Death in sin carries with it dismal effects. The wages of sin is death even "the second death" (Revelation 21:8). Sin has shame for its companion in life, and hell for its wages thereafter. Yet there is a negligence of witness to this sterner side of the Gospel. We fear that too many dwell exclusively upon the goodness of God, forgetting that goodness and severity are His twin attributes. Those who are eternally lost will suffer no more for their sins than Christ endured when He died for sin.
Future retribution is only alluded to: eternal punishment almost never taught in the pulpit today - to the honor of the pulpit and the honor of God, be it said. As hell is still in the Bible, is it not to the dishonor of pulpits if they deny such a truth? Silence as to "the weeping and gnashing of teeth" Jesus spoke of (Matthew 25:30) does more to populate hell than the blashemies of Tom Paine and Robert Ingersoll combined. Jesus possessed the tenderest heart that ever throbbed in a human breast, yet He constantly alluded to the certain, terrible and unending suffering of those who died lost. He taught eternal punishment with a boldness, plainness and awful significance no human preacher dare imitate unless he has a Calvary heart for the unsaved.
Accepting the Bible as an inspired revelation, we take for granted the clear evidence it presents of hell. It is a fact so personal and solemn that God has not hidden it, nor is He silent concerning it. God has written it large upon the sacred page so that the wayfaring man, through a fool may read it. In unmistakable language, the Bible speaks of unending joy of the saved, and of unending torment for the lost, urging the latter to flee from the wrath to come.
Hell is described as being "beneath" (Proverbs 15:24). "Hell is far under the earth as heaven is above it." Luke tells us that the devils besought Christ to command them to go into the deep (Luke 8:31). Hell, then, is in the deep. But the wise Chrysostom warns us, "Let me not so labor to know where hell is, as how to escape it."
Dwelling upon the fact and nature of hell, we use the phrase, "eternal punishment," in its natural and obvious meaning - eternal, which implies "unending." The continuity of hell must be the same as that of heaven, for the same words are used to describe both (Matthew 25:46). Punishment represents "conscious suffering." Let me try to condense Biblical material on this solemn subject:
1. The soul of man neither dies nor falls into unconsciousness when the body dies. Sinners do not cease to be, and saints do not go to sleep until the resurrection of the just. Personality is indestructible. Conscious survival after death is clearly taught in Scripture (Luke 16:19-31; II Corinthians 5:8; Philippians 1:23; Hebrews 12:22,23; Revelation 6:9,10).
2. All who die out of Christ go to hell. The Old Testament word for hell is Sheol, and is used in the double sense. First of all, it represents the grave to which the bodies of both the righteous and the wicked go (Genesis 37:35; I Kings 2:6,9; Psalm 6:5; Hosea 13:14). Then Sheol stands for the place of future punishment (Psalms 9:17; 55:15; 116:3; Proverbs 7:27; Isaiah 28:15-18).
The New Testament word for hell is Hades, and corresponds to Sheol. Whether Hades represents the grave or a definite place of conscious punishment must be determined by the context (Luke 16:23-25; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-15; I Corinthians 15:55).
Other designations for the place of eternal torment prepared for the devil and his angels (Mathew 25:41) are -
- Gehenna (Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:43-48; James 3:6)
- Eternal damnation (Mark 3:29)
- Outer darkness (Matthew 8:12)
- Resurrection of damnation (John 5:29)
- Second death (Revelation 2:11; 21:8)
- Everlasting destruction (Psalm 9:27; II Thessalonians 1:9)
- Blackness of darkness (II Peter 2:4; Jude 13)
- The curse of God (Deuteronomy 27:26; Galatians 3:10)
- The wrath of God (John 3:36; Romans 1:18)
- The Lake of Fire (Revelation 19:20; 20:15)
- Eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46)
- Bonds and chains (II Peter 2:4)
- Worm of conscience (Mark 9:44)
- Company of demons (Matthew 25:41)
- Unending torments (Revelation 14:11)
These and other designations describe the dreadfulness of hell. If only there could be heard by the lost the groans and shrieks of the damned for one hour, how they would flee to Christ for mercy. One preacher had said, "I had rather endure all torments, then see the devil with bodily eyes." What a hell it must be to be shut up with the raging lion forever, and have him as the old red dragon forever hiss and spit in one's face!
3. Hell is a place of conscious suffering. Time can never end hell's torment, and tears never quench it (Luke 3:23-25,28; II Peter 2:9 R.V.). Thomas Watson, the Puritan divine, graphically describes the sorrows of hell thus: "If all the earth and sea were sand and every thousandth year a bird should come and take away one grain, it would be a long time before that heap would be removed: yet if after all that time the damned could come out of Hell, there would be hope; but the words forever and ever break the heart."
Those rejecting the Biblical revelation of hell try to show that "eternal" or "everlasting" do not mean eternal or everlasting. My answer to this assertion can be brief. Precisely the same word is used to define the duration of the life which believers Christ possess (John 3:15,16,36); the duration of salvation (Hebrews 5:9); the duration of heaven (II Corinthians 5:1); the duration of Christ's redemption (Hebrews 9:12); the duration of the Spirit's existence (Hebrews 9:14); the duration of the inheritance of the saints (Hebrews 9:15); the duration of divine glory (I Peter 5:10); the duration of Christ's kingdom (II Peter 1:11). How foolish then to try the dodge the plain, obvious and natural meaning of the term used for the sinner's woe - eternal or everlasting.
"Everlasting" and "eternal" are used 14 times of the duration of the righteous and seven times of the retribution of the wicked (Matthew 18:8; 25:41,46; Mark 3:29; II Thessalonians 1:9; Hebrews 6:2; Jude 7). "Forever and ever" occurs in 17 places concerning God and His people; three times regarding the devil and His servants (Revelation 14:11; 19:3; 20:10).
4. The Lake of Fire is a place of conscious suffering. What doom awaits those who die out of Christ and also the devil and his angels (Revelation 2:11; 19:20; 20:10; Matthew 25:41,46)! It would seem as if the conscious, unending torment of the lake of fire consists of two aspects.
- The Punishment of Separation - "Depart from Me" (Matthew 7:23). What doom! Chrysostom says that the word "depart" is worse than fire. Sin must be the greater evil when it eternally separates the sinner from the greatest good. It was hard for Absalom not to see the king's face. How tragic to be eternally banished from God's smile and presence!
- The Punishment of Loss - "Ye cursed" (Matthew 25:41). Sinners dying in their sin have to depart, not with God's blessing, but His curse, and to have as companions the occupants of eternal darkness. The present anguish of the sinner is a kind of sport to the awful torments of the Lake of Fire. How terrible is "the wrath of the Almighty" (Revelation 19:15)! The divine stroke is heavy and intolerable. Sinning together, body and soul must suffer together in unending misery (Revelation 9:6; 14:11).
Hell is a definite place, as well as a moral condition.
6. The conscious suffering of the lake of fire is unending. Alreay we have dealt with the fact that the word aionios, meaning "eternal" or "of unending duration," is used of the blessedness of the saved and of the suffering of the lost. Contrasted passages to study are these: Jude 7 with John 3:15; Matthew 18:8 with Romans 6:23; Matthew 25:41 with Hebrews 5:9; Timothy 1:17 with Matthew 25:46; Revelation 10:6 with 20:10.
7. The only escape from everlasting torment is now. Acceptance of the finished work of Christ for sinners alone guarantees deliverance from the terrible doom depicted by Christ as awaiting those who die lost. Once in Him, all condemnaton is removed (Romans 8:1). Hell fire can never singe the garment of divine righteousness. Nothing quenches fire as quickly as salt and blood. The salt tears of repentance, and the blood of Christ are efficient to quench the hell of sin now and the hell of torment hereafter.
If we truly believe that men and women who die in their sin are to be eternally banished from the presence of God forever, our solemn task here and now is to warn them to "flee from the wrath to come." We dare not remain indifferent to their terrible doom (Ezekiel 3:17-21).