Does your pastor give a benediction at the end of your worship service? Usually he lifts his hands up and pronounces a blessing upon the congregation. My church uses the regulative principle of worship. The order of the service goes through phases that build upon one another and results in a crescendo, the benediction and the singing of praise to God. The benediction is the last act of the minister, because Christ’s last act on earth was a blessing of his disciples. “He lifted up his hands and blessed his disciples.” (Like 24:50) Boston points out that Christ will give one last benediction when he blesses the church and we enter into our inherited Kingdom of Heaven. However, this worship service will end with a malediction, a pronouncement of a curse, to the remaining congregation. “Then he will say to those on his left, depart form me, you cursed ones, into everlasting fire , prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matt. 25:41)
As noted before , Boston makes a direct correlation between the state which one is found at the second coming and the eternal state. There is no intermediate state in which second chances will be given. In order for a second chance there must be a first, and God is not a god of chance.
The doctrine of hell is foreshadowed in the account of Adam and Eve in the Garden. Throughout the entirety of scripture the threatenings and warnings of Hell are described in word pictures, from which we interpret a literal place through figurative examples. As with Heaven, we can only imagine what Hell is like. As believers, we do not contemplate Hell as often as Heaven, for we have no affiliation there. However, as all scripture is good to explore, its implications should assist us in our appreciation of God.
The punishment of Hell is twofold. From Christ’s pronouncement of doom on the lost we see first that Hell is a separation from the benefits if God. When Christ says, “depart from me” we tend to overlook this imperative and look to the “eternal fire” and the “devil and his angels” part. The notion that the King of Glory will exile the unbeliever and remove from him his protection and temporal blessing, is the foremost punishment of all. In this life even the condemned experience God’s love. How God can love and hate at the same time is impossible for us to reconcile. Though God hates the wicked everyday, he still causes the rain to fall and the sun to shine on them. Though corrupt, the unregenerate are not allowed to be as corrupt as they could be. Though confined, evil will not be restrained and no temporal comforts will be allowed in Hell. God also uses the most dreadful physical torture that man can imagine, eternal fire, to describe the torments of hell. Those who were condemned before, the devil and his angels, will be made the eternal company of those who are resigned to this place.
What we know for sure is that Hell is the antithesis of Heaven, and those who reside there are of the opposite nature. The goodness and reward of Heaven must be equal to the evil and punishment of Hell. Punishment must fit the dignity of the one offended.
In eternity man will retain his human qualities. Those qualities will resemble their fellow countrymen. God’s children will exude goodness and mercy. Satan’s children will be evil and cruel like him. Whatever likeness of God that man now possesses will be erased in Hell. Part of the delusion that fallen man is under, is the notion that there is good in everyone. At the judgement, this will be evidenced when men will come and tell of their good deeds done on earth. God will reveal to them that even their good works were worth nothing, because they were done outside of Christ. How shocking this will have to be to those who, on earth, depended on their own goodness to merit reward. Oh the weeping and gnashing of teeth when it is discovered that they lived the lie told to them by their father, the father of lies. God is merciful to the regenerate when he slowly reveals our iniquities and unworthiness. For to have his displeasure made known instantaneously, would surely destroy us.
The fears of Hell and the promises of Heaven have led many to do terrible acts in the name of God. Pastors have bound the consciences of their flock by preaching avoidance of Hell by righteous living. Enticements of Heaven have been offered as bait to lure men into a false belief in works righteous. Often the Christian religion looks little different than Islam, Mormonism, and Jehovah’s Witness. Followers are motivated out of fear of punishment or promise of reward. The doctrines of Heaven and Hell should only be relative parts of our whole faith.
For those under the state of grace, your eternity has already begun. Being the recipients of God’s grace, by the work of his Word and Spirit, should provoke us to respond differently than the world, to the belief in a literal Hell. We should certainly not discount Hell, but we should praise God for his mercy in sparing us its threat. Careful consideration should be given to this topic when conversing with the lost. Never should we make light of this real and impending doom. The lost do not know how perilously close they tread to the edge of this kingdom of horrors. Only by the light of the Spirit may they see their way clear to avoid it. The fear of hell will not drive men to Christ. It is the love of Christ that will draw them to himself.