Richard Ritenbaugh detects a massive inconsistency in the persistently saccharine assessment of Jesus as meek and mild, ignoring His wrath, while at the same time teaching the concept of an ever-burning Hell. God's wrath is measured and just, not excessive and cruel. The breakaway Protestant daughters of the Roman Catholic Church have faithfully carried on the heretical error of their mother, promulgating the fantasies of Dante Alighieri's The Divine Comedy, while ignoring or twisting the clear meaning of the Scriptures. The Hebrew word transliterated "sheol" is simply the grave or pit—the inevitable destination of every human being. In this context, everyone who has ever lived will "go to hell." The Greek word transliterated "hades" is a synonym of sheol. The Greek word transliterated "tartaroo" applies to the place of restraint for Satan and his demons, but not for humans. The term "Gehenna" refers to a garbage dump outside Jerusalem, made vile by the ancient pagan custom of infant sacrifice. Because it was the city dump, a fire burned there constantly, consuming a steady stream of refuge and garbage feasted upon by maggot. The maggots eventually turned to flies, which, reproducing, yielded more maggots, a cycle which informs the image of "their worm" never dying. Gehenna is not a metaphor for an ever-burning fire, but rather for the Lake of Fire into which God consigns the incorrigibly wicked, whose unquenchable flames will cease only after all the fuel is consumed. Oblivion, not eternal torment, is the merciful end for the wicked. God is both good and severe, but His mercy endures forever.
Ronny Graham, focusing on Matthew 3:11, cautions that the portion about baptizing with fire may have been inserted by translators having an agenda, observing that the other Gospels make no mention of fire. The Passover and the Days of Unleavened Bread are associated with the covenant we made at our baptism, when we were figuratively buried and resurrected from a watery grave. The Last Day of Unleavened Bread depicts the baptism of Children of Israel into the Red Sea, at which time they watched the destruction of the emblems of their captivity as they themselves were being freed. The Earth itself went through a baptism during Creation when the land emerged from the sea. Noah witnessed a baptismal cleansing of the entire earth as he and his family were saved. At the creation of the New Heavens and New Earth there will be no more sea. The pattern of burial and rescue from a watery grave appears often in scripture, indicating that the rite of Baptism plays an enormous role in God's overall purpose.
While the subject of the demons' ultimate fate is not a salvation issue, many people wonder how God will deal with them at the end of the Millennium. John Ritenbaugh tackles four assumptions that Bible students and scholars tend to make when dealing with this issue, showing that none of them holds up under biblical scrutiny.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the symbolism of the two goats on this solemn holy day—the sacrificial goat (representing Jesus Christ's sacrifice for our sins) was slain, while the Azazel goat (which we have assumed to be Satan), with the sins of the entire nation pronounced on its head, was led into the wilderness to die a natural death—suggests that some aspects of our previous understanding may have been wrong. Not one human being, from our parents, Adam and Eve, to ourselves, can escape the responsibility of his own sins; Satan did not make us do anything, unless we willingly cooperated with his temptations. We cannot blame anyone else, including our physical parents, for our shortcomings. Because the Azazel goat in the ceremony was allowed to escape, we concluded that Satan (as well as the demonic spirits who followed him) would not die, but would be driven into a perpetual abode of restraint, symbolized by the term "outer darkness." Angels were created to serve as ministering spirits, assisting the Creator well before mankind came on the scene. To be sure, we have no scriptural evidence that an angel has died, but we cannot assume that angels are immortal and share the same kind of spirit God Almighty has. Though angelic beings are currently superior to human beings in intelligence and volition, we cannot assume they are indestructible. Speculation among the splinters of the greater church of God ranges from the thesis that Satan and his demons will live forever in a remote location to its antithesis that Satan and his demons will be utterly annihilated. We need to process four troublesome assumptions: (1) that all spirit is ever living and impossible to destroy, (2) that God was guilty of lack of judgment in creating something He could not take apart, (3) that angels are not subject to the same principles of judgment with which God judges men, and (4) that the new heavens and earth will not be of the purity God promised.
Richard Ritenbaugh, refuting the Pagan oriented concept of Hell reinforced by Dante's Inferno, laments that most of mainline Protestant and Catholic theology is hopelessly immersed in this false concept. The Hebrew word sheol simply means a pit or a hole where dead bodies are placed. Errant connotations evolved from this, including a void and a haunting, mysterious place, influenced by Greek myths of Hades. Realistically, when a body goes to sheol, it corrupts and is broken down by bacteria. Often, translators render the Hebrew word sheol (the pit) into the English word Hell (connoting flames and pitchforks). Jonah referred to the belly of the fish as sheol. In the Greek language, Hades is equivalent to the Hebrew word sheol, without any reference to flames or torment. When Christ went into the tomb, He was in Hades, the storage place of the dead. Hades and death are equivalent terms. The term tartaroo refers to a place or condition of restraint for fallen angels or demons, not humans. The Bottomless Pit was reserved for Satan, symbolized as a fiery dragon. The term Gehenna (of Hinnom), referring to the valley of the sons of Hinnom, was actually a place of refuse, at one time used for child sacrifice. It was consecrated by God as a burial ground, and later the city dump of Jerusalem, with a fire burning the trash. Jesus used this venue as a symbol of the Lake of Fire—eternal Judgment (where the trash and garbage are burned up.) When one dies, the body decomposes and consciousness ceases; the spirit (the record of our life experiences) goes to God for safe keeping. When Christ returns, He will resurrect those who have believed and eventually all either to life or condemnation (depicted in Malachi 4:1-3). The soul is not immortal; the soul that sins shall die; the wages of sin is death. The gift of God is eternal life for those called by God.
Peter's statement that Jesus 'preached to the spirits in prison' (I Peter 3:19) has for years baffled many a Bible student. Richard Ritenbaugh examines this verse in context, showing that the traditional interpretation is woefully off-base to the point of suggesting a totally unbiblical conclusion.
The Parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man illustrates the resurrections from the dead and the Second Death. Martin Collins explains how knowing the time element hidden within the parable opens up the meaning of Christ's teaching.
Richard Ritenbaugh, responding to a challenge of our understanding concerning Satan the Devil, systematically substantiates Satan's existence. Christ was an eyewitness to Satan's fall from heaven, and Isaiah 14 and Ezekiel 28 verify the veracity of this event. Jude and Peter add detail regarding the sins of the angels, and their confinement as demons. Sadly, we as humans share the prison cell inhabited by Satan and his fallen demons. Pride, vanity, presumption, and self-absorption led to Satan's demise—being cast out as a profane thing. Satan's madness (that he is his own god) is the spirit of this world, and he still possesses great spiritual and political power on this earth, even to deceive the very elect. We become protected from Satan's destruction by 1) the blood of the Lamb, implying our deepening relationship with God; 2) the conduct of our lives, constantly adding to our character; and 3) the willingness to sacrifice for righteousness.
John Ritenbaugh explains the origins of our foremost adversary, Satan the Devil, and his host of fallen angels or demons (Revelation 12:3-12; Isaiah 14:12-15; Ezekiel 28:12-19). In our precarious situation of sharing a prison cell with these formidable wicked spirits, we need to take heart in: 1) the tremendous numerical advantage of the good over the evil angels; 2) the hopeless division in the demon world, preventing them from "getting their act together"; 3) as with Job, God has set limits on Satan's ability to harass us (Job 2:6); and 4) God has provided us with adequate spiritual armor to withstand the wiles of the Devil (Ephesians 6:10-12). Even though with our own limited strength, we could be easily annihilated, God has promised us protection if we yield to Him and keep His commandments.
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