Whatever Happened to Hell? - Part Two
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Pastor Don

Some old words on hell by Jonathan Edwards:

Jonathan Edwards describing sinners in hell "Be entreated to consider attentively how great and awful a thing eternity is. Although you cannot comprehend it the more by considering, yet you may be made more sensible that it is not a thing to be disregarded. Do but consider what it is to suffer extreme torment for ever and ever; to suffer it day and night, from one year to another, from one age to another, and from one thousand ages to another, and so adding age to age, and thousands to thousands, in pain, in wailing and lamenting, groaning and shrieking, and gnashing your teeth; with your souls full of dreadful grief and amazement, with your bodies and every member full of racking torture, without any possibility of getting ease; without any possibility of moving God to pity by your cries; without any possibility of hiding yourselves from him; without any possibility of diverting your thoughts from your pain; without any possibility of obtaining any manner of mitigation, or help, or change for the better. Do but consider how dreadful despair will be in such torment. How dismal will it be, when you are under such torment. How dismal will it be, when you are under these racking torments, to know assuredly that you never, never shall be delivered from them; to have no hope: when you shall wish that you might be turned into nothing, but shall have no hope of it; when you would rejoice, if you might but have any relief, after you shall have endured these torments millions of ages, but shall have no hope of it."

"After you shall have worn out the age of the sun, moon, and stars, in your dolorous groans and lamentations, without rest day and night, or one minute's ease, yet you shall have no hope of ever being delivered; - after you shall have worn a thousand more such ages, you shall have no hope, but shall know that you are not one whit nearer to the end of your torments; but that still there are the same groans, the same shrieks, the same doleful cries, incessantly to be made by you, and that the smoke of your torment shall still ascend up for ever and ever. Your souls, which shall have been agitated with the wrath of God all this while, will still exist to bear more wrath; your bodies, which shall have been burning all this while in these glowing flames, shall not have been consumed, but will remain through eternity, which will not have been at all shortened by what shall have been past."

"How sinking would it be to you, to endure such pain as you have felt in this world, without any hopes, and to know that you never should be delivered from it, nor have one minute's rest. You can now scarcely conceive how doleful that would be. How much more to endure the vast weight of the wrath of God without hope! The more the damned in hell think of the eternity of their torments, the more amazing will it appear to them; and alas, they will not be able to keep it out of their minds. Their tortures will not divert them from it, but will fix their attention to it. O how dreadful will eternity appear to them after they have so long an experience of their torments! The damned in hell will have two infinites perpetually to amaze them, and swallow them up: one is an infinite God, whose wrath they will bear, and in whom they will behold their perfect and irreconcilable enemy The other is the infinite duration of their torment."

Those are strong words. Too strong for some. Others have come up with different ways of interpreting hell in the Scriptures. Those views will shape the approach of the next three messages in this series. I hold to a more literal interpretation of the words of Jesus on eternal punishment. But I think it's important to "always be ready to give a reason" to people who ask why we believe what we believe.

Basically, there are FOUR VIEWS OF HELL among people who call themselves believers: the LITERAL VIEW, the METAPHORICAL VIEW, the CONDITIONAL view, and the PURGATORIAL view. In the coming weeks we'll study each one in turn.

This week - the CONDITIONAL VIEW - This approach teaches that only those who put saving faith in Jesus Christ will live forever. "CONDITIONAL IMMORTALITY" and "ANNIHILATIONISM" are other names for this position.

The central conviction is that the unrepentant wicked simply cease to exist - either at death itself, or they are wiped out in the fires of hell. There is no unending punishment or suffering for their sins.

There are verses of Scripture that they use to support their position:

Psalms 104:35 But may sinners vanish from the earth and the wicked be no more. Praise the LORD, O my soul. Praise the LORD.

Matthew 10:28 Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Galatians 6:8 The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.

John 12:25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.

Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I think several things need to be said about annihilationism.

1) When the Bible talks about the wicked being "DESTROYED" in hell it doesn't mean the loss of existence - That's not a matter of opinion. That word "DESTROY" in Matthew 10:28 is "apollumi" - it is used in the Scriptures to describe wineskins that have gone brittle and broken, or food that has gone bad.

Check any good expository dictionary and you'll get the same idea - VINES says it means "not loss of BEING, but loss of WELL-BEING".

You can have your car destroyed in an accident - TOTALLED - the matter of the car still exists - it's just useless as a car. The pieces would weigh the same on a scale, but it's not a car anymore.

2) Most of the OT references used to show the wicked as being "NO MORE" are referring to the removal of them from the earthly scene. The OT talks far less about either heaven or hell than the NT.

Psalms 37:2 for like the grass they will soon wither, like green plants they will soon die away.

Psalms 37:9-10 For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the LORD will inherit the land. {10} A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.

Psalms 37:20 But the wicked will perish: The Lord's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish--vanish like smoke.

All of these passages (and dozens like them) are talking about one thing only - God's judgement on the wicked IN THIS WORLD. The Psalmist is rejoicing in God going to battle for His people Israel. He will vindicate their righteous cause. Every commentary in the world will give you that interpretation of those verses!

NO - when the Bible talks about the future punishment of the wicked it paints a very different picture:

3) Let's look at some important passages:

a) Matthew 25:41-46 - "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. {42} For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, {43} I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' {44} "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' {45} "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' {46} "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."

Now, whatever your view, Jesus does make at least some things very clear in these verses: the fate of the wicked is "ETERNAL PUNISHMENT" (46). We are also told clearly that the wicked go to the same place as was "PREPARED FOR THE DEVIL AND HIS ANGELS (41).

In other words, the wicked are consigned to "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels"(46).

b) Revelation 20:10-15 - And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. {11} Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. {12} And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. {13} The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. {14} Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. {15} If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire."

Again, this is consistent with the words of Jesus. After one thousand years, the beast and false prophet are not annihilated in hell. They are still being tormented when the devil joins them. Together, they will be tormented "for ever and ever".

As Jesus had already taught, the wicked will join them in the same place.

"Well, what about that stuff about hell being the "SECOND DEATH"(14)? Doesn't that mean they'll be dead, finished. wiped out?"

Listen, the whole point of the passage is the exact opposite. Death and Hades are cast into the lake of fire (14). HADES is the Greek word for the place described in the OT as SHEOL - literally, "that which is unseen" or "place of departed spirits". The spirits of the wicked are held in hades awaiting final sentencing at the second coming of Jesus.

Then that temporary place is done away with. The "ETERNAL STATE" is fixed. It is unalterable.

Also, at that time, the first death is done away with - NOBODY WILL DIE ANYMORE. The whole point of the Bible is this - the first death is really no big problem. That's because it can't separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus. And also because it's effects are only temporary. Our loved ones feel the loss far more than we do. God can fix that all up, no problem.

The second death is far worse! Listen to what Jesus said about it:

Matthew 10:28 - "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell"

Surely, the whole point of Jesus' words is that there is something much worse than physical death.

Now, suppose your talking to your atheist neighbor. He doesn't believe in God or life beyond the grave. He thinks he's not long out of the trees and when he dies he turns into fertilizer.

Do you really think that Jesus is saying to that neighbor, "Listen man, there's something much worse than that. You could be annihilated!"?

And what did Jesus mean when He told Judas that it would have been better for him if he had never been born? Being annihilated is THE SAME as not having been born! In fact, every day in this world there are thousands of people who choose death over life as they know it. Annihilation isn't punishment for them. In their minds it's a relief.

c) Then there's the problem of DEGREES OF PUNISHMENT in hell - Several passages point to this truth:

Matthew 11:20-24 - "Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of his miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. {21} "Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. {22} But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. {23} And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. {24} But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you."

Luke 12:46-48 - "The master of that servant will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour he is not aware of. He will cut him to pieces and assign him a place with the unbelievers. {47} "That servant who knows his master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. {48} But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

It's difficult to make those verses meaningful when all the lost receive the same fate. Even if some suffer in hell longer than others before being annihilated, it's hard to see that there's much difference when for all eternity they both share the same non-existence. The end sentence seems awfully similar.

4) The Bible teaches that the punishment of hell will be an eternal punishment - It's restated too many times to ignore:

Matthew 25:46 - "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." - Notice that the same adjective is used to describe punishment as is used to describe life. You can't take away one without taking away the other.

Notice also that Jesus says the actual punishment is eternal. Annihilationism teaches that the punishment is immediate and the results of the punishment are eternal. Jesus says something different. The PUNISHMENT ITSELF is eternal.

Something has to have conscious existence to bear punishment. You can't punish a rock or a tree. You can't punish someone who isn't there. Eternal punishment requires eternal existence.

Mark 9:47-48 - "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 than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, {48} where "'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched."

Notice that the worm does NOT die. The fire never FINISHES ITS WORK.

Jesus doesn't even bother to state the obvious. When the fire totally consumes what it's burning, it goes out. This fire lasts because it doesn't annihilate.

Revelation 14:9-11 - "A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, {10} he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. {11} And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name."

Notice that the "smoke of their torment" rises forever and ever. Again, if the wicked are annihilated, whatever smoke rises, it's not the smoke of torment. Non-existent entities can't be tormented.

5) Let me deal with one FINAL OBJECTION to the doctrine of eternal punishment - Some may say, "Pastor Don, I just don't feel that any sin committed by finite human beings could possible deserve eternal conscious punishment!"

This is a hard objection to answer, but not for the reasons most people think. It's hard to deal with because the Bible simply doesn't put much stock on what we think God should or shouldn't do. He just never seems to ask our opinion.

In fact, let me tell you what I love more and more about God - GOD REVEALS - HE DOESN'T CONDUCT POLLS. I'm sick to death of polls. God never uses them.

But let's at least state clearly what we can be sure of.


Revelation 20:10 - "And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever."

"What's that have to do with us, Pastor Don?"

Quite a bit. You see, we are absolutely certain that both the devil and the fallen angels are created beings - they are not eternal. They were made by God and committed FINITE SINS against His glorious name. And we are absolutely positive that God considered it just to punish them eternally for their rebellion.

6) It's against the background of eternal punishment that the amazing grace of the Gospel shines so brilliantly. God is always just in His punishment. He's amazing in His grace. His mercy ought to overwhelm us.

2 Peter 3:3-9 - "First of all, you must understand that in the last days scoffers will come, scoffing and following their own evil desires. {4} They will say, "Where is this 'coming' he promised? Ever since our fathers died, everything goes on as it has since the beginning of creation." {5} But they deliberately forget that long ago by God's word the heavens existed and the earth was formed out of water and by water. {6} By these waters also the world of that time was deluged and destroyed. {7} By the same word the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire, being kept for the day of judgment and destruction of ungodly men. {8} But do not forget this one thing, dear friends: With the Lord a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day. {9} The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance."

Notice, there is the promise of the future fire of judgement. It's going to come upon all the earth. God Himself will make sure of it. But at the very same time, He doesn't want anyone to have to face it!

He's made a way in Jesus Christ to punish my sin on the cross (so He's still just and holy) and yet pardon and offer grace and mercy to the truly guilty!