Many nominal Christians believe in an ever-burning hell where the wicked are tormented forever. Though they might point to Revelation's Lake of Fire or to Jesus' mention of Gehenna fire as support for such an idea, the Bible does not teach the pervasive doctrine of hell as a place of eternal torment. Richard Ritenbaugh contends that, instead, God will eradicate all sin and wickness, not punish for it forever.
In the pivotal ritual on the Day of Atonement, two goats play significant and separate roles to represent specific divine purposes within the process of salvation. As David Grabbe explains, understanding the role of the live goat hinges on recognizing whose sins are in view, as well as who is actually responsible for sin.
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 reiterates that (1) not all flesh is the same, nor is all spirit the same either. God's Holy Spirit is the only variety of Spirit guaranteed eternal life; the other forms of spirit, including angelic beings like Satan the devil, are subject to extinction. (2) God did not make a colossal mistake by creating a being He could not destroy. (3) The "wages of sin is death" constitutes a universal law, applying just as much to angels as to human beings. (4) If sin were allowed anywhere in the New Heaven and the New Earth, in any form, that new creation would not be of the purity that God has promised in His Word. In the several encounters Jesus has with demons, they expressed fear of impending torture or death. Ezekiel 28 reveals that Satan's fate will be ashes in the Lake of Fire; it would be inconsistent with God's compassionate character for Him to inflict pain on a being eternally. God's called-out ones have received an earnest payment of God's Holy Spirit, which carries immortality and abundant life. We are being formed into new creatures, not just spiritual retreads on our carnal nature, equipped and designed to live in the Heavenly Jerusalem of the New Heavens and New Earth, the very offspring of Almighty God.
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.
John Ritenbaugh, reflecting on the movie The Sound of Music, reports that the screenplay distorted the real events depicting the Von Trapp family. It seems that Satan has taken every art form, distorting, and twisting the underlying truth. Every Christian has to endure a similar fate, bearing a cross of resisting falsehood, slander, and deception. We carry around in our own hearts the components that threaten to defile us. We must endure this destructive carnal nature and the wiles of the devil, until we enter the Kingdom of God. The world's churches blame God for infecting human nature with original sin; this lie was concocted by Satan, even though God, through His sovereignty, has certainly allowed Satan some latitude. Adam's sin was presumptuous and deliberate, and has directly infected all of his offspring. The second Adam, Jesus Christ, rectified this fatal error of our first parent. Though we inherited the proclivity to sin from Adam, he did not "make us sin;" we are individually responsible for our own sins and for the consequences of our sins—death. Everyone is equipped with a rudimentary conscience having a clear grasp of the essential law. Human nature is the adaptation of Satan's nature by the neutral nature—the spirit in man given by God as standard operating equipment. Our objective is to battle or deflect this carnal nature by means of God's Holy Spirit.
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 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.
Richard Ritenbaugh observes that most people living in modern, Western culture better identify with flawed heroes, rather than perfect heroes. King David, for example, made huge errors in judgment and committed colossal sins. Ezekiel 18:19-20 indicates that guilt for sin is not transferable, but the consequences can often touch several generations. Saul, after having disqualified himself from being king, sought to ingratiate himself with God by killing Canaanites, including an unrecorded massacre of Gibeonites. Later, during a wasting famine, David, attempting a political rather than a righteous solution, yielded to the Gibeonites' request that descendants of Saul be hanged to avenge the slaughter. That the famine continued indicates God displeasure with David's decision and inner motives. As Christians living amidst spiritual famine, we dare not compromise with the culture around us.
John Ritenbaugh claims that the harshest criticism we receive is for our position opposing the doctrine of eternal security, having the audacity to suggest that works are required for salvation. I Timothy 1:8 indicates that the Law is good only if we use it lawfully. Philippians 2:12 indicates that work is required. Romans 13:11 indicates that salvation is not yet a done deal. Satan, having a perennial pattern to his deceptiveness, first proposes this deadly eternal security doctrine in the Garden of Eden, assuring Adam and Eve that they need not fear death (evidently because they had immortal souls). To one having God's Holy Spirit, committing sin is more dangerous because there is far more on the line. The Firstfruits will not get a free pass into God's kingdom. As the past history of creation unfolded, God demanded that choices indicating willingness to obey be made within the family of angels. When human beings were created, they had to pass a similar test, making life and death choices whether to obey or not to obey God's Government. We have a reciprocal responsibility in the wake of Christ's sacrifice to love God and keep His Commandments, living by every word of God. The God of the Bible is a working God never running out of useful and exciting projects, overseeing His works and creating dynasties, progressively working salvation in the midst of the earth, providing us an example and a mandate to participate in His endless creative work.
Is Matthew 27:25 a Jewish admission of deicide? Charles Whitaker shows that, properly understood, the statement is absolutely not a curse. Moreover, God has nowhere bound Himself to chastise Jewry as a whole for the actions of a relatively few people in Pilate's judgment hall that morning.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh: "And the serpent said to the woman, "You will not surely die. ...
John Ritenbaugh reiterates that the operation of God's government absolutely depends on each person governing himself, never going beyond the boundaries God has given him. Human nature always wants to break free of those boundaries. Through our entire lives, we need to study diligently to find out what our responsibilities are to God and fellow man, developing godly character. Godly character and human nature will be perpetually at war with one another as long as we are in the flesh. All the experiences we go through are preparing us to be a better judge or king. While we are being judged, though we may exercise righteous judgment, we dare not pass judgment nor justify sin in ourselves. Spiritual maturity comes when we accept responsibility for what we are and have done.
John Ritenbaugh, focusing upon the spiritual bondage (slavery to sin) Jesus referred to in John 8:34, warns against habitual sin- or sinning as a "way of life"- under the power, control, or influence of sin (graphically described by Paul in Romans 7:7-24.) As long as we are slaves of sin (following the dictates of our own lustful desires), we have no free moral agency. God liberates us from sin in order that we might be free to obey Him. Jesus warns the Pharisees that because righteousness and character cannot be transferred from one person to another, they cannot trust in their pedigree (as physical descendants of Abraham). Without the implanted Spirit of God, we have absolutely no capacity to receive or appreciate spiritual truth or to hear God's Word, allowing it to convict us, making an impact on our lives. The study concludes in John 9 with an examination into the healing of the man blind from birth, occurring near the Pool of Siloam.