Jesus Warns Of Hell
Are We Faithfully Warning Of Hell?
Some time ago there was a devastating fire in the Home for Aged Widows and Single Women in Philadelphia. One of the members, who was ill at the time, had a room close to the origin of the fire. But she was fast asleep as the flames spread. Suddenly a fireman entered her room, unceremoniously lifted her in his strong arms, and carried her to safety. If there had been no fire, such an act would have been the height of audacity, to put it mildly. But since there was a fire, failure of the fireman to enter her room for fear of frightening her could have been the height of tragedy.
If there is no place like hell, then to alarm people with such an idea is wrong. But if there is actually a place like hell, then to keep silent and to fail to warn people about it is worse than neglect of duty. It is criminal! So let us go to the Word of God for our information; for here alone is our answer to what lies beyond the grave. Let us ask five questions.
Is There a Hell?
Let us examine the Old Testament first of all. From Genesis to Malachi, there is only one Hebrew word translated "hell." It is the word "Sheol." This word is used 65 times in the Old Testament.
In the American Standard Version, the Hebrew word "Sheol" is simply retained in the English translation. But in the King James Version it is used in several different ways. In 31 instances it is translated "hell." In 31 other passages it is translated "the grave" and in the remaining three it is called "the pit."
In general, however, the meaning of "Sheol" is simply the place of the dead, without any special reference to woe or happiness. For example, in Jonah 2:2 "Sheol" is translated "hell." Here the prophet, praying to God "out of the fish’s belly," exclaimed, "Out of the belly of hell cried I, and Thou heardest my voice." But Jonah very manifestly was not praying to God out of the regions of the damned, for he was still alive. He simply meant that he was in the very jaws of death.
Then again in Genesis 37:35 it is translated "the grave." Here Jacob said, "For I will go down into the grave unto my son mourning." He did not mean that he was going down into a place of happiness or a place of torment. He simply meant that his sorrow over his son would bring him to an untimely death. While this is true in general of the word "Sheol," such a thing as a place of punishment is also included; for in passages like Deuteronomy 32:22, Psalm 9:17 and Psalm 86:13, for example, the plain indication is that a place of suffering is meant.
But when a word like "Sheol" is thus used variously in Scripture, we can only say that its general meaning refers to the place of the departed, without being limited to any one specified interpretation.
In the New Testament the situation is different. Here there are three words translated "hell." There is first of all the Greek word "Tartarosas," used in 2 Peter 2:4. This is its only occurrence in the New Testament and it refers specifically to the lowest hell into which God cast the angels that sinned. This word, therefore, has no connection with us.
A second Greek word translated "hell" is the word "Hades." This is used eleven times and with the same freedom as the Hebrew "Sheol," referring in general to the place of the departed. In some instances, such as Matthew 11:23, when our Lord says that Capernaum shall "be brought down to hell," the context clearly indicates a place of woe for her sins.
In other instances a more liberal translation of "the grave" is used for "Hades." For example, in 1 Corinthians 15:55, at the close of the great resurrection chapter, Paul exclaims logically and triumphantly, "O grave (Hades), where is thy victory?" This word "Hades" therefore, like the Hebrew "Sheol," while it contains definitely the idea of the place of punishment, refers in general to the place of the departed.
If our authority for hell were limited to "Hades" and "Sheol," it would be sufficient in itself to warrant a firm conclusion as to its reality. But we are not so limited. There is a third Greek word about which there is no uncertainty. It is the word "Gehenna." This is used twelve times in the New Testament, all but one of which are the words of our Lord Himself. This word is limited strictly to a place of punishment for evil deeds.
Hear the Lord Jesus as He says in Luke 12:4-5, "I say unto you My friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea I say unto you, Fear Him."
Again in Matthew 23:33 He exclaims, in reference to the hypocritical rulers of the day, "Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell?"
"And if thine eye offend thee," He said at another time, "pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire" (Mark 9:47).
Here there is no doubt. Our Lord definitely warns us that beyond the grave there is a hell prepared and that certain people will spend their eternity in it. And who knows better than the Son of God, who was "in the beginning with God" (John 1:2), what are the issues involved in life and eternity! Apart from His word of authority all speculations about the future are idle guesswork.
So in answer to our first question, "Is there a hell?" we answer upon the authority of Jesus Christ, "Yes, there is a hell in the future life."
What Kind of Place Is Hell?
Here again we are not left in doubt. To be punished "with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power" (2 Thess. 1:9) is a dreadful penalty in itself. But hell is more than that.
In Luke 16:19-31 our Lord draws the veil from the future world and shows us the condition of the unsaved. It is not said that this story is a parable, for the usual words, "A parable spake He unto them saying…" are here omitted.
The story concerns a rich man who died and was buried. "And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments." In his agony he cried out to Abraham to send Lazarus that he might dip the tip of his finger in water and cool his tongue. "For," he said, "I am tormented in this flame."
Time and time again the Savior warns humanity about the dreadful hereafter of the impenitent, where there shall be weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; etc.) Repeatedly the ungodly are told about the horrors of that suffering that shall follow in the life to come, where their worm does not die and where the fire shall never be quenched (Isa. 66:24; Mark 9:43-46,48).
In Revelation 20 we are given a further insight into "Gehenna." After Satan’s last act of rebellion against God, he is "cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever" (v.10).
Then comes the Judgment Day of the Great White Throne, where the dead are judged "out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works" (v. 12). At the close of the chapter is the solemn and awful sentence: "Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire" (v.15).
Does this mean that we are literally to believe that hell is a place of actual fire and brimstone and horrible physical suffering? Our only answer is that God is speaking and He alone knows what is beyond the portals of death.
The Holy Spirit warns us solemnly about the wrath to come (1 Thess. 1:10; Rom. 5:9), and we are exhorted to flee from it (Matt. 3:7). When Jesus, therefore, warns us about hell, He uses language to express anguish and pain that are unspeakable.
When Does Hell Begin?
It begins at death for those who enter it. Both heaven and hell begin at death. The souls of the redeemed at their death do immediately pass into glory. This is an important fact to know. Scripture nowhere gives us the slightest hint of an intermediary place such as purgatory where souls are detained until they are ready for heaven. To the thief on the cross Jesus said, "Today shalt thou be with Me in paradise" (Luke 23:43).
In the hour of Stephen’s martyrdom he looked up "into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God." Then Stephen with his closing breath cried out, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit" (Acts 7:55, 59).
To the great apostle, being absent from the body meant being "present with the Lord" (2 Cor. 5:8). The atoning sacrifice of our Savior upon the Cross was so complete and so sufficient that all our sins are removed when we are justified; and death ushers us immediately into the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power.
But the same fact is also true of hell. Wherever our Lord speaks about hell, He refers to it as a present reality – and not as a future prospect! The rich man who lifted up his eyes in hell – did so at once. There was no interim of several millenniums until the body was restored in the second resurrection. The suffering of the rich man’s soul was intensely personal and conscious and immediate.
We are faced with the dreadful reality that for multitudes now living – hell may be only a matter of minutes! It is as near as death, for hell is a place, not a condition. Who can paint in words the horror of such an awful doom. And why do not men flee with all possible haste from such agonies that are unutterable?
How Long Will Hell Endure?
It never has an end. I wish I could say that hell will last but a few years and that I had Scripture to support this assertion. But there is no indication anywhere in God’s Holy Word that there is an end to the punishment, that there is a time for repentance after death with grace to accompany it. If there could be found the faintest suggestion anywhere, such a passage would be hailed by unbelievers the world over. But there is none.
In speaking of the impenitent and unsaved in the Olivet discourse, our Lord said that the fire prepared for the devil and his angels into which they shall be cast is "everlasting" (Matt. 25:41). They shall go into "everlasting punishment" (v. 46), while the righteous shall go into "life eternal." The damnation of hell is "eternal" (Mark 3:29). The final judgment is "eternal" (Heb. 6:2). The fire is "eternal" (Jude 7).
This Greek word for everlasting and eternal, "aionios," is used 71 times in the New Testament. I have examined each one of them. In no instance is it used of anything that has ever been known to have an end! Science or philosophy cannot change this solemn fact. The modern day in which we live may not like it and may object strenuously to it on one ground or another. But that cannot change the reality.
The Scriptures plainly declare that the punishment of the unredeemed in the life to come is unutterable and unending. The moral decisions of this present life are final and everlasting. The length of eternity may better be grasped by a simple illustration. Let us suppose that the sum of one million dollars has been put on interest for you and that you are to have the privilege of spending it. But a condition is attached. You are allowed to spend only one dollar each year. How long will it require to spend that sum?
By the time you have spent a thousand dollars, the total sum – a million dollars – has grown actually larger. Thus it is in eternity. On and on and on it extends, with never an end in sight! There is nothing to look forward to but unending punishment and eternal doom!
Why Do People Go to Hell?
Here is the most important of all the questions asked thus far. Since hell is such a terrible place, why do people go there? The answer is that people go to hell because they deliberately choose to do so!
In the picture of heaven that we have in the closing chapter of the Revelation, we are told in verse 15, "For without are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and whosoever loveth and maketh a lie."
All these are outside of heaven. And yet we must face the startling fact that inside heaven there are also those who have been guilty of all these sins and crimes! Heaven is filled with dogs, a Jewish derisive name for Gentiles. Did not David commit adultery with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite? Yet he is in heaven.
Did not Peter tell one of the greatest of all lies on the night of the betrayal when he affirmed that he did not know Jesus? Yet Peter is in heaven. The fact is you cannot name a sin apart from the sin of blaspheming the Holy Spirit that was not committed by someone who is now in heaven! We can go even further. You cannot name a single human now in heaven who was not a liar or an adulterer or an idolater or a sinner!
Why are they in heaven? They are in heaven because their names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. And why are their names written there, and why are they in white robes? They are written in heaven and are in white robes because they "have washed their robes, and made them white in the blood of the Lamb" (Rev. 7:14).
They have repented of their sins and have confessed Jesus as Savior and have been pardoned. That is why they are in white. Their sins were all washed away in the blood of Jesus, and they are justified freely by His grace. They passed from condemnation into life and now they reign with Christ.
And why do people go to hell? They go simply because they have refused to acknowledge their sins and have refused to accept the Lord Jesus Christ and His offer of mercy and forgiveness. That offer has been extended to all mankind. Regardless of race or color or age, Jesus says, "Him that cometh to Me I will in no wise cast out" (John 6:37).
But people love their sins more than they love the Savior. They wallow in their lusts and pleasures and worldliness. When the call of Christ comes for them to repent and turn from their evil ways, they refuse to give heed. They finally go into a Christless grave. In the Judgment Day when Christ sits upon the throne of His glory, He will say to them, "Depart from Me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matt. 25:41).
If any of you who are reading these words will someday lift up your eyes in hell, it is because you have deliberately chosen it so. It is still time for you to make another choice.
After revealing the glories of heaven, the Holy Spirit addresses Himself to every reader of the sacred Word. His very last invitation to you is, "Come. And let him that heareth say, Come…And whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). These words are addressed to you! It is God’s call to repentance and salvation. Will you heed them today?
From The Universal Challenger.