Chapter 3 – What Jesus Actually Said About Hell
Chan begins and ends this chapter with a warning to not forget the seriousness of what we’re talking about. It seems that the study of hell put some fear in him even as he was writing it, and it’s important that it do the same for us. He asks us to stop, look around us, and notice the people who are milling about. Then remember that some of them could very well be on their way to hell. “This is not just about doctrine; it’s about destinies.” (pg. 72)
Then he dives into what Jesus had to say about hell. He spends a lot of his time in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25), saying that this is the longest passage concerning judgment and hell in Jesus’ teachings. He then uses the same basic outline which he did in the chapter before, trying to show whether or not Jesus corrected the teachings of the people who were talking about hell at the same time. Surely, if they were teaching bad theology, Jesus would have corrected them. He certainly did when it came to legalism, because this gave a false image of God. If hell also gave a false image of God, Jesus certainly would have corrected it.
First, does Jesus talk about hell being a place of punishment or correction? Bell argues that those who go to hell, if there is such a place, largely go for the sake of correction or cleansing, and after that is done, they can then enter into heaven. However, in the parable of the sheep and goats, hell is clearly a place where people go after judgment because they didn’t follow Jesus. Nor is this seen as earthly judgment. While there is certainly “hell on earth” this is not what Jesus was talking about. He was referring instead to a hell which happens after judgment.
Then there is the question of punishment. The contemporaries of Jesus certainly depicted hell as a place of darkness and fire. Did Jesus correct this teaching? He certainly didn’t, using terms like “darkness”, “weeping”, and “everlasting fire.” Jesus taught very clearly that hell was a place of punishment.
Then there is the question of whether Jesus taught that those who died would be punished in hell forever, or whether Jesus taught that those in hell would eventually be annihilated. Are people in hell eventually destroyed? This is the question he poses, and Chan gives his opinion, which is the idea of an everlasting punishment. However, he leaves plenty of room for the other, stating that this isn’t one of the places where Jesus was abundantly clear. I found this interesting, and Chan simply moves on after telling us to spend some time looking at it ourselves.
He ends the chapter, though, just as he started. Let’s first be sure we leave this in God’s hands. “God has never asked us to figure our His justice or to see if His way of doing things is morally right. He has only asked us to embrace His Word and bow the knee.” An important reminder, which I’m afraid Bell forgot!
But it was the last statement which is perhaps the most important to remember: “Don’t get so lost in deciphering that you forget to tremble.”