One of the many things the Puritans were known for was their “hellfire and brimstone” preaching. In something of a reaction against this (or perhaps better stated as an “over-reaction”), like the swinging motion of a pendulum clock, the Church in our day can generally be characterized as never addressing the realities of hell. Yet if anyone was a fire and brimstone preacher, it was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. The gospels reveal Him speaking more about hell than of heaven. In fact, virtually everything we know about hell comes from the lips of Jesus.
Dr. John Gerstner’s words here ring true: “The idea of a hell that involves some kind of eternal punishment at the hands of a just and holy God is so profoundly difficult for us to handle emotionally, that the only person who would have enough authority to convince us of the reality of such a place would be Jesus Himself.”
If it had been Paul or Peter or John, I think we would be very inclined to simply dismiss what we read as the ramblings of some discontented apostle who was mad at the world. But in His infinite wisdom, God did not entrust any of these men to be the one to tell us about hell. It was Jesus.
I recently heard a sermon by Dr. Steve Lawson in which he listed seven characteristics of hell taught to us by Jesus in the gospel of Matthew. After making notes on Dr. Lawson’s sermon, and knowing I was preaching on what it means to be saved (based on the sermon passage Ephesians 2:8-10), I decided to include the same scriptures in my own sermon this past Sunday. The verses written out here are deeply sobering and give each of us much to meditate on. As we do, I think all of us will have a heightened sense of the gravity of our sin and a greater appreciation for the wondrous salvation we have in Jesus Christ. May they also cause us to seek to reach out to lost people all around us who desperately need the gospel. Here are the scriptures then, along with a couple of quotes and comments:
1. Hell – a place of Fire
Starting with John the Baptist’s words: Matt 3:10 Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire … 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor and gather his wheat into the barn, but the chaff he will burn with unquenchable fire.”
(God’s wrath already abides on the unbeliever – John 3:36; Rom 1:18)
Reminder: As believers in Christ, we have been saved from this.
Jesus – Matt 5:21 “You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ 22 But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.
Hell – in Greek, is the word ‘Gehenna’. Gehenna was the garbage dump of the city of Jerusalem where refuge was burned. The stench reached the sky and the fire was always burning.
v. 27 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ 28 But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.29 If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.
Reminder: We (believers in Christ) have been saved from this fiery hell.
2. Eternal Destruction
Matt 7: 13 “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. 14 For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few.
Destruction – not referring to extinction or annihilation – hell is eternal, just as heaven is. It means total ruin and total loss (of one’s well being).
26 And everyone who hears these words of mine and does not do them will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand. 27 And the rain fell, and the floods came, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell, and great was the fall of it.”
Matt 10: 28 And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.
2 Thess 1:9 They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
Eternal destruction – never dying yet always dying… God’s holy vengeance will be relentless.
As believers, we have been rescued from this.
3. Outer darkness
Matt 8: 11 I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, 12 while the sons of the kingdom (unconverted Jews) will be thrown into the outer darkness.
Outer darkness – darkest darkness… as far away from mercy as is possible..
Repeated in Matt 22: 11 “But when the king came in to look at the guests, he saw there a man who had no wedding garment. 12 And he said to him, ‘Friend, how did you get in here without a wedding garment?’ And he was speechless. 13 Then the king said to the attendants, ‘Bind him hand and foot and cast him into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
Repeated in Matt 25:30 And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’
As believers, we have been rescued from this.
4. Inconceivable torment
Matt 8:12 (continued) In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Literally: the definite article is used – The weeping… and the gnashing
Matt 13: 42; 13:50; 22:13; 25:30 – the weeping and gnashing of teeth…
He has saved His people from this.
5. The Furnace of Fire
42 and throw them into the fiery furnace.
50 and throw them into the fiery furnace.
In the book of Revelation there is the description of a lake of fire…
In contrast here – Within the furnace a fire blazes with concentrated heat… in cased and confined – a furnace blazes hotter and with greater intensity than an open fire…
41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace.
We have been saved from this.. through the cross of Jesus Christ.
The Judgement at the end of the age:
Matt 13: 47 “Again, the kingdom of heaven is like a net that was thrown into the sea and gathered fish of every kind. 48 When it was full, men drew it ashore and sat down and sorted the good into containers but threw away the bad. 49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous 50 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
“weeping and gnashing of teeth.” – Dr. R.C. Sproul: This is a concrete image that any Jew would understand, and one I think we can all readily comprehend. There are different kinds of weeping. There is the weeping of those who mourn. There is the weeping of those who are in pain. And there is the weeping of those who are deliriously happy. But when we add to this notion of weeping the idea of gnashing of teeth, it is obvious that Jesus is not describing a pleasant circumstance. He is talking about a deep, mournful kind of wailing. But the gnashing of teeth, as we see in the New Testament, is often associated with hatred. When the crowd heard Stephen proclaim the Word of God, they gnashed their teeth in fury (Acts 7:54). When a person spends time in hell, his relationship with God does not improve. The person goes to hell in the first place because he is hostile toward God. As he experiences the outer darkness where he weeps, he gnashes his teeth in ever-greater hatred of his Maker.
As believers, we have been rescued from this.
6. The Pit
Matt 15:10 And he called the people to him and said to them, “Hear and understand: 11 it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles a person, but what comes out of the mouth; this defiles a person.” 12 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Do you know that the Pharisees were offended when they heard this saying?”
13 He answered, “Every plant that my heavenly Father has not planted will be rooted up. 14 Let them alone; they are blind guides. And if the blind lead the blind, both will fall into a pit.”
Their dead roots will be exposed – revealed that they had no fruit.
Let them alone.. Leave them alone…
A pit – never to be climbed out of .. the pit of hell.
In Rev 9 we read of the bottomless pit. 2 He opened the shaft of the bottomless pit, and from the shaft rose smoke like the smoke of a great furnace…
An endless bottomless pit – always falling, never landing.
He has saved us from this…
7. Eternal Punishment
Matt 25: 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
Hell – the punishment is forever.. never ending…
Our sin is so grievous – it deserves eternal punishment – against an infinitely holy God.
“If one evil thought, if one evil word, if one evil action, deserves eternal damnation, how many hells, my friends, do every one of us deserve, whose whole lives have been one continued rebellion against God!” – George Whitefield
All of this should awaken in each of us a heightened sense of sin and a deeper appreciation of the Savior.