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The Pope and Hell

Pope Francis
Pope Francis  |

Many years ago, after boasting that Christianity would vanish, John Lennon blatantly denied Jesus' teachings on hell and eternal punishment. In the opening words of his song "Imagine" Lennon sang,

Imagine there's no heaven

It's easy if you try

No hell below us

Above us only sky

The denial of hell's existence by entertainers and cults, such as Christian Science, is nothing new. However, now Pope Francis, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church, has allegedly made this same unbiblical denial.

In a recent interview with Eugenio Scalfari published on Wednesday, March 28, 2018 in La Repubblica, Pope Francis allegedly told his good atheist friend that hell does not exist and that evil souls simply disappear after death:

"They are not punished, those who repent obtain the forgiveness of God and enter the rank of souls who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot therefore be forgiven disappear. There is no hell, there is the disappearance of sinful souls." (La Repubblica, "It Is An Honor For Me To Be Called Revolutionary," March 28, 2018, translated by Rorate Caeli)

Many Roman Catholics are decrying the Pope's claim as contradicting what the Roman Catholic Church has historically taught, with Pat Buchanan lamenting:

"What did Christ die on the cross to save us from? If Francis made such a statement, it would be rank heresy." (Source)

The Vatican conceded that Scalfari held a private meeting with him. They are scrambling and suggesting that the Pope's alleged denial of hell's existence is not "a faithful transcription of the Holy Father's words."

While Roman Catholics lament the Pope's alleged departure from historic Catholic teaching, the greater concern should be: what did Jesus really teach about hell and salvation? Does hell exist? Is hell eternal? Do wicked souls simply disappear after death?

Jesus actually revealed that the wicked will make three stops after death, and that the final stop is hell–and it is eternal.

Let me explain. Jesus revealed that prior to going to hell, or the lake of fire, the wicked go to a temporary, pre-trial, or pre-judgment "holding facility". In His story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus did not say that the rich man simply disappeared, but rather he went to "hades" at his death and cried out, "I am tormented in this flame"(Luke 16:19-31).

However, Hades (or Sheol), is a temporary holding facility where the souls of the lost are kept until the great white throne Judgment, which is the second stop for lost souls. Hades is like the county jail, where criminals await sentencing, and hell is like a federal prison, where criminals go after sentencing. It is here that the books are opened and the lost are tried and sentenced. In the Revelation of Jesus Christ, we read that all whose names are not found written in the book of life are sentenced to the lake of fire:

"Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire" (Revelation 20:11-15).

If we take Jesus at His Word, and do not try to soften His teachings, we see that hell (or the lake of fire) is a place of eternal punishment. In Revelation 13, we read that when Jesus returns after the tribulation period, the Antichrist and the false prophet are thrown alive into the lake of fire:

"And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone" (Revelation 19:20).

Jehovah's Witnesses (and other cults) teach that the lake of fire signifies annihilation, not eternal punishment. However, note that over a thousand years after they are thrown into the lake of fire, Satan himself is thrown into the lake of fire, and the Antichrist and false prophet are still there in a state of torment, and they all suffer forever and ever:

"Then I saw an angel coming down from heaven, holding the key of the abyss and a great chain in his hand. And he laid hold of the dragon, the serpent of old, who is the devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand years; and he threw him into the abyss, and shut it and sealed it over him, so that he would not deceive the nations any longer, until the thousand years were completed; after these things he must be released for a short time ... And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; andthey will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (Revelation 20:1-3, 10, emphasis added).

It is clear that over a thousand years after they are thrown into the lake of fire neither they, nor the lake of fire, disappears! Also note that the beast worshippers are sentenced to the lake of fire, and they too are said to endure conscious torment forever and ever:

"A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name."This calls for patient endurance on the part of the people of God who keep his commands and remain faithful to Jesus." (Revelation 14:9-12).

In Jesus' teaching of the judgment of the nations, the wicked, represented by the goats, are said to go into eternal punishment. Note that the same Greek word, "aionios", that is used for the duration of life for the righteous, is also used to describe the duration of punishment for the wicked:

"Then He will also say to those on His left, 'Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels ... These will go away into eternal [Gk. aionios] punishment, but the righteous into eternal [Gk. aionios] life" (Matthew 25:41, 46).

How tragic that potentially millions, who may have been moved by the fear of God and the coming judgment to repent and believe in Jesus, are now feeling they have nothing to be concerned about.

A good friend of mine just shared with me that a gentleman who he has been sharing Jesus with, and who just got out of jail, texted him exclaiming, "Hey, did you see that the Pope just said there is no hell? That means I am good." He felt that his entire work in sharing the gospel with this poor soul was undercut.

The Roman Catholic Church has been in the horrific habit of both adding to God's Word and subtracting from it since its inception almost 1,700 years ago. For example, the Catholic Church deceptively omitted the second commandment:

"You shall not make for yourself an idol, or any likeness of what is in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the water under the earth. You shall not worship them or serve them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:4-6).

This omission was in an effort to keep the Catholic faithful in darkness regarding their heresy of bowing down and paying homage to statues. The embarrassing problem for the Catholic Church leadership is that this glaring omission left them with only 9 of the 10 commandments. But no worries, they simply took the 10th commandment where we are warned not to covet your neighbor's wife and possessions, and walla, they are back to 10 commandments!

The following are just some of the false doctrines added to the bible and espoused by the Roman Catholic Church: Infant baptism, purgatory, the treasury of merit, papal infallibility, praying to Mary and saints, worship of icons, the offices of Pope and cardinals, holy water, penance, transubstantiation, the sacrifice of Christ in the Mass, indulgences, wearing the brown scapular for salvation, justification by works, the perpetual virginity of Mary, the sinelessness of Mary, the assumption of Mary's body to heaven, and more.

It would be unconscionable to tell a rebellious world that no matter how much crime they commit that they will never go to prison, because prison does not really exist. How much worse is it to claim to represent Jesus Christ and then tell the wicked – who are in desperate need of a Savior – that the place that Jesus Himself described as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Luke 13:28); torment (Revelation 14:10-11); outer darkness (Matthew 22:13); eternal fire (Matthew 25:41), and "where the worm never dies" (Mark 9:48), does not exist or is not eternal?

Jesus warned, "But unless you repent, you too will all perish" (Luke 13:3). May each of us make sure we are trusting Jesus alone for our salvation and not any man or church:

"For God so loved the world, that He gave Hisonly begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of theonly begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil.For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed. But he who practices the truth comes to the Light, so that his deeds may be manifested as having been wrought in God ... He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him" (John 3:16-21, 36).

Joe Schimmel is senior pastor of Blessed Hope Chapel in Simi Valley, CA and president of the apologetics ministry, Good Fight Ministries, dealing with pop culture, Hollywood, and music from a Christian perspective. He is best known for They Sold Their Souls for Rock n Roll, which exposes the satanic influences behind much of yesterday and today's popular music and how it is negatively influencing our youth. Other popular DVD releases are A Shack of Lies, The Submerging Church, Hollywood's War on God, and The Kinsey Syndrome."

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