Bible Study Opportunities
The Most Disturbing Fact of All
By Jon W. Quinn
Psychologists call it denial and/or repression. Both of these terms refer to the tricks the human mind can sometimes play on itself. Refusing to believe something dreadful has happened when it has, or to push a bad memory into the subconscious. While doing so may grant a certain reprieve from the mental anguish suffered in such circumstances, it really does not alter the facts. The things still occurred whether we allow ourselves to think about them or not.
We do not like to think about the dreadful. But sometimes it is dangerous not to do so. We warn our small children not to play in the street, not because we want to scare them, but because we want to save them. It would be neither healthy nor wise to deny the danger.
That brings us to the subject of this article. It is one we do not like to think about because it’s about something dreadful. But, at the same time, it is dangerous not to take note of the potential problem, and the good news is that something can be done about it. No one has to go to hell.
Society in Denial
Recent polls suggest that about 40% of us believe in hell while about 80% of us believe in heaven. But Jesus spoke about both: "Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it.” (Matthew 7:13,14). A lot more people are prepared to believe His statements about the good place than are willing to accept His statements about the dreadful place. But if He cannot be trusted in His teachings on hell, then why accept His teachings on heaven? Only because we want to! That is being in a state of denial pure and simple!
Even more interesting, less than 5% of us believe we're headed toward hell. Again, our perceptions about this are way off if Jesus is correct in the earlier quoted passage.
Old Testament Revelation
Revelation is progressive. Every age shed more light on the truths of the way things are up until the Scriptures were completed in the final decade of the first century. Therefore, early thought on life after death as expressed in the Bible, while all true, was not as detailed as it would come to be after the Scriptures were completed.
When God spoke to Moses out of the burning bush, He said, "I am the God of your fathers, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob." Then Moses hid his face, for he was afraid to look at God.” (Exodus 3:6). Jesus would much later point out that even though Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had all long been dead at the time God said this, that they still existed somewhere, and God was still their God (Matthew 22:32). The Old Testament people knew that human beings continue to exist after death. They called the waiting place of the dead “sheol”. This was the unseen world; the place of departed spirits (Genesis 37:35; 49:33; etc.)
In the Psalms, both reward and punishment after death are discussed. While the wicked may have temporary reward in this life, the righteous shall one day see the face of God (Psalm 17:14,15). The wicked will be cast down, but the righteous will be received to glory (Psalm 73:17-27).
The prophets taught that God's wrath pursues the wicked in this life, and even beyond; "And many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2; cf. Isaiah 33:14; 48:22; 66:24).
The Words Of Jesus
In the whole of the revelation of God, there was no one who spoke more about eternal punishment than Jesus. Jesus knew it would be a difficult thing for men to accept, so He came, walked among man, taught us, and told us that hell is real. "Do not marvel at this; for an hour is coming, in which all who are in the tombs shall hear His voice, and shall come forth; those who did the good deeds to a resurrection of life, those who committed the evil deeds to a resurrection of judgment.” (John 5:28,29).
Jesus did not warn us of this place because He hates us, but rather because He loves us. The warning is given to keep us from harm. Out of the thirteen times the Hebrew term “gehenna” is used and translated into our word “hell” in the New Testament, it is Jesus doing the speaking twelve of the times. What did He say about it?
He describes it as “fiery” (Matthew 5:22). Already, I don't like the sound of it. I wasn't meant to.
In talking of this place, Jesus says there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42). Wouldn't it be an awful thing if this was our destiny and there was nothing that could be done to alter it? Thanks to God's grace, that is not the case!
This fire is called “eternal” (Matthew 18:8; 25:41,46). Notice especially the latter verse: "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life." Both the punishment and the life are described as being “eternal”. If this does not mean that the punishment is without end, then how can the life be without end?
Other New Testament Teachings
“But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds: to those who by perseverance in doing good seek for glory and honor and immortality, eternal life; but to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation.” (Romans 2:5-8).
There are two possible destinies we read about, and how we might come to each one. The “wrath” is further described by Paul as “eternal destruction” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-10; cf. Revelation 21:8).
Yes, hell is awful to think about, but there is a way to “cast out fear”. The unprepared have reason to fear (Hebrews 9:27; 10:27). Those who love God and keep His commandments have no fear, because “By this, love is perfected with us, that we may have confidence in the day of judgment; because as He is, so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love; but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves punishment, and the one who fears is not perfected in love.” (1 John 4:17,18; cf. 1 John 5:3,4). Yes, hell gets my vote for most disturbing fact of all, but God gets my gratitude for providing me with redemption through His Son.
Reprinted From the Bradley Banner Bradley Church of Christ Bradley, Illinois February 7, 1999