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ARE THE FLAMES OF HELL LITERAL?
Jesus Christ Said They Are!
The concept of a place of eternal torment after death is universally abhorrent. Our fallen and depraved nature is such that we think of ourselves as being basically good and the “mistakes” we make in life are not bad enough to merit such punishment. And that tendency to look at ourselves through rose colored glasses is the reason why it is difficult to find anyone in prison who will admit they are guilty as charged.
But like it or not, the Bible shows us—at times in graphic detail—the ultimate consequences of such “mistakes.” And what only a relative few ever come to understand is that an infinitely Holy God is the One keeping score! The failures that are insignificant to us are anything but trivial to Him, because of His perfect nature. He cannot allow anything less than perfection to live in His immediate presence and His Word tells us such failures are sin—a Bible term generally defined as any action, or inaction, that “misses the mark” of His divine will. And only those who are declared by Him to be perfect in every respect will be allowed to spend eternity in heaven. The souls of all the rest, without a single exception, will go directly to hell upon their departure from this world (see Lk.16:19-31). Then at some later point they will be reunited with their bodies to appear before the Great White Throne Judgment of God (Rev.20:11) and be consigned to the lake of fire which He prepared for the devil and his angels:
“And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. 14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” Rev.20:12-15 (KJV).
Satan totally ruined the material universe God created. In the blink of an eye perfection was rendered imperfect, the close relationship Adam and Eve had shared with their Creator was destroyed and mere words cannot possibly do justice to the enormity of that event. Disobedience to God’s clearly stated prohibition brought upon the whole of mankind a monstrous plague that guaranteed a 100% fatality rate! Even God’s own Son, Jesus Christ, was effectively condemned to die because of that cataclysmic failure. So the devil’s greatest lie of all—“ye shall not surely die”—must be exposed by every means possible. All men everywhere need to be warned about the awful reality of spiritual death, because it is eternal and cessation of the physical aspects of life does not end it!
To depart this sphere of reality we call “life” is an instantaneous entrance into another dimension of being. And the latest word from theoretical physics is that 11 of those dimensions exist, along with an infinite number of parallel universes! So is it not interesting that science is finally beginning to discover some things that have been denied by unbelievers for thousands of years?
Therefore, it seems reasonable to me that one of those dimensions could be the place of punishment (“the lake of fire”) set aside for the devil and his angels. Another, the place where “the angels who kept not their first estate” (Jude 1:6, KJV) are kept until the time of their judgment. A third could be the “bottomless pit” where Satan will dwell during the 1000 year Millennial Reign of Jesus Christ. While yet another could be the place English Bibles refer to as “hell”—a temporary place of punishment for the unregenerate masses while they await their final judgment. (I say “temporary” because when that judgment takes place, both death and hell will be cast into the lake of fire (Rev.20:14). Finally, there is heaven itself—where God dwells—by far the most important dimension of them all.
The word “hell” has existed since Old English times as a name for the abode of the dead—both Christian and pagan. The Old Norse word “hel” also indicated the abode of the dead as well as the goddess who ruled it.
But regardless of the theoretical aspects of such locations, the Lord Jesus Christ said that some of them are places of fiery torment.
“There was a certain rich man, which was clothed in purple and fine linen, and fared sumptuously every day: 20 And there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, which was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 And desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table: moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 And it came to pass, that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried; 23 And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame. 25 But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented. 26 And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence. 27 Then he said, I pray thee therefore, father, that thou wouldest send him to my father's house: 28 For I have five brethren; that he may testify unto them, lest they also come into this place of torment. 29 Abraham saith unto him, They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them. 30 And he said, Nay, father Abraham: but if one went unto them from the dead, they will repent. 31 And he said unto him, If they hear not Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded, though one rose from the dead” Luke 16:19-31 (KJV, emphasis mine).
And Billy Graham is on record as having voiced the opinion that the “flame” referred to by Jesus may not be literal in nature:
"Surveys tell us that 85% of Americans believe in heaven, but only 65% believe in hell. Why do you think so many Americans don't accept the concept of hell?" He replied: "I think that hell essentially is separation from God forever. And that is the worst hell that I can think of. But I think people have a hard time believing God is going to allow people to burn in literal fire forever. I think the fire that is mentioned in the Bible is a burning thirst for God that can never be quenched."
"Hell is not the most popular of preaching topics. I don't like to preach on it. But I must if I am to proclaim the whole counsel of God. We must not avoid warning of it. The most outspoken messages on hell, and the most graphic references to it, came from Jesus Himself. ...Jesus used three words to describe hell. ...The third word that He used is 'fire.' Jesus used this symbol over and over. This could be literal fire, as many believe. Or IT COULD BE SYMBOLIC. ...I've often thought that this fire could possibly be a burning thirst for God that is never quenched. What a terrible fire that would be-- never to find satisfaction, joy, or fulfillment!" (A Biblical Standard For Evangelists, Billy Graham, A commentary on the 15 Affirmations made by participants at the International Conference for Itinerant Evangelists in Amsterdam, The Netherlands, July 1983, Worldwide Publications, Minneapolis, Minnesota, pages 45-47). Endquote.
But to make the flame symbolic does violence to the immediate context of Luke 16:24—not to mention contradicting all the other references in the Bible which link “fire” with “hell.” Consider the following examples:
“The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; 42 And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth” Matt.13:41-42 (KJV, emphasis mine).
“Then another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a mighty voice, Whoever pays homage to the beast and his statue and permits the [beast’s] stamp (mark, inscription) to be put on his forehead or on his hand, 10 He too shall [have to] drink of the wine of God’s indignation and wrath, poured undiluted into the cup of His anger; and he shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no respite (no pause, no intermission, no rest, no peace) day or night—these who pay homage to the beast and to his image and whoever receives the stamp of his name upon him” Rev. 14:9-11 (Amplified Bible, emphasis mine).
“And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that wrought miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone” Rev.19:20 (KJV). [“brimstone” is burning sulphur]
“And 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” Rev.20:10 (KJV, emphasis mine).
But 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. Rev.21:8 (KJV, emphasis mine).
Do these descriptive terms and the frequency of their repetition sound like mere figures of speech to you?
Many try to offer the objection that spiritual beings (fallen angels and the souls of humans who have departed this life) are immaterial and therefore cannot experience, much less suffer from, a literal fire. But at some point all humans who have died are going to be reunited with their bodies: (1) believers at the Rapture of the Church and (2) unbelievers at the Great White Throne Judgment. Those in heaven will receive a glorified body like that of our risen Lord, and those consigned to the lake of fire will apparently receive their old physical bodies again—bodies that are fully capable of experiencing pain inflicted by literal flames. But even if this were not the case, who will be so silly as to think God is incapable of painfully inflicting the fire of this physical world upon spiritual beings? In fact, that may well turn out to be true where the devil and his angels are concerned.
Preachers have always warned people that “hell is no joke!” But in this day and time most of them are so concerned about keeping their pensions that they deliberately avoid upsetting those sitting in the pews. Old fashioned “hell fire and brimstone” messages are deemed to be passé and positive, uplifting sermons are now in vogue. The consensus is that negativity is detrimental to building churches. Well, I must admit that I too am positive when I preach. I am absolutely positive that people are dying and going to hell in every increasing numbers, while mama-called and daddy-sent preachers compete with each other over who has the most noses to count and the biggest offerings on Sunday! May God have mercy on their flocks—because there will be no mercy extended beyond this life to those who wind up in the lake of fire—the ultimate “warm climate” retirement community for positive preachers who never come to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ.
So if you are reading this and want to avoid an eternity separated from God and the unspeakable torments designed for the devil, I urge you to partake of the only “antidote” available. Because of His great mercy God has provided a way of escape. To meet the demands of His holy and righteous nature, sin must be punished by eternal death, but He (in the Person of His Son Jesus Christ) died a sacrificial death to pay the penalty Himself! And all those who will come to Him in faith, truly believing “…that God exists and that He is the rewarder of those who earnestly and diligently seek Him [out]” (Heb.11:6b, Amplified Bible), He has promised to save.
But be warned that this is no “fire escape from hell” type of salvation. Merely praying and promising to be a good boy or girl from now on will not cut it. Only genuine belief, repentance and absolute dependence upon Jesus Christ will result in eternal life. And if you “get it right,” the Holy Spirit will literally take up residence within you and His presence will manifest itself through the “fruit” you will bear for Christ (Gal.5:22-23). All professions of faith and baptisms/church memberships are a waste of time unless the fruit of the Spirit is demonstrated in the life. For that reason we have included 11 “tests” right up front in the Cutting Edge Salvation Page at www.cuttingedge.org/salvation.html . And if there is any doubt whatever in your mind about where you stand with God, we urge you to answer all11 honestly. If you have “passed from death unto life” (John 5:24) and been genuinely born again, you will be able to respond with a “yes” to all of them—at least to some degree. A few will become more obvious with time, but all can be sensed very soon after conversion. Our prayer is that you will seek the Lord while He may be found and call upon Him while He is near (Isaiah 55:6).
We hope you have been blessed by this ministry, which seeks to educate and warn people, so that they can see the coming New World Order Kingdom of Antichrist in their daily news.
Finally, we would love to hear from you. You can write us
Cutting Edge Ministries, C/O Pastor Ron Riffe
P.O. Box 26
Gordo, AL 35466
You can also E-Mail Pastor Ronald Riffe regarding questions or comments about this article.
God bless you