News reports came out last Thursday (Maundy Thursday of all days) that Pope Francis denied the existence of hell. Hours later, the Vatican rebuked the journalist for not properly reflecting his comments. Hopefully, this was a misunderstanding of his comments, but even so, we do know of many who struggle with the concept. Many, but not all!
Jonathan Edwards was a colonial pastor and theologian who lived in the first half of the 1700s. In 1722-1723, at the ages of 19 and 20, he penned 70 resolutions which depict a man after God’s own heart, but also one who spent a great amount of time examining his own heart.
What struck me was his 10th resolution: “Resolved, when I feel pain, to think of the pains of martyrdom, and of hell.” Then came Resolution No. 55, written July 8, 1723:
“Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell’s torments.”
Do you find this strange? Do you find it strange that a Christian, and not just any Christian but the greatest preacher and theologian and mind this country has ever produced, would spend any time thinking on hell? Will it surprise you to know that Jesus spoke on the topic of hell more than any of the OT prophets or NT apostles? Will it surprise you that Jesus spoke on hell more than he did on sin? Or agape love?
What happens right now counts forever! The trajectory for heaven or hell is set in this life. It’s set by what we do, what we say, and what we think. Where would we see in Scripture the most serious of those who are set on that terrible trajectory? Turn with me to 2 Peter 2, and let’s read verses 1-3:
But false prophets also arose among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction. 2 And many will follow their sensuality, and because of them the way of truth will be blasphemed. 3 And in their greed they will exploit you with false words. Their condemnation from long ago is not idle, and their destruction is not asleep.
Hell is real, and Peter by the direction of the Spirit tells his readers of those whose trajectory is set toward hell itself.
- Rebellious: Hell is filled with people who exchange one Master for another–themselves (2 Peter 2:1-3). The key phrase in this packed set of verses is the phrase, “even denying the Master who bought them.” Rebellion is rejecting one authority for another, namely yours. Prior to the Civil War, when the South pulled away from the North state by state starting in December 1860 with South Carolina through April 1865 with Virginia, they rebelled against the authority of the United States and the Constitution in order to form their own Constitution. They rejected the authority.
Notice the first word in the chapter is the word ‘but.’ The word ‘but’ is a conjunction. I learned about conjunctions watching Saturday morning cartoons. Schoolhouse Rock had a three minute cartoon called, “Conjunction Junction,” which started off, “Conjunction Junction, what’s your function? Hookin’ up words and phrases and clauses.” ‘But’ connected to the previous paragraph (2 Peter 1:16-21). It connects to the true words given by God, and not by man’s interpretation and not even by experiencing the majesty with their own eyes! The words of the false prophets are given by man’s interpretation, but not by God.
- Sensuous: Hell is filled with people who embrace their senses and desires over Christ’s (2:4-10a). By sensuous, I mean following your senses, which is a vehicle for sin. In James 1:14-15: “But each person is tempted when he is lured and enticed by his own desire. Then desire when it has conceived gives birth to sin, and sin when it is fully grown brings forth death.”
Do you see the problem? Temptation by our desire. The desire lights the senses! The conception takes place, giving birth to the action of sin, which brings forth death—that is, separation from God. All of us in this room will die one day, Christian or not. All of our souls will live forever. Death in this case is a separation from God’s grace and God’s reprieve in a place called hell. It’s a place of “chains of gloomy darkness.” James talks about the ‘hell of fire,’ and John in Revelation 20 talks about the lake of fire that Satan, his followers, and all who reject Christ will be cast into.You see here how much the rebellion and sensuousness overlap. You are your own authority. Your senses, your desires, what you want, what you desire! With the last two examples, we see from Scripture that “the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials” (with the examples of Noah and Lot) but also how “to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment, and especially those who indulge in the lust of defiling passion and despise authority” (2:9-10).It’s not about our desires, but Christ’s. It’s not about our righteousness, but Christ’s. Look at Noah and Lot. How were they rescued—because of their righteousness? Lot is called ‘righteous,’ why? Because God declared Him righteous. Noah was declared righteous (Genesis 6:5), turning his back on his own desires or his culture’s desires and turning to God’s desires.
- Blasphemous: Hell is filled with people who engage in making holy things common (2:10b-16). To blaspheme means to make the holy, common! Recently, I watched a documentary on Alan Alda, who played Hawkeye Pierce from M*A*S*H. In a documentary, he spoke about the issue of censorship. He says, “All language should be de-mystified. I don’t think gutter language has the power over us. It’s a thoughtless, crude way to express yourself to where it’s so de-mystified that people would have to use real words.”I disagree with his evaluation of words. It’s not about a mystifying. It’s about what is appropriate and what’s not. There’s a reason why we over the years have labeled this profanity. We are speaking profanely, commonly. But when we take holy things like God, His Word, His people, His creation, His imagebearers profanely? That’s where blasphemy enters in. Hell is populated with people who travelled exclusively in this lane—a lane that not even the angels, as powerful as they are would travel.Hell is filled with souls who in this life were bold (which in the Greek means “darers” or “reckless ones”) and willful, that is, having a self-pleasing conceit and obstinacy. In verse 12, we see how they are ‘irrational creatures, born to be caught and destroyed, blaspheming about matters of which they are ignorant.’
- Waterless: Hell is filled with those who are empty of any life to refresh the soul (2:17-22). Jesus said that anyone who believes in Him, “Out of him would flow rivers of living water” that would refresh them and also others. Waterless springs do not provide anything. Even as mists have really no significant water for nourishment, they are just moved along.“Speaking loud boasts of folly” – the Apostle Paul warned that the preaching of the cross sounds like foolishness to those who are perishing—but the inverse is true, that the preaching of a glorified individual sounds insightful to those who are perishing as well. Hell is populated with souls who believe that the Bible is all about exalting self rather than Christ-exalting.A meme was traveling around Facebook the other day. It had a picture of Joel Osteen next to the apostle Paul. In Osteen’s picture, they insert a quote from Your Best Life Now: “You will often receive preferential treatment simply because your Father is the King of kings, and His glory and honor spill over onto you” (p. 40). The quote by the Apostle Paul from 2 Corinthians 11:25: “Three times I was beaten with rods, once was I stoned, three times I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep”—and that was just part of it, but you get the idea.
You see, so many who have this following on TV and radio and the Internet promise material prosperity—and people buy into it, why? These false prophets “entice by sensual passions of the flesh those who are barely escaping from those who live in error. That’s why Paul, after charging Timothy to “preach the Word, in season and out of season” follows up with,
“For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. As for you, always be sober-minded, endure suffering, do the work of an evangelist, fulfill your ministry” (2 Timothy 4:3-5).
Below is a clip by R.C. Sproul about two types of people in hell: