We live in a time when so many things about our society have succumb to the forces of capitalism and have become commercialized. No longer do families look forward to sitting down together for a Thanksgiving meal but they look forward to the early sales for Christmas. Even the sacred day of rememberance we call Memorial Day is overshawdowed by three day blowout mega sales at the local furniture stores and car dealerships. It seems everthing sacred has become commercialized, even Christianity itself.
Now more than ever churches are more market-conscious when it comes to what aspects of the Bible they present. In the commercialization of Christianity teachings on sin and its eternal consequences, damnation in hell, and Satan are left to the wayside for softer, more audience friendly messages on how Christian living will solve your problems by making your prosperous, or Jesus will solve all your problems, or how you can be a success with God as your CEO. As with anything that is commercialized the goal is numbers and dollars.
What this has done is lead people down a path of denying the reality of something they hear very little about and that is hell. In a 2001 Pew research poll 71% of Amercians said they believed there was a hell[i]. By 2009, that number had fallen to just 59% of Americians believe in hell[ii]. Though it may not be commercially popular, though it may not fit into the persepective of many Americans the reality of the matter the Bible say there really is a hell.
Let’s explore the realities of hell with the purpose of stirring our souls to repentance so that we will not awaken in eternity and find ourselves there.
Hell is a Real Place
While some would think of Hell as just a myth, some place contrived to scare people into submission, the Bible speaks of Hell as a real place. Notice some of the passages with me:
Jesus warned in Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Jesus believed hell was a real place.
In His condemnation of the Pharisees Jesus expressed His belief in a hell when He said, “Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of hell?” (Matthew 23:33)
Jesus believed hell was real place when He exhorted the multitudes to take extreme measures not to go there when he said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched— where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ 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, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire— where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:43-48)
For a discussion on Jesus’ use of Ghennna as a figure for Hell click here.
The apostle Peter certainly believed hell was real place when he said, “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment…” (2 Peter 2:4)
Even Jude believed hell was a real place when he taught, “And on some have compassion, making a distinction; but others save with fear, pulling them out of the fire [hell], hating even the garment defiled by the flesh.” (Jude 1:22-23)
In these passages, there is an assumption by the speaker that hell is a real place. To them hell was not a myth. It was not contrived place to keep folks in line. To Jesus, Peter, and Jude hell is a real place. If it’s not… Then Jesus, Peter and Jude at best are mistaken, at worst their misleading. And if they’re either mistaken or misleading then they and the Bible are suspect and we can’t believe any of it. But I choose to believe them.
With Real Punishment
And it’s a real place with real punishment. Think with me about how beautiful and wonderful heaven is. No matter how grand your imagination might be, you can’t begin to scratch the surface of heaven’s beauty. Our human minds can’t comprehend its greatness. The same is true with hell. Even with our collective ability to imagine the horrors of hell we would only scratch its surface. Our human minds can’t comprehend the awfulness of such a place. So the Bible presents hell and its terrors in terms we can understand. Notice some passages with me:
In hell there will be “darkness” and the “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12, 22:13)
In the parable of the Wheat and Tares, Jesus taught that those in hell will be punished by being “burned in the fire” in hell’s “furnace of fire.” (Matthew 13:30, 40-42)
Jesus warned it was better to limp into heaven than to dance into “everlasting fire” of hell. In hell, those who refused to amputate those things, which caused them to sin, will be eternally punished for their negligence. (Matthew 18:8-9)
Everyone in hell, from the least of sinners to the greatest, Satan himself, will suffer the same punishment of “everlasting fire.” (Matthew 25:41)
Those in hell will be punished by being tormented. First, the eternal fires of hell will torment them. Second, they will be tormented by the anguish of knowing what they should have done and the fate of their loved ones (Luke 16:19-31). Moreover, this torment will last “forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10)
The imagery used by Jesus, Paul and John paints a picture of hell as being a place with an unquenchable fire, eternal torment, enveloping darkness, with weeping and gnashing of teeth. When God wanted to describe hell to us in human terms He chose the things that we fear the most. Our bodies being burned and the pain and horrors associated with the burning of our flesh. He chose the concept of torture and pain that never ends, that never offers relief. He chose darkness that is so dark in envelopes you; that is so dark it clings to you; that is so dark it makes grow men weep and gnash their teeth. My friends hell is a real place, with real punishment, for real people.
For Real People
I’m afraid that many people have the concept that hell and its punishments are reserved for just the worst of the worst. I’m afraid they believe that hell is reserved for history’s megalomaniacs, for its worst criminals, for its greediest businessmen, and for its vilest politicians. The problem with that line of thinking is that it makes those who are punished in hell larger than life, and the problem with people who are larger than life is that we don’t perceive them as real people. To us real people are normal folks; they’re people who look like us, talk like us, act like us. They’re people we can identify with. But friends notice with me that the Bible says there will be real people in hell:
Common People – It was the common people that Jesus told to take extreme measures to stay out of hell. Why? Because common people will be in hell. (Matthew 5:1 cf. 5:29-30)
Churchgoing People – In the Parable of the Dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50) Jesus taught that even some churchgoing people are going to go to hell. Notice what he said, “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a dragnet that was cast into the sea and gathered some of every kind, which, when it was full, they drew to shore; and they sat down and gathered the good into vessels, but threw the bad away. So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”
Lazy People – In the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30; cf. James 4:17) Jesus taught that, lazy people would be in hell. Lazy people, being those who refused to use the gifts He has given them.
Inattentive People – Jesus taught that those who were inattentive to the needs of others, those who did not maintain good works, will be damned to “everlasting punishment” in hell (Matthew 25:45-46).
Selfish People – In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus taught that hell would be populated with selfish people like the rich man. Those who were too busy to be bothered by the needs of others because they had their own problems. Selfish people, who were too busy to learn God’s word for themselves because they knew better how to live their lives. Selfish people, who were too busy to share God with their family because they had more important things to do (Luke 16:19-31).
Unbelieving People – Unbelievers will be in hell. According to 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9, unbelievers are those who “do not know God” by not having a relationship with Him and those “who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.” They might be salt of the earth, upstanding good citizens, give the shirt off their back sort of folk but if they will not know God, nor believe Jesus’ gospel they will go to hell.
Sinful People – We know sinners will be in hell but look at what sins will get you sent there… How many of these are you guilty of committing? “But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” (Revelation 21:8)
Don’t think that you will escape the torments of hell because you’re some no name person who hasn’t killed anybody, or cheated on your spouse, or worshipped an idol, or whatever you would classify a big sin. Hell, my friends, is for real people like you and me who sin and refuse to serve God with our all of our hearts, our souls and our minds. Will there great sinners of history be there? Yes. But for every one great sinner there’ll be 1000 real people like me and you in hell.
What’s the conclusion of the matter? Hell is a real place, with real punishment, for real people. And if you don’t want to go there there’s one thing you need to do and that is to love Jesus. Why? Because Jesus said, “If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15) If you love Jesus, and stay true to Him, He will say to you, “Well done good a faithful servant… Enter into the joy of your Master.” (Matthew 25:21)