The Biblical Description of Hell

Biblical Description of HellThe Biblical
Description of
HELL

By Tom Kendall

INTRODUCTION

One of the issues often avoided in teachings from the pulpit, bible studies and general conversation in the Christian community seems to be the issue of “hell”. For some reason, it seems to have a mystique about it that some may think invites evil spirits into their lives. However, if it was not to be studied, taught, discussed and understood, God would not have given us the information in the Bible. Because He did, and because it is there, I believe we should study and understand it just like any other aspect of scripture.

In this document, I will attempt to bring together many of the resources found is scripture that gives us a glimpse of the afterlife, and in particular, what we refer to as “hell”. In studying this topic, we must also consider other key issues that include what we refer to as “heaven”, as well as sin, punishment, reward, salvation and a host of issues that contribute to the complete understanding of this topic.

DEFINING HELL

As we begin, it is important that we look at the original Greek and Hebrew words used in scripture and what they meant to those to which the original books were written. The first key word is the Greek word “Hades”. ᾅδης [hades /hah·dace/]   In the Strong’s biblical word reference, this is word number 86. When translated into English, it translates into “hell” ten times and the word “grave” once. Here are applications and meanings as described in Strong’s:

    1. Name Hades or Pluto, the god of the lower regions.
    2. Orcus, the nether world, the realm of the dead.
    3. later use of this word: the grave, death, hell. Additional Information: In Biblical Greek it is associated with Orcus, the infernal regions, a dark and dismal place in the very depths of the earth, the common receptacle of disembodied spirits. Usually Hades is just the abode of the wicked, Lu. 16:23Lu. 16:23
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      23 In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom.

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      , Rev. 20:13,14Rev. 20:13,14
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      13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

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      ; a very uncomfortable place.

A very uncomfortable place, indeed. Certainly not a place most people long to be for eternity. It is also helpful to take a closer look at some of the descriptions of “Hades” and how they may be used today. Sometimes, these old, classical words find their way into secular use and minimize the meaning of them as we Plutothink of them in modern terminology. For example, the word “Pluto”.   It is the name of one of our planets. But the name is that of the “god of the lower regions” as understood by the ancients.   It is also the name of Mickey Mouse’s dog.  Who could possibly think the happy, carefree dog of Disney would be symbolically named after the ancient god of the underworld.   I am confident Walt Disney never intended to try and portray Pluto as something other than the cartoon character it is, in our modern society, we do not normally associate anything related to “hell” with that name.

It is a similar situation with the name “Orcus”, the nether world, the realm of the dead. It is from this word where the French word “ogre” likely originated. An “ogre” is defined as:

Shreck1: a hideous giant of fairy tales and folklore that feeds on human beings : monster
2: a dreaded person or object

Ogres for centuries were the scary, ugly monsters we grew up afraid of always fearing they hid under our beds at night or in the dark corners of our closets. Today, Ogre is the lovable green character in Shrek that kids love, and certainly don’t think of as being a scary monster that wants to devour them in their sleep.

How did we get from studying “hell” to Shrek? Simple. Many of the words and concepts we think of in modern day are complete changes of the original derivatives and the original meanings of the ancients. Therefore, it is no wonder we are easily confused when we hear some of the meanings and definitions of the original words used in the Bible. How often do we hear the word “hell” spoken in general conversation and on television? It has become a benign term that is no longer unacceptable in most conversational circles.

Understanding these terms also helps us begin putting the pieces of the puzzle together when we define the concept of “hell”. Another key word found in the Bible is the “Abyss”. In Strong’s biblical word dictionary, it is word number 12. ἄβυσσος [abussos /ab·us·sos/]   The abyss translates as the “bottomless pit” five times in the Bible. It is also translated twice as the word “deep” and “bottomless” twice. Here are the descriptions of the word “Abyss” from Strong’s:

    1. bottomless.
    2. unbounded.
    3. the abyss.
    • the pit.
    • the immeasurable depth.
    • of Orcus, a very deep gulf or chasm in the lowest parts of the earth used as the common receptacle of the dead and especially as the abode of demons.

Once again, we encounter this word “Orcus”, and in the application of the “abyss” means a deep gulf or chasm in the lowest parts of the earth. This description may come to mind as we remember the story of the beggar Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16:19-31Luke 16:19-31
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19 “Now there was a certain rich man, and he was clothed in purple and fine linen, living in luxury every day. 20 A certain beggar, named Lazarus, was laid at his gate, full of sores, 21 and desiring to be fed with the crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Yes, even the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 It happened that the beggar died, and that he was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died, and was buried. 23 In Hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far off, and Lazarus at his bosom. 24 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 in anguish in this flame.’ 25 “But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that you, in your lifetime, received your good things, and Lazarus, in like manner, bad things. But now here he is comforted and you are in anguish. 26 Besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, that those who want to pass from here to you are not able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He said, ‘I ask you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house; 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, so they won’t also come into this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets. Let them listen to them.’ 30 “He said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 “He said to him, ‘If they don’t listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if one rises from the dead.’”

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. Let us take a look at that scripture where I have taken the liberty to highlight some of these key components of the parable:

Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus

19 “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. 20 But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, 21 desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. 22 So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. (NOTE: we will see this later referred to as “paradise”) The rich man also died and was buried. 23 And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

24 “Then 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 in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. 26 And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. (NOTE: Here is the “chasm” or deep gulf of Orcus of the “abyss”.)

27 “Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, 28 for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ 29 Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, (NOTE: A confirmation that Lazarus, as well as Abraham and the rich man, were indeed “dead”.) they will repent.’ 31 But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.’ ”

In the Old Testament, the word used for “hell” which is the equivalent of Hades was “Sheol”. The Tyndale Bible dictionary describes Sheol as:

A Hebrew term for the place of the dead. In ordinary usage it means “ravine,” “chasm,” “underworld,” or “world of the dead.” In the OT it is the place where the dead have their abode, a hollow space underneath the earth where the dead are gathered in.

Once again, as in Hades, we see this reference to the “chasm” and the place where the dead go, and is the parallel to the Greek word Hades.

What have we learned so far? The original word for “hell” as we generally refer to it is “Hades”, and in Hades, there are two places, one where there is torment, and one where Abraham is and there is no torment. We might think of these as the “Smoking” and “Non-Smoking” sections of hell. But, this is far from the end of the story.

TARTAROS

Tartaros is the Greek noun Τάρταρος which is a subterranean place, lower than Hades (ᾅδης) , where divine punishment was conducted by God against the rebellious angels held captive lower than Hades. It is a parallel to the Hebrew word “Gehenna” as used by the Jews in the Old Testament. The word “Gehenna” is an English transliteration of the Greek form of an Aramaic word. It is originally derived from the Hebrew phrase the Valley of [the son(s) of] Hinnom.” The name refers to a deep valley making the borders of the territories of the ancient tribes of Benjamin and Judah (See: Jos 15:8; 18:16Jos 15:8; 18:16
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8 and the border went up by the valley of the son of Hinnom to the side of the Jebusite southward ; and the border went up to the top of the mountain that lies before the valley of Hinnom westward, which is at the uttermost part of the valley of Rephaim northward; 16 and the border went down to the uttermost part of the mountain that lies before the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is in the valley of Rephaim northward; and it went down to the valley of Hinnom, to the side of the Jebusite southward, and went down to En Rogel;

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).

We see a reference to this place, Tartaros, in “hell” in 2 Peter 2:42 Peter 2:4
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4 For if God didn’t spare angels when they sinned, but cast them down to Tartarus Tartarus is another name for Hell, and committed them to pits of darkness, to be reserved to judgment;

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which is the only place this word if found in the New Testament. It reads:

4 For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell (Tartaros; Τάρταρος) and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment;

Jesus made a reference to “Gehenna” in Matthew 10:28Matthew 10:28
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28 Don’t be afraid of those who kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul. Rather, fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna.

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when He said:

28And 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.

A parallel reference can be found in Luke 12:5Luke 12:5
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5 But I will warn you whom you should fear. Fear him, who after he has killed, has power to cast into Gehenna. or, Hell Yes, I tell you, fear him.

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:

5But I will show you whom you should fear:Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!

The word “hell” that Jesus used is g1067: “γέεννα; geenna” which is derived from the Hebrew “Gehenna” as described earlier. The applied definition from Strong’s Greek Dictionary for g1067 in this verse is as follows:

“Hell is the place of the future punishment call “Gehenna” or “Gehenna of fire“. This was originally the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction.”

Jesus also said in Mark 9:43-44Mark 9:43-44
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43 If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having your two hands to go into Gehenna, Gehenna is a word for Hell that originated as the name for a place where live babies were thrown crying into the fire under the arms of the idol, Moloch, to die. This place was so despised by the people after the righteous King Josiah abolished this hideous practice, that not only was it made into a garbage heap, but dead bodies of diseased animals and executed criminals were thrown there and burned. into the unquenchable fire, 44 ‘where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.’

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:

Jesus Warns of Offenses
43If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched —44where’
Their worm does not die
And the fire is not quenched. ‘

Again, the word “hell” that Jesus used is Strong’s g1076, or what we may think of as Gehenna or “Tartaros”. In the book of Revelation Chapters 19 and 20, we will see this referred to as the “Lake of fire” or “Lake of burning fire (and brimstone).”

So now we see a possible third location in Hades, or at least adjacent to and below Hades, called Tartaros. As we go forward, now, and look through the scriptures, let us keep this mental picture of a place God created that we often refer to as “hell”. It appears to be located in the depths of the earth, far below any place man has ever been able to see or explore. It had, at least at some time, a chasm dividing it, one side called “paradise” or “Abraham’s bosom”, and another side of torment, which we think of as “hell”. Let us, at least for now, think of Hades in Old Testament times as having “hell” and “paradise” divided by a chasm. Below Hades is another region called Tartaros where the fallen angels are bound for torment awaiting judgment. The primary difference between “Hades” and “Tartaros” is Hades is a “temporary” place of judgment and “Tartaros” is a “permanent place of judgment where eventually we will see the antichrist, the false prophet and Satan himself end up of which the Bible refers to as the “Lake of Burning Fire (Sulfur)”.

Considering who the ultimate eternal inhabitants of this place will be, it is definitely NOT a place where I want to go, and I would suspect no rational person would “choose” to be for eternity.  However, not choosing Jesus is by default choosing to be separated from Him, and thus ultimately in this place Tartaros.

DID CHRIST CHANGE HADES?

We read several scriptures describing what Hades looked like and was composed of, at least until Christ’s death. That is where we need to evaluate two other key passages in the New Testament. First, let us look at what the Apostle Peter wrote in 1 Peter 3:18-211 Peter 3:18-21
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18 Because Christ also suffered for sins once, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring you to God; being put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; 19 in which he also went and preached to the spirits in prison, 20 who before were disobedient, when God waited patiently in the days of Noah, while the ark was being built. In it, few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water. 21 This is a symbol of baptism, which now saves you-- not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,

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18 For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, 19 by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison,20 who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight souls, were saved through water.

Here we see Christ speaking to spirits in bondage. Peter goes on in the 4th Chapter in verses 5-6 to also say:

5 They will give an account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit.

It is likely from these scriptures where the Catholic Church developed the “Apostles Creed”, which is used today in many churches. It says:

“I believe in God, the Father almighty, maker of heaven and earth; and in Jesus Christ his only Son our Lord; who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary, suffered under Pontius Pilate, was crucified, dead and buried. He descended into hell. The third day he rose again from the dead. He ascended into heaven, and sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almighty. From thence he shall come to judge the living and the dead. I believe in the Holy Ghost, the holy catholic Church, the communion of saints, the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the body, and the life everlasting. Amen.”

In the Christian Church today, there is this widely held belief that Christ went to “hell” or Hades, for the 3 days from the time He died on Good Friday until His resurrection on Easter Sunday. Although that exact description comes from the Apostle’s Creed, not from the Bible, we can examine those Biblical scriptures that suggest this may indeed have been the case.

Matthew actually quotes JESUS predicting that He will be there for three days in Matthew 12:40Matthew 12:40
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40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

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where Jesus says:

40For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

In this example, the word “heart” is the Greek word καρδία, kardia, phonetically pronounced (kar-dee’-ah). This means essentially the middle or center of something, and in one meaning denotes the center of all physical and spiritual life.

Paul also addressed this issue in his letter to the Ephesians in Chapter 4. Let us take a look at Verses 7-10:

7 But to each one of us grace was given according to the measure of Christ’s gift. 8 Therefore He says:
When He ascended on high,
He led captivity captive,
And gave gifts to men.”
9 (Now this, “He ascended”—what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? 10He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)

In verse 9, the word “lower” is translated from the original Greek word (Strong’s #2737 – κατώτερος, pronounced: kat-o’-ter-os) which means inferior (locally, of Hades): – Lower.

The passages above provide reasonable scriptural evidence that Christ indeed descended into Hades after His death, and He may have radically changed the structure of Hades at that point. Because we know His body was placed in the tomb on Good Friday, and He was Resurrected on Easter, that would tell us that Jesus’ body likely did not descend into Hades, but His Spirit would be the only logical conclusion. The Bible does not provide a lot of in-depth information and descriptions of the afterlife, but some of these give us the glimpse we need to begin having some understanding of it that God wants us to have simply because He put it in His Word.

In Ephesians 4:8Ephesians 4:8
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8 Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”

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, it says “He led captivity captive”. The word “captive” is Strong’s #0162 which is αἰχμαλωτεύω, or aichmaloteuo {aheekh-mal-o-tew’-o} which includes the meaning to “lead captive”.   Verse 8 is actually from Psalm 68:18Psalm 68:18
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18 You have ascended on high. You have led away captives. You have received gifts among men, Yes, among the rebellious also, that Yah God might dwell there.

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where the word “captive” is the Hebrew word שָׁבָה [shabah /shaw·baw/], which also means the same as the Greek; to take captive or to lead captive.

We know from scripture (Hebrews 9:27Hebrews 9:27
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27 Inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once, and after this, judgment,

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) that man is to die once then a single judgment.   Therefore, Christ was not descending into Hades to judge the dead, but to preach His gospel to those who were seen by God as righteous in His eyes from the Old Testament.  This was actually a fulfillment of God’s promise to the people of the Old Testament that He would send them a Messiah.  Those who died before the Messiah appeared on earth, came to them in paradise so they, too, could have eternal life with Him.  Thus, we know of two who were there: Lazarus and Abraham in the “paradise” section of Hades. We could also logically presume that people like Moses, David, Daniel, Ezekiel and a host of others from the Old Testament who had died before Jesus, might be there.

IS PARADISE HEAVEN?

In a simple answer, prior to Jesus’ Resurrection, no. Paradise was the place in Hades we discussed earlier. We see statements of this in Scripture. For example, take Jesus’ own Words to the thief on the cross in Luke 23:43Luke 23:43
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43 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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43 And Jesus said to him, Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.

Paul also wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 12:2-42 Corinthians 12:2-4
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2 I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago , such a one caught up into the third heaven. 3 I know such a man , 4 how he was caught up into Paradise, and heard unspeakable words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

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2 I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. 3 And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— 4how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.

The word “paradise” that Jesus used in Luke 23:43Luke 23:43
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43 Jesus said to him, “Assuredly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”

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is the Greek Word: παράδεισος, paradeisos pronounced: (par-ad’-i-sos). Since Jesus said in Matthew 12:40Matthew 12:40
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40 For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the whale, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.

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that He would be in “paradise” for 3 days, then just before He died, told the thief on the other cross he would be with Him today in “paradise”, one would have to logically presume that “paradise” was a place at the center of the earth, which is in the description of “Hades”, and that it was not the bad place we think of as “hell” where there is torment of disembodied spirits.

We also saw earlier in Ephesians 4:8Ephesians 4:8
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8 Therefore he says, “When he ascended on high, he led captivity captive, and gave gifts to men.”

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that Jesus led those in the captivity, presumably held in “paradise” until the Messiah came, captive to be with Him in “heaven”, where He is today and has been since His Resurrection. It can be logically concluded that His time in this portion of Hades was the freeing of those who were in “paradise” and who would follow Him, thus either closing the “paradise” or, more likely, taking “paradise” now with Him into heaven.

Thus, my response to the question: “is paradise heaven?” is yes, it is today and since Christ’s Resurrection, but it was not prior to that moment. Evidence of that is once again the Words of Jesus Himself when He said in Revelation 2:7Revelation 2:7
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7 He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the assemblies. To him who overcomes I will give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the Paradise of my God.

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7 “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches. To him who overcomes I will give to eat from the tree of life, which is in the midst of the Paradise of God.

The word “Paradise” in this verse is παράδεισος, paradeisos, which is the same word Jesus used to describe where He and the thief on the other cross would be on the day He died. This is a good indicator that “paradise” once was in the earth and now is in heaven with God. Another example of the usage of this word was written by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 12:22 Corinthians 12:2
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2 I know a man in Christ, fourteen years ago , such a one caught up into the third heaven.

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which reads:

3 And I know such a man — whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows — 4 how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter. (emphasis added).

Paul says he knew a man that was “caught up” (not down) into Paradise. It is also very interesting to note that this word “up” in Greek is “harpazō;”, which is the word when translated into Latin where we get our word “rapture”.

It is also interesting to note that Genesis 2:9Genesis 2:9
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9 Out of the ground Yahweh God made every tree to grow that is pleasant to the sight, and good for food; the tree of life also in the midst of the garden, and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.

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said the “tree of life” was in the Garden of Eden, or “paradise”. One could also conclude that “paradise” may have originally been created ON earth for man, but after the sin of Adam and Eve, they were thrown out of “paradise” and it was guarded, but then God may have sent that “paradise” to Hades UNDER the earth. From Adam and Eve’s sin, until the Messiah came, everyone went to Hades, some to the “paradise” and others to the “smoking section”, like the rich man in Luke 16.

We also see the “tree of life” appear in the “New Jerusalem” in Revelation 22:2Revelation 22:2
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2 in the middle of its street. On this side of the river and on that was the tree of life, bearing twelve kinds of fruits, yielding its fruit every month. The leaves of the tree were for the healing of the nations.

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which says: “2 In the middle of its street, and on either side of the river, wasthe tree of life, which bore twelve fruits, each tree yielding its fruit every month.” We see this tree in the Garden, in Paradise and for all eternity in the New Jerusalem. So it appears this tree of life is in “paradise”, which was originally in the Garden of Eden, later in the paradise of Hades (below), then again in the “paradise” in heaven above. This provides some biblical insight and support for the concept that at least some parts of the paradise of Adam and Eve have moved and will remain with us for all eternity in the New Jerusalem.

In the Old Testament, it was in the earth where everyone was sent awaiting either judgment, which is yet to come, or for the Messiah. Today, I believe Hades, being now devoid of “paradise”, is simply the other side of the great chasm where those who died in sin and unbelief and rebellion against God remain until judgment. Below Hades, even today, is still Tartaros where those angels God sent there to await judgment are still there waiting for the Great White Throne Judgment that is yet to come. Eventually, Hades will be thrown in Tartaros, or the lake of burning fire, which is currently just below it.

WHERE DO WE GO FROM HERE?

Paul wrote in his second letter to the Corinthians in Chapter 5, Verses 7-8:

7 For we walk by faith, not by sight. 8 We are confident, yes, well pleased rather to be absent from the body and to be present with the Lord.

When we die, we will no longer go to Hades awaiting the Messiah, because He already came for us and has now given us the ability to choose Him, and His Blood that was sacrificed for our sins, as redemption for our sins. If we do that, we will go directly to “heaven” where Jesus and God are, and not in the “waiting area” that once was only available in the Old Testament for those who were looking for the coming of the Messiah. Perhaps that concept is where the Catholic church got its concept of “purgatory”, since that, too, was a waiting place before going to heaven. I don’t believe the Catholic church is correct in their beliefs in a “purgatory” today, as their own Bible states the same things that we have read and studied thus far as we look at “hell”.

The important thing we should take away from this look into the Biblical information regarding hell and Hades, is simple: we don’t want to go there, especially for eternity. We should note that throughout Scripture, there is not a whole rainbow of options for people where if we’re not too bad, we won’t receive much punishment and the better we are, or the more “good works” we do, the higher level we can expect.

It’s quite the contrary. God has made it simple and basically binary. We either go to heaven or hell. There is nothing in between. Getting into hell is easy. Just have fun, do whatever pleases you and be as worldly as you like and your essentially guaranteed to end up there. However, ending up in heaven isn’t difficult either. Each person simply has to make one single “choice”: Jesus. When we die, we have either made that choice or we haven’t. The result of our decision, or lack of decision (which in itself IS a decision), will ultimately determine where we go from here. Everyone, without exception, will face judgment someday.

WHAT ABOUIT JUDGMENT DAY?

The Bible tells us we will all be judged according to our works.   It seems as though whenever this topic comes up in a conversation, people gravitate toward their “good” works. But scripture says we will be judged by our “works”, not our “good works” and thus judgment will be based on ALL of our works, both good and bad. We will look at some of those scriptures.

It is important to also understand that not only will we be judged, so will Satan and all of the angels who “chose” to follow him.   Thus, we see a property of even angels and Archangels. Judgment awaits those who have sinned, even one sin.

The good news, however, is those who have died knowing Christ as their Savior will be judged at the “bema” seat judgment rather than what is known as the “White Throne Judgment”. Let’s look at the White Throne Judgment first. We find it described in Revelation 20:11-15Revelation 20:11-15
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11 I saw a great white throne, and him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. There was found no place for them. 12 I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and they opened books. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged out of the things which were written in the books, according to their works. 13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works. 14 Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 If anyone was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire.

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The Great White Throne Judgment
11 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. 12 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. 13 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. 14Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.

There is a lot of information in those few verses. Notice it doesn’t matter how rich or powerful the person was on earth, Verse 12 says the “small and great” alike will stand before God. Then “books” were opened. Not one book, but many books… plural. I don’t know many people whose “good works” would fill up so many books. I think it is safe to say that ALL of our works are in those books, and it says by those books we will be judged.

We see the words “Death and Hades” multiple times in the Bible, particularly in the book of Revelation. Jesus said in Revelation 1:18Revelation 1:18
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18 and the Living one. I was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. I have the keys of Death and of Hades.

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18 I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.

The word “Death” is the Greek word: θάνατος which is “thanatos”, where we get our English word: thanatology, or the study of death and dying. It simply means “physical” death, or the death of our mortal body. Hades, on the other hand, is the place for “disembodied spirits”. Thus we see both Physical and Spiritual death in these terms, and Jesus has the keys to both.

In Verse 13, we read that “Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them.” So it seems that Jesus, having the keys of Hades and Death, now delivers up all of the dead, no matter who they are or when they died to be judged at the Great White Throne Judgment. All, that is, except those whose names were written in the “Book of Life”.

Jesus tells us in Luke 10:18-20Luke 10:18-20
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18 He said to them, “I saw Satan having fallen like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will in any way hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

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, as he is addressing the 70 who returned, that we should put our comfort in knowing our “names are written in heaven” which would be the Book of Life.

Luke 10:18-20Luke 10:18-20
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18 He said to them, “I saw Satan having fallen like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will in any way hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

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18 And He said to them, “I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. 20 Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.

Revelation 20 Verse 13 goes on to tell us that those who have died and whose names were not in the Book of Life, were judged and sent to the lake of “fire”, which is also the word for “brimstone” or burning sulfur. Some versions of the Bible may use those terms. Then it gets a bit more interesting because Verse 14 says both Hades and Death are thrown into the lake of fire. If death is physical, and only disembodied spirits are thrown into Hades, then it begs the question “do the disembodied spirits also receive a new eternal body before they are judged so both physical and spiritual death, or the “second death” is being thrown into the lake of fire? The answer to that is “yes” as we can see from Scripture. Revelation 20:13Revelation 20:13
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13 The sea gave up the dead who were in it. Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. They were judged, each one according to his works.

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13 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.

The word “dead” in this passage, is Strong’s Greek #3498 νεκρός.In Greek. νεκρός is a common noun (from Homer. The noun denotes the “dead person or body.”   According to Strong’s Word Dictionary, this would tell us that the sea, as well as Death and Hades, delivered up the bodies of dead people in order to be judged.

In the last verse of Luke 10:18-20Luke 10:18-20
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18 He said to them, “I saw Satan having fallen like lightning from heaven. 19 Behold, I give you authority to tread on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy. Nothing will in any way hurt you. 20 Nevertheless, don’t rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven.”

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, the word “anyone” is the Greek word τὶς which is pronounced “tis”, simply means any man. This again implies a physical man, not just a spiritual being or disembodied spirit. So we will know with certainty that Christ’s blood and his life were sufficient to cover all of our sin, we should begin to examine what Christ said at the Last Supper when he made a NEW Covenant that superseded the covenant that God made with Israel. Jesus said in Matthew 26:27-28Matthew 26:27-28
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27 He took the cup, gave thanks, and gave to them, saying, “All of you drink it, 28 for this is my blood of the new covenant, which is poured out for many for the remission of sins.

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27 Then He took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins. 29 But I say to you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it new with you in My Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus made a new promise, a new covenant that if we will accept His shed blood for the remission of our sins, that He will not drink of this fruit until we all drink it with Him in His Kingdom! What a promise we have in Jesus!! This means we have to be there IN the Kingdom in order drink with Him.

We know from the Bible that the shed blood of the innocent is the only way for the remission of sin. Adam and Eve tried to cover their sin of nakedness with fig leaves, but the first thing God did when He saw them was make them new tunics of the skins of animals, who had to die and shed their blood, even though there were completely innocent, in order for Adam and Eve to receive remission for their sin.

Hebrews 9:22Hebrews 9:22
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22 According to the law, nearly everything is cleansed with blood, and apart from shedding of blood there is no remission.

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22 And according to the law almost all things are purified with blood, and without shedding of blood there is no remission.

Therefore, we each MUST accept Christ as our Lord and receive the free gift of salvation as a result of His suffering and shed blood for our sins. So even in the study of “hell”, we still see the evangelical message revealed that there is but one way to salvation and that is through Jesus Christ. Jesus said this as documented in John 14:6John 14:6
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6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father, except through me.

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6 Jesus said to him, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”

So God’s “binary” plan is simple: Come to Him through Jesus alone, or there is no other way to heaven. If no heaven, then only one other option exists: “hell”.

JUDGMENT FOR THE BELIEVERS

Believers in Jesus Christ will not be judged at the “Great White Throne”, but rather will be judged at the “Bema” seat judgment which will take place sometime after the time when the Bible says believers will be “called up” to meet Christ in the clouds. This is often referred to as the “Rapture” of the church. It will also occur sometime BEFORE the “Second Coming of Jesus Christ”.   Let us examine some Scriptures regarding this:

The Judgment Seat of Christ – 2 Corinthians 5:92 Corinthians 5:9
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9 Therefore also we make it our aim, whether at home or absent, to be well pleasing to him.

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9 Therefore we make it our aim, whether present or absent, to be well pleasing to Him. 10 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. 11 Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men; but we are well known to God, and I also trust are well known in your consciences.

Romans 14:10-12Romans 14:10-12
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10 But you, why do you judge your brother? Or you again, why do you despise your brother? For we will all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. 11 For it is written, “‘As I live,’ says the Lord, ‘to me every knee will bow. Every tongue will confess to God.’” 12 So then each one of us will give account of himself to God.

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10 But why do you judge your brother? Or why do you show contempt for your brother? For we shall all stand before the judgment (Greek: Bema) seat of Christ. 11 For it is written:

“As I live, says the Lord,
Every knee shall bow to Me,
And every tongue shall confess to God.”12 So then each of us shall give account of himself to God.

The Judgment Seat of Christ is often referred to as “The Bema Seat”. The reason for this is that the phrase “judgment seat” is taken from one Greek word, “bema” which translated from Greek means “judgment seat”. During the time of Christ, this word could refer to the platform on which a ruler or judge decided if a person was guilty of a crime.

Considering Paul’s numerous references to athletic competitions as examples in the New Testament, Paul was probably using the term as it applied to Greek sporting events.

If the winner of a sports contest had followed the rules of competition and won, he was honored at the bema where he was crowned with a laurel wreath. We see a similar example with the awards ceremonies at the Olympics where the winners receive their medals.

WHEN DOES IT HAPPEN?

The Bema Seat judgment occurs most likely at the time of the “Rapture” of the Church. Thus, a judgment would have taken place to determine who would be “raptured” and who would not. Sometimes we don’t think of the “rapture” as a judgment, but logic reminds us that this selection of who is or is not “called up” is indeed a form of judgment. We see this event described in 1 Thessalonians 4:16-171 Thessalonians 4:16-17
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16 For the Lord himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel, and with God’s trumpet. The dead in Christ will rise first, 17 then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air. So we will be with the Lord forever.

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16 For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of an archangel, and with the trumpet of God. And the dead in Christ will rise first. 17 Then we who are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And thus we shall always be with the Lord.

Again, the Greek word for “up” (caught is not an original word but added in English for clarification) is “harpazō”.

Christ on a White Horse – Revelation 19:11-16Revelation 19:11-16
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11 I saw the heaven opened, and behold, a white horse, and he who sat on it is called Faithful and True. In righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are a flame of fire, and on his head are many crowns. He has names written and a name written which no one knows but he himself. 13 He is clothed in a garment sprinkled with blood. His name is called “The Word of God.” 14 The armies which are in heaven followed him on white horses, clothed in white, pure, fine linen. 15 Out of his mouth proceeds a sharp, double-edged sword, that with it he should strike the nations. He will rule them with a rod of iron. He treads the winepress of the fierceness of the wrath of God, the Almighty. 16 He has on his garment and on his thigh a name written, “KING OF KINGS, AND LORD OF LORDS.”

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11 Now I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse. And He who sat on him was called Faithful and True, and in righteousness He judges and makes war. 12 His eyes were like a flame of fire, and on His head were many crowns. He had a name written that no one knew except Himself. 13 He was clothed with a robe dipped in blood, and His name is called The Word of God. 14And the armies in heaven, clothed in fine linen, white and clean, followed Him on white horses.15 Now out of His mouth goes a sharp sword, that with it He should strike the nations. And He Himself will rule them with a rod of iron. He Himself treads the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God. 16 And He has on His robe and on His thigh a name written:
KING OF KINGS AND LORD OF LORDS.

It is important to emphasize that the Judgment Seat of Christ (the Bema Seat) does not determine salvation; rather, salvation was determined by Christ’s sacrifice on the cross on behalf of all believers who were purchased by His Blood, (1 John 2:21 John 2:2
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2 And he is the atoning sacrifice “atoning sacrifice” is from the Greek “hilasmos,” an appeasing, propitiating, or the means of appeasement or propitiation-- the sacrifice that turns away God’s wrath because of our sin. for our sins, and not for ours only, but also for the whole world.

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), and the believer’s faith in Him (John 3:16John 3:16
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16 For God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have eternal life.

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).   Other key references include 1 John 5:1-61 John 5:1-6
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5 1 Whoever believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God. Whoever loves the father also loves the child who is born of him. 2 By this we know that we love the children of God, when we love God and keep his commandments. 3 For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. His commandments are not grievous. 4 For whatever is born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world: your faith. 5 Who is he who overcomes the world, but he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God? 6 This is he who came by water and blood, Jesus Christ; not with the water only, but with the water and the blood. It is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth.

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All confessed sins are forgiven and believers will never be condemned for them (Romans 8:1Romans 8:1
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8 1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who don’t walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit.

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). To say otherwise would deny the completeness of the death of Jesus Christ, and nullify God’s promise that “their sins and iniquities will I remember no more” (Hebrews 10:17Hebrews 10:17
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17 “I will remember their sins and their iniquities no more.”

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). Instead, the purpose of this Bema Seat Judgment is to reward believers based on how faithfully they served Him (See: 1 Corinthians 9:4-27, 21 Corinthians 9:4-27, 2
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4 Have we no right to eat and to drink? 5 Have we no right to take along a wife who is a believer, even as the rest of the apostles, and the brothers of the Lord, and Cephas? 6 Or have only Barnabas and I no right to not work? 7 What soldier ever serves at his own expense? Who plants a vineyard, and doesn’t eat of its fruit? Or who feeds a flock, and doesn’t drink from the flock’s milk? 8 Do I speak these things according to the ways of men? Or doesn’t the law also say the same thing? 9 For it is written in the law of Moses, “You shall not muzzle an ox while it treads out the grain.” Is it for the oxen that God cares, 10 or does he say it assuredly for our sake? Yes, it was written for our sake, because he who plows ought to plow in hope, and he who threshes in hope should partake of his hope. 11 If we sowed to you spiritual things, is it a great thing if we reap your fleshly things? 12 If others partake of this right over you, don’t we yet more? Nevertheless we did not use this right, but we bear all things, that we may cause no hindrance to the Gospel of Christ. 13 Don’t you know that those who serve around sacred things eat from the things of the temple, and those who wait on the altar have their portion with the altar? 14 Even so the Lord ordained that those who proclaim the Gospel should live from the Gospel. 15 But I have used none of these things, and I don’t write these things that it may be done so in my case; for I would rather die, than that anyone should make my boasting void. 16 For if I preach the Gospel, I have nothing to boast about; for necessity is laid on me; but woe is to me, if I don’t preach the Gospel. 17 For if I do this of my own will, I have a reward. But if not of my own will, I have a stewardship entrusted to me. 18 What then is my reward? That, when I preach the Gospel, I may present the Gospel of Christ without charge, so as not to abuse my authority in the Gospel. 19 For though I was free from all, I brought myself under bondage to all, that I might gain the more. 20 To the Jews I became as a Jew, that I might gain Jews; to those who are under the law, as under the law, that I might gain those who are under the law; 21 to those who are without law, as without law , that I might win those who are without law. 22 To the weak I became as weak, that I might gain the weak. I have become all things to all men, that I may by all means save some. 23 Now I do this for the Gospel’s sake, that I may be a joint partaker of it. 24 Don’t you know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run like that, that you may win. 25 Every man who strives in the games exercises self-control in all things. Now they do it to receive a corruptible crown, but we an incorruptible. 26 I therefore run like that, as not uncertainly. I fight like that, as not beating the air, 27 but I beat my body and bring it into submission, lest by any means, after I have preached to others, I myself should be rejected. 2 If to others I am not an apostle, yet at least I am to you; for you are the seal of my apostleship in the Lord.

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Timothy 2:5).   This judgment will also deal with a loss of rewards. Again, Paul tells us, in his letter to the Corinthians, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad.”

NOTE: The Greek word “bad” in this phrase, is the Greek word Phaulos. According to Strong’s dictionary (#5337), the primary definition of Phaulos is “easy, slight, ordinary, mean, worthless, of no account.”

It is by looking at the totality of these scriptures that we see that the Bema Seat Judgment must take place between these two events, and thus some time long before the Great White Throne Judgment. We must remember the Thousand Year reign of Jesus after His Second Coming and the Great White Throne Judgment is after the thousand years.

Another key question that needs to be addressed here is, that even though the Bema Judgment was for all those who were alive at the time of the “rapture”, there will still be people who accept Jesus as their Savior after that time and many will be killed during the “7-Year Tribulation Period”, or “Daniel’s 70th Week”, and some who even survive the “Great Tribulation” and persecution of the antichrist. Those people will continue to live with Christ as their King for the Thousand-Year Reign.

Thus, at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment, there will be some people who will have their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, and many, probably by that time most, whose names are NOT written in the Book of Life.

FOOTNOTE:

The purpose of this document is to paint a clear, biblically-based picture if what “hell” is, where it was, where it is and where it will be in the future. I picture in Old Testament times a place called “Hades” in the lower parts, near the center of the earth. It was divided by a great chasm or gulf where on one side was the Abyss (smoking section) and on the other side was “paradise” (the non-smoking section). Below it was Tartaros which was much worse and a place God reserved at that time for holding the fallen angels.

After Christ’s death and resurrection, the “paradise” of Hades went from the lower parts of the earth into heaven with Jesus. In the future, Hades will give up all of its dead, all will be judged and anyone whose name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life will be thrown into the lake of burning fire (Tartaros) along with Hades.

At that point, we see “paradise” moving to the New Jerusalem which is the place Jesus has gone to prepare a place for us, and there, we will live with Him for all eternity. In developing this document, I wanted to be able to show the scriptural basis for why I believe this picture and why I believe it is an accurate picture painted for all of us by God through His Word.

 

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