Finally, we come to the book of Revelation, which mentions hell in three places. Revelation has a special, but well-recognized, character; it is an example of the apocalyptic literature that became popular in some Jewish circles from about two hundred years before the birth of Jesus. Another example is the influential book of Enoch we discussed last time.
These writings were penned during times of great cultural stress and insecurity. Special attributes of this genre include visions, heavy symbolism, cataclysmic natural phenomenon, angelic activity, and retribution on the enemies causing the stress. Both Enoch and Revelation are written solidly in this genre. In the case of Revelation, it seems to have been written to bring comfort to Christians being fiercely persecuted and killed by the Roman government.
However, all three instances of hell in the King James translation of Revelation are simply references to Hades, which simply means the abode of the dead.
I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.
I looked, and there before me was a pale horse! Its rider was named Death, and Hades was following close behind him. They were given power over a fourth of the earth to kill by sword, famine and plague, and by the wild beasts of the earth.
The final reference to hell, though, is the queen of all Christian images regarding eternal punishment in fire. Chapter 20 states,
The devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever…
The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.
Note that the word translated here as ‘hell’ in the King James is ‘Hades’, the abode of the dead, just as it is in the previous passages of Revelation, but Hades is thrown into the dreadful lake of fire. If this is meant to be descriptive, then it is a horrifying turn of events! But apocalyptic literature is NOT descriptive—it is symbolic; it is VERY symbolic. Its effect was to relieve the despair of first century Christians who were undergoing intense persecution. It does not teach doctrines about the afterlife.
Summarizing our review of our recent posts on hell, most Evangelicals and many other Christian believe that the Father will punish certain people eternally in a burning hell. They do not want this to be the case, but they think the Bible teaches it.
They are mistaken; they have combined Old Testament and New Testament references to the abode of the dead, Jesus’ allusions to the Valley of Ben Hinnom, 2 Peter’s reference to tartarus from Enoch, and the book of Revelation’s symbolic lake of fire to create a doctrine of eternal punishment in a burning hell.
Such a place is not what the Father would prepare for those he loves, and the Bible does not teach it.
If there is no burning hell, will everyone then become part of the Father’s family? I don’t think so because there could be some who do not wish to belong. Next time, we will talk about who might reject the Father’s house and what might become of them.