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"Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Matt. 25:41-46
We know these verses as Jesus separating the sheep from the goats. Just before the above verses, Jesus talks about serving “the least of these,” a subject that theologians have debated for years, speculating who exactly Jesus was talking about (three main theories include the Jews, the poor, and the disciples).
But Dr. Tom Ascol, a pastor, author, and executive director of Founders Ministries, says that if we look below the “least of these” verses, we can get a very clear picture of hell. Matthew 25:41-46 doesn’t just explain the separation of the sheep and the goats, it tells us four very specific things about the reality of hell.
1. Hell is a state of separation from God.
Ascol writes, “To be separated from God is to be separated from anything and everything good. That is hard to conceive because even the most miserable person enjoys some of God’s blessings.”
He explains, everyone on earth experiences God’s goodness, whether they acknowledge the gifts are from God or not. We have access to food provided by plants and animals, and clean air to breathe. But in hell, none of God’s gifts will be present.
Even worse, those in hell will be separated from God’s goodness and mercy. However, Ascol says the damned will never be “free of God” as He is omnipresent (Ps. 139:7-8). Instead, they will be constantly aware of God’s presence, only knowing His wrath.
2. Hell is a state of association.
Going to hell means being associated with Satan, a reality that was never intended for people. Matthew 25:41 says, hell was “prepared for the devil and his angels.” People were made to spend eternity with God in heaven.
Ascol writes, “It is a tragic irony that many who do not believe in the Devil in this life will wind up spending eternity being tormented with him in hell.”
3. Hell is a state of punishment.
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Just as those who commit crimes on earth will go to prison, people who sin without asking for Jesus’ forgiveness will go to hell for justice to be served.
“For sinners to be consigned to anything less than the horrors of eternal punishment would be a miscarriage of justice,” Ascol says.
4. Hell is an everlasting state.
Many wonder why hell must be eternal, as it says in verse 46. After all, people who sinned unrepentantly or earth had a finite life. Their sin ended, so why must the punishment last forever?
Ascol explains that they sinned against God, an infinite being. Since God is infinitely holy, kind and good, a sinner’s punishment must also be unending. Additionally, the damned will not be able to repent once they are in hell. They will continue to sin for eternity and their punishment will be eternal as well.
We know hell is a reality, as Jesus spoke of hell more than any other figure in the Bible. Matthew Harmon of Grace Theological Seminary, says that Jesus talked about hell more than he did heaven.
“Jesus uses strong language about hell because it is real and unspeakably horrible. But he not only warned of the dangers of hell; he offered the way out. He lived a life of perfect obedience, died a sacrificial death on the cross for our sins, and rose from the dead to defeat sin, death, and the devil. He invites everyone to trust in him to receive eternal life rather than the eternal punishment that everyone deserves for their sin.
The truth is hell real, but an avoidable destination for those who choose to accept Christ.
As Ascol says:
“The dreadfulness of hell deepens our grateful praise for the salvation we have in Jesus Christ. Hell is what we deserve. And hell is what He experienced on the cross in our place.”
For further reading, see “5 Things We Believe about Hell that are Not in the Bible.”
Carrie Dedrick is the Family Editor of Crosswalk.com.
Publication date: September 18, 2015