Jesus Will Punish His Enemies in Hell
And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night... Revelation 14:11NKJV
This week we focus on the final part of Question 45 of the Larger Catechism, which asks, “How doth Christ execute the office of a king?” It gives the answer, “Christ executeth the office of a king, in calling out of the world a people to himself, and giving them officers, laws, and censures, by which he visibly governs them; in bestowing saving grace upon his elect, rewarding their obedience, and correcting them for their sins, preserving and supporting them under all their temptations and sufferings, restraining and overcoming all their enemies, and powerfully ordering all things for his own glory, and their good; and also in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.” Last week we looked at God’s providence. This week we consider the doctrine of everlasting punishment.
In the last phrase of its answer, the Catechism declares that Jesus Christ executes the office of a king “in taking vengeance on the rest, who know not God, and obey not the gospel.” Attributing such militancy to the gentle lamb of God might be troubling to those who do not recognize that the Catechism is doing nothing more than setting forth a direct teaching of Scripture: “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel,” (2 Thess. 1:7b-8). The return of Christ is not only to save His elect, but to fully and finally repay all of His enemies. Moreover, this doctrine is not limited to one book of the Bible. Jesus taught that when He returned on the last day, He would repay each man according to his deeds (Matt. 16:27). Likewise, four times the book of Revelation pictures Jesus with a sword with which he “fights,” “strikes,” and “kills,” (Rev. 1:16; 2:16; 19:15; 19:21). In fact, the wicked are pictured fleeing from Christ, crying out to the mountains to fall on them in order to hide them “from the wrath of the Lamb,” (Rev. 6:16).
Jesus perfectly fulfills the office of a king. A good king not only provides for and blesses His kingdom; He also conquers and destroys the unrepentant wicked who are His enemies. Furthermore, not only are Jesus’ enemies fully deserving of the judgment He will bring, but they are entirely at fault for their own destruction. Jesus does not come as a proud and vengeful king offering no quarter to His enemies. For over six thousand years Jesus has been proclaiming, through His prophets, priests, ministers, apostles, elders, and all of His witnesses the day of salvation. To all and to any who will simply humble themselves before Him and trust in His covenanted mercy, He offers grace, forgiveness, and salvation. However, Scripture everywhere testifies that the hardness of man’s sinful heart is such that none, except those who are given faith and repentance by the Holy Spirit, will ever humble themselves to receive the free gift of salvation (Jer. 13:23; Matt. 12:34; John 6:44; Rom. 8:7-8).
Additionally, we must understand that when the Bible talks of God’s vengeance, it is not to be understood in terms of human vengeance, where we go well beyond what is deserved. God’s vengeance is the administration of perfect justice. God only gives to unrepentant sinners exactly what they deserve and not a bit more. Accordingly, those who condemn the doctrine of Hell as beneath a loving and good God show themselves to be evil. For the punishments of Hell do no more than bring perfect justice to the universe, and everyone who is an enemy or critic of justice, is, by that opposition, revealed to be wicked. Hence, when the Catechism mentions those who “know not God,” it does not have in view some innocent native who never had a chance to respond to God. The Catechism is using the word “know” much the same way as the Bible does. To “know” here clearly means to love and respond to properly. Thus, “the Lord knows the way of the righteous but the way of the wicked will perish,” (Psa. 1:6). God does not “know” the wicked in the same way that He knows the righteous. Consequently, in the text quoted by the Catechism, those who do not know God are the same ones who do not obey His gospel. How should a Christian respond to this doctrine of eternal punishments? The same way the saints do in Scripture: “Once more they cried out, ‘Hallelujah! The smoke from her goes up forever and ever’” (Rev.19:3).