In chapter five of Francis Chan’s book, Erasing Hell, under the subheading “Lukewarm and Loving It,” Chan writes that the “most terrifying images of hell” are in the book of Revelation, but that people ought to remember the “context in which John writes this book.” While I don’t agree with the orthodox view on “terrifying images of hell,” I could not agree more with the idea that context is very important. Chan writes,
This isn’t an evangelistic tract written for unbelievers – the hell passages here weren’t designed to make converts and scare people into the kingdom. They were designed to warn believers to keep the faith in the midst of adversity. In fact, the descriptions of hell in Revelation 14 and 20-21 were first written with the seven churches of Revelation 2-3 in mind. In these churches, there were those who had left their first love (Rev. 2:4), followed the heresy of false teachers (v. 20), and become complacent and “lukewarm” because of the earthly wealth they hoarded (3:15-17). It is these types of people – people who confess Jesus with their lips but deny Him by their actions – that God reserves the most scathing descriptions of hellfire and brimstone.
Let’s dissect and analyze what Chan writes.
First, what are these “terrifying images of hell” to which Chan refers? Chan doesn’t name specific verses, so I’ll do the best I can to read through the passages Chan offers and pick out what the orthodox mind considers “terrifying images of hell.”
In Revelation 14 I find, “…he also shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, that hath been mingled unmixed in the cup of His anger, and he shall be tormented in fire and brimstone before the holy messengers, and before the Lamb, and the smoke of their torment doth go up to ages of ages; and they have no rest day and night…” and in other scriptures, similar language (lake of fire, second death).
Revelation 14 could not possibly refer to the orthodox idea of hell, that is, never ending torment, and here’s why. Notice the following verse, ”…Happy are the dead who in the Lord are dying from this time!” During this time period, whenever it may be, people are “dying from this time.” In orthodoxy, hell and heaven are the only two options, and these two options are ALWAYS take place AFTER DEATH. If this refers to “hell,” as Chan implies, then this means that orthodoxy must reexamine all other doctrines concerning death and so-called “final” destiny of the soul. Why? Because if people are “dying from this time,” then people are “dying from” hell or “dying from” heaven. This, of course, makes no sense at all if this is about the orthodox version of hell or heaven.
Now, let’s examine the three words “tormented,” “fire,” and “brimstone,” which all carry spiritual significance that directly contradicts the idea of an unchanging condition (eternal torment in hell).
The first thing we have to establish is whether these words ought to be interpreted literally or figuratively. This should be a no-brainer, given the context. Ask yourself, is God’s wrath a literal fruity fermented drink? Can one measure God’s wrath in a literal cup and then take a literal sip of it? Okay, then. Obviously, the concepts John writes about are meant to be taken figuratively. Now, let’s have a look at “tormented,” “fire,” and “brimstone”:
The English word “tormented” is a translation of the Greek word “basanizó,” which has five possible meanings.
Which meaning ought to be applied? Will unbelievers, or as Chan implies, not-good-enough believers, be tortured in the presence of Jesus (the Lamb)? Remember that Jesus did not ever commit violent acts or condone violent acts during his ministry. Should we put our faith in fallible translators who erroneously decided to translate this word literally, despite the figurative context? I don’t know about you, but I don’t trust translators. We should we allow the Spirit of God to teach us Who God is and what God does, according to the living, breathing image of Himself that He gave us in the life and teachings of Jesus Christ.
If we rule out literal, physical torture/torment, which clearly does not fit with the figurative context John writes, we are left with only two possible meanings: mental torment (#5) or testing (#1). Which one of these ideas best fits with the figurative context John writes? Perhaps if we examine the other two words, this will help us decide.
The English word, “fire,” is translated from the Greek word, “pýr.” Now, check this out:
This puts an entirely new spin on the old erroneous translation, doesn’t it? Thank God for the easy access to study materials available online. We can find out for ourselves exactly how biased translators were/are.
It’s also interesting to look at the etymology of pýr and find that it comes from the Greek word meaning “to purify”:
And now for the English word, “brimstone.” It comes from the Greek word, “theíon.”
Readers, examine your heart and mind before God, and allow Him to tell you which concept is true to His character and intentions toward mankind:
- Jesus will watch as people are tortured with fire and hot sulphur rocks. They will have no rest, day or night. This will go on forever and ever.
- People will be tested, purified, and transformed in the presence Jesus. They will have no rest, day or night, until (the age) this is accomplished.
I must give Chan kudos for seeing that John wrote Revelation with believers as his intended audience. But the implications here are absolutely terrifying, if believers take a confused Chan and his orthodoxy-brainwashed translators at their word. Chan writes, “[Believers] have become dangerously comfortable – believers ooze with wealth and let their addictions to comfort and security numb the radical urgency of the gospel.” The “radical urgency” that he’s talking about here is that Jesus will watch as people are tortured with fire and hot sulphur rocks forever and ever, and that you, believer, might be one of those tortured people if you aren’t good enough.
Chan can’t erase hell, because he’s got his pencil upside down. He’s creating hell, right here on earth. I know those are not his intentions, but his message is all about fear, not only for not-yet-believers, but for believers.
Chan writes, “Racism, greed, misplaced assurance, false teaching, misuse of wealth, and degrading words to a fellow human being – these are the things that damn people to hell? According to Scripture, the answer is yes.”
I agree with Chan. But I’ll borrow his words to explain how he’s missing the point. To be racist is hell. To be greedy or to misuse wealth is hell. Misplaced assurance is when you look to yourself, hoping you are good enough to be called worthy, instead of looking to Christ, Who poured out His blood to make you worthy. False teaching is believing that Christ will torture you with fire and sulfur rocks forever and ever if you don’t believe and live according to the “radical urgency” of the not-so-good-news “gospel.” Living in this kind of fear is the most hellish hell of all. To degrade your fellow human being is hell. And so on.
Think about it. The life that Jesus gives, the aionios zoe, begins right here, right now. If one understands this, then one understands why “gospel” means good news. It is good news that DRIVES OUT FEAR. You are rescued from a self-made hell when you enter into His Reign, and in His Reign, there is no fear of punishment. Your old way of thinking/doing is “crucified” with Christ, and the person God created you to be is born from above. ”…Happy are the dead who in the Lord are dying from this time!”
Chan gives lip service to the idea that Jesus saves, but then he turns around and fills “saved” people with doubt about where they stand with God.
Chan prays, “Holy Spirit, save me. Set me apart. Make me worthy.”
And the Holy Spirit answers, “I did. I do. You are.”
Next blog in this series: God is Sneaky and His Spies are Everywhere