"May sinners be consumed from the earth, and the wicked be no more, bless the Lord, O My soul! Praise the Lord!" Psalm 104, 35.
"And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the earth as a testimony to all nations; and then the end will come." Matthew 24,14.
"But I shall pour a spirit of pity and compassion on the house of David and the inhabitants of Jerusalem. They will look on me [the risen Jesus, with faith, or with judgment impending], on him whom they have pierced.... " Zechariah 12,10.
Hell is not a swear word, or a place to swear by.
But a distinct and biblical Christian reality visited upon those who reject Jesus. Revelation 19,21 and Isaiah 66,15-16.
Matthew 10,28 describes it as the destruction of body and soul.
In ministry school I used to have a breezy discussion with a more doctrinaire guy about whether God could, or would, be more merciful than his word revealed.
I would sophmorically comment "what injustice would it be for those who followed the salvation commands of God- and were saved- if those who didn't were saved too."
And he would counter that this would make God whimsical, which he isn't, and betray the everlasting nature of his Word.
And I would say "but he could save anyone he wanted."
It wasn't long before the Holy Ghost corrected me (so much for fruitless discussions in ministry school) and I realized that if we start cutting out things, when does it stop?
Why not cut out adult water baptism- who needs it?
("It's just a symbol"- but see Romans 6,3-11, faithful baptism frees us from the dominion of evil, and Mark16,16 which unmistakeably makes it a requirement for salvation.)
Why not cut out the law of forgiveness?
("Unless you forgive your brother..."; "Oh that's just teachy hyperbole....you don't know what he did to me...")
Why not cut out the Lord's Supper?
("Unless you eat my body and..."; "What are you Roman?")
Why not cut out the idea of personal salvation and judgment?
("That was long ago idea-we're all sinners anyway"; Ok, all sinners- but not all faithers!)
Why not cut out public confession of faith?
("Oh they wanted to, but never got round to it, and like probably already believed in their heart.")
And while we're at it, why not cut out that rather troublesome subject of eternal hell?
So it goes when we start cutting out things.
As to hell, yes it is a somewhat difficult transition from Jesus our merciful high priest always interceding for each of us to Jesus eternal judge bearing a sword sending folks we love and He loves to hell.
To help this transition, or at least begin to understand it, I'll attempt to explain why hell is such a distinct Christian reality.
The Hebrew scriptures at Isaiah 66,18-24 help us. Verse 24 represents the only "Old Testament" version of hell that mostly lines up with the New Testament version.
This prophecy contains three main subjects: the regathering of the scattered faithful of Israel to Jerusalem (v. 20, which is happening now), the gathering of all the faithful of the nations there too (v.18), and hell for all who have rebelled against him (v.24).
Verse 24: "As they go out [all the faithful, joyfully exiting worship in the temple in Jerusalem, after escaping judgment] they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched. All mankind will view them with horror."(boldness added)
Before Isaiah 66,24, in the Hebrew scriptures, what we know in English as "hell" (which in English means a covering over) merely related to the valley of the Son of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem where an idolatrous cult of human and baby sacrifice was practiced (2Kings23,10; 2Chronicles28,3 and 33,6).
In Greek this place is Gehenna, or Geenna.
This place was cursed by the prophet Jeremiah, see Jeremiah 7,32 and 19,6 (The New World Dictionary-Concordance of the New American Bible, World, 1984).
The Old Testament also speaks of "sheol," (Psalm16,10) the place of the dead (not the judgment and torment of the dead), or "hades" in Greek.
But all this deadly stuff got kicked up a notch to a Christian eternal fiery hell when the messiah Jesus, the ingatherer of Israel and the nations (Isaiah 66,18-24), and the promised Prophet, was unjustly handed over by the rebellious temple elite to the Roman occupiers who crucified Him.
By the time of Jesus there had been at least two hundred years of ongoing existential threat to Israel by the Greeks and Romans, and this had already unleashed a bevy of resistance-apocalyptic (ie crisis) literature in Israel that included the justice-added notion of hell. see 1Enoch18,11-16; 108,3-7 and 15; 2Esdras 7,36-38.
But when Jesus was crucified hell became especially personal for the faithful, and also rough justice for those who rebelled against him, as well as future vindication of faithful Israel who will, in the end, have a second chance to accept him (Zechariah 12,9).
Hell also became part of the victory and vindication of the entire faithful and the victory for and of Jerusalem by Christ. Matthew 24,30; Revelation 19,20 and Revelation 20,14-15 and Revelation 21,8 especially.
We can all follow the logic here.
It began as a cursed dump in a valley south of Jerusalem where babies were burned. At Isaiah 66,24 it got personally tied to Israel's Measiah and the reward of all the universal faithful ruling as priests from Zion. In the ongoing apocalyptic-existential crisis that culminated with Rome's crucifiction, eternal hell became the penalty for those who personally rebelled against Jesus then and there, and for all those thereafter who reject his mercy, his message, and his martyrs (cf Revelation 6,9-10).
In other words, hell and martyrdom and vindication and cleansing of the city of Jerusalem got real and personal and distinctly Christian after Jesus came in the flesh and shed his human blood there.
In the bible logic of the New Testament His shed human blood represents both His offer of mercy and an eternal fiery judgement for those then and now who haven't repented, and thus have wasted and profaned his blood so to speak.
But God is fair. The end will not come until every soul gets a free choice to personally accept Jesus after adequately hearing the gospel (Matthew24,14).
We may not feel ready, or be ready, to meet Jesus face to face, but how much worse will we feel, and be, if we end up eternally separated from everybody we love, and also lose body and soul, not to mention the burning.
Makes me wonder why anybody cuts anything out of the revelation that Jesus paid such a high price to give us?
"Lord you send forth Your Spirit, they are created; and You renew the face of the earth." Psalm 104,30
Give us greater faith Lord, give us the strength to act on your merciful promises and renew us by the infilling of your Spirit, before your renew the face of the earth one last time.
Lord, give all those who don't know you the grace to ask You to show Yourself, and your mercy to them, that they would recognize and accept you and call out to you for salvation, now and at any hour, in any situation, and you will answer them, and help them and show them the way, the light and the truth of You and Your word.
In Jesus NAME we pray.
PREACHING HOUR TV
TUESDAY EVENINGS - 8:30PM EST
Preaching Hour TV weekly on Cox PATV Channel 15 in Cheshire, Southington and Meriden CT and on VCAM Channel 15 10pm Fridays in Burlington VT.read more...
Tobin Hitt is the founder of the Zion Pentecost Mission. He is open to gospel partnership with all, and identifies with Paul's description of our mission as ambassadors for our king, Jesus, urging all to reconcile with God (2Cor.20-21). He resides in Cheshire, Connecticut.read more...