Taking Hell Seriously

posted by R. Fowler White

What does the Bible teach its readers about hell? It’s a very important topic, but it’s also a very uncomfortable topic. We may respond with fear. If we’re not Christians, we should respond with fear. But my prayer is that God will replace fear with faith in our Lord Jesus, God’s incarnate Son who saves sinners from hell. If we are Christians, let’s join together to praise God for Jesus who came from heaven to save us from hell.

So, let’s recall why it’s very important that we take seriously what the Bible says about hell. Why? Because the Bible is the revelation of God’s will to man; it’s the documented word of the only living and true God, the standard for what we’re to believe and how we’re to behave. Do we believe, then, what the Bible teaches about hell? We better, because what the Bible says, God says.

What, then, does the Bible mean when it speaks of hell? That is, what does God mean by hell? He means the punishments for sin in the life to come. He doesn’t mean the punishments for sin in this life, the miseries of suffering and death that we experience now because we’re sinners. No, He refers to the punishments for sin after we die, before we’re resurrected, and after we’re resurrected. If we know ourselves to be sinners, we must take seriously what God says about hell in the Bible. So, what does He say? Let’s summarize.

First, hell is a place more frightful than we can imagine. The Bible gives us many very graphic descriptions of hell. Each image, by itself, is terrifying enough, but the combination of images is even more horrifying than we can imagine. It’s a place of utter darkness (Jude 13), a place of outer darkness where weeping and gnashing of teeth are all that will be heard (Matt 8:12). It’s the lake that burns with fire and sulfur (Rev 21:8), a prison of eternal chains from which there is no hope of release (Jude 6), a fiery furnace of torment where the fire is not quenched, a place of misery where the worm does not die (Mark 9:28). The suffering in hell is beyond all comparison to the suffering experienced in this world. It’s a reality more frightful than any one of the Bible’s images for it. In other words, hell is worse than we can ever imagine.

Second, hell is a place where God is present. Yes, God is present in hell. We’re not to think of hell as a place from which God is absent. It’s not a place where sinners are forever separated from God. No, hell is a place where sinners are forever separated from God’s comforting presence. God is present in hell in His holy wrath and just punishment. The punishments of sin in the world to come will include everlasting separation from God’s comfort, but not from God’s wrath. The punishments there will be beyond the most grievous of suffering imaginable and will occur without interruption. So, don’t make the mistake of thinking that hell is a place from which God is absent. God is now and will be present in hell in His holy wrath and just punishment, and, as a result, hell is a place more frightful than we can imagine.

Third, hell is a place of God’s perfect justice. We’re not to think that hell is a place of “cruel and unusual” punishment. The only living and true God always does what is right. He always pays His creatures the wages that are due to them. He always rewards the obedient and punishes the disobedient. The punishments for sin in hell, then, are neither cruel nor unusual. No, they’re thoroughly just. As the place of God’s perfect justice against disobedience, then, hell is worse than we can ever imagine.

Fourth, hell is a place of eternal punishment. It’s not a place of temporary punishment. The torments of hell are everlasting. Suffering there will never come to an end. Some say that the miseries of hell do come to an end. They declare that unbelievers are annihilated, that they cease to exist. But Jesus teaches otherwise. In Matt 25:31-46, for example, Jesus teaches us about the Day of Judgment, that Day when He will appear as Judge of all the world. In His teaching, He speaks of two futures, one for the sheep, another for the goats. We should notice that, according to Jesus, both futures are eternal. The sheep will enter into life that is eternal. The goats will go away into punishment that is eternal. Clearly, the agonies of hell will last as long as the joys of heaven. Clearly, though heaven is a place of pleasures forevermore (Ps 16:11), hell is a place of unremitting pain. Thus, as a place of God’s perfect justice and holy wrath, hell is a place more frightful than we can ever imagine.

Fifth, consider the person in the Bible who teaches us the most about hell. Who is that person? It’s not Moses or one of the OT prophets after him. It’s not Paul, Peter, or John. It’s none other than Jesus. It is He who teaches us that hell is a place of eternal punishment and perfect justice, a place where God is present in His holy wrath. The Bible tells us that Jesus will come again as our Judge on the last day. We do well, therefore, to listen to all that Jesus teaches about hell. And we do well to learn that it’s a place worse than we can ever imagine.

Does the truth about hell horrify us? Does it terrify us? If we know ourselves to be sinners, it should terrify and horrify us. This truth should cause us to seek a place to hide, a way of escape. The good news is that God Himself has provided the place for us to hide, the way of escape for us. That place to hide is in Jesus. That way of escape  is through Jesus. How can this be? Because our Lord Jesus Christ died as God’s substitute for sinners. God poured out His holy wrath on Jesus; He inflicted His just punishments on the body and soul of Jesus. Jesus, then, endured the anguish and agony, the terror and torment of hell for sinners. As a result, our Lord Jesus Christ satisfied the perfect justice and holy wrath of God against any and all sinners who will trust in Him alone.

Friends, hell is worse than anything we can imagine. But in Jesus we find the place to hide from hell. Through Jesus we find the way of escape from hell. It is He who saves us from hell. It is He who gives us the assurance of eternal life. We’re to trust in Christ Jesus alone. We must rest on the Lord Christ alone. Our only hope, our only boast is in Him, now and forever.

The Christian Hope

Posted by R. Fowler White

Salvation from sin and death is a sovereign work of God by which He graciously saves His people from the judgment they deserve as sinners and adopts them as His children with all the blessings of eternal life. To make known the way of salvation, God has given us the Scriptures, the sixty-six books of the Old and New Testaments, as His Word (2 Timothy 3:15-16). The Scriptures teach the following truths concerning the way of salvation.

1. The living and true God is one God in three Persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit (Deuteronomy 6:4; John 1:1-4, 14, 18; Hebrews 1:2-3). He is the sovereign King over His creation, and He rules it with all the perfections of His character (Isaiah 48:12-13; Ephesians 1:11; Romans 11:36).

2. God created man male and female with the duty to obey His commandments and imitate His character perfectly (Genesis 1:26-28; 2:15-17). But through the sin of the first man, Adam, all human beings, except our Lord Jesus Christ, were made sinners who are entirely unfaithful to their duty to God and are therefore justly condemned by God to suffer eternal punishment (Romans 3:23; 5:18-19).

3. To save sinners from the punishment due them, God the Father sent Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, who is fully God and fully man, into the world (1 Timothy 1:15; John 3:16). As sinless man, Jesus Christ was qualified to represent sinners as the One who perfectly obeyed God’s commandments and imitated His character. As eternal God, He was qualified to substitute for sinners as the One who fully satisfied God’s just punishment of sinners. In His life Christ was entirely faithful where sinners are entirely unfaithful. In His death He bore the punishment sinners justly deserve (2 Corinthians 5:21; Romans 3:24-26).

4. God the Father raised Christ Jesus from the dead and thereby furnished proof that He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness through that same Christ Jesus (Acts 17:31). God the Father also enthroned the resurrected Christ in heaven, and from there Christ now reigns as King of the nations, commanding sinners everywhere to repent and believe in Him as their only hope of salvation from the wrath to come (Acts 4:12; 16:31; 17:30).

5. All those to whom God gives repentance and faith will wait in hope for Christ’s return on the day of resurrection and judgment. In that day, God will cast those who remain in their sins into the lake of fire to suffer eternal punishment, but He will usher His people into the new heavens and the new earth to enjoy everlasting glory (Acts 13:48; 2 Timothy 2:25; Romans 9:18; 2 Thessalonians 2:11-12; 2 Peter 3:7, 13).

If God has brought you to the knowledge that you’re a sinner who justly deserves His everlasting displeasure and who is without hope except in His sovereign mercy, we urge you: believe in our Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God and Savior of sinners. Receive and rest upon Him alone for salvation as He is offered to you in the gospel documented in the Scriptures.

What Makes the Great Commission So Great: The Authority Christ Exercises

Posted by R. Fowler White

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you. And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.” (Matt 28:18-20)

In what follows, take a look at the first of three truths that make the Great Commission so great. The first truth before us is the authority Christ exercises, the position He fills. Look at 28:18, All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Jesus tells His disciples that He now occupies and executes the office of king. As a reward for His obedience to the Father’s will, Jesus is now King of kings and Lord of lords. He is in control of all things in heaven and on earth, including—notice—Satan, the world, sin, and death. He is Lord of all. He now has and now wields all authority over the entire order of creation, both heaven and earth. All creatures, visible and invisible, be they nature, angels, and man, are at His disposal. He is King of kings and Lord of lords.

Other writers in the NT testify to the great truth of the authority that Christ now exercises. In Ephesians 1 Paul speaks of how in Christ God exerted the immeasurable greatness of His power and the working of His great might when He raised Him from the dead and seated Him at His right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come. The apostle John refers to the same truth in Revelation 1 where he speaks of Jesus Christ as the faithful witness, the firstborn of the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. Still further in Hebrews 1-2 we hear that Jesus is the Son of God, whom He appointed heir of all things, through whom also He made the world. He is the radiance of His glory and the exact representation of His nature, and upholds all things by the word of His power. Jesus, says Hebrews 1, after making purification for sins, has taken His seat at the right hand of the Majesty on high. As a result, according to Hebrew 2, we do see Jesus, because of the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor.

Too many in the church today believe and teach that Christ does not here and now occupy and execute the office of king. At best, this false view gives us a Great Commission without a King to issue it, while it deprives us of the motivating vision of the present glory and majesty of Christ. We dare not forget that Jesus is truly now His Royal Highness from whom we have the edict to lead others to a saving knowledge of Him. In fact, let’s recall that Christ’s present kingship is one of the truths that caused doubters on the mountain of commissioning (Matt 28:17) to become witnesses of mighty faith.

Through Matthew the Evangelist, God would teach us and have us believe that Christ now occupies and executes the office of king. As such, He restrains and conquers all His and our enemies and powerfully orders all things for His own glory and our good. This truth is the first of three in Matthew 28 that make the Great Commission so great. Confessing the authority Christ now exercises, the position He now fills, let’s go and make disciples.

Some Thoughts on Thanksgiving

The week of Thanksgiving is coming up. I do not intend to engage the argument here about whether Thanksgiving services should be held. Rather i wish to engage the question of the biblical concept of thanksgiving.

Adam and Eve’s fall into sin can be seen in the light of this question. Instead of being thankful for what God had given to them, they became discontent with what they had, and desired to rule over their own lives. They believed that they knew what was good for them better than God did. Instead of being thankful that they could eat of all the tree of the garden except from one tree, they believed Satan’s lie that God was somehow keeping something from them.

The history of idolatry in the times of Old Testament Israel has this same aspect to it. Instead of being grateful to God for the peace and prosperity that God had given them in the promised land, they hankered after something more. Ironically, that something more wound up always being something less, for how could anyone have something more than God?

What humanity needed was a new heart full of gratitude. So the gospel itself comes into view as God’s solution to the problem of ingratitude. And when God changes a person’s heart, the ingratitude and dissatisfaction becomes gratitude and satisfaction, as God’s infinite goodness to sinners becomes so clearly evident. The gospel, in this way, is all about thanksgiving. That is, the gospel always produces thanksgiving (among many other things).