Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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When I was a student at Oral Roberts University in Oklahoma, Barbara and I found a little holiness meeting house north of Tulsa where we felt we would be comfortable worshiping. The people there were good to us, and we came to love them. In one of his sermons, the elderly, poor preacher there made a statement that I have never forgotten. I have thought of it many, many times. He said, "If any of you go to hell, you'll go as an intruder." His point was that hell was not originally created to receive wicked people but the Devil and his angels. His words may not have been precisely correct, theologically speaking, but they communicated to me very well the truth of God's love for us all.
Jesus did refer to an "everlasting fire prepared for the Devil and his angels" (Mt. 25:41), but he was not speaking of hell. He was referring instead to the Lake of Fire. The Lake of Fire is a far more dreadful place than hell is. It is so horrific that after the Final Judgment, hell itself is cast into it, along with all the souls of men who were in it (Rev. 20:13-15). Hell is where the wicked dead are being held now until the Final Judgment. They are now in torment (see Lk. 16:23), but the torments of hell cannot be compared to the consuming, everlasting torments of the Lake of Fire. (Read my tract, "The Second Death", for details.)
The Devil will never go to hell; instead, in the end, he will be cast directly into the Lake of Fire to be tormented "day and night forever" (Rev. 20:10). This is the fire that Jesus said had been prepared for the Devil from the beginning. And although the old preacher confused the Lake of Fire with hell, his point was well made. We don't belong there. God loves us and has made a way for us all to live forever so that none of us has to end up there. "For the way God loved the world is that He gave up His only begotten Son, so that all who believe in him should not perish but have eternal life" (Jn. 3:16).
God's people in the Old Testament went through times of deep doubt concerning His love for them, but He never did. "I have loved you!" He cried through Malachi. But the only response He received from His beloved people was something like, "How have you ever loved us?" (Mal. 1:2). When His people were suffering through doubts in the troubled time of Jeremiah, God pleaded with them through that humble, battered prophet, saying, "I know the thoughts I have toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you an expected end" (Jer. 29:11). It puzzled the Lord that His people chose darkness over light, and His grief-stricken heart cried through a prophet contemporary with Jeremiah, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live! Turn, O turn from your evil ways, for why will you die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 33:11).
Through His Son Jesus, God has made a way for every one of us to escape both the "damnation of hell" and the awful, eternal torment of the Lake of Fire. How painful is the thought of anyone whom I love, indeed anyone at all, being cast into those flames! My heart now prayerfully echoes the hope-filled lines from an old, old camp meeting hymn:
This is what God has for us all, and He offers it freely to us now. What greater hope could we share than that of resting beneath the Tree of Life together? And what greater dread could we have than that of being cast into the Lake of Fire with the Devil and his angels? It is a place that was not made for us, but for them. It is just as the old preacher said to us long ago: if you go into that place, you will go as an intruder.