Hell - An Eternity of Separation (2005 Version)
Hell: An Eternity of Separation
It is not popular in the churches of America today to talk about hell.
In the August 12, 2002 issue of Newsweek the front cover read: “Visions of Heaven.”
The article inside expounded the virtues of heaven and had a contrasting view of hell.
A supplemental article by Kenneth L. Woodward was entitled: “Why We Need Hell, Too.” It was subtitled: “Churchgoers Take Comfort: Hell has all but disappeared from modern Christian theology.”
In response to that article, Southern Baptist evangelist, Freddie Gage wrote: “It’s a sad, sad commentary that Newsweek magazine has to tell Protestant and Baptist preachers that they need to preach on hell.”
He went on to say…
Ø “If there is no hell, is not Calvary, with all of its suffering and sacrifice and finished atoning work, a blunder? If a man accepts the cross of Christ, he must accept the dogma of hell. If there be no hell, there can be no heaven!”
Others have said similar things…
Ø William Booth (founder of the Salvation Army) said, “If I had my way, I would not send any of my preachers to Bible School, but I would put each of them in hell for twenty-four hours. It’s the best training a preacher could have. When they came back out of hell, they would be flaming evangelists.”
Ø Billy Sunday said, “If there is no hell, let’s close down the churches and build a monument to an atheist.”
Ø Charles Spurgeon said, “Preaching that ignores the doctrine of hell, lowers the holiness of God and degrades the work of Jesus Christ.”
Ø W. A. Criswell said, “If you say there is no hell, you say the Bible is not the Word of God!”
Well, this morning I want us to look at the subject of hell—the only alternative to heaven.
Before we begin looking at specific questions related to the subject, I want to give you some background information.
In the Scripture there are actually three words that are translated “hell” –Gehenna, Hades and Tartarus – but each one speaks of a different place.
Gehenna is the Greek translation of the Hebrew word Ge-Hinnom (or Valley of Hinnom). This was a deep, narrow valley to the south of Jerusalem, where the idolatrous Jews (under the reign of King Ahaz) sacrificed their children to the false god, Molech.
After the time of Josiah (when this practice was halted), Gehenna became the “city dump,” where the bodies of criminals, the carcasses of animals and all kinds of debris and trash were thrown.
Like land fills today, it always smelled and smoldered (there were constant fires burning in the valley, as the waste was ignited in order to make room for more).
Gehenna refers specifically to the “Lake of Fire,” described in Revelation as the final (and eternal) dwelling place for Satan, his demons and nonbelievers who have rejected God’s salvation through the ages.
The second word is Hades. The word itself literally means, “The Unseen.” The Hebrew synonym for Hades was Sheol.
Both words refer to the invisible realm of the dead where nonbelievers are being held until the Great White Throne of Judgement when they will be cast into the Lake of Fire (Gehenna).
Now, note that this is not “purgatory” (which the Bible doesn’t even say exists). The idea of purgatory comes out of Roman Catholic doctrines, but has no biblical basis. According to Roman Catholic teaching, people can eventually leave purgatory. The difference in what I’m describing and the Roman Catholic belief in purgatory is that there will be no second chance for those in Hades.
The third word that is translated “hell” in Scripture is “Tartarus.” This is a special prison set up for the fallen angels that intermarried with humans just prior to the flood in Noah’s day (Gn. 6:1-4; 1 Pt. 3:19-20; 2 Pt. 2:4; Jude 6).
This morning, we will be focusing our attention on the first two (Hades and Gehenna).
Luke 16:19-31 (NASB95)
19 “Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. 20 “And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, 21 and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. 22 “Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. 23 “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and *saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24 “And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ 25 “But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. 26 ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ 27 “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ 29 “But Abraham *said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 “But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’ 31 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’”
As we look at this story (which I believe to be true because the characters are named), I want us to answer three important questions:
1. Who will be in hell?
Contrary to what some may infer, the rich man did not go to the place of torment because he was rich, and Lazarus did not go to paradise because he was poor.
The Bible is clear on this subject in other passages. Jesus said in…
John 3:16-18 (NASB95)
16 “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life. 17 “For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world, but that the world might be saved through Him. 18 “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.
These individuals went where they did based on whether or not they had entrusted their lives to God.
Lazarus went to a section of Hades (the realm of the dead), called “Paradise.” (Jesus, you remember, said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise”). It is also called “The Bosom of Abraham.”
The rich man, on the other hand, went to the section of Hades that had no designated name, but was described as a place of torment.
Both of these areas, the place of torment and paradise, were separated by a great gulf (or chasm) that could not be crossed.
Now, let me explain all of this . . . [explain].
2. What will hell be like?
There are several graphic terms, which are used in Scriptures to describe hell. I just want to highlight a few:
1) “Weeping” – Weeping is not something that we get a grip on; it gets a grip on us! We weep when we feel totally alone and abandoned.
Luke 13:28 (NASB95)
28 “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, but yourselves being thrown out.
2) “Fiery Furnace” – If you have ever been severely burned, you know the excruciating pain that you felt. Well imagine that pain all over your body, and it never ends! Never!
Matthew 13:42 (NASB95)
42 and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
3) “Gnashing of teeth” – Perhaps this is a result of anger or bitterness; or perhaps it is a result of being too weary to cry any longer.
Matthew 8:12 (NASB95)
12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
4) “Darkness” (Matthew 8:12) – [read “That Hideous Doctrine” by John Tomas, Moody Monthly Magazine,1985]
Imagine the person who has just entered hell – a neighbor, relative, co-worker, friend. After a roar of physical pain blasts him, he spends his first moments wailing and gnashing his teeth. But after a season, he grows accustomed to the pain, not that it’s become tolerable, but that his capacity for it has enlarged to comprehend it, yet not be consumed by it. Though he hurts, he is now able to think, and he instinctively looks about him. But as he looks, he sees only blackness.
In his past life he learned that if he looked long enough, a glow of light somewhere would yield definition to his surroundings. So he blinks and strains to focus his eyes, but his efforts yield only blackness. He turns and strains his eyes in another direction. He waits. He sees nothing but unyielding black ink. It clings to him, smothering and oppressing him.
Realizing that the darkness is not going to give way, he nervously begins to feel for something solid to get his bearings. He reaches for walls or rocks or trees or chairs: he stretches his legs to feel the ground and touches nothing.
Hell is a “bottomless pit” (Revelation 20:1-2); however, the new occupant is slow to learn. In growing panic, he kicks his feet and waves his arms. He stretches and he lunges. But he finds nothing. After more feverish tries, he pauses from exhaustion, suspended in black. Suddenly, with a scream he kicks, twists, and lunges until he is again too exhausted to move.
He hangs there, alone with his pain. Unable to touch a solid object or see a solitary thing, he begins to weep.
His sobs choke through the darkness. They become weak, then lost in hell’s roar.
As time passes, he begins to do what the rich man did – he again starts to think. His first thoughts are of hope. You see, he still thinks as he did on earth, where he kept himself alive with hope. When things got bad, he always found a way out. If he felt pain, he took medicine. If he were hungry, he ate food. If he lost love there was more love to be found.
So he casts about in his mind for a plan to apply to the hope building in his chest.
Of course, he thinks, Jesus, the God of love, can get me out of this.
He cries out with a surge. “Jesus! Jesus! You were right! Help me! Get me out of this!”
He waits, breathing hard with desperation. The sound of his voice slips into the darkness and is lost.
He tries again. “I believe, Jesus! I believe now! Save me from this!” Again the darkness smothers his words.
Our sinner is not unique. Everyone in hell believes.
When he wearies of appeals, he does next what anyone would do – assesses his situation and attempts to adapt. But then it hits him – this is forever.
Jesus made it very clear. He used the same words for “forever” to describe both heaven and hell.
Forever, he thinks, and his mind labors through the blackness until he aches.
“Forever!” he whispers in wonder. The idea deepens, widens, and towers over him.
The awful truth spreads before him like endless, overlapping slats: When I put in ten thousand centuries of time here, I will not have accomplished one thing. I will not have one second less to spend here.
As the rich man pleaded for a drop of water, so, too, our new occupant entertains a similar ambition. In life he learned that even bad things could be tolerated if one could find temporary relief. Perhaps even hell, if one could rest from time to time, would be more tolerable.
He learns, though, that “the smoke of [his] torment goes up forever and ever; and [he has] no rest day and night.” (Revelation 14:11)
No rest day and night – think of that.
Thoughts of this happening to people we know, people like us, are too terrifying to entertain for long.
Now, some may say that all the fire and darkness, torment and horrifying pain is just figurative.
I don't believe that (I believe the Bible gives us a literal description); but even if it is figurative, let me remind you that figurative (or symbolic) descriptions are never as intense as the thing they are describing!
Just as the joys of heaven are beyond our ability to imagine fully, the torment of hell is beyond our ability to comprehend!
3. How can hell be avoided?
The rich man wanted to send someone from the dead to warn his brothers, but the answer was, “No.”
And then, I want you to notice what Abraham told him in…
Luke 16:31 (NASB95)
31 “But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’ ”
Do you understand the significance of that statement?
“Moses and the prophets” was a reference to the Bible. This verse tells us that God’s Word, when it is driven home in our hearts through the work of God’s Holy Spirit, has the ability (the power) to change lives!
If a man, woman or young person will not be convicted and convinced by the Word of God and by the Holy Spirit working in his or her life that he/she needs Jesus, then that person cannot be convinced!
Now, what does the Bible tell us we must do to be saved from this horrible destiny of hell?
Romans 3:23 (NASB95)
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
Romans 6:23 (NASB95)
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 5:8 (NASB95)
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 10:9-10 (NASB95)
9 that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; 10 for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.
An atheist once wrote the following statement:
Did I firmly believe, as millions say they do, that the knowledge and practice of religion in this life influences destiny in another, religion would mean to me everything. I would cast away earthly enjoyments as dross, earthly cares as follies, and earthly thoughts and feelings as vanity. Religion would be my first waking thought and my last image before sleep sank me into unconsciousness. I should labor in its cause alone. I would take thought for the morrow of eternity alone. I would esteem one soul gained for heaven worth a life of suffering. Earthly consequences should never stay my hand, nor seal my lips. Earth, its joys and griefs, would occupy no moment of my thoughts. I would strive to look upon eternity alone, and on the immortal souls around me, soon to be everlastingly miserable. I would go forth to the world and preach to it in season and out of season, and my text would be, “What shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?”
- Believers—Warn! Tell everyone you can how they can avoid hell!
- Unbelievers—Believe! Put your trust in Jesus! He’s the only hope you have!