Hellfire and Brimstone
Illusion or Fact?
The Watchtower Bible and Tract Society, also known as Jehovah Witnesses, have maintained in their official teachings that hell is the grave, and when man dies, whether he be saved or lost, his soul sleeps in an unconscious, non-existent state awaiting the resurrection. These are kept in the mind of Jehovah until resurrection day, when the good are raised alive to enter the kingdom of Jehovah on earth, and the wicked are raised to be condemned, then finally annihilated forever. The notion of a fiery place of eternal torment for those who persist in wickedness and reject the sacrifice of God's Son they believe is repugnant and contrary to the nature of a God who is Love.
It is one thing to believe this because it is the official teaching of the Watchtower organization, but do the Scriptures back up these teachings from where they claim their teaching originates? A careful study of the Scriptures is necessary to answer such questions as:
What happens at death?
What is death?
Is the soul immortal?
Is there such a thing as soul sleep?
Can we find the teaching of annihilation in the Bible?
What is hell?
Is Hell Hot?
Is anybody now in hell?
What is Hades or Sheol?
Does the Bible teach eternal punishment for the wicked?
Life and Death
For Jehovah Witnesses death is the cessation of consciousness or extinction. In the Watchtower publication Make Sure of All Things page 86, it defines death as loss of life; termination of existence; utter cessation of conscious intellectual or physical activity, celestial, human, or otherwise. They state in another publication that the dead are unconscious; they are in a condition best compared to sleep. (Ecclesiastes 9:5, 10; John 11:11-14) Thus, we need not worry about what happens to us after death, any more than we worry when we see someone sleeping soundly. (What Is Your View of Death? The Watchtower June 1, 2002)
In the Bible, sleep, when in reference to death always refers to the physical body because it has the appearance of one sleeping. At death the body is laid to rest but nowhere can we find the term soul sleep or any hint that the souls of those who have died go into a state of unconsciousness.
We know for sure that Moses died but in Matthew 17:1-3 he is seen alive with Elijah on a high mountain, speaking to Christ of his decease which he should accomplish at Jerusalem (Luke 9:31). This event alone is enough to substantiate Christ's claim I am the resurrection, and the life: he that believeth in me, though he were dead, yet shall he live: And whosoever liveth and believeth in me shall never die (John 11:25-26). He is the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, not a God of the dead, but of the living (Luke 20:38). When the risen Christ returns to reign on His throne, all those who sleep in Jesus will God bring with him (1Thessalonians 4:14).
If we are to further inquire into these claims of the Watchtower we first need to ask the question, what is death? And what happens at death? And if we are to address these questions we also need to address the question what is life? What we observe superficially is that life consists of two parts. It pertains to the body, which is physical, and to consciousness, which is non-physical.
It can also be observed, that when breath departs from man, the body quickly decays and turns back to dust. But it cannot be observed what happens to the non-physical part of man (the conscience or the soul) that was resident within the body. How is it then that we are to prove or disprove what happens to that spiritual entity that lived for a season within this vessel of clay?
The Bible tells us that man consists of body, soul and spirit (1Thesalonians 5:23), and of these three the soul and spirit are hard to differentiate. The Bible also indicates that animals have a body, soul and spirit, but what separates man from the rest of the creation is that he was made in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26).
If man and beast alike have body, soul and spirit, but man alone was created in the image and likeness of God, what then is His image and likeness? We believe the Scriptures indicate that man was created with an eternal spirit, with the same mind as God, morally righteous, and capable of communion with Him. His body was also made in the uncorrupt physical likeness that God Himself had planned from eternity to inhabit (1Peter 1:20).
In the beginning, Adam was given one command in the Garden of Eden and that was not to eat of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. The Lord said, in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die (Genesis 2:17). We all know the story, and in the end, Adam transgressed the commandment of God. Now God said in that day he would surely die. Did he die? He sure did! God said so. But the Bible also says he lived to be 930 years old.
That day Adam died, but he did not physically die until he was 930 years old. The Bible tells us the body without the spirit is dead (James 2:26). So then, when the spirit departs from the body it is dead. This is what happened to Adam when he was 930 years old. Death happens when the spirit is separated or departs from the body.
The separation of the spirit from the body is physical death. But there is a spiritual death, and this is what happened to Adam when he sinned. Adam became dead in trespasses and sins (Ephesians 2:1) and fellowship was broken with the Lord. A separation took place. The prophet Isaiah said, your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear (Isaiah 59:2). God is holy and he cannot gaze upon the wickedness of sin. Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity (Habakkuk 1:13).
When Adam sinned his image and likeness of God was marred. His righteousness was forfeited and his body began to die, through the process of decay whose end was physical death. Adam was now dead spiritually, separated from his Maker, and if he were to die physically in his sinful state, he would remain separated from God forever. What he needed now was new spiritual life; he needed to be created afresh; he needed to be born again of the Spirit. He needed to be regenerated. He needed his sins purged that he might become alive and reconciled unto God once again.
The Bible says that Adams offspring were born in his own likeness, after his image (Genesis 5:3). We are told by one man sin entered into the world, and death by sin; and so death passed upon all men, for that all have sinned (Romans 5:12). All of mankind was now infected with sin. He could not create in himself a clean heart, nor could he procreate a righteous soul. He needed a new life, he needed to get a life so to say, but where could he find such a life? Obviously this could only come from the one source who was the author of Life, the One who had the power to make dust live.
Jesus said, I am the life: no man cometh to the Father, but by me (John 14:6). Only the Creator, who gave Adam life to begin with, is able to impart to him a new life for In him was life; and the life was the light of men (John 1:4). Adam needed to be saved from his sins, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost and this he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour (Titus 3:5-6). Adam needed to be washed, he needed to be regenerated, he needed to be renewed, and all this was abundantly and wonderfully provided through our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.
The patriarch Job asked a question long ago But man dieth, and wasteth away: yea, man giveth up the ghost, and where is he? (Job 14:10) This is a good question and Job answers it for us. As the waters fail from the sea, and the flood decayeth and drieth up: So man lieth down, and riseth not: till the heavens be no more, they shall not awake, nor be raised out of their sleep (v. 11-12). This is what we see of the body, it decayeth and drieth up, and it is laid to rest and falls asleep and shall not awake until a set time that our Creator has determined.
We have seen what would happen to the tabernacle of Job, that is, his body, but what would happen to the soul inside that tent of flesh? O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave (Hebrew: Sheol) , that thou wouldest keep me secret, until thy wrath be past, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! (v. 13) Job, in his affliction desired to hide in Sheol , here translated as grave. The word Sheol though, is not the grave, as we would think of it, but the place of departed spirits, deep in the heart of the earth.
There is a Hebrew word for grave and it is not Sheol , it is qeburah , which is usually translated as sepulcher . This is the resting place of the body, where it sleeps six feet under so to say, until the day of resurrection, but the soul goes far deeper, down to the the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:40).
Sheol then, or its Greek equivalent Hades , is not the place where the body goes, but the soul of man. For example, when Joseph's brothers sold him into slavery, they came back to their father with Joseph's bloodied coat and the story of his disappearance. Jacob thought an evil beast hath devoured him; Joseph is without doubt rent in pieces (Genesis 37:33).
There was no body to lay down in a grave, just his coat of many colors now stained with blood, a testimony, Jacob thought, to his horrible death. But Jacob testified, I will go down into the grave (Heb. Sheol) unto my son mourning (v. 35). This certainly could not be the grave, for Jacob believed Joseph was devoured and rent in pieces by a wild beast leaving no body for to bury. But Jacob said he would go to this place (Sheol) unto his son .
The Hebrew word Sheol (OT), in the KJV, is translated grave 31 times, hell 31 times and pit 3 times, and was the place that Joseph went when he finally died. It is the place where all the spirits of the dead go whether they are saved or lost. The Scriptures indicate that many have indeed gone there and are very conscious of the state they are in.
The pompous king of Babylon, Belshazzar went there and many kings of nations and chief ones of the earth were already there to meet him at his coming. Hell (Heb. Sheol) from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: it stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; it hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations. All they shall speak and say unto thee, Art thou also become weak as we? art thou become like unto us? (Isaiah 14:9-10)
The king of Assyria and his hordes were all delivered unto death, to the nether parts of the earth, in the midst of the children of men, with them that go down to the pit I made the nations to shake at the sound of his fall, when I cast him down to hell (Sheol) with them that descend into the pit (Ezekiel 31:14-16).
Pharaoh and all his multitude were also brought down unto the nether parts of the earth (the same as hell and the pit ) (v. 18). When Pharaoh descended into hell he encountered many lost souls who had preceded him. The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell (Heb. Sheol) (Ezekiel 32:21), Asshur and all her company, Elam and all her multitude, Meshech, Tubal, and all her multitude, Edom, her kings, and all her princes with their might, the princes of the north, all of them, and all the Zidonians , Pharaoh shall see them (v. 22-30).
These were all descendants of Shem Ham and Japheth, and are a testimony as to how broad the way is that leadeth to destruction (Matthew 7:13).
The amazing story of Jonah and the great fish that swallowed him up is another example how the soul is conscience after the cessation of breath. Jonah had died by drowning and a great fish swallowed up his body but his soul descended down into Sheol . Jonah was raised from the dead and lived again to recount his amazing experience.
He had been cast into the sea and eventually drowned. He said When my soul fainted within me I remembered the Lord: and my prayer came in unto thee (Jonah 2:7). It was after Jonah's soul fainted within him that he uttered his prayer from hell (Sheol). I cried unto the Lord, and he heard me; out of the belly (Heb. beten : womb) of hell (Heb. Sheol) and thou heardest my voice (v. 2). The Lord then raised him from the dead and brought up his life from corruption (v. 6).
Jonah's soul was once again reunited with his body in the great fish. Jonah prayed again to the Lord his God, this time out of the belly (Heb. me'ah : bowels) of the fish , and the Lord spoke unto the fish and it vomited Jonah upon the dry land.
Jonah's body spent three days and three nights in the belly (Heb. me'ah : bowels) of the fish (v. 1:17) but during that time his soul was in the belly (Heb. beten : womb) of hell (Sheol). But then, after his prayer, he had been brought forth as one from the womb of hell with new life, as if he was reborn, and to fulfill his commission to the people of Nineveh.
This was the sign that Jesus said would be given to that generation who would witness the gospel, the sign of the prophet Jonas: For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly; so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth (Matthew 12:39-40).
Jonah was a type of Christ in His resurrection. The Bible tells us that when Christ died He descended first into the lower parts of the earth (Ephesians 4:9), that is Sheol (Greek: Hades ).
That same day Jesus died and His body was laid to rest in the tomb while His soul descended down to the lower parts of the earth in Sheol. Jesus told the thief on the cross, To day shalt thou be with me in paradise (Luke 23:43). (Sheol was divided into two compartments, one called paradise or Abrahams bosom and the other side was a place of flaming torments.)
However, He would not be there long for the Psalmist said, For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell (Sheol) ; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption (Psalm 16:10). His soul was in Sheol, and would soon be reunited with his body before corruption could take hold of it.
In the Spirit he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient in the days of Noah wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved (1Peter 3:19-20). In the days of Noah before the flood there were only eight souls that were saved. In Sheol, Christ preached to the unsaved souls who persisted in their rebellion, while the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah while the ark was being prepared.
These disobedient souls had no hope, but within Sheol there were also prisoners of hope (Zechariah 9:11-12) who died in the faith, and were waiting for their redemption through the precious blood of Christ. To these Christ came, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound (Isaiah 61:1). On the third day when He rose from the dead he took captive these prisoners of hope. And When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive (Ephesians 4:8).
Jonah thought the earth with her bars was about me forever (Jonah 2:6) but the gates of hell (Gr. Hades) should not prevail against (Matthew 16:18) the Lords people. The great captain of our salvation has conquered hell and the grave. I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell (Hades) and of death (grave) (Revelation 1:18).
And you, being dead in your sins and the uncircumcision of your flesh, hath he quickened together with him, having forgiven you all trespasses; Blotting out the handwriting of ordinances that was against us, which was contrary to us, and took it out of the way, nailing it to his cross; And having spoiled principalities and powers, he made a shew of them openly, triumphing over them in it (Colossians 2:13-15).
Ever since that resurrection morning, none of the saints ever need to be incarcerated for a time in Sheol for the price of our redemption has been paid in full. When they die they can now immediately depart to be with Christ; which is far better (Philippians 1:23), for to be absent from the body [is] to be present with the Lord (2Corinthians 5:8).
With the New Testament revelation we have been given a far greater understanding of the Scriptures. In the Old Testament many prophecies and doctrines were somewhat veiled, expressed in types and figures and were often times shadowy. Jesus clarified the doctrine of Sheol/Hades when He unveiled what happened to two men that had died, namely Lazarus and a certain rich man.
It is quite interesting that there was a certain rich man whom approached Christ but in the end turned away, choosing his riches instead of following Christ (Matthew 19:16-22). There was also a friend of Christ's named Lazarus who was a believer and died but Christ raised from the dead.
Anyway, this teaching can be found in Luke chapter 16. When Lazarus died he was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; And in hell (Greek: Hades) he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom (v. 21-22). The rich man was in torments (v. 23), tormented in this flame (v. 24) and in a place of torment (v. 28) and Lazarus was comforted (v. 25).
Each of their abodes were final for between them there was a great gulf fixed (v. 26) which none could pass through.
The rich man appeared to have all his senses intact although his body was buried. It appears that the soul/spirit when it departs from the physical body does not remain dis-embodied. For the Christian, at least, Paul says, For we know that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens. For in this we groan, earnestly desiring to be clothed upon with our house which is from heaven (2Corinthians 5:1-2)
Contrary to the clear teaching of the Scriptures, of an eternal state of fiery torment in hell for those who reject Christ, the Jehovah Witness believes that The human soul ceases to exist at death and that Hell is mankind's common grave ( Jehovah's WitnessesWho Are They? What Do They Believe? http://www.watchtower.org/library/jt/article_03.htm ).
This is how they reason, death is a state of nonexistence. The dead have no awareness, no feelings, no thoughts Since the dead have no conscious existence, hell cannot be a fiery place of torment where the wicked suffer after death The Bible hell, then, is the common grave of mankind where good people as well as bad ones go. (What Has Happened to Hellfire? The Watchtower July 15, 2002)
Jehovah Witness then choose not believe in the eternal conscious torment of the soul in hell. They believe that Such a fiendish idea is contrary to the God of the Bible, for "God is love."(Christendom Has Betrayed God and the Bible; http://www.watchtower.org/library/pr/article_04.htm )
However it is impossible to escape the double-edged sword of God's Word. God so loved the world that He gave his only Begotten Son to suffer and die in our place. God has wonderfully provided salvation for all of mankind through the gift of His Son. But for those who reject Jesus Christ and trample under foot His precious blood, shed for sinners, there is only a certain fearful looking for judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries (Hebrews 10:27).
These have chosen their own fate and condemned themselves in their persistent rejection of God who is love and can blame nobody but themselves for their separation from Christ forever. God not only Love He is also just. He created people to love, obey and enjoy Him forever. He gave them the moral capacity to choose between good and evil. However some choose evil.
R.A. Torrey has said However, even then, God did not abandon them but made the greatest sacrifice in His power to save them from their own mad choice. He gave His Son to die for them so that repentance, forgiveness, life, and glory might be possible for them. If men see fit not only to choose evil but also, having chosen evil, to deliberately and persistently refuse the means of salvation that a loving God has provided for them at immeasurable cost to Himself, then their eternal punishment is their own fault. To blame God for it is not only to be appallingly unjust but also unpardonably ungrateful and unreasonable.
The Bible distinctly teaches that all those who reject the redemption that we have in Christ Jesus will have an eternity of punishment. Jesus said Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire , prepared for the devil and his angels these shall go away into everlasting punishment : but the righteous into life eternal (Matthew 25:41,46).
We remember how the rich man was tormented in the fire of Hades after he died. He is not alone, for many others shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb: And the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night (Revelation 14:10-11). We cannot escape the terms for ever and ever .
We find the beast and the false prophet were both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone (Revelation 19:20). A thousand years later they are not annihilated but are still there. When the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are , and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever (v. 20:10). In the Biblical sense, death never means extinction or annihilation but separation and for the beast and the false prophet their separation is in the lake of fire, where after a thousand years, they are still there.
These will not be the only ones there, but all the dead in Hades shall be resurrected to shame and everlasting contempt (Daniel 12:2), the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death (Revelation 21:8).
The lake of fire is the final destination where all those who have been persistent in their rejection of Christ and obeyed not His gospel will be separated from God forever and forever, and will be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord , and from the glory of his power (2Thessalonians 1:7-9).
Many shall think to enter the kingdom of God but shall be thrust out and cast into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42).
There is no doctrine that numbs the conscience as to the immediate concern we should have for those who are perishing as that which is presented by the Watchtower organization. If there is no eternal fiery conscious torment in hell for all those who will not repent and believe the gospel, then one may not be too quick to work for the salvation of those souls before it is forever too late. If everlasting punishment is not a factor, and the lost are annihilated and just cease to exist, then I may not be as burdened with the fact that many we know may die without the Savior.
Oh sinner, have you yet repent and believed the gospel? The gospel is the good news that God sent His Son Jesus Christ to die for our sins and rise again from the dead so that we could be forgiven and have everlasting life when we receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.
Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life. Verily, verily, I say unto you, The hour is coming, and now is, when the dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God: and they that hear shall live. For as the Father hath life in himself; so hath he given to the Son to have life in himself; And hath given him authority to execute judgment also, because he is the Son of man. Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation (John 5:24-29).
Last Update: 2/29/2004