"Hell - Eternal Punishment
Because of the heinous nature of hell, many have decided that it is impossible for a loving God to conceive such a place, much less send His wayward creatures there. For this reason, they have rejected the idea of an eternal hell.
Many things we don't know about Hell. But Jesus and the New Testament writers used every image in their power to emphasize how real hell is. They spoke of how terrible it is, that it is something to be feared, and something to avoid.
Modern theologian Reinhold Neibuhr wrote:
"It is unwise for Christians to claim any knowledge of either the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell."
Technically speaking, he is correct, yet, though the Bible is somewhat restrained when speaking of life after death it says enough to enable us to come to some settled conclusions.
What then can we know about hell, which someone has called the "ultimate horror of God's universe?" With both heaven and hell, we are locked into what Scripture says. Comparatively little of what Scripture says about the eternal destiny of the unbeliever is in the Old Testament. In an earlier lesson, I mentioned that biblical revelation is progressive. Some subjects and doctrines mentioned lightly in the Old Testament, become much more clear in the revelation added in the New Testament. This is certainly true with the subject of hell. We need to take note of several items.
1. Most of the teachings on eternal hell comes from the lips of Jesus.
This may come as a surprise to those who think of the teachings of Jesus as only loving and tolerant. It has been calculated that of the 1,870 verses which record the words of Jesus, some 13% of them are about judgment and hell. Jesus spoke more on these two subjects than about any other. Angels came in second. Love was third.
Also, of the about 40 parables spoken by Jesus, more than half of them related to God's eternal judgment of sinners. The strongest Greek word for Hell is Gehenna. And, again, of its uses, all but one were spoken by Jesus himself. Why did Jesus speak so much on this subject?
1. He believed in Hell's reality.
Here is another thing that needs to be noted.
2. Those who reject the harsh God of the O.T. with preference to the teachings of Jesus are on shaky ground.
Over the years, I have had people say to me that they don't accept the harsh God of the Old Testament. They say, "My idea of Christianity is the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount." Such statements show they have not really taken a close look of the Sermon on the Mount for it provides no escape whatever from the thought of an eternal hell.
In Matthew 5:22, Christ says that a person who says to another person "You fool", is in danger of "hell fire" (Gehenna).
In Matthew 5:29, (NIV) we are told,
It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Gehenna).
Later in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:13, Jesus doesn't use the word Gehenna, but taught of the need to turn from "the road that leads to destruction."
Some critics of a literal eternal hell say that biblical references to hell are merely metaphorical. By that, they were implying that the references in the Bible to hell and the lake of fire were simply symbolic, certainly not real. If the fire spoken of as one of the qualities of hell is only symbolic, this fact must be kept in mind. It is an accepted law of language that a figure is speech is less intense than the reality it is picturing. If the "fire" mentioned is a figurative expression, and if the reality is more intense that the figure, what an awful thing the punishment symbolized by fire must be. Those objecting to a literal fire really have not gained the critic anything.
Fire is evidently the only word in human language which can suggest the anguish of hell. In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:36-43), Christ interpreted for us every part except the fire. The only reasonable explanation is that fire is not a symbol needing interpretation. It perfectly describes the reality of the eternal torment.
When liberal theologian Nels Ferre suggested that "whether Jesus taught eternal hell or not is uncertain," he is at odds with the evidence, -- or he's reading a different Bible than I.
It is impossible to read the New Testament in general, and the words of Jesus in particular, without facing the fact that hell is not a figment of religious imagination. It is a terrifying reality. There are just too many specific references to hell as an actual place, with detailed descriptions of the suffering that will occur there. Hell will not be a symbolic separation from God. There will be actual agony and torment for all of its inhabitants.
WILL THOSE IN HELL BE THERE FOREVER?
The doctrine of hell is undoubtedly the most disturbing subject in the Bible. And the most disturbing truth about hell is its duration. The idea of people being punished for their sins and misdeeds doesn't bother most people. But the notion that hell will last forever is totally repugnant. For this reason, many have tried to soften this truth by adopting a kinder, gentler view of hell.
Some put reason before revelation and dismiss the whole idea of hell because they reject the authority of the Bible. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a good example:
"Hell, I may say….has long dropped out of the thoughts of every reasonable man."
Unfortunately, there are those who claim to take the Bible as their starting point, but mix its teachings with their own religious or philosophical ideas. This is the typical approach of various cults or the occult. I mentioned the theologian Nels Ferre earlier. Here is another quote of his. He claims that the doctrine of eternal punishment is "subjustice and sublove," and that by believing it, "God's name is libeled beyond belief."
Another theologian, David Edwards, comes at it from another angle.
"I would rather be an atheist than believe in a god who accepts it as inevitable that hell (however conceived) is the inescapable destiny of many, or of any of his children, even when they are prepared to accept 'all the blame'."
I can certainly understand people not wanting to believe in the severity of hell, but any approach to Scripture which picks and chooses which parts to believe is not only unbiblical and dishonest; it also leave us without any assurance that any other part of Scripture is God's word. If we reject the Bible's teaching about hell, how can we trust what it says about the love of God, or the offer of forgiveness, or the hope of heaven?
One erroneous view about hell, taught by some, is what is called "Annihilationism." The view teaches that all souls are immortal, but the wicked lose their immortality on the day of final judgment. God just extinguishes them. While this view may be more appealing to the human mind, the Bible clearly teaches that punishment in hell will last forever.
On numerous occasions Jesus underlined the fact that hell is eternal. For example, in Matthew 18:8, He describes an "everlasting fire".
There are four English words that are important here.
All four of these words are used to describe hell. The first two word - everlasting and eternal - are adjectives. The other two words - forever and forevermore - are adverbs. The importance of taking note of these words is that all four come from the same Greek root word. That Greek word is AION. The adjectival form is aionios.
Jesus repeatedly stressed the idea that the souls of the wicked will have to endure "everlasting punishment." In probably the best known passage on hell, Jesus twice affirms the duration as being eternal.
First, in Matthew 25:41, Jesus expels evildoers to "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."
Second, five verses later, Jesus places the fate of the wicked and the righteous side by side.
In Matthew 25:46, (NASU) Jesus said, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Did you notice that the word "eternal" was used twice in this verse? The same Greek word - Aionios - is used in both places. That means that the word that is applied to the punishment of the unbelievers is the same word that is applied to the life possessed by believers.
If the words "eternal" or "everlasting" do not mean everlasting when applied to the wicked in hell, then what security do we believers have that it means everlasting when speaking of our time in heaven? The same word "aionios" is applied to a number of other things.
o 2 Cor. 4:17 speaks of the eternal glory to which believers look forward.
If aionios in these verses is not speaking of that which never end, then what encouragement do we gain from knowing these verses. No, the only understanding of the word "aionios" that gives these and other verses real meaning is to accept it to mean "never ending."
Regardless of what we might think of the theological errors in Dante's Inferno, the most famous words Dante ever wrote are very accurate theologically. In his writing, the words he placed over the gate of hell said: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here."
Jesus said to those who are cast into hell: "Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:44)
In Revelation 14:11, Jjesus says of the ungodly: "And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night." If there is no rest day or night, it implies their ongoing existence.
One more passage should add to the weight of evidence in support of punishment that does not end is found in Revelation 20.
Revelation 20:10 NAS
10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
WHO ARE THE ONLY OCCUPANTS OF THE LAKE OF FIRE WHEN CHRIST IS THROWN INTO IT?
The Antichrist and the False Prophet
WHEN DID THE ANTICHRIST AND THE FALSE PROPHET GO INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE?
Revelation 19:20 (NKJV)
20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.
WHEN WERE THESE TWO SENT TO THE LAKE OF FIRE?
At the 2nd coming of Christ.
HOW MUCH TIME ELAPSES BETWEEN CHRIST 2ND COMING AND WHEN SATAN IS CAST INTO THE LAKE OF FIRE?
More than 1000 years. And yet, the Antichrist and False Prophet are still alive after 1,000 years.
I copied the words from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon many years ago. They powerfully express the terror and heart-wrenching despair of the eternalness of hell.
"In hell there is no hope. They have not even the hope of dying; the hope of being annihilated. They are forever, forever, forever lost. On every chain in hell is written 'forever.' Up above their heads they read 'forever.' Their eyes are galled and their hearts pained with the thought that it is 'forever.' Oh, if I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be save, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it cannot be. It is forever. They are cast into outer darkness."
J. I. Packer
> "The insistence [of Scripture] that the fire, punishment and destruction are eternal….would be pointless and inappropriate if all that is envisaged is momentary extinction;……Either these words indicate the endlessness of torment, or they are superfluous and misleading."Augustine (over 1500 years ago)
"To say that life eternal shall be endless [but that] punishment eternal shall come to an end is the height of absurdity."
J. C. Ryle
"It is clearly revealed in Scripture: the eternity of God, and heaven and hell, all stand on the same foundation. As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night, and hell and endless night without day."
A. H. Strong
"If, when used to describe the future punishment of the wicked, they do not declare the endlessness of that punishment, there are no words in the Greek language which could express that meaning."
"The notion of eternity, in so far as it is revealed to us by the New Testament use of the words excluded the idea of termination."
J. I. Packer (again)
"An endless hell can no more be removed from the New Testament than an endless heaven can be."
I believe it is obvious, from the Scriptures, that an unbeliever's sentence to hell is not only irreversible, it is also one that lasts forever. It is a death sentence that does not end with death. Jesus, Paul, Jude and John confess in unison that the duration of hell is endless.
Several years ago a book was published entitled "Looking Out for Number One." On the dedication page, the author wrote: "Dedicated to the hope that somewhere in our universe there exists a civilization where the inhabitants possess sole dominion over their own lives."
There is such a place. It's called hell.
Yes, according to the Bible, hell is real. This thought should cause us to make sure of heaven and to help others escape hell's terrors.
|Questions, comments & suggestions to John Hoole||
Last Updated: Thursday September 08 2011