Hell – It may well be those most maligned, abhorred, and neglected doctrines taught in Scripture. It seems unjust and inhumane to our modern sensibilities. Yet Jesus, more than any other person in the Bible, speaks to the reality of final judgment and eternal punishment. Here in Matthew 25 we have one the clearest expositions. What do we do with this hard topic?
I think we do what Jesus himself intended – We walk in faith marked by the fruitful service to others by using our gifts and resources which God has given to us. The passage is in two parts. First, Jesus uses a parable to explain the nature of the kingdom. In this the faithful servants are not marked by how much they have or even produce, but what they do with what is given to them. The unfaithful servant is the one who does nothing with his portion and even what he has is taken away from him. In this parable the talents given are the opportunities for love and service that God gives to us. What we do with those opportunities matter. This is the work of the Kingdom. And if we ignore them, that matters too. The unfaithful servant – called “wicked and slothful” – is cast out into the “outer darkness” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth”. In other words, God judges us according to our deeds.
In the second parable he takes the analogy of two types of beasts, sheep and goats. The sheep in this case represent that faithful servant. They are praised for their service of love and sacrifice towards those who are least. On the other hand, the goats are judged by Christ for their failure to do the same when confronted with the opportunity. In both cases Jesus identifies himself with “the least.” Our service and love in this life is a reflection of our love for Christ himself. Lack of love and service towards others is in fact a sign of our lack of love for Christ. Jesus says of the goats that they go into eternal punishment, while the sheep (the righteous) go into eternal life. Hell and Heaven are real. Judgment for our deeds is real.
This is a heavy reality and we would be foolish to take these warnings lightly. Our deeds matter. The scariest part of this teaching is that it is easy for us to think of the times when we fail to serve and love even when the opportunity was before us. Will I be judged? The truth is that there is only a single servant of the Lord who was truly faithful to the end; whose deeds were enough. It was his final deed on earth, his final act of service that gives us hope. Hell is real, but Christ himself went through hell for us; he was judged. Nevertheless, the warning remains: the love of Christ compels us to love. When we don’t love it ought to drive us to the foot of the cross and cast ourselves upon Christ’s perfect love for mercy. Then… then we get up and love. That is our kingdom work.
Do I know the sacrificial love of Christ? Do I seize opportunities to love and serve as I follow my Savior? -RG