by Rick Duncan, Cuyahoga Valley Church Founding Pastor
The great British professor and writer, C. S. Lewis once wrote about hell, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, specially, of our Lord’s own words…” (C.S. Lewis, The Problem of Pain, p. 118).
Really? Jesus talked a lot about hell?
Based on everything we know about Jesus – so loving, so kind, so merciful, so forgiving – we might expect Him to maximize heaven and minimize hell. We want a. Jesus who has a friendly tone all the time. We want a Jesus where there’s not really any wrath or anger or judgment. Surely Jesus is going to highlight the love of God and lowlight the justice of God when He talks about judgment day. Right?
If we will just read what Jesus says about hell, we’ll find that His words are stronger and more straightforward than most of us would like.
Consider His words from Luke 13.
22 He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. 23 And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them,
The Jewish religious leaders in Jesus’ day taught that only Jews would be eternally saved and that only those who tried the hardest, did the most, and kept the rules the best would be saved. Are those religious leaders right who say only a few people – like them – will be saved?
24 “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. 25 When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’
Jesus says, “Yes, the way to be saved is narrow. But a lot of you religious leaders who think you are good-to-go will be on the outside.”
26 Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’
Those on the outside are negotiating now. According to those who believe there are 2nd chances after death, Jesus should reconsider right? He would need to answer, “Come on in!” He has to say that, right? He’s Jesus! I mean to think that He’d answer any other way is heartless and unloving and unjust. Could Jesus actually say, “Sorry. Door’s locked. If you had been here earlier, I could have done something. But now, it’s too late!” Yes. Actually, He could say that.
27 But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ 28 In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.
The people who think they are “in” because of their nationality and religious performance aren’t “in”! Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – the patriarchs of the Jewish people – got in by grace through faith. But the current crop of self-righteous religious leaders are cast out. And then Jesus says something stunning to a Jewish crowd.
29 And people will come from east and west, and from north and south, and recline at table in the kingdom of God. 30 And behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first who will be last.”
That’s Jesus – opening the door to heaven to the last, the least, and the lost from the east and the west (from places like China and Spain) and from the north and the south (from places like Russia and Africa). Salvation isn’t just for the Jews. It’s for the last and the least. And that’s good news for you and me.
Did you catch what Jesus said? “You won’t be able to enter. You will be outside, cast out. Depart from Me… to a place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Weeping and gnashing of teeth?
When we read stories like this like we are reading them for the first time, we think, “Wow, Jesus was really pretty hardcore.”
We would open the door at any time for anyone, but Jesus won’t do it. He gives no hope that the door will reopen. If Jesus believed in 2nd chances for those who reject Him in this life, then this story is really misleading. How scary is this for people who find themselves on the wrong side of the door begging?
Jesus told this story is to impact our souls. There will be people on the outside in a place called hell.
You might remember what Pastor Chad has told us, “Heaven is not the default destination. Hell is.” We all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). Without holiness no one will see the Lord (Hebrews 12:14). So, no one will enter into the presence of a holy God unless we are radically changed – unless we are born again, made never the same. Until our sin problem is resolved, hell will be our default destination.
God gives us opportunity after opportunity to turn to Him in this one life. A great 1st Century leading thinker, Paul, wrote in Romans 1 that God has revealed Himself to us in the creation and in our conscience so that all “men are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). If people respond to God and want to know more – I believe He will send them further revelation of Himself through missionaries or angels or dreams or visions… or whatever else He might choose to do.
God gives us 2nd chances and 3rd and 4th and 5th and 100th chances every day of our lives. Every breath is an opportunity to respond. And if people don’t respond before death, then it’s too late.
If we read through the gospels and we’ll find that Jesus says terrifying things about judgment. Here are just a few examples:
And cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Matthew 25:30
He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Matthew 25:41
These will go away into eternal punishment… Matthew 25:46
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. Mark 9:43-48
And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. Mark 9:47-48
Jesus isn’t talking about a hell-on-earth – that our suffering here is our hell. He’s talking about the afterlife in a place called hell.
So, let’s put all this together. How did Jesus describe hell?
- A place of weeping
- A place where there will be gnashing of teeth
- The outer darkness
- The eternal fire
- Eternal punishment
- The unquenchable fire
- Where the worm does not die
Most Bible scholars would say that these are figures of speech – metaphorical ways of describing an unimaginable nightmare for all eternity. But remember. We use metaphors to describe realities that are beyond explanation or comprehension. Fire means something worse than we can imagine.
The words in the English language we use to describe hell are inadequate. The reality is worse than the image.
Clearly Jesus – the most kind, compassionate, sacrificial, servant-hearted, loving person who ever lived – believed that a loving God could send people to an eternal hell, that a loving God could also be a judging God, and that the very idea of people experiencing hell for all eternity is not cruel and excessive.
Jesus used terrifying language when He talked about hell. Why? He loves us! He’s warning us! He uses strong language to stir up a fear in us that would make us take hell seriously and want to avoid it at all costs and that would make us want to run to Him for safety!
And, after He saves us, He wants us to join Him in His mission to take the gospel message to the entire world.