October 30, 2005
2 Thessalonians 1:1-12
Today, we begin a four part series on the subject of FOREVER.
Forever. Eternity. Forever.
The Bible says that there are only two final destinations for all people. Every person who has ever lived, is living, or ever will live, will end up in one of two places: Heaven or Hell.
And both of those final destinations are FOREVER. They are eternal. They last for eternity.
Endless, interminable, eternal, everlasting, unending, unceasing, perpetual, abiding, incessant, unstopping, forever and ever and ever and ever. Forever.
Most people do not want to stop to think about FOREVER.
• It is hard for us to grasp.
• It is hard for us to swallow.
• It is hard for us pay attention to with our short attention-spans.
But God lives forever and has a plan for forever and has told us about FOREVER in His Holy Word.
And we would do well to listen to His Holy Word and to learn about FOREVER.
Today, I have set out on the unpleasant but important task of talking about our default destination.
Our default destination, where each of us are headed if our course does not change is a place the Bible calls: Hell.
Yes, we would like to think that our default destination is heaven. But the Bible teaches that as sinners, rebels against a “Holy, Holy, Holy” God, we are by nature children of wrath. We are by nature, by default, headed to Hell.
And that is no fun to think about.
And it is no fun to talk about, either.
I get absolutely no pleasure from talking about the subject of Hell.
C.S. Lewis said of Hell, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than [Hell] if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and specially, of Our Lord’s own words...” (The Problem of Pain, Pg 118)
Yes, the Lord Jesus talked about the reality of Hell more than any other person in the whole Bible. In fact, the Lord Jesus talked about Hell more than He talked about Heaven!
So, I take no pleasure in it, but if I would follow my Lord, I can do nothing less than preach on the subject of Hell.
And we all need to hear about it. We all need to be reminded of eternity. And how the choices we make now in time will affect our eternity forever.
We all need to be reminded that this life is just an entranceway into eternity. This life is just the foyer of the great house of eternity. This life is a vapor, a mist, and it will soon pass away and Forever will be here. We all need to hear about eternity.
[Scripture Reading, Prayer]
Here’s the situation. Paul and his ministry team are writing to the church at Thessalonika that is doing really well at faith in God and love for others. And Paul is telling them that they are doing good at faith in God and love for others, and he is praying that they would continue to do good and persevere in faith and love for each other to the glory of God.
What makes their faith and love so remarkable is that they are trusting and loving in the face of enduring (v.4) “persecutions and trials.” Times are tough for the Thessalonians right now.
Life is hard. They are getting kicked in the teeth.
Christianity is difficult for them. They are being persecuted and going through trials.
People are being mean to them. Most probably, they are losing their possessions, their jobs, their health, and for some of them, they are losing their very lives.
But they are continuing to trust God and to show love to each other. And so, Paul writes to encourage them to keep it up and to let them know that he is praying for them to keep up their faith and love to the glory of God.
And the main way that Paul encourages them is to remind them of Hell.
Yes, you heard that right. The main way in 2 Thessalonians chapter 1 that Paul encourages the believers to keep on trusting and keep on loving while enduring persecutions and trials is to remind the believers of the coming judgment of Hell.
Verses 6 through 10 are a reminder of the biblical teaching about the Return of Christ and the judgment to follow. Verses 6 through 10 are about Hell. Let’s look at them. Start back in verse 5.
“All this is evidence that God's judgment is right, and as a result you will be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you are suffering.”
The “all this” in verse 5 is all of the persecutions which are adding up to a judgment on the persecutors and all of the perseverance of the believers adding up to being counted and demonstrated as worthy of the Kingdom of God for which they were suffering.
When the judgment happens, justice will be done and will be seen to be done.
And the judgment will come. V.6
“God is just...” You can count on this: “God is just.” The whole point of Hell is that justice is being done.
Point #1 (of 3): HELL IS ETERNAL JUSTICE FROM GOD. V.6 again.
“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.” Stop there.
Hell is eternal justice from God. Sometimes it seems like people get away with murder, doesn’t it?
But actually, no one gets away with anything!
Justice is coming. Judgment is coming. It will soon be “payback time.”
The people who were handing out trouble to the Thessalonian believers were going to receive trouble back from God. V.6, “God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled, and to us as well.”
Have you been sinned against? Have you been victimized? Many have. Christians are called to suffer. We are called to expect suffering for the Kingdom. Just for being Christians. And it isn’t fair!
But it will be set straight. Every single sin ever committed. Just stop right now and think about all the sinning going on on this planet right now...6 billion people on the planet. Six billion sinners.
Every sin is being recorded and will be paid back.
We may have to wait, but it will come. When? V.7
“This [justice] will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
The full reality of Hell will come at the Second Coming of Our Lord Jesus Christ.
Yes, right now, the Bible says that when unbelievers die, they are judged and go to Hell (often called “Hades” or “Gehenna” in the Bible).
But this passage teaches that when Jesus returns, He will bring with Him the full reality of Hell.
Verse 7 says that the Lord Jesus will be “revealed from heaven.” The Greek word is “avpokalu,yei,” the word we get “Revelation” from. It means that Jesus is hidden in Heaven right now. But one day, He will be revealed!
And not as a baby in the manger in Bethlehem, but as the Returning King of the Universe bent on bringing justice to His Kingdom!
Verse 7 says that He will come in blazing fire with His powerful angels.
The blazing fire reminds us of Mount Sinai, when God’s holiness once scorched the mountain. Now, the Lord will come in blazing fire again and scorch the whole Earth with His Holiness!
And He will bring a invincible, irresistible army with Him.
The Lord Jesus will be revealed from Heaven in blazing fire with His powerful angels. And He will bring eternal justice. V.8
“He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.”
The King James says that He will take “vengeance on them that know not God.”
The Greek word for “punish” or “take vengeance” is “evkdi,khsin,” and it comes from the word that means justice or righteousness.
This is saying that the Lord Jesus will right every wrong. What He is going to do in imposing Hell on those who do not know God is eternal justice.
Hell is eternal justice from God.
It’s what we deserve.
You say, Pastor Matt, what have we done to deserve Hell?
All of us have (v.8) not known God and not obeyed the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
All of us have not known God.
Now, this does not mean that we have never heard of God or never got the idea of God into our minds. The Bible says that everyone knows something about God. Read Romans 1 sometime to see that.
This means that we have all chosen to not know God relationally.
This means that we have all forsaken what we do know of God and rejected Him.
It means that we are sinners, rebels, at the core.
John says eternal life is knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ whom He has sent. Eternal death comes from not knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ!
All of us (by nature) have not obeyed the Good News of Jesus Christ.
That is, by default, we have not trusted in the Gospel that can save us. The Gospel is News that demands a response. Good News that demands a faith and obedience response.
And all of us (by nature) have not obeyed this Good News.
Many who have heard it have spurned it as religion, as poppycock, as a crutch, as a drug for the masses, as something for the weak, as falsehood.
But they will find that it was true. And they will receive payback for all of their sins for eternity.
Hell is eternal justice from God.
That is good news, isn’t it?
It’s hard to swallow, because we are so squeamish, and we don’t love what is good and holy enough.
But we all long for justice, don’t we? We don’t want Saddam Hussein or Osama Bin Laden or Adolph Hitler to get away with what they did, do we?
We all long for justice, and there seems to be so little of it today.
But justice will be done and will be seen to be done in Hell.
And this justice will mean REST and RELIEF for us. Back to V.6 again.
“God is just: He will pay back trouble to those who trouble you and give relief to you who are troubled [literally, “rest”], and to us as well. This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels.”
When Jesus brings justice in Hell, He also brings Heavenly Rest.
Hell is Eternal Justice from God.
#2. HELL IS ETERNAL DESTRUCTION BY GOD. Look at the next phrase in V.9.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction...”
This is where we get the word FOREVER.
Hell goes on and on and on forever.
Hell is eternal destruction by God.
These people are destroyed by God for all eternity.
That is almost too much to think about.
The Lord Jesus fills in the picture of eternity in Hell in the gospels.
He likens it to “being outside” in “outer darkness.” (Matthew 8, Matthew 22)
No warmth, no light, no friendship, no happiness, no stories, no smiles, no companionship, no togetherness. Just “outside,” forever.
Hell is not like the cartoons that show a great big party down under. The party is up above! And those in Hell are all alone. If there is company in Hell, it is unbearable company. It’s probably much more like solitary confinement.
The Lord Jesus says that Hell is a place of unquenchable fire. (Matthew 7, Matthew 13, Mark 9)
The fires of Hell are not a myth that came in with Dante’s Inferno. They are a reality. They were prepared for the Devil and His Demons (Mt 25:41), but they are receiving people like you and me who “do not know God” or “obey His Gospel.”
Have you ever put your hand on the stove? Imagine not being able to ever take it off.
Its unimaginable, but it’s real.
The Lord Jesus says Hell is a place where there is “gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8, Matthew 13, Matthew 24, Matthew 25, Luke 13.)
That means that the people in Hell are in miserable agony and hate God more because of it. Hell doesn’t get better with time. And the residents of Hell don’t get better with time. They get worse and worse forever and ever and ever, sinning eternally.
Are these things just figures of speech? They may be somewhat metaphorical, but that means that there are no words that can actually describe how horrible the reality of Hell really is!
The Lord Jesus says that Hell is characterized by undying, insatiable worms (Mark 9). The picture (drawn from the Old Testament in Isaiah 66) is that of a battlefield littered with defeated corpses being eaten by maggots that never have their fill.
He says, Hell is a place where “Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.”
That’s what our Lord says. Jesus! Sometimes, we think that Jesus was soft on sin.
We think that “we are not so bad and God is not so mad.”
But the Lord Jesus talked about Hell more than anyone else in the Bible.
And He said that it was eternal destruction.
Not just for a long time, and then it’s over.
But for the same duration as Heaven.
The Lord Jesus said (Matthew 25:46), “Then [the wicked] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Same word. Eternal life. Eternal punishment.
Forever in Hell.
But the worst part of Hell is not the darkness, not being outside, not the worm, not the fire, not the gnashing of teeth...but the absence of God. V.9 again.
“They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power...”
#3. HELL IS ETERNAL EXCLUSION FROM GOD.
Unbelievers will be (v.9) “shut out from the presence of the Lord and the majesty of his power.”
Eternal exclusion from God.
The word for “presence” in v.9 is literally, “face.”
Unbelievers in Hell will not see and enjoy the Face of Jesus.
The absence of God is what makes Hell unbearable.
God is what makes all things good. And therefore, Hell is the absence of all things that are good.
We will see in coming weeks that God is what makes Heaven Heaven.
So exclusion from God is what makes Hell Hell.
We can’t comprehend this right now because we live in a world where God is present. Sometimes, we get foretastes of Hell, like when basic human services and civility break down in hurricanes or earthquakes or tsunamis or genocide. Sometimes, when we say, “Where is God in the world?” we are tasting what Hell will be like for those who have to live there for all eternity.
Hell is eternal exclusion from God.
And this is God’s judgment. Hell comes from God.
Hell is not Satan’s idea. He doesn’t run Hell. God runs Hell.
Hell is God’s punishment for Satan. It was originally designed to for Satan. Satan is going to be tormented day and night forever and ever in Hell in the Lake of Fire (Rev 20:10). Satan is going to get the justice due Satan.
And Satan with all the rest of the future inhabitants of Hell will be eternally excluded from the face of God.
That should make us shudder.
There are only two final destinations. Heaven or Hell.
Hell is the default destination for sinners like you and like me.
Do you know where you are going to end up?
If we believe what the Bible has presented here to be true, we should want to do anything, to pay any price to stay out of this place!
The Good News is that what needs to be done has already been accomplished for us! The price that needs to be paid has already been paid for us!
The exclusion from God that is Hell has already been experienced by God’s own eternal Son on our behalf.
Jesus Christ died on the Cross to pay for our sins.
He took our Hell-worth sins on His shoulders.
He absorbed the Hellish wrath of God that was rightfully mine.
He has made a way to Heaven so that we do not have to go to Hell.
And He invites you today to put your faith and trust in Him.
- Because of Hell, Come to Know God and Obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.
Even though it is your default destination, you do not have to go to Hell.
Even though we are, by nature, children of wrath, God’s grace is extended to us be saved. He is giving out the grace to obey the Gospel of His Son!
God invites you today to come to know Him and to obey the Gospel of His Son.
God invites you today to put your faith in Jesus Christ and His Crosswork for the forgiveness of your sins and for the hope of eternal life.
If you were to died today (and noone knows when they will), do you know beyond the shadow of a doubt that you are going to Heaven?
Not because you are a good person. There is no one righteous. No not one.
Not because you have done good things. They are all like filthy rags.
Not because you have a good family. God is not impressed by people and pedigree.
But because of the Cross of Jesus Christ, the absorption of the wrath of God for your sins, and because you trust in Him, do you know that you are going to Heaven?
Do you know God, and do you obey the Gospel of His Son?
I invite you today to repent. That means to turn. To change direction. To turn from trusting in your own way to trusting in Jesus and His way. To turn from your sin and your selfishness. And to turn to Jesus and obey His Gospel.
His Gospel is the Good News that He has died in your place for your sin. And to obey His Gospel means to put your trust in it and begin to follow Him as Lord.
Turn and Trust. Turn and Trust. Turn from sin and trust in Christ. Change direction and commit your life to Jesus Christ today.
And then you will come to know God.
And you will not have to go to your default destination.
- Because of Hell, Come to Know God and Obey the Gospel of the Lord Jesus.
And for those of us who are already believers:
- Because of Hell, Keep on Trusting God and Loving Each Other.
Keep living as a Christian! Hold on. Hang on. That’s what Paul wanted the Thessalonians to do.
Keep on trusting God. God is just. He will work it all out. Justice will be done and will be seen to be done. Trust Him. Persevere in faith.
And keep on loving each other. It’s hard to do during hard times. But Jesus is coming back and will soon make everything right, and He has loved you enough to absorb the pain of Hell on your behalf.
On that Cross, He cried, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?” – which means, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46)
Jesus experienced the wrath of God, and exclusion from God on your behalf.
Amazing Love! How can it be?
If He did that for you, you can keep loving others.
There is coming a day when (v.10), He will come to be glorified in His holy people (in us!) and to be marveled at among all those who have believed. This includes you, if you believed our testimony to you.
Do you believe the testimony?
Do you believe the Gospel?
Do you know God and obey the Gospel of His Son?
You do not have to experience the eternal justice of God.
You do not have to experience eternal destruction by God.
You do not have to experience eternal exclusion from God.
You don’t have to go to Hell...forever.