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Christian-History.org Ezine: Hell and Hades from Ignatius
July 04, 2010
The Letters of Ignatius of Antioch
To put it in modern terms, Ignatius was the head pastor of the apostle Paul's home church ... quite possibly the very first one after Paul went off to trial in Rome.
Makes him kind of important, don't you think?
I'm doing a series of posts on his letter to the Ephesians—yes, the very same Ephesians Paul and Jesus (Rev. 2:1) wrote to. It's going up almost daily at my blog..
Conveniently enough, my blog is down at the same time that my Early Church History Newsletter is due out! So this next installment on Ignatius' letter is just yours!
This ezine is a taste of the commentary you get on Ignatius at the blog ...
Letter to the Ephesians: Chapter One
Let's begin by letting you see the chapter!
There was a short intro by Ignatius before this chapter. Comments to that are on the blog. I've also already commented on the the first third of the first chapter, which you are about to read.
It is interesting that the early Christians believed that martyrs went straight to heaven.
The reason it's interesting is because they believed that everyone else didn't.
Don't worry. This is not as heretical or strange as it might seem. Though you have probably never heard it (well, I take that back; if you're reading my ezine, then you probably have heard it) your church almost certainly believes, and teaches in seminary, something very similar about heaven and ... no, not hell ... Hades.
There's a difference between hell and Hades???
Sure there is. Listen to this verse from the Revelation of John ...
And death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. (20:14)
Hell is a rough word to work with in Scripture (and an even rougher place to be in!). Hades is sometimes translated hell, and so is the Greek word gehenna. And then there's the lake of fire that we just saw mentioned.
What are we supposed to do with this?
First, quick definitions ...
There's a way most modern denominations understand the relationship between these three, and there's a way the early church understood it. Very similar, but with a crucial difference ...
Hades, in both the modern and early Christian understanding, is what is described by Jesus in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). Both the rich man and Lazarus go there, but they are in different sections and can see each other.
Lazarus, however, is in comfort with Abraham, while the rich man is tormented in flames.
According to modern Christians—including, most likely, your denomination, even if they only talk about it in seminary—everyone went to Hades, whether the good or the bad side, until Jesus died. Then, when Jesus rose, he emptied the good side of Hades.
The Scripture most commonly used for this is Eph. 4:8: "When he ascended up on high, he led captivity captive."
That also is the typical explanation for the bewildering comments by Peter that the Gospel was preached to "the dead" and "the spirits in prison" (1 Pet. 3:19; 4:6).
As far as the bad side of Hades—where the rich man and other unsaved people are in flames—we moderns believe it is emptied at the final judgment as it is written in Revelation 20:13, "And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them."
The early Christians agree about the bad side of Hades. But they believed that the good side is emptied then, too.
There's some interesting side notes to what the early Christians believed.
All of this brings us back to Ignatius' letter to the Ephesians. Ignatius mentions being a true disciple based on his martyrdom.
Ignatius and Martyrdom
There's two ways Ignatius "true disciple" comment can be understood ...
Likely, he meant both. He certainly meant the second based on other things he wrote.
For if ye are silent concerning me, I shall become Godís; but if you show your love to my flesh [i.e., by appealing for his deliverance from martyrdom], I shall again have to run my race. (Letter to the Romans 2)
To be honest, I'm not sure how much this matters, and I certainly don't know how to answer that question for you. I do want to say something general, though.
Today, we disagree on almost everything, and most of us have no idea of what's important to God.
So in most cases, I lean towards the early Christian view as a lot more likely to be true. I do not just dismiss their views because they sound strange to our ears.
There are also the following reasons they are more likely to have held better doctrine than ours ...
That is not to say that the early Christian writings should be made into an authoritative Bible. Nonetheless, seeing that all four of the things above are true, it seems foolish to ignore them—
... especially when we need so much help!
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