Afterlife Matters: Common misconceptions of life after death and why they matter Part Two

In this series, we’re walking through some common misconceptions about life after death.

With the Bible placing such great emphasis on the afterlife, it’s important to correct our vision and bring it into line with what Scripture teaches. We should also fix views of eternity, because doing so will often help correct deficiencies in our understanding of the story of the gospel itself.

Last time, we looked at why people don’t become angels. This week let’s look at views of hell.

Misconception #2: Hell is the Devil’s domain.

I remember being a young man in our church’s youth group when we visited a Hell House at a local church. If you’ve never been to one, it’s important to understand that they all follow a similar script. It is walk-through following the story of the life of some rebellious teen who dies and is forced to face eternity, climaxing in one particular scene – HELL.

And that’s where the problem begins.

My problem wasn’t necessarily that they focused on hell as a means to drive people to repentance. Christ certainly used the threat of hell as motivation for salvation (Matthew 10.28)

My problem was that they got one thing horribly wrong. In each and every one, hell has been the place where the Devil ruled. And that is one hellish mistake.

Hell Houses, however, aren’t born in a theological vacuum. Those churches put the Devil in charge of hell because that’s what they thought hell was like.

Even secular representations will speak of hell as an appealing place where the Devil lets you do what you want, the ultimate party scene, a place where God’s rules no longer apply.

But the reality is just the opposite. Hell was, indeed, prepared for the devil and his angels, but the Bible is clear: Hell is the Devil’s punishment, not his playground.

  • Let’s consider, first, the misconception that hell is a place where the Devil has fun, where he is finally free of God’s restraints.

Far from getting his freedom, the progress of the gospel shows the Devil facing greater and greater restrictions as kingdom of Christ advances. At the incarnation of Christ, the inbreaking of the gospel, Satan is portrayed not as a powerful antithesis to God, but as a “strong man” whose true impotence is seen in that not only is he bound but he is plundered (Matthew 12.28-29). And as the kingdom advances, the Devil finds himself bound more and more. John’s vision of the end shows Satan bound and chained and unable to “deceive the nations any longer” and, ultimately, thrown into his eternal prison (Revelation 20.1-10). In the life to come, the Devil is not finally free; the promise is that he will be finally and eternally bound so that he can never again do what he wants.

  • The other popular misunderstanding of hell portrays it as a place where the Devil rules, his own personal kingdom, separate and juxtaposed to the kingdom of God.

Again, the Bible teaches us that hell is the Devil’s punishment, not his ungodly palace, not his domain. Listen to how Revelation 20.10 describes the Devil’s experience in hell.

Revelation 20.10 – “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.”

Hell is a place of torment even for the Devil, not a place of freedom. It is a place where justice is meted out on the Accuser and he is silenced forever more.

  • Why is this important?

There are two key reasons that understanding the Devil and hell are important and they both relate to the gospel and its proclamation.

One of the central themes of the gospel is the kingdom of God. In the gospel, the kingdom of God covers all of creation. There remains not an inch of the created world that is not bending the knee to the One True King.

The Bible has always tied the gospel and the Devil’s total defeat. The primordial breath of the gospel is that one day the Devil would be crushed (Genesis 3.15). Christ’s work itself is explicitly tied to Satan’s doom.  1 John 3.8 – “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.” It doesn’t say he came to diminish those works or to place them in some eternal alcove. Christ came and destroyed them all.

Christ’s victory in the gospel means that Satan’s reign as the “prince of the power of the air” is finished. He is not given a mini-world to punish. He gets nothing. He finds out there is only one Ruler in all of creation and it is Yahweh, not him. His rebellion is finally and fully defeated.

  • But understanding the Devil’s defeat doesn’t just help our understanding of the gospel, it helps our gospel proclamation as well.

Here’s the truth: God is scarier than Satan.

I understand why people put Satan in charge of hell for these haunted houses. They want to scare kids. But in setting hell up like this, they miss one key reality: the wrath of God is scarier than the wrath of Satan.

The Bible never uses Satan to frighten us. Rather, it threatens us with something infinitely worse, the tremble-inducing reality that we might one day face the wrath of God. Romans 5.9 says Jesus saves us from the wrath of God. Ephesians 5.6 says that it is the wrath of God that will come upon the sons of disobedience. Colossians 3.6 warns Christians to flee sin because it is sin that invokes the coming wrath of God.

Scripture never warns about incurring Satan’s wrath, and it never threatens us that in the life to come the Devil will have his way with us. It warns us of something far worse than some upstart angel – the wrath, anger, and justice of the God of the universe. If we want to use fear biblically, then there is one thing alone that people need to hear – “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.” (Hebrews 10.31)

This series is brought to you by Chris Gore who pastors at First Baptist Church in Beggs, OK.