γενήσομαι «ge-ney-soh-mey : i am becoming»
These are the chronicles of the esoteric . . .
hell 101, part 3: the jewish junction
Many people object to the idea that hell is not a place by bringing up the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The problem is reading that parable as a description of heaven and hell is incorrect. With that particular story, Jesus is simply creating a scene in order to teach his listeners two specific things—and reading any more than that is expecting the parable to do what it was not meant to do.
With the Rich Man and Lazarus parable, Jesus is underlining the reversal of fortune1 that is always happening in the vision of God's world—that is, the first will be last, and the last will be first. The poor man, Lazarus, will be exalted and the Rich Man will be humiliated (and as often is the case in Jesus' parables, elite Jews, such as the Pharisees, are being criticised—here in this parable being represented by the Rich Man).
The parable is also meant to teach that your decisions must be made before you die because once you have died your opportunities to make decisions are done.
The parable's teachings end there—it's not meant to be a commentary on what hell will look like. Jesus creates a scene to teach the above two things and the rest is just the backdrop of the lesson—and if we read it as a story about what hell will look like we miss the lesson Jesus is teaching.
What's more, in Hebrew thought there is no existence apart from the body. The theology of an 'immortal soul' is a Greek concept that crept its way into some rabbinical strands of theology and many Christian ones, but it is a concept that is by and large not found in the Bible.
In much of Jewish theology, the soul does not live by itself once the body dies. In fact, for Hebrew theology the nefesh—or 'soul,' as it is commonly translated—was understood to be an animating force of the human person, and it was only one part of a whole. That is, the nefesh does not exist apart from the body for they are inextricably entwined.
Similarly, Paul's use of pneuma as well as psyche reflects the Jewish understanding and use of nefesh.2 For Paul, the 'soul' (as the words are often translated) is intimately related to the body,3 therefore eschatology necessarily involves a bodily resurrection—not an escape of the physical world in preference of the spiritual in the way Greek thought would suggest. In Paul's theology, the regeneration of the pneuma—the soul or spirit—through Jesus by definition then must involve the soma—the body.4
Consistent with this is the concept of olam ha-ba, which is translated from Hebrew literally as 'the coming world,' and is known in Jewish theology as the World to Come. Much of early traditional Jewish theology believed that olam ha-ba would be inaugurated by the resurrection of the dead and the final judgment—it is the era where the righteous will receive bodily resurrection to participate in a 'second life' (in contrast to the 'second death').
Olam ha-ba is the era of the New Heaven and the New Earth where the structures of the world are re-established to properly align with God's vision for all of creation.
In Isaiah (chapters 40-55; 65), there are many images of judgment by destruction and the recreation of the world. Isaiah's vision of the World to Come is of the whole earth and heavens being remade—and placed under the rule of the Messiah King. This is an eschatological vision shared (in various forms) by many of the Hebrew prophets—such as Zechariah, who envisions God dwelling with the remade Israel, at which time all the nations come and are gathered to be made God's people (2:11).5
In 2 Corinthians 5:16-17 we are told that those who are in Christ—the Messiah King—are the 'new creation.' Not only does the book of Revelation (21) very intentionally copy all this 'new creation' imagery, but we find this sort of language in other passages as well, such as 2 Peter 3:13.
Indeed, the Bible nowhere teaches that after we die we're going to leave our bodies behind and be spirits in some mystical place—or that some 'spiritual heaven' is our final destination for which we should all be striving.6 Instead, the Bible teaches us that we will be resurrected to live in the kingdom of the New Heaven and New Earth.
We can perhaps draw parallels from the story of the flood to come back to the point: Righteous Noah and his family are kept safe while the wicked people of the earth are destroyed, wiped off the face of the earth. Following this destruction of the wicked, Noah and his family become the 'new creation,' a symbol of the New Heaven and the New Earth.
New Testament theology then argues that those who pledge allegiance to Jesus the Messiah Crowned King have the hope of being resurrected in the New Heaven and the New Earth—and if the soul does not live apart from the body then those who do not pledge their allegiance to King Jesus will be destroyed without hope of resurrection. They will not participate in the 'second life' that is the Kingdom fully realised. Their existence ends. ✤
1. Andrew Perriman, 'The rich man and Lazarus, and what the story tells us about hell,' P.OST.
2. F F Powell, 'Saint Paul's Homage to Plato,' The The World and I Online (https://www.worldandi.com/...mtpub2.asp).
3. For Paul, 'body' and 'flesh' were distinct from one another. The 'body,' or soma, was the part of the human that interrelated to the 'spirit' or 'soul,' which both together add up to a whole human person. But the 'flesh,' or sarx, was for Paul, to put it crudely, more of an attitude—a feral, basic attitude that was inward and selfish and was opposed to the outward, communal, loving attitude of the Kingdom.
4. Gordon Zerbe, 'Paul on the Human Being as a "Psychic Body": Neither Dualist nor Monist,' Direction, 37.2 (n.p., 2008), 172-174.
5. J Richard Middleton, A New Heaven and a New Earth: Reclaiming Biblical Eschatology (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2014), 107.
6. Ibid., 14.