Most people today have the wrong answer to the question that the Apostle Peter asked. And because this answer is wrong, millions of people living in this world today hate God who might otherwise love Him. I cannot over-emphasize the importance of the topic with which we'll be spending a bit of time today. Many people are skeptics, agnostics, critics of Christianity, because somewhere they have heard the wrong answer to this question that Peter asked.
To illustrate, let me mention Robert Ingersoll. Robert Ingersoll might have been a prince of preachers, because he was a brilliant man, instead of the notorious infidel that he was had he not received the wrong answer to this question. When he was just a little fellow, his father said to him one day, "Robert, do you know that there are little infants in hell, not over a span in length, who will be in hell screaming and begging for mercy throughout eternity?" Robert thought a little while and then said, "Well, if God does that, I hate him." And he grew up feeling that way. Years passed, and he was lecturing all over the country, airing his views when one day a very close friend of his was converted. He had a wonderful experience in the Lord Jesus, and the joy and peace that only heaven can give became his. And so he wrote a letter to Ingersoll and asked him this question: "Bob, how can you get up before an audience with a lot of intelligent people in it and run down a religion that will do for people what this has done for me?" A few nights passed and Ingersoll got up before his audience in a great hall and told about the letter, and his friend's experience, and read the letter. Then he said this: "Ladies and gentlemen, I'm not running down a religion that will do that for a man. I'm not preaching against a religion that will lift up downtrodden men, but I am preaching against a religion that some preachers preach." Now what he meant by that was that he was bitterly opposed, in addition to other things, to the teaching that was being taught in many, many quarters about eternal torment.
The tragedy of this whole thing is this, friends, hell, as it is commonly taught today, is not a Bible doctrine at all. The doctrine of eternal torment is not at all based upon this Book; and it seems a tragedy that Ingersoll did not understand that. Oh, now don't misunderstand me. The Bible does teach the doctrine of hell, it's right in the Bible. Yes indeed, there's a Bible hell; but it has nothing to do with, and is nothing like what has been taught by many of the churches down through the years, and used to frighten people, as it were, into the kingdom of heaven.
You say, "Well, what does the Bible say about hell?" I wish that we had time to go into all the different aspects, but we do not. We're going to be able to give you only a brief summarization of what the Bible says.
First of all, I think we should all realize that the word "hell" has several meanings in the Bible. A lot of folk when they think of hell, think of burning. Every time the word is mentioned they get a little mental vision of some place of burning somewhere. Well, that's all right, but it does not always mean that. The word "hell" is used fifty-five times in the Scriptures-no more, no less. Fifty-five times only. Forty-two of those times it refers to the grave. G-R-A-V-E. In the Old Testament, the word translated "hell" is "Sheol." In the New Testament, it is "Hades." Both mean the same thing-the grave. Forty-two times out of fifty-five times the word "hell" as it appears in our Bible means "the grave." Twelve times it is translated from the word "Gehenna," and means "a place of burning." One time it is translated from the word "Tartarus," and it means "a place of darkness." And so we ought to realize when we are reading through the Bible and the word "hell " comes along, it may mean one of several things. We should never get the idea when we see the word "hell" in the Bible that it refers always to a place of burning, because the Scriptures show that forty-three of the fifty-five times it is not referring to a place of burning at all, but to something entirely different.
Now today we're going to discuss the place of burning mentioned twelve times in the Scriptures. We're going to ask the questions and then turn to the Book of God and let the Lord Himself, from the pages of Holy Write, give the answer.
The first question is: "When is hell?" Or, we might put it like this: "Is Hell burning now?" Let's have God's answer. I'm turning to Matthew 13:40. Now if you will listen very carefully you'll see that God gives the answer here very, very clearly. "As therefore the tares are gathered and burned in the fire; so shall it be in the end of this world. The Son of man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them which do iniquity; And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth." Now that's plain, isn't it? The Scripture just simply, clearly, plainly and decidedly says here that sinners are going to be cast into that furnace of hell-fire at the end of the world.
Now friends, this is Christ's doctrine. Churches may be wrong, as they often are. Preachers may be wrong, as they often are. But Christ is never wrong, and He says sinners will be cast into the lake of fire, or hell-fire, at the end of the world-not when they die, as is often taught today. Now listen carefully. If the wicked are cast into hell-fire at the end of the world, and the end of the world has not yet come, then how many sinners are in hell-fire today? Not a single one. No, not even the worst person who ever lived. Because God says that sinners will be cast into hell-fire at the end of the world.
And when you analyze it, it is completely sensible-it adds up. According to John 12:48, the judgment takes place at the end of the world. Now, can you imagine God putting a man into hell for punishment before the judgment took place, before the court trial was held? Can you? What would you think of a judge in your city who sent a man to prison for ten years, and then took him out and had a trial to see if he should have punished the prisoner or not? You say, "Well, that wouldn't be just. We wouldn't stand for that in our city." No we wouldn't. It isn't just. And yet men accuse God of that. But the Bible says that the judgment itself takes place at the end of the world, and God punishes no one until after the judgment. Did you ever stop to think what it would mean if He did? It would mean this. Let us say, for example, Cain, the first murderer, was lost. We do not know that he was, but let us say to illustrate that he was lost. Cain, then, according to the popular teaching, when he died went to hell for murder. A man who murders today, dies and goes to hell; but he suffers six thousand years less than Cain who committed the same crime. Now isn't that ridiculous? Yet that's what men accuse God of, and I tell you that such teaching is slander upon the holy name of God. He never punishes anyone until the case is surveyed, comes to trial in court, the decision reached, and then, at the end of the world, all sinners will be punished together in the fire.
The next question is, "Well, where do the dead go then? If they don't go to hell, where do they go-the wicked dead?" All right now, let's read it. This is John 5:28, 29, and once again the Lord Jesus is speaking. "Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation." Now notice what Jesus teaches here. He teaches plainly, too plainly to ever be misunderstood, that the wicked dead are in their graves, just where they are placed at the time they die. And He teaches that those wicked dead are going to be there until the end of the world, when the voice of God is going to call them forth; and they're going to hear His voice from the grave, not from heaven, or hell, but from the grave. They'll come forth from the grave in the resurrection of damnation to receive punishment. That's why we can tell you positively that there's no one in hell right now, because the Bible teaches that the wicked dead are in their graves, and they're going to stay right there until the end of the world, when they'll be called forth to receive punishment by the Lord.
And now the next question: "What is the punishment, or reward, that the wicked people receive in hell-fire, anyway?" Let me read from Romans 6:23. There are many theories on this, but theories are not important; it is what God says that is important. Romans 6:23: "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Well, that's plain and clear too isn't it? The wages, or punishment, for sin is death-D-E-A-T-H. Now remember, there are two deaths mentioned in the Bible. The first death and the second death. The first death all men must die. Hebrews 9:27: "it is appointed unto men once to die ..." that's the first death. The second death is the death that the wicked receive in hell-fire. Revelation 2:11 says: "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." No promise about the first, just the second death. Now let's read another verse from Revelation and see how positively clear the Scriptures make it. Revelation 21:8: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Now isn't that clear? How wonderfully clear the Scripture of God is. The Bible specifically and plainly teaches that the punishment that the wicked receive in hell-fire is the second death. And the difference in the first death and the second death is simply this: There is no resurrection from the second death.
Now back to Romans 6:23 again. We need to analyze this verse. If people really believed this verse of Scripture as it's written in the Bible, there would be very little question about this subject of the punishment of the wicked. Does it say, "The wages of sin is everlasting life in hell-fire; but the gift of God is eternal life in heaven?" Is that what it says? Of course not! It says nothing of the kind! Now let me ask you a question: Is that not what is taught today almost everywhere? Men will tell you today it doesn't make any difference how you live or what you do, you still receive everlasting life-if righteous, in heaven; if wicked, in hell. But when we go to the Scriptures, God has an entirely different story. He says, "The wages of sin is death;" (not everlasting life in hell-fire) "but the gift of God is eternal life." And so the wages of sin is death. It is not everlasting life in fire. It is not everlasting life in heaven. It is not everlasting life in purgatory. It is not everlasting life in hell. It is not everlasting life at all. It is not life of any kind, any fashion, any where, any time, any place. It is the opposite of life-death. And that's the punishment that the wicked receive-death.