What should pastors preach about hell?
Hell is an awful and overwhelming reality. Yet where Scripture speaks, pastors must not be silent. Here are four things pastors should preach about hell:
- Hell is real. It is as characteristic of Jesus’ teaching to warn against the prospect of hell as it is for him to describe the high privileges of heaven. According to Jesus’ teaching and the rest of Scripture, hell is just as real as heaven.
- Hell is terrible. The New Testament descriptions of hell include: outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, destruction of body and soul, eternal fire, condemnation, suffering the wrath of God, everlasting destruction away from the presence of the Lord, perishing, separation, blackest darkness. What is the preacher to do with this language? Exactly what one does with other biblical language: explain exactly what it means. In particular, the word “eternal” underscores the magnitude of what is in view.
- Those who do not repent of their sins and trust in Christ will spend eternity in hell. The Bible teaches that those who do not have faith in Christ will suffer God’s wrath in hell for all eternity. Pastors must not soften this hard reality in the name of false compassion.
- Most importantly, in expounding and applying the biblical teaching on hell, we must emphasize that there is a way of salvation. The gospel is not a message about hell. Yet one cannot be faithful to scripture without preaching about it for the simple reason that the gospel itself cannot be understood apart from its reality. In a nutshell, the gospel is this: Christ took our place, bearing our sin, dying our death—so that we might share his place, be made his righteousness, taste his vindication, and experience his life.
(This material has been adapted from Sinclair Ferguson’s chapter, “The Preacher and Hell,” in Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson, eds., Hell Under Fire [Zondervan, 2004])