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.
Richard Ritenbaugh discusses the explosive interview concerning the reality of hell conducted by Eugenio Scalfari, a longtime atheist friend of Pope Francis. According to Scalfari, Pope Francis maintains that hell does not exist. In stating that condemned souls just "disappear," the Pope denies the 2000-year-old Roman Catholic doctrines about an ever-burning hell and the immortality of the soul. Though Vatican representatives responded by accusing Scalfari of taking some artistic license with the Pope's phraseology, Vincent Nichols, the highest ranking Catholic in the UK, agrees that the image of an ever-burning hell derives more from iconography than from biblical sources. Much of Roman Catholic doctrine is a rickety house of cards, in danger of collapsing as one carefully explores the pathetically feeble doctrines of the immortal soul and an ever-burning hell. For this reason, the Church has historically protected this fragile edifice by brute force (such as the Inquisition). When the searchlight of reason endangers Catholic doctrine, history teaches us to expect a backlash from conservative Catholics.
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.
The common belief among Christians—and other religions have similar depictions of the afterlife—is that one's immortal soul goes either to heaven or hell after death. David Grabbe argues that this ignores the biblical concept of the second death, an event beyond physical death that not only undermines the traditional heaven-hell and immortal soul doctrines, but also highlights God's perfect sense of justice.
David C. Grabbe: If the thief on the cross lived again the day that he was crucified, ascending to heaven, not only would he have gone there without Jesus Christ, but he also would have been a jarring exception to the Bible's clear statements ...
David C. Grabbe: Scripture shows plainly that Jesus's body and soul were in "Hades"—the grave—for three days and three nights, starting on the day He died. ...
David C. Grabbe: In Luke 23:43, Jesus Christ tells one of the criminals being crucified next to Him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise. ...
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.
Richard Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the movie the Gladiator, marveled at many references to the afterlife, observing that the notion of going to heaven has been borrowed from pagan notions of Nirvana, Valhalla, or Elysium. In this venue, they will be doing things there that they had not attained in this life, transferring earthly good times to a heavenly setting. Going to heaven is not scriptural. The soul is not immortal; it is equivalent to life. Mankind does not have a soul; he is a soul, subject to death. The soul that sins will die. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life when we go through the prescribed process. The body returns to dust, decomposed into its elements. As we reach our prime, we begin degenerating until we expire, turning back into dust. The term Sheol is equivalent to the dust, the grave, or the pit. The body goes back to the earth. There is no consciousness or awareness in death, but resembles a peaceful sleep in which we are "dead to the world." Just as one can be awakened from sleep, one can be resurrected to life. God has appointed specific times for the resurrections. The pathway through eternal life leads through the resurrection, with our following Jesus Christ. When we are resurrected at His coming, we will indeed have access to heaven, but we will join our Bridegroom as He rules on the Earth. The repentant thief expected to join Jesus Christ when He would come into His kingdom, a future event to occur on the earth. Jesus spoke this pronouncement emphatically—I tell you today, you will be with me in paradise. Because Jesus was in the grave for three days and three nights, He did not go to paradise the day He told that to the thief.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: It is wonderful to know that human life is not without purpose or an end in itself. ...
Richard Ritenbaugh tackles the question, "Do we contain an immortal soul?" The prevailing idea is that the soul is the indestructible part of a human being that lives on. The Hebrew word nephesh refers to a living being; the Latin word anima and the Greek word psyche refer to breath. In Leviticus 17, we learn that the life resides in the blood. A body is greater than a biochemical reaction; the life force comes from outside the body. Elihu observed that there is a spirit in man, giving him the ability to think and understand, giving him a point of contact with God, separating him from the animals. Paul differentiates the spirit in man from God's Holy Spirit, dividing a human being into spirit (mind), soul (our life), and body (flesh). Nominal Christianity has absorbed heaven, hell, and purgatory from Greek mythology and the philosophy of Plato, who propagated the doctrine of the immortal soul in his Phaedo. The idea of the immortality of the soul is nowhere in the Old Testament, unless one deliberately distorts the account of Enoch's translation and the witch of Endor. Genesis 2:16-17 affirms that it is possible to die, and Ezekiel 18:4 and 20 affirm that the soul (the life) that sins shall die. Galatians 3:22 indicates that all have sinned. Eternal life must come as a gift, but it is not something we have right now, except as an earnest payment. Hebrews 9:27 reminds us that we all die once. God keeps our human spirit in reserve for safe-keeping until the resurrection from the dead.
John Ritenbaugh studies into an understanding which strikes some individuals as "going beyond the scripture" or even blasphemous, namely that we will become literal offspring of the Eternal God, sharing His name and nature. Most of Christendom believes in the erroneous doctrine of the immortality of the soul, taught nowhere in scripture, but fueled by anecdotal reports of apparitions of deceased relatives. Sadly, human nature does not believe the scriptures. Although the Bible indeed teaches hope in life beyond the grave, it nowhere teaches of an inherent immortal soul. The wages of sin, something we all have committed is death (not a transition into another form of life); eternal life is a gift of God's grace, given at our calling as we yield our lives to Him, trusting in the resurrection of Jesus Christ and in our future resurrection as taught by the Disciples at Pentecost. The witness of these disciples (who had seen His death and resurrection and willingly gave up their lives in martyrdom) has been preserved through the Holy Scriptures, a document more carefully preserved than any other document on earth. Other resurrections occurred before Christ's resurrection (Lazarus) and following the time of Christ's resurrection, providing a dramatic testimony to thousands of people. The Word of God provides factual evidence of life after death through a resurrection. All die at least once, and all are resurrected at least once. Our creation as physical human beings as well as the creation of the angels was a fiat process. What God is doing in us now, in reproducing Himself as offspring composed of His Holy Spirit, is creating by means of a cooperative time- and experience-consuming process, working between the creator and the created in devotion to a common cause- to become joint heirs with Christ as God's offspring. In this process, we walk in the spirit, subjugating and putting to death our carnal impulses. As we follow the prompts of God's Holy Spirit, we walk toward eternal life, taking on God's nature,
Jesus Christ came to this earth with a message of salvation, which the Bible calls 'the gospel of the Kingdom of God.' John Ritenbaugh, in setting up the final article in the series, describes just what Christ's gospel is and its relationship to Christian works.
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.
Jesus' well-known parable preaches the gospel of the Kingdom of God by revealing salvation, the resurrection to eternal life, and inheritance of His Kingdom on the earth. Martin Collins explains how.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting upon the cosmology of ancient Greece (a combination of pagan and scientific thought), explains that these ideas and notions—many totally saturated with astrology and Gnostic dualism—filtered into the doctrines of the early church. These syncretized, polluted Hellenistic ideas have never left the cardinal doctrines of mainstream Christianity. The incorporation of Gnostic dualism into doctrine has led to sloppy stewardship of physical health laws (dressing and keeping our bodies), a consequence of anti-nomian thought processes. The denigration of grace to license—"sin, that grace may abound"—derives directly from Gnosticism. "Modern" Gnostic thought (including the pernicious doctrines of progressive revelation and the immortality of the soul) literally destroyed or blew apart the Worldwide Church of God. We need to ensure that these virulent strains have not infected us.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the big lie ('you will not surely die'—Genesis 3:4) of inherent immortal life (an immortal soul). This dangerous false belief, held by the majority of Christian-professing denominations, has led to an acceleration of sin and the danger of eternal oblivion. Sin kills, and we are not immortal. Contrary to Socrates and Plato's misconceptions about inherent immortality, only God can give eternal life, and it has specific conditions (overcoming sin and growing spiritually). Death is not a friend or a liberator, but as Jesus understood at the time of his crucifixion, a bitter enemy, a tool of Satan, and a cruel instrument of separation. Only through God's divine act of resurrection can we hope to attain eternal life. We desperately need to do a thorough self-examination, properly discerning Christ's sacrifice, and strive mightily to overcome sin, the destroyer of life.
The Bible describes many men, but one of the most important is the new man. What is this new man? Charles Whitaker explains that the new man is a creative effort of renewing our minds in cooperation with God.
Are the unconverted dead lost? John Ritenbaugh answers that there is hope for them! This part of God's plan is typified in the meaning of the Last Great Day.
When the incorrigibly wicked are thrown into the Lake of Fire, will they be tormented forever? Richard Ritenbaugh sets the matter of Revelation 20:10 straight.
For centuries, preachers have scared churchgoers with the image of a fiery hell where sinners spend eternity. Is such a place or state biblical? If not, what is God's plan for those who refuse to submit to Him?
Before going on a trip, it is a good idea to have a destination in mind, and so it is with Christianity. Just where do true Christians go after they die? What is their reward? Where is their reward?
John Ritenbaugh asserts that to someone who has been called, there is a unique difference in the understanding and thinking processes not available to most of mankind. Without revelation from Almighty God, the heart becomes calloused and insensitive, having an enmity to the truth of God. Our responsibility is to freely choose to follow the revelation He has given us, overcoming the baggage and the doubtful resistance we have absorbed from the world's cultures. Until God removes the blinders from our eyes, we cannot use our free moral agency to develop the character, resisting the flood of deception spewed out by the deceiver.
John Ritenbaugh focuses upon the pouring out of water as a symbol of the pouring out of God's Holy Spirit during the Second Resurrection. The vast majority of people who have lived on this earth have never heard the true Gospel of God's Kingdom. God, not willing that any should perish, has a timetable, carefully calculated to allow people to receive and respond to the truth at their maximum opportunity for salvation, each in his own order. The Judgment indicates a process, requiring considerable time, a turning point, leading to a just and equitable decision. This conversion process, requiring the use of His Spirit, symbolized by water has already begun for God's called-out ones. Without the quality of life imparted by God's Holy Spirit, eternal life is not worth living.
Prior to the study of Lamentations, John Ritenbaugh, focusing on the subject of alleged out-of-body experiences, provides scriptural corroboration of their impossibility. In the opening chapter of Lamentations, Jerusalem, personified as a widow who has had to endure watching the destruction of her family, must also endure the mocking, derisive scorn from the captors. Although the United States, like Jerusalem of old (indicted for committing spiritual harlotry), has piously presented itself as the guardian of righteousness, it has, through its perverted media, exported more sin around the world than any other culture. Its humiliation and sudden fall will ultimately be apparent to even the basest pagan and most degenerate heathen. Trusting in adulterous political alliances or technology instead of God will bring devastating humiliation.
If hell does exist, where is it—and can those who are there ever get out? Will those in hell leave hell at the time of the resurrection—or are they confined eternally to hell, so that they shall be unable to take part in the resurrection? It's about time we took this question out of hiding, and took a good look at it!
Enoch was translated that he should not see death. Elijah went up by a whirlwind into heaven. Yet the Bible reveals they are not in heaven today! Here's the astounding truth.
Do you realize not one in a hundred knows what salvation is—how to get it—when you will receive it? Don't be too sure you do! Here, once for all, is the truth made so plain you will really understand it!