We are familiar with the idea of separation. We’ve all experienced it at one time or another.
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)
On 16 July 2016 a faction of the army in Turkey tried to take control of the government in a coup. Soldiers, tanks and F16 Jet Fighters invaded Istanbul. 280 people were killed, but ultimately the coup failed. TIME magazine called it: Turkey’s long night of the soul.
The good news was that the night came to an end, warring stopped, day dawned, hostilities ceased, and the fierce anger stopped.
In contrast, the Bible teaches of future time of God’s judgment, wrath and anger on sin that will not cease.
This past Sunday at our church we started a new sermon series on the book of Lamentations. The title of this series is “Hell of a subject” because Lamentations teaches us about the wrath or “fierce anger” (1:12) of God, of which an eternal hell is the ultimate expression.
We don’t often hear about the wrath or fierce anger of God, let alone about an eternal hell. Most people would say something like, “My God would never do that!” Rather than worshipping and serving the God of the Bible, most people worship and serve the God of their own making, who, not-surprisingly, has all the same opinions as themselves. Lamentations will help us. Lamentations gives us a small foretaste of the wrath of God.
Lamentations tells us that the work of evangelism and missions is urgent and crucial, because the fierce anger of God is a reality. There is an eternal hell and the gospel is God’s good news about Jesus and how we can be saved from God’s wrath.
People tend to have a problem with the doctrine of hell because of three main reasons.
1. I’m not Adolf Hitler
We think that sin is not serious or offensive enough to warrant an eternal, conscious, state of suffering. However, the Bible teaches that sin is horrendous and hugely offensive to God. God cannot look upon sin. God hates sin. Sin is treason against our Creator and Sustainer.
We think that, if any, only Adolf Hitler’s sin is worthy of hell. But who are we to decide what sin is serious and what sin is not?
Revelation 21:8, speaking of the return of Christ and the great day of reckoning, says “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practise magic arts, the idolaters and all liars–their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulphur. This is the second death.” Hell is described in terms of fire and burning. Whatever this might mean, hell will not be pleasant or good. Yet, the Bible does not shy away for the truth about hell for is the fair, right, and deserved consequence of treasonous behaviour against God. Sin is very serious.
2. He’s your Father, not your Old Man.
The second reason we tend to have a problem with hell is because we forget the holiness of God. God is not your buddy or your boyfriend. God is not to be trifled with or scorned. God is our Creator and Judge. The angels shout around the throne, “Holy, Holy, Holy, is the Lord God Almighty, heaven and earth are full of his glory.”
Yes, God is love and has revealed himself in Jesus; yes, we can now approach God with boldness and confidence because of Jesus’ sin-bearing death; but let us not forget the words in Hebrews 9, “Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe, for our ‘God is a consuming fire’.”
3. Make tea, not love
Again you ask, How can a loving God send people to hell? God is indeed loving. God the Father sent God the Son into the world to secure the eternal salvation of all God’s people. No-one forced or compelled God to do that. Out of love God chose to do it. But don’t make the mistake in thinking that God is only love; he is also just. God must punish sin appropriately or it would be an affront to his own justice. Hell is the fitting and right consequence for those who reject Jesus.
May that God grant us all a renewed appreciation for his holiness and a renewed insight into the ugliness of sin.