Whenever someone stands out and challenges the mainstream view of hell, this person walks into a minefield. Having a different opinion regarding whether hell is eternal – i.e. that those who did not receive Jesus during their earthly life will be tormented for all eternity, with zero hope of it ever ending – is likely to be excommunicated from the church, accused of being a heretic.
With that in mind it is interesting to note that most Christian theological institutes and church fathers during the first 400-500 years after Christ, actually believed in the doctrine of the restoration of all things; i.e. that all people – eventually – will say yes to Jesus and come into harmony with the Creator and the creation.
It is also interesting to note that the word “hell” does not exist in the original text of the Bible at all. The word hell probably finds its origin in “Hel”, a god within Nordic mythology who ruled over a place among the dead containing the least heroic people, who had not died in battle (including women, children, and the old). Considering the heathen origin of the word, it is astonishing that it has been included in the Bible. It is a wrongfully translated word that for some reason has been allowed to be included in the Bible for many centuries. However, in more and more new Bible translations, the world hell has (rightly so) been totally left out.
In the original text – instead of “hell” – we find words like Sheol, Hades, Gehenna, Tartarus, and the Lake of fire. I want to emphasize that the holy scriptures of the Bible is my ultimate authority when it comes to the issue of eternity and God’s judgment of those who do not believe the Gospel. Show me based on the original text that I am wrong, and I will repent in “sackcloth and ashes”. However, make sure that you base your arguments on the original text – not on a wrongful Bible translation as a result of that emperors and popes wanted to be able to manipulate people into giving, obedience, and loyalty by threatening those who refuse to obey with the torments of an eternal hell.
Do I try to say that there will not be negative consequences in life after death for those who have not received Jesus during their earthly life? Absolutely not. Jesus talks about that those who practice lawlessness will be thrown in a furnace of fire, where there will be “wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:41-42). The Apostle Paul talks about that those who do not obey the Gospel will be “punished with everlasting destruction [original Greek: destruction lasting for an age] from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (see 2 Thess. 1:6-9). The description of the Lake of fire in the book of Revelation, indicates that this will not be a pleasant experience for those who will be thrown into it. It is very serious to reject the Gospel. Rejecting God’s grace will lead to serious consequences. And thereby the more important it is for us to obey the Great Commission; to go out into the whole world and preach the good news to all peoples and ethical groups.
However, the problem is that the word for “eternity” in the original text, aion, does not refer to an indefinite time period without an ending. The word means “age” and refers to a time period with a clearly defined beginning and end. If one were to change all the places in the Bible where “aion” has been wrongfully translated with “eternity” or “everlasting” and replace it with “age”, the ultimate implications of God’s judgement becomes totally different.
Another problem is that a tormenting punishment that will go on for all eternity – without any possibility of repentance or a way out – is totally disproportionate in relation to the “crime” of not having received Jesus during our earthly life. Keep in mind that we did not become sinners through our own sinful actions, but through Adam’s sin (see Rom. 5:18). Because of the lack of proportionality, an eternal punishment in hell totally goes against God’s nature of love.
Jesus Christ – full of grace and truth – came to show us who the Father is in His essence and character. In situations where the law of Moses prescribed the death penalty, Jesus instead extended grace and forgiveness. The Jewish law – which according to Paul is holy, just, and good (Rom. 7:12) – prescribed a punishment in proportion to the severity of the committed crime. An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth. Never is there any mention of eternity in hell neither in the law nor in the rest of the whole Old Testament. However, there are plenty of scriptures in the Old Testament that indicates that a life of sin on earth will lead to negative consequences – even after death – which every man one day will be accountable before God for.
Jesus shows us that God in His character is much more merciful than the rigid and proportional standard of the law. Thereby it is unreasonable to believe that God would punish someone with a dreadful and tormenting punishment for all eternity – without providing the possibility to somehow get out of this suffering. If that were the case, it would indeed have been more merciful if God never had created mankind in the first place. Since God is almighty and all-knowing, He already knew what the outcome would be before He created heaven and earth. This is why He before the beginning of time appointed Jesus Christ to be God’s lamb who was going to take away the sins of the world. In the book of Revelation, Jesus is called “the lamb slain from the foundation of the world” (Rev. 13:8).
If (hypothetically) 90 percent of all people who have lived throughout history will burn in an eternal hell forever – do we as Christians have any moral right to condemn Hitler’s gas chambers, Stalin’s mass executions, or Saddam Hussein’s torture chambers? Our own God would then be many times worse, since the torments of hell will never come to an end!
Also take into account that most of the people who have lived throughout history never had the opportunity to hear the Gospel. Multitude others have not believed because of how the church so often has misrepresented God – giving people a wrongful image of Him who loves us so much that He gave His only begotten son as a the propitiation for our sins.
Paul says in Philippians:
9 Therefore God also has highly exalted Him and given Him the name which is above every name, 10 that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those in heaven, and of those on earth, and of those under the earth, 11 and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Phil. 2:9-11)
When Paul says that every knee will bow and every tongue confess Jesus as Lord – in heaven, on earth, and under the earth – this is a direct quote form Isaiah chapter 45:
23 I have sworn by Myself; The word has gone out of My mouth in righteousness, And shall not return, That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath. 24 He shall say, ‘Surely in the Lord I have righteousness and strength. To Him men shall come, And all shall be ashamed Who are incensed against Him. (Is. 45:23-24)
We have seen above that every person – in the end – will confess that Jesus is Lord. Those who confess Jesus as Lord will then also say that they have their righteousness and strength in Him! Thereby the question arises: Is it possible to confess Jesus as Lord and say that you have your righteousness in Him – without ending up being saved?
Imagine if God actually is much more gracious and loving than what we have ever understood! Imagine if the good news of the Gospel is much better than what we have ever dared to hope or believe! Imagine if God during the coming ages (aions) truly is able to lead the universe to the point where “every knee shall bow and every mouth confess that Jesus is Lord”, so that God will become “all in all”. And imagine if the word “all” really includes – all!