Where will we end up after the end-times? God created all of us as immortal beings, but the future is dreadful for every sinner who doesn’t have the righteousness that God requires. Pastor Lutzer answers three burning questions about the Bible’s most chilling doctrine: hell. Throughout history, preachers have either avoided or dreaded this critical reality.
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Transcript: Welcome to “5 Minutes with Pastor Lutzer.” If you were with us last time you know that I said at the end of the session that I was going to speak about the most terrifying doctrine in all the scriptures. And that’s what I’m going to do today.
Jonathan Edwards was an 18th century preacher and he preached a very famous sermon, entitled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Edwards says, “There is the dreadful pit of hell, glowing flames of the wrath of God. Hell’s gate is wide open and you have nothing to stand upon nor anything to take hold of. There’s nothing between you and hell but air. It’s only the power and the mere pleasure of God that holds you up. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine judgment flashing about it. Ready every moment to singe it and to burn it in fire.” In which case you would drop into hell. We don’t find preaching like that today, do we? I was Pastor of Moody Church for 36 years. Only twice, as far as I can remember, did I ever preach an entire message on hell. And I remember the night before I preached those messages, I was scarcely able to sleep, because of the dreadful, terrifying wrath of God. But yet we must be true to the scriptures.
You know this is a series, entitled, “The King Is Coming” and, of course, what we have done is to trace many of the events that are still going to happen in the future. And today as I’ve already emphasized we come to that which is most dreadful. We read in Revelation 20, “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. From His presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before the throne, and the books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in them, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were all judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Well, to summarize, I’m going to answer some questions about this passage.
First of all, who is on the throne? I think it’s Jesus. Jesus taught us that the Father delivered all judgment onto the Son. The Redeemer now becomes the judge.
The other question is who is standing before Him? Well it’s all the people of the earth with the exception, of course, of those who are saved. I want you to visualize it: row upon row, it says the small and great. In other words, God raised them all from the dead. Wherever they were, the particles of their bodies were put together and now they are standing before the throne. When it says small and great I don’t think it means that they were talking about their stature. We’re talking about their station in life—the rich, the poor, the famous, the unknown. Catholics are there. Protestants are there. All the different religions of the world are represented, millions of them, and they’re standing there in dread because they know what is going to happen in the presence of a holy God.
What is it actually that binds them all together? What is their common problem? It is simply that they do not have the righteousness which God requires for them to enter into heaven. Because they’ve never come to saving faith in Christ. What is the basis of their judgment? Well over and over again, it says “They are judged in accordance with what they have done.” Don’t misunderstand that. Salvation is not a matter of works, the Bible teaches. But these people are going to be judged on the basis of what they did with what they knew. In other words, God isn’t going to say to someone who’s never heard of Christ, “You’re going to Hell because you’ve never trusted Christ.” That would be unjust. But they are going to be judged in accordance with their conscience. They intuitively have a sense, as all of us do, of right and wrong, and that will be their standard of judgment. In no way should we think that Hell is going to be the same for everyone. Jesus made the statement “Those who knew the Father’s will and did it not, they shall be beaten with many stripes. The person who didn’t know the Father’s will, will be beaten with few.” Judgment will be meted out justly.
Well we only have time for one final question and that is how long is it that they are in the lake of fire, experiencing the judgment of God? And ,of course, as we find repeatedly in the scriptures: forever and ever. I don’t know about you my friend but I can’t get my mind around that. I’ve often contemplated that. Imagine being in the presence of God in the sense of being under His wrath forever. You say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, why is hell forever?” It is because people are immortal and they are forever guilty.
I can’t end this without a plea to those of you who have never trusted Jesus Christ as your Savior. We hear a lot today about making sure that we speak to felt needs. Well I’ll tell you, standing in the presence of a holy God at that moment, your greatest felt need will be for the gift of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, through faith alone. Through repentance, through faith for accepting Him as your Savior. Because the Bible says that Jesus came to save us from the wrath to come. If you’ve never savingly believed, today is the day to do that. Next time we’re actually going to be talking about heaven and I want you to think about eternity because we’ll be introduced to it again but as for today, you just go with God.