Hell Test

“Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Revelation 20:11-15

In our last testing of The Hell Test, we saw that Jesus Christ revealed Himself to the Apostle John and the seven churches of Asia Minor as the Great Judge of the earth. In Revelation 20 we see Jesus sitting on His “great white throne” and the earth and the heaven disappearing from His “face.” We also see the dead, “small and great,” standing before Him. Books were opened and the dead were judged according to their works, “by the things which were written in the books.” Another book was opened, “which is the Book of Life.” Anyone not found “written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” Could God have been any clearer about His intent to judge the dead and to “cast” those not found written in the Book of Life “into the lake of fire”? Well, maybe not. So-called “Christian Universalists” believe God has something else in mind for that lake of fire.

The author of The Hell Test and other universalists refer to Charles Pridgeon’s book “Is Hell Eternal? Or Will God’s Plan Fail?” as  authoritative in addressing the doctrine of Christian Universalism. Here’s what Pridgeon wrote about the “lake of fire.”

“The Lake of Fire and Brimstone signifies a fire burning with brimstone; the word “brimstone” or sulfur defines the character of the fire. The word theion translated “brimstone” is exactly the same word theion which means “divine.” Sulfur was sacred to the deity among the ancient Greeks; and was used to fumigate, to purify, and to cleanse and to consecrate to the deity; for this purpose they burned it in their incense. In Homer’s Iliad (16:228) one is spoken of as purifying a goblet with fire and brimstone. The verb derived from theion is theioo, which means to hallow, to make divine, or to dedicate to a god.  (See Liddell and Scott Greek-English Lexicon, 1897 Edition.) To any Greek, or to any trained in the Greek language, a “lake of fire and brimstone” would mean a “lake of divine purification.” The idea of judgment need not be excluded (see Chapter on The Judgments of God). Divine purification and divine consecration are the plain meaning in ancient Greek. In the ordinary explanation, this fundamental meaning of the word is entirely left out, and nothing but eternal torment is associated with it.” Is Hell Eternal? Or Will God’s Plan Fail?, Chapter 11, Pittsburgh Bible Institute, 1920

John the Apostle wrote in Revelation 20:14 that “Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire” and that it was the “second death.” The Greek in Revelation 20:15 is – και ει τις ουχ ευρεθη εν τη βιβλω της ζωης γεγραμμενος εβληθη εις την λιμνην του πυρος. The words for “lake of fire” are the same in both 20:14 and 20:15 (limene tou puros). The word “brimstone” does not appear in Revelation 20:14 or 15.

The word limene (lake) was also used in Luke’s Gospel for Lake Galilee (Luke 5:2; 8:22, 23, 33), also called Lake Gennesarret (Luke 5:1) and Sea of Galilee (Matthew 4:8; Mark 7:31). John also called the Sea of Galilee the “Sea of Tiberias” (John 6:1). The lake was extremely large and held water, fish and other creatures, and plant life.

John used the same Greek word (limene) for the lake of “fire.” The word for fire, puros, was understood by ancient Greeks for something that was burning hot (e.g. literal fire, high fever). The writers of the New Testament often used the word puros in context of God’s judgment.

Hebrews 10:27 – the “fiery indignation which will devour the adversaries” in the context of God’s judgment and vengeance.

1 Corinthians 3:13 – the works of believers on earth … “each one’s work will become clear; for the Day will declare it, because it will be revealed by fire; and the fire will test each one’s work, of what sort it is.”

2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 – the Lord Jesus returning to earth with His mighty angels … “in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”

Matthew 5:22; 13:42, 50; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17 – the Lord Jesus judging the ungodly … “The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth … Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels … but the chaff He will burn with unquenchable fire.”

God often used fire in His relationship with humans. He used a smoking oven and burning torch in making a covenant with Abram (Genesis 15:17). God appeared in a flame of fire from the midst of a bush when He revealed His covenant Name to Moses (Exodus 3:2). God destroyed the ancient cities of Sodom and Gomorrah with fire (Genesis 19:24). He descended in fire on Mount Sinai and spoke to the children of Israel (Exodus 19:18; 24:17). God led the Israelites through the desert by a pillar of fire at night (Deuteronomy 1:32-33).

The question before us is whether God’s intent with the “lake of fire” is to punish unbelievers forever (without end) or to “fumigate, purify, cleanse and consecrate” unbelievers until they are fully prepared to serve God forever with the saints who were “washed, sanctified, and justified” in the “name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Corinthians 6:11) Did the ancients understand the words limene tou puros to be a lake of “divine purification and divine consecration?” Is that “the plain meaning in ancient Greek?”

First, let’s look at what Greek words the writers of the New Testament used for “purification” and “cleansing.” One of the words is hegnikotes – “Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart…” (1 Peter 1:22) Another Greek word is katharismos – “And He charged him to tell no one, ‘But go and show yourself to the priest, and make an offering for your cleansing, as a testimony to them, just as Moses commanded.” (Luke 5:14) The word hagnismos is used for a ceremonial purification – “Then Paul took the men, and the next day, having been purified with them, entered the temple to announce the expiration of the days of purification, at which time an offering should be made for each one of them.” The Greek verbs for “purify” include hagnizo (cleanse from defilement) and katharizo (make free from admixture).

The Greek word pur is not translated as “purification, cleansing, or consecrating” in the English translation of the New Testament. Should it be? Is that the primary meaning of the word? Was that the primary understanding of ancient Greeks?

Universalist Charles Pridgeon’s comment – “To any Greek, or to any trained in the Greek language, a ‘lake of fire and brimstone’ would mean a ‘lake of divine purification”- is interesting in light of the many Greek-speaking Christians who believe in a literal, eternal lake of fire. Here is what a Greek man, raised in a Greek family, speaking Greek from childhood and trained in New Testament Greek, wrote about limene tou puros.

“Of the eternal fire, the place of punishment and abode of demons, and the souls of wicked men in Hades, represented under various images, a fiery furnace … the lake of fire (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15; 21:8)” Dr. Spiros Zodhiates, The Complete Word Study Dictionary: New Testament, World Bible Publishers, 1992.

Dr. Zodhiates wrote this about the lake of fire in a commentary about Matthew 25:31-46:

“The contrast between the sheep and the goats continues in the commands given to the two. The King will invite the sheep with the personal “come” (deúte [1205]), the same personal invitation given in Matthew 11:28 to the “burdened and heavy laden.” But He will command the goats to “depart” (poreúesthe, the present imperative of poreúomai [4198], to march publicly; v. 41). This command is a decree; it cannot be disobeyed. The goats will be cast into the lake of fire. The Lord doesn’t ask them to remove themselves; He commands them to leave … The ultimate destiny of unbelievers will be in an everlasting fire that God has prepared for the devil and his angels. The finality of this judgment is also supported by Revelation 20:14, which says that death (thánatos [2288]) and Hades (hádēs [86]) will be cast into the lake of fire, here defined as the ‘second death.’ Note that unlike the kingdom, the everlasting fire is not described as ‘prepared…from before the foundation of the world’ (Matt. 25:34).” From Exegetical Commentary on Matthew, 2006, AMG Publishers

Dr. Zodhiates is just one example of a Greek trained in the Greek language who believes that the lake of fire is a place of eternal punishment and everlasting fire. There are many other people well trained in Koine Greek who also do not believe that the lake of fire is a place of purification that will eventually lead unbelievers out of the lake of fire and into the Heaven of God. That is not the clear teaching and meaning of Scripture in the original language of the text.

The Hell Test is tested once again and comes up short of being true – thus making it false. Next week, the final look at what Scripture reveals to us about God’s eternal plan for man.

“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”