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Once In Hell, Always In Hell?

See also Hell.

For the vast majority of mankind, after death, except for the momentary day of judgment (Revelation 20:11-15), once confined to the fires and torments of hell, they will forever suffer there in God's cruel wrath (Proverbs 27:4; Isaiah 13:9; Revelation 20:10; 21:8). Yet,

as it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment (Hebrews 9:27),

so it is appointed for some to be differently treated (Psalm 115:3).

After death, most of mankind are confined to Hades (the temporary hell, Luke 16:19-31/Revelation 20:11-14) until the day of judgment, and then at the Great White throne they will be thrown to the lake of fire (Revelation 20:11-15) to suffer there eternally (e.g. Revelation 20:10; Matthew 25:41-46; 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7). But, for some, Scripture reveals a different story.

I. Salvation After Death

Noah's generation is a different story. Although some men began to call upon the name of the Lord before the flood (Genesis 4:26), it is evident at the time of the flood, all men (minus Noah and his family) were condemned (Hebrews 11:7) and destroyed in the flood. They died in their sin (as in John 8:24). Their wickedness "was great" and "every intent of the thoughts of [their] heart was only evil continually" (Genesis 6:5), and they were violent (Genesis 6:11); and the Lord hated them (Psalm 11:5).

Nevertheless, Noah's generation was offered the hope of salvation after death. In 1 Peter 3 we read,

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the just for the unjust, that He might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive by the Spirit, by whom also He went and preached to the spirits in prison, who formerly were disobedient, when once the Divine longsuffering waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, . . . (1 Peter 3:18-20)

After His crucifixion, Jesus "went and preached to the spirits in prison". These spirits to whom He preached are identified as those who were around "while the ark was being prepared", and later in 1 Peter we are told why Jesus preached to them.

For this reason the gospel was preached also to those who are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit. (1 Peter 4:6)

It's evident by this language that those "spirits in prison" are "men",1 since they are "judged according to men in the flesh". Why did Christ preach to them? That "they might be judged according to men in the flesh, but live according to God in the spirit". With this language of "judged according to men in the flesh" it sounds like condemnation (Genesis 6:5, 11; Romans 3:10). Yet, with the "live according to God in the spirit" it indicates hope for life, salvation, for those who heed what Christ preached. The details of neither are given, but one thing should be clear. These spirits are given a second chance after death. They are given a hope for life ("live") that others are not (see e.g. 2 Peter 2:6; Jude 7).

Moreover, this language of life ("live according to God") for these spirits in prison is antithetical to the language for the eternally damned. For them, both while they are walking on the earth, and when they are physically raised from the dead, either way they are noted as spiritually "dead". See Luke 9:60 and Revelation 20:12. And they will be eternally dead in the second death (Revelation 21:8). But, though these in 1 Peter 3:19 & 4:6 are noted as physically "dead" (as opposed to those who are "alive", see 1 Peter 4:5), these spirits are given hope to "live according to God in the spirit" (1 Peter 4:6). That is salvation!

Those given this hope are those who were alive "in the days of Noah" (1 Peter 3:20) during the building of the ark. They were subsequently destroyed in the flood (2 Peter 2:5). This includes everyone who was on the earth (besides Noah and his family), including the Nephilim (NKJV "giants", Genesis 6:4),2 those born to the sons of God (Genesis 6:4).3

These "spirits in prison" do not include the sons of God (angels, Job 1:6; 2:1; 38:4-7) who cohabitated with the daughters of men. Those fallen angels are explicitly noted as having no hope, "reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day" (Jude 6).

II. Temple Shame & Service

In Ezekiel 44 we have a very unique judgment from the Lord Most High. He declares wicked Levites, who have long been dead and in the grave, will serve Him in His Holy Temple in the future. Though presently they are no doubt suffering His vengeance (as in Luke 16:19-31), in the future they will be brought back to "bear their shame" in the temple of God.

"And the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray, who strayed away from Me after their idols, they shall bear their iniquity. Yet they shall be ministers in My sanctuary, as gatekeepers of the house and ministers of the house; they shall slay the burnt offering and the sacrifice for the people, and they shall stand before them to minister to them. Because they ministered to them before their idols and caused the house of Israel to fall into iniquity, therefore I have raised My hand in an oath against them," says the Lord GOD, "that they shall bear their iniquity. And they shall not come near Me to minister to Me as priest, nor come near any of My holy things, nor into the Most Holy Place; but they shall bear their shame and their abominations which they have committed. Nevertheless I will make them keep charge of the temple, for all its work, and for all that has to be done in it." (Ezekiel 44:10-14)

This passage begins with, "the Levites who went far from Me, when Israel went astray". In other words, He is speaking of Levites who have already been on the earth and died. Yet, He is speaking in the context of the future (Ezekiel 40-48), and it is not salvation for these wicked Levites. It is actually part of the judgment of God upon them in which they will bear their shame and their iniquity before God and men. It is a fulfillment of Proverbs 26:24-26.

He who hates, disguises it with his lips, and lays up deceit within himself. When he speaks kindly, do not believe him, for there are seven abominations in his heart. Though his hatred is covered by deceit, his wickedness will be revealed before the assembly.

Proverbs 26 well fits these idolatrous Levites. Being evil idol worshippers they no doubt hated and hid their hatred, yet spoke kindly and worked deceit (as all false religious leaders do, Romans 16:18). In the future, God will expose their shame in His very Temple before all who come in and out. These Levites will "bear their shame" (Ezekiel 44:13).

There is nothing in this text indicating anything but condemnation. These are not saved Levities. The Lord says they will "bear their shame", bear "their abominations" (Ezekiel 44:13), and twice He says they will "bear their iniquity" (Ezekiel 44:10, 12). Also, from the Hebrew in Ezekiel 44:10, it indicates the Lord views these Levites as still "uncircumcised in heart".

In Ezekiel 44:9 the Lord says,

Thus says the Lord GOD: "No foreigner, uncircumcised in heart or uncircumcised in flesh, shall enter My sanctuary, including any foreigner who is among the children of Israel."

Then, in the very next verse He says, "Except the Levites who went far from Me . . ." (my translation). The typical translation of this verse begins with "And" (e.g. NKJV; KJV) or "But" (e.g. NAS; YLT). It is two words in the Hebrew, כִּי אִם (ki im), which can be translated in a variety of ways, depending on the context (e.g. that if, for if, but, etc.). Yet one of the ways is, "except" (e.g. Leviticus 21:2; Number 14:30), and that well fits the context here.

Moreover, immediately after Ezekiel 44:10-14, in contrast to the wicked Levities, the righteous Levites are noted as also being brought back to earth, and are blessed, able to draw near and minister to the Lord Himself (Ezekiel 44:15-20). These are indeed saved Levites, who would indeed love to be in His temple (Psalm 84:10). But the other Levites are still lost in their sin, and such holiness would be an abomination to them (Proverbs 13:19; 29:27). Nonetheless, they are brought back to earth for a time.

The time in which Ezekiel speaks is the 1000 year reign of Christ (Revelation 20). This is evident by the slaying of the burnt offering (Ezekiel 44:11), in which such death will not exist in the eternal state (Revelation 22:1-4). There is also no temple in the eternal state (Revelation 21:22), nor any sea (Revelation 21:1). But there is a sea in the Ezekiel context. It is also noted as a time of spectacular blessing (see Ezekiel 47), as the 1000 year reign of Christ will indeed be.


1. See also Hebrews 12:9, 23; 1 John 4:1. According to the NKJV, Samuel is called a "spirit" (after death) in 1 Samuel 28:13, but that is not actually what is said. The KJV accurately translates this verse.

And the king said unto her, Be not afraid: for what sawest thou? And the woman said unto Saul, I saw gods ascending out of the earth. (1 Samuel 28:13 KJV; אֱלֹהִ֥ים רָאִ֖יתִי עֹלִ֥ים מִן־הָאָֽרֶץ "I saw gods ascending from the earth.")

2. Some may think the Nephilim (נְּפִלִים [nephilim]) were entirely destroyed in the flood, but Numbers 13:33 dispels that error.

And there we saw the Nephilim (sons of Anak are from the Nephilim), and we were in our eyes as grasshoppers, and so we were in their eyes. (my translation)

Therefore, since there are Nephilim found on the earth after the flood (Numbers 13:33), it's evident someone in Noah's family would have had to have been a Nephilim, as it is written,

He has made from one blood every nation of men to dwell on all the face of the earth (Acts 17:26).

This "one blood" goes all the way back to Adam and thus via Noah's family through the flood, since Noah and his family were the sole survivors of the deluge (1 Peter 3:20).

3. The Nephilim are the half breed (angelic/human) offspring of the sons of God. Genesis 6:1-4 says,

Now it came to pass, when men began to multiply on the face of the earth, and daughters were born to them, that the sons of God saw the daughters of men, that they were beautiful; and they took wives for themselves of all whom they chose. And the LORD said, "My Spirit shall not strive with man forever, for he is indeed flesh; yet his days shall be one hundred and twenty years." There were giants [Nephilim] on the earth in those days, and also afterward, when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them. Those were the mighty men who were of old, men of renown.

Genesis 6:4 more literally says, "The Nephilim were on the earth in those days". "Those days" are defined as, "when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them." It is as the language in 2 Chronicles 35:20.

After all this, when Josiah had prepared the temple, . . .

As "After all this" is defined as, "when Josiah had prepared the temple," so it is in Genesis 6:4. "Those days" are defined as "when the sons of God came in to the daughters of men and they bore children to them." Therefore, the Nephilim are the offspring of this ungodly union.

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