“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17)
This past year we marked the 100th anniversary of the sinking of the luxury liner Titanic. About 1500 people died when the ship that not even God could sink sank. But perhaps the greater tragedy was that the Titanic had lifeboat space for almost 1200 people.
20 lifeboats were lowered and only a few were filled to capacity. Only a little over 700 passengers and crew were rescued, and 40% of the total lifeboat spaces remained unfilled. Hundreds of people floated in the open icy waters wearing life jackets. Only one lifeboat went back to search for survivors. The rest remained a safe distance from the horrific tragedy. They comforted one another and even praised God for being spared. All the while people were dying.
As a church, does our outreach ‘make room’ for the lost and dying in this world? Or do we lack the compassion needed to weep for the lost. Perhaps we are safe in our redemptive lifeboat comforting one another and praising God for being spared as we read our text this morning.
The truth is that the wicked are being turned into hell and the nations are forgetting God. The need of the hour is for compassion for the lost. But to get there, we must understand a subject we often avoid. Pray for a clear understanding of this text as I preach. Pray for compassion to reach a lost and dying world.
The first question we must ask concerning this verse is simple…
Who are the wicked?
I would venture to guess that most of us would not define ourselves as wicked this morning. We generally reserve this adjective for really evil people …people like Charles Manson or Adolf Hitler. We usually use ourselves as the standard and measure wickedness accordingly. We always end up outside the sphere of wickedness as we think of it. Other people are wicked but not me. Yet God’s thoughts are not our thoughts. His ways are not our ways.
The parallelism in this verse makes it clear that the wicked are those who forget God. While some are more culpable than others, the wicked have three characteristics which define them…
First, wicked people don’t care about God’s commands as written in their hearts and communicated in His Word. Wicked people choose instead to think only of themselves.
Is there anyone who has ever lived on this earth who hasn’t thought only of what would please himself at some point in his life? There is One. His name is Jesus. Thus, everyone else is wicked. We have rebelled against God and have set up thrones over our own perceived dominions.
Second, wicked people actually work at forgetting God. It takes work to forget the mercies and lovingkindnesses of our God …to drain your life of compassion and gratitude. The redemption of God offered in the Person and Work of His only Begotten Son is the greatest gift we will ever receive. But what if we choose to forget it? What if we treat it as something despised? If so, we are deemed wicked by God.
Third, wicked people treat God as if He was not here. God has given us a way to not only be mindful of His presence, but to actually walk with Him. But we act as if He is not here. It simply doesn’t bother us to think this way hour after hour and day after day.
We speak as if He will not hold us accountable for every word. We act as if only what is seen and felt matters. We have no desire to be with those assembled in churches praying and worshipping.
We live without God in the world, and we are wicked. It is not just the adulterer or murderer who is wicked. All who are without Christ have no hope because they are without God in the present world (Eph 2.12). When we act as though God is not here, we have much in common with those without Christ and without hope.
Now, we ask yet a second question…
Where will the wicked end up?
“The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17)
Where will they wicked end up? It’s stated pretty simply: They shall be turned into hell.
The word hell in this verse is the English translation of a Hebrew word which basically means the grave (sheol). While it it true that in other OT contexts, sheol simply means grave, it means something more here. Why? Well, because righteous and wicked people end up in the grave. So, this verse must include a more comprehensive understanding of the final destination of the wicked. Thankfully we have a complete revelation of God. The progress of revelation provides for us an more informed understanding of Hell.
The NT references to Hell are found mostly in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Two words in the NT are translated Hell: Gehenna and Hades.
1) Gehenna (12 times) is a word derived from a place known as the Valley of Hinnom near Jerusalem. This valley was a notorious site of idolatry and child sacrifice in the OT. God’s own people participated in this wicked practice. The NT imagery adds to the horror of this place. It was a place of constantly burning refuse in Jesus’ day. Occasionally, a murder victim would be dumped in Gehenna with the refuse. Here is what we find this out from the dark history of Israel regarding this valley…
- King Ahaz was a wicked king of the northern confederacy of a divided Israel. He sacrificed his own son in the flames of this valley to show his allegiance to a false god (2 Kings 16.3). This was done by placing an infant in the stone arms of a statue of the false god Molech. Flames had heated the statue and were stoked to consume the child in an act of human sacrifice – beyond anything tolerable for us to imagine. It is akin to the heinousness of partial birth abortion.
- King Ahab did the same with his son (2 Kings 21.6).
- Mercifully, King Josiah ended this abomination. He defiled “the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, so that no man might make his son or his daughter pass through the fire to Molech” (2 Kings 23.10).
Jesus used the images of Gehenna and the constant burning of the dead in many startling ways.
- He said that whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of Gehenna (Mt 5.22).
- He said it would be better to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand in order to stay out of Gehenna (5.29-30).
- He warned, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Gehenna” (Mt 10.28).
- He confronted the Pharisees by pronouncing woe upon them for their hypocrisy. He accused them saying, “You travel land and sea to win one proselyte, and when he is won, you make him twice as much a son of Gehenna as yourselves” (Mt 23.15). Jesus rhetorically asks of these hypocrites later in the same passage, “How can you escape the condemnation of Gehenna?” (Mt 23.33)
- Mark 9.43-48 state that Gehenna’s fire is never quenched.
- But there is a second Greek word for Hell as well.
The second word translated Hell in the Scripture is…
2) Hades (11 times) is the common Greek term for the world of the dead. The Hebrew word, Sheol or grave, is translated in the Septuagint (Greek version of the Hebrew OT, the one Jesus used) as Hades. We do well to note the specifics regarding this word in the NT…
- Jesus condemned the people of Capernaum to Hades because the mighty works He did in their presence were met with rejection. As a matter of fact, the degree of Capernaum’s punishment in Hades would be greater than that of those in the city of Sodom. The reason for this is that Capernaum’s culpability was greater. They knew more and were thus more responsible for what they knew.
And you, Capernaum, who are exalted to heaven, will be brought down to Hades; for if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for you. (Matthew 11:23–24)
- Jesus also said that the gates of Hades would not prevail against the onslaught of His church (Matt 16.18). This certainly indicates that Hell is a place.
- The rich man was in torments in Hades after he died (Lk 16.23).
- The term is used in connection with the resurrection of Jesus. Using the words of David, Luke quotes, “For You will not leave my soul in Hades” and explains later that God would raise up the Christ to sit on David’s throne. The soul of Jesus was not left in Hades, nor did His flesh see corruption. See Acts 2.27, 31.
- Hades will be robbed of a victory because Christians will rise. See 1 Cor 15.55.
- Revelation pairs Hades with death each time it is mentioned:
“I am He who lives, and was dead, and behold, I am alive forevermore. Amen. And I have the keys of Hades and of Death.” (Revelation 1:18)
“So I looked, and behold, a pale horse. And the name of him who sat on it was Death, and Hades followed with him. And power was given to them over a fourth of the earth, to kill with sword, with hunger, with death, and by the beasts of the earth.” (Revelation 6:8)
“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.” (Revelation 20:13–14)
We are able to summarize these words fairly easily. Hades is associated with a place of punishment. Both Hades and Gehenna speak of torment. Hades does not end. But both death and Hades are cast into the final abode of all the wicked, namely the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is everlasting.
Fire is a common thread when Hell and final judgement are mentioned in the NT. The writer of Hebrews calls Hell fiery indignation (10.27). Peter states that the present heavens and earth are reserved for fire until the day of judgement and perdition of ungodly men (2 Pet 3.7). Jude deems Hell the vengeance of eternal fire (Jude 7). It is a place of darkness, weeping, and gnashing of teeth.
I think we do well to pause now and really think of the horror of Hell. It’s beyond our imaginations, but there is something that I found that does the best job I’ve read so far in describing the terror of eternal Hell. The book Crashmaker: A Federal Affaire paints a graphic picture of Hell. The villain, Alan Stillwell, has a nightmare in which he meets the atheistic French philosopher Voltaire in Hell:
Voltaire’s countenance appeared white, not because it was dead, bloodless flesh, but because it was a mask of the most intense, living fire. So, too, flames enveloped his whole body—if, indeed, what Stillwell saw beneath the fire could properly be called a body at all. Twisted and deformed, it mocked the shape of a man. As black as charcoal, shimmering in reds and oranges with the incandescence of combustion, the thing seethed with ulcers of molten flesh that suppurated (festered) to a white heat, spit out jets of fiery matter, then collapsed upon themselves, only to burst forth in some other spot.
At the margins of these migrant craters emerged orange ribbons—no, Stillwell saw to his horror, worms. Standing on end, the creatures writhed in the flames, then melted into a translucent yellow liquid that poured back over the body and ignited, the bluish tongues of fire from this foul fuel spawning more of the awful parasites that then bored their way back into the body. As Stillwell watched, his mouth agape, chunks of Voltaire’s black flesh crumbled in showers of sparks, revealing bones almost transparent in their white heat. The fire all around consumed the flesh before it fell far. But when Stillwell looked again, the body was once more intact—always destroying itself, yet always whole. A fool’s cap of the most intense flames crowned the [philosopher’s] head, but not because his hair itself was alight. Rather, in the manner of a wick drawing on an inexhaustible reservoir, the follicles sucked from fissures in Voltaire’s skull liquefied brain that burned with a fury born of the unhappy combination of the intellectual brilliance of his mind and the perverse purposes to which he had put it.
Somehow, Stillwell could bear to look on all that. What he saw in Voltaire’s eyes, though, shook [him] to his core: all the depravity of man the philosopher had unleashed during and after his lifetime. And, underlying that monstrous crime against humanity, its true cause: Voltaire’s overweening pride.
[Voltaire confesses,] “My own reason enchained me, too, in disbelief. I ridiculed the Absolute. I imagined myself capable of giving new laws to the world, even of dethroning God. But what help were my pithy skepticism, my witty unbelief, all the blasphemies of my facile pen when at length I found my name inscribed in the Book of Eternal Death? Oh, then to erase, to amend! Alas, too late. I pulled down the Prophet, Priest, and King from the Cross without knowing that, in so doing, I would nail myself there in His stead, to become defenseless before the supreme tribunal, with no Savior to forgive my transgressions, no Church to reconcile me with my Creator.”
Stillwell shuttered, as if a dagger had been driven into the soul he knew he did not have. “Why do you want to save me?” he probed. “Save you?!” the spirit shrieked, shaking with fury. “I long for your damnation! To work for the salvation of souls my own sins have corrupted is part of my punishment. How it tortures me to fear that you might be saved, whilst I must remain forever [here].”
Victor Sperandeo and Alvaro Almeida, Crashmaker: A Federal Affaire; submitted by Jerry Cline, Upland, Indiana
The wicked will end up in Hell filled with great everlasting horror and unspeakable torment. “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.” (2 Thessalonians 1:9) Just as Stillwell looked at the body of Voltaire once more intact—always destroying itself, yet always whole.
Hell is eternal conscious punishment. The torment is spiritual, emotional, and physical. The Bible defines the fire of Hell, the punishment of the wicked, and their destruction as everlasting. People in Hell will not simply be annihilated, but rather they will suffer eternal destruction.
The judgement is eternal not temporary. Hell is real and horrific. But the greatest horror of Hell is the final, everlasting separation from God. The inhabitants of Hell will get their desire: God will not be a part of their existence anymore. Hell is the absence of God. And that absence is felt without a respite and without an end. We tremble at the thought of it.
“Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men….” (2 Corinthians 5:11a)
But some men will remain unpersuaded. The devil works hard at taking as many with him to Hell as he possibly can…
It is said that Satan once called to him the emissaries of Hell and said he wanted to send one of them to earth to aid women and men in the ruination of their souls.
He asked which one would want to go. One creature came forward and said, “I will go.” Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell the children of men that there is no heaven.” Satan said, “They will not believe you, for there is a bit of heaven in every human heart. In the end everyone knows that right and good must have the victory. You may not go.”
Then another came forward, darker and fouler than the first. Satan said, “If I send you, what will you tell the children of men?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hell.” Satan looked at him and said, “Oh, no; they will not believe you, for in every human heart there’s a thing called conscience, an inner voice which testifies to the truth that not only will good be triumphant, but that evil will be defeated. You may not go.”
Then one last creature came forward, this one from the darkest place of all. Satan said to him, “And if I send you, what will you say to women and men to aid them in the destruction of their souls?” He said, “I will tell them there is no hurry.” Satan said, “Go!”
Bruce Thielemann, “Tide Riding,” Preaching Today No. 30; submitted by Kevin A. Miller, Wheaton, Illinois
Some are blithe and ignorant about the truth of eternal perdition.
Paul “Red” Adair was the oil field firefighter first made famous by a 1968 John Wayne movie The Hellfighters. After the first Gulf War, he led the effort to cap the Kuwaiti oil wells set ablaze by Iraq. Adair was a brash, fearless fighter. He joked in 1991 that it would be no different after he died. “I’ve done made a deal with the devil,” he said. “He said he’s going to give me an air-conditioned place when I go down there, if I go there, so I won’t put all the fires out.”
Adair died at age 89 on August 7, 2004. The devil, he may have discovered by now, is a liar.
Lee Eclov, Vernon Hills, Illinois; source: Obituaries, Chicago Tribune (8-10-04)
Others believe the lie that their works will keep them from eternal perdition.
In a Reader’s Digest interview, Muhammad Ali stated: “One day we’re all going to die, and God is going to judge us for [our] good deeds and bad deeds. If the bad outweighs the good, you go to hell. If the good outweighs the bad, you go to heaven.” How different that view is from the gospel!
“Ali,” Reader’s Digest (December 2001), p. 93; submitted by Robert Wenz
The Gospel means not forgetting God. It means not misunderstanding what He has revealed and not scoffing at it either. One day, men will yearn for the rocks to fall upon them and the mountains cover them rather than face the wrath of Almighty God. But they will be turned into Hell just as sure as the righteous will be secure in Heaven above.
The apathy so deeply rooted in our world today has lulled Christians into complacency and unbelievers into indifference. God is not a man that He should lie. He demands that we flee from the wrath which is to come!
A friend encouraged author Neil Cole to tour the Rodin museum while in France. Reflecting on Rodin’s most famous work, Cole writes,
Rodin was a French impressionist sculptor. Though many do not realize his name, most are familiar with his work. He created the Thinker. What you may not realize is that the Thinker was really a study he had done to sit on the top of his greatest masterpiece—The Gates of Hell. For years we have been wondering what it is that the Thinker is thinking about… What the Thinker is contemplating is an eternity of judgment separated from God.
Cole’s friend began to describe The Gates of Hell, which depicts innumerable beings writhing in agony on their way to judgment. As the vision of the work gripped Cole’s friend, she said, “Oh, I could just stare at The Gates of Hell forever.”
It was quiet for a moment as the significance of her words became clear. Cole writes, “All I could think of to say at that moment was, ‘Oh, I hope not.'”
Neil Cole, Cultivating a Life for God, (ChurchSmart Resources, 1999) p. 120; submitted by Dietrich Schindler, Otterbach, Germany
God has witnessed many generations preceding our own striving to forget Him. “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” (Psalm 9:17) God has been banished from our court rooms and school houses …from our homes, books, and media choices. He is not in our conversations or thoughts.
Yet we are not yet turned into hell. He patiently and mercifully seeks to receive those who have forgotten Him. He continues to pursue them in love. One day the wicked will be turned into a place where one drop of water will remain unavailable for the parched tongue. But today is the acceptable day of salvation! May God grant that you have found it. May God grant that we are able to persuade others knowing the terror of the Lord!
Prayer of Saving Repentance:
- Lord, I know that Hell is real and that I am wicked by Your definition. I have forgotten you and lived selfishly. I am deserving of the judgment spoken of today.
- But I know that salvation, righteousness, and Heaven are real as well. That they are gifts not earned but free to us, purchased by the blood of Jesus Christ.
- I understand that you will judge sin and the wicked one day, but that you are merciful and loving today.
- I believe that Jesus is God the Son. That He never sinned or knew sin, but became sin for me so that I might have the righteousness of God in Him. I believe that Jesus died, was buried, and is risen. Right now I place my trust in Him alone for eternal life.
- Please help me know you more clearly, love you more dearly, and follow you more nearly.