Three Angels Messages Part 74

Welcome once again, as we continue to study the Three Angel’s Messages! In speaking of one who receives the mark of the beast we read, “He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

Because some have taken these words to mean that the lost will burn in a never-ending fire, it is paramount that we understand clearly what the Bible teaches about the destruction of the wicked. Last time we saw that the Scriptures clearly instruct that the soul that sins will die, and not live forever in a never-ending ordeal of flames. Helping us to come to that understanding, we find that the words the Bible uses that are translated “forever” mean “as long as it lasts, and do not necessarily mean “forever” as our English word does. We discovered that the punishment, not the punishing is what lasts forever. The Bible uses words such as “devour, consume, burn up” and “never be anymore” to describe the final destruction of the wicked.
In this part of our discussion, we are going to consider three different scriptural reasons why it is impossible for the teaching of eternal torment to be accurate. We’ll find that it is a “geographical impossibility,” a “prophetic impossibility,” as well as a “theological impossibility.”
Reason number one: in addition to what we’ve learned from the words and passages we studied last time, there is also the matter of what we might call the “geographical impossibility of a never-ending hell.” Have you thought about this? Where does this destruction take place that removes the wicked? Exactly where does “hell” take place? What might be a surprise to some, the Bible tells us that it happens on the surface of this earth. It isn’t something that takes place in some ill-defined nether region, and it’s not going on now. The wicked are “reserved” for the day of judgment. II Peter 2:9. The Bible tells us that “hell” will take place right on the surface of Planet Earth. “They (the wicked) went upon the breadth (or surface) of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” Revelation 20:9. This destruction that “devours” the wicked is something that happens “upon the earth.”

Now, consider this thoughtfully. Along with this, we remember that Jesus promised that the “meek shall inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5. Reading Revelation 20 and 21, we find that following the period of 1,000 years, God brings the Holy City, the New Jerusalem, the city which He has prepared for those who love Him, down to this earth where there is a place prepared for it. The wicked, who have been dead during the 1,000 year period, are brought back to life and are seduced by their leader, Satan, to attack the New Jerusalem. From the point of view of the raised wicked, it appears that there are more in their ranks than within the walls of God’s city, and they aspire to attack the New Jerusalem. In one last and final demonstration of their terminal disease of wickedness, they mount an assault against the camp of the saints. All this takes place on the soil of this planet. It is at this point that God sends fire from heaven and “devours them.”

Following this, according to His promise, He will make a “new heaven and a new earth.” He will cleanse this planet, its atmosphere and wherever sin has polluted our solar system and recreate this earth in the beauty it enjoyed before the Fall. This earth will then be the permanent abode of the saints. Then will come to pass Jesus’ promise, a quotation from Psalm 37:11, “The meek shall inherit the earth.”

Notice then, if you analyze this sequence carefully, the “geographical impossibility of a never-ending hell.” If “hell” takes place on this earth, as the Scriptures emphatically teach, and if this earth will be made new and become the home of the saved, how could it possibly be that hell would last throughout eternity? Exactly what would that entail? Would the southern hemisphere be the abode of the wicked in fiery conflagration, while the northern hemisphere comprised the Canaan of the saints? Ridiculous! It cannot be! The simple truth is that God will destroy sinners with fire, and these fires will then cleanse the planet of all the effects of evil. He will then make this earth new and it will be the eternal home of the redeemed. God’s plan is simple, beautiful and easy to understand.

Reason number two: consider this also. We could call the teaching of a number-ending hell a “prophetic impossibility.” Revelation contains the beautiful promise, “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying; and there shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” Revelation 21:4. Here’s an important question: will there come a time when this will be fulfilled? Yes, we believe so. God is not in the practice of lying. Then think of this; if it is really true that the wicked suffer throughout eternity, when would this promise ever be fulfilled? If sinners burned in hell forever, there would always be sorrow, crying and pain, wouldn’t there? It would be a confession that God doesn’t really have the power to permanently fix the sin problem. We’re glad to say that our God is bigger than that!

We believe that this beautiful promise will come to pass, following the destruction of the wicked. Yes, there will be tears and crying at the destruction of the lost. Christ will be weeping over the ones who rejected His mercy. But the time will come when all tears will be wiped away. The Lord will have dealt with sin and sinners once and for all. The universe will be expunged of all evil. The Bible tells us that “He will make an utter end of it. Affliction will not rise up a second time.” Nahum 1:9.

Reason number three: consider that the doctrine of eternal torment is a “theological impossibility.” How is that so? Think of it this way. Jesus paid for our sins by dying on the cross. That’s the basis of the Gospel, isn’t it? Any Christian could tell you that. He suffered the penalty for sinners that we might have eternal life; and not just for the sinners who would repent, but for the sins of the whole world. I John 2:2.

Jesus suffered the fate of lost sinners; it’s the only way He can be our Savior, the only way we can receive salvation. The scales of divine justice must balance. He took our place. When the Father looked at the Son, bearing our sin, He saw ugliness. Jesus, and we say it reverently, “became” the world’s greatest sinner, not by His own sins, of course, since He was perfect, but by the substitution of our guilt. Crowns are worn by kings aren’t they? Wearing the crown of the curse, the thorns, He became (we tread softly here) the “King of the curse,” the “Sovereign of sinners.”

The guilt and shame of all the terrible sins of the Old Testament were heaped upon Him, including the offering of infant sacrifices in the fiery hands of the god Molech. All the atrocities since the cross, including the hideous deeds of Hitler were placed on Him. The Bible says, “The LORD has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6. The margin of the KJV says that the Lord “caused to meet” on Him all our sins. It was as if all the sins, before or after Calvary were brought together and laid on Him.

Because of this, when the Father looked at the Son on the cross, He saw the repulsive ugliness of sin. Think of this when you ponder the sacrifice of Jesus. Do you remember the picture God gave Isaiah revealing the condition of Israel? “From the sole of the foot even to the head, there is no soundness in it, but wounds and bruises and putrefying sores; they have not been closed or bound up, or soothed with ointment.” Isaiah 1:6. “But we are all like an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags.” Isaiah 64:6. If you have the courage, do a word study on that phrase “filthy rags.”     In vision Zechariah was shown the high priest, Joshua. “Joshua was clothed in filthy garments (same Hebrew word).” Zechariah 3:3.

Speaking of the Laodicean church, Jesus said, “You are wretched, miserable, poor, blind and naked.” Revelation 3:17. This is what sin looks like to a pure and holy God! And according to Scripture, Jesus accepted all the guilt and woe that we brought. That means that this description of sin, that we read in the Bible, is what Jesus took upon Himself when He “became sin for us.”

And there is something else, very specific, that must be included in the list of sins Jesus bore, perhaps the single most wicked act in human history. What do you think that would be? It was the act of putting God’s Son on the cross. Consider this for a moment; allow your mind to grapple with this concept. Could there be a greater transgression in the history of iniquity than crucifying Jesus, Who was God incarnate? Could there be a sin greater in the annals of wickedness than the act of taking the life of the Life Giver? Yet we know that even the guilt of that sin was accepted by the Savior. We know that because He prayed specifically in behalf of His persecutors and crucifiers saying, “Father, forgive them.” Luke 23:34. He was speaking specifically of those who nailed Him to the tree!

The forgiveness of those who voted His death, wielded the whip, drove the spikes and planted the cross could only be possible if He bore their guilt. In other words, Christ not only suffered and endured the tortures of the crucifixion; He bore the responsibility for it also! If you mind can process this thought, consider that when the Father looked down at Jesus, among the sins He saw upon Him was the sin of causing His Son’s death! If you were a parent, how would you feel toward the murderer of your child? Yet Jesus was willing to bear all our sins. Praise His name!

What does all this mean, in the context of the topic we’re considering, the destruction of the wicked? Let’s put it together this way. If it is true that Jesus suffered the punishment for all the sins ever committed; and we believe the Bible says He did. If it is true that He took our place on the cross and suffered the penalty that we deserve, and we believe He did. Then what does this say about the final judgment against individual sinners? Jesus indeed took the place of lost sinners and suffered the fate of the lost. He bore, not the guilt of one sinner, but all sinners; He bore the aggregate sum of all human iniquity.

But notice carefully that His death took place within the time limitations of that Friday. So here's the question we have to think about. If Jesus suffered the penalty for all the sins of the world and that sacrificial act was accomplished on that one day, why would it make sense then that those individuals who refuse the Gift and demand to pay for their own sins would be required to suffer for eternity? That just doesn't “add up.”

Or, to turn the coin the other way, view the proposition from the other side. If it does indeed require an eternity’s worth of suffering to pay for sin, even the sins of one single person during one single lifetime, which is essentially what those who subscribe to the teaching of eternal torment believe, then Jesus must remain on the cross also for that length of time to pay for the sins of one individual who is saved. He must stay on the cross throughout eternity to satisfy the requirements of divine justice and procure salvation, especially so if He is paying for the sins of the whole world and not just for one person. Otherwise the debt would never completely be paid. This is what we mean when we state that the doctrine of eternal torment is a “theological impossibility.” Obviously He didn’t remain on the cross, and obviously His sacrifice was sufficient to ransom man from sin and its penalty. When He breathed His last He said, “It is finished.” His work of sacrifice was completed. The offering was satisfactory.

This is not to minimize the horrific trauma of what Jesus experienced on the cross nor the final separation from God that sinners will experience on that last day. It was awful for Christ, and it will be terrible for those who are lost. Jesus drank the cup of woe to its bottom. It wasn’t a mirage; His heart was broken by our guilt and the rejection of His Father. Likewise weeping and gnashing of teeth will characterize the wicked as they see the glory of the kingdom they rejected and the benevolence of a loving God they despised. To know that all this was provided, and yet in stubborn and insane obstinacy to know that they turned their back on it will be a realization that will crush the heart of sinners. There is no agony like the pangs of regret! To feel the full weight of guilt in knowing that they trampled on the law of liberty and violated the principles of God’s holy law will produce a burden of sorrow and woe from which they will greatly desire relief.

They will know the Voice that spoke to them in patience, which they spurned. They will know that they had ample opportunity to respond to God’s gracious Spirit Who whispered to them of Jesus, but they responded in their minds, “We will go our own way. We will not have this Man to rule over us.” The full realization of these things, brought to view in unadulterated clarity on that last day in the light flashing from the eternal city, will send arrows of horror through the hearts of the lost.

There is the beautiful kingdom, the city of gold, and they are on the outside of its glorious walls, forever doomed! Its glittering gates of pearl are closed to them forever! They could have been inside, but they made their choice, and now the sun has set on their day of salvation! Their Maker and Friend they rejected, and now He has rejected them! What woe and agony to wrestle with these thoughts, now seen in stark reality. In truth, allowing them to perish will be an act of mercy.

In fact, God’s love shines within even the doctrine of the destruction of the wicked. Rather than a picture of a vengeful God, as Jonathan Edwards preached, a benevolent Ruler is portrayed when the full information of the Scripture is gathered. He must deal with sin! It is a cancer that must be excised for the sake of the serenity and safety of the universe!
He will not abrogate His position on freedom of choice. He will not remove from His creatures the capacity to decide for themselves. He holds out the inducements of eternal life and the invaluable gift of His grace. He shows to the sinner the results of wrong choices. Patiently He guides and counsels through His Spirit, hoping thereby to spark new life in the heart of the wanderer. He hopes to shine the light of truth on the Damascus road of each traveler through life.

Ultimately, however, He leaves the final choice to us. It is said that there is a gospel election. God has voted in favor of our salvation. The devil has voted in favor of our damnation. We cast the tie-breaking vote. Will we accept His plan and His ways? His way is the only way the universe can operate. The principle of self-love, cherished in the mind of Lucifer, is the sand in the gears of relationships. The only operating system that will promote happiness and peace is the principle of self-less love, the foundation of God’s holy law. “Love is the fulfilling of the law.” Romans 13:10. Eventually, those who cling to an existence of self-love must be destroyed, though it breaks the heart of the Creator.

The essence of the Three Angels’ messages is the true revelation of the character of God; not the sinister portrait painted by the deceiver Satan, the master of smear and reputation assassination, but the true picture of His generous heart of love. Not the fiendish scene of a vengeful Deity delighting in the writhing of the lost in flames of agony, as taught by some fire and brimstone preachers, but a kindly Sovereign in anguish over the decisions of the unsaved. He must deal with sin! If He gives freedom to choose, then He must honor those decisions, though it means that those who cling to sin will be destroyed.

David’s lament over his wayward son Absalom, who tried to seize the kingdom from his father, will be amplified a million times as sinners are destroyed in the lake of fire. It will be God who will be weeping as did King David who said, “O, my son Absalom--my son, my son Absalom--if only I had died in your place! O Absalom, my son, my son!” II Samuel 18:33. The incredible irony will be that God did die in the place of every sinner, but they refused His generous gift of salvation.

The tears that fall on that day will include those of a loving God Who created and redeemed creatures destined for eternal life, but who now, because of their own choice, must suffer the results of their decisions. It will be God’s “strange act” to destroy. But let sinners know that our God is not to be trifled with. He is not an indulgent “grandfather” who will tolerate rebellion forever. He will bring to an end the saga of sin. He will make an “utter end.” Let us bow in thanksgiving for His mercy and grace. Let us pledge to yield our wills to His guiding Spirit, so that we can be on the inside of those jasper walls. God wants it so. He died for our sins. He waits at the door and knocks, hoping that we will open the door of our hearts to Him.

Having said all this, could it be that the teaching of a never-ending hell is in some way a form of “refuge” for the sinner; that is, even though the prospect of the torments of hell are not pleasant, they at least represent some type of existence. By this the dark oblivion of eternal death is avoided. Life in hell is preferred to no life at all. If that be the thinking of some, let it be stated that the Scriptures are not confusing on this; sin and sinners will “be no more.” Eternal death means exactly that; the total, complete and permanent cessation of conscious existence. Through Christ, we can avoid that verdict. There is a “heaven to win and a hell to shun.”

In view of the recent tornado tragedies, we see that a very successful business has started making what are called “safe boxes.” These are metal containers which can be bolted down to a secure surface such as a concrete slab. They have been tested to withstand wind forces up to 400 mph. You can purchase the smallest model, adequate for a person of slight build, for about $2,500.00. They go up in size and in price to accommodate groups of people. In figurative language, the “storm winds” are about to blow, in the sense of which Revelation speaks. Right now, the angels are holding them back, but soon they will be released and calamities which we’ve never before witnessed will strike the earth. Where will our safety be? Do you have a “safe box”? What, or Who, will be your place of protection when the winds blow? Have you found your Refuge in Christ?