Hell Is For Real - Part Two
March 22, 2015 Preacher: Randy Smith Series: Hell Is For Real
Scripture: Revelation 14:9–12
Hell Is For Real - Part TwoRevelation 14:9-12
Sunday, March 22, 2015
Pastor Randy Smith
Last week we began a three-part series on the one of the most misunderstood and mistreated subjects in the Bible. I believe the primary reason this doctrine is so ignored and maligned is because it is not only extremely offensive, it is outright terrifying. No one wants to go to hell or even believe they are bad enough to deserve such an awful punishment.
What I'd like to do this morning is not formulate our understanding of hell on popular opinions or personal feelings. I'd like to take you through the Scriptures and see what God has to say about this frightening place. That will be our second point. Yet sandwiching that, we'll begin and end with the false views and a rebuttal of those false views based on the biblical teachings.
We have a lot to do, so let's get started.
1. Biblcal Error
Let's go to the first point, an overview of the false views. You can see on your sermon notes that I am calling this "Biblical Error."
People who read the Bible can't deny that it mentions hell. They also can't deny as we learned last week that the description of this place, primarily off the lips of Jesus, is one of tremendous horror. Nothing that evil man has invented could be more terrifying than eternal suffering in a lake of fire. So to soften the blow, people throughout the ages have sought to redefine the conditions and recipients of hell. Let me provide six of the most common erroneous conclusions regarding the biblical concept of hell.
The first is universalism. This is the simple belief that although there is an awful place called hell, nobody really will end up going there. This theory teaches that all people universally will eventually wind up in heaven. The understanding is that God would never inflict perpetual torture on any of His creatures.
The next one on your study notes, inclusivism teaches that Jesus is the only way to God, but that people can be saved by responding to God's revelation through other religions or even creation. So in other words, belief directly in Jesus is the ideal, but as long as you acknowledge a god or "higher power" in some way, shape, or form, the atoning work of Jesus will be applied to your case and thus you will be spared hell.
I didn't include it on your notes, but pluralism (probably the most popular today) is very similar and much less narrow. Pluralism teaches that all religions are equal and whatever route you choose, whether it is Buddhism, Islam, Judaism, Christianity, New Age or whatever, we are all worshipping the same God and thus all will be saved from hell.
Postmortem Evangelism is the belief that unbelievers of Jesus will get a second chance to receive the gospel after death. No doubt when facing the living God and the clear prospects of hell, all will repent and trust Jesus as their Lord and Savior. The belief is that God desires the salvation of all people, and thus in the end, all or at least most people will be saved. Some in this camp believe the second chance after death to receive the gospel is only for those who never heard it while on the earth. Those who heard it and rejected it, they argue, will not be given the second chance. That is Postmortem Evangelism.
Annihilationism is the belief that those in Christ will go to heaven and those without Jesus will simply be annihilated. Death for them is final, and they will simply cease to exist. Emphasis is placed on the descriptions of hell that speak of "destruction" and "perishing."
And the last erroneous concept is that of purgatory. Purgatory is a doctrine invented by the Catholic Church. In their own words, "All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation, but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven" (Catechism of the Catholic Church, paragraph 1030). It is not actually hell according to the Catholic Church, but it is a place of suffering for a period of time to purify one for heaven.
So with these beliefs in mind, let's move to the second point and see what the Bible has to say about hell and then come back with a rebuttal to these false views of hell.
2. Biblical Teaching
Biblical theology (as compared to systematic theology) is the study that traces the progressive unfolding of a biblical concept throughout the pages of Scripture. Let's begin by taking a few minutes and discover what the Bible has to say about hell starting in Genesis and finishing in Revelation. Like many doctrines, the teaching on hell is vague early in the Bible, but comes into greater focus when we get to Jesus and the Apostles.
Early in the Old Testament, there is not much discussion on the afterlife, although we are introduced to key concepts that will play a major role in the development and understanding of hell. Right off the bat, God warns Adam that if he sins, it will result in spiritual death, a separation from God's benevolent presence (Gen. 2:17). We know Adam sinned and was thrown out of God's immediate presence. By Genesis 6 we are graphically introduced to the fury of God's wrath against sin when the world is destroyed with a cataclysmic flood. We see more of this in Genesis 19 with the narrative of Sodom and Gomorrah. God's wrath against sin was even seen by the removal of His people from the Promised Land when they were taken during the Assyrian and Babylonian captivities. Bottom line, God warns sinners and then in His justice must punish sinners when they violate His will. This results in His wrath and our physical and spiritual death.
A word frequently used in the Old Testament that speaks of the place for those who die is the Hebrew term, "Sheol" (used 65 times). The Bible is clear that both the righteous and the wicked go to Sheol. There is also a lot of controversy as to how this word should be translated. Some are of the opinion that Sheol simply means the grave. In other words, when we die, our bodies regardless of our religious affiliation are placed in the ground, Sheol. Others are convinced Sheol refers to not the grave, but the afterlife where people go after they die. Along these lines, people argue that Sheol speaks of life after death in vague terms. The debate continues on this one.
Yet in the Old Testament we do have a couple clear pictures of the final destiny of the wicked. One is in Isaiah 66. After promising peace to His own people in the beginning of the chapter, the Lord says in verses 22-23, "'For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,' declares the LORD, 'So your offspring and your name will endure. And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,' says the LORD."
Worshipping God for an eternity, bowing down before Him - those who are His will experience this ultimate delight of their hearts in heaven. However, the same cannot be said for the ungodly. An awful fate awaits them. Verse 24, "Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched; and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind." Having rebelled against God and rejected Him, the transgressors will suffer terrible defeat.
Permit me to provide a little background on that. Death was an in-your-face present reality for the Israelites. Dead bodies exposed faced the ultimate disgrace when they were either burned or left to be eaten by worms. Yet Isaiah's picture depicts something more longstanding. Using the example just mentioned, he depicts God's judgment as unending. The fuel for the fire or the food for the worm never ceases.
Let me read one more key passage from the Old Testament, Daniel 12:1-2: "Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 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."
Again, more development will be seen in the New Testament, but these passages from Daniel 12 speak of a "rescue" for God's children (those written in the "book" of life), a bodily resurrection of the righteous and the wicked, and two everlasting destinations, the unredeemed being characterized by "disgrace" and "contempt."
When we enter the New Testament, as we learned last week, Jesus spoke more frequently about hell than He did heaven. As a matter of fact, He spoke more about hell than all the other New Testament writers combined. And when He spoke of hell, He used descriptions that spoke of horrific suffering.
He described hell as "fire" (Mt. 5:22), "eternal fire (Mt. 25:41), "unquenchable fire" (Mk. 9:43), "furnace of fire" (Mt. 13:50), a place of "darkness" (Mt. 8:12; 25:30), "torment" (Lk. 16:23), "agony" (Lk. 16:24), "God's wrath" (Jn. 3:36), "judgment" (Jn. 5:29) and "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Mt. 8:12; 13:42; 13:50; 22:13; 25:51; 25:30; Lk. 13:28).
The apostles continue to develop the doctrine of hell with the same horrific descriptions in unmistakable clarity.
In Romans 2:5, Paul speaks of "storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God." In 1 Thessalonians 5:9 he speaks of people being "destined…for wrath." In 2 Thessalonians 1, beginning in verse 5 he says, "This is a plain indication of God's righteous judgment so that you will be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which indeed you are suffering. For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed - for our testimony to you was believed" (2 Thes. 1:5-10).
The writer to the Hebrews speaks of "eternal judgment" (Heb. 6:2). In 1 Peter 3:19 hell is referred to as a "prison." In 2 Peter the Apostle says, "For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment" (2 Pet. 2:4). Five verses later Peter informs us, "The Lord knows how to…keep the unrighteous under punishment for the day of judgment" (2 Pet. 2:9). In Jude 7 we read, "Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire." In verse 13 Jude says, "[They are] wild waves of the sea, casting up their own shame like foam; wandering stars, for whom the black darkness has been reserved forever."
Detailed descriptions are found in the book of Revelation. Chapter 14, verses 9-11, "Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, '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." Chapter 20, verses 10, 14-15, "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 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." And chapter 21:8, "But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (also see 22:15).
To get a comprehensive picture of hell, it also helps to look at the three different Greek words that are translated "hell" in our New Testament and the three other Greek words that are translated "lake of fire."
The first word is "tartarus." This word (in its verbal form) only occurs in 2 Pet 2:4 and is translated "cast them into hell." In the context it only tells us that hell is a place where some of the fallen angels were thrown to be held from the time of their first sin until the time of their judgment.
Another word is the Greek word, "hades." Oftentimes many versions just use the literal word, "hades" (NAS, NKJ). Other English versions translate the word "depths" (NIV) or "hell" (KJV, NJB). A study of its eleven occurrences in the New Testament tell us that it is one, a fiery destination for the immaterial soul (not body) of an unbeliever, and two, Hades confines the unredeemed soul only for the intermediate time between physical death and final judgment. The common passages where this word is used are, Luke 16 which speaks of the so-called "rich man" "In Hades…being in torment" (Lk. 16:23) and Jesus where it is said in Acts 2 "was neither abandoned to hades, nor did His flesh suffer decay" (Ac. 2:31).
According to Revelation 20:14, "Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." So the Bible teaches those without Christ upon death are immediately cast into Hades. This place is a holding tank that involves suffering. At the Great White Throne Judgment they will be resurrected with their bodies, found guilty of their unforgiven sins, and then thrown into the "lake of fire."
Another word is the aforementioned "lake of fire." The Greek words are "limnun tou puros." This is the most frightening description of hell found only five times in the book of Revelation. It speaks of the ultimate destination of the unredeemed.
The last Greek word "Gehenna" is also synonymous with the "lake of fire." Again, this is the eternal place of the body and soul of the unredeemed. James used the word once in his teaching about our speech (Jas. 3:6). The other eleven occurrences were off the lips of Christ.
There was no misunderstanding what Jesus was getting at in the minds of the average Jews when they heard the word Gehenna. Gehenna is a transliteration of ge-hinnon, known by the Israelites as the "the valley of Hinnon" that was located just outside of Jerusalem. That "the valley of Hinnom" became the technical designation for the place of final punishment was due several reasons. It was the seat of the idolatrous worship of Molech, to whom children were sacrificed by fire (2 Chronicles 28:3; 2 Chronicles 33:6). Later it became associated in prophecy with the judgment to be visited upon the people (Jeremiah 7:32). It was known as desecrated place where the Israelites burned their garbage. The ongoing fires and unholy location became a frightening future illustration for the lake of fire.
3. Biblical Application
So, as we move to the third and final point, let's take what we just read from the Bible, add some more biblical teaching and refute the false views that I mentioned earlier in the sermon.
Will all people be saved? According to the Bible, the answer is "no." Many, many verses speak of those without Christ going to a literal place called hell. Matthew 25:46, "These will go away into eternal punishment." As a matter of fact, the Scriptures teach that more will be going to hell than heaven, as Matthew 7:13 says, "The gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it."
Inclusivism and Pluralism
Did Jesus die for all people regardless of their religion or are all religions equally valid? According to the Bible, the answer is "no."
Acts 4:12, "And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved." John 14:6, "Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.'" Romans 10:9, "That if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved." John 3:16, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life."
Salvation is clearly found only in Christ - the only One who died to take our sins upon Himself, satisfy the wrath of God and rise from the death. And that salvation according to the verses I just read is offered only to those who receive Christ as their Lord and Savior.
Will people get another chance to hear the gospel and believe after they die? According to the Bible, the answer is "no." Jesus made it clear that decisions in this life have eternal consequences. Again in Revelation 20, we read that the judgement at the end of the age is how we conducted ourselves in this life. What we see throughout Scripture is that physical death seals our eternal destiny. Hebrews 9:27, "And inasmuch as it is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment." This is why our Lord's final words were the "Great Commission," the imperative to get people the gospel before they die (Mt. 28:18-20).
Is annihilationism a biblical concept? According to the Bible, the answer is "no." Again I take you back to Matthew 25:46, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." The same word for "eternal" is used of both hell and heaven. Every sin bears an eternal consequence because it is against an eternal being. How about the example of the "rich man and Lazarus"? Was the rich man annihilated? Luke 16:23 says he died and "in Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment."
Is there a place called purgatory? According to the Bible, the answer is "no."
Not only is this place never mentioned in the Bible (Scripture only speaks of two destinations), it also negates the sufficient work of Christ on the cross. When He declared, "It is finished" (Jn. 19:30), He announced the completion of His atonement in paying the price for all the sins of the redeemed. Hebrews 10:10, "By this will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all." It is by Christ's suffering and not our own that our sins are purged.
Hell is a reality. It is not our job to negate it or minimize its seriousness. Jesus didn't do that nor did any of the biblical writers. Our responsibility is to receive Jesus Christ by faith, the One who saves us from our sins, and thus the One who rescues us from this awful destination.
Hell is the consequence of sin whereby God's wrath is poured out on those who have violated His law. We all deserve hell. But God in His love and mercy sent Christ to be our Savior from hell. Is He your Savior from hell? And are you proclaiming Him as Savior from hell to others?
More in Hell Is For Real
March 29, 2015Hell Is For Real - Part Three
March 15, 2015Hell Is For Real - Part One