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?