The Reality of Hell and Our Obligation to Teach It
My definition of hell is an eternal conscious punishment of those who do not repent of their sins and trust Jesus Christ as their Savior. Hell is a subject that way too many preachers and teachers today try to avoid. I think the problem many pastors have is a lame excuse why they don’t preach on hell. They have a righteous desire to reach unbelievers but because the preaching on hell might be offensive to the them, they never mention the place called hell. Some more liberal churches go further and say that unbelievers will simply cease to exist at death and will not suffer for eternity, annihilation. Then there are the super liberal churches who go even further and preach that there is no punishment of any kind, not even annihilation. They preach universalism, the belief that everyone will go to heaven no matter what they believe.
The neglect or denial of hell may be presented under the name Christian, but no one can be faithful to the Lord’s teaching without affirming the eternal conscious punishment of the lost. That is because no one in all of Scripture talks about the reality of hell more often than Jesus Himself. Our text includes some of His most notable teaching on the subject.
Jesus draws attention to the straight-out horror of hell with a series of contrasts that all involve bodily amputation and mutilation. He teaches that it is better to lose a body part that entices you to sin than it is to go to hell. Just imagine what the Jewish hearers thought when they heard Jesus talking about bodily mutilation. Bodily mutilation in Judaism was strictly forbidden, and it disqualified a person from entering the worshiping congregation (Deut. 14:1; 23:1). To say it would be better to mutilate your body than to go to hell, shows the seriousness with which we must take sin. Hell is so awful that losing a body part is a better fate.
The word “hell” in verse 47 translates the term Gehenna, which was another name for the valley of the son of Hinnom. This was the place near Jerusalem where many ancient Jews sacrificed children to the pagan god Molech (2 Kings 23:10). By the first century A.D., the place was accursed because of that, and it was used as a figure for the eternal place of punishment after death, hell. Jesus’ use of the unquenchable fire in reference to this place in verse 48 borrows from the fact that in his day, the physical Gehenna was a garbage dump where garbage never stopped burning. Jesus uses the physical reality to point to something much worse which is an unending pain in the afterlife for those who go to hell.
Hell is a reality that’s so painful for some to even think about and so it’s understandable that they don’t like to talk about it. However, we must not view things from our perspective but from God’s perspective. He calls us to preach the reality of hell, the bad news, so that people might understand how much they need the good news of the gospel. It’s hard for me to understand how anyone can share the good news without sharing the bad news of hell. So, let’s not neglect hell as we share the good news about Jesus. God Bless!