Is it true that Jesus taught more on hell than on heaven during His earthly ministry? Today, Sinclair Ferguson helps us get to the core message of our Lord’s teaching about eternity.
NATHAN W. BINGHAM: We’re joined today on Ask Ligonier by Dr. Sinclair Ferguson, one of our teaching fellows here at Ligonier Ministries. We’ve heard it said that in the Gospels, Jesus speaks more about hell than He does heaven. Why is that, Dr. Ferguson?
DR. SINCLAIR FERGUSON: Well, I think that’s something that is often said. To be honest, I’ve never done the statistics, but I think the first thing I would say would be, don’t overdo that thought, because you can very easily then give the impression that hell was more important to Jesus than heaven.
So, I think we’ve got to understand that actually Jesus came into the world to save people from hell and to bring people to heaven, so that heaven was a big deal, if I can put it colloquially, to the Lord Jesus. But He had come into the world to save people from the wrath of God, from judgment, and from hell. And therefore, it’s not surprising that there is an emphasis in His preaching, which, 1) warns people about their spiritual danger and, 2) emphasizes that the judgment of God is a righteous judgment, and it’s an appropriate judgment, but it’s also an awesome judgment, so that sinners who tend to try to laugh off the judgment of God will have their consciences penetrated. So, I think that’s part of the answer. If one can put it this way: the house is on fire. You don’t rush into the house and say, “It’s OK, we’ve got an insurance policy.” You rush into the house and say, “The house is burning; we need to flee from here.”
A wonderful illustration of that I came across in a biography of a man called Alexander Duff, who was actually the first missionary from the Church of Scotland in the nineteenth century. And he had encouraged in India the reading of the Pilgrim’s Progress. And there was this young couple who had an arranged marriage. They were actually very young teenagers, and somehow they got hold of The Pilgrim’s Progress. And they were in a Hindu family. They were reading it at night, as it were, under the bedcovers. And the girl turned to the boy and said: “We are living in the city of destruction. We need to get out of here.” And they turned up at Alexander Duff’s door. And that’s the backcloth atmosphere to Jesus’ teaching.
I think there’s another thing to be said, and that is: heaven is beyond our capacity to imagine. We don’t look into the sun because it blinds us. So, from one point of view, I think what you have in Jesus’ teaching is that He doesn’t teach so directly about heaven, but He teaches us about it indirectly because, in a sense, He has come to earth to bring heaven to earth.
And so, if we want to know, “So, how does Jesus show what heaven is like?” part of the answer to that is, “Well, look at His miracles.” What’s happening in many of His miracles is that He is overwhelming the powers of darkness, and He’s also doing that in, for example, His healings, in the stilling of the storm, you know, in all kinds of ways. The way I put it is, He’s momentarily switching on the light switch so that you see in one particular instance a glimpse of what final glory is going to be like. And so, in a sense, because we’re not able to look into the sun, what He does is, “Let me show you what the Son, S-O-N, as well as S-U-N, can do, and what it can illuminate in the lives of people.”
And I think that is for us a helpful way—not least because in Matthew’s gospel, what He teaches and the power He exercises is the power of the kingdom of heaven. It means the same as the kingdom of God. But it’s interesting that Matthew uses that language that somehow or another, we are getting a glimpse of heaven coming down here that points us to the wonder and the beauty and the joy of what heaven will be like then.
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