Jude recorded, And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, to execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him (Jude 14-15). James M. Boice wrote: “The more Enoch was aware of the judgment, the more sensitive he was to sin. The more sensitive he was to sin, the closer he wanted to walk with God. The closer he walked with God, the more necessary he saw that judgment was.”1
Within my short lifetime I have seen attitudes change from when fundamental and evangelical preachers preached about judgment and hell even to teenagers at youth camps, to these days when the churches are so religiously correct that judgment is too negative to mention, especially to young people. Besides just being a negative doctrine, the coming judgment is questioned altogether as to its very truthfulness. One can now be an “evangelical” and deny that hell even exists! Many simply believe that it is unprofitable to teach such an undesirable doctrine to a generation looking for a positive experience from attending church.
I would not deny, of course, that the great majority of fundamental brethren and most evangelicals still believe in a literal hell and a coming judgment. We have, however, let this doctrine fade away in our preaching, writing, and general vocabulary. A quick search on Google with the entry “The Biblical doctrine of judgment” was telling. The first entry was a Leon Morris article from 1960. The second entry was a review of that article by a Seventh Day Adventist (who denies a literal hell). The third entry was an article by T.B. Thayer in 1855 which denies a literal hell. The fourth entry was from a universalist in 1844. The fifth entry is a reprint of a 1908 journal from the University of Chicago. The sixth entry was another Seventh Day Adventist article. Although there were pages upon pages of other entries, one had to look diligently for a current, clear-cut message about God’s coming judgment.
I have five volumes that record the first five Fundamental Baptist Congresses of North America that fell between 1963 and 1974. In every congress there was a message on the coming judgment of God and the literal punishment God would mete out. Two of them were by my pastor, John Rawlings, whom I heard preach on the subject not a few times in my boyhood. In the first edition from 1963, John Holliday preached “Final Judgment and Eternal Hell.” In that message he said, “This challenging, convicting Bible doctrine is of immense significance. It belongs not to the fringe but to the warp and woof of Christianity. The modern tendency to exclude it altogether, or at best to relegate it to the inconsequential suburbs of the city of Truth, is an evidence of today’s doctrinal deterioration.”2 What an indictment that is for our day when the situation has worsened tenfold!
No doubt Enoch, who walked with God, was moved by that walk to preach about God’s coming judgment. Noah also walked with God and found grace in God’s eyes (Gen. 6:8-9) and became a preacher of righteousness (2 Pet. 2:5) who warned the world of God’s impending judgment. But backslidden Lot vexed his righteous soul with the filthy conversation of the wicked (2 Pet. 2:7-8) and could not bring himself to warn Sodom of God’s displeasure and wrath. Such will be preaching at the end of the age.
Judgment has become the forgotten prophecy because we have neglected certain truths which dictate that judgment is necessary.
God is Holy
Though all believers profess this belief, it obviously does not permeate the hearts and minds of many. It is hard for us to comprehend the depth of a statement such as, God is light, and in him is no darkness at all (1 John 1:5) or Be ye holy; for I am holy (1 Pet 1:16). Do we take seriously God’s requirements for entering into His presence? Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who shall stand in his holy place (Psa 24:3)? And even with our knowledge of justification by faith, do we realize how blood bought believers ought to serve Him? Wherefore we receiving a kingdom which cannot be moved, let us have grace whereby we may serve God acceptably with reverence and godly fear: for our God is a consuming fire (Heb 12:28-29).
God cannot violate His own holy character. He will not overlook sin nor simply dismiss one’s sins in the judgment as if one attribute of His can override another. Holiness demands payment for sin. If the sinner will not come to God by Christ, then he will pay himself for his sin in hell, a payment which must endure as long as God’s holiness endures.
Sin is Serious
Sin cannot be treated as a virus which may be contracted by accident and may be cured by diligent care. Rather, There is none righteous, no not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one (Rom 3:10-12). Nor can we, by wishing and pleading, close the moral gap between ourselves and God. Rather, Your iniquities have separated between you and your God, and your sins have hid his face from you, that he will not hear (Isa 59:2).
Both Peter and Jude plead for people in the end of the world to remember that God cannot overlook sin. He has severely judged it in the past and He will do so in the future. If He eternally punished fallen angels; if He violently destroyed a world of people in the flood; if He instantly burned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah; if He drowned the blaspheming Egyptians in the sea; then He will not fail to treat mankind’s sin with equal severity at the end of the age.
God is Vengeful
Vengeance by a sinful creature is sin in itself, but vengeance by a holy God is right and necessary. For we know him that hath said, Vengeance belongeth unto me, I will recompense, saith the Lord. And again, The Lord shall judge his people. It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God (Heb 10:30-31). The writer was alluding to the Psalmist who wrote, O LORD God, to whom vengeance belongeth; O God, to whom vengeance belongeth, show thyself. Lift up thyself, thou judge of the earth: render a reward to the proud (Psa 94:1-2). God spoke to Moses of all of Israel’s sins that would be recompensed in the last days, Is not this laid up in store with me, and sealed up among my treasures? To me belongeth vengeance and recompense; their foot shall slide in due time: for the day of their calamity is at hand, and the things that shall come upon them make haste (Deut 32:34-35).
Perhaps some think that such attitudes belong only to a God of past ages, that God has now become pacified toward sin because He is also a God of love and grace. Yet in the coming Tribulation when God brings all nations to the valley of Megiddo, the Lord will fight them with the sword of His mouth for he treadeth the winepress of the fierceness and wrath of Almighty God (Rev 19:15).
Hell is Terrible
The doctrine of hell surpasses all human comprehension in its awfulness and vastness. While it ought to make the hardest sinner pause before performing his deeds in God’s sight, it at least makes the believer thankful for grace, awed before God, and even urgent in evangelism. As much as some strain to remove the awful doctrine from scripture, they face one insurmountable problem—it is plainly there!
John’s vantage point while writing the book of Revelation was manifold. He looked back and saw all of earth’s history; he looked down at great tribulation on the earth; he looked forward into endless eternity. There he saw both heaven and hell: both were real, both were eternal, and both were filled with human souls whose destiny is fixed forever. Of those who die without salvation in Christ he wrote, The same shall drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out without mixture into the cup of his indignation; and 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 ascendeth up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day nor night (Rev 14:10-11). This and many more passages clearly show hell is real, hot, and eternal.
Grace is Proffered
We are saved by grace and that grace is made available to all. But grace must be applied if it is to free the sinner from God’s judgment. Many seem to think that because God loved the world, and because Jesus died for the sins of the whole world, that the whole world has been removed as objects of God’s wrath. Yet these prophecies of future wrath and eternal judgment concern a time more than two thousand years after the cross of Calvary. Grace is proffered to the world which God loved, but it must be applied if it is to save.
It is wonderfully true that God’s wrath has been removed through the sacrifice of Christ. He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world (1 John 2:2). The payment has been made; the substitution has occurred. For Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust, that he might bring us to God (1 Pet 3:17). But Isaiah said, in the great fifty-third chapter, when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the LORD shall prosper in his hand (Isa 53:10). Paul also made it clear that the gift of grace must be received, For if by one man’s offense death reigned by one; much more they which receive abundance of grace and of the gift of righteousness shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ (Rom 5:17).
The same chapter that says that God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, also says, He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him (John 3:35). Although God loves the world of people and Jesus died for them, they must be born again if they would enter the Kingdom of God.
Judgment is Future
It is striking to read the Old Testament prophecies of the judgment of God and to realize that you are reading something that is yet in our future. The great day of the LORD is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the LORD: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness (Joel 1:14-15). But even more sobering is to read the book of Revelation describe those at the White Throne judgment being “cast” into the lake of fire because their names are not in the book of life (Rev 20:11-15). The Psalmist said, The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God (Psa 9:17). That dreadful day is coming for all lost people, small and great. They will be “cast” and “turned” into hell, shunned by their very Creator.
And So . . . .
We are reminded that judgment, the forgotten prophecy, must be remembered again. It is nearer than when we first believed (Rom 13:11); we are the ones upon whom the end of the world is come (1 Cor 10:11); we are to be admonishing one another even more as we see the day approaching (Heb 10:25); God is being longsuffering because He is not willing that any should perish but instead come to repentance (2 Pet 3:9). Let us be steadfast and unmovable because such labor is not in vain in the Lord (1 Cor 15:58).
For the great day of his wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand (Rev 6:17)?
Notes: 1. B.F. Westcott, The Gospel According to St. John (Grand Rapids: Wm. B. Eerdmans, 1964) 11. 2. Charles Ryrie, Basic Theology (Wheaton: Victor Books, 1987) 245. 3. Arthur W. Pink, Exposition of the Gospel of John (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1971) 32. 4. Quoted by E.W. Hengstenberg, The Gospel of John (Minneapolis: Klock & Klock, 1980) 46. 5. E.W. Henstenberg, Ibid., 47.