Recently I was asked a few questions. Good questions. Questions that you don’t hear much anymore, but well worth a solid answer. So, here are some answers to some really good questions:
1. How do we know Hell is real and how did the Apostles know it was real?
The simple answer is that Jesus spoke of Hell, a lot. Some argue He spoke of Hell significantly more than He did Heaven. This is true if you reference the total number of verses dedicated to the topic of Hell. In simple, the Apostles believed that Hell was real because God’s Word declares it so. But even more so, the number of times Jesus spoke of Hell gave weight to its importance.
The follow up questions would be: 2. How could they (the apostles) believe in something they had never seen (like Hell)?
The simple answer is faith, but faith is anything but simple.
Hebrews 11:1 says, “Faith shows the reality of what we hope for, it is the evidence of things we cannot see.”
Faith to the believer is tangible. It is real, substantive. Faith has held strong under the worst of persecutions. Faith was willing to take a bullet, to be burned, or receive the nail. Faith to the believer is more real than the present pain or hardship. Faith drives those who believe to keep going, to sacrifice, to continue loving when love is extravagantly expensive. Faith is the proof of the things not seen. Faith is lived out in the vibrant colors of passion and purpose as the believer walks the road of broken glass in pursuit of the One who has loved him.
A believer is asked to believe God more than he or she believes their eyes, ears, or touch. Believers realize that God’s truth is greater than observation, or even our thoughts on what we observe. Standing by the freshly dug grave, faith would give vision to see past this ending and know this would not be the final chapter in the story God is writing. Faith would dig deep into the archives of God’s promises and pull from them truth that would stand as lone sentinels of hope against the torrent of pain and loss. Faith would sustain the hearts of those who hurt but it also would document that God will finish what He had started, and it will be glorious.
These early believers would have believed in Hell the same way they believed in God, Heaven, eternity, and redemption. All of it would be based on what God had said. Faith gives sight to all who would believe, and that vision would cause them to see things others couldn’t perceive. The frivolous work of explaining faith filled, God-breathed truth to the spiritually impaired is like explaining a sunrise to the blind. When truth isn’t illuminated by the high beams of faith; it is indistinguishable from the dark. Spiritual blindness isn’t a problem with our receptors but our heart. When God reveals Himself, we cannot see Him if we refuse to. Faith is my active participation in seeing what God has said is so, and as I meet Him at the vantage point of His revelation with a heart in agreement, and when I am willing to see what He wants me to know, my eyes are opened and His veil is pulled back. Knowing God and His truth is the combined effort of faith vision and God unmasking. It is for this reason that we should never take for granted the powerful miracle of God working through doubt filled blindness and opening our hearts to eternal truth.
3. Why did Jesus descend to Hell?
The holding place of the souls of the dead in the Old Testament (OT) was a place known as upper and lower Sheol (Various spellings). A divided place with a fixed chasm, the suffering and the satisfied able to see one another. Upper was also known as Abraham’s Bosom (See Lazarus and the rich man story) or Paradise (See Jesus and the thief on the Cross. “Today you will be with me in Paradise.”). Lower was the place of torment or punishment, not ultimately, Hell, it is simply the place of torment until God passes final judgement on Satan, his angels, and humanity that rejected Jesus and chose to live in their sin with no Savior. The Lake of Fire and the ultimate eternal place of separation from God won’t take place until the final judgement and eternal state of things after all that God is going to do is finished.
The reason believers went to Paradise in the OT was Jesus had yet to die and atone for their sins. The sacrifices of bulls, goats, lambs and alike was a picture of Jesus but not the reality so their sin was forgiven but, in the future, when Jesus would actually die. Therefore, they would not exist in their sinful (yet to be paid) state in the presence of our Holy God. We have but one hope in being made right with God and that is Jesus. Nothing done, trusted, or relied upon will ever satisfy the sin debt we owe other than King Jesus.
Once Jesus died on the Cross, His life was presented to God as the substitute for humanities’ sin. That sacrifice had to satisfy the law and be accepted by God. Once that had happened, Jesus went to Paradise and “led captivity captive” bringing out the OT believers and carrying them into the presence of God.
The proof that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice and His death satisfied the law was His resurrection from the dead. Jesus’ resurrection was the first fruit of all believers that would die physically yet live spiritually and actually again. Of all the events in human history, none are more important than the reality of Jesus’ resurrection. It is the hinge pin of hope for eternity. If Jesus is not risen, we are as Paul put it, “most miserable”, and without hope. But because Jesus is risen, we will rise as well. Our hope and the hope of all who believe isn’t in the birth of a man, or the death of a man, but in the resurrection of our Lord.
Today, when a believer dies, they are escorted directly into the presence of God the Father. Paul tells it this way in 2 Cor 5:8, “Yes, we are fully confident, and we would rather be away from these earthly bodies, for then we will be at home with the Lord.” The moment we leave these earthly tents, we are taken into the glorious presence of our Lord. There is no longer a waiting list, Jesus has come, Jesus lived, Jesus died, and Jesus lives again. Jesus is the hope for all who believe. Jesus promised He will come again. We long for that day.