Hell: It’s Not What You Want (Part 1)

Everyone likes to talk about heaven but rarely do people like to talk about hell. And yet, one could argue that there is a greater need in the church today to speak of hell than there is to teach on heaven. Consider the following illustration from Kevin DeYoung, the Senior Pastor in East Lansing, Michigan about the necessity of preaching hell:

“Hell is not the North Star. That is, divine wrath is not our guiding light. It does not set the direction for everything in the Christian faith like, say, the glory of God in the face of Christ. Neither is hell the faith-wheel which steers the ship, nor the wind that powers us along, nor the sails that capture the Spirit’s breeze. Yet hell is not incidental to this vessel we call the church. It’s our ballast, and we throw it overboard at great peril to ourselves and to everyone drowning far out at sea. For those not familiar with boating terms, ballast refers to weights, usually put underneath in the middle of the boat, which are used to keep the ship stable in the water. Without ballast, the boat will not sit properly. It will veer off course more easily or be tossed from side to side. Ballast keeps the boat balanced. The doctrine of hell is like that for the church. Divine wrath may not be the decorative masthead or the flag we raise up every flagpole. The doctrine may be underneath other doctrines. It may not always be seen. But its absence will always be felt.” (http://www.9marks.org/journal/there%E2%80%99s-something-worse-death)


 Why We Need to Study the Subject of Hell

Because Jesus talked about it often. There are approximately 1500+ verses that are recorded in the Gospels coming from Jesus’ lips where He is formally teaching on a subject. The other 300-400 verses that record His sayings are just declarative statements of His movements, greetings, etc. They are non-teaching. So with the 1500+ verses of teaching, about 8% of His preaching was on hell and impending judgment. If you think that is a small percentage, you will find that He speaks more about hell than our relationship to the Bible, how we worship, and sexual purity. You can count on one hand how many times you have heard sermons on hell, but you can’t possibly remember how many times you heard someone preach on purity or the Bible or worship. Why does Jesus speak about hell so often? Because He is the Savior of the world. He wants people to know what He is saving them from. Jesus speaks in greater detail and frequency about hell, because He is sending people there. No one speaks with more authority about hell than Jesus, and as His spokesmen we cannot be silent either.

Because it magnifies heaven. Spend any time studying or meditating at length on heaven and it will magnify hell; spend any time studying or mediating at length on hell and it will magnify heaven. What makes hell awful is how wonderful heaven is; what makes heaven incredible is how terrible hell is. They contrast one another in extremes, and thus, magnify one another as well.

Because it deepens our appreciation of the Savior’s sufferings on the Cross. What prompted Jesus to utter at the 9th hour, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken mes presence? We might describe those words of the feeling of separation from God in this way[1]

  • The cross is appalling. Being “forsaken” is the idea of someone walking away when they have the power to remain. The psalmist(s) ask often, “Do not forsake me,” because they understood to not sense God’s presence is to be in a position of great pity. For the Son, His home and joy was the Father. He lived a perfectly righteous life to please the Father. He had a communion with God that was endless. So to experience the feeling of abandonment was appalling.
  • The cross is dooming. To be separated from God is an un-livable situation. As much as we say, “We can’t live without our spouse or child,” the actual truth is we really can. But without the presence of God, we are doomed from the start.
  • The cross is mysterious. Jesus spend a lifetime meeting the needs of people; God spends eternity providing what His people need. To be away from God’s presence would seem to go against everything we know about God. To be His Son and feel His abandonment is a mystery unlike any other.
  • The cross is sobering. The cross was anything put festive, unless you were a Roman soldier. It was anointed with spilled blood, torn clothing, excruciating pain, moans and cries, etc. For the common Jerusalem native passing by, he would have been reminded of the curse of any who hangs on a tree (Deut 21:23).

The cross was the center of God’s wrath on earth. And that description of Jesus on the cross is what hell is also like.

  • Hell is appalling. We don’t disagree with God’s decision to send people there but for the person in hell, it is most certainly appalling. They could never imagine what endless suffering was until they arrive there.
  • Hell is dooming. There is no escaping it. We learn from the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), going to hell is a one-way ticket.
  • Hell is mysterious. Like heaven, we have questions that are hard to answer. How is it that bodies can burn eternally and never be consumed? How can there exist both fire and darkness? How can God be omnipresent and be in hell?
  • Hell is sobering. This is a summarizing statement of the whole doctrine of hell. At the very least, any consideration of hell will give you a sense of seriousness. It will force you to be pensive about so many issues both now and to come.

Well, the point is that when you see the terribleness of hell, you can have a better understanding of sympathy for the sufferings of Jesus on the cross. God’s wrath is seen in it’s extremeness at the cross and will be endured for eternity in hell. On the cross, Jesus endured the wrath of God poured out on Him for every sin of every human ever committed past, present and future. In hell, those that reject him won’t experience salvation paid for on the cross. They pay for their sins without a Propitiator.

Because it encourages us to proclaim the Gospel with regularity. There is no more urgent task than the proclamation of the Gospel. If you had an endless supply of a guaranteed cure for cancer in your home, would you not spend every waking minute administering it to cancer patients in local hospitals, in your family, etc.? You would do everything you could so save people with the very remedy they need. Man’s was central need is for Jesus’ redemption from sin. And you and I know exactly what it takes to understand and embrace that. To refuse to open our mouths and let as many people know as we can is as cruel as a firefighter holding a fire hose, refusing to turn it on and watching the house burn. It is not unloving to tell/warn people about hell. To not warn people about danger is unloving.

In tomorrow’s post, we will cover the occupants of hell and who is the master of hell (God or Satan).


[1] Adapted from The Seven Sayings of the Savior on the Cross, Ch. 4


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