In this Sunday’s sermon, we talked about how we can be bold witnesses for Jesus. God commands us to share the gospel and that requires boldness because it is exclusive. It upsets the status quo of a relativistic culture that believes everyone can have their own “truth”. But I want to talk about another reason boldness is required: the terrible fate of man without Christ. We know a Christ-less eternity lies ahead for those who do not trust Christ.
After we die, the Bible says we will all face a judgment of faith. Hebrews 9:27 says,
“It is appointed once for man to die and after that face judgment.”
We will all stand before God and for those who accepted Christ, they will be welcomed into the eternal joys of Heaven in His presence. But for those who have not believed on Christ, they face a terrible fate in a place commonly referred to as Hell. This is a real place of eternal sentencing that is to be avoided (Matt. 23:33). 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 says God will deal out retribution to those who do now know God and do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus. “These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
The doctrine of hell has fallen on hard times in our day. You rarely hear it talked about, even though the Bible records Jesus warning people about it on many occasions. He talked more about hell than anyone else in Scripture. Hell being a rare subject in discourse is partially due to the fact that eternal damnation is not something comfortable to think about. We prefer a God of love rather than a God who is holy and just. Our emotions refuse to think of those we know and love ever being in a place of eternal torment. Whenever anyone dies, they’re always in “a better place” – never a worse place! If we believe that, we are deceiving ourselves. Hell is the broad gate and heaven is the narrow gate (Matthew 7:13-14).
Hell is often referred to as Hades in the Bible or equivalated with The Lake of Fire. Our word for “hell” is derived from the Greek word geenna (Gehenna), from the Hebrew ge hinnom, which means “Valley of Hinnom.” Gehenna, or the valley of Hinnom, was a valley outside of Jerusalem where Israelites sacrificed their children to a false god named Molech (2 Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 19:6). Because of this, God said His judgment would reside over this place. Jeremiah prophesied God would destroy these idolaters for their sin in the Valley of Hinnom and leave their corpses to rot, renaming it the “valley slaughter” (Jer. 7:31-34; 19:4-6).
It has also been said that this was a place where Jerusalem’s refuse and trash was burned, including the occasional dead body of criminals. Like a city dump, the fire was always burning and the smoke always rising. No wonder Christ used Gehenna as a metaphor for hell (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15; 23:33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; James 3:6; Rev. 20). Hell is a also described as “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43, 48), a “furnace of fire” (Matt. 13:42, 50), and “outer darkness” (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30).
The book of Jude encourages Christians to be like firefighters who snatch the unsaved from the fires of hell. After refuting false teachers that denied God’s eternal punishment for sin and lawlessness, Jude 23 says,
“Save others, snatching them out of the fire.”
Every Christian is like a firefighter!
False teachings about eternal punishment abound today. One false teaching is Universalism, which teaches that all people will be saved. Some false teachers will try to use Scriptures that talk about Jesus “dying for the whole world” to convince people that the whole world is saved. This weak interpretation is easily toppled by tremendous amounts of further revelation explaining the condition for salvation is faith in Christ. Yes, He died for everyone, but we must believe. John 3:18 is clear:
“Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.”
Another common false teaching is Conditionalism. This teaches that when people are “destroyed” in hell, they cease to exist. This idea comes from a misinterpretation of descriptions of hell like Matthew 10:28 where Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Destruction is not synonymous with extinction though. I can “destroy” a pop can by crushing it, but it doesn’t cease to exist. Scripture repeatedly teaches that hell is a place of conscious eternal punishment. It is a place where people weep and gnash their teeth in agony (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28).
In Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells a figurative, but possibly actual, story about two men in the afterlife. A poor man named Lazarus went to “paradise” (heaven) to be with the Jewish father Abraham. The other was a rich man who ended up in Hades. He lived so comfortably in this life that he never longed for paradise beyond this world. He never stopped to consider his eternal destiny. While in Hades, he can see across this “great chasm” that is fixed between him and paradise, where they are. He lifts up his eyes, and being in agonizing torment, asks Abraham to send Lazarus with a drop of water for his tongue. Abraham cannot cross the chasm between them. He also asks Abraham to send someone from paradise to his 5 brothers who remain alive. Abaraham says “They have Moses and the Prophets, let them hear them…. If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets [the Old Testament], they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.” There are no second chances in hell.
The way I see it, there will also be differing degrees of punishment in hell. Even though all are without excuse due to the evidence in creation and God’s law is written on their hearts (Romans 1:20; 2:14-16), passages like Matthew 10:15, 11:22-24, 26:24, Luke 12:47-48, John 19:11 suggest that those who received more truth-revelation concerning Christ will be responsible for more. I think the thermostat on the furnace of hell will be set highest for Satan. He will not be a ruler in hell. He will be the most punished.
The old preacher, Charles Spurgeon, described hell in an unforgettable way:
“there is never any sleep or rest or hope. It is a place where a drop of water is denied, though thirst shall burn the tongue; a place where pleasure never breathed, where light never dawned, where anything like consolation was never heard of; a place where the gospel is denied, where mercy droops her wings and dies; a place of fury and of burning; a place the likes of which imagination has not pictured."
Hades, to be precise, holds unsaved souls in torment until their future resurrection at the end of the Millennial Kingdom where they will stand before the Great White Throne for a judgment of works (Rev. 20:11-15).After this, they are thrown into the eternal location for unbelievers called The Lake of Fire (20:15). This is referred to as the second death (20:14). The term “lake of fire” is used 6 times in the book of Revelation (19:20; 20:10, 14b, 14c, 15, 18) and is the final hellish state of punishment for unbelievers, fallen angels (including Satan), Hades, and death itself. It was prepared for Satan and his angels (Matt. 25:41). They will be tormented there day and night forever and ever (Rev. 20:10).
Have you ever seen yourself a firefighter for Christ? I think it would be helpful to start thinking this way. The great evangelist D. L. Moody used to envision people as if they were on fire until he knew they weren’t. He understood all are condemned until they come to Christ and made a point to share the gospel every day. Firefighting is also a noble task. It is an honor to serve as a firefighter. We look up to them and admire their difficult, self-sacrificial work. God will reward His faithful firefighters who are ready to answer the call any time of day. What a privilege to serve in Heaven’s fire department!
If you’ve never trusted in Jesus Christ today, know that you can simply receive Him as your Savior right now by telling Him through prayer that you deserve hell as a sinner, but want to accept His incredibly merciful gift of the cross for you. He died for you in your place and rose again from the grave to prove it. Right now, He sits in Heaven victorious, patiently waiting for sinners to receive His gift of salvation. He does not long to judge us but to save us (Jer. 17:15-16; John 3:17; 2 Peter 3:9). Will you receive His gift of salvation today? Romans 3:23-24 is like a cool drink of water for those who thirst:
“Everyone has sinned and is far away from God's saving presence but by the free gift of God's grace all are put right with him through Christ Jesus, who sets them free.”
In Christ with you,
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