(Co-written with David Pope)
For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?-Matthew 16:26
If you are not born again, the day will come when you will wish you had never been born at all.-Warren Wiersbe
In his television heyday, Phil Donahue once had a minister on his program whom he asked whether or not he believed in Hell. The minister replied that he did. When Donahue responded that he did not, the minister shot back, “Well, you will when you get there!” Of all the truths of the Christian faith, perhaps there is none more difficult to fathom than the reality of a literal, eternal Hell for those who reject the saving work of Jesus Christ. After all, how could a loving, merciful God create such a horrible place?
While we can certainly understand the concerns of those who have difficulty grasping this concept, the modern Church has often neglected or outright dismissed important Bible teachings in an attempt to make people feel more “comfortable”. Once upon a time, preachers would regularly teach the people about the eternal fate of the wicked. Now, most especially in more liberal or “user friendly” sects, the Bible’s teaching of eternal punishment is denigrated if it is even mentioned at all and this is to the shame of the Church of the Lord Jesus Christ (Hebrews 2:1).
As a result, the Biblical concept of Hell has been replaced by the world’s distorted definitions. We are reminded of the popular song “Highway To Hell” by the rock band AC/DC. After describing Hell as “party time” and boasting that all his friends would be there, too, lead singer Bon Scott chillingly proclaims the following: “Hey Satan, paid my dues playing in a rockin’ band. Hey Momma, look at me! I’m on my way to the promised land. I’m on the Highway to Hell!” (1) Ironically, not long after recording these words, Bon Scott died suddenly after a night of heavy drinking. If we could talk to him today, Mr. Scott would give us a radically different description of Hell. It is certainly no party, and although his friends may very well be there, he will never see them again. In the words of the great preacher Jonathan Edwards:
That world of misery, that lake of burning brimstone, is extended abroad under you. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor any thing to take hold of; there is nothing between you and hell but the air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up. (2)
This message, “Sinners In The Hands of an Angry God”, was delivered in a flat monotone voice. Literally read from a page, it was key in the conversion of thousands to saving faith in Jesus Christ.
With this in mind, we begin the first of a two part series on the Bible’s teachings about this important subject. Today we will discuss the reality of this place called Hell, and next time, we will take “A Guided Tour Of Hell”. In these teachings, we will examine the most common questions and misconceptions about this crucial truth. What is Hell? What is it like? Who goes there? and most importantly, how can we avoid going there?
Jesus Himself did not see a contradiction between His message of God’s love and the solemn reality of God’s wrath. In fact, He taught more about Hell than He did about Heaven! Consider these graphic descriptions from Jesus’ own lips: “Everlasting fire” (Matthew 18:8, 25:41), “Eternal damnation” (Mark 3:29), “Weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30), “Place of torment” (Luke 16:28), “Outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12, 22:13) and “Everlasting fire, everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:41, 46).
For those who attempt to downplay Hell to being a symbol or metaphor, note the detailed and vivid nature of these depictions. Jesus’ words here do not allow for anything other than a literal interpretation, and this is in perfect harmony with the Bible’s teaching as a whole. The word we know as “Hell” comes from the Hebrew word Sheol in the Old Testament (3) and from the Greek words Hades and Gehenna in the New Testament. We will discuss the definitions of these words in detail in Part 2 of this message, but they all refer to the abode of the dead, or a place of conscious punishment. We vividly see this in Jesus’ most detailed teaching on Hell: The dramatic story of Lazarus and the rich man, as seen in Luke 16:19-31.
This account is not a parable. Rather, it is a true story of a “certain” rich man (tradition tells us that the man’s name was Dives), and a beggar named Lazarus who ate crumbs from Dives’ table. However, the roles were dramatically reversed after both men died. Lazarus was carried away into Paradise, or “Abraham’s Bosom,” while the rich man found himself in the flames of Hell. His agony there was so great that he begged for even one drop of water to cool his tongue, but even this was refused. Think about this: Even after 2000 years, he still has not received that drop of water.
The fact is that eternal judgment is one of the foundational doctrines of the New Testament, as set forth in Hebrews 6:1. To not believe this doctrine is, putting it bluntly, to call Jesus a liar. Therefore, a person who denies this crucial truth cannot rightly be called an orthodox Christian. There are no such things as reincarnation, soul sleep or Purgatory, and there are no second chances after death. It is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgement (Hebrews 9:27). No matter how much a person may try to ignore it, the human conscience bears witness to the fact that there will one day come a reckoning (Romans 2:14-16). Ironically, we can often see this in the dying moments of those who have lived in defiance to God. Consider the following accounts:
Voltaire-This famous French philosopher was well known as an outspoken opponent of Christianity, and predicted that it would cease to exist within 100 years. However, when a stroke put him on his death bed, Voltaire’s stony exterior began to crack and reveal his miserable, frightful condition. For two months he was tortured with such an agony that led him at times to gnash his teeth in impotent rage against God and man. He would turn his face and cry out, “I must die, abandoned of God and of man.” His condition became so frightful that even his associates were afraid to approach his bedside. In fact, his own nurse is quoted as saying, “For all the wealth of Europe, I would never see another infidel die. It was a scene of horror that lies beyond all exaggeration.” (4)
Thomas Paine-A brilliant essayist and a key figure in both the American and French Revolutions, Paine was nonetheless a staunch Deist who was militant in his rejection of the God of the Bible. He was the author of the anti-Christian work The (sic) Age of Reason, which gained him considerable notoriety. Ironically, his last days were spent being cared for by Christian charity workers. When left alone, he would cry out in heart-rending tones, “God help me! Jesus Christ help me!” Other times he would say “O God! What have I done to suffer so much?” Then shortly after he would say “but there is no God. Yet if there be, what would become of me hereafter?” He would scream in agony to his attendant “Stay with me for God’s sake, for I cannot bear to be left alone! Send even a small child to stay with me!” Among the last words anyone ever heard him say were “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?” According to one of his caretakers, “I never saw a more unhappy, a more forsaken man.” (5)
David Hume-As this Deistic philosopher and historian was facing death, he gave the public impression of being quite happy and tranquil, even humorous. However, his housekeeper relates that his private moments painted a very different picture: “When he was alone…he was anything but composed, his mental agitation was so great at times as to occasion his whole bed to shake. And he would not allow the candles to be put out during the night, nor would he be left alone for a minute…This continued and increased until it became insensible. I hope to God I shall never witness a similar scene.” (6)
Dr. D. James Kennedy sums it up well: “If the Bible teaches anything at all, it is that there is an everlasting too late-that there will come a moment when the door of grace will be slammed shut forever. Then the sinner would give the universe itself for just one minute to repent and turn to Jesus Christ. (7)” Friend, you have this opportunity right now, right where you are.
I was once presented with a Gospel tract entitled “What Must I Do To Go To Hell?” When you opened it, the page was blank! In other words, in order to go to Hell, simply do nothing. By neglecting or rejecting Jesus’ sacrifice for our sins, your fate in hell is sealed. God is a covenant God, and he would dishonor His Covenant with His people if he were to allow those that did not partake of the covenant to enjoy the same eternal state as those that have (Luke 13:1-5, 2 Corinthians 5:17-21). The good news is that anyone can be part of that covenant! The first step, however, is to confront the root of the problem, which is our own human sinfulness.
As Romans 3:23 puts it, “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.” In other words, every one of us has been guilty of disobeying God’s holy laws and commandments. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever had an immoral sexual thought? Have you ever put anything in your life ahead of God? If we will be honest, we all have to plead “guilty as charged,” and acknowledge that we are fully deserving of God’s wrath and punishment. Bad news? Yes, but it brings us to the best news of all!
For God so greatly loved and dearly prized the world that He (even) gave up His only begotten (unique) Son so that whoever believes in (trusts in, clings to, relies on) Him shall not perish (come to destruction, be lost) but have eternal (everlasting) life (John 3:16, Amplified Bible).
The wonderful truth is that no matter how lost in sin that we may be, God still loves us! For that reason, He sent His perfect, sinless Son Jesus into the world to take the punishment for us. By doing that, He paid the price in full not only to save us from going to Hell, but for us to live forever with Him! He offers us this as a gift. We cannot work for it or earn it, we simply come to Him, turning away from our sin, and receive this precious gift. “As many as received Him, to them gave He power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on His name” (John 1:12)
NOTES AND BIBLIOGRAPHY:
1-“Highway To Hell” lyrics written by Young, Young and Scott. From the album Highway To Hell, 1979, Atlantic Records.
2-Edwards, Jonathan. “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God” taken from “The Norton Anthology of American Literature” Sixth Edition, Volume A. 2003, 1998, 1994, 1989, 1985, 1979 by W.W. Norton & Company, Inc,New York, NY. P. 503.
3-The doctrine of Hell is a more prominent theme in the Old Testament, than many realize. See Deuteronomy 32:22, 2 Samuel 22:6, Job 11:8, Job 26:6, Psalm 9:17, Psalm 16:10. Psalm 18:5, Psalm 55:15, Psalm 86:13, Psalm 116:3, Psalm 139:8, Proverbs 5:5, Proverbs 7:27, Proverbs 15:11, Proverbs 15:24, Proverbs 23:14, Proverbs 27:20, Isaiah 5:14, Isaiah 14:9, Isaiah 14:15, Isaiah 28:15, Isaiah 28:18, Isaiah 57:9, Ezekiel 31:16-17, Ezekiel 32:21, Ezekiel 32:27, Amos 9:2, Jonah 2:2, Habakuk 2:5.
4-Dake, Finis Jennings. God’s Plan For Man. 1949, copyright renewed 1977. Dake Bible Sales, Lawrenceville, Georgia. pp. 731-734.
7-Kennedy, D. James. Why I Believe 1980, Word, Inc. Dallas, London, Vancouver, Melbourne. pp. 77, 79.