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Beyond The Door of Death: The Bible on Hell—Part 2
If you would now, please take out your Bible and turn in your Bible to the gospel of Luke and chapter number 16…Luke, chapter number 16.
Church historian, Martin Marty made this comment: “Hell disappeared, and no one noticed.” Hell disappeared, and no one noticed. Now, on one hand, when you hear that statement by that church historian—hell disappeared, and no one noticed—on one hand it appears a little bit nonsensical. I mean, after all, the word ‘hell’ is a word that we hear on a fairly regular basis in the world around us. The word ‘hell’ is a very common swear word in our day, used to describe and communicate strong feelings. The word ‘hell’ has become a metaphor for violence and difficulty. Like, you might hear, out there in the real world, somebody would say, you know, “All hell broke loose!” Or you might hear someone say, “You know, we just had a…a hell of a week.” We’re going to hear the term ‘hell’ a lot. So, on one hand, the statement “Hell disappeared” seems nonsensical.
But on another hand, the statement, “Hell disappeared, and no one noticed” is very understandable. Our world…in our world, today hell is a very old-fashioned thing. Hell is viewed as inappropriate and culturally unacceptable. And, you know, one of the reasons why I think hell is viewed that way is because of the way that some people—some preachers, some Bible teachers—have presented hell. Some of them have presented hell almost with a sense of glee, with an air of superiority. They have really been religious bullies, whose primary aim seems to be to emotionally manipulate people. And those types of individuals have given a bad name to many great and godly individuals who talked about hell—men like George Whitefield, and Jonathan Edwards, and C. H. Spurgeon, and D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham.
But I think there’s another reason why it is understandable that hell has disappeared and no one noticed, and that is, very simply: hell is a difficult issue to face. It’s like a diagnosis of terminal cancer with an eternal twist to it. See, the truth is that people don’t like to think about hell. People don’t like to hear about hell; people don’t like to talk about hell. Christians frequently ignore it, and unbelievers frequently choose to dismiss it. And as we began talking about this subject last week, I made this statement: “It really makes no difference what I think about hell. It really makes no difference what you think about hell. What matters is what God says about hell.” Now, in our culture, hell is a swear word, but in the Bible hell is a potential destiny.
We’re in the middle—really, getting toward the end—of a study that I have entitled “Beyond the Door of Death,” and we’ve been looking at the Bible on heaven, which we tackled first. Now, we’re looking at “Beyond the Door of Death: The Bible on Hell.” And last time, we began this subject matter by looking at the basics of hell, and we used Luke, chapter 16, verses 19 to 31 as our base text. And last week we saw, number one, as we looked at the basics of hell, that hell is a place. We saw, number two, that hell is a place of judgment; we saw, number three, that hell is a place of torment—both conscious torment and eternal torment. We saw that hell is a place of degrees of punishment; we saw that hell is a place of regret; and then, lastly in terms of the basics about hell, we saw that hell is avoidable.
What I want to do today is, I want to look at two sets of three triplets that relate to hell…two sets of three triplets. First of all, we’re going to look at a triplet of attempts to soften hell. Because it’s such a difficult issue, people have this tendency to try to soften hell. And so, we’re going to look at three attempts to soften hell. And let me just give them to you. We’ll look at them more in a minute.
Attempt number one is annihilationism…annihilationism. Attempt number two to soften hell is universalism, and attempt number three to soften hell is reincarnation. And so, we’re going to look at that set of triplets—attempts to soften hell.
The second set of triplets I want to look at are some core issues that relate to hell, and we’re going to look at three of them. Number one, we’re going to look at the top objection to hell. Number two, by way of a core issue, we’re going to look at the primary reason that people end up in hell. And then number three, by way of a core issue, we’re going to look at the most burning question of the universe. That is a key core issue related to hell.
Now, before we look at those two sets of triplets, I do want you to notice the little yellow handout that you got in your bulletin. If you would pull that out for a moment, I simply want to explain this very, very briefly. And while this looks rather busy, in actuality it’s relatively simple. It’s a handout on my best understanding of what the Bible teaches on the realm of the dead in biblical history. And, basically, you have a timeline there that goes from eternity past—creation, the fall of man, the cross—all the way through the final events of time and eternity future. Now, here’s the basic idea of showing you this chart. Although in the Old Testament era, through animal sacrifices, sins could be covered, it was not until Christ’s actual death that paid the penalty that sinners could actually set foot in heaven. And that came, of course, after the cross. And so, what we have in the Old Testament era—in what we call Hades in the Bible; or, as the New American Standard concordance calls it, the place where you go at death—when physical death occurred (which was the separation from the soul and the body); there were two compartments in the underworld that people would go to. We saw these, in Luke, chapter 16, mentioned. First of all, we have paradise, or Abraham’s bosom. That’s where the departed souls of saved mankind would go. And then, secondly, we have torment or, what we might call temporary hell; and that’s where the departed souls of unsaved mankind went. And remember, there was this great chasm between the two, there in Luke 16. Now, that changes, because when Jesus died and was resurrected, and then He ascended into heaven; in Ephesians, chapter 4, verses 7 to 10, it indicates that He took some people with Him. And we believe, as best as we can understand it, that those people who were in paradise—in this saved mankind portion of Hades—went…at that point up into heaven.
Now, what I really want you to notice is that the ultimate destiny of many individuals in this world is going to be the lake of fire. And that’s found in the box at the bottom right corner. And I want you to notice that the lake of fire is really what we might call permanent hell. It’s called the second death, where we’re separated from God forever. And you’ll notice that the Antichrist and the false prophet—Revelation 19:20—are going to end up in the lake of fire. You’ll notice that Satan, in Revelation 20, verse 10, ends up in the lake of fire. And then, lastly, unsaved mankind—all of those who are in torment in Hades (Revelation, chapter 20, verses 11 to 15)—also end up in the lake of fire.
Now, I simply give that to you to give you a little orientation—a little understanding—of how the realm of the dead works in biblical history. But the bottom line is basically this: there’s only two categories of people on this planet. There are those who have been born once who will die twice. And there are those who have been born twice who will die once. If you’re born once—just born physically—you’re going to be destined to die two times. One is physical death—the separation of your soul and your body. The second one is the second death of the lake of fire. But if you are born twice—that Jesus talks about in John, chapter 3—you have a physical birth, but then you have a spiritual birth. Then you end up only dying once—physical death—but you are delivered from the second death.
Now, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to turn to the person next to you, right now, and ask the question, “Which category are you in?” OK? Just do that…do that. We’re not expecting an answer right now; just asking the question. OK…come on back to me, now… come on back to me…come on back.
Let’s now look at three attempts—a triplet of attempts—to soften hell. It’s such a difficult subject, people have tried to soften it. We want to look at three ways they’ve sought to soften hell—the first set of our triplets on how people soften hell. The first way is through, what we might call, annihilationism…annihilationism. The idea is that when you get cast into the lake of fire, you are just annihilated. It’s not an eternal thing. You experience physical extinction, not ongoing torment. It just seems like that’s better, to some people, that you would just be annihilated rather than going on for torment…in torment forever. Really, what annihilationism does is, it takes ‘forever’ out of hell; that’s what it attempts to do. And just so you see a passage that is often looked to to support this, look at 2 Thessalonians—2 Thessalonians—chapter one. We’ve been before…last week. This is a passage that people who believe in annihilationism will often turn to. And in chapter 1 it talks about Jesus coming back—verse 8—“dealing… retribution to those who do not know God…to those who do not obey the gospel of [the] Lord Jesus.” Then notice what it says in verse 9. “And these will pay…”—it says—“…the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and the glory of His power…”. And they say this is a word that means to destroy, many times, or to annihilate. So, what’s happening here, they say, is that there is annihilation that goes on; not eternal suffering or torment, but annihilation.
Well, I want to make a few observations related to this. First of all, the word that is translated ‘destruction’ here is a word that can mean to destroy or, if you would, to annihilate something. But it’s a word that can be translated, and is translated in the Bible, different ways. It’s also translated with the idea of ‘die,’ or ‘to be killed,’ or ‘to perish.’ It is a word that is sometimes translated ‘to be ruined.’ It is a word that is translated, also, ‘lost.’—same word translated as ‘lost.’ You could just jot down the references, but in Luke 5:37 it talks about how old wineskins end up bursting and this same word for destruction is used to describe what happens to those old wineskins when they burst. They are, in essence, ruined. Now, they don’t undergo physical extinction; they’re not annihilated when they burst open. But they are ruined.
In Luke, chapter 15, we have a…a trio of parables by the Lord—the lost sheep, the lost coin, and the lost son—very same word that’s translated ‘destruction’ is used to describe the lost sheep, and the lost coin, and the lost son. So, this word doesn’t necessarily have to mean annihilation or complete physical destruction at all.
You know, in our culture, we have a similar use of phraseology. We might say, if we’ve had trouble with alcohol in our background and we’re giving a testimony before a group of people about how we have now come out of that, we might have said, “You know, at one point in my life, alcohol just destroyed my life.” Well, we don’t mean by that, “I underwent physical extinction; I was annihilated.” We’re saying it ruined me; it caused great loss and great ruin in my life. And so, in 2 Thessalonians, chapter 1, verse 9, he’s talking about eternal destruction. I believe he’s talking about the loss of everything that gives worth to our existence forever. We’re ruined forever, you see, because we end up in hell.
Now, another thing about annihilationism, when we take a look at Scripture, it just doesn’t teach that…it just doesn’t teach that. In Mark, chapter 9, Jesus talked about hell, and He said about hell, hell is a place where worm does not die and fire is not quenched. What was He trying to communicate? Hell is a place where the torment goes on and on.
I want you to look in the book of the Revelation, which is the very last book of the Bible, at chapter 14. We’re going to see another illustration how the lake of fire is really not annihilationism; it’s not total physical extinction. Look in Revelation, chapter 14; and in the middle part of the chapter it’s talking about those who receive the mark of the beast during the tribulation period. And notice, in verse 11 it says “…the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Now, does that sound like someone just arrived somewhere and they’re just annihilated? No, the language communicates that “…they have no rest day or night, those who worship the beast and his image…”. And their torment goes up…what does it say? Forever and ever.
I want you to see another illustration, in the book of the Revelation. Turn to chapter 19…chapter 19, and I want you to notice—and you have to think about this for a minute. In verse 20 of chapter 19, we have the antichrist—a human being—who is seized, and with him the false prophet—a human being—who is seized, who performed the signs this false prophet performed the signs in the presence of the antichrist, “…by which he deceived those who… received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image…”. And notice, “…these two [people] were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.” Now, if it was annihilationism, they would be annihilated when they hit the lake of fire. But I want you to notice what happens in the next chapter. Between chapter 19 and chapter 20 is one thousand years. They’re thrown into—the false prophet and the antichrist—into the lake of fire; and for a thousand years, as the kingdom flourishes on the earth, Satan is bound up for a thousand years. And then, I want you to notice what ends up happening at the end of that thousand years, in chapter 20 and verse 10. “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone…”—then notice what it says in verse 10—“…where the beast and the false prophet are also…”. A thousand years later they’re still there, and what does it say regarding these three people? They—plural pronoun; Satan, the antichrist, and the false prophet—“…will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” See, it just doesn’t stack up with the word of God, this one way of trying to soften hell.
We saw, last week, that hell is a place of degrees of punishment. Well, if hell meant physical annihilation, you couldn’t have degrees of punishment. I mean, you’re either going to be annihilated or you’re not going to be annihilated. You can’t be annihilated—wiped out—with degrees of punishment. Degrees of punishment would exclude the concept of annihilationism.
And so, the first way, in this triplet of ways that people seek to soften hell, we have annihilationism. The second way we’re going to look at this morning is what we might call universalism…universalism. While annihilationsim takes forever out of hell, universalism takes hell out of forever. Basically, the idea of universalism is that, even though people go to hell, while they’re there they’re going to repent and be released. The origins of universalism go all the way back to some of the early church fathers—Clement of Alexandria began to teach this. And then, his pupil, Origen—spelled O-R-I-G-E-N—was the one who really promoted the idea of universalism. He believed that hell was a place where people were disciplined, but eventually…eventually, he said, everyone who goes to hell is going to repent and eventually everyone is going to be saved.
Now, universalism was popularized in America in the late seventeen-hundreds by a man named John Murray, who was a Revolutionary War chaplain. And he was one of the founding fathers of the Universalist denomination. And the Universalist denomination, in 1961, joined with the Unitarian denomination to form the Unitarian Universalist Association. The basic idea behind universalism is that the torment of hell, when you go there, will cause you to repent. When you experience that torment and judgment from God, it will cause you to repent.
Now, there is a fatal flaw in universalism, and the fatal flaw is the basic presupposition: and that is that if you experience torment from God, that you will, in turn, repent. See, that is their foundational principle. And the problem with that is, that’s not true. And you say, “Well, how do you know that, Bruce?” Well, let me just show you. Look, again, in the book of the Revelation, at chapter 9…Revelation, chapter 9. What’s going on in the…in the middle part of the book of Revelation is: in chapter 6 and 7 we have the seal judgments from God. They’re special tormenting judgments that fall on the human race on the planet at the time. And then, in chapters 8 and 9 of the book of the Revelation, we have the trumpet judgments. Each series of judgments are worse than the ones who came before. And so, in chapters 6 and 7, we have the seal judgments; in chapters 8 and 9, we have the trumpet judgments. How do people on the earth respond, when these tormenting judgments fall upon them? Well, notice what it says in the last two verses of chapter 9. Now, as these judgments fall, many people are killed, but notice what happens to the rest of mankind. It says, in verse 20, “And the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, so as not to worship demons, and the idols of gold and…silver and…brass and…stone and…[of] wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk…”—and verse 21—“…and they did not repent of their murders nor of their sorceries nor of their immorality…”—their sexual immorality—“…nor of their thefts.” Two times he makes it clear. Tormenting judgment—they experience it—and they did not repent.
Now, look over at chapter 16 of the Revelation. In chapter 16 we have the bowl judgments. See, it starts off with these seal judgments and they’re wicked. And then, you have the trumpet judgments and they’re worse. And then, you have the bowl judgments, and the bowl judgments are the most awesome judgments that have ever fallen on the face of the planet, causing tremendous torment in people. And I want you to notice what happens in their response to these bowl judgments. In chapter 16 notice verse 9: “And men were scorched with fierce heat…”—and what is their response?—“…and they blasphemed the name of God who has the power over these plagues; and they did not repent…”—see it there, again?—“…so as to give Him glory.” Notice verse 11: “and they blasphemed the God of heaven because of their pains and their sores; and they…”—here it comes, again—“…they did not repent of their deeds.” Notice verse 21. It says, “And huge hailstones, about one hundred pounds each, came down from heaven upon men…”—now that’ll do a number on your SUV, OK?…hundred pound hailstones. Hundred pound hailstones come down from heaven upon men, and notice the response in this tormenting judgment that falls upon them: “…and men blasphemed God because of the plague of the hail, because its plague was extremely severe.”
See, this idea that if you experience a torment of judgment from God you’re going to repent, it just doesn’t hold up. Why? And this is going to be a little bit of a clue of what’s to come, when we look at the core issues. See, one of the reasons why gets back to the primary reason why people end up in hell. And we’re going to look at that in just a few minutes.
Couple of Scriptures you could look at in regard to this whole notion of universalism—that eventually everyone’s going to be saved—I want you to turn, in the Old Testament, to the book of Daniel…the book of Daniel. (All of us remember “Mr. Ed, the horse.” You can always remember Mr. Ed because you have Ezekiel and then you have Daniel. So, if you can find Ezekiel, you can find Daniel.) I want you to notice, in Daniel, chapter 12, verse 2. Do we have, eventually, everyone being saved and delivered—universalism? Well, notice what we see in chapter 12 and verse 2. It says, “…many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground…”—people who’ve died—“…will awake…”. Notice two groups: “…these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” How long does everlasting life go on? Well, a long time. How long does everlasting contempt go on? It’s everlasting. See, the picture is there’s two groups of people; not that people in the second group one day will repent and come over and join the first. There’s everlasting life, and there’s everlasting contempt.
Turn, in the New Testament, to the gospel of Matthew. We see this, again, mentioned by the Lord—Matthew, chapter 25. He mentions, in verse 41, those on His left; He says, “Depart from Me…”. I just want you to see “…these…”—verse 46, the very last verse—“…will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” You see, when you walk through the door of death, you end up being in…in one destiny or the other. In one destiny is eternal life; the other destiny is eternal punishment. It’s not like, “OK, now we’re here, we’re going to get out.” It doesn’t work that way.
Now, there’s a third way…or third attempt to soften hell, and we might call that third attempt ‘reincarnation.’ Many of you have heard about reincarnation. Literally, what the word means is ‘to come again in the flesh.’ And reincarnation is a very ancient notion. It has its roots in Hindu writings that go all the way back to one thousand B. C. And, really, the idea in…reincarnation is that we go through different births—different life experiences—and we make progress upward to God through these series of rebirths. And so, we have multiple lives, and in these multiple lives we continue to make progress upwards toward God. The sense of–maybe you’ve heard the word, ‘karma’–related to reincarnation. Really what karma means is that the current life you’re living was basically determined by your past life. If you did good deeds in your past life, you had good karma; and then when you come the next time, you improve your standing. If you did bad deeds in your past life, you have bad karma, and you really regress in your next life. That’s reincarnation.
And reincarnation, in the West, really became popularized through a thing called ‘theosophy,’ and then we had occultists like Edgar Cayce, who promoted reincarnation. And now we have, in our day, the New Age Movement, which is really the blending of a lot of Eastern religions that really promote the idea of reincarnation. And I don’t know if you know it or not, but reincarnation is the rage…it is the rage…it is just the rage in Hollywood.
Not very long ago there was an article in Time Magazine where it talked about some of the stars’ perception of their prior lives. For example, Glenn Ford said in a prior life he was a Christian martyr who had been eaten by a lion. Loretta Lynn said she was a Cherokee princess in a prior life, and also a mistress of one of the King Georges, but she isn’t quite sure which one. Shirley McLain and Sylvester Stallone were both, in a prior life, beheaded; she by Louis XV, he during the French Revolution. Stallone also thinks that he may have been a monkey before in Guatemala…(laughter)…I swear to you, this is the truth. McLain is sure that she was once a prostitute in a previous life. In her book, Out On A Limb, Shirley McLain says this: “Reincarnation is just like show business. You just keep doing it until you get it right.” What is interesting is that now they tell us that about fifty percent of the world’s people believe in reincarnation. And what is maybe more shocking, they tell us that twenty-five percent of Americans believe in reincarnation.
Now, there is a fatal flaw with the teaching of reincarnation. I don’t know if you caught it or not, but the fatal flaw is the idea that we just get better from life to life; that by getting better we make progress upward towards God until one day we arrive. Now, what do we call that? We call that earning salvation. Somehow we earn it by just doing a little more good deeds and a little more good deeds, and we keep progressing upward till one day, because of all of the good deeds we’ve accumulated we finally get up there. That’s a fatal flaw to the whole concept. You see, our problem is that we have a fallen nature. Our problem is that we have been infected with sin, and that issue has to be dealt with. The truth of the matter is, even if you had ten thousand lives to live, it wouldn’t be enough, you see. We need to have a Savior; that’s what we need.
I love the way Douglas Connelly put it; he put it this way: “Human beings are not progressing upward to God through an endless cycle of rebirths. Instead, we are all lost, all dead in our sins, and all separated from the life of God. What redeems us from that dreadful situation is the grace and the forgiveness of God who, because of the atoning sacrifice of Christ on the cross, is free to forgive those who come to Him in faith.”
That’s a fatal flaw to the whole concept—this attempt to soften hell with reincarnation. But we could also cite Scripture. You know, perhaps the classic Scriptures—that I learned many years ago—Hebrews, chapter 9, verse 27 says it very clearly: it is appointed to men to die once and after that comes judgment. See, that’s what God says. There’s no reincarnation.
In fact, when we look at Luke 16, our basic text, do we see people who die—the rich man and Lazarus—but do we see them then now moving on to another life…another birth? No, we see them in two distinct places with two distinct destinies. See, that’s what the Bible teaches.
And so, we have this set of triplets of attempts to soften hell, but none of them match up to what the Bible has to say.
Now, I want to shift to this second set of triplets. I know we’re running a little…we’re going to run a little bit late, this morning; but hang in there with me, because this is very important. The second set of triplets deals with three core issues related to hell. And the first one we want to look at—the first core issue—is the number one objection to hell…the number one objection to hell. You tell me, what is the number one objection to hell…what is it? Someone said it. It’s not fair, right? That’s the number one objection—it’s not fair. People say, “Are you telling me…I mean, are you telling me that because I refuse to turn to and trust in Christ, because I refuse to do one thing, God is going to send me to a place of judgment…a place of torment that is conscious torment; a place of…that is of regret, and He’s going to do that forever? Are you telling me that? That’s not fair!”
Erwin Lutzer, in his book, a great book entitled One Minute After You Die, writes these words. He says, “Jonathan Edwards said that the reason we find hell so offensive is because of our insensitivity to sin. What if, from God’s viewpoint, the greatness of sin…”—listen to this, now—“…the greatness of sin is determined by the greatness of the one against whom it is committed? Then, the guilt of sin is infinite because it is the violation of the character of an infinite being. What if, in the nature of God, it is deemed that such infinite sins deserve an infinite penalty, a penalty which no one can repay?” You see, when we have that response of, “It’s not fair,” it just shows, again, that our culture is completely out of touch with the sense of the seriousness of sin. It is an infinitely significantly thing because it is committed against an infinite God, who then would exact an infinite penalty for it.
Our culture is not only out of touch with a sense of the seriousness of sin, it is out of touch with a sense and awareness of the lost-ness of sinners. It is out of touch with the reality of retribution. We’re just not tuned in.
Let me just give you a couple of quick observations I’d like to make. You know that life teaches us the principle of consequence? You just have to have your eyes open; it’s there. Life teaches us the principle of consequence. If a child does something wrong, the child knows they’re going to be in trouble; there’s going to be a consequence if they’re discovered. If a student does poorly on an exam, they know there’s going to be a consequence; they’re going to get a bad grade. An adult knows that if they do the crime and it’s discovered, they’re going to have to do the time—there’s going to be a consequence. Why should we be surprised, then, when we commit a sin against an infinite God that has infinite significance, that there would be consequence to it?
Another observation I want to make is that divine judgment is woven throughout the pages of Scripture. Listen to the words of J. I. Packer. He says, “The reality of divine judgment as a fact is set forth on page after page of Bible history. God judged Adam and Eve, expelling them from the garden and pronouncing curses on their future earthly life. God judged the corrupt world of Noah’s day, sending a flood to destroy mankind. God judged Sodom and Gomorrah, engulfing them in a volcanic catastrophe. God judged Israel’s Egyptian taskmasters, just as He foretold He would, unleashing against them the terrors of the ten plagues. God judged those who worshiped the golden calf, using the Levites as His executioners.” And what is interesting is, it only took one sin; one sin, and Adam was tossed out of the garden. One sin and Moses was kept from entering into the land of milk and honey. One sin and Ananias and Sapphira died.
See, the point is that God is God, and He must operate consistent with all of His attributes. And His attributes include His justice and His holiness. And here’s the bottom line of all this: we can say, “God’s not fair! I object to all of this!” It’s just not fair, and we can stiffen our neck. We can say, “This ticks me off! I don’t want to go to heaven with a God who sends people to hell. I’ll go to hell, and I’ll just defy God.” We can say that. But, again, as Erwin Lutzer writes; he says, “In Psalm 2 we read that God sits in the heavens and laughs at those who think they can defy Him; like the mouse who thinks it can stand against the farmer’s plow, or the rowboat poised to thwart the path of an aircraft carrier. It is insanity for man to think that he can oppose the living God, who is angry with sinners and is bent on taking vengeance on those who oppose Him.”
And the very complaint that says God is not fair really leads us to the second core issue we want to look at, and that is the primary reason people end up in hell. And we’re going to see the primary reason stated in the Old Testament; we’re going to see the primary reason stated in the gospels; we’re going to see the primary reason in the New Testament letters. We’re going to look at all three of those places, and I just simply want you to turn with me to those places. Let’s go, first of all, to the book of Jeremiah…the book of Jeremiah, chapter number 16. We see—and God doesn’t mince words, here; He’s very, very direct—the primary reason people end up in hell. We see it in Jeremiah 16, verse 10. God speaking, and He says, “…it will come about when you tell this people all these words…”—of judgment—“…they will say to you, ‘For what reason has the LORD declared all this great calamity against us? And what is our iniquity…and what is our sin which we have committed against the LORD our God?’ ” It’s not fair! “Then you are to say to them, ‘It is because your forefathers have forsaken Me,’ declares the LORD, ‘and have followed other gods and served them and bowed down to them; but Me they have forsaken and have not kept My law.’ ”—He continues—“ ‘[and] You too have done evil, even more than your forefathers; for behold, you are each one walking according to the stubbornness of his own evil heart, without listening to Me. So I will hurl you out of this land…’ ” The primary reason for the judgment—you can underline the phrase, if you underline in your Bible—“…the stubbornness of your own evil heart.” See, that’s the reason—the primary reason—why people end up in hell.
Turn to the gospel of Matthew in the New Testament. Again, we see the primary reason that people end up in hell—Matthew, chapter 23. It’s actually a rather tender scene, because in Matthew 23, Jesus is coming in; He’s lamenting over the city of Jerusalem. He loves the city, He loves the people, and He says—in verse 37 of Matthew 23—he says, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, the way a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…”—and then, here comes the phrase—“…and you were…”—what’s the word?—“…unwilling.” You can underline that phrase—“unwilling.” Primary reason people go to hell is they’re unwilling to take advantage of what God has offered them.
And then, we see this also in the New Testament letters. Turn to the book of Romans and chapter 2. And I don’t know what it is about Paul. I mean, Paul just is one of those guys; I mean, he just blurts it out! He just says it exactly the way that it is. And notice, in Romans, chapter 2, verse 5; we see this primary reason, again, why people end up in hell. And it’s just Paul-like: “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” You can underline that little phrase “stubborn and unrepentant heart.” See, the primary reason that people end up in hell is because of their stubborn, willful, independence.
We really saw that evidenced in Luke, chapter 16 last week, where, remember, we have the rich man and he’s in torment; and he says…could you just send someone and tell my brothers about this place? Because I don’t want them joining me here. And the idea of it back was they have the word of God, they have the truth of God. And he says, “Wait a minute! You don’t understand! If someone were to come back from the dead, then they would believe.” And he says, basically, in verse 31 of Luke 16, “Hey, if they don’t listen to the truth of God, they’re not going to listen if someone comes back from the dead.” Because what is the primary reason why people go to hell? Stubborn, willful independence of God. He doesn’t blow smoke; he doesn’t mince words.
And that lead us to the third core issue we want to look at, as we close, and that is the most burning question in the universe. I don’t want you to turn there. I just want you to write down the reference—Matthew, chapter 23, verse 33. The most burning question of the universe comes out of the mouth of Jesus, and here is the most burning question of the universe: How shall you escape the judgment of hell? It’s the most burning question in the universe—How shall you escape the judgment of hell? See, here’s basically the idea: that if you or I refuse to turn to…if we refuse to turn to and trust in Christ and what He has provided, you know what God is really going to say to us? “Your will be done…your will be done.” If that is going to be your stubborn, willful independence, your will be done.
Of course, we know about the bad news we’ve been looking at related to hell, but the good news—and we mentioned it last week—is that hell is avoidable. See, that’s the good thing about it; it is avoidable.
Turn to the gospel of John, the third chapter. I want to read a few verses where Jesus makes it as clear as it can be made, I believe. You know, He had a religious person who shows up, in John 3, and he basically goes, “What do I have to do to avoid hell?” And Jesus answers the question, beginning with verse 16—it’s a great chapter to read, if you were going to have salvation made very, very clear; deliverance from hell—he says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten…”—His unique—“…Son, that whoever believes in Him…”—trusts in Him—“…should not perish…”—that’s that same word that’s translated ‘destruction’ in 2 Thessalonians—“…should not perish, but have eternal life. For…”—notice, verse 17—“For God did not send the Son into the world to judge the world…”. If He just wanted to judge the world and throw everybody into the lake of fire, He could have done it. But that isn’t why the Son came. He came that the world might be saved, or delivered, through Jesus. “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…”—the unique—“…Son of God.” Verse 36 makes it very clear, in summary: “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”
Just two categories of people: if you’re born once, you’re going to die twice; if you’re born twice, you’re going to die once. Which group are you in? If you’re born once, all you experience is physical birth and you’re born in sin, as all of us are, you’re going to die twice. You’re going to have physical death and you’re going to have the second death in the lake of fire. But if you’re born twice—that Jesus talks about in John 3, where you’re born physically but then you’re also born spiritually, when you embrace what Jesus Christ has done—you don’t die twice, you just die once. You undergo physical death but not the second death. And this is an option that is open to every man, every woman, every young person. It’s laying there for you, but you must choose to turn to and trust in Christ.
Now, just one final word and we’re going to pray. For those of us who are believers, I just would like to make a suggestion. Let’s stop contributing to the disappearance of hell. I mean, let’s stop doing that. In fact, I think we need to raise a little hell…I really do. I think we need to raise the subject of hell and judgment more often.
I want you to know something…listen to me, here, just for a few more moments. It’s interesting that when you go to Hebrews 6 and it talks about the elementary teaching of the faith…it talks about the ABC’s of the faith; if you look at that list, you know what one of those things is? it’s part of the kindergarten of faith. Eternal judgment. It’s one of the first things our children need to be taught about; it’s part of the ABC’s of the faith. In fact, Jesus talked more about hell than He did about heaven.
It’s interesting. In Acts, chapter 17, when Paul was talking to sophisticated intellectuals. What do you talk to sophisticated intellectuals about? Well, one of the things he said to them is that God has fixed a day in which He will judge the world. In Acts, chapter 24, he’s talking to a government leader. What do you talk about with people who are in power? Well, we find out that, as he was discussing with that government leader, he was discussing the judgment to come. See, people need to hear about this. We don’t need to be contributing to the disappearance of hell and judgment. There’s no reason why we should not utilize the most burning question of the universe: how are you going to escape the judgment of hell?
Let’s pray together. Father, we know this is a tough subject. We thank You that we have Your word. And, Father, we know that one destiny of…is heaven, which is a destiny of unspeakable…unspeakable glory. We’ve seen it! And then, we have another destiny which is hell; a destiny of unquenchable fire. Father, we pray for any who are here now—any who may hear my voice—who have been living a life of independence from God. May they realize the way is open, right now, while their heart beats; but when their heart stops, the destiny has been chosen. May they choose to turn to and trust in and rest in Jesus Christ. Father, we thank You for the provision of salvation that was made through our Savior who loved us so much and was so good to us. We pray these things in His name. Amen.