43 If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched—44 where ‘Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’” (Mark 9:43–44, NKJV).
Did you know more is recorded in the New Testament about hell from the mouth of Jesus than anyone else? The eternal fire of hell’s unending punishment is real and a substantial deterrent against evil. In today’s passage, Jesus used hyperbolic language (cut off the offending hand, foot, eye, Mark 9:43, 45, 47) to describe the urgent need to eliminate sin in our lives lest we fall under eternal condemnation. The fire of Jerusalem’s refuse dump (gehenna, “hell”) was a fitting figure of the “everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels” and those who do not follow Christ’s will (Matt. 25:41, 46). We gain nothing when we choose not to repent of sin. In the final judgment, those who “do not obey the truth” will suffer the corruption, agony, and darkness of being removed from God’s blessings forever (Rom. 2:5-11). Better to surrender the sin that seems most important to us and do God’s will than to “go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched” (Mark 9:43). While the goodness of God leads us to repentance, so does the wrath of God (Rom. 2:4-5). So, “sing to me of heaven” and warn me of hell. Jesus spoke of both to persuade faithful, righteous living (John 14:1-6; Mark 9:43-48). Purged of sin and tried by fire, the sacrifices we make to live for Jesus will preserve us unto the day of eternal bliss (Mark 9:49).
I came to send fire on the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled (Luke 12:49, NKJV)!
The picture of Jesus as a passionless, passive person is not the portrait emblazoned on the pages of inspired Scripture. His passionate heart bursts open in this passage as He testifies of the conflagration His word and work would have (and was already having) on the world. As Plummer commented, “Christ came to set the world on fire, and the conflagration had already begun” (cited by A. T. Robertson, Word Pictures). Soon, Jesus would be immersed in personal suffering and death, the sacrifice for our sins (Luke 12:50). His redemptive work would (and continues to) divide families. Do you suppose it would be otherwise (Luke 12:51)? Not at all. Families would be (and still are) divided by the truth of Jesus Christ, as some believe and follow Him while others reject His truth and oppose those who choose Him over them (Luke 12:52-53; Matt. 10:34-37). Jesus continued His thunderous proclamation by calling out the hypocrites who could read the weather signs but refused to see the signs that He is the Christ, the Son of God (Luke 12:54-57; Matt. 16:1-4). No, Jesus was not a shrinking violet. Followers of Jesus understand and accept the cost of discipleship. They pay the price of allegiance to Him, putting Him above and before anyone or anything else (Luke 14:25-33). The fire of trials will test and purify the Christian’s faith and produce genuine faith that results in eternal salvation (1 Pet. 1:6-9).
49 So it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come forth, separate the wicked from among the just, 50 and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49–50, NKJV)
Hell is real, and hell is horrible. Jesus often spoke about hell and warned of “everlasting fire” into which those cursed by sin will “depart” (Matt. 18:8-9; 25:41). This sorrowful scene of “wailing and gnashing of teeth” will not be God’s doing. Some who do not believe in hell try to convince us God does not punish people, and if He does, then He is a horrible God. Their attempt fails miserably. The eternal punishment of hell’s corruption results from sowings seeds of sin in our lives (Gal. 6:7-8; 2 Cor. 5:10; Rom. 2:1-11). God sent His Son Jesus to save us from sin’s eternal death. We do not rely on poets’ imaginative journeys to explain hell (i.e., Dante’s Divine Comedy). We listen to Jesus. Denying hell’s existence and its eternal punishment of sin denies Jesus (Matt. 25:46). It is that simple. We believe the Son of God and the truth He taught about hell (Jno. 1:14; 14:6). Those who accept the Bible as God’s word believe in eternal hell (and eternal heaven) because we trust His word as truth (Jno. 17:17). If you deny hell is real, you do not believe Jesus (“Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire,” Matt. 25:41); you believe the devil (“You will not surely die,” Gen. 3:4). We urge you not to believe the liar and father of lies (Jno. 8:44). Believe and obey Jesus, who warns us to escape the condemnation of hell (Matt. 23:33).
But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night, in which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat; both the earth and the works that are in it will be burned up. (2 Peter 3:10, NKJV)
What is God’s plan for the earth? Jehovah’s Witnesses say the earth will become a paradise on which “God will bless obedient people with perfect health and everlasting life” (“What Do Jehovah’s Witnesses Believe?”). The Seventh-day Adventists claim, “God will recreate our once-stained world, and live with us forever. We will finally achieve our true potential, living in the love and joy for which God created us” (“The New Earth”)? Modern advocates (N. T. Wright, Douglas Moo, and John Mark Hicks) have restored these views of the earth’s future. This New Creation Theology is being accepted and advanced by some brethren, but it is not new at all. It is an old false doctrine that reconstructs the “new heavens and a new earth” with forced definitions and materialistic narratives (2 Pet. 3:13). It says we will not go to heaven. Instead, heaven will come down to earth. Let Peter settle the matter. On the day of the Lord’s return, 1) The heavens will pass away with a great noise. The sky and space will perish, even as the “old things” of sin “passed away” when we became new creatures in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17). 2) The elements will melt with fervent heat. The fundamental elements that form the material world will evaporate. 3) The earth and its works will be burned up. God’s fiery judgment will disintegrate the planet and everything on it (2 Pet. 3:7, 10, 11-12). A new habitation (“new heavens and a new earth”) – “a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens” will be the eternal home of the redeemed (2 Pet. 3:13). New Creation Theology is old error.
5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! And the tongue is a fire, a world of iniquity. 6 The tongue is so set among our members that it defiles the whole body, and sets on fire the course of nature; and it is set on fire by hell. (James 3:5–6, NKJV)
Here, James drills down into the destructive power of the tongue. Great good results from using good words (note the preaching of the gospel that forever changed the world, Matt. 28:19-20). But, the tongue given to evil is a fierce fire that engulfs a person and his world. Note the traits of the fiery, sinful tongue. 1) Its realm is iniquity. It operates in a system of injustice and unrighteousness. 2) It defiles the whole person. Food does not defile a person, but the words formed in the heart and communicated by the tongue do (Matt. 15:11, 18). When spoken, evil words stain one’s soul, and soil one’s reputation and influence for good. Everything becomes defiled through its scorched earth policy (Prov. 26:18-21). 3) It eventually destroys one’s entire life. We set our course in life in no small measure by the way we use our words. When left unchecked, the destructive tongue leaves in its wake a lifetime of misery. 4) Hell is at the heart of the fiery tongue. Whether its fire is gossip, flattery, profanity, or false teaching, hell is the source and accelerant of the sinful use of the tongue. Wicked words race through this world like a forest fire. Extinguish their devilish destruction by using just and pure words of truth and peace (Jas. 3:17-18).
4 Look also at ships: although they are so large and are driven by fierce winds, they are turned by a very small rudder wherever the pilot desires. 5 Even so the tongue is a little member and boasts great things. See how great a forest a little fire kindles! (James 3:4–5, NKJV)
Words are powerful. A fellow-Christian recently reminded me that one way God made us in His image is in our ability to communicate, to use words. God’s word is powerful, and so are our words. Small rudders maneuver great ships at the helmsman’s desire. A spark can engulf a forest in flames. Learning to control our tongues is about learning to control our hearts. Pride promotes the lust for power over others, and words are often the vehicle used to exert that power. “There is a generation—oh, how lofty are their eyes! And their eyelids are lifted up. There is a generation whose teeth are like swords, and whose fangs are like knives, to devour the poor from off the earth, and the needy from among men” (Prov. 30:13-14). Our words have great power and potential for both good and evil (Eph. 4:29-32). Pride prompts the destructive use of words (like gossip, profanity, and strife, Jas. 3:14-16). Just as surely as pride is the spark that kindles much self-seeking strife, humble purity of heart helps steer our words and our lives toward peaceful shores (Jas. 3:17-18).
14 Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. 15 And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire. (Revelation 20:14–15, NKJV)
Death and Hades will be overpowered and destroyed at the resurrection of the dead (1 Cor. 15:26). At the resurrection and judgment day, Christ (who has “the keys of Hades and of Death,” Rev. 1:18) will destroy death and the grave, fulfilling the prediction that “death will be swallowed up in victory” (1 Cor. 15:54-55). The “lake of fire” is the “second death,” the place of eternal punishment where the devil and his cohorts “will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). Death will never claim another body. Hades will never hold another departed spirit. On the judgment day they will “die” – forever separated from the power and fear they have exerted against humanity. The “second death” has no power over those who have part in the “first resurrection,” for they share in Christ’s victory over sin and death (Rev. 20:4-6; 6:9-11). However, those who are not saved in Christ are not in the Book of Life. Their judgment will be the lake of fire, the second death. Hell is real. Hell is forever punishment, eternal separation from God and all this is good. It is outer darkness, filled with weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt. 25:30; Mk. 9:43-48). Knowing these things beforehand should compel us by faith to repent and follow Jesus completely.
11 I indeed baptize you with water unto repentance, but He who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire. 12 His winnowing fan is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clean out His threshing floor, and gather His wheat into the barn; but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire. (Matthew 3:11–12, NKJV)
John explained the Messiah’s work as he prepared the way before Him (Matthew 3:3). In a scathing condemnation of the self-righteous hypocrisy of the Pharisees and Sadducees, John warned them that Christ would execute judgment against sinners. They needed true repentance to flee the approaching wrath, not reliance on their physical heritage (Matthew 3:7-10). The Christ would bring a baptism of fire upon sinners. This fire burns the “trees” that bear evil fruit (Matthew 3:10). It is the “unquenchable fire” of Matthew 3:12, that overwhelms the wicked. Jesus promised, and baptized His apostles with the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:4-5, 8. 2:1-4). He has promised an overwhelming, eternal destruction upon the wicked (Mark 9:43-48). Judgment Day is real, and eternity is forever. Therefore, “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28; Hebrews 9:27). You do not want to experience the Lord’s baptism of fire!
28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us have grace, by which we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear. 29 For our God is a consuming fire. (Hebrews 12:28–29, NKJV)
The kingdom of God will not be destroyed by evil men under the power of the devil. It is a spiritual kingdom that endures, even as the kingdoms of men fall (Daniel 2:44). Therefore, Christians are to live unshakable lives of faith. We graciously serve God according to His will, to be accepted by Him (whether or not people accept us). Our service is to be marked by awe and pious dread of displeasing our God. Boisterous, impious, irreverent conduct is not acceptable service to our holy God. We are kingdom citizens and kingdom servants, remembering our place before our King. God is a “consuming fire” against all who do not fear Him and fail to faithfully serve Him. Make no mistake; God does not favor those who dishonor Him with disobedient, sinful and shameful living. He will punish sin, even as He reward the faithful. Choose wisely, and serve the King acceptably.
5 “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing. 6 If anyone does not abide in Me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned. 7 If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you, you will ask what you desire, and it shall be done for you.” (John 15:5–7, NKJV)
Jesus is the source of all spiritual life. By abiding in Christ, we are a “branch” that bears much fruit. But, we are spiritually barren and dead – lost – when we do not abide in Him. Obviously, Jesus did not teach universal salvation. Verse 6 clearly states the condition upon which one will be cast into the fire and burned; “if anyone does not abide in Me.” Therefore, we must abide in Christ to avoid being lost. What does it mean to abide in Christ? Verse 7 helps our understanding. “If you abide in Me, and My words abide in you” – one who lives according to the words of Christ is the disciple who abides in Christ (see John 14:21, 23). Christians put the word of Christ into their hearts and by obeying Him, bear much fruit. If you do not follow His word, then you are not a fruitful branch. Your spiritual life depends upon abiding in Christ, the Giver of Life. Without abiding in Christ – following His word – you will be gathered up and burned like a lifeless, barren branch.