Hell in a nutshell

“Any man who thinks he deserves heaven is not a Christian. But for any man 
who knows he deserves Hell, there’s hope” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones)

“Faith ever finds its most precious resting place upon the naked Word of God”  (The Annotated Bible, by Arno Clemens Gaebelein (1861-1945): The Pentateuch)


For most, hell is nuts. Nuts, because hell is for those who hate what God declares to be good, acceptable, perfect. In this article, I examine hell in the New Testament and various views of hell: the traditional view (hell is eternal, and so is the punishment), the universalist view (every one is ultimately saved) and the annihilationist view (God may not terminate the place called hell but does terminate the torment and then the sinner’s existence).

God’s glory, and his children’s

God’s glory is the ultimate rationale of His Being. “For from him and through him and for him are all things. To him be the glory forever, Amen.” (End of Romans 11). God’s glory is also his children’s glory – his children are those in Christ:
”God would make known what is the riches of the glory of this mystery among the Gentiles; which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27). Yes, it is mostly about God’s glory, but it’s also about God’s children’s glory, which, of course, comes from Christ, and not from ourselves:

I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one — I in them and you in me—so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me (John 17:22-23).

Paris Reidhead says an astounding thing: the reason (rationale) for being is – it’s not clear whether he includes God’s Being, yet it seems so: “Lamb that was slain receive the reward of your suffering.” That reward consists of those for whom Christ suffered and shed his blood; those in this world whom the Father gave to the Son:

Father, the hour has come; glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you, 2 since you have given him authority over all flesh, to give eternal life to all whom you have given him. 3 And this is eternal life, that they know you the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent. 4 I glorified you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. 5 And now, Father, glorify me in your own presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed. 6 “I have manifested your name to the people whom you gave me out of the world. Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word. 7 Now they know that everything that you have given me is from you. 8 For I have given them the words that you gave me, and they have received them and have come to know in truth that I came from you; and they have believed that you sent me. 9 I am praying for them. I am not praying for the world but for those whom you have given me, for they are yours.”

Jesus on hell

The world is headed for damnation. In the Gospels, Jesus talked more about hell than about heaven. More than half of Jesus’ 40 or so parables relate to God’s eternal judgment on sinners. Although the rest of the New Testament doesn’t mention the term “hell,” it does refer to the eternal separation from God and eternal punishment. The Sermon on the Mount contains some of Jesus’ most direct warnings of hell. (The beatitudes (Matthew 5:1-11, are only a very small part of the Sermon of the Mount, Matthew 5 to 7):

But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell. (Matthew 5:28-30). No, hell is not only for Hitler and Stalin.

Hell,” in the eyes of Christ, is good, acceptable and perfect? “What kind of love is this?” you ask. Surely, with God, love wins. (“Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived” by Rob Bell). Love does indeed win but so does justice. Justice means punishment for crimes. God is not a one dimensional being. We often hear and think “God is love.” Very seldom, however, do we hear or think that `”God is justice.” There is no conflict between these two divine attributes – love and justice.

J. I Packer on “The Righteous judge”

J. I Packer writes:

God is love. This, quite naturally, is a major theme in our understanding of God. We speak of God’s love, we sing of God’s love, we “love to tell the story of Jesus and his love.” It ought to be reflexive for Christians to revel in the love of God. However, God is not a one-dimensional being; he is not only love. He is a holy God who is righteous and just, as well; and his love does not nullify those attributes. Not only is he a loving father, he is a righteous judge. His justice will be served. The Old Testament is filled with narratives of the judgment of God falling on both pagans and the people of God. This is not only an Old Testament manifestation of God’s character, nor is this quality limited to the Father. Jesus himself is “the righteous judge.”

When we turn from Bible history to Bible teaching—the Law, the Prophets, the Wisdom writings, the words of Christ and his apostles—we find the thoughts of God’s action in judgment overshadowing everything. The Mosaic legislation is given as from a God who is himself a just judge and will not hesitate to inflict penalties by direct providential action if his people break his law. The prophets take up this theme; indeed, the greater part of their recorded teaching consists of exposition and application of the law, and threats of judgment against the lawless and impenitent. They spend a good deal more space preaching judgment than they do prediction the Messiah and his kingdom! In the Wisdom literature, the same viewpoint appears: the one basic certainty underlying all discussion of life’s problems in Job, Ecclesiastes and all the practical maxims of Proverbs is that “God will bring you to judgment,” “God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden sin, whether it is good or evil (Eccles 11:9; 12:14).”

People who do not actually read the Bible confidently assure us that when we move from the old testament to the new, the theme of divine judgment fades in the background. But if we examine the New Testament, even in the most cursory way, we find at once that the Old Testament emphasized God’s action as a Judge, far from being reduced, is actually intensified. The entire New Testament is overshadowed by the certainty of a coming day of universal judgment, and by the problem thence arising: How may we sinners get right with God while there is yet time? The New Testament looks on to “the day of judgment,” “the day of wrath,” “the wrath to come,” and proclaims Jesus, the divine Savior, as the divinely appointed Judge. The judge who stands before the door (Jas 5:9), “ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet 4:5), “the righteous Judge” who will give Paul his crown (2 Tim 4:8), is the Lord Jesus Christ. “He is the one who has been designate by God as judge of the living and the dead” (Acts 10:42). God “has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed,” Paul told the Athenians (Acts 17:31); and to the Romans he wrote, “God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as the gospel declares” (Romans 2:16).”

Jesus himself says the same. “The Father . . . has entrusted all judgment to the Son. . . . And he has given him authority to judge. . . . A time is coming when all who are in their graves will hear the voice and come out—those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned” (NEB has “will rise to hear their doom”) (Jn 5:22, 27–29). The Jesus of the New Testament, who is the world’s Savior, is its Judge as well.”

(J. I. Packer, Knowing God, InterVarsity Press, 1993, 140–141).

The harvest

Jesus said: “The harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38). By “harvest” doesn’t Jesus mean wheat or some other good crop? Alas, that is not all there is to it – at all. `You will often hear Christians – and preachers – describe the harvest in this verse as if it’s all about the many who are coming to Christ. They ignore or are ignorant of the other side of the coin – judgment.” Here is John MacArthur, in his sermon “The harvest and the laborers.”

Now, I believe that when the Lord saw the multitudes, He thought of Joel’s harvest…and it’s judgment that Joel spoke of. I believe our Lord saw consummation. He saw the eternity perspective. He didn’t see people just in their current problem. He saw them as doomed to hell. In Matthew 13…the Lord, giving a parable said this. “Let both grow together…verse 30…until the harvest. And in the time of harvest, I will say to the reapers, ‘Gather together first the tares and bind them in bundles to burn them. But gather the wheat into My barn.’” It is judgment, and it is judgment on the multitudes; and some will be barned and some will be burned, but it is judgment.”

The harvest is much ado about hell. Christ came to redeem His people from eternal damnation. “His people” are those he prayed for (John 17 above) in the Garden of Gethsemane. These are the same as those Christ describes here:

But I said to you that you have seen me and yet do not believe. All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never cast out. For I have come down from heaven, not to do my own will but the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I should lose nothing of all that he has given me, but raise it up on the last day. For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life, and I will raise him up on the last day…Jesus answered them, “Do not grumble among yourselves. No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day” (John 6:36-40, 44). (The labourers are few.” So, send me. “To do what?”: Why John MacArthur thought “enough already!”).

Love wins. And Justice?

In Rob Bell’s “Love wins” everyone ends up in heaven – yes, Hitler included. The devil too. Hell for Bell militates against God’s love. Bell wishes there were no hell. Not only non-Christians but also many professing Christians – who say they believe that scripture is God-breathed – don’t appreciate the holiness, the beauty and the sweetness (Jonathan Edwards’ favourite word) of God; because they have a poor understanding of the horror of sin. You say, “I have great compassion, but God, because he’s God, should have more compassion than I. I don’t think that my brother, my wife, my teacher deserves to spend an eternity in torment. So why doesn’t God have more compassion than I?”

You don’t understand; you have, as any child of Adam, made your emotions, your desires, instead of the Word of God, the basis of your convictions. God is the foundation of all truth. The Bible is His special revelation. If you don’t believe this, no one is going to persuade you. This special revelation revolves round the Cross. What kind of suffering must it have taken for the Son of God to submit to not only the brutal onslaught of men but to the crushing anguish of being torn from the bosom of his Father. How does one begin to grapple with such a mysterium tremendum? (See Rudolph Otto’s “The Idea of the Holy”). Human wisdom is useless. Understanding has to be granted from above. The Son suffered the full wrath of His Father. All the horror of sin was concentrated in those few hours. But worse; He was also cut off from the Father. To understand some of this requires to be borne on high by Christ, but first we have to be born again. Only then will you be able to see what the world or no psychology can see. (Passivity and Suffering in the Passion of Christ).

God is a terrible majesty. What love is this? You need to understand His terrible majesty. “Out of the north cometh golden splendour, about God is terrible majesty” (Job 37:22). (Both the KJV and the Hebrew Mechon Mamre translations render the Hebrew נוֹרָא הוֹד (Norah Hod) as “terrible (NORAH) majesty (HOD). “Terrible” (terrifying) in modern English and “Norah” in modern Hebrew have lost their original meaning. Today they both mean “horrible” (seldom to do with terror, horror).

Is hell really forever? Yes, and so are you

We should distinguish between “eternal” and “forever.” Strictly speaking “eternal” means not only without end, but also without beginning. In Christianity, Adam was created soul and body out of nothing ex nihilo. Once created, he will last forever. In the discussion of hell, I use “eternal” and “forever” interchangeably.

The traditional view of hell is that it is eternal. In this view, not only is hell eternal but the people who go there will be in eternal torment. Others believe that the hell is eternal but not the punishment. But surely, if the saved are going to to be in an eternal heaven or eternal new earth, then when the Bible speaks of an eternal hell, it must also mean that those in hell will be there eternally. For example, at the final judgment, The Son of Man, the Messiah King, will say:

31 “But when athe Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, then bHe will sit on His glorious throne. 32 “All the nations will be gathered before Him; and He will separate them from one another, bas the shepherd separates the sheep from the goats; 33 and He will put the sheep on His right, and the goats bon the left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on His right, ‘Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 41 “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the beternal fire which has been prepared for cthe devil and his angels; 46 “These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In verse 46, the Greek for both occurrences of “eternal” is aionios, which has three possible meanings: 1.without beginning and end; what always has been and always will be; 2) without beginning; 3) without end, unceasing, everlasting. So, if eternal life never ceases, then hell never ceases either.

Universalists (everyone is ultimately saved) believe that hell is a kind of purgatory where one spends a limited time. Hitler and Stalin, the theory goes, will spend more time than someone who is struck by lightning – unless the person is a Stalin (that is not if Putin had his way).

Then there are the annihilationists who say that at death (Jehovah’s Witnesses, for example) or after a period of punishment, the lost are annihilated (John Stott, for example). Surely, though, if those in hell have paid the penalty for their sin, why does God annihilate them? The Jehovah’s Witness “sudden wipe-out” makes more sense.

Those in the John Stott camp do make the annihilationist doctrine of the damned more palatable, but, in the light of the biblical evidence, this view is unsustainable. Rob Bell’s universalist view (everyone makes it to heaven in the end), however, is a different matter because if everybody is ultimately saved, there would be no need for the substitutionary sacrifice of Christ because everyone is going to heaven no matter who, no matter what. Just picture it: hell full of people who are truly sorry and want to be forgiven. Or full of people who wanted to believe but were unable to do so because God frustrated their desire to believe at every turn (an asinine anti-Calvinist argument). No, those in hell hate God and always did so.

What does Charles Spurgeon recommend to “hasten lingerers?”

If you really long to save men’s souls, you must tell them a great deal of disagreeable Truths of God. The preaching of the wrath of God has come to be sneered at nowadays, and even good people are half ashamed of it. A mushy sentimentality about love and goodness has hushed, in a great measure, plain Gospel expostulations and warnings. But, my Brothers, if we expect souls to be saved we must declare unflinchingly, with all affectionate fidelity, the terrors of the Lord. “Well,” said the Scotch lad when he listened to the minister who told his congregation that there was no Hell, or at any rate only a temporary punishment. “Well,” said he, “I need not come and hear this man any longer, for if it is as he says, it is all right, and religion is of no consequence. And if it is not as he says, then I must not hear him again, because he will deceive me.” “Therefore,” says the Apostle, “Knowing the terrors of the Lord we persuade men.” Let not modern squeamishness prevent plain speaking concerning everlasting torment. Are we to be more gentle than the Apostles? Shall we be wiser than the inspired preachers of the Word of God? Until we feel our minds overshadowed with the dread thought of the sinner’s doom we are not in a fit frame for preaching to the unconverted. We shall never persuade men if we are afraid to speak of the t judgment and the condemnation of the unrighteous.”

Who will be saved? Those who have the Son; those whom the Son has

Only those who love God will be saved. Who does the new Testament say are the ones who love God? Those who are – as it is stated about 150 times – “in Christ.” How do we “enter into” Christ? Through faith. Without faith in Christ, you’re lost, both Jew and Gentile, for God is no respecter of person’s (status, ethnic background). In John 3:18, we read: “He that believeth on him is not judged: he that believeth not hath been judged already, because he hath not believed on the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

The Gospel is about the wrath of God and the love of God. Sandwiched in between is faith in the Son. It is faith that removes the wrath and bestows the saving love of God. He who has the Son, and only he who has the Son, has life.


Sam Storms said:

The most loving thing one can say to someone who has lost a child or any loved one is to tell the truth, but to do so gently and compassionately. Nothing can relieve a relative’s anguish. Biblical truth does not put this anxiety to rest. We must keep in mind that God will do what is right. No one goes to hell who doesn’t deserved it. (Theology unplugged – Hell Part 2). And those who go to heaven, do they deserve it? “Any man who thinks he deserves heaven is not a Christian. But for any man who knows he deserves Hell, there’s hope” (Martyn Lloyd-Jones). “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy,
    and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion” (Exodus, 33:19; Romans 9:15).

Christians know that God is good. They also know that he is glorious. Perhaps the glory of glories is God’s goodness revealed in His gift of repentance. “The time, says Jesus, is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.” (Mark 1:15).

When you despair in yourself, in whatever is dearest to you, it is often then that God enables you to come to faith in the Saviour, His Son.

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