As many of my readers may know, I have been studying the teaching of hell for a few years. I recently picked up a book called Spiritual Terrorism, written by Boyd C Purcell, and as I ventured through the pages, I came across a listing of ten reasons the author considers Eternal Conscience Torment (ECT) as impossible.
Each of the ten reasons are based on a particular passage of Scripture that I propose we consider in relation to this topic. Food for thought for those willing to consider.
Let’s continue with 1 John 3:8.
1 John 3:8
Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.
The apostle John gives us the reason the Son of God appeared. He came to destroy the works of the devil.
At first blush, the verse seems easy to understand, yet upon taking my time to read it slowly, the verse has a number of questions I need to consider. Let’s start with defining what it means to destroy, but not from our English modern standpoint, but hopefully from the apostle John’s cultural and religious standpoint.
What does “destroy” mean? A web based dictionary provides the following English definition.
- To break apart the structure of, render physically unusable, or cause to cease to exist as a distinguishable physical entity:
- To put an end to; eliminate.
- To render useless or ruin.
The Greek word λύω, translated as destroy in our verse above, is translated “destroy” one other time in the New Testament. We find this verse in John 2:19.
Jesus answered and said unto them, Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.
Various other translations for this same Greek word include loose (27x), break (5x), unloose (3x), dissolve (2x), put off (1x), melt (1x), break up (1x), break down (1x).
As you can see, this Greek word is understood in many ways. It is interesting that John uses this Greek word λύω in his gospel six times. I suggest a quick a review of these verses may provide some guidance.
John 1:27 even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie.”
John the Baptist is speaking and referring to his standing before the Messiah. The term is not speaking of a cessation of existence, but of the relative importance of John in relation to the Master. He is not worthy to perform the lowliest of tasks for the Son. This verse speaks of “loosing” or “unbinding” the strap of the Lord’s sandal, a lowly task.
John 2:19 Jesus answered them, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”
Jesus uses this word to speak of His death. Prior to the resurrection, some may have argued the use of this word could mean a cessation of life, or even of existence. Now that He has risen, and He used it knowing of His return, it may be instructive to reconsider this implication.
Nevertheless, at the time of His using it, the communication was of destruction, of breaking apart, to render useless. Note that when something is destroyed, the order has been removed, but not the material. When the temple was destroyed, the order, symmetry, elevation, floorplan, structure and stature of the great temple was destroyed, or in other words, put out of order, becoming useless. But the temple, as the material it being composed of, did not cease to exist. It simply lost it’s status and usefulness of being an ordered, designed and beautiful building.
John 5:18 This was why the Jews were seeking all the more to kill him, because not only was he breaking the Sabbath, but he was even calling God his own Father, making himself equal with God.
Breaking the sabbath. This term has much baggage with it. First off, to think of the Messiah “breaking” the Sabbath is amazing. But I can’t get distracted about this topic. (If interested, check out my 17 part series on Jesus on the Sabbath)
Back to the point, it seems the concept of loosing, or unbinding comes to the forefront in this verse. Jesus referred to a burden the Pharisees placed on the regular joe in Israel (Matthew 23:4). One of these burdens may have been a strict observance of the Sabbath. It seems Jesus went out of His way to perform a healing on the Sabbath. Many, if not all of His healings could have been performed on the following day without any difference in the result, except for the discussion (argument) this action provoked. This is the background for this verse, and the Pharisees consider Jesus as a Sabbath breaker, who who does not keep the Sabbath.
In my thinking, the Pharisees saw Him as lax in relation to the rules that they enforced. He was unloosing the standard of the Sabbath.
John 7:23 If on the Sabbath a man receives circumcision, so that the law of Moses may not be broken, are you angry with me because on the Sabbath I made a man’s whole body well?
This word is translated as broken/break again in relation to the Sabbath. Interesting!
Here the Lord is using the Pharisees understanding of the Sabbath against them, comparing circumcision (a cutting away of a portion of a man’s body) with a healing (of an entire man’s body). If the breaking (or unloosing) of Sabbath rules is acceptable for the cutting of foreskin (commanded by God), would not the same standard be acceptable for any good work toward your neighbor, since Leviticus 19:18 is also is a command of God?
Again, this term does not define a cessation of existence, but simply an unloosing or unbinding of a rule, law or principle.
John 10:35 If he called them gods to whom the word of God came–and Scripture cannot be broken–
Jesus is again using the the Word of God to argue the Pharisees understanding of God and of His own status. The term “broken” surely can not mean cessation in this context, for the Scripture is everlasting, forever in the heavens. Jesus is, in my opinion, teaching the Scriptures as being one cohesive unity, speaking one message, and with one purpose.
Our challenge in life is to find that single message, that single purpose. Have you found yours?
John 11:44 The man who had died came out, his hands and feet bound with linen strips, and his face wrapped with a cloth. Jesus said to them, “Unbind him, and let him go.”
The resuscitation of Lazarus. Here the term is clearly used referring to loosing Lazarus from his clothing of death, to release him from the bondage of his tomb garments.
In summary, it appears the term is related to unloosing, or unbinding rather than our conventional understanding of destroying, or of annihilation, or of cessation of existence. And this seems to make sense, since it seems obvious the devil’s work, is still active in this ol’ world.
We need to consider that through the Life of the Son, the devil’s works have been loosed from those of us who follow Him. We are no longer under bondage, unless we choose to be!
The Works of the Devil
The works of the devil, in my understanding fall under three general headings.
When we think of the devil, deceit of character is number one on the hit parade. He is a liar. This is the fountainhead of his character, and the source of the devil’s work.
John 8:44 You are of your father the devil, and your will is to do your father’s desires. He was a murderer from the beginning, and does not stand in the truth, because there is no truth in him. When he lies, he speaks out of his own character, for he is a liar and the father of lies.
If Satan can distract us from the Kingdom of God, he has won.
Matthew 6:33 But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.
If Satan can distract us toward ourselves, that is to consider ourselves to be the focus of our desires, he has won.
2 Timothy 3:2 For people will be lovers of self, lovers of money, proud, arrogant, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy,
When was the first time you realized you are not fighting against humans in this struggle we are in. Satan definitely wants us to see our fellow travelers on this round ball as the enemy. This distraction keeps us from seeing the truth as described in Eph 6
Ephesians 6:12 ESV – For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against…..
This distraction is the the very heartbeat of our tendency to justify murder, hatred and tribalism during our lives.
How many times can you recall the Scripture’s telling us to focus on God, on the Messiah and on the Kingdom. Consider a smattering of verses…
Colossians 3:2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth.
Hebrews 12:2 looking to Jesus…
If satan can’t get you with deceit (and who is without some error in their life) and distractions are not effective (I find it hard to believe that distraction isn’t effective), one of satan’s most effective hammers is that of discouragement.
How many of us have sought the Lord’s will, fought the many distractions, focusing on Him, and yet due to discouragement, simply quit? Personally, I admit to being somewhat of a pessimist, and am very susceptible to discouragement. It is a very effective tool of satan to keep me from the Lord.
David also was discouraged, greatly distressed, and yet he “strengthened (encouraged) himself in the Lord.” A great passage for folks to consider as they enter times of darkness, discouragement and distress is found in 1 Samuel.
Satan uses discouragement to blur our hope, and to dull our faith in the Great King.
1 Samuel 30:6 And David was greatly distressed, for the people spoke of stoning him, because all the people were bitter in soul, each for his sons and daughters. But David strengthened himself in the LORD his God.
Although I have enjoyed our short study, the original intent of this post was to consider 1 John 3:8 in relation to eternal conscious torment and how it relates to that topic. To be honest, I don’t see how it supports Mr. Purcell’s claim of the passage supporting a universal reconciliation teaching.
In summary, I understand the devil seeks to influence our lives through his works of deceit distraction and discouragement. If our understanding of destroy above is accurate, I may see the works of the devil as being active, influential and at times seemingly overpowering. But don’t forget, the Master has unbound us, loosened us from having to be obedient to evil influence of the enemy. Jesus has unloosed us from the deceit, distractions and discouragement of the devil. We may fall into any (or all) of these traps at times, but our God is a saving God and always will seek us out.
In relation to our original question for this series, I see this passage as describing our current existence in following the Lord, and not a passage that supports an understanding of universal salvation.
What thinkest thou? Do you see this passage differently? I would love to hear of your thoughts, and to consider the Bible with you
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