I’m sure many of you have found the same problem, wishing you could fellowship with other members of the body of Christ. There are conferences every now and then that some of us are able to attend, but they’re fairly infrequent, and often too far away to travel to. Bottom line, it can get lonely sometimes, so I decided to set up a place where we can communicate with each other online. Using Reddit (a massive message board site where people can discuss almost any topic one wants to talk about; each topic is discussed on what’s known as a subreddit), I went and set up a subreddit for members of the body of Christ to talk with each other. You can find it at https://www.reddit.com/r/ConcordantBelievers/ if you’re interested in joining in.
We all know the Gospel that Paul preached by now: That Christ died for our sins, that He was entombed, and that He was roused the third day. Most Christians claim to believe this, of course, but the truth is that very few actually do. I’ve gotten into other reasons why in other posts, so I’m not going to rehash those here, but there’s one point in there that many gloss over, and because of it they end up missing some majorly important details. That point, simply put, is that “He was entombed.”
Most Christians believe that, when Christ died, He went off to a place called paradise (misunderstanding the grammar of His statement to the thief on the cross, as well as the fact that “paradise” is simply a reference to a future state of the earth and not to an ethereal afterlife realm for ghosts). If this were true, however, Paul’s Gospel would instead be: That Christ died for our sins, that He went to another dimension called paradise while leaving His body behind on earth in a tomb, and that He was roused the third day.
Why is this so important? Because if someone isn’t truly believing Paul’s Gospel, it means they haven’t joined the body of Christ. So if someone believes that Jesus went to another dimension when He died, it means the don’t believe that A) He actually died after all, but that only His body did, and B) that He wasn’t entombed as Paul said He was, but only His body was while He Himself was somewhere else altogether, and that means they haven’t believed the Gospel of Paul.
On top of that, it also means they don’t understand what the faith of Christ that saves us is. To quote Martin Zender:
So who cares whether Christ really died or He didn’t? You do! Only when you realize that Christ truly died can you appreciate His faith in going to the cross. He knew that, unless His Father roused Him, He would have stayed dead forever. It is this faith that saves us:
“Yet now, apart from law, a righteousness of God is manifest, yet a righteousness of God through Jesus Christ’s faith, for all, and on all who are believing” (Rom. 3:21-23).
In my last post I hinted at the idea that the lake of fire will be relatively empty. This, of course, goes against the traditional ideas that most Christians believe, but then, so does nearly everything I write on this website, so that’s nothing new.
So who actually does end up in the lake of fire? Revelation 20 and 21 are the chapters where we learn about the lake of fire and who ends up in it, so we should take a look at what it says in order to find out, but of course we have to also remember to interpret it with the rest of Scripture in mind, which means we have to read it with the understanding that anyone who is a true believer in Christ (and has joined either the Israel of God or the body of Christ, which are two separate groups of believers) will have already been resurrected and/or vivified (made immortal) at least 1,000 years prior to the time anyone is resurrected for the Great White Throne Judgement and/or cast into the lake of fire, which means that the judgement at the Great White Throne isn’t about whether one has believed either the Gospel of the Circumcision or the Gospel of the Uncircumcision or not. Instead, John tells us in Revelation that the judgement people will face at the Great White Throne will be based solely on their works (meaning they’ll be judged for the good deeds and the evil acts they performed while they lived on Earth — and it’s also important to know that they aren’t judged for their sins, since all sin was taken care of some 2,000 years ago on the cross). Of course, John then goes on to say that anyone whose name was not found in the book of life would be cast into the lake of fire. The question, then, is: Who are the people whose names won’t be found in the book of life?
Most Christians assume this refers to people who didn’t believe the Gospel and “get saved.” However, John tells us 8 verses later who, exactly, it is that will end up in the lake of fire when he says: But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
The first thing most people will say is that John mentions the “unbelieving” as the second category in the list of people who end up in the lake of fire, so it must be talking about “non-Christians” there, but it’s the fact that this is the second category of people in a list of different sorts of people who end up there that tells us John isn’t saying what most Christians assume he is (the fact that it’s only the second category in the list rather than the first is also very telling). If the people whose names are not written in the book of life simply consisted of people who didn’t believe the Gospel, the rest of the list would be entirely unnecessary. So whatever it is the “unbelieving” are failing to believe, it can’t simply be referring to all “non-Christians.”
This is also made clear when we look at the last category on the list, where it says that “all liars” will end up in the lake of fire. Every single human who has made it to the age where they can speak has told a lie at some point in their life, but we know that not every person on Earth will end up in the lake of fire since otherwise even all believers would end up there, so it would stand to reason that this is referring to habitual liars (such as certain politicians, for example).
Basically, the fact that there’s a very specific list of people who end up in the lake of fire tells us that not everyone who is judged at the Great White Throne will end up there. I would suggest that it’s pretty much just the worst of the worst (your Adolf Hitlers and Donald Trumps and Billy Grahams) who will end up in there. Everyone else, likely including most of your loved ones, will continue on to live on the New Earth, albeit in mortal bodies (although they won’t die again since they’ll be kept alive by partaking of the fruit and leaves of the tree of life).
And, of course, we also know from what Paul taught us throughout his epistles that everyone who hasn’t been vivified yet by that point (referring to those mortal humans living on the New Earth, of course, but also to those who died a second time and had their corpses burned up in the lake of fire but who will be resurrected when Christ defeats the final enemy: death — which has to refer to the second death since it’s the only death remaining on the Earth by that time) will be vivified at the consummation of the eons.
The following is an amalgam of actual discussions I’ve had with real people, both in person and online:
I didn’t intend to stop, but the street preacher’s words caught my ear and I couldn’t help myself.
“As Jesus died on the cross, He cried out, ‘It is finished.’ He died for all of our sins, those past, present, and future. He didn’t say, ‘I did my part, the 99%, which was the only part I could do, but now you must go do your part, the last 1%, which is necessary to complete salvation for yourself.’ No, He didn’t say that because that would be salvation by works rather than by grace.”
I stopped abruptly, turned around, and congratulated him for being the only street preacher I’d ever heard who actually seemed to understand the Gospel. “I’m impressed. I’ve never heard a street evangelist actually tell the truth about what the Gospel means before. Unfortunately, most Christians believe they have their own role to play in their salvation, believing that Christ did 99% of the work to save them, but that they still have to do their 1% by choosing to put their trust in the finished work of Christ, and believing that if they don’t do their part then it turns out Christ didn’t save them through His death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection after all.”
The evangelist looked at me as though I’d grown a second head. “Well, no, that’s not what I believe,” he corrected me. “You still have to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ in order to be saved. If you don’t do your part, you can’t be saved. I was talking about having to get baptized or take communion or go to confession or do some other form of works in order to complete salvation.”
Disappointed to find out that he was just yet another traditional street preacher who said one thing but meant another, I thought of returning to my walk, but decided I should at least give him a chance to understand the Gospel before I left. Odds are he’d never heard it explained to him before, and besides, you never know who might be among the elect. “So, are you saying that what Jesus did on the cross wasn’t sufficient to save us, then? We have to do our part after all, contrary to what you first said, in order to contribute to our salvation. In other words, we have to become our own at least partial saviours in order to be saved?”
“No. Christ did all the work,” he tried to clarify. “Now He’s offering the free gift of salvation He paid for to us. But we do have to accept the gift in order to receive it.”
“If we have to ‘accept the gift’ in order to be saved, though,” I countered, “it’s we who ultimately save ourselves, because that would mean His death for our sins and subsequent resurrection didn’t do anything at all to save us on its own, since we were unsaved prior to His death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection, and we remain unsaved after His death for our sins, entombment, and resurrection, at least if we don’t ‘accept it,’ whatever that actually means. So without ‘accepting the gift,’ the gift of His death for our sins, and subsequent resurrection, actually accomplished nothing.”
He looked at me as one looks at a child who has somehow managed to fail kindergarten. “Don’t be ridiculous. His death and resurrection are a gift that saved everyone. But if someone doesn’t accept that gift, they can’t be saved.”
“So you’re saying His death and resurrection saved everyone, yet everyone is not actually saved?”
“Exactly. Otherwise we’d have to believe in Universalism, and we know that isn’t true.”
“Why do we know that isn’t true?” I asked.
“Well, because if Universalism were true, everyone would get the same reward.” He replied.
“A reward is something we earn,” I said. “I thought you believed salvation was a gift, not something we earn.”
“It is,” he quickly answered, “but we can’t all get the rewa… er, um, gift. That wouldn’t be fair, now, would it?”
“Who said anything about fair?” I asked. “Salvation is something none of us deserve, right?”
“Exactly,” he answered, far too quickly and confidently.
“So salvation isn’t fair to begin with, then, even for those who do ‘accept the gift.’ And if none of us actually deserve salvation, what makes you deserving of it but some sinner who didn’t ‘accept the gift’ not deserving of it?”
“That person didn’t choose to accept the gift,” he tried to clarify, “so he doesn’t deserve salvation.”
“But you do?”
“Well, nobody does, but I accepted the gift.”
I shook my head, wondering if he’d ever notice what he was saying. “So you do deserve it because you accepted the gift?”
He seemed a little uneasy now, but stood his ground. “Well, no, I don’t deserve it, per se, but I get to have it, because I accepted it.”
“So accepting the gift doesn’t make you deserving of it, but not accepting the gift makes someone else not deserving of it?”
“Right,” he said, not quite as confidently as he sounded moments ago.
“So, bottom line, neither of you deserve the gift of salvation.” I concluded.
“Right,” he repeated. “Neither of us deserve the gift of salvation.”
“So if God chose to make salvation 100% dependent on what Christ did, and simply gave it to everyone who didn’t deserve it, whether they ‘accepted it’ or not, would that be acceptable?”
“Of course not,” he said, regaining his composure. “If He gave it to people who didn’t accept it, that means that Hitler will end up in the same place as me.”
“And what’s the problem with that?” I asked.
“Well, do you think he deserves to go to heaven after everything he did?” he asked, thinking that was somehow a good trap.
“We just ascertained that nobody deserves to go to heaven, not even you, so what makes you so special that you should get to go there and he doesn’t?”
“Well, I accepted the gift and he didn’t,” he said weakly, realizing he’d backed himself into a corner, already knowing what I was about to say next.
As he expected, I asked, “So if he did accept the gift before he died, would he be saved and get to go to heaven?”
“Well, yes,” he said, not wanting to admit it.
“So it’s not about fairness after all, is it?”
He looked forlorn at first, but his face suddenly brightened. “But he wouldn’t ever do that, because he was too big of a sinner to ever do so.”
“Ah, so you’re saved because you sinned less than Hitler? Or because your sins weren’t quite as sinful as his were?” I asked. “You’re more righteous than him, so you could ‘accept the gift,’ but he was just so unrighteous that he could never do so.”
“I guess so,” he said. “What else could it be?”
“Well, I don’t see that in Scripture,” I said, “but let’s forget about Hitler for now. Let’s take my sister as an example instead. She hasn’t ‘accepted the gift,’ but she hasn’t done anything anywhere near as bad as Hitler did. In fact, she’s probably a better person than most Christians out there. Would it be okay if God saved her without her first ‘accepting the gift’?”
“No, because she doesn’t deserve to be saved if she doesn’t accept the gift.”
“We already agreed that salvation isn’t something anyone can ever deserve,” I reminded him, “even if they do choose to ‘accept the gift,’ didn’t we?”
“But if God can save people without them accepting the gift, what’s the point in Jesus’ death in the first place? It would mean He died for nothing,” He tried to counter, thinking he’d come up with an original argument.
“Christ’s death for our sins, and subsequent entombment and rousing on the third day, is why we’re saved. If He hadn’t done that, nobody would be saved,” I explained. “His death for our sins, entombment, and rousing on the third day is the Gospel Paul preached. Whether we believe it or not, that’s why we’re all going to eventually experience salvation.”
“But people still have to accept it,” he decided to continue insisting.
“And if they don’t ‘accept it,’ meaning they don’t have faith that what Christ did on the cross saved them, does that mean that what Christ did for our salvation failed to save them?” I asked, trying to get us back to my original point.
“That’s right,” he answered.
“So, to make sure I’m absolutely clear, if Christ saved us on the cross, how do you know you are saved and someone else isn’t?”
”Because I had faith that Christ saved me on the cross,” he said, “and other people don’t have that faith.”
“So the reason you believe you’re saved is because you had faith that what Christ did saved you, but the reason my sister isn’t saved is because she doesn’t have faith that what Christ did saved her?”
“Well, I can’t say for sure she isn’t saved,” he said, giving the usual response Christians usually do at this point, “since I’m not God and don’t know her heart. But if she doesn’t have faith that Christ saved her on the cross then that means she probably hasn’t been saved.”
“But if we’re supposed to believe that Christ saved us through what He did on the cross, then the fact of our salvation through what He did on the cross must remain a fact whether we have that faith or not,” I pointed out, “which means it sounds like you have faith in your faith for salvation, rather than faith in what Christ did on the cross for salvation.”
“No, I have faith that Christ saved me on the cross,” he repeated himself, not seeming to be aware that he was going in circles, “not faith in my own faith.”
Realizing he had no idea what I was getting at, and that I wasn’t going to get anywhere by repeating myself, I decided to move on to another tack. “Well, if someone can’t be saved without having faith or ‘accepting the gift,’ that brings up another question, which is why you decided to ‘accept the gift’ while others don’t. Is it that those other people who don’t accept the gift weren’t born as smart or wise or righteous or humble or lucky as you were? If so, was it your intelligence, your wisdom, your righteousness, or your humility, that saved you, or was it simply pure, dumb, random luck that you happened to make the right decision, while others weren’t fortunate enough to do so?”
He stood there for a minute, unsure of what to say, then finally simply said, “it’s simply because ‘they would not,’ as Jesus once put it.”
“That’s all well and good,” I answered, “but why ‘would you’ while ‘they would not’? If it’s because you were smart enough to do so, it’s the intelligence you have — which the unsaved don’t have — that saved you, which means that we’re saved by intelligence. If it’s because you were wise enough to do so, it’s the wisdom you have — which the unsaved don’t have — that saved you, which means we’re saved by our wisdom. If it’s because you were humble enough to do so, it’s the humility you have — which the unsaved don’t have — that saved you, which means that we’re saved by naturally having the right amount of humility. If it’s because you were righteous enough to do so, it’s the righteousness you have — which the unsaved don’t have — that saved you, which means that we’re saved by our own righteousness. And if it’s because you were simply lucky enough to happen to do so, it’s the good luck you have — which the unsaved don’t have — that saved you, which means that we’re saved by good luck, or simply by random chance. So, I ask again, which one is it that they don’t have that saved you?”
“It’s simply because they would not,” he repeated, not really sure what else to say that wouldn’t make him look like he’d saved himself, not realizing it was far too late for that.
“Oh, so it’s willpower we’re saved by, then,” I said in jest, although he had no idea. “You were born with the right amount of will power to choose to ‘accept the gift,’ whereas they don’t have that willpower which is necessary to make the right decision.”
“We can’t know why we accept the gift but others don’t,” he finally decided to believe as he stated it, “but we know that not everyone is saved because of all the warnings Jesus gave about hell.”
“Switching gears, are we? Okay.” I decided to let my train of reasoning go since he obviously wasn’t going to be able to come up with an answer. “Jesus never actually spoke about hell.”
“What?” He looked at me astounded. “It’s all over the Gospels. He even spoke more about hell than He did about heaven.”
“Jesus actually almost never spoke about heaven either,” I clarified. “He spoke about the Kingdom of Heaven, which refers to the kingdom when it begins on Earth, specifically in Israel, in the future. But He wasn’t talking about people going to heaven since that’s not a place His Jewish audience was looking to go to. What they wanted was to live in the kingdom when it begins on Earth.
“Likewise,” I continued, “He never spoke of hell at all. The word ‘hell’ is a mistranslation of three different Greek words that all refer to different concepts and/or places, none of which resemble the torture chamber that comes to mind when we hear the word. Sometimes He used a word that refers to the grave, or sometimes to the simple state of being dead, and sometimes He used a word that referred to a location outside Jerusalem in which Isaiah prophesied that living people on the earth would see the corpses of people, meaning dead bodies, at some point in the future. But He never spoke of a place that people suffer for eternity in.”
“What about the rich man and Lazarus?” He asked, as though I’d never heard the question before. “Do you think he’ll get to go to heaven some day?”
“No, I actually don’t, but that’s because heaven is a location only the body of Christ goes to. Everyone else will get to live on the New Earth instead. But I realize that isn’t what you’re actually asking. I assume you’re asking whether I believe he’ll be in ‘hell’ for eternity or not. Am I correct?”
“Yes, that’s right. There’s a gulf between him and Abraham, so he can’t ever leave,” he said, proud of his winning argument.
“So you believe he can never leave hell, correct?” I asked again, just to make my next point absolutely clear.
Once again, he didn’t look quite as confident as he had a moment ago, but he couldn’t figure out what my angle was, so he answered the only way he knew how: “Yes, that’s correct.”
“Okay. And if I can show you that Scripture tells us he will in fact eventually leave hell, so that he won’t be in there forever with no chance of escape, will you consider that you might be wrong about some of the other things we’ve discussed?”
He knew he was walking into a trap, but what choice did he have at this point? “Sure.”
“Well, the word that is translated as ‘hell’ in Luke 16 is the Greek word hades. Now, if we take a look at Revelation 20:13-14, we see that ‘hell,’ which is also translated from the same Greek word hades here, will be emptied of its inhabitants so that they can be judged at the Great White Throne, and is then cast into the lake of fire, and something can’t be cast into itself, so we know ‘hell’ isn’t the same thing as the lake of fire. So, even if this isn’t simply a parable meant to teach Jesus’ audience something completely unrelated to the afterlife, as I believe it likely was, that means the rich man would eventually leave the place you said he’d be trapped in forever with no chance to ever leave.”
He just stood there, stunned, then meekly asked his last possible question, “but won’t he still go into the lake of fire to suffer forever after that?”
“If he ever even existed in the first place,” I answered, “and there’s a good chance he didn’t, since Jesus spoke primarily in parables to those who weren’t His disciples, and He was talking to the Pharisees at this point, there’s no way to know whether he’d end up in the lake of fire or not. There’s good reason to believe Revelation actually teaches that relatively few people will actually end up in the lake of fire when interpreted properly, which I’d be happy to discuss with you at another time, but for now, the same words that are used to say people will be in ‘hell’ forever are also used to talk about being in the lake of fire forever, so if the ‘forever’ spent in ‘hell’ actually comes to an end, it stands to reason that the ‘forever’ spent in the lake of fire probably would as well. Especially when we consider everything we discussed at the beginning of this conversation, that salvation is a gift which is based 100% on what Christ did and 0% on what we do. I do have to go now, however,” I said, looking at my watch, “but if you want to learn more, I did write about everything we’ve discussed today in a book, which is available for free on my website. You can find it at https://christianheretic.com/nochurch if you’d like to learn more about what salvation is actually all about, as well as what all the threatening sounding warnings Jesus gave were actually talking about.”
“I doubt I’ll read it,” he said, already forgetting everything I’d said to him, as almost always seems to happen, “since you’re obviously a Universalist, which means you can’t be saved, so you can’t have anything to teach me. I’ll pray for you, though, and ask that God shows you the truth.”
“Sounds good,” I said, shaking my head and returning on the path to my previous destination.
Pretty much no Christian Universalist starts off as a Universalist. Nearly all of us first believed in either everlasting torment in hell or in Annihilationism. It’s normally only after someone challenges us to dig deeper to see if our soteriology is actually scriptural that we come to see just how clearly Scripture teaches Universal Reconciliation, and just how badly we misunderstood the passages we assumed taught otherwise.
Now, those of us who have taken the time to dig deeper into this topic have heard time and again from Infernalists and Annihilationists that they don’t find the arguments for Universal Reconciliation convincing, but if we ask them what those arguments they don’t find convincing actually are, they can’t tell us. This is because almost none of them have ever taken the time to find out for themselves what the arguments for it actually are. So the question is, why is it that so few Christians are willing to take up that challenge to find out if what they’ve been taught is actually true or not? I believe that Carl Sagan actually answered that question:
“One of the saddest lessons of history is this: If we’ve been bamboozled long enough, we tend to reject any evidence of the bamboozle. We’re no longer interested in finding out the truth. The bamboozle has captured us. It’s simply too painful to acknowledge, even to ourselves, that we’ve been taken. Once you give a charlatan power over you, you almost never get it back.” – The Demon-Haunted World: Science as a Candle in the Dark
I’m sure the first knee-jerk reaction of most people who read this will be to quote a verse they think defends Infernalism or Annihilationism, or to simply say that Universalism is obviously unscriptural. But I can almost guarantee you that pretty much none of them could possibly actually tell you which passages in Scripture we Universalists believe teach Universal Reconciliation and why we believe they do, or even how it is we interpret the passages they think actually prove their position, and why we interpret them the way we do. Because to be able to tell you that, they’d have to have actually done their homework and dug into the teachings of those Christians they disagree with so much, which is something they just won’t do since they might learn something they’ve always believed is true really isn’t after all.
I should add, this goes for pretty much every topic I’ve written about in my book, Nearly Everything We Learned At Church Was Wrong; it doesn’t only apply to Universalism. But Universalism definitely is the big one that most Christians refuse to even consider at all.
As I’ve explained elsewhere on this site, it’s mortality (and death, for those who die prior to Christ’s return), as well as sinfulness because of that mortality, that Christ saves us from, not “hell” or the lake of fire. As I’ve also covered, salvation under Paul’s Gospel is 100% based upon the fact that Christ died for our sins, was entombed, and was roused the third day, and has nothing to do with anything we ourselves decide to do or believe (in fact, we can’t even believe the Gospel unless God gives us the faith to do so).
This means that the one and only thing we have to do in order to be saved is be born mortal. That’s it. If we aren’t mortal, we won’t sin, and also have nothing to be saved from, so mortality is a requirement for salvation for us humans. But the salvation itself is based entirely upon what Christ did, not what we do (or believe), otherwise we’re saying that Christ’s death for our sins, and subsequent entombment and resurrection, accomplished absolutely nothing (if we’re not saved before we “accept His death for our sins and His resurrection” — whatever that even means — but only get saved by “accepting it,” it’s our “accepting it” that ultimately saved us, somehow turning His sacrifice from apparent uselessness into something that actually accomplished something, making us our own saviours, or at least partial saviours).
Yes, if God has given you the faith to believe the Good News (Gospel) that everyone will eventually experience salvation because of what Christ did, you’ll get to experience that salvation long before most other people, but even that faith is not out of yourself, but is rather a gift of God. It just means He chose to let you believe the truth — and experience immortality and sinlessness — before everyone else. But since Christ’s death for our sins, and subsequent entombment and resurrection, had to save everyone whether they believe it or not or else we’d be our own (at least partial) saviours, everyone will eventually also be brought to a knowledge of the truth and will also eventually be made immortal and sinless.
It’s rare, but sometimes people ask the right question. Recently, a few people have asked, “if Christ died for our sins, why do some people have to pay for their own sins by going to hell?” The answer to this question is something that even some Christian Universalists get wrong.
I’ll begin by saying, this is one of the few things Calvinists actually get right. They understand that everyone for whose sins Christ died will be saved (and that they will not have to pay for their own sins in any way whatsoever, since salvation is 100% based on what Christ did and 0% based on what we do). Where they go wrong, however, is where the Arminians are actually correct: That “Christ died for our sins” means Christ died for everyone’s sins.
Where Arminians go wrong, on the other hand, is in thinking that salvation is a transaction, assuming that they have to do something to complete the salvation Christ gave them. Even if it’s something as simple as having to choose to believe the right thing, that would still be a transaction (and a work one has to accomplish in order to save themselves, or at least accomplish to participate in saving themselves). Calvinists rightly understand that salvation is 100% based on what Christ did, and not a transaction at all; they also know that faith, in fact, has to be given to someone by God (and that it’s impossible to reject the faith when God gives it to someone).
The reason both sides get confused (and the reason even some Universalists get confused, leading them to believe there’s actually a place where people will consciously suffer because of their sins, even if just as a form of temporary purgatory) is because they’re looking at passages that do seem to make salvation a transaction of sorts and which (in some translations, at least) seem to talk about a place called “hell,” and assume they’re connected in some way with the salvation that Paul talks about. What none of them realize (even many Universalists seem to miss this) is that the salvation in these passages is not talking about humanity in general, but is instead referring to Jews and other Israelites getting to live in the Kingdom of Heaven when it arrives on earth — specifically in Israel — vs other Jews who don’t accept that Jesus is their Messiah and the Son of God weeping and gnashing their teeth over being forced to live in the “outer darkness” of the rest of the world that isn’t Israel after He returns to the earth (this is what the parabolic “furnace of fire” refers to as well), or even missing out on being buried if they die as lawbreakers at that time, and instead having their corpse tossed into the valley of Hinnom (aka Gehenna, often mistranslated as “hell”) to be consumed by worms and/or burned up, which was a grave threat to Jesus’ Jewish audience who believed that everyone, even lawbreakers, should be buried rather than cremated or left exposed to the elements and animals, and none of His audience would have wanted that fate for themselves.
Because most Christians were never taught that these passages don’t even apply to them as Gentiles in the first place (unless they’re members of the Israel of God rather than the body of Christ, which most of them are not), and aren’t aware that they’re talking about very specific rewards and punishments that only apply to Jews and other Israelites (aside from the Judgment of the Sheep and the Goats, but even that one isn’t talking about anything close to what most people think it is, and also takes place entirely on earth among the living), they’ve overlaid these passages that have nothing to do with the sort of salvation they’re thinking of onto Paul’s discussions of salvation, creating a hybrid mess that has nothing to do with what either Jesus or Paul were talking about.
Now, at this point you’re probably whatabouting, thinking “what about this passage” or “that passage,” and “what about the lake of fire,” and such. While I don’t have the space to get into all those questions here (this was meant to be a relatively short post), I have written about them elsewhere on this site, so if you’re curious to learn more about what Jesus was talking about exactly, and what the threatening sounding passages actually mean, as well as what Paul was talking about instead, and what the salvation that applies primarily to us Gentiles is actually all about (although Jews can experience this salvation as well, if God has elected to reveal it to them), I wrote about it in detail in the first four chapters of my eBook, which is available for free here on this website.
As I’ve discussed previously, most people who read the threatening messages Jesus gave while He walked the earth completely misunderstand what He was talking about, thinking He was referring to never-ending punishment in a place called “hell” if they don’t become Christians before they die. Of course, as you already know if you’ve read much of this website, none of those passages are actually talking about anything even close to the idea that most people think of when they hear the word “hell,” but most people aren’t aware of the fact that none of Jesus’ teachings about judgement and the Kingdom of Heaven are talking about an afterlife.
I’ve discussed other parables that people mistakenly think are about hell here before, such as the Judgement of the Sheep and the Goats and why it isn’t talking about what they assume it is, but another parable that confuses so many is the parable of the tares of the field. At the end of His explanation of this parable, Jesus says the angels “shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; and shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.” Most people assume that is referring to non-Christians getting cast into “hell” (or maybe the lake of fire) for eternity, but just like with the parable of the sheep and the goats, they haven’t considered the context of this parable.
First of all, it’s important to remember that, while Jesus walked the Earth, He was talking about the Kingdom of Heaven coming to Earth (specifically to Israel, or at least with Israel at its centre — His ministry and messages were to the lost sheep of the house of Israel and not to Gentiles, as He told His disciples), not about “going to heaven” as ghosts after one dies. Similarly, the punishments He spoke about were about not getting to live in Israel when the Kingdom begins there in the future, either because they’ve been forced to live in the “outer darkness” of the rest of the world, or because they’ll be dead (in some cases because they won’t be resurrected when Jesus returns to the Earth since they aren’t a part of the Israel of God, and in some cases because they died during the Tribulation or during the Millennium and their corpses were then cast into a valley outside Jerusalem to be burned up and devoured by worms in rather than being buried as all Jews would prefer happen to their bodies after they die).
Second of all, one needs to think carefully about what Jesus actually said when He explained the parable. If the kingdom in the parable is referring to an afterlife called “Heaven” that people go to when they die, and only Christians can go to Heaven, then how can the angels “gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity” if they’re not already in the kingdom? To be in the kingdom (which is Heaven, according to the traditional view), they’d have to already be saved (and dead), so is this parable saying that some people will become sinners in Heaven some time after they die and then cast out of Heaven into hell? Obviously nobody believes that, but this just tells us that, similar to when they bring up the other passages that are supposedly about “hell,” they aren’t thinking things through very deeply.
What this parable is actually saying is that there will be righteous Israelites and unrighteous Israelites when Jesus returns, and similar to the “goats” of Matthew 25 (which represent Gentiles who didn’t help persecuted Jews out during the Tribulation), they will wail and gnash their teeth because they’ve been forced to live in parts of the world that aren’t Israel during the Millennium (these parts of the world are “the furnace of fire,” and is the same “fire” as the eonian fire in the parable of the sheep and the goats), unlike the righteous Jews who, similar to the “sheep” in Matthew 25 (which represent Gentiles who did help persecuted Jews during the Tribulation) will get to live in Israel during the Millennium (which is where everyone who heard Jesus when He spoke wanted to live when the Kingdom arrives on Earth in the future). It’s actually very simple to understand once you come to understand who Jesus’ audience was and what His message was all about, but when you assume He was talking about an afterlife rather than life on this planet, and think He was directing His message to everyone rather than specifically to Israelites, it’s easy to get extremely confused about all of His sayings.
A couple weeks ago I wrote about some street preachers here in Toronto who were inadvertently preaching a distorted “gospel” (I recommend reading that post first, before finishing this one). Of course, they didn’t mean to do so. They seem like very nice people, for the most part, who mean well. Unfortunately, however, not knowing how to rightly divide the word of truth will inevitably lead to this consequence, just as it does in nearly every pulpit of every Institutional Church building across the planet. Because they’ve been coming to preach here in my stomping grounds in the downtown core pretty much every Saturday recently, I’ve had an opportunity to pick up on a few more details from their messages that I didn’t think to write about in my last post, and I wanted to comment on some of those details.
One of the biggest problems was that they insisted on preaching about sin as though it was still a problem that needs to be taken care of rather than something that was already taken care of for everyone some 2,000 years ago. When Christ died for our sins, sin was dealt with entirely, and is no longer being held against us. Yes, there will still be a judgement for one’s acts at the Great White Throne Judgement (for those who end up being judged there), but that’s not about sin so much as about acts of evil (which should not be confused with sin; sin and evil are two completely different concepts), and since sin was taken care of on the cross, whether we believe it or not, it’s no longer something for any of us to concern ourselves about (other than to coming to understand that we have indeed sinned in our lives, of course). Because of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent entombment and resurrection on the third day, Paul explained in various places in many of his epistles that everyone will eventually experience salvation (meaning immortality leading to sinlessness), and at this point (under the dispensation of the Conciliation) God is already at peace with us, and simply asks us to be conciliated to Him (meaning be at peace with Him in our minds) as well because of this fact.
Another interesting statement that many of them repeatedly made was that they weren’t calling people to be religious in order to be saved. This statement isn’t entirely accurate, however, since they were indeed asking people to turn to religion in order to be saved (although I should say that they weren’t deliberately lying so much as they were simply confused about what religion is). As Robert Farrar Capon explained so well, religion is anything — from believing to behaving to worshiping to sacrificing — that someone thinks they have to do in order to get right with God. So even though they rightfully stripped the other three types of religious requirements from their “gospel,” they left one religious requirement in: having to choose to believe something specific in order to be saved. But, as I explained in my last post, if someone has to do anything at all in order to be saved (even if that “anything at all” is something as seemingly simple as having to choose to believe the right thing), it’s ultimately salvation by works, and if it’s salvation by works, it’s also religion. I have given my website address to a number of them, so hopefully one or more of them will take the time to read my free eBook where I explain what truly religionless Christianity actually looks like, and come to believe Paul’s Gospel so they can join body of Christ. But, as we know, that will only happen if God has elected them for membership in the body of Christ, so that’s entirely in God’s hands.
Now, as for why they‘re under the mistaken impression that something is required for salvation under the Gospel of the grace of God is because certain things actually are required for certain types of salvation in Scripture. The problem is, they’re mixing and matching different types of salvation, assuming they’re all talking about the same thing each time salvation is discussed in Scripture. This chart they used, which I took a picture of yesterday, should make it clear exactly where they went wrong.
Of course, my long-time readers, and pretty much anyone who has been in the body of Christ for very long at all, can immediately see why they’re confused just by looking at that chart for a few seconds, but I will elaborate a little for everyone else. There are quite a few mistakes in that chart, but to begin with, they have two “roads” and “destinies” which they base upon whether or not one has made a good or intelligent or wise or humble or righteous decision (pick one or more options, whichever ones it is that causes someone to make the correct decision) to accept what Christ did. Aside from that obvious problem (since salvation under the Gospel of the grace of God isn’t based on us in any way whatsoever at all, but is entirely based on the fact that Christ died for our sins, and was subsequently entombed and roused on the third day, and has nothing to do with whether we accept that fact or not), you might have noticed another glaring issue on their chart, which is that most of the passages from Scripture they reference have nothing at all to do with the Gospel of the grace of God to begin with, but are instead about something else entirely.
You see, Jesus wasn’t talking about “going to heaven or hell after you die” in those passages. It’s important to remember that Jesus came only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel, so nearly everything He said while He walked the earth was meant for Israelites, and has to be interpreted in the context of Israel and the promises (and threats) made in the Hebrew Scriptures (meaning the books of the Bible that most people mistakenly refer to as the Old Testament). Basically, the Good News He preached was the Gospel (Good News) of the Kingdom, which was about the Kingdom of Heaven coming to Earth (specifically to Israel, or at least with Israel as its centre) from the heavens, and the threats were primarily about missing out on getting to live in that Kingdom here on earth, either because they’d remain dead (meaning they wouldn’t be resurrected along with the rest of the righteous dead 75 days after Jesus returns to earth), would die during the Tribulation or the Millennium and have their dead bodies burned up (and possibly also be consumed by worms) in a valley in Israel called Gehenna (which is mistranslated as “hell” in many versions of the Bible), or would simply weep and gnash their teeth in anguish because they’ve been forced to live in the “outer darkness” (or “the furnace of fire”) of the rest of the world that isn’t Israel. Again, it’s important to remember that these are threats for Israelites, not for Gentiles who were never promised the Kingdom in the first place. Instead, Gentiles have another promise, one made by Paul, which is everlasting life because of Christ’s death for our sins and His subsequent entombment and resurrection on the third day (this is called Paul’s Gospel, also known as the Gospel of the Grace of God, which should never be confused with the Gospel of the Kingdom). Those whom God has elected to be given the faith to believe what the Good News in Paul’s Gospel means will experience salvation (again, meaning immortality, and sinlessness because of that immortality) early and get to go to Heaven (which just refers to outer space in Scripture; it’s not an ethereal realm dead people go to as ghosts), but everyone (even the Israelites who rejected Jesus as their Messiah) will eventually experience salvation because of what Christ did, albeit on earth instead (well, the New Earth).
The problem is that almost nobody has been taught how to rightly divide the word of truth, and hence assume that Jesus and Paul were talking about the same things. Paul’s teachings came from the same Christ, but Christ’s message to us through Paul was entirely different from the message He taught while He walked the Earth (there’s a reason Paul called these things “mysteries” or “secrets,” depending on your translation: it’s because they weren’t revealed to us by anyone else prior to his revealing of them in his messages, not even by Jesus). If one hasn’t come to an understanding of the fact that the 13 epistles signed by Paul are teaching an entirely separate message (with an entirely separate Gospel) from the one Jesus gave to Israel (and the messages that Jesus’ disciples later wrote about in their own epistles), it’s no surprise that they’re confused about what’s to come, and that they end up creating charts like the one above. They’re not intentionally misleading people, because they‘ve been inadvertently misled themselves, but it is crucial that they come to understand what the differences between the Circumcision and the Uncircumcision writings are if they don’t want to continue teaching unscriptural falsehoods. As my long-time readers already know, I go into great detail on that topic in my eBook, so if you’re new to this topic yourself, I highly recommend reading it over carefully so you don’t end up proclaiming the distorted “gospel” that Paul himself warned about in his epistle to the Galatians.
Yesterday, I watched some street preachers using speakers to proclaim their understanding of the Gospel. This post isn’t about the ear damage that many street preachers in Toronto are causing to both themselves and to random passersby with the excessive decibel level they have their speakers cranked up to, though, because these guys were among the few street preachers around here who actually use a considerate volume. No, this post is instead about them quoting certain passages from Scripture that actually mean the exact opposite of the message they were trying to get across, with no idea that they were distorting the Gospel so badly as to actually be proclaiming the false “gospel” that Paul declared would bring an anathema upon its preachers (though, to be fair, pretty much every traditional preacher in the world does this, although not on purpose but rather simply because they aren’t aware of what the actual Gospel that Paul proclaimed means). I should say, I believe they were almost certainly completely sincere in their message; they weren’t trying to proclaim a false gospel on purpose. They truly seemed to want people to avoid “going to hell for eternity” and were preaching what they thought was the truth. Unfortunately, the truth ended almost immediately after they finished quoting the passages from Scripture that they did. That said, the reason for their distorted “gospel” is understandable, because it was based on common misunderstandings of other passages in Scripture that forced them to conclude that what they were preaching was the only thing that made sense (and, honestly, if someone doesn’t understand the other passages they’re confused about, the “gospel” they concluded the Bible teaches does seem like a somewhat logical one to arrive at, even though it does still contain contradictions that should be obvious to anyone who is paying attention).
So what were some of the mixed messages they were preaching? Well, to begin with, they repeatedly said that there’s nothing you have to do, or even can do, in order to be saved. One of them even pointed out that nobody in Heaven will be able to take credit for being there in any way, or be able to say they did a single thing in order to get there; it was all because of Christ’s death for our sins, and His subsequent burial and resurrection, that they ended up there. If they’d stopped right then and there and not said another word, they would have succeeded in proclaiming the Gospel of the grace of God (even though I personally would have worded it slightly differently, it’s still close enough that it contains the Good News that Paul taught). Unfortunately, they then went on to add to the Gospel by telling the crowd that we do have to do something in order to be saved after all, which is choosing to accept (or receive) Christ’s sacrifice for our sins. Of course, if you’ve been reading my website for very long, you already know where they went wrong there, but for those who haven’t, it’s that they contradicted themselves by saying there’s nothing you can do to be saved and that it’s 100% because of what Christ did that we’re saved, but then went on to make salvation at least partially based on ourselves, thanks to our own good or intelligent or wise or humble or righteous decision (pick one or more options, whichever ones it is you believe caused you to make the correct decision) to accept what Christ did. But if we’re required to do anything at all in order to be saved, even if it’s just making the choice to believe the right thing, it’s no longer 100% based on what Christ did. At the very least that makes it 1% what we did, helping save ourselves by making that good or intelligent or wise or humble or righteous decision to “receive Christ’s gift” (giving us cause to boast because we were better or smarter or wiser or more humble or more righteous than all those other sinners out there who didn’t choose to make the correct decision because they weren’t born with the genetic ability, and/or didn’t have the right life experiences, to be able to make that correct choice we did).
Now, if someone hasn’t studied to shew themselves approved, and isn’t familiar with what various other parts of Scripture are talking about, it makes sense that someone would conclude they had to teach this contradictory message. After all, there are passages in various parts of Bible that, at least on first glance (and if you don’t dig deeper into them to find out what they’re actually talking about), appear to say that people who don’t make the right choice will end up punished for their sins forever in a fiery location. Of course, my long-time readers already know that these threatening passages aren’t saying anything of the sort (and are actually talking about consequences that apply to a very limited number of people, and that these consequences will take place here on Earth rather than by ghosts in an ethereal afterlife dimension), but few Christians today are aware of what these passages are actually talking about and so they end up making salvation under the Gospel of the grace of God a transaction in order to be saved from an eternity in “hell” or the lake of fire rather than a gift they do absolutely nothing to receive (not even choose to receive it), and that it has absolutely nothing to do with avoiding “hell” or the lake of fire at all as well.
This is a common mistake, though, since most people are under the impression that salvation is from “hell” or the lake of fire. Few people today realize that salvation actually has nothing to do with those things in any way whatsoever (in fact many people who go to “hell” are saved [and no, the reason they go there isn’t that they’ve lost their salvation, nor am I talking about purgatory; almost all true Christians will actually “go to hell” for a time according to Scripture], and many people who avoid going to the lake of fire won’t have been saved under the Gospel of the grace of God when they do so, although all of that is a topic for another post). Perhaps somewhat ironically, one of the preachers actually quoted one of the verses that helps us understand what salvation is from, but he somehow managed to leave out the key word in that verse while quoting it, saying, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for all have sinned.” Again, if you’ve been reading my website for very long (or know your Scriptures), you know exactly what the mistake he made there was, but for those who don’t, he left out one of the most important words in that verse: the word “that.” The verse actually says, “Wherefore, as by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned” (emphasis on the word “that” there added by me). This verse is telling us that we sin because we’re dying (or, to be precise, because we’re mortal: “for that reason all have sinned” is what Paul is getting at there), not that we die because we sin. Only Adam and Eve became mortal because they sinned; everyone else genetically inherited the wages of their sin: mortality leading to physical death (not spiritual death; there isn’t a single passage in Scripture that I’m aware of which speaks of the so-called “spiritual death” most Christians mistakenly believe in), and sinfulness because of that mortality. So while most people are under the mistaken impression that salvation is from “hell” or the lake of fire, what salvation is actually from is mortality (along with physical death for those who have died before they get to fully experience their salvation), as well as from sinfulness because of that mortality (once we’ve been vivified — meaning made immortal — in the future, we’ll no longer sin because we’re no longer in the process of slowly dying). The truth about what salvation is from is known by next to no Christians today, though (aside from a handful of Christian Universalists), so it’s hard to blame them for not noticing that single word in the verse, or missing out on what it means, but that little word makes all the difference when it it comes to understanding what salvation is from, and the lack of understanding when it comes to this verse is causing nearly all Christians to preach the false “gospel” they do.
They also quoted Paul when he wrote that “it’s by grace we’ve been saved, through faith,” not understanding what that actually means. They did, in fact, quote the whole passage, but somehow entirely missed the fact that the salvation, grace, and faith are not out of ourselves but are instead a gift from God, as they quoted those very words. Because of their misunderstandings of the various “hell” and lake of fire passages in other parts of Scripture, they once again assumed that these places must be a threat for those who don’t make the right decision, which means that, even though Paul wrote that the grace and faith are given to us as a gift, meaning we have no actual part in our salvation ourselves since otherwise we could boast about our works (and, yes, having to choose to “accept the gift” would indeed count as a “work” since it’s something we would have to do in order to be saved, giving us something to boast in), they were forced to make that faith dependant upon us, as something we have to build up enough of within ourselves so that we can believe the Gospel (even though that faith is not out of ourselves according to Paul). Because they misunderstood Jesus’ messages to His audience that if they didn’t believe in Him they’d “perish” (along with various other threats that seem to talk about everlasting punishment in “hell”), as well as thought He was saying that if they do believe in Him they’ll go to Heaven forever, not realizing that Jesus was talking about something else entirely from the Gospel of the grace of God in those messages, these preachers went ahead and overlaid those threatening (and promising) passages onto this one, assuming they were talking about the same thing (even though doing so makes this passage contradict itself). But what they failed to realize is that if someone has been given the gift of faith written about in this passage, it means they already believe the Gospel of Grace. Basically, they’ve either been given the gift of faith and hence believe (which means they’ve been saved, at least relatively speaking) or they haven’t been given the gift of faith and hence haven’t believed (which means they have not yet been saved, again, relatively speaking). There isn’t any basis for saying someone who has been given the gift of faith still has to choose to “accept that faith,” because they’ve already got the faith that saves them if God gave them that gift, since having faith literally means believing. To put it simply, we have absolutely zero say in whether we have faith or not, and if we have faith, we’ve believed and have been saved (again, from a relative perspective; from an absolute perspective, everyone has been saved — or has been promised eventual salvation — on the basis of what Christ did, whether one believes it before they die or not, but we’re talking about relative salvation in this paragraph, which is about joining the body of Christ and getting to experience immortality early, during the next two eons, rather than the promise of eventual immortality for all humanity at the consummation of the eons that is salvation from an absolute perspective).
They also kept quoting the passage that says God will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth. They seemed to forget the Bible also tells us that God works all things according to the councel of His own will, which means that if God wills something, He gets it. But, again, because of the misunderstanding of Jesus’ “threats,” they assumed that God actually won’t get everything He wills, once again distorting the Gospel into a transaction one must make with God before they die, and also detracting from the absolute sovereignty of God.
There was a lot more they said that I could go on about. In fact, I don’t think they interpreted a single passage of Scripture accurately, thanks to their lack of study about what the various passages mean, leading them to bad conclusions such as that the rich man in Luke 16 would stay in “hell” forever even though they had a large chart with them that included the lake of fire as a separate place from “hell,” not seeming to realize that using the parable in Luke 16 in this way demonstrates they either don’t seem to understand that the rich man in this story would eventually leave “hell” (which means this parable is not a good example of a threat that one’s stay in “hell” will never end), or that they somehow seemed to forget that fact altogether even though it was on their chart. And they also quoted the passage in Matthew 25 about the Judgement of the Sheep and the Goats, not realizing that it has nothing to do with Heaven or “hell” either, and that everyone remains quite alive in various places here on Earth by the end of it, and that the “sheep” in that passage aren’t a reference to believers at all either (I’m not going to get into the details here, but I wrote about it previously in this blog post if you aren’t familiar with this fact). But this post has already gone on long enough, so I’ll leave it at that for now. If you aren’t one of my long-time readers when it comes to my website, though, you’re likely wondering what it is I think the various threatening passages about “hell” are actually talking about. For that I’ll point you to my free eBook, since it would take more space than I have to get into here.