Once in hell is there no way out?

Is hell the end of the road, the final dumping ground for the unsalvageable? And once in hell, is there no way out? Has the deadline passed for saying sorry and asking for another chance? Has a person blown his chances forever because his pride seared his conscience beyond repair?

It certainly sounds like it in Jesus’ reaction to the Pharisees. He blasts them with seven “woes” in Matthew 23:13-32, at the end of which he yells, “You snakes. You brood of vipers. How will you escape being condemned to hell?” verse 33. With an attitude like theirs they deserved hell. But what did Jesus mean by “hell,” and was there no escape from it?

Jesus drops a couple of hints in the context as to what this hell might be. In verse 38, Jesus tells them, “Look, your house is left to you desolate.” The “house” that would feel like hell to a Pharisee if it was made desolate was the religious system they’d built, of strict obedience to the Law, the Temple rituals and all sorts of other requirements, that they believed had to be obeyed for Israel to be rescued from its enemies and restored to its former glory.

But that house was already becoming desolate because the Pharisees weren’t living by their own rules (verse 3). Worse than that was their rejection of Jesus as God’s agent of rescue for the nation, just like their forefathers had rejected all the other prophets God had sent to rescue them (verse 34-36). Their entire system, therefore, was about to come crumbling down, including the Temple, the literal “house” they’d looked to rather than Christ. And if that wasn’t hell enough for them, Jesus also told them in verse 39, “you will not see me again,” so once Jesus was gone there was no getting him back again to give them another chance. They’d lost out. No more second chances in their lifetime. Everything they held dear would be destroyed and there was no way out of it.

But was the door of their hell shut forever? No, because Jesus went on to say in verse 39 that they wouldn’t see him again “UNTIL you say, ‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord.'” So there was a way out of hell for them: It was willingly accepting those whom God sent to them (verse 37), the one thing they and their ancestors had never done. A massive change of heart and attitude on their part was needed, therefore, but the offer was still open. And if it was still open to the Pharisees, of all people, how about to everyone else condemned to hell too?

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