I read a post this morning talking about the Church’s contemporary minimalization of hell in its preaching and teaching, mostly due to the feeling that the topic drives people away and needlessly offends them. Good post. Good resources on the topic are mentioned, and I’ll be availing myself of them this year. But I don’t think that the idea of an eternal punishment in hell is the heart of the offense. The offense is any notion of being held accountable by an authority greater than ourselves.
With this in mind, let’s just lay down this principle: the true offense of Christianity will always be the Bible’s (and, to a lesser degree, the historical Church’s) claims about Jesus Christ at their core.
“It’s not fair or loving for God to send someone to eternal torment” is not based upon the torment itself, but the offense that God has a standard that is different than our own and that He will judge individuals based on that standard. The punishment is just the proverbial whipping boy for this offense.
Not only is God judging by a standard different from our own, but He has appointed a Judge for that day. He is Jesus Christ.
We are familiar with the idea that Jesus Christ is the only Mediator between God and man concerning salvation (1 Timothy 2:5; Hebrews 7:25; 9:15; 12:24). However, His mediatorial role includes His role as appointed Judge of humanity on the part of God.
Paul does not hesitate to preach this judgment through Jesus Christ even to pagans who had no knowledge of the Bible at all: “Being then God’s offspring, we ought not to think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone, an image formed by the art and imagination of man. The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now He commands all people everywhere to repent, because He has fixed a day on which He will judge the world in righteousness by a Man Whom He has appointed; and of this He has given assurance to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:29-31, ESV unless otherwise noted).
Peter did not hesitate to preach this judgment through Jesus to people familiar with the Scriptures: “...God anointed Jesus of
with the Holy Spirit and with power.
He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for
God was with Him. And we are witnesses of all that He did both in the country
of the Jews and in Nazareth .
They put Him to death by hanging Him on a tree, but God raised Him on the third
day and made Him to appear, not to all the people but to us who had been chosen
by God as witnesses, who ate and drank with Him after He rose from the dead. And
He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that He is the one
appointed by God to be judge of the living and the dead” (Acts
Just so we don’t think this idea is an anomaly of Acts:
- “The Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son” (John 5:22).
- “...we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10).
- “...Christ Jesus, Who is to judge the living and the dead” (2 Timothy 4:1).
What’s the standard of this Judge? It is the Law of God contained in the Scriptures:
- “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not an iota, not a dot, will pass from the Law until all is accomplished. Therefore whoever relaxes one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:18-19).
- “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father Who is in heaven will enter. Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness’” (Matthew 7:21-23, NASB).
- “But of the Son He says [in Psalm 45:6,7], ‘Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, and the righteous scepter is the scepter of His kingdom. You have loved righteousness and hated lawlessness; therefore God, Your God, has anointed You with the oil of gladness above Your companions’” (Hebrews 1:8,9, NASB).
We can work all day long to try to remake Jesus into our image, but He remains the final Judge Who will condemn all violators of God’s Law to “the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
And we’re all guilty. Every human being without exception stands in violation of the Law of God. “What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin...now we know that whatever the Law says it speaks to those who are under the Law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. For by works of the Law no human being will be justified in his sight, since through the Law comes knowledge of sin...for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:9,19,20,23).
So how can we stand before the Judge? Repent of your lawlessness and put your faith in that same Judge to be your Savior. He has paid the price of your lawlessness completely and has lived a perfectly obedient (Law-keeping) life on your behalf. Believe in Him as Savior and be acquitted on the day you stand before His judgment seat – not because of anything you have done, but solely on the basis of what He has done on your behalf.
"Blessed is the one who is not offended by Me" (Matthew 11:6).