Singing Hades at New Wine Festival: 9 August

Last Wednesday a couple of us from Burton Joyce went to join a few thousand Christians camping for the week on Newark Showground: ‘New Wine.’

The morning worship drew me close to God – the Holy Spirit warming and lifting. Having someone pray with me at the end was an encouragement with an unexpected helpful word of knowledge for the church here. ‘Don’t be afraid to do something you have been thinking of.’

A leadership seminar urged us not to retreat into unhelpful patterns of behaviour. I have, in the past, retreated into saying nothing when I should have spoken out, so the seminar was a good reminder. The theme of ‘Don’t be afraid. Go ahead with what you think,’ was developing.

A seminar on hell gave me opportunity to speak out, as I strongly disagreed with what was said. The speaker explained that, unusually for nowadays, he became a Christian out of fear of hell. His message was, in summary: ‘Hell, eternal torment, is real. God lets us choose, He does not force us into heaven. We have to choose in this life. We will be judged according to what we know. There is no possibility of choice after death. And God is still loving.’

So much is wrong about this message! Eternal torment is unbiblical. Jesus, John the Baptist, Paul, Peter, John and numerous Old Testament writers, all warn that God’s judgement for the unrepentant wicked is their destruction, like chaff in a furnace. Jesus named this eternal fire ‘Gehenna.’ See the new or the excellent work of Edward Fudge. Or ‘The Lie of Hell’ The seminar leader made no mention of this more correct view which has been deemed orthodox by the UK Evangelical Alliance. (See ‘The Nature of Hell’ ed. David Hilborn.)

Jesus also talked about Hades, the place of weeping, wailing and gnashing of teeth. Hades is emptied at the Final Judgement and then thrown into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:11-15) Before then, Jesus has the keys of Hades (Rev. 1:17) Hades is not the same place as Gehenna. The seminar speaker quoted verses about Hades and verses about Gehenna as describing the same place, hell. This is a common, centuries-old, mistake.

The only writer the seminar speaker mentioned was Francis Chan, ‘Erasing Hell.’ Chan ignores the biblical view that Gehenna is annihilation, accepts that Hades is a temporary, not final, state but still confuses and merges Hades and Gehenna.

Francis Chan also writes that we are judged according to what we know. Chan quotes Matthew 7:21-13 to support his argument (p119). But Jesus actually says the opposite! The people admonished by Jesus are those who called him ‘Lord, Lord.’ They knew him as Lord; there is no mention that their knowledge of Jesus was faulty – only Jesus’ knowledge of them. Their problem was that they had not done the will of Jesus’ Father in heaven. They are called evildoers, not wrong-believers. Jesus says here that we are judged according to what we do, not according to what we know. Rev 20:13. ‘…  all were judged according to what they had done.’ What could be clearer than that?

At the end of the seminar I did not hold back but asked what reasons the speaker has for merging Hades and Gehenna. He floundered, recognising that Hades is the Greek rendering of the Old Testament Sheol and therefore somewhat different to the final fate of the wicked in hell, but not knowing what to make of this. The distinction between Hades and Gehenna is key. The rest of the biblical truth about ‘hell’ follows.

Another questioner recommended that we look at ‘Near-death experiences of hell’ on You Tube. There we hear testimony of people who have been to a terrible place beyond death and been rescued by Jesus. This place is Hades, to which Jesus has the keys. These are testimonies of Jesus using His keys. Alleluia! In ‘The Lie of Hell’ such experiences are taken seriously. From the figures published after serious academic research there are about 24,000 adult Americans who have had this experience of Jesus rescuing them from Hades. They do not know the distinction between Hades and ‘hell’ and so use the word ‘hell.’ But their experience of rescue conflicts with, and is evidence against, the traditional view of hell, from which there is absolutely no escape.

The evening worship at New Wine was tremendous, a simple focus on Jesus the saviour and a drawing close to Him. We sang Charles Wesley’s ‘Jesus the name high over all’ to a simple modern tune. The hymn refers to ‘hell’ but is more properly about Hades rather than Gehenna.

V1 Jesus’ name is high over Hades. Even in Hades devils fear and fly – they do not reign in their own eternal kingdom.

V2 The name of Jesus, ‘God Saving’ literally, turns people’s Hades to heaven. As the people who have had near-death experiences testify, Jesus can be saviour of those in Hades, scattering all their guilty fear.

V3 Jesus breaks the fetters of the prisoners. Hades is the remand prison before the Final Judgement. Jesus releases prisoners in Hades. ‘Power into strengthless souls He speaks, and life into the dead.’ This is literally true.

V4 In Hades the arms of love can embrace the whole of humanity.

V5 Our business ‘here below’ is to cry ‘Behold the Lamb!’ Hades is the lowest part of the ‘here below.’ Our business is to go through the gates of Hades, which will not be able to withstand Jesus’ Church. Once in Hades, we cry to people ‘Behold the Lamb!’ Look! There’s Jesus taking away the sin of the world, your sin. Jesus the Lamb is close to those suffering in Hades (Rev 14:10) Our business will be to help them to see the Lamb for who He is, so that they are forgiven and rescued.

V6 We cry in death ‘Behold, behold the lamb.’ Death and Hades are much the same in Scripture. Hades is the place of death. In death, in Hades, is much the same thing. In death, in Hades, we cry ‘LOOK! That’s Jesus! Trust Him. He can forgive you, he can rescue you from this horrible place.’

Standing singing with the great New Wine multitude I imagined going to Hades and pointing my ancestors to Jesus. What a wonderful, glorious day that will be! Tears flooded from my eyes. Other great songs came to mind: How good is the God we adore! In life, in death, I’m confident of the power of your great love! Stronger than the power of the grave, your love NEVER fails, NEVER gives up, NEVER runs out on anyone!

Roger Harper


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