The Reality of Hell
By Tom Holt
Luke 12:4,5; Revelation 10:11
The Word "Hell" is so well ingrained in our language that it is used by some almost everyday. Often, for example, we hear people in anger saying to another, "Go to hell!" When a person embarks on a risky project, he might say, "If this fails, there'll be hell to pay." And to express courage in the face of danger, one might boast, "I'll stick it out come hell or high water."
These expressions no doubt have their genesis in the scripture. The word "hell" appears well over fifty times in the King James Bible; and high water obviously alludes to the flood of Noah's day. If nothing else, all this reveals the pervasive influence the word of God used to have upon our culture.
Not so anymore. While people still use hell freely to denote evil, they don't really know what's it all about. One reason: hell has become a forbidden word in Christendom. Preachers nowadays avoid the subject like a plague. Some even go out of their way to ridicule it.
Wrong gospels. It's bad enough that no warning of hell comes forth from the pulpit, but making things worse, many professed Christians and missionary groups go around and tell everyone, "God loves you." It's only natural for the unsuspecting to conclude that a God that loves everyone would never condemn anyone to hell.
The God-loves-you kind of evangelism also helps create in people a false sense of self-worth: "If God loves me, He must have seen something good in me." In reality, there is nothing in the natural man that merits God's affection. The Bible says, "All our righteousness are as filthy rags."
The truth is, our holy God loves only those who seek Him. The Bible declares flatly in Ezra 8:22, "The hand of our God is upon all them for good that seek him; but his power and his wrath is against all them that forsake him."
Nevertheless, no one would seek God on his own. Believers seek Him only because God has saved them and has given them the faith to trust in Christ. So, however hard we try to deny hell or however ignorant we are of its reality, hell is real. Come Judgment Day, as surely as God's love for those He has saved will bring them to heaven, His hatred for sinners will result in their being condemned to hell.
Description of HellWhat is hell, anyway? Before I go on, let me first point out that the word "hell" in our King James Bible sometimes merely means the grave, where our dead bodies are buried. That is not what we are talking about. The hell in question is that which Jesus warns of:Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him. (Luke 12:4,5)The "Him" who has the power to cast people into hell, of course, is God. With this command to fear God, our Lord makes it crystal clear that hell is where God punishes sinners.
As we proceed to examine the way the scripture describes hell, we need also to remember that hell, like heaven, is a spiritual place and, as such, it is beyond our human minds' ability to fully comprehend. The Bible therefore speaks of it with figures of speech, which are not meant to be taken literally.
Fire of wrath. In Matthew 13:49,50, for instance, Jesus says:At the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just, and shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.Notice first that hell is spoken of here as a furnace of fire. Elsewhere, the Bible labels it as "unquenchable fire" (Matt. 3:12) and "a lake of fire burning with brimstone" (Rev. 19:20). These horrifying images of people being burnt in hell impress upon us that our God is a consuming fire and that it is a fearful thing to fall into His hands.
That the wrath of God is more horrible than one can imagine is also stated repeatedly in the Old Testament. For instance: "Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath" (Psalm 90:11). "Who among us shall dwell with the devouring fire? who among us shall dwell with everlasting burnings? (Isa. 33:14). And "Who can stand before his indignation? and who can abide in the fierceness of his anger? his fury is poured out like fire, and the rocks are thrown down by him" (Nahum 1:6).
So far, only Jesus, when He was laden with our sins, suffered the wrath of God. So painful it was that He had to cry out, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me?" If Jesus, who is God Himself, found the wrath of God to be so unbearable, imagine how much worse will it be for human sinners.
Hopelessness. In the Matthew 13 passage above, Jesus also says, "there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Not only will the unsaved suffer their own pains in hell, they will be constantly aware of others being punished by God. Have you heard people say, "I don't mind going to hell because I know I'll have a lot of friends there"? Well, they may have a lot of friends there, but they won't be having a ball.
Why do people wail or weep? For one thing, they are aggrieved. The Bible has two accounts of Jesus weeping. The first occurred when He met Mary and Martha four days after their brother Lazarus had died. Even though He knew He was going to raise Lazarus up later, He shared the acute sadness experienced by the grieving sisters.
The second account appears in Luke 19. As Jesus approached Jerusalem, He wept over it, saying in verse 42, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes." Jesus was mournful of the blindness and hopelessness of the Israelites.
Remorse. People weep also when they are remorseful. Remember how Peter reacted to the cockcrow after He had denied the Lord three times? He wept bitterly. Reminded of his sinfulness, he felt utterly ashamed, regretting that he could not undo the wrongs that he had committed. Indeed, in hell people will exist in constant regrets.
This is revealed by the parable of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16. The rich man has enjoyed all the luxuries and pleasures that this world can provide, while the beggar Lazarus has nothing. Both men die. Lazarus, a child of God, is carried by angels to heaven; and the rich man, an unbeliever, is sent to hell.
In hell the rich man cries out, "I am tormented in this flame." But as the story continues, we find that he is also tortured by seeing at a distance Lazarus being blessed in heaven while he is locked in hell. The agonies of the unsaved in hell, you see, includes the knowledge that their failure on earth to humble themseves before God has permanently denied them blessings in heaven.
The remorse of conscience and the tortures of the mind are symbolized also by the gnashing of teeth. Coming under God's wrath in hell, the Bible thus reveals, people will be in constant misery, ever regretting that they had not sought God in their lifetime and ever tormented by their hopelessness.
Total darkness. In the Bible, hell is also identified with darkness. In Matthew 22:13, Jesus tells of an uninvited guest being cast "into outer darkness". And Job calls hell "a land of darkness, as darkness itself; and of the shadow of death, without any order, and where the light is as darkness" (10:22).
In the scripture, light and life are synonymous with Jesus and God. Of the Word that became flesh, John 1:4 says, "In him was life; and the life was the light of men." And of the New Jerusalem in heaven, Revelation 21:23 reads, "The city had no need of the sun, neither of the moon, to shine in it: for the glory of God did lighten it, and the Lamb is the light thereof."
Every good and perfect gift, James 1:17 says, is from God, the light. In heaven, where God shall dwell with His people, the latter will enjoy nothing but perfect blessings. Here on earth, even unbelievers are graced with many blessings because "he maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and on the unjust" (Matt. 5:45). But in hell, the land of darkness, God will be conspicuously absent. The unsaved will be kept "from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power" (II Thes. 1:9). Implication: Once condemned to hell, unbelievers will have much punishmentbut not one blessingfrom the God of light.
Duration of HellPerhaps the most terrifying aspect of hell is its duration. It is eternal. To soften this harsh reality, Satan keeps using false prophets to teach that the unsaved are simply annihilated. Mocking John 3:16, a pastor once said, "If whoever believes in him shall not perish, then whoever does not believe shall simply perish; they just cease to exist."
That's just wishful thinking. The word "perish" in the context of John 3:16 is meant to contrast with the "everlasting life" that believers have; it means everlasting death. Elaborating on that truth, God says in Revelation 14:9-11:If any man worship the beast and his image, and receive his mark in his forehead, or in his hand, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and he shall 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 ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night, who worship the beast and his image, and whosoever receiveth the mark of his name.The Scripture uses no higher expression than "for ever and ever" to denote eternity. It is the very phrase that describes the everlasting existence of God Himself. In other words, therefore, as long as the holy angels and the Lamb live, before whose presence will the unsaved be tormented, the latter will have conscious existence in hell. And that's forevermore.
Bitter-sweet WatchmenWhat then shall we do with this information? For openers, we need to reexamine ourselves to make sure that we are indeed saved. We mustn't think that just because we go to church regularly, we will spend eternity in heaven. The fact is, most churchgoers will be sent to hell on Judgment Day, because Jesus says, "Wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat" (Matt. 7:13). He also asks rhetorically, "When the Son of man cometh, shall he find faith on the earth?" (Luke 18:8).
Once we are certain that we are truly born-again believers, then we must warn the world of the approaching hell. In Ezekiel 3:17-19, God says:Son of man, I have made thee a watchman unto the house of Israel: therefore hear the word at my mouth, and give them warning from me. When I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die; and thou givest him not warning, nor speakest to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life; the same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood will I require at thine hand. Yet if thou warn the wicked, and he turn not from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but thou hast delivered thy soul.Double commissions. Ezekiel 3 begins with God telling the prophet to eat a scroll, and he writes in verse 3, "Then did I eat it; and it was in my mouth as honey for sweetness." But when God tells him that the people of Israel will not listen to him, Ezekiel went on the mission "in bitterness" (v. 14). In Revelation 10, John was also given a book to eat, and he writes in verse 10, "it was in my mouth sweet as honey: and as soon as I had eaten it, my belly was bitter." That chapter ends with God saying: "Thou must prophesy again before many peoples, and nations, and tongues, and kings."
The similarity between the two books strongly suggests that they both represent God's final warning to the world. The Israel to whom Ezekiel was sent was a prefigure of the end-time church. And God told John to "prophesy again..." right after He had discussed in the two preceding chapters the sounding of the first six trumpetswhich, as we recently learned from the verse-by-verse exposition of those chapters, refer to the final tribulation period that we are now living in.
Quite likely, therefore, in both Ezekiel 3 and Revelation 10, God is commissioning us end-time believers to issue His ultimatum to the world. We can do so directly by mouth ourselves if God so enables us, we can pass out tracts that frankly warns of the upcoming Judgment Day, and/orówithout meaning to be biased but with due sincerityówe can support a ministry like Family Radio, which God has seen fit to raise up so that the true gospel can still be faithfully sent forth to all nations.
Hardened hearts. As both Ezekiel and John experienced bitterness after eating the sweet-in-the-mouth book from God, we should be prepared to face widespread rejection when we warn people of hell. Not many people will listen to us, as God has evidently long been delivering the corporate church into the hands of unbelievers and giving mankind over to a reprobate mind. But the word that we send forth shall not return to God void, but shall accomplish that which He has purposed. Besides saving the last of His elect, one of Godís purposes now is to prepare the world for judgment. o
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