As we enter into this seasons of celebration for us as believers, we face an opportunity and a responsibility that I think is unique to the season, and that is to be ready to speak the gospel to the folks that are around us who don’t know the Lord Jesus Christ.
You heard from Travis the commission of Jesus to “go into all the world and make disciples, baptizing them and commanding them to do all things that I have commanded you.” This is our commission; this is why we are here in this world: to be ministers of reconciliation with a message of reconciliation to God, that sinners might be saved. We talk about that, being saved. One of the people being baptized tonight made reference to being saved.
What are we talking about? What is it we want people saved from? That is the compelling question. The answer to that question, as far as Scripture is concerned, is a simple answer. We want to see people saved from eternal punishment – eternal punishment, punishment that never ends. Conscious existence, conscious life in a body resurrected and suited for everlasting punishment. The Bible speaks of that as occurring in a place that we know as hell. In the Old Testament, the word “Sheol” makes reference to that in a general way. In the New Testament, the word “Hades” is sometimes with reference to that. But always the word “hell,” coming from the Greek word Ge’enna speaks of what the book of revelation calls this “lake of fire” where people are punished and tormented forever.
I think we sort of comfortably distance ourselves from that reality. Certainly in general, in the church, it is looked over, passed by, ignored. There are those who claim to be preachers who don’t ever talk about hell, wouldn’t talk about hell, avoid it at all costs, when the truth of the matter is it ought to be the first thing that we talk about when we talk about the gospel. This is about salvation from hell.
The doctrine of hell, the truth of hell, the reality of hell has found its way into the thinking of our culture. According to the latest survey that I could find, 75 percent of people living in America believe in hell. They believe there’s a hell. That’s the influence of Christianity – 75 percent. Of those 75 percent, 4 percent believe there is any chance that they will ever go there. So, we’ve gotten our point across – there is a hell – but we haven’t gotten the point across that you’re headed there already. That’s the issue.
We live in a world where sin is freely exploited. Sin is so much a part of our culture that every imaginable sin is acceptable except pedophilia. That’s the last sin left, and you watch the outrage, at least in the athletic world, if not in the Roman Catholic Church, over the sin of pedophilia. You don’t find that outrage over adultery; you don’t find that outrage over homosexuality; you don’t find that outrage over lying, cheating, stealing, etcetera. Murder is still unacceptable unless the person doesn’t deserve to live. The murder of a child is still an outrage.
But we are very used to sinning, and we’re very comfortable with sin. And consequently, society has very few consequences that it places on people for sin. So, when people grow up in a world where things that once were defined as sin are no longer defined as sin, and behaviors have no consequence in the society where, for example, when junior comes home at the age of 12 and announces to his mother that he’s a homosexual, she becomes a homosexual advocate. Absolutely no consequences to that kind of immoral behavior.
There’s a warped sense of good and evil, and a distorted understanding of justice. We don’t know what sin is except sin can never be what I do. It can be, however, if what I do harms someone else that that would be sin, but any act that I do, in and of itself, I’m free to do, and there shouldn’t be any consequences at all.
And the truth of the matter is, then, if the culture imposes no consequences, and the family imposes no consequences, the society places no stigma on people for the kind of behaviors that are sinful behaviors, people get so used to sinning without consequences that when you introduce the idea that they will pay in full forever for every sin, that is just alien to their thinking. People sin without immediate consequences, and to try to convince them that there are somehow, down the road, decades from now, if they live, deferred consequences is a hard sell.
For example, you might want to try to convince someone of Romans 2 which says that “you are storing up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and the revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” You’re not getting away with anything. No act of fornication, no act of adultery, no sin in the mind, no sin in the behavior, no sin with the lips, no lie, no deception, no cheating – you’re not going to get away with any of it; you’re just accumulating iniquities, all of which will be confronted and judged. You’re storing up wrath. You’re going to need to have a large storehouse to contain all the wrath that’s going to break upon your head. That is a very difficult thing to convince people about who are so used to sinning. And at the same time, they’re so used to getting away with it. They’re not only used – can I say? – to getting away with it in the culture and in the world, but professing Christians are used to getting away with it in the so-called church. Churches are – so-called churches are very, very reluctant to confront sin, very reluctant to do the discipline that the Bible talks about doing, to tech people the consequence of sin. Parents are very reluctant to create significant consequences for the sins of their children, which may be the most important thing, apart from the gospel, that your child ever learns, that sin has immense and painful consequences.
We need to tell people that every unforgiven sin, every sin committed by every person who rejects Jesus Christ will be justly punished by God forever in a place called hell. This is not new; this is what the Bible has said. You can go back to Moses; you can go back to the Pentateuch, the first section of books in the Bible. In Deuteronomy 32:22, it reads this way in the Authorized Version, “A fire is kindled,” says God, “in My anger, and burns to the lowest part of hell.” The 1611 King James Version made it clear, even that early, that the anger of God reached into hell. Our Lord’s first New Testament sermon was a sermon on hell. Jesus is a hellfire preacher.
I hear people say, “Well, I don’t want to talk about hell; that’s very negative.”
Jesus was a hellfire preacher. Matthew 5 - His first sermon as laid out in the New Testament – verse 22 of chapter 5 of Matthew, “I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Here is Jesus, arriving in Jerusalem, and beginning His – the first part of His ministry, then going up to Galilee and finishing off His ministry. And wherever He went, He was a preacher of hell. The Sermon on the Mount happens to be given on a hillside in Galilee. He speaks of the fiery hell as if He assumed that everybody knew about it. He doesn’t have to give them a definition or a description. It was a very well-known part of their biblical understanding.
The same sermon, verse 29, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; it’s better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Verse 30, “If your right hand makes you stumble, cut if off and throw it from you; Better to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.”
In the tenth chapter of the book of Matthew, that very familiar verse which is often quoted – and we’ll come back to it in a little bit – Matthew 10:28 where we read this, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul,” our Lord says, “but fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” In chapter 11 He talks about hell – of Matthew – chapter 18 He talks about hell. He talks about hell in chapter 23 several times. He says that the Pharisees are guilty of producing sons of hell, and they are sons of hell themselves. Yes, Jesus was a hellfire preacher.
When we talk about “salvation,” the word has to be used. The word has to be used because we’re talking about rescue. “Salvation” is a word that means deliverance or rescue, and the question is, “From what?” Contemporary kind of corrupted Christianity would offer many psychological and even material substitutes for hell.
We would say, “Well, Jesus wants to save you from loneliness,” or, “He wants to save you from purposelessness,” or, “He wants to save you from anxiety,” or, “He wants to save you from poverty,” or, “He wants to save you from failure,” or, “He wants to save you from sickness,” or, “He wants to save you from disappointment.” No. No, He desires to save you from hell, from the fiery hell, the lake of fire that is eternal. The message of Scripture is that salvation is a rescue – a rescue from a real place called hell.
Jesus spoke more about hell than anybody else in the Bible. In fact, He spoke more about hell than everybody else in the Bible combined. And He defined it as conscious, eternal punishment – conscious, eternal punishment. Our Lord Jesus believed in eternal hell. We’ll talk about some of the things that He said about it in a little bit. He continually spoke about hell, and He warned sinners to escape hell because of its horrible reality.
Turn to Luke 16 for a moment, and in Luke 16 you have Jesus actually telling a story about a man who went to hell. You will remember this. “There was a rich man” – Luke 16:19 – “he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And there was a poor man named Lazarus who was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores.
“Now, the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom” – that’s kind of an Old Testament reference to a place of comfort, a place of peace, where Abraham is; and Abraham, of course, was a true believer as the father of faith who received righteousness because he believed. So, this would be heaven, and there went the poor man.
“The rich man” – on the other hand – “died and was buried. In Hades” – which, of course, here refers to hell because of the way it’s described – “he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom.” This is a parable, and there’s some names the Lord uses. He doesn’t usually use names in parables, but on this occasion he did. He used the name of Lazarus and Abraham.
“And this rich man” - who is shocked that he has ended up in hell – “cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’” So, now Jesus tells us this is a place that you go to after death. This is a place of torment. This is a place of thirst. This is a place of agony, and this is a place of fire. All of that is in what we just read.
“Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; now he’s being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and none may crossover from there to us.’” Once you’re there, you’re there forever, no escape. This is our Lord’s story describing hell. Was the Son of God wrong about that? Are the deniers of hell correct? And there are many, many of them.
It has become popular these days to deny the doctrine of hell in one of three ways. Okay? I’ll give you a little insight into that. Number one is the view called annihilationism. Annihilationism – this says unbelievers go out of existence. When they die, they just go out of existence. They don’t exist anymore. That the Bible doesn’t support since the Bible speaks of eternal, conscience punishment.
The second view that is offered – and by the way, people give very sophisticated arguments for this. I read a book, 475 pages on annihilationism, trying to make the argument from the text of Scripture called The Fire that Consumes. And there are many others – many others. Recently, a book questioning the doctrine of hell and advocating an annihilationist’s view was written by a man named Rob Bell.
The second possibility that is offered today is universalism – universalism. This says that all non-believers are, in the end, saved. They don’t go out of existence; they’re saved. These people would say, “Yes, there is a hell,” and this is where they hedge against the first one. “There is a hell, but hell was created for the Devil and his angels.” And that is what it says, of course, in the book of Revelation. “So, they’re the only ones who will go there.”
In the Roman Catholic University – Fordham University in New York – there’s a theological professor who said this, “It’s there, hell is, but possible that no one will go there.” That’s a Universalist view that, in the end, God is going to save everybody. And that’s doesn’t match with Scripture because the whole message of Scripture is that the ungodly are forever excluded from God’s presence and forever punished. If everybody’s saved in the end, then everything in the Bible that speaks of eternal punishment is unbelievable. Error. So, whether you have all the sinners die or all the sinners get saved – die, go out of existence or get saved – you still don’t explain what the Bible says about everlasting punishment.
There’s a third view called – we’ll call it “inclusivism” – so, annihilationism, universalism, “inclusivism” - that would be my word for it – some people will go to hell, but it will be the people who heard the gospel and rejected the gospel. And the people who never heard the gospel won’t go to hell; they’ll be saved. So, it’s kind of a selective inclusivism. Unbelievers who never heard the gospel will be saved because they aren’t responsible for their situation; they’ll be saved. And the problem with that is you can’t get saved unless you believe in Christ. There’s no salvation in any other name than the name of Jesus Christ.
Universalism has its advocates; believe me. There are many advocates of universalism, but they tend to be Bible deniers. The inclusivists, who say the people who never heard the message are the ones who will be saved and not the rest, have the same problem because they don’t have any support for their view in the Bible at all, and they tend to be weak on the view of Scripture and just throw away the verses that they don’t like.
The dominant view is that first one I gave you called annihilationism, and I want to talk about that a little bit because you’re going to face it somewhere. It’s a trendy thing; it’s a popular idea. Some most remarkably useful, blessed, effective, capable teachers of the Bible have lapsed into annihilationism or, as it’s sometimes called, “soul sleep.” It’s the popular idea because it feels comfortable, and it feels fair to the people who make a case for it.
Now, how do they make their case? How do you make a case for unbelievers just being obliterated, exterminated, wiped out forever? Their first argument comes from the verse I read you in Matthew 10, verse 28, “Fear Him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” They tend to go there, and they like that word “destroy.” All right? They want to use that word “destroy.” Stick with me because it’s going to be helpful to you. That’s a Greek word apollumi – apollumi. That may sound a little bit familiar in your ear because, in Revelation 9:11, Satan is given the name Apollyon, the destroyer. Apollumi is the word “to destroy.” But as it is not its only meaning, that’s not the only possibility. But they say that word says that the ones who are under the judgment of God will be destroyed, both soul and body, in hell. So that they would go to hell and then be wiped out and exterminated, annihilated forever. Nonexistence. Is that the correct understanding of that word?
Fortunately, we have that word 80 times in the New Testament. So, we get a good breadth of understanding about how the verb apollumi is used. It has very broad meaning. In Matthew 2:13, it is the word used where it says, in that verse, “Herod desired to destroy the baby.” Herod wasn’t thinking about soul annihilation; he was thinking about murder.
In Matthew 8:25, in the immediate danger of the storm, the disciples are afraid, and they are afraid of drowning. So, in Matthew 8:25, the word apollumi has to do with drowning. In Luke 5:37, we hear a parable from Jesus about putting new wine in old wineskins, and the wineskins crack and break, and that’s the same verb apollumi, ruined wineskins. In Luke 15 it’s used three times to speak of a lost sheep, a lost coin, and a lost son. So, the word can mean to kill; to drown; to render useless, such as the case of wineskins; or to be lost.
John 6:27, there’s a statement about food that perishes, and that is the word apollumi. Perishables, food that is corrupted and useless. In John 17:12, our Lord says none of those that you have given to me, Father, have perished but the son of perdition.” Judas perished. Did he go out of existence? No. Jesus said he went not out of existence, but he went to his own place. He went to his own place.
Here’s one - some of you can experience this personally, I know I can - Luke 21, it is referring to the loss of hair. Yes, Austin, you can deal with that, can’t you? Can I have a witness?
In Acts 8:20, you remember the confrontation between Peter and Simon the magician? And Simon is trying to buy the Holy Spirit, and Peter says, “May your money perish with you!” Romans 14:15, “Do not destroy with food the one for whom Christ died.” In Mark 14:4, it’s used of perfume that has spilled. “Why has this perfume been wasted?” says Judas about pouring perfume on Judas.
So, it is possible to translate the word “destroy,” but it is not the word for annihilation, obliteration, nonexistence. Furthermore, in Matthew chapter 3, verse 12, Scripture calls hell the “unquenchable fire.” So, Matthew 10, “Fear the one who destroys both soul and body in hell.” It is an unquenchable fire; it doesn’t go out, and it doesn’t go out because it always has fuel.
In the fourteenth chapter of the book of Revelation, verse 9, “If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night” – eternal smoke and no rest day and night forever.
So, you can’t make a case out of the word apollumi used in Matthew 10:28. So, they try to go to another word. If you look at 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 and verse 9, it says, “These” – that is those who do not obviously the gospel from verse 8, those who reject the gospel – “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction.” These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction. This is not the word apollumi; this is a different word – olethros. Olethros, the penalty of eternal destruction. They suggest that destruction – eternal destruction means you’re destroyed forever. You go out of existence. That is not what this word necessarily means.
First Corinthians 5:5 uses the same word, and it says, “I have decided” – speaking of a sinner in the church, a professing believer sinning in the church – “I’ve decided to deliver such a one to Satan for the destruction of his flesh so that his spirit may be saved.” Well, obviously, it’s not the annihilation of his flesh; he’s not a disembodied spirit who then, in a disembodied state, would become saved. So, the destruction of the flesh means some kind of devastation but does not necessarily mean annihilation.
Furthermore, in this verse – verse 9 – “These pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,” which means that they are placed somewhere away from God. It can’t mean the annihilation of a person’s physical body in 1 Corinthians 5:5, and it doesn’t mean the annihilation of the person’s soul and body here because it refers to a place where they will be away from God.
So, I’m just saying they have a hard time trying to make their case with words – with words. Perhaps a verse that’ll pull it all together is 1 Timothy 6:9, the last chapter of 1 Timothy, it says, “Those that want to get rich fall into temptation” – we know this verse – “and a snare and many foolish and harmful desires which plunge men into ruin and destruction.” Now, do you think that means absolute annihilation, nonexistence? No. What it’s saying is that if you get yourself in a situation where you want to get rich, you’re going to be trapped in temptations and snares; they’re going to lead you to foolish and harmful desires which will plunge your life into total ruination – not annihilation. By the way, ruin here, in 1 Timothy 6:9, is olethros, and destruction comes from the verb apollumi. So, both the words are used here to refer to something other than annihilation.
So, some of these texts, if you connect the dots, we would conclude this: both these words mean the ruin of someone for a useful purpose or function – the ruin of someone for a useful purpose or function. The ruin of a wineskin, the ruin of food that perishes, the ruin of a life destroyed by the love of money and the temptations that come with it for any useful purpose, a soul ruined, a soul destroyed as to its usefulness, not its existence. And that’s why I said this morning, and I say it again tonight, hell is viewed best and most clearly by the Greek word Ge’enna which is a word that comes from the Valley of Hinnom. The Valley of Hinnom, just east of Jerusalem and a little bit south – I’ve been there many times – is the place in ancient times where the city dump was, and it was a never-extinguished burning fire. And it became the metaphor for the lake of fire, for hell. You threw whatever was useless into the trash, into the fire.
When I was a kid growing up, everybody in my neighborhood had and incinerator. We had an incinerator before smog. There were no trash trucks; we burned everything in an incinerator in the back of the house. Everything that was useless, everything that was to be discarded. And it seemed that it was always burning, day after day. A soul forever ruined for usefulness to God, having a spoiled, marred image - we talked about that this morning – is thrown into the everlasting trash heap, the burning fires of Ge’enna or hell. That’s what those words are talking about, not annihilation. You cannot make that case from Scripture.
In Matthew chapter 26 – I think it’s verse 24 – Jesus is talking about Judas, and He says, “The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him” – He says this at the upper room communion with his disciples – “The Son of Man is to go, just as it is written of Him; but woe to the man by whom the Son of Man is betrayed! It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Why would He say that? “It would have been good for that man if he had not been born.” Why? Because of the consequences that are about to come to him. It wouldn’t matter if he was going to be annihilated, if he was going to be exterminated. Hell is eternal, conscious punishment. There is no way around this.
Now, for a minute, I want you to turn to Matthew chapter 25. Enough of trying to answer those lame arguments. I understand the emotion behind them. But I want you to look at Matthew 25:46 because this is an inescapable parallel or a contrasting parallel. “These,” our Lord says, “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Both words “eternal” are identical. They are the same in the original language.
So, if hell isn’t eternal, then guess what? Neither is heaven. Those will go away into eternal punishment. The righteous will go into eternal life. If there is eternal life, then there is eternal punishment. Get rid of hell and you have to get rid of heaven as being forever. Was our Lord wrong about this? Are the critics right? Are the deniers of hell right, and the Lord is wrong?
If the Lord was wrong, why was He wrong? Was He ignorant of the truth? If He was, then He’s not the Lord of all. He’s not the way, the truth, and the life. Or was He – did He only appear to be wrong because He couldn’t figure out how to say it in a way that we could really get it? Was He not so much ignorant as inept? I don’t think you want to go there. He wasn’t wrong; He wasn’t ignorant; He wasn’t incapable of saying what He wanted to say.
Let me put the case where it really belongs. Did Jesus mean to teach annihilation and somehow goof it up and teach the opposite? Is that what was going on here? He meant to teach annihilation and He just messed it up? Nonsense.
Further affirmation of the reality of hell from some other perspectives. I’ll just talk this through with you a little bit. There’s so much could be said about this. There is one pastor on the East Coast who preached 76 hour-long sermons on hell. Uh, that would empty a church. Whoa. Look, it comes up, and when it comes up in the Scripture, you deal with it. One is enough to make the case.
But let me give you some perspectives that’ll help. First of all, let’s take a rational perspective – just rationally. We need to use our minds. God has given us our minds to reason rightly. Satan and the demons will be sent to the lake of fire forever. Why? Because he rebelled against God. Satan and one-third of the holy angels rebelled against God. Unbelievers rebel against God. Unbelievers not only rebel against God, but we are in the family of Satan. John 8, “Satan is your father,” He said. “You’re of your father the Devil.” Unbelievers are in that family, and we rebel as the angels rebelled, and we must receive the same punishment that anyone who rebels deserves, the same kind of punishment, the same nature of punishment, the same duration of punishment because we commit the same crime.
In the twentieth chapter of Revelation, “The Devil” - verse 10 – “who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also” – the beast and the false prophet are just human beings; the final Antichrist and his cohort, the false prophet, and they’re in the lake of fire as well – “and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
So, that torment will be for the demons and Satan. That torment will be for men who committed themselves to follow Satan, namely the beast and the false prophet, and they’re just two of all the humans will suffer the same fate as the rebellious angels because they followed the same crime. Sinners and fallen angels commit the same crime, share the same guilt, and receive the same punishment.
Now, somebody says, “Does the sentence really fit the crime?”
Well, we’re thinking rationally for a minute. Well, the Lawgiver determines that, doesn’t He? The Lawgiver determines that. The Law that is written determines the extent of the crime and what is a fitting punishment for the crime. And God has determined that the crime is heinous enough that it should be judged in this way. And that is always the hurdle that people have trouble getting over. How can a temporal sin or sins result in an eternal punishment? It seems excessive.
Let me help you with that. The amount of time that a sinner sins is irrelevant. If a sinner dies at 15 years old, 35, or 110, the amount of time a sinner sins is irrelevant. Crimes against the infinitely holy and exalted God are infinitely wicked, and the punishment fits the crime. Infinite crimes against an infinite God deserve an infinite punishment. And here’s the key: sinners who go to hell never repent. They never repent. They continue to rebel. Every description of hell indicates to us that it is – listen carefully – it is not a remedial experience. It is not remedial justice. It is retributive justice. They remain God haters forever so that the punishment never catches up with the sin. Understand that? It’s really important. In hell they continue to hate God. In hell they continue to curse God. In hell they continue to mock God and blaspheme God and hate Christ. So, the punishment never catches up to the sin because the sinning never, ever, ever ceases. Understand that; that’s really important. People don’t go to hell and then never sin forever and just get punished forever. They go to hell and keep on sinning forever. So, the punishment can never catch up with the wretchedness. That is why the Bible, in Mark 3, describes this as eternal sin – as eternal sin.
Let me tell you something. I believe that sinners are more sinful in hell than they were on Earth, because their sin on Earth is mitigated, to some degree – necessarily mitigated. Everybody can’t be as wicked as he would choose to be here because there are consequences, there are restraints, there are expectations. But in hell, there are none. Everybody is as evil as he can be. In Jude 7 it says that they undergo a punishment of eternal fire. “And this judgment” - according to verse 15 – “is on the ungodly for all their ungodly deeds which they’ve done in an ungodly way, and all the harsh things the ungodly sinners have spoken against Him.” The word “ungodly” is used repeatedly there, and when they get to hell, they’re just as ungodly as they ever were – in fact, more so in that environment, without constraint. They continue to be punished because they continue everlastingly their rebellion.
Let me talk about it just for a moment from a theological – that’s a rational approach to understanding what Scripture says – a theological approach, and that would be to understand the nature of God. God’s honor and God’s glory is manifest in the punishment of the wicked. God’s honor and God’s glory is manifest in the punishment of the wicked. God, because He is holy, and because He is absolutely righteous and just, must punish sin.
Listen to – there are a lot of portions of Scripture we might look at, but here’s Isaiah 66, verse 22 to 24, where the Lord says, “‘Just as the new heavens and the new Earth which I make will endure before Me,’ declares the Lord, ‘so your offspring and your name will endure.’” In other words, you’re going to live forever in the new heaven and the new Earth. “‘It shall be from new moon to new moon and Sabbath to Sabbath, and all mankind will come to bow down before Me,’ says the Lord. ‘Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. Their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched’” – that again is Isaiah 66 saying, “Because of what men have done to Me, they will experience an everlasting fire.” Again, it’s the character of God that is at stake.
Daniel 12 tells us in verse 2 that “many will awake to everlasting life” – in the end – “others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” Matthew 18 calls it an eternal fire and a fiery hell. Matthew 25 refers to eternal fire prepared for the Devil and his angels – I think I said Revelation earlier; it’s Matthew 25. We’re familiar with all of this. And hell is God’s hell, where He punishes those who refuse to give Him honor and glory. He acts in the world to reveal His glory, and men reject that glory, and they pay for that rejection. Hell is not remedial; it has no remedial effect. They will remain forever rebellious, God haters, lovers of sin, blasphemers of the Holy Spirit, and rejecters of the Lord Jesus Christ.
If there is any satisfaction in hell, if there is any fulfillment of anything in hell, it is that they can be as wicked as they want to be without restraint because no influence of God is there. So, the theological issue is an important one. Hell is for those who hate God. They act against His mercy; they act against His grace; they act against His holiness; they act against His sovereignty; they act against His glory. And they will continue to do so forever.
Then thirdly, we could look at it biblically. First of all, we can look at it rationally and theologically – and these overlap a little bit – but the final one is biblically. What does the Bible say? Well, we’ve quoted all kinds of scriptures. I think one of the most interesting things about hell, at least to me, is Ecclesiastes 9:10. It says this, “Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there’s no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol.” Whoa, that sounds like eternal boredom. No activity, no planning, no learning, no nothing. No advance at all.
Job 10, verses 21 and 22, describes hell as everlasting darkness. So does Matthew 8:12 and Matthew 22:13, a place of eternal darkness. Again, Matthew 8:12 and Matthew 22:13 describe it as a place of everlasting pain – everlasting pain. There’s a passage of Scripture outside of the New Testament that I think is probably one that gets overlooked too much, and it’s a passage in Ezekiel – every interesting – verse 17, “In the twelfth year, the fifteenth of the month, the word of the Lord came to me saying, ‘Son of man, wail for the hordes of Egypt and bring it down, her and the daughters of the powerful nations, to the netherworld, with those who go down to the pit” – these nations are going down to hell – “Go down and make your bed with the uncircumcised” – the nations, the Gentiles. “They shall fall in the midst of those who are slain by the sword. She is given over to the sword” – talking about Egypt here specifically – “they have drawn her and all her hordes away. The strong among the mighty ones shall speak of him and his helpers from the midst of Sheol” – here are the hordes and the forces of pagan Egypt ending up in hell - “‘They’ve gone down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’” And guess what? “‘Assyria is there and all her company; her graves are round about her. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword, whose graves are set in the remotest part of the pit.
“‘Elam is there’” – verse 24 - “‘and all her hordes.” Twenty-six, “‘Meshech, Tubal, all her hordes are there; their graves surround them. All of them slain by the sword uncircumcised. Nor do they lie beside the fallen heroes of the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war and whose swords were laid under their heads; but the punishment for their iniquity rested on their bones.’”
In other words, Jew, Gentile – they’re all there. Edom is there. “The chiefs of the north” – verse 30 – “are there. The Sidonians are there.” They’re all going to be there. And when Egypt arrives, verse 31, they’re going to see they’re all there. “‘Though I instilled a terror of him in the land of the living, yet he will be made to lie down among the uncircumcised along with those slain by the sword, even Pharaoh and all his hordes,’ declares the Lord God.” They’re all going to end up in hell. What a dramatic picture. And they will be there with an identity that is recognizable. They’ll see Pharaoh arrive. The Bible speaks of hell in very specific words: agony, banishment, brimstone, curse, darkness, deprivation, destruction, distress, fire, teeth grinding, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness, pain, suffering, pressure, prison, punishment, ruin, separation, shame, contempt, smoke, sulfur, torment, trouble, trash heap, weeping – all forever.
There are many roads to hell – many roads to hell. In one sense, every sinner goes there on the road of his own sinful choices. Many roads to hell. Any sin – every sin creates a road that arrives at hell. You can go on the road of pride, or you can go as a pedophile. You can go as a self-righteous religious leader, or you can go as an aide to Adolph Hitler. Many, many roads to hell.
On the other hand, there’s only one way to escape hell. Right? Only one way. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” First Thessalonians 1:10 says, “Jesus rescues us from the wrath to come” – from the wrath to come.
I want to close by going back to the story that Jesus told in Luke 16 just briefly. We stopped the story at verse 26, but I want us to finish it, pick it up in verse 27. The last word in verse 26 was, “When you’re there, you can’t leave.” Nobody can come from there to heaven, and nobody from heaven will ever show up there. But in the story, a parable that Jesus invented, the rich man who was being tormented in hell is pleading with Abraham. “And he says, ‘I beg you, father’” – father Abraham, verse 27 – “‘Send him to my father’s house’” – send Lazarus back - “‘ - I have five brothers – in order that he may warn them so they will not also come to this place of torment.’
“And Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’” Hmm. That’s a reference to the Scripture.
“‘But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’
“But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
How do you evangelize people? You lead them to the Holy Scripture. Even a person back from the dead wouldn’t persuade them if they’re unwilling to listen to Scripture. Foolish people think they can persuade people on the way to hell to change by the style of their wardrobe, or the style of their music, or the kind of environment they create. Hmm, how foolish. If they don’t listen to Scripture, they will not be persuaded. Scripture is the only persuasive means that the Holy Spirit uses to regenerate and rescue souls from hell. So, knowing the gospel – knowing the biblical gospel – that’s what we must use. That’s the Scripture.
So, next Sunday night we’re going to move from “saved from what” to “saved by what” – talk about the importance and essential character of the gospel.
Father, it’s been a wonderful day for us, and in some ways it’s a sad reality that we we’ve talked about tonight at such a happy season, but this is necessary. We have to see people. As the apostle Paul said, he saw no one after the flesh. Once he came to Christ, he didn’t see anybody after the flesh. In other words, he didn’t take people at their physical face; he didn’t see them as physical beings. It wasn’t about their wardrobe or their lifestyle or their possessions. He saw no man after the flesh.
Help us to see them all as perishing, eternal souls headed for the horrors of the lake of fire, and elevate our passion, our compassion, our zeal to plead with them to escape the fire. May we do what Jude says, may we grab people and snatch brands from the burning. Give us that opportunity, even these days, as we go through the Christmas season. Help us to understand the horrors of what awaits those who know not the Savior, and give us a fresh and a new zeal for their souls. May we be instruments that you can use to bring many to the Savior even this season.
We thank You for this privilege and the power of the Spirit and the truth of the Word that enables us to be used in this way, in the name of Christ, amen.
I know the message is completed, but I wanted to add a portion to the sermon that you heard on this particular occasion. In discussing the doctrine of eternal hell, eternal punishment, I tried to cover as much as I could in one hour, but it was impossible. Time constraints in the service of the church at the time limited me to that amount of time, but there’s another aspect of the doctrine of eternal punishment that I wanted to add to the message that I think is very important for us to have a complete understanding.
We talked about the fact that people go to hell because they reject the gospel. They go to hell because they are born in sin, and they live lives of sin and rebellion against God. And I said that it’s not a matter of how many sins or how many years of sin or the grossness of sin. It’s the same hell for everyone. But I wanted to add a footnote that I think is very important to recognize, because the justice of God is very specific. The justice of God is very individual. Sometimes in medieval art you see depictions of hell, and there’s some kind of a great funnel in which everybody is just poured, and they all go flowing through this funnel into kind of the same environment of fiery existence.
But hell is much more individual than that, and the Scripture indicates to us that not everyone suffers in hell to the same degree. We know the Bible teaches there are degrees of reward in heaven, that not every believer will receive the same reward when we go to heaven. We’ll receive the same eternal life, the same perfection, the same eternal righteousness, the same opportunity to live in heaven and be in the Father’s house and all of that, but there will be degrees of reward in heaven.
At the same time, there will be degrees of punishment in hell. And the Scripture indicates this very clearly. Let me read to you Luke chapter 12, starting at verse 41. “Peter said, ‘Lord, are You addressing this parable to us, or to everyone else as well?’” And this was a parable about the Lord’s coming and being ready for His return.
“And the Lord answered Peter, saying this, ‘Who then is the faithful and sensible steward, whom his master will put in charge of his servants, to give them their rations at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master finds so doing when he comes. Truly I say to you that he will put him in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says in his heart, ‘My master will be a long time in coming,’ and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk; the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and assign him a place with the unbelievers. And that slave who knew his master’s will and did not get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who didn’t know it, and committed deeds worthy of a flogging, will receive but few. From everyone who has been given much, much will be required; and to whom they entrusted much, of him they will ask all the more.”
In that problem that our Lord tells, you have the picture of the believer who is the faithful, dutiful servant who does what his master wills and is ready to meet his master when he comes. That’s a picture of a believer ready to meet the Lord when He returns.
But on the other hand, in verses 45 and 46, you have a very different scene. Here is a slave who says in his heart, “My master will be a long time in coming,” and begins to beat the slaves, both men and women, to eat and drink and get drunk. Well, the master of that slave will come on a day when he doesn’t expect him and at an hour he doesn’t know and will cut him in pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. That’s a picture of the unbeliever, the one who is not ready for the return of Christ, the one who has nothing but disdain for the Lord and Master, and he will be set for a horrific judgment.
The servants in this story picture every person in the world. Every person in the world is responsible for how that person handles the good gifts of God revealed to him. In other words, an opportunity to know the truth, the Law of God written in the heart of every man, a conscience, the truth about God manifest from creation, the light that shines in every heart.
What a person does with the opportunity to know the truth and the opportunity to hear the gospel determines that person’s destiny. The ones who believe the truth, who accept the truth of God, who embrace the gospel, they are the ones who will be rewarded by receiving all that the Master possesses.
On the other hand, the others who waste their exposure to the truth, waste their exposure to divine revelation and reject the gospel when they’ve heard it will receive the severest judgment.
So, you have one group in the story – faithful to make the most of that gospel stewardship, and they receive the privilege of being in the kingdom, going to heaven. You have another group, unfaithful to make the use of gospel opportunity, gospel stewardship, and they’re punished with a fierce judgment that is described, in the words of Jesus, as cutting them in pieces, and then there comes the warning that he gives at the end, that slave who knew his master’s will and didn’t get ready or act in accord with his will, will receive many lashes, but the one who didn’t know it will receive but a few.
That’s talking about eternal punishment. Both are punished – one with few lashes, and one with many lashes. And what makes the difference? Not the volume of sin, not the nature of sin, not the intensity of sin, not the number of years one lived to accumulate far more sin than someone who lived far less years, but what a person does with the gospel, with divine truth. That is what determines the severity of hell. The more of the truth of the gospel you know and reject, the severer the punishment will be. In that sense, the gospel is eternally dangerous if rejected.
There will be degrees of punishment, then, on unbelievers in hell – not based on categories of sin, not based on amounts of sin, but based on the level of truth they rejected. That is why Hebrews 10:29 says this, “How much severer punishment do you think he will deserve who has trampled underfoot the Son of God, and has regarded as unclean the blood of the covenant” – the new covenant – “by which he was sanctified, and has insulted the Spirit of grace?” Boy, that’s a strong verse. How much severer punishment will come on the person who knows about the Son of God, knows about the shedding of His blood to provide salvation through the new covenant, regards that as an unclean thing, and thereby insults the Spirit of grace – the very Spirit who was the power behind Jesus, offering Himself up? He offered Himself up by the Holy Spirit. You insult Christ when you reject, with a full knowledge of the gospel, and you insult the Holy Spirit.
By the way, Hebrews 10:29 says that. And then it says, in the next verse, “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord.” And in the next verse, “It is a terrifying thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
So, judgment is predicated on one’s knowledge of the gospel. It’s a far severer hell awaiting those who knew the truth – the gospel – and rejected it.
There’s another account, in Matthew chapter 11, verses 22 through 24, that I want you to listen to. Verse 22 begins, “Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades” – or hell – “for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day. Nevertheless I say to you, it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you.”
What that says is that people living in the village of Capernaum, at the north end of the Sea of Galilee, who were exposed extensively to the life and ministry of Jesus Christ, will be more severely punished in hell than the horrific sins that marked the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, sins of gross immorality and homosexuality so vile that God buried those cities with fire and brimstone. What that means is the people who suffer in hell today from Sodom and Gomorrah don’t suffer to the same degree as those in Capernaum who rejected the Lord Jesus Christ.
There is one other passage that informs us on the degrees of punishment, and it is from 2 Peter chapter 2. Listen to what Peter writes speaking of false teachers, “They are springs without water, mists driven by a storm, for whom the black darkness has been reserved. For speaking out arrogant words of vanity they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality, those who barely escape from the ones who live in error, promising them freedom while they themselves are slave of corruption.”
Now, that’s a description of false teachers. It’s very graphic: springs without water, mists without a storm, black darkness reserved for them. They are arrogant; they speak words of vanity; they entice by fleshly desires, by sensuality. And they’re enticing these people who are just barely escaping. In other words, they’re just sort of moralizing; they’re just sort of escaping the severest kinds of corruption. It’s not a true salvation; it’s a – it’s just a bare escape.
And then the next verse says, “Promising them freedom while they themselves are slaves of corruption.” And then it says about them, “For if, after they have escaped the defilements of the world” – what does that mean? Salvation? No, not at all. What it means is they become moral. They put on religion. They may be legalistic. They may live outwardly, visibly moral lives. They have separated themselves from the defilement of the world, and they now say they are religious, and they’re ministers and theologians and purveyors of religion. They have only superficially escaped.
But it says, “They are again entangled and are overcome, and the last state has become worse for them than the first.” In the end, they can’t keep up the hypocrisy. In the end, they can’t keep up the moral deception, and calamity strikes. You know, time and truth go hand in hand. False teachers eventually will show themselves to be what they really are.
And commenting on these false teachers, Peter says this, “It would be better for them not to have known the way of righteousness than, having known it, to turn away from the holy commandment handed on to them.” False teachers will have the severest punishment in hell because they not only knew the way of righteousness through Christ – it even says that they came to the knowledge of the Lord; they moralized themselves; they pretended to be Christians; they even identified, it says, with their Lord and Savior Jesus Christ superficially – but only superficially, and in the end, they turned away. It would have been better for them if they had never known the gospel than to have known it and turned from it. And that is saying the very same thing. They would have less severe punishment in hell if they had never known the truth. It is not, again, the kind of sin that one commits; it is not, again, the amount of sin that determines the degree of punishment, but it is the truth rejected that determines the severest punishment. And the most severe of all, for those false teachers who knew the truth, who even proclaimed the truth, who identified with the truth, identified with Christ, moralized their lives on the outside but were never truly saved because, bottom line, they rejected the gospel they pretended to affirm.
There will be very specific degrees of punishment in hell, for every sinner, based upon the knowledge rejected, the truth resisted.
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