Eternal Judgement – What Does the Bible Say?

A friend asked me recently for summary of Bible teaching on hell, as her son was challenged by his university friends that eternal punishment did not seem logical to them.  They suggested that a spirit would be incinerated in hellfire and so any judgment would be over quickly, not a protracted experience.  Following are the notes I put together to give an overview of the subject from a Biblical standpoint.

Eternal Judgment is one of the foundational doctrines listed in the Bible.

“Therefore leaving the principles of the doctrine of Christ, let us go on to perfection; not laying again the foundation of repentance from dead works, and of faith toward God, Of the doctrine of baptisms, and of laying on of hands, and of resurrection of the dead, and of eternal judgment.” Hebrews 6:1,2

By its very label this judgment is “eternal”, not transitory.
Repulsive as the thought is to our minds the Bible makes it clear that ongoing torment will be given to those who reject the salvation God offers us through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ.

Consider these warnings from Jesus and their reference to enduring punishment:
“And if your hand offends you, cut it off: it is better to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that is never quenched: Where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched. And if your foot offends you, cut it off: it is better for you to enter life lame, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that is never quenched: Where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched. And if your eye offends you, pluck it out: it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire: Where their worm doesn’t die, and the fire is not quenched.” Matthew 9:43-48
“And these will go into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Matthew 25:46

What we understand from the Bible is that mankind has at enduring (eternal) soul (or spirit) which will either enjoy eternal blessings in God’s heavenly Kingdom (heaven) or eternal pain and torment in hell.

Hell is described for us as a place of continuous torment of fire without being burned up.

Jesus gives us a picture of this in His account of a rich man and a poor beggar named Lazarus. After death the rich man went to a place of enduring fiery torment while the faithful beggar went to a place of comfort, called Abraham’s bosom.

“And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and sees Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so he can dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” Luke 16:23,24

“Then he said, I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father’s house: For I have five brothers; that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.” Luke 16:27,28

In each of these depictions of punishment for the wicked the pain and torment is enduring, not a temporary incineration.

Sin is just that horrible, not just to God and to the standards of holiness, but also to ourselves. Our selfish sinful heart wants to believe that sin is an excusable slip and something that can be justified away by blaming our past unhappinesses or the pressures of the moment. But when sin is measured against God’s holiness it is so horrible and so destructive that it warrants eternal punishment of the extreme kind. Sin damages us beyond our comprehension and all God’s warnings to us to avoid sin are for our protection, not to spoil our fun. God knows how toxic sin is.

Wonderfully none of us is ever intended to endure the eternal punishment that sin deserves. God wants all men everywhere to repent (2Peter 3:9). God’s overwhelming love compelled Him to become the very sacrifice for our sins so that man could be saved from eternal torment. However, if we snub such amazing sacrifice and hold the immeasurable love of God as something to be ignored we remain under condemnation and will have to face the just punishment for the abhorrent sin we have committed and refused to repent of.

“For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He who believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:17-19

“He who believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he that believes not the Son will not see life (eternal life with God in heaven); but the wrath of God rests on him.” John 3:36

Note also that hell was never designed for mankind, but as the place of punishment for the fallen angels.

“Then will he say to them on the left hand, Depart from me, you cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels:” Matthew 25:41

If the devil can seduce us to reject God’s salvation and live in our sinful nature then the devil will drag us into the place of eternal torment that was not made for us but for him.

These insights come to us by God’s revelation in the Bible (the Word of God). Truth comes from God and our source of truth is God’s Word, the Bible. Our selfish hearts will try to wrestle with the Word of God and even twist it to say what we want to hear, but those with faithful hearts will accept what God says as God’s Word and seek to understand it, not neutralise it.

Eternal judgment, as in judgment that endures for eternity causing those who are punished to be in perpetual torments, is what the Bible describes. The idea of annihilation is more tolerable than the idea of enduring torment. But one of the foundational doctrines of the Bible (as quoted earlier from Hebrews 6) is “eternal judgment”.

On a pastoral note, be aware of your own heart. The human heart is dangerous territory.

“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?” Jeremiah 17:9

“But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies:” Matthew 15:18,19

“Keep your heart diligently; for out of it are the issues of life.” Proverbs 4:23

Every time our heart reacts to some truth given to us in God’s Word that reaction indicates there is a wrong setting in our heart. Reaction to the truth of eternal judgement may indicate we have a “fear of eternal damnation” and need prayer to be free from that tormenting fear. Or it may be that we resent God’s authority because we have unresolved offences from authority figures who offended us in the past. Or we may have such pride that we want to rule our life and even eternity on our own terms, instead of submitting ourselves to God. Or reaction could spring from many other impulses in our heart. Stay attentive to “reactions” because those things that come out of a man reveal his heart and show the “issues” they need to deal with to truly walk in the freedom that truth brings.

“You will know the truth and the truth will make you free.” John 8:32

Clay Pots and Brokenness

I spoke on Clay Pots tonight for the end of year Men’s Support Group event in Melbourne. Here are some key insights I shared.

We are all just clay pots. Human flesh is made of the same ingredients found in the soil, plus lots of water. So that makes us ‘mud’. We are fashioned into clay pots, ordinary and utilitarian.

Many of us wish our clay pot was somewhat better than it is: taller, better looking, stronger, more skilful, smarter, or more impressive in some way.

The best way to improve our clay pot is not to work over the shape and size of the pot, but to place treasure into it. If ordinary clay pots were for sale and one of them had a treasure inside it you would want to find that one to buy, rather than an empty one. The treasure gives the pot far greater value than it has on its own.

Similarly we as ordinary humans can have divine treasure inside us and that makes us incredibly more valuable than we were before.

What is the divine treasure the Bible speaks about? It is described by the apostle Paul….

“For God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. But we have this treasure in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” 2Corinthians 4:6,7

The treasure is God’s “light” shining on the inside of us. Light speaks of such things as revelation, insight, truth, illumination, removal of darkness, exposure of hidden things and cleansing.

We get to carry the light of God on the inside of us, illuminating and transforming us. That is an incredible treasure making us totally different to all those who have never been born again and who thus do not carry God’s light within.

That treasure is SO wonderful it makes our ordinariness, our clay pot status, quite irrelevant.

While some people struggle to improve their clay pot with personal development, education, social upgrades and so on, they can never upgrade their clay pot to anything of the value of the treasure God is waiting to place inside them. Giving your clay pot (your natural life) a makeover is a totally insignificant process compared to inviting God’s ‘treasure’ into your life.

So let’s take a look at the “light” that God shines into us. In 2Corinthians 4:6 Paul compares the light which God shines in our hearts with the light that shone into the darkness at Creation. At Creation the light shone where there was only darkness.

It is the same with us. When we receive God’s grace through faith in Jesus Christ God’s light shines inside us where there has only been darkness. And just as the original creation of light completely dispelled the darkness and triumphed over it so God’s light in us dispels darkness within us and triumphs over it.

It doesn’t matter how dark things are inside our clay pot, with fears, torments, guilt, shame, addictions, evil, pride, suicidal thoughts, or whatever, God’s light shines into that very darkness and dispels it. God’s light is not created by us or worked up by some process within us, but it shines into our darkness, despite our darkness and dispels our darkness. “God who commanded the light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts.”

That makes each of our clay pots special, including those that are fat, bald, skinny, disabled, very ordinary, shy, weak, illiterate, crushed by life’s challenges and such like. We are all special when there is a deposit of God’s treasure within us.

We are each a light to the world and we are told to let our light shine.

Talking of clay pots with light inside links to a time when 300 soldiers followed Gideon into battle against a huge army of Midianites. At night each soldier took his place on the ridges around the enemy camp carrying a clay pot with a flaming torch inside. At Gideon’s signal the clay pots were smashed and the lights blazed brightly, leading to a decisive victory over the enemy.

That historic example reminds us that light inside the clay pot shines brightest once the pot is broken. I see examples of that among the men of the Men’s Support Group in Melbourne. Men who have been broken by life’s challenges, with health and family taken from them, or having to struggle through tough situations, often show the sweetest compassion, patience, care and self-sacrifice in order to help others. Their light shines much brighter than other Christians who are distracted by their comfortable lives keeping themselves happy.

If you have not received God’s light into your life then pray to God and tell Him that you believe Jesus is God’s Son who died for us and ask God to forgive you of your sins through the blood of Jesus. Then ask God to shine His light into your life and lead you into a life as His child, filled with all the fullness of God. God bless you as you do.

For more insight about us being clay pots go to my first article on Clay Pots by clicking here.

Clay Pots – Good News For Ordinary People

I reflected on human insignificance over the past week. The thought came first by recognition that among my acquaintances are many decidedly ordinary people. Some have nothing to commend them, having been raised in very ordinary circumstances, with no evident talent, nothing to give them social appeal, limited education, poor career prospects, distracting habits of speech or behaviour, self-absorbed life focus, and so on.

Yet I count such people among my dear friends and enjoy being with them. That is not to say their peculiarities don’t get in the way at times, but beyond their banal humanness are qualities of incredible value. I mean specifically that each has had an encounter with the Living God and found salvation and grace through putting faith in Jesus Christ as their saviour and lord.

Through that experience these very ordinary and ignorable people have a deposit within them that is truly divine. So it is not unusual for one of them to come out with something that is quite beyond them, such as an insight prompted by the Holy Spirit, or a response of heart that reflects the heart of God toward a situation. There is a treasure in these people that transcends their ordinariness.

That’s what the great apostle Paul meant when he said we hold treasure in our clay pot.

“But we have this treasure in earthen vessels (clay pots), that the excellency of the power may be of God, and not of us.” 2Corinthians 4:7

When we are ‘born again’ as Jesus said we need to be (John 3:3) we are ‘born of God’ and that new life within us transcends our failing humanity. In our humanness, our ‘flesh’, there is nothing of any value, as the apostle Paul declared.

“For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) is no good thing: for to will is present with me; but how to perform that which is good I find not.” Romans 7:18

We are stuck with our ‘earthen vessel’, the Clay Pot of our humanity. But inside our clay pot is an unspeakable treasure completely out of character with the rest of us and quite out of place in us. Thus we are a kind of contradiction. We are basically worthless clay pots, yet, with that treasure inside us, we are incredibly valuable.

That thought filtered into my consciousness as I considered some of the ordinary people I meet with week by week in various places. If they were to stand on their own social merits they might be written off by those with social pride. But their humanness fades in the light of their divine standing.

Each of us who have placed our faith in Jesus Christ stands as a Son of God (adopted into God’s family) with a personal relationship with God as our heavenly Father and Jesus as our Saviour, Lord and brother. We also have the Holy Spirit resident within us leading us to become more like God, even though we can frustrate or stall that process if we choose.

Consequently we are tuned in to eternity and to the divine. At any moment any one of us can be lit up by revelation, prompting, conviction, faith, inspiration, compassion, a gift of the Holy Spirit, sense of God’s presence and love, sweep of God’s grace, application of a kingdom principle (like forgiveness) or some similar divine connection. And there are no other people on the planet with whom we can share such an amazing capacity.

Rubbing shoulders with the elite, or the wealthy, educated, influential, talented and famous is one thing, but if those people are not born again in spirit and connected with the Living God they are just clay pots. What is worse for them, they are empty clay pots.

We Christians are clay pots, and we may be clay pots of the most ordinary kind, but inside these pots is glorious treasure. That treasure is described by the apostle Paul as “light” and it is wonderful.

So, to all my fellow clay pot Christians, I rejoice with you that despite our desperate ordinariness and all our failings in the eyes of those who can discern social qualities, we carry God’s treasure. What delight and what a humbling privilege. I salute you and I bless you and I rejoice with you that we can share such undeserved privilege by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.