“And anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” (CSB – Read the chapter)
Preachers of old were famous for their sermons filled with “hellfire and brimstone.” Some, like George Whitfield, were famous (infamous?) for offering their audiences graphic descriptions of Hell that were so compelling people would give their lives to Christ then and there on the spot just to avoid even the remotest possibility of such a fate. Today, however, the idea of a fiery Hell waiting for all those who refuse to have faith in Christ not only isn’t very popular, for many it is an active impediment to their accepting the existence of God in the first place. So then, what do we do with verses like this one?
What John is describing in the passage, of which this is the last verse, is his vision of the final judgment and specifically the judgment of the unrighteous and of Satan himself. This last line before he shifts to trying to describe his vision of Heaven, is where he lands on this truly uncomfortable conclusion: everybody who doesn’t place their faith in Jesus and by that have their name written in the book of life will spend eternity in Hell.
Let’s just touch on a couple of truths here now that we’re settled firmly on the subject. Number one: This is an awful idea. Can I say that and not get in trouble with anyone? The idea of an eternal Hell as a place of everlasting torment for folks who don’t believe in Jesus is an awful one. It’s uncomfortable. It’s discouraging. It seems totally at odds with how we usually think about God’s character. Again: It’s awful. If this doctrine doesn’t make you a little sick to your stomach, you don’t understand it well enough. The idea of anybody spending eternity in any kind of torment should be revolting to us. If you have heard about this doctrine and felt that way, your feeling was right on the money.
Here’s the second truth we’ve got to establish, and this one is going to be as uncomfortable as the first one but to a different group of people: The idea of Hell is absolutely necessary and a morally good one. If someone has spent a lifetime choosing not to follow God as Lord, why would He force them to make that choice in eternity? Contrary to the popular notion that God’s love will compel Him to let everyone in to Heaven eventually, I would argue that His forcing someone who didn’t want to be with Him to be with Him for eternity would be unloving.
Now, perhaps folks who argue for the former there are assuming that when these folks who spent a lifetime on earth rejecting God as Lord (our understanding of Romans 1 and His character of justice lead to the firm conclusion that there won’t be anyone who simply never had the chance to follow Him) will suddenly want to be with Him once they see Him as He really is in eternity, but the scene John describes in verses 1-7 suggests otherwise. If after 1,000 years of Jesus reigning on earth with Satan completely out of the picture people are still willing to join in his rebellion, not even eternity will be enough time to convince them that following Him is their best bet.
That’s a good place to stop for now. We’ll pick up the rest this afternoon.