The terrors of hell are so great that it can be difficult to fathom. Most of us know that hell is a place of pain, punishment, and fire. However, I have found that my knowledge of hell is too abstract. I have had an orthodox understanding which has been hazy. I see the light through the fog but the tangible aspects of hell are hidden. This has had a negative consequence upon my orthopraxy since the terrors of hell do not seem as real.
Thankfully God relates to our finite minds by using earthly circumstances to describe eternal matters. In John 5:1-17, Jesus heals an invalid. He had been in this condition for thirty-eight years. Yet, Jesus cures the man by commanding him to pick up his mat and walk. After the invalid talks to the Jewish leaders, Jesus sees the healed man again. In verse 14, Jesus says, “See, you are well! Sin no more, that nothing worse may happen to you.” Jesus tells the man to sin no more. He gives the key to the passage. The invalid had been crippled for thirty-eight years due to his sin. Now Jesus warns him to repent. Why? If he does not, then he will endure something much worse.
What could be worse than being an invalid for thirty-eight years? If the healed man died in his sins, then he would go to hell. The punishment found in hell is exponentially greater than anything the invalid has experienced. In verse 14, Jesus gives a key to better understanding the stark realities of hell. By comparing physical affliction to the suffering of hell, it will give us more insight.
1. An illness will end. Hell is eternal.
A person who is suffering an illness can find comfort in knowing that it will end. Either a cure will be administered, or they will die. This will free them from the pain caused by their affliction. In contrast, hell will never end. Matthew 25:46 says, “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” The agonies of hell will go on forever and ever. There is no end. A rebel under the wrath of God cannot look forward to annihilation. Their place in eternity is sealed.
2. Illness has a hope of a cure. Hell is irrevocable.
Even if a person has an incurable disease, there is still hope that a cure may be found. If they can stay alive and deal with the pain for a few years, researchers may develop a drug or procedure which would heal them. There is no hope for a cure in hell. In Luke 16:26, we learn that the rich man cannot cross from hell into heaven. Lazarus the poor man cannot go from heaven to hell in order to serve his old master. A person in hell has no hope of going to heaven. They are stuck. Once they enter hell, it is irrevocable.
3. A sick person can receive comfort. Hell is lonely.
A person in the hospital can have family and friends visit. They can receive cards and phone calls to encourage them. However, hell is the opposite. In Luke 16:24, the rich man requests for his servant Lazarus to come from heaven to give him a drink. His request is denied. He is alone in hell. He cannot receive visitors, cards, or calls from friends or family in heaven. He must endure the greatest imaginable pain alone: the infinite wrath of God.
4. A sick person can receive medication. Hell does not have pain medicine.
If a patient is experiencing extreme and unbearable pain, then a doctor can give pain medication to reduce or eliminate it. In serious cases of head trauma, doctors will put a person into a medical coma so that they will be unconscious. This will spare them from suffering. Hell does not offer pain medication. The full pain of God’s wrath pierces the flesh and soul of every person. There is no pain block. God does not provide Advil or Aleve. A person is not put unconscious in order to avoid it. Instead, a sinner is completely awake. He feels the full brunt of God’s wrath in every molecule of his body.
5. A sick person can still have pleasure. Hell is without pleasure.
A sick person can still enjoy a warm bed, a delicious meal, a television show, sleep, or company. This is not the case for the person in hell. Revelation 14:10-11 says,
“He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Hell is absent of pleasure. It is a place of torment where God’s wrath is poured out on lawbreakers. A person in hell will not even get a drop of water to cool their tongue from the fires. They will never again experience one momentary feeling of pleasure.
6. In a hospital, the patients can be friends. In hell, everyone is an enemy.
When a person is under care, they can form friendships with the other patients in their hospital room. There are stories of people becoming best friends after meeting there. However, hell does not have friendships. Since hell has no pleasure and friendships are pleasurable, then there are no friendships in hell. Also, in hell, God pulls back His restraint over man’s depravity. Man reaches his potential for selfishness and nastiness. Everyone is an enemy. No one is a friend.
The pain is so excruciating that the rich man from Luke 16 begs for Abraham to send someone to warn his family. Luke 16:27-28 says, “And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’” Some people believe that they will have a party in hell with their friends and family. This is foolish talk. The torment is indescribable. Once a person is there, they will be like the rich man and beg for Abraham to warn their family.
7. A sick person can still be healed by Jesus. In hell, it is too late to be spiritually healed by Jesus.
On this side of eternity, we pray to God to bring healing. Jesus still answers our prayers by miraculously healing a person or by working through doctors, nurses, and medicine. This does not translate to hell. We cannot pray for Jesus to spiritually heal a sinner in hell. It is too late. The Gospel is no longer offered to them. God has not promised to regenerate and forgive a person who has been condemned to hell. The time to embrace the grace of Jesus Christ has passed.
Friends, I hope that these truths will do two things. First, may it make the circumstances of hell more real. I pray that God will use it to help us feel the terrors and hear the screams. May we not live as if hell is not real. Second, may it motivate us to apply the balm of the Gospel to the sinners who are on this side of eternity. Jesus asked the invalid in verse 6, “Do you want to be healed?” May we imitate Christ by going to the spiritually dead and sharing the only cure for their condition: The Gospel of Jesus Christ.
A person’s beliefs affect their actions. In the same way, we can evaluate an individual’s doctrine based upon their behavior. In the past week, we have witnessed two acts of terror. In Dallas, five police officers were killed while providing security for a Black Lives Matter march. Even though the investigation is ongoing, we know that the killer was responding to the deaths of black men by police officers in Minnesota and Louisiana. He wanted to kill white police officers as retribution. A week later, France suffered their second terrorist attack in eight months. A Muslim from Tunisia used a white truck as a murder weapon during the celebration of Bastille Day. The earliest reports suggest that this could be related to radical Islam’s campaign to strike Europe.
While the motivations for these two attacks were disparate, they do hold one thing in common: the perpetrators did not have a Biblical view of heaven and hell. Even though we do not have all of the facts, their actions represent the logical outcomes of radical Islam and secularism. By evaluating their behavior, I will explain how their theology only encourages terrorist attacks.
1. Martyrdom through jihad is the only way to be assured of your salvation in Islam.
Islam is a works based religion. The foundation is performing the five pillars: the creed, daily prayers, alms-giving, fasting during Ramadan, and a pilgrimage to Mecca if you are able financially and physically. In their theology, a person is judged by Allah based on their works. Surah 5:9 says, “To those who believe and do deeds of righteousness hath Allah promised forgiveness and a great reward.” If their good works outweigh the bad, then they are granted everlasting life in heaven. However, if their bad works outweigh the good, then they go to Hell. Before the judgment day, they cannot attain assurance of their salvation. A Muslim is always left wondering if they have done enough to earn eternal life.
The Bible teaches the opposite. If we are in Christ, then we can be assured that we will be saved. Since it is not based upon works, we rest in the work of Christ. Romans 10:13 says, “For ‘everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved’” (ESV). Through faith in Jesus Christ, a person can rest in knowing that they have peace with God.
In contrast, there is only one hope for assurance in Islam. Surah 9:111 explains that a Muslim who fights in jihad on the side of Allah and dies will receive the reward of heaven. They will not have to be anxious and trembling on the judgment day. Everyone else will be fearfully waiting for the verdict of heaven or hell. Yet, death through jihad is the golden ticket to heaven.
Radial Muslim terrorists have taken this teaching as a battle cry. By becoming a soldier for the cause of Allah, a terrorist will lose their life in order to gain heaven. They do not fear death, because it is the doorway to everlasting pleasure. Death keeps them from facing justice on earth by the governing authorities, but it removes Allah’s wrath and justice in the afterlife.
If a Muslim embraces this theology, then what would stop him from carrying out an attack? This is the logical application of the terrorists on 9/11, Paris 2015, and probably the attack in Nice.
2. The secular worldview requires justice to be administered in this life time.
While the Islamic martyr looks forward to avoiding justice, a secularist senses the urgency of having justice mediated now. The shooter in Dallas was outraged over black men being killed by white police officers. While I do not know his religious background, I am arguing that his actions were consistent with a practicing secularist.
Why? Since there is no afterlife to judge people, then justice must be given now. Death is the escape clause that allows a person to avoid the penalties for their crime. Without a Hell, there is no opportunity for every act of racism to be punished. Therefore, a person must act swiftly so that justice can be executed.
From a Christian perspective, we can rest assured that any crime that was not punished on earth will be punished in heaven. If a man gets away with murder, he will have to give an account on the judgment day. Hebrews 9:27 says, “And just as it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment…” (ESV). While we should pursue justice through the legal system, we can wait upon the Lord if a person gets away with the crime. If the person is not in Christ, then they will pay for their sins in Hell. If they have repented and believed in Jesus, then justice was delivered on the cross through Jesus’ sacrifice.
A secular worldview can lead to terrorism in three ways.
First, since God does not exist, then a person is not commanded to obey the government. Romans 13 explains that God has ordained the government with the sword. It is their responsibility to bring about justice. However, the shooter in Dallas did not want to wait for the legal system. Since justice must happen now, he was not obligated in his mind to follow God’s command to submit to the government.
Second, if God does not exist, the human heart's cry for justice to be served cannot be left with God. Instead, the terrorist sees himself as the god who mediates justice. Secular terrorism leads to justice that is not just. The five police officers in Dallas did not have any involvement in the cases in Minnesota or Louisiana. Besides that, they had not killed any black men in the past. This did not matter to the shooter. His outrage against police officers whom he perceived as breaking the law led him to punish innocent officers for crimes that they did not commit. Instead of delivering justice, he compounded the injustice. This is why the Bible says in Romans 12:19, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord’ (ESV). By trusting in God’s judgments, we are assured that true justice will be done.
Third, just as Islamic terrorists do not fear death, a secular terrorist does not fear the afterlife. Instead of receiving eternal life, an atheist believes that you cease to exist. A person will not have pleasure or pain. Their understanding of justice motives action now without the fear of Hell upon death. This is why a practicing secularist can do acts of terror without fearing God’s wrath.
Fourth, a secularist has no foundation for arguing that human life matters. According to their understanding, we are beings who have evolved from apes. We do not have more value than an ant, catfish, robin, or giraffe. Humans are not made in the image of God. Therefore, we do not have intrinsic value. Interestingly the Dallas terrorist only applied this logic towards the white police officers. They did not have value and did not deserve to live. However, the black men who were killed by cops did have value. The result of this logic is a hierarchal view of humanity based upon your own perceived identity as being the most valuable.
Some people use the terrorist attacks by Muslims as proof that religion is the source of conflict. They push a secular agenda which promises to bring peace. However, this is a false promise. While the number of practicing secular terrorists is small, they do not have a theology to stop terrorism. Without the fear of God’s judgment, an atheist has the same freedom to perform terrorist attacks as radical Muslims.
The answer is not the removal of religion. Instead, it is to preach the truth of the Bible. By proclaiming the Gospel, may the Lord convince people that they will have to give an account for every action. May the Lord show that we are sinners who can do nothing good to merit salvation and can only throw ourselves at the mercy seat of Jesus Christ. If we want to stop terrorism, then we must pray for the Holy Spirit to bring about conversions, so that society will embrace a Biblical understanding of heaven and hell.
Pastor Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History, from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity, and a PhD in Historical Theology in 2021 from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. He is also an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. He is married to Karise with whom they raise Ian, Elizabeth, and Patrick. He is interested in history, especially Charles Spurgeon, and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.