Hell is under attack! Well perhaps not hell itself, but the doctrine of hell as a place of eternal punishment for the wicked is certainly under full frontal attack in our day. As Christians we should not be surprised that hell is not a particularly popular concept in the minds of the general public. But what should concern us greatly is that a great many professing Christians are increasingly hostile towards the idea.
Some preachers are launching their attacks against the concept of hell openly from the pulpit; yet others are just as zealous in the fight, but wage their war through the act of silence, as they pride themselves on never mentioning the word "hell" at all in their sermons.
Some speak of a second chance after death, violating the clear teaching of Hebrews 9:27 that states, "It is appointed for men to die once and after that face the judgment."
Still others would draw us towards a new concept of hell; that is, annihilation. Rather than joining the redeemed in heaven, the wicked will be destroyed. If you think about it, this would be wonderful news for the sinner... why, a man can sin all he wants to in life: he can steal and murder and lie at will, and there are no eternal consequences!
Those who hold to this idea of annihilation will be quick to disagree with me here because they feel that the sinner will still face the judgment and sentence of God and then will never be able to live on forever. That indeed is a consequence, they would say. However, try to imagine your life before you were conceived... are you thinking hard? How conscious were you of your surroundings? Were you experiencing happiness and pleasure or doom and despondency? Having a hard time answering this? Well if we are in any way biblical in our thinking here, the reason we find it hard to answer is because before our conception we did not exist. Oh certainly, God knew us from all eternity, but before we were created (in time) we did not actually exist.
Think of this - if annihilationism is true, this is wonderful news for the Hitler's and Stalin's of this world. They can kill millions of people in life and then at the end, apart from a few moments of shame at the judgment, they actually get away with it. Once annihilated, they will never have to think about their sin ever again. In fact, they will never have to think; and never have to worry; and never have to grieve over their sin. In the same way that we were not experiencing pain and suffering before we existed, so likewise this would be the case for the mass murderers of the world.
No, the biblical picture is very different and I would say extremely clear. Most of our information about hell comes from the lips of Jesus, who is of course, the highest possible authority. It is as if God, knowing that men would rail against the doctrine of hell, did not entrust the bulk of the message to even the most prominent of the Apostles, because men would say, "Oh that's just Paul going off on a tangent." or "yes, Peter was a child of his day and it was popular to believe in hell at that time, hence he warned folk about it. We know better." Of course, this idea totally undermines the inspiration of Scripture, for although all men can be misguided, God preserved His Word with inerrancy, and all Scripture is God breathed, carrying the full weight of Divine authority. God could have still entrusted the doctrine's details to Peter and Paul and we would still be culpable if we did not believe it. But it is as if God stooped to help us, so to speak, so that we would understand that hell is a real place, by expressing that fact through the lips of His one and only Son.
Many people find it hard to believe in hell though not because Jesus failed to make the message clear. He certainly did. But their problem is a philosophical one rather than a biblical one. It is this - how can a God of love sentence people to eternal punishment without the possibility of parole?
How do we answer this? Well first of all we must certainly affirm that God is a God of love. If the Bible teaches us anything it teaches us this. God is love! Yet that is not all God is. He is also the Sovereign King, He is altogether righteous, holy and just.
Think about that. God is holy and He is just. That's not good news if we happen to be sinners, which the Bible declares that we are. All of us have sinned and fall short of God's glory (Romans 3:23). But thank God, that's not the end of the story. But it gets a lot worse before it gets better!
God is good and He is also just. God is therefore a good judge and must punish sin. He would be a poor judge if He failed to administrate justice. No, God's justice will be meted out precisely as justice demands it - which when you think about it, is the worst of all possible news for us. We won't be able to get away with anything - all the secrets of our hearts will be exposed, and we will be called to give an account of our lives. What is worse is that the sins we have committed are so grievous to Him that the punishment for sin is eternal in duration. In fact, rather than the judgment men will face being merely being left or abandoned by God, God is actually active in pouring out His wrath on the sinner in hell.
Even a casual reading of both the Old and New Testament would reveal that God is a God of wrath. (Some have the mistaken idea that God was wrathful in the Old, but He's evolved somewhat now and is a gentler, kinder deity now that Jesus has gone to the cross). Romans 2:5 declares, "But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed."
Jesus is also coming back to rule and reign. When He does so, it will not be like His first coming when He came as a humble baby, born in a manger, but He's coming back as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, to enforce His rule in our world. Revelation 19:15 declares, "From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty."
In the New Testament, the wrath of God is clearly seen. Two main words for wrath are used. The first, thymos (in Greek) means "to rush along fiercely," "to be in the heat of violence," or "to breath violently." It refers to a panting rage.
The second Greek word, orge, means "to grow ripe for something" with the noun form revealing that this wrath has been slowly building over a long space of time. It is a gradually building anger that rises in intensity, and therefore is not so much a sudden flare up of hostility, which is soon over, but rather "a strong and settled opposition to all that is evil arising out of God's very nature." (Leon Morris, The Apostolic Preaching of the Cross)
Scripture in fact reveals that the wrath of God is a present reality (Romans 1:18 - "For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness..." The scripture also says, "Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him." (John 3:36)
I can't think of a worse calamity than this one - facing the full fury of the wrath of God against our sin.
But back to our question as to whether a God of love can do this, or put another way, is it just for God to punish sinners for eternity?
When we meet someone who has difficulty with the concept of hell, as Bible believing Christians we should respond by saying something such as, "I can see why you might think it is a terrible concept. But that's exactly the point. Our sins are terrible, for each one of them is counted as cosmic treason in the eyes of God. The fact that there is a hell should indeed sober us all and cause us to flee to the arms of the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ." However, some Christians try to put a positive "spin" on hell by saying that it just means being separated from God - that's all it is. But that is not all it is! The sinner might find great comfort in thinking he will avoid God in hell. But if God is omnipresent, which He is, the fact is that even in hell, the sinner cannot avoid Him and His just wrath against him for his sin. Any comfort he feels is therefore a false comfort.
On this matter, here's a quote from the great theologian, Jonathan Edwards - "Our obligation to love, honor, and obey any being, is in proportion to his loveliness, honorableness, and authority; for that is the very meaning of the words. When we say any one is very lovely, it is the same as to say, that he is one very much to be loved. Or if we say such a one is more honorable than another, the meaning of the words is, that he is one that we are more obliged to honor. If we say any one has great authority over us, it is the same as to say, that he has great right to our subjection and obedience. But God is a being infinitely lovely, because he has infinite excellency and beauty. To have infinite excellency and beauty, is the same thing as to have infinite loveliness. He is a being of infinite greatness, majesty, and glory; and therefore he is infinitely honorable. He is infinitely exalted above the greatest potentates of the earth, and highest angels in heaven; and therefore he is infinitely more honorable than they. His authority over us is infinite; and the ground of his right to our obedience is infinitely strong; for he is infinitely worthy to be obeyed himself, and we have an absolute, universal, and infinite dependence upon him. So that sin against God, being a violation of infinite obligations, must be a crime infinitely heinous, and so deserving of infinite punishment. The eternity of the punishment of ungodly men renders it infinite. (THE JUSTICE OF GOD IN THE DAMNATION OF SINNERS, Works, vol. 1; 669)
Likewise, Dr. John Piper wrote the following, "Hell is unspeakably real, conscious, horrible and eternal-- the experience in which God vindicates the worth of his glory in holy wrath on those who would not delight in what is infinitely glorious." (God's Passion for His Glory, pg. 38)
In light of this, it is merely the pleasure of God Himself that His wrath did not fall on us last night, or last week, or last year. In fact, it is very evident that God has been remarkably patient with us all.
So then, if facing the full brunt of the wrath of God for all eternity is the worst possible calamity, then the greatest deliverance becomes immediately clear. To be saved, is to be rescued from the wrath of Almighty God. 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10 declares, "For they themselves report concerning us the kind of reception we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus who delivers us from the wrath to come."
Romans 5:6-9 "For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person - though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die - but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God." (emphasis mine)
Question: Whose love is it?
Question: Whose wrath is it?
The most famous sermon in American history is one by Jonathan Edwards called "Sinners in the hands of an angry God." Let me quote part of that sermon here:
"The bow of God's wrath is bent, and the arrow made ready on the string, and justice bends the arrow at your heart, and strains the bow, and it is nothing but the mere pleasure of God, and that of an angry God, without any promise or obligation at all, that keeps the arrow one moment from being made drunk with your blood. Thus all you that never passed under a great change of heart, by the mighty power of the Spirit of God upon your souls; all you that were never born again, and made new creatures, and raised from being dead in sin, to a state of new, and before altogether unexperienced light and life, are in the hands of an angry God. However you may have reformed your life in many things, and may have had religious affections, and may keep up a form of religion in your families and closets, and in the house of God, it is nothing but his mere pleasure that keeps you from being this moment swallowed up in everlasting destruction. However unconvinced you may now be of the truth of what you hear, by and by you will be fully convinced of it. Those that are gone from being in the like circumstances with you, see that it was so with them; for destruction came suddenly upon most of them; when they expected nothing of it, and while they were saying, Peace and safety: now they see, that those things on which they depended for peace and safety, were nothing but thin air and empty shadows.
The God that holds you over the pit of hell, much as one holds a spider, or some loathsome insect over the fire, abhors you, and is dreadfully provoked: his wrath towards you burns like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else, but to be cast into the fire; he is of purer eyes than to bear to have you in his sight; you are ten thousand times more abominable in his eyes, than the most hateful venomous serpent is in ours. You have offended him infinitely more than ever a stubborn rebel did his prince; and yet it is nothing but his hand that holds you from falling into the fire every moment. It is to be ascribed to nothing else, that you did not go to hell the last night; that you was suffered to awake again in this world, after you closed your eyes to sleep. And there is no other reason to be given, why you have not dropped into hell since you arose in the morning, but that God's hand has held you up. There is no other reason to be given why you have not gone to hell, since you have sat here in the house of God, provoking his pure eyes by your sinful wicked manner of attending his solemn worship. Yea, there is nothing else that is to be given as a reason why you do not this very moment drop down into hell.
O sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath, a wide and bottomless pit, full of the fire of wrath, that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it, and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder; and you have no interest in any Mediator, and nothing to lay hold of to save yourself, nothing to keep off the flames of wrath, nothing of your own, nothing that you ever have done, nothing that you can do, to induce God to spare you one moment."
Does it seem strange to you to read words like this in our 21st century? If it does appear strange, I believe it is because preaching on the subject of hell is by and large so foreign to us in our day, for almost every image Edwards used in his sermon can be found in the Bible.
Many have accused Edwards of being sadistic. I would however defend him by saying that if he was indeed sadistic, and if he really did believe in hell, then he would never mention it. Why is this? Well if he really did find delight in the prospect of seeing others suffer in hell, the best way to ensure it took place would be to never warn people of the danger of it.
No, it is because he loved God and His truth, and had a very real concern for those who heard him that he proclaimed that truth in unvarnished clarity to them. The message of "Sinners in the hands of an angry God" is that of the Gospel itself. Edwards ended his message with these words, "Therefore, let every one that is out of Christ, now awake and fly from the wrath to come. The wrath of Almighty God is now undoubtedly hanging over a great part of this congregation: Let every one fly out of Sodom: "Haste and escape for your lives, look not behind you, escape to the mountain, lest you be consumed."
It was God's idea to save all who believe in Christ from the ultimate calamity, the fierceness of the wrath of God. What a deliverance! What a rescue! God sent His Son to save us from His wrath. To put it in clear terms - we are saved by God, from God, for God!
On the cross, Jesus bore our sin, and God poured out His wrath on Him, in our place. He took the punishment we deserved as "He bore our sins in His body on the tree" (1 Peter 2:24). Jesus bore the wrath of God on behalf of His people. All who believe in Him as Savior and Lord are forever rescued from this wrath. But for those who do not receive the Son of God, God's wrath is being revealed (Romans 1:18) and the full brunt of that wrath will be meted out in judgement.
To these, Jesus says, "Behold, I am coming soon, bringing my recompense with me, to repay everyone for what he has done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end." (Revelation 22:12-13) "How shall we escape if we neglect such a great salvation?" (Hebrews 2:3) The answer to this rhetorical question is clear. If we neglect this great salvation, there will be no escape. Indeed, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:31)
Let me end with just a few of the many scriptures that speak of hell:
Matthew 13:40-42 "So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age. "The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."
Matthew 25:41 "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;"
Luke 16:19-31 "Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. "And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. "Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. "In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. "And he cried out and said, 'Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' "But Abraham said, 'Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 'And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.' "And he said, 'Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father's house-- for I have five brothers-- in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "But Abraham said, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.' "But he said, 'No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!' "But he said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.'"
Daniel 12:2 "Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt."
Jude 1:13 "...wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever."
Revelation 14:9-11 "If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name."
Revelation 20:10-15 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. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Thank God for the wonderful good news: "if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, "Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame." For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." Romans 10:9-13
Call out to Him now. "Lord Jesus Christ, I believe You are the Son of God and the only way to God - that You died on the cross for my sin and rose again from the dead. Lord I am right now turning away from my sin, and from all I know to be wrong, and I turn to You as my only means of salvation. Save me! I trust in You alone that by Your grace alone, You would save me from the wrath of God. Help me as a disciple of Christ to follow You all my days, and to obey Your word. Fill me with Your Holy Spirit - empower me to live for You. In Jesus Name. Amen."
WHAT IS THE WORST THING ABOUT HELL?
R.C. Sproul’s answer may surprise you:
"It is common to say that hell is the absence of God. Such statements are motivated in large part by the dread of even contemplating what hell is like. We try often to soften that blow and find a euphemism to skirt around it.
We need to realize that those who are in hell desire nothing more than the absence of God. They didn’t want to be in God’s presence during their earthly lives, and they certainly don’t want Him near when they’re in hell. The worst thing about hell is the presence of God there.
When we use the imagery of the Old Testament in an attempt to understand the forsakenness of the lost, we are not speaking of the idea of the departure of God or the absence of God in the sense that He ceases to be omnipresent. Rather, it’s a way of describing the withdrawal of God in terms of His redemptive blessing.
It is the absence of the light of His countenance. It is the presence of the frown of His countenance.
It is the absence of the blessedness of His unveiled glory that is a delight to the souls of those who love Him, but it is the presence of the darkness of judgment.
Hell reflects the presence of God in His mode of judgment, in His exercise of wrath, and that’s what everyone would like to escape.
I think that’s why we get confused. There is withdrawal in terms of the blessing of the radical nearness of God. His benefits can be removed far from us, and that’s what this language is calling attention to."
—R. C. Sproul, The Truth of the Cross (Orlando, FL: Reformation Trust, 2007), pp. 157-158
 And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,  he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11 ESV)