God's End Game - Part 41

Series: God's End Game

November 17, 2019
Brad Shockley

Episode Notes

God’s End Game - Part 41

We’ve had a nice little break from our long but exciting End Game series where we’re trying to discover what God is up to with us and the world, where all this is going, and how our sovereign creator will put all things back to rights.

We started in the beginning, in the book of Genesis, where we saw how all things were good in God’s eyes to start but went bad through the breaking of one law. And we discovered how that one act of rebellion infected the world and us with death and sin. From there, we’ve worked our way through the Bible camping out at the major play of God’s End game with the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Jesus himself is the major play of God’s end game.

I’m really skipping through the past forty messages here, but the last message I delivered in this series we were introduced to the final play of God’s End Game: the second coming of Jesus Christ or the Return of the King.

If you remember, the theology book I’m using defines it this way… 

The doctrine of the second coming describes the expected return of Jesus Christ at the end of time, when he will come to judge the world and usher in the fullness of his kingdom.[1]

We’ve covered the highlights of the part about “ushering in the fullness of his kingdom.” God’s kingdom was temporarily overthrown by the devil in the garden, something God allowed. God’s end game plan is all about restoring that kingdom. The first coming of Jesus ushered in the kingdom and his second coming literally establishes it.

The Bible paints a pretty good picture (big picture BTW) of what will happen at the this end of the age (AKA the Last Day), at least as far as it concerns us:

*  Jesus will descend from heaven (dimension not altitude) at the sound of a trumpet.

*  He’ll have with him those believers who have died.

*  They will get their new resurrection bodies first.

*  Then those who are alive at his coming rise up to get their resurrection bodies as well.

*  We all will forever be with the Lord

Recall though, there’s another part of our theological statement we haven’t looked at yet: he will come to the judge the world.

Jesus’ mission as it relates to his first coming was about saving us from our sins as the gentle, meek, self-sacrificing Lamb of God, but the second time around it’s the opposite.

Let’s look again at that text in Revelation…

Revelation 19:11–16 (ESV) — 11 Then I saw heaven opened, and behold, a white horse! The one sitting on it is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. 12 His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems, and he has a name written that no one knows but himself. 13 He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and the name by which he is called is The Word of God. 14 And the armies of heaven, arrayed in fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. 15 From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron. He will tread the winepress of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. 16 On his robe and on his thigh he has a name written, King of kings and Lord of lords 

Along with waging war, Jesus returns to judge the earth and everyone on it…

Revelation 20:11–15 (ESV) — 11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. From his presence earth and sky fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. 13 And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. 14 Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The lake of fire is just another way of saying hell. It’s more than just swear word. It’s a real place according to the Bible, and it’s inextricably linked with Jesus’ coming to judge the world, or the Final Judgment as its called. Our textbook defines it this way… 

This doctrine affirms that when Christ, the merciful and righteous king of the earth, returns, all human beings will be held accountable for their lives, resulting in eternal condemnation or eternal blessedness.[2]

We are excited to get to the eternal blessedness part, but if we are going to get the full picture of what God’s up to in his end game, we must address the eternal condemnation part.

I’m not going to lie, though. Just saying that makes me wince, at least these days. The idea that God is going to cast into hell all those who didn’t receive Jesus is hard to accept. I’m a pastor, and I have trouble reconciling it with a God who is known as the source of love and light. It’s hard. It’s really hard. And if it’s not for you, maybe you need to check your heart.

They say you’re never too old to learn. I think that’s true because as I get older I’m learning to do two things: (1) Tackle the prickly things about God head on, admitting they are difficult to figure out or understand, (2) Look at those things from different angles to learn stuff about God I wouldn’t have had I not been willing to address them.

Things like how a good God can allow suffering in the world, why he let Satan win in the garden, and even why there has to be such a place as hell.

CS Lewis says, “If our [faith] is something objective (something true in and of itself) then we must never avert our eyes from those elements in it which seem puzzling or repellant; for it [is] precisely in the puzzling and repellant [where we discover] what we do not yet know and desperately need to know.”[3]

Hell is puzzling and repellant if anything. And it’s one of the biggest reason modern culture tries to redefine Christianity or even reject it altogether. Folks rightly wonder “How can a loving God send people to hell?”

So today, using the help of guys like Tim Keller, I want us to tackle that tough question (how can a loving God send people to hell?), then later in the series move on to discovering what the Bible has to say about it.

The first thing I want us to consider is how incredibly Western it is of us to even ask the question. Modern Western culture thinks it’s superior to all others whether it realizes or not. It’s for sure attracted to a loving forgiving God, a Jesus who held little lambs and hugged babies, but repelled by one who sentences anyone to eternal condemnation. And I get that.

But did you know for many other cultures it’s just the opposite? Muslims, for example, are all about a God of condemnation and actually turned off by a God who forgives, a God who would sacrifice his son to save sinners.

Keller rightly observes…

Why… should Western cultural sensibilities be the final court in which to judge whether Christianity is valid? …

For the sake of argument, let’s imagine that Christianity is not the product of any one culture but is actually the transcultural truth of God. If that were the case we would expect that it would contradict and offend every human culture at some point, because human cultures are ever-changing and imperfect. If Christianity were the truth it would have to be offending and correcting your thinking at some place. Maybe this is the place, the Christian doctrine of divine judgment.[4]

What Keller means is that the fact that the doctrines of Christianity (both the loving and condemning parts) offend pretty much every culture, not just Westerners, is exactly what you’d expect if it were really true, if it were something objective and outside of the cultures it influences.

When people redefine Christianity or reject it altogether because of hell they do so because they cannot reconcile the problem of how a God of judgment can be a God of love at the same time. “How can a God of love be also a God filled with wrath and anger? If he is loving and perfect, he should forgive and accept everyone. He shouldn’t get angry.”[5]

If you think about it though, that just doesn’t make sense in everyday life. People who truly love will at some point display anger and even wrath.

I told this story on Wednesday night a while back. When Abbie was five years old she crossed the busy road between the church and our house at night even though we had sternly warned her not to. I was furious, even wrathful, because I loved that child with all my heart and the thought of something happening to her destroyed me.

Becky Pippert, in her book, Hope Has Its Reasons, writes…

Think how we feel when we see someone we love ravaged by unwise actions or relationships. Do we respond with benign tolerance as we might toward strangers? Far from it.… Anger isn’t the opposite of love. Hate is, and the final form of hate is indifference.

… God’s wrath is not a cranky explosion, but his settled opposition to the cancer … which is eating out the insides of the human race he loves with his whole being.[6]

This makes me think about the story in John 11 about Lazarus. He and his family were super close to Jesus. He died because Jesus took too much time getting there to save him. When he arrived look at his reaction (and I’ve used a different translation to show you something we don’t often see)…

John 11:33 (NLT) — 33 When Jesus saw her weeping and saw the other people wailing with her, a deep anger welled up within him, and he was deeply troubled.

Jesus is God in the flesh. God was angry when he saw their pain. He was enraged when he experienced the consequences of a fallen world precisely because he is a God of infinite love not in spite of it.

Psalm 145:17–20 (ESV) — 17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

There’s no contradiction here. “Anger is how goodness responds to evil.”[7] 

Another criticism of the Christian view of hell is it’s so narrow-minded. Modern science has demystified the universe. Every day we loose ourselves a little more from the archaic, old fashioned notions of divine judgment. Religion is fine and all as long as it doesn’t offend the sensibilities of others. When you promote something like hell you’re being dogmatic and narrow-minded.

How come you’re not being narrow minded when you say your view is right and mine is wrong? Just because a truth is old doesn’t mean it’s wrong. Lewis calls that chronological snobbery.

One of my favorite podcasts is Radio Lab. Some time ago they did an episode on how a microbiologist and a historian took a 1,000 year old book of cures and made an ancient eye salve from it that killed a superbug modern antibiotics couldn’t.

Believing in hell is not narrow minded just because it’s from an ancient book or because it goes against what you believe. Back to Keller again…

Both the Christian and the secular person believe that self-centeredness and cruelty have very harmful consequences. Because Christians believe souls don’t die, they also believe that moral and spiritual errors affect the soul forever. Liberal, secular persons also believe that there are terrible moral and spiritual errors, like exploitation and oppression. But since they don’t believe in an afterlife, they don’t think the consequences of wrongdoing go on into eternity. Because Christians think wrongdoing has infinitely more long-term consequences than secular people do, does that mean they are somehow narrower?

Imagine two people arguing over the nature of a cookie. Jack thinks the cookie is poison, and Jill thinks it is not. Jack thinks Jill’s mistaken view of the cookie will send her to the hospital or worse. Jill thinks Jack’s mistaken view of the cookie will keep him from having a fine dessert. Is Jack more narrow-minded than Jill just because he thinks the consequences of her mistake are more dire? I don’t believe anyone would think so. Christians, therefore, aren’t more narrow because they think wrong thinking and behavior have eternal effects.[8]

Conclusion: If the idea of hell, of eternal punishment for those who die apart from a personal relationship with God through Christ offends you, guess what? You are probably closer to mirroring the heart of God than a fellow who claims to know Christ but is excited about the lake of fire or just doesn’t care.

Remember these verses, verses that reveal the heart of God…

1 Timothy 2:1–4 (ESV) — 1 First of all, then, I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, 2 for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. 3 This is good, and it is pleasing in the sight of God our Savior, 4 who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.

2 Peter 3:8–9 (ESV) — 8 But do not overlook this one fact, beloved, that with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. 9 The Lord is not slow to fulfill his promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.

Ezekiel 18:23 (ESV) — 23 Have I any pleasure in the death of the wicked, declares the Lord God, and not rather that he should turn from his way and live?

Yes it’s hard. But I believe it’s true. It kills me. But it’s true. And we are going to dig deeper into this truth as we continue in this series, and as we do I’ll settle something that’s driving a few folks crazy, how no one is really in heaven or hell yet…. After I return from two weeks’ vacation.

Go back to…

Psalm 145:17–20 (ESV) — 17 The Lord is righteous in all his ways and kind in all his works. 18 The Lord is near to all who call on him, to all who call on him in truth. 19 He fulfills the desire of those who fear him; he also hears their cry and saves them. 20 The Lord preserves all who love him, but all the wicked he will destroy.

[1] Bray, G. (2018). Jesus’ Second Coming. In M. Ward, J. Parks, B. Ellis, & T. Hains (Eds.), Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[2] Bray, G. (2018). The Final Judgment. In M. Ward, J. Parks, B. Ellis, & T. Hains (Eds.), Lexham Survey of Theology. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press.

[3]  Lewis, C. S. (2001). The Weight of Glory: And Other Addresses (p. 34). New York: HarperOne.

[4] Keller, T. (2009). The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (pp. 74–75). New York: Riverhead Books.

[5] Keller, T. (2009). The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (p. 75). New York: Riverhead Books

[6] Rebecca Pippert, Hope Has Its Reasons (Harper, 1990), Chapter 4, “What Kind of God Gets Angry?”

[8] Keller, T. (2009). The Reason for God: Belief in an Age of Skepticism (pp. 83–84). New York: Riverhead Books.

Content Copyright Belongs to Pleasant View First Baptist Church