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Beyond Today: Is Hell Real?

Is it a place of agony, separation from God, superstition or something else? The genuine truth is like nothing you have ever heard.


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[Steve] Are you afraid that a friend or someone you know is in hell, burning now and forever in fiery torment? On the other hand, you might not be too worried about the thought of your enemies burning in hell.

Perhaps you don't buy this concept of going to hell at all. Some think it's just a mere superstition. Is hell real? After all, if God is love, why would He condemn people to suffer horrendous agony in hell forever?

Could hell be just a state of eternal separation from God? Or are there different levels of torture depending on how bad your sins are? Is it an actual place of suffering or perhaps just a symbol of a very bad outcome after death?

Even for Christians it can be disturbing and difficult to understand.

The truth is much simpler. Stay tuned to Beyond Today - you may be surprised by what the Bible really teaches. We'll tackle this tough issue and answer the question: "Is Hell Real?"

[Announcer] Join our host Steve Myers, and his guests, as they help you understand your future on Beyond Today !

[Steve] Is there a literal fire burning in hell? Or is it just superstition?

You've heard of the near death experiences of those that seemingly die and then travel towards a bright light, see visions of angels, cross over to heaven, yet they can't quite stay because they're abruptly revived. But there are also those who claim to have almost died and instead journey to the devil's domain.

In his book A Day in Hell , Matthew Botsford describes the day he walked out of a restaurant right into the middle of a gunfight. A 9mm bullet struck him in the back of the head. Before he knew it, he supposedly died and immediately traveled to the depths of hell. He wrote about what he believed he experienced in the underworld while he was in a coma for 27 days.

He described it this way: "I felt a hot, needlelike pierce, excruciatingly painful, for a brief moment on the top of my head... Utter darkness enveloped me as if thick, black ink had been poured over my eyes… I was "hung over an abyss" as blasting heat flared up from below. Demonic beings with intense piercing eyes came creeping toward me, just before something grabbed me and said, 'It's not your time.'"

This isn't the near-death experience we typically hear about. But could that be reality? Where did the idea for a place like that come from? It's got to be straight from the pages of the Bible, right? Wrong!

Millions around the world believe their enemies and even some of their loved ones are burning in the fires of hell right now! But can that be true? What do you believe?

A recent survey found that a majority of all Americans do believe it. And it's not just Americans. In the UK and Australia, more than 3 of 10 believe in hell. About the same number of Canadians accept it as true, too.

Now believing that hell is a real place where bad people, who have led sinful lives are eternally punished, is pretty commonplace.

But on the other side of the coin, many struggle to understand how a loving God could be the same one who would condemn the majority of mankind to eternal torment. How could that be love?

So what are the facts? Is it reality, or symbolic? Just plain fiction? Or something else altogether?

Did you know that history itself proves that early Christians did not believe in the idea of an ever-burning hell until hundreds of years after Jesus' crucifixion. It wasn't a teaching of Jesus or the Bible. Now doesn't that sound far-fetched? Almost unbelievable!

In a moment, we'll see exactly what Jesus did teach the early Church about hell and judgment.

So where did the concept come from then, of souls burning in eternal fiery torment? Dante Allighieri. In the early 1300s, He wrote an imaginary description of hell in his work called, The Divine Comedy . The beginning section of that epic story is known as "Inferno."

It's this one story that is probably most responsible for the ideas of hell today. Why? How could this one story about hell, form and shape the ideas of what millions believe?

Here's how: In his poem, Dante imagines that the ancient Roman poet, Virgil takes him on a guided tour through hell.

At the entrance gates to Dante's hell is the ominous sign: "Abandon All Hope, You Who Enter Here" ( Inferno , A New Verse Translation, Dante Alighieri, ed. Elio Zappulla, Canto III, p. 39).

Virgil tells Dante about the journey through the inferno of hell: "I'll be your guide, and you will follow me, and I will lead you through a world of pain where dead souls writhe in endless agony and clamor, as they cry, to die again" (Canto I, p. 24).

Dante is lead through nine circles of hell - various compartments and levels of torturous afterlife. He writes about what he envisions: "So in the ditch, far down below the arch on which we stood, there bubbled viscous pitch… I only saw the bubbles rise and burst, the huge mass heave, contract, heave, and contract repeatedly" (Canto XXI, pp. 189–190).

He looks to see someone condemned to this level: "The sinner plunged into the pitch…[and] They pricked the sinner with a hundred prongs" (Canto XXI, pp. 190–191).

He envisions a three headed sadistic dog guarding the gluttonous sinners. They're forced to lie in a vile slush - produced by ceaseless disgusting, icy rain.

Dante is shown souls locked in searing fiery tombs, people boiling in blood, rained on by fire. Malicious demons jab, poke, whip and beat those who have been lost. These sinners are buried head first, but suffer even more misery as scorching flames burn their feet.

But this isn't the fate of all. Others are frozen in a lake up to their heads to suffer the agony of stinging, bitter cold - only able to move their chattering teeth.

Dante created stunning, unforgettable visual images that have been etched into people's minds. He played on our worst fears. The gripping scenes that he imagined captured the attention and horror of the world.

Because this one story about hell so effectively painted a horrid picture of Dante's ideas of punishment for the sinner, that story, it shaped, it molded the thinking of the world - not the Bible. Don't forget, it was a time that was so very different from today. There were no Bible bookstores. There certainly wasn't a Bible in every home.

So no wonder people believed it to be true. Even though it barely has any reference to actual Bible passages, it's what became the benchmark of what you should believe about the afterlife. Even the Catholic Encyclopedia even calls it "the Sacred Poem." Dante's Inferno became the standard of what hell is like and who it was for.

Now this is important: It's fiction - fantasy and imagination. It's a made up story - It's pretend! This poem is absolutely not literal. It is not a factual interpretation of the Bible's teaching on hell! It's not what Jesus taught about the fate of sinners.

Dante wrote The Divine Comedy as an allegory, an imaginary story. It reflects the politics and history of the Italy of that day.

The author himself probably didn't realize the incredible impact it would have on people's ideas of what hell is like. It stirred up and it reinforced the belief that there must be blistering punishment for the incorrigibly wicked in an ever-burning hell.

The result? Sadly, many have come to believe Dante's descriptions are more or less accurate. But they're not! Just think about this: More people have been influenced by Dante's imaginary hell than by what Jesus taught. That means theology, religion, yes, perhaps even your church. In fact, have you been infected by this popular tradition?

Has Dante's Inferno, his vision replaced true biblical teaching about hell in your mind? Do you know what the Bible actually teaches about eternal punishment?

I'd like to help you understand with our free study aid, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?

I'd like to help you as you discover what God has to say on the subject of heaven and hell and explain why it's important to understand. To request your free copy, call us toll free: 1-888-886-8632. That's 1-888-886-8632. Or go online to BeyondToday.tv to read or download, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? If you live outside North America, be sure to write us at the address shown on your screen throughout the program [Beyond Today, PO Box 541027, Cincinnati, OH 45254].

The surprising truth about heaven and hell is so different from what most have been taught and perhaps much different from what you've believed. You really need this eye-opening study aid. It will help you base your beliefs on the rock-solid truth of the Bible. So, be sure to call: 1-888-886-8632 or go online to BeyondToday.tv to request, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?

Now this may be shocking: The Bible says that there is no hell. Now before you dismiss me - here's what I mean: This kind of hell that most people believe in is not real. Now, I hope you won't misunderstand: the Bible does teach that there will come a judgment for every human being.

It says, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad" (2 Corinthians:5:10).

So what exactly is that ultimate punishment for unrepentant sinners?

There are many ideas out there. The Barna Research Group reported: "While there is no dominant view of hell, two particular perspectives are popular" - now this is in the U.S. - "... 4 out of 10 adults believe that hell is 'a state of eternal separation from God's presence.' 1/3 say it is 'an actual place of torment and suffering where people's souls go after death.' There is also a third perspective: '13% believe that 'hell is just a symbol of an unknown bad outcome after death.'"

What do you believe about hell? Is it biblical? What's the truth and should it even matter to you?

Well someone posed this question on the Internet answer site, Yahoo Answers: "How would you describe hell?" The actual answers people gave were very interesting:

"Hell could be a Black Hole, a massive one, the mother of all Black Holes. Or it might be like a white dwarf star, imagine that - a temperature of millions of degrees."

"It's a dimension where light and love of God doesn't touch."

"I think Hell is about 3500 miles straight down from wherever you presently are on earth. Even modern science can tell you that it's real hot in the center of the earth."

How would you describe hell?

"It is a place where sinners experience never-ending, eternal wrath from God. They'll have emotional, mental, and physical torment. They deserve to suffer shame, regret and pain forever."

"I think hell is symbolic of an eternity without God."

"I see hell as an eternity of disappointments, failures, and regret...without ever having any hope."

"I imagine hell for sinners would be like always having to shop...[at Walmart] with a cart that wobbles like crazy and has loud screechy wheels. The store is always crowded. Babies are crying non stop. [And] Then you have to stand in a long line with hundreds of angry people, sweating people with the air conditioning on the fritz.

When you finally get to the cashier, none of your items have the price tag on them. Now they have to call over the loudspeaker for a price check for every single item. As you finally walk out the door, it leads you right back into the middle of the isle all over again."

These are just a few of the many ideas about hell. Does the Bible teach that any of those ideas are accurate and really happen to people when they die? No. Contrary to popular opinion and most religion, the Bible doesn't teach that.

Notice this short but powerful scripture: "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans:6:23).

Did you notice the contrast described in this verse? What do sinners earn? They earn death, not eternal life. But on the other hand, God's gift is eternal life through our Savior Christ Jesus. So God's plain teaching is "the wages of sin is death" not "eternal life in torment." Simple but true, yet so many confuse this very plain truth.

Notice how clearly Scripture describes this - God says: "Behold, all souls are Mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is Mine; the soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel:18:4). A few verses later, God repeats this - giving it emphasis: "The soul who sins shall die" (Ezekiel:18:20). 

This is significant! It's a major difference between what God says and what so many people believe. God tells us that souls can die. The Bible plainly says that you don't automatically go on living forever either in hell or even in heaven for that matter.

Jesus Himself taught: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John:3:16).

There is something so very important in this famous verse that you may have missed. Jesus tells us that without His sacrifice, we die - we perish, we don't live forever. To "perish" doesn't mean just to stop living, but to be destroyed, or "to come to nothing" - to cease to exist. Not to have eternal life in torment.

You may not have realized that Jesus' teaching is exactly that. So here's a challenge: Are you willing to be honest with yourself and look at the facts of the Bible and consider that what you may have been taught is error?

Here's another passage that God inspired that you won't want to overlook. It gives insight into the truth about hell:

"For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all the proud, yes, all who do wickedly will be stubble. And the day which is coming shall burn them up,' says the LORD of hosts, 'that will leave them neither root nor branch… You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day that I do this,' says the LORD of hosts" (Malachi:4:1-3).

Will there be punishment for the wicked? Yes. Is it an ever-burning hellfire? No. As their punishment, evildoers will be burned up. Not eternal torment or torture but a merciful, quick penalty. Unrepentant sinful people will not burn forever. Instead, they will be totally burned up - destroyed and reduced to ashes by the flames of the lake of fire.

It may sound surprising, but that's exactly what Jesus taught: Those who willingly and willfully reject God's way of life will cease to exist and not suffer forever.

Those who choose not to repent of their evil attitude and sin will be punished by fire - but not the mythical hellfire of men's imagination. And it's not isolation from God. It's not in the center of the earth. It's not unending emotional, mental, and physical torment. And it's not everlasting shame, regret and pain.

The Bible shows that God is a God of mercy and love. The wicked will be consumed by fire and forgotten. They will not be tortured for all eternity. They'll receive their eternal punishment, but not eternal punishing. Their death, their eternal punishment, will last forever, but not the punishing.

So, God is the God of great mercy, and wisdom and righteous judgment. You don't have to get bogged down with fabricated traditions, but we can take comfort. We can be encouraged in what Jesus really taught in the pages of your Bible.

There is much more to consider on the subject of hell and I'd like to help you understand this topic much more deeply.

So order our free Bible study aid, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? for in-depth study into the details of Jesus' teaching. When you order, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? we'll also send you a free subscription to our bi-monthly magazine, The Good News .

It has valuable articles on subjects that will open your eyes to the stunning truths of the Bible. The Good News will also assist you in discovering more about Jesus Christ and how you can build a deeper relationship with Him.

To order The Good News and our study aid, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? call us, toll free:1-888-886-8632. That's 1-888-886-8632. Or, write us at the address shown on your screen. Of course, you can read, Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? and The Good News magazine online at BeyondToday.tv .

And, when you visit BeyondToday.tv , we invite you to join us throughout the week for our BT Daily online videos . These short video commentaries cover many Bible topics in addition to breaking news and prophecy - all in the light of Scripture. I hope you will join us at BeyondToday.tv .

Our topic today: "Is Hell Real?" Well, is God cruel? Does He torture the wicked forever or is it just an idea? To further discuss what the Bible really teaches, we're joined by fellow Beyond Today hosts, Darris McNeely and Gary Petty.

Now someone listening to the program might have a couple of what ifs come up because there are several passages that say, well what about this one? Doesn't the Bible say something? And one of those is what Jesus said back in the book of Matthew. Matthew:10:28 - Christ says: "And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell."

And someone reads that and says well, there's Jesus talking about hell, but what is exactly the thing that He is pointing to here?

[Darris] In that verse, Steve, Christ is referring to an actual spot in Jerusalem - His disciples would have known exactly what He was saying - it was the Valley of Hinnom. Which was a place of refuse and a dump, really, in its day. Fires were going all the time, burning things up.

[Steve] Now that's the word for hell.

[Darris] And that is the word for hell. It is translated " gehenna " in the Greek but the Valley of Hinnom. And it as an actual place. And so they understood that reference clearly not as something under the ground, down in an ever-burning place of torment, but as a geographical spot.

Actually you can go to Jerusalem today. I have done… I have walked through hell. I have walked from one end of the Valley of Hinnom to the other. It is rather pastoral today. It's a very interesting spot still there. And you can have a walk through hell if you want to today in Jerusalem but, they understood exactly what He was talking about. It was not an ever-burning hell.

[Gary] You know, it's interesting about that. If you look at, course the Hebrew and the Greek, there are numerous different words that are translated hell into English. But almost exclusively, not entirely, but almost, Jesus uses the word gehenna . Other writers don't. And the reason why is only people who had been to or lived around Jerusalem would even know that it was a place. So that use of that word is very particular to what Jesus is talking about, using that place as an object-lesson of judgment.

[Steve] It would really paint a clear picture for them.

[Gary] That's right.

[Steve] You know, another one of those passages is over in the book of Mark. In Mark:9:48, here Christ said, "the fire is not quenched." Now, someone would point to that and say well, must be ever-lasting torment then right?

[Darris] No.

[Steve] What does he mean?

[Darris] No, it's not ever-lasting torment. It is talking about an actual time of judgment. A fire that is not quenched, in other words, what is combustible burns itself out. And, it's not put out. And it's actually referring to a time of judgment that other scriptures clearly talk about - Revelation 20, 2 Peter 3 - where there is going to be a complete transformation of the earth at a time when the heavens will melt and the elements will melt by fire. And a complete change will take place, and that is a time of judgment.

And interestingly, you quoted a number of surveys in your program today, most of those people believe or actually the majority of people don't believe in hell by what you were quoting while others have this idea of hell - both are wrong! Because they don't understand what the Bible does say about this subject and they miss the complete teaching that God has about a time of judgment, which that verse is talking about.

[Gary] Well sometimes eternal was used in the Bible to just mean permanent. There are examples in Jude where it says that Sodom suffers the vengeance of eternal fire, yet we know that Sodom isn't still burning today. But it is did suffer a permanent judgment from God and it was fire. And that fire burned out and it's still not burning today.

[Steve] Like unquenchable forest fires today that they can't put out, but then…

[Gary] They burn out. There's not fuel left. Right.

[Steve] It's also interesting, most have this concept that this punishment would come right at death, yet that's not when this gehenna , that Christ talked about occurs, is it?

[Darris] No, that comes at the end of the age. Again Revelation 20 describes that as does 2 Peter 3. There is a time of judgment that the Bible very clearly foretells and that's when the Scripture is actually pertained to. We should fear Him who has the ability to destroy "both body and soul" in that time of judgment. And, that's what it's referring to, again, it's what people miss when they believe it's ascribed to an ever-burning hellfire.

[Gary] When you look at the Scriptures, especially at the end of Revelation, it is called the lake of fire. The entire earth is destroyed by fire and then it is recreated. And God actually brings New Jerusalem - which is His throne - down to this earth.

[Steve] It paints a whole different picture than Dantes Inferno . Instead of this fear of eternal punishment and torment, I think it should help us to realize we better be doing something though with our lives, right?

[Darris] We better get ourselves, our lives right with God and let these Scriptures teach us and motivate us out of love toward God rather than out of fear.

[Gary] Because there is justice There is coming a time when God will judge the incorrigibly wicked with eternal death, annihilation.

[Steve] There are many facets to the concept of hell, but it doesn't have to be confusing. That's why you should order your free copy of - " Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach? " and your free subscription to The Good News magazine. Call right now toll free: 1-888-886-8632. That's 1-888-886-8632. Or, you can read both online at BeyondToday.tv . We're looking forward to hearing from you!

You may not have known that the United Church of God has hundreds of Saturday, Sabbath-keeping congregations across the United States and around the world, with caring pastors who can help you grow in faith as a disciple of Jesus Christ. Go to BeyondToday.tv and click on the "Contact" tab to find a congregation near you . Call one of our pastors. Find out more about how the commonly held belief in hell is not based on biblical teaching. They would love to hear from you.

There is no contradiction. God is a God of mercy and love. Those who willingly and willfully reject His way of life won't suffer forever in hell or somehow be tortured for all eternity.

Your Bible says they will be consumed by fire and forgotten. Imagine - even the final death of the incorrigibly wicked in a lake of fire is an act of justice and mercy on God's part.

We can all be thankful that we do have a God of justice and He is fair, and His plan of salvation through Christ.

Thanks for joining us, and be sure to tell your family and friends about Beyond Today . And tune in again next week and join us in praying, "Thy Kingdom come." For Beyond Today , I'm Steve Myers. Thanks for watching.

[Announcer] For the free literature offered on today's program, go online to BeyondToday.tv . Please join us again next week on Beyond Today !

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