“This Doctrine is indeed awful and dreadful yet ‘tis of God” – Jonathan Edwards
"For we know him who said, "Vengeance is mine; I will repay." And again, "The Lord will judge his people." It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God." (Hebrews 10:30-31).
I dare say that there is not a lot of consideration today of the subject matter of which you are about to read. The topic of Hell is truly a lost doctrine today. Arthur Pink laments, "It is sad to find so many professing Christians who appear to regard the wrath of God as something for which they need to make an apology, or at least they wish there were no such thing. While some would not go so far as to openly admit that they consider it a blemish on the Divine character, yet they are far from regarding it with delight, they like not to think about it, and they rarely hear it mentioned without a secret resentment rising up in their hearts against it. Even with those who are more sober in their judgment, not a few seem to imagine that there is a severity about the Divine wrath which is too terrifying to form a theme for profitable contemplation. Others harbor the delusion that God’s wrath is not consistent with His goodness, and so seek to banish it from their thoughts." (The Attributes of God, p. 84).
According to most polls, the percentage of Americans who believe in Heaven ranges from 80% to 90%, while the percentage who believe in Hell ranged between 40% and 70%. The saddest part is that these numbers aren't much different among professing Christians. However, I must make it clear from the outset that anyone who would reject this doctrine cannot be called a Christian. Those who reject the doctrine of God's eternal wrath upon the wicked do not love the God of the Bible, but a false god, an idol of their own vain imaginations. Of them it is written, they "will secretly bring in destructive heresies, even denying the Master who bought them, bringing upon themselves swift destruction." (2 Peter 2:1)
The God of the Bible is not apprehensive concerning His wrath, nor does He shy away in shame at its mention. His own challenge is "See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no god with Me: I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and I heal; neither is there any that can deliver out of My hand. For I lift up My hand to heaven, and say, I live forever, If I whet My glittering sword, and Mine hand take hold on judgment; I will render vengeance to Mine enemies, and will reward them that hate Me" (Deut. 32:39-41). The Bible knows nothing of a god that is "too nice" to judge wickedness. In fact, a quick study of the Scriptures will show that there are more verses referring to God's anger and vengeance than there are to His love and mercy. Because God is holy, He hates all sin; And because He hates all sin, His anger burns hot against the sinner every day (Psalm 7:11). This is a doctrine that no preacher of righteousness has a right to ignore.
The Doctrine of Judgment in Christian Orthodoxy
The Eternal punishment of the wicked was taught among the earliest Christians. In his Letter to the Ephesians 16:1-2, Ignatius of Antioch (110 AD) writes, "Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil reaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire, and so will anyone who listens to him." Clement of Alexandria (150 AD) writes, "If we do the will of Christ, we shall obtain rest; but if not, if we neglect his commandments, nothing will rescue us from eternal punishment." (Second Clement 5:5). Irenaeus (189 AD), the Second Century Bishop of Lyon, adds in his work "Against Heresies", "The penalty increases for those who do not believe the Word of God and despise his coming. . . . It is not merely temporal, but eternal. To whomsoever the Lord shall say, "Depart from me, accursed ones, into the everlasting fire," they will be damned forever." (Against Heresies 4:28:2). Similar statements can be found in works by Justin Martyr1, The Martyrdom of Polycarp2, Athenagoras3, Theophilus of Antioch4, Hippolytus5, Minucius Felix6, Cyprian7, and Cyril of Jerusalem8, and many others.
The Doctrine of Eternal Judgment has also been clearly established from the earliest Christian Creeds and Confessions. The Apostles Creed states, “He shall come to judge the living and the dead.” The Nicene Creed adds that Christ will come "to judge the quick and the dead”. The Athanasian Creed expounds even further, stating; “From thence He shall come to judge the living and the dead. At whose coming all men shall rise again with their bodies; and shall give account of their own works. And they that have done good shall go into life everlasting, and they that have done evil into everlasting fire.”
Despite the words of these Church Fathers, and the clear warnings from Scripture, it didn't take long for the strange and perverse musings of wolves to enter in among the sheep. The doctrine known of Annihilationism (the wicked will cease to exist) began in 4th-century with Arnobius. Noted Church Historian Phillip Schaff writes, “Arnobius… seems to have believed in actual annihilation; for he speaks of certain souls that "are engulfed and burned up," or "hurled down and having been reduced to nothing, vanish in the frustration of a perpetual destruction". (History of the Christian Church Vol. II, CHAPTER XII ). This belief is held today by cultists such as the Jehovah's Witnesses and Christadelphians. Annihilationism was condemned as heresy at the Second Council of Constantinople in 553 A.D.
The Doctrine of Restorationism (a belief in a temporary, remedial punishment, the basis for the modern belief in Universalism) arose from the Alexandrian school of theology, most notably with Origen. This heresy was combated by Epiphanes, Jerome, and Augustine.
Pope Gregory I was the first to formalize teachings in the Catholic Church surrounding Purgatory, a place of temporal punishment for post-baptismal sins. Unfortunately, this heresy has become a mainstay in the Roman Catholic Church, and was the lead grounds for the Reformation. However, aside these exceptions, the Christian Church has always held the Doctrine of the Eternal Punishment of the Wicked to be the ONLY orthodox Christian position.
The Westminster Confession Chapter 33, Section 2 states, "The end of God’s appointing this day is for the manifestation of the glory of His mercy, in the eternal salvation of the elect (Matthew 25:21; Romans 9:23); and of His justice, in the damnation of the reprobate who are wicked and disobedient (Romans 2:5-6; Romans 9:22; 2 Thess. 1:7-8). For then shall the righteous go into everlasting life, and receive that fulness of joy and refreshing, which shall come from the presence of the Lord (Matthew 25:31-34; Acts 3:19; 2 Thess. 1:1-12) but the wicked, who know not God, and obey not the Gospel of Jesus Christ, shall be cast into eternal torments, and be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power (Matthew 25:41, Matthew 25:46; 2 Thess. 1:9)."
Since the Reformation, other heresies, such as Universalism (universal salvation) have crept in. Those who hold these beliefs rarely appeal to scripture, but rather emotionalism9. They usually reason that God's punishments are reformatory rather than punitive. This brings us an obvious question. If the unregenerate wicked can still be saved by "the fires of Hell", thus effecting what the Cross of Christ failed to accomplish, then to what purpose was Christ's sacrifice? If Godly discipline were all that was needed to bring about eternal salvation, could God not have spared His only Son? God Himself refers to His judgments as "wrath", "fury", and "vengeance". Nothing about the judgments against the wicked could be mistaken for rehabilitation.
Some modern day universalists bolster their beliefs on the vain use of Near Death Experiences (NDE's). Many alleged "visions of heaven" and "light" have occurred within NDE's among individuals of various faiths, or even no faith at all. While I am skeptical of NDE's being anything more than hallucinations for the ill or dreams for the sleeping, we must also remember that "even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light." (2 Cor. 11:14). Any theology that exalts NDE's over the clear teachings of Scripture is a folly of fools (Proverbs 15:14).
Hell Defined by Scripture
The Hebrew word (she'ôl she'ôl שׁאל ׁאול), Greek Hades - literally "unseen" ( ᾅδης), has multiple meanings, including the grave, hell, and pit. Despite these various definitions, there can be no doubt that multiple instance of she'ôl and Hades refer to the abode of the damned, as it is taken in Luke 16:23. Various synonyms of it occur in the Scriptures, such as ('ăbaddôn אבדּון, see Proverbs 15:11) or perdition (see Proverbs 27:20). Consider these passages:The wicked "in a moment they go down to Sheol." (Job 21:13). "The wicked shall be turned back unto Sheol." (Psalm 9:17). If these references were taken to be the grave, than why single out the wicked, since the righteous will also face the grave? "Thou shalt beat him with the rod, And shalt deliver his soul from Sheol." (Proverbs 23:14). Can anyone rightly suggest that parental discipline can rescue a child from the grave? "Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied" (Proverbs 27:20). Here Sheol is used along with Abaddon (destruction), the name of the angel from the bottomless pit (Rev. 9:11).
The word Gehenna (γέεννα - see Matthew 5:22; Matthew 5:29), is a word derived from the valley of Hinnom, in which the wicked Israelites were accustomed to practice horrible idolatries to Moloch, the idol of the Ammonites. It is synonymous with "everlasting punishment" Jesus identifies Gehenna with Isaiah 66:23-24 by speaking of it as the place of "The gnawing worm" and "unquenchable fire" (Mark 9:44). In its context, Jesus is adamant that Hell is worse than bodily mutilation and is to be avoided at all costs.
The word Tartarus (ταρταρόω) is only used once (2 Peter 2:4). It is derived from the lowest compartment of the pagan Greek Hades, recognized by mythology (Homer's Odyssey 11:575 and Plato's Gorgias) as a place for eternal judgment. For Peter to have chosen this word for a place of temporal punishment would have been most deceptive. Jesus will tell the wicked to "Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels" (Matthew 25:41). Therefore, a consistent universalist must believe in the eventual salvation of the Devil himself, a most foolish doctrine.
William G.T. Shedd writes, "The strongest support of the doctrine of Endless Punishment is the teaching of Christ, the Redeemer of man...To threaten with “everlasting punishment” a class of persons described as “goats upon the left hand” of the Eternal Judge, while knowing at the same time that this class would ultimately have the same holiness and happiness with those described as “sheep upon the right hand” of the judge, would have been both falsehood and folly." (The Doctrine of Endless Punishment, pp. 14-15).
According to the Scriptures, Hell is "…to be feared" (Luke 12:4-5); "…to be avoided at all costs" (Matthew 5:29-30), "…a fiery furnace" (Matthew 13:42), "…a lake of burning sulfur" (Rev. 20:10). "…everlasting" (2 Thess. 1:9), "…unquenchable" (Matthew 2:12), "…eternal" (Jude 1:7). In Hell, there "…will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." (Matthew 8:12), for it is a place where the "…worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:44-48). For those who go there, "…it would be better to have never been born" (Matthew 26:24). It was universally accepted by the ancient Jews and Greeks that there would be a place of eternal torment. If Jesus or His Disciples actually believed Hell to be a place of temporal punishment or annihilation, they would have been purposely misleading their listeners. No modern reader of the above scriptures, much less an ancient one, could have ever guessed that all men without exception would eventually be holy and happy in heaven.
Unfortunately, the treatment of the Doctrine of Hell in modern churches isn't much better. Today's Seeker Sensitive preachers tell us that "the worst part of Hell is the eternal separation from the presence of God". Really? If that is true, then Hell is really no threat at all to the unrepentant sinner, who has already lived most of his life outside of God. Hell would be the ideal place for the ACLU attorney, who not only wants to live outside the presence of God, but wants to make sure that everyone else does as well.
However, those in Hell are NOT physically separated from the presence of God. That is a myth, mere wishful thinking. Rev. 14:10 tells us that the wicked "shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels, and in the presence of the Lamb". No my friend, it is not the absence of God that is the true horror of Hell, but rather His presence. In Hell, God will be there to personally pour out the fire of His Divine wrath upon the damned. It is there that He will "hate" and "abhor" you (Psalm 5:5-6). Your cries for mercy will fall on His deaf ears as He "will laugh at you calamity and mock at your terror" (Proverbs 1:26). Hebrews 10:31, a scripture that you won't find on many bumper stickers and T-shirts, states this quite accurately. Indeed, "It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
Hell will be the destination for…The Devil (Rev. 20:10) and His Angels. (Matthew 25:41); whoever’s name is not found written in the book of life (Rev. 20:15); dogs, sorcerers, sexually immoral, murderers, idolaters, liars. (Rev. 22:15); the sexually immoral, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves, the greedy, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (1 Cor. 6:9-10); and Hypocrites (known by today's terminology as “Carnal” Christians). i.e., professing Christians who practice lawlessness (Matthew 7:21-23), who attempt to come to the feast without the proper garments (Matthew 22:12-14).
Hell is eternal. It is a place of “everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). If it were just for a million years, then one could have hope in Hell. But there is no such fortune for the wicked. There is no parole from Hell. There will never be a moment when the lost man can say, “Release me, I’ve served my time”. After he has spent 1 Billion years suffering Hell’s eternal torments, he will be no closer to the end of his punishment then he was at the beginning. A damned sinner will be released from Hell on the very day that God stops hating sin, never. It is the height of foolishness to think that the worst thing we have to fear is annihilation or separation from the presence of God. As the sign above Dante’s inferno reads: “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”
The Purpose of this Doctrine
The Doctrine of Eternal Damnation is essential both for proper self-examination and for Revival. Historically, Hell was the focus of the preaching surrounding The Great Awakening. Let one peruse the sermons of George Whitefield, who preached the judgment of God with Puritan fire. Glance at the words of Jonathan Edward's famous sermon Sinners in the Hands of and Angry God. This is the kind of preaching that brings about true revival. The modern church, on the other hand, attempts to remove the fear of God (Proverbs 1:7; Matthew 10:28) rather than promote it. Gary North laments, "“Is it any wonder that the doctrine of eternal damnation is de-emphasized in preaching today? Is it any wonder that God is spoken of mostly as a God of love, and seldom as the God of indescribable eternal wrath? D. L. Moody, the turn-of-the-century American evangelist, set the pattern by refusing to preach about hell. He made the preposterous statement that "Terror never brought a man in yet." That a major evangelist could make such a theologically unsupported statement and expect anyone to take him seriously testifies to the theologically debased state of modern evangelicalism. It has gotten no better since he said it.” While we certainly should never ignore God's love, we also cannot ignore the fact the God is ANGRY. In fact, "God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11). "A fire is kindled in mine anger". (Jer. 15:14). Since the Bible itself speaks more about God's wrath and anger than about His love and mercy, the church should at least give equal attention to it. Proper, biblical evangelism requires, even demands that we bring the unregenerate sinner to the sobering reality that he is in terrible danger. His very next breath could be a scream of agony as he is cast into the winepress of God's wrath while his blood splatters the garments of the Most High. (Isaiah 63:3). With due respect to Rev. Moody's ridiculous comment; we can take our theology of evangelism from the greatest evangelist the world has ever known. The Apostle Paul made no apologies whatsoever for God's wrath, nor did he shy away from this doctrine in his ministry. "Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men". (2 Cor. 5:11).
It is a dangerous thing to be ignorant or careless concerning one's eternal path, for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leads to destruction, and many are they that enter in thereby. (Matthew 7:13). Indeed, many of these poor souls have already gone before, who never imagined that they would ever end up in Hell, yet suddenly and without warning find themselves there. Hear them cry out, "Let him dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue: for I am tormented in this flame." (Luke 16:24). Listen to them plead, "Send out from the dead to my fathers house, For I have five brothers, so he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment." (Luke 16:27-28). May these pitiful sighs from the voices of the damned pierce our flinty hearts, so that we may run to Christ and not suffer the same judgment.
1.) Justin Martyr: "No more is it possible for the evildoer, the avaricious, and the treacherous to hide from God than it is for the virtuous. Every man will receive the eternal punishment or reward which his actions deserve. Indeed, if all men recognized this, no one would choose evil even for a short time, knowing that he would incur the eternal sentence of fire. On the contrary, he would take every means to control himself and to adorn himself in virtue, so that he might obtain the good gifts of God and escape the punishments" (First Apology 12).
2.) The Martyrdom of Polycarp "Fixing their minds on the grace of Christ, [the martyrs] despised worldly tortures and purchased eternal life with but a single hour. To them, the fire of their cruel torturers was cold. They kept before their eyes their escape from the eternal and unquenchable fire" (Martyrdom of Polycarp 2:3).
3.) Athenagoras "[W]e [Christians] are persuaded that when we are removed from this present life we shall live another life, better than the present one . . . Then we shall abide near God and with God, changeless and free from suffering in the soul . . . or if we fall with the rest [of mankind], a worse one and in fire; for God has not made us as sheep or beasts of burden, a mere incidental work, that we should perish and be annihilated" (Plea for the Christians 31).
4.) Theophilus of Antioch "Give studious attention to the prophetic writings [the Bible] and they will lead you on a clearer path to escape the eternal punishments and to obtain the eternal good things of God.. [God] will examine everything and will judge justly, granting recompense to each according to merit. To those who seek immortality by the patient exercise of good works, he will give everlasting life, joy, peace, rest, and all good things.. For the unbelievers and for the contemptuous, and for those who do not submit to the truth but assent to iniquity, when they have been involved in adulteries, and fornications, and homosexualities, and avarice, and in lawless idolatries, there will be wrath and indignation, tribulation and anguish; and in the end, such men as these will be detained in everlasting fire" (To Autolycus 1:14).
5.) Hippolytus "Standing before [Christ's] judgment, all of them, men, angels, and demons, crying out in one voice, shall say: 'Just if your judgment!' And the righteousness of that cry will be apparent in the recompense made to each. To those who have done well, everlasting enjoyment shall be given; while to the lovers of evil shall be given eternal punishment. The unquenchable and unending fire awaits these latter, and a certain fiery worm which does not die and which does not waste the body but continually bursts forth from the body with unceasing pain. No sleep will give them rest; no night will soothe them; no death will deliver them from punishment; no appeal of interceding friends will profit them" (Against the Greeks 3)
6.) Minucius Felix "I am not ignorant of the fact that many, in the consciousness of what they deserve, would rather hope than actually believe that there is nothing for them after death. They would prefer to be annihilated rather than be restored for punishment. . . . Nor is there either measure nor end to these torments. That clever fire burns the limbs and restores them, wears them away and yet sustains them, just as fiery thunderbolts strike bodies but do not consume them" (Octavius 34:12-5:3).
7.) Cyprian of Carthage "An ever-burning Gehenna and the punishment of being devoured by living flames will consume the condemned; nor will thee be any way in which the tormented can ever have respite or be at an end. Souls along with their bodies will be preserved for suffering in unlimited agonies. . . . The grief at punishment will then be without the fruit of repentance; weeping will be useless, and prayer ineffectual. Too late will they believe in eternal punishment, who would not believe in eternal life" (To Demetrian 24).
8.) Cyril of Jerusalem "We shall be raised therefore, all with our bodies eternal, but not all with bodies alike: for if a man is righteous, he will receive a heavenly body, that he may be able worthily to hold converse with Angels; but if a man is a sinner, he shall receive an eternal body, fitted to endure the penalties of sins, that he may burn eternally in fire, nor ever be consumed. And righteously will God assign this portion to either company; for we do nothing without the body. We blaspheme with the mouth, and with the mouth we pray. With the body we commit fornication, and with the body we keep chastity. With the hand we rob, and by the hand we bestow alms; and the rest in like manner. Since then the body has been our minister in all things, it shall also share with us in the future the fruits of the past" (Catechetical Lectures 18:19).
9.) One scripture verse that is commonly appealed to is Romans 5:18, where the universal aspect is refuted in the very next verse.