A few years ago, there was a book titled, “Heaven is Real.” It related the story of a young boy who was said to have gone to heaven. The gist of the story is that, because of the experiences of this lad and his family, we can be assured that “heaven is real.”
In my last post, I said that, because of our sin, we have no claim on God, but He has a claim on us. I said, “That claim concerns His justice. We have broken His Law. We have come under its penalty. We have incurred a debt. That penalty involves eternal separation from Him.” Then I said I would have more to say in a later post, Lord willing.
This is that post.
Based, not on experience, but on the clear and authoritative teaching of our Lord, we can be assured of another truth about the future: Hell is real.
There is a lot of discussion about the existence of Hell.
To some people, it’s nothing more than a curse word.
To some, who deny any existence beyond death and the grave, it doesn’t even exist. Neither does heaven.
To some, the bad experiences of this life are hell. One place I worked, one of the ladies there said she believed this life is hell. Based on the difficult place we worked, I could understand her feelings, though I didn’t agree with her. It’s the only job I ever held that, when I woke up in the morning, I was sorry I wasn’t sick, so I could call in.
To some who will knock on your door, “hell” is just the grave. If that’s true, then why did our Lord warn us in Matthew 5:27-30 that if a part of our body leads us into sin, it would be better to cut off that part, rather than your whole body be cast into hell”? Hell is not just the grave.
To some, hell is just about remorse and sorrow that one has missed out on the blessings of salvation.
In contrast to these ideas, our Lord gave a different view. In Luke 16:19-31 (NKJV),He said,
“There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and say Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
“Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’
“Then he said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’.”
There’s some discussion as to whether this portion tells a real story or is just a story, a parable. I think it’s real, but that doesn’t really matter. Even if this is only a parable, well, Jesus’ parables were designed to teach and illustrate truth. There is truth here.
1. There is existence after death.
If we had only the phrase, the rich man also died and was buried, we might be able to say that was the end of things for him. But we have the account of the death of Lazarus and what happened, as well as the conversation he and the rich man had afterward.
This is in agreement with other Scriptures. Hebrews 9:27 says, …it is appointed for men once to die, but after this the judgment…. There is an “after” as far as death is concerned. It isn’t the end of things.
This portion also tells us –
2. There is a time of reckoning after death.
…after this the judgment…. Matthew 5 doesn’t tell us everything about what happens to people after their death. It’s designed to warn us that there is something after death, and that what happens in this life isn’t necessarily an indication of what will happen then. The rich man lived a life of luxury and plenty, yet he wound up being tormented; the beggar lived in sickness and poverty, yet he wound up being comforted.
It’s widely believed that there is only “a better place” out there after death. According to our Lord, that is not true. There is also, if I may put it like this, “a bitter place.” There is a time, and a place, where the things of this life will be examined and judged, a time when those who have “gotten away with it” will discover that, no, they haven’t.
3. There is a place of torment after death.
Luke 16:22b-24 says, The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.”
This isn’t the only place where the Lord mentions such things. In Mark 9:43-49, He said, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire – where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone shall be seasoned with fire….”
This is perhaps the hardest thing to accept, especially in this day when the Word of God is generally held in such low esteem, and when faulty views of God are so prevalent. How can a “God of love” send men and women to a place of torment? People just can’t reconcile this idea with the idea that God could do such a thing, and so, reject it.
Our Lord teaches otherwise.
You see, as I said above, we have broken God’s law. We are guilty and under sentence of its punishment: eternal separation from God. Though the body dies, the soul lives on, and the body will one day be resurrected, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation,” or as the KJV put it, “the resurrection of damnation,” John 5:29.
Don’t misread that “good” as though there are some who will go to heaven because of it. Our Lord was speaking from the viewpoint of being under the Law, wherein there were some who were considered “blameless,” for example, Zechariah and Elizabeth, the parents of John the Baptist. Luke 1:6 describes them as both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless.
Even the Apostle Paul, before his conversion, considered himself “blameless,” Philippians 3:6. But, as he put it, “I was alive once without the Law, but when the commandment came, sin revived and I died,” Romans 7:9. This has nothing to do with his “fellowship with God” being broken after his conversion, but rather, the cataclysm that occurred in his life as he traveled toward Damascus with the sole purpose of rooting out and destroying those who followed Jesus of Nazareth, cf. Acts 26:9-11. Afterward, he looked at those things of which he had been so proud as no better than the refuse of his own body, Philippians 3:8.
Later in life, he wrote, There is none righteous, no, not one; there is none who understands; there is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside, Romans 3:10-12.
“None righteous” –
None who measures up to the standards and requirements of God’s holiness. There is a lot of “religion” among men, but, apart from the Lord Jesus, there is no righteousness for all that.
“None who understands” –
None who understand that we come short of what God requires of us. None who understand that nothing we can do measures up to what God requires of us. Indeed, some are offended at the very idea that God can “require” anything of us.
“None who seeks after God” –
None who understand that the only place to get that righteousness God requires is from God Himself. That righteousness is the righteousness of Christ imputed to those who believe on Him.
Apart from that righteousness, we all stand condemned in the sight of God, John 3:18, He who does not believe is condemned already. In a very real sense, to the unsaved person, this life is little more than a cell on death row, waiting for the day of execution. For the unbeliever, a place in hell is as assured as a place in heaven is for the believer.
But how can that be? How can that be “just”?
We question the “justice” of this because we minimize sin. Let me put it this way. If one swats a fly, nothing is thought of it. If one were to assault me, well, that might be considered more serious. If, however, one were to assault the President of the United States, that would be considered very grave indeed. Why the difference? Because of the dignity and position of the person assaulted.
Sin is an assault against God. Since we have brought God down to a level below us (in that we believe that we can confound His will and prevent His purpose), we don’t think of it like that. However, because God is infinite, acts against Him bear infinite consequences.
Sin brings an infinite consequence: an eternity in hell.
When the Lord Jesus died on the Cross, He suffered that consequence. That doesn’t mean that He actually went to Hell; He did suffer that separation from God that is the essence of hell, Mark 15:34.
With our sanitized crucifixes and pictures, our superficial, “contemporary” Christianity, we have no idea whatever what that means.
It means that there is no salvation apart from faith in the Lord Jesus Christ. It means there is no escaping our sin and its eternal consequence apart from Him. Apart from Him, everything we do is sin, Proverbs 21:4, even the providing of the necessities of life. Why is that? Because we do it with no thought of Him.
And, apart from Him, there is no hope, Ephesians 2:12.
This is why Scripture urges us to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, because there is no salvation anywhere else, only condemnation, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved, Acts 4:12.