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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Understanding Hell, Part 2

Last time we began our look at the doctrine of hell by studying the holiness of God.  God’s holiness is the proper context for our understanding sin and judgment.  Because God is infinitely holy, sin is infinitely offensive to Him.  Therefore, the wrath of God rightly falls upon those who sin against Him.
Having established last time that the wrath of God is perfectly consistent with His holy character, we will now cover the nature of God’s wrath against sinners, specifically, that it is manifested in an eternal, literal, and physical hell. 
There is a category of objections to certain doctrines of the Bible that I would refer to as “but-God-wouldn’t-do-that” objections.  These objections are typically raised whenever Scriptural proofs are presented showing that God would indeed do “that.”  The doctrine of hell is a prime target for these objections, so let me acknowledge right away that they are out there.  I will address objections in a later post, but I want to establish first what the Bible actually teaches about hell.  If the Bible teaches that God does judge sinners in hell for all eternity, we must accept it.   
That hell is eternal is abundantly clear in Biblical teaching.  Consider Matthew 18:8-9: And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire.  And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire. (Cf. Matt 5:29-30; Mark 9:43-48)
In Matthew 25:31ff, Jesus tells of the future separation of the sheep from the goats.  Of the goats, He says in v41, “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
In 2 Thess 1:9, Paul writes of those “who do not know God” and “who do not obey the gospel”:  They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.
In Jude 5, we read, Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe.  Likewise, Jude mentions Sodom and Gomorrah as examples to us of those who undergo a “punishment of eternal fire” (v7).  Later in v12, he describes false teachers as those “for whom the gloom of utter darkness has been reserved forever.”
Revelation 14:9-11 tells the fate of those who worship the beast or take his mark. V11 includes this chilling description of what they will endure: “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night…”  Further, Rev 20:9-15 predicts the devil, the beast, and the false prophet being thrown into the lake of fire along with Death, Hades, and all those whose names were not written in the book of life.  There “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever (v10).
Several of the references above also tell us that this eternal hell is a place of fire.  In Matt 5:22, Jesus speaks of the sinner being liable to “the hell of fire.”  In Mark 9:48, He describes hell as a place “where the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”  All three of the Synoptic gospels tell of hell’s “unquenchable fire” (which also testifies to the eternality of hell)(Matt 3:12; Mark 9:43; Luke 3:17).
Additionally, so many references speak of hell as punishment, judgment, and torment that it is simply implausible to deny that hell is a conscious reality.  If it were not a literal, conscious experience there would be no punishment.  There would be no torment.  And it certainly could not be said of hell, “in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt. 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk. 13:28).  Yet, this is precisely how Jesus describes it, each time indicating that hell is a literal place.  Heb 10:27-31 speaks of this judgment as utterly fearful.  James 5:1-5 describes it as the “coming miseries.”
I’d like to point out the fact that a great many of these references are coming from the mouth of Jesus.  This is ironic because so many of the “but-God-wouldn’t-do-that” objections are based on the supposedly passive character of Christ, which demonstrates that many people have as shallow an understanding of the Son as they do of the Father.  Jesus taught more about hell than anyone else in the New Testament.  And Rev 19:15 reveals that Jesus is the one who “will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty.”  
If you look back at the references above, you will find that ALL of the New Testament writers testify to this picture of hell.  And in spite of the unimaginable horror pictured in the Bible’s teaching on hell, over and over again the Biblical writers affirm that this punishment is just, that God’s wrath is righteous (Explicit: Acts 17:31; Rom 2:2, 5; 2 Thess 1:5-10; Rev 19:11. Assumed: Matt 5:20-30; 23:33; 24:45-25:46; Mark 9:42-48; Luke 16:19-31; Rom 1:18-3:20; Heb 10:27-31; James 4:12; 5:1-5; 2 Pet 2:4-17; Jude 6-23; Rev 20:10-15).
I mentioned on Sunday that the modern emotional problem that we have reconciling the concept of a loving God with an eternal hell is not a dilemma recognized in Scripture.  Rather, a very serious problem would arise if God did not pour out His wrath on sin – God would not be just (Pro 17:15; cf Rom 3:21-26). With that in mind, consider this: is it possible that our problem with the doctrine of hell stems from our underestimation of the heinousness of sin and the holiness of God?
Next, time we’ll start to deal with the common objections.
Posted by Greg Birdwell

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