Tag Archives: Hell

Jesus Didn’t Actually Mean What He Said About Hell

Occasionally I like some of the pieces in Relevant, but when I come across articles like Exploring One Hell of a Place, I’m reminded why I don’t subscribe.

Jason Boyett starts out by deconstructing many of our cultural associations with hell, pointing, not incorrectly, to Dante.

But is our imagined hell accurate? That is, does it jive with what the Bible really says? That’s the question I asked as I began researching my book Pocket Guide to the Afterlife. The answers were surprising.

While trying to ground his search for truth in the Bible, Jason ends up discounting Jesus’ words about hell:

I tend to think of Jesus as the poor-loving, outcast-accepting, grace-dealing Lamb of God. But he wasn’t shy about describing hell—and not as the ambiguous afterlife of Sheol, but as a place of fiery destruction and eternal punishment.  Read Matthew 5:22, Matthew 10:28, or Mark 9. Jesus took hell seriously. When he mentioned it, he used the Greek word Gehenna.

Clearly Jesus taught that hell existed, but did he really mean it was a place of everlasting physical torment by fire? Or was that just a rhetorical flourish inspired by the local garbage dump?

My faith doesn’t depend on the reality of hell, of course. But these days, I have more uncertainty than ever about that part of the afterlife. If I’m honest, I have to admit I don’t know what to think about hell.

Don’t know what to think about it?  For someone who considers themselves a follower of Jesus, why not take his word for it?

Did Jesus Spend Saturday in Hell?

A few weeks ago, I listened to a sermon by Mark Driscoll on 1 Peter 3:18-20, one of the most difficult to understand passages in the Bible:

Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.

A traditional understanding is that after he was crucified, Jesus descended into Hell.  This is codified in the Apostle’s Creed, which I remember being exposed to in my two semesters at a Lutheran school:

Jesus Christ … was crucified, died, and was buried.  He descended into hell. On the third day he rose again.  He ascended into heaven and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty.

John Piper has an interesting interpretation up that would make the narrative more consistent with the very clear passage of Jesus to the thief in Luke 23:43 (“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”):

With regard to 1 Peter 3:19, I take these words to mean that Christ, through the voice of Noah, went and preached to that generation, whose spirits are now “in prison,” that is, in hell. In other words, Peter does not say that Christ preached to them while they were in prison. He says he preached to them once, during the days of Noah, and now they are in prison.

I encourage you to read the whole post for a fuller picture of the evidence for this interpretation, as well as its consequences.