The Mississippi Baptist Foundation  |  est. 1943  |  Psalm 24:1
 
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THE REALM OF HELL

      Earlier this year, Scott Simon of National Public Radio conducted an interview with George Kourounis regarding Kourounis’ visit to the “Gates of Hell” crater in Turkmenistan that has been burning continuously for five decades being fueled by methane gas leaking from a natural gas field. Kourounis is a photographer and explorer in residence for the Royal Canadian Geographical Society who provided some highlights of his experience in “hell” during this recent interview with Simon.     
      When asked by Simon to describe the Gates of Hell, Kourounis stated “…it is equal parts terrifying and beautiful.” When encouraged by Simon to “tell us about the beautiful part,” Kourounis indicated that the crater measures 230 feet across and lights up the entire sky at night. When Kourounis declared that the Gates of Hell is “the best fire pit you could possibly imagine,” Simon laughed in response.
      As noted in a previous edition of “From Daniel’s Den,” Hell is real and is no laughing matter because, as W. T. Conner expressed, “Men are going there.” While Kourounis mentioned in the interview that the Gates of Hell crater was “equal parts terrifying and beautiful,” his description as “the best fire pit you could possibly imagine” could be received as being somewhat dismissive concerning the terrifying aspects of the crater.     
      Sadly, too many people also are dismissive concerning the existence of Hell in general and the terrifying aspects of Hell in particular. This perspective is confirmed by the manner in which the term “hell” is uttered flippantly in everyday speech. Many people do not believe in Hell and most people would rather avoid the topic of Hell entirely. Jesus, however, preached extensively on the subject of Hell. Thus, the current edition of “From Daniel’s Den” strives to further underscore the Reality of Hell by offering biblical truths regarding the Realm of Hell.
      The most popular word used to depict Hell in the New Testament is “Gehenna.” Gehenna was an actual place…a valley located just south of Jerusalem (Joshua 18:16). Meaning “Valley of Hinnom,” Gehenna was a place associated with Unimaginable Evil. This unimaginable evil was an abomination to God and came in the form of child sacrifice that occurred as part of the rebellious and idolatrous worship of the pagan deities Baal and Molech (2 Chronicles 28:3 & 33:5-6; Jeremiah 7:31, 19:2-5, & 32:35).     
      Gehenna was also recognized as a place of Unquenchable Fire. In Jesus’ day, Gehenna may have served as a garbage dump where rubbish was burned continuously. The foul odor akin to burning sulfur (Isaiah 30:33) and the excessive and putrid smoke emitted from the fire offered sufficient reason to avoid congregating at Gehenna.  
      When Jesus described the realm of hell in terms of Gehenna, his disciples understood what he meant when he spoke of “eternal fire” (Matthew 25:41) and a place “where the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43). Because Gehenna was known as a place of unimaginable evil, his disciples came to realize that the tares (or weeds) represented judgment for and the punishment of unrighteous evildoers who would be harvested at the end of the age by the Lord’s angels who will “throw them into the fiery furnace where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:24-30 & 40-42).     
      Beyond being a place associated with punishing the evil of the unrighteous and a place of unquenchable fire (Jude 1:7), the realm of hell is also described as a place of Unrelenting Torment (Revelation 14:10) complete with a lake of burning sulfur where torment continues “day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).
      Jesus expressed the unrelenting torment of hell in the parable of the rich man and Lazarus. A poor man named Lazarus lay at the gate of the rich man longing to eat crumbs that fell from the rich man’s table. Lazarus’ body was covered with sores. Dogs that came and licked his sores offered more compassion for the poor beggar than did the rich man who lived in luxury every day (Luke 16:19-21).     
      The image presented in this parable is repulsive yet the Bible records that the rich man, when he died, experienced the torment of Hell (Luke 16:23). Looking up and seeing Lazarus by Abraham’s side, the rich man appealed to Abraham “…have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire” (Luke 16:24).
      Ultimately, the realm of hell is a place of Unending Separation. This separation is first and foremost from God. The most basic characteristic of Hell is the absence of God or banishment from his presence. God is a holy God and he must punish sin. Because God is holy, he is separated from evil. Hell is the place where those who choose to follow the broad path that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13) are separated from God forever.          
      The location of Gehenna outside of Jerusalem serves to reinforce the realm of Hell as being outside or away from the presence of God. Stemming from judgment, the resulting separation from God leads to misery and a sense of loneliness that follows having seen the glory of God through his son Jesus and finally realizing that He truly is the “name above every name” (Philippians 2:9-11).
      Matthew records “When the Son of Man comes in his glory…he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (25:31-32). Those who are righteous will remain in the presence of the Lord forever while the unrighteous will hear Jesus say “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41).     
      In addition to being separated from God, unbelievers are separated from believers as “sheep and goats” with a chasm that prohibits passage from either direction (Luke 16:26). Furthermore, this eternal separation also may affect family members. The rich man begged Abraham to allow Lazarus to go and warn the rich man’s family members so that “they might not likewise come to this place of torment” (Luke 16:27-28).  

      Despite everything that can be gleaned from the biblical record concerning the realm of Hell, we cannot truly fathom the realm of Hell. As one anonymous commentator offered:

      “There is no way to describe Hell. Nothing on earth can compare with it. No living person has any real idea of it. No madman in wildest flights of insanity ever beheld its horror. No man in delirium ever pictured a place so utterly terrible as this. No nightmare racing across a fevered mind ever produced a terror to match that of the mildest hell.     

      No murder scene with splashed blood and oozing wound ever suggested a revulsion that could touch the border lands of hell. Let the most gifted writer exhaust his skill in describing these roaring caverns of unending flame and he would not even brush the nearest edge of hell.”

      Realizing the impossibility of depicting the realm of Hell adequately, W. A. Criswell once concluded “I have never been to heaven (and) I have never been to hell. I must trust God’s revelation.” God’s revelation indicates that Hell is a place associated with evil and rebellion, a place of judgment and punishment, and a place of misery where the unrighteous reside eternally separated from God. In short, Hell is much more serious and terrifying than “the best fire pit that you could possible imagine.”

 

Dear Heavenly Father, You are a holy God who cannot allow sin to go unpunished. Yet, with grace and mercy you sent your son Jesus to span the chasm that separates sinful humanity from your presence. May I strive daily to introduce others to the One who can rescue them from the perils of their sin so that they might live with you eternally and avoid the realm of Hell. Amen.

                Daniel