JESUS, AND er, WELL, HELL

Rob Bell in his popular book teaches that the idea of the punishment of unrepentant sinners in Hell keeps people from coming to Jesus. That is an unsettling thought, but on closer look, it falls in upon itself.  Jesus spoke very clearly about Hell, using language that can only be described as explicit. He warned of “him who can destroy both soul and body in Hell (Hades).”

Really, how could Jesus agree with sending anyone to Hell?

Actually, Jesus mostly had religious professionals in his sights! It is always important to thoroughly examine the context of Jesus’ sayings. Sometimes we are asked to explain to a critical person about hell. We don’t want to stop all arguments, to cut off all possible means of communication. It is wise to leave the implications, the mysterious details, to Jesus. Better to quote him saying ‘I did not come into the world to condemn the world but to save …..’ The bottom line of the good news of the Kingdom is that God is good and his generosity freely given to all.

So do his references to Hell really stop people from following Jesus? Well, the record shows otherwise. Everywhere he went he was met by crowds, in their thousands, from all over Israel and beyond Israel’s borders. And it did not inhibit the astounding revolution across the Roman world under the apostolic proclamation.

However, why would the authors of the New Testament books include the hard words of Jesus knowing that these would inhibit people’s following Jesus?

Life is serious. Death is serious. What happens after death and judgment that is surely coming, is of immense importance. Unless we are playing Russian roulette with our future and that of others. As the IVF Illustrated Bible Dictionary, vol 2 says “Nothing must be allowed to detract from Jesus’ warnings re the terrible reality of God’s judgments in the world to come.”

In the end if we stumble over this word of Jesus what else will we reject? Anything else which seems hard to take? There are heaps of difficult things said. We miss the Kingdom of God because we want our way, our truth, our life. Our facts. Our beliefs.

“Blessed is anyone who does not stumble on account of me.” Mat 11:6

The authors of the New Testament documents did not keep back the hard sayings of Jesus, though they must have been tempted. This surely indicates their authenticity. We have to take the whole Jesus, not just the parts we like. If we only take the parts we like, then we appoint ourselves as the ultimate authority.

Following Jesus can only be authentic if you actually follow him, in obedience. Otherwise you are merely setting your own philosophy above Jesus’ living words which he heard from the Father.

You may not like what you hear. Are you going to reject other things he says because they don’t suit you? This issue goes to the very heart of many of Jesus’ living words from God. e.g.,

“For if you forgive others for their transgressions, your heavenly Father will also forgive you.  But if you do not forgive others, then your Father will not forgive your transgressions.” Mat 6:14-15

Pretty plain, right? Or did the authors get their reporting wrong? Or this, similarly:

 “Do not judge, or you too will be judged.  For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you.” Mat 7:1-2

John’s Gospel will say the same as the three others. Paul and the other writers say the same too.

Of course, God is a Lover, the very source of love. He is kind and good to all:

He makes his sun rise on people whether they are good or evil. He lets rain fall on them whether they are just or unjust”  Mat 5:45 (GW)

Yet he alarms us with words like this:

For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? Mark 8:36

“But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’  So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” Luke 12:20-21

In Jesus, we do not hear the voice of one who brings a gospel of compromise, of wishy-washy, ear-tickling, men-pleasing words. Who would serve a god like that, in whom justice has no meaning? No. This is the living God who made everything and to whom we must all one day, give an account.

 “…… our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered to us …. We are far too easily pleased”  C.S.Lewis, The Weight of Glory

Man, this is serious. Much more serious than we like to think. Dare we trivialise the words of Jesus?

5 responses to “JESUS, AND er, WELL, HELL

  1. As I came to the grace of God from such a different background to you and Ruth, my doctrine has been formed almost entirely from reading the Bible. I’ve had church tradition preached at me and taught to me but it is the Bible that I return to for God’s Way. This issue of hell was a great weight on my mind for many years. I’d heard the traditional take on it but it just didn’t sit right with scripture. Yes, Jesus taught about hell, but just what did He teach?

    Matthew 10:28 is an interesting verse and I wonder if you hear what I hear when you read it. After years of striving to understand how I should approach God’s Word I finally realised a plain reading approach to the Bible is the way God intends us to hear His Words (Proverbs 8:8-9; 2 Cor 4:2). As you know Ian, I started out trying to determine which Jesus is the real Jesus; the Cosmic Christ, the Aquarian Jesus the Christ, the Christ who is found through Christ Consciousness or the Jewish rabbi revealed to us through God’s Word as God incarnate. Eventually God showed me that His Son is the Jesus of the Bible and if I don’t believe the Bible then I am not worshipping the true Lord Jesus Christ (Logos). After this I realised that the use of higher criticism refutes the concept of an inerrant Word from God and is therefore an inappropriate method for hearing God as He communicates to us through His written Word (rhema).

    All this to say that my plain reading of Mat 10:28 leads me to believe God will destroy souls. Just as John 3:16 tells me they will perish without the glorious saving grace of the one and only Saviour, Jesus Christ, through whom we can have eternal life. And where will they perish? Rev 20:14 tells us that Hades is a sort of holding place, death and hell (Hades) are cast into the Lake of Fire and it is here that the eternal tragedy occurs. Eternal punishment is administered through the second death.

    This eternal punishment has eternal consequences. Just like eternal judgment (Heb 6:2), which does not mean that the judging will last forever, but that its outcome will, and eternal redemption (Heb 9:12), which does not mean that the process of redemption goes on without end (the redemptive work was done once and for all) but that its issue will have no end forever. Also eternal salvation (Heb 5:9) is the result; we do not look for an eternal act of saving, Jesus’ work is complete, nor is the eternal sin called that because the sinning continues throughout eternity but because its guilt will never be forgiven. Eternal punishment will have eternal consequences and these are clear throughout the NT. The second death is the final and eternal end. Those souls who are not in Christ will be destroyed, they will perish.

    My heart is so heavy with this enormous tragedy. The eternal destiny of millions of souls will never be realised. It must wrench God’s heart to know that His great rescue plan, the gift of eternal life, will be rejected and His proclamation to Adam and Eve (Gen 2:17; 3:3) will have such an overwhelming fulfilment. Satan was quick on the scene to deny this (Gen 3:4), but this is the continued message throughout God’s Word (Is 64:6; Rom 1:32; 3:23; 6:23; Heb 10:27). Those who continue to reject God’s forgiveness for their sin will die the second and everlasting death following their judgment.

    I’m still at a loss to understand why so many in the church have accepted the Greek idea of an eternal soul. It is certainly not found in the pages of scripture. The Jews had no such teaching, although some had been Hellenized by Jesus’ time so they also took on this Greek notion, but they were not the orthodox Jews. Despite Satan assuring us we “shall not surely die,” the scripture is clear. Jesus is the only One who can offer us immortality, what a wondrous gift He gives us. May many, many more hear His Word of salvation and accept His gift of eternal life before the final judgment and eternal punishment when unbelievers will perish.

    • Thanks so much Leslie for your thoughtful comments on this difficult issue. Yes, in Matthew 10:28, Jesus used a word which was translated into the Greek apollymi and then into the English destroy. But this Greek word has also been used in some contexts which do not suggest total destruction or annihilation, for example, Mat 10:6, 39; 15:24, Luke 19:10, where the lost are able to be recovered.

      The Hebrews’ passages you quote do not necessarily mean what you assume. They may simply mean that God’s plans, His character and purposes do not change.

      Jesus sent his disciples to proclaim his good news of the kingdom. His gospel is summed up in his words in the synagogue in Luke 4:18-19 quoting Isaiah 42. I do not see Jesus being sent to proclaim Hell whether endless or limited. Warnings about Hell do not seem to have been part of the proclamation of the gospel in Acts either.

      Jesus commands us as we go into the world to make disciples of outsiders. I don’t hear him telling us to give them details about the length and severity aspects of Hell. We are told to teach new disciples to observe all that I have commanded you.

      These words of Jesus are strongly worded warnings charged with vivid pictures and symbolic language. Some are said to be cast into outer darkness, rather than fire. They seem to be aimed at hypocrites and religious leaders. I am no universalist but I am not willing to be dogmatic about the mysterious details of the “intermediate state”.

      The Greek idea of an eternal soul is really irrelevant here. If there is any period of weeping and terrible regret, gnashing of teeth, etc, then whether endless or limited, it is clear we will all survive in some form apart from the body. You can call this soul or spirit—it makes no difference. Any period is a terrifying thought—and should be enough “to scare Hell out of you”. But does it do that for all?

      I will leave the implications, the mysterious details of the severity, the means, and duration of the punishment to him the righteous judge. There is plenty for us to do and to teach which he has plainly commanded us and the time is short, the harvest is huge and the labourers few.

      • I add that though there is a separation between body and soul at death, yet there is a reconstitution in the resurrection of the just and the unjust and in that state the suffering will be in the whole person including the body. But this raises a further question: why raise the unjust and not simply destroy them at death? certainly, we must all stand before the judgment seat of God.

  2. Thanks Ruth. What a joy to read your personal testimony! May we all be constantly monitored by the Lord Jesus and led by the Holy Spirit from within where he has promised to live. So that we live in the light and not in darkness.

  3. Dear Ian, thank you for your clear comments on Jesus words. I have been pondering this determination of many who say they belong to Christ but who are pushing the emergent line of God’s love without His wrath. It is the Presbyterian church I think in USA who removed the hymn “In Christ Alone” when the authors refused them permission to change the line ” Gods wrath was satisfied” , to “God’s love was magnified”. I still remember the day when reading Isaiah 53, eighteen months after I had discovered the wonderful love of God for me, but without an experience of my sinfulness, that the Wrath of God took hold of me and I knew myself to be a sinner wholly deserving of hell. I fell on my knees horrified at the taste of both my sinful self and the holiness of God. I was indeed a sinner undone.
    Then after a season the beautiful cleansing of the blood of Jesus Christ filled my heart and life, and I read on with joy the promises of Isaiah 54.
    No matter how many well meaning Christian have tried to place condemnation or their laws on me since then I have never been intimidated. He saves to the uttermost those who have confessed and accepted His Word and Work. However only once again have I tasted of His wrath and that was in the context of ministry, when He warned me about something I later chose to neglect. Immediately the same wrath was upon me and all day I waited alone fearful I had surrendered my salvation. God in His great mercy forgave me and restored my confidence and hope. That was 40 years ago and I have never never lost my knowledge that although our salvation is free it is not cheap nor to be taken for granted. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of God without Christ’s covering.

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