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Don't Side with the Accuser!

Don't Side with the Accuser

Who has the right to throw people into Hell? Jesus warned His disciples saying: "don't be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more they can do. I will show you who to fear: fear the one who starts by killing and then has the right to throw people into Gehenna. Yes, let me tell you, that's the one to fear!" (Luke 12:4-5). First of all, what is "Gehenna"? Gehenna was a smoldering garbage dump in Israel of the first century, where people continually threw their junk and let it burn. It was a fire that never went out. Apparently, by Jesus' day, some Jews were using the image of Gehenna to refer to the place of punishment after death. Many modern Western people wouldn't think twice about this passage and just assume that it is a straightforward warning about going to Hell for "not believing in Jesus". We have assumed a narrative where human beings are placed on the earth in order to "make a decision" about where they will spend eternity. This narrative says that we are not physical beings having a spiritual experience but rather physical beings have a spiritual experience and we only have this one life to discover the truth about who God is and acknowledge that truth before our spirits are sent either to Hell or Heaven for all eternity, based upon both our awareness of this narrative and our acceptance or rejection of the means by which one gets to heaven as opposed to Hell, namely Jesus' atoning blood. But this narrative is not the one within which Luke, the writer of this Gospel, nor Jesus Himself lived within. But we have this narrative so thoroughly ingrained in our vision that it comes to mind without any real thought or effort. When we read Jesus' warnings about Hell, we simply assume that Jesus has seen something that has displeased Him, either in His disciples or his official opponents, and therefore He is threatening them with Hell in order to get the response that He wants. That is actually what is happening but "what Jesus wants" is not an adherence to a particular theory of atonement (We should remind ourselves that Jesus hasn't died yet and didn't have the option of explaining his death on the cross as a means of atonement). What Jesus wants is for His listeners to adhere to a new way of being human, a new way of doing politics and government, family, marriage, etc. Jesus wanted His listeners to receive his way of bringing about God's Kingdom. Anything else, would lead to Hell on earth. The Jews already had a concept of a post-mortem fiery judgment for the unrighteous and Jesus is referring to that image to warn them about what lies ahead for those who reject His Kingdom vision, but that doesn't mean that the standard vision of Hell as a somewhat arbitrary punishment for not having the right system of beliefs or baptism, should remain in tact. Jesus isn't trying to coerce a particular "response of faith" , as in a confession of a certain belief system, from His listeners. Jesus is trying to warn his audience of the very real dangers of not recognizing "the signs of the times". Jesus sees the growing tension between Rome and Israel and He knows that Israel must choose a different approach to their revolutionary designs or else they will court their own destruction. Jesus is referring to an already recognizable image in the Jewish culture in order to warn about the devastation that will come upon the nation should they continue to ignore Jesus' warnings and message concerning the way of the Kingdom of God. The difference is subtle but significant. So Jesus has warned His disciples about those who can kill them AND throw them into Hell. Who is that? It is not God that Jesus is referring to. It is the accuser with whom Jesus has already wrestled with Himself a few times and whom Jesus would ultimately fight and defeat on the cross. So long as you embrace your own kingdom vision without repentance, you give the accuser power over you to torment you because your own kingdom vision is not God's. And by definition, that means that you have joined forces with the accuser by saying in effect that God's vision, as seen through Jesus, is not good enough. You are accusing God by not receiving His method for bringing the Kingdom, and you have not received His Messiah who is leading the way. The accuser's accusations then stick to you. The accuser encourages you to accuse God and then it testifies against you, before God that you have betrayed Him. "The accuser comes," the Bible says, "to steal, kill, and destroy." And I hope you can see, that it what it is doing. Jesus says that we should fear, not the accuser, but taking the side of the accuser and giving it power over us. Does this mean that the accuser will burn you in hell forever and ever? Maybe, but I think that is just an image, though a very important one. We should not take it any less seriously for being an image. When I say "just" an image, I mean we shouldn't take it to mean that Hell is limited too a literal place of fire. The Apostle Paul talked about the coming day of resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked, and Jesus also said that the righteous will be raised to life and the wicked will be raised to judgment. What is it like to be raised to judgment? I really don't know and don't want to find out except for the purpose of warning others. But it does seem that for some people, no warning can deter them. They are bound by their own anger, greed, pride, ambition, lust, etc, to do what they want to do. Recently, I was involved in a project which demonstrated the violence of abortion by using pictures. There is no argument to be made against the fact that abortions kill babies. Nevertheless, we had women pointing at a picture of an aborted baby whose arms, legs, knees, feet, hands, rib cage and spine were all clearly visible, angrily saying "that is not a baby! That is a fetus!" We saw this over and over again. Human beings are fully capable of hardening our hearts to our own destruction and denying the reality that is right before our faces. With that in mind, the warnings about Hell, and about a resurrection to judgment are very real and very scary, not because God is so very angry but because we are so very proud and foolish. At the end of our lives, what will we reap from the things we have sown? And when we rise from the dead to face the facts about what we valued and cherish and what we devalued and destroyed, will we be able to handle the torments of our own decisions? That is the very real, and the very sobering image of Hell. Not a cartoon world of pitchforks and flames but the very real torments and fire of an anguished soul. It is not something I care to dwell on. But Jesus says to fear the one, namely the accuser, who was the right to accuse you and throw you into this place of fiery torment. So repent of your solutions and ask God for His. He offers mercy and a new way forward, both made possible by the Messiah who brought about the establishment of God's Kingdom and the beginning of the new creation by His death on the cross and the subsequent Resurrection. This is good news for the planet earth.And it is good news for your soul as well.

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