occupy our mind with good things and call on God to help in times of temptation. (Prov. 18:10; Phil. 4:8).

Lessons for us

The fall into sin is the ultimate explanation for our struggles in life. This pattern of the temptation and the fall into sin occurs daily both individually and collectively. It is the ultimate explanation for the tensions, sickness, suffering, sorrow, heartache, misery, tragedy, fear, guilt, and death. Here is the reason for addictive behaviour, for the passion for power and the lure of wealth and the enticement of immorality. It is the key to understanding humanity and ourselves.

The fall into sin has made us sinners. We are victims of emotional urges. That is a part of human nature. Only God can open our eyes and help us distinguish between right and wrong (Rom. 6:23). We are either slaves to sin or slaves to God. If we stay sinners then death is the outcome, eternal separation from God. But if we accept God’s gift of Jesus Christ, then we have eternal life. So our destiny is either eternal life or eternal death.

In Eve’s case the tempter was a being outside herself as she was sinless and she began with no urge to do wrong. Since the fall into sin, the tempter is within our human nature and we always face the urge to do wrong.  We carry a tempter within us wherever we go, he has access to us continually.

Like Adam and Eve, we have real choices in life. God gives us limits and boundaries as well. Are we willing to accept them? We often try and relieve our guilt by blaming someone or something by saying, “It wasn’t my fault; I’m a victim of circumstance”. We don’t like taking responsibility for our behaviour. As the ideal environment of the garden did not prevent the entrance of sin, we shouldn’t blame the surroundings or our situation on our problems. Instead, we need to take responsibility for our responses and behavior.

So, let’s be aware of Satan’s ways of temptation so he does not outwit us (2 Cor. 2:11). Follow Jesus and use the resources God has given us, such as the Bible.

See the next article in this series:
In the beginning. Part 4: Living in a dying world


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