Is Hell Empty?

I’ve been rather busy lately, and not able to interact always. Last week, Ken posted on hell and it has been a great conversation to follow (Oh, and don’t forget my Friday Question). Personally, I think that this is a vital conversation to have at times, which should be free of charges of heresy.

I believe that there is a punishment for those who not accept Christ just as there is a reward for those who press onward in Christ. Yet, I do not reject someone who believes in annihilation or those who believe otherwise. I think it is a time to test and build our faith, much like the time of the Reformation. One of the mottoes which I admire from the Reformers and their descendants is the ‘Ever Reforming’ idea. We have to at times reform our doctrine to fit what we know in Scripture.

We must constantly test our doctrine and our theology against Scripture, assuming not that we are correct and that change is bad, but with an eager goal of working our our salvation with fear and trembling.

I have to join with Ken here,

If there is a judgment (a theme that runs throughout scripture, whether applied to the afterlife or not), I cannot honestly dismiss the possibility that some will fail that judgment–I cannot even dismiss the possibility that I might fail that judgment–and thus I cannot honestly embrace universalism, as much as I would like to. As for what happens after the judgment, I am agnostic. I cannot imagine that God would subject anyone to conscious eternal punishment, but I’m not convinced that even Jesus’ comments suggest that, in any case.

Scott McKnight, this past Saturday, hosted a book review which I believe is helpful in this discussion as well.

Edward Fudge, my uncle, wrote a book entitled, The Fire that Consumes. In his book, Fudge argues forcefully that neither the traditionalist nor the universalist positions on the final punishment of the wicked take seriously enough the Biblical descriptions of punishment for those who finally reject Jesus Christ.


While Fudge is unashamed of his conclusion and is thorough in its defense, the reader is continually impressed by Fudge’s lack of vitriolic polemics and his constant cry for critique and discussion (xvi).

From here, we are reminded that 1st Peter 3 is not the only area of Scripture which speaks of Christ descending to preach to the dead.

1st Peter 4.4-6:

In all this, they are surprised that you do not run with them into the same excesses of dissipation, and they malign you; but they will give account to Him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. For the gospel has for this purpose been preached even to those who are dead, that though they are judged in the flesh as men, they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (NASB)Of course, your former friends are surprised when you no longer plunge into the flood of wild and destructive things they do. So they slander you. But remember that they will have to face God, who will judge everyone, both the living and the dead. That is why the Good News was preached to those who are now dead– so although they were destined to die like all people, they now live forever with God in the Spirit. (NLT)

Please feel free to jump in at any time.

By the way, this subject will predominate my posting this week.

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18 Replies to “Is Hell Empty?”

  1. sounds like you are saying that you have a second chance after you die to live for Jesus,I don’t know… If that were true, people would be terrible in life, thinking that they don’t have to worry about going to Hell when they die ,No matter what ,they get to have another chance… mmmm, I think or I have always thought , that preaching to the dead , meant that if You did not accept Christ as your lord and master,and did not believe , you live but yet you are dead…..

    1. Deb, I don’t believe in a ‘second chance.’ I don’t think that it is biblical that God will pick people out of hell, dust them off and ask if they repent of his sins.

      You may be correct, but in 1st Peter the dead is preached to that they may live with God:

      they may live in the spirit according to the will of God. (1Pe 4:6 NASB)

  2. Thanks for the link Joel!

    Deb, I think the sort of person who would only come to Christ because they fear hell (and would give it up if they learned hell was off the table) is not likely to be a sincere Christian in the first place. Surely we have more reason not to “live terribly” than that!

  3. I Peter 4:6 is in a section that tells Christians how to respond to suffering (see I Peter 4:1). In context, I (and many commentators) believe the most straightforward meaning of I Peter 4:6 is that the gospel was preached to those who had become Christians and then died (they were dead at the time the message was written), that they were judged and martyred according to men (in the flesh), but that the net result from God’s perspective is they now live in the Spirit.

    The Bible often encourages Christians who are suffering with examples of those who have become Christians, endured persecution and suffering even unto death in the flesh, but are now alive forever through Christ in the Spirit.

    The eternal ‘Hell’ isn’t open for business yet, and there is no one there today. According to the Bible, the first ones in will be the coming ‘beast’ (a.k.a. Antichrist) and ‘false prophet’, but others will join them later after a thousand years, including Satan, those currently in Hades, and everyone not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Rev. 19:20, Rev. 20:10-15).

    1. Rory, taken together with the previous passage in which Christ is described as descending into the abode of the dead, it would seem that the common understanding might be a bit off.

      How do you take 1st Peter 3?

  4. Hi Joel, if you are referring to 1 Peter 3:18:

    “For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit:”

    it uses a very similar phrase as 1 Peter 4:6, consistent with the idea there that one may die in the flesh but be alive in the Spirit.

    If you are referring to I Peter 3:19-20:

    “By which also he went and preached unto the spirits in prison; Which sometime were disobedient, when once the longsuffering of God waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was a preparing, wherein few, that is, eight souls were saved by water”

    I believe this is about Christ, alive in Spirit while His human body was in the tomb, proclaiming and heralding his victory over death and Hades (Col. 2:15; Rev. 1:18) to the evil angels who had sinned in the days of Noah and kept not their first estate, a key factor which led to the Great Flood (Gen. 6:1-4, 2 Peter 2:4-5, Jude 6).

  5. Perhaps the following is also important:

    The word used in 1 Peter 3:19 for ‘preached’ is Gr. kerysso, which means generally to proclaim or publish, and is not the word that means “preached the gospel” (Gr. euaggelizo), as used 61 times in the New Testament. Christ was not giving a second chance to those who died as unbelievers, because there are no further chances after physical death before judgment (Heb. 9:27). Christ was heralding his victory over Satan and his hosts to the evil angels who played such a prominent part in corrupting the antediluvian world.

    1. That does bare more study, and I think you maybe be correct. That word is used, however – I think – in Matthew 4.23 for Christ proclaiming the Gospel and in Mark 1.4 for JOhn’s message of repentance. Possibles in 1st Co. 9.27 for Paul’s preaching.

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