As Christians, we like to spend a lot of time talking about what will happen to us when we die and Jesus returns. But when it comes to what happens to those who don’t believe in Jesus, things can get uncomfortable pretty quickly. Let’s talk about why.
The Bible says that those who trust in Christ will spend eternity in His presence in the new heaven and new earth. But for those who are not found in Christ at the time of their death, the Bible says that God’s condemnation remains upon them. Because of this, they will be judged according to their deeds done on earth, and will experience their judgement in a place referred to as hell in the New Testament.
Jesus spoke a great deal about hell, using extremely visceral language. He spoke of it first as a place that was created for the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41, 46). It is first and foremost the place of their punishment. But it is also a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of suffering and fire (Luke 13:28; Mark 9:48). The rest of the New Testament continues in this vein culminating in Revelation’s description of it as the lake of fire and the second death (Rev. 19:10; 20:10, 14, 15), or the fulfillment of the judgment of death that God promised in the garden.
The punishment that awaits unbelievers in hell is an eternal, never-ending suffering that comes from sins committed against an infinite God.
You can see why this is so uncomfortable for so many people. It’s a hard teaching of Scripture, one we’re tempted to downplay or hold at arm’s length. We don’t want to be seen as fear mongers, acting as arbiters of who is inside and outside the kingdom of God.
But if we do that, what happens? Ultimately we risk creating a counterfeit gospel, one that ultimately diminishes the need to share the gospel message, and reveals us to be unloving toward all who are far from Christ.
Properly understood, the nature of hell should serve as a personal motivator for the mission we have been given, which is to make disciples of all nations. This doesn’t mean we lead with a turn-or-burn type message. Instead, it means that we embrace a sense of urgency about the task at hand, taking every opportunity God gives to share Christ.