What is our final destination?
“Everyone wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die.”
These are the ironic words of a famous song. So why doesn’t anybody want to die? Don’t we want to be in a wonderful place beyond the physical world? A place of peace where we would be in the presence of our Lord Jesus? And what about this other destination, this Hell that we hear so much about. What is it? Who goes there, and why? Does it hurt? Can we get out of it? The answers to these questions are in the Bible.
It is written in the Bible that “God has put eternity into the hearts of mankind” (Ecclesiastes 3.11). This tells us that it is a natural desire for humans to want to continue living indefinitely. Only the most depressed or seriously ill among us actually wish for death. So why do we die and, where do we go when we die? To answer those questions it is necessary to ask another question, where did we come from, was it Heaven?
Heaven, according to the Bible, is the abode of God, Jesus, and the angels. It is not physical and it existed before the physical universe (see Job 38.7 and John 8.58). Humans did not come from Heaven. The Bible quite clearly states that “God formed the man (Adam) from the dust of the earth.” Adam did not exist in heaven before he was created on earth (see 1 Corinthians 15.47). Was Adam told that he would go to either Heaven or Hell? No. He was simply told that, if he disobeyed God, he would “Go back to dust from whence you came”, he would, once again, not exist. So why does the Bible say that some humans will go to heaven?
Adam was told that, if he ate from the forbidden tree, thereby rejecting God's authority, he would die. However, ask yourself, what would have happened if Adam hadn’t rejected God's sovereignty? He would still be alive today, on the earth. The Bible says that “As regards the heavens, to God the heavens belong. But the earth he has given to the sons of men” (Psalm 115.16). When sin (a genetic and spiritual corruption) entered the world and humans began to age and die, God introduced a solution to restore mankind to the position that Adam and Eve once enjoyed, that of perfection in paradise, on earth. That solution was called the “Kingdom of Heaven.”
Jesus was later identified as the King of that Kingdom but, it was also revealed that there would be other kings ruling with him. Revelation 5.10 tells us that “Jesus has made us unto our God kings and priests and we shall reign over the earth.” These kings or, rulers, would be “Bought from among mankind” and they would be appropriate rulers who had experienced all the trials of human life on earth and had been faithful to God. They would include men and women. But their number would be limited. A ruler needs subjects and those subjects are the “Meek who shall inherit the earth” (Matthew 5.5). So the number who actually go to heaven (when they die), was given as 144,000 in the book of Revelation. This is a literal number, not a symbolic one, because, after it is given, the Bible them goes on to say that there would also be a “Great multitude which no man was able to number” who come through the great tribulation on the earth (Revelation 7.9). Those that do go to heaven are chosen by God, they do not choose themselves. The Bible says that these chosen ones are “waiting for adoption” (Romans 8.23). Adopted children do not choose their parents - the parents choose them.
But what of those who have already died? Jesus made it clear that, “No man has ascended to heaven” (John 3.13), not even faithful King David (Acts 2.34). The future hope of those ones is as Jesus promised, they “shall inherit the earth.”
What of the unfaithful, the wicked, those that cause suffering for others? Where do they go? According to most religious leaders, bad people go to Hell. There they are tortured in fire and sulphur for eternity, even if they only committed small sins. But what is “Hell”? Is it hot? Did God create it? If not, where did the idea come from?
The name “Hell” comes from the Hebrew word “Sheol” and the Greek equivalent “Hades.” Both of these words are used in the Bible but, not in the sense that most people understand them today. The basic meaning of the word is “The grave”, the collective place where all dead persons lie. Where then did this idea of fire and punishment come from?
In the Bible there is another word used that is distinct from the words “Sheol” and “Hades.” This word is “Gehenna” and it occurs twelve times in the New Testament. What does it mean? Historians have confirmed that, just outside ancient Jerusalem, there was a valley called “Gey Hinnom.” The Greek equivalent of this word is “Gehenna.” Around the time of the end of King Solomon’s reign (about the 10th century BCE), this valley “Gehenna” was used for sacrifices to idols and false gods. Children were burned alive during these rituals. How did God feel about such savage activities? The Bible tells us at Jeremiah chapter 7, verse 31. There God says “They have built the high places of To’pheth, which is in the valley of the son of Hinnom, in order to burn their sons and their daughters in the fire, which I commanded them not, neither came it into my heart.” Elsewhere in the Bible, God describes such practices as “detestable” and “disugsting.”
From the time of the reign of King Josiah, these terrible rituals had been stamped out. The valley where this used to happen was then used as a city waste site where everything, including animal carcasses and dead criminal’s bodies were thrown. To avoid odours and disease, this dump site was kept burning constantly so that everything was eventually reduced to ashes (fire has always been the best way of disposing of waste). To keep the fires burning, sulphur or brimstone were added regularly. In time this valley became a symbol of complete destruction by fire. God himself used this place as a symbol of the destruction he would bring upon the unfaithful nation of Israel if they continued to disgrace themselves and turn to false gods.
“Thus will I do unto this place, saith the LORD, and to the inhabitants thereof, even making this city as Topheth (part of the valley of Hinnom): and the houses of Jerusalem, and the houses of the kings of Judah, which are defiled, shall be as the place of Topheth”. “Therefore behold, the days come, saith the LORD, that it shall no more be called Topheth, nor the valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter” (Jeremiah 19:12, 13; 7:32,33). However, never again was the valley used to burn anything or anyone alive.
During the translation of the original Hebrew and Greek scriptures into English and other languages, translators falsely substituted the word “Gehenna” (fiery place) for the words “Sheol” and “Hades” (the grave). This has caused much confusion down through the ages and has (deliberately) given the impression, in some passages of the Bible, that people go to a fiery place when they die. One of the results of this has been that the churches have adopted a doctrine that God punishes the dead in a fiery place called “Hell.” Many religions, including Christendom, have used (and continue to use), this threat as an effective means by which to keep people under their authority. However the Bible says that “There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts fear out, because fear restrains (The King James version reads that "Fear hath torment." ) us. Indeed, the one who is fearful has not been made perfect in love”
The Bible has always been very clear about what happens to the dead, even the unrighteous dead. At Genesis chapter 3, verse 19 God says to Adam that, because of Adam’s sin “Dust you are and to dust you shall return.” Note that God does not say anything about suffering in hellfire. What a cruel God he would be if he were withholding such an important piece of information from Adam (and from others who came after him)! In the book of Job, in chapter 14, verse 13 Job pleads to God “Oh that thou wouldest hide me in the grave (“Sheol”, “Hell”), thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me.” Surely, if Hell were a place of fiery torment, the righteous man Job would not have gone there and he would not have wanted to go there! At Romans chapter 6, verse 23, the Apostle Paul confirms that “The wages of sin is death” (note that it is not eternal torment!).
Many people have pointed to Jesus’ account of Lazarus and the rich man as proof that Hell is a place of fiery torment but, Jesus was using symbolic speech, much as he does in the book of “Revelation.“ To prove this, note that Lazarus is with Abraham, in heaven but, according to Jesus himself “No man hath ascended up to heaven” (John chapter 3, verse 13), so Jesus could not have been talking about the literal “Abraham”. Furthermore, the rich man in hell asks to be given a drop of water from the end of Lazarus’ finger “To cool my tongue.” How would a drip of water have any effect on a man who is roasting in a furnace? It would not. This is symbolic language.
In the book of “Revelation”, it says in chapter 20, verse 14, “And death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire” (Gehenna), and it finishes by explaining that “This is the second death.”
Under the Mosaic law, God set a precedent of justice (for Him to deal out). He said “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” etc. This was emphasised in the sacrifice of His beloved Son, Jesus, who was a “Corresponding ransom for all.” In other words, he was perfect, just as Adam was perfect. Now, If God demands like for like, how could He justify burning someone forever in fire for simply stealing something or killing someone? To prove that the dead are not suffering, the Bible states that “The dead are conscious of nothing at all” (Ecclesiastes 9.5). So, what then is the punishment for the wicked? After listing things that God condemns, like murder and adultery, the Bible says that those who do such things - "Will not inherit God's kingdom." Once again - no mention of burning forever. The punishment is that they don't get to live forever.
So if the Bible does not teach that people are tortured in Hell, why do most people think that they are and why do the churches, and other religions still teach it? Where did the idea originally come from?
Like so many of the world’s religious doctrines, such as the “immortal soul”, the idea was transplanted from earlier pagan worship. The following sources confirm this;
In ancient Babylonian and Assyrian beliefs the “Nether world is pictured as a place full of horrors, and is presided over by gods and demons of great strength and fierceness” says the book The Religion of Babylonia and Assyria by Morris Jastrow, Jr.
“Early evidence of the fiery aspect of Christendom’s hell is found in the religion of ancient Egypt” says E. A. Wallis Budge in the Book of the Dead.
The Encyclopaedia Americana 1977 says “Buddhism, which dates back to the 6th century BCE, in time came to feature both hot and cold hells.”
Finally, Werner Keller in the book La civita etrusca informs us that “Depictions of hell portrayed in Catholic churches in Italy have been traced to Etruscan roots.”
Hell, as a place of torment and fire, is not a teaching of the Bible. The Apostle John tells us that “God is love.” No God of love would inflict eternal suffering on someone for their sins. What would people think of a parent who roasted the hand of their child because they caught them stealing? God is so much more than man. “My ways are higher than your ways” says our Creator in the Bible. In his 2nd letter, the Apostle Peter says, at chapter 3, verse 9, “The LORD is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” Once again, note that unrepentant wrongdoers will “perish”, not be burned for eternity.
I pity anyone who worships a god who inflicts torture forever. That is not the God of the Bible. That is not my Heavenly Father.