Jesus makes it clear: those who want to keep their life, those who do not have ears to see, will have that trajectory continue into eternity—into hell! No one goes to hell against their will!
27 “Now is my soul troubled. And what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? But for this purpose I have come to this hour. 28 Father, glorify your name.” Then a voice came from heaven: “I have glorified it, and I will glorify it again.” 29 The crowd that stood there and heard it said that it had thundered. Others said, “An angel has spoken to him.” 30 Jesus answered, “This voice has come for your sake, not mine. 31 Now is the judgment of this world; now will the ruler of this world be cast out.32 And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself.” 33 He said this to show by what kind of death he was going to die.
Jesus’ soul is troubled? We see this word quite a bit, including last week when Jesus told them, “Let not your heart be troubled” (John 14:1a). The word is actually that of revulsion. I think of it as when your stomach is turned inside out. Or your stomach being in knots. Another word for this would be ‘horror.’ What was coming for Jesus horrified him.
But notice how resolute Jesus is! Did he ask to be rescued from this? No! Think about times when you know you need to have a difficult conversation with someone. Our flesh and the devil come along and say, “You don’t need to do this! Find a way to get out of this dilemma.”
Yet Jesus says, “No, this is why I came! He was more interested in glorifying the name of His Father than himself. Again, hell is populated with people who wished to glorify themselves, who wished to save their lives. And hell is populated with people who are deaf.
“Father, glorify your name.” “I did it once, I’ll do it again.” What did the crowd think happened? Either thunder or an angel. They heard something—and something significant! It wasn’t enough for them that they heard something! They needed to hear someone.
Paul helps us again: “14 The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned.” How does the Word of God sound to you? Is it an incomprehensible mess? You hear it and it may be ‘loud’ and sound significant, but you can’t make it out? Or does, as Jesus told the churches, “he who has ears to hear—let him hear?” Has God in His mercy given you ears to hear? Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). Hell is populated with people who are deaf to His Word. Heaven is populated with those who have responded to the beautiful mercy as outlined in the gospel.
Listen to this mercy: Jesus will be lifted up and draw all men to him. Understand the context: the Jews (the apostles included) believed that they would be the only ones to whom God would communicate and save! But this would not be the case from now on! He will bring in a people from every tribe, tongue, people, and nation! Both Jew and Gentile. Paul says, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes, first to the Jew, then to the Gentile” (Romans 1:16).
This would happen because Jesus was lifted up on the cross. No wonder he was felt the revulsion and horror. All the sins of those who would ever believe would be put on his shoulders. Those who do not believe will still have their sins held to their account.
In our culture, that gives many a sense of revulsion. “How could a God who loves his creation consign anyone to an eternal hell? Why doesn’t he just forgive? Can’t he simply overlook?”
1. No one goes to hell against their will (John 12:34-43).
This is the portion where we answer this question. God does not send anyone to hell against their will. They had the light right before them—a continual witness of God’s rescue plan.
34 So the crowd answered him, “We have heard from the Law that the Christ remains forever. How can you say that the Son of Man must be lifted up? Who is this Son of Man?” 35 So Jesus said to them,“The light is among you for a little while longer. Walk while you have the light, lest darkness overtake you. The one who walks in the darkness does not know where he is going. 36 While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light.”
Walk in the light! Believe in the light! Become sons of light! They were clueless about the Law. They read it, knew a bit about it. But a crucified Messiah was a stumbling block! They read over and over that Jesus would be a suffering servant who would have to die in order for them to have life. He preached. He implored. He compelled. They rejected! They did not hear. And we even see that they could not hear!
When Jesus had said these things, he departed and hid himself from them. 37 Though he had done so many signs before them, they still did not believe in him, 38 so that the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah might be fulfilled:
“Lord, who has believed what he heard from us,
and to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed?”
39 Therefore they could not believe. For again Isaiah said,
40 “He has blinded their eyes
and hardened their heart,
lest they see with their eyes,
and understand with their heart, and turn,
and I would heal them.”
41 Isaiah said these things because he saw his glory and spoke of him. 42 Nevertheless, many even of the authorities believed in him, but for fear of the Pharisees they did not confess it, so that they would not be put out of the synagogue; 43 for they loved the glory that comes from man more than the glory that comes from God.
It’s interesting in verse 37, the Spirit conveys that they did not believe. In verse 39, after quoting from Isaiah 53:1, says they could not believe. How do we reconcile this?
In answering the question, “How could a loving God send anyone to hell?” we would do well to interact with R.C. Sproul’s rebuttal question: “How could a just God send anyone to heaven?” Look at v. 40: He has blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart so they could not repent.
Don’t misunderstand. This is not a group of people who were ready to repent, but God shut the door. These were people who were given every opportunity possible, still rejected, so the time came when that window was shut. Shut! Tight! It hearkens to Romans 1:24 where “God gave them up” to exactly what they wanted—they own thoughts, desires, and selfishness. No one is sent to hell against their will. Left to ourselves, that’s exactly where we would go.
If you go to Luke 16:19-31, you see a story about the Rich Man and Lazarus. The rich man had all he wanted in this life—he didn’t want to lose anything in this life. But when death came, he was consigned to hell. All Lazarus had was his faith in God, and he joined Him (with Father Abraham) in heaven. Look at the rich man’s reaction in hell:
24 And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ 25 But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’ 27 And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— 28 for I have five brothers[b]—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ 29 But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ 30 And he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ 31 He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”
He asked for relief! He asked for them to send a team to tell his brothers, as if he didn’t have enough information. But they had the Word—and that was sufficient. The light of the Word is sufficient.
You see, while no one goes to hell against their will, no one gets to heaven without God changing their will! God is a just God! If you run from God, live a life as if you are your own god—why would he put you through the eternal agony of being around Him forever?