A trip to Hell – on the way to Heaven

What if we’re on the way to Heaven – and we have to take a detour?  A trip to Hell.  Some think the Bible says Jesus went to Hell during the time between His death on the cross and His resurrection on the third day – what we now know as Easter.  So why not us?

A trip to Hell - on the way to HeavenThe Apostle’s Creed

The origin of that thinking is from the Apostle’s Creed.  The Creed isn’t words from the Bible.  It’s an expression of faith.

The Catholic version of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God,
the Father Almighty,
Creator of heaven and earth,
and in Jesus Christ, His only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died and was buried;
He descended into hell;
on the third day He rose again from the dead;
He ascended into heaven,
and is seated at the right hand of God the Father Almighty;
from there He will come to judge the living and the dead.
I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the Holy Catholic Church,
the communion of Saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and life everlasting.
Amen.

The United Methodist Church version of the Apostle’s Creed:

I believe in God, the Father Almighty,
creator of heaven and earth.

I believe in Jesus Christ, his only Son, our Lord,
who was conceived by the Holy Spirit,
born of the Virgin Mary,
suffered under Pontius Pilate,
was crucified, died, and was buried;
he descended to the dead.
On the third day he rose again;
he ascended into heaven,
is seated at the right hand of the Father,
and will come again to judge the living and the dead.

I believe in the Holy Spirit,
the holy catholic church,
the communion of saints,
the forgiveness of sins,
the resurrection of the body,
and the life everlasting. Amen.

The difference that we’re going to look at today is He descended into hell; versus he descended to the dead.  That’s a pretty big difference.  There is huge disagreement over the descended into Hell wording.  There are some Bible commentators that will try to twist verses into saying that Jesus descended into Hell.  Some preachers will even talk about how the Bible describes a great battle that took place between Jesus and Satan in Hell.  There’s no such description.  

Obviously, Jesus was on His way to Heaven.  Well, back to Heaven.  But did Jesus take a trip to Hell?  There’s nothing Biblical to indicate that ever happened.

A trip to Hell – on the way to Heaven

However, let’s imagine that every person on the way to Heaven had to take a “quick” trip to Hell on the way.  

I don’t say that because I believe it’s true.  I don’t believe it’s true.  And I don’t say it to scare anyone.  But I do think it would be good for us to imagine a trip to Hell for three reasons.

  1. It would – should change the way we live our lives here on earth.
  2. It might mean fewer people will be going to Hell, and will instead be on the way to Heaven.
  3. It would totally change the way we look at and value God’s grace.

Think about this as part of our trip to Hell.  Not after we’re dead – not while we’re on the way to Heaven – because that’s too late.  I say, think about it right now.  Well, how about after you finish reading this.

While we’re “visiting” in Hell, we’ll see all of our friends and loved ones who’ve died, and didn’t make it to Heaven.  Now, think about how many of those friends we reached out to while they were alive.  How many of them did we share the Gospel with?  How many of them did we try to steer away from Hell, but instead put them on their way to Heaven?

And keep in mind, as Christians, we’re all responsible for doing something Jesus commanded us to do.  Commanded.  Not suggested.  Nor did Jesus say it would get us bonus points.  This was a command:

The Great Commission

Mt 28:16 Then the eleven disciples went to Galilee, to the mountain where Jesus had told them to go. 17 When they saw him, they worshiped him; but some doubted. 18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”

That wasn’t just for the Christians going on foreign missions trips. Unless we consider talking to our friends and neighbors as a foreign mission trip.  Even neighbors aren’t a trip to another country.

It’s hard.  I get it.  I’ve lost friends.  I was even literally disowned by my family.  And yet – we were warned about that.

Mk 10:29 “I tell you the truth,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel 30 will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age (homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—and with them, persecutions) and in the age to come, eternal life. 31 But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”

But the warning didn’t come with an excuse to not perform the Great Commission.  No.  The Great Commission comes with a warning that the cost could be very high.  But do it anyway.

Does this change the way we live our lives?

I hope any Christian reading this at least knows about the Great Commission.  But have you heard it like this?  If not, does that change anything? Is there any kind of desire to talk to at least your non-Christian friends and neighbors?  Family?

It’s not only our fault that those we visit on our trip to Hell are there.  Lots of things lead to them being in Hell. However, if we never spoke to them about Jesus, maybe we could have been the one person who could have sent them on the way to Heaven.  Of course, there’s no guarantee that speaking to them would have made a difference.  But if we don’t speak with them, it is guaranteed that we have taken away at least one opportunity for them to have avoided their trip to Hell – a permanent trip to Hell.

Could this reduce the number of people who will be going to Hell?

Absolutely.  There’s a reason Jesus gave us the Great Commission.  It certainly wasn’t to have us ignore it.  And it wasn’t just to talk to people.  It was a way to lead them to Jesus.  And through Jesus lead them to salvation.  To send them on the way to Heaven – to be with Him forever.

To the extent that each of us doesn’t do our part to fulfill the Great Commission – the population in Hell can be expected to go up.
To the extent that any of us do our part to fulfill the Great Commission – the population in Heaven can be expected to go up.

How does this change the way we look at God’s grace?

If you didn’t get it before, hopefully you have a better idea of just how important the Great Commission is.

But think about this.  We’re back from our visit to Hell.  Back on earth – alive and well.  Maybe “well”.  Hopefully with some concerns about how we’ve done with our piece of fulfilling that Commission.

Now, think about the way most of us – as human beings – would handle this situation. We’ve told someone to do something.  They’ve made a public promise to do it.  [Note:  If you’re a baptized Christian, you have promised to obey God in your life – and that includes, like it or not, the Great Commission.]  What would we do?  We’d probably want to drag the person over and show them that they didn’t do a good job – or that they didn’t do anything at all.

Just try to imagine what that would be like.  All the agony of having to see and visit with each and every person we knew that’s in Hell.  Sure, our trip to Hell was both imaginary and temporary.  But their trip to Hell is both real and permanent.  What if they were to ask you – “Why didn’t you tell me?” 

What would you say?  How would you feel?  It’s too late to do anything at this point.  They are already in Hell.  They have no way to Heaven – no path – no more time.

And now remember what you would have done to the person who didn’t fulfill their promise to you. 

In God’s case – that would be a real trip to Hell.  Temporary.  But real.  A trip to Hell to show you what might have been different, if you’d only done what you promised to do.  If only we’d all done the best at what we promised to do.

To borrow something from a C S Lewis book – The Great Divorce – you can wake up now.  You’ve been dreaming.

Even that last trip to Hell was imaginary.  Because you weren’t yet on the way to Heaven.  Because you’re still alive.

So now that you’re awake, how do you feel about God’s grace?  Most of us, if God did to us what we’d have done to someone else, would have been taking that trip to Hell for real.  But He’s not going to do that.

In His grace, God doesn’t even make us pay what we would consider a reasonable price for failing to fulfill the Great Commission.  Jesus paid it for us.  Assuming that we really are Christian. 

Conclusion – A trip to Hell – on the way to Heaven

God paid the price for us, even though Jesus aid this:

The Greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven

Mt 18:1 At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”

Mt 18:2 He called a little child and had him stand among them. 3 And he said: “I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. 4 Therefore, whoever humbles himself like this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Mt 18:5 “And whoever welcomes a little child like this in my name welcomes me. 6 But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.

Mt 18:7 “Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to sin! Such things must come, but woe to the man through whom they come! 8 If your hand or your foot causes you to sin cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. 9 And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Now that we’ve read that, let me ask a few more questions of you.

Is failing to fulfill the Great Commission really any different that violating any of God’s other commandments? 

When someone we know is on the path to Hell, and we fail to tell them about the way to Heaven, are we not playing at least some role in possibly keeping someone from changing – become like the child Jesus spoke of – and therefore they fail to enter the Kingdom of Heaven?  

To the extent that we fail to fulfill the Great Commission, are we not also telling God – in effect – thanks for saving me, but I don’t appreciate it enough to go out and tell others about it?  It’s too hard for me, so I’m not going to do it.

But still – in His grace – God doesn’t subject us to this trip to Hell.  Even though we don’t keep up our part of the agreement by helping other people – God’s creation, just like us – to find the way to Heaven.

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