Today is Reformation Sunday, the day before Reformation day. Unfortunately, Reformation Day is more known for being Halloween.
Christians have been debating for a long time whether or not Christian families should participate in Halloween. Some see it as a wicked celebration and glorification of evil, in which we consider darkness entertainment, and expose our children to forces and images they need not see. Others see it as a holiday worth redeeming, that there is Christian freedom to enjoy it in a healthy way.
Regardless of where you stand on that issue, one thing is clear: Halloween is typically about scary things.
Of course, many people choose to dress up in costumes that are funny and innocent. Many choose costumes that are not scary, but rather vulgar and skimpy. Not everyone is trying to scare people, but overall the holiday is largely related to fear. Monsters, goblins, zombies, witches, vampires, werewolves, haunted houses, demons, etc all epitomize the images and marketing of Halloween.
Typically, when we think of fear, we think of evil. Read the list above: those creatures are not often characters for our children to emulate. However, what is ironic, is the most terrifying and scary thing in the world, more terrifying than any fictional creature, more horrifying than any demon or devil, is God Himself. Specifically, the wrath of God ought to be the thing we fear more than anything at all.
It is true that in one sense there is no place for fear, as John says that “perfect love casts out fear”(1 John 3: 18), however, Jesus our Lord told us to not fear man who can destroy the body but “fear [God] who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10: 28).
Notice that Jesus does not tell us to fear hell, but to fear God’s destruction of us there. God is the object of fear according to Jesus.
This is an important distinction because the secular world has a cartoonish idea of hell. Many people today view hell as a place where Satan (a red man with a tail, horns, and pitchfork) and his demons torture people for all eternity. This is embarrassingly absurd.
First, ponder the logic of that: God’s greatest enemy, His most aggressive and evil adversary, is going to have a jolly time, for all eternity, torturing God’s lesser enemies. That view seriously calls into question how the Bible defines the concept of justice. Thankfully, that is not at all the picture of hell the Bible presents.
Revelation 20: 7-10,
“And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.”
Regardless of one’s eschatological view of the book of Revelation, one thing remains clear: Satan is headed for destruction and judgment, for eternal torment. Hell will be hell for Satan, too. Satan does not run hell, he does not manage hell, he is going to hell. The true fear of hell is not Satan; it is God.
This is made clear by the way Satan’s demons often act around Jesus in Scripture. One of the more well-known events is recorded in Luke 4:33-37,
“And in the synagogue there was a man who had the spirit of an unclean demon, and he cried out with a loud voice, ‘Ha! What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are—the Holy One of God.’ But Jesus rebuked him, saying, ‘Be silent and come out of him!’ And when the demon had thrown him down in their midst, he came out of him, having done him no harm. And they were all amazed and said to one another, ‘What is this word? For with authority and power he commands the unclean spirits, and they come out!’”
The demon did not fight with Jesus; the demon was afraid Jesus came to destroy him. This demon was filled with more fear than any movie or haunted house could possibly fill a person with. This demon knew Jesus’ authority and power, and was so afraid of Him, he obeyed him without resistance.
Another famous historical event related to this is recorded in Matthew 8:28-32,
“And when he came to the other side, to the country of the Gadarenes, two demon-possessed men met him, coming out of the tombs, so fierce that no one could pass that way. And behold, they cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, O Son of God? Have you come here to torment us before the time?’ Now a herd of many pigs was feeding at some distance from them. And the demons begged him, saying, ‘If you cast us out, send us away into the herd of pigs.’ And he said to them, ‘Go.’ So they came out and went into the pigs, and behold, the whole herd rushed down the steep bank into the sea and drowned in the waters.”
Yet again, these demons know exactly who Jesus is. They know he is capable of destroying them and tormenting them, and they obey him without resistance.
As we have seen, when God saves us from hell, he is not saving us from Satan, His is saving us from Himself. Christians are saved from God, by God, and for God. The experiencing of the wrath, vengeance, and retribution of a just and holy God ought to shake us to the core. No thought to man can possibly be more terrifying than spending eternity enduring the wrath of Almighty God. The wrath of God is dreadful.
Jesus, to the unholy, is terrifying. This is precisely why the King of majesty can be spoken of this way, because He is holy. Jesus is holy, and we are not. We are rebels who deserve punishment; and Jesus is the one we will stand before to receive it.
The reason this concept of fearing God is so foreign to us as Christians is because, in Christ, we have lost reason to fear. The wrath of God no longer abides upon us because our faith has united us to Christ, and He died on our behalf, receiving, in our place, the wrath of God due us.
“[F]or all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.”
Jesus is our propitiation. He has diverted the wrath of God; He has absorbed it on the cross. Therefore, in Christ, we have no wrath to fear. There is nothing left to be afraid of. “For God has not destined us for wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ…” (1 Thessalonians 5:9).
This is exactly the context John was speaking of when he says that perfect love ought to drive out our fear.
1 John 3:17-18,
“By this is love perfected with us, so that we may have confidence for the day of judgment, because as he is so also are we in this world. There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.”
Since Jesus has taken our punishment, we no longer have anything to fear. This is the reason why the author of Hebrews makes the bold claim that we are allowed (and commanded) to have “confidence to enter the holy places by the blood of Jesus” (Hebrews 10:19). We are to “draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience…” (Hebrews 10:22).
Take heart Christian. You, by your faith in Christ, have peace with God (Romans 5:1). You have nothing to fear, not only in the next life, but in this one too. There is no force on earth, real of fictional, that ought to make one afraid when Jesus is their friend, mediator, intercessor, Lord, and God.
But may we make no mistake about it. Outside of Christ, the majesty, glory, and holiness of God are dreadful things because of sin. And there will be a day when Jesus makes all enemies a footstool at His feet (Hebrews 10: 13).
Judgment day will be a day of terror for many. The Lord in His justice and glory, after enduring with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction (Romans 9:22) will demonstrate the severity of sin, and power of His victory over it. And it will be a true terror, a terror that pumpkins, zombies, werewolves, nor even demons and devils can manufacture.
Hebrews 10: 31,
“It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”