“How can you escape the condemnation of hell?”
Matthew 23:33

Jesus asked the scribes and Pharisees this question because of their sin (Matthew 23:13-36).

Jesus warns us about hell. Of the twelve passages in the New Testament containing the word ‘hell’ from the Greek word γέεννα, eleven are spoken by Christ. Six of them also contain the word sin.

Sin and hell are not popular words.

Are sin and hell really as bad as Jesus says? “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43).

Some who call themselves Christians are embarrassed by what Jesus says about hell, so they abolish hell by teaching that everyone will be saved (universalism) or that hell is not eternal (annihilationism).

Jesus taught, however, that only few will enter the small gate and be saved, and that weeping and gnashing of teeth await the others (Luke 13:23-28).

He also taught that the fire of hell will be unending: “And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire -- where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:47, 48). Both the punishment and the reward are everlasting: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46).

Some use Jesus’ teaching about hell as an excuse to reject Him. The atheistic philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrote: "There is one very serious defect in Christ’s moral character, and that is that he believed in hell. I do not myself feel that any person who is really profoundly humane can believe in everlasting punishment" (Bertrand Russell, Why I Am Not A Christian, New York: Simon and Schuster, 1957, p.17).

We can question Russell’s qualifications to judge the morality of Jesus since he believed that sex outside of marriage was not necessarily immoral, advocated trial marriages and believed in easy divorce. He was married four times and had many extramarital affairs.

It is understandable that immoral people do not like what Jesus says about sin and hell.

Yet we will discuss the objections that some raise against this teaching of Jesus.

Two basic arguments are made: (1) hell is too severe as punishment; (2) God’s nature is incompatible with eternal punishment.

Here are some statements by people who make the first objection. “Eternal punishment for a mere lifetime of sin? How just is that?” “No finite act or sum of finite acts (which is itself finite) could be of sufficient severity to merit infinite punishment.” “Is it not plain that sins committed in time and space cannot deserve limitless retribution?”

This objection is simply an expression of man’s desire to make light of sin. How can the severity of sin be measured? Sin is a violation of God’s will. Thus, God is the One who determines its seriousness. Eternal punishment reveals the seriousness of sin!

Because of His love for man, and the terrible consequences of sin, Jesus makes clear how bad sin is: “If your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life lame or maimed, rather than having two hands or two feet, to be cast into the everlasting fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire” (Matthew 18:8, 9).

Jesus also indicated the seriousness of sin is by taking our punishment upon Himself and dying in our place so we can be saved from the eternal consequences of sin, if we repent and accept the grace and forgiveness offered through Him.

It is presumptuous to claim that punishment in hell is too severe. Hell proves how serious sin is.

Does eternal punishment conflict with the nature of God?

This involves asking why God does certain things. We should remember the question God asked Job: “Would you indeed annul My judgment? Would you condemn Me that you may be justified?” (Job 40:8).

What questions are asked by people who object to the idea of hell? Notice that each question is actually an attempt to blame God for sin.

Why did God make man able to sin?

Well, man can sin; that much is certain. So maybe the first question should be: what characteristic enables man to sin?

Angels are also able to sin: “For if God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment; and did not spare the ancient world, but saved Noah, with seven others, a preacher of righteousness, bringing in the flood on the world of the ungodly; and turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah into ashes, condemned them to destruction, making them an example to those who afterward would live ungodly; and delivered righteous Lot, who was oppressed by the filthy conduct of the wicked (for that righteous man, dwelling among them, tormented his righteous soul from day to day by seeing and hearing their lawless deeds) -- then the Lord knows how to deliver the godly out of temptations and to reserve the unjust under punishment for the day of judgment” (2 Peter 2:4-9). Sinful angels were banished to hell and the unrighteous will share their punishment: “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).

What characteristic enables men and angels to sin? They are not robots, but are self-directing beings. Why did God create them that way? I guess He wanted men and angels, rather than robots. Why? Well, would you rather have a robot or a child with whom you can have a voluntary loving relationship?

One could make a cute little robot with an electronic eye, and program it so that when it ‘saw’ you, it would come rolling toward you, throw out its arms and say, “I love you! I love you!” Would that be love? The God of love had more in mind.

“Then God said, ‘Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness; let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over the cattle, over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them. Then God blessed them, and God said to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply; fill the earth and subdue it; have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the air, and over every living thing that moves on the earth’” (Genesis 1:26-28).

God created man to rule. What did He tell Cain about sin? “If you do well, will you not be accepted? And if you do not do well, sin lies at the door. And its desire is for you, but you should rule over it” (Genesis 4:7).

Man is accountable because his sin results from his own choice.

Another question is asked: Since God is all-powerful and has foreknowledge, why does He not only allow people to be born who will choose what is right?

That God is all-powerful does not mean that He can do contradictory things. When God gives man a choice, it must be a real choice, not a make-believe choice, because that is no choice at all. A choice exists only if there is a real alternative.

God’s knowledge of the future is not deterministic but observational, just like our knowledge of the past is observational. God exists outside of time, but man must make his choice in the course of time.

In fact, God allows people to be born even though He knows that all of them will sin (Romans 3:23). He does this because He has a plan by which any of them who wants to can be saved! “And the Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ And let him who thirsts come. Whoever desires, let him take the water of life freely” (Revelation 22:17).

By objecting to hell, people try to blame God for their sins.

In Ezekiel’s day the people were complaining: “If our transgressions and our sins lie upon us, and we pine away in them, how can we then live?” (Ezekiel 33:10). They tried to blame God that they were burdened by sin. Ezekiel was to tell them: “‘As I live,’ says the Lord God, ‘I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn, turn from your evil ways! For why should you die?’” (Ezekiel 33:11). In stead of complaining, they just needed to repent!

Another question people ask is: How can a good God send anyone to hell? Paul wrote to people who refused to repent: “Do you despise the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leads you to repentance?” (Romans 2:4).

God in His great goodness and mercy is willing to forgive and sanctify the vilest sinner who repents. If we believe in Jesus, repent of our sins, confess our faith and are baptized, we can be forgiven (Acts 2:38).

When people refuse to repent, they may not blame God for the consequences. Paul continues: “But in accordance with your hardness and your impenitent heart you are treasuring up for yourself wrath in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who ‘will render to each one according to his deeds’: eternal life to those who by patient continuance in doing good seek for glory, honor, and immortality; but to those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness -- indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, on every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek; but glory, honor, and peace to everyone who works what is good, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For there is no partiality with God” (Romans 2:5-11).

God’s judgment is righteous. He would not be just if He left sin unpunished. Since everyone sins, everyone deserves punishment.

Yet, there is a difference among people. It is not that some are sinless and some are not. The difference is that some believe in God, love Him, and want to do what is right (although they fall short), whereas others turn their back on God.

God would be unjust if He showed favoritism. He cannot just pass over the sins of those who love Him and are trying to do what is right, because they too have sinned.

Thus He sent His Son who lived a life without sin and did not deserve to die (John 10:17, 18). Jesus allowed himself to be crucified to pay the penalty for our sins, “who Himself bore our sins in His own body on the tree, that we, having died to sins, might live for righteousness -- by whose stripes you were healed” (1 Peter 2:24 - See Isaiah 53:5).

Hell is not too severe a punishment for sin, and God’s nature is not incompatible with eternal punishment, since He has provided a way of escape through the sacrifice of Christ.

I know that sin and hell are as bad as Jesus says, because reliable evidence and testimony prove that He is the Son of God and knows what He is talking about. He fulfilled the Old Testament prophesies about the coming King.

His life and teaching prove that He is the Messiah. “He who believes in the Son of God has the witness in himself; he who does not believe God has made Him a liar, because he has not believed the testimony that God has given of His Son. And this is the testimony: that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:10, 11).

As the officers said, who came back empty-handed after they were to arrest Jesus: “No man ever spoke like this Man!” (John 7:46). What was the testimony of the Roman soldiers who crucified Christ? “So when the centurion and those with him, who were guarding Jesus, saw the earthquake and the things that had happened, they feared greatly, saying, ‘Truly this was the Son of God!’” (Matthew 27:54).

No one has ever shown more love for His fellow man than Jesus. Thus when He warns us about hell, we should listen.

“And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear: Fear Him who, after He has killed, has power to cast into hell; yes, I say to you, fear Him!” (Luke 12:4, 5).

Roy Davison

The Scripture quotations in this article are from
The New King James Version. ©1979,1980,1982,
Thomas Nelson Inc., Publishers unless indicated otherwise.
Permission for reference use has been granted.

Published in The Old Paths Archive