Everyone has a sense that this life is not the end. The issue is how that is to be thought of. The Bible teaches clearly that this life is not all that there is, and to give our lives meaning and worth, they have to be evaluated. This is called ‘judgment.’
Multitudes who sleep in the dust of the earth will awake: some to everlasting life, others to shame and everlasting contempt.
...man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgment.
Heaven and Hell
The fact that the Bible uses word pictures to ‘describe the indescribable’ shouldn’t blind us to the realities they seek to portray. If anything, the realities will be more awesome than the imagery, not less.
Jesus describes hell in these terms:
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where
" `their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.’ "
One theologian has described hell like this: ‘Hell is outside-ness. The picture I have is this: on one side, there is the cosmos, a world of order, beauty and law. On the other, there is Outside. Hell is not part of the cosmos. It is not part of the realm of law and beauty. It is absolutely outside. And it is outside most appropriately, because sin is anomia. It is lawlessness, the very negation of law. That’s why it must be placed outside, where there is no law or order or beauty. Lawlessness is banished to Outer Darkness and Disorder.’
This is why hell is not only the most appropriate punishment for our rebellion, but necessary. At root, sin is lawlessness, wanting to live without God. Hell is eternal lawlessness - life without God. What we have wanted in time, is given in eternity.
Why believe it?
Justice demands it.
For there not to be a judgment day, a ‘balancing of the books’, would mean God ceases to be a just God. The life of Hitler would be on a par with Mother Teresa, especially if eventually the world ends and all humankind vanishes with the dinosaurs. If hell is immoral, so is every prison and detention centre. These are not simply centres for correction (otherwise let us ‘treat people’ not sentence them), they are places of punishment-deserts. So it is with hell.
Jesus taught it. If we are to reject Jesus teaching at this point, then why not reject it at every point? In three of the most penetrating parables Jesus ever uttered, hell is painted in the darkest hues imaginable. Luke 16:23; Matthew 25:41 and Matthew 22:13. In the latter he speaks of people being cast ‘outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’ Jesus felt the burden of people’s fate.
This ‘darkside’ of the prospect of hell - the judgment we all deserve (Romans 3:23) actually serves to highlight the ‘brightside’ of God’s rescue in Jesus and the sheer undeserved nature of the gift of eternal life, and heaven, it brings. The bad news is truly bad. It shouts out one word ‘help!’ Who can rescue us from such a fate?
The answer - God.This is why he sent his Son into the world. Here is one of the most famous sayings in the Bible, which is meaningless if the fact of judgment and our accountability is an illusion:
God so loved the world, that he gave his one and only Son,so that whoever believes in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
The way we receive the offer of rescue personally is by ‘faith’ - trusting in God’s offer in providing his Son to take our penalty in our place, the resurrection being the proof of its success and our acceptability.
Heaven, in contrast to hell, is where God is. It is the place of complete and perfect beauty, order and relationship (see Isaiah 65:17-25). The Bible promises there will be a ‘new heaven and earth.’ (2 Peter 3:13). Jesus says ‘In my Father’s house are many rooms’ (John 14:2) - it is the ‘place’ to which he has gone and is preparing for his followers. There is no imperfection there - ‘God will wipe away every tear from their eyes’ (Revelation 7:17). Christ himself is at the centre, leading them to ‘springs of living water’ (Revelation 7:17). It is a place where we find our true fulfilment, remade in God’s image and so not a place of inactivity, but creativity - exploration, being led ‘By the Good Shepherd’ (John 10) - overflowing in joyful service (Revelation 7:15). It is a place of ‘rest’, that is the absence of toil, frustration and persecution (Revelation 14:13). Heaven is to enter into the heart of the universe.
This is all part of the ‘Great Exchange’ of the cross. What we do deserve - judgment - Jesus received in our place. What we don’t deserve - forgiveness and heaven - he freely gives. No other religion in the world speaks in these terms.