Is Hell Forever?

Is Hell Forever? Perhaps an even more relevant question is whether there really is a hell?

According to a 2003 survey by Barna research,

76% of Americans believe Heaven exists,

71% of Americans believe Hell exists, but only .005 believe that they will be sent there. So, while many people believe that hell is a real place, almost no one expects to go there.

(“The Atlantic Monthly,” January 2004, 46). This confirms what most of us have experienced. Have you ever been to a funeral where the preacher or the family talked about their loved one being in hell? I’ve been to many funerals, some of people who died due to drug overdoses, or people who led very wicked and sinful lives. No matter how notorious the person, the loved ones always say, “he’s in a better place.”

It is difficult to talk about the reality of hell because we all have unsaved friends and loved ones who have died without professing that they knew the Lord. But when thinking about eternity, we must remember that we do not control people’s destiny. While it brings us great comfort when we know that a person has professed Christ as their Savior, ultimately their destiny is between them and the Lord. By the same token, we don’t know whether or not someone whom we think is not a Christian might have put their faith in Christ just before death. I illustrate this with a man whom I know that was lost at sea and realized that he would likely die. When this realization hit him, the first thing that he did was give his heart to Christ. Fortunately, he was rescued and lived to tell his story, which serves almost as a “back from the dead” story. I wonder how many others who heard the gospel put their trust in Christ when they sense the oncoming dread of death. We will only know this when we are with the Lord. At that time we will trust him completely for his mercy and grace.

No one would want another person to spend eternity in hell, not even their worst enemy.

All Christians, regardless of their theological view on hell, wish that it were possible for everyone to go to heaven. CS Lewis expressed it this way: “It is proper to wish that all will be saved. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully, ‘all will be saved’” (CS Lewis, as quoted by J. I. Packer in Hell on Fire, 174).

But then we come to passages like Revelation 20:11-15

Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 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 the beast was captured, and with it the false prophet who in its presence had done the signs by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped its image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.(Revelation 19:20, ESV)

This, and many other passages reveal that hell is real, and that it’s condition is one of eternal, conscious suffering.

The idea of ETERNAL CONSCIOUS SUFFERING is difficult to comprehend, especially in our day of post-modern thinking, inclusiveness, tolerance and acceptance of “anything goes.”

SOME seek a theological way out. The two most prominent views that provide a seeming “way out” of the biblical teaching on hell are:

UNIVERSALISM, espoused by Rob Bell, Joel Osteen, and others. This view teaches that in the end, everyone will be given a chance and will choose to be saved and will spend eternity in heaven.

The second view is ANNIHILATION, which teaches that sinners will be judged byt the Lord and then their existence will end. They believe that mortals do not possess an eternal soul at birth, and that only those who become Christians will live forever. Clark Pinnock and John Stott are two prominent theologians promoting this view.

Both strain to find biblical evidence to support their view.

Their arguments sound a lot like Matthew Vines who tries to say that the Bible does not condemn homosexuality, because he doesn’t agree with what the Bible says.

The Bible is clear. Hell is real and it is eternal.

But Bible believing Christians are not much better. We don’t DENY hell, we just don’t talk about it. We have become embarrassed in our intolerant culture.

This sermon is especially important for those born after 1985. You are part of either “Generation X” or the “Millennial Generation.” You have been CONDITIONED to reject all claims of absolute Truth, and anything that sounds judgmental. For you, the doctrine of hell is especially difficult to accept. I want to explain this doctrine so that you understand the Biblical view, and the reason why UNDERSTANDING the coming judgment is necessary, loving and vital to your eternal happiness.

Why Are We Bothered by Hell? (5 reasons)

1. Because of our compassion for fellow human beings. We have a sense of JUSTICE, but cannot see the need for ETERNAL judgment.

2. Because the idea of eternal conscious suffering seems to some to be unworthy of God’s character of love and mercy.

Some say, “A loving God would not punish people forever”. Tim Keller provides one such objection from a young man who approached him after he preached a sermon and spoke about hell. The man told pastor Keller, “You’ve said that if we do not believe in Christ, we are lost and condemned. I’m sorry, I just cannot buy that. I work with some fine people who are Muslim, Jewish or agnostic. I cannot believe they are going to hell just because they don’t believe in Jesus. In fact, I cannot reconcile the very idea of hell with a loving God-even if he is holy, too.” (Tim Keller, “Preaching Hell in a Tolerant Age”)

Others say that “Heaven would not be heaven if there are people suffering in hell.”

These are real objections. However, they look at only one aspect of God’s character, his love. But we are MORTALS who do not have God’s perspective.

3. A third reason that Christians are changing their view on hell is that they are affected by MULTI-CULTURALISM. We are surrounded by people of different faiths. They are NICE PEOPLE with different religious views. We are conditioned by our tolerant culture to believe that they everyone’s views are equally true and that it is the epitome of intolerance to believe that your view is the only one that is true. On this points, universalists (including most Roman Catholics) believe it is arrogant to say “Jesus is the only way.” They believe that in the end, God will save everyone through the cross. But this is an even greater degree of arrogance because it makes everyone a “post-mortem Christian!” Whether they want to or not, everyone will be a Christian in the end.

4. One reason that Christians are embarrassed about the doctrine of hell is that many are theologically ignorant of the doctrines of God’s Character and the doctrines of salvation. These doctrines, when properly and completely understood, reinforce the clear teaching of Scripture on the nature of God’s justice and the final judgment.

5. Finally, Christians are embarrassed under the attacks and accusations of Liberal Christians and Atheists, who accuse us of being haters. I remember watching Larry King interview Joel Osteen.  In typical fashion, King asked Osteen whether or not he believed that only Christians would go to heaven and the rest of people would go to hell. Osteen squrimed – you could visibly see his discomfort with the question. He didn’t want to appear out of step with culture. Ultimately, instead of giving a clear presentation of the gospel to a national audience, Osteen wiggled his way out of answering King’s question and basically sand that everyone is nice and that it wasn’t up to him to suggest that anyone might go to hell. While this might appeal to a pagan audience and increase your chances of getting invited to the best Hollywood parties, it is a dishonest and unloving statement because it denies the truth of God’s Word and the warning that should be given to those who don’t know God.

Those are some of the reasons that Christians have tried to CHANGE what the Bible says, or IGNORE what the Bible says. But what does the Bible have to say?

Biblical Teaching on Hell

In the Old Testament

There is limited doctrinal information. The OT word Sheol has an emphasis on the permanence of death.

Some descriptions of Sheol

JOB 10:21-22 “land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of gloom like thick darkness, like deep shadow without any order, where light is as thick darkness.”

ISAIAH 34:9–10 “And the streams of Edom shall be turned into pitch, and her soil into sulfur; her land shall become burning pitch. Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever. From generation to generation it shall lie waste; none shall pass through it forever and ever” (quoted in Revelation 14:10)

Isaiah 66:15-16,“For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched.”

This valley mentioned in Isaiah 66 is the valley of Hinom, where JUDAH made CHILD SACRIFICES to Molech (2 Kings 23:10; Jeremiah 7:30-34)

Note that this is the final chapter in Isaiah

It presents the coming of the Messiah

Isaiah 66:10-14 contain BLESSINGS promised to Israel

66:15-16 contains JUDGMENT on God’s enemies

This passage is QUOTED by Jesus in Mark 9:47-48 “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ” ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’

Perhaps the clearest OT verse is found in DANIEL 12:2 “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.

This verse emphasizes a physical resurrection for both the righteous and the wicked. It also teaches that there is either eternal reward or eternal judgment that will come following that resurrection.

While these OT passages are limited in their explanations, they fit completely with the further revelation given in the NT and many of the OT references to death and the final judgment are quoted in the NT.

SUMMARY

The dead love on in Sheol

Sheol is a place of suffering

The judgment is eternal

What did JESUS teach about hell?

Jesus taught that hell is a place of FIRE. Matt 5:22. “and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.“(Gehenna, valley of Hinom, where refuse was burned)

(Mat 5:29-30) “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell.”

Physical hell (Matthew 10:28) “And 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.

Jesus taught that hell is a place of JUDGMENT (Mat 25:33)“He will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left.

Jesus taught that hell is ETERNAL FIRE, ETERNAL PUNISHMENT (Matthew 25:41–46) “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. …….And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus taught that those who do not receive him will fall under that Wrath of God. John 3:36 “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.

What did PAUL teach about hell? Like Jesus, he taught that hell was a place of fire, where those who do not know God will experience eternal judgment.

2 Thess 1:5-10 “This is evidence of the righteous judgment of God, that you may be considered worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are also suffering— since indeed God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.

Every New Testament author speaks about the reality of hell.

Hell is real

Hell is eternal

The question that many struggle with is this: Can a God of Love Send People to Hell? There are 4 answers that help us understand this

1. God’s LOVE and JUSTICE cannot be separated.

As humans, we can show love, mercy and forgiveness,

But none of us are holy like God is holy

We minimize the extent of our sin

2. Hell does not CREATE a moral problem (a loving God is cruel). Hell SOLVES a moral problem (human rebellion will finally be judged). Christopher Morgan: “The moral dilemma is not “how could God eternally punish the wicked,” but how could God allow the wicked to continue and seemingly even prosper. (Christopher Morgan, Hell Under Fire, 208)

3. We can only think about hell on a human level. One person sinning against another. But God is not another person.

The offended party DOES matter in determining the appropriateness of the punishment.

Illustration: Killing your CAT vs. killing your DAUGHTER.

Our Difficulty:

We desire ETERNAL PHYSICAL JOY in heaven, but the same words are used to describe hell.

We look at justice from a HUMAN perspective, and not God’s perspective.

We focus exclusively on MERCY and ignore JUSTICE

An ETERNAL HELL is the only suitable reminder that God has TRIUMPHED over sin and that it will NEVER BE ALLOWED to FLOURISH AGAIN.

What Should the Reality of Hell Do for US?

1. Praise for Christ – the Sacrifice of atonement. He bore our sin!…

2. Deter us from future sin. Romans 6, “Shall we continue in sin so that grace might increase?”

3. See the sinfulness of sin. “It seems that we humans will always tend to underestimate the sinfulness of sin. We will have a propensity to view our sin as an accident, blunder or mistake. But unless sin is viewed in light of God’s holiness … it will never be seen as evil, wicked, hateful, and worthy of damnation as it really is. We offenders will fail to measure it aright. Only the offended God knows the full extent of its awfulness.” (Christopher Morgan, Hell on Fire, 210).

4. Comfort us as believers regarding the existence and extent of evil in this world. It will be judged. This reality was a comfort to persecuted Christians, not in the sense of revenge, but in the sense that God’s justice would prevail. God will not be mocked. (1 Thess 1:5-10; 2 Peter 2; Revelation 6:10)

5. EVANGELISM! Snatch people out of the fire. (Jude 23)

6. MISSIONS! (Romans 10:14)

I started out by saying, I would prefer that there was no hell.

But hell exists because

God is HOLY,

God is JUST,

God is SOVEREIGN,

His PLAN is perfect and complete.

God says it this way, “I would prefer that no one perish in hell.”

The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9, NIV84)

Have you repented of your sin?