God and Creation—Part 16

Hell Destroyed

“O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave (Hebrew, sheol), I will be thy destruction.”
—Hosea 13:14

THE TRANSLATORS OF our common version of the Bible (the King James Version) have translated the Hebrew word sheol, as ‘hell,’ ‘grave,’ and ‘pit.’ All are referring to the condition of death, or non-existence.


In Matthew 16:18 Jesus is quoted as saying, “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell [hades] shall not prevail against it.” Many long centuries before this, God had promised Abraham that through his “seed” all the families of the earth would be “blessed.” (Gen. 12:3; 18:18; 22:18) In the New Testament we learn that this promised ‘seed’ is Jesus, and associated with him are his faithful, footstep followers. (Gal. 3:8,16,27-29) In their relation to Jesus these are described as “the church, Which is his body.” (Eph. 1:22,23) It is this ‘church’ which Jesus refers to, and says that the ‘gates of hell shall not prevail against it.’

This is a most reassuring promise. The divinely planned work of Jesus and the church is the blessing of all the families of the earth, but how can all the families of the earth be blessed since they are all either in the Bible hell or on their way thereto? Jesus answers this question in his assertion that the gates of hell will not prevail against the church; that is, will not hinder the church, in association with him who has the “keys of hell,” from blessing all mankind as designed by the Heavenly Father.—Rev. 1:18

We already have proof that this is true. Jesus, the great Life-giver of mankind, was himself in death, in hell. The gates of hell did not prevail to hold him a prisoner in death. God exercised his mighty power and restored Jesus to life. Peter said, “This Jesus hath God raised up, whereof we all are witnesses.” (Acts 2:32) Nor will the gates of hell hold the followers of Jesus prisoners in death. The release of these is prophetically described in Revelation 20:6, which reads, “Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection, … they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.”

With this ‘first resurrection’ complete, the work of the thousand-year reign of Christ and his church will begin. Then will take place in reality what the Apostle John saw in vision. Describing his vision, John said, “Death and hell [hades] delivered up the dead which were in them.” (Rev. 20:13) For this to be accomplished, Jesus will use the keys of hell to unlock its gates to set its prisoners free. This great work of Christ and his church is otherwise described in the Bible as the resurrection of the dead.


The word hell (hades) appears for the last time in the Bible in the verse following the one in which John tells us that he saw hell give up its dead. In this text we are told that hell is to be destroyed. The text reads, “Death and hell [hades] were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (vs. 14) In the Old Testament, God prophesied the ultimate destruction of hell, sheol, hades. Through the Prophet Hosea he promised to “ransom” the people from the power of sheol. This, we have found, was the purpose of Jesus’ death, of his going into sheol. The ultimate result of this, the Lord said, would be, “I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave [sheol], I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.”—Hos. 13:14

John saw hell [hades] destroyed in the ‘lake of fire,’ which he defines as the ‘second death.’ This is not a literal lake of fire, although many have used this text in their effort to establish the Satan-inspired teaching of eternal torture for the wicked. They have spoken of the lake of fire as though it were the hell of the Bible, failing to take into consideration that John saw the Bible hell cast into the lake of fire. Surely hell could not be cast into itself. Throughout the Scriptures fire is used as a symbol of destruction, and this is no exception to the rule. The condition of death which came upon the world of mankind as a result of original sin is to be destroyed, and this destruction is symbolized by a lake of fire.


The everlasting destruction of individuals who prove themselves to be incorrigibly wicked is shown by Jesus to be accomplished by Gehenna fire. Gehenna is a Greek word that Jesus used on a number of occasions, and in our Common Version English translations of the Bible is translated ‘hell-fire.’ Where the word is used without the association of fire, it is simply translated ‘hell.’

This Greek word Gehenna described what was called in the Hebrew language the valley of Hinnom. This was a deep ravine just outside the walls of ancient Jerusalem. It was used as a place for the disposal of the refuse of the city, including the carcasses of cats and dogs and other unclean animals. According to tradition, bodies of humans who, according to the Jewish Sanhedrin, had committed crimes making them unworthy of a resurrection were cast into the valley of Hinnom. Fires were kept constantly burning in this valley to assure the destruction of everything that was thrown into it. Because of this use of the valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, and the obvious significance of the fire which was kept burning therein, Jesus employed it to illustrate the utter destruction of the willfully wicked.

In Matthew 10:28, Gehenna is translated ‘hell.’ This text quotes Jesus as saying, “Fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” This shows clearly that Gehenna is used by Jesus to denote destruction, not torment. The words ‘kill’ and ‘destroy’ are used with respect to both body and soul, thus the literal meaning of both words is shown to apply to the entire being.

In Mark 9:43,44 the word Gehenna is again used. Here Jesus is quoted as saying, “If thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.” This passage has been erroneously seized upon to teach the God-dishonoring doctrine of eternal torture. The ‘worm’ that ‘dieth not,’ they say, is the soul that is tortured in hell. However, this latter part of the text about the worm is evidently spurious, since the oldest manuscripts omit it. It does appear, though in the forty-eighth verse. But how contrary is this interpretation to Jesus’ own declaration that the soul is killed, or destroyed, in hell, the same as the body.

Besides, there is no scriptural authority for saying that a human soul is a worm. Here Jesus is again using Gehenna as a symbol of destruction. All know that dead bodies exposed to the elements soon become infested with worms, or maggots, and other insects that, if left alone, in time completely destroy the carcass. It is to this that Jesus is referring. Presumably, bodies hurled into Gehenna would not always reach the fire that was kept burning for the destruction of refuse. But if not, then they would be destroyed by worms. Thus does Jesus emphasize the certain inflicting of the death penalty upon all who are not found worthy of everlasting life.


There is one use of the Greek word hades in the New Testament that has been thought by some to confirm the doctrine of eternal torture. It is the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, recorded in Luke 16:19-31. After the death of the rich man in this parable, it is said that “in hell [hades] he lifted up his eyes, being in torment.” (vs. 23) Simply because the word ‘hell’ is used here, and the rich man is said to be tormented in hell, this parable has been seized upon to prove that all believers in Christ go to heaven when they die and that all unbelievers, the wicked, go to eternal torture.

Satan’s original lie, “Ye shall not surely die” (Gen. 3:4), has gained such a hold upon human thinking that reason and logic have often been thrown to the winds in order to prove that there is no death, and that torment, not death, is the Divine penalty for sin. We have a vivid example of unreason in the generally accepted interpretation of this parable. We suggest a careful reading of the parable, as cited. It says nothing about the righteous nor the wicked. Nor are believers and unbelievers mentioned in the parable. Nothing is said in the parable about anyone going to heaven.

In the parable a poor beggar dies, and is carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom, not to heaven. The beggar is not described as righteous, or as being a believer in Christ. Nor is the rich man said to be a sinner. After his death, and when in hades, he is shown to be conversing with the beggar who is in Abraham’s bosom. There is not a single detail of the parable that, in reality, harmonizes with the Protestant view that all good people go to heaven when they die, and all others are forever tortured. No one believes that those they claim are being tortured in hell are able to converse with the saved in heaven.

We refer to a booklet entitled, The Truth about Hell for a full explanation of this parable. We will mention here merely that the two men of the parable represent the Jews and the Gentiles, not as individuals, but as a people; the rich man picturing the natural descendants of Abraham, and the beggar, the Gentiles. Beginning with the First Advent of Jesus, the Gentiles began to inherit the promises God made to Abraham, while those to whom the promises were originally made ‘died’ to their position of special favor before the Lord and, as a people, have been persecuted, ‘tormented,’ ever since.

Briefly, then, the torment mentioned in this parable symbolically describes the age-long national persecution of the Jewish people, and has no reference at all to the actual death condition of individual members of the human race. In recent years the Jewish national scene has undergone considerable change. Eventually the torments of this people will be entirely over, and for this we are glad.


In Isaiah 25:8 we read of a time when the Lord will “swallow up death in victory” and when he will “wipe away tears from off all faces.” The Apostle Paul quotes this promise, and then adds, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave [hades], where is thy victory?” (I Cor. 15:55) Thus again are we given assurance of the destruction of death, and that this will mean victory over hades, sheol—the Bible hell. Just as Jesus explained, the gates of hell will not prevail. The victory will be the Lord’s because he will destroy hell, and set its captives free.

Then, for the first time, it will be true that there is no death, not because Satan told the truth when he said, ‘Ye shall not surely die,’ but because the Lord will destroy death. Then, as we read in Revelation 21:4, “There shall be no more death, … neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.”

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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