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Do you believe in hell?

ABC News "20/20" aired a special featuring Pastor Tom Brown and others on the subject, Do you believe in hell?

Let us know what you thought about the special by clicking here.

What is Hell?

            The History Channel interviewed Tom Brown about the subject of hell. The two hour documentary was aired on December 27, 2004.

            We thought you would like to know the questions they asked him and Tom’s answers.

Click here to watch Tom's part in the the documentary.

HC: Talk about original sin and its importance to your belief system.

TB: The passage that clearly mentions this is Romans 5:12: Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, because all sinned.

            Adam passed on the sin nature to us, however, we are condemned not because we have the sin nature but because we have acted upon it: death came to all men, because all sinned. Hell is for people who deserve it through their “own” sins. Adam simply passed on the propensity to sin or what is called the "sin nature".

HC: Who goes to hell?

TB: "Then he will say to those on his left [goats], 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matt 25:41)

            From this statement we can conclude that those who purposely reject Christ and those who have a superficial faith in Christ will go to hell. Jesus called hypocritical believers goats. Real believers are sheep, and they prove that their faith is genuine by their good works.

HC:  Are all unbelievers condemned to hell?

TB: This question is often asked of me because it seems to others that it is unfair that some should be condemned solely because they did not become Christians. I like to answer this question with Abraham’s prayer for Sodom and Gomorrah. "Far be it from you to do such a thing — to kill the righteous with the wicked, treating the righteous and the wicked alike. Far be it from you! Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen 18:25)

        God knows the hearts of all people. Jesus is the Savior from sin. According to the Bible, without Him and the Holy Spirit, a person cannot truly live a righteous life, so I believe that unbelievers cannot be saved, not simply because they are not Christians, but they have rejected the way to be right with God. Through acceptance of Christ, we are given the power to live righteously. So without Christ, the scriptures show that no sinner can truly live holy and thus avoid hell.

            Peter makes an important statement about salvation:

"If it is hard for the righteous to be saved, what will become of the ungodly and the sinner?"  (1 Peter 4:18)

            This passage shows how difficult it is for the righteous to be saved, so those who have rejected Christ, which is God’s way to be saved, will surely find it “impossible” to be saved. With man’s own efforts, salvation is impossible, but with God all things are possible.

            The Bible says that God appointed Jesus Christ to be the judge on judgment day (John 5:22). Here's the question, when you stand  to be judged and you see it is Jesus as the judge, what religion would you have have wished to be part of?

HC:  Is hell a literal, physical place? 

TB: No, at the present it is a spiritual place since souls (which are not physical) are there. However, it may appear to a dead person that it is physical. The future place called the “Lake of Fire” will be a physical place since people are cast into it after the resurrection of the dead.

            Jesus said, "Do not be amazed at this, for a time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out-those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned." (John 5:28-30)

            So we see that the damned will also be given a resurrected body, so in the future, the Lake of Fire will be a physical and spiritual place.

            Today, hell is like a jail (spiritual only). In the future, the jail will be thrown into the Security Prison—the lake of fire (spiritual and physical).

HC:  What do we know about its location, size and appearance?

TB: I do not think we know much about it in those terms. However, the phrase “lake” of fire means a “pond.” It does not speak of a huge place. I find this interesting, because God does not take much space or time to send damned souls for punishment.

Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:14-15)

The Bible also speaks of it in terms of fire and of it being in the center of the earth. Ironically we know the center of the earth is very hot. Whether hell is actually located in the center of earth, I do not know, but I find nothing to preclude it from being there. Of course being a spiritual place means that you cannot dig deep enough to find souls there, since they would be invisible to the eye anyway.

HC:  If a sinner sincerely repents and accepts Jesus, will he enter heaven no matter how heinous his sin was?

TB: Jesus thought anyone who truly repented could be saved. Consider the thief on the cross.

            Then he said, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom."

            Jesus answered him, "I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise."  (Luke 23:42-43)

            The Bible calls this man a criminal. Yet, his repentance and sorrow was so evident that Jesus promised him eternal life that very day. So it is clear that someone can enter heaven no matter how heinous his sin was.

HC:  Does punishment in hell vary depending on the type of sins committed during one’s earthly days?

TB: Yes and here is a passage to prove it:

"That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked. (Luke 12:47-48)

            In our criminal system we have various degrees of punishment based on the seriousness of the crime and mitigating factors. This statement proves that God's judgments are based on many factors. If someone lived in an area which makes being a Christian very difficult, God will consider that in determining the level of punishment.

HC:  Can souls be condemned to hell for sinful thoughts?

TB: Yes.

But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell. (Matt 5:28-30)

            Sin is defined as wrong thoughts or deeds. Obviously deeds are worse, and they sometimes fall in the category of crimes, however, Jesus taught that “anger” was “murder” in the heart. Lust is adultery of the heart. The “Criminal System” cannot judge thoughts, because they really do not know what the person was thinking. God, however, is all-knowing and will take into consideration our thoughts when it comes to judgment.          

HC:  Is the Devil a symbol of evil or something more?

TB: He is real. He is an angel. Angels are real beings, albeit, spiritual beings. Satan was one of three archangels. God would not make the Lake of fire for the devil and his angels if they were not real. You do not make a place of punishment as a symbol.

HC:  Why does God allow the Devil to exist?

TB: I get this question all the time. A simple answer is that we need to be tested to show whether we are sincere believers or not.

Do not be afraid of what you (Smyrna) are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Rev 2:10)

            God has a plan to remove him from having any influence upon us. He will throw him into the Lake of Fire when Christ returns. However, he is here to “test us”. A test can either be failed or pass. Upon failure you lose your soul. Upon passing you gain your soul.          

HC:  What does the Book of Job tell us about God’s relationship with Lucifer?

TB: The book of Job does not mention Satan as Lucifer. It does mention him as “Satan”.

One day the angels came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came with them. The LORD said to Satan, "Where have you come from?" (Job 1:6-7)

            This account tells us that Satan is accountable to God. He is not above God. The name Satan means accuser. This name lets us know his primary function. He is always trying to find fault with us. He will even tempt us so he can find fault with us. He wants us damned with him. Misery loves company.

HC:  Describe the hellish vision of the Book of Revelations.

TB: Most of the visions in Revelation are devoted to the tribulations on earth and so if these descriptions are horrific, how much more will hell be? Revelation however does give us the description of hell being eternal torment as the Lake of Fire.

            In Jesus teaching about hell He mentions those in it as being in agony. Consider the story of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man died and went to hell and he says, “I am in agony in this fire.” (Luke 16:24) Nearly everyone has been burnt and has felt the stinging pain and how it continues. So this is the description the Bible uses to show how painful hell really will be and how that pain will never go away.

HC:  What other biblical depictions of hell do you find especially powerful?  Please describe them and what they signify.

TB: But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matt 8:12)

            Darkness is another description of hell and yet this seems to be the opposite of fire, for fire gives off light. Yet, Jesus describes hell as a place of darkness. Darkness is the absence of light. Light is knowledge. I believe darkness is what you find in prison—ignorance, denial, blame, anger. In hell, people will be blaming others for being there. They will be angry at God for sending them there. They will protest their being cast into hell. They will never acknowledge the truth, for darkness and ignorance reigns in hell           

HC:  Are there different hells—or different names given to hell—found in different biblical passages?

TB: The Greek word for hell is geena (gheh'-en-nah). This place was a valley in Jerusalem where some scholars believe that dead corpses were thrown into. So geena is the place of the spiritually dead. Here is another term for hell:

For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons (2 Peter 2:4)

            The Greek word for gloomy dungeons, sometimes translated hell, is tartaroo (tar-tar-o'-o); which means the deepest abyss of Hades. This describes the worse part of hell. There are places in hell worse than others, just like in prison; there are worse places than others. Dante's Inferno is not too far from the truth.

HC:  How is hell different in your belief system as compared to other Christian sects?

TB: I think our belief is quite similar or possibly even the same as main line denominations.

            There are two “Christian sects” that most main line churches, including ours, would not accept as true Christians because their belief is very different from the Bible, and that would be Mormons and Jehovah Witnesses. Ironically neither of them believe in hell. True Christians since the beginning of Christianity have always accepted the existence of hell.

HC:  Since the Devil is a shapeshifter and the great deceiver, how can we ever know who is possessed by or in league with him?

TB: Dear children, do not let anyone lead you astray. He who does what is right is righteous, just as he is righteous. He who does what is sinful is of the devil, because the devil has been sinning from the beginning. (1 John 3:7-8)

            A person’s lifestyle is the only way we could know. Even that, however, must ultimately be left to God. Sometimes we might assume because people have fallen into sin that they must not truly be a believer, but we all become weak at some point in our lives. The question is whether the person continues to adopt a sinful lifestyle. Another way to tell whether someone is in league with Satan is by their teaching.

Who is the liar? It is the man who denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a man is the antichrist-he denies the Father and the Son. (1 John 2:22)

            Religious teaching that does not acknowledge the deity of Christ proves that they are deceived. Again, the Jehovah Witnesses and Mormons do not accept the teaching of the Trinity—one God revealed in three persons.

HC:  Is the Devil constantly seeking to invade our earthly realm to tempt individuals into sinning?

TB: Absolutely, he is!

Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5:8)

HC:  What are signs that someone is possessed by the devil?

TB: There are degrees of possession or I prefer the term “influenced”. First, Oppression (sick in body or mind); second, deception (he tricks people into believing wrong things); third, addiction (feel helpless). Each degree must be dealt with differently.

HC:  How do exorcisms work?  Are they effective?

TB: Yes, they are. Hundreds have testified to me that they were helped. A person must look to Christ, because we have authority only through Him. Repentance is often necessary to be set free from demons. A person must also resist Satan. A minister must speak to the demon and order it to go.          

HC:  What do the many false legends tell us about the Devil?

TB: I think Hollywood and folk tales have painted inaccurate portraits of Satan, such as someone carrying a pitched fork to poke people in hell or to stoke the fires. The truth is Satan is afraid of hell. It is a place of punishment for him as well as for those who follow him. He is not the warden of hell, but soon to be a prisoner of it.

HC:  Describe Purgatory and how the idea of it came about.

TB: The Catholic Church teaches this, not Protestants. They believe it is a transitional period. It is a Catholic doctrine that was developed in hopes that insincere believers would be punished temporally so they would not have to go to hell.

            Jesus taught differently. The rich man in Luke 16 did not receive temporary punishment, even though he believed in Abraham as his father. His punishment was permanent. 

HC:  Explain the Christian's Last Judgment; who is and isn’t saved at that time.

TB: For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad. (2 Cor 5:10)

            Everyone, no matter what their religion, must stand before the judgment seat of Christ. The important point to note is that Christ is the one who God appointed as the Judge. Jesus said, “Moreover, the Father judges no one, but has entrusted all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).

            Obviously, since Christ is the judge, it is to one’s advantage to have accepted Jesus as the Christ and Messiah. Being a Christian, however, does not exempt the need for us to be judged. Why would believers need to be judged then, if they are already saved? The sincere believer will be judge for the purpose of rewards. In court, some plaintiffs receive judgments in their favor. This is the main reason Christians will stand before the Supreme Court of the Universe, to receive rewards for their good works that they did for Christ.

HC:  Why do religions so often “demonize” other faiths? 

TB: They try to scare people. Scare tactics often work to keep people from escaping from false religions.          

HC:  Modern pop culture often seems to celebrate Satan as a rebellious anti-hero—is it dangerous to celebrate the Devil?

TB: Satan is a worthy adversary and we must understand his tactics and schemes. He wants to be the hero of the day, instead of God, and it appears for some, they would rather serve and honor Satan than God. Satanists and other socially rebellious people will experience the worse judgment of all.          

HC:  For many people today, Hell and Satan are not an important part of their lives—are these people missing out on something important? 

TB: Some prefer to stick their head in the sand. I ask the question, how important is Al Qaeda to people? The likelihood that an individual will be killed by terrorists is very remote, however people want to know about the organization for the purpose of defeating them. Yet Satan, the ultimate terrorist, likely will wreck damage to most people, so why don’t they care about what he is doing?  

            Jesus called Satan a thief (John 10:10), and a thief prefers not to be recognized. Satan’s greatest feat is the disappearance act. He pretends to not be here, but he really is. The main deception that Satan has pulled off is that he does not exist.

HC:  Do most people go to heaven or to hell?  Why?

TB: Jesus gave a sobering warning on this: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.  (Matt 7:13-14)

            Most will go to hell than go to heaven. This should not surprise us, considering how little Jesus Christ means to people. They say they believe in Him, but only ten percent of the population will even go to church on Sunday. How is it possible, considering that the Church is the house that Jesus built for His family? I think people need to really evaluate their lives, and see if they are really serving Jesus Christ. And unbelievers need to reconsider the claims of Christ. He claimed to be the Messiah and Savior. Either He told the truth or He is the biggest deceiver of all. I choose to believe He is what He claimed to be. I have experienced a changed life as a result of my faith.

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