What happens after death to those not united to Christ by faith?
At the day of judgment they will receive the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them. They will be cast out from the favorable presence of God, into hell, to be justly and grievously punished, forever.
Proof Text: John 3:16–18, 36
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 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. . . . Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
Judge of All the Earth, we tremble to think of the judgment that awaits all outside your covenant. Before it is too late, may those we love be reconciled to you so that they do not suffer the punishment that is theirs, and would have been ours, apart from you. Amen.
One of the Bible’s more difficult and often misunderstood teachings is that of hell being a real, conscious, eternal punishment. And this is understandable. All of us have people in our midst who don’t know Christ—friends, family members, neighbors, colleagues—about whom we would rather not think that hell could be their future. In fact, people have had discomfort about the idea of hell throughout history, because on the surface it seems inconsistent with everything we read in the Bible about God’s mercy and love. And yet the Bible’s teaching on hell as conscious and eternal suffering is unavoidable. Actually, without the existence of hell, much of what we know about God’s love comes into question.
First, Jesus, the most loving man who ever lived, spoke about hell more frequently and vividly than all other biblical authors combined. He described it as Gehenna, which was a garbage heap where fires burned constantly, or as the outer darkness, where there’s no illumination but only misery. In the story he tells of the rich man and Lazarus, hell is a place of conscious and real suffering. Jesus warns us about hell again and again (Matt. 13:41–42; Mark 9:42–48; Luke 16:19–31).
Second, the existence of hell helps us to understand the consequences of sin. In some ways hell is the outworking of what we as sinful people have always wanted: autonomy and independence from God. In hell we are therefore cut off from God and from everything that God is. So in hell there’s no love, there’s no friendship, there’s no joy, there’s no rest, because those are all things that exist only where God is present.
But most importantly, until we acknowledge the reality of hell, we cannot truly understand the meaning of the cross. Put another way, we cannot understand God’s love until we understand the reality of his wrath. God’s wrath is a settled, controlled opposition and hatred of anything that is destroying what he loves. God’s wrath flows from his love for creation. It flows from his justice. He’s angry at greed, self-centeredness, injustice, and evil because they’re destructive. And God will not tolerate anything or anyone responsible for destroying the creation and the people that he loves.
Think of it this way. Saying, “I know God loves me because he would give up everything for me” is much different from saying, “I know God loves me because he did give up everything for me.” One is a loving sentiment; the other is a loving act. And while we may try to make God more loving by diminishing the reality of hell and God’s wrath, all we’ve really done is diminish the love of God. Without a real hell we can’t understand the real price that Jesus paid for our sin. And without a real price that was paid, there’s no real love, there’s no real grace, and there’s no real praise for what he has done.
Unless you believe in hell, you’ll never know how much Jesus loves you and how much he values you. Jesus experienced hell himself on the cross. Jesus was separated from his Father. On the cross Jesus cried, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matt. 27:46). When Jesus lost the eternal love of the Father, he experienced an agony, a disintegration, an isolation greater than anything anyone of us would have experienced in eternity in hell. He took the isolation and disintegration that we deserve upon himself. Unless you believe in hell and see what Jesus took for you, you will never know how much he loves you.
The real issue is not how a loving God would allow there to be a hell. The issue is, if Jesus Christ would experience hell for me, then, truly, he must be a loving God. It’s not “Why would God allow hell?” It’s “Why would God experience hell for me?” And yet he did.
Historical Commentary by
J. C. Ryle
Who is J. C. Ryle?
Painful as the subject of hell is, it is one about which I dare not, cannot, must not be silent. Who would desire to speak of hell-fire if God had not spoken of it? When God has spoken of it so plainly, who can safely hold his peace?
. . . I know that some do not believe there is any hell at all. They think it impossible there can be such a place. They call it inconsistent with the mercy of God. They say it is too awful an idea to be really true. The devil of course rejoices in the views of such people. They help his kingdom mightily. They are preaching up his old favourite doctrine, “ye shall not surely die.” . . .
There is but one point to be settled, “what says the word of God.” Do you believe the Bible? Then depend upon it, hell is real and true. It is as true as heaven—as true as justification by faith—as true as the fact that Christ died upon the cross—as true as the Dead Sea. There is not a fact or doctrine which you may not lawfully doubt if you doubt hell. Disbelieve hell, and you unscrew, unsettle, and unpin everything in Scripture. You may as well throw your Bible aside at once. From “no hell” to “no God” there is but a series of steps.