Dr. Duke Jeyaraj examines this bizarre teaching put forth by a Chennai Hyper-Grace cult pastor in biblical light
During a seminar in Hyderabad, a Chennai based hyper-grace pastor used a combination of Revelation 21:25 (a verse that says heaven’s doors will not be shut) and Revelation 22:17 (a verse that says, ‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come!”’) to elucidate a point that there is a real possibility for those who have gone to hell (‘the lake of fire’) to make it to heaven. Here are the two verses in question printed in full: Revelation 21:25 – “In the daytime (for these will be no night there) it gates will never be closed”(NASB); Revelation 22:17 – ‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost’(NASB).
The question here before us is this: Can those in the lake of fire, when they positively respond to the “come” of the Spirit and the Bride (which can be taken to mean the church)(Rev. 22:17), move from hell to heaven? Is this ‘hell to heaven’ teaching (that is the phrase I will use in the rest of this article for this teaching), straight from heaven? Is it from God? Is it Biblical?
I want to use the acronym H-E-L-L to give an answer that is not only scriptural but also, hopefully, is memorable:
H-IS TEACHING (JESUS’ TEACHING) ON “HELL TO HEAVEN” TEACHING:
I am referring to Jesus’ teaching here. From Jesus’ teaching, we know without a shadow of doubt that those in hell, cannot come to heaven. Once a person goes to hell, he cannot come to heaven. Jesus’ understanding about this is reflected in His narration of the conversation between the Rich Man who went to Hades and a beggar named Lazarus who went to Abraham’s side. Hades is just one of the many phrases Jesus used to refer Hell and Abraham’s side for Heaven [I say this based on Revelation 20:14 which says, ‘Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire(another name for Hell)]. The Rich Man was in torment – thanks to the flames in Hades that behaved like any flame we know would, causing intolerable heat (Luke 16:23). He did not request for a fire-engine be sent from heaven to extinguish the flames in hell. All that the rich man wanted was a few drops of water from the fingers of Lazarus who once eat what fell from the rich man’s fingers when he was on earth (Compare Luke 16:21 and 24). What a reversal – previously, when they were on earth, Lazarus eat whatever fell down from the Rich Man’s table. Now, on the other side of eternity, with Lazarus in heaven and the Rich Man in hell, the Rich Man is willing to lap up anything that fell from Lazarus’ table in heaven – including a drop of water!!!! But this ‘water-drop’ request was cropped by Father Abraham – cut off, refused. Abraham makes a key observation in this Jesus-narrated incident. Abraham told the rich man in Hades, “You ARE in agony!”(Luke 16:25). He did not say, “You WERE in agony!” The message of this passage is clear: the punishment for those who reject Christ is an on-going process in their after-life period – it will never end! And to quench and quell the hopes the hell-dwelling Rich Man had about crossing over from hell into heaven, Abraham told him: “And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from HERE TO YOU WILL NOT BE ABLE, AND THAT NONE MAY CROSS OVER FROM THERE TO US.”’ (Luke 16:26). This Jesus-narrated event teaches us that once a person goes to eternity without repenting and trusting in Jesus, he can never enter heaven after his death. The same person cannot escape from hell and get into heaven. Jesus, at this point, could have easily chosen to mention about any such opportunity. He could have said, “The Holy Spirit in heaven, along with other believers (‘Spirit and the Bride’) keeps on saying, ‘Come!’ Do you hear their voice, rich man? Repent from your sin of loving money more than me! Confess your sin. Put your faith in me. Then you too can come to heaven, even though, at this point, you are in hell!” No, Jesus did NOT say that! Why? Jesus knew that NO CHANCES or OPPORTUNITIES would be given to anyone who dies and goes into a Christ-less eternity to come back to heaven/God’s very presence, afterwards!
This is not the only time when Jesus taught that hell punishment is forever and that there is no escape from it. In Matthew 25:41 He used the phrase “eternal fire” when He talked about hell punishment for the Devil and his angels. Jesus also taught that there is no escape from this hell punishment is recorded in Mark’s Gospel also. In this Gospel He taught us to be ruthless in our dealing with temptations to sin, if we want to avoid ending up in hell, “where fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43 NIV) and where “worms that eat (body parts of humans who died stubbornly in the sin of lust like the eye) do not die” (Mark 9:47-48 NIV). In other words, Jesus was teaching that there is NO WAY anyone could worm their way out of hell, ever!!! Robert Peterson after noting that Jesus used the word ‘Gehenna’ three times in Mark 9:43-48 summarized this passage thus: “hell is a place where fire goes on and on. So it is worthwhile depriving yourself of a hand, a foot or an eye if by doing so you can go to heaven, because those are temporary deprivations, whereas the torment of hell is eternal.”
Jesus repeatedly used one phrase to describe life in hell. This phrase: “a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He uses that phrase a stunning four times in Matthew’s Gospel itself. Check that out in Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30. If Jesus believed in the ‘hell to heaven’ teaching put forth by this Chennai Hyper-Grace cult pastor, he would have slightly modified this phrase. He would have said, “Hell is a place weeping and gnashing of teeth till you say, ‘I’m coming’ in response to the ‘come’ invitation of The Spirit and the Bride!” But He did not say that. The “ing” in the phrase that Jesus used for those who will dwell in hell – “weeping and gnashing of teeth” – implies ongoing, eternal torment. In other words, those in hell will forever regret for having rejected Jesus when they had so many opportunities to so on earth. And they will express their sadness through weeping and anger through gnashing of teeth! This would be non-stop!
Let’s move to the next Biblical argument to understand why how this bizarre “hell-to-heaven” teaching by this Chennai hyper-grace cult pastor is false.
E-PISTLES TEACHING ON “HELL TO HEAVEN” TEACHING:
Not just Jesus, but the epistle-writers of the New Testament too ensure that the word “eternal” prefixes the description of the fearful fate of those who reject Jesus after their death. Apostle Paul writes that “those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Thess. 1:8) will pay “the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess 1:9, NASB). The above-mentioned hyper-grace cult pastor in Chennai struts, “Paul did not ever use the word, ‘Gehenna’ in all his 14 epistles. If Paul can present the Gospel without using the word ‘Gehenna’ why can’t we also do that?”
Well. Well. Well. For those of you, who do not know, ‘Gehenna’ is the Hebrew word Jesus used for hell. Chaim Milikowsky writes, ‘In the New Testament the Gehenna appears eleven times, seven times in Matthew, twice in Mark, and once each in Luke and James…it is a place of punishment in the last judgment’. Gehenna was actually a real place during Jesus time – a place outside the city of Jerusalem where the city’s waste was dumped and set to fire, burning continuously in order to consume the waste. Peter Kreeft writes, “Gehenna, the word Jesus used for hell, was the valley outside Jerusalem that the Jews used for perpetual burning of garbage because it had been desecrated by heathen tribes who used it for human sacrifice.” While Paul and the other apostles obeyed Jesus’ command, “teach them (those who become Jesus’ disciples through their ministry) to observe everything I taught you!” (Matt. 28:19), they were under no compulsion to do so using Jesus’ language or vocabulary. Jesus used the ‘Gehenna’ imagery to talk about hell, because he ministered mainly to the Jews. And Jews could immediately connect with the Gehenna imagery the way Chennai folks would have readily connected with the Kodungaiyur Dumpyard or Perungudi Dumpyard. A movie-reviewer called, Ilyaghilli, recalls a scene in the 2010 Tamil movie, Endhiran (released in several other languages), starring Rajinikanth, which featured a dumpyard in Chennai this way: “Scenes like dumping the dismantled robot in a corporation dustbin and showing that it is taken to a dumpyard of normal garbage look totally bizarre in today’s era of e-waste disposal campaigns and considering the fact that a robotic scientist cannot dispose his years of work just like that. Add to it that fact that the robot can reconstruct itself even at such a crippled stage!”
Coming back from the Endhiran movie dumpyard to the dumpyard our Master talked about – Gehenna… James, the half-brother of Jesus who ministered to Jews primarily (‘the twelve tribes scattered among the nations” – James 1:1) used the very same word (‘Gehenna’) when talking about hell in his epistle (see James 3:6). But Paul’s ministry was among Gentiles primarily (Acts 9:15). Gentiles, that is, non-Jews, may not have grasped the usage of the word ‘gehenna’ to depict hell, the same way, even someone from Hyderabad may not grasp well the usage of the imagery of Kodungaiyur/Perungudi dumpyard to depict hell. So, Paul was under no compulsion to use the word, “Gehenna” like Jesus did or James did! But did he teach about eternal conscious punishment like Jesus did? Absolutely, as we just saw in 2 Thessalonians 1:9! Peter’s name for hell was ‘Tartarus’ (2 Peter 2:4). While the names which different Spirit-inspired Bible authors gave for hell was different (one Bible Scholar notes that there are twenty-six total references to hell in the Bible), the reality of it and the gruesome gravity of the on-going suffering of those who go there, can never be in doubt!
Not just Apostle Paul but the other epistle writers also spoke about ‘eternalness’ of hell-punishment thereby totally negating the wrong teaching on ‘hell to heaven’ this Chennai Hyper-grace pastor was teaching then. The epistle-writer to Hebrews (it could have been Apollos or Barnabas or Priscilla or someone we do not know) stitches together the word “eternal” with “judgement” in Hebrews 6:3. So, in his view, once a person is judged, he goes to a place and STAYS in that place “eternally”! There can never be escapism from the place of his stay, which we know is hell from other portions of Scripture, to heaven!
Not just the Hebrews-writer, the epistle-writer Jude also teaches that ‘his hell-to-heaven’ teaching is wrong. He talks about “eternal” punishment for the stubborn-till-death, homosexuals of Sodom and Gomorrah in his letter (verse 7). So the hell-dwellers from Sodom won’t hear a ‘come’ from heaven! Sodom is doomed forever! So the hell-dwellers from Gomorrah won’t hear a ‘come’ from heaven which will make them go, “hip, hip, hurray” in anticipation of switching their dwelling-place from hell to heaven!
Moving onto the next Biblical argument against the crazy ‘Hell to Heaven’ hell-taking wrong teaching put forth by this particular Chennai hyper-grace cult pastor. We are using the acronym H-E-L-L to outline these points. H-is-teaching. E-pistles teaching. The next letter in this acronym is “L”.
L-ONG LOOK AT REVELATION ON “HELL TO HEAVEN” TEACHING:
A long look at the Book of Revelation will reveal that this ‘hell to Heaven’ teaching is wrong. If it can be convincingly shown that in the view of John, the Apostle, who wrote the Book of Revelation, that there was a route to escape from hell, then this ‘hell to Heaven’ teaching can be accepted. But if one were to read the book of Revelation in full-LENGTH (all the 22 chapters, and not just chapter 21 and chapter 22), he or she will understand that it never entered John’s mind that there would be any escape route out of hell or a supposed invitation from heaven-dwellers to hell-dwellers to migrate their location from hell to heaven.
Read Revelation 14:10-11. This is the punishment for those who worship the Anti-Christ and follow him: “the smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshipped the beast (the Anti-Christ that is) and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name!”(NLT). The smoke from hell will forever keep rising as this Scripture in Revelation teaches, because despite the fire constantly burning the bodies of the hell-dwellers, their bodies don’t get burnt as they keep writhing away in unspeakable discomfort! John Walvoord writes, “The ultimate convincing argument for eternal punishment is found is Revelation 20:11-15…. In this passage…the beast and the false prophet, cast into the lake of fire at the beginning of the millennium (Rev. 19:20), are still there a thousand years later and are declared to join Satan in the torment which will continue “day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). After describing that all pain would forever end when people reach heaven’s shores in Revelation 21:3-4, Apostle John, writes that the ‘cowardly, the faithless, the murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, liars,’ will end in the ‘lake that burns with fire and sulfur’ (Rev. 21:8 ESV). Based on Revelation 20:10 where John writes that in the lake of fire that will be ‘torment for day and night forever’ we can confidently be sure that even in the lake of fire mentioned in Revelation 21:8 after folks have entered heaven, there will continuous torment in hell for its inhabitants, after all there is only ONE lake of fire! There will not be a way of escape from hell as this Chennai Hyper-Grace cult leader/pastor suggests at that point – after people have reached heaven!
So when there is a clear teaching by the Spirit-inspired writer of the book of Revelation that hell punishment is forever (as seen above), there is no way he would have meant that there will be an ongoing opportunity for people to keep entering heaven all thro’ eternity when he wrote, “on no day will its gates be shut, for there will be no night there” (Rev. 21:25 NIV). The key phrase in that verse is the word “for” – “for there will be no night there”. The meaning can be this: ‘only on earth, you lock your doors at night; this is heaven – there is no night here, so there is no need to lock doors here; evil has been once-for-all eliminated!’ Also read two verses below –Revelation 21:27. It goes this way: “Nothing impure will ever enter it, not will anyone who does what is shameful and deceitful, but only those who names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” This verse is talking about the qualification to get to heaven. It is this: repentance from sin while on earth (‘nothing impure will ever enter it, nor will anyone who does what is shameful and deceitful’) and placing one’s faith in Jesus who died on the Cross when still on earth (‘only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life). I included the words, ‘when still on earth’ for this reason – the Scripture says there, ‘only those who names ARE WRITTEN in the Lamb’s book of life,’ and not, ‘those who names WILL BE WRITTEN in the Lamb’s book of Life!
Does John the Revelation writer mean that those in heaven – the Holy Spirit and church believers (‘the Spirit and the Bride’ – will invite those in hell with the words, “Come!” POST the Second Coming of Jesus (Rev. 22:17)? No. Read this verse above. Read Revelation 22:7. That verse records Jesus’ statement, “Look, I am coming soon!” (also repeated in Rev. 22:12) Notice the tense here: I AM COMING SOON! The portions below Revelation 22:7 is talking about the time BEFORE the Second Coming of Jesus! Rewind back to Revelation 22:6, this already evident truth will be even more evident. That verse says, “And he said to me: “These words are trustworthy and true. And the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.” Revelation 22:16, which is just one verse before Revelation 22:17 – the verse under our microscope – is also strikingly similar. So, all the verses from Revelation 22:6 and below are talking us back to the situation that is described in Revelation chapter 1 where John is in an island seeing visions, hearing from Angels, hearing Jesus speak about “what you have seen, what is now, and what will soon take place later” (Rev. 1:19). In other words, John is addressing the material from Revelation 22:8 and below to present-day believers – believers who are still on earth awaiting the return of Jesus Christ! So when we read, “The Spirit and the Bride say, ‘Come!’” in Revelation 22:17, that is applicable to us, present-day believing living before the Second Coming. We (the Bride of Christ) are called to join the Holy Spirit in the ministry calling people to Christ (see 2 Cor. 11:2)! Our message today, empowered by the Spirit is this: Come to the one who said, ‘Come to me all you who are weary and heavy-leaden!’ That is how we live out Revelation 22:17. Revelation 22:17 cannot be lived out AFTER the Second Coming, after people have gone into heaven/hell as this Chennai hyper-grace pastor wrongly suggests.
Revelation 22:14-15 goes this way: “Blessed are those who wash their ropes that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood”(NIV). Do these set of verse imply that the “Come” of verse 17, is for those in hell? No way! I like the way Eugene Peterson translates these verses to underline the finality of the fate of those who go to the City (heaven) and those outside it (hell). He writes, “How blessed are those who wash their robes! The Tree of Life is theirs FOR GOOD. But outside FOR GOOD are the filthy curs; sorcerers, fornicators, murderers, idolaters – all who love and live lies” (Rev. 22:14-15). Because, those outside the city are there “for good”, there is no logic in believing that the “come” of Revelation 22:17 was even directed to them as this hyper-grace, twisted Trinitarian Gospel preaching, taking-people-to-hell Chennai pastor suggests.
Revelation 22:16 goes this way: “I, Jesus, have sent my angel to give you this testimony for the churches. I am the Root and the Offspring of David, and the bright Morning Star!” This verse needs a closer look to determine the timing and direction of the “come” invitation by the Spirit and Bride in Revelation 22:17 (just one verse below). Revelation 22:16 basically says this: the supernatural revelations given John in the book of Revelation about present and future are actually a “testimony for the churches”. John needs to share this with the churches or church believers. The next verse is also talking about the church, albeit figuratively. The word used in the next verse for the church is “Bride” (see Rev. 22:17).[Apostle Paul compared the church to a bride in 2 Corinthians 11:2 – “For I am jealous as to you with the jealousy of God. For I have betrothed you to one husband, to present a pure virgin to Christ’(NASB)”].
Here is the full verse: ‘The Spirit and the bride say, “Come.” And the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who wishes take the water of life without cost’ (Rev. 22:17 NASB). So, this is what this verse teaches: The church which is the bride of Christ, empowered by the Spirit should cry out to the lost people here and now, “Come!” That’s what every reader of this book (‘the one who hears’ as John put it in Rev. 22:17) should also do. In fact the phrase, “he who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the church” is mentioned several times in the Book of Revelation as a phrase to label any believer from any church who will chose to listen to the message of Revelation down through history up until his death or Return of Jesus (see Rev. 2:7; 2:11; 2:17; 2:29; 3:6; 3:13; 3:22). If that person has not yet come to Jesus, here and now, before the Second Coming or before that person’s death, should come to the Living Water Jesus (see John 4:14) in repentance and faith.
Now, we come to final letter in the acronym chosen to drive home the point that Revelation 22:17 is talking about “call” to be given here to the unsaved on this earth and not in the next life, undergirded by the Holy Spirit. That letter is another L.
L-OCKING OF ONE’S CHOICE BY GOD & “HELL TO HEAVEN” TEACHING:
Throughout the Bible, we see examples of how God would give ample choices to a person (Only God determines how many chances are enough for a person). But if that person, continued to defy God and/or reject Jesus, God would sort of “lock” that choice (to borrow a term from Amitabh Bachchan when he runs the popular TV quiz-program, “Koun Banega Crorepathi”). After this ‘locking’ is done, there is no chance for the concerned person to be saved even on this side of eternity. There are several examples found in the Bible that underscore this understanding:
Pharaoh repeatedly hardened his heart. That’s when God chose to actually harden Pharaoh’s heart. In other words, God ‘locked’ or ‘froze’ or ‘made Pharoah’s free will permanent’ so that he would not be able to turn from sin and come to the Living God! Tina Miller points out that ‘the first time we read that God caused Pharoah’s heart to be hard was when the sixth plague hit – the boils in Exodus 9:12.’ God gave enough chances for Pharoah. He did not freeze his free will till after the fifth miracle. But when Pharoah continued his stubbornness (made his heart, hard, in other words – please check out – Exodus 8:32), God decided ‘enough was enough’. But after God hardened his heart, Pharaoh could not repent. When this is the case, what makes us think that even after a person dies and lands up in hell, that person will have an opportunity to hear of “come” by the Spirit and Bride, as suggested by this Chennai Pastor and cult leaders? This is not a one-off story in the Bible. Read the stories of King Manasseh. The story of Judas in the New Testament [Jesus froze his free will / locked his stubborn choice to reject Jesus after giving him many changes to repent – chances he blew up – when he told him, “What you are about to do, do quickly!”(John 13:27)]. The story of the Pharisees and Sadducees whose stiff-necked ways made Jesus lock their choice to reject Jesus when he promised hell for them (Matt. 23:33). The story of the Devil and his angels, whose free will were also frozen by God after he gave them enough chances (Matt 25:41). The story of the hyper-grace teachers of biblical times who got themselves ‘designated for condemnation’ by God because of they constantly turned God’s grace ‘as an excuse for sexual freedom’ (Jude 4, ESV/GW). A reading of Romans 1 where were read, “God gave them up” thrice (Rom. 1:24,26,28) also brings forth the conclusion God does choose to lock the freewill of those who stubbornly give up on him. The phrase in Genesis 6:3 – ‘the LORD said, “My Spirit shall not strive with man forever…’ (NASB) – also teaches the very same thing if one were to check the similar context there.
These stories remind us of the many times God froze free will of stubborn folks before death, before the Second Coming of Christ, after giving them enough chances. When this is the case, why will God give those in hell another chance to repent (which is what this Chennai Pastor’s strange interpretation of Revelation 22:17 entails). Jonathan Edwards explained why infinitely-long torment in hell is a reasonable punishment for those who will go to hell: they have sinned against an infinite God!
So, if we considered the Biblical and theological arguments weaved around the H-E-L-L acronym, we will understand this ‘hell to Heaven’ teaching purported by this Chennai Cult Pastor is a lie, straight from hell! Yes, the hell to heaven doctrine, he teaches, is not from heaven! And as D. A. Carson put it well, he (and others like him), “gag God by silencing the severity of his warnings and minimize the awfulness of the punishment that justly awaits those untouched by his redeeming grace.” If they will not repent, this lot will go to hell, and take people there! This article is an earnest attempt to somehow stem this rot!
(Dr. Duke Jeyaraj, is the founder of Grabbing the Google Generation from Gehenna Mission, the G4 Mission. This is a reader-supported Indian ministry to presentday people. Find out more at www.dukev.org.)