The following scriptures are (in part) those which are generally relied upon by some who believe in the doctrine of Hell as a place of fire and eternal torment. Let us examine such to see if this be true.
We begin with Matt 3:11, 12
“I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but he that comes after me is mightier than I, whose shoes I am not worthy to bear: he shall baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire: whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat into the garner; but he will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.”
In order to properly understand this statement by the prophet John the Baptist it is necessary first to have a broader view of the picture, and of who or what specifically the Prophet meant by the “wheat” and the “chaff”.
We find the answer we seek in our Lord’s explanation of the Parable of the Wheat and the Tares, here the Lord explains,
“The field is the world, the good seeds are the sons of the kingdom, but the tares are the sons of the wicked one. The enemy who sowed them is the devil, the harvest is the end of the age, and the reapers are the angels. Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age.”
“The Jewish age ended with a “harvest,” our Lord and the apostles doing the work of reaping fruit, the seed of which had been sown by Moses and the prophets. “Lift up your eyes (said Jesus), and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest.” “I send you forth to reap that whereon ye have bestowed no labor: other men labored (Moses and the prophets), and ye are entered into their labors.” (John 4:35-38) The end of the Gospel age is also called a harvest–“The harvest is the end of the world” (age). “In the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, Gather first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them, but gather the wheat into my barn.” Matt. 13:39, 30
“John foretold the work and effect of the Jewish harvest, saying (Matt. 3:12), “Whose fan is in his hand, and he will thoroughly purge his floor, and gather his wheat [Israelites indeed] into the garner [the Christian Church]; but he will burn up the chaff [the refuse of the nation] with unquenchable fire“–(a trouble which consumed them nationally). Here was the baptism of the Holy Spirit and of fire— the Holy Spirit coming upon the “Israelites indeed” at Pentecost, and the fire of trouble upon all others, during the thirty-seven years following their rejection. (Matt. 3:11) In that trouble Israel as a nation was destroyed, but not as individuals. The Revelator likewise tells of the harvesting of this age with the sharp sickle of truth, because the time to reap is come, and shows a double work, part of which relates to the vine of the earth (Rev 14:18), as distinguished from the true vine of the Father’s planting, Christ Jesus and his members or branches. (Rev 14:15; John 15:1-6).
The harvest of this age is said to be of “wheat and tares” (Matt. 13:24-30, 36-39): that of the Jewish age was called one of “wheat and chaff”. And as the chaff predominated largely there, the analogy and parallelism so marked in every other feature implies that the tares will be much more abundant than the wheat here in this harvest.
The Jewish harvest was in all a period of forty years, beginning with our Lord’s ministry and ending with nominal Israel’s rejection and overthrow, and the destruction of their city, accomplished by the Romans, A.D. 70.” (B234)
Thus understood we see that the first scriptures cited (Matt 3:11,12) is in reference to the separation work accomplished by our Lord, at his first advent, of the Jewish people, the true Israelites indeed (wheat) being separated from the balance of that nation, the refuse or (chaff). The wheat class, the faithful were “gathered into the garner” i.e. The Christian Church by the begetting of the Holy Spirit from Pentecost onward. Whereas the unfaithful the remainder of that nation (chaff) were baptized with “UNQUENCHABLE FIRE” not literal, but symbolic fire, the great fire (trouble) of religious and political contention which destroyed the Jewish nation. It was stated as “UNQUENCHABLE FIRE” in the sense that it was the divine intention that the nation should be consumed, and it was not in the power of the ablest of the statesmen and rulers to prevent this. The Jews were powerless to avert the catastrophe. “Wrath is come upon this people to the uttermost.” (1 Thess. 2:16)
As it was in the “harvest” of the “Jewish age” so shall it be in the “harvest” of the “Gospel age” only on a larger scale. The sequence of events however shall be similar (Matt 13:30), first comes the separation work, this accomplished by the reapers (His servants, begotten of his spirit, just as it was at the end of the Jewish age, John 4:35-38), and this is accomplished through the use of the sharp sickle of truth, the two edged sword, the Word of God. It is the truth that is now determining whether or not one is a “true” follower of the Lord (wheat) or whether they are of the (tares). Those who are rightly exercised are being separated from those who are merely professing Christians (nominal) “having a form of godliness but denying its power…” 2 Tim 3:5, having “a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge (truth).” Rom 10:2.
Another text supposedly to teach the doctrine of Hell as a place of fire and eternal torment is,
Matt 13: 41, 42 “The Son of man shall send forth his angels (Servants or messengers, begotten of his spirit), and they shall gather out of his kingdom ALL THINGS (errors, falsehoods, deceptions) THAT OFFEND, and THEM (that cause others to stumble, including many teachers and ministers) WHICH DO INIQUITY (teach false doctrines); And shall cast them into A FURNACE OF FIRE (the “Great time of Trouble”, this fire is as much a symbol as are the tares, the wheat and the garner, do not forget that this is a “parable”): there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
The expression “weeping and gnashing of teeth” occurs altogether seven times in the New Testament. It is used as a metaphor describing trouble, distress, perplexity and persecution. The “wailing” or commotion is a result of the separation work even now taking place between the wheat and the tares, as the true class (wheat) is drawn to the truth, and thereby established in truth, the false class (tares) continue to clutch onto the “doctrines of men” esteeming errors as truth, thereby the commotion or “wailing”.
The “gnashing of teeth” represents great disappointment, sorrow, pain, trouble and anguish throughout Christendom “Men’s hearts failing them for fear and for looking after those things which are coming on the earth.” (Luke 21:26)
This “gnashing of teeth” signifies the chagrin, (disappointment) and savage animosity brought about by “brother turning against brother” (Matt 10:21) as those professed Christians (tares) turn and rend their brethren, the true followers of the Lord. As it was in the case of Stephen, “They gnashed on him with their teeth” Acts 7:54. With a wicked condition of heart; the words of Stephen were to them stings, rebukes, arousing their hatred to a pitch of frenzy.
Part of this work of separating is also in the “binding” of the tares, As the Jews failed to recognize the binding and blinding influences which came upon them, so nominal Christians today fail to see the features of the “harvest” work now in progress. They are bound by human traditions and by a worldly spirit, bound tightly by their own prejudices, and their own preconceived ideas as to what is truth. They are also bound by the impression that it is essential to their salvation to be joined to some one of the various churches of Christendom–it matters little to which one–thus combining the idea of individual responsibility with sectarian bondage.
As it was with regards to the faithful of the Jewish age so it is with the faithful of the Gospel age they are being “gathered into the garner (or barn)”, the True Church, The Church of Christ, their names being written in heaven, not upon any earthly roll call, “Gather my saints together unto me…” (Psa. 50:5) Not into another denomination or sect, but gathered to Christ, into oneness with him, in fellowship of spirit through the knowledge of his Word.
Continued with next post.