Wednesday, September 19, 2012

The Reality of Hell

Hell. It’s not a comfortable subject. It’s a topic that we don’t mention in polite company. It’s something that many folks like to pretend isn’t in the Bible. But Jesus talked about hell. A lot. He mentioned hell, judgment, and punishment numerous times in his teaching, especially in his parables. He talked about hell more than anyone else in all of Scripture.

Hell has fallen out of fashion in our culture. I fear that many Christians have not come to grips with the reality of this place. They are afraid to talk about it, or they dismiss it as a relic of the Puritan age. In 25 years of ministry, even with long-time Christians, my experience has been that while they give lip service to the biblical doctrine of hell, the predominant view of salvation is, “If you are a good person you will go to heaven.” They are, in effect, pratical universalists. Jesus said, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him” (John 3:36). At the final judgment, all will stand before Jesus. Jesus’ followers whose names are written in the Book of Life will be with him forever. The Bible could not be clearer: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).

Hell is a real place. The Bible affirms the existence of hell over 100 times. Even the demons do not deny its reality. Victor Knowles wrote, “Demons do not brush off the Bible's teaching on hell by saying, ‘Oh, that’s just your interpretation’ or ‘God is too good to let anyone go to hell.’ Because they swore allegiance to Satan long ago, they have bought their one-way ticket to hell. They realize, with horror, that there will literally be ‘hell to pay’ someday.” It is more than a condition or a swear word. It is not merely a figment of some theologian’s imagination. Jesus said, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).

Hell is a prepared place. It is a place that God made for the Devil and his angels. Satan will not reign there. It was never intended for man. The Lord told us this. “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). Jesus’ words about hell come in the context of the rest of Scripture, which says that God “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4).

Hell is a terrible place. The Bible does not give us a detailed exposition of hell, but there are many descriptions of the fate of its inhabitants in that place of eternal punishment. There is no possibility of amnesty or reprieve. Dante said a sign should be erected over the door of hell, ”Thou who enter this door, leave all hope behind.”  

Hell is an avoidable place. Death is not normal or natural, but an enemy, the consequence of sin.  The body goes to the grave and the spirit goes into an afterlife to face judgment. The Bible is clear that there will one day be a bodily resurrection for everyone to either eternal life with God or eternal condemnation apart from him in hell. Christianity differs from all religions in that the Bible teaches that our eternal status depends on our relationship with Jesus. I like the way Aaron Brockett puts it: “God, through His Word, is not threatening us with hell, but warning us. And when we communicate the reality of hell and judgment with others, we do so honestly but with a broken heart.”  We really believe that “God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16).