A short Facebook exchange this morning led me to search The Master’s Table for references to hell. The only post with hell in the title was a link to a sermon on the Unity website. Here is the full text of that sermon, preached at Unity Baptist Church on October 4, 2015. The scripture text is Isaiah 11:1-10.
Billy Graham once sat down to write a sermon on angels but found his library offered very few resources on that topic. He set out to look up every verse in the Bible that had anything to do with angels and found that for all the Bible has to say there is very little about angels. He wrote a book simply titled Angels and shared everything he was able to find and it makes a rather slim volume. The Bible tells a particular story that God knows we need so I believe everything we need to know is in there. Sometimes the Bible doesn’t tell us everything we would like to know. There’s a lot about God’s love, man’s sin, and what God has done to reconcile the relationship between the two. There is very little in the Bible about Heaven and even less about Hell, which may come as a surprise to some people. But again, we are told everything we need to know. And there is enough information about Heaven and Hell for me to know which place I would rather go.
In the Isaiah passage, the stump of Jesse that the Spirit of God will rest on is obviously Jesus (vv. 1-5). But this is Old Testament prophecy and Isaiah was written 600 – 700 years before Jesus was born. As Christians reading the New Testament, we believe Jesus came to the earth, returned to his Father in Glory, and will one day come again. We have a perspective that gives us understanding that the Old Testament prophets did not have. Some prophecies and been fulfilled and others have yet to be. The other issue with interpreting ancient prophecy is that sometimes authors seem to be describing things both present and future. Isaiah talks about kings and kingdoms that existed in his time period, but the events described are also prophetic symbols of things that will take place in a future fulfillment. We see this even more so with Daniel. Events prophesied in the Book of Daniel had both a near fulfillment, when Israel was restored after Babylonian captivity, and an apocalyptic fulfillment that is still in the future even from our point of view. So before this turns into an advanced seminary course on Old Testament prophecy, let’s focus on a few things we are pretty sure we can say for certain; which is a much shorter list than things we could speculate all day long.
1. Heaven is where you want to go. Revelation 19 says there will be rejoicing in heaven and describes the marriage supper of the Lamb. Revelation 21 describes the new heaven and earth, and the city of New Jerusalem. The one sitting on the throne declares “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.” (Rev. 21:3-4) From verse 9 to the end of the chapter, John describes the city of New Jerusalem. Some have cited the dimensions listed as the size and shape of heaven itself but that description – the city wall with the 12 foundations and 12 gates, and street of transparent gold – is just the city of New Jerusalem. That’s one city of the whole New Heaven and New Earth that John saw. The earth God created in Genesis 1 was good but sin and the curse corrupted it. He is going to fix it. Heaven and Earth will be made new, sin and death will no longer be present, God will sit on his throne and we will dwell in his presence with the other saints for all eternity.
2. Hell is not where you want to go. The Bible tells us even less about hell but again I promise what we have is enough. In the parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus describes the difference of where the two men ended up after their natural lives were over. There are other parables but in Matthew 8 Jesus marvels at the faith of a Roman centurion and speaks directly of heaven and hell without veiled references and symbols. “I tell you, many will come from east and west and recline at table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven, while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matt. 8:11-12) Jesus is speaking plainly in Mark 9 about the effects of sin and says of hell “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.” Finally in Revelation 20 death and hell are cast into the lake of fire (death and hades in ESV). Hell is not the lake of fire, but the lake of fire is where death, hell, Satan, the false prophets and all those not found in the Book of Life will end up.
God will be sitting on his throne is Glory, with lightning, and rainbows, and seraphim flying overhead crying out in worship. God will not be in hell. No one living on earth today has ever been to a place totally devoid of God’s presence. This world was affected by sin and the curse but it is the world God made and he saw that it was good. There are echoes and reflections of that perfection around us. The splendor of the heavens give God honor and glory. The rain falls on the just and on the unjust because of God’s common grace. The sun rises every morning because he hung it in the sky and made it so. Hell will burn with fire and brimstone but remain totally dark at the same time. Life and light will not be in that place and everyone there will experience total and complete separation from God for the first time ever. I cannot imagine what that will be like and neither can you, but that is not where you want to go.
3. Share the Gospel. Those two facts alone are not enough information. Despite the fact that some people will tell you heaven sounds like it would get boring after a while, or hell is where all their friends or going to be, most people realize they would prefer heaven to hell. While most people may tell you they want to go to heaven many of them have misunderstandings about how to get there. Some imagine that only the very worst of humanity, like Adolf Hitler or Genghis Khan, will actually go to hell. Plenty of people these days, including well meaning Christians, believe that everyone will end up in heaven. Universal salvation is taught based on the single truth of scripture that “God is love” and always wants what is best for us. Somehow they place all their faith in one particular verse of scripture and ignore the rest of it, particularly the words of Jesus we’ve mentioned from the Gospels and John’s account in Revelation. Read Romans 9 and tell me the God of the Old Testament is not still the same God in the New. Yes, scripture does indeed say that God’s will is that none should perish (2 Peter 3:9). But he gave man free will, and we fail to do God’s will on a daily basis. If everyone was going to heaven anyway then was no reason for Jesus to suffer and die on the cross. If you want to know how much God loves you, look in the manger. If you want to see how much God hates sin, look on the cross. His life was ransomed so that you and I might live. Romans 10:9, we read it just last week, says “if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” We make a big deal out of John 3:16 but you seldom hear anybody quote John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
The simple truth is this: on the day of judgement Jesus will read the names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life and people will be divided like tares from wheat (which he described in a parable in Matthew 13). WE NEED TO BE HONEST WITH PEOPLE ABOUT HOW NAMES GET WRITTEN IN THAT BOOK. We need to tell people there is a heaven to gain and a hell to shun. We need to share the Gospel with boldness. We worry so much about offending people or hurting their feelings that we hold our tongues while they die and go to hell. We don’t want to seem like religious nutjobs or Bible thumpers so we often say nothing at all. I’m not telling you to become a nutjob or a Bible thumper or any other fool thing. I’m saying to all of us: we must share the truth in love. Be a good neighbor. Be an honest and friendly coworker, a shoulder to cry on, an encourager and share the Gospel when the opportunity presents itself. You can do a lot more in your circle of influence than an unexpected cold call from a church pastor.
Heaven is for Real was a big movie last year, based on a book a few years earlier. Heaven is for real, hell is for real, Christians need to be for real if we are to fulfill the Great Commission to take the Gospel to the ends of the earth and disciple the nations.