Part 4: What This Commission Does and Does Not Say

The author, in his youth, heard many messages on the so-called “great commission,” but they were all devotional or inspirational in character. Though thrown into contact from his earliest youth with great men of God from far and near, and rejoicing in the light they brought on the lately-recovered truth of our Lord’s imminent return, he does not recall one single exposition of the commission as a whole, or one series of Bible studies, in which it was explained exactly what our Lord did and what He did not say in this commission.

It did not take him long, however, to realize that the commission to the eleven does not harmonize with our God-given message and ministry as later revealed to Paul and outlined in his epistles.


As we consider all the records of what our Lord did say in His commission to the eleven, it is impossible to conclude that this commission pertains to the dispensation under which we now live.

MATTHEW 28:18-20

Our Lord As King

Observe how the first record of this “great commission” begins:

“All power is given unto Me in heaven and in earth” (Matt. 28:18). By “power” of course, our Lord did not refer to physical strength or political influence, but to authority committed to Him by His Father. “All authority is given unto Me in heaven and in earth.” (“Heaven and earth,” because the kingdom, or government of heaven was to be established on earth (Matt. 5:3,5; 6:10 cf. Dan. 2:44).)

“Go ye therefore….” Does not this opening statement of our Lord’s commission to His eleven apostles associate their ministry immediately with His kingdom and His right to reign? (Cf., Acts 2:29-31; 3:19-21). Thus the passage continues:

“Go ye therefore, and teach all nations…” (Ver. 19). (The Greek word ethne, or nations, is generally rendered Gentiles when used in contra-distinction to the Jews. However, the King James translators correctly rendered it nations here, for the apostles were to make disciples of all nations, including Israel. Indeed, Israel was the first nation the apostles were to bring to Messiah’s feet (See Luke 24:47; Acts 1:8 cf. Acts 3:25,26; 13:46).)

Teaching Them to Observe All Things

But what should the nations be taught? What was the apostles’ message to them? The next verse gives us at least part of the answer—an important part:

“Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you” (Ver. 20). Are we to obey this specific command of our Lord’s commission to the eleven? If we do we will surely bind our hearers hand and foot with the law of Moses, its sabbath observance, its sacrifices and all the other ceremonies.

Galatians 4:4 clearly states that our Lord, when on earth, was “made under the law,” and the records of His earthly ministry bear witness that this is so. Indeed, as we have seen, the Lord commanded His disciples to obey the scribes and Pharisees because they occupied Moses’ seat (Matt. 23:1-3).

In this connection it is interesting to note that the disciple who baptized Paul was “a devout man according to the law” (Acts 22:12) and that as late as Acts 21:20 those who had been working under the so-called “great commission” said to Paul: “Thou seest, brother, how many thousands of Jews there are which believe; and they are all zealous of the law.”

Can we, then, carry out the commission to the eleven without bringing our hearers under Moses’ law and contradicting all that Paul, by divine revelation, later taught about the law and about salvation by grace, through faith, entirely apart from the law?

But there is more involved here, for in His Sermon on the Mount and all through His ministry our Lord had given His disciples many commands besides those contained in the law of Moses. We cite a few:

Matt. 5:42: “Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn not thou away.”

Matt. 6:25,26: “Therefore I say unto you, Take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat, or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not the life more than meat, and the body than raiment?

“Behold the fowls of the air: for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?”

Some have neutralized the force of this latter passage by interpreting the phrase “take no thought” to mean “don’t worry” or “don’t be anxious,” but this wrests the meaning of the next verse, where our Lord calls His disciples’ attention to “the fowls of the air,” and says: “They sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they?” Thus Verse 25 stands just as it is. As His followers they were to give freely to those in need, nor were they to lay up store for the future since their heavenly Father, who cares even for the birds of the air, would surely care for them.

Little wonder the Sermon on the Mount is called “the charter of the kingdom,” for during our Lord’s kingdom reign His people will spontaneously care for each other rather than for themselves—as indeed they did in the Pentecostal foretaste of His reign.

Our Lord had strong words about the importance of obedience to these commands. As He closed this great sermon He said:

“And every one that heareth these sayings of Mine, and doeth them not, shall be likened unto a foolish man, which built his house upon the sand:

“And the rain descended, and the floods came, and the winds blew, and beat upon that house; and it fell: and great was the fall of it” (Matt. 7:26,27).

When the rich young ruler pressed our Lord as to eternal life and asked, “What lack I yet?” the Lord replied:

“If thou wilt be perfect, go and sell that thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come and follow Me” (Matt. 19:21).

This too has been neutralized by the suggestion that the Lord said this to the young ruler because He knew that his riches stood in the way of his salvation. But our Lord had instructed His apostles to do the same!

Matt. 10:8-10: “…freely ye have received, freely give.

“Provide neither gold, nor silver, nor brass in your purses.

“Nor scrip [bag] for your journey, neither two coats, neither shoes, nor yet staves: for the workman is worthy of his meat.”

Is this the way we should send our missionaries out today?

Indeed, our Lord even gave a similar command to all of His disciples.

Luke 12:33: “Sell that ye have, and give alms; provide yourselves bags which wax not old, a treasure in the heavens that faileth not, where no thief approacheth, neither moth corrupteth.”

Thus the Lord gave the same instructions to one man, to His twelve apostles, and to all of His followers. As they prayed for the establishment of His kingdom (Matt. 6:10), and preached that it was “at hand” (Matt. 10:7), they were also to practice it, not laying up store for themselves, but rather caring for others and trusting God to provide for them (Matt. 10:8-10). This was to be the way of life in the prophesied kingdom.

If we, then, are to work under the commission given to the eleven, teaching men to observe all that Christ commanded His followers, should we not close out our bank accounts, liquidate all our assets and distribute to the poor? Surely Matthew 28:20 is one important part of the so-called “great commission” which is not obeyed today. Presently we shall see that it cannot and should not be practiced during “this present evil age.”

Baptism Commanded

Moreover, if we would strictly obey this commission we would have to baptize our “converts” (Ver. 19). But could we then avoid associating this baptism with what John the Baptist said about the subject:

“And I knew Him not; but that He should be made manifest to Israel, therefore am I come baptizing with water” (John 1:31).

Surely the essential purpose of water baptism had not changed since John, for under the so-called “great commission” the apostles baptized for the remission of sins just as John had done (Mark 1:4 cf. Acts 2:38).

And if we baptized our “converts” with water, would we not be doing what Paul said he had not been sent to do?

“For Christ sent me not to baptize, but to preach the gospel; not with wisdom of words, lest the cross of Christ should be made of none effect” (I Cor. 1:17).

Do we hear the objection that Paul did baptize some? Of course! He also circumcised Timothy, he spoke with tongues, he prophesied and wrought many miracles, but this all belonged to the program under which he was saved and from which he emerged. None of these things belonged to his special commission. Thus the fact remains that while the Scriptures state that John the Baptist was sent to baptize and the eleven were sent to baptize (Mark 16:15,16), it states with equal clarity that Paul was not sent to baptize. Indeed, if he had been sent to baptize it would surely have been a sin on his part to thank God that he had baptized so few among the Corinthians (I Cor. 1:14-16). All this receives even greater emphasis as we consider what Mark’s record of the commission says about baptism.

MARK 16:15-18

Which Gospel?

Mark’s segment of the commission begins with the well-known words: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).

The fact that our Lord here sent His apostles forth to preach “the gospel” is to many proof positive that we are to work under this commission.

But is it not illogical to assume that the Lord referred here to “the gospel of the grace of God,” which was only later committed to Paul? To this some reply on the basis of Galatians 1:8,9, that the Bible contains only one gospel. But Galatians 1:8,9 says no such thing. How could the Bible contain only one gospel when it so clearly distinguishes between “the gospel of the kingdom” (Matt. 4:23), “the gospel of the circumcision” (Gal. 2:7), “the gospel of the uncircumcision” (Gal. 2:7), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), etc.? Does a housewife label the jars in her pantry, “peaches,” “pears,” “corn,” tomatoes,” etc., because they all contain the same thing?

In Galatians 1:8,9 Paul simply states that if any preached to the Gentiles any other gospel than he had preached to them they would be cursed. And those who claim to be working under the so-called “great commission” should consider this solemn passage most thoughtfully and prayerfully, for it is the common disregard of this warning that has brought upon the Church the curse of confusion and division which renders its ministry so ineffective.

Those who hold that the Bible contains only one gospel should also consider that after the twelve had been preaching “the gospel” (Luke 9:6) for some two years, and the Lord, in the shadow of the cross, told them that He must suffer and die and arise again,

“…they understood none of these things: and this saying was hid from them, neither knew they the things which were spoken” (Luke 18:31-34).

In fact we are clearly told in Matthew 16:21,22 that when the Lord began to tell His disciples that He must soon suffer and die, He was rebuked for it:

“Then Peter took Him, and began to rebuke Him, saying, Be it far from Thee, Lord: this shall not be unto Thee.”

How, then, could the apostles have been preaching “the gospel of the grace of God”? They had not been engaged in “the preaching of the cross,” for they did not even know that Christ was to die, much less what His death would accomplish. They had been preaching about His throne, not His cross, about His reign, not His death.

With their message, before His crucifixion as well as after, went the healing of the sick. Luke 9:2 and other passages declare that:

“…He sent them to preach the kingdom of God, and to heal the sick.”

And in Acts 3:19-21 we find Peter offering the return of Christ to Israel and the long-promised “times of refreshing,” on condition that they would “repent and be converted.” How much those early chapters of the Acts have to say about the healing of the sick! We will deal further with this subject in connection with the “signs” of the commission here in Mark.

Baptism For Salvation

But more. In connection with “the gospel” which the eleven were to proclaim under our Lord’s commission as found in Mark’s record, there was water baptism for salvation. Could this be stated any more clearly than it is in Mark 16:16:

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.”

How shallow is the argument that the latter part of this verse somehow changes the meaning of the former simply because our Lord did not say: “He that believeth not and is not baptized shall be damned”! If one did not believe would he likely be baptized? And if an unbeliever were baptized would that save him? Thus the meaning is clear just as the passage reads. “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned”—i.e., whether or not he is baptized.

Altering the Scriptures

Bible-believers who hold that we are to work under this commission find it very difficult to accept this verse just as it reads, thus they generally change it to suit their beliefs. The most popular alteration of this passage is that made by our Baptist friends. They interpret it to say: “He that believeth and is saved should THEN be baptized.” But this is not what it says, and to alter the Holy Word of God in this way is a most serious offense indeed. It is with such alterations of Scripture that false teaching begins. (See the author’s booklet, False Teachers.)

The man of God who does this may indeed appear to be forced into such a position, since he knows from Paul’s epistles that salvation is by grace, apart from religion or works and he thinks he knows that we are to labor under the so-called “great commission.” However, it is always better to wait for further light than to be found tampering with the Word of God.

Remember, the man in the pew has good reason to ask: “If my pastor changes this passage to uphold his own views, what other passages may he change next?” Indeed, he may well conclude that in this measure his pastor is already a false teacher. He is certainly not teaching what the passage says, and the seriousness of this fact is aggravated when it is considered that the alteration is made in no less important a matter than a divine commission to evangelize the world.

But when a man of God who believes we should be working under this commission, frankly confesses that he does not know how to explain Mark 16:16, and resolves to wait and pray for further light—that man is in the right attitude to receive further light when God imparts it to him.

Peter’s Interpretation

There is another strong argument for leaving Mark 16:16 just as it is. Surely no one would question the fact that Peter was one of those to whom this commission was given, and that he labored under this “great commission” at Pentecost.

Moreover, we read of Peter and his comrades that the Lord had “opened their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures” (Luke 24:45). With eyes thus opened, the apostles further sat under Christ’s personal instructions for forty days before His ascension (Acts 1:3). And to cap it all, we read in Acts 2:4 that “they were all filled with the Holy Ghost.” We shall pursue this further presently, but surely under such conditions Peter could not have misinterpreted his commission. And are the terms laid down in Mark 16:16 omitted from his offer of salvation, or does he change or neutralize them in any way? Indeed not! Rather he emphasizes them as he says to his convicted hearers:

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:38).

Surely Spirit-filled Peter, taught by Christ for forty days, with his understanding opened to comprehend God’s revealed plan, would not have demanded water baptism for the remission of sins if he had not been instructed to do so.

Mutilating the Scriptures

This affects one more question about Mark 16:16 which should be answered. If Peter was working in obedience to his commission when he told his hearers to “repent and be baptized…for the remission of sins,” where do we find this commanded? Only in the account given by Mark.

We bring this matter up because there are some who teach that the last twelve verses of Mark’s account of the Lord’s earthly ministry are not to be found in the inspired text. Actually this appears to be a device to eliminate the problem these teachers have experienced with regard to water baptism and the sign gifts.

On what, then, do these brethren base their claim that these words are not in the original? They base it on the fact that the two oldest manuscripts, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, do not contain them. We are convinced, however, that one can hardly look into this contention objectively without concluding that the last twelve verses of Mark were included in the original manuscripts.

First, it must be remembered that we possess none of the original manuscripts of the Bible. Second, the manuscripts we do have contain Mark 16:9-20 in a ratio of 300 to 1. More than 600 manuscripts contain them. Only Sinaiticus and Vaticanus do not! Third, the Vatican and Sinaitic manuscripts, which do not contain these verses, leave clear indications that they were omitted. Fourth, we have translations earlier than our oldest manuscripts which do contain them. Fifth, we have the writings of fathers who lived still earlier, containing quotations from this passage. Sixth, Sinaiticus and Vaticanus have by now been thoroughly exposed as two of the most corrupt manuscripts in existence. (Here the reader may consult Which Bible? and True or False? both compiled by Dr. David Otis Fuller, and containing the writings of some of the greatest scholars on the subject. Both contain much evidence of the corruptness of these two manuscripts.)

The most conclusive evidence, however, that these twelve verses are part of the original, is that mentioned above: the testimony of Peter. Peter, in Acts 2:38, did make water baptism a requirement for salvation, or the remission of sins. If he was not divinely commanded to do this we must conclude that he arbitrarily stepped out of the will of his Master. But we know that he was “filled with the Holy Ghost,” thus we must conclude that he did act in obedience to our Lord’s command found in Mark 16:16 and only there, as far as baptism for the remission of sins is concerned.

The Sign Gifts

The question of the miraculous signs in Mark’s record of the commission still remains. This great subject should be discussed in a separate volume, but since it is so vitally associated with what the apostles were to do and teach, we must deal with it here at some length.

First let us read again, thoughtfully and prayerfully, the exact words of our Lord’s instructions to His apostles regarding miraculous signs, as we find them here in Mark 16:17,18:

“And these signs shall follow them that believe; In My name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues;

“They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick and they shall recover.”

We often stand amazed at the lengths to which some otherwise objective teachers of the Word will go to explain away those parts of the commission to the eleven with which they have problems! A case in point involves the first statement in the above passage, which has been interpreted by some to mean that “these signs shall follow those who believe they can perform them,” or “who believe deeply enough to perform them.” The fallacy of this interpretation is exposed by the verse that precedes (Ver. 16), for here believing is clearly associated with salvation: “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” It is against this background that our Lord continued: “And these signs shall follow them that believe,” i.e., those who are saved.

Considering the whole passage, then, water baptism was a requirement for salvation, and miraculous signs the evidences of salvation. If this commission is binding upon us today, then this author is not even saved, for he was not baptized when he believed, nor does he work miracles. This would be true also of many great men of God down through the ages whose lives and labors have borne witness to the genuineness of their conversion to Christ. Indeed, this was what troubled John Bunyan as he considered this record of the commission to the eleven.

But the miraculous demonstrations of our Lord’s earthly ministry and of His commission to the eleven had a very particular purpose. They confirmed His Messiahship. In Acts 2:22 Peter declared to his hearers:

“Ye men of Israel, hear these words: Jesus of Nazareth, a man approved of God among you by miracles and wonders and signs, which God did by Him in the midst of you, as ye yourselves also know.”

Later, just after Pentecost, Peter stated in connection with the healing of the lame man:

“Be it known unto you all, and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom ye crucified, whom God raised from the dead, even by Him doth this man stand here before you whole” (4:10).

Thus we read in Hebrews 2:3,4 about the “great salvation

“…which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard Him:

“God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to His own will.”

This “great salvation,” which “began to be spoken by the Lord” was, of course, that of Luke 1:67-77, and concerned His reign on earth. And now, under the so-called “great commission” this message was “confirmed…by them that heard Him,” so that Peter could offer to Israel “the times of refreshing” and the return of Christ upon condition that they would repent and turn to Him (Acts 3:19,20).

These miraculous demonstrations, unlike those of our day, were so evidently supernatural that no one, apparently, questioned their genuineness. Saved and unsaved alike were compelled to acknowledge the mighty miracles of the Pentecostal era (Acts 3:11; 4:14,16, etc.).

LUKE 24:45-48; ACTS 1:8

Needed Light and Power

There are at least four reasons why we should consider the records of Luke and the Acts together as we determine what the commission to the eleven says.

1. Both books were penned by Luke, thus naturally have much in common.

2. Both relate how before His ascension our Lord equipped the eleven in a special way for the ministry they were to undertake.

3. Both contain the command to “tarry” or “wait” at Jerusalem for the fulfillment of the promise of the Holy Spirit’s coming to endue them with power.

4. Both record the command to begin their ministry at Jerusalem.

In Luke 24:45 the Lord’s commission is introduced with these words:

“Then opened He their understanding, that they might understand the Scriptures.”

No question need be raised as to which Scriptures are referred to here, for the preceding verse identifies them as “the law of Moses, and…the prophets, and…the Psalms….” Thus, the Hebrew Scriptures.

Does this mean, then, that these eleven men now understood every detail of every prophetic passage, with no questions left unanswered? Surely not. It means rather that they now had an intelligent understanding of God’s revealed plan and purpose as presented in the Hebrew Scriptures. This statement in Verse 45 doubtless bears the same sense as if we should say that someone had come to understand the mystery. By such a statement we would not mean that that person now understood every detail of this great body of truth, but rather that he now had an intelligent understanding of God’s secret, eternal purpose, the plan which had been “hid from ages and from generations” until revealed by the glorified Lord to and through Paul.

In the context of the Acts record we find a fact quite as arresting, and one that is generally overlooked in connection with the commission to the eleven. In Chapter 1, Verse 3, we learn that during the period between our Lord’s resurrection and His ascension He spent forty days with them, “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God.”

Think of it! A forty-day seminar, conducted by the Master Teacher, the risen Lord Himself! Forty days of teaching, with the spiritual eyes of His students already supernaturally opened to understand the Scriptures!

What then shall be said of the many who have charged these apostles, so thoroughly enlightened by the Lord Himself, with being ignorant of God’s plan, prejudiced against the Gentiles, etc.? Surely they, not the apostles, are the ones who are ignorant of God’s plan.

It has often been charged that the apostles’ question of Acts 1:6 was due to ignorance and unbelief. Again, however, it is not the eleven but their critics against whom this charge should be levelled. Consistently the Old Testament Scriptures bear witness to “the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow” (I Pet. 1:11). Is it strange, then, that after our Lord’s sufferings were over and He had been raised from the dead, the eleven should ask: “Wilt Thou at this time restore again the kingdom to Israel?” Of course not. They were correct in now expecting the restoration of the Davidic kingdom, with Christ on the throne. Clearly understanding the prophetic program, they had no question about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel. Their only question was whether this would take place “at this time.”

Our Lord’s reply: “It is not for you to know,” however, indicates that there was one great body of truth they did not understand, or even know about: “the mystery.” God’s secret purpose concerning this parenthetical interruption of the prophetic program was not to be revealed until Israel had rejected the ascended Christ and God had graciously raised up that other apostle, Paul.

Thus the eleven clearly understood the prophetic program, under which they were to labor, but the revelation of God’s secret, eternal purpose regarding the Body of Christ, the Church of this present dispensation, was reserved for the Apostle Paul, whom God used to usher in “the dispensation of the mystery” (Rom. 16:25; Eph. 3:2,3; Col. 1:25,26). (For a detailed comparison of prophecy and the mystery see the author’s book, Things That Differ.)

All this demonstrates clearly the close connection between the commission to the eleven and God’s prophetic program as outlined in the Hebrew Scriptures. Moreover, as a clear understanding of the prophetic program was essential to the fulfillment of their God-given ministry, so a clear understanding of “the mystery” is essential to the fulfillment of our God-given ministry. Hence Paul’s fervent prayers that “the eyes of our understanding” might be opened to comprehend this great body of truth (Eph. 1:15-22; 3:14-21; Col. 1:9; 2:1-3).

In both Luke and the Acts we also have our Lord’s command to the eleven to wait at Jerusalem until they had been baptized with the Holy Ghost. These passages have been erroneously interpreted to mean that the apostles were to pray for the Holy Spirit’s coming. Many a modern “tarrying” meeting has been patterned after this false notion.

The apostles were not told to pray for the Holy Spirit’s coming, but to wait for the fulfillment of God’s promise to send the Spirit. The precise wording is as follows:

Luke 24:49: “And behold, I send the promise of My Father upon you: but tarry ye in the city of Jerusalem, until ye be endued with power from on high.”

Acts 1:4,5: “[He] commanded them that they should not depart from Jerusalem, but wait for the promise of the Father which, saith He, ye have heard of Me.

“For John truly baptized with water, but ye shall be baptized with the Holy Ghost not many days hence.”

And thus it was that “when the day of Pentecost was fully come,” the apostles and disciples were “all filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:1,4).

This baptism with the Spirit was, as we have seen from the above Scriptures, for power, supernatural power to work mighty miracles in confirmation of Christ’s resurrection and to live lives that were completely under the Spirit’s control (Acts 2:43-47; 4:32-37). (See the author’s book, True Spirituality, for a discussion of the difference between our Lord’s baptism of the disciples into the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, and the Spirit’s baptism of believers into Christ today.)

One more detail—an important one—that is found alike in the records of Luke and the Acts: They were to begin their ministry at Jerusalem. Luke’s record simply says:

“…that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in His name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem” (Luke 24:47).

In the Acts record we have the geographical order in which their commission was to be carried out, and again Jerusalem is first:

“…ye shall be witnesses unto Me both in Jerusalem, and in all Judaea, and in Samaria, and unto the uttermost part of the earth” (Acts 1:8).

Well-meaning but confused Bible teachers who insist that the so-called “great commission” is for our obedience, often interpret “Jerusalem” here to be any place but Jerusalem. Only recently the author heard a Chicago pastor say: “Your Jerusalem is Chicago. You must witness for Christ here first. Then your Judaea is Illinois, your Samaria the USA and your `uttermost part’ the foreign field. You must be a missionary at home before you can be used in foreign lands.”

We do not deny that it is true that if a man is not a witness for Christ at home, he is certainly not ready for a ministry in a foreign land. But this is not what our Lord meant in His commission to the eleven. He clearly had in mind something very different from witnessing first at home.

He knew, and had taught the apostles, that according to all covenant and prophecy the nations were to be blessed through redeemed Israel, with Himself reigning as King in Jerusalem, the capital city. From here, and under these circumstances, the blessing would flow to the ends of the earth (Gen. 22:17,18; Isa. 2:1-4; 35:10; 60:1-3; 62:1-3; Jer. 23:5-8).

How, then, could the apostles and their co-workers make disciples of all nations if the nation, God’s chosen nation, did not first repent and turn to Christ? How could the promised blessing flow from Jerusalem to all nations if Christ was not enthroned at Jerusalem? This is why the apostles were instructed to begin at Jerusalem, and to go from thence to all Judaea, Samaria and the uttermost part of the earth.

How perfectly this explains two little-noticed passages by Peter and by Paul! The first, by Peter, just after Pentecost:

“Ye are the children of the prophets, and of the covenant which God made with our fathers, saying unto Abraham, And in thy seed shall all the kindreds of the earth be blessed.

“Unto you first God, having raised up His Son Jesus, sent Him to bless you, in turning away every one of you from his iniquities” (Acts 3:25,26).

The second, by Paul to the Jews at Pisidian Antioch:

“…It was necessary that the Word of God should first have been spoken to you; but seeing ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of everlasting life, lo, we turn to the Gentiles” (Acts 13:46).

All this proves with the greatest clarity that God did not usher in the present dispensation of grace at the crucifixion, or the resurrection, or at Pentecost, but later through Paul—after Israel, to whom salvation was first offered, refused it. True, the passage in Acts above refers to a local incident, but what Luke here records about that incident is typical of what was taking place on a national scale.

How much more could be said about the portions of the so-called “great commission” recorded in Luke and the Acts, but the above, we hope, will suffice to prove that this commission is not ours, but is rather related to the prophesied reign of Christ on earth.

If the commission to the eleven were for our obedience and we were even now to begin to properly carry it out, we would have to begin at Jerusalem in an effort to win the nation Israel to Christ. And what success might we then expect? Witnesses to Christ are not even permitted in Israel, and the few faithful ones who are seeking to “rescue the perishing” there must carry on an underground ministry, and operate as teachers, technicians and what not. If we openly organized a group of a few hundred missionaries to go to Jerusalem to tell the people of Israel about God’s grace in Christ, they would be denied entry.

JOHN 20:21-23

The Power to Remit Sins

“As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you” (Ver. 21). How can anyone possibly read these words and eliminate them from the commission our Lord gave His eleven apostles in the forty days between His resurrection and ascension? Yet, with all the talk we have heard about “the great commission” and the urgency of fulfilling this commission “in our generation,” most Protestant fundamentalists have treated this segment of the commission as though it were non-existent—except in such hymns or devotional sermons as have taken note of the words, “so send I you.”

Generally speaking, it has only been when faced directly with the words, “Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them,” that these brethren have even attempted to deal with the passage in greater detail.

It should be carefully observed that when our Lord said, “As My Father hath sent Me, even so send I you,”

“…He breathed on them, and saith unto them, Receive ye the Holy Ghost” (Ver. 22).

Further, it should be noted that the last phrase of Verse 22 belongs with Verse 23, so that together they read:

“Receive ye the Holy Ghost. Whose soever sins ye remit, they are remitted unto them; and whose soever sins ye retain, they are retained” (Vers. 22,23).

In other words, in sending them forth, the Lord breathed on them, imparting the Holy Spirit and divine authority to remit (elsewhere the same Greek word is rendered “forgive”) sins.

Bewildered Protestants have found it difficult to accept this part of the “great commission,” and in general have vainly tried to explain it away. This, of course, because the claims of the Roman Catholic Church to “absolution” are largely based upon this passage.

Some of the denominations also make Rome’s claims in modified form in their ritualistic creeds—but with reservations and apologies. Others argue that our Lord here merely gave the apostles authority to state the terms of salvation. Others again contend that the apostles were given the ability to discern and declare whose sins were forgiven and whose were not. Still others hold that our Lord meant only to impress upon His followers the fact that through their conduct some would accept Christ, while others would reject Him. But all these arguments wrest the natural, obvious meaning from our Lord’s plain words. If He did not mean what He said, why did He not say what He meant?

Rome, of course, contends that our Lord’s words in John 20:23 mean exactly what they say, and objects strenuously when Protestants modify, qualify, or in any way alter their obvious meaning.

Since the Church of today is, according to Roman Catholic doctrine, a perpetuation of the organization which Christ instituted when He was on earth—and many Protestants agree—this question takes on enormous theological significance.

In Matthew 18:18 our Lord said to His disciples:

“Verily I say unto you, whatsoever ye shall bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever ye shall loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”

And to Peter personally He said:

“And I will give unto thee the keys of the kingdom of heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt bind on earth shall be bound in heaven: and whatsoever thou shalt loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven” (16:19).

On the basis of these passages, along with that regarding the remission of sins in John 20, the Church of Rome claims that our Lord committed authority in spiritual matters to the Church, represented by the twelve apostles and personified in the Apostle Peter. And since the Church of today is a perpetuation of that which our Lord founded (according to Rome), spiritual authority resides in the Church, with the apostolic body perpetuated in the College of Bishops, and one of their own number, the Pope, St. Peter’s successor, as their chief and the supreme head of the Church on earth.

Protestants may lift their hands in horror at such claims, but next to the Roman Catholic interpretation their own arguments are weak indeed.

Must we then return to Rome, acknowledge her claims and commit our souls to men who can either bless or curse us? No, the solution to this problem is again a dispensational one, a question of “rightly dividing the Word of truth.” It lies in the fact that with Israel’s rejection of Christ and His kingdom, God interrupted the prophetic program and through Paul, ushered in a new dispensation, “the dispensation of the grace of God” (Eph. 3:1-3).

The majority of Christians still believe, but with many reservations, that the Body of Christ, the Church of today, began under the ministry of Peter and the eleven at Pentecost. But at Pentecost Peter, “filled with the Holy Ghost,” said nothing whatever about the Body of Christ. Rather he pointed to Joel’s prophecy and said without qualification: “This is that.” Thus Protestantism’s problem with John 20:23 is the result of a “Roman hangover,” the result of following Peter rather than Paul.

If, then, Matthew 16:19; 18:18 and John 20:23 mean what they say, we must acknowledge that divine authority was conferred by our Lord upon the apostles and upon Peter in particular as their head, and that this authority extended even to the remission of sins.

The fact is, that working under their “great commission,” the apostles did baptize “for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38).

Was the remission of sins, then, left in the hands of failing human beings? No, not failing human beings, for not only did our Lord breathe the Holy Spirit into them so that they could remit sins (John 20:22,23), but later, at Pentecost, they were all “filled with the Holy Ghost” (Acts 2:4), and with this filling miraculous gifts were bestowed upon them, including the gift of knowledge.

This is the answer to those who ask: “Could not some shrewd person have deceived them?” Did Ananias and Sapphira deceive Peter? They were carried out dead!

Thus the apostles could represent our Lord in His absence, even to the forgiveness of sins, and what they “bound” on earth was “bound” in heaven. Whose soever sins they remitted were remitted unto them as they baptized them “for the remission of sins.”

Note: we do not teach, as some do, that there is saving power in baptism itself. Not at all. But water baptism was required for salvation at that time, thus submission to baptism by water was the natural expression of faith; it was coming to God in the way that He had prescribed. This, in every age, is what has brought salvation.


A consideration of what the commission to the eleven does not say is, perhaps, a greater eye-opener than a consideration of what it does say.

Unless the author’s experience in this matter is entirely unique, it may greatly surprise many of our readers to note that the so-called “great commission”:

Does not even contain the word “grace,” or refer to “the gospel of the grace of God.”

Does not mention “the preaching of the cross.”

Does not mention salvation through the blood of Christ, much less by faith in His shed blood.

Does not mention Christ’s death as the payment for sin, or His all-sufficient work of redemption as the basis for salvation.

Does not offer salvation as the gift of God, apart from works.

Does not offer salvation apart from the law of Moses.

Does not mention salvation by faith alone, apart from the law or works.

Does not associate Christ’s death and resurrection with our justification.

Does not state that there is “no difference” between Jew and Gentile; in fact, it does the opposite by giving Israel priority.

Does not contain one word about the Body of Christ, or about our divine baptism into Christ and His Body.

Does not contain one word about a heavenly position and prospect, or “all spiritual blessings in the heavenlies in Christ.”

Under the so-called “great commission,” then, we would not be preaching any of the above. And when we realize that all this is the very theme of Paul’s God-given message, and ours, does it not become irresistibly evident that there has been a change in dispensation, a change in program, since our Lord commissioned the eleven?

If the so-called “great commission” is for our obedience and we tell a sinner that he may be saved by grace through faith, apart from works or the law, because Christ died for his sins, are we not working outside, even contrary to our commission?

It is not until we come to Paul that we learn about “the preaching of the cross” as good news (I Cor. 1:18), “the gospel of the grace of God” (Acts 20:24), justification through Christ’s finished work, apart from the law and apart from works (Acts 13:38,39; Rom. 3:21; 4:5; Eph. 2:8,9; Titus 3:5; etc.), “the mystery” of the “one body” with its “one baptism,” and its heavenly position, blessings and prospect (I Cor. 12:13; Eph. 1:3; 2:4-7,16; 3:1-6; 4:4,5; Col. 3:1-3; etc.).

Yet today pastors and Bible teachers, living more than 1900 years after the commission given to the eleven, and the subsequent raising up of Paul, claim to be working under the so-called “great commission”! Is it any wonder that an ever-deepening confusion has gripped the Church? (We refer to theological confusion, of course, for we are well aware of the artificial union that the new evangelicalism has partially succeeded in bringing about through its false emphasis on love and tolerance.)

You can receive More Minutes With the Bible every week in your email inbox. This list features longer articles, including both original content and articles that have appeared in the Berean Searchlight.

Berean Searchlight – December 2007

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

Berean Searchlight – November 2007

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

Berean Searchlight – October 2007

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

Berean Searchlight – September 2007

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

Hell, Sheol, Hades, Paradise, and the Grave

There seems to be some confusion about the meaning of Hell and who goes there because of the way the Hebrew word Sheol and the Greek word Hades have been translated in our English Bibles. Since this confusion has led some into an erroneous understanding of what the Bible actually teaches about the intermediate state and the final state of the dead, we think that it is important that we address this subject here.

Sheol is found in the Bible sixty-five times. It is translated “the pit” three times, “the grave” thirty-one times, and “hell” thirty-one times. Hades is used eleven times, being rendered “hell” ten times and “grave” once. Adding to the confusion is that two other words are also translated hell in the New Testament. These are Tartarus, which is found once and Gehenna, which is used twelve times.

The term “Hell” is commonly understood to mean a place of torment where the souls of the wicked go after physical death. This is true. However, because Hades in the New Testament and Sheol in the Old are variously rendered hell or grave, there has been some misunderstanding about what hell and the grave are. Before looking at these words though, we should first give our attention to the Greek word Gehenna, which is always translated hell and used in reference to the Lake of Fire. It is found in Matthew 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mark 9:43,45,47; Luke 12:5; and James 3:6.


The Lake of Fire, or Hell, is a literal place of everlasting fire that was originally created by God as a place of punishment for Satan and the angels that followed him in his rebellion against God (Mat. 25:41). Because it is referred to as the place of “outer darkness” (Mat. 8:12; 25:30), we believe that it is most probably located at the farthest reaches of the creation. Gehenna is described in Scripture as a “furnace of fire” (Mat. 13:42); “everlasting punishment” (Mat. 25:46); “the mist [gloom] of darkness” (II Pet. 2:17); the “hurt of the second death” (Rev. 2:11 cf. 20:6,14; 21:8); “a lake of fire burning with brimstone” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10; 21:8).

While Hell was created for Satan and the other fallen angels, the unsaved of humanity from all ages will be with them in this place of torment where “there will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Mat. 13:42). This is the “everlasting reward” of all that die in their sins.

While there is no one in the Lake of Fire at this time, it will one day hold a vast multitude. The first residents of this place of righteous retribution will be the Beast (Antichrist) and the False Prophet who, at the end of the Tribulation, will be “cast alive into a lake burning with brimstone” (Rev. 19:19-20). Joining them will be the unsaved of the nations who survive the Tribulation (Mat. 25:31-32,41-46). Also, at Jesus Christ’s return to earth, the rebel Israelites, i.e. unbelieving Jews, who survive the Tribulation, will be denied entrance into the Millennial Kingdom, no doubt to join their Gentile counterparts in the “place of everlasting fire” (Eze. 20:33-38; Mat. 7:21-23; cf. Mat. 24:29-31,45-51). Then, at the end of the Millennial Kingdom of Jesus Christ, Satan will be “cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). And finally, the unsaved dead of all ages will be raised and judged at the Great White Throne by Jesus Christ and then cast into the Lake of Fire (see Rev. 20:11-15).

The name Gehenna comes from a deep narrow ravine south of Jerusalem where some Hebrew parents actually sacrificed their children to the Ammonite god, Molech, during the time of the kings (II Kin. 16;3; II Chron. 28:1-3; cf. Lev. 18:21; I Kin. 11:5,7,33). This pagan deity is also referred to as Malcham, Milcom, and Moloch in the Bible. This valley later served as the city dump and, because there was continual burning of refuse there, it became a graphic symbol of the place of punishment for the wicked. It was named the “Valley of Hinnom,” which translated into Greek becomes Gehenna. The passages where the word is found in the New Testament plainly show that it was a commonly used expression for Hell by that time. The word is found twelve times in the Scriptures, being used eleven times by the Lord Jesus and once by James. When we consider the context, it is clear the Lord used this word in reference to the place of everlasting punishment for the wicked dead and not to the city dump.

Gehenna, or the Lake of Fire, might be referred to as the future, or final, Hell because it is where all of the wicked from all ages will finally end up. Satan, the fallen angels, and all of the lost of mankind will reside in torment there forever and ever.


Scripture passages in which Gehenna is used should be distinguished from those using Hades, which refers to a place of temporary torment that we might refer to as the immediate, or present, Hell. What we mean by this is that, at the time of death, the souls of the lost go directly to Hades, where they suffer in torment until the time of the Great White Throne Judgment when they will be resurrected and cast into the Lake of Fire. The souls of all the lost who have already died are presently there and those who die in their sins immediately go there to join them.

Hades is the New Testament equivalent of the Old Testament word Sheol. The Greek and Hebrew words speak of the same place, the present Hell. However, this is problematic because Sheol has been translated “grave” as often as it has “hell” and some have mistakenly taught that Sheol and Hades are only references to the grave rather than Hell. This erroneous teaching leads to the denial of the existence of an immediate or present Hell. The false doctrine of soul-sleep, and other ideas that teach the unconscious state of the dead between death and resurrection, spring from this error.

The common word for “grave” in the Old Testament is queber. Of the sixty-four times it is used, it is translated “grave” thirty-four times, “sepulcher” twenty-six times, and “burying place” four times. Queber is used five additional times as part of a place name, Kibroth-hattaavah, which means “graves of lust.” As we said earlier, Sheol is found sixty-four times, being rendered “grave” thirty-one times, “hell” thirty-one times, and “pit” three times.

A comparison of how Sheol and queber are used reveals eight points of contrast that tell us that they are not the same thing.

  1. Sheol is never used in plural form. Queber is used in the plural 29 times.
  2. It is never said that the body goes to Sheol. Queber speaks of the body going there 37 times.
  3. Sheol is never said to be located on the face of the earth. Queber is mentioned 32 times as being located on the earth.
  4. An individual’s Sheol is never mentioned. An individual’s queber is mentioned 5 times.
  5. Man is never said to put anyone into Sheol. Individuals are put into a queber by man (33 times).
  6. Man is never said to have dug or fashioned a Sheol. Man is said to have dug, or fashioned, a queber (6 times).
  7. Man is never said to have touched Sheol. Man touches, or can touch, a queber (5 times).
  8. It is never said that man is able to possess a Sheol. Man is spoken of as being able to possess a queber (7 times). (These eight points of comparison are adapted from “Life and Death” by Caleb J. Baker, Bible Institute Colportage Ass’n, 1941).

From the differences between how Sheol and queber are used in Scripture, it is obvious that they are not the same thing. The Greek word Hades in the New Testament would fit into the Sheol column of our chart, strongly indicating that it is the same thing as Sheol. Hades is used eleven times, being rendered Hell ten times and grave once.

Words associated with queber are quabar and qeburah. Quabar is a verb meaning to bury or to be buried and qeburah is a noun meaning a grave or place of burial. The use of these related words helps to reinforce the difference between queber and Sheol, as they clearly have to do with the grave as a burial place, while Sheol does not.


1. After selling Joseph into slavery, his brothers stained his coat with blood and used it to convince their father that he had been killed by a wild animal (Gen. 37:26-36). Jacob’s sons and daughters tried “to comfort him; but he refused to be comforted; and he said, `for I will go down into the grave (Sheol) unto my son mourning’. Thus his father wept for him” (v. 35).

From Jacob’s words it is clear that he fully intended to eventually be reunited with his son in a tangible way. Obviously then, he did not simply have in mind the idea of joining him in burial as he believed that Joseph’s body had not been buried at all, but was eaten by an animal (v. 33). This being the case, it was impossible for Jacob to think he would join Joseph in burial. Obviously, he looked forward to being reunited with him in the place of the departed dead, not in burial. The word rendered grave in this passage is Sheol, the abode of the souls of those who have died.

2. After Jacob died, Joseph had his body mummified, a process that took forty days, then took him back to Canaan for burial (Gen. 50:1-14). When we add to that the thirty days of mourning (Gen. 50:2-4), and the time it took to travel to Canaan for the funeral (Gen. 50:5-13), we see that it was several weeks after Jacob was “gathered unto his people” (Gen. 49:33) before his body was placed in the cave that served as his burial place. Considering that he had been dead for well over two months before his body was buried and that the Scriptures state that at the time he died he was “gathered to his people” (Gen. 49:33) is telling. This shows that at the time of physical death, when “he yielded up the spirit,” his soul immediately departed his body to be with Isaac and Abraham. This cannot be a reference to his body being gathered together with their bodies, as that did not take place for over ten weeks. This is strong proof that Sheol does not mean a burial place for the body, but is the place where the souls of the departed reside.

3. That communication takes place in Sheol/Hades tells us that something other than a burial place is in view. In Isaiah 14:4-20, we find the prophet foretelling the eventual defeat and death of the king of Babylon. The nation that would eventually send Judah into captivity will itself be defeated and its mighty king will find himself among “the chief ones of the earth…the kings of the nations” (Isa. 14:9) who preceded him in death. These are the kings of nations that he had conquered with the sword and ruled over with a cruel hand (Isa. 14:6). These same men will serve as a welcoming committee for this once great “world ruler” when he arrives in Sheol/Hades. In mock surprise, they will ask this once powerful king, “Art thou also become weak as we? Are thou become like unto us?” (Isa. 14:10). They then taunt him by pointing out that the pretentious display of magnificence that he had demonstrated as the king of Babylon now meant nothing (Isa. 14:11).

All of those who find themselves in this section of Sheol/Hades, like the king of Babylon and the kings who greeted him, will be faced with the reality of how helpless and hopeless they are. One of the boasts these kings make against him is that, while their bodies have been placed in their respective tombs, or graves, he was not honored by a respectable burial, “But thou are cast out of the grave (queber) like an abominable (despised) branch…thou shalt not be joined with them in burial” (Isa. 14:18-20). Obviously, if his body was not in any grave at all, he was not simply joining them in burial.

What we see here is this man going into Sheol, while at the same time his body is cast out of its grave. Obviously then, Sheol cannot be the grave here as the body and soul are in different places, the soul going to Sheol while the body remains unburied, or outside of the grave (vs. 20) to be infested by maggots (vs. 11). It is true that this is a prophetic passage; and there are various opinions as to the identity of the person in view here (verses 12-15 are commonly thought to refer to Satan, the power behind the Gentile kings). But, regardless of who this prophecy is about, or whether it has already been fulfilled or not, does not change the fact that Sheol and the grave are to be regarded as different places in this passage of Scripture.

4. In the case of Samuel and Saul, we find another example of the Scriptures making a distinction between Sheol/Hades and the grave. In his conversation with King Saul, Samuel, whom the Lord had sent back from the dead to deliver a message to Saul, said that Saul and his sons would be with him the next day (see I Sam. 28:15-19). As foretold, Saul and his sons did die the next day while in battle with the Philistines (see I Sam. 31:1-6). However, their bodies were not buried the next day, so they did not join Samuel in the grave but their souls went down to Sheol/Hades where the person, or soul, of Samuel was. As it is said that Samuel “came up” it seems obvious that he went back down after speaking with Saul (I Sam. 28:8,11,14). As for the bodies of Saul and his sons, their remains were not buried for several days. As Samuel had said, they died the next day (I Sam. 31:1-6). But it was the day after they died that their bodies were taken by the Philistines and hung on the wall of Beth-Shan (I Sam. 31:7-10). After hearing of this, valiant men from Jabesh-Gilead went by night and removed their bodies, took them to Jabesh, burned them, and then buried their bones. All this took place at least three days after Saul had died, and probably longer. Saul and his sons joined Samuel in Sheol/Hades the day they died and the flesh of their bodies was burned with only their bones being placed in a grave several days later. Obviously Sheol/Hades and the grave are not the same thing, nor are they in the same place.

The story of the Rich Man and Lazarus that is found in Luke 16:19-31 gives us the record of a remarkable conversation that took place in Hades between the Rich Man and Abraham. Obviously, these two men could not have had this conversation at all if Sheol/Hades is only a place where dead bodies are buried. First, there could be no communication between lifeless, decaying corpses and second, Abraham’s body, which was buried in the cave of Machpelah over 1800 years earlier, had long since decayed. Also, the rich man’s body, regardless of whether it had decayed or not, would not have been buried in the burial cave of Abraham. From the context, it is obvious that these men were in the place of departed souls rather than a burial place.

There are some that contend that this is a parable that never actually took place and deny that it could have ever taken place. To these, who usually hold to a position of soul-sleep or the eradication of the soul at death, we answer; the Lord said that it did take place. Besides, as we have already pointed out, a parable by definition is a “true to life” story. To have meaning, it must be a story that could have actually taken place whether it ever did or not.


Death and Sheol/Hades are linked together at least thirty-three times in the Scriptures. In these, we see a general distinction between the “outward man,” which is the body and the “inward man,” which is the soul (cf. II Cor. 4:16). In this sense, death, or the grave, claims the physical part of man, the body, while Sheol/Hades claims the separated, spiritual part of man, the soul. This is exactly the meaning of Psalm 16:10: “For Thou wilt not leave my soul in Hell (Sheol); neither will Thou suffer Thine Holy One to see corruption.” In his Pentecostal address, Peter left no room for doubt that this was a prophetic pronouncement concerning the time between the Lord Jesus Christ’s death on the Cross and His resurrection. First, he quoted Psalm 16:8-11 (Acts 2:25-28) and then made direct application of verse 10 to Christ (Acts 2:31). Not only was the Lord Jesus’ soul not left in Sheol/Hades, but neither was His body left to rot in the grave. That Peter used Hades, the place of Sheol, in this quotation shows that they are identical in meaning.

Of course, the Lord Jesus Christ is exceptional because He had the power not only to lay down His life on our behalf, but also to take it up again (Jn. 10:17,18). This is not so of any other man, as the Psalmist points out when he asks, rhetorically, “What man is he that liveth and shall not see death? Shall he deliver his soul from the hand of the grave (Sheol)?” (Ps. 89:48). Because of the curse of sin, all of mankind faces the reality of physical death. None can evade it by their own power, nor can any man or woman escape from Sheol/Hades on their own. We know that since the Cross the souls of those who die “in Christ” do not go to Sheol/Hades, but to heaven. However, this is through the merit of Jesus Christ and His power, not their own. For those “in Christ,” death has no sting and Sheol/Hades has no victory because their body and soul will be united in a resurrection unto life (see I Cor. 15:19,20,51-57). This is as certain as the fact of Jesus Christ’s resurrection. This is not so for those who die without Christ for they face a resurrection unto judgment, which is referred to as the “second death” (Rev. 20:13,14; 21:8).

Psalm 89:48 speaks of the time when the soul is separated from the body. The body is given over to death where it will decay, while the soul is assigned to Sheol/Hades to await the final judgment. It is clear that the body and soul of the lost will be reunited at the time of the Great White Throne Judgment of the unsaved dead, when “death and Hades” will deliver up the dead that are in them. That is, their bodies will be raised from the grave, or death, and reunited with the soul, which will come out of Sheol/Hades to be judged by Jesus Christ at the Great White Throne (see Rev. 20:11-15; cf. Jn. 5:28,29).

When the Lord Jesus said that “as Jonah was three days and three nights in the whale’s belly; so shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Mat. 12:40), He was saying that He would spend the time between His death and resurrection in Sheol/Hades. We know from Psalm 16:10 and Acts 2:25-32 that the Lord’s soul, which was made an offering for sin (Isa. 53:10), was in Sheol/Hades, and we know from Matthew 12:40 that He was in the heart of the earth, which is where we believe that Sheol/Hades is located.

When we speak of the heart of something, we are not referring to that which is superficial or only skin-deep. Symbolically, the heart signifies the innermost character, feelings, or inclinations of a man. The heart is also used when referring to the center, or core, of something. For example; it is sometimes said, “the heart of a watermelon is the best part,” meaning that the center part of the watermelon tastes better than the part closer to the rind. If we say that we have a “heart-felt desire” for a particular area of ministry, we would be speaking of a yearning to do the Lord’s work that comes from our innermost being as opposed to a superficial desire based on the emotions of the moment. When used figuratively in the Scriptures, the word “heart” is used in a similar fashion, thus the heart of the earth gives reference to something much deeper than a simple place of burial for a man’s body barely under the surface of the earth. That it is said that before His ascension the Lord Jesus first descended “into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9) affirms this. In a Psalm of thanksgiving for being delivered from death, David makes reference to this by distinguishing between Sheol/Hades (rendered grave in the KJV) and Queber (rendered pit in this passage) (Ps. 30:1-3).

In Ezekiel we find prophecies against the kings of Assyria (Ezek. 31) and Egypt (Ezek. 32) that indicate that Sheol/Hades is in the center of the earth. In these two chapters it speaks of the fall of these mighty kings, who in death ended up in the underworld with those who have gone before them. We do not have the space here to give extensive commentary on these two chapters. But we do want to point out that in regard to both kings it is said that in death they would go “to the nether parts of the earth…with them that go down into the pit” (see Ezek. 31:14,16,18; 32:18,24), the “nether parts” being the lower regions of the earth. We should take note that in chapter thirty-one it is being pointed out to Pharaoh that just as the king of Assyria, who was greater than he was, had died and gone into the underworld, so would he.

In chapter thirty-two we find a prophecy, given in the form of a lamentation, foretelling Pharaoh’s defeat by the king of Babylon (Ezek. 32:1-16). This is followed by a lamentation over the multitude of Egyptians who would be slain by the Babylonians (Ezek. 31:17-31). We have pictured for us those of the nations who preceded them, welcoming Pharaoh and his host as they arrived in Sheol/Hades by taunting them. They point out that the Egyptians had thought themselves to be invincible because of their strength and fame among the nations. But now they were just like the great nations who had gone before them, their individual souls being confined to Sheol/Hades while their bodies decay in the grave.

“The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell (Sheol)…” (Ezek. 32:21). The “strong among the mighty” spoken of here refers to the men who had been the kings and leaders of the different nations that are mentioned in this passage: Asshor, or Assyria (v. 22), Elam (v. 24), Meshech and Tubal (v. 26), Edom, her kings and her princes (v. 29), the princes of the north and the Zidonians (v. 30). This passage shows that while those of each group mentioned are in their respective burial places, their quebers, they are at the same time all together in “the pit,” which is an expression that is sometimes used for Sheol/Hades (vv. 18,25,29). These are similar examples as that found in Isaiah 14, which we have previously looked at.

While we have not exhausted the subject by looking at every passage that Sheol is found in, it is clear from these examples that Sheol is not simply the grave but is located at the center of the earth and is the abode of the souls of the unrighteous dead who are awaiting their resurrection unto condemnation. It is equally clear that those in Sheol/Hades are not in an unconscious state of existence but are quite aware of what is going on around them. There is memory, recognition, and communication there.


The Apostle Peter used the word Tartarus in reference to “the angels that sinned” that God delivered to Sheol/Hades to await judgment (II Pet. 2:4). This word, which is translated “hell” in the KJV, was used in Greek mythology to refer to the place of punishment for the most wicked. It is not clear if Peter was using this word in reference to Sheol/Hades in a general way or if he was referring to a specific compartment of Sheol/Hades where a certain class of fallen angels are confined awaiting final judgment. Either way, this passage teaches that there is a place of confinement in which a particular group of beings are being held until the time of their judgment. This is consistent with the overall Biblical teaching about the existence and purpose of Sheol/Hades.


While Paradise is not now a part of Sheol/Hades it will be mentioned here because it was located in Sheol/Hades at one time. Before the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ everybody who died went to Sheol/Hades, which was at that time divided into at least two compartments. One was a place of torment while the other was a place of blessing, which was referred to as Abraham’s Bosom (Lk. 16:22-25). As we mentioned before, Tartarus may be a specific place in Sheol/Hades.

We know that Jesus Christ went “into the lower parts of the earth” (Eph. 4:9), that is to Sheol/Hades, “in the heart of the earth,” for three days and nights while his body was in the grave (Mat. 12:40). The Lord Jesus told the repentant thief that he would join Him in Paradise that same day (Lk. 23:42,43). This tells us that Paradise was located in Sheol/Hades at that time. We believe that this was the same place referred to as Abraham’s Bosom in Luke 16. However, after Jesus Christ rose from the dead He ascended to the Father, taking the saints who were in Abraham’s Bosom to heaven with Him. Thus, He took “captivity captive” (see Eph. 4:8-10).

That Paradise was moved to heaven is confirmed to us by the Apostle Paul who speaks of a man who was “caught up into Paradise” where he “heard unspeakable words” (II Cor. 12:3,4). With Jesus Christ’s work complete, the believers who had been confined to Sheol/Hades were now taken to Heaven to wait in God’s presence until the time of their resurrection to enter His Kingdom on Earth. Since that time, at death all believers go to Paradise in Heaven to await the time of their resurrection. This is true whether they belong to the Kingdom Church of the future or the Body of Christ Church of the present Dispensation of Grace.


We have already looked at the word queber, the most common word for grave, or a burial place, in the Old Testament, and have shown that it is not the same as Sheol. As previously stated, of the sixty-four times it is used it is rendered “grave” thirty-four times, “sepulcher” twenty-six times, and “burying place” four times. Two other words that are used for a burial place in the Old Testament are Shah-ghath and Qeburah.

Shah-ghath: This word is translated “grave” once (Job 33:22). It is rendered “ditch” twice, “destruction” twice, “corruption” four times, and “pit” thirteen times. This word speaks of something that man can dig (Ps. 94:13; Prov. 26:27) and is used in reference to a hole into which a man can fall (Ps. 7:15; Prov. 26:27), and a hole used as a trap (Ps. 35:7). It is a place where the physical body suffers destruction through the corruption of decay (Ps. 16:10; 49:9; 55:23). The basic meaning is that of a hole of some kind that man digs for a particular purpose. Generally, it is used of a burial place, i.e., a grave.

Qeburah: This word is related to queber and means a grave or burial place. It is used of various types of graves and is found fourteen times and is translated “grave” four times, “sepulcher” five times, “burial” four times, and “burying place” one time.

In the New Testament we find three more words that refer to the grave, taphos, mnema, and mnemeion.

Taphos is used seven times and is translated “sepulcher” six of those and “tomb” once.

Mnema is used seven times, being rendered “tomb” twice, “grave” once, and “sepulcher” four times.

Mnemeion is the most common word for grave in the New Testament. It is used forty-two times, five times as “tomb,” twenty-nine times as “sepulcher,” and eight times as “grave.”

The grave is a place where the physical remains of those who have died are deposited. It can be a hole in the ground, a cave, or a specially prepared vault or other place used for interment. The soul and spirit having departed the body at death, there is no consciousness of life in the grave. It is a place of corruption that serves to point out man’s need of a Savior. The soul of man lives on after physical death and will always remain in a conscious state of being. The unsaved go to Sheol/Hades to await their resurrection unto condemnation while the redeemed go to heaven to await their resurrection unto life (see Jn. 5:25-29).


A proper understanding of what the Bible teaches about Hell, Sheol, Hades, and the Grave dispels confusion over what happens to the soul at the time of physical death and guards against being led astray by those teaching the false doctrines of soul-sleep, eradication of the soul, the universal reconciliation of mankind, and the annihilation of the lost. All of these erroneous doctrines are of Satan, used of him to dishearten believers and blind the lost to the reality of the cost of spurning the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Our thinking, and therefore our life on a day-to-day basis, is influenced by what we believe. While some of the false doctrines mentioned above are diametrically opposed to each other, they still have one thing in common. They subvert the truth of the immortality of the soul.

Questions or comments for Dr. Bedore should be addressed to him directly at: Berean Bible Institute, PO Box 735, West Bend, WI 53095, or by e-mail at:

Berean Searchlight – August 2007

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

Berean Searchlight – June 2007

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

Berean Searchlight – May 2007

Free Mail Subscription

For a free subscription to the Berean Searchlight by mail, visit the Berean Searchlight Subscription page.

Subscribe to the Berean Searchlight Monthly Email to receive an email announcement when each issue of the Searchlight is posted online.

If You Died Today

Where Will You Spend Eternity — In Heaven or Hell?

Why would God let you in to His heaven?

Many feel the “good Lord” would let them in. Others feel God isn’t going to send anyone to hell or that neither heaven nor hell are real.

What do you have to do to go to hell? NOTHING!

What do you have to do to go to heaven? “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).

I ask you, “Are you SAVED?” Saved from hell?

We all want forgiveness of our sins, but how do we get rid of our sins? Many know they are guilty of sinning, but they balance that guilt by blaming others, circumstances, or even God. Blame won’t help.

First, I knew I was a sinner, because I was born in sin at birth (Rom. 3:23). Adam sinned and so death passed upon me (Rom. 5:12). I sinned against God and didn’t do what was right (James 4:17).

Second, I knew I was unsaved. As a teenager, I heard a preacher say I am going to hell unless I personally trust or believe what the Bible says about Jesus Christ’s dying, shedding His precious blood to wash my sins away forever and that He rose again for me (I Cor. 15:3,4).

Third, I believed and Christ gave me eternal life (Rom 1:16). When I trusted Christ as my personal Savior, He forgave all my sins—past, present and future. I have newness of life in Christ (Rom. 6:4).

Finally, I received His salvation with solid assurance that I will never lose it (Col. 2:2; I Thes. 1:5). You and I will spend eternity somewhere—either heaven or hell. When the devil makes me doubt, I remind him that I was saved by what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. I am saved by what the Bible says, NOT on how I feel or by anything I did (Eph. 2:8-9).

Now what about you? God, the Bible, heaven, and hell are real. He is calling to you right now. I ask you to trust Christ as your personal Savior today. Believe in Christ’s finished work on the Cross and He will help you as a new creation in Christ (II Cor. 5:17).

Are you saved? Read the Bible. God will speak to you through His Word. I did, and God is everything to me now. He hears my every prayer. I know that when Christ returns in the clouds to call the saved home, I will go and God will welcome me in! I’m family!