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One Eye on Hell

Matthew: The Sermon on the Mount  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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Jonathan Edward’s 51st resolution:
Resolved, that I will act so, in every respect, as I think I shall wish I had done, if I should at last be damned. July 8, 1723.
In other words, if I were to end up in hell and think back on my life and upon all the things I would have done differently so as to never have ended up in hell, that is what I will do not. It is a simple resolution, one that is almost cliche, but it shows something about Edward’s practice of the Christian life: he always kept one eye on hell.
If we fear something, and hell is rightly to be feared, we will keep an eye on it even when we know that we are completely safe in the arms of Christ. In him there is no condemnation (Romans 8:1) and thus, no chance of hell ever being the the destination of one who truly loves the Saviour. But nonetheless Scripture repeatedly warns us to turn an eye to this fearful end. Jesus will say as much later in the book of Matthew:10:28
Matthew 10:28 ESV
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.
If we are to fear him who can punish a person so thoroughly in hell, it is necessary for us to take the time to understand what hell is and how it leads us to a healthy fear of God.

Understanding the Sinful Eye

Before we dive into what hell is, let us first look at this text,
Jesus is speaking in the context of lust, but it is clear that this applies to the other heart-sins that he is speaking of here.
Jesus is not promoting legalism, since legalism is actually the very thing Jesus is preaching against in this text. Instead, this is instruction for someone whose heart has been humbled and desires a righteousness they cannot achieve themselves. If you hunger for righteousness, you hate sin. If you don’t hate sin enough, hell will make you hate it. Truly hungering for righteousness manifests itself in violent and extreme measures to stay away from it.

Understanding the Reality and Purpose of Hell

We aren’t going to spend our time going over the sin of lust or any of these spiritual dangers again. Instead, we are going to look at what exactly Jesus would have us fear in this text, a place of torment for the enemies of God which Jesus calls Gehenna.

The Reality of Hell

The fact that there is an eternal punishment waiting for those who reject faith in God, specifically those who reject Jesus Christ and his finished work, is clear. While only Jesus and James actually call this place Gehenna or hell, it is described all over the New Testament.
Matthew 25:46 ESV
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
2 Thessalonians 1:8–9 ESV
in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,
Psalm 92:7 ESV
that though the wicked sprout like grass and all evildoers flourish, they are doomed to destruction forever;
With these Scriptures in mind, I won’t take time to prove to you that such a place exists. Instead, I hope we can search the Scriptures and perhaps better understand what hell is, it’s purpose and justice, and why we should be concerned with it.

Sheol/Hades: The Place of Watching and Waiting

A place of rest for the righteous who hoped in God

Job 14:13–14 ESV
Oh that you would hide me in Sheol, that you would conceal me until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me! If a man dies, shall he live again? All the days of my service I would wait, till my renewal should come.
Job is waiting for resurrection, a hope other biblical authors share when they remember that they must go there
After the death of Christ, the Gospel was preached to the souls in Sheol, most of whom reject it (1 Peter 3:19-20) but some accept it with eternal life
1 Peter 4:6 ESV
For this is why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead, that though judged in the flesh the way people are, they might live in the spirit the way God does.

…and a prison for those without faith

Isaiah prophecies the King of Babylon’s time in Sheol,
Isaiah 14:13–16 ESV
You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; above the stars of God I will set my throne on high; I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north; I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit. Those who see you will stare at you and ponder over you: ‘Is this the man who made the earth tremble, who shook kingdoms,

After Christ’s Death

After Christ’s resurrection, the souls of OT believers as well as NT believers are resurrected to reign until the second coming when all souls are judged and the non-elect in Hades are thrown into Hell.
OT believer: dies, rests in Sheol, hear the Gospel preached, is resurrected by faith into the Kingdom either during or after the millenium.
OT unbelievers: dies, is imprisoned in Sheol, has the Gospel preached, rejects it because of enduring lack of faith. Remains in Sheol until Judgement day.
NT believer: dies believing the Gospel, is immediately raised from Sheol to be with Christ and reign for a thousand years. Inhabits new earth along with OT believers.
NT unbeliever: dies, tormented in prison/hades, resurrected for judgement, thrown into hell.

Gehenna: The Eternal Punishment of the Wicked

But when Jesus is talking about Gehenna, he is not talking about the place of resting for the dead, he is talking about final judgement.
Gehenna is what we mean when we use the word “hell”. It is also referred to as the lake of fire, everlasting destruction, and eternal punishment.
Gehenna is the transliterated version of The Valley of the Son of Hinnom and it was the place where King Ahaz and King Manasseh sacrificed their own children in fire to the pagan god Moloch. Jeremiah prophesied that the valley would one day be known as the Valley of Slaughter where those that opposed the worship of God in such vile ways as these kings would be buried in a mass grave. This led to the valley being used for burning refuse and eventually became connected with the idea of eternal punishment for the wicked after death. Jesus affirms this belief in eternal, conscious torment when he uses that name to refer to hell.
This is the final destination for those who do not know God and have not believed on the Lord Jesus Christ. It is the everlasting vengeance of God being poured out on his enemies forever. This is what is described in Revelation 20:13-15
Revelation 20:13–15 ESV
And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 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.
Those in Sheol, the place of rest for the dead, are judged by God and those who are not in the book of life are thrown with the beast into the lake of fire. This group either comprises OT believers and all unbelievers, or just unbelievers if you believe that their souls escaped Sheol during Christ’s death. Either way, God judges justly and since all humanity is doomed to destruction because of sin only those whose names in this Book of Life, that is, those who are counted among the people of God and covered by the blood of Christ (this is described earlier in Rev 5:9-10).

The Purpose of Hell

But why does such a place exist in the first place? Men have been prolific in coming up with different ways to punish the wicked that we would be much more comfortable with. Some have proposed anihillation, where the wicked would simply be no more. Others have suggested that God keep people in hell but only until they repent and turn to Christ, in which case they may come back into paradise. Why does God sent people to hell?
Since we are the guilty party in this matter of cosmic justice, and because we cannot come even close to understanding God’s holiness, we are not in a position to decide what is the just punishment for sin.
Punishment and cutting off is necessary where ever there is a broken covenant, according to the nature of the covenant and those involved. When mankind breaks covenant with God by turning away from him and towards our own ways, we are calling a curse upon ourselves. Genesis 17:14
Genesis 17:14 ESV
Any uncircumcised male who is not circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin shall be cut off from his people; he has broken my covenant.”
Being cut off from the people of God meant complete abandonment by God. A covenant is a sacred thing, and a covenant with God the most sacred thing we can have. To break this covenant not only breaks off your relationship with the person, but makes them your mortal enemy. Any Israelite who was not in Covenant with God was as good as dead.
God does not punish animals for doing unnatural things, he punishes his image bearers for the greatest evil that could ever be committed: forsaking our role as image-bearers and becoming our own gods. This is an eternal blasphemy that cannot be forgiven without the shedding of blood.
But a simple death is not enough. We have not broken covenant with some human king, this would certainly lead to an execution but no more. We are told not to fear man who can destroy the body and nothing else, but fear him who can destroy both body and soul in hell. We’ve sinned against the Almighty, All-powerful God of the universe. How much deeper the curse over such a violation is.
Those in hell will also have no grace at all, not even the smallest, and this includes grace to believe. Because faith is a gift from God endowed by the Holy Spirit, and those in hell will be no closer to repentance than ever before.
The suffering of the wicked will also be an eternal display of God’s patient yet wrathful justice, just as we who believe will be an eternal display of God’s grace and merciful love.
Hell does not exist to teach those in it a lesson. It exists to vindicate the justice of God and to curse the rebellious with exactly what they have always wanted: a life without God. Without his mercy, without his compassion, without any of his good gifts. Their whole purpose of existence is to live out an existence without God in order to display his glory.

Hell and the Cross

God does not leave man without a way to avoid this curse. In fact, he sent his own son, the second member of the Trinity Jesus Christ, to take on that curse on our behalf. On the cross he willingly took our curse upon himself and bore the punishment of eternal hell, he himself being fully God, and he fully took that punishment and made a new covenant in himself so that those who believe in him will not perish in their sin, but live in the faithfulness of Christ. Because he suffered, there is no hell for the believer. Because he is faithful, we can be assured that the Father will see us as faithful too because in Jesus Christ we are made right with God.
In love, God does not desire any of his enemies to face his wrath. He offers them his son and tells them, “here is your way out of the horrible situation you’ve put yourself in. You don’t have to pay that debt, you don’t have to go to hell.” But you follow and abide in Christ or else you will be found outside him with nothing to shield you from the wrath to come.
Conclusion to Part 1
In the opening sequence of the Pilgrims Progress, the character Evangelist approaches Christian and tells him, “flee from the wrath to come.” Burdened by the weight of knowing destruction is at hand, he gladly takes this offer and runs away from destruction with his fingers in his ears yelling, “life life, eternal life!” Hell was already in his conscience, but once he heard that God was merciful and willing to grant forgiveness to all who would just come and receive it, there was nothing that could stop him.
If you are here today and have not believed the Gospel and submitted to the Lordship of Christ, you don’t believe in hell. You may believe it in your head, but you don’t know what you are talking about. Hell is real for you, it’s coming. As Edwards would say, the bow of God’s wrath is bent and his arrows are thirsty for your blood. But he holds that bow back, drawn to fire at any time, out of mercy. Perhaps you need a clearer view of hell. Next week we will explore what our response to the doctrine of hell should be, but if you don’t know Christ you need to know what your response should be right now. Repent! Humble yourself before the Lord! Don’t test his patience when you know he may take your life at any point and you would have no excuse. My hope is that you will be shaken, unable to eat or drink or sleep without thinking about the fires of Gehenna that wait to lick you up like dry grass. I wish this on you that you may be like that Pilgrim, running away from your sin and the destruction it will cause to your soul and be covered by the purity of Christ’s work. He is waiting to recieve you, to enliven you, to give you a white robe that symbolizes the pure fellowship we can have with God because of his work. I don’t want you to go to hell, so I hope it is all you can think about until you can taste and see the sweetness of Christ and you get up and run to him.

Our Response to Hell

Hell and the Christian

Fear of the LORD

Thanksgiving for the Grace of God

Hell in Rebuke to Hypocrites

A Warning to Hypocrites

A Warning for Backsliding Christians

Hell in Evangelism

The Fear of God for the Lost
A backdrop for Grace
A Hammer for Hard Hearts
When I was a child, one of my favourite pastimes was looking for geodes and other interesting rocks in our acreage in Alberta. Some of them fell apart naturally, with a little gentle force, and I would find some fossil or something inside. But I remember one particularly hard, but small, rock which I used a sledge hammer to finally crack open and found a beautiful little amethyst geode.
Hell can be a hammer to get through the hardest heart. In fact, it is the hammer we must use when nothing else is hard enough to work.
It is a hammer to be used carefully. If I used a hammer on the softer sandstone it would shatter the fossil inside. We need to have the wisdom to discern when the hammer of the doctrine of hell is needed in an evangelism context.
It is a hammer that is meant to bring about a fear of God, not painting him as a tyrant but as a just judge who offers mercy to every sinner.
It is a hammer that slammed down on Christ at the cross. If we don’t get here, we have not preached the Gospel.
It is a hammer we must use with respect, care, and even mourning. The doctrine of hell is serious and sad, it is the story of sinners who would rather endure the punishment of eternal wrath alongside Satan himself than come to the merciful Saviour who took eternal wrath once and for all on the cross.

Conclusion: Consider the Ground on which you stand.

In the famous song of Moses, God speaks through the Prophet describing how he will treat his enemies. There is also God’s prescription for when his people turn to idols: he makes those idols fail miserably.
Deuteronomy 32:35–39 ESV
Vengeance is mine, and recompense, for the time when their foot shall slip; for the day of their calamity is at hand, and their doom comes swiftly.’ For the Lord will vindicate his people and have compassion on his servants, when he sees that their power is gone and there is none remaining, bond or free. Then he will say, ‘Where are their gods, the rock in which they took refuge, who ate the fat of their sacrifices and drank the wine of their drink offering? Let them rise up and help you; let them be your protection! “ ‘See now that I, even I, am he, and there is no god beside me; I kill and I make alive; I wound and I heal; and there is none that can deliver out of my hand.
There are three kinds of people sitting here listening to this today,
Those who are lost. For you, this text describes your place in verse 35. You are, a the Puritan Jonathan Edwards preached, at the end of God’s poisonous arrow of wrath which thirsts for your blood. You are an enemy of God, and if God were to withhold the great mercy he has for you right now surely the ground would swallow you up because of your vileness upon the earth. His words, but ones I agree are accurate and in line with Scripture. It is much worse for you who have grown up in the church or who have had years of Gospel preaching in your ears but have done nothing with it. Instead, you have buried it under a pile of excuses, sins, and plugging your own spiritual ears until the day of wrath will come and sweep you away. You are in the most danger, not only because you are the most deaf to the serious alarm that God’s Word is sounding off, but also because His wrath is more severe for you who have so long resisted the calling of the Holy Spirit. You are in the midst of committing blasphemy against the Holy Spirit and if you die in your sins you will be forever convicted of that most eternal sin.
Backsliding Christian. Hell is in our text this morning because of you. You are starting to act less and less like a Christian and more and more like a Pharisee. You don’t commit open sin so much, but your heart is becoming harder and harder. You don’t commit adultery, maybe you don’t even look at pornography, but your heart is full of lust. You don’t murder, but you have grudges you are holding onto and insults or gossip you let slip out of your mouth. Jesus lets the fires of hell lick the consciences of backsliders to keep them from sliding any further to a place where it will be known that you are an apostate and never knew Christ at all.
But what about perseverance of the saints? The fruit of a Christian life may go out of season, but if Christ comes to you over and over and finds no fruit you will be cut down and thrown into the fire. You were never a fruit tree, you are a weed in the church.
While this sounds harsh, it is meant to be a hopeful awakening for you. The result is not that you would “try harder” but rather that you would return to the Beatitudes and trust God to do a work in you. Embrace poverty in your spirit, embrace mourning for sin, begin to hunger for a more righteous life without trying to establish it yourself. Flee from the wrath that will come on all sinners who are not following Christ faithfully.
Hebrews 3:12 ESV
Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God.
Hebrews 4:1–2 ESV
Therefore, while the promise of entering his rest still stands, let us fear lest any of you should seem to have failed to reach it. For good news came to us just as to them, but the message they heard did not benefit them, because they were not united by faith with those who listened.
I don’t want you to try harder, you need to repent. You need to just look to Christ, nothing else. Your backsliding is a sign of a lack of trust in Christ, a trust that you can only have when you have nothing else to trust in. So take the instruction of the Apostle James
James 4:4–10 ESV
You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”? But he gives more grace. Therefore it says, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you.
Hell for you is like those warnings on the cigarette packages that have disturbing images of smoking-related illness. Don’t continue to foolishly smoke sin and neglect God’s gracious warning to you. Don’t say “just one more,” for hell is much worse than anything smoking could do to you.
Struggling Christian.
Next there are Christians who is actively walking in the faith. The only thing hell should be to you is a warning to avoid backsliding, fuel for thanksgiving, and the source for the tears we should shed for the lost. Keep your hand to the plow and do not let the condemnation of hell paralyze you like it did the unfaithful servant who buried his talent because he thought of his Lord as a harsh man. Look with confidence to the cross and keep running to the end where you will hear “well done”!
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