Questions on Hell and Satan

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Is hell an actual, physical place or just a state of being, as a certain pastor claims?

The Bible describes hell as real.  Rather than being a geographical location that people can point to, theologians refer to hell as a “somewhere.”  It is where people are forsaken by God and punished for their sins forever.

With no disrespect to your question by any means, the words of Chrysostom in the fourth century come to mind:  “Let us not so much labor to know where hell is—as how to escape it.”  And that we do know.  On the cross of Calvary Jesus Christ suffered what amounts to hell:  he was abandoned and forsaken by his heavenly Father, punished for the sins of the world (Matthew 27:46).  Through Spirit-worked faith in Jesus, forgiveness of sins is ours and heaven—not hell—is our eternal home.

How can I show from Scriptures that hell is forever (eternal)? A friend I met insists God loves all people and wants them to be saved; that Jesus died for the sins of the whole world; and that if some spend eternity in hell, Jesus would not be an effectual Savior of all people.

Before proving scripturally that hell is forever, it’s wise to make sure your friend knows where you agree with him. When he says God is love, and that God loves all and desires all people be saved, he is correctly summarizing 1 John 4:16, John 3:16 and 1 Tim. 2:4. We not only agree that Jesus died for the world’s sins (1 John 2:2), we even proclaim that God declared the entire world not guilty in Jesus (Rom. 5:18).

But while your friend is correctly sharing some scriptural truths, he is, perhaps unknowingly, omitting others.

Your friend isn’t alone. Many Christians feel that God’s reputation as a gracious God is forfeited if we don’t modify the historic confession that hell is conscious, eternal suffering for everyone who dies in unbelief.

Our task, however, is not to make God sound palatable to cultural sensibilities. Yes, Scripture is clear that Jesus is Savior of all and that he also desires the salvation of those who do not acknowledge him. His tears for the unbelievers in Jerusalem were genuine (Luke 19:41).

Yet Jesus talks about hell more forcefully, frequently, and fully than anyone. He tells us that the broad and busy superhighway is the one leading to hell not heaven (Matt. 7:13). It is Jesus who vividly portrays the conscious, eternal suffering of the damned as he tells us about the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19f).

It is also Jesus who coins the most common description of hell: the place where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12, 13:42, 13:50, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30). If we inquire how long this “weeping and gnashing of teeth” continues, he tells us in Matthew 25. After Jesus pronounces judgment on the sheep and goats (believers and unbelievers), he announces that the unbelievers “will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). We can no more argue biblically against the eternity of hell than the eternity of heaven.

How do you explain to someone the idea of hell who doesn't believe in it?

To explain the doctrine of hell you need to point people to the passages in the Bible that speak about hell. It is described as a place of torment that will never end, prepared for the devil and his angels. There unbelievers will spend eternity. (Isaiah 64:24, Matthew 3:12, Matthew 13:42, Matthew 25:41, Matthew 5:29-30, 2 Thessalonians 1:6-9, Jude 7, 2 Peter 2:4, Luke 16:19-31, Mark 9:43-48).

Unless people understand the law, which reveals the depths of human sinfulness and God’s righteous wrath over sin, they will have difficulty grasping a place of eternal punishment. You might want to review what God says in Romans 1:18,19 and Romans 3:9-20. Make sure also to remember God’s salvation, his plan of deliverance through faith in his Son, Jesus, whom he offered up as a sacrifice of atonement for our sins—and not only for ours but for the sins of the whole world (Romans 3:21-28, 2 Corinthians 5:18-21, 1 John 2:2). If a person understands the depths of his sinfulness and the punishment he deserves, he will more readily grasp the depths of God’s love in offering his Son for our salvation. A proper understanding of the law and the gospel is important for a correct understanding of hell and heaven.

I'm wondering about the extent of the Devil's power to tempt us. I heard once that Satan caused Judas to despair over his sins. Wouldn't Satan have to enter a person's thought process to tempt the person to despair? Could you elaborate on Satan's power/ability to manipulate our thoughts and enter our minds to tempt us in our areas of weakness. Thanks!

There is so much we don’t know about the spirit world of angels and demons and how it all works. All we can do is look at what Scripture reveals to us.

It is true that Satan does not have the ability to read our thoughts the way God does. He is not all-knowing. However, it is clear from Scripture that he is able to tempt us, which includes entering our minds and affecting our thought processes. Scripture warns us to avoid sinful thoughts, words, actions, and emotions so that we do not give the devil a foothold (Ephesians 4:27). 2 Corinthians 4:4 mentions that he is able to blind the minds of unbelievers.

You also refer to Judas Iscariot. Luke 22:3 states that “Satan entered Judas” and that “the devil prompted him to betray Jesus” (John 13:2). It adds, “As soon as Judas took the bread, Satan entered into him” (John 13:27).  With Judas it does not appear as though Satan actually possessed him but rather that the devil exerted a destructive influence on his heart and mind. This would indicate that Satan can “get into our mind” and affect us in ways that we do not understand. He is a fallen angel and as such has powers that are far superior to our own as human beings. At the same time, he is only a fallen angel and no match for God.

You also talk about the devil tempting us in our areas of weakness. The devil knows our pet sins and where we are most vulnerable. He knows this not because he is all-knowing, but because he has spent a lot of time studying us. He has observed which sins we struggle against. When he tempts us, he will try to take advantage of our weaknesses.

To help balance this discussion, it is important to remember that God also knows us. He knows everything about us. But unlike the devil, God uses this knowledge to help us not hurt us. He knows where we are weak, and he seeks to strengthen us. He knows what we need–a Savior–and has provided for that need in his Son. He reminds us that he defeated the devil through Jesus’ life and death. Because of Christ, God assures us that nothing can separate us from his love. Not even demons (Romans 8:38).

One is often exposed to stories and reports of encounters with aliens from outer space. I believe that most of these cases can be explained as hoaxes, mistaken interpretations of an experience, or someone wanting attention. Despite that, there are some instances in which an "encounter" cannot be completely explained away. Is it possible that demons could be at work in trying to deceive people by taking on the appearance of an alien, or the image that most people believe an alien would look like? I think it is within the realm of demonic activity for this to be possible. Am I wrong? Thank you.

I don’t believe you are wrong in suggesting that possibility—and that’s all it is, a possibility.  The Bible reminds us that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  Satan is an enemy whose power exceeds our own.  His goal is to destroy faith in people who believe and keep others in unbelief (2 Corinthians 4:4).  There is no telling what Satan might attempt to do to carry out his goals.

Thankfully we are dealing with a defeated enemy, one whose head has been crushed (Genesis 3:15).  Jesus Christ shared in our humanity “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).  By his holy life, death and resurrection Jesus has destroyed Satan, and it is only a matter of time before he is put out of commission entirely (Revelation 20:10).  Until that time, Christians like you and I carry out God’s instruction:  “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).  We do that trusting in God’s promise:  “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Who is Satan?

Have you ever seen the Loch Ness Monster? How about Sasquatch or Big Foot? These are only a few of the imaginary creatures we hear about. Their “sightings” make front page news in the tabloids.

There is a city in Northern Wisconsin that calls itself “The Home of the Hodag.” According to Eugene Sheperd, who supposedly discovered the hodag in 1893, it has “the head of a frog, the grinning face of a giant elephant, thick short legs set off by huge claws, the back of a dinosaur, and a long tail with spears at the end.” It’s a popular creature in the area. Even the local high school has the hodag as its mascot.

Some people see Satan as a fictional creature. He’s the little red man with horns and a pitchfork. Or he’s the ghost-like figure that can scare the bejeebers out of you in a movie like “Exorcist.” Or that handsome looking guy that is portrayed in the TV series, “Reaper.”

Isn’t it interesting that even a guy like Anton LaVey didn’t believe Satan was real. The late Lavey was the leading Satanist in recent times. He even worshipped Satan! Yet he didn’t believe he was a real person. Only a negative power source that stood for all that is evil.

So who is Satan? Or what is he? A monster? A mascot? A movie star? Satan may be all of these, but one thing he isn’t is imaginary. Satan is real. And he is a personal being—not with flesh and bones but a spiritual “being.” That might sound complex, but really it’s quite simple.

The Bible calls Satan a fallen angel. At first there were only good angels. God gave them a choice to serve him or serve themselves. Some of them rebelled against God and decided to serve themselves. Satan was a leader of this group and he led a large number of angels in a rebellion against God. The good angels stayed with God, continue to serve God, and enjoy God’s blessings. Satan and the evil angels rejected God, hate him with a passion, and serve themselves. (See 2 Peter 2:4 and Jude 6)

As an evil angel, Satan is pretty powerful, but not nearly as powerful as God. Jesus is proof of that. He took on the devil in one-on-one combat and it wasn’t even close. It turned out just as God said it would. Satan bruised the heal of Jesus, but got his head crushed in the process. That’s what the cross did.

The amazing thing is that Jesus crushed all our sins in the process. Like Satan, the bad things we do are real. Yet the cross is also real. And that is where Christ defeated Satan and won real life, real hope, real forgiveness.

We know that Satan cannot read our thoughts but can he speak to us through our thoughts or are our sinful thoughts just a product of our sinful nature? In other words, if the Holy Spirit can guide our thoughts, does Satan also have the capability to guide our thoughts or can he only affect our "situations" to manipulate us by creating doubt and other thoughts that hinder our faith? I have heard televangelists and those of that saying things like "those voices in our heads are Satan talking to us" but I find no scriptural basis for that belief other than Old Testament documentation of Satan speaking directly to people like Eve.

You ask important questions.  Satan is a formidable enemy (Ephesians 6:12).  By his powerful resurrection from the dead, Jesus crushed Satan’s head, just as Scripture had prophesied (Genesis 3:15).  Satan has been defeated.  “He knows that his time is short” (Revelation 12:12) until he is put out of commission once and for all (Revelation 20:10).  Until that time, Satan’s mission is to try to fill hell with as many souls as possible.

While the Bible does describe Satan, a fallen angel, as having powers and abilities greater than ours, it does not give us many specifics.  Beyond demon possession, which your questions do not address, we know that Satan “entered into” Judas (John 13:27).  The apostle Paul wrote of Satan that “The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4).  Satan certainly knows our weaknesses and can use that knowledge to his advantage in ways we can only imagine.

In your first question you mention our sinful natures.  That is an area of our lives that certainly deserves attention.  It is so easy for Christians (and the televangelists you mentioned) to blame Satan for all their sins and troubles.  I sometimes get the impression that people think that locking up Satan somewhere right now would eliminate their struggles with sin.  That kind of thinking fails to realize how thoroughly corrupt the sinful nature is.  The sinful nature is an ally of Satan.  It is hostile toward God (Romans 8:7).  It is the place where evil thoughts originate (Matthew 15:19).  It wants nothing to do with God or godliness.  It continually wars against our new self (Romans 7:18-25).

The sinful nature is an enemy that needs our continual attention.  Recall what our Catechism says:  “Baptism means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death.”  We do that by putting off the sinful nature, rejecting its temptations and confessing our sins when we give in to temptation (Colossians 2:11-12; Romans 6:2, 3, 6, 12, 13).  At the same time, we build up the new self through the use of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Christians long for the day when they no longer fight against the ungodly trio:  the devil, the world and our sinful flesh.  That day is when our earthly lives come to an end.  Until then, we “fight the good fight of the faith” (1 Timothy 6:12).

Is it possible for a person actually to make a deal with the devil?

The concept of making a deal with the devil or selling one’s soul to Satan in exchange for something is rooted in secular literature and folktales, but has no Bible basis. Johann Wolfgang Goethe’s fictional Dr. Faustus made such a deal with the devil. Other fictional stories are based on that premise, notably short stories by Washington Irving, (The Devil and Tom Walker) and Stephen Vincent Benet (The Devil and Daniel Webster). To repeat, the Bible has no example of a person “selling his soul” to Satan, and Scripture never implies that making a bargain with the devil is possible.

At the heart of such a concept is some truth and lots of error. The truth part takes Satan seriously. He is powerful, deceptive, and constantly seeking to lead people away from revealed truth of Scripture and saving faith in Jesus Christ. The error in all this forgets that the devil is really not an independent agent and warden of hell; he is an inmate in hell and subject to God’s authority and will. Those who do evil and choose to despise Christ and God’s gracious will for their faith and faith-life end up joining Satan in opposition to God and will forfeit divine blessings as they receive expressions of God’s just judgment just as Satan does and will continue to do. The devil doesn’t ultimately cause all this; they do, tragically and unnecessarily. This is their own fault. They really sold their soul to wickedness and forfeited divine blessing.

General word of wisdom: Neither underestimate nor overestimate the power and deceptive nature of the devil. Be alert to his working yet never forget he is already defeated and not an independent agent who enjoys freedom to work evil. And never neglect or underestimate the power and comfort of the gospel of Jesus Christ for ourselves and the world!

I am baptized, confirmed and an active member of WELS and want to know how would a Christian such as myself be prepared to never follow or worship this beast as told in book of Revelation? Certainly this beast and its image will be masqueraded and I'm not certain I would know it if I saw it. I do not want to fall victim to it nor worship it. Thank you!

Revelation chapter 13 speaks of two beasts. There is a beast that John saw “coming out of the sea” (verse 1) and a beast that the apostle saw “coming out of the earth” (verse 11).  Lutheran commentators have seen the first beast representing secular governments that are anti-Christian in nature, being in league with Satan.  Lutheran commentators have understood the second beast to represent the great Antichrist, the “man of lawlessness” of 2 Thessalonians chapter 2.

How do we recognize these beasts, you wonder?  Jesus said that we recognize false prophets “by their fruit” (Matthew 7:15-20).  We will recognize anti-Christian governments and the Antichrist by what they say and do.  And that presupposes that we know what the Bible says, doesn’t it?  We need to know the Bible so that we can recognize truth and error.

And when we recognize error and false teaching, we reject that.  We cling to the truths of God’s word, knowing that God always speaks the truth (Numbers 23:19).  More than clinging to God’s word, we use that same word as our weapon against Satan and his allies.  I’m reminded of the great Reformation hymn:  “Though devils all the world should fill, All eager to devour us, We tremble not, we fear no ill; They shall not overpow’r us.  This world’s prince may still Scowl fierce as he will, He can harm us none.  He’s judged; the deed is done!  One little word can fell him.” (CW 200:3).  As the apostle James wrote:  “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

Did Jesus really go to hell after he died? Scriptures on it...blessings.

In the Apostles’ Creed we confess about Jesus: “He descended into hell.” The scriptural basis for Jesus’ descent into hell is 1 Peter 3:18-20: “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God. He was put to death in the body but made alive in the Spirit. After being made alive, he went and made proclamation to the imprisoned spirits— to those who were disobedient long ago when God waited patiently in the days of Noah while the ark was being built.” Many also see Colossians 2:15 as alluding to Jesus’ descent into hell: “And having disarmed the powers and authorities, he made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.”

After Jesus’ body and soul were reunited in the grave and before he appeared to people on earth, the Lord descended into hell. By his descent into hell, Jesus declared his victory over Satan and the forces of evil. He did not go to hell to suffer for the sins of the world or to free people from a limbo. Jesus descended into hell to proclaim his victory.

One is often exposed to stories and reports of encounters with aliens from outer space. I believe that most of these cases can be explained as hoaxes, mistaken interpretations of an experience, or someone wanting attention. Despite that, there are some instances in which an "encounter" cannot be completely explained away. Is it possible that demons could be at work in trying to deceive people by taking on the appearance of an alien, or the image that most people believe an alien would look like? I think it is within the realm of demonic activity for this to be possible. Am I wrong? Thank you.

I don’t believe you are wrong in suggesting that possibility—and that’s all it is, a possibility.  The Bible reminds us that “Our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms” (Ephesians 6:12).  Satan is an enemy whose power exceeds our own.  His goal is to destroy faith in people who believe and keep others in unbelief (2 Corinthians 4:4).  There is no telling what Satan might attempt to do to carry out his goals.

Thankfully we are dealing with a defeated enemy, one whose head has been crushed (Genesis 3:15).  Jesus Christ shared in our humanity “so that by his death he might destroy him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil” (Hebrews 2:14).  By his holy life, death and resurrection Jesus has destroyed Satan, and it is only a matter of time before he is put out of commission entirely (Revelation 20:10).  Until that time, Christians like you and I carry out God’s instruction:  “Put on the full armor of God so that you can take your stand against the devil’s schemes” (Ephesians 6:11).  We do that trusting in God’s promise:  “Resist the devil, and he will flee from you” (James 4:7).

A friend was abused sexually as a child by both male and female. Now it seems that there are memories beginning to surface of satanic ritual abuse. My friend feels like his 'soul has been sucked out of him.' He feels like he is possessed. He does attend church and is in therapy with a wonderful therapist who deals with severe trauma. I remind my friend of his baptism and the love his Savior has for him. How does he get over the feeling of being 'soul-less?'

It is good that your friend is receiving the kind of help you described.  Hopefully he is seeing a Christian therapist who can offer biblical guidance.  And hopefully the church he is attending is rock-solid in its teachings, and its pastor can provide counseling as he is able.

What you can do is remind your friend about Satan’s limitations and God’s power.  God alone has power over a person’s soul (Matthew 10:28).  Satan is not free to do as he pleases.  The opening chapters of the book of Job make that clear.  With his word God has given us a powerful weapon (Ephesians 6:17) to combat the devil (James 4:7).

Continue to point your friend to the Bible so he can replace his feelings with the objective truths that God has revealed.  You and I won’t be able to change your friend’s feelings, but God can.  You can remind your friend that what God says is true, regardless of his feelings.

You are certainly doing the right thing by encouraging him to remember the truths of his baptism.  The meaning of baptism is God saying, “I have redeemed you; I have summoned you by name; you are mine” (Isaiah 43:1).  Keep praying for your friend.  God bless all your efforts to restore the joy of salvation for your friend (Psalm 51:12).

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