By Eduardo Gonzalez
Imagine a wife who treats her husband with love and respect and goes out of her way to cook his favorite meals. We would be concerned if she explained, “I love my husband because he does so many wonderful things for me, but I’m scared of his burning wrath, so I try to keep him happy by all I do.” We would wonder what kind of marriage this is! It is not based on love, that’s for sure!
Or what about a husband who, while picking up groceries for his wife, decides to include a bouquet of flowers. We would be surprised if he explained: “I do this so she won’t divorce me.” In our confusion we would ask why. What if he replied with these words? “I try to appease her to avoid her wrath. I want her to stay, but I fear she may leave me.” You would naturally classify this marriage as dysfunctional. In fact, both of these marriages are based on fear masquerading as love.
The Bible uses the symbol of marriage to portray the relationship of God to His people. See Hosea 2:19–21; 2 Cor. 11:2. Is it possible that many who claim to be God’s people have a skewed understanding of His relationship with them? If God uses the fear of eternal hellfire to keep His bride in line, or worse, threatens eternal torture if individuals do not accept His love, then this affirms the belief that He is a tyrant. Many refuse to come to God or even believe in God for this reason alone, and who could blame them?
This view of God is one of the greatest lies in all of human history. It was started as an attack on God’s character by His chief enemy, Satan. Once known as Lucifer, the angel who stood in the very throne room of God, Satan became jealous and unsatisfied with his angelic position. His disaffection spread to a third of the angels, and eventually he and they were cast out of heaven.1 Now he’s bent on slandering and maligning the character of God in order to frame Him as the ultimate cosmic bully—“You either do it My way or you’ll burn forever.” Having the Christian church peddle this lie has been one of his chief delights.
But throughout this controversy between God and Satan, God’s purpose has been to reveal who He truly is. Thus, what we believe about hellfire will either contribute to Satan’s slanderous efforts or testify to God’s character. Let’s understand the truth of the matter. How does the heavenly Bridegroom relate to His bride?
Recently, my wife and I boarded a non-stop flight from Washington, DC, to San Francisco. We sat next to a young man and ended up talking with him for the majority of the flight. When the conversation arrived at the subject of faith and God, he said his mother raised him in a Catholic home, and he didn’t find the concept of God appealing.
I asked him, “Could it be because of the teaching that if you fail to give yourself to the Lord, He will throw you into a lake of fire? There, He will use His life-giving power to keep you from dying while you burn constantly for eternity in torment? Meanwhile the good people are in heaven having a great party, and He hears your screaming, but does nothing to stop it?”
The young man was in full agreement: “Exactly! That’s totally messed up, it’s like—”
I filled in the blank for him: “It’s like this god is an abuser and a tyrant, right?”
But is this picture of God accurate? Is He a Bridegroom who will torture us if we don’t measure up?
God is the perfect embodiment of selfless love, and He designed His universe to function on this principle. He knows that those who choose to reject Him and live in selfishness will only bring destruction upon themselves and the world. As He seeks to reveal His true character, He is also looking to bring an end to the selfishness and evil in this world. He does so by offering a choice.
One of the most well-known verses in Scripture says, “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in Him, should not…burn in hell for all eternity, but have everlasting life.” Is that how it reads? Of course not! Anyone who knows John 3:16 knows it actually says “perish.” The word “perish” does not mean “to keep alive” under any condition.
In the two verses that precede this famous passage, Jesus promised that those who believe in the Son of Man will have eternal life. Then, in verses 16 and 17, He repeats and expands upon the concept, offering us freedom to choose—to accept salvation or reject it. He then explains that God’s purpose in sending Him to the world was to save, not to condemn and judge.
“And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” John 3:14-17.
Ultimately, the heavenly Bridegroom must provide for the righteous—His bride—a secure home, a universe where evil is no longer present.
Here’s a description of the place the Bridegroom is preparing for all those who allow sin to be removed from their lives:
“I heard a loud shout from the throne, saying, ‘Look, God’s home is now among His people! He will live with them, and they will be His people. God Himself will be with them. He will wipe every tear from their eyes, and there will be no more death or sorrow or crying or pain. All these things are gone forever.’” Rev. 21:3, 4, NLT.
The Bridegroom will be reunited with His bride. Evil and selfishness will be wiped away. Crying and pain will be gone forever.
Revelation 21:22–25 tells us more about this perfect home: “The city had no need of the sun or of the moon to shine in it, for the glory of God illuminated it. The Lamb is its light. And the nations of those who are saved shall walk in its light, and the kings of the earth bring their glory and honor into it. Its gates shall not be shut at all by day (there shall be no night there).” NKJV.
But what will happen to those who cling to their sins? “But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Rev. 21:8. They must be destroyed, as this verse describes.
Jesus is the source of life. Anything outside of Him cannot continue to exist for eternity because we have no life in and of ourselves. If we choose to reject His offer of salvation, we will face the natural consequence of our decision—non-existence—because the path of sin is the path of eventual self-destruction.
Some will be quick to point out that this same book of Revelation states that the wicked “will be tormented day and night.” Rev. 20:10. But let’s make sure we’re not cherry-picking the Bible here. If we study the Bible in context, we will find that torment lasts only until death and hell themselves are destroyed.2
“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” Rev. 20:14.
How is hell cast into the lake of fire?
Notice this verse about Jesus’ resurrection: “Because thou wilt not leave my soul in hell, neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.” Acts 2:27. Jesus’ body was left in the tomb. At the four-day mark, a dead body will start to decompose, but Jesus was raised before His body saw corruption. If Jesus was left in hell and it is not the lake of fire, then what is hell?
Hades is the term for hell in the Greek New Testament. Sheol is the Hebrew word for the same thing and means “the grave.” Hell (hades or sheol)—the place where both good and bad people go when they die—is the grave. The notion that hell is a place of eternal suffering where people burn forever and ever is a lie that’s existed for many centuries from paganism and the gods who demanded human sacrifice. It is not a biblical concept.
But notice where the new Jerusalem is. It’s on the earth: “And I John saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down from God out of heaven.” Rev. 21:2. Sin and sinners, death and hell, have been destroyed—never to exist again—and God has created a “new earth.” Rev. 21:1.
Jesus came to reveal God’s true character of love. He experienced the ultimate pain and torture when He took all of our sins onto Himself. He absorbed all the grief, pain, suffering, and condemnation that was ours. In short, He traded places with humanity, taking on our lot as His own and experiencing the second death for all who accept His sacrifice. Heb. 2:9.
And now, He, the Bridegroom, is preparing a place for His bride. The wedding feast is being prepared and we are invited to this feast. Revelation 19:7 says, “Let us be glad and rejoice, and give honor to Him; for the marriage of the Lamb is come, and his wife hath made herself ready.” This marriage is eternal, and there will be no more death, crying, pain, or darkness. The Bridegroom offers us life if we would only grasp it.
Sin and all those who identify will one day be consumed by eternal fire, while the blood of Christ will cover the sins of those who repent and surrender their lives to Him. By choosing this sacrifice, we become a part of His precious possession. In Isaiah 43 God tells us, “I have called thee by thy name; thou art mine.” He, the heavenly Husband, is preparing a place for His bride whom He loves, and He will come back for her—that is, you and me, if we choose to accept His invitation.
Won’t you embrace the truth about this heavenly Bridegroom and join us in spreading His true character of love to the world?
For further study, see the following resources: Bible Readings for the Home and The Great Controversy.
See Rev. 12:4, 9.
See “The Story Behind Hell and Mr. Fudge” in this issue.
Eduardo Gonzalez is a video producer and director for Scene Alive. He is passionate about sharing the truth of God’s character.