April 22, 2014 Broadcast

The Great Separation

A Message by R.C. Sproul

Many people in our culture have been desensitized to the notion of hell. Even used as a swear word, "hell" no longer gets the reaction it once did, and many Christians ignore hell completely. But Christ took hell very seriously. In this message, Dr. Sproul teaches on the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats in order to explain the nature and severity of hell.

From the series: Hell

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Further Study On This Topic

  1. devotional

    Eternal Punishment

  2. article

    The Biblical Evidence for Hell

  3. article

    The Final Exile

Eternal Punishment

Acts 17:16–34 records one of several models for evangelism that we find in the New Testament. Paul appeals to the innate sense that all people have of God's requirements and existence, and then he gives a brief presentation of the gospel, including Christ's resurrection from the dead. Note how in verse 31, Paul refers to the day of judgment on which He "will judge the world in righteousness."

This thought strikes terror into the hearts of anyone who seriously considers his sin. The Judge who will administer judgment on that last day is perfect in His justice and righteousness, and if the judgment is according to His righteousness, there will be nothing arbitrary, unjust, or unfair about it. If we stand before Him on the basis of what we have done, we have no hope. Even if we have sinned only once in our lives, we have offended an infinitely holy God, and an offense of that magnitude demands an infinite retribution. Thus, in Scripture we have the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment—there is a hell into which all those who rest in their own works and not in Christ alone will be cast, and in that place they will feel God's wrath forever and ever (Rev. 20:10, 14–15).

In many ways, we all find hell a horrible thing to think about. We all know people who are very dear to us and who have given us no indication that they know Christ. Some of these people are alive, and some have already died. We find it difficult to believe that we will be eternally happy in heaven if we know that some of those whom we love are suffering in hell. But that is to look at things from a fallen human perspective. Even though we who know Christ have true affection for Him, our way of seeing the world is so tied to our earthly experience that we tend to think more about the well-being of our friends and family than the vindication of God's righteousness. But when we enjoy our final glorified state, we will be so enraptured by the beauty of our Creator and His majestic holiness that we will be able to rejoice in the fact that this holiness and justice are being revealed against the impenitent in hell, even the impenitent to whom we have been so attached. We will be able to evaluate reality apart from the influence of our fallen nature, and we will glory fully in what glorifies the Lord, including the manifestation of His holy justice (Rev. 14:7). The Light of the World will enable us to see sin for what it truly is, and so we will rejoice in its punishment.

The Biblical Evidence for Hell

Christopher Morgan

Would a loving Jesus really teach about hell? Yes, and so does every New Testament author. Let's consider what they teach.

Hell in Matthew

In the Sermon on the Mount, often known for its emphasis on love and the kingdom, Jesus teaches the reality and nature of hell (5:20–30; 7:13–27). In Matthew 5:20–30, Jesus contrasts hell with the kingdom of heaven and warns that hell is a real danger to unrepentant sinners. The fire of hell, the justice of hell, and the extreme suffering in hell are particularly stressed. The unrepentant are warned to use extreme measures to avoid being cast into it by God.

As Jesus concludes the Sermon on the Mount, He contrasts the kingdom of heaven with the horrors of hell (7:13– 27). Jesus cautions that hell is a place of destruction, depicted as the end of a broad road. Hell awaits everyone who does not enter the kingdom of heaven— even those who profess to know Christ but continue in sin. Jesus is Judge and King who personally excludes the wicked from His presence and the kingdom of heaven ("Depart from me," 7:23). Indeed, those who fail to follow Jesus are like a house built on the sand that ultimately comes crashing down.

Matthew also recounts Jesus' surprising warning that Jews devoid of faith are in danger of hell, which is portrayed as outside, darkness, and a place of intense suffering (8:10–12). Jesus addresses hell when He commissions His disciples not to fear humans but God alone, "who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (10:28). In Jesus' parables of the weeds (13:36–43) and the net (vv. 47–50), hell is seen as exclusion/ separation from the kingdom of God, described in terms of fire and is a place of suffering. Jesus later describes hell as a place of "eternal fire" (18:8) and even warns the scribes and Pharisees of hell, characterizing it as inescapable for the unrepentant (23:33).

In the Olivet Discourse, Jesus speaks of future punishment in the parables of the slaves (24:45–51), bridesmaids (25:1– 13), talents (25:14–30), and the section on the sheep and goats (25:31–46). Several truths about hell emerge. Hell is punishment for disobedience to the master. Hell is graphically expressed as a location where people are cut into pieces and placed with the hypocrites (24:51) and as a place of suffering (24:51; 25:30). Jesus also likens hell to being outside, or a place of exclusion/separation (25:10–12, 30), as the outer darkness (v. 30), as personal banishment from His presence and the kingdom ("Depart from me," v. 41), and as just condemnation/punishment (vv. 41, 46). Hell is then described as eternal. It is a place of "eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" (v. 41) and of "eternal punishment" (v. 46).

Hell in Mark

Mark 9:42–48 is similar to Matthew 18:6–9 and records Jesus' teaching that hell is a punishment for sin that is worse than death and earthly suffering. Hell is exclusion from the kingdom of God, a result of God's active judgment on sin, and a place of eternal suffering.

Hell in Luke

In Luke 13:1–5, Jesus speaks of hell as punishment for the unrepentant, and those in hell are portrayed as perishing. In Luke 16:19–31, Jesus calls for generosity to the poor by proclaiming that justice will prevail through the coming judgment on the wicked oppressors. The punishment is marked by suffering, torment, fire, agony, exclusion from heaven, and finality.

Hell in Paul

It would take too much space to survey all that Paul writes, so we will highlight Romans and 2 Thessalonians.

In his letter to the Roman church, Paul stresses that Jews and Gentiles alike are under sin, under God's wrath, and under God's judgment. Only those who have faith in Christ will escape. In this context, Paul relates important truths about hell.

First, future punishment is connected to God's wrath. The wicked are presently under His wrath (1:18–32), are objects of wrath (9:22), continually store up wrath for the day of wrath (2:5–8; 3:5), and can be saved from wrath only by faith in Christ (5:9–21).

Second, future punishment is God's judgment. The wicked are deservedly condemned under the judgment of God, which is impartial, true, righteous, and certain (2:1–12; 3:7–8). This condemnation is the result of sin and is just punishment for sin (6:23).

Third, future punishment will consist of trouble and distress. This suffering shows no favoritism between Jews and Gentiles (2:8–11).

Fourth, future punishment consists of "death" and "destruction." Sinners deserve death (1:32), the wages of sin is death (6:16–23), as sinners we bear fruit for death (7:5), those who live according to the flesh should expect death (8:13), and sinners are vessels of wrath "prepared for destruction" (9:22). Fifth, both sin and future punishment are separation from Christ ("accursed and cut off from Christ"; see 9:3).

As he encourages believers suffering persecution in 2 Thessalonians, Paul stresses that God's justice will prevail (1:5–10). In just a few verses, Paul emphasizes several important truths about hell: hell is the result of God's retributive justice on sinners; hell is punishment for those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel; hell is eternal destruction; and hell is exclusion from Jesus' presence and majesty.

Hell in Hebrews

Two passages in Hebrews speak clearly about future judgment. Hebrews 6:1–3 refers to the future punishment of the wicked as "eternal judgment" (6:2), which is an "elementary doctrine" of the faith. Hebrews 10:27–30 depicts this judgment as fearful and dreadful and as a raging fire that will consume the enemies of God. It also teaches that hell comes from God as punishment, judgment, and retribution.

Hell in James

The letter of James depicts future punishment primarily in terms of destruction, death, justice, and suffering. In particular, the oppressors wither away and are destroyed (1:11); sin produces death as its offspring (1:15; see 5:20); and God is the Lawgiver and Judge, able to save and destroy (4:12). James teaches that oppressors of God's people deserve to be punished severely. This just suffering is certain and severe, graphically portrayed as miseries, flesh being consumed by fire, and the day of slaughter.

Hell in Peter and Jude

Peter's second letter is filled with references to hell, and Jude closely parallels 2 Peter 2. Peter and Jude both depict hell as destruction (2 Peter 2:1, 3, 12; Jude 5, 10, 11), as condemnation hanging over the wicked (2 Peter 2:3; Jude 4), and as a gloomy dungeon where rebellious angels are held for judgment (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6 is similar). Peter illustrates future punishment with the account of Sodom and Gomorrah burning to ashes (2 Peter 2:6) and warns that God holds the unrighteous for the Day of Judgment while continuing their punishment (2:9). Peter also writes that hell is a place of retribution (v. 13) and blackest darkness (v. 17; Jude 13). Jude adds that hell is a punishment of eternal fire (Jude 7, 15, 23).

Hell in Revelation

Revelation teaches that hell is a place where God's fury and wrath are felt at full force (14:10). Hell is a place of intense suffering, filled with "fire and sulfur" (14:10; see the lake of fire in 20:10, 14–15; 21:8), a place where "the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever" (14:11). The suffering is continual: "They have no rest, day or night" (14:11), and "they will be tormented day and night forever and ever" (20:10).

In Revelation 20:10–15, the Apostle John emphasizes that hell is just punishment for the wicked. God casts the devil, the Beast, and the False Prophet into hell. They do not rule or have any power in hell but are "thrown" there (20:10). Hell will also contain everyone whose name is not found in the book of life (v. 15). Such will be separated from God in hell (21:6–8) and banished from heaven (22:15).

Three Pictures of Hell

Clearly, the future punishment of the wicked is a significant theme in Scripture. Jesus teaches it, and so does every New Testament author. While this brief survey has demonstrated an array of truths about hell, three key depictions of hell recur in the New Testament:

1. Punishment. The chief picture of hell is a place of punishment for sin. The punishment is deserved, consists of suffering, and is eternal.

2. Destruction. This destruction is likened to death, second death, loss, and ruin (see Robert Peterson's article in this issue of Tabletalk for more on this).

3. Banishment. Whereas punishment stresses the active side of hell, banishment shows the horror of hell by highlighting what unbelievers miss—the very reason for their existence, namely, to glorify and love God.

Hell—this is what we deserve. This is how sinful we are. This is what Christ endured for our sakes. And this should spur us to share the gospel.

The Final Exile

Ken Jones

In this article, I would like to stress two things about hell. First, it is the final exile for those who remain in rebellion against God and refuse to repent. Second, what will be consummated in hell has its origins in time.

Admittedly, to speak of hell as an exile can be a little confusing, because to be exiled means to be banished. We tend to think of hell as being banished from the presence of God. This has been reinforced in the language that depicts sinners as “going to the Devil.” From this we have the further depiction of heaven as the place for God and the saints, and hell as the place for Satan and sinners. In our twisted folklore, we even have Satan in charge of hell making life miserable for condemned sinners. The problem with that scenario (apart from the fact that it is unbiblical) is that it fails to take into consideration that God is omnipresent, which means there is no place where He is not. As David expresses in Psalm 139:7–12, God’s presence is inescapable.

Furthermore, if Satan were the tormentor in hell, it would seem to be a reward for him because he delights in making men miserable. On the contrary, all who are banished to hell will suffer eternal torment. Satan will be in hell for sure. Matthew 25:41 says that “the eternal fire” of hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” It is therefore clear that this fire was prepared for torment and not for their enjoyment.

Somewhat ironically, the definition offered for the word exile in Webster’s New World Dictionary is more consistent with the biblical concept of hell: “a prolonged living away from one’s country.” To flesh this out, we must go to the first two chapters of the book of Genesis. There we have record of God’s creation of the world. In chapter 3, a seminal passage in the progressive unfolding of redemptive history, Eve was tempted by Satan. Subsequently, she and Adam ate from the forbidden tree and were plunged into a state of sin. In verses 16–17 we see the manifold effects of their rebellion, which is now shared by all of their progeny.

In this grim and dismal scene, two bright spots stand out. First, the protevangelium (“first gospel”) declared in verse 15 casts a shadowy forecast of the person and work of a coming Messiah who would be the solution to man’s fallen condition. And then, in verse 21, the Lord makes a deposit on that promise of verse 15 by covering Adam and Eve in the skins of an animal, thereby initiating the concept of substitutionary sacrifice that will be systematized in the Mosaic law and realized in the coming Messiah. However, in verses 23–24 we read of man’s initial exile — which is culminated and consummated in hell. In the wearing of skins provided by God, Adam is given tangible proof of a promise that his broken fellowship with God and the created order will be restored and that he will be returned to the garden from which he was evicted. But in the meantime, he will labor outside the garden. Because of his sin, his children therefore will be born in a state of alienation from their Creator, subservient to His sovereign rule but alienated from intimate continual fellowship with Him save for the means of mediation He supplies.

Paul’s words in Ephesians 2:12 to Gentile Christians captures this sense of exile that is the fruit of our fallen condition. He says, “remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world.” This is the present state of every unbeliever, and it is for this reason that the New Testament speaks of God’s wrath presently upon unbelievers (John 3:18; Eph. 2:1–3; Rom. 1:18). The point is this — all unbelievers are presently exiled from the place of proper fellowship with God. We often speak of the tension between the already and the not yet in terms of the grace of God in Christ and all of the promises that are fulfilled in Him. But there is also a tension between the already and the not yet of God’s judgment and condemnation. Unbelievers are in exile and are therefore under condemnation. Their lives reflect their status, as they fail to glorify, worship, and serve God. Hell is the consummation of the wrath they are presently under; it is the culmination of the rebel status that made them exiles in the first place. They have no desire to live for Him, and in hell they will live without His peace, joy, and love.

We therefore preach the reality of hell to sinners so that the reality of grace in the cross of Christ will be clearly seen as their only hope. Therefore, knowing the terror of God, we seek to persuade men.

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