Calvary Road Baptist Church

“THE SAVIOR’S DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT”

 

I listen to hopeful converts after I preach whenever possible. My reasons for doing so are very straightforward: First, no one is genuinely born again just because he thinks he is, and both the lost and the newly saved believer are by no means discerning enough to make important spiritual determinations without help. Second, though no mere man is always correct in his capacity to discern the righteous from the wicked, someone with decades of experience in the Christian ministry is usually more accurate in his determination than a spiritual novice.

Let me illustrate: It may very well be that someone has mistaken the existence of faith for the presence of life in Christ, though the two are by no means identical. Keep in mind that Abram had what the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews categorized as faith for ten years before God, Genesis 15.6, counted his faith for righteousness. Thus, Abram had faith though he was a lost man for as many as ten years. Can most people discern between the presence of faith in a man and the presence of spiritual life? Not likely if you have never before fixed your mind on considering the difference.

I listen to those hopefully converted so that I might guide them to Christ if they are not yet actually come to Him, or so that I might bring them to an assurance of their salvation that is scriptural instead of what usually passes for assurance of salvation these days. Therefore, you see, I have no designs on deciding if someone is saved or lost, but rather in discovering if someone is saved or lost.

While doing my due diligence after I have preached to a crowd, I invariably ask those who want to speak to me to describe the Lord Jesus Christ in their own words. My reason for this is to discover if that individual who claims to be a Christian has given any thought to the savior he claims he has embraced and placed his trust in. If the person does not claim to be a Christian, I use God’s Word to correct his views about Jesus so that I might later guide him to Christ.

I so thoroughly enjoy hearing testimonies that reflect what scriptural declarations tell us about the Lord Jesus Christ; that He is caring, that He is a friend, that He is tender and kind, that He is compassionate and merciful, and that He is loving and true. It is always good when our perception of Christ’s person comes from the Bible, the only accurate portrait of Him that has ever been painted . . . with words and not with pigment. If we take the gospel accounts as our most natural sources of truth about the person of our Lord Jesus Christ, then we all should agree on some indisputable characteristics. From Matthew chapter one, where we are given His genealogy and a record of His birth, we surmise that He is a man. From Mark chapter one, we surmise that He is much more than a man, that He is the Son of God, that He withstands the severest temptations to commit sin (suggesting that He is sinless), that He calls and disciples men who follow Him, and that He wields supernatural power over demons, over diseases, and over defilements.

I could go on and on. However, interesting to me is how approachable the Lord Jesus Christ is seen to be in the gospels. This was refreshing to me, after my experiences with pastors who always pretended to be so busy serving God they had no time for individuals, and were gruff and impatient with people. I remember counseling one elderly Christian woman at a book-signing event who sought my counsel. When I asked her if she was a church member who should seek her pastor’s counsel, she said, “Oh, I can never get in to see him. He always directs me to some youngster right out of school who has no life experience.” I am so glad the savior did not do that. I discovered in the gospel accounts that little children were comfortable in His company.[1] Consider, as well, that though Jewish people typically despised their occupiers, a Roman centurion sought out Jesus on behalf of his ailing servant.[2] Then there was the Syrophenecian woman who pleaded with Him for her demon-possessed daughter.[3] On top of that, He was sought out by lepers, by the blind, by the socially outcast publicans who collected taxes for the hated Romans, and even by prostitutes.[4]

One should not think the Lord Jesus Christ did not confront these various sinners’ sins, because He most certainly did. He challenged the ignorance of Nicodemus, one of the most reputable of the Jewish scholars alive in His day.[5] He exposed the sexual impurity of the woman at the well, by asking her to fetch her husband.[6] He confronted the scribes and Pharisees on numerous occasions about their hypocrisy and judgmentalism. As importantly, He spared not His own disciples from stinging rebukes for their sins.[7] When the Lord Jesus Christ’s rebukes were received with meekness the result was extremely beneficial, such as when Jesus confronted Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus and challenged him by saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”[8] Three days later, the man who was later known as the Apostle Paul was converted to Christ.[9]

The point that I seek to make is that the Lord Jesus Christ was the friend of sinners throughout His earthly ministry.[10] His demeanor with the woman at the well, His tenderness with the woman taken in the act of adultery, His kindness with the publicans and sinners, and His overall disposition, with everyone else who approached Him with humility and not arrogance, was tender and so very kind. This should be of no surprise to us, since by His own testimony He came to save sinners, Luke 11.9 and Luke 19.10:

 

11.9           And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.

 

19.10         For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.

 

However, by His own testimony, the Lord Jesus indicated that He will someday judge all men, though He did not come to this earth primarily to judge men. In John 12.47 He said, “I came not to judge the world, but to save the world.”

How gentle the Lord Jesus Christ was. How receptive the Lord Jesus Christ is. His own words describing Himself as He directs sinners to come to Him reveal His true character. I read from Matthew 11.28-30:

 

28        Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.

29        Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.

30        For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.

 

The savior is not harsh and stern toward sinful men. He is not eager to bring the lost to the bar of judgment, but directs sinners to come to Him for salvation full and free. Therefore, when my Lord Jesus Christ sets forth His doctrine of endless punishment, it must be seen as both necessary and true.

Please consider with me four certainties concerning the savior’s doctrine of endless punishment:

 

First, THE SAVIOR’S DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT IS NOT A NEW TEACHING

 

Theological liberals and cultists such as Seventh Day Adventists, Jehovah’s Witnesses, and Mormons, will sometimes claim that orthodox Christianity’s claims about the doctrine of endless punishment is a contrivance, that it is a newfangled invention. History disputes the notion that the savior’s doctrine of endless punishment is a new teaching.

Consider the great scholar Alfred Edersheim’s classic, The Life And Times Of Jesus The Messiah. In that book is contained a section titled, “On Eternal Punishment, According To The Rabbis And The New Testament.”[11] The rabbis of Jesus’ day were divided into two schools of thought, the School of Hillel and the School of Shammai. With respect to endless punishment, Edersheim writes, “. . . since the Schools of Shammai and Hillel represented the teaching in the time of Christ and His Apostles, it follows, that the doctrine of Eternal Punishment was that held in the days of our Lord. . . .” Later, he concludes, “The doctrine of the Eternity of Punishment seems to have been held by the Synagogue throughout the whole first century of our era.”[12]

More persuasively, consider Old Testament teaching on the matter. It is admitted by honest students of the Old Testament that the Hebrew word Sheol, and the Greek word used in the Greek version known as the Septuagint, Hades, is used to represent both the grave and a place of future retribution.[13] However, that there is a place of eternal punishment, and Sheol and Hades does not only and always refer to the grave, is born out by the very large number of scripture references in the Old Testament that warn of future punishment of the wicked in this place as distinct from the future place where the righteous are rewarded, which is hardly a concern if Sheol and Hades always and only refers to the grave.[14] A few of the dozens of examples:

 

Deuteronomy 32.22: “For a fire is kindled in mine anger, and shall burn unto the lowest hell.”

 

Psalm 9.17: “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.”

 

Psalm 139.8, where heaven is contrasted with hell: “If I ascend up into heaven, thou art there: if I make my bed in hell, behold, thou art there.”

 

Proverbs 15.23: “The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath.”

 

Proverbs 23.14: “Thou shalt beat him with the rod, and shalt deliver his soul from hell.”

 

Proverbs 27.20: “Hell and destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.”

 

Add to this that large class of texts in the Old Testament which represent God as a judge, and which assert a future judgment, and a future resurrection for this purpose. I will mention only a few of many.[15]

 

Genesis 18.25: “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?”

 

Deuteronomy 32.35: “To me belongeth vengeance, and recompence; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste.”

 

Job 21.30: “That the wicked is reserved to the day of destruction? they shall be brought forth to the day of wrath.”

 

Psalm 90.11: “Who knoweth the power of thine anger? even according to thy fear, so is thy wrath.”

 

Therefore, let no one deny that the Lord Jesus Christ’s doctrine of endless punishment was an ancient doctrine, taught throughout the Hebrew scriptures and embraced as true by the rabbis of His days on the earth.

 

Next, THE SAVIOR’S DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT IS CENTRAL TO HIS MISSION AND TO CHRISTIANITY

 

Take the mission of Jesus Christ, as stated by the angel Gabriel in Matthew 1.21: “And she shall bring forth a son, and thou shalt call his name JESUS: for he shall save his people from their sins.” It is quite obvious that saving people from the endless punishment visited upon them for their sins is central to angel’s conception of Jesus Christ’s mission.

Now take the mission of Jesus Christ, as stated by Jesus Christ Himself in Luke 19.10. Referring to Himself, He said, “For the Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost.” It is quite obvious that saving people from the endless punishment visited upon them for their sins is central to Jesus Christ’s view of His mission.

Turn to Second Thessalonians 1.7-10:

 

7          And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

8          In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

9          Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

10        When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

 

It is clear that the Apostle Paul also saw Jesus Christ’s central mission to be saving sinners from the endless punishment due them for their sins.

Had we the time, I could show you that the Apostle Peter, the Apostle John, as well as Jude’s epistle, show the doctrine of endless punishment to be central to Christianity.

 

Third, THE SAVIOR’S DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT IS A REFLECTION OF GOD’S NATURE


The Bible is very clear about a number of things in connection with God’s nature. Insofar as God’s moral attributes are concerned, we know that God is good, that God is love, that God is holy, and that God is righteous or just. We also know that God’s attributes are perfect to the nth degree and are without conflict or disharmony in His perfect essence and nature. We also know from both the Old and New Testaments that the nature and essence of Jesus Christ are the same as His heavenly Father’s. The Lord Jesus both stated and showed that He and His Father are one, John 10.30 and John 17.22.

Thus, when we read in God’s holy Word that endless punishment awaits the wicked when they die, we understand that there is in this no conflict with God’s nature. God is, after all, holy and righteous, and those attributes are properly expressed when sin, defiance, and rebellion against God suffer their due, which is endless punishment.

Think of it. Sin against God, rebellion, defiance of His will, is a spiritual crime of infinite heinousness and severity. It is a slap at God’s holiness that cries out for retribution and a violation of God’s righteous law that begs for punishment. However, since a sinner is incapable of suffering punishment of infinite severity for sin, he is subject to punishment of endless duration for sin.

Therefore, rather than endless punishment conflicting with the glorious nature of God and His eternal Son, it must be understood that not visiting endless punishment upon the wicked for their high crimes of sin and rebellion conflicts with God’s divine nature, as well as His Son’s. Genesis 18.25 asks, “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” Make no mistake about it, my friend. It is right to punish wrong. Though the Lord Jesus Christ judged no man during His earthly ministry, and judges no man during His present session in heaven, there will come a day when He will visit judgment upon sinful men. In John 5.22, Jesus said, “For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.”

To recap: Our Lord’s doctrine of endless punishment is not a new teaching that He invented, but was set forth in the Old Testament and was believed by the Jewish rabbis of His day. The Lord’s doctrine of endless punishment was also central to His mission and to historic Christianity, otherwise why would Jesus have suffered and died but to save sinners from the eternal punishment of their sins? As well, the doctrine of endless punishment is a reflection of God’s divine nature, with holiness and righteousness properly demanding the visiting of endless punishment upon the wicked for their sins.

 

Finally, THE SAVIOR’S DOCTRINE OF ENDLESS PUNISHMENT IS CLEARLY ARTICULATED

 

That is, there is no doubt that Jesus taught the endless punishment of the wicked:

Turn to Mark 9.41-48, where the Lord Jesus Christ contrasts the future of the righteous and the wicked:

 

41        For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in my name, because ye belong to Christ, verily I say unto you, he shall not lose his reward.

42        And whosoever shall offend one of these little ones that believe in me, it is better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he were cast into the sea.

43        And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

44        Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

45        And if thy foot offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter halt into life, than having two feet to be cast into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched:

46        Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

47        And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out: it is better for thee to enter into the kingdom of God with one eye, than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire:

48        Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

 

In this astonishing lesson, Jesus speaks of the reward of the righteous in verse 41, and contrasts it with the endless punishment of the wicked in verses 42-48. Five times, He states that the fire is not quenched, and three times, He declares that the worm dieth not. Whatever else He may have meant about the punishment of the damned, it is absolutely clear that such punishment would be without end.

Turn to Matthew 25.31-46, where the Lord Jesus Christ tells of His second coming in glory, and of His judgment of the nations, dividing His sheep on His right hand and the goats on His left. We do not have the time to read the entire passage, though it would be profitable for us to examine Matthew 25.46, where He stated, “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” Clearly, the righteous designated as sheep and the wicked designated as goats have entirely different eternal destinies, with “everlasting punishment” awaiting the wicked and “life eternal” awaiting the righteous. Interesting to note is that the Greek word translated “everlasting” and the Greek word translated “eternal” in Matthew 25.46, is the same Greek word, aiwnion, which pertains to a period of unending duration.[16] As long as the saved are in heaven the lost will be suffering punishment.

Finally, turn to one of the numerous parables the Lord Jesus Christ taught to communicate the eternal punishment of the wicked, Matthew 13.47-50:

 

47        Again, the kingdom of heaven is like unto a net, that was cast into the sea, and gathered of every kind:

48        Which, when it was full, they drew to shore, and sat down, and gathered the good into vessels, but cast the bad away.

49        So shall it be at the end of the world: the angels shall come forth, and sever the wicked from among the just,

50        And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

To be sure, this is a parable, and parables are not to be taken literally. However, parables were useful to our Lord to teach explicit truths. What are the two explicit truths taught in this short parable? First, that the eternal destinies of the wicked and the just are not the same, verse 49. As well, the eternal destiny of the damned will be torment, the furnace of fire where there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

 

The Lord Jesus Christ taught many important truths during His earthly ministry. He taught that He was the Son of God and God the Son. He taught that He was the long awaited Messiah of Israel. He also taught that the righteous and the wicked have different destinies awaiting them, and that the destiny of the wicked was one of endless punishment.

Make no mistake. The primary mission of Jesus Christ was not to teach lessons, but to save sinners. To that end, He took upon Himself our sins, died a substitutionary death on the cross, was buried, and rose from the dead in victory on the third day, just as the Hebrew scriptures predicted, and just as He predicted.

Why did Jesus do this great saving work? He did it for a number of reasons. However, important among those reasons is what Jesus saves sinners from. He saves sinners from their sins, and the consequences of sins.

What is one of the most important consequences of a sinner’s sins? The penalty he must pay for his sins against God. The punishment God visits upon him for rejecting the gospel, for denying Jesus Christ, for sinning against Him. This penalty, this punishment, will be eternal.

Notice that I have not described the place of this punishment, or the precise nature of the punishment. I have focused only upon the endlessness of it. My friend, Jesus Christ taught that the punishment visited upon you who reject Him would be eternal, unending, ceaseless, and forever. This coming from the mouth of One Who is true, and Who is truth.

In the face of that reality, that certainty, that more than very unpleasant truth, you can now understand why Jesus endured what He endured for you, and what He came to save you from. I urge you, therefore, to come to Jesus without delay.



[1] Matthew 14.21; 15.38; 19.14

[2] Matthew 8.5-13

[3] Mark 7.25-30

[4] Luke 17.12-13; Matthew 20.29-34; 9.10-13; Mark 2.15

[5] John 3.10-12

[6] John 4.16-18

[7] Matthew 16.22-23

[8] Acts 9.4

[9] Acts 9.17-18

[10] Matthew 11.19; Luke 7.34;

[11] Alfred Edersheim, The Life and Times of Jesus the Messiah: New Updated Version, (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, Inc., 1993), pages 1060-1065.

[12] Ibid., page 1061.

[13] W. G. T. Shedd, The Doctrine Of Endless Punishment, (Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust, 1986), page 19.

[14] See Shedd, pages 22-28.

[15] Shedd, page 26.

[16] Bauer, Danker, A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and other Early Christian Literature, (Chicago, IL: The University of Chicago Press, 2000), page 33.



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