WORD STUDY – ABIDE IN CHRIST – ARAMAIC – קוא
John 15:6: “If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast [them] into the fire, and they are burned.”
I grew up in a Baptist fundamentalist church where evangelism was our top priority and practically every sermon had a salvation message and most with a warning about the fires of hell.
Now, please, don’t get me wrong, I am in no way saying that hell is not a place of eternal fires. However, I feel it is wrong to take Scriptures which are not really speaking of hell and to use them to preach about hell.
This is one such verse. Just because the poor branches are tossed into the fire and burned we automatically assume it is a reference to hell. Thus if we do not abide in Christ we are doomed to eternal fires. I fear in our evangelistic zeal we may overlook an intended message in this verse which is really important to us as believers.
For one thing these branches are not just thrown into the fires, they are kaietai in the Greek, burned or consumed to ashes. The fires of hell are not meant to consume kaietai or consume you and turn you into ashes, they are meant as an eternal torment. If you are all burned up and consumed there is nothing left to torment for eternity you are just part of the fire. I know we use our English loosely and say a person is consumed in the fires of hell, but that is really misusing our English language when we say consume. Consume in English has the idea of eating something. When you eat something your body absorbs that food and it becomes a part of your body. A fire will consume a forest, the forest feeds the fire. What that means is that it reduces it to ashes, it destroys it. It loses its identity and takes on the identity of what consumed it. I need to be precise about our words in English as they must reflect an idea of the words in the Biblical language. Thus to use the word kaietai would suggest these are fires which absorb, consumes and makes a part of itself as the food which becomes a part of the body that consumes it.
The word in Aramaic, which is the language that Jesus spoke this metaphor in, is yiqad which is a very good equivalent to the Greek kaietai, a consumption. So I would suggest that Jesus was not speaking of being cast into hell but into something else which takes place long before one dies and goes to where he belongs. I believe this is a message for the believer as much as for the unbeliever. You see not every Christian abides in Christ. The other day I had to make a decision and I was leaning towards making the wrong decision. When I made that wrong decision I immediately sensed the presence of God leave me. Now I had to make another decision. Was I going with this wrong decision and not abide in Jesus or make the right decision and abide with Him. In that moment I was a believer who was not abiding in Jesus, was I doomed to hell if I continued in that decision? No because that sin is covered by the blood of Jesus which I am trusting. It is just that I would have been forgiven but unless I repented or changed my decision I was doomed to another type of fire. A fire of living my passions without the presence of God or abiding in Him.
The word abide in the Greek is meno which means to stay, wait or remain. True, abide fits this word but only in the sense that you are remaining, you are not leaving. The word in the Aramaic is also very similar but more direct. It is the word qewa which means to only to remain, but to remain until the end or conclusion.
The word fire in the Greek is pur which means a literal fire but in the Semitic culture the word fire was highly symbolic of power and passions. The word for fire in Aramaic is nura which can mean a literal fire but like the Greek it is also used to express power or passion.
So the message is really the same in both the Greek and Aramaic, it is just how you want to use the words that are given for abide, fire and burn. The biggest reason I do not go with the idea that Jesus is referring to hell is that the concept of a fiery hell was not known to the first century Jews. After death they believed you would go to a place known as Abraham’s bosom or the Garden of Eden. Jesus referred His Father’s house. The Apostle Paul speaks of heaven. Heaven is really a Christian concept but shares the same idea as a place where we are with God. Hell to the first century Jewish mind is a place devoid of God, separated from Him where you are consumed by your passions. If you stop and think about it to spend eternity completely cut off from God consumed by your passions that is worse that living in an eternity of fire. You can have a consuming passion for drugs and to spend eternity with that consuming passion but never having drugs and suffering eternity going through withdrawals, well I never had that experience but I have known former drugs addicts who will tell you they would prefer eternity in a fire than an eternity going through withdrawals.
So to the disciple ears, I don’t believe they were hearing Jesus say that if you do not abide in Him you will go to hell. Rather I believe what they heard is that if you do not remain or endure until the end in your relationship with Jesus you will be given over to their passions and so consumed by your passions that they will never be able to feel the presence of God. I think Jesus was saying: “You will go through many trials for my sake, just hang in there, let my presence, the joy of the Lord be your strength. Because if you don’t, if you leave me for your selfish desires you will wither and die spiritually and be consumed by your selfish passion.
That is the message for us today. When we follow Jesus, things can really get tough and so often we are tempted yield to the flesh but if we do we will no longer have the presence or joy of the Lord for our strength and we will just be consumed by our passions such that we may never experience the presence of God.