The Vineyard Dear Friends,
Why did people flock to hear John the Baptist preach? Why did the religious phonies of his day also come to get baptized? It was, according to John, to escape the judgement of hell. So why was hell such a hot topic for thousands of years, and now a topic we avoid so much? It’s been said that death, sex and hell are three things most churches gloss over or avoid. What might surprise you is that no one in the Bible talked it more about more or described it better than Jesus. Again, why is this? And why did Jesus talk about hell so much and give far more descriptions of hell than heaven? In Luke 16, He describes hell and heaven being separated by a great chasm over which “none may cross from there to us.” In Matthew 25, Jesus told of a time when people will be separated into two groups, one entering into His presence, the other banished to “eternal fire.” Was He wrong, misinformed, unenlightened about the TRUE nature of God? How could a God of love even imagine a place like hell? There’s just no denying that Jesus knew, believed, and warned about the absolute reality of hell, but it appears that many aren’t quite so sure—-or naively want to believe that God will change His mind. Why talk about hell? Because Jesus had to talk about hell: it is the fate that awaits all people apart from him. Contrary to popular belief, hell is not a place where God sends those who have been especially bad; it’s our default destination. We need a rescuer or we stand condemned. Many good people don’t believe in hell. The famous aetheist Bertrand Russell wrote, “There is one very serious defect to my mind in Christ’s moral character, and that is that He believed in hell.” Many agree with him—-some Christians dance with this notion. To them, the idea of eternal punishment for sin, is a doctrine that ended up justify torture and pain within the inquisitions and religious wars of the past. Liberal theology sees hell as a perversion of the Christian Gospel and inconsistent with the entire notion of God. A famous theologian named Clark Pinnock asked: “How can one imagine for a moment that the God who gave His Son to die for sinners because of His great love for them would install a torture chamber somewhere in the new creation in order to subject those who reject Him to everlasting pain?” In Matthew 25:41–46 Jesus laid down the four basic eternal truths about hell: a. Hell is a state of separation from God. b. Hell is a place shared with the worst creatures in the universe. c. Hell is not a place for rehab, but for eternal punishment—there’s no parole. d. Hell is forever—-not temporal Why talk about this at all? The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place. Believing the truth about hell motivates us to persuade people to be reconciled to God. By God’s grace those of us who are trusting Christ have been rescued from this horrible destiny. How can we love people and refuse to speak plainly to them about the realities of eternal damnation and God’s gracious provision of salvation? Clearer visions of hell will give us greater love for both God and people.