Eternal Judgment: An Unbelievable Problem or A Blessed Promise?

Yesterday, I argued that there is a certain kind of beauty to the reality of hell.

Now, if that sentence is taken by itself, it sounds cruel and compassionless, but indeed when we consider what Revelation 19 records, we need to see that just as there is incredible beauty in the wedding feast of the lamb (Rev 19:6-10), there is a corresponding beauty in Christ’s decisive victory and eternal judgment over all those who stand against him.

Therefore, we look again at Revelation 19:1-5, to behold the beauty of the victorious Lord.  But before reading on, please read yesterdays post; both are necessary to see how Scripture portrays Christ’s beautiful victory over his foes.

Eternal Judgment: An Unbelievable Problem or A Blessed Promise?

Not only is Jesus the victorious judge; the victory he has won is everlasting.  In Revelation 19:3, the second hallelujah sounds forth because “The smoke from her [the prostitute] goes up forever and ever.”

This verse quotes Isaiah 34:10.  In context, this judgment is not on Babylon as a singular city but Babylon as the system of the world, for in Isaiah, the prophet speaks of all flesh coming under judgment. The fact that Revelation cites Isaiah twice supports the reality of this truth.

God promises that all those who stand outside of Christ will suffer eternal judgment. But this raises Bell’s point:  Will a loving God really send people to hell for eternity?  Is a good God to be praised for such severe judgment? (For the short answer see Romans 11:22ff).  Even for those who embrace the doctrine of hell, can we say that we worship God for such a reality? Or do we simply accept it as a matter of orthodoxy?

The doctrine of God’s retributive justice is hated by the flesh.  The doctrine of hell rarely gains Christians fans from the world.  But notice: Verse 3 does not simply describe hell-fire and damnation.  It is set in the context of praise!  In glory, the saints will see the smoke of the city as beautiful and worthy of praise.   Heaven does not simply accept hell as a doctrine, it embraces it as a welcome sight.

Now is that crazy talk?  Certainly, a full-orbed doctrine of God’s judgment would include Ezekiel 18:23, 31 which speak of God’s displeasure in punishing the wicked.  But on balance, Deuteronomy 28:63 can say of God’s covenant relationship with Israel that as he took delight in blessing Israel, he would also delight in bringing ruin and destruction upon them.  If we take time to consider the whole counsel of God, there is in Scripture a kind of beauty attached to final and permanent defeat of the Serpent and his offspring.

But for now, lets stay in Revelation.  And there, we can begin to appreciate the beauty of hell by considering the pervasive ugliness of sin.  Consider four things.

  1. God is not afflicting innocent people but those whose sins have destroyed the world (Rev 11:15-18).
  2. These “earth-dwellers” have rejected him.  They have been unwilling to repent, and instead have gnawed their tongues in anguish and cursed God (16:8-11, 21).
  3. God’s judgment is for the sake of those whose names are written in the book of life.  He vindicates his saints, by judging the ones who have shed their blood.
  4. God rightly condemns sin eternally, because all sin is guilty of an infinite crime, because the law-giver is an infinite holy and good God.

The Beauty of Hell

For these four reasons, heaven rejoices in the eternal fires of hell because it secures a world where Christ is worshiped, where sin is no more, and where the destroyers of the earth have once and for all been eradicated.

This is the beauty of hell.  God in Christ will repay with affliction those who afflict his children; and grant relief to those who are afflicted in this world (2 Thess 1:5-7).  Indeed, the whole world deserves this just punishment.  And no Christian can boast that they will escape the sword of the Lord based on their actions or spiritual attitudes.  Rather, the only thing that saves a man from hell is the grace of God and faith in the substitionary sacrifice of Christ.

Accordingly, the doctrine of hell cannot be considered without a profound thankfulness for salvation.  However, such thankfulness for Christ as our savior and a longing for others to know him and avoid the misery of hell does not countervail the joy and relief we will have when God finally defeats evil once and for all.

As the Greater David, Jesus has gone to the battlefield for a petrified and puny people.  He defeats the strongman by disarming him and chopping off his head (Col 2:14-15)  Jesus is better than Braveheart, Gladiator, or Captain America.   He is the true super hero, who obliterates the villain and saves the damsel in distress.

In fact, such confidence that God will arise to defend his bride frees us from seeking vengeance in this life.  It gives us reason to hold on in times of trial.  It strengthens our longing for Christ to come and make all things right.  And it fuels our worship, that the God of mercy and justice will bring salvation now and judgment shortly.

Truly, we will forever worship God and shout the “hallelujahs” that our enemies have been defeated by our king.  In this way, the doctrine of hell is beautiful and is worthy of praise—something that the literary artist Rob Bell has yet to see, but musician Ben Shive has captured in his song entitled “Rise Up.”

I close with Shive’s lyrics and the admonition us all to not only believe in the doctrine of hell, but to press into the word of God, that we all might behold its beauty as a doctrine to understand, believe, and rejoice in.

 Every stone that makes you stumble
and cuts you when you fall
Every serpent here that strikes your heel
to curse you when you crawl
The king of love one day will crush them all

And every sad seduction and every clever lie
Every word that woos and wounds the pilgrim children of the sky
The king of love will break them by and by

And you will rise up in the end
You will rise up in the end
I know the night is cruel
but the day is coming soon
And you will rise up in the end

If the thief had to come to plunder when the children were alone
If he ravaged every daughter and murdered every son
Would not their father see this? Would not his anger burn?
And would he not repay the tyrant in the day of his return?
Oh, wait. Oh, wait the day of his return

Cause he will rise up in the end
He will rise up in the end
I know you need a Savior
He is patient in his anger
And he will rise up in the end

And when the stars come crashing to the sea
and the high and mighty fall down on their knees
When you see the Son descending in the sky
the chains of death will fall around your feet

You will rise up in the end
you will rise up in the end
You will rise up in the end

Soli Deo Gloria, dss

2 thoughts on “Eternal Judgment: An Unbelievable Problem or A Blessed Promise?

  1. Weird. I’m pretty sure Babylon in the Revelation was the Roman Empire and probably also is the United States of America. Your concept of hell sounds a lot like OUR version of retributive justice taken to its infinite extreme, is that really the kind of justice express by Jesus Christ in the gospels? Human beings have no problem with people getting their comeuppance by the way, if you look at revenge movies that are popular today that should come as no surprise to you. I think what makes the Bible special is that human logic is almost always turned upside down. God’s concept of justice consistently is that people DON’T get what’s coming to them, and there is nothing that sinful human beings HATE more than that. It definitely shows in the response from orthodoxy (lower case) to Rob Bell’s book and certainly from your post as well. Guess what, God doesn’t NEED to punish people. God doesn’t NEED anything. He’s not REQUIRED to do anything, he can do whatever he wants so long as it is consistent with his character as revealed in the Bible. Well, let’s get to that then.

    I find it odd that certain types of Christians hate it when God is characterized as a loving father or a good friend because that somehow inappropriately anthropomorphizes God, even though that’s exactly what Jesus said he is like, came right out of his mouth by the way. However, when it comes to portraying God as a raging lunatic warlord, oh, well that’s in the Bible right? ;)

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