For the past couple of weeks, we have been discussing what the Bible says about a subject that sometimes makes us uncomfortable. I am talking about the subject of "HELL." It has been difficult for me to approach this subject dispassionately.
I am sure all of us here today are aware of the words, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." The fact of a future judgment for all people is established by numerous passages in the Bible.
Ecclesiastes 11:9 (NIV)
9 Be happy, young man, while you are young, and let your heart give you joy in the days of your youth. Follow the ways of your heart and whatever your eyes see, but know that for all these things God will bring you to judgment.
In Eccl 12:14 (NIV), we are told,…
14 For God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil.
The New Testament echoes the same thought.
Acts 17:31 (NIV)
31 For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead."
For the unredeemed, their judgment is described in Revelation 20:11-15. We know this judgment by the name, The Great White Throne Judgment. The fate of those who find themselves before this judgment is the subject of our lesson today. Proverbs 11:21 tells us that any attempt of the ungodly not to go there will be futile.
"Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished."
A few years ago, several people on the street were asked this question: "Do you believe in an afterlife?" Here is how some of them responded.
• "I haven't given it that much thought, but I don't believe in reincarnation or hell. But I do believe in heaven because I believe in a loving God."
• "Yes, there is an afterlife. I believe that your soul goes to a spiritual reward in heaven."
• "I believe my inner being will be transmitted to different planes of existence as I approach perfection."
• "Of course there is an afterlife. It's in heaven. Otherwise what's the sense in living."
• "I believe in a spiritual afterlife, that you have a soul and that the soul goes to a hereafter. But as to where the hereafter is, I'm not sure….
• When asked specifically, "Do you believe there is a place called Hell?," one man responded "Yes, sir. My belief in Christianity has taught me that."
• They asked another man, "Do you believe that all people when they die, would go to heaven." After taking a moment to think about it, he said, "Hmmm, good question. Yes."
• One woman responded, "I don't know. I think it would have to be something very, very extremely bad to go to hell."
• Another man said, "honest belief? This is hell. We are in Hell now. It has to be better in the next life."
Isaiah 33:22 (NIV)
22 For the LORD is our judge, the LORD is our lawgiver, the LORD is our king; it is he who will save us.
The prophet Isaiah gives us the four major dimensions of God's revelation of Himself. He is our Savior, our King, our Lawgiver, and our Judge. The Bible further reveals two basic dimensions of God's judgment.
1. Temporal judgment,
2. Final or Ultimate judgment.
Temporal judgment can be seen in the times when God stepped into human history for the purpose of executing his judgment to a person of a group of people. Some examples of that can be seen in the judgment of the Flood and the judgment upon Sodom and Gomorrah. God announced His judgment and then, by direct overt action, He executed the promised judgment. God's temporal judgment can also be seen on various occasions when He brought judgment upon the nation of Israel because of their disobedience. In some of those cases, God may even use another nation to bring His judgment on Israel. Another example can be seen in God's response to Nebuchadnezzar's arrogance and exalted image of himself. He was brought low and ate grass like an ox for seven years.
In some cases, God's temporal judgment seems to also be final, as in the case of Sodom and Gomorrah, as well as those who died in the flood. When God's temporal judgment resulted in the death of one or many, it is true that their final and eternal judgment was established when they died. However, they have not actually had their final and ultimate judgment, which will occur for them at the Great White Throne Judgment. It may be possible that there are some parts of God's judgment that are established at the final judgment, which were not established at the time of the temporal judgment. For instance, the degree of punishment may not be meted out until the final judgment.
Last week, we addressed some aspects of the final and ultimate judgment. We spent most of the time dealing with what the Bible says in answer to two questions.
1. Is hell a fact or fantasy?
2. If Hell is real, will it last forever?
We learned that the Bible describes hell as no fantasy. It is a real place where the ungodly will be sent. We also learned the Bible says that the length of time in the Lake of Fire, will be the same as the godly will enjoy in heaven. Both are eternal - unending - according to Matthew 25:46.
Today we are going to address three other questions.
1. How can a loving God send anyone to an eternal hell?
2. What is it like in hell?
3. What is the company going to be like in hell?
GOD DOES NOT SEND ANYONE TO HELL!
In Matthew 26:24, Jesus speaks about the fate of Judas. He says, "It would have been better for him if he had never been born." If indeed it is as terrible a fate as these words suggest, and if it is eternal in duration, why would a loving God send people to hell? The answer, of course, is that He doesn't. God does not condemn people, He merely judges them.
Dr. Paul Kopp illustrates it this way. "The doctor who accurately diagnoses an ailment as fatal, unless the patient submits to an operation, has not condemned the person. He has only judged the patient." If the patient overestimates his health, or underestimates the diagnosis, and dies, he has in fact condemned himself.
In exactly the same way, Christ was and is painfully honest about our condition. He said, mankind is lost. They are sinners who He has come to seek and to save. They are suffering from spiritual death and must yield to a divine operation in order that they may have eternal life. Jesus called it "being born again," in John 3.
Like the patient mentioned a moment ago, we have the option to ignore the judgment made - the diagnosis. We can refuse to submit to this divine operation...and die. But the condemnation is ours, not His. We have condemned ourselves to this fate.
Our lives are filled with decisions. We make hundreds of them every day. Not all of them are of the same importance. But they must be made none the less. In some cases, when we arrive at the place where we must make a decision, there are multiple options available to us. For instance, when I come to an intersection while driving, I have a decision to make. I could turn right or left, or even go straight ahead. The decision you make is probably based or your destination.
Another example of making decisions where multiple options are available is seen when choosing a place to have dinner. Any number of restaurants will satisfy your hunger. There are, however, times when a person needs to make a decision between only two option, where they are living one of those two options.
Take the example of a driver who's car has stalled on the railroad tracks, and he can see the train rapidly approaching towards him. The driver has a choice to make. He can stay in the car and die, or he can get out of the car and live. But while making up his mind, he is already living one of those two options. He is in the car.
Or again, take the patient with the terminal illness we mentioned a moment ago. He has been told by his doctor that he must have an operation or die. The consequences are life or death. But while he is making up his mind, he is already living in one of the alternatives. He is dying.
Now bring this thought into the matter of final and ultimate judgment. Each of us have a choice - accept Jesus' salvation and live, or don't accept his salvation and die. But while he or she is making up their mind, they are living one of those options.
John 3:17-18 (NKJV) tells us.
17 For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.
18 "He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
A loving God does not condemn a sinner to hell. The sinner condemns himself. The final judgment at the White Throne will not catch any sinner by surprise. None of the evidence presented against him will be unknown to him. Over the span of his life, he has been judged by God a thousand times in a thousand ways. But he did not take seriously the diagnosis given him.
God actually sends no one to hell - they send themselves there. It will be a hell that each one going there has chosen. Preposterous, you say? Think on this. All our lives we rebel against God's mercies. We tell Him we want nothing to do with Him, and turn a deaf ear each time someone want to tell us about Him. But we all will die. We have a life span, after which we go to the great beyond. Now the question is, what is the great beyond? The Bible tells us that it is one of two place: heaven or hell. It is either in the presence of Almighty God…..or it is not. If it is in His presence, they you are in heaven. If not, then you are in hell.
You see, we state throughout our lives that we want nothing to do with God, and He has obliged us. He doesn't force himself on us and into our lives. We never wanted Him as part of our lives, so we will spend eternity in the only place where He is not.
God has created mankind with the freedom to make his own choices. God knew that, if given the choice, man could turn away from him, but He was willing to take that risk. Creating you and me with a free will was more important than the risk of losing fellowship of some of his creatures.
G. K. Chesterton once remarked,….
"Hell is God's great compliment to the reality of human freedom and the dignity of human personality."
Hell is a compliment, you question? Yes, because God is saying to us, "You are significant. I take you seriously. Choose to reject me - choose hell if you will. I will let you go." When men choose to live alienated from him, and cast their eternal welfare towards hell, he will honor their decision.
Paul tells us, in Romans 9:22, about those who are "vessels of wrath fitted unto destruction." Those who are Greek scholars tell me that the verb here is in the middle voice form. This suggest that these people have "prepared themselves for destruction."
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
"There are two kinds of people in the world - those who say to God, 'Thy will be done,' or those to whom God says 'thy will be done.' "
The choice is ours as to which of these persons we are going to be. Hell will be a self-chosen destination. Let me state it in a different way. No one who is in hell will be able to say to God, "You put me here," and no one who is in heaven will ever be able to say, "I put myself here."
WHAT HELL IS LIKE
First, let me tell you what Hell is NOT.
This present life is not hell. Great pains in this life cannot be compared to the awfulness of hell.
Hell is not a myth.
Hell is not a place where you will party with your friends.
Hell is not the grave.
WHAT WILL HELL BE LIKE?
1. It will be a place of separation.
The person in hell is forever separated from God and from any person who is godly. Hell is not only a place of suffering, but it is also a place devoid of God. People in hell will never hear another sermon. They will never hear another gospel song, nor will anyone ever witness to them again. There are no churches in hell.
2 Thessalonians 1:6-9 NIV
6 God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you
7 and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.
8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power
It is a terrible thing to never again have the opportunity to come into the presence of a loving God. Because God is not there, hell will be a place where there is no mercy, no grace, no love.
2. It is a place of torment
Rev 20:10 NKJV
10 The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
The Greek word used here is also translated "torture." The Greek word is also in the present tense. This speaks of the fact that the torment will not cease. Hell will be a place of intense suffering.
Revelation 14:11 (NIV)
11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."
Hell will be a place of great pain and hurt. Why would anyone ever want to go there
3. Hell is a place of destruction and condemnation
In Matthew 7:13, (KJV) we are instructed to….
13 Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:
John 5:28-29 NKJV
28 Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice
29 and come forth -- those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.
4. Hell will be a place of memories
Luke 16:23-25 (NIV)
23 In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side.
24 So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'
25 "But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony.
Of all the agonies of Hell, perhaps one of the worst is the fact that the person will retain their memories. They will remember every sermon they heard, and the words of every person who witnessed to them. They will remember when the Lord convicted their heart and they turned a deaf ear to the pleas of the Holy Spirit. They will remember how they wasted their time on earth. They will remember, but be unable to change anything.
A person's memory in hell will cause severe agony. It will be pure torment. Four times the Bible tells us there will be much weeping in hell -- Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30; Matthew 24:51. Much of the weeping will come from their memories, knowing what they should have done with their life, but didn't.
5. Hell will be a place of eternal fire.
Matthew 25:41 (NIV)
41 Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone.
Mark 9:48 tells us that the fire is never extinguished. The fires of hell will cause great agony, and it will never end.
6. Hell is a place of great darkness
Matthew 8:12 (NKJV)
12 But the sons of the kingdom (not God's kingdom) will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Jude 13 speaks of those who are rebellious like Cain and Korah.
13 They are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.
7. Hell will be a place of no rest
Revelation 14:11 (NIV)
11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."
8. Hell is a place of unfulfilled desires and unanswered prayers
In Luke 16:27, the rich man said prayed to have Lazarus sent to his brothers who were still alive. His prayer could not be answered.
I believe hell will be a place where the same desires people had on earth will continue with them beyond the judgment. In hell the concert pianist who worshiped himself through his art won't be able to play a simple scale. The man who lived for sex will continue with his eternal lust, but with no body to exploit. The woman who made a god out of fashion has a thousand dresses, but will have no mirror with which to view herself and none in hell with her caring a whit about her desires. Hell is eternal desire…..eternally unfulfilled.
9. Hell is a place where the worm never dies
Mark 9:47-48 NKJV
47 And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire --
48 where 'Their worm does not die And the fire is not quenched.'
I don't know with certainty that I can tell you exactly what the Bible means when it speaks of the worms. The same phrase is found twice earlier in the same chapter of Mark (vs. 44 & 46). Some take this phrase literally and I have said on many occasions that the Bible should be taken literally, unless the context tells us differently.
Those who take this literally accept worms that will not die in the flames, which will continuously gnaw at the flesh of hell's inhabitants without consuming them. Look at the words again. When Jesus speaks about the "fire," He says the fire is never quenched. But when He speaks of the worm, He does not say "the worm does not die." But rather, in all three places in this chapter, He says "their worm." Unlike the fire, which torment all who are in the Lake of Fire, the worm is peculiar, or unique, to each individual. It seems to be something that came to hell with them.
Many that take the image of their worm figuratively, believe that by taking how the word "worm" is used elsewhere in the Bible, it is speaking of a person's conscience. For them, the worm has to do with a person's remorse over their failure to do what was necessary to avoid hell. Whether the worm has reference to a person's conscience, I cannot say for certain.
We do know that a person's conscience will be active in hell. We touched on that earlier when we mentioned that a person in hell will be able to remember. Allow me to make a few more comments about one's conscience in hell.
We know that a conscience exercises a powerful influence on one's emotions either negatively or positively. Even in the most traumatic of situations, a clear conscience can be the source of tremendous peace, strength and resolve. When Paul was defending himself against false accusers, Paul was able to claim, "I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man." (Acts 24:16)
When William Penn (1644 - 1718) was imprisoned in the Tower of London, he was reported to have said:
"My prison shall be my grave before I will budge a jot, for I owe my conscience to no man. Right is right even if everyone is against it; and wrong is wrong, even if everyone is for it."
An English proverb says: "A quiet conscience sleeps in thunder." William Penn found that to be true.
On the other hand, however, a guilty conscience has the opposite effect. It nags and gnaws at the mind, blurring one's judgment and cripples initiative. In Shakespeare's Richard III, the king, nearly paralyzed with guilt, cried out,
My conscience has a thousand several tongues.
And every tongue brings in several tale,
And every tale condemns me for a villain.
Yet, however severe the pangs of conscience can be on earth, they are infinitely greater in hell. The sinner in hell will have a capacity for suffering far beyond any they had on earth, and quite possibly, the conscience they take with them will be their worst tormentor. Nor will there be any way to silence it.
John Flavel wrote in the 17th century:
"Conscience, which should have been the sinner's curb on earth, becomes the whip that must lash his soul in hell………that which was the seat and center of all guilt, now becomes the seat and center of all torments."
In hell, a person's conscience will make the sinner acutely aware that he deliberately, freely, and gladly chose the path that led him to hell. And if this were not horrifying enough, this torment will go on uninterrupted. They will have no rest or peace day and night.
THE SINNER'S COMPANY IN HELL
When Irvin S. Cobb, the internationally famous humorist and writer, died in March of 1944, he referred to Heaven as "a powerfully dull place, populated to a considerable and uncomfortable degree by prigs, time servers and unpleasantly aggressive individuals." Then he added, "Hell may have a worse climate but undoubtedly the company is sprightlier."
Every once in a while I hear someone say, "I want to go to hell because all my friends have gone or are going to be there." I have news for you, they will not want you there with them.
The Rich man asked Abraham to send Lazarus back to talk to his brothers, so they would not have to come to a place like this. The prophet Daniel describes hell as a place of eternal "contempt." (Daniel 12:2) Every person in hell will be despised and held in contempt by every other person there. As one writer has put it: "Sinners in hell will have company but no sympathy."
Just who is going to be in hell?
1. The devil and his demons. Hell was originally created for them (Matthew 25:41)
2. Those who do not obey the gospel (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
3. The cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars (Revelation 21:8)
4. The unjust (2 Peter 2:9)
5. Those who sin willfully (Hebrews 10:26-27)
6. Those who practice the works of the flesh (Galatians 5:19-21)
7. Those who forget God (Psalm 9:17)