Hell is for Real (Revelation 14:6-20)
Topic: Revelation Passage: Revelation 14:6–20
Happy Ever After
Hell is for Real
(One Lord: So Great a Salvation )
May 31, 2015
I. A Picture of Hell?
Whether anyone wants to admit it, hell is for real. The word “hell” comes from the Old English words hel or helle. These were originally pagan words used to describe a netherworld; an abode of the dead. In the Bible, this English word has traditionally translated two words, Hades and Gehenna. But in many places in the NT, the idea of what we call “hell” is present, even when the word is not. I think we have one of those passages this morning.
Do you remember how Jesus warned his hearers? And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. (Matthew 18:8)
And a little later in Matthew's Gospel, Jesus talks about a final judgment in these terms: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.'” (Matthew 25:41)
If we head to the end of Revelation, we learn that the beast (from chapter 13) and the false prophet (the second beast in chapter 13) will both be “thrown alive into the lake of fire that burns with sulfur.” (Revelation 19:20) And in chapter 20, verse 10, John clearly tells us that...
...the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.
So it seems pretty clear that all of these verses are referring to the same fiery destination for unrepentant sinners, the leaders of the world system, and the devil who tempts, accuses, deceives, and manipulates them all.
Hell is a difficult subject, isn't it? No one likes to think about it. No one likes to talk about it. No one likes to teach about it. But this morning, as we come back to Revelation 14, I think God wants us to understand the concept of hell better. He wants to refine how we think and share about hell. I believe He will do so as this chapter answers five hell-related questions.
II. The Passage: “For Its Grapes are Ripe” (14:6-20)
Now before we jump into our passage, Revelation 14:6-20, before we talk about these five questions, we can't forget what is happening in this part of the book. In chapter 14, we have this parenthesis between a vision of seven trumpets and a vision of seven bowls. And in this parenthesis, God provided the first readers of this letter, this book, with clear insight into the nature of both their current and their future suffering.
It was the devil, working through the reigning and rebellious world system, who was pressuring and persecuting God's people. And even though their faithfulness would be costly, followers of Jesus were encouraged to never give in and never give up, knowing that one day they would stand with Jesus in victory. That's what we saw last week in the vision of the 144,000 on Mount Zion.
And it's just after that section, in verses 6 and 7, that we find the answer to our first question about hell. That question is...
1. What About Those Who Haven't Heard? (14:6, 7)
Listen to what we read in 14:6, 7:
Then I saw another angel flying directly overhead, with an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people.  And he said with a loud voice, “Fear God and give him glory, because the hour of his judgment has come, and worship him who made heaven and earth, the sea and the springs of water.”
This is the only place in the NT where the word gospel is not used with the definite article. This is not THE gospel, it is “AN eternal gospel”. It is a message from God and about God. And what is the message being proclaimed? I think it is, or it is related to, what we find in verse 17. It is a call to glorify God. Why? Because He is Creator and Judge.
I think what this angel represents is the very thing we find in Romans 1:18-23, where we read about the witness of what God has made, about men suppressing the truth, and about the human heart as an idol factory. You see, because of the testimony of both creation and conscience, there isn't anyone who hasn't heard. And so in the end, the angel's message will be used to condemn “those who dwell on the earth, to every nation and language and people.” Why? Because in the end, they will not “fear God and give him glory.”
Hell is always for those who have rejected the light, however much light they received. But our second question actually takes us from the beginning to the very end of the chapter. The second hell-related question is this...
2. Couldn't All Be Saved in the End? (14:17-20)
Listen to the description we find in verses 17-20. This is what John saw...
Then another angel came out of the temple in heaven, and he too had a sharp sickle.  And another angel came out from the altar, the angel who has authority over the fire, and he called with a loud voice to the one who had the sharp sickle, “Put in your sickle and gather the clusters from the vine of the earth, for its grapes are ripe.”  So the angel swung his sickle across the earth and gathered the grape harvest of the earth and threw it into the great winepress of the wrath of God.  And the winepress was trodden outside the city, and blood flowed from the winepress, as high as a horse's bridle, for 1,600 stadia.
There are some who believe that in the end, most people will somehow be saved.
This idea is called universalism. But this passage, along with many, many others completely refutes that idea. What John sees in verses 17-20 represents a future reality. There will be a “harvest of the earth.” There will be a “winepress of the wrath of God.” Humanity's guilt is and will be real, and therefore, the world will be ripe for the very thing we've talked about from chapter five on: ultimate justice.
Notice how verse 20 confirms the extent of this justice. “Outside the city” is probably a reference to the new Jerusalem, the future and forever home of God's people. This picture of blood flowing is a sobering symbol, isn't it? What does “1600” stadia represent? It is the square of four (the number of creation) times the square of ten (a number completeness). So this is another way of describing the global extent of God's justice.
No, in the end, everyone will not be saved. Many will thrown in the winepress of God's wrath. Many will be consigned to hell. But that brings us to our third question...
3. What is Hell Like? (14:10, 11)
Look with me at verses 10 and 11. John writes this about those receiving ultimate justice...
“...he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
Now right away, you may have noticed how this passage connects with the other “fire” passages we saw at the beginning of this study. There can be no doubt that what is described here is the same “eternal fire” Jesus talked about.
But while many have sought and do seek to rewrite the concept of hell by saying most people will eventually be saved, others attempt to do away with hell by arguing that hell is not forever. This position is called annihilationism. This group teaches that the soul, or the body and soul, are completely destroyed in this “eternal fire.” But that clearly contradicts what we read here. What is hell like? Both verses 10 and 11 speak not of annihilation, but of torment. Verse 11 also speaks of restlessness.
And what does verse 11 also tell us about the duration of this suffering? It is “forever and ever.” Whether it is “day or night”, their will be suffering under the weight of God's ultimate justice. Isn't this what we read in Revelation 20:10? Isn't this why it is called an “eternal fire?” (The symbolism of “sulfur” or brimstone drive home both points: toxicity and fuel) But such a hard, such a disturbing concept begs the next questions answered here...
4. How Could Anyone Deserve This Fate? (14:8-11)
This is what John hears and records according to verses 8-11. We read...
Another angel, a second, followed, saying, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great, she who made all nations drink the wine of the passion of her sexual immorality.”  And another angel, a third, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand,  he also will drink the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.  And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.”
The declaration of verse 8 is actually taken from Isaiah 21:9, where the prophet announces:
“Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the carved images of her gods he has shattered to the ground.”
Isaiah was speaking of the actual historic city of Babylon. But as Revelation will go on to reveal, Babylon is an appropriate symbol for the city of this world. In contrast to the heavenly city, to Mount Zion, to the new Jerusalem, Babylon is about corruption and immorality. Just like Isaiah 21, the phrase “sexual immorality” in Revelation 14:8 refers to idolatry. This is confirmed in verse 9 where the issue is worshiping, not God, but “the beast and its image.” Remember how the 144,000 were called “virgins” in verse 4 of this chapter?
Please hear this. In understanding what the Bible teaches about hell, this may be the most critical point. If we cannot grasp the utter horror, the unconscionable nature, the disgusting reality of idolatry, hell will always seem excessive and unfair. Here in verse 10, as in verse 19, we read about the “wrath of God.” Listen to what the Christian writer Jerry Bridges tells us about God's wrath:
The wrath of God is a subject ignored by most believers. Perhaps we shy away from it because of the violent emotions and behavior we frequently associate with the word wrath when used of sinful human beings...I suspect, however, that the more basic reason we avoid or ignore the subject is that we simply don't think of our sinfulness as warranting that degree of judgment...But the Bible...doesn't give us that option...Although God's wrath does not contain the sinful emotions associated with human wrath, it does contain a fierce intensity arising from His settled opposition to sin and his determination to punish it to the utmost. God, by the very perfection of His moral nature, cannot but be angry at sin—not only because of its destructiveness to humans, but, more important, because of its assault on His divine majesty.
Hell must be understood in light of the larger picture, not only in light of Revelation, but also the entire Bible. Every page of the Bible argues for the infinite goodness, the infinite greatness, the infinite beauty, and the infinite seriousness of God. Therefore, an attack on that very thing is an infinitely serious crime. To worship (not “prefer”, not “favor”, not “enjoy”...to “worship”) anything other than God is that kind of crime. And all sin is ultimately a rejection of God; a worship disorder in which we exalt the creation and ourselves as creatures, instead of the Creator (remember the angel's declaration in verse 7?).
Hell is about magnitude. The magnitude of God is reflected by the magnitude of His justice against those who hate Him. And don't be fooled: all sinners hate God. Every person is born an enemy of God, even though hardly anyone thinks about it in those terms. AND, since there is no repentance in hell, all eternity God's justice will respond to those who will eternally hate God and reject even the justice they rightly suffer under. But justice is only one of God's attributes, isn't it? That leads to our final question.
5. How Could Anyone Be Spared This Fate? (14:14-16)
Just before the grape harvest described in the closing verses of Revelation 14, we read of another harvest. But look at what is distinct about the description in verses 14-16...
Then I looked, and behold, a white cloud, and seated on the cloud was one like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head, and a sharp sickle in his hand.  And another angel came out of the temple, calling with a loud voice to him who sat on the cloud, “Put in your sickle, and reap, for the hour to reap has come, for the harvest of the earth is fully ripe.”  So he who sat on the cloud swung his sickle across the earth, and the earth was reaped.
“One like a son of man, with a golden crown on his head”? Who could this be other than Jesus. What is pictured here is the gathering of the firstfruits described in 14:4. If you recall, the firstfruits is an OT image of taking the first part of the harvest and dedicating it to God. Hell is most certainly an avoidable fate. But our only hope is to be harvested by Jesus, not by angels bringing wrath.
Like idolaters will one day experience, Jesus also drank the wine of God's wrath, poured full strength into the cup of His anger. This was the “cup” that Jesus prayed about in the garden, the night before His death on the cross. But amazingly, Jesus drank this cup as one who was innocent, not guilty. And He did this for those who would trust in Him alone for rescue. Didn't Jesus tell His disciples on that very night before His death: ...if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also."? (John 14:3)
III. Labor and Rest (14:12, 13)
But why would Jesus want to reveal, through John, all of these hard things about judgment and hell to the seven churches? To Christians? Well that brings us to the only two verses in this chapter that we haven't touched on. Look at verses 12 and 13...
Here is a call for the endurance of the saints, those who keep the commandments of God and their faith in Jesus.  And I heard a voice from heaven saying, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”
Brothers and sisters, we are and will be constantly bombarded by the beast, by the world system all around us. We will daily be attacked by the dragon, "our adversary the devil [who] prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour". (I Peter 5:8) As we have talked about in weeks past, we will constantly be tempted to give in and give up. But if there is one word that sums up what it means to “keep” Revelation (Foothold #5), to apply its message, it is the word “endurance.”
And the manner and motive for endurance is described here: the manner is obedience to God, not to the world. And the motive is faith. Faith in what Jesus has done, faith in who God is, and faith in His promises. We must resist temptation toward worldly, counterfeit rest, and press on to the rest that only God can give. You see, God uses warnings about hell to sober all people, even those who think they are Christians, but are indulging in Babylon. Hell is for real, and we must be sobered by this ultimate justice. But we must also do so with (v. 12) “faith in Jesus” and in the rest He died to give us.
More in Happy Ever After (Revelation)
November 22, 2015Keep What is Written (Revelation 1:1-22:21)(overview)
November 15, 2015I am Coming...Come! (Revelation 22:6-21)
November 1, 2015A Tour of Our Future Glory (Revelation 21:9-22:5)