Calvary Road Baptist Church

“WHAT HAPPENS TO THOSE WHO PERISH?”

John 3.16 

My text for this morning’s message from God’s Word is John 3.16. I would like for us to recite that verse together, with each of us reciting the verse out loud. I invite you to stand with me so we can quote the verse together, either from memory or by reading. Are you ready? 

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” 

This verse seems pretty straightforward at first glance. And it is quite straightforward at first glance. But the more you consider the verse, the more you reflect on its context, and the more you investigate its implications, the deeper you find it to be, without what you may learn later on in any way disagreeing what you might have initially noticed in the verse.

Two eternal destinies are mentioned, one described as “everlasting life” and another given a bit of notice with the single word “perish.” Interesting, is it not, that the person included in the word “whosoever,” who believes in Jesus Christ, will have, which is to say will possess, everlasting life? On the other hand, that individual who does not believe in Jesus Christ will perish. How do we know? Because whosoever believes in Jesus Christ will not perish. Isn’t that also interesting? To enjoy one eternal and never-ending destiny, you are required to believe in Jesus Christ. That eternal and never-ending destiny is labeled “everlasting life.” On the other hand, to experience a very different eternal and never-ending destiny (notice I did not say enjoy) you are required to do nothing, absolutely nothing. Or should I say that you are not required to do anything? Therefore, if you are born into this world, and move through the world in the living of your life any way you choose until your life here ends, you will perish. It is only if you are born into this world, and as you move through the world in the living of your life, you pause long enough to believe in Jesus Christ on your way to your physical end, that you will come to possess everlasting life. Isn’t that additionally quite interesting? And counter-intuitive, I might add. Intuition suggests that if you are born and live your life so as to avoid major offenses and violations or live your life so as to outweigh bad deeds by more frequently doing comparatively good deeds, you will go on to your eternal reward. But it isn’t that way at all according to the Bible, is it? In God’s Word your default destiny (to use a computer age word), the default setting for what will happen to you after this life is over is to perish.

The question, of course, is what does it mean to perish? This word “perish” translates an intriguing Greek word that is pronounced apollumi. Apollumi is a verb that is used almost ninety times in the Greek New Testament to refer to destroying, to being destroyed, or to perishing, depending on the way the verb is used.[1] If you are familiar with the book of Revelation, you may recollect from Revelation 9.11 the name of the angel of the bottomless pit, Apollyon, meaning destroyer. That proper name is akin to this word. Important for us to remember is that the meanings of words are always related to the way those words are actually used.[2] That said, the word “perish” as applied to a person in God’s Word is never used to refer to the loss of being, but to the loss of well-being. The soul, once brought into existence by God, continues its conscious existence throughout eternity. Thus, the warnings found in God’s Word, in Ezekiel 18.4 and 20, “the soul that sinneth, it shall die,” do not refer to the end of existence, but to the end of physical existence, with spiritual existence continuing forever after physical death. There is an eternal afterlife for everyone, an afterlife of everlasting life or an afterlife of everlasting torment. To perish involves the second of these two afterlife destinies.

This brings to mind a question that deserves an answer: “What happens to those who perish?” “What happens to that individual who lives and dies without believing in Jesus Christ?” “What becomes of him?” “What becomes of them all?” The Word of God reveals to us that four things happen to those who perish, to anyone who perishes. Let me bring those four things to your attention in the chronological sequence in which they occur: 

First, GOD BEGINS TO POUR OUT HIS JUDGMENT ON YOU WHO PERISH DURING YOUR PHYSICAL LIFETIME 

That’s right. One begins to perish before he dies.

It is a little-understood truth that God’s judgment upon the unsaved actually begins before they die and begin to face their eternal reward. A right understanding of Romans 1.18 shows this to be true: 

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness.” 

“God’s wrath is His settled indignation.”[3] There are two pieces of evidence that indicate that the revelation of God’s wrath mentioned here is a present reality, meaning that it begins before you die: First, the word translated by our English phrase “is revealed” is a present tense verb. This is taking place now. As well, the tenses of the verbs used in the rest of Romans chapter one indicate things that have already taken place.[4] Thus, most of the sins listed in Romans 1.21-32 are not merely sins which will provoke God’s indignation in future judgment, but themselves are already indications of God judging in this lifetime those who without excuse refuse to glorify God as God, refuse to be grateful and to express gratitude for blessings received at the hand of God, and who profess themselves to be wise while becoming increasingly foolish. The sins listed in verses 21-32 are evidence that God’s judgment has already begun. You commit these sins as a result of God judging you.

Look at the lost members of your family. Is God’s judgment upon them not increasingly obvious? Do they not change the truth of God into a lie? Do they not dishonor their bodies between themselves? Do they like to not retain God in their minds and don’t want to talk about God and the things of God? Is God not turning them over to a reprobate mind that is incapable of making spiritual sense of anything? I could go on and on, but Paul’s list of offenses sums up the matter perfectly. Judgment has already begun to fall on our unsaved loved ones and friends, colleagues and neighbors. That is the beginning of the answer to the question of what happens to those who perish. God does not wait until sinners die to begin judging them for sinning against Him and rejecting His Son, Jesus Christ, the Lord. Judgment begins to fall when God is good and ready for it to fall. That is why we must do all that we can to reach them with the Gospel before they die and they are forever out of reach. 

Next, GOD ESCALATES HIS PUNISHMENT OF YOU WHO PERISH IN HELL 

We know a number of things from the Savior’s account of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16.19-31, which I will not take the time to read here: For one, we know that before Christ’s resurrection and ascension into the Father’s presence all who died went to a place referred to in the Bible as Hades, which has two compartments: One compartment was referred to as Paradise and was the abode of the righteous dead before Christ’s ascension. The other is a place of torment and is still reserved for the unrighteous dead. Next, we know that passing from this life to the next resulted in one’s immediate assignment to either Paradise or the abode of the damned, since the unrighteous rich man died and was immediately in torment and righteous Lazarus was immediately in Paradise, also called Abraham’s bosom. Of course, purgatory is a Roman Catholic fiction not found in the Bible. The place of torment in Hades is what we usually refer to as Hell, and is the temporary abode of the damned, much like the county jail house is the temporary holding facility for those who after that are consigned to prison. Since Christ’s resurrection and ascension to the Father’s right hand Paradise has been emptied, and all who were in Abraham’s bosom are now in heaven with the Savior they had by faith anticipated when they died before Christ came.[5] It is to be remembered that the torment of the damned in Hell is conscious, constant, and conscience provoking. The rich man is in a place he cannot escape, is in a place of real torment, and is in a place where his long-seared and indifferent to sin conscience is awakened to provoke a profound sense of his guilt in the sight of God. The same happens to everyone in Hell.

The analogy of Hell to jail and the lake of fire to prison is not a very good one, but it is the best we have for purposes of description. As jail is temporary, so Hell is temporary. As jail is a place of punishment using incarceration, so Hell is also a place of punishment using incarceration, but with the torment of real pain and suffering from the fire the agonizing experience of those who are in Hell. Where the analogy breaks down is in two places: First, in our legal system inmates are confined to jail with the presumption of innocence until proven guilty in a court of law. However, those who are in Hell are already guilty in the sight of God because, John 1.18, 

“he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” 

Next, the analogy further breaks down with the comparison of prison to the lake of fire with respect to its duration and its unimaginable severity. But more on that later.

Of course, many who are suffering the torments of the damned in Hellfire have been there for thousands of years, many since before the time of Noah and the Flood. However, the minimum length of anyone’s stay in Hellfire born during our dispensation, if my eschatology is correct and the Second Coming of Christ is preceded by the Rapture seven years in advance, will be 1007 years. That is the time span from the Rapture to the Second Coming of Christ and then to the Great White Throne judgment of Jesus Christ, at the end of Christ’s millennial kingdom here on earth. Thus, while the Christians you know are enjoying the blessings of Christ and then the glories of heaven and afterwards the millennial reign of Christ, you who perish will experience only the pain of fiery torment, confinement, and the affliction of an astonishingly guilty conscience that day and night without relief heaps perpetual insult on you for your foolish neglect of the Gospel. That is the second thing that happens to those of you who perish.

Third, JESUS CHRIST JUDGES YOU WHO PERISH AT THE GREAT WHITE THRONE JUDGMENT 

People are sometimes confused about who the Judge is at the Great White Throne judgment mentioned in Revelation 20.11-12: 

11  And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.

12  And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. 

It is one thing to stand before God. However, it is another thing to identify Who sits on the Great White Throne to judge the dead, small and great. That question is answered to my satisfaction by the Lord Jesus Christ, in John 5.22, where He said, 

“For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son.” 

Quibble about it if you want, the significant fact related to the Great White Throne is that it is not a judgment of guilt or innocence. Guilt or innocence is a matter entirely settled in the normal course of this lifetime you live between your birth and your physical death. If you trust Jesus Christ at some point, you have everlasting life, and if you do not trust Jesus Christ at some point before you die you perish. It really is that simple.

The Great White Throne judgment, therefore, is not the place where guilt or innocence is determined but is reserved for that event just before eternity begins when the severity of your eternal punishment will be decided by the One Who you did not trust, decided by the One Who you did not believe in, decided by the One You did not think was important enough to flee to for salvation from your sins.

And according to both Revelation 20.12 and 13, you will be judged by the Lord Jesus Christ according to your works. Thus, every word, every thought, and every deed will be examined by His glorious Majesty Jesus Christ, and the severity of your torment in the lake of fire will be affixed to every word, every thought, and every deed that was sinful. And what is a sinful word, a sinful thought, or a sinful deed? The Apostle Paul makes the answer to that question very clear in Romans 14.23, where he writes, “whatsoever is not of faith is sin.”

Ever had thoughts that were not thought with faith in God or His Son? Ever said things not prompted by faith in God or faith in His Son? Ever done anything that was not prompted by faith in God or His Son Jesus Christ? Every such thought, word, and deed are being recorded by God as they occur, and will be the basis for Christ’s judgment and the assignment of your appropriate punishment in the lake of fire.[6] 

Finally, GOD ETERNALLY TORMENTS YOU WHO PERISH IN THE LAKE OF FIRE 

To review, God begins punishing the one who will die without Christ while his life on earth is being lived. Denying God His just due, refusing to be grateful, refusing to honor Him, refusing to worship Him, God judges and His judgment is reflected in your deteriorating thought life and conduct. Then you die and go to Hell, where you will suffer while the seven years of Tribulation and the thousand years of Christ’s millennial reign unfold. After that, you will be raised up to stand before Christ at the Great White Throne for the determination of your eternal torment’s severity.

Revelation 20.15 reveals to us that you who perish will then be “cast into the lake of fire.” But what is the lake of fire? It is a place the Lord Jesus Christ describes as “everlasting fire” in Matthew 25.41, where He also declares it was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” I think the lake of fire was created immediately after Lucifer led his angelic rebellion against God. In Matthew 25.46 our Lord describes it as a place of “everlasting punishment.” In Revelation 21.8 our Lord identifies it as “the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.” He described it three times in the Gospel of Matthew as “outer darkness.”[7] Jude 13 seems to identify it as “the blackness of darkness for ever,” and Peter uses the phrase “the mist of darkness” concerning it in Second Peter 2.17. Five times in the Gospels the Lord clearly points out that for those who so perish “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”[8]

What is the takeaway from this? It will be bad, very bad. It will be dark, very dark. It will be unimaginably painful. You who perish will be lonely, isolated, suffering great pain, and much of the pain will be inflicted on you by others suffering the same fate as they gnash on you with their teeth while you do the same to them. And this torment will continue without interruption forever. 

There are no doubt some in attendance this morning who will live out your entire life without trusting Jesus Christ before you die. From the perspective of eternity we will see that your perishing will have commenced during your life here on earth, will proceed to your suffering in Hell, after which you will stand before Christ when He is seated on the Great White Throne to be judged by Him, and then you will be cast into the lake of fire to remember forever the cause of your perpetual suffering but never to be remembered.

Think of who you will join at some point should you die without Jesus Christ. Of course, by then your confidence will soar, and your dismissal of Christ and the Gospel will be an entirely settled affair. You will become more and more sure of yourself in your rejection of Christ. So much so that when you die you will be genuinely surprised to join Cain, the first murderer, and the others who lived and died before the Flood. There with you as well will be the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah, Egypt’s Pharoahs, King Ahab and his nasty wife Jezebel, the betrayer Judas Iscariot, and all those scribes and Pharisees and priests who clamored for the crucifixion of our Lord, and did not repent, and the great host of the wicked and rejecters of Christ of all nations and ages.

From the passage dealing with the rich man and Lazarus, we learn that in Hell you will recognize others. But that won’t last. In the lake of fire there will be total darkness and the end of all sight forever. However, your thirst will remain unquenched, your nerves will be aflame with searing pain, and your ears will be filled with the howls of your own horror as well as the cries of others in pain and agony.

That is what it means to perish. It is the just end of those who reject Jesus Christ, the righteous end of those who reject Jesus Christ, the appropriate end of those who reject Jesus Christ, but not necessarily your end. I say this because your life is not over. The salvation of your eternal and undying soul is well with the reach of faith’s grasp of the Savior. Though you are here alive on earth, and He is enthroned at God’s right hand on high, faith in Christ will result in your instantaneous justification in the sight of God, the establishing of peace between you and God, the forgiveness of your sins, and the alteration of your destiny from perishing to possessing everlasting life.

Why insist on living your life perishing? Far better to possess everlasting life through faith in Jesus Christ.

__________

[1] Fritz Rienecker & Cleon Rogers, Linguistic Key To The Greek New Testament, (Grand Rapids, MI: Regency Reference Library, 1980), page 224.

[2] See footnote 28 in Moisés Silva, Biblical Words & Their Meaning: An Introduction To Lexical Semantics, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Academie Books, 1983), page 23.

[3] William Hendricksen, Exposition Of Paul’s Epistle To The Romans, (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1981), page 67.

[4] Thomas R. Schreiner, Romans - ECNT, (Grand Rapids, Michigan: Baker Academic, 1998), pages 84-85.

[5] Psalm 68.18; Ephesians 4.8-10

[6] Revelation 20.12

[7] Matthew 8.12; 22.13; 25.30

[8] Matthew 8.12; 22.13; 24.51; 25.30; Luke 13.28

Would you like to contact Dr. Waldrip about this sermon? Please contact him by clicking on the link below. Please do not change the subject within your email message. Thank you.

pastor@calvaryroadbaptist.org