Bible Reading: 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12
When I was pastor in Astoria we had a regular attender who was led by a false teacher to deny the doctrine of hell. He supposed it was impossible that a loving God would allow for such a place. He was so adamant in his false belief that he purposed to share what he had “discovered” with others. Members of the church lovingly admonished him, but he held on to his view and eventually decided to leave our church.
Such thinking is nothing new. Years ago C. S. Lewis wrote his classic fiction, “The Great Divorce,” in part to respond to a fellow who had written a book entitled “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell.” That man supposed “everything is good and everywhere is heaven.” Dismissing the truth of the doctrine of hell is not uncommon. There have been many who have taught such things. The reality is that two distinct destinies await two different groups of people. 2 Thessalonians 1:6-12 speaks to this matter as it puts forth the two alternatives in clear and concise fashion. Unbelievers are destined to a place of “eternal destruction” called hell. Believers are destined for the glory of heaven.
Those who will suffer “eternal destruction” are those who “do not know God” and “do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8). There is but one way to avoid God’s righteous judgment of sin and that is to “obey the gospel” (1 Peter 1:22; John 6:29; Romans 3:23, 6:23). It is through faith in Christ, a person receives the eternal life which constitutes knowing Him (John 17:3; 1 John 5:11-12). Religious credentials—even if they include a proper profession, or impressive religious deeds—will avail no deliverance from hell for those who do not know Jesus (Matthew 7:21-23; 2 Timothy 2:19). “Eternal destruction” does not equate to annihilation. A never-ending catastrophic destiny, “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might,” awaits those who refuse the good news of salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.
The believer’s destiny, on the other hand, is of a glorious nature. We possess it solely because the “testimony to (him) was believed” (1 Thessalonians 1:10). The gospel works to save sinners from hell (1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Romans 1:16). Instead of judgment, the believer lives with the confident expectation of being “glorified” with Jesus in heaven (Romans 8:17-18, 30). Though we “do not now see him” the day is coming “we shall see him as he is” (1 Peter 1:8; 1 John 3:2). On that day He will be “marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:10). The term translated “marveled” means to wonder, admire, or be astonished” at something. We might admire a beautiful sunrise, but how glorious will be the view “when the day dawns and the morning star rises in (our) hearts” (2 Peter 1:19)! We will be awestruck by Him and will forever enjoy unimaginable blessings as we enter into His presence.
J. Vernon McGee once wrote, “Hell is ridiculed today, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist. Our beliefs are sometimes only wishful thinking…we might as well face the fact that there is a hell. Christ is returning to this earth someday. First He will take HIs own out of the earth, and then His coming will be a terror to the wicked; it will be a judgment upon those who ‘know not God, and that obey not the gospel of Lord Jesus Christ’…That is what the Word of God teaches.”
It is the response to the gospel which determines the eternal destiny of a person. John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” Heaven or hell, eternal life or eternal destruction, a glorious and intimate eternal fellowship with God, or a foreboding and tragic existence—all depends upon one’s response to the truth of the gospel (1 John 5:11-12). It will do no good to wish the truth of hell away. The reality of hell should motivate us all the more to be “striving side by side for the faith of the gospel,” so others will have the means to escape God’s judgment (Philippians 1:27).
Lord Jesus, what a glorious day it was when You opened our hearts to the good news of Your death for sins and resurrection from the dead! By grace You delivered us from the domain of darkness and brought us into Your loving Kingdom. We eagerly await Your return and that wonderful day when we will all marvel at You! In the meantime, You’ve warned us in Your word of the tragic destiny which awaits those who refuse to obey the gospel! Open the hearts of our loved ones that they be convicted of their sin and need for You! Open their blinded eyes to the glory of who You are and all You have done for them. We pray they will trust in You before the door closes! Help us, as Your ambassadors, to be faithful in sharing the good news in every opportunity You give to us. Amen!
RESCUE THE PERISHING
Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying,
Snatch them in pity from sin and the grave;
Weep o’er the erring one, lift up the fallen,
Tell them of Jesus the mighty to save.
Rescue the perishing,
Care for the dying;
Jesus is merciful,
Jesus will save.
Though they are slighting Him,
Still He is waiting,
Waiting the penitent child to receive;
Plead with them earnestly, plead with them gently;
He will forgive if they only believe.