Category Archives: death

Why would Jesus talk about hell?

Jesus talked about hell more than all the other Bible authors combined. Hell is mentioned explicitly 23 times in the New Testament and in 16 of those times, Jesus is the one who utters the words.

He pronounces “eternal fire and punishment” as the final destiny of persons who see the hungry in helland give them nothing to eat or see the sick and don’t care for them (Matt. 25:41-46). He warns that those who give into sin are in danger of “hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:42-48). Normally when all the flesh is consumed, any maggots die; but the decomposition in hell never ends—their worm does not die. Normally something on fire gets burned up and the fire goes out; but in hell the burning never ends.

Why would Jesus—the Lord of Love, the Author of Grace—talk about a fate that horrible?

Our minds tend to go toward worst case answers:
●  Jesus was not as compassionate and wise as us.
●  He allowed the brutality and barbarism of his day to rub off on him.
●  Or maybe he himself never spoke threats of hell but over-zealous followers put them in his mouth.

But there are also best case answers available:
●  If we choose evil we cannot enter the heavenly City.

Out of respect for human dignity, Jesus does not force his values on us—does not force us to behave as residents of heaven behave, to love God with all our being and love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So if we reject the values of heaven, we must go to the “other place.”

C.S. Lewis wrote: “There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell choose it” (The Great Divorce). Henri Nouwen wrote: “God is love and only love. In God there is no hatred, desire for revenge, or pleasure in seeing us punished. God wants to forgive, heal, restore, show us endless mercy, and see us come home. But just as the father of the prodigal son let his son make his own decision, God gives us the freedom to refuse God’s love, even at the risk of destroying ourselves. Hell is not God’s choice. It is ours” (Bread for the Journey).

●  Misery is the out-working of a choice against God and for self.

The agony of hell-fire may be a metaphor for something infinitely worse than fire. We see that self-centeredness brings misery in the long run. The more self-absorbed and self-focused a person is, the more they tend to grumble, complain, and blame others. Relationships break down. Even physical well-being lessens. If we see that amount of misery in this short life, imagine these souls in a billion years. As we start out, we are distinct from our grumbling mood. We may even criticize it in ourselves and wish we could stop it. “But there may come a day when you can do that no longer. Then there will be no you left to criticise the mood, nor even to enjoy it, but just the grumble itself going on forever like a machine” (C. S. Lewis, The Great Divorce).

Jesus’ images of horror and agony may simply be a description of a chosen path of sinful selfishness going on forever, on a trajectory toward abject misery. Jesus, more perceptive and wiser than any other prophet or teacher, was more aware of this danger than any other. And so he in compassion warned us of it more than any other.

Death focuses life

The Swedish chemist Alfred Nobel is most often remembered as the man behind the Nobel Prize, the highly regarded international award for efforts in peace, chemistry, physics, literature, and economics.

At one point, however, Nobel was once largely known as an inventor and maker of explosives. In 1866 he invented dynamite, and he went on to operate labs in 20 countries and have more than 90 factories manufacturing explosives and ammunition.

Then in 1888 a bizarre incident occurred which gave Alfred Nobel an unlikely opportunity to reflect on his life. When Alfred’s brother Ludvig died while staying in Cannes, France, the French newspapers mistakenly confused the two brothers, reporting the death of the inventor of explosives. One paper’s headline read: “Le marchand de la mort est mort” — The merchant of death is dead.

That event seems to have led Nobel to change the trajectory of his life and ultimately led to his establishment of the Nobel Prize, giving him a remarkably changed reputation.

As you and I reflect on our personal lives, what are people apt to say about us upon our death? What would we like persons at our funeral to say about us and our life? Further, after we draw our last breath we will stand before God and give an account of our life. What will God say as we stand there with everything “uncovered and laid bare” (Hebrews 4:13)?

Looking at death brings life into focus.

Transmuted into something new

Three days earlier they laid him in the tomb, pronounced dead by a Roman centurion, an expert in such matters. Then resurrection life swept through that tomb.

Nothing has been the same since! It’s like we were stumbling around with a sinking feeling, full of dread. Then Christ arose and a surge of adrenaline shot through us, a sense of strength and optimism!

Paul writes in 1 Corinthians 15:20 (NLT), “[Christ] has become the first of a great harvest of those who will be raised to life again.” Paul is using the concept of firstfruits, something common in Palestinian agriculture. The first grain of the harvest is proof that the harvest is ready to be gathered in as well as a promise of what the harvest is going to be like.

If we had been there at the moment of Jesus’ resurrection, would we have seen him stir and open his eyes and begin to struggle with the bandages? No, that would have been a resuscitation of a natural body, not a resurrected body. Rather, we would have seen him pass through the graveclothes and out of the sealed tomb, his body transmuted into something new and different and wonderful, a body that could eat and touch but not need doorways to leave or enter a place.

Once there is the firstfruits, there is more of the same to follow. The enemy Death will come for me and you. But we, like Jesus, are not going to find ourselves in the hold of death but given a glorious new body. This will not be “glorious” for those not ready to meet God — those resisting God would find themselves mighty uncomfortable beyond death in the presence of God, and indeed would not be able to remain there. But for those of us who love God, nothing can hold us back!