Last Sunday we began our new sermon series titled “Heaven and Hell”. As this name suggests, we are going to spend the next few months studying the Biblical teachings on these two places. There are many misconceptions in our culture today - some even within the Christian church - regarding both Heaven and Hell. The purpose of these messages is combat the false ideas that are being widely received by presenting the truth as it is written in Scripture.
In the first message of this series we examined several verses and passages in the Bible that portray what Hell is actually like. In the gospels Jesus described Hell as a place of unspeakable torment and suffering. He compared it to a blazing furnace of unquenchable fire that is completely shrouded by outer darkness. In this awful place, the sounds of weeping and gnashing of teeth ring through the air while the worm of death never dies. In short, the the Word of God describes Hell as a place of extreme physical, psychological, and emotional pain beyond our human understanding.
Such a frightening picture of Hell is extremely unsettling and uncomfortable. Many in our society refuse to accept the Biblical description and instead teach different views. In 2011 a prominent megachurch pastor named Rob Bell released a popular book titled Love Wins in which he questioned the traditional Biblical teachings about Hell. At its annual meeting later that year, the Southern Baptist Convention responded by passing a resolution confirming its doctrinal stance. The resolution, in part, emphasized the literal existence of Hell and described it as a place of “eternal conscious punishment”.
As we continue our study of Hell this morning, we will discuss this phrase “eternal conscious punishment” and look at the extensive Biblical support for it. In this message we will affirm our doctrinal beliefs regarding the longevity or duration of Hell and the purpose of Hell’s existence.
I. How Long Will The Condemned Be In Hell?
“Now at that time Michael, the great prince who stands guard over the sons of your people, will arise. And there will be a time of distress such as never occurred since there was a nation until that time; and at that time your people, everyone who is found written in the book, will be rescued. 2 Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” - Daniel 12:1-2
“If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire.” - Matthew 18:8
There are numerous verses that plainly state that Hell is eternal. The usage of the word eternal in these verses obviously refers to a duration of time. Those who are in Hell will be there forever without any hope of release or escape. To interpret the clear and repeated use of the word eternal in any other way is a real stretch. God’s judgment is everlasting, and those who have rebelled against Him and rejected the salvation He offers will be consigned to Hell forever. This has be the teaching of the church of centuries, but there are always those who refute it.
Some religious leaders falsely teach that those in Hell can still repent, be saved, and subsequently be transferred to Heaven. They suggest that there will be a second chance for the unregenerate after their physical death. Others believe that after some undisclosed period of time, the condemned will be annihilated and completely cease to exist. This view proposes that Hell will not be eternal but temporal. These two proposals, along with many others that deny or undermine the eternal nature of Hell, do not have any sound basis in Scripture.
When we think of the eternity of Hell we must also consider the finality of Hell. There will be nothing else to follow it. It will be the final and unending chapter for those who abide there. There will be no prospect of something new, something better, something else… Hell will be an eternal end. Those who have be convicted and imprisoned in Hell will serve an eternal sentence without any hope for parole.
II. What Is The Purpose Of Hell?
These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” - Matthew 25:46
just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the cities around them, since they in the same way as these indulged in gross immorality and went after strange flesh, are exhibited as an example in undergoing the punishment of eternal fire. - Jude 1:7
The stated purpose of Hell is to punish those who have rejected God. In order to understand this, we must recognize the just nature of God. While we prefer to focus of His loving and merciful attributes, we must remember that the LORD is also vengeful and jealous. The Bible speaks bluntly about the retribution that God will exact upon His enemies. It warns people to fear Him because He has the power to cast them into Hell. Hell serves as the literal location where this divinely decreed punishment will take place.
In keeping with this purpose, those who are condemned to Hell will be conscious and fully aware of their suffering and punishment. In other words, they will actually feel and experience the pain and agony of Hell. Apart from such consciousness, how could it truly be a place of punishment? If those in Hell were numb to its suffering or oblivious to its terrors how could it be a suitable consequence? Punishment implies consciousness.
There is a profound difference between discipline and punishment. When God disciplines someone, He does so as an act of redemption. The Bible teaches that God disciplines those He loves in order that they might learn from their mistakes. Discipline seeks to change future behavior and bring about eventual restoration. Punishment, however, does not. The purpose of punishment is to impose a penalty upon those who have committed an offense. It is not intended to teach anything, but rather to inflict retribution. While discipline is an act of love, punishment is a requirement of justice.
III. Is Hell A Fair Punishment?
25 He who was delivered over because of our transgressions, and was raised because of our justification. - Romans 4:25
20 I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me. - Galatians 2:20
Many people, both inside and outside of the church, believe that eternal punishment in Hell is totally unfair. They insist that such an awful fate is far too severe. Why should someone who only sinned for 70 or so years during their earthly lifetime have to suffer in Hell forever? The punishment doesn’t seem to fit the crime... or does it?
Following this line of reasoning, eternal life in Heaven seems far too generous. Why should someone who only believed in God for 70 or so years during their earthly lifetime be rewarded with the blessings of Heaven forever? Isn’t it funny how the same people who complain about the unfairness of an eternal Hell never apply this same principle to Heaven?
The punishment that is executed as the result of a crime is not measured based on the duration of the act, but rather upon the nature or severity of the act. For example, it may take only a few minutes to rob a bank or to kill someone. Would it then be reasonable to sentence the offender to only a few minutes in prison? Obviously not! In the same way, the punishment of Hell is not predicated upon how long someone rejected God but rather upon the unspeakably egregious fact that they did reject Him.
Suppose you murdered a highly prominent person. This would likely carry a life sentence right? But what if you were responsible for the death of an infinitely prominent Person? Those who reject the salvation offered through Christ’s death on the cross are held responsible by God for His murder. Either you have been “crucified with Christ” or you are a “crucifier of Christ”. Because Jesus is infinitely good, infinitely righteous, and infinitely perfect the just degree of punishment imposed upon His killers should appropriately match His endless glory. Anything less than eternal punishment would not be sufficient or suitable in light of His magnificence.
In the opening sermons in this series, we have asked and answered these questions:
- What is Hell like? Hell can be compared to a furnace of unquenchable fire covered in abject darkness where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth & their worm never dies.
- How long will the unsaved be in Hell? Those who abide in Hell will be there forever.
- What is the purpose of Hell? It serves as the place where those who’ve rejected God are punished.
- Will individuals be conscious in Hell? Yes, they will be fully aware of and experience firsthand the excruciating suffering that takes place there.
- Is Hell a fair punishment? Yes, those who renounce an infinitely good Savior deserve and infinitely bad punishment. Anything less would be unfair.