Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Worse than hell

Revelation 20:14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire.

For the past several days we have been exploring the terrible but true doctrine of hell in the Bible.  We have discovered the following about this place:

1. It is a place of unquenchable fire Mk 9:13; Ps 106:17-18

2. It is a place of everlasting fire Mt 18:18

3. It is a place of outer darkness Mt 25:47; Jude 11

4. It is a place that has gates or influence Mt 16:18; Ps 9:13; Is 38:10

5. It is a place were unbelievers are conscious Lk 16:25-28

6. It is a place of wailing & gnashing of teeth Mt 8:12; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Lk 13:28

7. Place of constant burning and stench Mt 5:22, 29-30, 10:28, 18:9, 23:15, 33, Mk 9:43; Lk 12:5

These are most of the references we find in the New Testament regarding the current destination of unbelievers.  In the Old Testament the word translated "hell" or "grave" is the Hebrew "Sheol" which points primarily to the realm of the dead.  In the New Testament the Greek word "hades" is used and we see a more nuanced understanding - lending itself to the progressive nature of God's revelation of topics in the Bible.  The word "hades", in addition to referring to the realm of the unbelieving dead, also carries with it the idea of being a "holding place" until judgment day. 

The Holding Cell until judgment day
In most of the places of the Old Testament and New Testament, we come to understand that unbelievers go to a place that the scripture commonly translates as "Hell".  However there is another place that though often lumped in with the current holding place until judgment, is actually a worse place. 

Think of the difference between a county jail and a state penitentury.  The county or local jail is often used to hold offenders until the final details of their sentence is handed down by the judge.  Once the legal system has sentenced the offender, they are taken to a high security facility that will house them for years, decades or life.    County jail is no doubt a horrible place, however the "State Pen" is even worse.  

For the past several days we have been focusing only on the holding cell - Hell.  Both Jesus and scripture reveal a far worse reality - the Lake of Fire.

The Lake of Fire - Worse than hell
In Matthew 25:41 we get a hint of this far worse place, wherein Jesus speak of the final judgment having unbelievers going into a place of unquenchable fire.  In Matthew 25 we see Jesus presiding over the final judgment, separating the "Sheep and the Goats".  It is here that we really get the sense of the awful truth of an even worse place.

In the Book of Revelation, the Apostle John describes the Lake of Fire as a separate reality.  In the opening verse we quoted today at the beginning of this blog, "death and hades" are cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14).

The Book of Revelation describes this Lake of fire in the following ways:

1. Revelation 19:20 And the beast was taken, and with him the false prophet that worked miracles before him, with which he deceived them that had received the mark of the beast, and them that worshipped his image. These both were cast alive into a lake of fire burning with brimstone.

2. Revelation 20:10 And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.

3. Revelation 20:14 And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.

4. Revelation 20:15 And whoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

5.Revelation 21:8 But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

Why there are times the Bible makes Hell and the Lake of Fire sound the same
Jesus will sometimes use the same descriptions in his references to both the current holding place and final place of judgment for unbelievers.  One of those images is that of a stinking place where the fire burns and the worm dies not.  This intense imagery utilized a well-known trash dump outside the city limits of First century Jerusalem known as "Gehenna".  It was a constantly burning place where people would dump trash, dead bodies and sanitation waste.  Worms and maggots would crawl through the flame scorched, smoke intoxicating trash heaps, lending further to the real-life imagery.  In fact this place had been around for centuries and had been also the site of human sacrifices in the Old Testament times.  Jesus of course alludes to this in passages such as Mark 9:44.  Quite frankly these references by Jesus could be used to describe the current holding place and the future final place of the condemned, being that the former will be cast into the latter.  (Revelation 20:14)

The first mention of the Lake of Fire
The Lake of Fire imagery of course invokes the vision of Daniel in Daniel 7:9-11 “I kept looking until thrones were set up, and the Ancient of Days took His seat; His vesture was like white snow and the hair of His head like pure wool. His throne was ablaze with flames, Its wheels were a burning fire. 10“A river of fire was flowing and coming out from before Him;  Thousands upon thousands were attending Him, and myriads upon myriads were standing before Him;  The court sat, and the books were opened. 11“Then I kept looking because of the sound of the boastful words which the horn was speaking; I kept looking until the beast was slain, and its body was destroyed and given to the burning fire."

This worst of all places reveals ever more the urgency and greatness of the Gospel
Whenever we look at the most well-known passage of John 3:16, we should see even more how marvelous of a passage it is.  Not only is the promise of "not perishing" referring to faith in Jesus Christ as providing immunity from the wrath of God suffered in the current holding place of Hell, but also from the worse place of judgment - the Lake of Fire. 

Let the reader think back over the past couple of days in which we have covered the fairness of hell and the problems that can arise if Christians deny the doctrine.  Those arguments apply even moreso to this biblical teaching on the lake of fire.  

We should as Christians have a greater burden to see our loved ones, neighbors and co-workers won to saving faith in Christ.  As Christians, we should also be humbled and ever more thankful to the fact that God in His love and mercy decided to extend saving grace to us, to send His Son and to Sovereignly have His Spirit convict sinners such as us to freely believe on Jesus Christ.    May we go and tell others about Jesus Christ, so that they may believe and escape the wrath of God that is already on them, and that is coming. (John 3:36; 1 Thessalonians 1:10)



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