Hell, What Is It
And What Goes There?
George Kirkpatrick
 


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Since the beginning of time man has been taught to fear God's eternal judgment. There have been many so called visions of man being thrown bodily into hell. Others have supposedly seen hell and those in torment when they returned from a death experience. Hell has always been described as a burning lake of fire where men, women, and even children are put to suffer indescribable torment and anguish for an endless eternity.
 
 
As we begin to study the Bible concerning this term hell, we come up with more questions than answers. We are asked to believe what is taught about hell without question. The pulpits remain full of preachers who are trying to scare their people out of hell into heaven. They teach their people the good go to heaven and the wicked go to hell. This becomes a very black and white picture which seems to raise even more questions. Luke recorded the words of Peter after the Day of Pentecost:   

We all believe there is only one way to salvation, and that is through the name of Jesus. Then we must ask about those who lived during Old Testament times. In the Old Testament we have those who lived under the law and those who lived before the law. Did all these people go to hell because they had no way to salvation, or did they go to heaven because they had no way to salvation and were ignorant of the name of Jesus, His death, and resurrection? To discover the answer to this question we must ask, "What happened to those who lived before the law and under the law?"    

Even in modern times we hear missionaries speak of those in remote areas who have never heard the name of Jesus who are just now being evangelized. What happened to all their ancestors over the last thousands of years who lived and died, never hearing or having the opportunity to receive salvation? Did these all go to hell in their ignorance? Were these not also God's creation, and therefore His children? Or did they all go to heaven because of their ignorance? If this is the case we would now have headhunters and those who drank the blood of their victims in heaven.  

All these questions have to make us stop and wonder if our understanding of God's eternal judgment has been distorted at best, and down right deceiving at worst. It is obvious the black and white scenario of heaven and hell which many teach just does not fit. If it were that cut and dried, there would be no reason for God's white throne judgment. There is something we have overlooked in the Word. We can only discover the truth by allowing the Spirit of truth to guide us into all truth.  

Hell is not a New Testament word. In fact the word hell appears more times in the Old Testament, then it does in the New Testament. The word translated hell in the Old Testament is the Hebrew word SHEOWL. It was used sixty-fives times in the Old Testament. It was translated thirty-one times as the word hell, thirty-one times as the word grave, and three times as the word pit. Not one of these sixty-five Scriptures renders hell as a place of eternal torment. They all indicate it is a place of the dead. Both the righteous and the wicked went there.  

But as the New Testament reveals, there is a vast gulf between the righteous and the wicked. In every generation from the creation, God has had His righteous; and their have also been the wicked. The righteous are God's heirs and the wicked are destroyed.  

In the Old Testament we read how God's ancient people beget the heirs of God. We discover these heirs were not always their first born. For example. . .  

These heirs were not these men's first born, but these were the heirs of righteousness. These heirs would be the lineage to bring forth God's only begotten son, Jesus. These heirs of righteousness are divided into two groups: those who lived before the law, and those who lived under the law. The law was given approximately fourteen hundred and fifty years before Christ. So man lived approximately twenty five hundred and fifty years before the law was given. How many millions lived and died before the law was given? Before the law was given, God's creation lived under grace, the same as we do today. The apostle Paul enlightened us:    

From the time of Adam to Moses, sin was in the world. But as Paul proclaimed, sin is not imputed where there is no law. The word imputed means "put on one's account, and lay to one's charge". Even though their sin was not laid to their charge, they died because of the sin of Adam. As Paul explained death reigned over them who had not sinned after the likeness of Adam's sin.  

What was Adam's sin? Disobedience and rebellion. The same sin is in the earth today. Those who live a life of sin today are disobedient and rebellious to God's Word. Before the law was given, God had a righteous people who were not rebellious or disobedient. These were His heirs of righteousness.  

Now the question arises when these ancients went by way of the grave, did the wicked go to hell and the righteous go to heaven? Since their sin was not laid to their charge, an argument could be made for all of them going to heaven. This would mean those God destroyed because of their wickedness in the flood all went to heaven, and the homosexuals who strove at Lot's door even after they were blinded by the angels of God went to heaven. This, of course, cannot be, so there must be something we do not understand, or God has yet to reveal. As Paul wrote to the church at Corinth:    

God is still revealing His Word to His heirs of righteousness. This brings us to those who lived and died under the law. It was always God's desire that man would live by His grace. But as Paul wrote to the churches at Galatia:    

The law was added because of Israel's transgression. What was Israel's transgression? They forgot their God and desired the idols of the heathens. Today God's people still are desiring the idols of this world. Their judgment will be the same as Israel's.  

God desired to speak to Israel directly so they would know His voice, so He called all Israel to Sinai and informed Moses the people were to. . .    

It was the third day when God was going to speak directly to His people. This is a prophetic Word. God is again going to speak directly to His people on the third day.    

Moses brought all the people to the foot of the mountain, and God came down in a cloud and spoke the ten commandments audibly to the children of Israel. If Israel would have heard, this would have been all the law they would have had to live by. But Israel rejected God's audible word.    

The people removed themselves from the presence of God and stood afar off, proclaiming unto Moses, "You tell us what to do. But do not allow God to speak to us any more". This is the same attitude many of God's people have today. God's people stand afar off from Him saying, "Speak to your preachers, and let them tell us what to do". This has established a religious order with religious headquarters, and the people have made religion their God. If God speaks, then it must be checked out and approved by the religious headquarters. It is the religious leaders who accept or reject what God can speak to His people.  

When the people of Israel rejected God's audible voice, God called Moses up into the mount and gave him strict laws the people were to live by. These laws were to be obeyed. God gave Israel a system requiring sacrifices and offerings to cover their sin until the Promised Seed would come. These laws were in effect until John. Jesus proclaimed:    

John was the last of the Old Testament prophets. He prophesied the ministry of Jesus and the coming Kingdom. By Jesus' own words we know He was the fulfillment of the law.    

The law and the prophets are the Old Testament. Jesus was the fulfillment of both the law and the prophets. By Paul's writing we discover the end of the law:
 
 
"For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth." Romans 10:4  

When we come to Christ, the Promised Seed, Galatians 3:16, then the Mosaic law has come to an end in our lives. We no longer live by the letter of the law, but by every Word which proceedeth out of the mouth of God. This includes His written Logos Word and His spoken Rhema Word. Paul lived much of his life under the law in the Pharisee's religion. He proclaimed to the church at Philippi:    

Paul was blameless under the law. Paul kept the law and he was a Pharisee of the Pharisees. But when he met Jesus on the road to Damascus his religion meant nothing, nor did his being blameless under the law mean anything. When he came face to face with the risen, glorified Christ he had no righteousness in the sight of God. So where are those who kept the law perfectly and died under the law? It is made very clear in the letter to the Hebrews:    

All the sacrifices Israel offered under the law could not make anyone perfect.    

All the animals slain under the law could not take away one sin of any of the children of Israel. Under the law Israel could only have their sin set aside until the coming of the one perfect man who died for the sins of the whole world. The writer of Hebrews continued to say:   

Israel was given no way to deal with their sin problem. So they all died under the curse of sin. Now did they all go to hell because of this? Or maybe they all went to heaven because they had no way to deal with their sin? The law could make no man perfect to stand in the presence of God, so we know they are not in heaven. We also know all God's heirs of righteousness did not go to hell. So we need to ask where are they?  

In order to understand this we must look again at the word translated hell in the Old Testament. As stated before the word translated hell is the word SHEOWL. It is pronounced She- ol. It means "underworld, grave, pit". Sheowl in the Old Testament is used as the abode of the dead, or a place of no return. The Unger's Dictionary describes Sheowl with reference to both the righteous and the wicked. Unger continues to describe Sheowl as the place of the dead; not the grave, but a place for those who have departed from this life. So the word hell in the Old Testament is not a place of eternal torment, it is a place where the dead go to await judgment. We get a glimpse of this when Peter expounded on the Day of Pentecost:  

David knew, and had hope in the resurrection of Christ. Peter was quoting from Psalm sixteen:    

David knew his hope was not in the time he lived. His hope was in the Holy One of Israel and His resurrection. What David spoke was two-fold. First he stated, "Thou will not leave my soul in hell." We should note David was speaking of his soul being in hell, not his body. Second he states, "Neither will Thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption". Corruption is the decomposition of the body. This process begins four days after burial. Jesus was in the grave three days. Corruption had not taken place in His body. On the other hand Lazarus was in the grave four days when:    

Decomposition had begun to take place in Lazarus' body. David knew Jesus' body would not be in the grave long enough to begin to decompose. He also knew Jesus was his hope to walk in paths of life. Peter continued his discourse concerning David:    

Although David knew he would sit on God's right hand, he had not yet ascended into heaven. He also knew his soul would remain in hell (Sheowl, the place of the dead) until the resurrection of the Holy One of Israel.  

What changed at the resurrection of Jesus for those who were in hell awaiting His resurrection? Paul spoke of this change in his letter to the Ephesians:    

When Jesus ascended up on high, He freed those who were held captive in the abode of the dead: those who were righteous before the law was given, and those who were righteous under the law from their captivity.  

Many believe Jesus took those held in captivity to heaven with Him. This cannot be because, as Peter stated, David is not yet ascended into heaven. No, their place of abode did not change, but their hope in the risen, glorified Christ was forever established. By the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the apostle Peter informs us:    

After His resurrection, Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth to preach to those whose spirits were held in prison. The word spirits is not in caps, it is speaking of the human spirit being held in prison. The word prison is PAULAKE and means "a place where captives are kept". This is where Jesus descended to, to preach the gospel of the Kingdom to His heirs of righteousness. Peter continued his revelation:    

Jesus preached the gospel of the Kingdom to those who were dead. These who died before the law and under the law will be judged with the same judgment as those who have lived after the resurrection of Christ. Those who were righteous before the law and under the law will live in the Spirit, the same as those who have lived after the resurrection of our risen, glorified Christ.  

Since Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth, "Sheowl", those who lived righteous before the law and under the law have the same hope in Christ as we do. It should be noted those who were not righteous in the sight of God before the law and under the law will be held in their abode of the dead until the white throne judgment.  

As we have learned, under the law man had no way to deal with his sin. With everything God revealed concerning His law, we still have those who insist we live under the law. These work full time trying to bring others into their bondage. In his letter to the Galatians, Paul makes it very plain concerning our relationship to the law:    

Those who desire to be under the law have fallen from God's grace. They remain under the law of sin and death, Romans 8:2. This means if you sin you die. The coming of Jesus Christ into the world means nothing to those who remain under the law.  

When Jesus descended into the lower parts of the earth to reveal the Kingdom to those held in prison, these too were freed from the law of sin and death. God has a better way and a better plan for those who are heirs of righteousness. Jesus revealed this plan to those who are blessed to live on this side of the cross. We can have forgiveness of sins simply by repenting, and asking God for it.  

It was necessary for those in the Old Testament to offer up sacrifices which could never forgive sin. It only set it aside until the death of Jesus. The Old Testament saint's hope was in their Messiah. Our hope is the risen, glorified Christ dwelling in His people. Yet the multitude today are still in the valley of decision. They have no more hope than those under the law. Even after all the preaching of hell to scare people into repentance, man is still on his downward course to destruction.  

Hell takes on a new dimension in the New Testament. The New Testament has three words translated hell: HADES, GEHENNA (Gehenna) and TARTAROS. Tartaros is only used once in the New Testament. The apostle Peter used Tartaros when he described God's judgment on the fallen angels who followed satan and turned from God:    

Tartaros is the name of the doleful, dark, subterranean place regarded by the ancient Greeks as the abode of the wicked dead. This has the same meaning as Sheowl in the Old Testament. Again, it is a place where the souls of the dead are held captive, awaiting God's final judgment.  

The next word used for hell is HADES and is translated hell 10 times and the grave one time. Again, Hades has the same meaning as Shewol in the Old Testament. The Unger's dictionary describes Hades as the intermediate state between death and the resurrection. It is described as a place of darkness and torment.  

The third word translated hell is GEHENNA and was translated nine times as hell and three times as hell fire. Unger states Gehenna was originally the valley of Hinnon, south of Jerusalem, where the filth and dead animals of the city were cast out and burned; a fit symbol of the wicked and their future destruction. 

The Valley of Hinnon was where the apostate Jews performed their sacrifices to the false god Molock. Being familiar with the burning of the dead in the Valley of Hinnon, Jesus used this as a symbol of the destruction of those who would not serve the living God.  

The word GEHENNA is used twelve times. Jesus spoke the word eleven of the twelve times. James was the only other writer to use the word GEHENNA. When Jesus spoke the word Gehenna, He was not only speaking of the judgment upon man, but the destruction of those who sinned against God.  

As we understand the use of the word hell, and what we have been taught by the fire and brimstone preachers, we need to ask, "Since there is a hell, what is it that goes to hell? Unknowing or unanointed teachers have taught that an unmerciful God sends our whole being into hell to be tormented for all eternity.  

Since man is a triune being: spirit, soul, and body, we must hear what the Word has to say about what happens to man after he has passed from this life. When man sinned in the Garden, part of the curse pronounced upon him was:    

God made man from the dust, and when man leaves this life his body returns to the dust. Job explained what will happen to the body when life leaves it:    

When the body dies it is consumed by worms, or it goes back to the earth from which it was taken. Korah, the Psalmist, also described what happens to the body after death:
 
"Like sheep they are laid in the grave; death shall feed on them; and the upright shall have dominion over them in the morning; and their beauty shall consume in the grave from their dwelling." Psalm 49:14  

The body is consumed in the grave. Jesus used the word GEHENNA when He spoke to His disciples concerning fearing those who can only kill the body:    

Here Jesus uses the word GEHENNA for hell. This is a perfect example of Jesus using the word GEHENNA as a place of destruction after judgment. Jesus did not threaten to leave the body and soul in eternal torment in Gehenna. His words were to destroy both body and soul in hell. Jesus knew the body would be consumed in the grave and the soul would be destroyed in the fires of Gehenna.  

Next, we need to ask what becomes of man's spirit? The All-wise Solomon reveals what happens to the spirit of man:    

The spirit of man eventually goes back to God from whence it came. We are informed in the book of Genesis when God created man, He breathed into his nostrils the breath or spirit of life, and man became a living soul, Genesis 27. The soul of man was given the spirit of life. The soul is the heart of man and dictates all the functions of the body. The apostle James informs us:    

The body without the spirit is dead. So when life no longer exists in the body, does the soul die? No! Man was made a living soul, so the soul remains alive. So then what is it that goes to hell? Since the body is consumed in the grave, and the spirit goes back to God who sent it, only the soul or the life in man goes to hell, or Hades. Does the soul have feelings? Yes! The soul can suffer pain and anguish.

Peter revealed Jesus preached to the spirits in prison, I Peter 3:19. As we begin to understand more about the use of the word HADES and GEHENNA, we realize the souls of all who die go to the place of the dead, both in the Old and New Testaments.  

Jesus gave us a picture of this place of the dead when He spoke of the rich man and Lazarus. The rich man had everything in this life, and Lazarus had nothing. He ate the crumbs which fell from the rich man's table.

"And it came to pass, that the beggar (Lazarus) died, and was carried by the angels into Abraham's bosom: the rich man also died, and was buried;" Luke 16:22  

At death Lazarus was carried to Abraham's bosom, and the rich man was buried. Already we see a difference between the righteous and the wicked at death. Jesus continues His dissertation concerning the rich man.  

Both Lazarus and the rich man were in the place of the dead. The rich man was in hell (HADES), not Gehenna. As stated before Hades is the holding place for the soul of man until the Great White Throne Judgment. Lazarus was in Abraham's bosom. Abraham is the father of our faith. The bosom represents the place of protection and comfort. There is no mention of Lazarus being in heaven as some would have us believe. He was still in the place of the dead, awaiting judgment. The rich man cried out:
 
 
". . .Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." Luke 16:24  

The rich man was in torment. He wanted Lazarus to come and dip his finger in water to cool his tongue. As we look at this Spiritually what would it seem was tormented by the flame? His body, his soul, or his spirit? Obviously not! It was only his soulish tongue which was tormented by the flame. The word for tongue is GLOSSA and means "language". We are told we will be judged for every word we speak. Jesus revealed:    

Our words are our judge. The rich man had used his tongue to curse God and God's people. Therefore his tongue was in torment for the words he spoke. The apostle James informs us:
 
"And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity: so is the tongue among our members, that it defileth the whole body, and setteth on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire of hell." James 3:6  

The tongue is a fire. The word fire is the Greek word PUR. It is the same word used when the rich man said he was tormented in the flame. The tongue defiles the whole body. James discloses, "It setteth on fire the course of nature". The word course is described as the wheel or circuit of life. The course of nature describes the course of our life. Our tongue dictates the type of life we will live. It also dictates the judgment we will suffer. When the tongue is not controlled, it begins a destructive course. If we do not bring it under the control of the Spirit, it will destroy us and will eventually, as James proclaims, be set on fire of hell (Geheena). Gehenna is the place of destructive fire that will consume all the wicked at the Great White Throne Judgment.  

The rich man's tongue was tormented by the words he spoke in his life. Abraham explained to the rich man:    

There was a vast chasm, a great fixed gulf which no one could pass over, between those who rejected God in this life and those who are heirs of righteousness. This difference becomes evident when we consider the two thieves crucified with Jesus. With an uncontrolled tongue, the one thief mocked and rejected Jesus to the end. This thief represented the law which always rejects Christ. The other thief simply stated, "Lord, remember me when thou cometh into Thy Kingdom", Luke 23:42.    

Paradise is the place of comfort and protection for those who await the Great White Throne Judgment where the final separation will be made between the heirs of righteousness and the wicked. The thief representing the law who mocked and rejected Christ will have his place with the rich man, where his tongue will be tormented until His final judgment comes.  

As we continue our search of the different usages of the word GEHENNA and HADES we come to a clearer understanding of these two words. Five of the eleven usages of the word GEHENNA concerns the right eye offending or the right hand offending. Both Mark and Luke recorded Jesus' words. Mark recorded:
 
 
"And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the Kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:" Mark 9:43 & 47  

Jesus was speaking of bringing our bodies under the control of the Spirit. He stated it was better to go into life maimed than to be cast into Gehenna whole. Jesus again used the word Gehenna when He was admonishing the Pharisees:    

Jesus was speaking to the religious system of His day. He stated the proselytes who became part of the Pharisaical order became the children of Gehenna. Another time Jesus used the word Gehenna was on the Sermon on the Mount:
 
 
"But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire." Matthew 5:22  

The Sermon on the Mount is a Kingdom teaching. Jesus stated if we are angry with our brother, we are in danger of the judgment. If we say to our brother, "Raca", we are in danger of the council. The word RACA means "to show utter contempt for someone". It goes beyond just being angry. 

Then Jesus continued, those who say "Thou fool" are in danger of hell fire. The use of the phrase thou fool means "someone who is morally worthless and a scoundrel." The term thou fool refers to the complete tearing down of one's character and self esteem. Jesus stated if we do this we are in danger of the fires of Gehenna. Jesus used the word Gehenna again when He was addressing the scribes and Pharisees. He called them . . .    

The word damnation means "sentence of condemnation, damnatory judgment, and punishment." The word GEHENNA always has to do with judgment and punishment, where as the word HADES has no indication of judgment or punishment.  

Again, the word HADES is used eleven times, and is rendered a place of the dead, a place where the dead reside awaiting judgment. Both Matthew and Luke recorded Jesus' words as He spoke against Capernaum:
 
 
"And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell (Hades): for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day." Matthew 11:23  

Jesus was speaking of a city being cast into Hades. If Hades were the lake of fire as has been taught, Jesus would have been threatening Capernaum with eternal punishment. Instead He was foretelling her downfall. Although Jesus did many miracles in Capernaum, the city remained unbelieving, known for its wickedness. When Jesus stated Capernaum would be brought down to Hades, His words were fulfilled. Capernaum was totally destroyed, and scholars are not even sure where Capernaum was located.  

Jesus used the word HADES when He asked His disciples, "Whom do men say that I the Son of man am?" Matthew 16:13  

Peter declared Jesus to be the Son of the living God. Jesus informed Peter, "Upon this rock I will build My church". What is the rock on which God built His church? Was the rock Peter, as some teach? No! The church is built upon what Peter spoke, "Thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God". The gates of Hades will never prevail against those who have Christ, the Rock, in their lives. Jesus was stating those who are in the place of the dead will have no power against His living church.  

We do not get a thorough understanding of the word Hades until we study the revelation Jesus gave John on the Isle of Patmos:    

Jesus has the keys to Hades and of death. Jesus used the keys to open the gates of Hades and set those who were held captive in their place of death, free. Those whom He set free are the heirs of righteousness. Those He left bound were to await God's Day of Judgment. Jesus showed John the Great White Throne Judgment:  

John saw the dead, great and small, stand before God and the books were opened and another book was opened. For understanding we need to know the names of the unrighteous are written in the books (plural). The names of the righteous are written in the book (singular) of life. The dead are those who have died physically and spiritually. These are judged out of the books according to their works.    

The sea gave up her dead. We must assume these are those who died at sea, and were eaten by sharks or consumed by the sea. Death and Hades delivered up the dead which were in them. Death indicates those who are physically and spiritually dead who are held in Hades.  

We need to understand when this day comes all the unrighteous who lived before the law, the unrighteous who lived under the law, and all those who have rejected the grace of God since the cross will come out of Sheowl and Hades to be judged. Now what becomes of those who are held in Sheowl and Hades?    

Those who are physically and spiritually dead will be cast into the lake of fire. If Hades were the lake of fire, how do you cast hell into hell? No, the lake of fire is Gehenna as was formerly declared. Gehenna represents the Valley of Hinnon where the dead bodies were burnt. Those who are physically and spiritually dead will be cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. Those who are judged unrighteous will suffer the second death. The second death is when the soul is destroyed in the lake of fire. The word death means to be totally destroyed. Jesus spoke of this place when He spoke about bringing our body under subjection:    

Jesus spoke about a fire that will never be put out. Those who do not bring the body under the control of the Spirit, their worm will never die. The word worm is SKOLEX. It is the worm that feeds on dead bodies. Jesus was declaring the unrighteous will be totally destroyed; first their bodies, by the worms, then their soul by the eternal flames of Gehenna. Jesus continues His revelation to John:
 
 
"And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." Revelation 20:15  

Those who are not found in the Book of Life will be cast into Gehenna, and suffer the second death (the destruction of their souls). Since the spirit cannot die, it returns to God who gave it, as declared in Ecclesiastes 12:7. When this day comes, the unrighteous will simply cease to exist, having suffered the second death.  

But what of the righteous? What a glorious future they are promised before their God. Jesus spoke of the great day when all who have served God through the ages will come together at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb:    

God is going to bring all the prophets: the Old Testament prophets who declared "Thus saith the Lord" and the New Testament prophets who declare"Thus the Lord hath said" to the Marriage Supper of the Lamb. These will all sit down with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom. Jesus declared, "And you, yourselves, will be cast out". When Matthew recorded Jesus' words, he declared:    

It is the children of the Kingdom who will be cast out into outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. This is not hell. This is the wrath of God upon those who refuse to come to maturity. Luke continues:    

Those who are found righteous from one end of the earth to the other will join Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob on that wonderful, glorious day when the righteous shine forth as lights in the firmament.  

Those who believe and preach that we serve an unmerciful God who intends for His creation man to burn forever in eternal torment need to take another look at His glorious Word. Is there a hell? Absolutely, but not as it has been taught. As a great man once said, "We need to read it again".


For Further Discussion
 
Those Under Grace
Those Under the Law
Sheowl, the waiting place of the dead
Tartaros
Gehenna
Hades
The Great Gulf
The Great White Throne Judgment


Questions