“But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath when His righteous judgment will be revealed.” Romans 2:5
God wants us to contemplate hell now, so we don’t end up there. We are told to behold both His kindness and His severity (Romans 11:22) as a protection from us ever having to experience His severity. In His mercy toward us, Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven, not as a threat to His enemies, but as a warning to His friends. Jesus doesn’t want any of us to go to hell.
As we take a look into hell from this text, we can see three things:
- God doesn’t send anyone to hell; we send ourselves there. “You are storing up wrath against yourself.” Jesus died so we could be forgiven; He’s already tasted death for us. (Hebrews 2:9) No one needs to go to hell when God’s expressed will for all of us is to be saved. (2Peter 3:9) If we end up in hell, we will have only ourselves to blame.
- God’s anger and wrath against sin is being “stored” now, but will be poured out then. We all outlive our bodies and will face the day of judgment. (Hebrews 9:27) Those who have rejected Christ’s love and payment for their sins will make their own payment in the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
- God’s judgment will be righteous. Those who have not received eternal life will eventually be destroyed in the lake of fire, body and soul. (Matthew 10:28) They died physically once, received back their bodies before final judgment (Revelation 20:13), and then will physically die again in the lake of fire which is called the second death. They will eventually perish in hell (John 3:16) but not before they pay, by conscious torment, for every sin they committed against humanity. (Luke 12:47-48) They will ultimately be consumed by eternal fire and will eventually be remembered no more. (Matthew 3:12; Hebrews 10:27; Psalm 37:38)
C.S. Lewis said in The Great Divorce, “Some would rather rule in hell than serve in heaven. And to those who reject Christ’s rule He will say: ‘Your will be done.’”
“God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God…” Genesis 3:5
After the enemy questioned the Word of God by asking Eve, “Did God really say that,” he questioned the character of God. In the text above it’s as if he’s saying, “God is holding out on you and doesn’t have your best interests in mind.” Once Eve took this bait, she could justify taking matters into her own hands to accomplish what was “best” for her. Instead of trusting God, she became suspicious of Him, and disaster followed. Is anything different today?
The irony of the attack quoted above is that God was offering Adam and Eve something only He possessed, but it could only be found in the other tree; the tree of life. We find out in Genesis 3:22 that this tree would more appropriately be called the tree of eternal life because whoever ate its fruit would “live forever.” Adam and Eve were being offered, in the fruit of this tree, the very life of God who “alone possesses immortality.” (1Timothy 6:16)
Today God is offering eternal life again through another tree; the cross. His purpose is not to restore us to the state of Adam and Eve before they fell, but to give us the eternal life they never embraced. “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son that whoever believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
What will happen to those who don’t come to the cross and eat of the life only Jesus can give? They will outlive their bodies and face judgment (Hebrews 9:27), and then be cast into hell to pay for their sins against humanity. (Revelation 20:11-15) After that they will be destroyed in hell (Matthew 10:28), be consumed by its fire (Hebrews 10:27), and perish like the beasts (2Peter 2:12) when they experience the second death of the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
Let’s trust God’s heart for us and receive the eternal life He died for us to have!
“Train yourself to be godly. Physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1Timothy 4:7-8
To train ourselves to be godly is to reorder our lives in a way that makes living close to God our highest priority. Asaph said, “the nearness of God is my good.” (Psalm 73:28) In what way is godliness good for us?
First, Paul says it’s valuable in this present life. Later in his letter he gives a qualifier: “Godliness with contentment is great gain, for we brought nothing into this world, and we cannot take anything out.” (6:6-7) The more we pursue godliness with contentment the more we live defined by God and the more all other definitions fade away. We are not our financial net worth, or what other people think we are, or even how we define ourselves – we are God’s masterpiece! (Ephesians 2:10) Only the godly grow away from the traps of this world into their true identity. Letting the One who loved us and gave Himself up for us (Galatians 2:20) be the One who defines us is tremendously liberating. His perfect love drives out fear and insecurity (1John 4:18), so that we can simply be ourselves filled with His Holy Spirit.
Then Paul says godliness has value for the life to come. Asaph says that those who live “far from You will perish; You put an end to everyone who is unfaithful to You.” (Psalm 73:27) The ungodly will “perish like beasts” (2Peter 2:12) and “be consumed” eventually in the eternal fire (Hebrews 10:27), but the godly will share eternal life with God. This is the simple gospel: “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
Godliness begins by forsaking our own works and by putting our trust in Jesus Christ because salvation is God’s gift to us. “Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness (right standing with God!).” (Romans 4:4-5)
“Now while the bridegroom was delaying, they all got drowsy and began to sleep. But at midnight there was a shout, ‘Behold, the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.’ Then all those virgins rose and trimmed their lamps. The foolish said to the prudent, ‘Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.’ But the prudent answered, ‘No, there will not be enough for us and you too; go instead to the dealer and buy some for yourselves.’” Matthew 25:5-9
The great work of this life is to live ready for Christ’s return. He has delayed His return because He doesn’t want anyone to perish (2Peter 3:9) and is even now calling sinners to repent and turn to God. But what about the danger to those who have begun their journey but are now distracted by other things? How do we ensure we don’t end up like the foolish virgins Jesus describes in Matthew 25? There are three things we can do daily, so that we’re living ready for His return.
- We must stay awake. Jesus said that before Noah’s flood and the judgment of Sodom and Gomorrah, people were “eating, they were drinking, they were marrying…they were buying, they were selling, they were planting, they were building.” (Luke 17:27-28) The problem was that these legitimate things were all they were doing – they had lost track of a living faith in God. The busyness of this world easily lulls us to sleep and pretty soon we are relying on past experience instead of present relationship.
- We must trim our wicks. Yesterday’s sins, regrets, and successes have to be trimmed away to walk with God today. Listen to Paul’s encouragement: “One thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of Christ Jesus.” (Philippians 3:13-14)
- We must have fresh oil. The foolish virgins think they can get oil from other people – it’s not possible. You can’t get your relationship with God from your grandma, parents, or pastor, however godly they may be. Go to the dealer Himself. He has fresh oil for every single day. The cost is only the time and effort it takes to seek Him for it. Jesus has already paid the price, so we can always be filled with the Holy Spirit. Your Father loves you, Jesus died for you, so all you need to do is ask each day.
“Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs will hear His voice, and will come forth; those who did good to a resurrection of life, those who committed evil to a resurrection of judgment.” John 5:28-29
Our souls go to heaven or hades when we die but our bodies are held by death until the second coming of Christ. Every human being that ever lived will receive a new body, of which their body on earth was a seed (it doesn’t matter if people were cremated or buried); and then will be judged by Jesus Christ, the Son of God. The judgment of those who trusted Him as their Savior will be very different from those who rejected Him in three ways.
- The timing of the judgment. Those who trusted Christ will be raised first and that will begin at what is commonly known as the rapture of the church. Paul tells us that “..the dead in Christ will rise first. Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord.” (1Thessalonians 4:16-17) The second resurrection doesn’t happen until after the millennium: “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. (Revelation 20:13)
- In what is being judged. Those who trusted Christ will not be judged for their sins – that judgment happened already on the cross. Jesus, in the text above, says their resurrection is to life, not judgment. However, believers will be judged for their works and 1Corinthians 3 says that some will have all their works burned up in the fire of God’s judgment, even though their souls will still be saved. The righteous are only judged to determine their rewards, not their salvation. Those who reject Christ will be judged for all their sins. They chose to pay their own penalty, so they will.
- The kind of body received. The righteous are raised immortal and their new bodies are imperishable. (1Corinthians 15:42) Those who reject Christ are given a new body but it is perishable like the one they had on earth. Jesus says they will perish – John 3:16; Paul says they will perish – 1Corinthians 1:18; and Peter says they will “perish like the beasts.” (2Peter 2:12)
“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
As I have explored the church’s traditional view of hell, I’ve learned a lot about the power of confirmation bias. Once we believe something, it’s hard for us to consider something that contradicts it, no matter how much evidence there is. It leads us away from “believing what we read,” into a place where we only, “read what we already believe.” It’s hard to learn or grow in this place because we already think we know how things are.
At the foundation of the doctrine of eternal torment is a belief that our souls are eternal. The early church didn’t explicitly comment on this topic, but two later church fathers did. Tertullian and Augustine both referenced our eternal souls, but as proof they quoted Plato, not Scripture! (Tertullian; Resurrection of the Flesh; 3; The Fire that Consumes; 300). The Old Testament described man as a transient being: “For all men are like grass, and all their glory is like the flowers of the field; the grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of the Lord stands forever.” (Isaiah 40:6-7) Only Greek philosophy describes us as automatically having an eternal soul.
The New Testament gives many descriptions of what eventually happens to souls who reject Christ, if we will only listen:
- The body and soul will be destroyed. (Quoted above)
- The chaff will be burned up in eternal fire. (Matthew 3:12)
- The enemies of God will be consumed by fire. (Hebrews 10:27)
- The wicked will perish like beasts. (2Peter 2:6)
- The wicked will be burned to ashes like Sodom and Gomorrah by eternal fire. (2Peter 2:12; Jude 7)
- Those whose names are not in the book of life will experience the second death in the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:15)
This is what Scripture says, but if we believe the soul is eternal then destroy can’t mean destroy, consumed must not mean consumed, burned up doesn’t mean burned up, perish must mean something different then perish, and death can no longer mean death.