Final Judgment + November 9 & 12, 2017
Hymn: Lo, He Comes with Clouds Descending (CW 29)
“My battle against cancer lasted so long and I was in such pain, I literally went through hell on earth.”
“The Las Vegas shooting, the Texas church shooting, drug addiction, corruption, broken families—our country is going to hell in a handbasket.”
“Come on, team. Let’s give the other guys hell.”
“Oh, you stinker. You scared the hell out of me.”
“Who the hell are you?”
Perhaps you're getting uncomfortable with my use of the word hell. If you are, I both apologize and commend you for your sensitivity. It’s good that you are sensitive to that word because hell has become overused. People throw around the word hell so frequently, it has lost its impact and its force. But the Scriptures do not use the word flippantly. Instead, hell is always a serious subject in the Bible. That’s because hell is the absolute worst experience. Nothing compares to the pain, suffering, and torture of hell.
Our text says, "the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur." (Rev. 21:8) Did you notice who is going to be in hell? The vile, murderers, the sexually immoral, idolaters, liars, and so on. The worst people will fill hell. It will be like a prison for the criminally insane. The inmates in hell will be full of wickedness, hatred, anger, violence and also sorts of evil. Everybody in hell will hate and try to harm each other.
But that will be the lesser part of their suffering. Revelation says, "their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur." (Rev. 21:8) Everybody knows what a burn feels like. Whether you burn your finger cooking, in a camp-fire, or getting a wicked sun-burn, a burn is agony. But can you imagine being thrown into a fiery lake of burning sulfur? The chemical sticks to your skin and you can’t wipe it off. The more you try to get it off, the deeper you press it into your skin. This unbearable pain covers your whole body, and your lips, fingers, eyes, and tongue—the most sensitive parts of your body—they feel it the most. Our text says, "this is the second death." (Rev. 21:8) Hell is death without being able to die, death without an end to your existence, a spiritual death of your soul. It is the constant burning of your body without the relief of having the fire consume your body so it disappears into a cloud of ash. The second death is a death that never ends.
But this teaching about hell is not just an obscure Bible footnote. Today’s Gospel lesson describes the physical and emotional anguish the rich man suffered in hell. Jesus says, "In hell, where [the rich man] was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’" (Lk 16:23-24) So, hell is full of fiery, searing pain without any relief. Not even one tiny drop of water is offered to give a shred of comfort to those suffering in hell.
The prophet Isaiah also described hell. He says it is a place where "their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched." In other words, like a parasitic worm eats away at your insides, guilt, regret, self-hatred, and shame will constantly torment the minds and souls of those in hell. In hell the damned will be constantly thinking, “Why didn’t I listen to God’s Word when I had the chance? Why didn’t I repent of my sins? Why did I reject God’s gift of faith and his Son, Jesus? Why was I so proud and foolish so that now I will have to suffer this extreme agony in hell forever?" But no amount of regret or sorrow will change their suffering in hell. In fact, it will only make it worse. And what is more, the damned in hell will not get used to the pain and suffering of hell. Instead, each day will be worse than the other. This continual increase of suffering will get worse and worse for all eternity. The intensification of hell’s pain will last forever.
Of course, some people don’t think that any of this is true. They ask, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell? And how could a good person end up in hell, just because he didn’t believe in Jesus? That does not seem fair.” Well, first of all, it’s not so much that God sends people to hell. Yes, God created hell as the place of torment for Satan and his demons. And, yes, as Judge of all the living and the dead, Jesus does send people to hell. But the real cause for someone going to hell is not God; it’s the sinner. By rejecting God, they are rejecting God’s blessings. By rejecting faith in Christ, they are rejecting everything about God, including heaven and all its joys. So, the only person who is to blame for going to hell is the unbeliever himself.
But rejecting God also explains why hell is so terrible. God is the eternal source of life and every good thing. In our text Jesus says, "It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life. He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son." (Rev. 21:6-7)
Jesus is the first and the last. Jesus is everything that is good, pure, joyful, and pleasurable. Jesus is the source of life. To cut yourself off from Jesus by unbelief is to cut yourself off from everything that is good, pure, joyful, and pleasurable. To cut yourself off from Jesus is to cut yourself of from life. That is the real definition of hell—to be completely cut off from all of God’s loving presence and all his bountiful gifts of peace, comfort, security, purity, love, and everlasting life.
And praise be to the God who is the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. By his gift of faith in Jesus he is our God and we will be his sons. By faith we are saved from hell because on the cross, Jesus took upon himself the full anger of God over our sins and poured out his blood to wash them away. By his perfect life, death, and resurrection Jesus has earned for us absolute perfection. By the Holy Spirit’s gift of faith, we have Christ’s perfect righteousness and holiness as our very own.
Therefore, by God’s grace alone and by God’s gift of faith in Christ alone, you and I will be in the presence of God’s goodness, love, and blessings in the eternal glories of heaven. And in heaven we will never get restless or bored. Every new day in heaven will bring more happiness, more joy, and more comfort. In heaven, we will love everyone and be at peace with everyone. Heaven will be perfect every day and every day will be better than the previous day. This intensification of heaven’s glory, joy, and peace will last forever and ever.
So, until that day when Jesus sends his angels to carry us to heaven, we will put our faith into practice. We will not treat hell flippantly or casually. No, we will take hell the way the Bible takes it—very, very seriously. And our prayer to our merciful, Savior-God will always be: Lord, deliver us from the final evil.