WHAT IS THE PUNISHMENT?
In dealing with this question we will arrange our remarks under three headings.
In dealing with these most solemn subjects we must keep before us the holiness of God and the sovereignty which is His. It has been the objective of the Devil over the ages to make these very serious issues a matter of no concern, or even of mirth and light hearted talk. This must not be, but rather it is necessary that they be dealt with in a spiritual manner of sober reflection.
The immediate experience of sinners who die in their sins
Immediately sinners die they enter on an experience which is described by the Lord Jesus Himself in Luke 16.19-31. Read either as history or as parable it is terrible. All is perfectly clear. The departed individual has not ceased to be, but has entered on a new phase of experience, in a new state, a disembodied state, consciously under punishment, described here by the word "tormented".
The locality of the person concerned is termed "Hades" (here the word "hell" should so read) - the place of departed and disembodied spirits. It is not heaven. It is not hell (Gehenna), the lake of fire. The condition of the person is irrevocable. It is not possible for an alteration to take place. "A great gulf" is fixed, and transference to Abrahams bosom is impossible. The condition is hopeless. It is evident that the Lord wished His hearers to understand that it is in lifetime that the issues of eternity are decided, and that once a person passes the thin line which separates this world from the next, locality and condition are eternally settled. Alteration and transference are alike impossible.
This is not an isolated passage suggesting these things. Even if it were so it would suffice, but the general tenor of Scripture is that once persons die they enter on a new condition of conscious experience, either of bliss, or of torment - and that once entered upon, it is fixed.
May God impress on our hearts the fact that every unbelievers funeral is a reminder of a fresh addition to the lost who might have been saved if only they had believed the gospel which far too many of us preach but half-heartedly! It must be emphasised that "Now is the accepted time, now is the day of salvation" (2 Cor 6.2).
The resurrection of the Lord Jesus ensures the resurrection of every man, believer or unbeliever (1 Cor 15.21). That the times of their resurrections differ is true, but the fact is universal. The sceptic may scorn and question the possibility of such an event, seeing that the bodies of the departed have long since corrupted, gone off into gases, or have become chemical constituents of the soil in which they have been placed, and make objections of this nature. To all such the reply is, "Ye know not the scriptures, neither the power of God" (Mk 12.24), for certainly He who called a universe into being by His word, who has since maintained it through countless ages, and who from the dust created man, is able to raise from the dust of His creation.
The Great White Throne
Raised from the dead they will stand before the Great White Throne, there to be judged "according to their works" (Rev 20.12). No-one can escape. The books are opened in which is contained the detailed record of the persons earthly course: "all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him" (Jude v.15). The book of life is opened also. The books contain mention of these unbelievers: the book of life omits mention of them, and the inclusion in the one, and the omission from the others, constitutes double ground for the infliction of punishment upon them.
That there are degrees of judgment is perfectly clear for the judgment, as has already been noted, is "according to their works". He who knows the motives of the heart and before whom nothing is hid is the only one who is fitted to carry out such a judgment. After the verdict is declared the unbelieving sinner is "cast into the lake of fire" (Rev 20.15).
The Lake of Fire
Surely in no part of Scripture appears a more solemn and awful passage than Mark 9.43-50. He who was full of grace was also full of truth, and He who spoke as none other, excelled all in candour, simplicity, and faithfulness. The reader should peruse before a thrice holy God the solemn statements, and allow the words to rest in the memory: "Hell (Gehenna) Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched". Thrice (vv.44,46,48) does the Lord repeat the statement that it may duly be impressed on conscience and memory.
Listen to what another has written of Gehenna: "It was still within less than 30 years of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans that the idol, the hideous ox-headed human figure of Moloch, and its accessories were swept away from the valley by the good Josiah, and the place was so defiled that it could never again be desecrated by this frightful worship. But so deeply had the horrors of the past printed themselves on the popular mind that henceforth the spot bore the name of Tophet, the Abomination, the place to be spat upon; and in later times the very words Gehinnom, Valley of Hinnom slightly changed into Gehenna became the common name for Hell". And again: "After King Josiah had defiled the place it became the open sewer of the city. Fires were kept continually burning to consume the filth and impurity of the place. Worms fed on garbage out of reach of the fire. Vultures gloated in crowds over the horrid scene. Stenchful smoke rose continually from the valley".
"Well might our Lord use it as an emblem of hell, and stamp the usage of the word with the hall-mark of His authority. But let it be carefully noted that the Lord in speaking of Gehenna never referred to the place outside Jerusalem, but used it to designate that place of eternal torment which is prepared for the devil and his angels, and to which the impenitent will be consigned!"
Another scholar has stated that the word "Tophet" means a drum and says: "Drums were continually being beaten in this awful place to drown the cries of the helpless children who were constantly thrown alive on the flames; thus a fit emblem of that awful place where the unsaved must spend their eternity!" A careful analysis of the Lords words reveals the following facts:
Through the Spirit, John calls it the "lake of fire" (Rev 20.14,15), and "the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone" (Rev 21.8). Revelation is a book of symbols, and the language here, therefore, may be read symbolically. Literally it would denote acute suffering; symbolically it lacks nothing of its horror.
May God save us all from indifference in this matter. The believer is entrusted with the only effective panacea for sinful man, and the only means of rescue from such a terrible doom. "Sermons" will never save souls, but whole hearted Spirit-led and Spirit-empowered preaching of the glad tidings of Christ who died to save perishing man most certainly will.
Objections, however, have been raised by "them that believe not" (1 Cor 14.22), and it may serve a useful end to name at least three of them in order that the reader may be forewarned thereof, and thus be forearmed thereagainst. These will be dealt with in the next article.
To be continued.