. . . wrath and indignation on the contentious, on those who disobey the truth, who obey unrighteousness. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil, of the Jew first and also of the Greek. Romans 2:8-9
In August 79 A.D. the people of Pompeii awoke to nearby Mt. Vesuvius spitting toxic gas, ash, and pumice stone. Pliny, the Roman historian, a teenager at the time, was there with his uncle, the officer in charge of the Roman navy in that vicinity. Pliny gives us a vivid and detailed account of what happened, informing us how his uncle, in typical Stoic fashion, sailed right into the bay below Vesuvius to rescue Roman citizens. He took his time, napping and eating a sumptuous meal. Unfortunately, Pliny the Greater, as he was called, died of asphyxiation. At least 15,000 died in the eruption of Vesuvius, many frozen solid in the lava that flowed at over sixty miles per hour down the slopes into the city. But the eruption lasted for twenty-four hours. Why did the majority of the people remain in the city? After all, an earthquake seventeen years earlier destroyed the city which they were still rebuilding when the eruption occurred. The judgment was upon them and they did nothing to flee from it.
People have an uncanny ability to think positively in the presence of impending, terrifying, and certain judgment. They don't think it will happen to them. They seem to think they will live forever, that they have plenty of time to get right with God. Paul says that the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness (Rom. 1:18). He said that God deals out retribution to all who do not obey the gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. They will suffer the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and his glory (2 Thess. 1:8-9). Jesus referred to hell as a place of weeping (we weep over what we have lost and these have lost heaven) and gnashing of teeth (people gnash their teeth in anger and pain - anger at God for his perceived unjust sentence, anger at the devil for deceiving them, anger at themselves for their failure to repent (Matt. 13:42). He also said it is a place where the fire is never quenched and the worm never dies (Mark 9:46). In other words, it is eternal. There is no indication in Scripture that souls in hell are eventually annihilated.
And Paul makes clear that God's just wrath and indignation is upon all who are contentious, on all who mock God, who reject the overtures of grace in Christ Jesus. It comes upon all who refuse to obey the truth of God's Word. It rests upon all who obey unrighteousness, who wilfully, continually, and consciously break God's law. He goes further to say that tribulation and distress will follow these contentious and rebellious people who do evil. In other words, all who reject the gospel of Christ, even the most moral of people, even the most religious Hindu, Muslim, Buddhist, or Presbyterian are under the just sentence of condemnation by Almighty God. Any and all not covered by the justifying, redeeming, reconciling, propitiating, and expiating blood of Jesus have the sentence of eternal perdition upon them.
What does it mean to be under the wrath and indignation of God?1 It means two things. First, while still in this world, prior to their deaths, the contentious and rebellious face three potential scenarios. First, in judgment God may simply leave them alone, not strive with them, not pursue them, refuse to bring conviction of sin upon them. Paul states this in Romans 1, saying, 'God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity . . . God gave them over to degrading passions . . . God gave them over to a depraved mind' (Rom. 1:24-32). God says, 'Ephraim is joined to idols. Leave him alone' (Hos. 4:17). But God may also curse the unbeliever. He told Israel that failure to obey his law, going after idols would bring his curse upon them (Deut. 28:15ff). This curse can be in at least two ways. Could it be that God's curse is upon the Joseph Kennedy family? Kennedy was a serial adulterer who made his money in illegal alcohol during Prohibition. His oldest son was killed in World War II and while reduced to a wheelchair and unable to speak due to a stroke, he saw his beloved son JFK assassinated. A few years later RFK was assassinated; JFK, Jr. died in a plane crash. The way of a transgressor is hard (Prov. 13:15). But then sometimes God curses the contentious by allowing them material and temporal prosperity. Paul says that the goodness of God is meant to lead people to repentance, to faith in the Lord Jesus, but because of their stubbornness and unrepentant heart, they are storing up wrath for themselves in the day of the wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God who will render to every man according to his deeds (Rom. 2:5). Could this be the case for Muhammad Ali and Donald Trump? Both have prospered by the hand of God but both remain recalcitrant sinners. The longer people live without repentance, then the more their sins mount up against them, until God's patience boils over in unmitigated wrath. And finally, prior to death, sometimes the contentious are overwhelmed with fear (Hezekiah certainly was terrified, Isa. 38:1ff). They know something horrible is about to happen and they have no answer. Their smooth talk, sophistication, and ability to make deals in this life mean nothing on that horrible day.
As bad as this is, it gets worse, much worse upon death. If angels escort Lazarus to Abraham's bosom (Luke 16:22), is it too much to suggest that wicked, vile demons escort the damned to hell! And when there, the eyes they used in this world to look upon evil will look on untold horror in hell. The mouths that spoke vile, blasphemous words on earth will cry out in incomprehensible agony in hell. The ears that listened with pleasure to bawdy jokes and wicked speech will hear the wails of the damned, begging for the slightest, momentary relief; but there will be none. But this is not the end. The worst is yet to come. The demons and the damned would gladly spend another ten million years in hell if they could only postpone the day of the Great White Throne Judgment (Rev. 20:11-15); for on that day, upon Christ's return to this earth, books will be opened and every damned sinner will be judged according to his deeds. His thoughts, his speech, and his actions will all be brought before the holy tribunal of the glorified Son of God who has eyes as a flame of fire. Each will see his own guilt and hear the most awful words ever uttered, 'Depart from me into the everlasting fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). With soul and body (1 Cor. 15:22, Dan. 12:2) the damned will be cast into the lake of fire and brimstone which is the second death (Rev. 20:14-15).
My friends, this is the truth, whether you wish to believe it or not. If you are not yet covered with the blood of Jesus, having come to acknowledge your own guilt and condemnation, having run to the only Saviour of sinners, the Lord Jesus Christ, who took hell upon himself for you; then you must flee now from the wrath of God which is surely coming. Don't be like the people of Pompeii who simply figured nothing too bad was going to happen to them. Flee from the wrath of God which is to come and believe now on the Lord Jesus Christ! He will save you now, no matter how wicked and perverse you are. You have no hope accept to flee to Jesus.
And if you are in Christ, if you are a Christian, should you not humble yourself in awe and adoration that God has been merciful to you! He did not leave you alone in your sin. He came to you, opened your eyes, and gave you the grace of regeneration to repent and believe the gospel. And can you see the necessity of preaching this message to the world! One hundred and forty-six thousand people die daily - 100 per minute, 6000 per hour, perhaps the majority of them going to hell and a judgment beyond our comprehension. What are you going to do with what you now know?
1. For a detailed, graphic, and sobering look at the doctrine of hell, read Jonathan Edwards' sermon 'The Portion of the Wicked' at www.gracegems.org. [The sermon can also be found in Volume 2 of The Works of Jonathan Edwards, published by the Trust, pp. 878-888.]
Rev. Allen M Baker is an evangelist with Presbyterian Evangelistic Fellowship, and Director of the Alabama Church Planting Network. He planted (2003) and served as Pastor of Christ Community Presbyterian Church in Hartford, Connecticut, until December 2011. His weekly devotional, 'Forget None of His Benefits', can be found here.
If you would like to respond to Pastor Baker, please contact him directly at email@example.com.