What Happens One Minute After You Die? – Program 6

By: Dr. Erwin Lutzer; ©1998
Many people don’t believe there is a literal hell. It just seems too harsh for a loving God to allow it. But what does the Bible say about hell? What will it be like?

The Descent Into Gloom: What Will Hell Be Like?


Dr. John Ankerberg: What will happen to you one minute after you die? Today on The John Ankerberg Show, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois, says:
Dr. Erwin Lutzer: John, the simple fact is that someday all of us will die. The Bible says that, “It is appointed unto men once to die, and after death the judgment.” [Heb. 9:27] Death awaits all of us like the concrete floor awaits the falling light bulb. It WILL happen. And you know, God has created within us the knowledge that there is something that exists beyond the grave.
Ankerberg: The desire of many people to find out what lies on the other side of the grave is so great that some have turned to alternate methods such as channeling, reincarnation, and near-death experiences to gain a glimpse of what is coming after death. Today, you’ll hear what the Bible says will happen to you one minute after you die. You’ll also learn why the information coming from channeling, reincarnation, and near-death experiences, which attempt to peek behind the curtain of death, is not to be trusted. We invite you to join us for this edition of The John Ankerberg Show.

Ankerberg: Welcome. Today we’re going to talk about the difficult topic of hell. Few preachers preach on it anymore, but if we’re going to be true to Jesus Christ, we need to know what HE taught about hell. My guest today is Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of Moody Memorial Church in Chicago, Illinois. Here’s how he opened this discussion about this difficult topic. Listen:
Lutzer: John, today we discuss a topic that is so difficult that if it were not taught in the Scriptures, we simply would not believe it and we’d certainly stay away from it. We’re going to be talking about the doctrine of hell.
One day we had a workman in the house doing some repairs and I was telling him about his need to believe in Jesus Christ. And we talked about hell. He said, “Do you believe in hell?”
And I said, “Yes.”
And then he said this, and he was such a kind man it was difficult to hear it coming from him, but he said, “If there is an eternal hell, if that’s the kind of God you worship, I am willing to go there and simply defy Him for all of eternity.”
I’ve never forgotten that. And it’s a reminder of the fact that the doctrine of hell is very difficult to believe. So difficult, in fact, that one noted theologian said that hell disappeared and no one noticed. In fact, I’d like to ask you today, my friend, as you’re watching this program, when was it that you heard a message on hell? I’m sure that you recognize that even people who believe in the inspiration of the Bible, even those who claim to believe the text, often avoid this difficult doctrine. They may believe it in a doctrinal statement, but preach on it, tell people about it? No. They say that it is such a great stumbling block to the Christian faith. Well, I, of course, believe the opposite. It may be a stumbling block, but we must teach what the Bible has to say on this topic.
You know, long ago as a pastor I decided that it was my responsibility to find out what the Bible said because God is God. He does not ask us as to how He should run His universe. If He has a hell, if that’s the way He has set up the universe and the world, then we need to accept that and to learn from it.
Ankerberg: Hell seems so harsh to some people that they have come up with their own doctrine called “Universalism.” They believe God is so loving that everyone in the end is going to be saved, no matter what they have done. How should a Christian respond to this? Listen:
Lutzer: Well, I don’t have to tell you that the doctrine of hell is so difficult that there are some people who have believed in what is known as Universalism. Universalism says that in the end, everyone is going to be saved. God is loving; He is patient; He is kind. It is impossible for people to be lost forever. You know, there are some passages in the Scriptures that are used to try to buttress this doctrine. For example, Paul says in Colossians 1:20, he says that God is going to reconcile all things to himself. And they say, “See? He is going to reconcile these things to Himself and that means everything, even the unconverted.”
Well, does it include Satan? There is another verse in which the Scriptures talk about the fact that God is going to sum up everything in Jesus Christ. My friend, what those verses mean simply means that God is going to bring everything to completion. Jesus Christ is going to be Lord of all. He is going to be God and He is going to reign. So everything will be under His control. All things summed up in Christ. But not all will be saved and some people will be in hell forever. Shall I change that and say, “Not some people, but many people – millions of people.”
Ankerberg: Another doctrine that is held by many people is known as “Conditional Immortality.” What is this all about? Dr. Lutzer explains:
Lutzer: There are others who teach what is known as the doctrine of conditional immortality. Now, that’s a big phrase, but let’s unpack it. Conditional immortality means that only those who have faith in Christ will live forever and the others are extinguished. They are brought to a point of non-existence. In fact, the fire consumes them. The argument is that God throws them into the fire, the fire consumes them, and they are annihilated.
I was discussing this one time with a man who holds this very passionately and he said that his favorite verse was from the book of Matthew where it says that, “Fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” [Matt. 10:28] He said, “See? He destroys the soul and the body.”
But actually, even that word destroy does not mean annihilation. It is used many times in the New Testament. For example, Jesus talked about wineskins being destroyed. It doesn’t mean that they are annihilated. It simply means, of course, that destruction is an eternal destruction. It’s the destruction of the soul that goes on forever. I want you to know that Jesus Christ clarified this very, very… I don’t know how He could have said it more clearly. But in the book of Matthew He is talking about two classes of people and He says, “these go on to eternal life and the others go on to eternal destruction.” [Matt. 25:46] The destruction is an eternal destruction.
Now, you may say, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, you have not yet convinced me.”
Could this be any more convincing? Notice what the Scripture says in the book of Revelation chapter 14. This is now speaking of those who are judged as evil people: “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever and they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image and whoever receives the mark of his name.” [Rev. 14:11]
Did you notice that? “They have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast.” “The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever.” And if you still think that God is going to reconcile all things to Himself, what do you do with Revelation 20:10 where the Scripture says that Satan and the beast and the false prophet are “tormented day and night for ever and ever”? And Jesus talked about a hell that was prepared for the devil and his angels, but that hell is one that He warned the people about and said, “O generation of vipers! How can you escape the damnation of hell?” [Matt. 23:33]
It’s not up to us to decide what is in the Scriptures or what God has determined to do. It’s up to us to find out what He has said, to understand it as best we can and warn people of the wrath that is to come.
Ankerberg: Some people today think that hell is a serious case of overkill. They believe to punish people eternally for sins committed in this short life is too harsh. How would you answer such objections? Listen:
Lutzer: The problem that some people have with the doctrine of hell is that the punishment does not seem to fit the crime; it’s “overkill.” Yet how can we understand this doctrine to make some sense of it?
First of all, I want to remind you that those of you who do not know Christ as Savior will be judged on the basis of what they did with what they knew. Revelation 20 makes it clear in the Great White Throne Judgment: “I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne. The books were opened. Another book was opened which is the book of life. The dead were judged from the things which were written in the books according to their deeds.” [Rev.20:12] Now, let me be clear that everyone who comes to this judgment will be in hell. In fact, it says that death and Hades were “thrown into the lake of fire.” [Rev. 20:14] But, let it also be clear that hell will not be the same for everyone. “He who knew God’s will and did it not shall be beaten with many stripes,” Jesus said. “He who knew not God’s will shall be beaten with few.” [Luke 12:47-48]
You see, there are some people who are more wicked here on earth than others. There were those who had more light than others and yet rejected it. Certainly those who have never heard of Jesus will be judged on an entirely different standard than those who heard and did not repent and come to Him in simple faith.
I believe that God’s judgment is going to be so meticulous that throughout all of eternity we are going to sing, “Great and marvelous are thy works, O Lord, just and true are thy ways.” [Rev. 15:3]
I believe that pornographers will wish that they had published at least one magazine less because that would have affected, you see, the degree of their torment and punishment in hell, at least to a very, very small degree, you see.
In other words, it is much better to live as a righteous man on human terms than to be a criminal or to reject much light. But throughout all of eternity, we are going to marvel at God’s justice.
Ankerberg: Another question people ask is whether or not those in heaven will be able to see those tormented in hell. If so, how could anyone ever enjoy heaven? Dr. Lutzer answers. Listen:
Lutzer: You say, “Well, does that mean that we who are in heaven are going to see the torments of hell?” The Bible is not clear about that but Jonathan Edwards, I think, was right when he said that heaven will not have pity on hell, not because heaven is unloving but because heaven is perfectly loving. We’re going to see everything from God’s viewpoint.
But first of all, it will be based on what people did with what they knew.
Secondly, could I remind you today that those who do not know Christ as Savior are eternally guilty. Eternally guilty. You see, if it was possible for human suffering to somehow compensate for our sin, eventually hell would no longer exist. People would have “paid for their sins.” But may I say it very clearly that there is no human suffering that can pay for so much as a single sin. The only Person who could suffer on behalf of sin whose sacrifice and suffering was received is Jesus Christ because He was God and therefore He is able to give us the righteousness of God which we need to get into heaven. But no human suffering can pay for sin.
Remember the words of the song, “Could my tears forever flow, could my zeal no respite know. All for sin could not atone, Thou must save and Thou alone.”
I think that oftentimes also we overlook the seriousness of our sin. You know, we say to ourselves, “Well, what I have done is not that big a deal.” Well, wait a moment. Wait a moment. It is a big deal because it was done in the presence of God and all sin is sin against Him.
What if Jonathan Edwards was right? Edwards said that the size of a sin should be determined by the size of the Being against whom it has been committed. Do you know what that would mean? Every sin of ours is a huge, infinite sin. God takes sin very, very, seriously.
Ankerberg: Many people today refuse to believe hell exists because they think God is so loving He would never allow people to suffer eternally. What about this? Listen:
Lutzer: You know, John, whenever people say to me, “My God is a God of love. He would never allow people like that to suffer.” All that you need to do is to point to the suffering in the world today.
Years ago an earthquake in Mexico City killed something like, what was it? 15,000 people. We have floods; we have hurricanes; we have famines. All of these things are preventable. All that God would have to do is to simply speak the word and the rain would come and the crops would grow. All that He’d have to do is to strengthen the earth’s crust so that these earthquakes would not happen. There are all kinds of options that God has.
Now let me ask you a question. If God is willing to allow the human race to go through its suffering when clearly He could intervene and stop it, is it really inconsistent to believe that God might allow people to suffer in hell forever? I think it’s very consistent.
You say, “Well, I thought He was a God of love.” Yes, and His love is displayed in Jesus Christ. But He is also a God of holiness and a God of justice and He has an agenda to glorify Himself. We don’t understand it all, but we do know that it’s revealed in Scriptures – the doctrine of eternal, conscious, punishment.
Ankerberg: Many people ask, “What will hell be like? Will there be literal fire? And how long will people be in hell? Here’s what the Bible says.
Lutzer: Let me give you some characteristics of hell. First of all, it is a place of torment. Earlier we talked about Hades and Hades is cast into hell. The Scripture says they are “tormented day and night.” Literal fire? We don’t know but there doesn’t have to be literal fire. It can be the burning within, the sensations, the desires that are totally and completely and always unfilled, insatiable inner burning.
Another characteristic is that it is a place of abandonment. I remember having somebody tell me, “Well, Pastor Lutzer, I want to go to hell where all of my friends are going to be.” I want you to know that was incredibly, unbelievably foolish. My friend, if you go to hell where you friends are, you will not be needing your friends. Very probably, you will be in isolation, and C. S. Lewis was probably right when he said that in hell if people are together, it will only increase their torment. Hell is a place of abandonment.
It is also an eternal punishment. Can we even get our mind around that concept? I don’t think so but we can try. You know, if you had a bird coming to this earth from another planet every million years to take one grain of sand back to that other planet, and every million years to bird shows up once again to take a grain of sand. How long would it take before it took the beaches of the world? How long would it take before the Rocky Mountains were moved to the other planet? Unthinkable! But if the bird would have done that, I want you to know that the entire world would be moved to another planet and eternity will have hardly begun. Eternal death. Think about that.
Ankerberg: Now, according to the Bible, it is not safe to die unless you have trusted Christ to be your Savior. If you haven’t you could close your eyes in this life in death and open them in the next and be in hell. People say, “I’m afraid of that, I don’t want to go to hell.” What has God done so that I won’t have to go to hell? First, Dr. Lutzer tells us about the bad news, and then, the good news. Listen:
Lutzer: And then, of course, hell is a place of easy access but no exit. I think Dante was right. One summer I took Dante with me to read and I think he was right, you know. He was wrong about some things but he was right when he said that the entrance into hell had these words: “ABANDON ALL HOPE, YE WHO ENTER HERE.”
My friends, I think that one of the greatest preachers in America was Jonathan Edwards. And Edwards is known for his sermon, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Let me read a few paragraphs.
He said, “There is nothing that keeps wicked men at any one moment out of hell but the mere pleasure of God…. There is no lack in God’s power to cast wicked men into hell at any moment…. They deserve to be cast into hell, so divine justice never stands in the way…. They are now the objects of that very same anger and wrath that is expressed in the torments of hell…. yea,” – and notice this, now – “God is a great deal more angry with great numbers that are now on earth, yea doubtless with some who reread this book, who may be at ease, than He is with many of those who are now in the flames of hell.”
Let me continue with another paragraph: “Unconverted men walk over the pit of hell on a rotten covering, and there are innumerable places in this covering so weak that they will not be able to bear their weight. And those places are not seen…. There is the dreadful pit of the glowing flames of the wrath of God; there is hell’s wide, gaping mouth open; and you have nothing to stand upon, nor anything to take hold of, there is nothing between you and hell but air; it is only the power and mere pleasure of God that holds you up…. His wrath burns against you like fire; he looks upon you as worthy of nothing else than to be thrown into the fire…. You hang by a slender thread, with the flames of divine wrath flashing about it and ready every moment to singe it, and burn it asunder.”
You know, in Canada during the days when it was just prairie, there is a story that perhaps you heard about how a man and his daughter were walking along and they saw the fire coming toward them, a prairie fire. They couldn’t run from it, but the father said, “Let’s quickly burn a patch of grass right here.” And they lit a fire right where they were and as the fire was still in the distance, they cleared this patch by using a match to light the fire. And so a large patch was burned out. And when the fire came, the story goes, they stood on that patch and the fire did not get to them because they were standing where the fire already was.
“Death and the curse were in our cup. O Christ was full for Thee but Thou didst drain the last dark drop. ‘Tis empty now for me.” Christ took the hell of all who believe in Him. He took the hit that we might be delivered, set free, and shielded from the wrath of God. I urge you to flee to Him. I urge you to give up all hope of rationalizing and arguing with God. Receive His Son or your future will be one of damnation.

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