Sunday, 16 September 2012


I offer this with some apology.  A few days afterwards giving this recent Sunday morning’s teaching, I heard a telling testimony.  One of our Coventry leaders explained that it was precisely to avoid hell that he was persuaded to become a Christian.  He had his life sorted: good career path, congenial friends, fulfilling interests.  Nothing fell into the “receptive/seeker” category of need, frustration, or unanswered questions.  Then somebody told him the gospel, including an eternity of punishment for those who reject God.  My friend’s complacency evaporated.  Night after night he was tormented with the conviction that he was living a selfish life exactly equated to rejecting God.  So, for this reason, he searched for peace through Jesus.  So central was this reality that each time he witnessed to relatives and friends, he impressed the need to be saved from hell.  My apology is that I didn’t inject such urgency into this teaching.

The doctrine of hell has been described as: “Probably the most unpopular, hated and feared teaching in the bible” (Charles Hodge); “One of the first given up by people who are moving away from commitment to the bible as truthful”, and “A hard, sorrowful doctrine for us because we have God’s love for people” (Wayne Grudem).

  1. To clear the fog, we need to check the Hebrew and Greek biblical vocabulary.  Often what is referred to isn’t “hell”, but “the grave” (Hebrew sheol; Greek hades), meaning an intermediate state following death but before final judgement.  There are pointers to both blessing and misery being experienced here.
  2. We also need to ask the question what eternal life means and if all humanity possesses it?  The best answer is that we created with a capacity for eternal life.  But what people come to experience is different whether they become believers or not.
  3. We must note that 12 times Jesus is more explicit in teaching a place of enduring torment.  If we take His words and much of the New Testament at face value, we must accept that after death and judgement the unsaved experience truly dreadful divine wrath.  However, this also magnifies His atonement on the cross.
  4. Revelations describes a lake of burning sulphur into which all enemies/opponents of God, now defeated, and those who followed their ways, now judged, will be thrown.  It burns for ever and ever.
  5. How is God’s reputation defended in all this divinely-appointed misery?  God must bring about justice – the punishment of wrong deeds.  He must also destroy evil; we are unable to do so.  These display His glory.
  6. God’s wrath is mysterious: its fullness was atoned for by Jesus (1 Thessalonians 1:10), yet for the unfaithful punishment will be proportional (Luke 12:47,48).  We can forgive, because we can leave justice to God.
  7. What’s hell like?  A place and condition of imprisonment; physical, spiritual and mental suffering, shared by the unsaved, the devil, demons, death, and the beast and false prophet of Revelations.
So, what’s this about?  Although the bible is clearer on the eternal destiny of believers, there is sufficient testimony to humanity in an unsaved state experiencing judgement and punishment for us to accept its truth. 

From Jesus Fellowship Church’s Statement of Faith and Practice, on our humanity. (6) The human race is now fallen away from God’s presence and likeness, and carries the Adamic nature of sin and death.  We believe, therefore, that sinful mankind, and the whole world with it, is under the dominion of the evil one and that all men and women are born as Adam’s cursed seed and live in this sinful inheritance.  We affirm that in such condition all are doomed to suffer the torment of an everlasting hell and that only through God’s mercy in the new covenant of grace in Christ Jesus can men and women be released from the captivity of the flesh and be born anew of the Spirit and enter into eternal life.


What about “afterlife”.  The Old Testament saw in the grave the presence of God, or enduring misery. 
PSALM 17:15  And I -- in righteousness I will see your face; when I awake, I will be satisfied with seeing your likeness.
ISAIAH 38:18  For the grave cannot praise you, death cannot sing your praise; those who go down to the pit cannot hope for your faithfulness.  19 The living, the living--they praise you, as I am doing today;


Are humans eternal?  We have an enduring consciousness, but the New Testament says eternal life is a gift.  The tree of life was symbolic of life sustained from God.  Similarly the Holy Spirit now sustains believers.
ROMANS 6: 22  But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves to God,    and the result is eternal life. 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
From Jesus Fellowship Church’s Statement of Faith and Practice, (2) By believing in the Lord Jesus Christ, men and women are saved from sin and death and become partakers of eternal life in the Kingdom of God.
(4)  The Holy Spirit is the inner well or fountain “springing up into eternal life” whereby they experience continually His living activity bringing God’s purity, strength and wisdom to their souls.


Jesus differentiated between death (sleep), and a place of torment, like Jerusalem’s foul rubbish dump.
MATTHEW 25:41  "Then he will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
LUKE  12:4  "I tell you, my friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body and after that can do no more.  5 But I will show you whom you should fear:  Fear him who, after the killing of the body, has power to throw you into hell.  Yes, I tell you, fear him.


Final judgement and penalty is a clear bible teaching.  It is for deeds, but based on two laws: for followers, the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus; for unbelievers, that of sin and death.  Evil in all forms will be destroyed.
ROMAN 7:25  So then, I myself in my mind am a slave to God's law, but in the sinful nature a slave to the law of sin.    8:1 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, 2 because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death.  3 For what the law was powerless to do in that it was weakened by the sinful nature, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful man to be a sin offering.
2 CORINTHIANS 5:10  For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.
REVELATION 20:11  Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it.  Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them.  12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened.  Another book was opened, which is the book of life.  The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books.  13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 1 4 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  15 If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.


Literal faithfulness to the scriptures leaves little wriggle-room.  Even symbols are intended to carry truth.  There are various other views on hell – some quite biblical, and some less so, including:
Metaphorical – it is conceded that the wicked will never be redeemed and restored to a place of eternal blessing, but their suffering is less that the literal understanding.  This is slightly less dismissive than the Mythological view that says hell is just a construct of primitive imaginations;
Purgatorial – that is, a place of divine cleansing from which some, at least, will emerge redeemed.  Views that allow a “second chance” approach Universalism, where God finds ways get everybody to heaven;
Conditionalism – proposes that punishment is temporary, and leads to annihilation of conscious personhood (see John 3:16 “perish”; Matthew 10:28).  This accepts that each person bears the just measure of God’s wrath.
From Jesus Fellowship Church’s Statement of Faith and Practice, on our bodies, (38) We acknowledge that the physical bodies of all human beings are mortal and therefore subject to sickness, degeneration and death.  We affirm that the body is for the Lord whether in life or in death.
(39) We hold that the bodies of all shall rise at the coming again in majesty of the Lord Jesus Christ and that all shall be judged according to the deeds done in the mortal body, those in Christ to eternal life and those outside of Him to everlasting death.


Application  Sadly, our culture has little real sense of spiritual reality and the transcendence of human life.
·       People find the Christian doctrine of hell repugnant: but all worldviews must give an answer to the reality of evil.
·       The reality of hell for the unsaved has always been a spur to spreading the gospel; do you carry an urgency?
·       Hebrews 2:14,15 says we can be free from the fear of death and its consequences; have you found this release?

Scripture quotes from the New International Version.
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I dreamed that the great judgment morning
Had dawned, and the trumpet had blown;
I dreamed that the nations had gathered
To judgment before the white throne;
From the throne came a bright, shining angel,
And he stood on the land and the sea,
And he swore with his hand raised to Heaven,
That time was no longer to be.

And, oh, what a weeping and wailing,
As the lost were told of their fate;
They cried for the rocks and the mountains,
They prayed, but their prayer was too late.

2. The rich man was there, but his money
Had melted and vanished away;
A pauper he stood in the judgment,
His debts were too heavy to pay;
The great man was there, but his greatness,
When death came, was left far behind!
The angel that opened the records,
Not a trace of his greatness could find.


3. The widow was there with the orphans,
God heard and remembered their cries;
No sorrow in heaven forever,
God wiped all the tears from their eyes;
The gambler was there and the drunkard,
And the man that had sold them the drink,
With the people who gave him the license,
Together in hell they did sink.


4 The moral man came to the judgment,
But self-righteous rags would not do;
The men who had crucified Jesus
Had passed off as moral men, too;
The souls that had put off salvation,
“Not tonight; I’ll get saved by and by,
No time now to think of religion!”
At last they had found time to die.


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