A Few Hellish Thoughts

Matthew 25:41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels;”

Revelation 14:9-11 “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”

Revelation 20:10-15 “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”

“Hell is unspeakably real, conscious, horrible and eternal– the experience in which God vindicates the worth of his glory in holy wrath on those who would not delight in what is infinitely glorious.” – John Piper, God’s Passion for His Glory, pg. 38

Hell is under attack! Well perhaps not hell itself, but the doctrine of hell as a place of eternal punishment for the wicked is certainly under full frontal attack in our day. As Christians we should not be surprised that hell is not a particularly popular concept in the minds of the general public. But what should concern us greatly is that a great many professing Christians are increasingly hostile towards the idea.

Some preachers are launching their attacks against the concept of hell openly from the pulpit; yet others are just as zealous in the fight, but wage their war through the act of silence, as they pride themselves on never mentioning the word “hell” at all in their sermons.

The Biblical record is extremely clear. Most of our information about hell comes from the lips of Jesus, who is of course, the highest possible authority. It is as if God, knowing that men would rail against the doctrine of hell, did not entrust the bulk of the message to even the most prominent of the Apostles, because men would say, “Oh that’s just Paul going off on a tangent.” or “yes, Peter was a child of his day and it was popular to believe in hell at that time, hence he warned folk about it. We know better.” Of course, this idea totally undermines the inspiration of Scripture, for although all men can be misguided, God preserved His Word with inerrancy, and all Scripture is God breathed, carrying the full weight of Divine authority. God could have still entrusted the doctrine’s details to Peter and Paul and we would still be culpable if we did not believe it. But it is as if God stooped to help us, so to speak, so that we would understand that hell is a real place, by expressing that fact through the lips of His one and only Son.

Yet, many people find it hard to believe in hell, not because Jesus failed to make the message clear. He certainly did. But their problem is a philosophical one rather than a biblical one; and it is this – how can a God of love sentence people to eternal punishment without the possibility of parole?

Unless you’ve been living under a rock in recent weeks, you would have noticed the big hullaballoo regarding Rob Bell’s new book “Love Wins.” Whether Bell is a universalist or an inclusivist, the end result is the same; heresy with a vengeance. Bell denies the eternal punishment of the wicked in hell.

Justin Taylor writes: Martin Bashir is a reporter impatient with evasive answers. He even quotes from Kevin DeYoung’s review and asks Rob Bell to respond. Bashir gives his own take on Bell’s book: “You’re creating a Christian message that’s warm, kind, and popular for contemporary culture… What you’ve done is you’re amending the gospel, the Christian message, so that it’s palatable to contemporary people who find, for example, the idea of hell and heaven very difficult to stomach. So here comes Rob Bell, he’s made a Christian gospel for you, and it’s perfectly palatable, it’s much easier to swallow. That’s what you’ve done, haven’t you?”

Albert Mohler’s review of Bell’s book is very helpful. He categorizes it as being in the Protestant Liberal tradition, acknowledges Bell’s gift for creativity, and then shows why the book is so deceptive. Here is a short excerpt:

Reading the book is a heart-breaking experience. We have read this book before. Not the exact words, and never so artfully presented, but the same book, the same argument, the same attempt to rescue Christianity from the Bible. . . .

Yes, we have read this book before. With Love Wins, Rob Bell moves solidly within the world of Protestant Liberalism. His message is a liberalism arriving late on the scene. Tragically, his message will confuse many believers as well as countless unbelievers.

We dare not retreat from all that the Bible says about hell. We must never confuse the Gospel, nor offer suggestions that there may be any way of salvation outside of conscious faith in Jesus Christ. We must never believe that we can do a public relations job on the Gospel or on the character of God. We must never be unclear and subversively suggestive about what the Bible teaches.

In the opening pages of Love Wins, Rob Bell assures his readers that “nothing in this book hasn’t been taught, suggested, or celebrated by many before me.” That is true enough. But the tragedy is that those who did teach, suggest, or celebrate such things were those with whom no friend of the Gospel should want company. In this new book, Rob Bell takes his stand with those who have tried to rescue Christianity from itself. This is a massive tragedy by any measure.

How Should Preachers Preach on Hell? Dr. Ligon Duncan asks:

So how do you address these difficult truths? How does the reality of hell and endless punishment make a difference in your preaching? How do you tackle them in a responsible and appropriate way? What do you need to avoid when treating them? How should we preach hell and eternal punishment (if at all)?

Excellent insight here.

Dr. John Piper, in an article entitled “How Willingly Do People Go to Hell? Does Anyone Standing by the Lake of Fire Jump In?” writes:

C.S. Lewis is one of the top 5 dead people who have shaped the way I see and respond to the world. But he is not a reliable guide on a number of important theological matters. Hell is one of them. His stress is relentlessly that people are not “sent” to hell but become their own hell. His emphasis is that we should think of “a bad man’s perdition not as a sentence imposed on him but as the mere fact of being what he is.” (For all the relevant quotes, see Martindale and Root, The Quotable Lewis, 288-295.)

This inclines him to say, “All that are in hell choose it.” And this leads some who follow Lewis in this emphasis to say things like, “All God does in the end with people is give them what they most want.”

I come from the words of Jesus to this way of talking and find myself in a different world of discourse and sentiment. I think it is misleading to say that hell is giving people what they most want. I’m not saying you can’t find a meaning for that statement that’s true, perhaps in Romans 1:24-28. I’m saying that it’s not a meaning that most people would give to it in light of what hell really is. I’m saying that the way Lewis deals with hell and the way Jesus deals with it are very different. And we would do well to follow Jesus.

The misery of hell will be so great that no one will want to be there. They will be weeping and gnashing their teeth (Matthew 8:12). Between their sobs, they will not speak the words, “I want this.” They will not be able to say amid the flames of the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14), “I want this.” “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night” (Revelation 14:11). No one wants this.

When there are only two choices, and you choose against one, it does not mean that you want the other, if you are ignorant of the outcome of both. Unbelieving people know neither God nor hell. This ignorance is not innocent. Apart from regenerating grace, all people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Rom 1:18).

The person who rejects God does not know the real horrors of hell. This may be because he does not believe hell exists, or it may be because he convinces himself that it would be tolerably preferable to heaven.

But whatever he believes or does not believe, when he chooses against God, he is wrong about God and about hell. He is not, at that point, preferring the real hell over the real God. He is blind to both. He does not perceive the true glories of God, and he does not perceive the true horrors of hell.

So when a person chooses against God and, therefore, de facto chooses hell—or when he jokes about preferring hell with his friends over heaven with boring religious people—he does not know what he is doing. What he rejects is not the real heaven (nobody will be boring in heaven), and what he “wants” is not the real hell, but the tolerable hell of his imagination.

When he dies, he will be shocked beyond words. The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape. That it is not in his power to repent does not mean he wants to be there. Esau wept bitterly that he could not repent (Hebrew 12:17). The hell he was entering into he found to be totally miserable, and he wanted out. The meaning of hell is the scream: “I hate this, and I want out.”

What sinners want is not hell but sin. That hell is the inevitable consequence of unforgiven sin does not make the consequence desirable. It is not what people want—certainly not what they “most want.” Wanting sin is no more equal to wanting hell than wanting chocolate is equal to wanting obesity. Or wanting cigarettes is equal to wanting cancer.

Beneath this misleading emphasis on hell being what people “most want” is the notion that God does not “send” people to hell. But this is simply unbiblical. God certainly does send people to hell. He does pass sentence, and he executes it. Indeed, worse than that. God does not just “send,” he “throws.” “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown (Greek eblethe) into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15; cf. Mark 9:47; Matthew 13:42; 25:30).

The reason the Bible speaks of people being “thrown” into hell is that no one will willingly go there, once they see what it really is. No one standing on the shore of the lake of fire jumps in. They do not choose it, and they will not want it. They have chosen sin. They have wanted sin. They do not want the punishment. When they come to the shore of this fiery lake, they must be thrown in.

When someone says that no one is in hell who doesn’t want to be there, they give the false impression that hell is within the limits of what humans can tolerate. It inevitably gives the impression that hell is less horrible than Jesus says it is.

We should ask: How did Jesus expect his audience to think and feel about the way he spoke of hell? The words he chose were not chosen to soften the horror by being accommodating to cultural sensibilities. He spoke of a “fiery furnace” (Matthew 13:42), and “weeping and gnashing teeth” (Luke 13:28), and “outer darkness” (Matthew 25:30), and “their worm [that] does not die” (Mark 9:48), and “eternal punishment” (Matthew 25:46), and “unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43), and being “cut in pieces” (Matthew 24:51).

These words are chosen to portray hell as an eternal, conscious experience that no one would or could ever “want” if they knew what they were choosing. Therefore, if someone is going to emphasize that people freely “choose” hell, or that no one is there who doesn’t “want” to be there, surely he should make every effort to clarify that, when they get there, they will not want this.

Surely the pattern of Jesus—who used blazing words to blast the hell-bent blindness out of everyone— should be followed. Surely, we will grope for words that show no one, no one, no one will want to be in hell when they experience what it really is. Surely everyone who desires to save people from hell will not mainly stress that it is “wantable” or “chooseable,” but that it is horrible beyond description—weeping, gnashing teeth, darkness, worm-eaten, fiery, furnace-like, dismembering, eternal, punishment, “an abhorrence to all flesh” (Isaiah 66:24).

I thank God, as a hell-deserving sinner, for Jesus Christ my Savior, who became a curse for me and suffered hellish pain that he might deliver me from the wrath to come. While there is time, he will do that for anyone who turns from sin and treasures him and his work above all.

Trembling before such realities, and trusting Jesus,

Pastor John Piper

Finally, I’ll give my my very good friend, Pastor Graeme Adams from Dundee, Scotland the last word here. Its a warning to us all:

“Are you orthodox on the issue of hell? Good! Does it cause you to pray and weep for the lost and actively seek ways to reach them with the good news of Jesus, or be smug or worse because you know something Rob Bell doesn’t? It’s incredibly sad and harmful when high profile leaders propagate heresy, AND when millions of Christians profess faith, historical biblical faith, and yet don’t live it. Heresy and Cold lifeless heartless Orthodoxy are partners in crime against humanity and God. May God use this issue to break our hearts.”

4 thoughts on “A Few Hellish Thoughts

  1. Have you ever heard someone in prison for a heinous crime fully acknowledge their guilt but argue that they should not be in prison but free on the outside? I never have. But I have heard several plead their innocence of a crime, that they were wrongfully imprisoned and intensely desired to be set free from prison.

    I am not in agreement with John Piper when he says this about a person in hell, “The miseries are so great he would do anything in his power to escape.” I disagree because of my own salvation experience and the Scriptures.

    On a June night in 1973 I was visiting my parents, home on leave from the military. I retired one night to my childhood bedroom. I lay there in the darkness remembering some pleasant experiences growing up in that small northeastern Oklahoma city. Suddenly I saw a picture of an infant, just born, on the ceiling. I did not recognize the newborn by sight but knew in my heart it was me. Then the picture changed and many new pictures came and went depicting my entire life. The sin and degradation going on for the past several years was most overwhelming. When the pictures finally stopped I was looking up at myself lying in bed as if looking into a mirror. Then, in my heart, I heard a distinctive and authoritative voice say, “If you die tonight in your sleep, you will spend eternity in hell.” I was raised a Catholic and devout in its teachings but knew nothing of the Scriptures and therefore, little to nothing of Christ. But at that moment, I was fully convinced hell was where I should be because of the sin and defilement in my life. God was holy, righteous and pure and I should not be anywhere near his presence including heaven. But I was not dead yet. So I cried out to Jesus, acknowledging the helplessness to make myself holy and fit for heaven. I told him he would have to get me into heaven because it was impossible for me to do it. At that moment Jesus came into my heart and gave me his life and I became his.

    The King James version of Jude 1:15 says this of the Lord’s coming, “To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him.” Other versions use the word “convict” in place of convince. However, those two words are very close in definition. Convince can mean to persuade or to move by argument or evidence to belief, agreement or consent. Convict can mean to prove or declare guilty of an offense but can also mean to impress with a sense of guilt. That night Christ came to me I was judged and found guilty. I was convinced I was a sinner and should not be in the presence of God but in a place far, far away, hell! It was an overwhelming conviction of the heart. That is why I think those who end up in hell will believe they should be there and have no desire for heaven. They will be convinced of their sinfulness and defilement and the need for separation from God. Consider the words of Christ in Luke 16:22-24 about the certain rich young man: The rich man also died and was buried, and his soul went to the place of the dead. There, in torment, he saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus at his side. “The rich man shouted, ‘Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.’

    What is amazing about the words spoken by the rich man to Abraham is that he expresses no desire to be delivered from his place of torment but only the diminishing of the torment. It seems reasonable that the rich man in flames might have called out to Abraham to get him out of hell, out of harm’s way. But if the rich man believed hell was where he should be, then it makes sense he did not cry out to Abraham for escape. What he did do was plead for someone to be sent over to him who might give some relief to his torment. On the surface one drop of water would provide very little for relief yet even that insignificant amount would be appreciable to the rich man.

    The words of Christ, the passage in Jude and my salvation experience lead me to believe that those in hell will have no desire to leave but most certainly have a desire for the torment to abate. Repentance in this life is the only means and time of escape from that place of torment.

  2. Pingback: Preach Hell with Agonizing Vigor « airō

  3. According to the Bible, the wages of sin is death, not eternal conscious torment in hell. So I believe the Bible, and I believe that the unrepentant perish, they pay the penalty or “wages” of their sin, they die and are no more. You have not proven that the wicked go to hell when they die where they are to be tormented alive forever when they are dead. The scriptures you posted simply do not say that.

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