Tag Archives: Gospel of Matthew
This is Part 4 of my response to David Bentley Hart’s article entitled “Why Do People Believe in Hell?” (found here). For the next two posts I want to present my case for why Christians SHOULD believe in hell. Really. Please notice that I have added the words “Why SHOULD People Believe in Hell” to my post’s title.
Just a few more comments about Hart’s rejection of the biblical witness to eternal lostness:
1. The essential question in an issue like this — hell — is what is one’s final authority for what one believes? Is it church history? Is it what makes logical and ethical sense to me? Is there an underlying philosophical commitment that clouds my understanding of what the Bible is actually saying? If Jesus Christ is God the Son, then whatever He believed, I had better believe. And if He predicted the completion of the Bible through His followers, then I can have confidence in both the Old and New Testaments’ description of this life — and the life to come.
2. Psychological ad hominems (arguments against the person) don’t advance the discussion very much. Hart can charge the majority of Christian leaders (ancient and modern) with pathological reasons to hold to eternal conscious punishment. And we can charge him with being motivated by some psychological need to dispense with hell. But both accusations miss the point. What does the Bible actually teach?
3. I have sought to defend the eternal conscious punishment view of hell in my book The Other Side of the Good News. You might find the chapter titles interesting:
4. As you can see, I believe the clear testimony of Scripture is that there is another “side,” that all who die without Christ are lost eternally, that there are no second chances after death, that the concept of annihilationism isn’t biblical, that Jesus is our greatest source for information about hell, and that we can’t sit on the fence about this issue. There is, indeed, a hell to shun and a heaven to gain! I have written other articles on the subject (see my “Warning a Wrath-Deserving World: Evangelicals and the Overhaul of Hell” in the Emmaus Journal, Summer 1993) and have reviewed a book or two presenting alternative views (see my review entitled “Screwtape Reviews Rethinking Hell” — my post of July 18, 2014 found here).Let me present one segment of the biblical evidence for hell as eternal conscious punishment — the testimony of God the Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. I suggest that anyone who wants to know what the Son of God taught about eternal lostness should take a Bible they’re not afraid to mark up and read straight through the gospel of Matthew. Here’s what they will find –Mt. 5:22 – One who calls his brother “fool” will be in danger of hell (gehenna) fire.
Mt. 5:27-30 – It is better to pluck out one’s eye or cut off one’s hand (and to be saved) than for one’s whole body to go into hell (gehenna). See also 18:9 for a similar statement.
Mt. 10:28 – We are not to fear those who can kill the body, but rather the One who can destroy soul and body in hell (note: this is obviously God, not Satan. And the term “destroy” means ruin, not annihilation here).
Mt. 11:21-14 – Where there is greater light, there is greater judgment (Capernaum will go down to the depths [hades] because of their unbelief).
Mt. 16-18 – The gates of hell (hades) will not overcome the church.Mt. 23:15 – The proselytizing of the Jewish leaders makes one twice as much a son of hell (gehenna) as they were.
Mt. 23:33 – Jesus calls these leaders snakes and a brood of vipers and asks, “How will you escape being condemned to hell (gehenna)?”
Mt. 24:36-51 – Hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. See also Mt. 25:1-13.
Mt. 25:31-46 – All humanity will be divided into the sheep and goats. The two fates of “the kingdom” and “the eternal fire” are presented. We read, “These [the goats] will go away to everlasting punishment, but the righteous [the sheep] into eternal life.” (v. 46).
Here is my summary of this brief study of Jesus’ teaching on hell in Matthew’s gospel (from my The Other Side of the Good News):
Summary of Hell in Matthew’s Gospel
Although Jesus uses the term hades on only two occasions in Matthew, He emphasizes that the judgment of the wicked will be based on their opportunity to respond (Matt. 11:21-24) and that the defensive gates of hades will not be able to withstand the Gospel’s assault (Matt. 16:18).
Jesus’ uses of the term gehenna warn of the danger of hell fire (Matt. 5:22) and the relative insignificance of losing a bodily part (and going to heaven) in comparison to remaining whole but being wholly lost (Matt. 5:29-30). Similar hyperbolic language of self-mutilation is used by Jesus on a second occasion in Matthew 18:9.
Perhaps anticipating the persecution of His disciples, Jesus reminds them whom to fear. God is the One to be feared, for He alone has the power to “destroy both soul and body in hell,” (or gehenna, Matt. 10:28).
Jesus’ teaching in Matthew indicates that He knew of hell’s reality. One might ask, “If we are on our way to hell, wouldn’t it make sense for Jesus to first tell us how to avoid that destination? If we were in a spiritually neutral condition, then perhaps instruction about heaven might be more appropriate.” However, no one is spiritually neutral. Every human being is either in the category of the “sheep” who are doing God’s will or the “goats” who are outside His will. Eternal destinies await both –“eternal life” or “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46).
The other uses of the term hades in the New Testament (Luke 10:15; 16:22-23; Acts 2:26-32; 1 Cor. 15:55; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13-14) appear to relate to the intermediate state (the time between one’s death and physical resurrection) into which wicked persons have passed at their death.
Gehenna is used only once outside the Gospels (James 3:6). However, a study of its twelve occurrences in the New Testament leads to the conclusion that gehenna is a place of condemnation and terrible punishment. The wicked, after their resurrection, will be cast into gehenna to remain forever. Revelation 20:13-14 indicates that gehenna and “the lake of fire” are synonymous terms, referring to the everlasting destiny of the wicked after the reunion of their bodies and their disembodied personalities.
(our study will be concluded in our next post)
The Forgotten Third: Developing a Relationship with God the Holy Spirit — What Do We Learn from the Gospel of MATTHEW about the Holy Spirit?
There are two ways of approaching the doctrines of the Scriptures. One way is to collect all the data throughout the Bible into logical categories (called “systematic theology”). The other way is to work through individual books of the Bible, collecting the data on a particular subject (this is called “biblical theology,” although the term is used in other ways in less than conservative circles). When we ask, what do we learn from the Gospel of Matthew about God the Holy Spirit, we are taking a kind of biblical theology approach. Our conviction in these posts is that, while some believers overemphasize the Spirit, others overlook Him. We want to do neither, but long to have a balanced view of the Third Member of the Trinity.
What do we find when we unit-read (read straight through at one sitting) the Gospel of Matthew?
Ch. 1 – 18 This is how the birth of Jesus the Messiah came about: His mother Mary was pledged to be married to Joseph, but before they came together, she was found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit. “Found to be pregnant through the Holy Spirit.” Without the assistance of Joseph, Mary, a virgin, becomes pregnant. The God who created the biological process circumvents it for His purposes [perhaps to illustrate the completely divine nature of salvation]. And the member of the Godhead responsible for Mary’s pregnancy is none other than the Spirit of God.
20 But after he had considered this, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream and said, “Joseph son of David, do not be afraid to take Mary home as your wife, because what is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit. 21 She will give birth to a son, and you are to give him the name Jesus, because he will save his people from their sins.” Joseph needs an explanation for Mary’s pregnancy, and an angel of the Lord gives one to him. “What is conceived in her is from the Holy Spirit.” Further explanation was not required.
Ch. 3 – 11 “I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me comes one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” John the Baptist knows his place — He announces that the One coming after him is more powerful than he and will baptize those who repented at John’s preaching with the Holy Spirit and fire.
16 As soon as Jesus was baptized, he went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him. 17 And a voice from heaven said, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well pleased.” The Spirit of God becomes visible for this occasion, taking the form of a dove. This is an excellent Trinitarian reference, don’t you think?
Ch. 4 – Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. How does this reference harmonize with James’ statement that God can’t be tempted with evil nor does He tempt anyone? Your thoughts?
Ch. 10 – 16 “I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves. 17 Be on your guard; you will be handed over to the local councils and be flogged in the synagogues. 18 On my account you will be brought before governors and kings as witnesses to them and to the Gentiles. 19 But when they arrest you, do not worry about what to say or how to say it. At that time you will be given what to say, 20 for it will not be you speaking, but the Spirit of your Father speaking through you. This seems to be a reference to the Spirit of God, doesn’t it? The Holy Spirit will give wisdom in those situations of persecution — so the Jesus-follower doesn’t need to worry!
Ch. 11 – 27 “All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Here is another of what I call the “binitarian” passages regarding the Spirit. That is, we have two of the members of the Trinity mentioned. The Spirit is specifically left out!
Ch. 12 –15 Aware of this, Jesus withdrew from that place. A large crowd followed him, and he healed all who were ill. 16 He warned them not to tell others about him. 17 This was to fulfill what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah: 18 “Here is my servant whom I have chosen,
the one I love, in whom I delight;
I will put my Spirit on him,
and he will proclaim justice to the nations.
19 He will not quarrel or cry out;
no one will hear his voice in the streets.
20 A bruised reed he will not break,
and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out,
till he has brought justice through to victory.
21 In his name the nations will put their hope.” Here we have an amazing reference to the Spirit of God and His relationship to the Son! The Son — the One whom the Father chose, the One whom the Father loved, the One in whom the Father delighted — is filled with the Spirit in His earthly ministry. And one aspect of that filling or indwelling of the Spirit in the Son is the Son’s . . . gentleness!
25 Jesus knew their thoughts and said to them, “Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand. 26 If Satan drives out Satan, he is divided against himself. How then can his kingdom stand? 27 And if I drive out demons by Beelzebul, by whom do your people drive them out? So then, they will be your judges. 28 But if it is by the Spirit of God that I drive out demons, then the kingdom of God has come upon you. Here the Lord Jesus testifies of His relationship with the Spirit. It is “by the Spirit” that He drives out demons.
30 “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. 31 And so I tell you, every kind of sin and slander can be forgiven, but blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. 32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Wow! This is the famous unpardonable sin passage. There are many opinions about this sin, but I would suggest the context is the rejection of the Spirit’s testimony as to the identity of the Son. The only sin from which one cannot be saved is refusing to believe in the Son.
Ch. 28 – 16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.” The famous “Great Commission” passage here is another clear Trinitarian reference. We are to baptize disciples (note: not “converts.” We are to make “disciples”!) in the name (singular) of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.
There is so much in the Gospel of Matthew about God the Holy Spirit! The One who caused the virgin to conceive, the One who constitutes the baptizing work of the Lord Jesus, the One who publicly affirms the identity of the Son and empowers Him in His miracles — This is the One whom we can know and honor by fulfilling the Great Commission! Give thanks today for God the Holy Spirit!