H. E. L. L. (Mark 9:43-48)
H. E. L. L.
It was in the early summer of 2017, at a low-profile confirmation hearing on Capitol Hill, there was a confirmation meeting for the deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget, Russell Vought, when Senator Bernie Sanders asked Mr. Vought, “Do you think that people who are not Christian are condemned?”
How is it that, in the United States of America where religion is not supposed to be a test for public office based on the First Amendment as well as 200 years of other laws and practices, that the question of hell comes up in a confirmation hearing?
Well, it stems from a situation that happened over in Chicago back in 2015 when a tenured professor at Wheaton College said that Muslims and Christians worship the same God. Wheaton College is a conservative Protestant university and even though the professor was tenured, her employment was terminated. Mr. Vought is an alumnus of Wheaton College and wrote a blog expressing support for Wheaton College’s actions.
This morning, I am not so interested in Bernie Sanders’ right to ask the question or Wheaton College’s right to hire who they want. What I want to study this morning is: Is there a hell? What does the Bible teach about hell?
A Pew Research Center study found back in 2014, out of 35,000 Americans, that 58% believe in hell; 34% do not; 8% don’t know. What is perhaps more striking is that among people who profess to be followers of Jesus, only 48% of them and 56% of so-called evangelicals, which is the new word for conservative Protestants, believe Christianity is the only path to eternal life.
LifeWay Research is another polling organization with ties, I believe to the Baptist religion, found that 40% of Americans believe those who do not accept Jesus are bound for hell.
Back to the Pew Research, among those who say many religions lead to eternal life, Catholics are at 79%. “Evangelical” Protestants are at 52%. “Mainline” (more liberal) Protestants are at 80%. Jews - 79%. Muslims - 65%. Buddhist - 83%. Hindu - 96%. You can see that it is very popular to believe that Jesus is not the only way into heaven. Many people who claim to be followers of Jesus have actually changed their view of hell, to make it fit the views of their non-Christian neighbors.
I’m not here this morning to critique the views of Protestants or Catholics, Muslims, Jews, Buddhists, or Hindus. They are wrong on a lot of things.
What we want to know is: What did Jesus say about hell? Because, as you may very well be aware, the “word” hell is found in the Bible almost exclusively in the mouth of Jesus Christ! He’s not the only one in the NT who speaks about hell, as we will see, but out of the 13 times the English word is found in the NT (it’s not found in the OT at all), Jesus uses the word 11 times (which is gehenna). Jesus’ brother, James uses the word once (3:6) and the apostle Peter uses a synonym as a verb in 2 Peter 2:4 (tartarus, used only here). We will consider the biblical teaching of hell under these four points, which will make it easy for you to remember what hell is:
H - ot
E - eternal
L - oveless
Hell is hot. Let us look at the very first use of the word “hell” in the mouth of Jesus, in the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:22: “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Notice the use of the word “fiery” hell.
Jesus warns us to be careful what might make us stumble and lose our relationship with God. In Matthew 18:9, He says, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”
In fact, out of the 73 times the word “fire” is used in the NT, at least 30 of those occasions are referring to the fires of hell. The last book of the Bible, Revelation, uses the expression “lake of fire,” five times: 19:20; 20:10, 14-15; 21:8.
Why would God chose to picture hell as a lake of fire? Why use fire so frequently - the most frequent description of hell is “fire” - why?
It is because hell represents unbearable pain. In Matthew 8:12, Jesus anticipates the Jews who reject Him as their Savior will be “cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” That is the picture of unbearable pain.
In Matthew 13:41-42, Jesus says those who do things without His authority will be thrown into the “furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Weeping. Gnashing teeth. Why? Because in this metaphor, hell is a “furnace” of fire. Several times when Jesus uses the expression “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” He says it will happen in “outer darkness” (Matt. 22:13; 25:30). “Black darkness” is reserved for those who do not follow Jesus Christ (2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13).
I want us to grasp the significance of Jesus’ statement in Matthew 18:34-35. This is the context of someone refusing to forgive others: “his lord, moved with anger, handed him over to the torturers until he should repay all that was owed him. “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart.” I want you to notice that word “torturers.” It is only used here in the NT. But then notice in verse 35: “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you…” That is, to “torture.” Hell is hot. Hell is torture.
In the story of the rich man and Lazarus, Jesus said that the rich man died and “in hades, he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:23). The word “torment” here is plural: torments. He was experiencing more than one form of pain. In verse 28, the rich man again refers to that part of the unseen world as a “place of torment.” This Greek word is only found one other time, in Matt. 4:24, where it is translated “pain.”
Now, I find it strange that someone will say, “We will not have physical bodies in the afterlife, therefore there can’t be any pain.” That is a stupid, ignorant statement. We experience more than just physical pain even now, don’t we? Isn’t there such a thing as emotional pain, psychological pain? It is ignorant to suggest that God cannot inflict pain on our spiritual bodies. Especially when the Bible, Jesus, clearly teaches us this.
Before we go further in our study, let me make two comments. Here in the case of the rich man, we see that he was in “hades” as he experienced these torments. “Hades” is a transliteration of the Greek word, hades. It literally means the “dwelling place of the dead.” It is used 10 times in the NT; it is equivalent to the Hebrew word “Sheol.” It refers to the unseen world where all spirits go when they die. Obviously the place where the rich man went was torture. There is a part of hades that is not pleasant.
However, there is also a part of hades that is pleasant and that’s where Jesus’ spirit went when Jesus died on Friday and His body was buried. Quoting from Psalm 16:8-11, Peter says that Jesus’ soul was not left in “hades” (Acts 2:27, 31) The word used in Psalms 16 is “sheol.” When Jesus hung on the cross, He referred to this part of hades as “paradise” - Luke 23:43.
The second point I want to make is this, and I’ll come back to it in just a moment. People reject the idea of hell because they cannot fathom a God who will torture people forever. The problem with that is this: If God’s word teaches that God tortures people in hell forever, and you can’t accept that, then the problem is yours, not God’s. If you create, in your mind, a “God” who does not torture people in hell, then you are guilty of idolatry - worshipping a “God” after your own image, not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible does torture people in hell. I’ll come back to the “why” in just a moment…
If people don’t reject the idea of a hell in the light of God’s love, then they often reject the idea that hell is eternal. We even have some preachers in the church of Christ who have decided that they can’t worship a God who punishes eternally, so they engage in all sorts of mental gymnastics to redefine what the Bible teaches and they turn hell into simply “annihilation.” That is, they say, “Yes, hell is hot. But it’s not eternal. You burn for a period of time and then you burn up.”
The problem with that is that it just isn’t true. We have looked at Matthew 18:9; let’s back up and read verse 8: “If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.” “Eternal” means without end. Now, some may be able to find some texts where the Greek word means “indefinite” (like Rom. 16:25; Titus 1:2), which is what people want it to mean if they want to reject the idea that hell is eternal.
But, let me show you something… The word “eternal” is used 70 times in the NT. Matthew 18:8 is the first time it is used. Notice just a few other times it is used:
“Life” is eternal who obey God’s commandments: Matt. 19:16, 29; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 18:8, 30; John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2-3; Acts 13:46, 48; Rom. 2:7; 5:21; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Tim. 6:12; Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20; Jude 21
“Fire” is eternal: Matt. 25:41; Jude 7
Punishment is “eternal” as long as life is “eternal:” Matt. 25:46
There is an “eternal” sin: Mark 3:29
Heaven is eternal “dwellings:” Luke 16:9
God is “eternal:” Rom. 16:26
An “eternal” weight of glory waits us - 2 Cor. 4:17
Things unseen are “eternal” - 2 Cor. 4:18
We have an “eternal” house - 2 Cor. 5:1
There is an “eternal destruction” - 2 Thess. 1:9 (We’ll come back to this passage in a moment.)
We wait an “eternal” comfort - 2 Thess. 2:16
Christ has an “eternal” dominion - 1 Tim. 6:16
God’s grace is eternal - 2 Tim. 1:9
We wait eternal “glory” - 2 Tim. 2:10; 1 Peter 5:10
In Christ, we can have “eternal” relationships with one another - Philemon 15
We experience an eternal “salvation” - Heb. 5:9
There is an eternal “judgment” - Heb. 6:2
An eternal “redemption” - Heb. 9:12
The Spirit is “eternal” - Heb. 9:14
We wait an eternal “inheritance” - Heb. 9:15
The “covenant” is eternal - Heb. 13:20
There is an eternal “kingdom” - 2 Pet. 1:11
The “gospel” is eternal - Rev. 14:6
What all of this shows us is that the same word used to describe the nature of God, the Holy Spirit, and all those blessings that we anticipate in heaven (“eternal”), is the same word used to describe the furnace, the lake, the torments that exist in hell. It is eternal.
One other point to make before we go on: In our text, we see that this fire is “unquenchable.” It cannot be put out. That word (which is transliterated into English as “asbestos”) describes hell in Matt. 3:12; Luke 3:17; Mark 9:44, 46, 48.
Those who do not believe in hell because they understand God is love, which He is (1 John 4:8), do not have a correct view of love. Love and hate are two sides of the same coin. If I love something, I hate anything that negatively impacts that object. Rachel is the supreme object of my love here on earth and I hate anything and anyone who would rob Rachel, physically, emotionally, spiritually, of joy and happiness. If you love something, you hate whatever negatively impacts that object of your love.
When I was a student in college, I had a professor who made this comment. He said, “Hell exists because of the love of God.” All of us students, I’m sure, thought, “What on earth is he talking about?” He continued: “The love of God is pure. Perfect. Complete. Holy. Righteous. If you turn your back on that, what’s the opposite? What is the opposite of purity? Perfection? Completion? Holiness? Righteousness? The opposite is: Impurity. Imperfection. Incompleteness. Unholiness. Unrighteousness. What is the opposite of love? Hate.
Hell is the object of God’s pure hatred. Because hell epitomizes sin - the very behavior that repels people, humanity, from God’s presence. God hates sin. God feels indignation every day against sin and those who persist in sin (Psa. 7:11).
Jesus and the NT writers are consistent that there is wrath from God coming, coming against sin and all those who refuse to let Jesus remove that sin: Matt. 3:7; Luke 3:7; John 3:36; Rom. 2:5; 3:5; Rom. 5:9; 9:22; Eph. 5:6; Col. 3:6; 1 Thess. 1:10; 1 Thess. 5:9; Rev. 6:16-17.
So, God loves humanity, but He hates sin because God’s holiness repels sin and those who have not had sin forgiven. Isaiah (59:1-2) pictures sin as a wall, a barrier that separates man from God. So God’s wrath is coming against sin and against all those who are allowing sin to separate them from God.
Hell, then, is the place of God’s wrath. It is a place completely void of God’s love. Man has never not known the love of God. When God created Adam and Eve, His love has been with mankind ever since. But, there is no good in hell. There is no love of God in hell. It is loveless. It is the place which will receive the wrath of God throughout all eternity.
I have already shown you the passages that teach that eternal life is in heaven with God after this world is finished:
Matt. 19:16, 29; Mark 10:17, 30; Luke 10:25; 18:8, 30; John 3:15-16, 36; 4:14, 36; 5:24, 39; 6:27, 40, 47, 54, 68; 10:28; 12:25, 50; 17:2-3; Acts 13:46, 48; Rom. 2:7; 5:21; Gal. 6:8; 1 Tim. 1:16; 1 Tim. 6:12; Titus 1:2; Titus 3:7; 1 John 1:2; 2:25; 3:15; 5:11, 13, 20; Jude 21
If “life” is in heaven with God, then the opposite of that is lifelessness, which is in hell. Hell is lifeless. What I mean by that is that hell is devoid of all that is good, all that we enjoy in life. There will be husbands and wives in hell together, but there will be nothing to enjoy about it. “Life” is with God. Eternal death is in hell. “Death” means “separation” in the Bible. Hell is “separation” from all that is enjoyable, good, and happy.
Let’s go back to 2 Thess 1:6-10 and pay close attention to what Paul writes there:
“For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to give relief to you who are afflicted and to us as well when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes to be glorified in His saints on that day, and to be marveled at among all who have believed—for our testimony to you was believed.”
“Eternal destruction” is the phrase I want to focus on in this point. Those who believe that hell is annihilation want to focus on that word “destruction.” They want to argue that hell “destroys” people and, therefore, hell is annihilation.
But, we have already seen that hell is eternal; it lasts as long as our “eternal reward” lasts - forever. But “destroy” does not always mean “wipe out of existence.” If I have a nice white dress shirt and I get spaghetti sauce on it, I might say, “I have destroyed my shirt!” I don’t mean I have caused it to cease to exist, but that I have ruined its usefulness. If a man is addicted to gambling and loses his house and his car, maybe even his wife and children and he has to sleep under a bridge, he might lament, “I have destroyed my life!” He doesn’t mean that he has ceased to exist. He means he has ruined his own usefulness to his family and himself.
That is the essence of hell. It is “lifeless.” There is no more service to God in hell. There is no more good in hell. There are no more opportunities to do good in hell. There is no more purpose in hell. It is destruction. Hope, purpose, good - they are all ruined when someone ends in hell.
Who can avoid being thrown into this lake of hot, eternal, loveless, and lifeless fire? In Revelation 20:15, Jesus tells John: “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Yes, God will “cast” people into hell (Luke 12:5). It will be with tears in His eyes and pain in His heart, but His nature will compel Him to do that very thing. Every single person on earth is accountable before God. Every single human being has had and will have the opportunity to examine the evidence and come to faith in Jehovah God. At that point, Paul writes in 2 Thess. 1:7-9 that they are obligated to believe in God and obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
Obedience leads to salvation. The commands that are a part of “obeying the gospel” are:
Hearing the Gospel of Christ
Believing the Gospel of Christ
Repenting from our sins
Confessing our faith in Christ
Being immersed into water for the forgiveness of our sins
Take home message: Jesus came to save us from the eternal, painful consequences of our selfish choices. He offers us life and love. Let’s follow Him.