Tag Archives: Cults

Hell is real but what about its duration?

Several Christian scholars—including F. F. Bruce, Michael Green, John Stott, John W. Wenham, Clark Pinnock, to name a few—have voiced opposition to the traditional view of hell: that is eternal conscious punishment. Does the punishing of the wicked last forever? The Bible can be interpreted in different ways on that. Some verses suggest eternal suffering (eternal conscious punishment), while others suggest a limited duration (annihilation). But either way, hell is real.

A) Here are a sample of passages that use language that seem to suggest finality in the end of the wicked.

1. Wicked: perish

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16).

2. Wicked: destruction

What if God, although willing to demonstrate His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction?” (Romans 9:22).

Whose end is destruction, whose god is their appetite, and whose glory is in their shame, who set their minds on earthly things” (Philippians 3:19).

Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28).

3. Wicked: death

“For the wages of sin is death, but the gracious gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Romans 6:23).

4. Wicked: burned

So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age” (Matthew 13:40).

“If anyone does not abide in Me, he is thrown away as a branch and dries up; and they gather them and cast them into the fire and they are burned(John 15:6).

“For this reason, in one day her plagues will come, pestilence and mourning and famine, and she will be burned up with fire; for the Lord God who judges her is strong” (Revelation 18:8).

5. Wicked: uprooted, cut down

But He answered and said, “Every plant which My heavenly Father did not plant shall be uprooted” (Matt. 5:13).

“And he said to the vineyard-keeper, ‘Behold, for three years I have come looking for fruit on this fig tree without finding any. Cut it down! Why does it even use up the ground?’ (Luke 13:7).

6. Wicked: Day of Judgement for the wicked like days of Noah, Lot.

“And just as it happened in the days of Noah, so will it also be in the days of the Son of Man: 27 people were eating, they were drinking, they were marrying, and they were being given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all28 It was the same as happened in the days of Lot: they were eating, they were drinking, they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, and they were building; 29 but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and brimstone from heaven and destroyed them all. 30 It will be just the same [what people were doing as well as the destruction to come on them?] on the day that the Son of Man is revealed (Luke 17:25-30).

B) Here are a sample of passages that use language that suggests eternal suffering for the wicked.

1. Wicked: Everlasting Contempt vs. Righteous: Everlasting Life

And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2)

2. Wicked: Eternal fire

It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8).

3. Wicked: Eternal punishment vs. Righteous: Eternal life

“Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . . .  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.(Matthew 25:41,46).

4. Wicked: Fire is not extinguished

In Mark 9:43, Jesus spoke about those who might go into hell, where the fire never goes out. “And if your eye is causing you to sin, throw it away; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die, and the fire is not extinguished” (Mark 9:48).

5. Wicked: Everlasting destruction

Regarding those who were persecuting the church at Thessalonica, Paul wrote, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

6. Wicked: Utter darkness reserved forever

“[These people are] wild waves of the sea, casting up the foam of their own shame; wandering stars, for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever(Jude 13).

7. Wicked: Smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever

“And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name” (Revelation 14:11).

8. Wicked: Tormented day and night forever and ever

“And the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. . . . Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10, 14-15).

C) Some observations

1. So, some verses imply that the suffering of the wicked in Hell is final, while other verses indicate the suffering is eternal.

2. The imagery of “fire” in hell, we must acknowledge that it carries a metaphor, and thus not press the terms to prove something about it that were never intended to communicate. Just think of hell in the New Testament being described at one time as “utter darkness” and at another time as “a lake of fire”. How do these two coexist if they are strictly literal? Yet the punishment on the wicked is real. Yet the question remains, is it unending suffering or finite suffering.

3. Some portray hell with all the horrors of literal fire, roasting, torture, etc., and then represent that this is just what orthodox churches believe. But no one believes or teaches such things. Material things of earth are used to represent spiritual things of Hell. Hence, it is fire in one place, outer darkness in another. We do not claim to know exactly what it will be, only that it will be a fearful state of punishment.

4. What is it that is eternal or unending: the act of punishing unbelievers, or the effect of their punishment? Does the ascending smoke of their torment point to the unending conscious experience of suffering they endure? Or does it signify a lasting, irreversible effect of their punishment in which they are annihilated? 

5. The idea of “destruction” (oletheros) in Scriptures may not necessarily mean “cease to exist.” If I were to say that “My car was destroyed in a crash last week,” no one understands that to mean that the car ceases to exist. They understand it to mean that the car was completely ruined and lost to me because of the accident. That is the sense in which the Greek term oletheros is sometimes used. For example, “But those who desire to be rich fall into temptation, into a snare, into many senseless and harmful desires that plunge people into ruin and destruction(1Tim. 6:9). Those who suffer destruction are destroyed. But it does not necessarily follow that those who suffer destruction cease to exist. So, “destruction” can have a meaning of ruin or loss, not necessarily end to existence. 

6. Can the idea of sinning against God — and not only in a moment but for one’s whole lifetime — not merit eternal damnation when one sin justly plunged the world into death and darkness? Is not the nature of the punishment not come from how long you offend dignity, but from how high the dignity is that you offended? The Old Testament penalty for rejecting Moses was death, but anyone who deliberately rejects Jesus deserves a greater punishment. “Anyone who rejected the law of Moses died without mercy on the testimony of two or three witnesses. How much more severely do you think someone deserves to be punished who has trampled the Son of God underfoot, who has treated as an unholy thing the blood of the covenant” (Hebrews 10:28-29).

7. Jesus spoke of an eternal (not finite) sin, the sin against the Holy Sprit (Mark 3:29), a sin that “will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come” (Matthew 12:32). Should not, eternal sin, result in eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9), eternal judgment (Hebrews 6:2), eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), and eternal fire (Matthew 25:41)?  “Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy” (Revelation 22:10–11). Does this text indicate, while the heart of righteous will show the desire to continue do the right thing for eternity, will not the ungodly continue to spiral in evil in eternal sin, and so be punished with unending punishment?

8. When the last book of the Bible (Revelation) describes the flames of hell, it does not speak of a destruction that ends, but says the lost “will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Rev. 14:10–11). However, “death and Hades” (Revelation 20:14) are thrown into the fire as well, which is capable of torment; and, of course, “death and hades” are symbolic imagery. So, should Revelation be interpreted literally when it says God lives “forever and ever” (Revelation 10:6), but not when torments go up “forever and ever” (Revelation 14:11)?

9. In Matthew 25:46, aiōnios, the word for eternal means the same thing both in “eternal punishment” and “eternal life”: they are equally everlasting.

10. Does ‘eternal’ mean forever? In the New Testament, eternal means “agelong,” with the context defining the age. Then is there a usage of “punishment of eternal fire” that is not describing an unending fire burning for eternity. What about this passage. “And angels who did not keep their own domain but abandoned their proper dwelling place, these He has kept [present indicative] in eternal restraints under darkness for the judgment of the great day, just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire…(Jude 1:6-7).

At Sodom and Gomorrah, God set an example of what happens to immoral people: He reduced them to ashes by His eternal fire. Jude says it was “exhibited” on earth, not in hades or hell. How are they an example? They are an example “in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire.” But what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah? God rained fire and brimstone (i.e. sulfur) on the city, burning everything to the ground and killing everyone. Now why would Jude use the term “eternal fire” to refer to a fire that did not burn for eternity? Was the eternal fire eternal in its consequences, and not its duration?

Alternatively , Jude 1:6 and 7 says the angels are presently being kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the final judgement. These angels must be conscious because, in Luke 20:36, Jesus said that angels don’t die. Then in verse 7, Jude says that the people of Sodom and Gomorrah who went after strange flesh in a similar to those angels (Jude 6) are presently an example in undergoing punishment of eternal fire. Does this mean both angels and the wicked (in some intermediate state) of Sodom and Gomorrah are presently undergoing some sort of punishment, and hence is an example of future punishment?

11. When God creates a new heavens and new earth, God says, all the “former things have passed away”, of which death, crying, pain are said to pass away as well (Revelation 21:4). Is this only limited to the world of the righteous or the entire “new creation”?


  • If the way “punishment of eternal fire” used by Jude 1:7 is an example of how the wicked will suffer just as Sodom and Gomorrah was destroyed by fire, then from all texts that speaks of punishment by eternal fire for the wicked, it may be reasonably supported that the fire is eternal in its consequences, not its duration. If this is not the case, then ‘eternal’ must be unending. Now if it is the latter:
  • If the argument against an “unending” punishment is that it unjust of God to punish sinners eternally for temporal sins, it is presumptuous for human beings to tell God what is just and unjust. We would do better to determine from His Holy Word what He deems just and unjust.

  • If the argument against an “unending” punishment is that God and His saints would never enjoy heaven if they knew loved ones and friends were forever in hell. This is the same argument that universalists use to insist that God will finally save every human being.


  • In Matthew 25:46, aiōnios means the same thing both in “eternal punishment” and “eternal life”: they are equally everlasting. However, it is not necessary that here “‘punishment’ and ‘life’ are two continuing states having to do with conscious individuals. Since “eternal redemption” in Hebrews 9:12 does not imply an everlasting process of redeeming, eternal punishment need not imply everlasting process of punishing. The adjective aiōnios makes life and punishment parallel in duration, but the judicial context makes them mutually exclusive in nature: only the righteous will be granted eternal life. The fate of the lost is therefore “the second death” forever—eternal capital punishment. And as Augustine noted, capital punishment is inflicted quickly, but its duration greatly exceeds that of one’s crimes, being measured in how long one remains dead.1
  • Hell is real. While some scriptures certainly appear to teach eternal unending punishment view (which is derided by many annihilationist), and I am open to that view, I lean towards the eternal capital punishment view (the more famously known as annihilation, which is derided by many traditionalists). The wicked will be punished in hell fire at the end of age for an unspecified time and will be no more, because “the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). In any case, we can trust that God is just in His punishment of the wicked whatever the duration of it is.

See: What happens when you die

Isaiah 53:1-12: Israel or Messiah?

This is a verse-by-verse study of Isaiah 52:13-53:1-12. This is not only a beautiful revelation of Christ’s saving death in the place of sinners, but also a stunning confirmation of its truth. When you read the story of your salvation in detail 700 years before it happened, you have not only revelation, but validation.

Isaiah 53 is known to be the fourth in the series of “Servant Songs” in the book of Isaiah. The first three servant songs are found in Isaiah 42:1–9; 49:1–6; 50:4–11. Let’s start from Isaiah 52, verse 13:

Behold, My Servant will prosper, He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted (Isaiah 52:13 NASB)

Behold, My Servant will prosper. Sometimes in the book of Isaiah “the servant” of the Lord is the people of Israel (Isaiah 41:8, 10). Sometimes the servant is the prophet Isaiah himself (Isaiah 49:5). But in Isaiah 53, the servant can’t be the prophet or the people because the servant is pictured as substituting himself for both the prophet and the people. Who then was this servant of the Lord? The New Testament answer is that he was Jesus the Messiah. In all the history of Israel, no one comes close to fulfilling this prophecy besides Jesus. Jesus himself said, “The Son of man did not come to be served, but to serve [that is, to be the suffering servant] and to give his life a ransom [a substitute!] for many” (Mark 10:45). Isaiah goes on to say that the Messiah will prosper and triumph.  

He will be high and lifted up and greatly exalted. The Messiah is greatly exalted because He is the “King of Kings” (1 Timothy 6:15). Similar expressions “high and lifted up” are used of the Almighty God in Isaiah 6:1 and Isaiah 57:15. 

Just as many were appalled at you my people, so His appearance was marred beyond that of a man, And His form beyond the sons of mankind (Isaiah 52:14)

Just as many were appalled at you.  Many were horrified by the sight of the servant Messiah. Why were the people shocked at the Messiah? [Note: The phrase “my people”, is probably not the best translation as it tends to suggest that this statement is directed at Israel (“My people”) and not the Messiah. It is not appropriate given the context of Chapter 53, and preceding verses. Also, the word “my people” is not in the Hebrew, hence it is italicized].

So His appearance was marred beyond that of a man. And His form beyond the sons of mankind. His form or appearance was so disfigured and deformed.This may be speaking of the cruel and vicious beating the Messiah endures at the hands of the people, that disfigured him and made him hardly look like a man. The result was so shocking that many were astonished when they saw the Messiah.Luke records this fulfillment. “Now the men who held Jesus mocked Him and beat Him. And having blindfolded Him, they struck Him on the face and asked Him, saying, “Prophesy! Who is the one who struck You?” (Luke 22:63-64).

So He will sprinkle many nations, Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him; For what they had not been told, they will see, And what they had not heard, they will understand (Isaiah 53:15)

So He will sprinkle many nations. Sprinkling is often associated with cleansing from sin in the Old Testament (Exodus 24:8, Leviticus 3:8). Here, the promise is that the work of the Messiah will bring cleansing to many nations.

Kings will shut their mouths on account of Him. Though all will be astonished at His appearance, ultimately they will have nothing to say against Him. To shut the mouths here indicates veneration and admiration. “So that at the name of Jesus EVERY KNEE WILL BOW, of those who are in heaven and on earth and under the earth” (Philippians 2:10)

For what they had not been told, they will see, and what they had not heard, they will understand. Kings will come to recognize and understand this wonderful exaltation of the messenger of God and who He really is, which had not before been made known to them or which they had not heard before. 

Who has believed our report? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? (Isaiah 53:1 NASB)

Who has believed our report. The answer to this rhetorical question is scarcely anyone. When the Messiah is revealed to the Jews and the world, will people believe Isaiah’s words in this chapter about the Messiah?

And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? To whom was the Messiah revealed? Arm is an emblem of power, and power of God was revealed through the Messiah to the Jews. Now Isaiah goes on to explain more about the Messiah in the following verses hoping that people will recognize the Messiah.

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, And like a root out of dry ground; He has no stately form or majesty That we would look at Him, Nor an appearance that we would take pleasure in Him (Isaiah 53:2)

For He grew up before Him like a tender shoot, and like a root out of dry ground. Though theMessiah’s origin is from “eternity” (Micah 5:2), and He eternally “existed in the form of God” (Philippians 2:6), but when He took upon Himself the “form of a servant” (Philippians 2:7), and came to earth as a man, He did grow up, and increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God the Father and men (Luke 2:52). But all the while, He was as a tender plant, of seeming weakness and insignificance, not like a mighty tree.

He has no stately form or majesty that we would look at Him, Nor an appearance that we would take pleasure in Him.  Jesus was not a man of remarkable beauty or physical attractiveness. This doesn’t mean that Jesus was ugly, but it does mean that He did not have the “advantage” of good looks to attract people to Him.

He was despised and abandoned by men, A man of great pain and familiar with sickness; And like one from whom people hide their faces, He was despised, and we had no regard for Him (Isaiah 53:3)

He was despised and abandoned by men.  He was rejected by the Jews; by the rich; the great and the learned; by the mass of people of every grade, and age, and rank. He is also despised today by many. 

A man of great pain and familiar with sickness. His life was so full of sufferings. Jesus is not mentioned as having ever suffered under sickness but He was familiar with sickness so he can identify with our sufferings. “For we do not have a high priest [Jesus] who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15)

And like one from whom people hide their faces, He was despised, and we had no regard for Him. Because there was nothing outwardly beautiful about the Messiah, mankind’s reaction was to withdraw from Him, to despise Him, and hold Him in low esteem.

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore, And our pains that He carried; Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted, Struck down by God, and humiliated. (Isaiah 53:4)

However, it was our sicknesses that He Himself bore. And our pains that He carried. He made our griefs His own, and our sorrows as if they were His.

Yet we ourselves assumed that He had been afflicted, struck down by God, and humiliated. People thought He was subjected to great and severe punishment by God for his sins or regarded him as an object of divine punishment.

But He was pierced for our offenses, He was crushed for our wrongdoings; The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him, And by His wounds we are healed (Isaiah 53:5)

But He was pierced for our offenses. Yes, the Messiah was struck by God. But now, the prophet explains why. It was for us – for our offenses or transgressions…for our sins or wrongdoings. It was in our place that the Messiah suffered death by nails piercing his hands. The Messiah took our punishment. 

He was crushed for our wrongdoings. Bruised or crushed for our sins. The Hebrew words “crushed”, “pierced” are the strongest ones in that language for violent and excruciating death. 

The punishment for our well-being was laid upon Him. This shows again that Messiah’s sufferings were not just with His people but for them. The Messiah endured the punishment, whatever they were, which were needed to secure our peace, well-being, reconciliation with God. “For God made Christ, who never sinned, to be the offering for our sin, so that we could be made right with God through Christ” (2 Corinthians 5:21)

And by His wounds we are healed.  The proper idea is the wounds made by bruising Him,it has brought healing to us, primarily spiritual healing,  pardon from sin, and restoration to the favor of God.

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way; But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all To fall on Him (Isaiah 53:6)

All of us, like sheep, have gone astray. Each of us has turned to his own way.  Sheep are stupid, headstrong animals, and we, like they, have gone astray. We have turned – against God’s way, everyone, to his own way. “For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious [perfect] standard” (Romans 3:23).

But the Lord has caused the wrongdoing of us all to fall on Him. Here we see the partnership between the Father and the Son in the work on the cross. If the Messiah was wounded for our sins or wrongdoings, then it was also the LORD who laid on Him the iniquity or wrongdoing of us all. The Father judged our sin as it was laid on the Son. Jesus is the “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).

He was oppressed and afflicted, Yet He did not open His mouth; Like a lamb that is led to slaughter, And like a sheep that is silent before its shearers, So He did not open His mouth (Isaiah 53:7)

Despite the pain and the suffering of the Messiah, He never opened His mouth to defend Himself. He was silent before His accusers (Mark 15:2-5), never speaking to defend Himself, only to glorify God. As a sheep submits quietly to the operation of shearing, he voluntarily took upon himself the punishment.

By oppression and judgment He was taken away; And as for His generation, who considered That He was cut off from the land of the living For the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due? (Isaiah 53:8)

By oppression and judgment He was taken away. He was taken out of this life by oppression, violence, and a pretence of justice by the people.

And as for His generation who considered That He was cut off from the land of the living for the wrongdoing of my people, to whom the blow was due?  Who considered in that generation when the Messiah came that the Messiah was put to death on account of the sin of the people, to whom the punishment was actually due?

And His grave was assigned with wicked men, Yet He was with a rich man in His death, Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth (Isaiah 53:9)

And His grave was assigned with wicked men. Messiah died in the company of the wicked. Luke 23:32-33 records that Jesus fulfilled this. Jesus’ grave was intended to be assigned with the wicked by crucifying him with two thieves.

Yet He was with a rich man in His death. Despite the intention of others to make His grave with the wicked, God allowed the Messiah to be with the rich at His death, buried in the tomb of the wealthy Joseph of Arimathea (Luke 23:50-56, Matthew 27:57-60).

Because He had done no violence, Nor was there any deceit in His mouth. Even in His taking the sins of God’s people, the Messiah never sinned. He remained the Holy One, despite all the pain and suffering.

But the Lord desired To crush Him, causing Him grief; If He renders Himself as a guilt offering, He will see His offspring, He will prolong His days, And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand (Isaiah 53:10)

But the Lord desired To crush Him, causing Him grief. The prophet Isaiah emphatically states that the suffering of the Messiah was ordained by the LORD, and the Lord desired to do it for our sake. Messiah was no victim of circumstance or at the mercy of political or military power. It was the planned, ordained work of the LORD God.

If He renders Himself as a guilt offering. The word employed for ‘guilt offering’ means a trespass offering, and carries us at once back to the sacrificial system in the Old Testament. The trespass offering was distinguished from other offerings. The central idea of it was to represent sin or guilt as debt, and the sacrifice as making payment for it. 

He will see His offspring. If Messiah offers Himself as a guilt offering,His death shall be glorious to himself and his spiritual descendants, for he shall have a numerous offspring of believers, reconciled to God, and saved by his death.

He will prolong His days. If Messiah offers Himself as a guilt offering, then He will also live long. Messiah’s death is made the condition of this long life. It was the  resurrection of Christ, and his entrance again to immortal life (Romans 6:9), after offering himself as a sacrifice upon the cross, that fulfills these words.

And the good pleasure of the Lord will prosper in His hand. Christ’s Sacrifice carried out the divine pleasure, and by His Sacrifice the divine pleasure is further carried out and prospered.

Why can’t God simply forgive us? God’s love desires a relationship with us. But God’s holiness can have nothing to do with sin.  Hence, sin must be atoned for.  God’s justice demands punishment for rebellion.  His love desires another.  God’s solution was to send his Son to take the penalty for our sins.  Is that logical? Not to human minds. But that’s what God did.  God sent his eternal Son as a sacrifice so as to be just (holy) and at the same time to justify (declare innocent) those who have faith in Jesus Christ. The death of Jesus was not about love.  It was about justice, but the reason it happened was because of God’s love.

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied; By His knowledge the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many, For He will bear their wrongdoings (Isaiah 53:11)

As a result of the anguish of His soul, He will see it and be satisfied. The Messiah will look upon His work, with full view of the anguish caused on His soul – and in the end, He shall be satisfied. “He will see it and be satisfied” appears to be a reference to a resurrection. “Because of the joy awaiting him, he [Jesus] endured the cross, disregarding its shame…” (Hebrews12:2)

By His knowledge, the Righteous One, My Servant, will justify the many. By His knowledge, meaning by the knowledge of Him. It is in knowing the Messiah, in both who He is and what He has done, that makes us justified (declared righteous) before God.

For He will bear their wrongdoings. For the Messiah shall satisfy the justice and law of God for us, by bearing the punishment due to our sins and wrongdoings.

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the plunder with the strong, Because He poured out His life unto death, And was counted with wrongdoers; Yet He Himself bore the sin of many, And interceded for the wrongdoers (Isaiah 53:12)

Therefore, I will allot Him a portion with the great, And He will divide the plunder with the strong. This verse is designed to predict the triumphs of the Messiah. It is language used from the custom of distributing spoils of victory after a king has battled his enemies. The Father will exalt His Son Jesus and give Him ‘a portion’ that is great. How much is that portion? “All things have been created through Him [the Son] and for Him [the Son] (Col 1:16). Then Jesus will divide the ‘plunder’ or ‘spoils’ with the strong, meaning those strong in faith, believers (Rom 8:15-18).

Because He poured out His life unto death, And was counted with wrongdoers. This speaks of the totality of Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross. Poured out means that it was all gone. Jesus could never become a sinner; He could never be a transgressor Himself. Yet willingly, loving, He was numbered with the transgressors for our benefit. What is that benefit? 

Yet He Himself bore the sin of many. Over and over again, the prophet emphasizes the point. The Messiah suffers on behalf of and in the place of guilty sinners, as our substitute. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many” (Mark 10:45). The greatest exchange of all time is when God, in His grace and His mercy, made His eternal Son became the Propitiation (payment); He became the one who paid the debt for our redemption.  He became the sacrifice for sin, so that only on the basis of what Jesus has done, He offers to exchange our filthy dirty offensive robe of sin for a robe of Christ’s eternal righteousness. 

And interceded for the wrongdoers. This passage may be referring to Jesus’ prayers on the cross itself for His people or Jesus’ ministry of intercession (Hebrews 7:25) in heaven right now. This means the work of the Messiah is made available to transgressors even now. We are saved by His death, resurrection and life. It is when we see ourselves as sinners falling short of God’s perfection that we can reach out and receive His salvation.

So who will believe this report? To this day, Jews and even many Christians do not want to accept the idea of a dying Messiah who would die as our substitute and pay our sin debt. The fact is these people have no need of a savior.  They have no need of a sacrifice for sin.  Nobody in a works system of religion needs a savior. They want a king who would reward them for what they deserve and how good their performance is. If you don’t understand the doctrine of depravity (how sinful you are), and you don’t understand that you are unable to save yourself by anything you do, then you don’t need a savior to save you, right? You think you can achieve salvation by your work and efforts.  And any system that has any achievement that saves belief, has no place for a vicarious, substitutionary atoning death of the Messiah. 

Did Judaism believe that Isaiah 53 was referring to Messiah?

While the modern view in Judaism views Israel as the servant, which was popularized by the famous commentator Rashi in the 11th Century. There are influential Jewish scholars, like Maimonides (Rambam) considered Isaiah 53 to be about the Messiah.

See (external link): Is the Servant in Isaiah 53 the Messiah?

Hebrews 11:13-22 – A Better City

We reminded ourselves last time that everybody lives by faith. It’s not just the Christians; everybody lives by faith. The question is: faith in what? “What is the object of our faith?” Everybody deep within their souls has a longing—a longing for something that will satisfy, a longing for something that gives us significance. We have these deep real longings in our souls as people made in the image of God, and there are millions of people who believe somehow, some way, those deepest longings can be satisfied in this world. They believe somehow this world will ultimately make them happy…will make them significant…will meet the deepest needs in their soul. In essence, they do believe you can create heaven on earth. Most of us here would say, “We simply don’t have that much faith.” We look at the world, such as it is, and it just seems like a reckless leap of faith. Rather we choose to believe there’s got be something different and something better. That’s what we want to talk about today in Chapter 11.  

It’s our second part in Hebrews 11, and it would be good to go back to verse 1 and just remind ourselves again of the Hebrews’ definition of faith. So: “Faith is the assurance, (the confidence) of things hoped for.” Again, hope in the New Testament is something that is certain but it is also something that is yet future. This word assurance is a word that can also be translated as the substance. In other words, it’s something I believe so strongly that it actually becomes the substance or the foundation of my life. I believe it to such a degree that I live in such a way that I actually give people a glimpse today of the world to come. It is: “…the conviction of things not seen,” which reminds us this is a faith that is thoughtful; it’s reasoned; it’s not just a reckless leap of faith, but rather we have examined the evidence and concluded, “This is what we believe is true.” The writer then goes on to illustrate this kind of faith through people like Abel, through Enoch, through Noah, through Abraham and Sarah and Isaac and Jacob, which is where we pick up the story in verse 13: 

All of these died in faith, without receiving the promises, but having seen them and having welcomed them from a distance, and having confessed that they were strangers and exiles on earth. For those who say such things make it clear that they are seeking a country of their own. And indeed if they had been thinking of that country from which they went out, they would have had opportunity to return. (*NASB, Hebrews 11:13-15) 

This is very important to understand. What the writer says is all of these died in faith, without receiving the promises. We don’t like that. We want what we want, and we want it now. “I want the promises kept and I want them kept now!” Many Christians struggle with this desire to see the promises fulfilled and fulfilled now. We want to believe that somehow the deepest longings of our soul can be satisfied in this world. We want to somehow create heaven on earth.  

It’s a little bit like building your dream house in a war zone. And let’s imagine the builder tells you again and again not to do it, “It’s not going to work,” but you won’t listen; you insist! So he builds you your dream house in a war zone. Then you don’t like it. “It’s too noisy; it’s too dangerous!” But here’s the irony: Then you turn around and you blame the builder. That’s what we do. We take these promises and we want them fulfilled now; we want our best life now!  And so that is what we try to accomplish—heaven on earth.  

But this world just breaks our heart again and again and again, and when it doesn’t work out like we want it to, then we blame God. And God says, “Wait a minute, that’s not what I promised. I didn’t promise your best life now.” You can sell a lot of books with that theme; you can fill a big auditorium with that theme, but it simply isn’t what God promises. What God promises is: this is going to be tough. This is going to be hard. The hope of the gospel is the reminder that one day Jesus is coming back and we will be ushered to the place that our souls long for.  

Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob—they all believed the promise that God would give them a land, but they all lived in tents. They all died having never seen the promise fulfilled. The text said they were aliens and strangers. They were saying, “This world is not my home—at least not as it is now.”  The writer says they wanted to find a place to call home, and if they were referring to the cities from which they left, they could have just gone back home. Moving to some other place, trying some other thing is not going to cut it. But rather with eyes of faith, they knew they were headed for somewhere else. Verse 16: 

But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God; for He has prepared a city for them.  

They understood that even the land of promise is but a shadow of the eventual city their souls long for—which is not an earthly city—it is a heavenly city that will be everything that they longed for. But they believed by faith. They lived by faith; they died by faith…believing it’s true. It’s very interesting what the last part of verse 16 says: Therefore…  As a result of that—remembering that Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, these were not perfect people—go back and read their stories. There were times of struggle, times of death; there were times when they seriously messed up. Jacob was a liar; he was a schemer; you don’t even like the guy after you read his story. The message has never been on the basis of their performance but on the basis of their belief. They believed that God would keep His promise.  Therefore God is not ashamed.   

Verse 17: 

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac… (Vs. 17a)   

So this story is found in Genesis chapter 22; you can go back and read it for yourself. The verb tense here would indicate that in Abraham’s mind he had already offered Isaac. In other words, he wasn’t still wrestling with the idea.  He had settled it; he would offer his son, Isaac.  

By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, and he who had received the promises was offering up his only begotten son; (Vs. 17b)   

It’s the same language as John 3:16—For God so loved the world that He sent His only begotten Son. The language means specifically unique or special. We’re called the sons and daughters of God, but we’re not God’s only begotten Son in that special way that Jesus was. In the same way, Abraham had other sons, but they were not the son of promise—Isaac was! And so Abraham is wrestling with this idea that God promised that the seed would travel through Isaac, but He’s asking me to sacrifice Isaac on the altar. At this point Isaac would have been 12 or 13 years old. Verse 18: 

 …it was he to whom it was said, “IN ISAAC YOUR DESCENDANTS SHALL BE  CALLED.”  (So, in his mind, Abraham had settled it.)  He considered… (That word is very strong. He had a deep, deep conviction…) that God is able to raise people even from the dead, from which he also received him back as a type. (Vs. 18-19) 

Essentially what the text is saying is that Abraham, in his mind had sacrificed Isaac—he had settled it. But he believed so strongly in the promise and that God tells the truth that somehow God would raise him from the dead in order to fulfill His promise. As a matter of fact, if you go back to Genesis 22:5 and you read the story, Abraham says to his servants, “Wait at the bottom of the hill and we will return to you.” He believed with all of his heart that he and Isaac would return, and his way of making sense of that is, “God’s going to raise him from the dead.” 

But the other part of that story is in that moment when God stopped Abraham, He provided a ram, and the ram would die rather than Isaac. The ram would be the substitute for Isaac that would die that day. We don’t have to guess at this; the text actually tells us:  that was a type—a shadow, a picture. Isaac’s story was a type (parable, figure, illustration) of the fact that God will give us what He has promised. He was a type of Christ. We’ve had a lot of that in Hebrews. It was the reminder that one day on this same mountain, on Mount Moriah, there would be a Father who would actually sacrifice His only begotten Son for the sins of the world. He would be the substitute. He would be the Lamb of God who would die the death for Isaac, would die the death for Abraham, would die the death for all of us as sinners. We’ve learned this in Hebrews: He died our death. His blood is sufficient payment for sin. There’s nothing more that needs to be done.  

But what the story also includes is the resurrection—that Jesus not only died and was buried, but He conquered sin and death once and for all when He rose from the dead—literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead! That’s Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15—the basis by which we believe that we will experience resurrection after death, and it is not just religious talk, not just wishful thinking. It’s based on the fact that Jesus Himself literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead and conquered sin and death once and for all that we, too, might be resurrected and live even though we die. Verse 20: 

By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau, even regarding things to come. By faith Jacob, as he was dying, blessed each of the sons of Joseph, and worshiped, leaning on the top of his staff. By faith Joseph, when he was dying, made mention of the exodus of the sons of Israel, and gave orders concerning his bones.  (Vs. 20-22)  

The text is reminding us that Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Joseph believed the promise, but they would die having never seen it fulfilled. They would never inherit the land in their lifetime. What did Abraham have to pass on to Isaac? The promise! What did Isaac have to pass on to his sons Jacob and Esau? The promise! “Boys, I know we’ve been living in a tent our whole lives, but God tells the truth. We have to trust Him.”  Joseph so believed the promise that he said, “Don’t bury me here.” Egypt was his home. “Take the bones to Canaan, because that will be our land.” It would be over four hundred years before God would raise up Moses to deliver them out of the land of Egypt into the land of promise.  Abraham, Sarah, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, his sons— they’d all be buried in Canaan. But at the time of the burial, the land would belong to someone else. They just believed by faith, one day God will keep His promise. But it was more than that. They understood the land of promise was yet but a picture of something more. They were aliens and strangers; they were passing through; they wanted a country of their own which ultimately would be a heavenly city that would be everything their souls longed for. It is interesting that in verse 16God had prepared a place. It was past tense—God already had the city ready. . The root of this hope is found in the resurrection of Jesus. When Jesus literally, physically, bodily rose from the dead, He did not rise from the dead with a new body. He rose from the dead with a resurrected body. He showed the imprints of the nails in His hands; He showed the scar in His side. 

It was the body that was crucified and buried that rose again. This is Paul’s argument in 1 Corinthians 15.  That is the basis by which we believe this body, such as it is, is the body that will be raised from the dead. This mortal will put on immortality. This body will be restored to me and it will be changed and it will be made the way God intended it to be. It’s the picture of redemption, of restoration, of making right what was taken and broken. This is critically important to understand because it is the message filled with such hope! The things that broke our heart, the things that disappointed us, the things in this world that simply were not the way we had hoped they would be, somehow they’re made right and restored and given back.  

The more you understand this, the more you believe this—the more it changes the way you live everyday. The more it changes your priorities, the more it changes your perspective, the more it changes your values—the more you realize what matters and what doesn’t matter. I’m not trying to create heaven on earth. I’m an alien and a stranger and I’m headed to a better place. God made a promise, and I believe that God tells the truth and I believe that Jesus rose from the dead. And I live by faith and I will die in faith, having never seen the promise fulfilled, but believing with all my heart it is true! And there will come a day…finally…where I will finally be home! 

Our Father, it’s hard to even process the depth of the hope of the gospel. God, we know this world teases us; this world breaks our hearts again and again. And it just reminds us this world is not our home—that we are aliens and strangers—and by faith we are headed to a better city—a place that will finally be home! God, until that day, find us faithful. In Jesus’ name, Amen. 

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