Summary: Many pastors do not want to preach on HELL fearing they’ll not appear relevant. It’s pressure from the culture to not speak anything negative. Apparently we have begun to deny hell. There’s an assumption that everybody’s going to make it to heaven somehow
Opening illustration: Video of ‘HELL’ from center of the earth.
Introduction: Many pastors do shy away from the topic of everlasting damnation. "It’s out of fear they’ll not appear relevant. It’s pressure from the culture to not speak anything negative. I believe we’ve begun to deny hell. There’s an assumption that everybody’s going to make it to heaven somehow." The soft sell on hell reflects an increasingly market-conscious approach.
"When you’re trying to market Jesus, sometimes there’s a tendency to mute traditional Christian symbols," he said. "Difficult doctrines are left by the wayside. Hell is a morally repugnant doctrine. People wonder why God would send people to eternal punishment."
Human ideas about hell were still in ferment as the Bible was being written.
The ancient Hebrews focused on the afterlife following their Babylonian captivity, when they experienced the torment of ungodly enemies who seemed to have an unjustifiably good life on Earth. During the Babylonian exile, Jews were exposed to Zoroastrianism, which asserts there is an eternal struggle between good and evil, with good triumphing in the end. From about 300 B.C. to 300 A.D., those influences combined with Hebrew speculation about an eventual comeuppance to the worldly wicked.
1. What is Hell?
The Hebrew concept of "Sheol" — the realm of the dead. Place to which people descend at death.
In translating the Bible from Hebrew to Greek, the Greeks used the terms Tartarus, Hades and Gehenna. In Greek thought, Hades is not a place of punishment; it’s where the dead are separated from the living.
The term Gehenna referred to a ravine outside Jerusalem that was used as a garbage dump. It had once been a place of child sacrifice and became a symbol of pain and suffering. As a garbage dump, it was probably often a place of fire as trash was burned, emphasizing the symbolism of the flames of eternal damnation, he said.
Hell is a place of suffering and punishment in the afterlife, often in the underworld.
Jesus never soft-pedaled the concept of hell. "It’s not metaphorical according to Jesus; it’s a real place," he said.
The Bible contains a litany of colorful images of hell as both fire and darkness, as in the Gospel of Matthew, which refers to "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels" and "the outer darkness" where "men will weep and gnash their teeth."
Either way, pretending that hell doesn’t exist, or trying to preach around it, short-circuits the Bible. "This is a doctrine, a teaching, that’s being neglected in churches." "It needs to be preached. It’s part of the Gospel."
2. Where is Hell?
Numbers 16: 32 & 33 “and the earth opened its mouth and swallowed them up, with their households and all the men with Korah, with all their goods. So they and all those with them went down alive into the pit; the earth closed over them, and they perished from among the assembly.”
Proverbs 15: 24 “The way of life winds upward for the wise, That he may turn away from hell below.”
Isaiah 14: 9 “"Hell from beneath is excited about you, To meet you at your coming; It stirs up the dead for you, All the chief ones of the earth; It has raised up from their thrones All the kings of the nations.”
Isaiah 14: 15 “Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol, To the lowest depths of the Pit.”
Isaiah 57: 6 “You went to the king with ointment, And increased your perfumes; You sent your messengers far off, And even descended to Sheol.”
Matthew 12: 40 “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.”
Ephesians 4: 8 – 10 “Therefore He says: "When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive, And gave gifts to men." (Now this, "He ascended" -- what does it mean but that He also first descended into the lower parts of the earth? He who descended is also the One who ascended far above all the heavens, that He might fill all things.)
Illustration: There is a story of a chaplain who reported to a new duty station. Upon arrival some of the men came to see him and asked him this question; Do you believe in a literal hell? When he replied that he did not. The men asked him to resign and he asked them why. Their response to him was; ‘If there is no Hell then we don’t need you and if there is a Hell we don’t want you to lead us astray.”
3. What does it look like?
(a) Physical outlook of the place:
Luke 23: 43 “And Jesus said to him, "Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise."