• Dr. Ray E. Heiple, Jr.

The Final Judgement of the Wicked

"he himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever." Revelation 14:10-11NKJ


Question 89 of the Larger Catechism, asks, "What shall be done to the wicked at the day of judgment?" It gives the answer, "At the day of judgment, the wicked shall be set on Christ's left hand, and, upon clear evidence, and full conviction of their own consciences, shall have the fearful but just sentence of condemnation pronounced against them; and thereupon shall be cast out from the favourable presence of God, and the glorious fellowship with Christ, his saints, and all his holy angels, into hell, to be punished with unspeakable torments, both of body and soul, with the devil and his angels forever." Last week we looked at the doctrine of the final judgment. This week we consider the results of that judgment to unbelievers.

As we saw last time, a day is coming in which God will judge all mankind according to His perfect law.  The Bible has much to say about the eternal states of both the wicked: those who die in unbelief, whose sins are not forgiven; and the righteous: those who are redeemed by the blood of Christ.  Because man is made in the image of God, his life matters. His actions matter. Eternity hangs in the balance. Hell is so fearful and heaven so wonderful precisely because of who God is and how He has created man. When man, as God's image-bearer, breaks God's law and sins, if he is allowed to get away with it, it would reflect badly upon God. In effect, it would mean that God's law does not matter. Righteousness does not matter. Evil does not matter. Yet sin is the breaking of God's law, and God's law is nothing more or less than the propositional setting forth of His holy and perfect character. Dishonor done to God's law is dishonor done to God. Thus, sin offends God, sin dishonors God, sin slights God. Accordingly, the soul that sins must fully restore to God the honor he has attempted to steal from Him. The only way for a sinner to do that, apart from the imputed righteousness of Christ, is to be made to suffer the full weight of the offense he has committed. The Catechism describes in what manner this suffering will consist.

First, we see that the wicked will be separated from the righteous. They will be set on the left hand, which signifies the side from where God's power for salvation does not go forth. Secondly, the wicked will be fully and perfectly proven guilty. No one will be able to protest. No appeals will be granted.  The evidence will be irrefutable. In fact, the wicked person will be his own worst enemy, as he will be convicted (as the Catechism says in a clear reference to Rom. 2:15-16) by his own conscience. Upon conviction the wicked will then hear the sentence from God. It will be most fearful and fully condemnatory, but above all, it will be perfectly just. No one in hell will ever be punished one micron above what he precisely deserves. Hell is the place of perfect justice. There will be no mercy, there will be no grace - the season of salvation having ended - but there will be no injustice either. Hell will forever be a place of perfect fairness!

In what will the punishment of hell consist? First, it will consist in being removed from all of God's beauty and benefits. Everything that we enjoy as creatures: water, food, material goods, pleasurable sounds, lovely sights, the feel of a cool breeze, the refreshment of sleep, the joy of friendly human company, the wonder of creation; all of it will be gone forever. However, the absence of good is only half of the punishment of the wicked. Notice the Catechism declares that the wicked will be removed only from the "favorable presence of God." It is simply not possible for God to limit His presence so that He is not somewhere. David prayed, "If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there" (Ps. 139:8). Of course God is there. How could He not be? God is everywhere. Thus, hell is simply the place of God's unmitigated wrath.  The fires of hell are God's wrath. The worm of hell is God's wrath (Mark 9:44-48).  The "unspeakable torments" mentioned by the Catechism are nothing more or less than the punishment that God will inflict upon those who have fully and finally deserved it. In accordance with man's nature, the punishments will be physical and spiritual. And in accordance with sin's desert, the punishments will be everlasting. One final thing we should add. Hell, as the place of God's wrath, is necessary and good. A good God must fully punish and destroy evil. Praise God that His justice will be fully established by hell, and praise Jesus that He has taken your hell for you!

A member of the Presbyterian Church in America (PCA)

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