(This is the fifth in a series of articles on why I believe Jesus was NOT a "liberal", as so many claim today).
There is no doctrine of the Christian faith more controversial and more antithetic to the liberal mind than the doctrine of eternal hell. It is undoubtedly the most unpopular teaching of Jesus, yet He speaks of this eternal retribution of sinners with clarity and conviction. The reality of hell and the fact of eternal judgment is particularly His teaching—He talks about this place of damnation more than any of the Old Testament prophets or any of the New Testament apostles. To believe in Jesus is to believe in hell. See Matt. 5:22, 29; 10:28; 11:23; 16:18; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Luke 10:15; 12:5; Mark 9:47; Luke 16:23.
Unfortunately, there are even some evangelical pastors who are beginning to “water down” the teaching of eternal hell by making it merely a “figurative expression”. They point to the fact that the Gr. word “Gehenna” was used in New Testament times to refer to the garbage pile outside the city of Jerusalem where there was a constant smoldering fire burning. It is true that Jesus uses this symbolism to picture what hell is like, but that doesn’t mean there is no such thing as a literal hell. Read Luke 18 carefully where Jesus describes hell in very vivid terminology as an actual place of torment for departed unbelievers.
Of course, it stands to reason that if you don’t accept the reality of sin, you won’t accept the reality of eternal punishment for sin. The argument of the liberal theologians goes like this: God is too loving to condemn anybody to a place like hell. But again, we answer: God’s love was manifest in sending His Son to die for our sins so that we would escape hell—that we would not “perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). For there to be everlasting life in heaven, there must of necessity be everlasting damnation in hell. You can’t have one without the other. “He that believeth on Him is not condemned; but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God” (John 3:18). “He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life; and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abideth on Him” (John 3:36). It can’t possibly be any clearer than that!
I fully realize that the preaching of hell is not popular or politically correct in our world today. Nobody wants to hear about God’s judgments. However, the very fact of the existence of a place called hell magnifies the grace of God in the salvation of sinners. For a person to be “saved”, they have to be saved from something—otherwise there is no salvation at all. The reason God’s grace is so amazing is that He made a way for us to be saved from our sin, and ultimately the consequences of our sin, by trusting in His Son who died in our place on the cross. Truly that is amazing grace.
Let’s look at what Jesus had to say about hell. We can outline this teaching in four parts:
• First, the FACT of it. Jesus said, “If your right eye offends you, pluck it out and cast it from you: for it is profitable for you that one of your members should perish, and not that the whole body should be cast into hell” (Matt. 5:29). • Second, the NATURE of it. Jesus taught that hell was a real place. According to Luke 16:28, the rich man begs God to warn his five brothers so that they too do not come to this “place of torment”. The torment is described in this passage as physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual. • Third, the OCCUPANTS of it. The eternal lake of fire was designed by God primarily for the devil and for the Anti-Christ (see Rev. 20:10). That it is also the destiny of unbelieving men (sinners who refused to accept Christ as Savior) is obvious from such texts as Rev. 21:8, “But the fearful and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone”. It is very important to understand that hell is a place “prepared for the devil and his angels (demons)” and becomes the eternal abode of those identified with him—instead of identifying with Jesus! God doesn’t send anybody to hell, they send themselves there by their own refusal to accept His gift of salvation. • Fourth, the DURATION of it. “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal” (Matt. 25:46).
Nobody wants to think about hell, but you cannot deny its existence if you believe the Bible and the words of Jesus. We are attempting here to discover whether Jesus was a “liberal” in His world views. And you have to admit, that when it comes to the entire idea of eternal retribution, Jesus could not, in any sense, be labeled a “liberal”.