The claim is bold. The claim is this: those who are “in Christ” will spend eternity with God; those who are not “in Christ” will go to hell. The claim, then, not only claims that there is an afterlife, one in which there is blessedness or destruction, but the claim is to know who goes to heaven and who goes to hell. Edward Fudge, in his accessible Hell: A Final Word addresses this claim and asks and seeks resolution to some important questions.
What are the two most important things you have concluded about hell?
What does hell mean to Jesus? It is often heard that Jesus talks more about hell than anyone in the Bible; that statement is both true but can also be naive. Yes, Jesus talks about “hell” if one means “Gehenna,” but if by “hell” one means “eternal torment” then one has to be more than naive. Fudge examines the term Gehenna to observe that Jesus is only one in the NT who talks about Gehenna as final judgment (and some today would question if Jesus is talking about final judgment; I think he uses Gehenna as his trope for final judgment). Here are his observations about Jesus:
1. Gehenna is the place where God is able to destroy both soul and body (Matt 10:28). Total destruction is the idea.
2. Jesus never addresses “sinners” with Gehenna; he addresses his disciples and the religious leaders of Israel.
3. Who goes to hell? Jesus: those who abuse fellow humans (Matt 5:22), those whose eyes lead them into sin (5:29-30), missionary proselytes (23:15), those who see others suffering and turn away (25:31-46).
Fudge grew up thinking non-Christians and people in other churches were going to hell, as were those who lacked sincerity, commitment and genuine repentance.
So who will go to hell?
1. No salvation outside of Jesus (Acts 4:12).
2. Salvation comes by grace through faith (Eph 2:8-9).
3. Same salvation applies to all.
4. God judges on the basis of light (John 3:20-21; Rom 4:19-22).
5. We are not the judges (Matt 7:1).
6. The “many” and “few” of Matt 7:13-14 is about God’s wishes.
7. The first promise of salvation in the Bible — in Abraham — Gen 22:17 — speaks of the numbers of the sand grains on the seashore: an optimistic vision.
8. The near-closing visions in Revelation say the people are innumerable: Rev 7:1-12.
9. God is predisposed to save, not condemn (John 3:17).
Not reasons to go to hell:
1. God will not make people go to hell.
2. No one goes to hell because of Adam’s sin; Adam’s sin has been dealt with by Christ (Rom 5:12-21).
3. No one goes to hell because of location (Acts 10:34-35): God is at work with everyone.
4. No one goes to hell because they missed the true church.
5. No one goes to hell for accidentally misunderstanding some doctrinal point while sincerely seeking God’s will.
People go to hell who refuse to believe in God/Christ.