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Hell…Will It Be Forever?

Without a doubt the horror of modern history is the Holocaust. Hitler’s massacre of innocent millions still staggers our understanding. Like a smoke hovering over a furnace, unanswered questions linger on to haunt us. How did Hitler develop such gluttony for brutality? And what will God do to punish him?

Imagine, if you will, God asking your advice on judgment day. He wants you to help Him in deciding how to punish sinners. As you stand beside the great white throne, a man named Tom steps up to be judged. Years ago he discovered his wife at a motel hideaway with another lover. In a fit of jealous rage, Tom shot them both. One rash act. Otherwise, he lived a decent life. What sentence should Tom receive?

Next comes Karen, a shy teenager. Trembling in fear and shame, she tearfully admits to shoplifting a camera from a mall. How long should Karen suffer for her sin, do you think?

And now you meet that mastermind of mass extermination, Hitler himself. Little question that this monster of more than six million murders deserves to burn in hell. For a long time. A year maybe? Perhaps a thousand years?

Suppose God wants Hitler to burn forever for his incredible atrocities. You might understand that. But what if God also condemns Tom and Karen to suffer Hitler’s fate? Sentencing all three to share eternity in the fire. No concern for their differing degrees of guilt. Does that sound fair?

Yet many teach that all sinners suffer the same sentence. That all burn in the flames of hell as long as time shall last. Forever and ever and ever. And that’s not all. They believe that God has been sending people to hell for thousands of years – beginning with Cain, who long ago killed his brother. Consider this. If Hitler went to hell when he died, even if he burns forever, he will still escape many centuries of the pain that Cain has already suffered. Would that be just?

Would God punish sinners for centuries, only to call them up on judgment day to see whether they are really guilty? Tell me, friend, what kind of god do we have? Something is wrong here, wouldn’t you say?

What’s going on? Satan wants to make us hate our heavenly Father. So he twists the truth about God’s love.

Let me read something written years ago. It may shock you. “The sinner lies chained down on a bed of red-hot blazing fire…The fire burns thru every bone and every muscle, every nerve is trembling and quivering with the sharp fire. The fire rages inside the skull, it shoots out thru the eyes, it roars in the throat as it roars up a chimney. So will mortal sin be punished…forever and ever!”

Believe it or not, this particular description of hell was published for the benefit of children. To make them respect God. “Incredible!” you gasp. Yes, indeed. God has been pictured as more savage than the worst terrorist – more cruel than the most blood thirsty dictator!

Small wonder thousands have become unbelievers. They cannot connect the existence of a loving God with divine lust for endless torment. Robert Ingersoll, for example, might have become prince of preachers instead of foremost of infidels. But one day as a boy of 10 he went with his father to hear a sermon on hell. The minister’s descriptions incensed the lad. As young Ingersoll left the church, he turned and glared at his father, “If this is the kind of God we worship,” the boy said between clenched teeth, “I want to no part of Him. I hate Him!” Ingersoll’s young heart could not handle such injustice. So that gifted intellect plunged over the cliff into unbelief.

What does Scripture say about the fire? Let’s probe the secrets of the Bible’s last book. But first we must build a framework from other portions of God’s Word.

The Bible is clear that those who die believing in Jesus will be resurrected at His coming. Then all of God’s people will travel together up to heaven to reign with Jesus for a thousand years.

But what of those found unprepared when Jesus comes? “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be also in the days of the Son of Man: they ate, they drank, they married wives, they were given in marriage, until the day that Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all”

You know how it was in the days of Noah. Business as usual. Then came that fatal surprise from the clear blue sky. All who had neglected God’s warning paid for it with their lives. So will it be when Jesus breaks through the eastern sky. Corpses will be scattered across the earth like driftwood.

Do you realize that one day soon, within the space of a few short hours, this earth will be depopulated – empty – with not one human being left alive, anywhere in the world? When God decides it is closing time, He will lock up this planet and leave it empty, uninhabited – without even a For Rent sign! We find a vivid picture of this desolate earth in the Old Testament book of Jeremiah.

We have all heard the gloomy predictions about how this world would look after a nuclear war. A dismal grey wasteland. Jeremiah’s description of our planet after Jesus comes bears striking resemblance to the eerie scene scientists warn us about: “I beheld the earth, and indeed it was without form, and void; and the heavens, they had no light. I beheld the mountains, and indeed they trembled, and all the hills moved back and forth. I beheld, and indeed there was no man, and all the birds of the heavens had fled. I beheld, and indeed the fruitful land was a wilderness, and its cities were broken down at the presence of the Lord, by His fierce anger. For thus says the Lord: ‘The whole land shall be desolate; yet I will not make a full end.’”

The prophet describes the earth as without form and void. Just as in the first chapter of Genesis, before creation was complete. We also read that the earth will be dark. The heavens have no light. No human life remains; even the birds have fled.

Evidently sinners won’t have a second chance. When Christ returns, all will have had their last chance. And that is it.

Is this morbid scene the final chapter of earth’s history? No, friend, it is not. Did you notice the ray of hope? God promises, “Yet I will not make a full end.” Evidently He still has plans for this planet.

Now, where will Satan spend the thousand years of earth’s emptiness? The devil will be exiled, confined to this earth with no one to tempt. “I saw an angel coming down from heaven, having key to the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand. He laid hold of the dragon, that serpent of old, who is the Devil and Satan, and bound him for a thousand year; and he cast him to the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal on him, so that he should deceive the nations no more till the thousand years were finished. But after these things he must be released for a little while.”

No eternally burning hell will pollute our new earth paradise. True, the result of hellfire will be eternal. There is no recovery from it – no resurrection from final, second death. But the suffering of the lost won’t spoil our everlasting joy. Aren’t you glad the lost will not suffer eternally?

These days many are urging stiffer punishment for criminals – even the death penalty for murderers. But I’ve never heard anyone suggest prolonged torture for any criminal, no matter how terrible the crime. Tell me, are we more kind than God?

Listen.

Back in Noah’s day, when the people drowned, they were gone. God did not keep them endlessly thrashing about in the water. And the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah are not still burning there beneath the Dead Sea. But did you know the Bible says that the citizens of Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by “eternal fire”? Those are the very words. Listen. “Sodom and Gomorrah..are set forth as an example, suffering the vengeance of eternal fire”.

Eternal fire. Eternal in its effect, you see. The punishment is everlasting – but not the punishing. Remember, the wages of sin is death. Not eternal life in hell. Death means the absence of life, the absence of existence. So the doctrine of eternal hell isn’t seen in Scripture, no matter how many sincere people may have thought it to be so. It’s tradition. A holdover from the Dark Ages.

Here is an interesting point to consider. On the cross, Jesus paid wages of the whole world’s sin by His death. Didn’t He? Certainly! Did He suffer eternal torment? Of course not. Then to say sinners must be eternally punished suggests than Jesus failed to pay the full price of their sin. And we know that is not true!

Those who reject their Saviour’s death will finally perish. For the good of the universe, for the good of everyone concerned, every trace of sin will be erased. God’s eternal kingdom of peace will reign at last.

Satan himself will perish at the end of the thousand years, that what the record says, “You…shall be no more forever”.

You may wonder, “Why does God wait a thousand years to dispense with sin?” Simply this. God will not destroy the wicked until the universe fully understands why – until you and I understand. So Paul speaks of a time when “the saints will judge the world”. During our thousand years in heaven, we will have time to examine God’s dealings with loved ones who were lost. We will see God has indeed done all He could do to save each person. Then we will be prepared to witness the solemn and awful judgment of the lost.

There is no way to lock up Satan with a literal key or restrain him with a real chain. And no bottomless pit, no yawning chasm, could hold him. So what could this mean? Simply a symbolic way of saying that Satan will at last be stopped. He and his angels will be confined on this earth. Today Satan roams as a roaring lion, looking for people to devour with temptation. But after Jesus comes, every human being will be either dead or gone. The great rebel will have nothing to do for a thousand years. Except to wander over the dark, desolate earth amid the havoc he has caused.

But did you notice that the devil will be loosed again after this thousand-year vacation? This means he’ll have his wicked followers back. We read on: “Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together for battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea”.

After the thousand years, things happen rapidly. Satan, loosed by the resurrection of the lost, once again controls the rebel host. What happens next? They went up on the breadth f the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.

How did the Holy City, the camp of the saints, get down here? The heavenly city, with all God’s people in it, will travel through space to this planet. Then everyone who has ever lived will be alive, inside or outside the city.

Picture the scene. Satan compares the vast host under his command with the much smaller number within the city. Numbers favor his side. And he has military leaders from all history behind him. Hitler is there too. Satan rallies his forces for a final frenzied attack on God’s throne. The vast rebel army advances toward the city.

Then what happens? Hell happens. Hell – as the Bible describes it – happens. Fire streaks down from above. The earth becomes a vast, seething lake of fire. But the city of God rides safely upon it – just as Noah’s ark was protected during the waters of the Flood.

Hell will be hot. So hot, sin and sinners will not survive. But after those flames have done their work, they will go out. Just as the water receded in Noah’s day, the lake of fire subsides. Then God brings beauty out of ashes. He restores this earth as beautiful as long-lost Eden.

Rebellion will be over, never to trouble a happy universe again. Sin will be gone – and with it death and pain and heartache. Finally Jesus fulfills his promise that the meek will inherit the earth. God will give this born-again planet to His people as their permanent home.

Friend, think of the disappointment in the heart of the Saviour if you should be missing. No one could take your place. Not all the millions of the saved. Not all the adoring angels. Your Heavenly Father needs you there. Don’t disappoint Him!

How God’s heart will be crushed on the day of hellfire! Long ago Jesus cried over a doomed city. “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem…! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing!”

“O precious planet in rebellion, how patiently I have knocked at your hearts’ doors, urging you to let Me in. I tried to save you from the burning. Yet you weren’t willing! Now it’s too late!”

But friend, today there’s still time. Whether you realize it or not, this moment you are deciding whether to be inside or outside the Holy City. You do not have to be locked outside with Satan when the fire falls. You can be safely inside with the Lord Jesus Christ.

I think of the lumberman who built a little cabin at the edge of the woods. One evening as he returned from work, a horrible scene met his sight. A forest fire has swept through and destroyed his little home. Only a smoking heap remained.

He wandered out to where the old chicken coop has stood. It too was a mass of ashes and burned wire. At his feet lay a mound of charred feathers. He idly kicked it over. And what do you supposed happened? Four little fuzzy babies scrambled out. Four little chicks survived, sheltered by their mother’s love.

Friend, do you want to be covered when fire sweeps through this planet? You can be. You can be sheltered in your Saviour now.


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