Have you ever gone to funeral and heard the pastor, or a family member say that the deceased person is in hell? I would guess not. Well, maybe some friend or family member said it as a joke, but I am betting that you have not heard it said in a serious manner. The reality is, many people today believe that everyone makes it to heaven, or a «better place». For most people in our culture, hell is an imaginary place, or simply the bad things that occur here during this lifetime. Now, this belief is not based upon any written authority or a fact based thought process. It is rooted in a personal spiritual authority that claims (directly or indirectly) that it can decide what is truth for itself. So, based upon this self-proclaimed relative personal authority, if one rejects the idea of hell, then it does not exist. An important question to ask is: Can we, as mere humans, who do not know everything nor understand all things, have the authority to decide whether hell exists or not? Other good questions are: Just because perhaps we, and many in our society, do not believe in a literal hell, does that mean that it does not exist? Does the current popular vote, or our own wishes, determine truth? Can hell be true for some and not for others? Does a literal hell exist?
In order to answer these questions, it is important and vital that we look to the One who has the authority on this issue, and all spiritual issues: The Lord.
But, before we look there, we can answer a couple of questions by mere logic. Just because many ignore or reject the idea of a literal hell does not and cannot determine its existence or non-existence. Think about it. For years, many believed the world was flat. They were convinced. When one suggested that the world was a sphere, or round, it was ridiculed and rejected. Yet, their rejection of the idea did not and could not change the truth that the earth is not flat.
What about the idea that hell can be true for some, but not for others? Example: some think, that those who believe in divine judgment, for them, it is true. And for those that do not believe in a final divine judgment, for them, it is not true. Again, using this sort of logic shows its shallowness. If divine judgment exists, then it exists for all humanity. If it does not exist, then it does not for all humanity. Our beliefs on whether we believe in a final divine judgment cannot change the reality of whether it exists or not. If we are honest with ourselves, we will admit that this is just deranged thinking.
But let us not ignore something really important. Why do so many not believe, or not want to believe in the existence of hell? Here is where the heart is exposed. For, this rejection, or blindness, does not come from a heart that seeks after truth and desires to love and worship God. It comes from a heart that wants to live for itself and make its own rules. For many, they do not believe in hell and final judgment, and demand God be okay with that. Many reject the truth of hell, yet embrace, or at least hope in the idea of heaven. But truth cannot be treated like the local Chinese buffet, choosing what we like and passing by what we don’t. Truth is true, whether we like it, believe it, reject, embrace it or ignore it.
So, does hell exist? What does the authority say? I am not referring to the government, or a certain religious leader or group of leaders, nor am I referring to a university professor. I am referring to the Lord Almighty. Let us be honest with ourselves for just a minute. The only answer to our question that truly matters and is worth our attention is whether God Himself has said hell exists, and why. So, what does He say?
In this passage, Jesus tells a parable. One of the major points of the parable is to reveal to us the reality of divine judgment, heaven and hell. In this parable there are two men. One dies and goes to heaven. The other dies and goes to hell. Without going into too much detail into the parable (I encourage you to read it), let us highlight a few clear truths that Jesus is revealing in this passage.
- Heaven and hell are real places where people go.
- Heaven and hell are eternal. We will spend eternity in one place or the other.
- There is no way to move from one place to the other. In other words, if you go to heaven, you cannot lose it, and if you go to hell, you can not change the judgment and make it to heaven. So, places like purgatory, which have absolutely no biblical support, do not exist, and are a false hope that unfortunately many believe in. Again, belief in something like purgatory does not make it true, no matter how hard one tries to believe it. It is not the amount of faith that counts, rather the object of faith that matters the most.
Some might be thinking, «Wait a minute Ron. Jesus was telling a parable. So, how can we know the three things you mentioned are true?» Good question. Here are my answers. First of all, Jesus told parables in order to communicate certain truths. The three truths I mentioned above are clear truths that He is communicating. Also, the truth of heaven, hell, and final judgment are clear truths all over the Bible, especially in the New Testament. Here are a few examples.
2 Thessalonians 1:9-10
9 They (all who live contrary to faith in Christ) will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, 10 when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed, because our testimony to you was believed.
41 The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers, 42 and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
Just in these few passages we have confirmation from Luke, Matthew, John, and Paul. But we could easily read other passages and see that Isaiah, David, Peter, Jude and others also affirm the truth of hell and final judgment. God, being Truth, so the source of all truth, has revealed to us in His word the reality of hell. It is real because He is just in His dealings with mankind. It is also real because He is wrathful in His attitude against sin. The truth of hell serves us warning as we live and choose sin, yet at the same time, it calls us to fearfully bow in worship God, who deserves our full attention and heart. So, for one to deny the existence of hell is a direct affront to the person and truth of God and His word. It is calling God a liar and a claim one knows better than He does. In other words, it is to walk in the same rebellious footsteps as Satan, who sought God’s position as the authority of heaven, therefore was cast out of heaven. The Bible reveals to us that the devil (Satan) roams the earth seeking to destroy people’s faith and prevent others from trusting in Christ. But it also reveals that he will one day, at the final judgment, be cast into the lake of fire (hell) and will be tormented there day and night forever, as well as all who refused to repent of their sin and trust their lives to the Lord Jesus Christ (Revelation 20:10,15). God clearly and unapologetically affirms the existence of hell.
So, there is a question that must be asked at this point. Can you and I avoid going to this wretched place? If so, how? That my friends, is the key question to be asked. Like the Roman soldier who asked the apostle Paul, «what must I do to be saved?» (Acts 16:30) and the crowd who asked Peter, «what shall we do?» (Acts 2:37) we must be cut to the heart and see and feel in the depth of our soul that we need to be saved from our sin. If we will admit this great need and ask sincerely those questions, then we will be ready to hear the same answers that Peter and Paul gave, «Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.» (Acts 2:38) «Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved» (Acts 16:31)
The point of the whole Bible is to reveal that Jesus Christ is the one and only hope of salvation. He is the Rescuer of lost souls, the Redeemer of enslaved sinners, and the Reconciler of God’s enemies. When Jesus offered Himself freely to die on that Roman cross just outside of Jerusalem almost 2000 years ago, He was offering to take the full wrath of God on Himself as payment for all yours and my sin (small and big, many and few, seen and unseen, known and unknown), so that all who would look to Him could be saved. That is the major point of the whole Bible. God sent Jesus, His one and only Son, not so that we should perish in our sin for eternity in hell, but to call on us to believe in Him so that we could have eternal life. He did not send Him in order to condemn us, but to save all who would call upon Him to be saved from eternal judgment in hell. The truth of the Bible is that all who refuse to place their faith in (trust their lives to) Christ are condemned already due to sin, and the only hope for salvation is repenting (turning away from, changing our minds about) of our sin against God and believing in what Jesus did on the cross for you and I. The cross of Christ is a vivid picture of the reality of God’s judgment and wrath against sin, yet at the same time, it is a revelation of the graciousness of God, who was willing to do all that was necessary, even sacrificing His own Son, in order to save us from His own judgment.
The apostle John says it pretty clear, «He who believes in the Son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.» (John 3:36). Those are sobering words, yet graceful ones as well. While our sin condemns us before God, He, through His Son, extends His grace to us, and offers us everlasting life in heaven with Him, if we will simply humble ourselves, repent and believe. Simple for the humble. Impossible for the prideful. For it requires a faith that is willing to surrender to Him.
So, does hell exist? Hell yes. But, so does heaven. Some will go to one and some will go to the other for eternity. It all has to do with who will we trust in on that final day of judgment. Who do you trust?