This blog post is Part 10 of a series entitled "May I Ask A Question?" by Pastor Jeffrey Dean Smith of Donelson First in Nashville, TN.
Message Date: July 30, 2023
There is a gift that each of us has been given. This is a very special gift. And every day, we are given this gift. However, I presume we do not all use this gift in the same way nor fully to the benefit of its potential in our lives. Each of us presently has this gift. Yet, none of us knows when the gift will come to an end.
The gift to which I am referring?
How do you best use this gift of time each day? Are you methodical in approaching this gift, or do you take the day, the gift of time, as it comes?
Studies show that the average American loses 64 days a year, simply wasting time.
What do such Americans do cumulatively with this time: Daydream. Look at their socials. And especially here in Nashville... sit in traffic.
On average, we spend this much time each day: 7.2 hours sleeping. 45 minutes in the bathroom. 4.5 hours on the phone – i.e. gaming, texting, socials, checking emails & talking.
The word “time” is defined as: time/noun The continued progress of existence and events in the past, present, and future. Jesus Himself spoke to the idea of time and the importance of us as His followers using our time while we have it for good before time on Earth comes to an end:
But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Matthew 24:36 Today we enter Week #10 of our series, May I Ask A Question?, which has placed you in the driver’s seat.
Today, the central theme of each of these questions - - Time. Time is something we all seem to want more of, yet it too is something we each often seem to misuse... and do so quite well!
We waste time. We say we never have enough time.
You’ve probably heard the saying, “Time in days seems to move slowly, but time in years moves rather quickly!”
And then there are the statements: “Time flies when you are having fun!” “Time is wasted on the youth.” “Time is running out.” Time is an interesting aspect of life.
And as we continue our summer series, May I Ask A Question?, today we turn our attention towards questions you have submitted related to “time.”
Time on the creation of the Earth. The time that dinosaurs roamed the planet. The end of time on this planet. And some really great questions were submitted about time post-life on Earth, specifically as it relates to hell.
I appreciate this first question. Though such questions come with varying degrees of thought even among Christ-followers in the Church, it is these types of questions that I am confident, though often difficult to answer, that can provide a tremendous opportunity for you to share your faith with others. So, here we go... the first question:
I have someone in my life who is not a Christian. I want to share Jesus with this person. However, I know he does not believe in Jesus because he cannot reconcile his questions about dinosaurs and their biblical timeline on Earth. What can I say to my friend about dinosaurs, their existence, their extinction, and how this all fits into the biblical story of Creation?
First, no one knows for sure the correct answers to the many questions about dinosaurs, their existence, their exact length of time on earth, and their full reason for extinction. No one!
Some are convinced in an older age of planet earth. Many such people believe that the Holy Scriptures do not speak of the existence of dinosaurs believing that dinosaurs died out many millions of years before humans appeared on the earth. Therefore, the men who wrote the Bible never mentioned dinosaurs because they did not see any living dinosaurs. Those who believe in a younger age for the earth, as do I, agree that the Bible does in fact mention dinosaurs, though it never actually uses the word dinosaur.
What we do see in Scripture is the use of three Hebrew words, which offer us hints of the existence of mammoth-sized untamable animals that once inhabited the land and the sea.
The first of these three Hebrew words: Tannin /Hebrew/
These creatures are mentioned approximately 30 times in the Old Testament as existing on the land and in the water. It was you who split open the sea with your power; you broke the heads of the monster in the waters. Psalm 74:13
In that day, the Lord will punish with his sword - his fierce, great and powerful sword - Leviathan the gliding serpent, Leviathan the coiling serpent; he will slay the monster of the sea. Isaiah 27:1
The word “monster” in each of these passages is translated in Hebrew: Tannin /Hebrew/ = dragon; serpent; dinosaur; sea monster
Specifically, in the passage in Isaiah we just read, we too see the use of the second Hebrew word: Leviathan /Hebrew/ = large monster; sea creature
This word is found 6 different times in Scripture.
There the ships go to and fro, and Leviathan, which you formed to frolic there. Psalm 104:26
And as we continue reading in this chapter, we are given tremendous details of this large creature impossible to tame: Job 41:2-33
The third enormous creature we read of in the Bible is again found in the book of Job.
Behemoth /Greek/ = ultimate creature
Here, we read of a huge plant-eating animal who dwells near water, has bones as “tubes of bronze,” and limbs as “rods of iron.”
Some might say that this description resembles an elephant or a hippopotamus. This description does identify with these two animals until one reads:
Neither an elephant nor a hippopotamus have such tails. Instead, both possess very thin tails. Dinosaurs like the Brachiosaurus, Apatosaurus, and Saltasaurus had huge tails that could easily be compared to a cedar tree.
Mostly every ancient civilization has created some art depicting giant reptilian creatures. Petroglyphs and clay figurines found in North America resemble modern depictions of dinosaurs. Stone carvings in South America portray images of animals resembling a variety of dinosaurs. Roman mosaics, Mayan pottery, and Babylonian city walls each offer evidence to man’s experiences with large dinosaur-like creatures. Various ancient civilizations in Europe, South America, and North America left behind petroglyphs of what look like dinosaurs. We also see dinosaur-like creatures depicted in architecture on castles in Europe and pyramids in South America. We read accounts of human interaction with “large dragon-like animals,” in accounts written by people living in Europe, China, and the Middle East. How interesting that so many different findings have been unearthed through the years of people from different civilizations and countries, yet their depictions closely resemble fossil remains which have been discovered in the last few centuries.
So, this leads us to another question you have asked in the May I Ask A Question? series: Were there dinosaurs on the ark?
Were dinosaurs on the ark? I do not know for sure. No one does. However, I do know this: If dinosaurs were alive during this time, then dinosaurs made it onto the ark!
The immediate rebuttal of this claim is obvious: Dinosaurs were too big to be on the ark. Well, this might be true of the largest of dinosaurs, if Noah had brought onto the ark an aged full-adult dinosaur. However, beginning a new population of animals most likely did not occur, with Noah bringing full-grown older animals well into their prime.
No, instead, I presume Noah would have brought onto the ark younger, and potentially smaller, male and female sexes of each of the animals. If this were the case, then yes, there was plenty of room for dinosaurs of various breeds to have accompanied Noah onboard the ark. Look...
You may believe that the earth is millions of years old. You may believe that the earth is merely thousands of years old. Maybe you believe there were never dinosaurs roaming the planet. Or possibly you believe dinosaurs are still living today... maybe somewhere on the other side of Wilson County.
Here is what is so important we must remember:
Such conversations and research and evidences can be robust, stimulating and intriguing, not to mention, can too make for really fun conversations and Hollywood blockbuster big-screen releases.
However, reality is:
What I believe about the age of the earth and the existence of dinosaurs has nothing to do with my eternity. Nothing.
Such a hypothesis has nothing to do with my ability to articulate the saving message of Jesus Christ to another clearly. There will always be difficult questions, and even mostly impossible, for us as humans to fully answer.
Sure... Such curiosities can stimulate a robust conversation with another about Creation, animals, and the age of the earth. But the end goal should be less about answering all the questions. The end goal, instead, should always be to move to the main thing: eternity.
And... If I am awaiting such answers to determine my allegiance to Jesus Christ, I am exercising foolishness that could condemn me to everlasting separation from God in hell.
Jesus said this to those wanting Jesus to answer all the questions before believing in Him: You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand. John 13:17
What is important, is that my pursuit of such answers never supersedes my desire to honor God with my life, obey His precepts, and live a life before others that draws people to Him.
What we as a body of believers need to continue to clearly articulate is:
There will always be questions for which humanity pursues answers. There is nothing wrong with pursuing such answers. But the degree to which I do or do not surmise the answers to such questions should not and cannot be the determining factor of how I view eternity and the teachings of God’s Holy Word.
With or without the answers I pursue, God is God, God is on His throne, His Son Jesus paid the definitive ransom for my life, and if I do not choose to receive Him as Savior over my life, I will spend forever separated from Him in hell.
This leads us to several questions you submitted in reference to time after life on Earth in hell.
What do we know about hell?
1. Hell is real.
In prayerfully considering this unique and equally important question this week, I worked to compare the horrendous and dreadful truths Scripture reveals to us about hell with those things on Earth for which I personally dreed or have disdain. For instance, I do not like spiders. I can’t handle them. A good spider is a dead spider! Additionally, I abhor the I-40/I-24 split going into downtown. I always use the Waze App as I approach this dreadful interchange. It’s the worst! I, too, hate the final process of my bi-annual teeth cleaning at the dentist. Mostly everyone with whom I speak about this loves this part – the polishing of the teeth with the minty-tasty paste. But... I hate it! Sitting there during the office visit while my teeth are being cleaned, I dread the final step. I don’t for sure know what it is about this step, but I do! It sends chills up my arms as I tightly grip the armrests during this stage.
And... of course, there is nothing, absolutely nothing, I loathe more than cheese, especially melted cheese. I can’t eat it. I don’t even like to touch it. And even when I smell it, I really, really get nauseous! I presume you most likely have some of these oddities as well; things about life that you dread or detest or hate as much as I do spiders, the I-40/I-24 split, and the teeth cleaning.
But nothing, absolutely nothing you and I can envision or experience during our time on planet earth will be like the misery reserved for those who, when standing before the Savior of the world, hear these words from Jesus: Then I will tell them plainly, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” Matthew 7:23
Studies show that almost 2:1 more people believe in the existence of heaven than do of hell. Sadly, each of these people are dead wrong. Hell is a real place. Hell, too, is a place you and I never, never want to see, smell, hear, or endure... ever! The Bible mentions hell almost 70 times within the Old and New Testaments. Scriptures explicitly teach that hell is a real place where those who, as the Bible describes, are wicked during their time on planet Earth and those who do not choose to receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will forever reside once their time in this life is over. What else do we know about hell...
2. Hell is fire.
I presume that most of us in this room, at one point or the other, have felt the pain of fire – from a match or in the process of building a fire in the fireplace or when cooking, or possibly from a terrible accident.
If you have been burned, you know how painful it is.
Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:41
3. Hell is never-ending fire.
If you have been burned, you know how painful it is. And you, too, know the relief one feels when you can stop the fire or have the burned area treated.
Imagine... imagine, if one can, what it would be like to, rather than one area of your body, have every area of your body consumed by fire. Not just a finger burn from a match or part of your body from an accident, but your entire body burning completely ablaze on fire.
The only thing worse than experiencing such horrific pain is the reality that such pain will never end. To be on fire, yet to not stop burning... none of us can fathom how dreadful and appalling such a scenario will be...
This is what hell will be for those who choose not to receive Jesus as Savior during their time on Earth.
In this passage in Mark, we read what I believe are two of the scariest sentences in all of Scripture. Think of these two critically terrible statements. These two sentences are found in Mark 9:48 and Mark 9:49.
Mark 9:48 A fire that is not “quenched” is a fire that never stops burning. Never! And then look at this very horrific and eerie statement in verse 49:
Mark 9:49 “Everyone will be salted with fire!”
What does it mean to be “salted with fire.”
Well… those of you who are salt lovers… you know who you are… you probably cover certain foods with salt so that your tasty treat tastes salty!
Salted /Greek/ halizo = covered, consumed with salt to be made salty
To be “salted with fire” is to be covered and completely consumed with fire to be “made fire.” What a horrific visual - - to imagine being covered with… to be made as fire… but to never burn up… to never stop burning.
And then, if this isn’t horrific enough, not only will there be an unimaginable physical pain felt in hell, but there too will be the emotional pain that is incessant and relentless!
4. Hell is shame.
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt. Daniel 12:2
Daniel states that when your time is over in this life, and you go to sleep, you will either awaken in everlasting life in heaven, or you will awaken in the everlasting shame of your earthly time on earth in hell.
This is why...
5. Hell is torment.
In Hades, where he was in torment, he saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ Luke 16:23-24
6. Hell is torment forever.
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might. 2 Thessalonians 1:9
I do believe this passage presents the greatest pain of all that eternity in hell will be - - that is the pain of eternally being separated and “shut out” from the presence of a loving God – forever! There is no greater torment known to man – none!
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Revelation 20:10
7. Hell is everlasting punishment.
Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. Matthew 25:46
Are there degrees of punishment in hell? The answer to this question seems, once again, in the theme of our conversation today, to be connected to how ones spends time while here on earth. Sadly, while during His time on earth, the Son of God made it clear that most people who live on this planet will, after their time on earth is complete, spend an eternity in hell: Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it. Matthew 7:13-14
The use of the word “destruction” is not merely a reference to an action that causes demolition or ir-repair.
No, the use of this Greek Word by our Savior means this: Destruction /Greek/ apoleia = an eternal perish
The same applies to the use of the Greek word “life.” Here Jesus is speaking of eternity.
Life /Greek/ zoe = eternal life
The idea of varying degrees of punishment in hell is depicted in Dante Alighieri’s poem entitled The Divine Comedy.
In this poem written in the early 1300’s, the Roman poet Alighieri guides the reader through, what he describes as, the “nine circles of hell.” The circles represent a gradual increase in wickedness, and culminating at the center of the earth, where Satan is held in bondage. Each circle’s sinners are a representation of their said sins committed while during their individual times on Earth.
Let’s be clear: The Bible does not directly state that there are varying degrees or levels of punishment in hell. Though the Bible does seem to indicate that eternal judgement in hell for those condemned there will be different for different people, ultimately being judged according to what they have done during their time on Earth. Look at: Revelation 20:11-15
And then there are the words of Jesus in the book of Luke.
Jesus delivers very stern words for the peoples of these towns stating that their actions to reject the gospel will result in eternal punishment more severe than that given to the city of Sodom, which was a city of the Old Testament of people who acted deplorable and reckless in their sins against God.
Jesus goes on to say to the Galilean towns that, whatever punishment the residents of Sodom will receive in hell, the people of Tyre and Sidon would receive a judgement even more severe. Look at His words in: Luke 10:13-15
And then read this... Luke 12:47-48
These words of Jesus seem to confirm that there is a responsibility and an eternal punishment connected to how we use our time while on Earth. And to the one who does not choose Him as Savior, there appears to be an eternal price to pay with varying degrees of punishment.
All of this leads us to this final question I want us to consider today as it relates to this concept of our “time” on planet Earth.
It is recorded in the book of Revelation that Jesus states, “I am coming soon.” These words were spoken a very long time ago. How can we interpret this statement as it relates to the span of time on Earth?
Here is the verse upon which this question is founded: I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll. And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll. He who testifies to these things says, “Yes, I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus. Revelation 22:18-20
The word “soon” is an extremely important word in this passage – a critically important word to helping us, the readers, accurately understand the meaning behind these words of Jesus spoken about the end of time on planet Earth.
If I were to tell you, “I will be eating chips and salsa at Cinco soon.” The “soon” would most likely mean in the next hour. If I too were to tell you, “I soon hope to have another boat.” Unfortunately, I would not be referring to the next hour having in my possession a boat!
The word “soon” is a relative word, or term.
So to answer the question, “Is Jesus coming soon?”, we have to outline the meaning of the word “soon.”
Once again, this is why biblical translation is so critical to our time of teaching through the Word at Donelson First.
Soon /Greek/ tachu = without unnecessary delay
We see the use of this Greek word throughout the New Testament, and almost every time it is spoken, it is done so by the mouth of Jesus Christ.
Repent therefore! Otherwise, I will soon come to you and will fight against them with the sword of my mouth. Revelation 2:16
I am coming soon. Hold on to what you have, so that no one will take your crown. Revelation 3:11
Look, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy written in this scroll. Revelation 22:7
Look, I am coming soon! My reward is with me, and I will give to each person according to what they have done. Revelation 22:12
Each time we read Jesus using this word “soon,” tachu, we see that He is urging us as believers to be ready. But we also can see through the Greek that Jesus is not using the word “soon” in the sense that He means “quickly” shall He return. Instead, we come to understand that Jesus is saying that “soon,” without any unnecessary delay,” He will return. This meaning seems to assure us that events have been set into motion that will, “without any unnecessary delay,” usher in His arrival according to God’s plan and God’s concept of time. I am reminded of the words of Peter that must be coupled with the statements Jesus made throughout Revelation about His “soon” return when Peter stated:
The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance. 2 Peter 3:9
It is obviously the desire of Jesus that everyone will be saved.
As I close, do I understand all there is to know, and can I fully answer every question about the span of time on Earth for dinosaurs, every detail as to the place called hell, and the time when Jesus is coming?
No, of course not. But what I can surmise...
Regardless of my lack of answers on this and many other questions related to our time on earth... Jesus is coming soon...without any unnecessary delay, and I am to be ready.
Ready in how I am living. Ready in how I am loving. Ready in how I am giving. Ready in how I am trusting. Ready in how I am sharing. Ready in how I am showing the world that I choose to use my time on this Earth for His glory.
Jeffrey Dean Smith is a husband, father to Bailey & Brynnan, author, and the Senior Pastor at Donelson First in Nashville, TN. If you are in Music City, meet Jeffrey and enjoy iced tea on the front lawn each Sunday at 10:30a.