One time there was a preacher preaching the doctrine of universalism in a small village church in one of the New England states. He maintained that there is no Hell, no punishment after death, and that all human beings will be universally saved. He said that “Hell” is the cruel invention of the human imagination, and that it is contrary to the principle of the love of God. When he had finished his address, he informed the people of the small church that he could preach for them again within a few weeks. One of the men on the church board said: “If your doctrine is true (if it’s true that there is no Hell and we’re all going to Heaven anyhow), we don’t need you.” And he said, “If your doctrine is false (if there is a Hell, when you say there isn’t any), we don’t want you”—and he was not invited back to preach at that church.
It is the purpose of this message to tell the truth about Heaven and Hell—the truth as given in the Holy Scriptures. In Luke 16 we find Jesus describing the death of two men. The one died and was carried by the angels into the presence of God. When a child of God dies, there is a Heavenly escort of angels, waiting to carry that soul in triumph into the Father’s house (Luke 16:22a). And then Jesus says, “The rich man also died, and was buried; and in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments” (Luke 16:22b, 23a).
The account in Luke 16 is a record of two men who lived and walked on the earth as we are doing today, and when they died, they found themselves in eternity, on the one hand, in a place of torment, and on the other hand, in a place of comfort by the side of Abraham. There are two places for the departed dead. The Bible says it over and over again. There is the broad way that leads to destruction, and the narrow way that leads to life. There are the tares cast into fire to be burned, and the wheat gathered into barns. There is the unprofitable servant who is cast into outer darkness, and the faithful servant who enters the joys of his lord.
1. The Truth about Heaven
Heaven will be the future dwelling place of God’s people; it will be the eternal presence of everything that can make the believer happy, and the eternal absence of everything that can cause sorrow. There is much that we don’t know about Heaven—its location, its geography, its temperature—but there are some things we do know.
a) Heaven will be a perfect place.
Heaven is a real place, as real and as material and as literal as the cities of Detroit and Chicago and London. Heaven is not merely some “blissful state of being;” it is not a cloudy, hazy mixture of nothing; it is a prepared place for a prepared people.
It is true that many sneer at Heaven and say that it’s only a land of make-believe; some scoff at Heaven and say it’s merely “pie in the sky;” still others say that the only Heaven which humans will experience is the Heaven on earth that they are able to achieve. But Jesus set the record straight, when he said to His disciples, “I go to prepare a place for you; if it were not so I would have told you” (John 14:2). Jesus says that Heaven is a real place, and His word should be good enough for every one of us.
But not only is Heaven a real place; Heaven is a perfect place. It is perfect in the sense that nothing will ever come to mar its beauty. Revelation 21:27 says in essence, “And nothing unclean shall enter it, nor anyone who practices abomination or falsehood.” There will never be a cloud in Heaven; there won’t be any tears to choke back; there won’t be any good-byes in Heaven. In fact, nothing will ever mar the splendor of that glorious land.
There is a place called Heaven. There is a city which has foundations, whose builder and maker is God—and Christians can triumphantly sing, “There is a land that is fairer than day, and by faith we can see it afar; for the Father waits over the way to prepare us a dwelling place there.” Heaven is a real place with real people and a real Savior and a real God! It is being prepared by a peerless Contractor, the Carpenter of Nazareth—even Christ Himself. Jesus says, “I go to prepare a place for you” (John 14:2).
b) Heaven will be a habitation with God.
Revelation 21:3 says, “I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold the tabernacle of God is with men . . . and God himself shall be with them, and be their God.” The greatest thing about Heaven will not be the rewards, the crowns, the white robes, the walls of jasper, or the streets of gold. The greatest joy about Heaven will be our eternal fellowship with God the Father, and with Jesus our Savior forever.
It will be an added joy to be with our friends and saved loved ones who have gone on before. The question is sometimes asked, “Will we know our loved ones in Heaven?” The obvious answer is this: “If we know them in this life, where we have only a partial and incomplete knowledge, surely we will know them in Heaven, where our knowledge will be perfect and complete.”
Most of us have taken a loved one out to “the silent city of the dead.” Perhaps it was a father who departed from this life, or a mother who slipped on to the eternal world, or a child that was laid away in infancy, or a daughter who fell in the prime of young womanhood, or a husband or wife who was so dearly loved. In 2 Samuel 12:15 we begin reading about David’s sick child. The Bible says that for seven days and seven nights David fasted and wept and prayed that God would spare his child, but finally he received notice that the child was dead. Two little eyelids had been gently closed; two little hands were folded over the silent bosom; one little heart was forever still. The child was dead. When David received notice that the child had died, he wiped the tears from his eyes, ate food, and found comfort in these words: “I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me” (2 Samuel 12:23).
David found comfort in the words, “I shall go to him,” because he looked forward to seeing the child in Heaven. In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul speaks about those who have died in former generations (when he mentions the second coming of Christ). He says, “The dead in Christ shall rise first, then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds” (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17). Those words speak of reunion. We shall be caught up together with them—that is, with those who had previously died.
c) Heaven will be a haven of rest.
We are told in Hebrews 4:9 that “There remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God.” Heaven is a place of rest from labor. There will be work to do in Heaven. The Bible says that His servants shall serve Him. Heaven will not be a great big holiday! We’ll not sit down and do nothing. There’ll be work to do. Jesus speaks about “ruling cities” and “judging angels.” But the element of toil will be gone. We learn in Revelation 14:13 that those who die in the Lord will “rest from their labors, and their works do follow them.”
We are told also that Heaven will be a place of rest from suffering. Revelation 21:4 says, “And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain; for the former things are passed away.” Anyone who is familiar with suffering and physical affliction in this life, and has walked up and down the corridors of our hospitals—and has seen the tremendous pain and anguish that human beings are sometimes called upon to pass through, must marvel exceedingly at the extent of this glorious promise. There shall be no more death, neither sorrow nor crying, nor shall there be any more pain. Tears, pain, sorrow, and crying will be former things!
2. The Truth about Hell
In our day many people consider Hell a mere joke. Charlie Chaplin has often been praised as one of the world’s greatest comedians. He died a number of years ago at age 88. One of his typical jokes was this: He said, “It seems like I’m always cold; I hope to go to Hell when I die so that I can keep warm.” For all we know he may have been granted his wish.
The “Lake of Fire” is the theme for more jokes than any other single subject, except for stories about illicit sexual activity. Usually the devil is pictured in a long flannel outfit; he has horns and a tail; sometimes he wears an asbestos suit, and he gives orders about how fast to shovel coal. And then after the story is told, the crowd sits back and bursts into gales of laughter. They think the matter of Hell is just a great big joke.
One man said, “The nearest I’ll ever get to Heaven is when I’m riding in an airplane; I’m going to Hell, and when I get there, I’m going to help the devil shovel coal so that it will be all the hotter.” Another person said, “I don’t care whether I go to Heaven or to Hell; I’ve got friends in both places.” Another says, “I’m going to Hell, and when I get there I’m going to laugh at all the church members coming in.” The fact is, those who reject Jesus Christ will go there; some church members will likely go there too; but there won’t be any laughing. Instead, seven times over, Jesus says there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 22:13).
A lady from Canada wrote to the Michigan state highway department and told of a visit she was planning to make to the Detroit area. She asked for directions to the small community in Michigan named “Hell.” She said in her letter, “We thought it would be fun to go back home and be able to say to our friends that we had been in Hell.” The man who replied in behalf of the State Department sent her a small map showing the location of the tiny unincorporated community, and then added, “To complete your trip you may also want to visit the town of Paradise in the upper part of Michigan.” We don’t know whether the one who inquired will spend eternity in Hell or in Paradise, but one thing certain—she will spend eternity in one place or the other.
The attitude of the lady from Montreal is typical of the attitude of people almost everywhere. They speak lightly of Heaven, and joke about Hell, seemingly supposing that if they ridicule enough, and joke enough, they can laugh Hell right out of existence. But life is not a joke on this side of the grave, and it is not a joke on the other side either. The kindest Man who ever lived says that we ought to “fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28). Jesus said it! It is a remarkable fact that the most fearful accounts of Hell to be found anywhere in the Bible come from the lips of Jesus himself. The word “Hell” is used twenty-four times in the New Testament, and twenty-two of those times the word was used by Jesus.
There is much about the subject of Hell that we don’t know, but there are three things that we do know for sure.
a) Hell is a real place.
Hell is not merely some spirit-state of being. The rich man in Luke 16 knew that he was not merely in some hazy, spirit-state of existence, because he wanted his five brothers warned “lest they also come into this place of torment.” Just as Heaven is a real place (Jesus said, “I go to prepare a place for you”—John 14:2), so Hell is a real, literal place. The Bible says so. The man in Luke 16:28 said, “I want my brothers to repent, lest they also come to this place of torment.”
The final testimonies of those who have died unsaved, especially before the days of sedatives, confirm our belief that these words of the Bible are true. It is not a pleasant thing to see the ungodly die. Voltaire, the skeptic, died a horrible death; his condition became so frightful in the closing moments of his life that the nurse who was standing by later said, “For all the wealth of Europe, I never want to see another infidel die.” Charteres (a wealthy man), on his death bed, said, “I would gladly give $150,000 to have it proved that there is no Hell.” M. F. Rich (a poor man), a few moments before death, pointed to an almost red-hot stove, and said, “I would sooner lie on the stove and boil for a hundred years, than to go into eternity with the awful torments that are hanging over my soul.”
Friends—if it’s reasonable to hold up the hope of Heaven as the home of the saved, it is just as reasonable to hold out the fear of Hell as a penalty for rejecting God’s salvation.
If you are still not sure that Hell exists as a real place—why would you even needlessly take a chance? A skeptic was teasing his Christian friend who talked often about Heaven: “George, what would you say, if when you died, you found that there wasn’t such a place as Heaven after all?” George smiled and said, “Well, I’d say that I had a fine time getting there anyway.” (He enjoyed his Christian experience.) And then George responded with a more difficult question: he said, “Fred, what would you say, if when you die, you found that there was such a place as Hell after all?” That is the real question to consider if you are a person who scoffs at the idea of eternal damnation in Hell. “What if there was such a place as Hell after all?”
b) Hell is a place of torment.
Make no mistake about it—Hell is a horrible place; it is a land of unspeakable torments. The Bible describes Hell with a number of words.
One of the words is darkness. Jude calls it “the blackness of darkness” (Jude 1:13). Jesus calls it “outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12). Peter describes it as “chains of darkness” (2 Peter 2:4). Hell will be a land of darkness—a land where the sun never shines; a land where the day never comes; a land where there is blackness, darkness, and night time forever.
The Bible also uses the word fire to describe Hell. In Matthew 5:22 Jesus speaks of “hell fire.” In Matthew 13:42 He speaks of a “furnace of fire.” In Matthew 25:41 He says “everlasting fire.” In Mark 9 He says “unquenchable fire.” In Revelation 20 we read about the “lake of fire.” Someone says, “But this is only figurative language.” Perhaps it is. I believe it is literal language, but if these are only figurative words, we must remember that the real thing is always worse than the symbol is.
Another responds by saying, “But you said that Hell is a place of darkness; now you say it is a place where there is fire. How can that be?” It is God who said these things—but it is not hard to believe that God can create a fire that doesn’t give light. Still another says, “But surely God is too good and too loving to permit a person to burn in Hell.” By way of response, I challenge you to put your finger on a red-hot stove and see if God is too good to keep you from getting burned! If God permitted His only begotten Son to be whipped and spit upon and then nailed to a cross—don’t fool yourself into thinking that God won’t permit human beings to burn in Hell—if they ignore Him and refuse to accept His offer of salvation. God’s love was revealed at Calvary, and if you reject that love, there’ll be nothing left but the wrath of God (Hebrews 10:28-31).
Jesus also uses the theme of extreme thirst to describe the torments of Hell. The rich man in Luke 16 cried for water—only a drop of water to cool his tongue. He called for Lazarus to dip his finger in water, and said, “Cool my tongue, for I am tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24).
During the Battle of the Dardanelle’s in World War I, a company of marines was stranded on an island. They had only meager supplies; their canteens one by one went dry; some tried to quench their thirst by drinking ocean water, but the salt added to their misery. Others put their parched tongues against the damp ground, but it did not satisfy. Some tried to quench their thirst by chewing on the soles of their shoes just to find a little moisture. They were so thirsty that their tongues literally hung out of their mouths. A news correspondent who later came on the scene and saw the sight, and heard the groans and cries of those thirsty men—said in his report the next day in newspapers all across America: “If Hell can be worse than that, Oh God save me from Hell!”
Hell is a real place of torment. If there is no fire in Hell; if there is no real torment there; if souls don’t beg for water in Hell—then why are these passages in the Bible?
c) Hell is eternal punishment.
Hell is a miserable land of weeping and bitterness, but perhaps most tragic of all—those who go there will be there for eternity. Jesus says, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment” (Matthew 25:46). Daniel says, “Some (shall awake) to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2). Jesus describes Hell as, “The fire that never shall be quenched” (Mark 9:43). The Scriptures teach that the torments of Hell will never end. If men and women die in their sins, the Bible indicates that they will suffer consciously under the judgment of God for all eternity.
Each human being can either open the door of his heart to Jesus, and respond to God’s love, and live with Him forever—or, each can continue on in the path of rejection, and suffer conscious torment in the place of outer darkness. If you have never committed your life to the Lord Jesus Christ, why not turn your life over to Him today? Weep your way to God before the door of opportunity for salvation closes.