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.
Brandon was born and raised near Springfield, IL. He graduated from Illinois College in 2007 with a B.A. in History and from Moody Theological Seminary in 2010 with a Master of Divinity. He is a PhD student in Historical Theology at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City and an ACBC certified Biblical counselor. In April 2016 Brandon accepted the call to pastor at Faith Baptist. He loves history and reading and has a heart for street preaching and evangelism.