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The Subtext of Hell

The Subtext of Hell

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In response to an interview that Drew Dyke, the editor of Leadership Journal, did with me regarding the doctrine of hell (read interview here), someone posted this comment. I felt it warranted a reply.

The comment was:

Exactly how is the narrative of Hell intertwined with the story of Noah, the fall of man, Israel in the wilderness, or any of the Old Testament stories? Redemption, sure, but hell? I know about the Hebrew idea of Sheol, a place of the dead, but I don’t know of any Old Testament references to Hell in the way we talk about it in the New Testament? I know Paul says Jesus preached the Good News to the captives, presumably those in Hell, but it’s not really Good News to tell someone in hell that Jesus could have saved you but because you were born 3000 years too early and got killed in the flood, well, sorry you have to stay in hell. Just wondering…..

The Fall (Sin)
James Hamilton wrote a book called God’s Glory in Salvation Through Judgment and he contends this is the entire through-line of the Bible. I believe he is right. The Apostle Paul’s one sentence summary of the gospel, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” is laced throughout account after biblical account.

The wages of sin is death is exemplified in the account of Adam’s disobedience to God’s command of not eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. Adam and Eve were physically expelled from the Garden. As our representative head, Adam’s sin forever altered humanity’s relationship with God. Both the physical death and the spiritual death that resulted from the disobedience of our first parents was God’s judgment upon humanity.

Now that we understand the Old Testament in light of the New Testament, we understand that God’s judgment upon our sin is a warranted and frightening judgment, exemplified in the doctrine of eternal punishment. There is no separating God’s judgment from God’s wrath from eternal punishment. They are all part and parcel of God’s view of sin and of God’s judgment upon sin both then and now.

Thankfully, God is not only holy and just, but He is loving and has always provided a way of escape, even hinted at with “he shall bruise your head and your shall bruise his heel.” Each way of escape illustrates the once and for all sacrifice of Jesus Christ upon the cross for our sins.

Noah and the Flood (Judgment)
The account of Noah highlights these same points. The digression of human sin takes us further and further from God’s intentions for humanity. In Noah’s day, as in ours, the thoughts and intentions of humanity were only evil continually. This account doesn’t leave us any wiggle room. The flood is God’s coming judgment against sin. Historically, God has displayed to all of humanity that He will judge sin in the most definitive way possible. The people of Noah’s day had opportunity to believe in the warning of God’s impending judgment upon their sin just as people today have ample warning to believe in God’s impending judgment upon our sins — unless we flee to Christ.

The people in Noah’s day could have believed. Noah preached the truth to them, but they did not flee to the ark God provided. They died because of their unbelief. They did not believe because of their sin. The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God… The ark not only expressed, but made available the grace of God.

Abraham’s Faith (Salvation)
The Bible is consistent from beginning to end. There is only one way to be saved and that is by faith alone. Abraham’s faith and Noah’s faith were both examples of faith that is counted as righteousness, meaning that God credited them with a righteous standing before Him that neither Noah nor Abraham deserved. In other words, they were both saved by grace alone through faith alone in God’s promise alone.

To see people in the Old Testament as being born too early is to fail to see a God who knows the end from the beginning. It’s to misapply or misinterpret or misunderstand Paul’s declaration that this plan of salvation in Christ was before the foundation of the world. Christ is our promise and He was their promise.

Men and women have always been saved by one thing only — God’s grace through Jesus Christ. In Old Testament times, they believed in the faint echoes of the coming Promised One. In New Testament times, we believe in the clear voice of the Promised One who lived and died and rose again. In every story of the Bible, redemption has to do with needing to be saved from God’s judgment upon our sin through the means that He Himself has provided. That’s the story of redemption from beginning to end and the implication of God’s judgment is always that we are saved from His just condemnation.

The gospel of Christ is preached in the Old Testament and the gospel story always has the elements of sin, judgment, and salvation from that judgment by the means God provides. Hell is always implicit in that promise of salvation. The doctrine of hell is always in the subtext, just as Christ is.

The gift was free then, as it is now. And it came at just the right time.

No one in hell will be given an apology.

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