Friday, March 25, 2011


Three common errors about Hell

In a church like ours, there are three common errors about Hell.

1. People like us tend to think there is no Hell.

2. People like us tend to think if there is a Hell,

nobody goes there (universalism).

3. People like us tend to think if there is a Hell and some people go there,

it’s probably not that bad (annihilationism).

I’d like to deal with each of these three issues in turn, examining the biblical teaching on Hell.

The first error

First, let’s talk about the fact that Hell does, in fact, exist according not only to our Scriptures (in general), but to the teachings of Jesus (specifically). This, by the way, blew my mind. I didn’t know that Jesus talked about Hell more than anybody else. Half of Jesus’ parables have to do with Hell. Thirteen percent of Jesus’ teachings are specifically about Hell. With the exception of money, Jesus talks more about Hell than any other topic.

Let’s begin in Matthew 13:41-43 with Jesus’ teachings concerning the final judgment and Hell:

The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His Kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine forth as the sun in the Kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear!

This makes it pretty clear: we cannot deny that the Bible refers to a Hell. We cannot deny the fact that Jesus preached about the final judgment and that there would be those who to Hell.

So much for error number one.

The second error

The second major error for people like us is we think nobody goes there. We think eventually everybody ends up singing ”kum ba ya” in heaven, BYO harp and halo.

But, Jesus speaks of a coming judgment, a dividing time that will precede the full manifestation of his Kingdom.

That means:

Before God recreates the world,

Before things are here as God wants them,

Before God’s presence saturates us,

Before we ever get to be with him in the realm called heaven,

there will be a judgment,

a dividing, an adjudication.

At this judgment people will be separated into two groups

sons of the Kingdom and sons of the evil one (Mt 13.38)

wise and foolish (Mt 7.24-27)

sheep and goats (Mt 25.31-46)

those who enter life and those thrown in Hell (Mk 9.42-48)

The judgment will be based on works (Mt 7.21-23, 12.36-37, 25.31-46), but the outcome will be based on relationship (Lk 12.8-9). Everyone will be judged (Heb 4.13, 13.17, 1Peter 4.5-6). Christians are not exempt from the final judgment precisely because its purpose is to show, by the evidence of people's deeds, whether or not they are in relationship to Christ (cf Gal 5.19-21, 1 Cor 6.9-10, Eph 5.5). For those without Christ, their works - however insufficient - will be the criterion upon which they are judged and condemned.

Those who sow the wind shall reap the whirlwind

Hosea 8.7

Sometimes people will say, “Yes, we’re all sinners but God throws our sins into the Sea of Forgetfulness.” Actually, that’s not in the Bible. That’s a lyric from a hymn—a good lyric, a nice bit of imagination, but not biblical theology. In the Bible, it’s clear that we are appraised by the way we live.

But the outcome, again, is based on grace. It’s based on our relationship with Jesus. As I’m fond of saying, “It’s not what you know, it’s who you know.” You pick Team Jesus, you give your life to Jesus, you do everything you can to make Jesus proud, and you’re good. But you’d better give your life to Jesus, do everything you can to make him proud and make sure the way you live lines up with what you say you believe, because there’s going to be that awful moment in TiVo heaven.

The sad truth, my friends, is that there is a Hell and not everybody escapes it. The only way to escape it is not by being moral. Behavior is only the evidence that you are connected to the author of life, Jesus Christ.

The third error

The third common error that people like us make is that we think if there is a Hell and somebody goes there, it’s probably not that bad.

I wish that were true. However, I’ve been wide-eyed over the last month while studying Hell because of how specific the Scriptures are about how bad Hell is.

Those in Hell will suffer intense and excruciating pain:

i. This will be both emotional and spiritual (John 5.28-29)

ii. Hell is a fate far worse than being thrown into the sea (Mark 9.42)

iii. Worse than being maimed (Mt 5.29-30)

iv. This suffering never ends (Mt 25.31)

v. Those in Hell will be thrown into a lake of fire (Mt 3.12)

vi. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Mt 8.12, 13.42)

vii. The suffering is proportional to the wickedness of someone's deeds while alive (Romans 5.2-8)

While it’s popular to acknowledge that the way the Bible talks about Hell is often by employing metaphors, that doesn’t mean it’s not going be bad. The very fact that the biblical writers talk about it as a place of:






Being cut off,

Where you’re being eaten by worms for eternity,

doesn’t make it less bad just because those are metaphors. The fact they use so many metaphors and they are so explicit and terrifying ought to make us say, “These people don’t have good language for how bad Hell really is.”

Let’s read from Luke 16:19-31. This is really a peculiar piece of the Bible where Jesus tells a story about a man in Hell:

There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores.

The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, 'Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’

But Abraham replied, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

He answered, 'Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'

Abraham replied, 'They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.'

'No, father Abraham,' he said, 'but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.'

He said to him, 'If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'

I’m reading this puzzling piece of Scripture primarily just to show that the rich guy doesn’t want to be where he is. He’s tormented, he’s in agony. He’s not only in physical agony, he’s in emotional agony for two reasons. The first is personal. He says, “Look at what I did with the rest of my life. Look at how I treated Lazarus. Look at the mistakes I’ve made. Look at all the different things I could have done with my wealth, with my life, with my influence.” He’s in emotional torment as the full realization of the way he lived—the fraudulence, corruption, and selfishness—comes crashing down on him.

But the second reason for his emotional agony is about his loved ones. He says, “I’ve got five brothers and you’ve got to go tell them.”

What does Abraham say?


He says, “Why not.”

“They’ve got everything they need.”

“Hey, but they’re not paying attention to it.”

“Well, they’re not going to listen to me or Lazarus or Jesus. They’re just not going to listen.”

Are you hearing this? People like us think there is no Hell, and if there is, no one goes there, or if they go there, it’s not so bad.

The truth is there is a Hell, some folks are going to end up there, and it’s bad.

The point?

Make sure you don’t go there.

We have to come to terms with the fact that our few years on this earth are not all the years there will be. This life isn’t the only thing that matters. Something endures.

At the same time, we must keep from falling in love with death and judgment, as some other Christians have done. We’ve got to keep ourselves from fantasizing about who goes to Hell and whether or not we get to be part of sending them there.

What I’m really hoping for in my own Spirit and for our church is that we go home, fall on our knees, and say, “Oh, Jesus, forgive me for not taking you seriously enough, for not taking my life seriously enough, for not thanking you enough for your gracious and atoning sacrifice. You don’t want me to go to Hell so much you were willing to die to keep me out of it. You threw yourself in front of the bus for me. Please forgive me for not acknowledging that.”

We’ve got to keep ourselves from falling in love with the sadism of final judgment. Instead, while not dismissing it, we need to focus our efforts and our spirits on thanking God for the grace he has extended to us.

One final thing, and I want to make this real clear: We need to remember that God doesn’t want anybody to go to Hell. According to 2 Peter 3:9, “He’s not willing that any should perish.” Again, Jesus gave up his own life to keep people from experiencing death, the second death, judgment, isolation, and fire. God is not the punisher—he revealed himself to us, instead, as the self-sacrificing hero Jesus Christ so we should have an appropriate sense of gratitude to him for saving us from that.

So, what does this mean in real life? There are a couple of Scriptures that are often quoted at this point. They’re good Scriptures, justifiable Scriptures:

For God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him would not perish but have eternal life. For I did not come into the world to condemn it or to judge, but to save it.

John 3:16-17

What does this mean for you? Again, as I mentioned earlier, the way you get away from Hell—and not only the Hell that comes later on, but the all the Hell and the garbage and the crap that assails us and sticks to us in this life—is by embracing Jesus, by holding fast to him, by knowing and loving him, by holding the precious sacred heart of Jesus in your mind and in your will and in your spirit.

There’s a very famous Scripture in Romans 10:9 that coincides with and further develops John 3:16:

If you confess with your mouth, Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart

that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

What does that mean? “Confess with your mouth” means you need to speak about the fact that Jesus is Lord, not in some vague way, but that he’s Lord of your life.

Have you ever stopped to consider how often we say the word Jesus around Westwinds, instead of God or Lord? We’re specific about using the word Jesus. We’re specific about using the Father. We’re specific about using the Spirit. It’s because we want everyone to know specifically who is in charge. It’s King Jesus; Jesus: the Senior Pastor; Jesus: the Leader; Jesus: the President; it’s Jesus.

When you talk about religion or spiritual things, the afterlife or the invisible world, you’ve got to be sure you’re confessing that Jesus is in control of you. When you make decisions with your spouse about how you’re going to spend your money, you need to confess that Jesus has a place in the conversation. In fact, he has first place in that conversation. When you’re talking with your children about why you do the things you do and about why the things you do are important, you’d better confess that the reason they’re important is Jesus. It’s Jesus. It’s not like some little prayer you say. It’s like a river just coming out of you. That’s the confession that Jesus is Lord. He’s Lord over everything.

Why are we preaching about Hell today? It’s Jesus. He talked about it. He chastises us for neglecting it. It’s Jesus.

Isn’t that hilarious? Not just believe in your heart that he’s real, not just believe in your heart that there is a God, not just believe in your heart that Jesus is important somehow or even that Jesus is Lord, but believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, that the supernatural power of God Almighty, the Being above Whom there is no other, conquered death.

Jesus—more terrifying, more powerful, more astronomically magnificent than Hell or death. What do you believe? Believe the Author of life is alive and at work in you like He was alive and at work raising Jesus from the dead.

Confess and believe and you will be saved. What is the promise of salvation? Is it that you won’t go to Hell? Yes, that’s part of it. Is it that you get to go to heaven? Yes, that’s part of it too. But, let’s be crystal clear about what heaven is. The New Testament is explicit that heaven is not some blissful, wispy, ghostlike, spectral existence, but it’s the promise of God:

Healing the world,

Restoring everything that’s been broken,

Healing Jackson County,

Healing Michigan,

Putting our city back together again,

Putting you back together again.

Not just the promise of heaven, but the promise of the new heaven and the new earth and new bodies. In heaven everything wrong gets made right and things are then as God wants them to be, because he is completely in charge, completely present.

Salvation is the promise of heaven, the new heaven, which is this world remade and your body restored. Salvation isn’t just some future thing. We know from the Scriptures and from Christian history that that word salvation is better translated “wholeness” or “healing.”

You will be whole not just then, but now.

When you confess that Jesus is Lord to your children, something happens in your relationships and your family. When you confess that Jesus is Lord over home, something happens in your household, something happens in your job, something happens in your marriage, something happens in your heart: you are being saved, you are being healed.

When you believe God raised Jesus from the dead, you’re not just saved for later, you’re saved now because you know that no matter what problem you’re facing, no matter what difficulty you’re facing, you know that God is greater than whatever you’re facing. Salvation is a promise for later, but it’s also being realized now, right now, right this very moment.

To get to that point is the real value of talking about Hell. God offers you life and life more abundant. Take it now; take it right now.

Confess. Believe.

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