What is hell?

I came across this definition of hell in a talk on heaven and hell by David Meredith.

Meredith describes hell as:

The absence of God without a mediator and without common grace. So hell is a continuing trajectory of a self-absorbed, self-centred life.

Hell is simply one’s freely chosen identity apart from God on a trajectory into infinity.

The Scriptural basis for this statement is Jesus’ parable of the rich man and Lazarus.

Jesus’ parable shows that in hell the rich man is exactly the same as he was during his life.

Meredith points out that in hell he is a self-absorbed, exploitative, self-centred, blame-shifting sinner. He is in hell what he was in life. The trajectory of a person’s life simply continues into eternity.

Also Lazarus has a name in the parable but the rich man does not. He is simply referred to as the rich man. That is to say that he is totally defined by his wealth — he has no identity outside of his riches. His identity is wrapped up in his wealth, both in life and in hell.

In this way Meredith says that we can experience a foretaste of hell and of glory in this life. To be wrapped up in self — to have an identity in wealth or to be ruled by anything that is not Christ Jesus is to experience a foretaste of hell. And to have an identity wrapped up in union with Jesus — to live in other-centred love (as opposed to self-centredness) is a foretaste of glory.

So to be in heaven, and ultimately the New Creation, is an eternal continuation of the person you are in Christ in this life. And to go to hell is again simply an eternal continuation of the person you are, and the life you live, in this life.

You may have noticed the phrase “gnashing of teeth” in Scripture, especially in relation to judgement and hell. Paul Blackham points out that though this phrase is often thought to refer to pain being inflicted by eternal torture (thus portraying God inaccurately as some kind of cosmic masochist), actually the phrase is never used in that way in the Bible. In fact, the term is used to describe furious, almost animalistic rage. Stephen’s murderers gnashed their teeth before stoning him, for example.

So if a person has rage against or hatred towards Christ in this life, unless they repent, receive Christ and are joined to him, that hatred will naturally continue into eternity.

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Come boldly to the throne of grace

More from Richard Sibbes’ The Briused Reed:

Sibbes starts this section by outlining that Christ will not break the bruised reed:

In pursuing his calling, Christ will not break the bruised reed, nor quench the smoking flax, in which more is meant than spoken, for he will not only not break nor quench, but he will cherish those with whom he so deals.

The lion of the tribe of Judah will only tear in pieces those that ‘will not have him rule over them’ (Luke 19:14). He will not show his strength against those who prostrate themselves before him.

Having established that Christ will not break or snuff out the believer and that, much more than that, he will actually cherish and love the believer, Sibbes makes the following application:

FOR OURSELVES

1. What should we learn from this, but to ‘come boldly to the throne of grace’ (Heb. 4:16) in all our grievances? Shall our sins discourage us, when he appears there only for sinners? Are you bruised? Be of good comfort, he calls you. Conceal not your wounds, open all before him and take not Satan’s counsel. Go to Christ, although trembling, as the poor woman who said, ‘If I may but touch his garment’ (Matt. 9:21). We shall be healed and have a gracious answer. Go boldly to God in our flesh; he is flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone for this reason, that we might go boldly to him. Never fear to go to God, since we have such a Mediator with him, who is not only our friend but our brother and husband. Well might the angel proclaim from heaven, ‘Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy’ (Luke 2:10). Well might the apostle stir us up to ‘rejoice in the Lord alway: and again I say, Rejoice’ (Phil. 4:4). Paul was well advised upon what grounds he did it. Peace and joy are two main fruits of Christ’s kingdom. Let the world be as it will, if we cannot rejoice in the world, yet we may rejoice in the Lord. His presence makes any condition comfortable. ‘Be not afraid,’ says he to his disciples, when they were afraid, as if they had seen a ghost, ‘It is I’ (Matt. 14:27), as if there were no cause of fear where he was present.

2. Let this support us when we feel ourselves bruised. Christ’s way is first to wound, then to heal. No sound, whole soul shall ever enter into heaven. Think when in temptation, Christ was tempted for me; according to my trials will be my graces and comforts. If Christ be so merciful as not to break me, I will not break myself by despair, nor yield myself over to the roaring lion, Satan, to break me in pieces.

How often does Satan accuse, suggesting to us that we cannot approach the throne of grace because of our sin? Shall our sins discourage us? Sibbes asks.

We imagine that though we are able to approach our God, we must approach a God who only grudgingly allows us into his presence, who merely tolerates us in our weakness and unworthiness. But no. Sibbes reminds us that we have a Mediator who is not only our friend but our brother and husband. And so we will never fear to go to our God, who is our Father.

Then Sibbes considers the practical implications of having such a Mediator. “If Christ be so merciful as not to break me, I will not break myself by despair”, he says … “nor yield myself over to the roaring lion, Satan, to break me in pieces.” It is easy to forget that Christ is merciful, that he has died on the cross, that he has risen and ascended to the right hand of God the Father?

This has huge implications for the believer. As Luther says, “where Christ is, there shall I be also”.

How often does Satan unsettle us by showing us the ugliness of our sin? But for what purpose? That we might sin less? No. To have us turn in on ourselves in fruitless self-condemnation. He must be so delighted when we discard what our Saviour has done and when we decide to “break ourselves by despair”, as Sibbes puts it.

Christ also shows us our sin. But unlike Satan, he does this that we might be healed, that we might bear fruit, that we might be restored and made new. As Sibbes says, “Christ’s way is first to wound, then to heal. No sound, whole soul shall ever enter into heaven.” Christ desires to break us, to wound us (which is absolutely necessary if we are to be made into his likeness), but then to apply the soothing balm of his grace, and to cover us with his cleansing blood. Christ shows us our sins that we might come to him, the One who came to live, and die, and rise, and ascend — precisely for sinners.

And how often does Satan try to swing us to the other extreme, attempting to desensitize us to sin? To have us tolerate it and accept it as a part of our lives? And yet, “we will not yield ourselves over to the roaring lion, Satan, to break us in pieces.” We will hate sin as Christ hates sin, but not because of will power, or discipline, or a sense of duty. No. Because we are united with Christ and are found in him. This must be the basis of the Christian life. We cannot contend with Satan ourselves — he is far too powerful for us — but Christ, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, has torn into him and has dealt him a fatal blow. Christ’s victory is absolute and final, and in him, so is ours.

Philippians 4:4: “Rejoice in the Lord always. I will say it again: Rejoice!”

On the role of the husband

This is taken from Dev Menon’s sermon at Clarence & Joanne’s wedding this Spring.

Clarence, you are called to love Joanne – that is to lead her by serving her – as Christ showed us as He washed His followers’ feet. You will continuously be tempted to overpower her, either by your strength or intellect or emotional resolve and make her feel like she doesn’t deserve your love, so she has to earn it. She may even give in to that, and being demure and patient, feed in to those temptations – don’t let her. Don’t ever let her feel she needs to earn your love. You are to love her no matter what, never threaten her that you will let her go. You are to make her completely secure in the decision she is now making in front of all of us. And you will need to learn how to do that one day at a time – with God’s guidance, and the help of every Christian brother and sister right here.

There is much of value here! But I want to focus in on the following:

“Don’t ever let her feel she needs to earn your love. You are to love her no matter what, never threaten her that you will let her go. You are to make her completely secure …”

Husbands, have you ever failed in this department?

Have you ever allowed your wife to feel anything less than completely loved and secure in union with you? Have you allowed her to feel distant from you for the sake of being right in an argument? Have you ever let her go “unforgiven” for a bit after she has “wronged” you? (Just to squeeze a few more minutes of self-righteous satisfaction out of the situation.) I’ve certainly been guilty of such selfish and childish manoeuvrings.

These words might well cause us to burn with guilt (and it is good to be challenged and reminded of our responsibilities as husbands) but wait…

Before you turn in on yourself in self-condemnation, is that really the answer to becoming a better husband? Well, judging by the number of times I’ve done that without ever seeing any fruit, I’d say no.

Read these lines again and contemplate them:

“Don’t ever let her feel she needs to earn your love. You are to love her no matter what, never threaten her that you will let her go. You are to make her completely secure …”

You have a choice of two reactions here. You either look to yourself, or you look to Another.

What if we don’t take this primarily as a statement about ourselves — our own failure? What if we take these words first as a reminder about the character of THE one true Bridegroom?

Do NOT despair when you read these words.

Rather rejoice that there is One who will never let you feel that you need to earn his love. There is One who loves you no matter what. There is One who will never threaten to let you go. There is One who makes you completely secure.

Does Christ not know the thoughts of our hearts and love us still? Has he not already been to the cross? Are we not absolutely safe in his boundless love?

So before you turn in on yourself, know that this exhortation is an echo of the unshakable love THE Bridegroom has for us.

We, the church, are no shivering, fearful, insecure bride. We are resplendent, confident, clothed with the righteousness of the perfect Husband, given the status of the perfect Son. We are much loved.

Now go, be a husband. But be a bride first.

John Woodhouse on Listening to the Word of God

Taken from this sermon on Colossians 2:1-5. The preacher is John Woodhouse of Moore Theological College.

This relates to our attitude when encountering God’s word, and listening to God’s word preached. John Woodhouse starts his sermon by expressing concern that some preaching is being trivialised by its popularity. Sermons are so easily accessible and downloadable. They can be played like pop music on our ipods as we jog.

His point is not that this is a problem in and of itself, but that our attitude towards God’s word should be right. I guess he’s saying that we shouldn’t consume and dispose of sermons as we consume and dispose of other things in our culture. We should remember that we are hearing God’s word which has power and purpose.

In whatever ways you listen to the word of God (and no I can’t really see anything wrong with listening to sermons as you jog) do not neglect the deep purpose of God by his word. It’s not intended to give you a buzz as rhetoric certainly can. But to encourage your heart; to knit us together in love; to give us the full wealth of conviction that understanding brings; to present us before him, holy, and spotless, and blameless.

K.P. Yohannan: When we have failed — what next?

This is from a helpful K.P. Yohannan ebook called When We Fail — What Next? It’s available for download here (free download).

We all have had those feelings. We think, “How could I have done that? I know better than this. I should have learned by now.” Deep inside we have the defense that we are better than the wrong we committed.

Even the worst criminal has all kinds of reasons and explanations for the mess in which he finds himself. For example, “Two Gun” Crowley, responsible for murdering many people in the 1930s, was cornered within a building awaiting an inevitable arrest. He wrote a note while the police were firing at him. The note read, “Under my coat is a weary heart, but a kind one.” Then as he faced capital punishment, he questioned his sentence, saying: “This is what I get for defending myself.”

In spite of rationalizing and trying to minimize our failure, guilt gnaws at our heart. We sink as we consider what we have done. Yet as followers of God, we know that upon repentance we can experience firsthand His marvelous mercy. Why then do we feel this shadow over us?

Roy Hession puts it so clearly in his book “When I Saw Him”:

“If you are still mourning and blaming yourself it is not because God is blaming you; He has put the blame on Jesus. It can only be due to one of two things. Either that you have not really repented, or, more likely, you are mourning over your lost righteousness. Perhaps you feel that, having been saved for so long, you should not be failing as you are. . . . You are in effect saying, “Alas for my lost righteousness.” That is nothing but pride.”

Jesus has taken our blame, the charge against us, the sting of our failure. Then why are we so sick about our failure? Because we thought we were better. We regret that our “report card” does not show all the “good marks” we want others to see.

But all the best marks of our own righteousness can only amount to “filthy rags” as the prophet Isaiah says in Isaiah 64:6. They will never be anything we want to showcase. The only righteousness worthy of displaying is the righteousness of Jesus that we have through His powerful and precious blood.

If what we hang on to is filthy rags, why grasp for it anymore? Why mourn over the loss of it? Will we be like the criminal who until the very end esteemed and held on to “his own righteousness,” although obviously it was nothing to boast in?

Paul sums it up in the book of Philippians:

I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost
all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith (3:8–9).

Let us leave our rags behind and hold on to His riches.

From the Squalor of a Borrowed Stable

This is another one of my favourite songs.

“He fights for breath, He fights for me.” That line gets me every time.

From the squalor of a borrowed stable,
by the spirit and a virgin’s faith;
to the anguish and the shame of scandal
came the Saviour of the human race!

But the skies were filled with the praise of heav’n,
shepherds listen as the angels tell of the Gift of God
come down to man at the dawning of Immanuel

King of heaven now the Friend of sinners,
Humble servant in the Father’s hands,
Filled with power and the Holy Spirit,
Filled with mercy for the broken man
Yes. He walked my road and He felt my pain,
Joys and sorrows that I know so well;
Yet His righteous steps give me hope again –
I will follow my Immanuel!

Through the kisses of a friend’s betrayal,
He was lifted on a cruel cross;
He was punished for the world’s transgressions,
He was suffering to save the lost
He fights for breath, He fights for me
Loosing sinners from the claims of hell;
And with a shout our souls are free –
Death defeated by Immanuel!

Now He’s standing in the place of honour,
Crowned with glory on the highest throne,
Interceding for His own beloved
Till His Father calls to bring them home!
Then the skies will part as the trumpet sounds
Hope of heaven or the fear of hell;
But the Bride will run to her Lover’s arms,
Giving glory to Immanuel!

And Can it Be

Can’t beat a great hymn! Savour the words.

Amazing love! How can it be that Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

And can it be that I should gain
An interest in the Savior’s blood?
Died He for me, who caused His pain—
For me, who Him to death pursued?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?
Amazing love! How can it be,
That Thou, my God, shouldst die for me?

’Tis mystery all: th’Immortal dies:
Who can explore His strange design?
In vain the firstborn seraph tries
To sound the depths of love divine.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore,
Let angel minds inquire no more.
’Tis mercy all! Let earth adore;
Let angel minds inquire no more.

He left His Father’s throne above
So free, so infinite His grace—
Emptied Himself of all but love,
And bled for Adam’s helpless race:
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!
’Tis mercy all, immense and free,
For O my God, it found out me!

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
Fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
Thine eye diffused a quickening ray—
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.

Still the small inward voice I hear,
That whispers all my sins forgiven;
Still the atoning blood is near,
That quenched the wrath of hostile Heaven.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.
I feel the life His wounds impart;
I feel the Savior in my heart.

No condemnation now I dread;
Jesus, and all in Him, is mine;
Alive in Him, my living Head,
And clothed in righteousness divine,
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.
Bold I approach th’eternal throne,
And claim the crown, through Christ my own.

The angel of the Lord who appears in the Old Testament is Christ

The word “angel” means “messenger” or “sent one”. And “Sent by God” is one of the main ways Jesus refers to himself throughout the New Testament.

It is possible to see the identity of the angel of the Lord by the things he says and does, and by the reaction of those who meet him and speak to him.

He claims that the promises of God are his own promises. (He speaks as if he is God). People who see him call him God. Scripture calls him God. People worship him and he does not stop them.

Here is a brief selection of the things the angel of the Lord says and does in the Old Testament:

Genesis 16:10
The angel of the Lord says to Hagar “I will so increase your descendants that they will be too numerous to count”. The angel of the Lord does not say “The Lord will so increase…” The angel of the Lord makes this promise himself. It is his promise. Only God can make such a promise. It is God who repeats this covenant promise again and again in the Old Testament — not regular angels.

Genesis 16:13
“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her: “You are the God who sees me,” for she said, “I have now seen the One who sees me.”

We know that it is the angel of the Lord who is speaking to Hagar in this passage. Scripture tells us clearly that the one who spoke to Hagar (the angel of the Lord) is the LORD:

“She gave this name to the LORD who spoke to her”.

So the angel of the Lord is described as “the God who sees Hagar”. The angel of the Lord is identified as God, and as “the One who sees me”. He is the Son of God appearing in his eternal role as “the one sent from the Father”.

Genesis 22:9-14
The angel of the Lord calls out to Abraham as he is about to kill Isaac. He says “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld from me your son, your only son.”

Here the angel of the Lord does not say “you have not withheld from God your son, your only son.” He says “you have not withheld from *me*.” We know that sacrifices cannot be made to angels — this would be blasphemy. Abraham was sacrificing his son to God so this cannot be an ordinary angel Rather he is “The One sent from God”. He is Jesus.

Exodus 3:1
“There the angel of the LORD appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight — why the bush does not burn up.” When the LORD saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!” And Moses said, “Here I am.” “Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.

Here the angel of the Lord appears to Moses in the burning bush. The angel of the Lord is sometimes referred to as God in this passage (verse 4), and sometimes he is referred to as the LORD.

We know that the angel of the Lord is on the bush and verse 4 says that “God called to him from within the bush”. So here the angel of the Lord is referred to as God.

In verse 17 the angel of the Lord says “I have promised to bring you up out of your misery in Egypt”. This is the same promise the angel of the Lord refers to in Judges 2 (see below).

Judges 2:1
The angel of the Lord says “I brought you up out of Egypt and led you into the land that I swore to give your forefathers. I said I will never break my covenant with you”.

The angel of the Lord speaks as himself, and claims to have brought Israel out of Egypt himself. He also claims that the covenant promise is his own promise. He says “I swore” and “I will never break”. There is no indication here that the speaker is only a representative of the Lord. It must be God himself speaking — God the Son of God the Father.

Judges 6:11-24
Here the angel of the Lord appears to Gideon. The angel of the Lord is speaking with Gideon in verse 12, and in verse 14 it is made very clear that the one talking to Gideon is the Lord himself:

“The LORD turned to him and said…”

Then the Lord who is speaking is then referred to again as “the angel of God” in verse 20. It is the same Lord speaking in all these verses. In some of the verses he is called “the angel of the Lord”, and in other verses he is simply called LORD.

Surely this is the One sent from the Father — this is God the Son, who is the image of the invisible God. He is the one who makes known God the Father, who has never been seen (John 1).

Judges 13:2-24
Here Manoah and his wife do not recognize who the angel of the Lord is at first. His wife says he is “a man of God” in verse 6. Later however, they do realize his true identity.

In verse 17 Manoah asks the angel of the Lord what his name is. The angel of the Lord replies:

“Why do you ask for my name? It is beyond understanding”

Normal angels never speak this way! Angels have names as we do. Their names are not “beyond understanding”. This has to be the Lord himself, whose name is above all other names.

In verse 20 the angel of the Lord ascends in the flame. Verses 21-22 say:

“When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord. “We are doomed to die!” he said to his wife. “We have seen God!”

Here we are told that Manoah realized for the first time that he had been speaking to the angel of the Lord (not just a man of God, not just an angel). He says:

“We have seen God!”

Scripture does not tell us that Manoah was mistaken, or that he was confused. It says that he realized that he had seen the angel of the Lord, and therefore he knows that he has seen God. But this of course is not God the Father. The angel of the Lord can only be God the Son — the One who is the image of the invisible God. The angel of the Lord is the Word of God, the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, and who makes the Father known.

Jesus is THE sent one from the Father. Therefore it is not at all surprising that Jesus has this same name/title in the Old Testament. He is “the sent one of the Lord.”