HELL IN THE GOSPELS
Hell exists: Jesus says so
There is a Hell- unfortunately - and those who end up there never again escape from it. The first and fundamental reason to believe in it, is because so it is written in the Bible, the Word of God divinely inspired, starting with the Gospel proclaimed by the Son of God, Jesus Christ, the Risen one. Who just through his resurrection has proved his divine nature, the truth of his teaching (Hell included) and the authoritativeness of the Bible.
"But I don't believe Jesus is risen" someone objects. "Doesn't matter" is my answer: "Jesus is risen the same": and the Hell is there also for those who don't believe in it.
In fact a great mystic of the Church in one of her visions saw the Hell crowded by people who had not believed in it.
There are many ways in which one searches to escape from this distressing reality. Some theologians of the second Vatican Council, in the impossibility of denying the existence of Hell, have done very dangerous theological acrobatics to ventilate the seductive hypothesis that Hell may also be there, but it is empty, in short no one ends up there since God is love and finally forgives all .....
To the many believers who believe that they can teach God what He should or should not be, and what He can or cannot do, I suggest to take a red marker and underline all the passages where the Gospel speaks about Hell (but also, so as not to fall into discomfort, to underline with a green marker - the color symbolizing hope - the passages which speak of Paradise).
When venturing into this very important test, it must be taken into account that the word "Hell"- whose etymology is "nether", concealed place - recurring more than 10 times in many English bibles, is the translation of the word "Gehennah" in the Greek text (the Gospels and the whole New Testament have arrived to us in the Greek version). "Gehennah" is one of the terms more used by Jesus in referring to Hell. It was somewhat the landfill of Jerusalem, where the fire was always kept on, and carrions of animals were thrown there and also of criminals put to death. Teaching that it is best to take away - and cut off - all that makes us fall into sin, even if it is a hand or a foot or an eye, Jesus warns that it is better to do so that to end up in the Gehennah, the Hell, "where their worm never dies and the fire is never quenched" (Mark 5:48).
In some other passages, Hell is defined with the word "Hades". In the vision of the afterlife referred by the Gospel of Luke (16:23), the rich reveler past to a worse life is shown "in Hades among the torments". To Capernaum, the city where Jesus came to settle after Nazareth and which had not converted notwithstanding the many signs and miracles done by the Lord, Jesus prophecies: "You will be brought down to Hades" (Matthew 11:23). While to Peter, who had recognized him as "the Christ, the Son of the Living God", the Lord assures that "the gates of Hades will not prevail" against the Church (Matthew 16: 15-18).
The words that Jesus uses in referring to Hell are dramatically eloquent, and portray it as a dark place of indescribable and eternal suffering: see the expression "tears and gnashing of teeth" that recurs in the parables of good grain and weeds, the net thrown into the sea, wedding gifts, the ten virgins. But another way in which Jesus speaks of those who go to hell is their not entering the Kingdom of Heaven, and being excluded forever from it:
"Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of the heaven" the Lord says, for example, in the discourse of the mountain (Matt. 5:20). Well, who "does not enter" ends up in Hell. With this expression Jesus emphasizes the increased suffering of the damned in being excluded from the eternal happiness of the celestial kingdom. It is worth quoting in full a piece of the Gospel of Luke (13: 22-29), also to remind us that what we are saying must move to concrete steps of conversion to enter the narrow door leading to life, instead of losing ourselves in vain theological discourses or in an unfounded religious security. "Jesus went through one town and village after another, teaching as he made his way to Jerusalem. Someone asked him, “Lord, will only a few be saved?” He said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able. When once the owner of the house has got up and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then in reply he will say to you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank with you, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I do not know where you come from; go away from me, all you evildoers!’ There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and you yourselves thrown out. Then people will come from east and west, from north and south, and will eat in the kingdom of God".
The lamb of God and the Hell
Before proceeding with some insight into what is said about Hell in the other books of the Bible, one has to dwell on the definition of "Lamb of God" that John the Baptist gave to Jesus when "he saw Jesus coming toward him and declared: Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world !" (John 1:29). John the Baptist, cousin and of the same age as Jesus, plays the role of a hinge - so to speak - between the Old and New Testament. Last of the prophets of the ancient covenant, Jesus calls him "more than a prophet " (Luke 7: 26-28), even the greatest "among those born of women". To those who questioned who he was, John answered: "I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, make straight the way for the Lord !", as predicted centuries before by the prophet Isaiah (40: 3). But the Lord Jesus also identified him with "that Elijah who was to come" as his herald, of which the prophet Malachi had spoken (3:23).
The Baptist spoke about Jesus to the crowds proclaiming him "the Son of God ...who ranks ahead of me because he was before me"; and also "the bridegroom", of whom John defined himself the friend who rejoices greatly when hearing his voice. But the most emblematic definition of Jesus, that the priest repeats at every Mass before distributing the Eucharist, is that of "Lamb of God": the true sacrificial lamb prefigured in the Jewish Passover, which would take on himself and atone with his sacrifice the sins not only of Israel, but also of the whole world. Because of his atoning sacrifice and his resurrection, the sinful man - and we all are sinners, no one excluded - can receive the forgiveness of sins and the Holy Spirit in order to have the power to get rid of his sins and vices and to acquire the virtues, human and divine, necessary to enter the kingdom of heaven.
But this "Lamb of God" not only would "take away the sin of the world ", but also would remove definitively all sinners from the world. "He will baptize you in the Holy Spirit and in the fire ..." the Baptist announced "he will gather his grain into the barn but will burn the chaff with an unquenchable fire "(Matthew 3:11-12). The barn: the universal church of Christ. Unquenchable fire: the Hell.
Ma questo "Agnello di Dio" non avrebbe soltanto tolto il peccato del mondo, ma avrebbe anche eliminato tutti i peccatori dal mondo. " Egli vi battezzerà in Spirito Santo e fuoco..."annunziava il Battista" raccoglierà il suo grano nel granaio ma brucerà la pula con un fuoco inestinguibile". Granaio : la Chiesa universale di Cristo. Fuoco inestinguibile: l'inferno eterno.
In the New Testament writings, apart from the Gospels only twice Jesus is defined as Lamb; except in the book of Revelation, where surprisingly He is named with this term 29 times. But here he doesn't appear as the submissive, humble and meek "lamb led to the slaughter" prophesied by Isaiah (53: 7) and Jeremiah (11:19); but as a Lamb sitting regally on the throne of God the Father, in the exercise of all his sovereign royalty over the Church and the world.
Viene da Pensare al crocifisso ligneo che ad Assisi, nella fatiscente Chiesa di San Damiano, parlò al giovane Francesco affìdandogli un mandato universale:“Francesco, non vedi che la mia casa sta crollando? Va’ dunque e restauramela”. Quel Crocifisso di stile bizantino, non ritrae il "Cristo sofferente"che siamo abituati a vedere, ma un "Cristo trionfante", con gli occhi aperti e un'espressione maestosa, regalmente "intronizzato" sulla croce, quasi a dire, come si legge nell'Apocalisse (1:17-18):"Io sono il Primo e l'Ultimo e il Vivente. Io ero morto, ma ora vivo per sempre e ho potere sopra la morte e sopra gli inferi". E al di sopra del Cristo in croce, c'è una piccola immagine che lo ritrae ascendere in cielo tra gli Angeli, tenendo una croce a mo' di trofeo. Al di sopra, si vede la mano del Padre celeste che accoglie il Figlio nella gloria.
The wooden crucifix comes to mind that in Assisi, eight centuries ago, in the Church of San Damiano spoke to the young Francis, giving him a universal mandate: "Francis, do you see that my house is collapsing? Go and restore it." That Crucifix of Byzantine style does not portray the "suffering Christ" whom we are accustomed to see, but a "triumphant Christ" with open eyes and a majestic expression, regally "enthroned" on the cross, almost to say, as one reads in Revelation (1: 17-18): "I am the first and the last, and the living one. I was dead, and see, I am alive forever and ever; and I have the keys of Death and of Hades". And above the Christ on the cross, there is a small image that portrays him ascending to heaven between the Angels, holding a cross as trophy. Above, you see the hand of the heavenly Father who welcomes the Son in the glory.
In the first three chapters of this most important, fascinating and at the same time neglected concluding book of the Bible, we see Jesus governing the Church in her various local expressions. As High Priest of the Church, who intercedes for her with the Father, the Lord guides her, encourages and corrects her, through the earthly priests and the gifts of the Holy Spirit, beginning with the gift of prophecy. There is much to be said about the current priestly ministry that Jesus exercises in the Celestial Sanctuary. Many believers, after having celebrated the feast of Jesus' ascension, seem to lose his traces, little or nothing knowing what our Lord is doing in heaven and from heaven (in the New Testament there is a precious book - the Letter to the Jews - that fills this gap).
But proceeding with the reading of Revelation, we see the Lamb who, at the right hand of the Father, rules together with Him the fate of the world, intervening in the course of human history to stem the evil of the world through the action of the Church, "salt of the earth" and "light of the world"; and even punishing humanity when evil overflows.
He alone, Jesus, can open the seven seals of the scroll of human History, where the fate of an increasingly oppressed and persecuted Church is intertwined with that of a world increasingly hostile to God and to his Christ. A world on which God sends his punishments, like the plagues he sent to ancient Egypt, but now on a planetary scale. The four riders of the Revelation (Chapter 6), who bring wars and hunger, disease and death, advance on the earth following an order that proceeds from the throne of God, one after another, every time that the Lamb opens one of first four seals of the scroll. So, more and more the abnormal "normality" of this world "attached to pleasures rather than to God" (2 Timothy 3: 4) is upset by various tragedies, such as earthquakes or hurricanes, terrorism or desperate migrations of people escaping from war or famine. These scourges are, to think well, the last act of mercy of a good and just God to bring men to repentance and to save them from that eternal and irrevocable punishment that is Hell. But as one reads in Revelation (9: 20-21), and this is one of the sadly recurring themes in the book, mankind even under the recurrent and growing scourges from heaven: "still did not repent of the work of their hands; they did not stop worshiping demons... Nor did they repent of their murders, their magic arts, their sexual immorality or their thefts" (note the past tens often used in prophecy is a "prophetic past ": the prophet has already seen the future events, and they will then definitely happen).
We are in the end times, the humble Lamb once descended from heaven to take away the sin of the world will come down again in all the splendor of his glory and regality to take away sin and sinners from the world.
"Then I saw heaven opened" John the Evangelist writes towards the end of his book "and there was a white horse! Its rider is called Faithful and True, and in righteousness he judges and makes war. His eyes are like a flame of fire, and on his head are many diadems; and he has a name inscribed that no one knows but himself. He is clothed in a robe dipped in blood, and his name is called The Word of God. And the armies of heaven, wearing fine linen, white and pure, were following him on white horses. From his mouth comes a sharp sword with which to strike down the nations, and he will rule them with a rod of iron; he will tread the wine press of the fury of the wrath of God the Almighty. On his robe and on his thigh he has a name inscribed, “King of kings and Lord of lords” (Revelation 19: 10-16).
Indeed, "Jesus Christ is the same, yesterday, today and forever" (Hebrews 13: 8); but after having been the Prophet who announced the definitive Word of God, and the Priest who has sacrificed himself interceding for us with the Father, he will return - and we are closer than we think to that return - as judge of the living and the dead. All those who have done without Him, or deformed his true identity in a "comfortable" Jesus, will experience that "it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!" (Hebrews 10:31). Because then, as one reads in Revelation (6;15-18), " the kings of the earth and the magnates and the generals and the rich and the powerful, and everyone, slave and free, hid in the caves and among the rocks of the mountains, calling to the mountains and rocks, “Fall on us and hide us from the face of the one seated on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb; for the great day of their wrath has come, and who is able to stand?".
Many religious so kind-hearted as to pretend to be better than God almighty, cannot stand to hear of "God's wrath". Yet the Sacred Scriptures attest this wrath, holy and just, but even "furious" against those who persist in evil. "Mercy and wrath are with the Lord" one reads in the book of Sirach (16:11-12) "he is mighty to forgive, but he also pours out wrath.
Great as is his mercy, so also is his chastisement; he judges a person according to ones deeds". This is the true face of God, as twenty centuries of Saints in our Church have believed and retained .
It is written - one of the brightest and most encouraging passages of the Sacred Scriptures - that "God our Savior wants all to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth" (!Timothy 2: 3-4). Among those "all" there is you, and also me. We are still in time to "turn to God from idols " that is from the myths and vanities of this world "
to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming " (1 Thessalonians 1: 9-10). Yes, blessed are those who wait for his coming with love, fear and good conscience, for they will hear these words from the Lord: "Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25: 34) But sadly too many in that day, who have not opened their hearts to the love of God and their neighbour to be saved, will hear these chilling words from the divine and just judge: "Get away from me, you that are accursed, into the eternal fire, prepared for the devil and for his angels" (Matthew 25:41).
PART ONE: Hell in the Word of God