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By Rev Charles Seet

Preached at / Published Life BPC 8am service, 2002-11-03

Text: Luke 16:19-31

Our topic for this morning's message is 'Is There a Hell?' The answer that God gives to us in the Bible is a clear and resounding �Yes!� There is a place of fiery torment called hell, where unsaved sinners will suffer punishment for all their sins forever. In fact hell is mentioned no less than 54 times in the Bible.

Many people however, have the mistaken notion that hell does not exist. To them, death is the end of all things. They think that there is nothing after death for them to fear. In fact some would even see death as a way out of their problems in life. When everything has gone wrong, and they find that there is no hope left and no way out of their troubles, sickness and suffering, they say, 'I am going to end it all now, with death.' And so they take their own lives.

Some people believe that death provides them with the opportunity to be reincarnated into another life, and have the chance to start all over again, with a new, clean slate. Others think that through death they will become a ghost or wandering spirit able to help their living relatives who worship them and offer sacrifices to them. And there are yet others who believe that the only life which they have after death is that which is perpetuated through the influence they had on mankind while living, the legacy they have left behind. Other people will enjoy the results of their life after they die, but they themselves will not know or be able to enjoy anything, because they will have passed out of existence forever. Well these ideas of prospects of death are not so bad, if only they were true.

I. What Comes After Death 

But those who choose to believe such things about death will only be dismayed find out that death does not bring an end to all their troubles, but is only the beginning of their sorrows! Hebrews 9:27 makes it clear that death will not be the end of everything because after death, there is a judgment that everyone will also have to face. God Himself has told us: 'And as it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment.' 

We must focus our attention upon this judgment, because it will come. It will certainly come, as certain as death will come!

A. The Judgment before the Holy Judge 

Now, there are several questions that a non-Christian may ask about this judgment: The first is: What will this judgment decide? It is a judgment that will decide where sinners will spend the rest of eternity. It will determine their eternal destiny. Who will preside over this judgment? God will. It is not a mere human judge they will face, but the supreme judge of all the earth, the judge who knows every single thing about them. God sees everything, and there is nothing that they can hide from Him. He knows every single detail of a person's life, even the most private thoughts and the motives of his heart.

What criteria will God use to judge the sinner's life? This is very important for everyone to know. It will not be how many good works a person has done. But it will be whether or not he has sinned in his deeds and in his thoughts. And as long as there is sin in his record, he will stand condemned by God's righteous judgment. Dear friends, God's Word says that no matter how good a person may have been in this life, his sins will still stand out starkly like a deep unremovable stain in his record.

And the outcome of this judgement will be the same for all sinners - condemnation! Even the very best person in this world will be condemned, if he does not have Christ as his saviour. Now God takes no delight in seeing anyone, even a single soul condemned for his sins. He said so Himself in His Word: ' I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die?' (Ezekiel 33:11). But God must condemn sinners, because He is a holy God. The holiness of God requires us, the creatures He made, to be holy like Him, and that means to be sinless. By His very holy nature, God cannot tolerate any sin in His sight. He must condemn sinners! 

B. Eternal Death in Hell 

This means that there will be only condemnation for every person who faces judgment, because all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. Now, what will be outcome of this condemnation? The outcome will not be just a thousand dollar fine nor a jail sentence, but something much worse.

It will be a death sentence - the sentence of eternal death. Eternal death does not mean that we will cease to exist altogether or become totally unconscious. It is an awful punishment of conscious suffering that never ends, in the place that is called Hell. You know, there are people today who may laugh at the very mention of hell and even make jokes about hell. Some even believe that there is no such place as hell, and that it is only a way of describing any horrible experience we go through on earth. They may say that they went through hell, after a grueling and stressful experience.

But Hell is a very real place. Listen carefully to what the Lord Jesus Christ said about hell: 'it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.' (Mark 9:43,44) These words make it very clear to us that hell is a real place, a place of horrible, eternal torment.

There are some who believe that hell exists, and they would even think that they will be there because of their sins, but they attempt to comfort themselves with this thought, 'Even though I will have to suffer there, at least I will be suffering with many others, and even with my departed loved ones and friends who are there.' This is a utterly mistaken idea, as there will be no reunion at all with loved ones in hell. I have met people who when confronted with the gospel, say that they are not keen on going to heaven, because they want to be together with their loved ones who have not believed in Christ.

The truth is that outside of heaven there can be no joyful reunion together with others. There is absolutely no consolation of being able to suffer together with others and to fellowship with fellow sufferers in hell. Hell is a place of utter separation - separation from God and also separation from one another. What an awful prospect awaits those who are outside Christ!

Since Hell is a real place awaiting sinners, let us be most zealous to warn others about it! However, today, what the Bible teaches so plainly on Hell is being undermined by some from within the church. Several writers, like John Stott have popularised the view that the Bible does not teach eternal torment at all. According to them, a loving God could never consign an unbeliever to burn in hell forever and ever. So unbelievers will simply cease to exist after they die.

Their souls will be simply annihilated, and there will be no suffering at all for unsaved sinners beyond the grave. This is perhaps the reason why many churches nowadays hardly preach on hell fire and judgement any more. If you have studied the cults like the Jehovah's Witnesses, you may recall that at one time the only ones who were holding deviant doctrines about what happens after death, like soul-sleep and annihilation were the cults. But now, there are Christians and churches who hold to this teaching.

Now think for a moment what this teaching implies. If you were not a believer, deciding to accept or reject the gospel, you might then say, 'I think it is not too bad for me to spend my whole lifetime enjoying the pleasures of sin, since the worst possible thing that could happen to me after I die, is that I will just disappear.' There is nothing to fear at all!

Those who advocate this view claim that the church has all this time been misled into believing in eternal torment through a mistaken interpretation of our passage of scripture, Luke 16. Firstly they claim that this account was only a parable told by Jesus, and therefore was not real. Just like the other parables told by Jesus, the account was only a fictitious story made up to teach a principle or moral lesson. It is claimed that this parable on the Rich man and Lazarus was meant by Christ only to rebuke the Pharisees for their coveteous attitudes. (c.f v.14), and therefore it was not the intention of Christ at all to give teaching on what happens to people after death. They regard the details about the rich man's sufferings as only incidental to the story, and should not be taken literally as an accurate representation of what really happens to sinners after death.

Now secondly, they claim that if this parable is based on truth, it would contain a difficult anachronism (something that is out of place in history). One writer argued for this. He claimed that the account cannot be factual because the final judgment and eternal torment has not taken place yet. This argument is based on Revelation 20:14 which says that after the final judgment, 'death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.' Thus, he believes that one who dies now will not experience any fiery torments yet, because death and hell will not be cast into the lake of fire until after the final judgment, and that is still future to us. And so, according to him, this parable cannot be a true story.

In response to this we can point out that he is wrong to assume that no one will suffer fiery torments until after the final judgment, because there are passages in scripture which describe the departed dead as already experiencing either eternal torment or eternal bliss in the intermediate state. Some of these passages are Revelation 6:9-12, 2 Cor 5:6-9 and Phil 1:23-24. What these passages show, is that the souls of both unbelievers and believers do not simply lie unconscious in the grave or sleep until after the final judgment, but immediately begin to experience the afterlife after they die.

As for the first argument that Luke 16 is only a parable, we reply that our passage is different from the other parables because in no other parable except this one did Christ reveal names of people. The characters in the other parables were just referred to generally, as a certain man or a certain woman, a Samaritan or a steward. But only in this parable does Christ specifically say 'there was a certain beggar named Lazarus.' And it also mentions Abraham by name, and Abraham is a historical person all of us are familiar with.

The absence of names from every parable except this one is significant. It certainly shows that this parable is unique and different from the rest. This means that it was an actual event. The church father Tertullian believed this, stating that the name Lazarus is proof that the narrative is not a parable but factual history. John Calvin also agrees, concluding that 'although to some the parable seems straightforward, yet, because He mentions Lazarus by name, I judge that He is telling a true story.'

There is one more point we can raise against the teaching of annihilation, and that is that the doctrine of eternal punishment of the unsaved is not built up from just this single passage. The Old Testament as well as the New Testament speaks very emphatically and honestly of the perpetual conscious sufferings of the unsaved in hell. One such passage is Luke 12:4,5 where Christ Himself gives this warning: 'And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will forewarn you of whom ye shall fear: Fear Him, which after He hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear Him.' This warning to unbelievers would be robbed of its power, if all it means is that there is no more life for them after death.

And because we firmly believe this, it becomes very urgent for us now to warn every man, woman and child that this is where they will end up if they do not turn to Christ in this life. We must not be ashamed to mention the fires of hell in our preaching and teaching, even if we will be ridiculed by some learned scholars for it.

And so let this warning be received now even to anyone here who has not yet received Christ as their own saviour. Dearly beloved, death is not going to be the end of all things for you. There are only two places that you can go to after death: heaven or hell. Where will you be going? The answer to this question must be settled in this life. You cannot wait until death comes knocking at your door - for then it may be too late. And the only thing you will be able to do then is to spend eternity in deep, remorseful regret, as can be seen in the rich man of our scripture passage.

You will note that in the parable that Jesus told there were two men - one who is just called 'a certain rich man' and the other named Lazarus. There is a marked contrast between these two men: One was living in opulent luxury and pleasure. The other was a beggar, who was destitute and sick. But this situation was reversed after death. Now it was Lazarus who enjoyed the bliss of life in heaven, at Abraham�s bosom. And it was the rich man's turn to suffer. And what intense suffering he had!

Now let us be careful not to misinterpret this parable, for some may think that it teaches that the way to salvation is to be poor now and to suffer like Lazarus, and that to be materially rich now is a sure way to go to hell. This parable is not meant to teach on the way to salvation, which is so clearly expounded in other parts of the Bible, where we learn that salvation is strictly for those who believe in Jesus Christ alone, whether they are rich or poor. The Bible gives us examples for some rich men who were saved, like Job in the Old Testament, and Joseph of Arimathea in the New Testament, who allowed his expensive rock-hewn tomb to be used as a burial place for Jesus.

But those who are rich may face great temptations that make it difficult for them to enter the kingdom of heaven, and so Jesus said that, 'It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God.' (Matthew 19:24) But He also said that with men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible (v.26). Salvation is entirely accomplished by God through the work of grace in a person's heart, whether that person is rich or poor. The point of this parable is to bring out the unexpected change that took place in the lives of the two men after death.

The rich man did not anticipate his terrible torment in hell, and by the time he knew what about it, it was far too late. And when this rich man looked at Lazarus lying down and begging at his gate every day, he probably thought to himself, 'This useless beggar will never amount to anything in life.' And he seemed to be most unwilling to let him have even the crumbs or scraps of food from his table, since v.21 does not say that Lazarus was fed with the crumbs, but desired to be fed with the crumbs.

The point of this parable is that a person's present condition is no real indicator of what will happen to him later on. And this must now be applied now to ourselves. When we look at the world today, we see believers and unbelievers living differently, according to the different values and priorities they hold. Oftentimes, it is unbelievers who seem to be successful and having all the good things in life, since they may strive for riches, power, fame and fortune not caring about how they do it. And when we look at them now, going on through life carelessly without God, who would imagine the outcome: That they will one day be totally devastated?

Believers on the other hand, may sometimes seem to be at a disadvantage, since they do not mind denying themselves anything that may compromise their love and service to God. Who would ever imagine, just by looking at them in this life, that they will one day become the honoured guests in the Kingdom of God?

What we must learn from this, is to be very careful about how we look now at life. Be careful not to live just for the present and follow what most people in the world are doing. They live with hardly any thought of what comes after death. If you were to live like that, you will one day be utterly shocked, and filled too late with regrets. Death holds absolutely no good prospects for those who are outside Christ. They have every reason to be afraid to die.

What you must do then, is to live in the light of the future, according to what you now know will happen after death. The way to start doing this is to give your life now to Jesus Christ. Ask Him now to save you from your sins. And begin now to live your life for Him and with Him every day.

If you do this, then death will not have any fearful prospects for you. When the Lord calls you home, you will be able to go with joy and peace, knowing that this is just the beginning of eternal life, a life filled with His blessings. And then you will see the very marked contrast between yourself and unbelievers. While they face the judgement and are condemned by their own sins to suffer eternal death, you will be thankful to be safe in the arms of the Lord Jesus. Dear friends, if you have not turned to Christ yet for salvation, will you come to Him right now?

Vision & Mission

 

To build a united church family that is committed to making disciples through Salvation, Sanctification and Service, to the glory of God.

Verse for the Week

October 15 & 22 - The Cost of Discipleship

For whosoever will save his life shall lose it: and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it. Matthew 16:25