« continued from previous page
Finally, the Book of Revelation speaks in these harrowing tones:
If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. (Rev. 14:9–11)
The Use of Figurative Language for Hell
Certainly, in speaking of hell the Bible uses figurative language. Jesus commonly used language referent to a place called Gehenna.3 Gehenna was the valley of Hinnom, south of Jerusalem, where human sacrifice was once offered (2 Kings 16:3; 21:6), which became the place where the city’s garbage was burned—a place where “the worms that eat them do not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Fire is an image depicting physical pain and suffering. It displays the sense of God’s righteous anger, His wrath, poured out against all who opposes His goodness.
Then Jesus also used the image of darkness, “outer darkness,” depicting hell as a banishment from God’s presence—a place of alienation from God, a place of utter loneliness. The foolish bridesmaids are shut outside the door (Matt. 25:10–12); the wicked servant is assigned a place with the hypocrites (Matt. 24:51); those improperly dressed for the wedding banquet are thrown outside into the darkness (Matt. 22:13).
In some of the most dreaded words of the Bible, Jesus says to some who assumed they would be welcomed by Him, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (Matt. 7:23). Nothing is left but loneliness and despair, for hell is a place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” full of the hopeless remorse of self-condemnation. And then hell is spoken of as a place of death and destruction—a place devoid of the life-giving presence of God, and a place of ruin and corruption.
John in the Book of Revelation refers to the lake of fire as “the second death” (Rev. 20:14; 21:8; cf. 2:11; 20:6). Destruction is where the wide road leads (Matt. 7:13); it is what happens to the house built on sand (Luke 6:49); it is what is prepared for the objects of God’s wrath (Rom. 9:22); and it is the destiny of the enemies of the cross of Christ (Phil. 3:19). Like a car that is “totaled” in an accident, those in hell will continue to exist, but they will be destroyed, ruined, as human beings created in the image of God; they will no longer function as they were created to function.
Yes, this is figurative language, but these images were chosen to convey a certain reality. And it is a horrific reality—a reality of wrath, of alienation, of corruption. It is a reality that Jesus warns us about in the strongest possible terms, and it is a reality, I would add, that Jesus Himself gave His own life to save us from. As one writer on this subject has put it, “Jesus Christ is the person who is responsible for the doctrine of Eternal Perdition. He is the Being with whom all opponents of this theological tenet are in conflict.”4 So why are people so repulsed by this clear teaching of Jesus? I find that there are three underlying objections.
Next page »