Hell; Everlasting Punishment

June 12, 2016 / No. 3832

Dear Radio Friends,
The subject of our message today is hell—everlasting punishment in hell.
I want to consider with you Matthew 25:41 and 46. This is in the middle of the account of the final judgment that Jesus gives where He speaks of the Son of man coming in His glory with the angels and sitting on the throne of His glory and all the nations appearing before Him for judgment and the separation of the sheep and the goats. We are interested in verse 41 and the first part of verse 46 that speak of the eternal destiny of the goats who are sent from His presence, who are on His left hand. Verse 41: “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” And then, verse 46: “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.”
How is a subject in which everyone is interested, at the same time a subject about which very few want to talk? On the one hand, the very word “hell” is terrifying. The thought of eternal punishment for body and soul, torment for body and soul to eternity, makes one shudder. But on the other hand, hell is something that everyone thinks about. What happens to us when we die? God has put eternity into the heart of man (Eccl. 3:11) and so people are interested in this subject.
What about you? Do you feel free to talk about hell? What would you say about hell to an unbelieving neighbor? Would you say to somebody who is living in a life of sin without repentance that he is on the way to hell?
Not only should we be interested as Christians in this subject, but we should want to talk about it. Yes, it is a very solemn subject. But the Christian, because of his love for God, will discuss the subject of hell. Hell is essential to any discussion of God. Because we love God, we are jealous of Him and we understand that the grace that has delivered us from hell is the same grace that makes us confess that God is true and just and that He will reward evil with the punishment eternally of hell. By confessing hell, we glorify the God whom we love.
Also, Christians will speak about hell because they do not fear hell. Hell does not stand alone in the Scriptures, and it should not be treated alone. In verse 46 there are two aspects. There are those who go away into everlasting punishment, but also the righteous who go into life eternal. In our next message we will speak on the subject of life eternal. Believers do not fear hell because their Savior has borne the punishment of hell for them.
Also as Christians, because we are concerned about the souls of our unbelieving neighbors, our brothers and sisters according to the flesh, we want to speak about hell and warn against hell and warn unbelievers to flee from the wrath to come.
Now, the subject of hell is widely denied. Certainly it is denied in the secular, atheistic, unbelieving society and age in which we live. People who teach evolution teach that there is no God, so there is no one to whom we must give account in the end, and the only thing that is real is the present, what we can see. Man is born a physical creature, he lives an earthly life, and he dies—and that is it. Unbelieving people know better than that, but the painful truth of the reality of an eternity and of hell makes them say, “Let’s eat and drink and make merry. Let’s make the most of this earthly life, for tomorrow we die.”
This is also denied by the cults. Mormonism and Islam and the other cults teach that hell is mostly a symbolic idea, that it is not eternal, it is not punishment for sin but that there is annihilation at death for those who do not believe.
But sadly, today, the denial of hell has crept into modern evangelical Christianity. There is an argument about the word for hell in the Bible, the word “sheol,” which is often translated hell. The argument is that this word should be translated “the grave,” and that this refers only to a shadowy underworld for the souls of the dead. Or, there is an argument that we cannot be punished eternally for sins that we commit in time because we are creatures of time. The main argument in evangelicalism today is this, that a good and loving God would not send people to hell. There is a slanderous caricature created of the true God who is just and holy, that He is an abusive and a cruel God.
But also, if hell is not openly denied, more and more it is ignored in the preaching and teaching of the church in Christianity. Sin is not preached, repentance is not preached, the consequences for sin are not preached, there is no discipline given for sin. So sin is tolerated and the tolerance of evil leads to the setting aside of the biblical teaching of hell.
Or, God is taught to be a God of universal love, and God’s predestination—that is, His election and reprobation of men and angels from eternity, His decree of predestination—is denied. So hell does not fit any more into one’s theology.
Perhaps, though, we do not talk much about hell or about heaven because we are too caught up with the things of this earthly life. So, it is good for us, too, confessing believers, to hear about the biblical subject of hell.
Over against all the denials of hell, we affirm and preach today the biblical reality of hell as a place of eternal, conscious torment for men and angels in body and soul forever. We may not know where hell is. But that does not mean that hell is not real. Neither do we know where heaven is. But that does not mean that heaven is not real. Neither do we see God or the devil or the other spirits and angels. But that does not mean that they are not real.
In this passage in Matthew 25, there are several important truths that we see about hell. The first is this: that hell is a place for people, not just for devils and angels. In verse 41, “he shall say to them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” God sends people to suffer with the devil and his demons in hell. Those on the right hand go into eternal life. They are surprised by this. It is because of grace that the sheep are received into everlasting life. But those on the left are sent into the lake of fire.
We see here also that hell is a place of suffering for both body and soul. The judgment that Jesus speaks of here takes place after the general resurrection. All will stand before Christ, the Judge, in both body and soul, in their resurrected bodies. The judgment will come, not just on souls, but also for bodies to eternity. The reason that man must suffer in body and soul is that God made man to glorify and love Him, not just in his soul, but also with his body. He made man’s hands and ears and mouth and feet and He said, “Serve Me, love Me, praise Me.” In every nerve of his body, man is created to love God—with his whole being. Sin is committed in the body, so sin will be punished in the body. But it is also a place for souls to suffer—soul and body together. The worst suffering that we experience as human beings is in the soul. God says, “Love Me with your soul,” and man hates Him. So there is suffering also in soul.
Third, we see here who it is that go to the place of eternal suffering and torment. Those who are sent to hell, those on the left hand, the goats here in this passage, are those who do not have a love for God in their hearts. Hell is not only a place that is reserved for those who have heard the gospel and been called to faith and have rejected the gospel. Hell is not reserved just for the worst sorts of criminals and outcasts of society. But hell is a place where all those who do not love God by loving others must go. Those who do not do good from their heart, out of love for God, and who show by this that they are sinners will be punished in hell. All sin deserves hell.
Further, we see here that hell is a place of punishment, not just correction. Those who have sinned deserve hell. The punishment of hell, which is called here a “lake of fire,” is what man deserves for his sin. Fire does not simply correct, but fire destroys. Fire is the most painful form of dying, and this is a way of expressing the suffering and the torment of hell.
We see also here that hell is everlasting, that it goes on and on without reprieve, that there is no relief, that there is no annihilation and there is no end. It is the place where man wants to die but can never die.
Also, we see here that hell is eternally prepared. It is the place “prepared for the devil and his angels.” In His eternal sovereignty, God predestined certain to be vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. Anyone whose name is not in the Book of Life, who is not elected and chosen, is cast into the lake of fire. The goats here, in Matthew 25, are the reprobate.
Now what we see, as we look at the Scriptures, is that hell is the unmistakable teaching of Jesus and all of Scripture. Around fifty times in the Gospels Jesus teaches about the subject of hell. This is far more frequently than He speaks of heaven. The Scriptures also speak of a bottomless pit, of an everlasting fire, of outer darkness, of a lake burning with fire and brimstone, of a second death, of a punishment of everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord. To deny the subject of hell is simply to twist Scripture to one’s own destruction.
It becomes very clear that Jesus teaches the subject of hell when we see that He uses a different word for hell than just the word “sheol,” which sometimes refers to the grave. He uses the word “Gehennah,” and Jesus speaks of an unquenchable fire in Gehennah (Mark 9:43) and of the place where God destroys both body and soul in Gehennah (Matt. 10:28). The word “Gehennah” refers to the valley of Hinnam. This was a place where there was a continuous burning fire, where the refuse and the sewer of the city of Jerusalem went into a valley outside of the city. This valley was a place of continual burning. So, when Jesus speaks of Gehennah, He is using a picture of the continual burning as a figure of the suffering of hell.
What is the reason for hell? The real reason for hell is sin. Sin deserves from God the punishment of hell. The reason that hell is denied by so many today is that they do not understand the Bible’s teaching on sin, and they do not understand God before whom man is guilty. The biblical doctrine of hell begins with a proper understanding of who God is. Hell declares to us the holiness of God. Hell is what it is because God is what He is. Many speak rather flippantly today about seeing God, as though seeing God is a warm, fuzzy feeling experienced. But it is not. The Bible teaches that no man can see God and live; that God is of purer eyes than to behold iniquity; that if God should mark iniquity, none could stand in His presence. When Isaiah saw God, he said in chapter 6, “I am a man of unclean lips and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips.” In every instance in the Bible where a person receives a glimpse of God’s glory, he thinks that he is going to die. He believes that he must die. Jacob wrestled with the Angel of Jehovah all night long, and he called the place Peniel, and he said marveling, “I have seen God and my life is preserved.” You see, if we stand before God in our sin, a burning fire comes out from the presence of God to consume us.
That is the reality. God is holy, and His holiness reacts in wrath and anger against the sin of man. The reality of hell should make us stand in awe and worship before the righteousness and holiness of God. Hell should make us tremble before Him. Every sin deserves hell. That is the truth of the justice of God. You cannot say about your sins, “Well, they were just little sins.” You cannot say, “Why is God so sensitive about sin?” No, every sin that we commit is a sin against God. David confesses this in Psalm 51 when he says, “Against thee, thee only, have I sinned.” God will bring into judgment every idle word, every evil thought, every sinful desire, every act of disobedience. Because of sin man deserves hell.
No one understands this better than those who are in hell. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, as the rich man cries out to Abraham, he does not say, “How did I get here to hell?” He does not say, “Well, I committed sins in time, why do I have to suffer eternally?” He does not even ask that he himself be delivered from hell. No, this is what he deserves. He just finds the suffering of hell so intense that he wants to get the message back to those on earth to repent lest they end up with him there in hell. In hell, the wicked are fully conscious of the fact that they deserve to be there. No one is surprised when he ends up in hell. Yes, it is true that God sends people to hell. God reprobates people and prepares them as vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. But the wicked bring themselves to hell by their sins. Hell is deserved. Everyone who wants to be left alone in his sin God leaves alone in his sin and he brings himself to hell.
It is important for us to see that there is no gospel apart from the teaching of hell. The good news of the gospel is, in part, this: that we are delivered from the wrath to come. Without the biblical teaching of hell, the suffering of Jesus Christ on the cross has no meaning. This is what the cross was: it was hell for Jesus.
Then, think about Jesus’ teaching during His life concerning how He spoke of outer darkness. He spoke of a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. He spoke of a place where a fire is not quenched and the worm does not die. What He is describing for us ahead of time is His own suffering that would come on the cross. This was the cross that the Father gave Him to bear. Jesus said to His disciples, “You cannot drink from this cup.” This explains the three hours of darkness on the cross when everything was hidden from man as God poured out His judgments on the sin-bearer, His Son. This explains the cry of Jesus from the cross: “My God, My God, why hast Thou forsaken Me?” The eternal God, in human flesh, in those three hours on the cross, suffered the eternal torments of hell for His people. He took our place, and in doing that, He lifted us up to His place, to life everlasting in glory.
So, as we think about hell and deliverance from the wrath of God and the eternal punishment of hell, we also contemplate the glorious reality of heaven. We understand the glories of heaven only over against the horrors of what we deserve in hell. We see the beauties of heaven only when we see the depths of the love of God in giving His Son and the depths of the love of Jesus Christ in laying down His life for us. Just as you cannot preach heaven without hell, so you cannot preach hell without heaven.
These are the reasons for hell. A denial of hell belittles the biblical teaching of sin. It denies God His place as holy and just and it takes all the meaning out of the good news of the gospel and the grace of the cross. So, the subject of hell is something that needs to be preached. If there is no hell, there is no urgency to the preaching of the gospel, there is no seriousness to the gospel-call to repent from sin and believe in Jesus Christ. If all that will happen to the unbeliever after death is that he is annihilated, then there is no wrath and judgment from God to be feared and then the unbeliever is right to say, “Let us eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow we die.”
No, hell is a reality. The thought of hell terrifies the unbeliever. This explains the earnestness to deny the Bible’s teaching of hell in unbelieving circles. This is the urgency of the gospel-call. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that everyone may receive the things done in his body according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of an angry God. The wicked must be warned to flee the wrath to come, to repent or perish.
Are we unmerciful to preach this message? Was Jesus unkind and unloving when He laid before us the realities of heaven and hell? No, this needs to be preached, not to frighten people into heaven but to warn them out of hell. It is often the terror of eternal punishment of hell that God will use to begin the work of bringing His people to Him. This is essential to the preaching of the gospel.
So, if you are an unbeliever outside of Christ, you must be warned that hell is what you deserve—that you deserve the full wrath of a God who hates all sin. In a short time, you will stand before God the Judge. If you stand alone there in your sin with just what you are and just what you have done, then you will stand condemned and you will hear the words, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire.” I warn you: Do not be numb to the reality of hell. Do not trick yourself into thinking that your good works will be sufficient to save you. Do not lie to yourself about the eternal realities of heaven and hell. Except you repent, you will likewise perish. The only way to the Father is through repentance and sorrow over your sin and faith and trust in His Son, Jesus Christ.
Then, too, the subject of hell for the Christian ought to make him more diligent in his holy living. This should deepen the concern of the child of God for the lost and should increase his gratitude to God for his own salvation. Before the subject of hell, there is no place for apathy. We stand before the alternatives of heaven and hell. There is no other alternative. There are many who will stand at the last day and say, “Lord, Lord, in Thy name we did this and we did that.” And He will say, “I never knew you. You did this for you. You did this thinking that by this you would be saved. You did not trust Me. You were apathetic.”
Then, too, the biblical subject of hell should keep us waiting and watching for the coming of Christ. Jesus is coming. And He warns us to watch and be ready lest He come upon us unawares. So, the subject of hell reminds us to watch and be ready for the day of the Lord.
Let us pray.
Father, we thank Thee for this doctrine that glorifies and magnifies Thee as God and gives Thee Thy rights and Thy place on the throne; that magnifies the gospel and shows to us what Jesus Christ has paid in His death and what His suffering was. And we thank Thee for this truth too because it calls us to repentance. We pray that it may be used in such a way also to turn unbelievers from the way of darkness to the way of life. We ask it, for Jesus’ sake, Amen.