Revelation 20 – Part 3

7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.” Revelation 20:7-8

The Bible makes it clear that King Jesus’ kingdom will last forever: 1 The prophet Isaiah predicts, “Of the increase of His government and peace there will be no end, upon the throne of David and over His kingdom, to order it and establish it with judgment and justice from that time forward, even forever.” (Isaiah 9:7). The angel Gabriel announced Isaiah’s prophecy to the Virgin Mary concerning her Son, 32 He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Highest; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David. 33 And He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of His kingdom there will be no end.” (Luke 1:32-33). Loud voices in heaven declared, “The kingdom of this world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15). According to the prophet Daniel, the saints of the Most High God will possess this kingdom forever, But the saints of the Most High shall receive the kingdom, and possess the kingdom forever, even forever and ever.” (Daniel 7:18).

If Christ’s Kingdom is eternal and His saints possess it forever and ever, how can Revelation 20 say it only lasts “a thousand years” (20:1-7)? Because the Millennial Kingdom of Christ is only the first thousand years of King Jesus’ eternal reign. The peace and righteousness established by King Jesus during the first thousand years will continue forever without end. King Jesus and His faithful followers will never be dethroned. Satan and his false messiah (the beast) will never regain their thrones. The world will never again be ruled by Satan and his followers. 2 But Satan does not accept defeat easily. He is so full of deceit and pride that he convinces himself he can still overcome King Jesus at the end of Christ’s first thousand-years of His eternal reign.

7 Now when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison 8 and will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle, whose number is as the sand of the sea.” (Revelation 20:7-8). John informs us that “when the thousand years have expired, Satan will be released from his prison” in the bottomless pit or Abyss. The Devil will resume his strategy of deception and “will go out to deceive the nations which are in the four corners of the earth” (i.e., all over the earth). 3 Satan’s plan is to “deceive” all nonbelievers represented by the words “Gog and Magog,” and “gather them together to battle” against King Jesus and His people in the city of Jerusalem (“beloved city” – 20:9; cf. Ezekiel 38:11-12). Ezekiel 38-39 informs us that “Gog” (cf. 38:2-3) will be the earthly military leader over this huge army of unbelieving people that Satan will deceive. “Magog” represents the land or nations that Gog is from (Ezekiel 38:2). 4 Here the terms are symbolic of all the enemies of God in general. 5

Even though King Jesus has been reigning perfectly in righteousness for “a thousand years,” the number of nonbelievers who rebel against Christ will “number as the sand of the sea.” 6

These people will be like people in the first century AD who followed Jesus and applauded His miracles but then yelled, ‘Crucify Him’ before Pilate (Luke 23:21). Such people will follow Jesus outwardly but have experienced no heart transformation. When Satan is released from captivity, he will not force anyone to rebel against Christ. He simply will take advantage of what’s already inside them.” 7

Who are those who follow Satan’s rebellion against King Jesus? If Christ judges all the nonbelievers left on earth after Armageddon at the Judgment of the Sheep and Goats, consigning them to the lake of fire in Matthew 25:31-46, where do the unsaved people with non-glorified bodies come from? Most likely they will come from two different groups:

1. Some will be the infants and children of the unsaved who survived Armageddon and were not confined to the lake of fire (Matthew 25:41) along with their parents because they were below the age of accountability. They enter the Millennium in natural human bodies and eventually will marry and bear children throughout the thousand-year reign of Christ (Isaiah 65:18-25). 8

2. Some will be the offspring of believers who survived the Tribulation and will enter the Millennium in their mortal bodies, able to bear children and repopulate the earth (Isaiah 65:18-25). 9

By the end of the thousand years, the world will be filled with numerous generations of descendants from both groups of Tribulation survivors many of whom believed in King Jesus and have eternal life while many others did not believe in King Jesus and will be vulnerable to Satan’s deception.

Why is Satan permitted to lead one final worldwide rebellion against the Lord? One reason is to demonstrate the incorrigibility of Satan. After one thousand years of imprisonment, the Devil had not changed for the better nor been reformed. The second reason is to demonstrate the depravity or wickedness of humanity. 10 Wiersbe writes, “As final proof that the heart of man is desperately wicked and can be changed only by God’s grace [cf. Jeremiah 17:9]. Imagine the tragedy of this revolt: people who have been living in a perfect environment, under the perfect government of God’s Son, will finally admit the truth [that they hate Him] and rebel against the King!…

“In one sense, the millennial kingdom will ‘sum up’ all that God has said about the heart of man during the various periods of history [dispensations]. It will be a reign of law, and yet law will not change man’s sinful heart. Man will still revolt against God [cf. Genesis 2:16-17]. The Millennium will be a period of peace and perfect environment, a time when disobedience will be judged swiftly and with justice; and yet in the end the subjects of the King will follow Satan and rebel against the Lord. A perfect environment cannot produce a perfect heart.“  11

Next the apostle John writes, “They went up on the breadth of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city. And fire came down from God out of heaven and devoured them.” (Revelation 20:9). This massive army of unsaved people are deceived by Satan into believing that victory over King Jesus and His people is possible. During the thousand-year rule of Christ, many people will outwardly conform to Christ’s rulership, but inwardly their hearts will be hardened so that when Satan is released, they will harbor bitter feelings that will be ripe for the Devil’s message of false hope. 12  So, Satan and his massive army go “up on the breadth of the earth” (i.e., “the broad plain” of Palestine) 13 and surround “the camp of the saints and the beloved city” of Jerusalem from which King Jesus and His faithful followers ruled the earth.

The war that Satan masterfully planned never took place. Before a single shot is fired or blasphemous words are uttered, “fire” quickly “came down from God out of heaven and devoured” Satan’s huge army of rebels. 14

Following the destruction of Satan’s followers, “the devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation 20:10). The fact that “the beast and the false prophet are” still there a thousand years later (19:20) demonstrates that this is a place of conscious torment, not annihilation. 15 The lake of fire is a place of eternal punishment as indicated by the statement, “they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” The “they” refers to the unholy trinity of the “devil… the beast and the false prophet.” When Satan was the heavenly angel named Lucifer (Isaiah 14:12; Ezekiel 28:11-15a), he could have remained loyal to God and avoided this horrific, eternal destiny. “But he chose his way over his Creator’s, which is always in every situation, a foolish and costly decision.” 16

It is important to understand that the judgment experienced by individuals in the lake of fire will not be identical. Instead, the judgment a person or demon receives will be in proportion to their sinful works (cf. 20:12-13). 17 In this case, “the devil” is “cast” straight “into” the same portion of the lake of fire as “the beast and the false prophet.” This unholy trinity will receive the worst punishment for their heinous sins which deceived multitudes of people to rebel against God and His promised Messiah, Jesus Christ.

Jesus taught that “the everlasting fire” was “prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41). It was not prepared for people. The only way people can go to the lake of fire is by choosing the way of Satan. No one goes to hell by accident. 18 Those who refuse to believe in Jesus Christ for His gift of eternal life are sending themselves to the lake of fire. God does not send them there. They send themselves there. When a person refuses to trust Christ alone for the free gift of eternal life, they are in essence saying to God, “I reject what Jesus Christ did in my place as my Substitute.” Therefore, God has no choice but to let us pay for our own sin, through eternal separation from Him in what the Bible calls hell or the lake of fire. Those who go to hell are going there of their own choosing because they have rejected Christ and His free offer. God has not rejected them; instead, they have rejected God.

Suppose God blessed you and your spouse with a little boy. You love that little boy so much that you’d do anything for him. Forbid the thought, but suppose that when your little boy is 21, he begins a wayward life and eventually murders someone. Your state sentences him to die by lethal injection. Suppose that you could walk into his cell the morning he is to be executed and offer to take his place. That’s how great your love is for him. In so doing, you explain that he can be a free and forgiven man. Much to your surprise, he pushes you aside, walks to the table, and receives the punishment for his horrible crime himself. Did you not love him enough? Would you accept the accusation, “If you really loved your son, you wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”? Hardly! You did not reject him; he rejected you.

Many of us are grieving the tragic school shooting at Uvalde, Texas yesterday (May 24, 2022). This senseless killing of nineteen fourth grade students and two teachers has sent a shockwave across our nation. Amid the sadness, politicians are already using this tragic shooting to boost their views on gun control, as if governmental laws will prevent such tragedies from happening in the future.

Before people will change their behaviors, they must undergo a change of heart.  Governments do not change the human heart. Revelation 20:7-10 demonstrates this. Satan was bound for a thousand years, unable to deceive the nations (20:1-3) and King Jesus provided a perfect government to guide the people (20:4-6; cf. Psalm 2:6-9). Much of the world’s temptations were removed. Yet when given the opportunity at the end of the thousand years, unsaved people still rebelled against their good and gracious King (20:7-9). Why? Because the human heart is deceived and desperately wicked (Jeremiah 17:9).

The world is not getting better. The tragic Uvalde school shooting reminds us of this. You can legislate all the laws you want, but until this country gets God back into human hearts, the brokenness of our society will worsen. It does not help to blame the devil (I Peter 5:8) or the world (I John 2:15-16) alone for all this mess. The depravity of humankind is also responsible (Jeremiah 17:9; Romans 3:9-23).

Only Jesus Christ can cleanse a desperately wicked heart and make lasting and healthy changes within a person. Christ said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” (John 6:35). Jesus says to look to Him (not to government, pleasure, possessions, or power) to satisfy our hunger for immortality. Look to Him to quench our thirst for eternal life. What do you do when you are hungry? You eat. What do you do when you are thirsty? You drink. Jesus says that if we come to Him in faith, we will never hunger for eternal life again. If we believe in Him, we will never thirst for eternal life again.

The moment we come to Jesus in faith, He makes us a new person inside. The Bible says, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.” (2 Corinthians 5:17). When you are “in Christ” by believing in Jesus for His gift of eternal life, He gives you a new identity, and the past is gone. You’ve got potential because Jesus now lives in you through His Holy Spirit (Romans 8:10-11; Galatians 2:20)!!!!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for exposing the sinfulness of our hearts by revealing what happens at the end of the Millennium when Satan is released and leads a final worldwide rebellion against the King of kings and Lord of lords only to be crushed by the Lord. The thousand-year reign of Christ sums up the total depravity of humankind. Despite a thousand years of peace and perfect government led by a perfect King Who judges disobedience swiftly and with justice, in the end people will still follow Satan and rebel against the Lord God. This proves that apart from the transforming grace of God, people are rebels to the very end, even after living a thousand years under a perfect government and a perfect King. Oh Father God, we need You to change our wicked hearts. As the songs says, “Change my heart Oh God, make it ever true. Change my heart Oh God, may I be like You.” In the matchless name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Charles Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 359.

2. Ibid., pp. 359-360.

3. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach; The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition (Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1580.

4. Ibid.

5. Tony Evans, CSB Bible by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2418.

6. Vacendak, pg. 1580.

7. Evans, pg. 2418.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1580.

9. Swindoll, pg. 360; cf. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 6423.

10. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 226.

11. Ibid., pg. 227 cites Warren W. Wiersbe, The Bible Exposition Commentary, Vol. 2 (Wheaton: Victor Books, Scripture Press, 1989), pg. 620.

12. Swindoll, pg. 361.

13. Constable, pg. 228.

14. Swindoll, pg. 360.

15. Constable, pp. 228-229 cites David E. Aune, Revelation 17-22 Word Biblical Commentary series (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 1998), pg. 1100; cf. Walvoord, location 6444.

16. Vacendak, pg. 1580.

17. Evans, pg. 2419. 18. Ibid.

Revelation 14 – Part 7

“So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.” Revelation 14:19

Having compared the upcoming bowl judgments to a grain harvest (Revelation 14:14-16), John now shifts his attention to the battle of Armageddon which is compared to a grape harvest (Revelation 14:17-20). The number of God’s messengers prepared to reap the harvest of God’s judgment increases in the following verses. “Then another angel came out of the temple, which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle.” (Revelation 14:17). The sixth (“another”) “angel” in this group (14:6-20) “came out of the temple which is in heaven” ready to execute judgment with “a sharp sickle” like the angel of verse 14. Like that angel, this angel also represents the Lord Jesus Christ. 1

“And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire, and he cried with a loud cry to him who had the sharp sickle, saying, ‘Thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.’” (Revelation 14:18). Then John hears “another” (seventh) “angel” who oversees “the altar” of incense and its “fire” (cf. 8:3-5). It is quite possible that this means the angel is responding to the prayers for vengeance by the Tribulation saints from under the altar (cf. 6:9-10). 2

This seventh angel loudly commands the angel with “the sharp sickle” to “thrust in your sharp sickle and gather the clusters of the vine of the earth, for her grapes are fully ripe.” The earth is portrayed as a grape vineyard with many “clusters” of grapes which represent the different armies from around the world that will fight against Jesus Christ at Armageddon (cf. 16:12-16). 3 These various armies must be removed from their different locations around the globe to be “gathered” to Jerusalem (cf. Zechariah 12:3; 14:2). 4 Somehow Satan will deceive the kings of the earth to assemble outside Jerusalem to make war with the King of kings and Lord of lords as He returns to the earth with His church (Revelation 16:12-16; 19:7-19).

The word used for “fully ripe” (ēkmasan) means to be “fully grown” or in “prime condition.” 5 The grapes were full of juice and ready for harvest.” 6 What this means is the rebellion of these armies that gathered to make war against King Jesus had reached a crescendo. 7 It was time for their judgment.

19 So the angel thrust his sickle into the earth and gathered the vine of the earth, and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God. 20 And the winepress was trampled outside the city, and blood came out of the winepress, up to the horses’ bridles, for one thousand six hundred furlongs.” (Revelation 14:19-20). Without delay, “the angel” swung “his sickle” and hurled the “gathered… vine of the earth,” representing the Beast and his global armies, 8 “into the great winepress of the wrath of God” (14:19). So, we see that the judgment pictured by the harvest of grapes here is more localized than the judgment portrayed by the harvest of grain, in that it focuses on the armies gathered far “outside the city” of Jerusalem (14:20) 9 “to the place called in Hebrew, Armageddon” (16:16) or Megiddo. Megiddo is approximately forty miles northeast of Jerusalem and will be the site of this bloody battle between the Lord Jesus and the armies of the Beast. 10 This severe judgment by God against the Beast and his rebellious armies is portrayed as grapes being “trampled” in a “winepress” by the Lord Jesus Christ (14:19-20).  

“When the grapes were put into the winepress, there would be people in the winepress who would stomp around on the grapes so that the juice would be released down into a collection vat. Using this image, in Revelation 14:19 the winepress is ‘the great winepress of God’s wrath.’ The Lord is the One who is doing the stomping, but He is stomping on people, not grapes. And what pours out is blood, not grape juice (Isaiah 63:2-3; Joel 3:13; Revelation 19:15). The imagery suggests that the stomping of His judgment is so intense that the blood from His winepress will splash out as high as a horse’s bridle.

“This is a picture of the ferocity of God’s judgment. The Lord is saying that at Armageddon He is going to throw all the nations into His great winepress and that His intense, blood-splattering judgment will extend throughout Israel from Megiddo to Bozrah.” 11

It seems probable that the “blood” of these armies will literally flow “up to” the height of “the horses’ bridle[s],” which is about four to five feet, “for one thousand six hundred furlongs,” which is two hundred miles (14:19-20; cf. 19:15-21). For that much blood to flow, vast numbers of people will have to die. Nothing in human history has ever come close to the ferocity of this battle. The blood will evidently drain out of the Valley of Jezreel, near the biblical city of Megiddo, 12 for two hundred miles, probably flowing eastward down the Jezreel Valley down through the Harod Valley to the Jordan Valley, and then south all the way to the Dead Sea. 13

It is important to see here that God is patient in giving people a chance to get right with Him prior to judgment. God waited until the “grapes” were “fully ripe” (14:18) before He had them thrown into the “great winepress of” His “wrath” (14:19). He does not judge people “at the first hint of their sinful rebellion, though that would be entirely justified. Instead, He provided extended opportunity for repentance and strikes with the sickle of judgment when rebellion has matured into an unmistakable pattern.” 14

If you are not a believer in Jesus Christ yet, please understand that God is being patient with you to give you an opportunity to get right with Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. You are not promised tomorrow on earth. Today you can freely come to God as a sinner (Romans 3:23), realizing you cannot save yourself from the penalty of your sins (Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15). God loves you and longs to have a forever relationship with you. This is why He sent God the Son, Jesus Christ, to earth over two thousand years ago to die in your place on a cross and rise from the dead (John 3:16a; I Corinthians 15:3-6) so “whoever believes in Him should not perish” in hell, “but have everlasting life” both now and forever (John 3:16b).

Is there anything keeping you from believing in Jesus right now for His gift of everlasting life? If there is, what is it? Nothing you can think of could outweigh the horrors both of God’s temporal judgments on earth during the future Tribulation period (Revelation 6-19) and His eternal judgment of nonbelievers in the lake of fire (Mark 9:43-48; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:15). God intended “the everlasting fire” of hell to be for the devil and his angels, not people (Matthew 25:41). But those who reject God’s free offer of eternal life in Christ Jesus, will send themselves to hell for all eternity (John 3:18, 36b; Revelation 20:15).

God is not asking you to clean up your life. He did not send Jesus into the world to condemn you but to cleanse you (John 3:17). All God asks is that you believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life (John 3:16 36). And when you believe in Christ, He guarantees you will “not perish” in hell, but “have everlasting life” both now and forever (3:16b). Do you believe this? If so, you are now God’s child (John 1:12) destined for heaven with God forever. You are no longer destined for the upcoming temporal judgments of the Tribulation period (I Thessalonians 5:9-10; 4:13-18) nor eternal judgment in the lake of fire (Acts 16:31; Ephesians 2:8-9).

As we conclude Revelation 14:6-20, there are two principles for those of us who believe in Jesus to apply to our lives.  First, God’s grace gives us the freedom to choose His righteousness.” 15 In the Garden of Eden, God created Adam and Eve with the freedom to choose between good and evil (Genesis 2:15-17). With this freedom of choice comes accountability. When Adam and Eve chose to disobey God instead of obeying Him (Genesis 3:1-6), they sent all of humanity into a state of sin and death (Genesis 3:7-21; Romans 5:12-14; I Corinthians 15:22). 16

However, Christ’s death on the cross redeemed us from slavery to sin (Romans 6:5-7; Ephesians 1:7) so that we now have the choice through the presence and power of the Holy Spirit to choose God’s righteousness instead of sin (Romans 8:1-13). God calls us as believers in Jesus to use the freedom of choice in the service of God, not self (Romans 6:12-13). 17

The second principle to apply to our lives is “God’s justice holds every person accountable.” 18 Some believers in Jesus think that because they are saved forever by grace through faith alone in Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), they are no longer accountable for their decisions or actions. It is true that believers in this Church Age will escape both the coming wrath of God during the Tribulation period on earth via the Rapture of the church (I Thessalonians 1:9-10; 4:13-5:9) and eternal torment in the lake of fire (John 3:16, 36; 5:24; Acts 16:31; Revelation 14:9-11; 20:15).

But the Bible also tells us that Christians “must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.” (2 Corinthians 5:10). A day of God’s assessment of our Christian lives is coming to determine what if any eternal rewards we will receive for the things we did in our earthly bodies.

The Bible tells us in I Corinthians 3, that God is the One who will “reward” each believer “according to his own labor” (3:8b) at the Judgment Seat of Christ (3:9-15; cf. I Corinthians 4:5; 2 Corinthians 5:10). Under the penetrating gaze of Christ, the quality of our works will be “revealed by fire” to determine our level of loss or rewards (3:13). Those whose work “endures” the flames “will receive a reward” (3:14). But “if anyone’s work is burned” up, “he will suffer loss” at the Judgment Seat; “but he himself will be saved, yet as through fire” (3:15). While this passage does affirm the eternal security of an unfaithful believer (“he himself will be saved”) who enters heaven with little or nothing to show for in terms of service to God, 19 it also underscores the accountability of that believer to Christ. Jesus’ scrutiny of his unfaithful life will be painful (“yet as through fire”).

The day of God’s assessment of our Christian lives is coming. Are we prepared to face Christ’s revealing gaze at the Judgment Seat? Are we using our freedom of choice to choose to live a life that is free from sin’s domination, or have we forgotten that there will be an accounting of our works before Jesus? 20 God wants to use this knowledge of His future assessment of our Christian lives to motivate us to live faithfully for Him now so we can enjoy eternal rewards with Him throughout eternity.

Prayer: Holy Father, You have pierced our hearts with this vision of a harvest of grapes that depicts the future blood bath that will take place when King Jesus returns to earth to severely judge the Beast and all his armies who have rejected You, Lord God. Never has the earth seen such ferocity and shedding of blood as is described in this final battle that will take place at the end of the Tribulation period. To think that all of this could be avoided if people would trust in You and yield to Your righteousness. But in love, You created us with the freedom to choose. May those of us who believe in Jesus, use this freedom of choice to serve and honor You in the power of the Holy Spirit throughout our lives, knowing You will richly reward us for our faithfulness at the Judgment Seat of Christ. This final battle also reminds us of the importance of sharing the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection with those who are currently perishing without Christ, so they may believe in Jesus for His gift of eternal life and be rescued from both temporal judgments on earth and eternal judgment in the lake of fire. Thank You, Father, for graciously revealing the future to us so we may prepare for what is coming. In the mighty name of Jesus Christ, we pray. Amen.

ENDNOTES:

1. Bob Vacendak; Robert Wilkin; J. Bond; Gary Derickson; Brad Doskocil; Zane Hodges; Dwight Hunt; Shawn Leach, The Grace New Testament Commentary: Revised Edition

(Grace Evangelical Society, Kindle Edition, 2019), pg. 1554.

2. Tom Constable, Notes on Revelation, 2017 Edition, pg. 163.

3. Bob Vacendak, pg. 1554.

4. Ibid.

5. John F. Walvoord, The Bible Knowledge Commentary Epistles and Prophecy, Editors John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck (David C. Cook, 2018 Kindle Edition), location 5904.

6. Ibid.

7. Charles R. Swindoll, Insights on Revelation (Swindoll’s Living Insights New Testament Commentary Book 15, Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2014 Kindle Edition), pg. 274.

8. Vacendak, pg. 1554.

9. Ibid.

10. Ibid., pg. 1561.

11. Mark Hitchcock, The End: A Complete Overview of Bible Prophecy and the End of Days (Carol Stream, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, Inc., 2012 Kindle Edition), pg. 376.

12. Swindoll, pg. 275.

13. Constable, pg. 164.

14. Tony Evans, CSB Bibles by Holman, The Tony Evans Study Commentary (B & H Publishing Group, Kindle Edition 2019), pg. 2404.

15. Swindoll, pg. 276.

16. Ibid.

17. Ibid.

18. Ibid., pg. 277.

19. Evans, pg. 1979.

20. Swindoll, pg. 277.

How can a loving God send anyone to hell?

“He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John 3:18

As I have shared the gospel with others one of the disturbing questions among non-Christians is how can a loving God send anyone to hell? To many people this seems like a major contradiction. One minute, preachers will talk about God’s love and forgiveness. Then they turn around and talk about hell – a terrible place of torment and unending fire where people want to die but they are unable to. How can God claim to be loving and forgiving and then turn around and send someone to such a terrible place of agony and suffering?

How do you respond to this question? Let’s look in our Bibles at John 3:16-21 where Jesus is having a conversation with a religious leader named Nicodemus. We have been doing a verse-by-verse study of the gospel of John. This book helps us see the major emphasis of Jesus’ ministry. While Christ was on earth, He was not scaring people out of going to hell with bad news; instead, He was inviting people to heaven with good news. Jesus spoke more about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, but that was not the major emphasis of His ministry. He did not earn His reputation as a “friend of sinners” (Matthew 11:19) by being harsh. He earned it by being loving and kind and extending His love and forgiveness to people like all of us. Jesus’ message and ministry were not trying to scare people out of hell; but inviting them to receive the gift of eternal life so they could live with Him forever in heaven.

God’s love wants all people to live with Him in heaven. Jesus said to Nicodemus (and us), “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). God loves the entire world – over 7.8 billion people at the time of writing this article. How do we know this? Because He gave His only Son to die on a cross (I Corinthians 15:1-8). Why did Jesus have to die? Because God is holy and perfect (Leviticus 19:2; Isaiah 6:1-5; Matthew 5:48; Romans 3:23; I Peter 1:16). The fact that God is holy and perfect demands that He must punish sin (Psalm 66:18; Isaiah 59:2; Romans 6:23a; Revelation 20:15; 21:8). A “slap on the wrist” is not enough. Due to its awful nature, sin is punishable by death (Romans 6:23a). Not physical death – but eternal death or separation from God (Matthew 25:41, 46b; Revelation 20:15; 21:8).

Fortunately for us, God let His perfect Son, Jesus Christ, who never knew any sin – no wrong thoughts, bad words, unkind attitudes, or evil actions – die on a cross where you and I should have been punished (2 Corinthians 5:21; I Peter 3:18). Christ took our place on a cross. The nails that should have been driven through our hands and feet, were, instead, driven through His. Keep in mind, Christ didn’t have to suffer for your sin – He loved you enough to do it. When God brought His Son up from the grave on the third day, He was providing proof that He could now extend forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who believes in Jesus. There is no sin that Christ cannot forgive and no person that He will not accept if he or she comes to Him on His terms.

“For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:17). This is the heart of God. Some people confuse Christianity with religion. They think God sent Jesus to earth to make us miserable. They think Christianity is a bunch of dos and don’ts. “Don’t drink… don’t cuss… don’t smoke… don’t chew…  and don’t run around with girls who do.” They perceive God to be sitting up in heaven just waiting to hit them with His holy hammer when they mess up. But this verse tells us the very opposite. God did not send His Son into the world to condemn us, but to cleanse us. He did not come to rub our sin in, He came to rub it out.

Imagine for a moment… one of your children when they were small, playing in the road. You see a fast-moving car approaching. You know you can’t reach him in time. Running toward him you yell, “Get out of the road and come here!” It is important at that moment that your child trusts you and responds. Are you trying to ruin his fun? No, you are trying to save his life! God knows that we are all in danger. We are in danger of spending eternity separated from Him. The Bible calls it the second death and it is racing towards all of humanity (Revelation 20:6, 11-15). For that reason, God sent His Son to die on a cross, as a sacrifice for our sins. He’s paid our penalty. All He asks in return is that we believe or trust in Christ for eternal life (John 3:16).

God doesn’t want any human being to spend eternity in hell. In fact, Jesus tells us that hell was intended for the devil and his angels: “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” (Matthew 25:41).  Since God did not want us to spend eternity in hell, He sent His Son to die in our place so that whoever believes in Him should not perish in hell but have everlasting life.

Since God loves us so much, then why would He send anyone to such a horrible place as hell? Please hear this – GOD DOESN’T SEND ANYONE TO HELL. PEOPLE SEND THEMSELVES THERE.

God’s love allows people to choose between heaven and hell. Jesus said, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18). When a person refuses to believe in Jesus Christ they are rejecting God’s offer. They are condemning themselves. When a person refuses to trust Christ alone for the free gift of eternal life they are in essence saying to God, “I reject what Jesus Christ did in my place as my Substitute.” Therefore, God has no choice but to let us pay for our own sin, through eternal separation from Him in what the Bible calls hell. Those who go to hell are going there of their own choosing because they have rejected Christ and His free offer. God has not rejected them; instead, they have rejected God.

Suppose God blessed you and your spouse with a little boy. You love that little boy so much that you would do anything for him. Forbid the thought, but suppose that when your little boy is twenty-one, he begins a wayward life and eventually murders someone. Your state sentences him to die by lethal injection. Suppose that you could walk into his cell the morning he is to be executed and offer to take his place. That’s how great your love is for him. In so doing, you explain that he can be a free and forgiven man. Much to your surprise, he pushes you aside, walks to the table, and receives the punishment for his horrible crime himself. Did you not love him enough? Would you accept the accusation, “If you really loved your son, you wouldn’t have allowed that to happen”? Not at all! You did not reject him; he rejected you.

This is why the Bible puts the responsibility where it belongs when it says, “but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” (John 3:18b). Why would someone reject Christ’s free offer of everlasting life? Why would someone choose hell instead of heaven? The answer is in the following verses.

People love their sin more than the Savior. Jesus says to Nicodemus (and to us), “And this is the condemnation, that the light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” (John 3:19). The presence of God’s light – His truth- forces people to make a choice – to either believe in Christ or reject Him. The reason people reject Christ’s offer of a free gift is because they love their sin more, and they want to stay in the darkness because it hides their sinfulness.

Let’s be honest, sin is fun. Sin feels good. Sin initially appears attractive. But sin is like a black widow spider. The bite of the female black widow spider can be deadly to humans. But the black widow gets its name because after the male has mated with the female, she kills and eats him. Sin has somewhat of the same effect on us. It is initially attractive and pleasurable, but in the end, it can devour us forever.

For example, suppose a person is unwilling to come to Christ because he is afraid of what God might do with the sins he enjoys? If that man so enjoys his immorality or drug abuse or overeating and, in fear of what God might do, is unwilling to come to Christ, he needs to examine Matthew 5:29-30: 29 If your right eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell. 30 And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and cast it from you; for it is more profitable for you that one of your members perish, than for your whole body to be cast into hell.” (cf. Matthew 18:8-9; Mark 9:43-45). What does Jesus mean here?

Let me explain where I’m at in my understanding of this passage. Alcoholism, drug abuse, pornography, and sexual addiction are examples of sins which dominate the lives and thinking of millions upon millions today. People turn to such things to medicate their inner pain. The sinful addiction provides a temporary distraction or relief. However, it does not eliminate the pain. In fact, it takes more and more of the addictive behavior to keep masking the pain.

People can also turn to things like sports, work, home decorating, shopping, recreational activities, and hobbies to distract them from inner pain. These things, morally neutral in moderation, can so dominate a person’s time and attention as to become idolatrous and sinful. Evangelist Larry Moyer writes: “Have you ever met a man whose hand was so involved in business that there was no time to think about spiritual things? Or a woman whose eyes were so focused on a neat or new home that she neglected spiritual matters? Christ’s warning to a person in that position was: None of those are worth eternal separation from God [bold letters mine]. Such a person would be wise to cut off the hand with which he works or to pluck out the eye with which she focuses on a new home.” (from Larry Moyer, The Toolbox, Aug-Oct 1989).

No one can come to faith in Christ unless they see their need for Him. People with sinful addictions often cannot see that need unless they hit bottom and give up the addiction. Turning from sins is not a condition of salvation. However, for some it may be a practical necessity – not to clean up their lives, but to be able to see their need and come to faith in Christ. Jesus is telling us in Matthew 5:29-30, that nothing is worth going to hell over. What our hands touch and what our eyes see – does it keep us from trusting in Christ for eternal life? We would be wise to cut off the hand or pluck out the eye. It is better to be here with one hand or eye than separated from God in hell with two hands or eyes.

Some people won’t let God love them because they will be exposed for what they really are – sinners in need of God’s love and forgiveness. This is especially true with church people. They live their lives being basically good, but if an invitation to trust Christ for salvation is given, they won’t respond because they are afraid their image will be shattered. They will be exposed and that is just too much to risk. But friends, love is risky. We take a risk receiving God’s love through Jesus Christ and we take a risk expressing our love back to Him.

Jesus said, “For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his deeds should be exposed.” (John 3:20). I believe this verse can apply to Christians and non-Christians (“everyone”). We all dislike being shown that we are wrong. I feel that way myself. I don’t like to admit I am wrong. This verse is saying that this normal human reaction is part of our sinful nature. That’s why nobody wants to change. Nobody wants to admit he or she is wrong. When the Republicans are in power they try to convince the Democrats they have been wrong, but they won’t admit it. When the Democrats are in power they try to convince the Republicans they have made the wrong choices, but they won’t admit it either. Nobody wants to admit they are wrong. That is why it is so hard to change.

If you are a Christian and you have drifted away from God, you don’t like to be around believers who are walking with the Lord because it exposes your sinfulness and you start to feel uncomfortable. That is the Holy Spirit convicting you. It is not the committed Christian doing that. It is God inside of you nudging you to come back into the light. So, what do we do? We withdraw from committed believers and hang out with those who have no commitment to Christ. One of the ways we can tell that we are walking in darkness is by our lack of time with committed Christians. At first, we miss a Sunday. And then another and another. We don’t want to be exposed to the light of God’s Word because then we will have to face our sinfulness and shame.

“But he who does the truth comes to the light, that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God.” (John 3:21). The phrase “comes to the light” refers to the person “who does the truth.” He comes to the light “that his deeds may be clearly seen, that they have been done in God,” meaning that they have “been produced by God.” This verse is referring to Christians. Verse 20 referred to both Christians and non-Christians. But this verse refers specifically to believers. And it is saying that if we will do (not just say the right words but start doing) the right things, despite our dislike of being shown to be wrong – if we are willing, in other words, to begin to obey the truth even though it means we have to admit we have been wrong – then we will find ourselves being drawn to Jesus, for He is the Light. And if we are doers of the truth of God’s Word, then we will openly identify with the light of Jesus Christ so that our works can be seen as being produced by God’s grace working in our lives.

When we are living the way God wants us to live, we will have more boldness to openly confess Jesus Christ before others whether they know the Lord or not; whether they are receptive to Christ or not. But when we are not living in a way that pleases the Lord we are less likely to openly identify with Him because we are feeling guilty and ashamed.

John the Baptist is a believer who “does the truth and comes to the light” by boldly expressing his convictions about the Lord Jesus Christ (John 1:15-18, 29-34; 3:22-36). Jesus is warning Nicodemus who came “by night” (3:2) to come to Him “by day” now by boldly confessing Christ which would be contrary to many of the other believing Pharisees (John 12:42-43).

To summarize: How can a loving God send anyone to hell? He doesn’t. People send themselves to hell by rejecting God’s free offer of eternal life through Jesus Christ. Why? Because they love their sin more than the Savior.

You may be afraid to come to Jesus Christ because of mistakes in your past that still haunt you. You are afraid He will condemn you instead of cleanse you. There is no wrong too great for Jesus Christ to forgive. When I came to Christ as a filthy sinner back in 1979, I was met with compassion, not condemnation. Christ forgave me and accepted me as His own when I trusted in Him alone. And He helped me to put all my wrongdoings behind me. For the last forty-one years, I’ve been living in forgiveness. If He forgave me, He will forgive you, too. One of the most exciting things about the Christian life is not simply knowing I have been forgiven and I am going to heaven, although that is enough. But since I’ve come to Christ, I know He is with me all day every day. Disappointments do not seem nearly as big, and bad days do not seem nearly as bad with Him in my life.

Jesus Christ came to earth to remove the condemnation all of us deserve and made it possible to come freely and openly to Him. If you have never come to Christ in faith, will you come to Him now just as you are? God does not want any human being to spend eternity in hell. He loves us too much to send us there. But we send ourselves to hell by refusing to believe in Christ to get us to heaven. We can run every stop sign, ignore all the warnings, discount all the pleas to change our minds about whatever is keeping us from trusting Christ and we can choose the path toward destruction. Sunday School teachers can tell us, TV evangelists can preach to us, pastors can warn us, but it is our choice to ignore every warning or we can take them to heart. My friend, it is still not too late. You can settle this issue right now. Simply take God at His Word when He says, “He who believes in the Son is not condemned.” (John 3:18).

Prayer: Lord Jesus, I know I deserve to be separated from You forever in the Lake of Fire because I have sinned against You with my thoughts, words, and actions. You detest and hate sin, but amazingly You still love me and came to earth to cleanse me of my sins, not condemn me. You took my place on the cross to die for all of my sins. Three days later You rose from the dead and You are alive today offering eternal life as a free gift to all who believe in You. Right now, Lord Jesus, I am trusting You alone for Your everlasting life so I may live with You forever in heaven. Thank You, Jesus, for the everlasting life I now have and for the future home I will have in heaven. Please use me to share this good news with others so they may receive Your everlasting life and escape the eternal fires of hell which You intended for the devil and his angels. In Jesus’ name. Amen.