Revelation Lesson 42 - Taking the Lid Off Hell

Revelation Lesson 42 - Taking the Lid Off Hell

Series: Revelation
Ref: Revelation 14:10–11

Those who want to deny hell need to deny the cross as well. If hell isn't real, then Jesus died for nothing. We must keep hell in the gospel . . . lest we lose heaven in the process.

Transcript

Hell . . . No Longer Hidden

Revelation 14:11-13

A popular church consultant and leader within the evangelical church wrote in one of his books, entitled, The Baby Boomerang these words; “Have you ever taken the time to read messages by some of the great nineteenth-century preachers?  If you have, you will probably have noted that men of that era addressed quite a different crowd than we do today and they addressed them in a very different manner.  And because of those differences, I disagree with those who say that such messages are appropriate for our time.

Which by the way, would rule out Jonathan Edwards classic sermon that brought in the Great Awakening entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of An Angry God.”

He went on to write, “You see, people in our culture are broken and deeply wounded. They need desperately to be healed and put back together.”

Which obviously raises the point that evidently people in Edwards community in 1734 weren’t broken and in need of healing.

This consultant concludes, “Yes, different times do require different messages.” / Adapted from John MacArthur, Ashamed of the Gospel(Crossway, 1993), p. 120

Unfortunately, that kind of consulting has won the day in the evangelical church – primarily in America – and in our generation.

A host of pastors and professors now consider the idea of preaching on the subject of accountability before a God of wrath and judgment, along with any mention of hell and fire and judgment to be less than practical and a stain on the reputation of Christianity.

So one pastor advertises his church, and I quote, “There is no fire and brimstone here; no Bible thumping; just practical messages.”  / Ibid, p. 47

As if learning how to stay out of hell isn’t practical. 

As if, how to avoid the wrath of God isn’t something really good to know.

Another pastor said, “Services at our church have an informal feeling.  You won’t hear people threatened with hell or referred to as sinners.  The goal is to make them feel welcome – we don’t want to drive people away.”

Can you imagine a medical doctor applying this approach with his patients?  He will never suggest they need medicine and he’ll not refer to diseases they have by name – that would be too personal.

And he’ll certainly not recommend surgery – that would be way too invasive; he will not tell them they are sick, even if they are terminally ill. His goal is to simply have them visit his practice and feel welcomed . . . he doesn’t want to drive them away.

What kind of doctor is that?

I’ll tell you what kind of doctor he would be – in a word – unemployed. 

How many preachers should be!

One author wrote, “No wonder nominal Christians and [even unbelievers] leave church feeling upbeat for having been in the service.  Their self-esteem is safely intact.  Their minds and hearts have been sparked and soothed with sound-bite theology, Christian principles and a few practical pointers dealing with everything from themselves, to their kids and their careers.  Has the Word of God penetrated the comfort zones and the veneer of self-satisfaction. / Douglas D. Webster, quoted in Ashamed of the Gospel, John MacArthur (Crossway, 1993), p. 121

So here’s the challenge; if the goal of the gospel is to make people comfortable, then we’re obviously gonna have to redefine the gospel, right?

Because the gospel is full of uncomfortable truths.

So is it any wonder that, in our generation, anything of the gospel that is personal or confronting or distasteful is being peeled away.   

In fact, one survey I read recently, taken from among students who were attending an evangelical seminary, revealed that 46% of them; nearly half of the students questioned, felt preaching about hell was, quote, “in poor taste.”

Somewhere along the line their professors failed to inform them that Jesus Christ had more to say about hell than all the prophets and apostles throughout all of scripture combined.

He talked about it more than anyone else . . . so He spoke often in poor taste?!

You’d think He wanted people to know the uncomfortable truth of coming judgment.

Listen, a gospel message that downplays the wrath of God doesn’t help people, it hurts them.  It is another gospel.

The gospel is essentially telling people there is danger ahead.  Anything less than that is tantamount to spiritual deception.

That’s like a man taking a group of people out on his boat a mile or so above Niagara Falls and as they get caught up in the current, telling them to enjoy the ride and just ignore that crashing sound up ahead.  No need to feel uncomfortable!

Jesus Christ is not interested in how comfortable you will be in a shroud.  He isn’t concerned about designer coffins.

My friend, the core of the gospel is not personal comfort – it is personal, radical conversion. 

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ was not to save you from boredom, poverty, a bad back or low self-esteem; He came to redeem you from spiritual slavery to sin and save you from everlasting judgment. 

The Apostle Paul wrote, “The wages of sin is death – the paycheck for sinners is death – but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.” Romans 6:23

This gospel message is going on a world-wide tour in the future. It will be preached around the globe without apology . . . without any advertisement contracts . . . without any local sponsors or ticket sales.

These messengers happen to be 3 unique angels and their messages in the future are as important for us today as they will be to the world during the Tribulation period.

Thus far in our study, we’ve listened in on the first two angels. Their sermon manuscripts are found in Revelation chapter 14, if you’d like to see for yourself.

The first angel that circles the globe preaches the gospel highlighting creationism as he declares in verse 7, worship God who made the heaven and the earth and sea and springs of waters.”

The second angel preaches of the consummation of God’s reign as the kingdoms of the world collapse and Babylon falls in verse 8.

Then the third angel appears.  He would never be invited into the average church in America and certainly most seminaries either.  Why?  Because he delivers a gospel of condemnation which describes in vivid detail the horrors of hell.

And in our last study, we began to expound on the clear meaning of this angel’s final message.

We discovered that the grace of God is allowing the entire planet to hear, one more time, a warning of the coming wrath of God and salvation by faith in the Lamb of God, Jesus Christ the Lord.

In the immediate context, the entire human race is warned that those who follow the Antichrist and take his name on their hand or forehead as a pledge to their worship, will be condemned. 

In the fuller picture of God’s judgment, as we’ll see in chapter 20, the message from this angel describes the coming horror of hell.

And this 3rd angel literally takes the lid off of hell . . . it is no longer hidden . . . this place is exposed for everyone to see.

This paragraph in Revelation 14 has caused more heartburn than just about any other text of scripture for religious groups all over the religious map.  From 7th Day Adventists, Mormons, Liberal Baptists, Roman Catholics and Emergent church leaders – anybody that doesn’t believe in a place of conscious, eternal torment is gonna have to do something to get around Revelation 14:9-12.  They’re gonna have to redefine it or dilute it, or give it an escape hatch after a certain amount of time, or disregard it or just plain disbelieve it.

Let me tell you, in his opening comments, this angel delivers the unpopular truth that the wrath of God is personal and terrible.

Let’s look closely at verse 9.  Then another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand.  10.  He also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger.

And that’s just the beginning.

You noticed the personal pronouns – he will drink of the wine of the wrath of God . . . he will be tormented with fire and brimstone.

The wrath of God is personal and it is terrible.  John writes in verse 10 that his anger is like undiluted wine – it is straight wrath. 100% fury.

And this warning isn’t just for Adolph Hitler and Jack the Ripper and people who look better than you do . . . whoever you want to lump in there – Madoff . . . Michigan State fans – those were all the M’s I could think of! 

But that’s the startling thing about this angel’s message.  Had this warning come to mass murderers, child molesters and serial rapists, despots, dictators and tyrants – most people would say, “Yea . . . they’ve got it coming . . . I believe in Hell because Hitler’s gotta be put somewhere!”

This warning happens to be for everyone who denies the glory of a Creator God (v. 7) who places their faith in false religion (v. 8)and worships someone other than Jesus Christ (v. 12).

This warning isn’t just for all the really bad people in the world; this warning is for the person sitting in your seat – and even for people standing behind wooden things called pulpits.

And this is where religion goes into hyper drive.

This can’t be!

I mean, if we’re gonna go along with this judgment of God, we’ve gotta come up with something a little more palatable than fire and brimstone for non-Christians.  How barbaric is that.

That’s not very appealing to the masses – it’s not even politically or religiously correct.

This is gonna drive people away!

Yes it will . . . but it will bring some to the cross – maybe you today, where you run to the One who bore the wrath of God on the cross for you, so that by faith in Him alone, you are delivered from the wrath to come.

You will have been rescued from the wrath of God, which this angel describes as personal and terrible.

Furthermore, I would outline this angels sermon with another point.

The wrath of God is not only personal and terrible, it is painful.

Go back to verse 10 to a phrase that has religion scrambling for loopholes like never before.  And he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

The devil isn’t going to be managing Hell.  He is one of the occupants.  Demons aren’t terrorizing people with pitch forks.

Hell is primarily created for the devil and his fallen angels (Matthew 25:41), but they aren’t running the place.

Hell is under the control of an omnipotent, omnipresent God and the hosts of heaven.

Now, notice the descriptive phrase that informs us of Hell’s torment.  The angel describes it as a place of fire and brimstone. 

The words fire (pur) and brimstone/sulfur (qeion) occur together six times in the Book of Revelation.  Four times they refer to the lake of fire and brimstone or sulfur that is the final destination of unbelievers.  / Stewart Custer, From Patmos to Paradise (BJU Press, 2004), p. 160

This phrase, fire and brimstone, take us back to Genesis 19:24 where the Lord rained down on Sodom and Gomorrah brimstone and fire.

The Psalmist David said that upon the wicked, God would rain down coals of fire, fire and brimstone and burning wind will be the portion of their cup. (Psalm 11:6)

The prophet said that the vindicating, judging breath of the Lord is a stream of burning sulfur (Isaiah 30:33).

Sulfur is a yellowish element that burns with a blue flame while emitting a noxious, suffocating sulfur dioxide gas. / Mark W. Wilson, Zondervan Illustrated Bible Backgrounds Commentary: Revelation (Zondervan, 2002), p. 92

Sulfur is found in volcanic regions such as Sicily, Iceland and places in Japan.   I remember flying in a helicopter over a dormant volcano in Japan and the pilot actually flew over the mouth of it.  It was a spectacular sight and quite unnerving.  The guide said don’t worry, the volcano had not erupted for 100 years.  Great . . . let’s move on.

Imagine being brought to final judgment where we’re told in Revelation 20 that all the condemned of humanity will be thrown into this permanent lake of fire and brimstone.

Imagine, being given an immortal body that will be survive this torment and yet suffer in it as well.

The thought of molten rock, poisonous minerals and gasses, the pain of fire, the endless existence of suffering and torment should cause one to repent and turn to Christ for His salvation. / Custer, p. 161

That’s the point of this angel’s warning.

This angel is suggesting that this is a place you may want to avoid!

There’s no need to risk it . . . there’s no sense in bravado . . . and there’s no way to erase it from scripture. 

Paul “Red” Adair was the oil field firefighter first made famous by a 1968 John Wayne movie called Hellfighters.  After the first Gulf War, Red Adair led the effort to cap the Kuwaiti oil wells set ablaze by the defeated army.  Adair was a brash, fearless fighter.  He joked in 1991 that it would be no different after he died.  He said, and I quote, “I’ve made a deal with the devil,” he said.  “The devil is going to give me an air conditioned place when I go down there, if I go there, so I won’t put all the fires out.”  Adair died at age 89 . . . the devil, he may have discovered by now, is a liar. / Lee Eclov, preachingtoday.com/Obituaries, Chicago Tribune (8-10-04)

Besides, the devil doesn’t control the temperature in hell, or its punishments.  They are controlled by a God who will demonstrate his wrath against all unbelief.

It will be sinners, not in the hands of a failed devil; but sinners in the hands of an angry God.

This wrath of God will be personal to all who suffer; it will be terrible – undiluted anger; the wrath of God will be painful.

There’s more to this angel’s warning.

The wrath of God is Eternal.

The angel goes on to say in verse 11.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.

Again, the specific context is regarding those in the Tribulation who choose to reject Christ and worship the Antichrist; the larger context, expanded in chapter 20 reveals that they will eventually join with all unbelievers from the beginning of time to the end of human history as we know it and be cast into the lake of fire.

It’s immediately obvious here that this angel would strongly disagree with those who deny the eternality of hell. / John MacArthur, Revelation: Volume 2 (Moody Press, 2000), p. 92

And there are more and more in our generation who are abandoning this element of the gospel as quickly as they can throw it overboard.

And they must contend with Christ who said in Matthew’s gospel that those who are condemned will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life. (Matthew 25:46).  In that text, the parallel between “eternal life” and “eternal punishment” clearly states that both are without end. / Wayne Grudem, Systematic Theology (Intervarsity Press, 1994), p. 1148

In other words, the torment of the lost in hell will last as long as the blessedness of the redeemed in heaven. / MacArthur, p. 92

Jesus Christ refers to the unquenchable fire, in Mark 9:43.  He refers to hell as a place where their worm does not die, and the fire in not quenched in Mark 9:48.

His message is consistent with the prophet Isaiah who also said that the transgressors will suffer where their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched (Isaiah 66:24).

Jesus related the story of Lazarus and the rich man who both died – Lazarus to Paradise and the unrepentant rich man who had known Lazarus through life to the place of torment where Jesus described him in a place of torment and in anguish in the flame. (Luke 16:22-24)

Now let me ask and answer 3 questions relative to this doctrine of eternal, conscious punishment.

  1. First, are these flames literal flames . . . is this really fire?

Again, you have a choice – either hold to sola scriptura and let the scriptures answer that question, or scramble for another explanation.

Beyond what we’ve heard from the lips of Jesus Christ in the Gospel of Matthew and Mark and Luke and from the pen of Isaiah, another clear insight is provided in the parables.

When Jesus Christ preached his parable of the wheat and tares, it’s interesting that each element was given a figurative meaning, except for the fire. / Donald Grey Barnhouse, Revelation: God’s Last Word (Zondervan, 1971), p. 270

In Matthew 13, our Lord explained that the one who sows the good seed is the Messiah; the field is the world; the good sees are the sons of the kingdom; the tares are the sons of the evil one; the enemy who sowed them is the devil; the harvest is the end of the age and the reapers are angels. 

But then Christ stepped away from parabolic analogy and said, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks and those who commit lawlessness and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.  He that has ears, let him hear.”  (Mathew 13:37-43)

In other words, are you listening?  Everything in this parable has another figurative meaning to describe what will happen except for the fire in this place of torment. That’s literal.

  1. Second question.  If the fire is literal, then literal fire consumes, right? 

In other words, we can believe in annihilationism.  That popular belief that is giving more and more evangelicals a loophole states that after some time, depending on the wickedness of the sinner, their soul will be annihilated . . . extinguished.

Listen, I would love to believe it.  But the angel in Revelation is clear – their torment, like the smoke of the fires that torment them is forever.

Isaiah uses the same language . . .

Just as the resurrected body of the believer is raised to enjoy the eternal state of heaven, so the resurrected body of the unbeliever is equipped to endure the eternal suffering of hell.

One evangelical stalwart said there are those today who tell us that the wicked will be burned up . . . that there is no such thing as an everlasting hell.  I would like for these fellow to explain to me, if God is going to burn up the wicked, why He doesn’t put out the fire. / Oliver B. Greene, quoted by Daymond R. Duck & Larry Richards in The Book of Revelation (Thomas Nelson, 2006), p. 213

But doesn’t the Bible say that the unbeliever will be destroyed?  Yes, Peter writes that a judgment of fire is coming for the judgment and destruction of ungodly men. (2 Peter 3:7)

The word for destruction is apoleia (apwleia) and it can be translated “ruined”.   / Fritz Rienecker/Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key to the Greek New Testament (Regency, 1976), p. 781

In fact, the same word is used by the disciples in Matthew 26:8 to speak of the ointment that had just been poured the head of Jesus – they complained that it had been wasted or ruined.

The ointment had not ceased to exist, but its purpose had been wasted, in their assessment. 

So the unbeliever is destroyed – his life is ruined and eternally wasted in the assessment of God’s word.

So the fire is literal and yet the flames only torment, they do not consume.

  1. A third question: is this really eternal? 

In other words, does forever mean forever?

The angel warns in verse 11, this is forever and ever.

This Greek construction appears 11 times in the Book of Revelation.

  • It expresses the eternal existence of God (4:9-10; 7:12; 10:6; 15:7)
  • It speaks of Christ’s eternal existence (1:18);
  • It speaks of God’s eternal reign (11:15);
  • It is used to speak of the eternal glory of the Lamb (5:13);
  • It appears again to describe the eternal reign of the believers (22:5);
  • The eternal doom of the devil (20:10);
  • And finally, it is used to speak of the eternal torment of the lost (14:11 and also in 19:3) / Robert L. Thomas, Revelation: Volume 2(Moody Press, 1995), p. 211

Eternal means eternal.

The same Greek word used over and over again to speak of the eternality of heaven is used to speak of the eternality of hell.

No kind of semantic manipulation or clever treatment of scripture can erase the horrifying message contained in the gospel that just as heaven will last forever and ever, so will hell.

One last question:

  1. Is there no way out of it?

Certainly, religions world-wide have found loopholes.

Universalism is one of them.  Growing in popularity, this belief says that hell indeed lasts forever, but the devil and his angels are the only inhabitants simply because everyone will be saved. 

In differing ways of explaining it, universalists believe that everybody somehow connects to some truth about Christianity, even though they deny the deity of Christ or many other cardinal doctrines, but they somewhere intersect with the truth somewhere and they will be allowed into heaven. 

If all they believe in is some kind of divine force out there – that’s enough of a connection and God will overlook even their denials of Who Christ is, and let them into heaven.

A gentleman came up to me after a service and handed me a bulletin of a church he visited while traveling in another state.  He said, ‘This is an illustration of what you’ve been preaching about in Revelation inclusivism and universalism.

He attended a large, rather famous protestant church and they happened to be celebrating Communion that day. The bulletin was several pages long and the service well planned.

The opening statement in the bulletin gave the church’s mission statement.  It read, “We believe in one God, known to us in Jesus Christ, also know by different names in different traditions. . .”

There’s a tip off.

The program goes along just fine – in fact, some well known hymns are sung that clearly honor the triune God.

But the confusion returns, when later in the program the worship leader says, ‘Alleluia, we break this bread for those who journey the way of the Hindus, for those who follow the path of the Buddha, for our sisters and brothers of Islam, for the Jewish People from whom we come, and (just in case we left anybody out) for all those who walk the way of faith.

Yea, and broad is that way that leads to destruction.

I thought it was interesting as I read this bulletin, after having joined with Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims, the congregation sang another hymn that entirely contradicted who they were and what they believed.  I guess they weren’t checking out the lyrics.  The hymn stanza said, “Salvation to God who sits on the throne!  Let all cry aloud and honor the Son, The praises of Jesus the angels proclaim, fall down on their faces and worship the Lamb.

Talk about confused.  But everybody’s getting into heaven and that’s what matters.

No, what matters is the glory of the Lamb and the honor due His name.

Paul made it clear, “Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” (10:13) – not any name – His name. Paul went on to say, “Faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ. (10:17)

You don’t have to travel far to hear the sounds of universalism.

Our own News and Observer ran an article a couple of weeks ago in the faith section on the Unity Church of Wake County.  It claims to be a Christian movement.  One of the pastors interviewed said, “We honor all religions.  Unity is a spiritual movement that respects the individual’s right to choose his or her own unique path to God.  Unity practices positive practical Christianity . . . we honor the universal truths in all religions.”  Well, obviously, Jesus Christ presents a problem – but not for them.  This minister said, “We see Jesus as a master teacher of universal truths . . . we believe Jesus expressed his divine potential and every person has the potential to express that same perfection.

Isn’t that reassuring – Like Jesus, you can live up to the potential of your perfection.

Right across the page was a Question and Answer guy, sort of a Religious Ann Landers.  The author answered a question about getting to heaven by responding, “We can’t know who has the right password until we die.  Testimony from our own sacred scriptures doesn’t suffice.  (you don’t get the password until after your dead)  Christianity, he wrote further, has to deal with the exclusivist claims of John 14:6 where Christ said, “I am the way, the truth and the life.  No one can come to the Father except through me.”  But even with this belief, there’s theological wiggle room for those who want it.”  He ends by writing, “resolution will only come when our souls stand before God in judgment after death. / The News & Observer, Thursday, February 19, 2009

I’ve got news for you – it’s too late then . . . unless everybody’s getting in. 

Ladies and Gentlemen, there’s not one verse of scripture that tells you that you will get the right password after you die; you get it before you die.

Here’s the password – unless you want more wiggle room – Whoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved!

The fact that we are given the password now, gives the angel objective reason to let us know that we are blessed.  Look at how he follows up all this talk of the wrath of God and the future of those who die without Christ – verse 13.  Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.

How are you blessed when you die?  When you die in the Lord!  That is, in the knowledge that Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God is your living Lord.

And since the Lord is alive – after you die you shall live forever in Him.

What a great text for Easter . . . you thought I’d forgotten.

He is risen – He is risen indeed.

He is risen – He is risen indeed.

He is risen – He is risen indeed.

Listen, our appreciation for the resurrection of Christ is only genuinely possible because we believe Who Christ is.  Our appreciation for Him grows when we understand that He came to bear the wrath of God on our behalf – to take our punishment for sin away.

He isn’t just a teacher.  He isn’t just a model of perfection.  He is our Savior.  We have come to Him for forgiveness and He has given us the password to everlasting life!

And that would be the final point of this angel’s sermon – the wrath of God is not only personal and terrible and painful and eternal . . . it is entirely avoidable . . . through Jesus Christ our Lord.

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