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The Doctrine of Hell

May 7, 2023 Speaker: Brian Wilbur Series: Neglected Doctrines

Topic: Final Judgment Passage: Matthew 5:21–26, Matthew 7:21–23, Matthew 8:11–12, Matthew 25:31–46, Mark 9:42–48, Revelation 14:9–11


What the Bible Teaches about the Eternal Punishment of the Wicked

By Pastor Brian Wilbur

Date: May 7, 2023

Series: Neglected Doctrines

Note: Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture quotations are from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Introduction to Sermon Series

This sermon is the fourth sermon in a sermon series that will be preached intermittently over the next few years. The sermon series is entitled “Neglected Doctrines” and emerges out of my observation that certain important biblical doctrines are often neglected or undervalued by evangelical churches in America. By God’s grace, let’s be a congregation that gives careful attention to all that the Bible teaches!

Introduction to Sermon

Today’s sermon is titled ‘The Doctrine of Hell’. There is a verse in Romans 11 that tells us to contemplate both “the kindness and the severity of God” (Romans 11:22). Next week, Brother Dane plans to preach about the kindness of God – I am very happy that you will have this opportunity to hear Dane preach about God’s kindness and how God’s kindness shapes our lives. But today we are contemplating the severity of God. This is a tough topic for nice, sentimental people like 21st century Americans.

Though many people throughout the world face numerous afflictions and dangers, we Americans are often quite comfortable in a materialistic, sentimental, therapeutic, and entertainment-dominated way of life. It is so easy to be spiritually numb when the body is inundated with pleasure. Over and against this spread of comfort, the challenges of recent years – Covid, inflation, sharp political bitterness, increasing moral collapse, and frequent acts of violence – are actually quite good for us. Being comfortable in God-ignoring comfort gives us a false sense of security. So, what we so often need are bracing calls to recognize our desperate condition and seek after the Lord with all our heart.

Eternal realities are good medicine for dull hearts.

Every day, every human being in this present world is progressing toward one of two possible outcomes in the future world. The apostle Paul captures this thought in Romans 2:5-10. In this passage Paul begins by telling unrepentant sinners that they are on a collision course with the judgment of God, and then he sets forth the consistent biblical teaching that the righteous are heading toward one destination whereas the unrighteous are heading to toward a very different destination:

“But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed. He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. There will be tribulation and distress for every human being who does evil, the Jew first and also the Greek, but glory and honor and peace for everyone who does good, the Jew first and also the Greek.” (Romans 2:5-10)

There are only two paths in which to walk, and these two paths lead to two very different ends.

There is no human being who naturally does good and who naturally seeks for glory, honor, and immortality in a God-honoring way (as Romans 3:10-18). However, those who are rescued from sin by God’s mercy do actually become the kind of people who do good and who seek for glory, honor, and immortality: “But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life.” (Romans 6:22) Those who are advancing along the path of sanctification are doing good and seeking after glory, honor, and immortality, and according to Romans 2 their destination is “eternal life” (v. 7) and “glory and honor and peace” (v. 10). By contrast, those who remain enslaved to sin continue to be self-centered and disobedient, and their destination is “wrath and fury” (v. 8) and “tribulation and distress” (v. 9). That distressing destination is the topic of today’s sermon.

The doctrine of hell is an unpleasant and weighty doctrine. Something may be wrong with us if we love to talk about this doctrine. At the same time, something may be wrong with us if we refuse to talk about this doctrine. Jesus didn’t tell us to take extreme measures to uproot lust from our hearts in order to have a better marriage, although this is certainly a secondary benefit. Instead, Jesus told us to take extreme measures to uproot lust from our hearts in order to avoid going to hell (see Matthew 5:27-29). So, one motivation that Jesus gives us to take sin seriously is that failure to address sin has disastrous consequences. We must esteem all of God’s words, all of God’s commands, and all of God’s warnings.

The final judgment

Before we get to the nature of punishment in hell, we need to start with the Bible’s teaching about the final judgment.

Over and over again, the Bible teaches that every human being will stand before God on a day of judgment. This final judgment will take place as the concluding event of this present age. This final and concluding and sobering event will be the segue into the eternal age.

The Book of Ecclesiastes teaches that although life in this present world is so often vexing and frustrating when seen through the narrow lens of the here and now, we need to widen our scope and see our present actions in light of a future judgment:

“The end of the matter; all has been heard. Fear God and keep his commandments, for this is the whole duty of man. For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil.” (Ecclesiastes 12:13-14)

The New Testament frequently points to this future judgment in a variety of ways. Paul seems to echo Ecclesiastes 12:14 in 2 Corinthians 5:10 – 

“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.” (2 Corinthians 5:10)

In Romans 14, Paul wrote:

“For we will all stand before the judgment seat of God; for it is written, “As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God.” So then each of us will give an account of himself to God.” (Romans 14:10-12)

It can be difficult enough for a man to give an account of himself to another human being. How will we manage to given an account of ourselves to the Holy One before whom nothing is hidden?

One aspect of faithful gospel preaching is impressing upon people that a great day of judgment is coming. When Peter proclaimed the gospel to Cornelius and to the people who had gathered in Cornelius’ house, Peter proclaimed not only the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, but also Jesus’ role as judge of all:

“And he commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead. To him all the prophets bear witness that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.” (Acts 10:42-43)

Similarly, when Paul preached the gospel in Athens, he urged repentance in view of the coming judgment:

“The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead.” (Acts 17:30-31)

Sometimes when we think about salvation, we focus almost exclusively on the present benefits of walking with God today. As important as these present benefits are, it is also important to remember that the good news of the gospel is directly related to the final judgment. God “will judge the world [including you] in righteousness”, and that judgment will go badly for you if you enter God’s courtroom without the gracious protection of Jesus. God’s wrath is coming upon the disobedient. The only way to be spared from God’s wrath is to take refuge in Jesus. Jesus “delivers us from the wrath to come” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). Regarding those who trust in Jesus, Paul writes: “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God.” (Romans 5:9)

When we talk about salvation, the very terminology of salvation implies that we are being saved from something. Let’s never forget that the gospel saves us not only from sin and death, but also from the wrath of God. God Himself will pour out wrath, fury, tribulation, and distress on the unrighteous “on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed” (Romans 2:5). We must tell people about this coming day. When Paul evangelized Felix, Paul didn’t sweettalk Felix with ideas about ‘becoming a person of destiny’. Paul was focused:

“After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present….”” (Acts 24:24-25)

We’re not slick marketing agents. We’re not making a sales pitch. Instead, we are ambassadors of Christ who are authorized to declare the righteousness of God, the sinfulness of mankind, the coming judgment when the Righteous One will justly and thoroughly evaluate every human being, and that the only way to escape condemnation is to trust in Jesus. Jesus is God’s one and only provision for sinful human beings who are on a collision course with God’s holy justice. Turn away from the sin that will ruin you, and trust in the spotless and slaughtered Lamb who died for the sins of His people. He will wash you, sanctify you, justify you, and transform you, and He will shelter you on the day of judgment. He will save you from the wrath to come. He will be your shepherd forever, “and he will guide [you] to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from [your] eyes” (Revelation 7:17).

The alternative to this eternal shelter and unending joy in the presence of the Lord is absolutely horrific. The doctrine of hell is an unpleasant and severe doctrine – unpleasant and severe, but true. For those who don’t take refuge in Jesus, for those who refuse to repent and believe, for those who “do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness” (Romans 2:8), they will meet a bitter end that never ends.

The nature of punishment in hell

So, let me call our attention to several passages that together give us a full picture of the destiny of the wicked. Keep in mind that the doctrine of eternal punishment in hell is not based exclusively on a single passage, but is derived from the cumulative and overlapping meaning of several passages. Therefore, it is helpful to consider a number of relevant passages in the same sermon. I will begin by focusing on several passages from Matthew.

Matthew 5:21-26

First, let’s orient ourselves to the utter seriousness of the matter. In Matthew 5:21-26, which is part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus didn’t advise us to rid ourselves of anger because doing so will enhance our wonderful life here on earth. Far more seriously, Jesus warned us to resist anger and repair broken relationships in order to forestall indefinite misery in the future: 

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire. So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Come to terms quickly with your accuser while you are going with him to court, lest your accuser hand you over to the judge, and the judge to the guard, and you be put in prison. Truly, I say to you, you will never get out until you have paid the last penny. (Matthew 5:21-26)

In this passage, Jesus refers to “the hell of fire” and it is connected to “judgment” (v. 21, 22). The moral weightiness of Jesus’ instruction is underscored by the fact that the alternative to walking in peace toward others is imprisonment. How does someone in prison get to the point of paying the last penny? The same question is raised in the parable of the unforgiving servant who was forgiven a massive debt equivalent to about 200,000 years of wages for a day laborer. But afterward his forgiveness was revoked because he refused to forgive a fellow servant who owed him a small amount. So, in the end, this unforgiving servant was delivered “to the jailers, until he should pay all his debt” (Matthew 18:34). How does someone in jail “pay all his debt” when his debt is worth 200,000 years of wages? You’re not supposed to pull out your calculator and start crunching numbers. Instead, you’re supposed to conclude that this is a debt that he will never pay off, and therefore he will never be released. So, Matthew 5:21-26 highlights the seriousness of the matter and starts to point in a certain direction.

Matthew 7:21-23

Next, turn ahead to Matthew 7:21-23, which I’ll read in a moment. This passage occurs near the end of the Sermon on the Mount. In this sermon, Jesus makes it clear that we must become the kind of people who hear His words and do them. True security – like building your house on the rock – is found in building your life on trusting Jesus and obeying His words (Matthew 7:24-25). By contrast, failure to obey Jesus has catastrophic consequences (Matthew 7:26-27). Back in Matthew 5:20, Jesus taught that people who don’t get transformed from the inside out will not enter God’s kingdom: “For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20) The scribes and Pharisees had a reputation for righteousness, but their righteousness was an external righteousness:

“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.” (Matthew 23:27-28)

Jesus demands a superior righteousness, an internal righteousness, a righteousness that flows from the inner man, a new heart that is aligned with God’s words. Religion, religious devotion, religious activity, religious leadership, pious claptrap, spirituality jargon, and impressive ministry displays, are often the expression of external Pharisaical righteousness. Tragically and stunningly, many choose Christian religion and Christian ministry instead of Christ and His words. This brings us to Matthew 7:21-23 –

““Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21-23)

Not just a handful, not just some here or there, but many people operate under the banners of Christianity and Christian ministry who are actually “workers of lawlessness” who do not obey the will of the Father. They are not savingly united to Jesus: they don’t truly know Him, and He doesn’t know them, that is, He doesn’t recognize them as one of His own redeemed people. On that day of judgment, a clear punishment is decreed: “depart from me”.

The fundamental nature of hell is to be completely cut off from the gracious presence of the Lord. Each and every human being is made in God’s image, and the very heart of human flourishing is to know God, and walk in fellowship with Him, and have the light of His countenance shining upon us. He is the fount of every blessing, the source of everything that is truly good, the spring of all true beauty and wonder and love. To know Him is eternal life (John 17:3). To be near Him is the greatest good (Psalm 73:28), especially when you’re walking through the valley of the shadow of death (Psalm 23:4). On the other hand, to be separated from His gracious presence means anguish and misery.

Matthew 8:11-12

This brings us to our next passage: Matthew 8:11-12. The context for this passage is the fact that a centurion – a non-Jew – demonstrates great faith in Jesus, whereas the Israelites often lacked such faith. In other words, the presumed outsider has saving faith, but many of the presumed insiders don’t have faith. In this context, Jesus says:

“I tell you, many will come from east and west [the presumed outsiders, the Gentiles] and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom [the presumed insiders, the Israelites] will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:11-12)

The phrase “outer darkness” is terrifying. Light is essential for life, for seeing and moving safely and relating to others and not stumbling. To be “thrown into the outer darkness” is to be consigned to the void in which you cannot see. No beauty. No stability. No relational harmony. No ability to see the face of the Lord. No ability to see and receive the comfort of a dear friend’s smile. Utterly lost. No one to help. The only thing you can do in the great void of absolute darkness is to contemplate how miserable you are: “In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The man in hell will have to live with himself – with his own wicked heart – forever. He won’t be able to escape his own self-enclosed misery, and will be shot through with regret, sorrow, pain, and anger. There is no door through which he might go to find help. All he can do is grind his own teeth. The man in hell has to suffer the logical outworking of rejecting the two greatest commandments. The greatest commandment is to love the Lord with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength. The second greatest commandment is to love your neighbor as yourself. The man in heaven is wonderfully free to delight in the Lord and delight in other people forever. The man in hell is required to endure the agony of his own self-absorbed world. He spent his life rejecting God; now God rejects him. He spent his life putting himself first at the expense of others; now he has to bear the burden of eternity alone.

Matthew 25:31-46

Then, in Matthew 25:31-46, Jesus describes the final judgment in which all people are gathered before Him, and He will separate the righteous from the unrighteous, represented as sheep and goats in the passage. The sheep represent those who love Jesus and who demonstrate it practically by loving other sheep, especially other sheep who were poor and suffering and needy. The goats represent those who don’t love Jesus and demonstrate it practically by not loving Jesus’ poor and suffering and needy sheep. The sheep are blessed forever and welcomed into the everlasting kingdom, but the goats are cursed forever. The King will say to the goats: “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41) Then Jesus comments in verse 46: “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)

Once again there are the terrifying words: “Depart from me”. Back in Matthew 5 Jesus had spoken about “the hell of fire” (Matthew 5:22). Now he uses the phrase “eternal fire” and “eternal punishment”. When “the righteous [enter] into eternal life”, they enter into a life that will never end. When the unrighteous “go away into eternal punishment”, they enter a punishment that will never end.

Mark 9:42-48

The eternality of this punishment is also emphasized in Mark 9:42-48:

“Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a great millstone were hung around his neck and he were thrown into the sea. And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ (Mark 9:42-48)

The eternal fire is “unquenchable fire”. The point of saying the fire is unquenchable is not to make an abstract observation about the eternality of the fire. The point, rather, is to convey an urgent warning about the eternality of suffering in the fire. That’s the point. That’s the emphasis. The fire doesn’t go out because what’s in the fire keeps burning. “[Their] worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” means that their suffering does not end.

From the lips of Jesus

Now at this point I want to pause and make a very important observation about these passages we have just looked at. Every passage we just looked at came directly from the lips of Jesus. All Scripture consists of God-breathed words, and God could have revealed the doctrine of hell through one of the prophets or one of the apostles. But God chose to reveal the most focused instruction about the difficult doctrine of hell through His Son. It seems fitting: the subject matter is so heavy, so distressing, and so intense, that we needed to hear it directly from the Lord who came to us in the form of a servant.

The doctrine of hell did not originate on the lips of angry preachers who want to coerce people into cleaning up their lives. The teaching came from One who loved. Jesus loved people with such a love that no one else has ever exhibited. Jesus embodied perfectly the Father’s steadfast love. Jesus was often moved with compassion at the plight of those around Him. Jesus called ordinary people to be His followers. Jesus forgave the sin-sick, cleansed the unclean, and delivered the oppressed. Jesus graciously endured the immaturity of His twelve disciples and He washed their feet. Jesus loved the rich man who walked away in unbelief. Jesus wept at the tomb of Lazarus, and He wept over the city of Jerusalem that was destined for destruction because of its unbelief. Jesus presented Himself as a sacrifice for sin. Jesus said: “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13) And calling them friends was itself a testimony to grace, for we are the Lord’s enemies before we become His friends: “For if while we were enemies we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, now that we are reconciled, shall we be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)

On the cross, Jesus went into the outer darkness for us, so that we could be reconciled to God and have the light of life forever. So, since the subject matter of hell is so heavy, so distressing, and so intense, we needed to hear it from the gentle Lamb who exuded mercy. We needed to hear it from the One who calls out to a weary world: “Come to me… and I will give you rest.” (Matthew 11:28) And yet, it is not compassionate, gracious, and loving to lie to people. If you have a hard time understanding how being gracious to people and speaking truth to people go hand in hand, it must be understood that telling the truth is a form of love. Paul says, “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Romans 13:10) Bearing false witness, tickling people’s ears, proclaiming ‘peace’ when there is no peace, and adapting your message to what people want, will often be regarded as loving by people who don’t love the truth. But it is not loving. It is not loving to tell people that there is no hell, if there is a hell and multitudes are heading there. It is not loving to tell people that there is no final judgment, if there is a final judgment and multitudes are unprepared for it. It is not loving to tell people that they can go on sinning without consequence, if unchecking sinning leads to infinite loss. Jesus told us the truth. Jesus tells us the truth about the horrors of hell because He doesn’t want us to go there. Jesus tells you the truth about the horrors of hell because He doesn’t want you to go there. The multitudes are racing like sheep without a shepherd to everlasting ruin, and Jesus came in order rescue them.

Even so, our understanding of Jesus is incomplete if we only view Him as a meek-like Lamb and merciful Savior. As we have seen, He gives urgent warnings about sin and judgment and hell. In Revelation 6, everyone on earth wants to hide “from the face of him who is seated on the throne, and from the wrath of the Lamb” (Revelation 6:16). Take refuge in the grace of the Lamb now, or you will face the wrath of the Lamb then. He is, after all, the One through whom God will judge the world in righteousness (Acts 17:31). Jesus our Adonai, the priest-king of Psalm 110, will fulfill the entire psalm:

“[Adonai] will shatter kings on the day of his wrath. He will execute judgment among the nations, filling them with corpses; he will shatter chiefs over the wide earth.” (Psalm 110:5-6)

Perhaps the most sobering passage in the entire Bible about the eternal punishment of the wicked is found in Revelation 14:9-11 – 

“If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he will also drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)

We cannot fathom the reality of eternal conscious misery. It is wise to let our words be few, and to consider these words from a 19th century hymn:

“Beyond this vale of tears

There is a life above,

Unmeasured by the flight of years,

And all that life is love.

There is a death, whose pang

Outlasts the fleeting breath;

O what eternal horrors hang

Around the second death!

Lord God of truth and grace,

Teach us that death to shun;

Lest we be banished from Thy face,

And evermore undone.”[1]


Let me make three applications of the doctrine of hell.

Life is serious

First, life on earth is utterly serious. Life is short. Your life is like a vapor that appears for a little while, then vanishes away. But what you do with the little time that you have has eternal consequences. Even the pagans perceive it however dimly, with a movie quote like “What we do in life echoes in eternity!”[2] That is truer than you can possibly imagine. You are either trusting in Jesus and walking with Him and being ripened for everlasting glory, or you are going your own way and being ripened for everlasting shame. You are either laying up treasure in heaven, or you are storing up wrath for the day of wrath. You are either in the process of becoming more like Jesus in preparation for eternity with your Savior, or you are in the process of becoming more like the devil in preparation for banishment from the presence of the Lord. You are either growing in the grace and knowledge of the Lord Jesus Christ, or you are shrinking back and diminishing and in the process of forfeiting your soul. Life is serious.

Learn to hate your sin

Second, Jesus didn’t give an academic lecture on hell; instead, he pressed home the reality of hell in the context of exhortations to be faithful and to make war against your sin. So, we should hear these exhortations in the way that Jesus intended. Fear of hell by itself is not a producer of holy zeal and faithful service. But the reality of hell should awaken us to the horror of sin, the horror of impurity, the horror of unfaithfulness, the horror of lovelessness, the horror of being cold toward God. The rising of sin in my heart is so bad that, if left unchecked and if it got the upper hand and governed my life, that sin would land me in the lake of fire. Therefore, let Jesus’ teaching on hell awaken you to the horror of your sin.

Learn to hate your sin, and learn to love Jesus who came and died and rose again to save you from your sin. Learn to hate your sin, and learn to welcome the Holy Spirit to strengthen you in the battle against sin. Learn to hate your sin, and learn to cling to God’s words and trust His promises and obey His instructions. Learn to hate your sin, and learn to be merciful to other people: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” (Matthew 5:7) Other people are not your problem; you are your problem. Other people’s sins won’t ruin you; your sins will ruin you. Be tough on your own sin, and be tenderhearted toward other sinners. Learn to hate your sin, and find some other humble believers who are learning to hate their sin, and become spiritual allies against sin. Be for your brother, and against your brother’s sins; and let your brother be for you, and against your sins.

Don’t take Jesus’ teaching on hell and turn it into a banner that you wave in front of the world, unless you yourself have become a good student of this teaching. No one who is hateful and relishes the thought of other people going to hell, should say anything about hell. Such people should go and learn what this means: God desires mercy, not cold and clinical formulations about hell.

Get a heart for lost people

Third, after you have taken the doctrine to heart, it must motivate evangelism. The doctrine of the final judgment and the doctrine of hell are part of the necessary context for evangelism – for preaching the gospel to lost people. We want people to be saved from eternal ruin. We warn people to flee the wrath to come. The Lord does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 18:32), so neither should we. The Lord “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:4), and so should we. Deep down, what we really want for people isn’t a comfortable earthly life. What we really want for people is that they know Christ, have a title to heaven, and serve the Lord with gladness.

The great 18th century preacher John Wesley wrote, “I desire to have both heaven and hell ever in my eye, while I stand on this isthmus [small island] of life, between two boundless oceans.” The comfortable church of the 21st century needs to rediscover the clarifying doctrines of heaven and hell. Our message is not: live your best life now with a little Jesus thrown in. Our message is: go all in for Jesus now, and look forward to the life of the world to come.

The apostle Paul was a careful and precise theologian. He was also a man who knew how to weep and pray. There is too much self-indulgence, and not enough weeping and praying, in these days. But listen to Paul, the man who discovered the astonishing grace of Jesus – listen to Paul as he talks about his fellow Israelites who were spiritually lost:

“I am speaking the truth in Christ–I am not lying; my conscience bears me witness in the Holy Spirit–that I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, my kinsmen according to the flesh.” (Romans 9:1-3)

“Brothers, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for them is that they may be saved.” (Romans 10:1)

The gospel of Jesus is the message that Jesus was accursed and cut off on the cross for our sake, for our salvation. Paul was so transformed by the self-sacrificing love of Jesus, that Paul had a gospel-generated inclination to be accursed and cut off for the sake of his fellow Israelites who were spiritually lost, that they might be saved. With the realities of heaven and hell in clear view, that heart of self-sacrificing love is the heart that we must have, and that heart of self-sacrificing love is the heart that God uses to reach people for Christ. Does anyone feel convicted about your need to get that kind of heart?

C. T. Studd, a missionary of a century ago, said: 

“Some want to live within the sound

Of church or chapel bell;

I want to run a rescue shop,

Within a yard of hell.”



[1] From the hymn “Where Shall Rest Be Found?” by James Montgomery.

[2] From the movie “Gladiator” (DreamWorks Pictures and Universal Pictures, 2000).

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