Friday, July 31, 2009

What About Hell?

Describe hell.

It’s hot. How’s that for brevity?

Believe it or not, a pastor friend of mine once preached a sixteen week series on hell. His people probably felt like they had been there and back again by the time he was done!

Actually, the Bible doesn’t tell us a great deal about either heaven or hell. There are some general descriptions, but not a lot of detail. From what is mentioned about hell, however, we can gather that it is a place of unimaginable horror.

The most common Biblical image of hell is that of fire. Jesus referred to it as “the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). In the book of Revelation it is called “the lake of fire which burns with brimstone” (NASB, Rev. 19:20; cf. 20:14-15), where sufferers are “tormented day and night forever” (Rev. 20:10; cf. 14:10-11). Jesus told us about a certain wicked man who died and went to hell, and described him as being “in torment” (Lk. 16:23). The man cried out, “I am in anguish in this flame”, and pleaded for someone to “dip the end of his finger in water and cool [his] tongue” (Lk. 16:19-31). At another time, Jesus described hell as a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”, and said that it would be better to be maimed and crippled in this life than to go to hell in the next (Mk. 9:43-48). Elsewhere, Jesus spoke about those who go to hell as being “thrown into the outer darkness. In that place,” he said, “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:12)

Concerning the eternal punishment of Judas Iscariot, whom Jesus described as a “devil” (Jn. 6:70), and “the son of destruction” (Jn. 17:12), he said, “it would have been better for that man if he had not been born” (Matt. 26:24).

In one of the most solemn scenes in the Bible—the final judgment—the dead are gathered before the throne of God, the books are opened, and the dead are “judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done.” Another book is also opened: the book of life. “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:11-15).

Hell is a very sobering reality. God never does, and never can do anything unjust. Therefore, the fact that the impenitent sinner is justly punished with hell, is a testimony to the awful guilt of sin, and God’s utter hatred of it.

A consideration of the nature of hell should have at least four effects. First, it should cause us to flee from sin. If sin deserves hell, how awful must sin be. Second, it should cause us to cling to Jesus Christ. It is only by union with Christ that anyone can escape the just sentence of hell. Third, it should cause us to rejoice in our salvation that we have been delivered from so terrible a punishment. And fourth, it should create in us a desire to live a life of grateful devotion to God.

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