The Other Side
The Other Side
“If you hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire” (Mark 9:43).
“Lessening the severity of hell or redefining its biblically declared nature is, in our opinion, more dangerous than outright denial… Redefinition is more serious than total rejection, not only because the one doing the redefining appears to still be a member of the camp. Redefinition does nothing to change that which is being redefined; it only causes less caution to be taken in the face of a dangerous situation” (The Other Side of the Good News, Larry Dixon, p. 151).
Only for the Really Wicked?
Some think or believe that hell exists but it will only be a place reserved for the vilest of sinners. Yet consider the following:
- When Jesus was told about some of the terrible things that Pilate had done (Luke 13:1), He responded: “Do you suppose that these Galileans were greater sinners than all other Galileans because they suffered this fate? I tell you, no, but unless you repent you will all likewise perish” (Luke 13:2-3).
- Jesus also noted that the wrath of God does not merely abide on the head of a murder or rapist, rather “He who believes in Him is not judged; but he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son will not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
- Jesus further said, “And whoever says ‘You fool’, shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell” (Matthew 5:22).
- In 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 the people who end up lost are simply said to be either those who do not know God or those who have refused to obey the gospel.
- In Revelation chapter 20 the lake of fire is pictured as involving torment day and night, forever and ever (20:10), but a couple of verses later we are told “if anyone’s name was not written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (20:15).
A Place of Eventual Improvement?
Some have argued that either the lost in hell will be given another chance to obey or that they will eventually tire of their rebellion and will finally bow the knee to Christ in submission.
- Yet in the account of the rich man and Lazarus, we see zero repentance or change in the rich man. In fact the account closes with the rich man arguing with Abraham concerning what will or what will not move a person to repentance (Luke 16:30). The rich man is still persistent in his belief that something more than Scripture is necessary to warn the living.
- In that same account, it is clear that there is no movement from torment to Paradise in the after-life. “Besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that one may cross over from there to us” (Luke 16:26). The term “fixed” is the same term used in Luke 9:51 to refer to Jesus as He “steadfastly set His face” to go to Jerusalem. The same resoluteness in God that moved Jesus to die for our sins is the same resoluteness that keeps the bounds of torment fixed.
- In that account it is clear that the rich man understands a couple of things (a) His condition is fixed for eternity. There will be no second chances or eventual improvement. (b) The only hope that his brothers have of escaping torment is to repent while they are alive on earth.
Luke 16:19-32/A Parable?
Some have claimed that this section of Scripture is not to be taken literally and is not to be relied upon concerning the future state of the righteous and the wicked, yet consider:
- Jesus never calls it a parable. Jesus named the beggar and Jesus never did that when He gave any of His parables. The person in this chapter is a real person named Lazarus.
- Even when Jesus gave a parable, the earthly illustration part of the parable was true to life, really did or could happen.
- What is taught in Luke 16:19-31 is equally supported by other passages: (a) There are only two destinies that await the living (Matthew 25:46). (b) God’s word is more than sufficient warning (2 Timothy 3:16-17). (c) Death ends the opportunity to repent (Hebrews 9:27). (d) The wicked are in a place of torment (Revelation 20:10).
- This account seems to be tailor made to answer a number of questions about the after-life, and to refute a number of errors.
- The teaching of Luke 16:19-31 is so clear that this text is often the first one on the hit list of those who want to redefine Jesus’ teachings on hell. Universalists, annihilationists and postmortem conversionists do not care for this section of Scripture.
Some say that the eternal destruction under consideration in the Bible is the annihilation of the sinner rather than any sort of ongoing suffering. Yet consider the following:
- Jesus spoke of hell as including the weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12).
- He pictured the wicked as being handed over to the torturers and then said, “My heavenly Father will also do the same to you, if each of you does not forgive his brother from your heart” (Matthew 18:34-35).
- He spoke of hell being eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46). For punishment to exist or be meaningful, the object being punished must still exist.
- He spoke of hell being a place prepared for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). The demons spoke of their doom as involving torment and not simply an end of their existence. “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” (Matthew 8:29). The angels that sinned are pictured as currently being in or under confinement (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). The torment of the devil is pictured as never ending, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire… and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
- The rich man in Luke chapter 16 is pictured as being very much alive, conscious, and in torment (Luke 16:23-24).
A number of people have argued over the years that an eternity of suffering in hell is an unjust punishment for sins that were committed in the context of finite time. In other words, how can 70 years of rebellion deserve an eternity of suffering? Before we move on, remember that annihilation is subject to the same challenge, for annihilation is eternal in its effects. Yet consider the following:
- Many momentary acts in this life have consequences that do last an entire life time. The time involved in taking another human life is often seconds yet it results in either the death penalty or life imprisonment. A momentary lapse of concentration by a driver can lead to death, life-time paralysis or taking another human life.
- Is heaven “fair”? For the faithful believer in Christ is infinitely rewarded for a finite amount of obedience. After an entire lifetime of obedience I cannot say that I have earned or deserve to be rewarded with eternal life (Luke 17:10). If anything is unfair, it is our reward in heaven.
Added to all this, C.S. Lewis aptly noted that hell is simply God giving unbelievers their wish. They did not want to have anything to do with God, so God honors that request. But what they did not realize is that existence apart from God in eternity is an existence without love, warmth, kindness, meaning and purpose.
- The biblical writers did address this justice of fairness, justice and hell. “For after all it is only just for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you” (2 Thessalonians 1:6). And the just affliction in the context includes eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord (1:9).
Mark Dunagan | email@example.com
Beaverton Church of Christ | 503-644-9017