Then the king said to the servants, “Bind him hand and food, and throw him into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
In the story of Lazarus and the rich man in Luke 16, we learn that hell is an actual location. Second, Jesus taught that hell is a place of torment. In verse 24, the rich man begs Abraham for mercy. He cries, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.” In Mark 9:48, Jesus said that hell was a place “where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” In Matthew 22:13, He talked about hell as a place of intense loneliness and sorrow where there will be continual weeping and gnashing of teeth.
Hell is going to be a place of suffering–Jesus taught that. But are we to believe that in hell there is a literal furnace burning a literal fire consuming the literal flesh of people day and night forever? Even among conservative theologians there is some difference of opinion on this. For example, Martin Luther and John Calvin both believed in the reality of hell, but they believed Jesus used fire symbolically to represent the torment that awaited unbelievers. In more recent times, great theologians like Francis Schaeffer and J. I. Packer have also said that this fire is symbolic. They go on to argue that you cannot reconcile a literal fire with the darkness that is supposed to characterize hell. Furthermore, they say, a literal fire does not allow for different degrees of punishment.
But if Jesus was speaking symbolically when He described the fire of hell, we should take no comfort in that. A lot of people say, “Oh, it is not a real fire–He is just talking symbolically,” as if the reality is not as bad as the symbol. But I want to suggest that if Jesus was indeed speaking symbolically, then the reality is even worse than the symbol. Jesus was saying, “The physical pain you will suffer there is so horrible, there are no human words to describe it. The closest I can get is to say it would be like having your flesh on fire day and night forever and ever.” Make no mistake, Jesus clearly taught that hell is a place of horrendous suffering. As the fate of the rich man in Luke 16 illustrates, all the money in the world cannot keep us from experiencing that suffering. Only by calling on the name of the Lord, as Lazarus did, can we be saved.
Today’s devotion is excerpted from “Why God Sends Good People To Hell” by Dr. Robert Jeffress, 2008.
Scripture quotations taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved. www.lockman.org.