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Jesus, Judgment and the reality of Hell

What Jesus said about hell gehenna

Jesus, Judgment and the reality of Hell

 

Judgment and hell are difficult topics to write about.  If eternal punishment is real, then it is a cause for much soul-searching and should fill us with an incredible sense of urgency and compassion for any who might befall that fate.  It definitely is not something to be treated flippantly…nor is it something to bash people over the head with in condemnation.  If we can’t talk about hell with tears in our eyes and pain in our heart, we should probably remain silent!

In a previous post I highlighted a few areas that I disagreed with Rob Bell about regarding his presentation of hell in his book “Love Wins.”  In this post I am going to try and show (a) what the Bible teaches about hell and judgment and (b) why it matters, especially today.  Because of the nature of the subject, and the way it has been (mis)treated by many today, this will take a while to unpack.  However, I encourage you to take the time to think through the Scriptures we’ll talk about.  I especially encourage you to read through what Jesus says about hell and judgment in Matthew 13:37-42; 13:47-50; 18:7-9; 18:32-35; 22:1-14; 24:45-51; 25:41-46.

  1. As a matter of life and death the topic of eternal punishment and hell are vital for us to grasp.  We should be wary of those that try to explain it away in the name of ‘love’.

If eternal punishment is real, it would be more foolish for someone to misdiagnose this topic than for a doctor to misdiagnose a life-threatening disease.   Likewise, if you were seriously ill, would you go to a doctor who downplayed your illness and only tried to make you feel happy, or to a doctor who could treat your sickness?  Which would be most caring?is hell real

If your car needed major repairs would you take it to someone who explains away the problem while making you feel good about yourself?  Or to a mechanic that can actually fix your car?  Who would be the most loving, the most helpful?

Unfortunately, this is what many do with the topic of hell.  In the name of compassion they pretend it doesn’t exist.  They ignore Jesus’ words and explain it all away.  They emphasize love and compassion, but at the same time withhold the truth that could bring healing and salvation.  Again, if hell is real, then it would be totally unloving to treat it flippantly, to ignore it, or to redefine it to suit our own desires.

Jesus – the most loving person who ever walked this earth – certainly didn’t explain it away.  He talked of it with both clarity and certainty.

  1. Jesus is God – and is therefore smart!  He knows better than anyone else why hell was created and what will happen in the future.  If we are to learn about hell, then it is His words we must listen to.

I’m amazed at how many people say they love Jesus – but don’t actually pay much attention to what he says!  Gandhi once said, “Everybody is eager to garland my photos…But nobody wants to follow my advice.”[1]  Unfortunately, this seems true of Jesus as well!

If Jesus truly is God (and I believe he is!)[2], if he is the Creator of all things (and Scripture says he is)[3], then he would certainly know better than anyone else what hell is like.  He would have been there when it was made and he would have known what it was made for. We need to listen to what he says about it!

  1. Jesus spoke more about hell and judgment than anyone else in Scripture.  He always treated it as something real…and something terrible.  Furthermore, the rest of the New Testament writers agree with everything Jesus taught on hell and spoke in similar words as he did.

A. Jesus spoke about hell and judgment an astonishing number of times! In Matthew alone Jesus speaks about eternal punishment and the Day of Judgment over 25 times! (See the full list at the end of this post).  In fact, Jesus spoke about hell more than all the other New Testament writers put together.

But why would God reference such a terrible thing so much?  Simply because it is real, it is terrible…and he doesn’t want anyone to go there!

rob bell love wins hellIf you’re a parent like me you know that if something is really important you’ll repeat it to your kids.  You say over and over, “don’t play near the road!”  Why?  Because it could be a matter of life and death and you realize your child doesn’t quite grasp the consequences as you do.  So you repeat it over and over, you make sure it’s ingrained in their minds, you passionately warn them.

That’s what Jesus does: over and over he warns his listeners about hell – especially since it’s a topic that’s hard for us to grasp.  He cares deeply for us and wanted to do everything in his power to make sure we got the message!

Now, if it’s true (as some say) that everyone will end up in heaven anyway – why would Jesus talk about hell so much?  Why was he so concerned about it?  If hell doesn’t exist then Jesus really wasted a lot of breath!  If judgment isn’t real then the only thing we can say is Jesus was terribly confused!  Not many would actually say that out loud…but many people quietly (or not-so-quietly) imply that by their shallow view of hell.

Among other things, Jesus referred to hell as:

  • A place of fire (Mt 5:22; 18:9)
  • Where the “Fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43)
  • Where the “Worm does not die, fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:47,48)
  • Which destroys the soul and the body (Mt 10:28)
  • A place of “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; cf Luke 13:28)
  • Fiery furnace (13:42, 50)
  • A place of Darkness (Mt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30)
  • Eternal fire (Mt 18:8; 25:41)
  • Eternal punishment (Mt 25:46)

In the same way other New Testament writers referred to judgment/hell in these words:

A place of: “eternal destruction” – 2 Thess 1:9; “eternal judgment” – Heb 6:2; “punishment of eternal fire” – Jude 1:7; “judgment and destruction of ungodly people” 2 Peter 3:7; “if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” – Rev 20:15 (see also Rev 21:8).

B. Jesus spoke of it as something incredibly terrible. Jesus referred to hell using the Greek word “Gehenna.”  As I mentioned in my last post, Gehenna was a place outside the city where people threw garbage and corpses and left them to decompose or get eaten by scavenging animals.  It was a place of filth and of death – you could smell it, hear it, sense it…and you did all you could to avoid it.  Jesus used this language to make his listeners realize that hell isthe worst thing imaginable.

Now some have said that all these images Jesus uses aren’t meant to be taken literally.  However we need to remember that these descriptions are the same throughout all Scripture – from Isaiah to John the Baptist to Jesus to Paul to Jude and the Apostle John.  They all speak of hell in the same language, with the same urgency and with a literal emphasis.

Furthermore, when Jesus uses descriptive words it is not to belittle the image he is talking about.  Rather it is to highlight to frail human understandings a truth that is greater than they can grasp.  Something more powerful, magnified and on a larger scale than they can imagine.

C. If the images of hell Jesus uses are ‘just’ metaphors, then hell is unthinkably worse than mere fire.

A professor named Dr J. Budziszewski (try pronouncing that!) recently noted,

“Some writers have said that the flames of hell are not real flames but mere metaphors for the agony of being left to ourselves…but remember that a metaphor is just a shadow of the real thing; if flames are a mere metaphor for that agony, the agony must be worse than flames.”[4]

And John Piper notes,

“Even if I try to make the ‘lake of fire’ (Rev. 20:15) or the ‘fiery furnace’ (Matt. 13:42) a symbol, I am confronted with the terrifying thought that symbols are not overstatements but understatements of reality.  Jesus did not choose these pictures to tell us that hell is easier than burning.”[5]

This may sound strange, but I hope that Jesus wasn’t just using metaphors…if he was then hell is much, much worse than anything we’ve yet imagined!

Furthermore, as stated above:

  1. Jesus spoke more about hell and judgment than almost any other topic he taught on!  If we are to ignore him on this, wemight as well ignore him in every other area as well.  There’s just no getting around what he had to say about it.

Jesus only references being “born again” twice in Scripture (John 3:3,7)…but most people will tell you that Christians think it’s a pretty important thing!  If we ignore Jesus speaking about hell and judgment – when he mentions it over 25 times – we can probably ignore the “born again” bit as well, don’t you think?  While we’re at it, we should forget the “love your neighbour as yourself” part because he only said that twice (Mt 19:19; 22:39).

Do you see what I’m trying to get at?  We focus on the passages that sound nice or are a little easier to swallow, but we try to ignore those that we don’t understand or aren’t ‘politically correct’.  Why is that?

I’ll say it again – Jesus talked about judgment and hell more than almost anything else in Scripture.  So if we ignore what he says on this topic, we might as well ignore everything else he said as well.

Either he was God and knew what he was talking about, or he was slightly confused and we can’t rely on him at all.

The foundational issue here really isn’t about hell, it’s about Jesus: do we really believe who he says he is?  Do we believe he speaks truth?  That’s the first issue we need to settle in our hearts.

If we say yes to that, then we need to seriously take his words regarding hell and judgment to heart.

  1. Jesus taught that hell was made for the devil, not for humankind.  He taught that it was a real place, a place of eternal torment and punishment.  He used images people could understand to reveal that it was the worst thing imaginable.

A. Hell was made for the devil. Jesus said: “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fireprepared for the devil and his angels” (Mt 25:41).  So we see that hell was not originally made for humans, but for the devil.  It was not God’s original intention that people enter hell and eternal fire.  However, once sin came into the world we came under God’s judgment.

He is totally holy and sin can’t come anywhere near his presence.

B. Jesus also taught that because of sin this world is now under the control of the devil, the “evil one”. Jesus called the devil the “prince of this world” (John 12:31) and the “ruler of this world” (John 14:30 and 16:11).  He also said to Paul, “I am sending you…to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me” (Acts 26:18. See also 2 Cor 4:4; Eph 2:2).

All those verses are to show this one thing: Because of our sinfulness, the devil has rule over us.  And if he is the one ruling us, our punishment will be the same as his.  If we’re following him in this life (and by default of our sinfulness everyone is) then we’ll follow him into eternity.  However, if through repentance and faith in Jesus’ sacrifice we have turned “from darkness to light and from the power of satan to God” then our sins are forgiven.  The great news is that there is forgiveness of sins and if we follow Jesus in this life, we’ll follow Him into eternity!

C. Hell is a place of punishment and torment.

  • Jesus said it was a place of eternal punishment (Mt 25:46) and,
  • A place of “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; cf Luke 13:28)

D. Hell and punishment are eternal.

  • Eternal fire (Mt 18:8; 25:41)
  • Eternal punishment (Mt 25:46)

Note that in both these places “eternal” is the Greek word “aionios”, which can only be translated “eternal,” (never ‘temporal’ or ‘a period of time’).  It is used 68 times in Scripture and most often refers to “eternal life” but also refers to the eternal nature of God; the Holy Spirit; salvation; the Gospel; and God’s covenant.  It is never used for anything less than eternal.

  1. Hell is a very real and terrible place.  Jesus himself said so many, many times. But we don’t bash people over the head with this truth, because the reality is ALL OF US deserve hell because of our sinfulness.  NO ONE is good enough to enter “eternal life” and the presence of God.

hell and holiness of GodIf I have a huge glass window in the front of my home, it doesn’t matter if you throw a big rock through it or a little rock through it…both will shatter the glass.  And it doesn’t matter if we’ve “sinned big”, or “sinned little,” any sin will shatter the holiness necessary to come before God. Only through Jesus can we be forgiven and be remade into the type of people who can enter His presence.

  1. But why such a harsh punishment? Why would the things done in this short life have such huge consequences?  Doesn’t that seem a little unfair?  That’s a good question.

My first response is – I didn’t make this up, it’s what Jesus clearly taught (over and over) by referring to hell as a place of eternal torment.  Again, read Matthew 13:37-42; 13:47-50; 18:7-9; 18:32-35; 22:1-14; 24:45-51; 25:41-46.  You can ignore it, but you’ll be ignoring Jesus.

Secondly, I want us to step back and look at another area of life that provides a great analogy in regards to eternity – the womb.

My wife just gave birth to our second son.  While pregnant she was very careful what she ate and what kind of exercises and work she took part in.  Why?  Because those 9 short months (doesn’t feel short at the time!) will affect the baby for the rest of its life.  She didn’t drink alcohol, barely touched caffeine and didn’t do belly-flops at the pool from the high-diving board.  Why not?  Because she knew it would affect the baby!  Her choices during those months would have consequences for decades!heaven free books

In much the same way, these few years here on earth are preparing us for the thousands of years in eternity.  For a physical life to be born, there’s this stage of growth in the womb.  For a spiritual life to come to maturity, there’s also been appointed this time on earth.

Our choices in this life affect the next.  Whether we like it or not, we can’t get around it.

Third, we need to remember the Justice of God.  What would a country be like if the government didn’t punish murderers, rapists, thieves?  It would not be loving – it would be chaos, it would be hellish!  God is the ultimate judge, he knows the hearts and deeds of all, and one day he will judge with justice.

Fourth, God is a holy God.  Sin is an offense against HIM.  We need to understand that the greater honor someone deserves, the greater the consequences for dishonoring them.  For example, if you slap me, that won’t get you into too much danger.  But if you slap the president – you’ll be in trouble!  God is the ultimate authority, worthy of greatest praise and infinite honor.  The natural consequences for spitting in the face of infinite honor is infinite punishment.  Whether we understand it on this side of eternity or not the reality is that “the punishment fits the crime” – for all of us.

At this point I want to remind us, this punishment was NEVER intended for us – it was made for the devil (Mt 25:41).  But because of our sinfulness, we’ve all become aligned with the devil in this life and so will enter into his punishment in the next.

Again, the reality is that NONE of us deserve life/heaven.  ALL of us deserve hell.  All of us have dishonored God, have broken his laws, have spat in his face.  The surprise isn’t that hell exists.  The real surprise is that heaven exists – and that we are offered the opportunity to actually be with God forever!

  1. SO WHAT should our response be?
  • We should stand in awe of God for his mercy. The reality is that all of us deserve hell.  The fact that the door to eternal life has been opened is incredible grace!
  • We need to live in light of eternity with the way we live and the choices we make.  This life is short – it would be foolish to focus on this brief existence, ignoring the reality of eternity to come.  As someone once said,“Only one life, it will soon be past, only what’s done for Christ will last.”
  • We need to share the news of God’s grace with others. We don’t bash them over the head with ‘turn or burn’.  Rather we gently share the reality of eternal things, the reality of how sin kills and how we need God’s love to bring us to wholeness.   Paul, after talking about Judgment Day, put it this way:  “Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade people…” (2 Cor 5:11).
    That’s why Jesus was so clear in telling his disciples to “GO into all the world” and share this message.  We all deserve hell…but he’s made a way out!
  • Finally, we must always speak the truth with heartfelt love, sharing the same attitude as Jesuswho “wept over Jerusalem” (Luke 19:41) and Paul who “never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears” (Acts 20:31).

For Further Study:  Verses from Matthew on Hell and Judgment:

5:22,29,30; 7:13,19, 23; 8:12; 10:15, 28; 11:22, 24; 12:36, 41, 42;

13:40-42; 49-50; 18:6.8.9, 34; 22:7,13; 23:15,33; 24:51;

25:11-13, 30, 41-46

 


[1] http://ahssan.wordpress.com/2009/01/30/remembering-mahatma-gandhi/

[2] See John 1:1; 20:28; Hebrews 1:8-12; 1 John 5:20; Titus 2:13; 2 Peter 1:1 for a few examples.

[3] See John 1:3; Colossians 1:16; Hebrews 1:10

[4]  J. Budziszewski, How to stay Christian in College, (Colorado Springs, CO: NavPress, 2004), page 42.

[5] John Piper, Brothers We are Not Professionals, (Nashville, TN: Broadman & Holman, 2002), page 114.

Why God Used D. L. Moody (2)

moody preaching


Why God Used D. L. Moody, pt 2: he was a Student of the Bible and a Humble man

 

The third reason Torrey gives as to why God so mightily used D. L. Moody was that he was a “deep and practical student of the Bible.”  Torrey writes,

“Every day of his life, I have reason for believing, he arose very early in the morning to study the Word of God, way down to the close of his life.  Mr Moody used to rise about four o’clock in the morning to study the Bible.  He would say to me: ‘If I am going to get in any study, I have got to get up before the other folks get up’; and he would shut himself up in a remote room in his house, alone with his God and his Bible.”

Wow…four o’clock in the morning!  As I read those words I’m convicted, realizing the level of commitment
Moody had compared with my own.  How much of my time is taken up by
trivial matters?

Torrey then continues,

Oh, you may talk about power; but, if you neglect the one Book that God has given you as the one instrument through which He imparts and exercises His power, you will not have it…

Oh, men and women, if you wish to get an audience and wish to do that audience some good after you get them, study, study, STUDY the one Book, and preach, preach, PREACH the one Book, and teach, teach, TEACH the one Book, the Bible, the only Book that is God’s Word, and the only Book that has power to gather and hold and bless the crowds for any great length of time.

The Fourth reason God used D. L. Moody so powerfully was his humility.  Even though he spoke to some of the largest crowds in the biggest buildings of his day and though his name was known throughout the land and overseas he remained humble before God and people.  Moody used to say,

“Faith gets the most; love works the most; but humility keeps the most”

Torrey aptly concludes,

Oh, how many a man has been full of promise and God has used him, and then the man thought that he was the whole thing and God was compelled to set him aside!

I can look back for forty years, or more, and think of many men who are now wrecks or derelicts who at one time the world though were going to be something great.  But they have disappeared entirely from the public view.  Why?  Because of overestimation of self.  Oh, the men and women who have been put aside because they began to think that they were somebody…and therefore God was compelled to set them aside.

The entire shore of the history of Christian workers is strewn with the wrecks of gallant vessels that were full of promise a few years ago, but these men became puffed up and were driven on the rocks by the wild winds of their own raging self-esteem.

This is as true today as it was 100 years ago – the unfortunate truth is that pride continues to make wreck of many a life and ministry.  Let’s learn from these men of God and “humble ourselves before the Lord” (James 4:10) that He may use us for His glory!

 

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