What is hell? What is heaven? Drs. Derek Thomas and Ligon Duncan, respectively, address the concepts of hell and heaven in the Bible, pointing to the salvation and life found in Christ.
What is Hell?
Dr. Derek Thomas: What is hell? Ultimately, it is separation from God, separation from any perception of God’s love and God’s forgiveness. It is not a separation in the sense that God is omnipresent; the presence of God is even in hell, but it’s the presence of his wrath.
We see glimpses of God’s wrath and anger here in this world, but when the curtain is pulled back and hell is revealed, the consequences following the last judgment of the damned, the unforgiven, and unbeliever, are what Jesus speaks of as the worm that does not die and the fire that is not quenched and a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. These are metaphors for sure, but that doesn’t relieve any of the reality of the pain that lies behind the metaphor.Hell is to be feared and hell is to be shunned, and it can be shunned in the Gospel.
I do not believe that there is such a thing as post-mortem evangelism or second chance. Hell is final and hell is forever. I do not believe that Scripture teaches what others have referred to as annihilationism: that after death or after the Last Judgment, that the souls of the damned will be annihilated. There must be some reciprocity between eternal life and eternal damnation, which would be the same Greek word.
Hell is to be feared and hell is to be shunned, and it can be shunned in the gospel. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved, and you’d need never fear hell. Shun the gospel and shun belief in Jesus Christ, and you ought to be fearful of hell.
What is Heaven?
Dr. Ligon Duncan: Jonathan Edwards once said that heaven is a world of love, and when we are in heaven, we will feel as if we have loved and been loved for the first time. So pure will be the enjoyment of the presence of God and of Christ and of the experience of their love and ours to them.
I think it’s very important for us to understand that the most important thing about heaven is being with the Lord. The great promise of the covenants in the Bible is that God will be our God and we will be his people. In heaven, that promise, that prospect, is fully realized and experienced.The greatest thing about heaven will be being with the Lord. It is the sight of him in his beauty that we live for.
We shall be with the Lord forever. We will commune with him. We will fellowship with him. Very often people think of the other people that they will see in heaven and fellowship with and that’s truly a glorious thing to anticipate and not something to be underestimated in terms of a blessing, but the greatest thing about heaven will be being with the Lord. For it is the sight of him in his beauty, that we live for.
Samuel Rutherford, a great Scottish pastor and theologian, once wrote to a woman in his congregation who had lost a child and had, in fact, been through a great deal of personal grief and suffering and pain in her life. He wrote to her and he said, “Woman, when thou art got up thither, you will say, ‘Four and twenty hours in this place are worth threescore years and ten sorrow in this world,’” Rutherford here was saying that the experience of the presence and communion of the believer with God through Christ in heaven is worth anything that we endure here.