The Creator’s Grand Design—Part 12

Hell Gives Up Its Dead

IN REVELATION 20:13 we read that “death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them.” This is one of the ways in which the Bible describes the resurrection of the dead. The Apostle Paul, quoting an Old Testament prophecy concerning the resurrection of Jesus, wrote that he had “led a multitude of captives.” (Eph. 4:8, Margin) Here we have the dead described as captives and their awakening as a release from captivity. Daniel 12:2 describes the dead as sleeping in the dust of the earth, and their coming forth as an awakening from sleep. Moses describes the awakening of the dead as a returning from destruction.—Ps. 90:3

According to the traditions of the Dark Ages, hell was a place from which there would be no return, an abode in which, moreover, there would be eternal suffering. But this is not in agreement with the Bible. As the Apostle John wrote, hell will deliver up its dead. (Rev. 20:13) This is a flat contradiction of the tradition that hell is a place of eternal torment. But to appreciate the full beauty of the Bible’s teachings on this subject it is essential that we examine more of its testimony on the topic of hell.

Just what is the hell that is taught in the Bible? To answer this question satisfactorily it is important to know that the English word hell as used in the Bible is a translation of the Hebrew in the Old Testament and of the Greek in the New Testament. In the Old Testament, the Hebrew word from which hell is translated is sheol. This word appears sixty-five times in the Old Testament. Thirty-one times it is translated ‘grave’, thirty-one times ‘hell’, and three times ‘pit’. This variation of translation has helped to conceal what the Bible hell really is.

In Genesis 37:35, the word sheol appears for the first time in the Bible. It is used by the faithful patriarch, Jacob. His son, Joseph, had been sold into slavery in Egypt, and Jacob’s other sons had deceived their father into believing that Joseph was dead. Mourning over the supposed death of Joseph, Jacob said, “I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning.” Here sheol is translated ‘grave’. Had it been translated ‘hell’, as it is thirty-one times in the Old Testament, the reader would have known that Jacob, a faithful servant of God, expected to go to hell when he died, and from this he would also know that hell is not a place of torment for sinners, or for anyone else.

No Knowledge in Hell

In Ecclesiastes 9:10, this same Hebrew word sheol is again used and is translated ‘grave’, which in reality is the Bible hell. The text reads, “Whatsoever thy hand findeth to do, do it with thy might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave [sheol, the Bible hell], whither thou goest.” Here is a definite statement revealing that sheol is a state of unconsciousness, agreeing with the fifth verse of the same chapter, which informs us that “the dead know not anything.”

The Prophet Job understood this, and in a period of extreme suffering asked the Lord to let him die. Job prayed, “O that thou wouldst hide me in the grave [sheol, hell], … until thy wrath be passed.” (Job 14:13) Suffering as he was, Job surely would not ask God to let him go to a place where he would suffer even more and where his torture would last forever. No, Job wanted release from suffering, so he asked God to let him go to sheol, to hell.

According to tradition, hell is a place where God visits his wrath upon sinners, but in Job we have a righteous man asking to go to hell to escape God’s wrath. What did he mean? The wrath of God here referred to by Job is the curse of death, which came upon all mankind through original sin. David referred to it as God’s anger, and assures us that it endures but for a moment, and added, “Weeping may endure for a night, but joy cometh in the morning.”—Ps. 30:5

Knowing that God’s wrath would not continue forever upon the human race, Job prayed for release from it until it was past. Job knew that then he would be restored to life. He said, “If a man die, shall he live again? All the days of my appointed time [in death] will I wait, till my change [from death to life] come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.” (Job 14:14,15) Here we have definite assurance that those who go into the Bible hell do not remain there, that a time will come when hell will give up its dead.

Hell Destroyed

Hosea 13:14 reads, “I [the Lord] will ransom them from the power of the grave; I will redeem them from death: O death, I will be thy plagues; O grave, I will be thy destruction: repentance shall be hid from mine eyes.” Here grave is again a translation of the Hebrew word sheol, the Bible hell. In this promise the Lord reveals his intention of destroying sheol. He promises to ransom the people from the power of hell. This is a reference to God’s grand design of redemption through Jesus. The destruction of hell implies the release of its prisoners of death. This is brought about by virtue of the fact that Jesus took the sinner’s place in death.

In Psalm 16:10 Jesus’ soul is indicated as being in hell, and Jesus’ own confidence is expressed that he would not be allowed to remain in hell. In the New Testament the Apostle Peter, speaking on the day of Pentecost concerning the death and resurrection of Jesus, quotes this promise of Jesus’ resurrection and uses the Greek word hades to translate the Hebrew word sheol. Thus we know that hades in the New Testament has the same meaning as sheol in the Old.

Jesus’ soul, his being went into hell (death, the grave) when he died. He went to hell to take the sinner’s place in hell. Isaiah describes this as a pouring out of his soul unto death. (Isa. 53:12) Thus he provided redemption, or a ransom from the power of death; and in God’s due time this leads to a release of all mankind from death, or hell. Confirming this, Jesus said, “I am he that liveth, and was dead; and, behold, I am alive for evermore, Amen; and have the keys of hell and of death.” (Rev. 1:18) Jesus will use the keys of hell to unlock its doors and set its prisoners free.

Jesus forecast the opening of the gates of hell in a statement to Peter. He said to him, “Thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.” (Matt. 16:18) The church, as we have seen, is a company of faithful followers of the Master who are called out from the world to be associated with him in the future work of blessing the world. These are, together with Jesus their head, the “Seed” of Abraham which will be God’s instrument in blessing all the families of the earth.—Gal. 3:8,16,27-29

But the vast majority of the people to be blessed through Christ and the church are asleep in death. They are in the Bible hell. In order to receive the promised blessings of life, they must be awakened from death. “The gates of hell” must be opened for them. Jesus has the keys of hell, and he, together with his church, will open the gates of hell and set its captives free. The gates will not prevail against the accomplishment of the divine purpose through the church. Hell will give up its dead.

We are not here attempting a complete study of the hell subject as set forth in the Bible. For this we refer the reader to the booklet “The Truth About Hell,” which examines every text in the Bible in which the word hell appears, including the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. In this discussion we are merely calling attention to the fact that, according to the Bible, hell is the condition or state of death, and that the dead are to be restored to life, as clearly stated in Revelation 20:13.

The Resurrection

It is this great feature of the divine plan that is described in the Bible as the resurrection of the dead. Paul said that there would be a resurrection of the dead, “both of the just and the unjust.” (Acts 24:15) He explains that Jesus was the first-fruits of the resurrection, and that as a result of his resurrection all mankind are to be brought forth from death. He said, “Since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive. But every man in his own order; Christ the firstfruits; afterwards they that are Christ’s at his coming.”—I Cor. 15:20-23

While Jesus is THE firstfruits of the resurrection, those who will be associated with him are here also described by Paul as a firstfruits class. In Revelation 20:4, 6 these are shown as coming forth in “the first resurrection” to live and reign with Christ a thousand years. Like Jesus, these also will be highly exalted to the divine nature, and to immortality. Herein is the hope of immortality as set forth in the Word of God. Man is not inherently immortal, but those who qualify to live and reign with Christ will be given immortality in the resurrection.

Paul mentions this in I Corinthians 15:53, saying, “This corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.” Obviously, if we possess immortality now, it could not be given to us as a reward in the resurrection. The promise of immortality is not made to all mankind but only to those who follow faithfully in the footsteps of Jesus—those who “by patient continuance in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life.”—Rom. 2:7

Those who come forth in the first resurrection are among the just referred to by Paul in Acts 24:15. Another group of the just will be those ancient servants of God who lived and died prior to our Lord’s first advent. These are often referred to as the Ancient Worthies. Paul mentions a number of them and shows that they will be made perfect in what he describes as a “better resurrection.” (Heb. 11:35,40) These, as we have seen, will be the human representatives of the divine Christ, made up of Jesus and his church.

The General Resurrection

Finally, in the outworking of God’s grand design, when all the rulers and servants who will participate in Christ’s kingdom are brought forth from death, including “a great multitude” referred to in Revelation 7:9,10, and when the messianic kingdom is established and operative, the awakening of the remainder of the dead world of mankind will begin. This we might refer to as the general resurrection. The great work of the general resurrection will occupy much of the thousand years of Christ’s kingdom.

One of the promises of the general resurrection is found in Isaiah 35:10. This text reads: “The ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with songs and everlasting joy upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.” The ransomed of the Lord includes all mankind, for, as Paul wrote, Jesus gave himself “a ransom for all.” (I Tim. 2:3-6) Thee will return from death, the Bible hell.

As the ransomed of the Lord return from death they will, as the text states, come to Zion. Zion is one of the symbols of the kingdom of Christ which is used in the Bible, representing particularly the spiritual phase of the kingdom. In Revelation 14:1 Jesus and his faithful followers who will reign with him are shown together on Mount Zion. So, the ransomed of the Lord coming to Zion will mean their recognition of the messianic kingdom authority in the earth. It will be through their obedience to the laws of this kingdom that they will obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Ezekiel 16:53 sets forth another assurance pertaining to the general resurrection. This promise mentions the people of Sodom and Samaria, as well as those Israelites who did not qualify for the better resurrection. We quote, “When I shall bring again their captivity, the captivity of Sodom and her daughters, and the captivity of Samaria and her daughters, then will I bring again the captivity of thy captives in the midst of them.” Here is one of the many instances in which the awakening of the dead is likened to the freeing of captives from a prison. In this case the great prison is the condition of death, which is the Bible hell.

In Jeremiah 48:47, the Moabites are assured that in the latter days they will be brought forth from their captivity in death. In the last verse of the next chapter a similar promise is made to the Elamites. Both the Moabites and the Elamites were ungodly people and are among the “unjust” spoken of by Paul who are to be resurrected from the dead.—Acts 24:15

“The Latter Days”

In the two promises just mentioned, we are informed that the resurrection is to take place in the latter days. The reference here is to the time when the grand design of the Creator for the restoration of the human race to life is being brought to a consummation. In the New Testament, Martha, the sister of Mary, used a similar expression when referring to the time of the resurrection. Her brother, Lazarus, had died, and Jesus said to her that he would live again. Martha replied, “I know that he shall rise again in the resurrection at the last day.”—John 11:24

In John 5:28,29, Jesus gives us another promise of the resurrection: “Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good [the just], unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil [the unjust], unto the resurrection of judgment.” (RSV) Here it is indicated that in the resurrection the unjust will be judged. Note that those who have done evil are not awakened from death to be tormented.

Our Only Hope

No other religion in the world except the religion of the Bible holds out the hope of the resurrection of the dead. One very good reason for this is that all other religions teach that death is not a reality. If, as the claim is, there is no death, then there could be no resurrection of the dead, for no one is dead. The Bible, on the other hand, presents the truth that death is a reality and that mankind is dying because of sin.

“The wages of sin is death,” wrote Paul, “but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our. Lord.” (Rom. 6:23) This gift of life through Christ reaches the people through a resurrection, and except for this resurrection, all the dead would remain in death. Paul stated it very emphatically when he wrote, “If the dead rise not, then is not Christ raised: and if Christ be not raised, your faith is vain; ye are yet in your sins. Then they also which are fallen asleep in Christ are perished.”—I Cor. 15:16-18

We are thankful for the many assurances of the Bible that there will be a resurrection of the dead; that hell will give up its prisoners of death; that those held in captivity to death are to be released. These assurances should be of great comfort to all who have lost loved ones in death—and who has not been bereaved in this way?

Think of the mothers who have lost their children in death. The Bible gives us a special promise concerning these. We quote: “Thus saith the Lord: A voice was heard in Ramah, lamentation, and bitter weeping; Rahel [Rachel] weeping for her children refused to be comforted for her children, because they were not. Thus saith the Lord; Refrain thy voice from weeping, and thine eyes from tears: for thy work shall be rewarded, saith the Lord; and they shall come again from the land of the enemy. And there is hope in thine end, saith the Lord, that thy children shall come again to their own border.”—Jer. 31:15-17; Matt. 2:18

Here the condition of death, the Bible hell, is described as the land of the enemy. Paul refers to death as an enemy, an enemy which is to be destroyed by the reign of Christ. (I Cor. 15:25,26) How good to realize that all the prisoners of death will no longer be incarcerated behind its darkened and gloomy walls, and that the children, and all mankind, will return from this land of the enemy!

“There is hope in thine end,” the Lord said to mothers whose children have died. While our beloved dead are now missed and lamented, this is not the end for them, for we are given a hope that they shall come again to their own border. They will cross over the border from the land of death to the land of the living, which, as far as mankind in general is concerned, the young and the old, will be here on the earth as humans. The young will then mature, and the old will renew their youth. Eventually the willing and obedient of all mankind will be restored to the original perfection lost through the sin of our first parents, with pain and death no longer afflicting them. This is the glorious prospect held out to us in the Bible concerning the sin-sick and suffering world. And what a glorious prospect it is:

“Close your eyes for a moment to the scenes of misery and woe, degradation and sorrow, that yet prevail on account of sin, and picture before your mental vision the glory of the perfect earth. Not a stain of sin mars the harmony and peace of a perfect society; not a bitter thought, not an unkind look or word; love, welling up from every heart, meets a kindred response in every other heart, and benevolence marks every act. There sickness will be no more; not an ache nor a pain, nor any evidence of decay—not even the fear of such things. Think of all the pictures of comparative health and beauty of human form and feature that you have ever seen, and know that perfect humanity will be of still surpassing loveliness. The inward purity and mental and moral perfection will stamp and glorify every radiant countenance. Such will earth’s society be; and weeping bereaved ones will have their tears all wiped away, when thus they realize the resurrection work complete.”—The Divine Plan of the Ages; Rev. 21:4

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Dawn Bible Students Association
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