Robert Jeffress - The Truth About Eternity
Hi, I'm Robert Jeffress and welcome again to Pathway to Victory. Have you ever wondered what happens the moment after you die? Because none of us has actually stepped into eternity, we are entirely unqualified to give our own personal opinion on heaven or hell. But today we're going to consult the one true authority. What can we learn in scripture about life beyond the grave? Well, during the next half-hour, we will discover what the Bible "says" and "doesn't says" about your final destiny. Stick around for "The truth About Eternity" on today's edition of Pathway to Victory!
Rabbi Harold Kushner tells a story about a godless, immoral man who died and to his surprise he awakened in a place that had soft music and warm lights, and figures all dressed in white. And the godless man thought to himself: well, you know, God must have a soft spot in his heart for people like me. I'm surprised I'm here. And so he went to one of the men dressed in white, and he said: buddy, do you know where you can get a drink around here? And the figure in white said: well, if you're referring to alcoholic beverages sir, we don't serve those here. He said: well, where would I go for a game of blackjack or poker? He said: well sir, if you're talking about gambling, we don't allow that either up here. The new entrant said: well, if you don't have booze and you don't have gambling what do you all do around here all day? The man in white said: well, we read Psalms in the morning, we have prayer meetings all afternoon: and we read the Bible and have Bible studies at night. The guy said: Psalms, Bible studies, prayer meetings? Boy, heaven isn't cracked up to what I thought it was going to be like. The figure in white said to him smilingly: I can see you don't understand sir - we're in heaven, you're in hell.
Now you know, it's a cute story: but unfortunately it's a misleading one. It's a misleading story that underscores one of the most greatest misconceptions about eternity that most people believe, and that is that when we die, regardless of who we are, and what we've done, and what religion we've embraced or rejected we all go to the same place. But Jesus said just the opposite. He said there is not one destination: there are two possible eternal destinations. In fact, remember his words in Matthew 7:13-14. He said, "Enter by the narrow gate, for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction: and many are those who enter it. But the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life: and few are those who find it". Up to this point in our series on Bible prophecy we've been looking at what happens to Christians when they die. We saw that when a Christian dies, his spirit immediately goes into the presence of Christ.
Second Corinthians 5:8, "To be absent from the body", for a Christian, "Is to be at home with the Lord". But that's not all. The Bible says if you die as a believer not only will your spirit go to the Lord, but one day your physical body will be resurrected and changed: and you'll receive a brand new body. And that's not all. The Bible says there are eternal rewards for those who die in Christ. Resurrected bodies, eternal rewards, a recreated heaven and earth - that is the future of Christians. But the Bible said there are two ways that lead to two gates that open to two different destinies. What is the destiny of those who die without Christ? Well, that's what we're going to talk about today.
If you have your Bibles, turn to Luke 16. Luke 16. We're going to see what Jesus says is the eternal fate, the destiny of those who die without Christ. Listen to me this morning, when it comes to issues of life, death, and eternity - you better depend on somebody who knows what they're talking about. The only reliable guide to an unknown destination is somebody who has already been there. There is only one person who's seen life on the other side of the grave and come back to tell us what awaits us. His name is Jesus Christ. And Jesus had a great deal to say about the subject of hell. In fact it's really interesting. Jesus talked more about hell than he did about heaven. And yet many people readily accept what Jesus said about heaven: they want to dismiss what he said about hell. You can't be intellectually honest and do that.
You know, if Jesus is not telling the truth about heaven - it's only because, number one, he really doesn't know what happens to an unbeliever when he dies. If that's true, he's not God. The only other reason would be that he's wrong about hell is he knew hell didn't exist, but he was just trying to scare people. That makes Jesus a liar. If you accept Jesus as Savior, you have to accept everything he taught including what he taught about hell. Well that begs the question: what did Jesus teach about the future of unbelievers when they die?
Look at the passage, Luke 16:19-26. "Now there was a certain rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, gaily living in splendor every day. And a certain poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man's table: besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. And it came about that the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham's bosom", that is the presence of the Lord, "And the rich man also died and was buried. In hades the rich man lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and he saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And the rich man cried out and said, 'father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things: but now he is being comforted, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, in order that those who wish to come from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over there to us'".
I want you to notice in this passage five truths that Jesus taught us about hell, the fate of those who die without Christ. I want you to write them down on your outline and remember them forever. What did Jesus teach us about hell? First of all, Jesus taught that hell is an actual location. It is an actual location. Again, it's popular today to try theorize: well, hell is really just a state of mind. It's not an actual place. And yet if you believe that heaven is an actual location, you logically have to accept that hell is a real location as well. Why do I say that? Listen to Jesus' words in Matthew 25:46. These are the words of the judgment he pronounces at his second coming. He says in verse 46, "These", that is the unrighteous, "Will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life".
Now here is the point, the unrighteous are going to eternal punishment, the righteous to eternal life - you can't have one group of people at the judgment going to an actual location, heaven: and having another group going into a state of mind. It doesn't work that way. Either they're both figurative states of mind, or they're both literal locations. Jesus taught that hell was an actual place. In fact you'll notice that in the Greek New Testament there're actually three words for hell that are all translated by the generic word in our English language "Hell". The first one is tartarus. That's not tartar sauce, that's tartaros. It's actually used only one time in the Greek New Testament in 2 Peter 2:4: and it refers to a special place of judgment for the wicked angels.
You say: well what wicked angels are you talking about? It's the ones referring to in Jude 6, "And the angels who did not keep their own domain, but abandoned their proper abode: he has kept in eternal bonds under darkness for the judgment of the great day". This is a reference to Genesis 6 that tells us about a group of angels that left heaven. They were called the sons of God, and they cohabitated with human women on earth, the daughters of men: and because of that wickedness they went after strange flesh. Because of that God punished them and confined them to this place called tartaros: and it's sometimes translated to hell in your English Bible.
The second word that is also translated hell in the Bible is the word gehenna. Gehenna. And this is the most popular term for hell. It's used 12 times in the Greek New Testament, and it's sometimes translated "The lake of fire". This is the eternal residence of the unsaved. The eternal residence of the unsaved. Now the term gehenna actually comes from an actual location on earth - the Valley of Hinnom, which is just south of Jerusalem. In the Old Testament times, under the evil Israelite kings Ahaz and Manasseh, it was the place that Israelites would actually offer their children as burnt sacrifices to God. A horrific place. Later on it became a garbage dump. It was a place where the city would burn its refuse day and night, day and night. It was also where, in that refuse, would be the bodies of executed criminals.
The stench there was unimaginable. You can imagine the sewage and dead bodies being offered up in a flame that never stopped. One can hardly imagine spending five minutes there, much less all eternity. But that is the phrase Jesus and the New Testament writers used to describe the eternal destiny of those who die without Christ. Remember Revelation 20:15, "And if any man's name was not found written in the book of life, he was cast into the lake of fire" to be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
The third word that is translated sometimes hell in your Bible is the word hades. Hades, and that's the word we find here in Luke 16. Now hades is the temporary place of the unsaved. When an unbeliever dies, he goes not to the lake of fire, that's his final judgment: he goes to this temporary place. It's not purgatory, it is a place of actual suffering. The reason I mention this is in this parable Jesus is talking about the immediate place of the unsaved - hades. When the rich man died, he went into hades. But the things we're talking about that are true of hades are also true of the eternal dwelling place for the unsaved - the lake of fire. What did Jesus teach about these places? Not only is hell an actual location, secondly, hell is a place of physical torment. It's a place of actual physical suffering.
Look at verse 24, "The rich man cried out, and he said, 'father Abraham, have mercy on me: and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame". Some people try to turn down the temperature of hell, so to speak, by saying: well, no loving God could actually eternally torment people. That is just unthinkable. So many people in attempt to diminish the reality of hell embrace the doctrine of annihilationism. The idea that unbelievers after they are judged, they're cast into the lake of fire where they are instantaneously destroyed. That is, they cease to exist.
Turn over to Revelation 19:20 where I can show you can show you with absolute certainty that unbelievers do not simply perish when they land in the lake of fire. Revelation 19:20. The setting for this, remember, is the second coming of Christ: and notice what he does to the beast, that is the antichrist and the false prophet, "And the beast was seized and with him the false prophet who performed signs at his presence, by which he deceived those who have received the mark of the beast, and those who worshipped his image. These two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone". Now, turn over to chapter 20 verse 10. It's 1.000 years later, after the millennium, after the final rebellion against God: and what does God do? "And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are also".
The beast and the false prophet were thrown in there 1.000 years ahead of time. But when it's satan's turn to be thrown into lake of fire, John says the beast and the false prophet are still alive. After 1.000 years of suffering they are still there, "And they will be tormented", verse 10 says, "Day and night forever and ever". Verse 15 says for the unsaved, "If any man's name was not found written in the book of life, he was also cast into the lake of fire" to be tormented day and night forever and ever.
You've heard me say before that word translated "Forever and ever" is the Greek word ionos. And interestingly, it is the very same word, the word that refers to the eternality of hell that is used to describe the eternality of heaven as well. In Revelation 22:5 John says, "And there shall no longer be any night: and they shall not have need of the light of the day, or the light of the sun because the Lord God shall illumine them: and they shall reign for ever and ever". Do you see it? Same word that describes the eternality of hell is used to describe the eternality of heaven. If you end up in hell after you have spent 10 billion, trillion years in that awful place you will not have reduced by one second the time you have left to spend there. Hell is a place of eternal suffering.
Number three, hell is filled with indescribable loneliness. Matthew 8:12 Jesus said, "But the sons of the kingdoms shall be cast into the outer darkness: and in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth". Have you ever heard anybody say before: oh, I don't care about going to hell that's where all my friends are going to be. They may be there with you, you won't be aware of it because hell is a place of darkness, which means it is a place of indescribable loneliness. You say: how could God ever do something so awful to people?
Number four, Jesus said hell is a deserved judgment. It's a deserved judgment. Notice how after the rich man begged for relief from the agony of hell, notice how Abraham responds to his request. Luke 16:25, "But Abraham said, 'child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things: but now he is being comforted there, and you are in agony'", verse 27, "And the rich man said, 'then I beg you, Abraham, that you might send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may warn them, lest they should come to this place of torment'". Isn't that interesting? Even an unbeliever in hell, sensing the reality of hell, desires that his lost brothers be saved. Father Abraham, please send someone to go and warn my unbelieving brothers.
Verse 29, "Abraham said, 'they have Moses and the prophets'", that is, they have the scripture, "'let them hear them'. But the rich man said, 'no, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent'! But Abraham said 'if they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded if someone rises from the dead'". Of course, that was prophetic. When Jesus rose from the dead people still refused to believe in him. What this passage is teaching us is there is nobody who is in hell because of God's choice. People are in hell because of their own choice. And that is the choice to reject the knowledge, the sufficient knowledge that comes from God's word. Everyone who ends up in hell is there by his own choice. Hell is a deserved judgment.
Number five, and most disturbing, hell is a forever destination. Hell is a forever destination. You know there are some people who want to suggest that: ok, I believe hell's a real location, I even believe it's a horrible place but it's only temporary because eventually even the residents of hell will be convicted of their sin and they will have a second chance to accept Christ. Does God allow for that possibility?
Look again at Luke 16:26. "Besides all of this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed in order that those who wish to come over from here to you may not be able, and that none of you may cross over from there to us". Once you die your eternal destination is just that - eternal. Hebrews 9:27 says it's appointed unto every man once to die and then the judgment. Before you die you have all kinds of opportunities to change, to make different choices: but once you die all opportunities for change are over. Listen once again from the perspective of a new occupant in hell. As time passes he begins to think and to do what the rich man did. His first thoughts are of hope.
You see he still thinks as he did on earth where he kept himself alive with hope. When things got bad, he found a way out. If he felt pain, he took medicine. If he was hungry, he ate food. If he lost his love, there was more love to be found. And so he cast about in his mind for a plan to apply to the hope that is building in his chest. Of course, he thinks, Jesus the Son of God he can get me out of this. He cries out with a surge: Jesus! Jesus! You were right! Please save me Jesus! He waits breathing hard with desperation. The sound of his voice slips into the darkness and is lost. He tries again: I believe Jesus! I believe! Please give me a chance, Jesus! I believe! Save me from this horrible place! Again the darkness smothers his words.
You see, this sinner is not unique. In hell everyone's a believer. Let me move from the academic to the very practical. Do you know with absolute certainty that when you die you're not going to end up in this terrible place Jesus the Son of God talked about? Are you sure? Do you have absolute assurance that when you awaken you'll awaken in that real place of the presence of God? One writer said: five seconds after you die, you will either be experiencing eternal bliss or you will be catching your first glimpse of unimaginable horror. Either way, your destiny will be irrevocably and eternally unchangeable.