What on Earth has Happened to Hell?
What on Earth has happened to hell? We live in a day when cults and false religions—many of them with a thin veneer of Christianity—have firmly planted their heresies in the soul of America. Almost all of these false religions all have one thing in common: They preach and teach that there is no hell. Ganer Ted Armstrong’s Worldwide Church of God—no hell; Jehovah’s False Witnesses—no hell; the Mormon Church—no hell; the Unification Church—no hell; Mary Baker Eddy’s Church of Christian Scientists—no hell; Eastern Mysticism and the New Age Movement and all their various manifestations teach that there is no such thing as hell; the Humanists teach that there is no hell (nor heaven). The Universalists say it doesn’t matter because everyone eventually gets into Heaven anyway and that hell was invented by the church to keep people in line.
What on earth has happened to hell? The Doctrine of Hell has fallen on hard times. The latest research from Barna Associates shows that only 32% of adults see hell as, "an actual place of torment and suffering where people's souls go after death." Couple that with the rapid decline of biblical literacy in American life, and within a generation hell will simply cease to exist ... at least in the minds of Americans. Even notable Christian leaders question the existence of a literal hell.
In 1999, Pope John Paul II caused a stir among the faithful—Catholic and non-Catholic—when he released an encyclical stating that “hell is the definitive rejection of God.” He further wrote that “ ... care should be taken to interpret correctly the images of hell in Sacred Scripture, and that hell is the ultimate consequence of sin itself ... Rather than [being] a place, hell indicates the state of those who freely and definitively separate themselves from God, the source of all life and joy."
Even the venerable Billy Graham has softened his views on the literalness of hell. In any number of interviews dating back to at least 1995, Graham has said that he can no longer, in good conscience preach about a literal, burning hell. He feels that hell is more of a separation from God than a literal place. He says that “hellfire and brimstone preaching” was good for the ‘40's and ‘50's but no longer good for the new millennium.”
I think Bruce Shelley, professor of Church History at the Denver Theological Seminary, best explains why hell has fallen on hard times: “It’s just too negative. Churches are under enormous pressure to be consumer-oriented ... “ And let’s face it, in an era where many churches are trying to be appealing to a thoroughly secular culture, preaching on hell just ain’t gonna pack ‘em in.
This evening, let me take you through what our text has to say about hell.
I. HELL BECKONS THE UNRIGHTEOUS v. 9
- “Sheol beneath is stirred up to meet you when you come; it rouses the shades to greet you, all who were leaders of the earth; it raises from their thrones all who were kings of the nations.” (Isaiah 14:9, ESV)
- "Hell from beneath is moved for thee to meet thee at thy coming: It stirreth up the dead for thee, even all the chief ones of the earth; It hath raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.” (Isaiah 14:9, KJV)
- Isaiah pictures the remnant of the Israelites who have returned from their Babylonian captivity as taunting the King of Babylon
- in spite of the destruction to comes on the nation of Israel for their disobedience, God will again have compassion on them
- once again He will choose Israel to be His people, as He had done at Mount Sinai
- but woe unto Babylon and especially the King of Babylon
- vv. 3-21 record a song—or more literally—a taunt that will be sung by people freed from the fear of the king of Babylon
- on the earth there is quiet and rest because the oppressor has ceased (Isa. 14:7)
- but the peoples of the earth cannot remain quiet long, and soon they into singing because Babylon, the empire that struck the peoples in wrath with unceasing blows, that ruled the nations in anger and with unrelenting persecution (Isa. 14:6) has fallen and her king is dead
- but in hell a different kind of celebration is going on
- in hell the demons and current residents gleefully welcome hell’s newest arrival
- in v. 9, Isaiah paints a picture of hell beckoning and anticipating the Babylonian King’s arrival where his sinful pride will be judged by God
- ILLUS. One of the common themes for paintings and frescoes during the Renaissancewas the Second Coming of Christ. The most famous rendition of that event is Michelangelo’s Judgement of Christ, painted on the back wall of the Sistine chapel. Invariably such art work shows the demons of hell beckoning sinners to their fate and gleefully escorting them to their destiny.
- ILLUS. The fate of Aza McKeys is an example of Sheol’s gleeful beckoning of sinners. Aza McKeys was the prosecuting attorney for Los Angeles County in California. Over the years, he was responsible for sending hundreds of men to Alcatraz Prison. But then the day came when Aza McKeys, himself, was caught committing a felony. He was tried and convicted and sentenced to serve his time at Alcatraz. When the inmates heard that the former Los Angeles County Prosecutor was coming to Alcatraz as an inmate, like the denizens of hell, they rose up to meet him at his coming. They hounded him, they threatened him, they harassed him, they harangued him, they tormented him until he finally lost his mind.
- Isaiah writes that hell from beneath is moved to greet thee at thy coming
- hell is real and it beckons to all unbelievers
- “The Lord knoweth how to deliver the godly out of temptations, and to reserve the unjust unto the day of judgment to be punished:” (2 Peter 2:9, KJV)
- “Rejoice, O young man, in your youth, and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth. Walk in the ways of your heart and the sight of your eyes. But know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment.” (Ecclesiastes 11:9, ESV)
- “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,” (Hebrews 9:27, ESV)
- it will be impossible for the sinner to evade it
- in condemning the Pharisees, Jesus told them: “How can ye escape the damnation of hell?” (Matt. 23:33)
- resistance, individually or collectively, will be futile
- “Though hand join in hand, the wicked shall not be unpunished: But the seed of the righteous shall be delivered.” (Proverbs 11:21, KJV)
A. HELL IS A PLACE FOR THE UNRIGHTEOUS DEAD
- hell in the Old Testament is not as clearly defined as it is in the New Testament
- throughout much of Hebrew history, Sheol was often seen as the place of the dead for both the righteous and the unrighteous, and, in the majority of cases, the New International Version simply translates it as “the grave"
- of the 67 times the word appears in the Old Testament, the KJV translates it as hell thirty-one times and the rest as either the grave or the pit
- many modern translations don’t even translate the word, but merely transliterate it and render it as Sheol
- the Greek word hades of the New Testament has the same scope of meaning as sheol of the Old Testament
- when Jewish scholars translated the Hebrew Scriptures into Greek, they used the word Hades to translate the Hebrew word Sheol
- whether Sheol or Hades, they word represented the place with dismay and foreboding
- but in many Old Testament texts, such as Isaiah 14:9-11, we catch a glimpse of an evolving belief that Sheol is the place of the unrighteous dead
- Sheol is the destiny of all those who end their lives in impenitence
- the righteous had a different expectation
- though the Old Testament does not speak with the clarity of the New Testament on the death of the righteous, it does speak in a complementary fashion
- ILLUS. One commentator referred to the Old Testament’s teaching on heaven as a room richly furnished but dimly lit.
- King David in his Psalms clearly presents this idea
- in Psalm 16:10-11 he writes, “For You will not abandon me to Sheol; ... in your right had are eternal pleasures.”
- in Psalm 23:6 he writes, "Only goodness and faithful love will pursue me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord as long as I live.”
- in Psalm 21:8-9 he writes: “Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies; your right hand will seize your foes. At the time of your appearing you will make them like a fiery furnace. In his wrath the LORD will swallow them up, and his fire will consume them.”
- one of the best references to a clearer distinction between separate realms for the unrighteous and the righteous is found in the prophet Daniel
- “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2, ESV)
- “From new moon to new moon, and from Sabbath to Sabbath, all flesh shall come to worship before me, declares the LORD. “And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” ” (Isaiah 66:23–24, ESV)
B. HELL IS A PLACE OF UNRELENTING TORMENT
- during the intertestimate period—that era from the close of the OT and the beginning of NT times, clearer distinctions were made between the final destinies of the righteous and the unrighteous.
- the idea of separate divisions within Sheol for the righteous and the unrighteous was developed
- we catch a glimpse of this in Luke 16 where two men die
- one is a poor man named Lazarus—when he dies he is carried by the angels to Abraham’s side
- the other is a rich man—who, when he dies he wakes up in hades where he is tormented
- this is one of the strongest indications we have that by the New Testament era Sheol and Hades were seen as eternal abodes for the unrighteous—what we would call Hell
- Jesus gives us a much more precise picture of hell in his use of the word Gehenna
- Jesus used the word six or seven times and in every instance it is translated as hell
- Gehenna is the valley in the Old Testament called "ga ben Hinnom" or "the valley of the son of Hinnom,"
- it was the place where the idolatrous Jews burned their children alive as sacrifices to Moloch and Baal
- a particular part of the valley was called Tophet, or the “fire-stove,” where the children were actually immolated
- King Ahaz—one of the Judean Kings who reigned during Isaiah’s prophetic ministry—actually introduced the wicked practice to the people of Judah
- “Ahaz was twenty years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem sixteen years. Unlike David his father, he did not do what was right in the eyes of the LORD. He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and also made cast idols for worshiping the Baals. He burned sacrifices in the Valley of Ben Hinnom and sacrificed his sons in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.” (2 Chronicles 28:1–3, NIV)
- it was a place that smoldered continuously from fire deep within the compost
- the Jews associated the valley with two ideas, (1) that of the sufferings of the victims that had there been sacrificed; and (2) that of fire, filth and corruption
- Jesus used Gehenna as an earthly illustration of what hell would be like
- It’s a place of torment, (Luke 16:23),
- It is a place where men cry for mercy, (Luke 16:24),
- It’s a place of weeping, and wailing, and gnashing of teeth, (Matthew 8:12),
- It’s a place where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched, (Mark 9),
- It’s a place where men gnaw their tongues due to the pain of it, (Rev. 16:10),
- It is a place that is forever, and ever and forever, (Rev. 14:11)
- It is like being left outside in the dark forever, (Mt. 8:12)
- It is like a wandering star, (Jude 13)
- It is like a waterless cloud, (Jude 12)
- It is like a bottomless pit (Rev. 20:1)
- It is like an everlasting prison, (1 Pet. 3:19)
II. HELL BELITTLES THE UNRIGHTEOUS vv. 10-11
- Hell is a place where no one will ever feel good about themselves
- you will never be praised
- you will never be encouraged
- you will never be loved
- you will never be comforted
- ridicule, derision, blame and condemnation are your constant companions in hell
- Isaiah paints a picture of a once proud and mighty potentate humbled and debased by the denizens of hell
- they mock and belittle him
- You have become as weak as we are they crow
- You have become like us they wail
- Your pomp means nothing down here they say
- You bed is composed of maggots and worms are your covers they cry
A. HELL IS A PLACE WHERE RANK DOES NOT HAVE PRIVILEGES
- Sheol is the place where unrepentant great men will dwell for all eternity
- in Isaiah 14, the prophet speaks of one who was a king but who has now been brought down to Sheol where others mock him and belittle him
- all the kingly trappings in earthly life account for nothing in hell
- Sheol is the leveler of men, especially those who exalted themselves in this life rather than humbling themselves before the true King
- Sheol is the place where unrepentant foolish men will dwell for all eternity
- “This is the path of those who have foolish confidence; yet after them people approve of their boasts. Selah Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; death shall be their shepherd, and the upright shall rule over them in the morning. Their form shall be consumed in Sheol, with no place to dwell.” (Psalm 49:13–14, ESV)
- “For the lips of a forbidden woman drip honey, and her speech is smoother than oil, but in the end she is bitter as wormwood, sharp as a two-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps follow the path to Sheol;” (Proverbs 5:3–5, ESV)
- "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.” (2 Peter 3:7, NIV)
- “Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” (Romans 2:4–5, NIV)
B. HELL IS A PLACE WHERE GOD’S RIGHTEOUS JUDGMENT IS DISPENSED
- “All this is evidence that God’s judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering. God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power on the day he comes to be glorified in his holy people and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, because you believed our testimony to you.” (2 Thessalonians 1:5–10, NIV)
- God’s Justice Demands a Hell
- Scripture offers reasons for the existence of hell
- one is that justice demands the existence of hell, and God is just (Romans 2)
- He is so pure and untainted that he cannot even look upon sin (Hab. 1:13)
- God is no respecter of persons, “For God does not show favoritism” (Rom. 2:11)
- ILLUS. Surely, there would be no real justice were there no place of punishment for the demented souls of Stalin and Hitler and Pol Pot who initiated the merciless slaughter of multimillions. God’s justice demands that there is a hell.
- The Bible asserts that “God is love” (1 John 4:16)
- but love cannot act coercively, only persuasively
- a loving God cannot and will not force people to love Him and live for Him
- forced loved is not love; it is rape
- a loving being always gives “space” to others
- he does not force himself upon them against their will
- therefore, those who do not choose to love God must be allowed not to love him
- those who do not wish to be with him must be allowed to be separated from him.
- Hell fulfills the ultimate wish of the unrepentant sinner—
- since God cannot force people into heaven against their free will, human free choice demands a hell
- Jesus cried out, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing” (Matt. 23:37)
- ILLUS. C.S. Lewis, in his book The Great Divorce, wrote, “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done’ ”
- unless there is a hell there is no final victory over evil
- the wheat and tares cannot grow together forever
- there must be an ultimate separation, or else good will not triumph over evil
- as in society, punishment for evil is necessary that good might prevail
- similarly, in eternity good must triumph over evil—if it does not, then God is not in ultimate control
- God’s sovereignty demands a hell, otherwise he would not be the ultimate victor over evil that the Bible declares him to be
- “Then the end will come, when he hands over the kingdom to God the Father after he has destroyed all dominion, authority and power. For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet.” (1 Corinthians 15:24–25, NIV)
- at the center of Christianity is the cross
- “For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve.” (1 Corinthians 15:3–5, NIV)
- Christ’s death is robbed of its eternal significance unless there is an eternal separation from God from which people need to be delivered
Con. What on earth happened to hell? If there is no hell, you have no use for a bible-believing pastor. If there is no hell, you have no use for a gospel preaching church. If there is no hell, you have no use for a Savior. If there is no hell, you have no use for prayer, except perhaps, prayer to make you healthy, wealthy and wise in this world. Judgement is coming. Hell is beckoning. The lost sinners only hope of escape is to repent, and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ.
The doctrine is also important for Christians:
- The Doctrine of hell should increase your faithfulness and joy in Christ that you have been delivered from the torments of hell and should likewise increase your love for Christ who endured the wrath of God upon the cross for you.
- The doctrine of hell should help the godly to be patient under all outward, temporary afflictions which come to them. No matter how great your afflictions are in this world, they are far less than the torments of hell from which the Lord has freed the godly.
- The doctrine of hell should motivate you to tell others of the message of Christ. Eryl Davies wrote in his book The Wrath of God: "The eternity of hell's sufferings should make us the more zealous and eager to tell people of the only One who is able to rescue them.”