It has become THE doctrinal debate of our time – Is there really a Hell?
It is THE question that is addressed clearly and unambiguously in this PODCAST.
Is there Really a Hell?
This seventh of seven parables answers the question.
And if the answer is “Yes,” the logical follow up question would be, “What is Hell Really like?”
Turns out that the Bible is amazingly straightforward about whether or not there is a Hell; if so, what it is truly like, who will be going there, and why they will be going there.
As I often say, It’s amazing what we learn when we read the Bible.
Well, get ready to be amazed.
We’ll start off by reading the Parable of the Fishing Net found in Matthew 13:47-50
47 “Again, the Kingdom of Heaven is like a fishing net that was thrown into the water and caught fish of every kind.48 When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. 49 That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, 50 throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Now, the single verse that I would choose to boil down the Christmas story comes from when the angel Gabriel told Joseph that Mary was pregnant. Of course, Joseph’s world was suddenly spinning, as he wondered what to do with this news, and Gabriel gave him these instructions:
“she shall bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name Jesus, for He will save His people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)
So, going back to this remarkable Parable of the Fishing Net, we discover from what it is, exactly, that Jesus saves us from. First off, remember that Jesus delivered this parable in private with His closest followers only. He wanted to assure His disciples, as well as you and me as Christ-followers, that ultimately evildoers in this troubled world of ours will be punished. Justice will be served. Good will ultimately win out over evil.
The key word here is “ultimately”, as we see in Isaiah 13:11
I will punish the world for its evil,
the wicked for their sins.
I will put an end to the arrogance of the haughty
and will humble the pride of the ruthless.
That’s God’s promise. It’s yet to be fulfilled, and in Jesus’ Parable, He assured His disciples and us that it will be fulfilled.
Jesus took these words from Isaiah and put them into terms that His disciples would understand all too well. Four of them were professional fishermen before following Christ, and the others all lived near enough to the harbor, that they all knew what dragnet fishing was like.
A dragnet was typically about 750-1,000 feet long and 25 feet high. It was huge. It had weights attached to its rope at the bottom and floaters attached to the rope at the top. So, basically, as the fishermen dragged it through the Sea of Galilee, it was like dragging a wall of net that would scoop up everything in its path. They would drag the net all the way to the shore where they would pick through their catch, one fish at a time, separating the unclean, non-kosher fish from the edible ones.
But, why did Jesus use such harsh language as he did in verses 48-50? It’s been my experience that it’s words like these that often keep people from following Jesus altogether.
48 When the net was full, they dragged it up onto the shore, sat down, and sorted the good fish into crates, but threw the bad ones away. 49 That is the way it will be at the end of the world. The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, 50 throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
There are literally scores of people whom I have met that have told me emphatically that they cannot bring themselves to worship a God who is so maniacal that He would skewer those whom He has not chosen. It’s a rigged game. And they wonder how Christians can be so cavalier when talking about hell and the people who are sentenced to burn there, weeping forever.
My question to them is this: Is that really what the Bible says that hell is – an eternal barbeque?
To answer my question, we need to first establish four stipulations, or truths, that will offer more clarity. I mean, we are talking about the eternal destinies of countless millions of people, so it’s important to look at this with as much clarity as humanly possible.
- Stipulation 1: You and I do not derive our theology by interpreting parables literally. IF parables were meant to be interpreted literally, than when Jesus compared the kingdom of heaven to a tree and Christians as birds living in that tree as He did in the parable of the mustard seed, then we would have to conclude that when we die, we will be transfigured into winged birds, and our eternal home is a giant tree house. Instead, we understand that a parable is a made-up story that is designed to illustrate a spiritual principle. The principle of this particular parable is that right will win out over wrong, justice will be done, evildoers will be brought to justice, there will be punishment for the wicked and blessing for the righteous. We actually derive our theology from straightforward declarations spelled out unambiguously in Scripture.
- Stipulation 2: Yes. There is a hell. There is an eternal punishment for all those who reject Jesus. That is a settled issue, despite what seems like a current fad of the 21st century where everyone will ultimately be saved from any place resembling hell or that hell even exists. The Bible is actually very clear on the matter that it does exist and people who reject Jesus will spend eternity there.
- Stipulation 3: The thing about God that scares me the most is that given enough time, He will give us exactly what we want.
- Stipulation 4: My only agenda in this and every discussion is simply to allow the Bible to speak for itself. It’s up to us to accurately present exactly what the Biblical writers said and what they meant by what they said.
Now, I have four questions to ponder, with these stipulations as a foundation, in order to bring clarity to our understanding of Jesus’ Parable of the Fishing Net:
- Is the fiery furnace that Jesus mentions in this parable, or anywhere else in Scripture, meant to be interpreted literally or figuratively?
- If those flames are literal physical flames, then how does it burn forever a non-physical soul, assuming that our bodies go from dust to dust and ashes to ashes (as Job said), then what is the literal flame literally burning?
- If the flames are metaphorical, then what precisely is the eternal destiny for all those who reject Jesus Christ and why invoke that image at all? If it’s actually something else, rather than eternal fire, why not talk about the “something else”?
- If hell is meant to be a motivator, or even manipulator, to convince people to receive Christ, then why did Jesus tell this parable to only His disciples and not to the masses?
To address all this clearly, we need to first lay aside every preconception that we may have of hell and come to the pages of Scripture with a blank slate and unbiased heart.
Let’s begin in Malachi 4:1
“Surely the day is coming; it will burn like a furnace. All the arrogant and every evildoer will be stubble, and the day that is coming will set them on fire,” says the Lord Almighty. “Not a root or a branch will be left to them.”
Another translation puts it this way: “…the arrogant and the wicked will be burned up like straw. They will be consumed—roots, branches, and all.”
Next, we will look at the New Testament, more specifically John the Baptist’s words found in Matthew 3:12 –
His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.
Next, let’s look at something Jesus said in Matthew 25:41
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels; “
So, for whom did God prepare the place we call hell? According to Jesus, it was intended for the devil and his angels (we call them demons). But it is also quite clear that the wicked are thrown into this same eternal fire, so then what happens to the wicked when they are cast into hell’s flames?
The answer is found in Hebrews 10:26-27
26 If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left,27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.
So, what exactly is this fire? Is it a lava flow? A burning sea?
2 Thessalonians 1:7, in my opinion, puts it all in perspective and makes sense of it all. It offers a “photo ID” of the eternal fire:
…the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels.
We also see an epiphany in Hebrews 12:29, which comes on the heels of Hebrews 10 where we just read about the raging fire that will consume God’s enemies, not a parable nor metaphorical statement nor illustration, but a straightforward, precise proposition of truth – a direct and unambiguous declaration:
…our “God is a consuming fire.”
Couple this verse with what we read in Exodus 24:17
… the glory of the Lord looked like a consuming fire on top of the mountain.
Consider what is described in Deuteronomy 4:11-12
You came near and stood at the foot of the mountain, while flames from the mountain shot into the sky. The mountain was shrouded in black clouds and deep darkness. 12 And the Lord spoke to you from the heart of the fire.
Then there is this quote from God in response to Moses’ request for God to show him His glory (Exodus 33:20)
“But you may not look directly at my face, for no one may see me and live.”
If the sun can burn you after an hour or so of mid-summer exposure, imagine 10 seconds of standing in the presence of the Almighty God… who is a consuming fire!!
Well, my friends, there is a day coming when everyone who, throughout their lives, deliberately, defiantly, consistently, and absolutely rejected Jesus and made it abundantly clear that they want nothing ever to do with God – so much so that they will gnash their teeth at Him in anger and hatred (Revelation 6 and 16) – will stand before His holy unveiled glory; and with a broken heart and streams of tears flowing from His eyes (Jeremiah 9:1), God will have no choice, but out of His unconditional love, He will give them exactly what they want – an eternity without Him – and the fire of His unveiled glory will consume His enemies forever. In so doing, He will also erase the memory of them from the earth forever as if they never existed in the first place.
This is the Divine punishment that those of us who have chosen to follow Jesus have so graciously been saved from.
Yes, He will save us – His people – from our sins!
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