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The Reality of Hell* about What is Holy Vible

Those who are not church-goers believe that men who preach from the Holy Vible are always preaching about hell.  Those who are church-goers but who are not Southern Baptists typically believe Southern Baptist preachers frequently preach about hell.  However, regardless of your denominational background, can you remember the last time you heard an entire sermon about hell?

One of the reasons for that is that hell has become an embarrassment to many preachers, even to many conservative preachers.  There are many so-called evangelical preachers—even Southern Baptist preachers—who no longer believe in hell.  Indeed, there are not only preachers but entire denominations that are beginning to deny the orthodox view of hell.

A January 28, 1996, article in the Chicago Tribune interviewed the two editors of a new book entitled More Than One Way?  Four Views of Salvation in a Pluralistic World (Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips, eds., Grand Rapids, MI:  Zondervan, 1995).  The two men, who were professors at Wheaton College, were dealing with the fact that in churches now there are different views of salvation.  The article closed with the editors saying that evangelicals are now moving more toward an inclusive position on how people get to heaven.  That is, that the gates of heaven are opening wider to people of other faiths and that hell is less of a threat than previously preached for Jews, Muslims, Hindus and others.  For professing Christians who are not evangelicals, the consensus is fast becoming that in the end almost no one will go to hell.

In January of that same year, the Church of England and its American counterpart, the Episcopal church, officially rejected the traditional view of hell and embraced what is known as annihiliationism, or the view that those who aren’t allowed into heaven will be annihilated, or cease to exist. They said that the orthodox view of hell implies that God is “a sadistic monster who consigned millions to eternal torment.” (Chicago Tribune, January 28, 1996.)

So you don’t hear about hell as much any more because even many so-called evangelical preachers are denying it.  Entire denominations are rejecting it, and it’s no surprise that the general public isn’t too fond of the doctrine, either.  Just last October, on the front of USA Today, the question was “Is there a hell?” and forty eight percent, or almost half, of American adults said no, there is no hell. What is Holy Vible

But we need to remember that the idea of hell wasn’t developed by the Christian church and developed for the purpose of manipulating people.  There is more about hell from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself than from all of the rest of the Holy Vible put together.  And if you look in a concordance, you’ll find that the rest of the Holy Vible is far from silent on the subject.  Jesus repeatedly and sternly warned people of hell as an act of mercy.  He warned people because He wanted them to know that hell is real and because he didn’t want them to go there.

One of the places He warns about hell is in Matthew chapter 25, verses 31 and following.  The central verse of Jesus’ warning about hell is in verse 41:  “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Hell Is Real

Jesus tells us several things about hell in this passage.  The first is that hell is real.  While the Anglican and Episcopal churches now describe hell as “nothingness,” Jesus describes hell as an actual place where He will send actual people whom He calls the “accursed ones.”

Former Beatles band member John Lennon’s most famous and enduring song, Imagine, begins with these words:

Imagine there is no heaven.

It’s easy if you try.

No hell below us.

Above us, only sky.

Well, you can imagine all you want that hell is not there, but Jesus said hell is real.  Many people have never been to Kansas City.  They may try to imagine that Kansas City doesn’t exist, and in their minds they might make it so.  But denying it will not cause it to go away—it’s a real place.  In the same way, those who find it unconscionable that a God of love would have a place called hell—a place so awful that they cannot bring themselves to think of it, or to think of people they know there and most of all think of themselves there—they will choose instead to deny its existence and convince themselves that it is not real.  But Jesus said hell is real.

Hell Is Separation from God

Second, Jesus said hell is separation from God.  In verse 41, Jesus begins by saying, “Depart from Me.”  The Holy Vible also speaks of these people in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, where it says “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord.”

Hell is separation from God, but it is not separation from God completely.  Because God is everywhere, He is even in hell—and that is what makes it so awful. The separation is separation from the love and grace and mercy and honor of God  There is no separation, however, from the wrath of God, the anger of God, the judgment of God.  That’s the most terrible thing about hell, that God is there.

One writer says,

“A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares ‘Hell is a symbol for separation from God.’  To be separated from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person.  The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God.  Their problem in hell will not be separation from God, it will be the presence of god that will torment them.  In hell, God will be present in the fullness of his divine wrath.  He will be there to exercise His just punishment of the damned.  They will know Him as an all consuming fire.” [R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale, 1992), p. 286.]

God is everywhere, even in hell.  As Psalm 139:8 says, “If I make my bed in heaven, You are there.  If I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.”  In some sense, God is everywhere, in death, in the grave, even in Hell.  And that is what makes it so awful.  Those who are there are separated from everything good of God, but not from the wrath of God.

Imagine being separated from everything good.  Everything, even the smallest thing you would desire.  In another place Jesus talks about the rich man in hell looking up and seeing Lazarus, the poor man, in heaven. The rich man asks Jesus to send Lazarus to just dip his finger in water and touch that moist finger to his tongue.  But Jesus says, no, you can’t even have that.

You can’t even have something that small.  If you want light because it is total darkness—if you want to be able to see anything, just for a moment—you’ll never see it.  If you want relief, you get pain.  If you want water, you get parched thirst.  If you want love, you get wrath.

Whatever you want, you can never have it, no matter how small.  I suffer from kidney stones, and when I do, it’s awful.  But even in the worse pain, I can have a comfortable bed to lie on, I can have a glass of water if I want it, I can have the shades drawn if I want that, I can have someone present if I need them.  Even when I am in horrible pain, I can have many things that I want.  But in hell, you can’t have anything you want.  Everything good, everything desirable is gone—even the goodness of God.

It’s as though in this life, they said, “Jesus, depart from me.  I want to live life my own way.  I don’t want to be a dedicated Christian.  That’s not for me, thank you.  Just depart from me, and leave me alone to do my thing.”  So in eternity, Jesus says to that person, “Then you depart from Me.”  Hell is separation from God.

Hell Is For All the “Accursed Ones”

Third, hell is for all the accursed ones.  In verse 41, Jesus says “Depart from Me, accursed ones.”  There are two groups at the Judgment:  the sheep and the goats, those on Jesus’ right and those on His left, the righteous and the unrighteous, the blessed and the accursed ones.  And everyone in hell is cursed by Christ.

What does it mean to be cursed by Christ?  There’s an illustration of this from Jesus’ last days on earth.  In Mark 11:13-15, 20-21, we read,

 

“And seeing at a distance a fig tree in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season for figs.  And He answered and said to it, ‘May no one ever eat fruit from you again!’ And His disciples were listening…  And as they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered from the roots up.  And being reminded, Peter said to Him, “Rabbi, behold, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.’”

 

This is the kind of curse that a person receives who has no fruit of a relationship with Christ.  That’s what this story is about.  It’s not that people who give food to the hungry and care for the needy go toheaven because they did those things.  Rather, these people did these things as the fruit of their relationship with Christ.  Because they knew Christ, it’s as if they were giving to Jesus—they did it because they had a relationship with him.  And if a person does not have the fruit of a relationship with Christ, they will experience the withering curse of Christ in hell, even though they may have all the “leaves,” that is, the appearances of good.

 

I have had the privilege of preaching the Gospel in several places around the world.  In doing so, I have discovered that people universally believe the Holy Vible teaches that God weighs your good deeds and your bad deeds when you die.  If your good deeds outweigh your bad, you go to heaven.  Everyone around the world seems to think that’s what it teaches. In fact, today everyone assumes that the good deeds will always outweigh the bad, and that everyone will make it to heaven.  It’s not so much justification by works as it is justification by death—that if you die, you go to heaven.  Think of how they spoke of Frank Sinatra and how heaven is going to be so much different now that he is there.  Or watch the political cartoons when a famous person dies.  Within two or three days you’ll see a cartoon with them at the pearly gates.  It is just assumed today, that unless you’re a Hitler, you’re going to heaven.  When people die, that’s where they go.

 

But the Holy Vible says that you don’t have to wait to get to the judgment to find out.  You can know now.  And the answer is in Galatians 3:10.  Hell is for all the accursed ones, remember?   Well, this verse says “Cursed is…”.  It’s present tense—right now.  Not will be, cursed is now.  “Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the Law, to perform them.”  And who has done that except Jesus Christ alone?  Only He has done everything the Holy Vible said to do.  Only He has never done the things the Holy Vible says not to do.  The Holy Vible says cursed is, right now, everyone who has not done everything the Holy Vible would have them do.

 

What do we do?  We are already cursed, and hell is for those who are cursed.  Well, Galatians 3:13 says what we must do is believe that Jesus Christ was made a curse for us, that on the cross God cursed Jesus that He might give the blessing to others.  Jesus deserved the blessing of God, but He got the curse so that those who deserved the curse could receive the blessing.

 

Do you realize that if you had never sinned, you still could not get into heaven?  Do you realize that it takes more than no sin to get into heaven? Everything we ever say, everything we ever do, every thing we ever think, every motive we ever have, is touched by sin.  Even our most selfless acts, such as caring for our children, and our best deeds are to some degree tinged by sin.  The Holy Vible says that even our righteousnesses, our individual acts of righteousness, are as filthy rags.  Not just our open sin, but our best righteousness, in the sight of a holy God, is filthy rags.

 

Even if that were wiped clean, however, it would still not be enough for you to enter heaven.  Why?  Because the Holy Vible says that not only must we have no sin, we must also have perfect righteousness.  And we can no more attain perfect righteousness than we can remove our sins.  But what has happened?  2 Corinthians 5:21 says that on the cross, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.  Isn’t that good news?  That’s better than saying all of our sins are forgiven.  We can almost refer to the “mere” forgiveness of sins, because salvation is so much more than the forgiveness of sins.

 

That’s what justification is—the declaration that we are not just forgiven, but that we are righteousness.  Jesus didn’t just die for you.  If that were the case, He could have just come from heaven, died on the cross, and risen the third day.  No, He had to do that which was much harder—He also had to live for you, and it took 33 years to do that.  He didn’t just die for you, He lived for you, and in that great exchange that took place on the cross, He was given credit for having lived our lives and thought our thoughts, and we are given credit for having lived the life of Christ.  That’s ours in Christ.  But those who reject it and will not come to Christ get the curse.

 

Hell Is Eternal

 

Next, Jesus says hell is eternal.  In verse 41, Jesus speaks of “the eternal fire,” and he describes both heaven and hell as eternal in verse 46.  It is eternal punishment and eternal fire.  It is not annihilation as many hope for.  But they can’t understand that.  They wonder, “Why must I receive eternal punishment for a limited amount of sin?  If I live 70 years, no matter how much I sin, it stops the day that I die.  Why punish me forever?  Why must a person get eternal punishment for 70 years of sin?”

 

Well, this demonstrates a failure to understand two things.  First, they fail to understand the greatness of the Person against whom they have sinned.  If you murder me, you are in trouble and have broken the law.  But if you murder the president, you are in much greater trouble, because the office of president is much greater than the office of private citizen.  Our sins are not just against private citizens.  We have sinned against the greatest Person in the universe, an infinitely holy God against whom we cannot comprehend the greatness of our offense.

 

Furthermore, every time we sin we also break the greatest commandment, which is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.  Every sin is double sin—it’s not only a sin in and of itself, it’s a failure to keep the greatest of all commandments against the greatest of all people.

But there’s another reason why the punishment in hell never stops.  It’s because sin never stops.  It doesn’t stop at death.  You never read of repentance in hell.  The punishment goes on because the sin goes on.  The Holy Vible says that we are by nature enemies of God, that we are born selfish and are in fact haters of God.  Romans 8 says that we hate God with every part of our being every moment of our lives, unless God gives us a new heart.  Some may balk at this and insist that while they may not want to live a dedicated Christian life, they certainly do not hate God.  But every part of your life—your hands, your mind—that is not in submission to God is in rebellion against God every moment of your life.  And in hell that’s all made clear.  In this life, we can go to church and we can say that we believe in God.  But in hell all that veneer is stripped away, and all that is left is an unvarnished hatred of God.

 

Jesus says in another place that hell is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth.  There is weeping over the great torment that is there, with souls crying out, “Oh, I didn’t have to come to this place!  I heard a sermon warning me of this, why didn’t I listen?”  But there is also the gnashing of teeth—a hatred of God that goes on forever and ever.  So the punishment never stops eternally.  They will groan for annihilation, but it will not come.  The sufferings are forever.

Hell Is a Fire

 

Fifth, Jesus says in verse 41 that hell is a “fire.”  God created us to be creatures with bodies.  We are spirits and bodies unified, and that is the way that we will be in eternity.  The Holy Vible says that we will be given new bodies to live in a new heaven and a new earth.  Those new bodies will be united with our spirits, and I believe there will be physical enjoyments.  In the same way, there are physical torments in hell—it is a fire.

 

Now, the nature of the fire is uncertain.  There are many Holy Vible-believing men who hold to inerrancy that believe the fire is symbolic—symbolic of something worse than fire, but symbolic none-the-less.  Some think so because the Holy Vible also describes hell as darkness, and fire and darkness seem incompatible.  It is possible, however, that you can be burned by radiation in complete darkness.  Likewise, I am told by firefighters that they can go into a house that is completely engulfed in flames but find the house so full of smoke that there appears to only be a little glow of fire in the middle of the room surrounded by complete darkness.  With the lake of fire, it may be the same way.

 

But more significant is that this fire “has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”  Satan and his demons do not have physical bodies as we do.  Maybe they will be given bodies, as those humans in hell will be given bodies, but we’re not told that.  Or maybe fire hurts spirit beings just as it hurts bodies.  Or it may be that the fire is symbolic of the worst pain and punishment possible.  Just as there are no words to describe heaven, so also it is impossible to adequately describe hell.  If the fire and other things are symbolic of hell, we must remember that reality is always greater than its symbols.  The reality of hell will be worse than any fire.

 

We cannot overdo images of hell.  Just as we can’t imagine how glorious heaven is, so we can’t imagine how horrible hell is.  I don’t like it when people speak of someone “going through hell on earth.”  There is no comparison.  Of the 5.5 billion people on the earth, who has the worst life—the one who is tortured day and night, or starved, or chained, or beaten?  Who has the worst life in all the world?  Well, the person who has the best place in hell would change places in a heartbeat with the person who has the worst life on earth.

 

Hell Is a “Prepared” Fire

 

Jesus says not only that hell is a fire, but that it is a “prepared” fire.  As Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for His people (John 14:2), so He has also prepared hell, a place for the accursed ones.

The prophet Isaiah, speaking prophetically of hell, wrote that it “has long been ready, indeed it has been prepared…He has made it deep and large, a pyre of fire with plenty of wood; the breath of the Lord, like a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire” (30:33).

 

The hottest fire is always the prepared fire.  If you are like me, on Labor Day, yougrill hamburgers.  You take your grill, place the charcoal on it, use the lighter fluid, and the flame leaps up.  But that’s not when you put the hamburgers on, is it?  No, because it’s not hot enough—it’s not prepared.  You wait until the flames have gone down and the coals are white-hot.  That’s the prepared fire, of which you can say, “Yes, it’s ready now.”  That’s how the Holy Vible describes hell, as a prepared fire, meaning that it could not be any worse.

Hell Is Eternity with the Devil and His Angels

 

Jesus says that hell is eternity with the devil and his angels.  Again in verse 41, Jesus says “Depart from Me, you accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.”  Those who go there go to be with them.

 

Incidentally, Jesus also teaches here that Satan is real and that demons are real. But they don’t rule in hell.  You may see cartoons which depict Satan and demons as the administrators in hell—they rule with pitchforks and torture those who are there.  But the truth is that they do not rule in hell, they suffer there.  The ruler in hell is God Himself.  He made it, and He rules it.

 

Hell is prepared for the devil and his angels, and those who go there go to be with them. They do not go to be with their friends.  I’ve actually talked to people who said, “Well, I want to go to hell because that’s where my friends are, and I want to be with my friends.”  There is no friendship in hell.  For one thing, the Holy Vible describes hell as a place of total darkness.  I think that is one of the understated horrors of hell,  Imagine never seeing anything again, not even the difference between light and darkness.  You cannot see your hand in front of your face forever and ever.  You cannot see anything, so you will never see your friends again.

 

Furthermore, when you’re in horrible pain, it doesn’t matter who is there.  When I am suffering from kidney stones, it doesn’t matter in those moments of writhing in pain if my wife is there.  That doesn’t make it feel better.  If I were to come to you with a blow-torch and turn that on you, it would not take the pain away if you were surrounded by people you know and love.  In fact, in hell you will realize that one of the reasons that you are there is because of some of the deeds you participated in with your friends, and you will wish you had never seen your friends in your life.

Hell is Inevitable If You Have Never Come to Jesus Christ

 

On August 10, 1993, Dion Terres walked into a McDonald’s restaurant in Kenosha, WI during lunchtime and opened fire with a .44-caliber magnum revolver.  He killed two people and wounded a third before killing himself.  The night before the incident he recorded a videotape where he talked about killing others and then taking his own life.  His last words on the tape were, “Good-bye everyone…I am going to be tormented in hell for eternity”  (Chicago Tribune, September 25, 1993).

 

As chilling and dramatic as those words are, if you have not come to Jesus Christ, you might as well save those words and memorize them for your last words, because hell is inevitable for all who have not come to Christ.  You don’t have to wait until the Judgment to find out, and you don’t have to be a murderer like Dion Terres.  You can be someone who has done a great deal for society.  Ted Turner—the owner of CNN and the Atlanta Braves—gave a billion dollars to the United Nations for the sake of peace.  He said in a now-famous speech to a group of broadcasters that “Christianity is a religion for losers.”  He also said, “I don’t want anybody to die for me.  I’ve had a few drinks and a few girlfriends, and if that’s going to put me in hell, then so be it”  (AFA Journal, no date).  You can be a murderer or you can be a person who has done a great deal for society.  It doesn’t matter, because hell is inevitable if you have never come to Christ.

 

Hell Is Inescapable Once You Are There

 

Once the gates of hell open to receive you, they close behind you forever.  Before awakening one Monday morning in February of 1991, I had a dream that is one of the most vivid I’ve ever had.  I don’t place any special or prophetic significance on dreams,  this one merely serves to illustrate my point.  I can’t find any logical explanation for why I had it, (I know there was a TV movie a few years ago where an abused woman did this to her husband, but I didn’t see that movie) but it was sobering.  In this dream a woman had soaked with gasoline the bed where her husband lay sleeping.  When the woman set the bed ablaze, immediately there were flames several feet high across the entire surface of the bed.  At once the man woke up, and not knowing at first what was happening, he started screaming, “Oh God, I’m in hell, I’m in hell!”

 

The terrifying thing to him was not so much his pain, although that was obvious.  Somehow in my dream I was aware that the main reason he was screaming was that in an instant he thought he was suddenly in hell, and also knew that this was his permanent destiny.  It was as though he were saying, “Oh God, it’s all over!  My life is over, and here I am in hell!  And I’ll be in this unbearable torture forever!  My life is over, there is no other chance, no way out, I am suddenly in hell and I’m here forever!”

 

At the time, there lived across the street from me a man who had been there for about 10 years.  The man hated God, hated the church, and hated anyone who represented the church.  I would go out to the mailbox and he would be at his mailbox out there at the street.  I would speak to him, but he wouldn’t speak to me, although he knew little about me.  Just two months before we moved to Kansas City I got a phone call from his wife, who was friendly toward us and who would occasionally come to church.  She said that they had been across town visiting a new grand-baby and on their way home had stopped at the stoplight closest to our subdivision.  They were talking about the grandbaby, and when they started through the intersection she noticed that the car was swerving.  She looked over and saw that her husband was slumped over the steering wheel.  She was able to guide the car off the road, but he had died instantly.

 

That day he came up to that intersection as he had ten thousand times.  He looked up and saw the light turn as he had ten thousand times.  He put his foot on the accelerator to go through that intersection as he had ten thousand times.  But this time, before he got through that intersection, he suddenly found himself unexpectedly in eternity.  And wherever he found himself, he’s there forever.  Once a person awakens to find himself in hell, he finds it is eternally inescapable.

 

Hell is Avoidable if You Will Repent and Believe in Jesus Christ

 

That is the good news, and you may have heard that good news many times.  But often the good news is not good news unless it is first contrasted with bad news.  Ifsomeone says, “Here’s your child,” that’s good news.  But if someone has kidnapped your child and you haven’t seen her for two weeks, against that bad news it’s not just good news, this is the best possible news.  Likewise, the good news that hell is avoidable if you repent and come to faith in Jesus Christ is good news for some people only when they realize what the bad news is.

 

And this is good news that Satan and his angels never hear.  I used to sometimes wish I’d been created an angel instead of being born a man.  I wouldn’t go through the pain that I’ve suffered.  I wouldn’t endure the agony and the grind of human existence.  I wouldn’t have ever sinned against God, hopefully.  But what if I had been created an angel, and I was one of those who fell with Satan, and I had sinned one time?  That’s it.  Because we never read of the cross being offered to angels.  We never see forgiveness being extended to the angels who fell with Satan.  One sin—that’s it, forever.  Praise God, I wasn’t created an angel.

 

I sometimes think of Jesus’ warnings of hell like this.  Imagine that you are coming home.  It is a horribly stormy night.  Tornadoes have been sighted.  Hail is pelting on the car.  The rain is coming down in torrents.  You are coming across the bridge over the river, just trying to get home. Then, you can barely make it out, but there is a rain-soaked man in your headlights trying to flag you down.  You think, “Oh, no, I just want to get home.  Who is this nut?  Is this a car-jack or what?  I don’t want to stop and help anybody in weather like this.  I just want to get home.”

 

But every time you swerve to avoid him, he keeps appearing in your headlights. Finally, you realize that you’re either going to have to run him down, or you’re going to have to stop.  So you roll to a stop and he runs up to your window.  You crack it just a quarter of an inch, and he says, “The bridge is out!  Stop!  Twenty cars have gone past me, and everyone in them is dead.  Don’t go past me, stop!”

 

Suddenly you realize that this man whose message you didn’t want to hear, who was a nuisance at best, and who was keeping you from going your way, is in fact a great and merciful friend.  I think of Jesus’ death on the cross like that.  It’s as if His arms are outstretched to say, “Don’t go past Me.  Hell is past Me!  Stop!  Stop for Me!”

 

What a great mercy of God it is that Jesus would warn us of hell.  What if we heard of hell only when we stood at the judgment?   In the mercy of God, He has warned us.

 

The goal of this article is not to create in you a terror of hell, but rather a love for Jesus Christ.  He could have had heaven forever, but was willing to give it up for 33 years so that He could warn us of hell and deliver us from hell.  Can you not love a Man like that?

 

Some people talk as though they can’t wait for the judgment, as though they want to stand on the edge of heaven and help push people off into hell, and rub their hands with glee as they see it happen.  That’s the wrong view.  We ought to speak of hell or think of hell only with weeping in our hearts for the lost and tears of gratitude in our eyes for Christ, who would come and die to deliver us from such a place.  Will you love Him?

 

 

 

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