Do you know someone who is all cloud and no rain? A man who is big promise, no delivery? A lady of great declaration but zero reliability? Do you have a “friend” who always has time on his calendar for you but whose watch regularly yet mysteriously stops working the final fifteen minutes before the work party starts? A person who recites the refrain, “You can count on me” then takes the other side as soon as the numbers turn against you?
This character is the older, bolder brother of Bunyan’s Talkative. His name is Mr. Pomp-and-confidence, also known by his rap name, Alwayz-B-Tru (“z” and no “e”s). But that’s just the thing: his pledges of loyalty are never true, or at least not when tested. His bark bites those who depended on him worse.
The apostle Peter went through a season like this. He claimed that even if all the other disciples abandoned Jesus, he never would (Matthew 26;34). Then he denied Christ three times. Solomon wrote proverbially (20:6) about this sort of man: “Many a man proclaims his own steadfast love, but a faithful man who can find?” Good luck.
The danger is not mainly in making assertions, it is in making proud assertions. When we hold too high of an opinion about our own strength then we are headed for a fall. Those who stay faithful, those whose words can be trusted, are those who humbly recognize their weaknesses and depend on the Lord.
In the Gethsemane Garden Jesus prayed, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Then He prayed again, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done” (verse 42). A few verses later Matthew says, “Leaving them again he went away and prayed for a third time, saying the same words.” What is the “cup” that He would drink?
Just a little earlier in the evening he “took a cup, and when he had given thanks, he gave to them saying, ‘Drink of it, all of you, for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:27-28). Was Jesus praying not to drink the cup of His blood? No.
Jesus prayed and came out of the garden ready to drink the cup that the Father had for Him (John 18:11). This was the cup of the Father’s wrath. This frequent metaphor in the Old Testament prophecies referred to judgment as a bitter cup to swallow, something forced down the throat of rebellions men and nations. Some Caesars took the idea literally and invented tortuous ways to kill others through over-the-top wine drinking. The cup Jesus would drink was the bitter cup deserved by all His elect. That was the cup He drank for us.
The cup He gives to us represents His blood, blood that took God’s wrath in our place. He voluntarily offered Himself as a substitutionary atonement for all who believe.
Again we confront a tension at this table. On one hand, we cannot drink this cup without considering the cup we deserved and what Christ drank in our place. On the other hand, He did drink the cup of wrath so that we are delivered from wrath into righteousness and life and joy. The bitter becomes sweet in Christ. So let us eat and drink in His name.
Everyone in hell will suffer unending, painful, grievous punishment for his or her sin. And everyone in hell will know different levels of punishment according to his or her deeds. Hell is God’s judgment and His judgment is always just. Just judgment is not blind, blanket, vindictive infliction of pain. Judgment matches the sort and degree of offense.
We know this from Jesus. We get a man’s imagined portrayal in Dante’s Inferno. He cleverly shows sinners bearing the fury of their specific sin. For example, gluttons whose appetite on earth could not be sated, “feast” on sludge in the 3rd circle of hell. An appetite gone wild is a judgment itself.
Dante’s poem is helpful as it reminds us about both the seriousness of sin and the certainty of punishment. But he gives no inspired revelation. His is a fictional account. Jesus provides a non-fiction warning.
Jesus pronounced Woe on the cities of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum because those were “cities where most of his mighty works had been done” yet “they did not repent” (Matthew 11:20). Jesus explained that if Tyre, Sidon, and Sodom would have seen His works, they “would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes” (verse 21). Then He says, “it will be more bearable on the day of judgment for Tyre and Sidon then for you,” and “it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you” (verse 24).
Jesus does not explain how the punishment will be worse, but He does explain why. Here is one area that Dante represents well. Those who receive greater revelation are more accountable for it and will be more severely punished for rejecting it. Let none among us be guilty of ignoring the great waves of truth what wash up on our shores week by week. Let us repent from our sin and trust Christ who suffered particular punishment for us.