Tag Archives: hell
Some Thoughts on the Book “What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?” (Post #6) BAD PEOPLE WILL BE “LEFT BEHIND” AND THEN FRY IN HELL
The next chapter of the book by the United Methodist minister Martin Thielen (entitled What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian?) is entitled Bad People Will Be “Left Behind” and Then Fry in Hell. He subtitles this chapter “Left-behind rapture theology is neither a biblical nor a historical Christian belief and should be left behind by mainline and moderate evangelical Christians.”
In this chapter Thielen attacks two end-times’ doctrines: the doctrine of a secret rapture and the doctrine of eternal conscious punishment (ECP). He rejects the secret rapture doctrine, arguing it was invented by John Darby (I did my Ph.D. dissertation on Darby, and it’s difficult to prove that he “invented” it). I agree with Thielen that some who hold to the left-behind view have tended to not care about the environment or social issues. But that should not automatically eliminate the possibility that Jesus can return at any moment. There does seem to be some support in the Scriptures for the secret rapture view.
Concerning the fate of “the wicked” (those who die without faith in Christ), Thielen lists the three alternatives to ECP: universalism, after-death opportunities to repent, and annihilationism. I’ve examined each of these views extensively in my first book The Other Side of the Good News and find each lacks biblical support.
MY RESPONSE: Thielen says the ECP view is “fiercely debated” (but that’s also true with the doctrine of the Trinity, isn’t it?). He rejects the idea of eternal conscious punishment because it presents God as One who “ultimately loses” (if many are condemned) and that He is guilty of giving out “a highly disproportionate penalty.” If God’s ultimate goal is His own glory — and if human beings deserve God’s eternal wrath — then those who go to hell are evidence of man’s poor choice, not God’s poor planning. The disproportionate argument misses the point of the seriousness of sin against a holy God. Stealing from a stranger is bad. Robbing one’s mother is quite different. Rejecting the Son of God merits the worst possible punishment — banishment in hell separated from God and His redeemed people.
After examining the three “alternatives,” Thielen comes out as an agnostic about what will happen to the lost. Such agnosticism is not warranted by the Word of God. I appreciate the terror he felt as he watched the “Left Behind” movie as a teenager, but fear can sometimes lead people to trusting Christ! And suggesting that each of the three “alternatives” to hell have some biblical support and that we “simply have to trust God to do the right thing whatever that is” fails to take the Bible seriously.
Here’s one popular picture suggesting what might happen at the rapture.
“In reality, along with the power to forgive, we have lost the power to condemn.” (C.S. Lewis)
Stephen Paddock, the maniac who slaughtered 58 people and wounded over 500 more in Las Vegas on October 1, ended his own life before he could be arrested by authorities. He, thereby, successfully escaped human judgment.
But is there no divine judgment? Perhaps he thought that suicide would end his pain or exorcise whatever demons were inspiring his hateful rampage. It may be that he had given up on any view of an afterlife or judgment before God. However, his beliefs do not equal reality.
We wish no one to be in hell. However, our wishes also do not make reality. Whether one is a universalist (who says God will save every person, perhaps even the devil) or an annihilationist (who says God will put out of existence those who die in their sins) or a post-mortem conversionist (one who says numerous opportunities will be given in the after-death state for people to believe in Jesus), the rock-bottom fact for Evangelicals is — What saith the Word of God?
We long for justice. And Paddock’s ending his own life, without trial, does not strike us as justice. That’s why the Psalmist takes the long view when he thinks about the prosperity of the wicked. They live long lives, without care, and die in comfortable beds. But there is the judgment of God awaiting them (Ps. 37).
One need only read through the gospel of Matthew to see that Jesus Christ clearly taught the doctrine of eternal lostness. We learn the following from that first gospel: Jesus speaks of “the fire of hell” (5:22) and says that ripping out one’s eye or hacking off one’s hand is better than being “thrown into hell” (5:29-30; 18:8-9).
Jesus speaks of a wide gate and a broad road that lead to “destruction” (7:13-14). Despite some claiming to do works in Jesus’ name, He will say to some at the end of history, “I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!” (7:23).
Hell is a real place (not just a state), for Jesus says, “the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (8:12; 22:13). The demons recognize that they will be “tortured” at the end of time (8:29) and thought Jesus had jumped the eschatological gun.
Apparently there will be levels of judgment in hell, for Jesus says of certain unbelieving cities: “It will be more bearable for Sodom and Gomorrah on the day of judgment than for [you].” (10:15; 11:21-24). The Lord warns us not to be “afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” (10:28). He is not referring to Satan as some kind of king in hell, but to God.
Jesus speaks of blasphemy against the Spirit as a sin which will never be forgiven (12:32). He says that acquittal or condemnation are the only two options “on the day of judgment.” (12:36-37).
The angels (sent by the Son of Man) will weed out of His kingdom everything causing sin and all who do evil. “They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (13:42, 49-50). We read in Matthew 16:26 that the soul is of infinite value — “What good will it be for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul? Or what can anyone give in exchange for their soul?” The Mount of Transfiguration event in Matthew 17 certainly shows that there is life after death.
Jesus accuses the teachers of the law and the Pharisees, in their winning of converts, of making them “twice as much a child of hell as you are.” (23:15). In Matthew 24, we read that the evil servant will be cut to pieces and assigned “a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (vv. 50-51). In the parable of the bags of gold, we read of the worthless servant who will be “cast outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’” (vv. 28-30).
Finally, in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Mt. 25), we read that the sheep are invited to receive their inheritance, the kingdom prepared for [them] since the creation of the world (v. 34). The goats, however, are told, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (v. 42). Then, in summary, we read, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (v. 46).
Is Stephen Paddock in hell? Unless one wishes to ignore the biblical teaching on eternal lostness, there can be only one answer. If he died without Jesus Christ as his Savior, that is precisely where he is. Apart from the saving work of Christ, that’s where I should be as well.
 See my The Other Side of the Good News: Confronting the Contemporary Challenges to Jesus’ Teaching on Hell (Christian Focus, 2003).
1 O God, do not remain silent;
do not turn a deaf ear,
do not stand aloof, O God.
2 See how your enemies growl,
how your foes rear their heads.
3 With cunning they conspire against your people;
they plot against those you cherish.
4 “Come,” they say, “let us destroy them as a nation,
so that Israel’s name is remembered no more.”
5 With one mind they plot together;
they form an alliance against you—
6 the tents of Edom and the Ishmaelites,
of Moab and the Hagrites,
7 Byblos, Ammon and Amalek,
Philistia, with the people of Tyre.
8 Even Assyria has joined them
to reinforce Lot’s descendants.
9 Do to them as you did to Midian,
as you did to Sisera and Jabin at the river Kishon,
10 who perished at Endor
and became like dung on the ground.
11 Make their nobles like Oreb and Zeeb,
all their princes like Zebah and Zalmunna,
12 who said, “Let us take possession
of the pasturelands of God.”
13 Make them like tumbleweed, my God,
like chaff before the wind.
14 As fire consumes the forest
or a flame sets the mountains ablaze,
15 so pursue them with your tempest
and terrify them with your storm.
16 Cover their faces with shame, Lord,
so that they will seek your name.
17 May they ever be ashamed and dismayed;
may they perish in disgrace.
18 Let them know that you, whose name is the Lord—
that you alone are the Most High over all the earth.