Jesus said, “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!..woe to you, blind guides…You blind fools!…You blind men!…You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” (Matt. 23:13–34, NJB).
“Well then, just as the darnel is gathered up and burnt in the fire, so it will be at the end of time. The Son of Man will send his angels and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that provoke offences and all who do evil, and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and grinding of teeth” (Matt. 13:40–43, NJB).
“Next he will say to those on his left hand ‘Go away from me with your curse upon you, to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels’’’ (Matt. 25:41, NJB).
Jesus was convinced of the reality of hell, and got great gratification out of threatening people he disliked with damnation.
His threats raise four key issues:
First, he would have had no need to intimidate people if he had made a convincing case for himself. The implication that those who offended him would incur retribution (argumentum ad baculum, or literally an “argument with a cudgel”) doesn’t mean that what he taught was true. It does mean that he resorted to intimidation after he’d failed to convince them. I think biblical authors were browbeating people who balked at joining their new cult.
Second, Jesus claimed that the love of the divine arbitrator was only granted to those who behaved. Most people today say that true, real love, such that a parent has for a child, is unconditional. In Jesus’ scheme, God is a petty, vindictive dictator who threatens his own creation, hardly the loving character he is made out to be.
Third, these quotes confuse Jesus’ doctrine. He advised people to love their enemies, bless those that curse them, and forgive seventy times seven times, so hardly set an example by blackmailing them with threats of hell.
Fourth, one wonders on what basis God decides who goes to hell? There must be borderline cases. Some Christians claim that individuals choose hell by “rejecting Jesus.” What does that mean? What about those who have never heard of him? Some state we have to “accept Jesus” to avoid hell. “Accepting Jesus” means being compliant. Church people know how to create, then calm, newcomers’ fears—mention hell and then convince them to embrace Jesus and conform.
Many church people still preach hellfire to vulnerable children. This is psychological bullying, nothing less than child abuse. Some adults still have vivid childhood memories of being terrified by the immense, unending pain in hell.
In the past, churches used hell to justify terrible behavior. They thought it gave them license to burn any helpless person they didn’t like; claiming they were just beginning the roasting, on earth, that Satan was to continue for all eternity.