I want to talk about Gehenna today. Does that word mean anything to you? It would if you were a Jew in Jesus' day. The valley of Hinnom, also known as Gehenna, was used as a garbage dump for Jerusalem. All the filth and garbage of the city were thrown into it, including dead bodies of animals and executed criminals. To consume all this, fires burned unceasingly. Maggots worked in the filth. When the wind blew from that direction over the city, its awfulness was quite evident. At night, wild dogs howled and gnashed their teeth as they fought over garbage.
Jesus used this awful scene I've described to you--Gehenna--as a metaphor or symbol for a spiritual place that is much more horrid--hell! Of the twelve times this word for hell is used in the New Testament, guess who mentioned it eleven of those times? That's right, Jesus Christ! Our Lord spoke on the subject of eternal destruction more than any other Bible character. Jesus knew how important it was to warn people of the danger of eternal punishment. Gospel preachers today would be wise to do the same. Every sermon ought not to be one of fire and brimstone, but some of them should be!
Millions of people do not believe in hell, but it is real! It would only take three seconds in hell to convince anyone who does not believe. We want to take an imaginary journey thru hell, but, before we do, let's first consider the facts that we know about hell.
Everything that we know about hell is found in the Bible. What is the condition there? Consider Mark 9:43-48:
"If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched--where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame, rather than having two feet, to be cast into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched--where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.' 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, rather than having two eyes, to be cast into hell fire--where 'their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'"
In considering this (and other passages), we learn that hell is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is a place of darkness and eternal torment. It is a place of fire and brimstone. Those who are wise will make any sacrifice necessary in order to avoid that place of condemnation and agony.
I suspect that the key aspect of suffering in hell will be due to absolute separation from God (cf. II Thess. 1:9). What could be worse than existing forever in misery with nothing positive whatsoever? Even the atheists on Earth benefit from God's blessings (e.g., sunshine, rain, health, etc.). But, can you imagine living with no hope? No peace? No joy? And no end in sight? That's what hell is, because there is nothing good there. Hell is final and absolute separation from God. What would it be like to hear these words at Judgment Day - "Depart from Me, you cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels"?
Does the Bible tell us who specifically will go to hell? Indeed it does. Consider these passages:
Anyone not found in the Book of Life will end up in hell. Those who don't know God and haven't obeyed His gospel will end up there. Those who live immorally and refuse to repent and live righteously will be condemned to hell. In other words, the majority of people will go there! Jesus said as much in Matthew 7:13,14 - "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it." Should we be surprised that only a few will make it? Not really. How many numbered men made it all the way to Canaan? How many survived the global flood? Why is the gate to everlasting life so narrow? Because truth is narrow! How many incorrect answers are there to this question: what does 2 + 2 equal? There are an infinite number of wrong answers and only one right answer. Likewise, God's way is truth, and there is only one way to heaven (through Jesus and His plan; cf. John 14:6). Any other way leads to eternal destruction.
Now that we've briefly considered some facts pertaining to hell, grab my hand and come with me as we take an imaginary journey through hell.
As we approach hell, we can see the smoke ascending up and we can feel the heat radiating outward. Our ears are filled with the cries and moans of hell's inhabitants. As we enter into that place of destruction, the heat is unbearable and the cries and moans and gnashing of teeth become overwhelming. As we walk along we hear someone desperately cry: "Help me!" Who is it?
It's the rich man of Luke 16. He explained that he was all prepared to tell God what a clean life he lived. He said: "I did not drink, curse, lie, gamble, etc. I minded my own business. I was a little stingy though, and the Lord made me read Matthew 25:42 ("I was hungry and you gave me no food; I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink") and Galatians 6:2 ("Bear one another's burdens and so fulfill the law of Christ"). Many today are stingy like the rich man--stingy toward God, His church, and others with their time, talent, and resources. "Rich man, we must keep moving; we can't do anything for you."
Next we come to Pontius Pilate. He explained: "I thought I had passed the burden of guilt. I washed my hands publicly! But when I stood before Jesus, He had me read Matthew 6:24 ("No one can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon") and also Matthew 12:30 ("He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad"). The sin of neutrality will send many to hell. If we know to do good and fail to do it, we have sinned (James 4:17). As we move on, Pilate screams: "Don't be afraid to take a stand for God! We really do reap what we sow!"
Shortly thereafter, we see Agrippa. We ask him: "Why are you here? You seemed to be a good king; you did not have Paul killed." His response: "I had planned to become a Christian, but I never did. Jesus read II Thessalonians 1:8,9 - 'In flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.'" Many, like Agrippa, will be in hell. They had good intentions but never acted upon them. Agrippa continued: "Nothing is worth this! Do no put off preparing! Life is too short and death is certain!"
Amid the continued cries for help, we find Demas. We ask: "You were a Christian, why are you here?" His reply: "I flirted with the Devil. I knew worldliness and Christianity do not mix, but I made the wrong choice and never turned back to the Lord." (cf. II Tim. 4:10). Tragically, there are many like Demas today. They cling to the hope that God will make an exception for them. They choose to live for the world and cling to the hope of heaven simultaneously. They think they cannot fall from grace. Demas screams in anguish: "Present yourself as a living sacrifice to God or you'll end up here too! (Rom. 12:1,2).
Then we see a group of Pharisees crying out for mercy. "Why are you here?" we ask. Their response: "You read of us in Luke 7:30 ("But the Pharisees and lawyers rejected the will of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him"). We rejected the counsel of God. We were like those in John 12:42, afraid we would not be popular or that we would be put out of the synagogue."
Well friends, it's time for us to leave. The fires, screams, and overall anguish are unbearable. As we are leaving, we hear the Pharisees shout out to us: "Tell the people on Earth that obeying God means more than anything! Tell them to do what God says while they still can!"
Dear listeners, there is much more that could be said about this subject, but the point I want to stress is this: Although this has been an imaginary journey into hell, I hope our portrayal has been hypothetically consistent with what the Scriptures reveal. If anything, our imaginary journey was probably entirely too bland in comparison with the real thing! I hope that you are all convinced that you do not want to pay the price of hell. It is too expensive! Hell will be forever. You don't have to go there in real life if you will faithfully obey God now!
Thank you for listening, and may the Lord bless you as you strive to do His will.