Jesus Christ took on human nature, became a man and died to redeem mankind. I’ve sometimes wondered if it was really that great of a sacrifice. He knew what was going to happen, He’s the one who gave the story to the prophets of old so that they would write it down, enabling us to recognize when Christ came as the Messiah. He knew He would raise again in three days, and He’d be back to the right-hand of the Father. So, what’s the big deal?
I’ll get back to that.
There are a number of views of hell among Christians. Some believe that it’s actual real fire, and I recall preachers referring to fire that burns black (explaining both fire and blackness in hell). Some believe that there are actual worms eating at the flesh for eternity.
Others believe, and this seems to be becoming a more common belief, that the Biblical descriptions of Hell are accurately descriptive, but man has no concept, no words that can describe what Hell is like, and the inspired authors of scripture used the best description available to the human vocabulary and our limited mind. Hell is the absence of hope, once there, you will never, ever, ever have the opportunity to see Christ, to know God, to experience oneness with the Spirit. We can’t comprehend what this is like, so the various authors described it as “outer darkness”, “furnace of fire”, a place where “there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth”, “fiery lake of burning sulfer”, where “the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched”. (Matt 25:30, Matt 8:12, Rev 21:8, Mark 9:44, etc.)
Those that have not accepted Christ will spend an eternity empty. While alive, people try to fill the void with friends, drugs, sex, alcohol, busy-ness. Mostly busy-ness, I think, keeping their lives so full they mute their own longings for God, either because they don’t want to know Him, or because they haven’t been told that He is who they need to know.
So, what was Christ’s sacrifice? He became a man to die. He came to die for the very people that killed him. Man had become the type of being that would kill God when He came to earth to save them, which is the very reason God had to come to earth to save them. That’s a sacrifice, a wonderfully awesome thing that Christ did! But He still knew He would raise again.
In the garden, right before His death, He was in torment. (Mark 14:33, 34) He took Peter, James and John along with him, and he began to be deeply distressed and troubled. “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death,” he said to them… Why? He knew what was about to happen. He knew that He was going to die and raise again, suffer incredible physical and emotional pain. But He was still God, He knew how it was going to turn out.
Up until this point, Christ was focused on the mission, His (about) three and a half years spent about His Father’s business (Luke 2:49), to seek and save the lost (Luke 19:10). But now, he seemed to be losing hope. That’s not a figure of speech, hope was actually going away. He was about to be separated from His Father, to experience death and the punishment of sin, to be forsaken by His Father (Matt 27:46). We have the descriptions of the punishment, the descriptions of hell. Christ was about to experience a separation from God without hope. His knowledge of what would happen was of absolutely no value. Christ was to be without hope for a period of time, physically and emotionally and spiritually experiencing hell.
For how long was Christ without hope, separated from His Father? By some counts it was about 6 hours, from the point of being forsaken until the point of death when Christ commended His Spirit to His Father. We think in terms of time, but God is outside of time as are we once we die. At the point of death, Christ was taken out of time. Out of time, you are basically experiencing eternity. For all we know, Christ experienced an eternity of separation from His Father without hope. In the Garden, He knew what was coming and chose to do it anyway.
Now, I’m not establishing new theology here. This is a combination of fact and conjecture, and I welcome debate, a little iron sharpening iron (Prov 27:17). What can we take from this, from a combination of the stuff that’s solidly supported in scripture and from some speculation from a limited human mind (although a mind created by God with the ability to speculate!)?
First, we should really really appreciate the sacrifice Jesus the Christ made. It should be real to us every day, we should thank Him often that, as believers, we will never have to experience separation from the Father without hope.
Second, we should try to understand from Christ’s example what awaits those that do not know Him, and be motivated to always represent Christ and be ready to offer His story to every person we meet.