A Look into Hell
It is good for us to take a look into hell now, so that we will never come to that place of torment but be driven to seek refuge in Jesus Christ. The world laughs at such a thought, but it gulps as it laughs. Why all the horror movies and occult fascination but that hell rings true to our soul? Men personalize heaven according to their whims, but upon the notion of hell as a place of gnawing fear and extreme terror, all are agreed.
We gain the best look into hell by going into a garden. There our Lord went with his disciples on that last night. He began to be “sore amazed,” Mark records. The word means that he was thrown into terror, thoroughly alarmed. The judgment of the cross stared him fully in the face, and he shrank back in horror. This is an overused word, but we must use it. The dread of hell was a knife piercing our Lord in anticipation of the sword of justice striking him down the next morning.
His beginning horror at the cross is the sinner’s first entrance into hell. We cannot fathom the terror, but we must think upon it. The first light of hell will damage the soul, unhinge it, fill it with such anxiety that nothing can compare to the horror of it. There it shall be struck with the full force of God’s wrath against sin. There is no relief, no hope of pardon, no one to comfort, nothing between us and the fiery wheel of God’s wrath. To enter hell is to enter upon supreme misery, wailing, but none to help, no assuring hand to quiet the gnawing fear. Hell above all is the place where God torments, where God’s unmediated holiness falls upon his enemy with unbearable weight.
I say unmediated, for there is no Christ in hell to swallow death and hell for us, no atoning sacrifice, no forgiveness. Righteous men when confronted with God’s holiness stand amazed and tremble, but then God’s voice comforts them with “It is I, be not afraid.” This is Jesus’ calming voice. In hell, no such voice will come. Teeth will gnash; bodies will shake; souls will writhe. The unrepentant sinner will face God’s wrath alone. It will be unbearable; it will not stop pursuing, crushing, maddening.
Our Lord faced and entered this hell for us on the cross. He felt its full weight, for he took upon himself the full responsibility for our salvation. His love for us led him to hell. His office of mediator led him to hell for us. He had to go there, for that is where we were, what faced us, the abyss into which we must fall unless he quenches its fires for us and carries us out.
Then, Mark says that he was “exceeding sorrowful unto death.” It was judicial death that caused him so much grief. He often met death and conquered it. Lazarus lived again but a few miles from this garden. This death was different. The Psalmist speaks of it as the “sorrows of death and the pains of hell.” The death facing him led him momentarily to forget even our salvation – not that he completely forgot it – but that he sought some other way to save us but this way. Is there no other way? There was no other way than to be consumed utterly by the terrors of God’s justice against sinners, the weight of his glorious wrath, and the miseries of death as the wages of sin. Those who posit other ways to heaven than through personal faith in the one Mediator, Jesus Christ, mock God, mock the cross, and mock hell.
That he shrank back from this abyss should amaze us and lead us to love him with our every breath, to forsake every sin, to live in constant adoration of the One who endured our hell. There was never sorrow like his sorrow. All other citizens of hell deserve to be there. None shall pity them. They can lodge no claim of injustice, make no plea that will warrant mercy. He was sinless. He was the Holy One, the faithful Servant of the Lord, the Father’s Beloved. Still, he entered there for us.
He begged not to drink this cup. The thought of being judicially forsaken by his Father terrorized his soul. But his was no cry of unbelief, for even on the cross, he trusted his Father. It was the cry of One who knew full well the cost of our redemption. He must face the sinner’s horror of being in that place of burning and torment. He faced and felt this for us. As the God-man, his divine nature did not leave him at this moment, for it remained with him all the way through his agonies. That he was fully God enabled him to feel fully the claims of God against the sinner, endure the weight of justice, and quench the sorrows of hell by satisfying the righteous demands of justice. His amazement and terror were not a fear of the unknown but of the fully known. As fully man, he shrank back; his sweat was blood.
Natural explanations for his bloody sweat tend only to diminish a right estimation of the horror of the sinner’s entrance into hell. Jesus Christ sweat blood out of sheer terror. It is a picture of the sinner’s sufferings in hell. Under the wrath of God in hell, all the normal operations of the body will be disrupted, broken. Convulsions, bowels, tears, pain, aching, gnawing – all in agony, the body no longer cooperating, the soul losing its mastery, weeping and gnashing of teeth. Let us appeal earnestly to the Savior, for only by his bearing of our hell shall we be delivered from it.
And his sufferings will deliver us only if we look to him now in faith. If a sinner dies without believing upon the name of the Son of God, he will sweat blood. God’s regard for the sufferings of his Son demand it. He endured what we shall endure; unless we repent, we shall perish. Our perishing will look like our Savior’s sufferings. Look now into hell, and be driven into the arms of Jesus Christ. His bloody sweat, his suffering terror and amazement on account of our sin, are the only refuge from the wrath to come.
Looking upon hell, the believing soul becomes serious – about his Savior, about the evil of sin, about his life in this world. God takes sin very seriously. He would never have appointed his Son to endure such agonies unless his justice absolutely demanded it. Never would he have allowed his Beloved to be so horror stricken unless behind the cup of his sufferings was a conquering, determined love. Righteousness and peace met and kissed in our Savior’s horrors. He saved us from the wrath and curse of God by becoming sin for us and enduring our curse.
Do we need reasons to rejoice? Hope in a dark place along our earthly pilgrimage? Do we need to recover a first love, strength to forsake the world, motivation to fight against our sins? Does the church need to recover her courage and proclaim God’s truth in the face of Satan’s malice and the world’s mockery? Let us look into hell. Let us see our humbled Captain plunging into its dark abyss for us. True love for him, strength unto faithfulness, and holiness in life are all born from a lively conviction that he made his soul an offering for sin. He was crushed so that we will never be. He was horror stricken so that we may be joyful forever. Think often, child of God, of our Savior who has delivered us from the wrath to come. Think of his sorrows, clothe yourself in his shame, and wash yourself in his wounds. You will never go where he went. He did not simply look into hell. He went there for us.