The Fire of Hell
June 9th, 1963 @ 10:50 AM
THE FIRE OF HELL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-9-63 10:50 a.m.
On the radio and on television you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled The Fire of Hell. In our preaching through the Bible, we have come after these many years to the Revelation, and in our preaching through the Revelation, we have come to the last verses of chapter 20. And I read the context, beginning at Revelation 20:11:
And I saw a great white throne, and Him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the Book of Life; and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and Death and Hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to his works.
And Death and Hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.
And the text, “And Death and the Grave were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:14].
We speak first of the solemnity of this subject. Against the background of this great and final judgment day, the entire Word of God is written. Its warnings, its appeals, its threatenings and its judgments all are delivered against that solemn background of the great and final judgment day of Almighty God.
I could not think, I could not think of a more recurring refrain than that word written by the author of the Epistle to the Hebrews when he said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31]: “for our God is a consuming fire” [Hebrews 12:29]. Against that background, the prophets preach.
Listen to Ezekiel as he says, “As I live, saith the Lord, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his evil way and live: turn ye, turn ye… for why will ye die?” [Ezekiel 33:11]. Or listen to the apostle Paul as he pleads:
Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.
We beseech you, brethren, that you receive not the grace of God in vain.
For He hath said, I heard thee in a time accepted, and in a gracious day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the day to be saved; now is the accepted time.
[2 Corinthians 5:11, 6:1-2]
“Knowing the terror of the Lord” [2 Corinthians 5:11], and of all of them who spake of this great and solemn judgment, it is our Lord Christ Himself who spake of it most and most solemnly. “Yea,” said our Lord,
If thy hand offend thee, cut it off—cast it from thee—better enter into eternal life maimed … than to be cast into Gehenna hell, where the fire is never quenched:
Where the worm never dies, amidst the wailing and the gnashing of teeth. Our Lord—
If thy foot offend thee, He said, cut it off, cast it from thee. Better enter into eternal life one foot halt than having two feet to be cast into the Gehenna of hell.
Or if thy eye offend thee, cast it out—cast it out, cast it out—better enter into eternal life with one eye than having both eyes, to be cast into the Gehenna of hellfire.
This is the word of our living Lord.
Against that solemn background, the entire Bible is delivered from the Lord God of judgment. It was that, it was that tragic curse upon the sin of lost humanity that brought down our Lord from heaven. As Paul says, He was made a curse for us, that we might be redeemed from damnation and the judgment and the fire and the curse of the law [Galatians 3:13, 14]. Our Lord became a man, was given a body [Philippians 2:5-8], that He might be sacrificed for our sins, that He might spill out human but divine, holy blood for our salvation [Hebrews 10:4-14].
Don’t you ever let anybody persuade you that our Lord came down from heaven in order to teach us a better ethic; we had all the laws we needed; In order to give us a fine example, we had all the fine examples we needed.
But what drew our Lord down from heaven was the tragic plight of the eternal damnation and judgment that we face as lost sinners in the presence of a holy God [Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 3:23-25, 6:23; Revelation 20:15]. This is the blood of the new hope, of a new remission of sins in Christ’s atonement in His blood [Matthew 26:26-28]. That is why He came. It was an awful tragedy we faced that brought our Lord down from heaven.
And another word about the solemnity of this message; against that background if a true minister preaches, against that background, he raises his voice every time he delivers a message from God. It matters not the service. It matters not the song. It matters not the worship. It matters not the work. Always and always, there is that shadow of what it means to be lost; the rejection of a man who says no to God and no to Christ; and no to the wooing and tugging and appeals of the Holy Spirit of grace and intercession. “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” [Hebrews 10:31].
I dreamed that the great judgment morning
Had dawned and the trumpets had blown;
I dreamed that the nations had gathered
To judgment before the white throne;
From the throne came a bright shining angel,
And stood on the land and the sea,
And swore, with his hand raised to Heaven,
That time was no longer to be.
The rich man was there, but his money
Had melted and vanished away;
A pauper he stood in the judgment,
His debts were too heavy to pay;
The great man was there, but his greatness,
When death came, was left far behind!
The angel opened the records,
And no trace of his greatness could find.
The gambler was there, and the drunkard,
And the man who had sold them the drink,
With the people who gave them the license,
Together in hell they did sink.
The moral man came to the judgment,
But his self-righteous rags would not do;
The men who had crucified Jesus
Had passed off as moral men, too;
The soul that had put off salvation,
“Not today, not today, I’ll get saved by and by,
No time now to think of religion!”
At last, he found time to die.
And O, what a weeping and wailing,
When the lost were told of their fate;
They cried for the rocks and the mountains,
They prayed, but their prayers were too late.
[from “I Dreamed That the Great Judgment Morning,” Bertram H. Shadduck]
“Whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” [Revelation 20:15] Ah, the solemnity—the solemnity of this word from the Lord!
I speak now, I speak now of the revelations of God concerning the doomed and the damned. Time and again, over and over again, page after page, God says here in this Holy Book, there shall someday be a separation between the lost and the saved, between those whose sins are forgiven and those who die in unforgiven sin. Page after page, God says, “Someday there shall be a separation between the lost and the saved.”
For example, in the parable of the tares, “Let them grow together,” said our Lord, “the wheat and the tares. But at the end of the age, God shall send His angel, shall gather the tares into the fire that is never quenched, and gather His saved, His children, His wheat into the garner” [Matthew 13:37-40].
I turn the page. Here is a parable of the fish caught in the net. And the good fish are kept and the bad fish is thrown away. “So shall it be” [Matthew 13:47-50], said our Lord, at the great time of the great separation between the good and the bad, between those whose sins are forgiven and those who die in unforgiven sins.
I turn the page, “As it was in the days of Noah,” when Noah was taken out and the great judgment of God fell upon this earth, so shall it be at the time of the coming of Christ: “Two will be sleeping in a bed; and one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be grinding at a mill; and one shall be taken, and the other left. Two shall be working in a field; one shall be taken, and the other left” [Luke 17:26, 34-36], the great separation.
I turn the page. The story of the five wise virgins, maidens, who entered into the kingdom of God and the five foolish who were left out; and the door was shut [Matthew 25:1-13]. I turn the page and read the parable or the story of the great judgment day of God when He comes, and as a shepherd divides His sheep from the goats, so God shall divide His the saved from the lost [Matthew 25:31-46].
I turn the page; page after page after page; this great separation. “And the records were searched, and whosoever was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:15]. Or in the next chapter, the twenty-first chapter, and the Lord’s children gathered in that beautiful city:
He that overcometh shall inherit all things …
But the fearful, and the unbelieving, and the abominable … these shall have their part in the lake that burns with fire: which is the second death.
[Revelation 21:7, 8]
Over and over and over, and over, God reveals that great final separation between the saved and the lost.
Another awesome thing God reveals in His Book; there is an eternal abode for the saved and for the damned. “And the angels came and carried Lazarus to Abraham’s bosom,” to Paradise, to the presence of God, where the people of the Lord dwell with their Savior, “and it came to pass that Dives died also, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torments” [Luke 16:22-23], in the flame and the fire of the judgment of his sins, unforgiven, died without God. And those states are eternal and fixed. There is a great gulf in between and they cannot pass from there to there, and they cannot pass from hence to yon [Luke 16:26].
There is an eternal abode for those who are saved and those who are lost [Luke 16:26-31]. The abode of the saved is heaven where God has washed away the sins of His children [Revelation 1:5-6], where they stand in His presence perfect without spot and without blemish [Ephesians 5:27]. Their names written in the Lamb’s Book of Life; these are the children of God [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27].
And there is an eternal abode for those who reject the mercies and the overtures and the intercessions of the Spirit of grace [Revelation 20:11-15]. In the Greek language, Jesus called that place gehenna, gehenna—hell—gehenna; the Valley of Hinnom, outside Jerusalem was the place where the heathen had burned their children to the fiery god of Molech [Leviticus 18:21, 20:2-5]. And God cursed it. And it became the sewer, and the refuse, and the dung heap, and the awful place for all of Jerusalem through the centuries; Gehenna, where the worm never dies as it eats into the putrid mass, where the fire is never quenched [Mark 9:48], and where there is gnashing of teeth [Matthew 13:42], as the jackals fought with one another over the dead carcasses that were cast out into that horrible place, Gehenna; hell, Gehenna.
It is our Lord who speaks of it; the blessed Jesus. And oh, the fixedness, the fixedness of those eternal fates; no man is ever saved beyond death. No man is ever saved beyond the grave. No man is ever saved in that eternity beyond when he falls into hell and the great separation is made; that’s the end forever and forever.
In the terrible bombing of London in this last blitzkrieging war, after one of their worst raids, with the fire raging and the cries of the dying around and the buildings toppling, there was an evangelist of Christ standing out in the street of London preaching the gospel of the Son of God. And while he was preaching, a skeptic broke into his sermon and said, “Listen, preacher, this is hell; the bombing of London.”
And the preacher replied, “Sir, this is not hell and I’ll give you three reasons. One, I am a Christian and there are no Christians in hell. Second, there is a church house right around the corner and there are no church houses in hell. And third, I am preaching the gospel of the Son of God, and there is no preaching of the gospel in hell.”
About three weeks after that, the same evangelist was standing at an open air service in Hyde Park, preaching the gospel of Jesus. And when he gave the invitation, the first to come forward was that skeptic. And when he took the preacher’s hand, he said, “Preacher, I’m the man, I’m the man that said ‘This is hell.’ And you answered so well and so truly. It convicted my heart, and I have come forward to turn to Jesus as my Savior. And I accept Him now.”
Ah, the eternity, the eternity of that place where God separates from those that trust in Jesus these who deny His name and refuse His overtures of grace. And it is forever, and forever, and forever, and forever. And our Lord said: “These on My right hand—these My sheep, My flock, My saved, these shall go away into life eternal. And these on My left hand, who refuse the overtures of the grace of God, these go away into everlasting punishment [Matthew 25:31-46].
There is a word used, translated here in the King James Version, one “eternal” and the other, “everlasting.” In Greek it is the same word—aionios, aionios—that word aionios is used sixty-nine times in the New Testament—aionios. Sixty-two times it refers to the enduring life of the blessed. “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish, but have aionios life”—everlasting life, eternal life [John 3:16].
Sixty-two times the word is used referring to the everlasting life of the blessed. But seven times, seven times that same word aionios is used to refer to the life of the lost, and the doomed, and the damned. And if one is brief the other is brief. If one is shortened the other is shortened. It is the same word.
And if the saved live forever, the damned live forever. If there is an everlasting life in heaven, there is an eternal, everlasting damnation in the fires of hell. “These shall go away into everlasting, aionios, punishment [Matthew 25:41], and these shall go away into everlasting, aionios, life” [Matthew 25:34]. It is the same duration.
I speak last and swiftly and immediately, I speak last of the choice God gives us of our eternal destiny. Don’t any man ever say, “God sent me to perdition.” No man shall ever say, “God damned my soul.” No man shall ever say, “I am tormented in this flame because of the injustice and the cruelty of Almighty God.”
No. For you look, you look. “Then shall He say unto them on the left hand, Depart from Me, you cursed, into aionios fire, into everlasting fire, into eternal fire prepared,” prepared not for us, not for us, “prepared for the devil and his angels” [Matthew 25:41]. Not made for us, not made for a man, not made for a soul, not made for you. Prepared that flame of fire, that torment in hell, prepared for the devil and his angels. And the only people that are there are those who choose, who choose, who choose to cast their lot and life and destiny with the devil and his angels.
There is no one there except those who choose to go; no one, no one, no one. For a man to fall into hell with the devil and his angels, is for the man to choose to go there. Not made for you, made for him, prepared for the devil and his angels [Matthew 25:41]. And in it was cast the false prophet, and in it was cast the beast [Revelation 19:20], and in it was cast Satan [Revelation 20:10]. And then last are cast those, his dupes, who would rather have that lot than the lot of the people of Christ [Revelation 20:15]. Why man, that is the most obvious of all of the righteous judgments that mind is able to conceive. I cannot think of a more righteous judgment than that.
If a man lives for this world, God says this world shall pass away and the fashion of it [Revelation 20:15], and if your life is in this world, when the world is lost, you’re lost too. That’s where you put your life. God says there is a judgment upon sin [Ezekiel 18:4; Romans 6:23], and when you give your life to iniquity and to unrighteousness and to unbelief and to rejection, when the judgment of God comes upon that unrighteous rejection and that’s you, then the judgment falls upon you [Hebrews 10:26-31].
I wonder how many shall say in the fire and the torment of hell [Luke 16:22-24], “Oh, I felt the tug of the Holy Spirit of God. I felt the call of my conscience turning me to Jesus. I felt the call and the appeal of the preacher when he made the appeal for Jesus. But I gave up Christ for the bottle. I gave up Christ for a lewd and a lecherous life. I gave up Christ for the pleasures of the world. I gave up Christ for an easy money. I gave up Christ for my profession or my job. I gave up Christ for the cheap, tawdry rewards of the world.”
When the grave washes it away and the great judgment of God comes upon this world and its fashion [1 Corinthians 7:31] and we are in it—it’s our love, it’s our life, it’s our lot—then the judgment falls upon us, “prepared for the devil and his angels,” not for us [Matthew 25:41]. No man ever goes to damnation, except that he chooses, he chooses, he chooses to be lost and to be damned.
That is the solemnity, the solemnity of this word here, “And whosoever,” and “whosoever” [Revelation 20:15], there is a choice. There is a choice.
In my reading in these exegetical passages where men strive to understand the meaning of this Apocalypse, there is one explanation of why Satan is loosed in this twentieth chapter, after the millennium that is certainly true [Revelation 20:7]. And that is this. Every man that ever lives shall have a choice whether he worships God or Satan, whether he chooses heaven or hell, whether he will give his life to Christ or invest it down here in the cheap, tawdry rewards of this world. Every man shall have a choice.
And in the days of that thousand year millennium, there are those born who have never been tempted, and they have never fallen before evil, but at the end of that period of time called the millennium, Satan is loosed to go out, to go out to tempt all of the people, the nations of the earth. They are of the sands of the sea the twentieth chapter says, and they too shall have a choice [Revelation 20:7-8].
God has purposed in His heart to people heaven with those who choose God, with those who love Christ, with those who bow in His presence and ask for the forgiveness of sins [John 3:16, 14:6; Acts 4:12]. And the man who doesn’t bow, and the man who is too proud to kneel, and the man who is too self-righteous to confess his sins, and the man who thinks he is sufficient for death and the judgment, he is lost. He is lost.
He shall have his choice. God says he shall have his choice. And that whosoever, “and whosever was not be found written in the Book of Life,” that “whosoever” is the same kind of a “whosoever” of Revelation 22:17—“and whosoever will, let him come.” And that is same “whosoever” that you find in John 3:16—“that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.”
“It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment.” But, “Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many of us; and to us who look to Him in hope,” in forgiveness, in salvation; “to them shall He appear the second time apart from sin”—without sin—“unto salvation” [Hebrews 9:27-28].
Oh, oh, oh! No preacher ever read a text like this, and no preacher ever prepared a sermon like this if he was a true man of God, but that he did it in sobs and in tears. The “whosoevers,” the “whosoevers,” the “whosoevers” reject; lost forever; “whosoever not written in the Book of Life, cast into the lake of fire” [Revelation 20:15]. But the “whosoever wills,” let them come [John 3:16; Revelation 22:17]. “Let them be saved, let them choose Me,” says the Lord. “Let them stand by Me.”
I have to close. I just point out this one thing in that choice in this next chapter. “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; I will be his God, and he will be My son. But the fearful, but the fearful”—isn’t that a funny word that God writes there?—“But the fearful… shall have their part in the lake that burneth with fire; which is the second death” [Revelation 21:8]. What does he mean there: “but the fearful?”
Now there are three Greek words that he could have used for fear. One is phobos. Your word “phobia” comes from that; phobos, fear. That means fear in general without good or bad. Then there is another word, eulabeia. That means good, always used in the good sense, like a man fears the Lord. It’s a godly and a pious fear.
But the word used here is deilia, which is always used in a bad sense. It’s used in the sense of a cringing coward who refuses to take his stand, who won’t come out for God, who won’t stand up for Christ. But the deilia, the coward, the fearful who wouldn’t take a stand with Jesus, he shall be cast into the judgment of the fire of condemnation [Revelation 21:8].
Oh, how the Book resounds, and how the Book says, and how the Book appeals! Man, man, standing in the day of the Lord, look to Jesus. Man, look to Jesus [John 3:14-17]. Look to Jesus. Give your heart to Jesus. Give your life to Jesus. Bow in the presence of the Lord. Ask Him to forgive your sins [1 John 1:9]. Ask Him to write your name in the Lamb’s Book of Life [Revelation 15, 21:27]. Ask Him to save you in the day of judgment [Romans 10:9-13].
Ask Him. And God says, “That one that shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 10:32], confess it, openly, publicly, where every man can see.
There has never been a time in my life and I’ve been a pastor for over thirty-five years; there has never been a time in my life when I baptized a convert that I didn’t say one thing, and the prayer, it is this: “Upon an open, unashamed confession of your faith in Jesus, I baptize you, my brother, in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit”; where everybody can see, where everybody could know, publicly and openly, “I confess my faith in Jesus my Lord,” and you’re saved, and you’re saved [Acts 8:35-38].
The “whosoever wills, let him come, let him come, let him come” [John 3:16; Revelation 20:15, 22:17]. And while we sing this hymn of appeal, while our people prayerfully wait in the presence of God, and while the Holy Spirit convicts and woos and draws to the Lord Jesus, come. Come [John 16:7-15].
That topmost balcony to the last seat, somebody you, there is time and to spare, down one of these stairwells on either side, “Here I am, preacher, I give you my hand. I give my heart to God.” The press on this lower floor into the aisle and down here to the front, “Pastor, here I come, we are all coming, this is my wife, these are our children, all of us are coming, some of us trusting Jesus [Romans 10:8-13], some of us putting our lives into the fellowship of the church” [Hebrews 10:24-25]. As God shall say the word and lead in the way, make it now, make it now; while we stand and while we sing.