the shape of leadership

Why Hell Matters

The message of Christ includes uncomfortable truths we can’t ignore.

Mark A Hausfeld on April 26, 2017

D. James Kennedy, in Why I Believe in the Bible, God, Heaven, Hell, Moral Absolutes, Christ, The Resurrection, Christianity, The Holy Spirit, The Return of Christ, tells the story about a man who did not believe in heaven, hell, or God — until he died. He went into cardiac arrest and was clinically dead before the medical team resuscitated him.

He awakened with a chilling story. He remembered sinking into a horrifying place of dark shadows, where he found himself pushing a huge stone into a pit. He was in unbearable pain, and there was nothing he could do to ease the agony. As he pondered all this later, he arrived at a startling conclusion.

“I feel that it definitely had to be something other than on this earth, so the only place I can think of is that there must be a hell, and I was in it,” he said.

Hell is real! The realization left him trembling uncontrollably, but it also led him to believe. Tragically, many will only believe in hell when they experience it — and for most of them, it will be too late.

Wishful Thinking Versus Reality
Many people today dismiss hell as a myth or fairy tale. But if the Bible is God’s Word, hell is a real place that cannot be ignored. If I could develop my own theology of hell, it would be less harsh, lonely and eternal. However, the truth is that hell is harsh, lonely and eternal.

When I consider how to begin sharing this reality, my thoughts keep returning to the One who is at the center of history and Scripture, the One who spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible: Jesus. If the gospel writers had created a belief system to satisfy human sensibilities, Jesus would not have brought up the topic of hell.

It’s tempting to skip over the parts of Scripture that don’t fit our personal and cultural preferences. After all, it’s easier to focus on images of Jesus as a baby in a manger, a shepherd tenderly holding a sheep in the crook of one arm, or a gentle man welcoming little children.

There is nothing disruptive about a character who is always meek, nurturing and gentle. However, a thorough reading of Scripture reveals that Jesus is also the rider on the white horse in Revelation 19, the One who leads the armies of heaven against a rebellious world, striking down those who reject God’s mercy.

As I read Revelation and the rest of the Bible, I encounter uncomfortable facts that stir up a sense of concern and urgency for a lost world in need of truth. Sin brings judgment, condemnation, weeping and suffering — and leads the unrepentant to a place called hell.

Bible teachers must present the entire message God reveals in Scripture — not just the parts others will find palatable. Jesus warned people about hell because it matters to Him where they spend eternity. It must matter to us as well.

Hell Matters Because God’s Word Is True
In Genesis 3:15, God declares to the serpent, “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”

Sin entered God’s masterpiece through His highest creation, humankind. Yet God wasted no time in prescribing a remedy. Our first parents’ disobedience brought all that we know as evil into the world, beginning in the human heart. The Garden of Eden might have looked the same in the moment the first couple made their fatal choice, but Adam and Eve realized their hearts were different — something was not right. Why else would they hide from the intimacy they enjoyed with their Creator who was walking in the Garden?

With the first twinge of soul desolation, God uttered a prophecy, the protoevangelium, which announced a solution that would bring redemption to generations of fallen people and the ultimate defeat of the deceiver, Satan.

The protoevangelium, Latin for “first gospel,” serves as the first declaration of the good news of salvation. This gospel proclamation comes immediately after the fall of Adam and Eve and shows God’s intent to overcome the devil and provide atonement for sins, which Jesus fulfilled through His death and resurrection.

The serpent and enemy of our souls now slithers with a wounded head. His power over God’s creation is broken. Jesus — the baby of Bethlehem, the Savior who suffered on the cross, the resurrected Lord, and the conqueror of death, hell, and the grave — delivered the blow that overcame the devil.

God, through the incarnation of Jesus, fulfilled the prophecy to redeem humanity and defeat Satan. The Early Church referred to Him as “Christus Victor!” He is the victorious Lord and Savior over Satan and evil in all its manifestations. He is the Redeemer of all people who call Him Lord.

Hell Matters Because It Is Central to the Gospel
Some people view Jesus as a symbol of love without judgment — like a cosmic Santa Claus who merely winks at human rebellion. They refuse to accept that Jesus’ teachings point to a literal hell, preferring to believe that sin isn’t such a big deal after all. Unfortunately, many preachers fail to confront such false notions because teaching and preaching Jesus’ unambiguous message concerning hell is unpleasant and could cause visitors and some regular attendees not to return to the church. Their hesitation to preach about hell doesn’t change the truth, however.

The reality is that Jesus, the God of perfect love, spoke about hell more than any other person in the Bible. Since Jesus spoke so much about hell, it must be an important subject that spiritual leaders need to address. If it is important to Jesus, it should be important to us. One of the concepts in biblical hermeneutics and the scientific interpretation of Scripture is that when Scripture repeatedly mentions an issue, the reader should take note, understand and communicate the concept.

Hell’s original purpose was for Satan and his demonic forces. Early in the Gospel of Mark, the gospel where we find the most Scriptures on power encounters between Jesus and demoniacs, we read the words of a demon who recognized Christ’s power over Satan: “What do you want with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are — the Holy One of God!” (Mark 1:24).

Such fallen entities had beheld the preincarnate Jesus and knew about His authority. They also knew that God would condemn them to eternal destruction. This is also evident in the cries of the two demon-possessed men in the region of the Gadarenes: “‘What do you want with us, Son of God?’ they shouted. ‘Have you come here to torture us before the appointed time?’” (Matthew 8:29).

God has allotted a time and place to condemn these rebellious beings to everlasting torment. The demons recognized Jesus Christ and understood that they were subject to His condemnation. It seems that even before the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, the demons were aware of their fate, calling out to Jesus, “Have you come to destroy us?” (Luke 4:34). Apollumi, the word translated “destroy” in Mark 1:24 and Luke 4:34, also means “to ruin or to lose.” The Greek word basanizo in Matthew 8:29 means “to torture.” The concept of a place of loss and torment is a reality to which the demons testify. Their firsthand account affirms why hell matters.

Sadly, hell is not limited to Satan and his fallen hosts. Jesus teaches that hell is also for anyone who decides not to follow the One who alone can crush the head of the serpent. Jesus communicates extensive warnings to humanity about hell. The context of the present is preparation for the context of eternity.

Jesus, the God of perfect love, spoke about hell more than any other person in the Bible.

Again, remember the hermeneutical principle regarding textual repetition. Jesus proclaims that eternal punishment awaits those who reject Him by living in disobedience to His expectations (Matthew 7:23; 13:40-42; 25:46; Mark 9:43,48; Luke 13:27; 16:24).

Our biblical worldview must align with a theological framework for today and eternity. What is comfortable relationally, culturally and politically must not determine to what extent hell matters. We must base our relationship with God on His Word and nothing else.

Evil advances not only through satanic entities, but also through willful human sins as individuals make choices that separate them from God. If evil, sin and hell did not matter, then there would be no reason for the Son of God to suffer as He crushed the serpent’s head. Christ’s sacrifice is a reminder that hell matters. Satan’s demons, along with people who reject Christ, will be separated from Him for eternity. This brings us to another reason why Hell matters: It is the place of eschatological justice.

Hell Matters Because Christ Is Returning
The Book of Revelation takes the reader on a prophetic journey through time with a clear focus on heaven and hell. An important indicator that hell matters is the amount of text dedicated to the subject. God is calling us to acquire as complete an understanding as is humanly possible concerning hell. The images of hell in Revelation point to His ultimate triumph.

Revelation 9 provides insight into what will happen at the end of the age. Like the plagues that called the Egyptians to repentance through judgments, the angels blow their trumpets to call human beings to repentance (Revelation 8:6 through 9:21). In this portion of Scripture, hell comes to earth. With each trumpet the angels sound, demonic activity in the earth increases. The true enemy of the human soul receives seven opportunities to inflict the deep evil that is at the core of Satan’s purpose for humanity.

Even as the sinful people of that generation experience hell’s fury, they do not repent to receive the saving message of the Savior and look to Jesus as Lord. According to Revelation 9:20-21, “The rest of mankind who were not killed by these plagues still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons, and idols of gold, silver, bronze, stone and wood — idols that cannot see or hear or walk. Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts.”

The ultimate warnings from the Gospels and the Book of Revelation are calls for those who have not accepted the message of Jesus to repent. The Scriptures are primarily written to the Church to call it to follow Christ in holiness and proclaim the reality of hell to the lost.

Revelation 19 describes the triumph of Jesus over all rebellion in spirit and in flesh. Clearly, no one can defeat Christ because He is the sovereign and triumphant Lord of all.

Revelation 20:1-3 indicates that Satan will remain locked in the Abyss for 1,000 years. According to verses 4-6, those who resist Satan, receive the message of the gospel, and remain faithful to God will reign with Christ. Following the millennial reign of Christ, Satan will be released from the Abyss. For a time, he will continue to rebel against God and deceive the nations.

Even in the idyllic millennial world, people will follow Satan’s last-gasp lies. This is hard to comprehend, but such is the fallen nature of humankind. Environment is not the predictor of human behavior; ultimately, it’s a matter of the heart. When Satan’s deceiving days finally come to a close, he must take his place in the lake of burning sulfur (verse 10).

Revelation 20:11-15 provides the final glimpse of the outcome for all who did not receive the message of Jesus Christ. They come to the stark realization of the proverb, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death” (Proverbs 14:12). They stand before the Great White Throne judgment, with no more opportunities to repent and no more opportunities to share the good news. The soberness of this passage is nearly overwhelming.

Even with this truth to remind us of why hell matters, Jesus’ revelation to John has two more climactic statements. It is as if Jesus is saying to the Church, Remember this: I mean what I say! This is vital. I’m not kidding! Don’t take culture’s word for it! Forget political correctness, and listen to what I’m saying.

As John paints a picture of the bride of Christ, the Church, entering the New Jerusalem and beginning to live in the light of eternity, Jesus clearly indicates who will not be in the New Jerusalem: “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars — they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).

Finally, Jesus emphasizes one last time who will not be a Kingdom citizen in the New Jerusalem: “Blessed are those who wash their robes, that they may have the right to the tree of life and may go through the gates into the city. Outside are the dogs, those who practice magic arts, the sexually immoral, the murderers, the idolaters and everyone who loves and practices falsehood” (Revelation 22:14-15).

Christ could not make this any clearer to His church. Hell matters because people matter to God.

Hell Matters Because We Have Work to Do
As Pentecostals, we are an eschatological people with the missional mandate to proclaim the message of the victorious Christ. The return of Christ serves as one of the four pillars of Pentecost. The call to prepare for Christ’s return must include a clear warning concerning the reality of hell. The theme of harvest is at the core of the Feast of Pentecost in the Old Testament. It was not by chance that the Holy Spirit outpouring in the Book of Acts began on the Day of Pentecost. The primary purpose of the baptism in the Holy Spirit is for the empowerment of the believer to witness.

The masses of lost people are the harvest to which God calls and empowers us to share the message of Jesus Christ. As people receive the gospel, they become the wheat. Individuals who reject the gospel message are the chaff. The wheat is gathered and bound for heaven’s silo, but not so for the chaff. According to the words of the Master, the chaff is burned: “His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire” (Matthew 3:12).

Frankly, hell should be a motivator. Scripture presents urgency about time running out. One day, there will be no more time. We must make the most of today. Hell is sobering. Its reality, harshness, desolation and godlessness call us to measure our efforts as the body of Christ and consider how we engage with people on a day-to-day basis.

Hell is part of Christ’s total victory over Satan, demons and all who choose to remain in rebellion against God. As Spirit-filled harvesters, we have this mandate from Jesus: “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field” (Luke 10:2).

Our responsibility is to obey Christ by praying that the Lord will send more harvesters. However, we must also do our part as Kingdom harvesters.

From the Garden to the Gospels to the glories of John’s revelation, God is speaking through His inspired authors to the people of God — the Church through the ages. The Scriptures declare that hell matters. Jesus’ desire is that no one should perish, but that all people would receive eternal life through Jesus (2 Peter 3:9).

Only the message of the Cross and its acceptance will bring an end to Satan’s ravaging work, both now and throughout eternity. God calls His church to proclaim the whole gospel to rescue the perishing from hell and its torments. This is why hell matters.

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