Sunday, May 6, 2018

An Investigation of the Biblical Concept of Hell

This post is linked with the synchroblog, a group of bloggers with diverse viewpoints. Check out the synchroblog here.

In the Old Testament it was described as Sheol, the place of the dead, the dump yard where filth and animal bodies were tossed to be burned.  In the New Testament Greek it took on the term "hell" or "Hades" and "outer darkness."  Today we're going to investigate the biblical concept of hell, and the various statements that Jesus and others made about this place of torment and apparent eternal suffering.  

When I share the scriptures, I've often been like a ninja.  I think many of us are good at this: We dodge, jump, and fly past the scriptures that make us uncomfortable, and focus on the scriptures that we find encouraging.  

Think of scriptures like Jeremiah 29:11, that classic scripture: "For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future." And we pull it right out of context.  The entire book of Jeremiah is a despondent message of repentance from the weeping prophet Jeremiah as he tries to get Israel to turn back to God before it's too late.  But we skip over all of that, and just pull out the one encouraging scripture, that God has a plan for us.  And He certainly does! Yet there are also severe consequences for those who habitually go astray.

Then again, we're in New testament times, right?  We're under the new covenant of grace, in Christ.  So things must be different now, right?  Well, yes and no. Things are different in that we find rest in Christ. But we're also warned to live a pure life in response to the free gift.  In fact, the one who talked the most about hell in the New Testament was Jesus himself.  

Jesus said, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." -Matthew 25:27-30 NIV

And again Jesus said,"Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell."-Matthew 10:28 ESV

In the past I've avoided the concept of hell like the plague.  I didn't want to talk about hell because I was so afraid it would drive people away from the church.  But we shouldn't avoid the concepts of hell and judgment in the Bible. We should talk about and consider what Jesus talked about and considered.

If we struggle with these concepts, and we probably should, we should go boldly to the throne of God and ask Him for help in understanding.  God is righteous, and everything He does is right.  We can trust Him to help us understand things like hell. 

So what is hell?  Well, hell is a real place.  It's a geographical location, and a reality.  Just like heaven, eternal life, the new city of God are real places.  These are not metaphors or symbolic imagery.  It's real.  We don't think of heaven as a metaphor, we think of it as a concrete reality.  And in the same way, hell is a reality.

Hell was originally designed for Satan and the fallen angels (Matthew 25:41).  Unfortunately when humanity was deceived by Satan, hell was opened up for human entry.  Hell is a place for those who willfully reject God, and for those who reject His commandments, His teachings, and the free gift of salvation found in Jesus Christ.  

God doesn't want a single person to go to hell (1 Timothy 2:4).  God wants all to be saved.  That's why He called Abraham out of the wilderness to form the nation of Israel.  That's why God gave his commands to Moses.  And that's why God came as Jesus Christ, Immanuel, the savior of the world to offer His life on the cross as an atoning sacrifice for sin.

For those who repent of their sins and believe in Jesus Christ, there is a place prepared for them called heaven.  Heaven is a real place, with streets of gold, with houses and lodgings, and with angels, people, and of course God almighty.  

There are no aborted babies in hell, they are all in heaven.  There are no babies who died in their early years in hell, they are in heaven. There are no severely mentally ill individuals in hell, they are in heaven. 

So who goes to hell? Well, according to Revelation 21:8 ESV "But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

I think we could break it down into three groups:

1. Those who reject Christ - This is the largest group of those in hell, people who rejected Christ, who were deceived by the pleasures of the world, and who loved their sin more than God and his teachings.  

2. False Christians - These are Christians who tried to have it both ways, they followed Jesus, but also stayed in sin.  They were lukewarm. They didn't serve the poor or lost, and they didn't evangelize.  They did not repent of all of their sins.  And they failed to authentically live for Jesus. Many probably thought they were going to heaven, but went to hell instead.

3. True Christians - These are Christians who repented of all sin, who really lived out their faith, and who served and evangelized the lost.  They completed their race, and they share in eternal life with Jesus and the angels.  

Sadly the truth is that hell is much more occupied than heaven.  It's probably something like 300 to 1, or maybe even higher, like 1,000 to 1.  It's an exceedingly crippling realization.  It reminds me of the moment in the Matrix movie when the main character Neo awoke in a pod, and he realized the entire human race was enslaved by machines.  Most people are so deceived they will never come to Christ.  And we have to wrestle with that reality.  It's no wonder that in the movie Neo decried this reality saying, "No, I don't believe it.  It's not possible!" 

I have a very hard time looking upon the reality of hell.  In fact I have struggled with the Lord in prayer, and in devotions and in Bible reading on this topic.  Because there is no escape from hell.  Once someone is there, they can never escape.  

In hell, they will experience torment by fire, by worms, and by memories of the sins they committed (Mark 9:48, Luke 16:25).  The person is conscious. They have their senses.  They experience the passage of time, and they are aware that they will be there forever.  They suffer every moment, and at this very moment people are there, burning and being tormented.  Could there be anything more horrible, terrifying, and soul shaking as this? I can't even handle the thought of it. 

Hell is a terrible fate for any human to fall upon.  But we each are aware of the offer of Christ, and we each have our decision to make: Will we choose God or choose sin?  It's a simple decision.  And the consequences of that decision are far reaching.  

We all struggle with the evil of our world.  We struggle with things that take place, like human trafficking, where children are bought and sold on a black market, repeatedly raped until they die, by the millions.  We ache for those who die in terrorist attacks like 9/11 and daily attacks that take place in Europe and the middle east.  We ache for those men and women who are physically and psychologically abused. We sit in amazement at what men like Hitler and Stalin could do, a single person, ordering the slaughter millions.  God's solution for the threat that even a single sinner is to the order of the universe is permanent quarantine. 

So we should be grateful that God will bring all things into judgment.  He is just to do so.  

John 3:16-18 (ESV) says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God."

God has offered us the free gift of his Son, if we will only repent of our sins and believe in Jesus Christ.  We can either choose to receive Christ, or we can choose to reject Christ and stay in our sins.  We each have to make that choice.  And we can all choose freely.  But we won't be free from the consequences of those decisions.  

There are people who have claimed to have been given visions of hell from God.  Prominently, Mary K. Baxter and Bill Wiese. (Click the name to view a You Tube video presentation by them). I'd invite you to view their testimonies, and test them against the scriptures to see if those prophecies are true. If you find the accounts wanting, trust the scriptures, if you find the accounts in line with the scriptures, consider their words.  And remember, do not despise prophecies, but test them according to the word of God (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22).

I've included a list of scriptures that mention hell.  Please read them carefully, and consider where you want to be for eternity.  

I don't think any of us in our human form can truly understand why the punishment of hell is so severe and completely endless.  It seems so terrible and extreme.  But none of us can truly appreciate the impact that sin has had on us and our world.  We suffer many of the consequences though, don't we?  We should consider the problem of evil in the world when we consider hell.  

And I believe the final end for the situation of hell, and how it makes us feel, is to dare to trust God when we don't understand something.  Trust in God.  Trust in His love and justice.  Trust and obey, and save the questions for later.  We'll be face to face with God one day. If we still have questions on that day, I'm sure Jesus will listen and share His thoughts with us.  But first, let's make it into heaven, by trusting in Christ and repenting of all sin.  

Matthew 5:22 ESV But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.

Matthew 13:50 ESV And throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 25:41 ESV “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.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might

Jude 1:7 ESV Just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.

2 Peter 2:4 ESV For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment

Mark 9:48 ESV /‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’

Luke 16:19-31 ESV “There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man's table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores. The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side. ...

Matthew 23:33 ESV You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?

Daniel 12:2 ESV And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.

Luke 12:5 ESV / But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!

Matthew 3:12 ESV His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”

Luke 16:23 ESV And in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.

John 3:36 ESV Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.

Psalm 145:20 ESV The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

Hebrews 10:26-31 ESV For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” ...

Hebrews 9:27 ESV And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment

Acts 2:31 ESVHe foresaw and spoke about the resurrection of the Christ, that he was not abandoned to Hades, nor did his flesh see corruption.

Matthew 18:8 ESV 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.

Matthew 13:41-42 ESV The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Matthew 7:13 ESV “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many."

Psalm 16:10 ESV For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.

Revelation 14:11 ESV And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”

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