Many unbelievers and, more recently some believers, including some theologians,
deny the existence of hell. Yet if you take the words of Scripture seriously,
hell is no illusion but a reality. As I continue the series on heaven I would
be irresponsible if we did not look at what Scripture says about the doctrine
of hell. As poet T.S. Elliot said: “I had rather walk, as I do, in daily
terror of eternity, than to feel that this (life) was only a children’s
game in which all contestants would get equally worthless prizes in the end.”
Of all the decisions we make in this life, the decision to believe in and receive
Jesus Christ as Savior or to reject Him is the greatest decision any one will
ever make. The consequence of that choice is nothing less than heaven or hell
for all eternity.
Norman Geisler answers the question of why there must be a place of eternal
punishment. First of all, Jesus taught the existence of hell. He had more to
say about hell in fact, than heaven, in order to warn us and turn us to salvation.
A few of the examples of Jesus teachings on hell include Matthew 5:22, 29, 30;
10:28; 11:22-24; 18:9; 22:13; 23:15,33; 25:41,46; 26:24; Mark 9:43-48. In Luke
16, Jesus gives a parable using an actual name, Lazarus the beggar
about a rich man in hell. “And he (the rich man) said,
‘I beg you Father (Abraham), that you send him (Lazarus) to my father’s
house – for I have five brothers that he may warn them, lest they also
come to this place of torment,’” (Luke 16: 27-28)
In addition to Jesus’ words, many other Scriptures affirm the existence
of hell. One of the most vivid is Revelation 20:13-15: “Death and Hades
gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to
what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The
lake of fire is the second death (hell). If anyone’s name was not found
written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” The
Apostle Paul spoke of everlasting punishment and separation from God (2 Thessalonians
1:7-9), and not annihilation of the lost as some have taught. In other words,
hell will be eternal, conscious torment as seen in Luke 16 above. The same Greek
word “aionion” which means “everlasting” or “eternal”
is used to describe both heaven and hell in the same verse. (See Matthew 25:46)
God’s justice demands a hell. God is just and so pure that he cannot
even look upon sin. (Habakkuk 1:13) From the very first sin of Adam and Eve,
provision had to be made for cleansing of sin (God killed an animal – Genesis
3:21) for “without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness”
of sin. (Hebrews 9:22) God’s justice required a blood sacrifice for man’s
sin that would cleanse all the sins of all men and only the blood of the infinite
God-Man, Jesus Christ was able to satisfy God’s holy justice. Those who
refuse this provision through Christ must be punished eternally for they have
sinned against an eternal God. Nor is all evil justly punished in this life.
Hitler’s physical death alone is certainly not just punishment for a man
who murdered six million Jews and others.
Even God’s love demands a hell. A God of love does not force people to
love Him against their will. Love cannot act coercively, only persuasively.
As C.S. Lewis says: “He cannot ravish, He can only woo.” In Scripture
we see that God wants all men to be saved not wanting any to perish (1 Timothy
2:4; 2 Peter 3:9) but “you were not willing”. (Matthew 23:37) Those
who do not wish to be with God for all eternity in heaven will be allowed to
be separated from Him for all eternity in hell.
God’s sovereignty demands a hell. God is greater than evil and will triumph
over it. Jesus Christ defeated evil through His work on the cross (1 Corinthians
15:54-57) and will put a final end to it by confining evil to hell for all eternity.
“Then the end will come, when He (Jesus) hands over the kingdom to the
Father after He has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For He must
reign until He has put all enemies under His feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:24-25)
Some ask why God could not use hell to reform people and then allow them to
enter heaven? God does try to reform people; the time of reformation is in this
life. (2 Peter 3:9) Further, hell is only for the unreformable and unrepentant.
Even the man in torment in Luke 16 did not repent. As C.S. Lewis says in The
Great Divorce, his book about heaven and hell, some people had rather have
their own way in hell than to love and submit to God in heaven.
How can we be happy in heaven knowing a loved one is in hell? This is certainly
one of the most difficult questions and concerns we have about hell. Yet, when
we see God in His full glory I don’t believe any of us will doubt His
mercy or His justice, including hell. In our finite and fallen minds, we don’t
see the sinfulness of sin nor the pure white holiness of God. God is perfect
in all His ways including His justice. And how can any of us look at the bloody
cross of Jesus and question God’s mercy. Also Scripture assures us that
He will wipe away every tear and there will be no sorrow or crying in heaven.
(Revelation 21:4) Hell won’t veto heaven.
If there is no hell, the cross is a sham, Christ’s painful and humiliating
death is robbed of its eternal significance, and the jugular vein of the Great
Commission is cut. Why go into all the world and preach the gospel if everyone
is going to heaven? Life is not a game. Our eternal destiny and all of mankind’s
is at stake – heaven or hell. And you can know for certain that you have
eternal life and are going to heaven when you die. (1 John 5:11-13; Romans 8:16)
This is not presuming at all on our goodness but trusting totally in God’s
grace as revealed in His Word. “For it is by grace you have been saved,
through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God –
not by works, so that no one can boast.” (Ephesians 2:8; See Titus 3:4-5)
Do you have that assurance? If not, bow your knee, admit you are a sinner and
ask Jesus Christ to save you and give you the free gift of eternal life. If
we do have that assurance of eternal life then we are to share this with others.
How wonderful it is to know all of our sins are forgiven and that we are going
to spend eternity with God and loved ones in a perfect place forever and ever.
There is nothing in this life that can compare to this good news – the
gospel and the hope of heaven.
“If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can
satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.
If none of my earthly pleasures satisfy it, that does not prove that the universe
is a fraud. Probably earthly pleasures were never really meant to satisfy, but
only to arouse it, to suggest the real thing… I must keep alive in myself
the desire for my true country, which I shall not find till after death…
I must make it the main object of life to press on to that other country and
to help others to do the same.” C. S. Lewis
For Jesus’ sake,
Len and Kristen