Jesus taught that at the end of this age there is going to be a separation. According to Jesus, this world is not going to continue forever. There will be a supernatural end, a cataclysmic event, a universal conclusion to this present age. Jesus called this “the Son of Man coming in his glory”. Jesus, who first came into our world as a baby born in humble circumstances, will return again as the all-powerful King, who sits in judgment over the nations of the world. Then there will be a separation between what Jesus refers to as goats and the sheep. Those that belong to Christ, the sheep, the King welcomes them into his kingdom. To the goats, those who have rejected Christ, the King says the exact opposite: to depart from him “into the eternal fire” of “eternal punishment”. (cf. Matthew 25:31-32, 41, 46)
Eternity is at stake. Either eternal life or eternal punishment, because our sin is against an infinitely perfect, eternal God.
The book of Lamentations helps us to understand this difficult doctrine of the judgment and wrath of God. Lamentations 4 describes the horrific experience of living in Jerusalem during the siege and slaughter of the Babylonian army in 587 BC.
God’s hot anger
The precious things were treated as worthless. The gold of the temple of the Lord was stripped and the temple stones were scattered like discarded rubble (v1). The sons of nobles were treated as broken pottery, to be thrown out as worthless and despised (v2). The mothers of Jerusalem, out of desperation, had become like ostriches who were thought to forsake their young (v3). No one gave the children food, either because there was no food, or because people were too desperate in their own extreme hunger to share (v3). The rich, those who wore designer clothes, were scavenging on rubbish dumps (v5).
Mark Zuckerberg is the creator of Facebook and is the world’s youngest billionaire. He was raised in New York in a Jewish family, even having a Bar mitzvah. However, since age 13 he has described himself as an atheist and has never wavered from that position. He lists Atheism on his very own Facebook page as his religion.
In Jerusalem the billionaires were feeding off the rubbish dump because they rejected God.
The author of Lamentations says the punishment of Jerusalem was even greater than Sodom (v6). Why? At least the judgment on Sodom was quick, it was “overthrown in a moment”, it came to a speedy end. The siege, destruction and captivity of Jerusalem lasted for days and weeks and months and years.
Hunger had ravaged the sons of the nobles and drained their colour. They were starved, dehydrated and sunburnt (v7-8). Neither wealth nor health protected one from the judgment of God.
The author says it’s better to die fast: it’s a sorry state when death by a sword is considered mercy (v9).
Mothers had not just boiled and eaten their afterbirth (as the book of Jeremiah tells us), but extreme hunger had led them to boil and eat their dead children (v10). Who has done this inconceivable deed? The cruel women? No, it’s the compassionate women. The child of the mother’s womb was the object of the mother’s care and the mother’s cooking. Does the horror not end?
The people of the world never thought God would act in judgment (v12) – and then one day God did.
Even the king (v20), their last hope, was captured.
Yet, this horrific scene was not Satan’s doing, but God’s doing: God was pouring out his hot anger against sin (v11). God’s holy fire was even burning the foundations of Jerusalem.
The precious was treated as worthless, the children starved, the rich ate on rubbish dumps, caring turned to cannibalism, and the king was captured.
Lamentations 4 shows us that God gets really angry at sin and it’s just a small foretaste of the ultimate judgment of God: the extreme horror of hell and the eternal punishment to come.
God’s steadfast love
The momentous news is that the Bible tells us that Jesus bore the wrath and judgment of God for sin in our place, so that we can be right with God.
One of the most profound truths of the Bible is (and if you don’t get this you won’t understand anything properly): God poured out his hot anger on Jesus so that you, if you trust in Jesus, don’t have to experience it.
Jesus, the Precious One, was treated as worthless, his body was beaten and disfigured, the king was captured and crucified. The hammer of God was on Jesus. He bore the wrath and punishment you and I deserve.
On the cross of Christ, the steadfast love of God is demonstrated and the wrath of God is satisfied.
The sufferings of Jerusalem, as horrific as they were, are not even comparable to the sufferings of God the Son as he bore the wrath of God the Father – for you.
In a very real sense, Jesus experienced hell on the cross, so you don’t have to – if you trust him.
But here’s the thing: if you do not put your faith in Jesus to save you and to deliver you from the coming wrath, you still have to bear it.
The sufferings of Jerusalem, as horrific as they were, are also not even comparable to the suffering of those who will be in an eternal hell. They will wish they could die.
If Jesus does not bear the rod of God’s wrath for you, you must still bear it
If you visit Kigali in Rwanda (like most big cities in Africa), you will find a church, even two churches, on every corner. The churches have names like: Power Encounters, Anointed Healing Ministries and Tabernacle of Glory. The ministries of these churches are all about healing, power, blessing, prosperity, health, wealth, personal victory and triumph. But there is mention of sin, the judgment of God or an eternal hell. There is no mention of Jesus dying as our substitute to bear the rod of his wrath. At our church on Sunday we were introduced to Innocent Manirafasha, a third year student at George Whitefield College. He is, with his team, planning to plant a church in Kigali next year.
Some might ask why another church? Because people need to hear the gospel. He and the team aim to teach the Bible, including the difficult doctrine of hell, and point people to God’s great love in Jesus. In a country and continent full of “churches” we need many more evangelical churches. Many so-called churches are glorified self-help centres and motivational seminars focussed on get-rich-quick schemes for the “anointed men of God”. Many “churches” have forsaken the gospel of Jesus for the gospel of good works or the gospel of me and my faith. In the words of the prophet Jeremiah, they are preaching , “‘Peace, peace’ when there is no peace.”
The reality of an eternal hell is another (besides the many others) motivation for planting more evangelical churches.