Today we pick up from where we left off last week on our expository journey through the Epistle of Jude. Today we will take an interesting look at four false substitutes for the biblical doctrine of hell. This is a part of my verse by verse exposition through the Epistle of Jude for our church plant in Denmark - Kristuskirken.
1 Jude, a servant of Jesus Christ and brother of James, To those who are called, beloved in God the Father and kept for Jesus Christ: 2 May mercy, peace, and love be multiplied to you. 3 Beloved, although I was very eager to write to you about our common salvation, I found it necessary to write appealing to you to contend for the faith that was once for all delivered to the saints. 4 For certain people have crept in unnoticed who long ago were designated for this condemnation, ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into sensuality and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ. 5 Now I want to remind you, although you once fully knew it, that Jesus, who saved a people out of the land of Egypt, afterward destroyed those who did not believe. 6 And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day- 7 just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire. (Jude 1-7)
Who is the major enemy in this war that we are called to fight in contending for this once for all delivered faith? Ultimately it is Satan who controls these false teachers that have crept into the church. Just as Jude comforts the Christians with the knowledge of God’s election, so he also assures them of the certain damnation of these false teachers or apostates. Jude gives three examples from history to remind his audience of the certainty of damnation for these apostates.
In verse 5 Jude reminds us that after rescuing Israel out of Egypt, God destroyed those who did not believe. In verse 6 he reminds them of the demons that did something that was extra evil and are now locked up in hell. And in verse 7 he gives an example of the of the Gentiles of Sodom and Gomorrah that practiced gross immorality and rampant homosexuality but were destroyed by God as rained eternal fire on those two cities.
The doctrine of hell is not a popular subject today. Many preachers try to pretend it’s not in the Bible because it is too scary and no one wants to go there which is actually the whole point! In verse 23 Jude reminds the church of how serious this is when he calls on them to:
save others by snatching them out of the fire (Jude 23a).
The fact that so many churches refuse to speak of hell and so many pastors find it contrary to God’s love only shows that they have no understanding of Who God is and who we are. If God is loving then He must also be wrathful. What do you think of those policemen in Muslim countries who look the other way when Muslims attack Christians and murder them right in front of the police station? They are unloving because they have no desire to punish evil. It is because God is good and loving that there must be a hell. Just as God loves all that is good he hates all that is evil.
God judgeth the righteous, and God is angry with the wicked every day. (Psalm 7:11)
The boastful shall not stand before your eyes; you hate all evildoers. (Psalm 5:5)
It is not just what we do but also Who He is. The Bible says that all liars will end up in hell. If that seems severe then think of this illustration that I use ad infinitum (it is worth repeating because it is worth memorizing). If I lie to my daughter, she can do nothing to me. If I lie to my wife I will be sleeping on the sofa. If I lie to my boss he can fire me. And if I lie to the government they can throw me in jail. Though the crime never changed the higher the authority the bigger the consequence. Now, what if God is an infinite authority, then all lies are an infinite crime. If God is infinitely Holy and He judges all of our actions, all of our words, and all of our thoughts and He is infinitely good and infinitely loving and infinitely righteous then it is heaven that should confuse us. We should really be asking the question how can anyone be right with God. And that is the right question to ask and I will answer that question later.
Before taking a closer look at verse 5 in Jude's letter it is worthwhile refuting four popular modern preaching ideas that try to get rid of hell or make it softer.
This is the idea that hell is not eternal punishment but that the wicked will be destroyed and no longer exist. This idea has little basis in Scripture but comes more out of the emotions of those who cannot believe in eternal punishment. John Stott readily admitted this when articulating his annihilationist view. The silver bullet to this view is Matthew 25:46 which comes right at the end of the Jesus' frightening story of when the sheep (true converts) and the goats (false converts) will be separated:
And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.
The two words "eternal" in this verse are known as a perfect greek pair. They are the mirror image of each other. To deny eternal punishment you must also deny eternal life because they both carry the same meaning in that verse.
This evil lie is an invention of the Catholic church found nowhere in Scripture. It is supposed to be a temporary hell where people can have their sins atoned for or paid for by some relative. The Catholic church used purgatory to make money by claiming that they could release dead relatives from purgatory if you paid them enough money. This evil practice is what provoked Martin Luther to nail his 95 theses to the church door in Wittenberg which was the bomb that started the reformation. Emergent church leader Greg Boyd actually teaches purgatory in the present day. But the idea is found nowhere in Scripture. There is eternal life and eternal punishment and once we are dead it is too late.
3. Hell Is Separation From God
This modern evangelical phrase shows itself to be worthless in the clear light of Scripture:
If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. (Revelation 14:9-11 emphasis mine)
4. The Fire, Darkness and Punishment are Symbols
John Piper says that:
Even if I try to make the Lake Of Fire a symbol, I am confronted with the terrifying thought that symbols are not overstatements but understatements of reality. Jesus did not choose these symbols to tell us that hell is easier than burning (Brothers We Are Not Professionals P114).
The truth is that if we preach hell as something totally horrifying, then it actually makes salvation more meaningful and wonderful. The wrath of God is real and something that should terrify us. It is the reason that Jesus trembled in the garden and sweated drops of blood asking if there was another way. The Jews did not scare Jesus, neither did the Romans, and neither did Satan. But the Lord asked if He could avoid the “cup”. What was that “cup” – it was the cup of God’s wrath that had to be poured out on Him as a substitute in the place those who deserved God’s wrath but trusted in Him as the One who would pay for their sins. When we preach hell and God’s wrath in full terror then we are magnifying His love and salvation.
So in Jude verse 4 the church is reminded that the false teachers among them "who long ago were designated for this condemnation". Verses 5-7 are a lesson in history to remind us that this damnation is absolutely certain and we will explore this lesson from history next week . . .
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