END TIMES

 

END OF THE WORLD

Can you explain the Rapture, Tribulation, and Second Coming?

                SUPER SIMPLE explanations of CRAZY COMPLICATED events:

1) RAPTURE.  This is the beginning of Christ's return, where He instantly removes all believers from the earth, meeting with them in the clouds where they join Him and everyone in history who has ever belong to Him. This is described most vividly in 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18 and Matthew 24:36-44.

2) TRIBULATION.  This is a period of God's wrath and judgment upon the earth as He brings it to an end. It is described in Revelation 6,8,11, and 16 in the image of seven seals, seven trumpets, and seven bowls--all which unleash or usher in or pour out God's wrath upon the earth for a duration of seven years. The use of the number seven can be used to communicate the actual number of events and years, or it might actually be communicating fullness and completeness. Both understandings are possible, but there isn't much warrant to interpret the number symbolically, so it's probably more reasonable to approach it literally. 
During this time of Tribulation, the people of earth will almost entirely flee to false to religion and worship a human figurehead (whom we call the Antichrist), but a faithful remnant will emerge--those who come to saving faith in the midst of God's wrath. This includes many from the nation of Israel who will come to see Jesus as the true and promised Messiah.
Rapture and Tribulation happen very close to one another, but there is disagreement in the Church as to whether the Rapture comes BEFORE, or DURING, or AFTER the Tribulation. Despite the wide array of scholars that line up on all sides, I believe that a correct hermeneutical approach to Scripture concludes that the Rapture will indeed occur BEFORE the Tribulation. It is, without a doubt in my mind, the only credible position.

3) SECOND COMING (also called "Parousia").  Reference to the "Second Coming" is vague, since the Second Coming refers to all three of these concepts (Rapture, Tribulation, Parousia). But "Parousia" is the Greek term to more specifically indicate the actual physical return of Christ. Especially if you hold to a pre-tribulation Rapture (which is the historic and, in my opinion, the only credible position), you would understand the Rapture as inaugurating the BEGINNING of Christ's Second Coming--after all, He comes in the clouds to gather His people during Rapture. So in that sense, His Second Coming begins at Rapture.  But when we talk about Parousia, it's the actual physical return of Christ onto the earth to lock Satan away and begin a 1000-year time of rulership on earth--this is known as "the Millennium" or "the Millennial Kingdom."

4) MILLENNIUM / MILLENNIAL KINGDOM.  You didn't ask about this one, but I'm throwing it in for free. :)
Here is the thousand-year time period (millennium = 1000 years) where Christ rules on the earth. People disagree on whether Christ's Parousia will occur BEFORE or AFTER the Millennium, and some people think that the Millennium is not really 1000 years, but it's a figurative term to describe the Church Age which is occurring right now. Again, plenty of incredible and godly scholars flank both sides of this issue, but I am firmly convinced that the return of Christ occurs after Tribulation, before the Millennium. Revelation 20:4-6 seems to leave no other credible understanding.

                So basically, the order of events in the final days go in this order: Rapture (instant) --> Tribulation (7 years) --> Parousia (instant) --> Millennial Kingdom (1000 years).  Hope that helps!

 

How do you picture Tribulation?  Do you think half of the world's population would be gone since it happens after Rapture?  How will unbelievers react?

                Since Tribulation is described in Revelation with figurative language to describe the real event, I've often wondered what it would eventually look like if it were to happen right now. But a lot of the imagery still seems to communicate the same stuff: a conqueror, war, famine, plague, economic turmoil, etc. How I picture that would probably be the same way anyone else does--it would just be a rehash of a lot of different movie scenes that I've seen before.
                I don't think half the world's population will be gone since I don't think half the world is really Christian. Jesus described salvation as a narrow road in Matthew 7, and few find it while many take the broad road to destruction. Jesus also describes the believers as "he who overcomes" in Revelation 2 and 3. Seven times he says that, marking believers as people who don't just attend church, but who actively repent of sin and overcome. I don't think even half of all churchgoers in the world could really be described by that. 
                But what's clear in Revelation, if taken with the pre-millennial futurist perspective, is that unbelievers will not react favorably toward God after Rapture occurs. They will continue in their unbelief, celebrating the reign of their own agendas. Every fight they've been making will seem a victory to them: censorship will be gone, homosexuality will be accepted, religious fundamentalism will lose a lot of its fire, and much of the world's economy will probably experience blessing from the abundance of resources that are no longer used by those who have departed.
                But, regardless of how wonderful the immediate reaction might seem, Tribulation is undoubtedly marked with terror and devastation to all the inhabitants of the earth who align themselves outside of God's instruction. It's fanciful to imagine, but horrible when considered in the light of reality. Let's say I could joke about cancer or STDs, but when I'm in the company of someone who actually suffers from that kind of affliction, it's really just not funny anymore. It's really tragic and grave. The Tribulation is a reality, not a fantasy, and I find more and more that as I grow in my understanding of it, the less I want to imagine it. I hope instead to save as many as possible through God's undeserved grace before that day comes and the God's wrath is poured out on the injustice of the earth, on each man for his own sins.

 

During Tribulation, how could anyone deny the existence of God?  Why would people follow the antichrist?

                I guess a lot of reasons could explain why people don't believe in God during the Tribulation.

1) Not everybody knows it's the "Tribulation." How many unbelievers do you know who are acquainted with Revelation's eschatological terminology?

2) Faith isn't just an issue of knowledge, but more an issue of loyalty and trust. Just because people know God is real, they don't necessarily want to give up their own lordship, often because they don't really think God's instruction will lead to their greater fulfillment.

3) Disaster (such as the kind that occurs in the Tribulation) can sway people to question and doubt the existence of a god who would allow such catastrophe to occur. In fact, that's a very popular argument today by skeptics of religious faith.

4) Disaster can embitter people to God, rather than draw them close to Him in love.

                Those are just a few big ones off the top of my head but I'm sure there are more reasons than that. 

                As far as following the Antichrist, I don't think he's going to go around calling himself "the Antichrist." We know--from Revelation 13 and the letters to the Thessalonians--that he will be a political figure and a religious figure who has worldwide influence and following. People will follow him because he'll have strong leadership and he'll stand for values that the world would love to support. Everything he does will culminate in the ultimate blasphemy, where he eventually declares himself to be god, and will be worshiped by people everywhere--maybe not religiously, but the world will certainly look to him as their provider and lord.

 

Is Wormwood in Revelation related to the oil spills in the Gulf of Mexico (during 2010)?  Also, how soon do you think Jesus is coming?

                In Revelation 8:10-11, the apostle John sees a vision of a star that falls and a third of the rivers and springs turned bitter. That star's name is "Wormwood" which is the name of a Middle Eastern herb.
                Here are a few distinct responses to your question:
1) The book is singular: Revelation, not Revelations. The singular is used to encapsulate all that John had experienced as a unified body of prophecy. All of the book, though made of separate visions, stands together under the single purpose of informing people of future judgment in order to call them to faithfulness today.
2) The star would not have anything to do with our oil spills. The star in Revelation destroys fresh water sources, turning them bitter. Our oil spills are affecting salt water sources, or seas. That domain is affected in 8:8-9, not here in 8:10-11.
 
3) Additionally, the oil spills make an unfit interpretation of Wormwood due to the locality of the catastrophe. Why would you use a star in the sky to symbolize oil spewing up from the depths of the sea? Why name a star after an herb when the problem is an unctuous liquid?
4) Wormwood is the third trumpet of judgment given in the Great Tribulation. If the oil spills actually are that third trumpet of judgment, then we are in the Great Tribulation and we have all missed the Rapture! Also, what happened to the first two trumpets? Or the seven seals that precede the trumpets? Since the Great Tribulation takes 7 years to complete, how far are we into it? Can we scramble to find other world events that fit the descriptions of these other judgments?
 
5) I have no idea when Jesus is returning, precisely because he says NO ONE has any idea when he is returning (Matthew 24:44; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). Where God is silent, I dare not speak. When will He return? The only answer we can give is "soon," but no one will be able to predict it. We can only watch the decaying world, increasing frequency of world catastrophes, and escalation of wars and conflicts--and all of that will be understood as labor pains that will then give birth to his promised return (Matthew 24:4-8).

In Revelation 14 it mentions that 144,000 people are marked as saved.  Is that the literal amount of people that will go to heaven? 

                That is the number that John gives to describe how many Jews come to faith during the time of the Tribulation to rightly understand Jesus and proclaim him to the nations. Twelve thousand from each of the twelve tribes are mentioned. Those people are not figurative of the Church. It is national Israelites. The number, though, could be literal or figurative. It's hard to tell when it comes to apocalyptic literature, but I wouldn't be surprised either way. 

                To assume that 144,000 people are all that ever gets saved throughout history would be the least responsible hermeneutic. It's interpretively inconsistent to render "Israel" as figurative but"144,000" as literal.  My particular opinion is that 144,000 is either a literal measurement of how many Jews evangelize during the Tribulation, OR it is merely a statement that all the elect remnant of Israel (described in Romans 9:30-11:10) are called upon together--not spread out over a long period of time. The reason I think this is plausible is because each of the 12 tribes has 12,000 come to faith. The number "1000" is the highest numeric identifier in the Greek that the Bible was written in, and having 12 of each of the 12 tribes demonstrates a thoroughness and fullness to how many are reached. Twelve twelve-thousands...that makes a Jewish reader go, "Oh wow, each tribe is like its own Israel, and the maximum amount of them come to faith."

 

When do you think the End Times will come?  Is it going to be scary?

                I really don't know when the End Times will come. No one does. Not even Jesus knows (Matthew 24:36). It will be terrifying for God's enemies and glorious for God's people. Your fear will go away the more you grow in your love for Him--that's EXACTLY what Scripture says (1 John 4:16-18). It's a great promise. You won't be left in your fear if you give your heart to Christ and live in obedience to Him.

 

Do you believe the End Time is coming soon?

                Kind of. "Soon" is ambiguous.  I think it's possible that the end times (or the "eschaton" if you want to use the cool theological word) could occur in my lifetime, which would include Rapture, Tribulation, and the Second Coming (in that order!) and then the Millennial Kingdom. But I also wouldn't be surprised if it didn't occur for another few centuries. 

                God will inaugurate the "Day of the Lord" or the eschaton or the end times (whichever term you prefer) when He chooses, and it won't be at any time that we can accurately expect. It will all happen "like a thief in the night" (1 Thessalonians 5:1-3). If anyone thinks he has received some kind of vision or revelation about when the end times will occur, that person is crazy and/or a liar.

 

How does God judge non-Christians by their deeds, since none of their deeds were ever used to glorify God?  What's the point of judgment for them if there are only two options (heaven and hell)?

                Any system of justice is capable of judging a person by his deeds, regardless of his religion. Murder is more severe than stealing. Treason is a far worse crime than tax evasion. Whether Christian or not, God knows the difference between one crime and another. We are not smarter than Him in that regard at all. God is the one who wrote a system of justice for the Israelites in Exodus and Leviticus, complete with varying degrees of punishment for varying magnitude of sin. 
                While all sin is equal IN ESSENCE--meaning, none of it is excusable, acceptable, or negligible; it is all absolutely sin--that doesn't mean all sin is equal IN DEGREE. That's why people are judged according to what they have done (Revelation 20:12). Jesus himself says in John 19:11-12 that some sins are greater than others. Exodus 21:23-25 shows that God set up laws that bestow punishments that fit the crime. Deuteronomy 25:2-3 mentions how punishment should be given according to one's degree of guilt (note that all guilty people are guilty in essence, making that an equal quality, but not all guilty to the same degree, making it different in quantity). The strongest case, of course, is Luke 12:42-48, where Jesus' description of hell seems to indicate varying degrees of punishments according to what was deserved.
                Judgment in Revelation doesn't actually determine who goes to heaven or hell. We all actually deserve hell. But Christ paid for it--those sins weren't just erased without penalty. So even our judgment is made and paid. But just as Christ will reward believers for their work (ie. treasures in heaven), he will punish men for their sin.

 

ANTICHRIST

Do you believe there are antichrists today?

                Yes.   1 John 2:18 tells us that many antichrists have come.  1 John 2:22 tells us that antichrists are people who deny Jesus as Messiah.  That's not to be confused with "THE Antichrist," which is what we commonly refer to as the man who will profane the holy place, become a world leader, declare himself a god, and demand the worship of the entire world.  Scripture also calls that particular antichrist as "the abomination that causes desolation" (Daniel 9:27), the lawless one (2 Thessalonians 2), the Beast (Revelation 13).

 

 

REVELATION

Why do Christians these days place so much emphasis on the book of Revelation, especially the end of the world?  What about churches thousands of years ago?

                There are two unhealthy extremes that run in the Church about Revelation: the first is to think that everything that's happening is an obscure, symbolic fulfillment of some corner passage in the book. The second is to not read the book at all and pretend it's not important.

                Christians in any era should put incredible emphasis on Revelation. Revelation is the only book in the Bible to make a promise that reading it will produce blessing (1:3). What good is it to run a race at full speed when you don't know the finish line?   The fact that John wrote the book to Christians back 2000 years ago and promised them that it would bless them if they read it, heard it, and took it to heart--that says that the book had immediate, relevant, and practical value for the original readers. It wasn't necessarily about credit cards, special microchips, or whatever other fancy theories spring up these days that people think are signs of the end of the world. 

                John spoke to a world that was undergoing tremendous persecution against faith in Christ. He spoke to an audience who feared having their families taken from them, their bodies thrown to lions, their children turned into slaves. The more you read about Revelation with that understanding in mind, the more you see that John was writing a message of hope: a reminder that God is on the throne in heaven and He has supreme victory over the seemingly never-ending battle between good and evil. All men get judged for their lives, receiving reward or punishment based on their motives and intents. Every martyr is justified in the sacrifice of his life. Every believer is clothed with righteousness and victorious with Christ. 

                The book is not intended to give a clear and unmistakable picture of the future. The nature of apocalyptic literature is cryptic and obscure in its very construction, and John says clearly that what he is seeing are prophetic visions, which throughout the Bible are almost never literal, chronological, or easily understandable.  The end of the world takes up only the last two chapters of Revelation. The 20 chapters beforehand is a sober call to faith, drawing from hundreds of Old Testament ideas, demonstrating that all that Scripture said beforehand is true and vividly displayed in the course of man's history. The fate of the world is laid out not to satiate our curiosity about the future, but to call us to faithfulness today.

                To know the way it all ends is to gain perspective on how you deal with the journey. Re-watch an exciting basketball game and you'll find it's not exciting anymore--not in the sense of threat anyway. You know the victor, you know the outcome, you know who to put your allegiance in. You'll end up watching with victorious expectation of the end, no matter how hopeless it seems throughout the middle.

I have trouble understanding the book of Revelation.  Is there a good study book you can recommend? 

                I can't think of any single book that I'd recommend, since Revelation (ESPECIALLY Revelation) is such an enormous amount of work to unpack. In its 404 verses, there are over 500 references to the Old Testament, and the interpretive applications of each of the different images span about 4 major theological camps. 
                To get a simplified view of each of these perspectives, I'd probably go with the Counterpoints series called "Four Views on Revelation." This book won't actually teach you the parts of the book piece-by-piece, but it'll acquaint you with the distinct hermeneutical approaches.
  Of course, if you're patient enough, you can wait about 1 and a half years and get my sermon series on the book. That is definitely going to be a part-by-part tour of the entire apocalypse, from John's first vision, through the Great Tribulation, into the Millennium, past the Great White Throne of Judgment, and landing at the new heavens and the new earth. That will be available on my website some time in 2012.

 

 

HEAVEN & HELL

What are Sheol and Gehenna? How is it different from hell? Was Jesus himself in Sheol during the 3 days after his crucifixion?

                Sheol is the Hebrew word for "grave." Gehenna and Hades and Tartaros are Greek words that we translate as "hell."  Everyone goes to Sheol when they die, since it really just refers to going to the grave, or the afterlife. So you and I go to Sheol after we die. We go to "the afterlife." Sheol is understood by the Jews of the Old Testament to have two partitions: one with God, one separated from God. This is the basic understanding of heaven and hell.
                When you get to the New Testament, the teaching on hell is explained much more, almost entirely by Jesus. That's where we get the imagery of fire, weeping, wailing, outer darkness, etc. Revelation shows us that hell's final state--namely, the Lake of Fire--is a future event. Just like there will be a new heaven and a new earth, there will also be a new hell in that sense. 
                So when Jesus died, he was in Sheol--he was in the grave, he was in the afterlife. But he was not in hell. He was in paradise with God, and with the thief that was on the cross next to him (Luke 23:43).

 

So until the Second Coming...does that mean every believer who is dead is just laying in the ground right now and they won't go to heaven until rapture?

                Believers who die immediately go to heaven. That's why Jesus tells the thief on the cross, "Today you will be with me in paradise" (Luke 24:43). It's also why the apostle Paul describes bodily death as a departure to go to be with Christ (Philippians 1:23) and calls dying "gain" (Philippians 1:21).  So we know that the moment a believer dies, his soul does not remain in the body which decomposes, but is with Christ. 
                At the beginning of the Second Coming, God will take all the believers out of the earth--this is called the rapture. All of God's people will be in heaven. 
                After the Second Coming, God will raise everyone who has ever lived and give them eternal bodies that will endure for all eternity (1 Corinthians 15:42-44). Until that day, they will wait in heaven, without bodies, but still in the presence of Christ.

 

Will our new heavenly bodies be capable of sinning?

                No, we will not be able to sin in heaven. That capacity is a weakness, not a strength. It's a vulnerability that makes us prone to destruction, but since we started there and were saved out of its consequences, we have a knowledge of good and evil, and we have chosen good. Upon death, the eternity you receive is the one you choose in life: whether it's to be under Christ's lordship or to be apart from the presence of God, that's up to you. When you die and later receive your eternal body, you'll forever dwell in the choice you've already made. After all, you've seen what sin does to the world and how it ultimately gets destroyed by God's power, and then you're lifted into heaven in which you experience no tears, no sorrow, no grief, no fear. At that point, having a reference to what sin will do if you commit it, who would choose to embrace eternal torture versus eternal paradise? Satan, in his original rebellion, did not have that understanding. There was no example for him to learn from, and so he didn't fully realize that extent of the consequences of his actions and/or the impossibility of thwarting God.

 

Are awkward situations possible in heaven?

                Hm. I don't know. I guess it'd at least take some getting used to at times. For instance, I don't think age will really have any relevance in heaven, since we won't be re-growing up. I don't think that whoever dies first is born earlier in heaven than the guy that dies later, and they suddenly reverse birth rank. So maybe meeting your kids and being the same age would take some adjusting.
What would it be like to run into your spouse in heaven, but not be married anymore? I don't know. Awkward? I doubt it, but I can't rule out the possibility that we'll be completely adjusted to everything right from the beginning.

                Contrary to that sentiment though is the assertion Paul makes in 1 Corinthians 13:8-12, speaking of how we love imperfectly on earth (which is what makes awkwardness possible), but we will love fully and perfectly in heaven (which would remove the possibility of awkwardness). So I'd say awkwardness probably doesn't happen in heaven, but getting used to things might need to take place? Or maybe not.

 

If you met your spouse in Heaven, but he or she isn't your spouse anymore, wouldn't that be awkward?

                I doubt it. 1 Corinthians 13:12 tells us that our heavenly perspective will give us clarity on relationships. We'll know how to love fully. This won't apply only to our earthly spouses, but to all God's people. Even the love we have for one another now in marriage is not at its full potential. It is dim compared to what would be experienced with one another in heaven.

What's the point of the new heavens if we'll all be living on the new earth? 

                Heaven doesn't exist for you (or me or anyone else). Heaven has a purpose now, and it's not to house God. It's to display His glory (Psalm 19:1). He doesn't need to reside there, but He does. So when He creates a new heaven and a new earth, the purpose is the same--to display His glory. God Himself says He makes everything new (Revelation 21:5), and that includes heaven.
                On a different note, Genesis 1:1 says that God made the heavens and the earth. That is to say, God made the entire universe. "Heavens" (in the dual-plural in Hebrew, or in the Greek) was the same word for "skies." God made the skies and the land. That's what that verse says. And Revelation 21:1 says the same thing in Greek. It can be translated the same way. It means John saw a whole new universe--space and matter, renewed. And God, instead of remaining outside of our physical reality, enters into our spacetime and dwells with us forever on the new earth. But that doesn't mean the skies are pointless. They continue to display His creative power.

Who lives on the new earth and who lives in the new heaven after they are created?

                In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth, which is a way of saying the "skies" and the "land" (Hebrew uses the same word to render the same translations, respectively). When God creates a new heavens and new earth, it will replace this current universe. A new planet will be made (or re-made) in a new cosmic universe, this time without the curse of sin affecting it. God's people will dwell on the new earth, just like the people of the world dwell on the current earth. The new heavens is just a reference to a new "skies."

 

Will there be gender in heaven?

                I don't know for sure. Some think there will not be gender because of Matthew 22:30, where Jesus says people won't be married in heaven but will be like the angels. But being like the angels wasn't to say we would be genderless, but only to make the specific point that we won't marry one another. Others point to Galatians 3:26, but that verse is speaking of how there is no social ladder in God's Kingdom--we're all equally heirs of His promise of salvation.
                When we examine the original design, starting in Genesis 1, before sin entered the world, you find that God created male and female in His image and it was good. If that's how we originally created and is renewing all things, then I think the implication is strong that there will still be maleness and femaleness in heaven. Related examples would include Jesus' resurrected body (which was male), and the appearance of Moses and Elijah on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:3, they also appeared as male--not genderless). On a really weak line of logic, I think it'd be awkward to call Jesus the "Son" of God, or any of us as God's "sons and daughters" if gender was no longer a reality.

 

Will we recognize one another in the new earth?

                I honestly have no certain answer. People didn't immediately recognize Jesus in his resurrected body (which our bodies will be like) so maybe we'll be difficult to recognize at first. Maybe I'll finally have a six-pack. But we'll definitely have all eternity to figure out who's who and laugh at how dumb we were during our earthly lives (though I don't think we'd bother to think back on them much, as implied in Isaiah 65:17).
                Moses and Elijah still appeared human when they stood next to Jesus on the Mount of Transfiguration (Matthew 17:1-4), so at least we know we won't have tentacles or anything like that. In Luke 16:19-31, the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus, Jesus tells a story of a rich man who dies and sees a beggar named Lazarus who also died. They were both dead and the way Jesus tells the story, the rich man recognized Lazarus. That's really not a strong argument to say that's how the reality of the afterlife will be, but it's interesting to note that Jesus didn't ever teach that we will NOT recognize each other. Even to the thief on the cross in Luke 23, Jesus said they would be together in paradise that day, and Jesus never mentioned, "but you won't recognize me; just trust me, I'm one of the people you'll see." King David expected to see his dead baby son in heaven (2 Samuel 12:22-23), and didn't seem to fear that he wouldn't recognize him.  Whatever the case, whether we immediately recognize each other or not in heaven, we'll get it figured out pretty quickly. If we don't recognize each other immediately, I have less to fear. There aren't many people named Rand Cho on earth, so identifying me in heaven will be pretty easy. I fear for the Daniel Kims and David Lees.

 

For people that died, is there any way of knowing if they can see earth?  Doesn't a passage in Luke talk about this?

                You know, there's nowhere in the Bible that indicates clearly that people in heaven can see what's happening on earth. That doesn't mean they cannot; it simply means the Bible doesn't say.

                The passage you're referring to in Luke is the Parable of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). I don't think that's concrete evidence to say people in hell are aware of their life on earth because parables weren't meant to make fine theological assertions as such--they were really intended to teach a singular idea, and examining the fine edges of the metaphors only destroys the intended consistency of the lesson. That parable was told only to say that if people won't believe in Jesus through Scripture, they still won't believe even if they see a miracle. [Note: some think this is not a parable, but rather that Jesus is actually telling a non-fictional story. That's possible, but not clear, and context would strongly suggest otherwise.]
                One might try and argue that there is some awareness of what goes on, since the martyrs in Revelation 6:9-11 seem to know that their deaths are still unavenged. It would be hard to believe that Moses and Elijah appear at the Mount of Transfiguration and have had no idea what has been going for the past few thousand years.  On the other hand, if there is no grief in heaven, that argues strongly that people do not see what's going on here. If they saw the earth, certainly some would see things that would cause grief.
                My opinion: I think there may be some awareness in heaven of what's going on in the earth, but perspectives are much more informed in heaven (1 Corinthians 13:12). They don't grieve for the same things we do, because they now see clearly the unstoppable hand of God and His sovereign will at work in the history of man to ultimately bring the repentant to righteousness and dispense holy justice on the rebellious. This is still, however, only speculation, since the Bible is not clear on the issue. Far be it from me to claim certainty where God does not state as such.

 

Who created Hell?

God created Hell, specifically as a place for Satan and his fallen angels to dwell in and be punished forever (Matthew 25:41). Those who choose to live apart from God's presence and lordship are also placed there, as they have chosen not to enter His kingdom (Revelation 20:10,14-15).

 

What is Hell like?  I'm scared because, even though I'm a Christian, sometimes I feel like I'm going to Hell.

                Hell in the Bible is always described with the utmost extreme metaphorical illustrations that almost entirely revolve around fire, darkness, wailing, weeping, and gnashing of teeth for eternity.  It was created for Satan and his angels (Matthew 25:41 and Revelation 20:10), though all men who reject God's salvation and lordship are sent there with him (Revelation 20:15).

                Fear of hell is actually a healthy sign. It will lead you, hopefully, to understand the gravity of your sin, the absolute righteousness of God, the inevitability of justice and judgment, and the immensity of the punishment. Your proper response, then, is to repent and believe in Jesus, in all that He instructed.

                The insecurity about salvation comes about when a person is 

1) neglecting to read the Scriptures frequently, 

2) out of the habit of true and sincere prayer, 

3) inconsistent with daily fellowship with believers, 

4) unwilling to confess and repent of sin, 

5) not serving God's people with the things he/she is gifted with

6) afraid to share the gospel due to awkwardness or embarrassment

7) not involved in consistent praise and worship of God at church.

                I'm listing these reasons off the top of my head, and I wouldn't be surprised if I missed one or more. They don't come from any single specific Bible passage, but more from the many places that Scripture consistently instructs us to do these things in order to secure our faith, hope, and love in God.

                If you're experiencing doubt and fear about your salvation, check to see if there's a hole in your life regarding the instructions you're to follow. Are any of those items on the list above true of you? If so, talk to your pastor and renew your commitment to follow God wholeheartedly. That's the proof of saving faith. To be faulted in the areas listed above is proof that one does not fully understand the gospel and its call to surrender and obedience under Christ's lordship--to fully deny one's self and live as Christ on earth.

 

Isn't Hell torture?

                Hell is definitely torture by manner of experience. It is an unpleasant place. That doesn't necessarily mean that there is an angel whipping you. It means that you really don't want to be there for whatever reasons the conditions might be. That penalty is not secret nor subtle. It's clear not only in Scriptures, but even in the basic instinct of man who inherently understands that "what goes around comes around." If I ended up on a deserted island by myself for the rest of eternity, I would call that torture, but that doesn't really mean it's the same thing as someone constantly inflicting pain on me. But in light of the offenses I've made against a holy God, He could even rightly go ahead and literally torture me and it would not be unjust because of the magnitude of my crimes.

If a person can only commit a finite number of sins in a lifetime, then will he eventually finish paying his sentence and stay in Limbo like Dante?  Or will he receive fire and wrath forever (which might be why many see Hell as unfair and cruel)?

                The penalty of sin actually depends on the ontology of the offended party.  If you kill a roach, almost nobody cares.  If you kill a bird, some might call you mean.  If you kill a dog, many would question your character.  If you kill a human, you're sentenced to years in prison.  If you kill an animal from an endangered species, you are a vile monster.
                Why do we differentiate the penalty for the same crime of murder (assuming the killing was done hatefully)? The reason why the penalty differs is because the essential "worth" of the killed creature differs. To offend a roach has no consequence because the roach is basically worth nothing on our scales. But human beings we protect to our utmost ability. And killing an endangered species is more criminal than other species simply based on the creature's rarity.
                When we sin, we aren't offending a roach or bird or dog or human. We are offending an eternal God whose value is infinitely beyond that of the created world since all that was created was created by Him. Not only is it an offense, but it is a betrayal since our design is to follow Him, and the extent of the crime is unique because it is against a being that is not exactly endangered, but completely set apart and distinct from any other creature or essence that can or will ever exist. This offense is committed by a finite, temporal, spatial, rebellious creature against an infinite, eternal, almighty, holy God. The offense is not finite like we are, because it is not defined by the offender. The offense is infinite because the affected/offended party is infinite.
                The point of that is not to say that God has someone whipping a person in Hell forever for his earthly crimes. But it is to say that no one can spend enough time separated from God to finally earn the right to come and share in His kingdom. The choice is made in this life on whether or not we want to live in God's lordship or be left to ourselves. The result of that choice is eternal and non-refundable. The punishment for sin is to be separated from God for as long as He lives. And He lives forever.

Can unbelievers that are in hell feel pain forever or will they get used to it?  What kind of life will they have?

                The way Jesus describes hell is very vivid (here's a list of his descriptions, and I'm not going to elaborate so as not to scare you!): a place of eternal punishment (Matthew 25:46), fire (Matthew 18:8; Jude 7), chains (Jude 6), pit of the Abyss (Revelation 9:2,11), outer darkness (Matthew 8:12), wrath of God (Romans 2:5), second death (Revelation 21:8), eternal destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9), and eternal sin (Mark 3:29). Jesus actually talks more about hell than he does heaven, probably because people have a harder time accepting the reality and truth about hell. 
                The use of the word eternal with these descriptions tells us that the conditions are permanent and unchanging. There's nothing to indicate that anyone can habituate or desensitize to it. Whatever "life" is like in hell, all we can say is that it's described in the strongest imagery that Jesus could use to communicate to us.
                I hope, though, that the more we understand hell, the more we'll understand the holiness of God. Hell was never meant for us. God created it for Satan and the angels that followed him (Matthew 25:41). This shows God's absolute righteousness, his intolerance of evil, and the perfect justice with which he exacts his will.
                One of the dangerous pitfalls for many people is to try to use hell as an evangelistic scare tactic. They try to convert people by fear of hell instead of love for God. That's not any way to build a love relationship with anyone, and it's certainly not a reason for a person to keep going to church. Faith is only faith if it comes from a loving trust in God who deals justly with evil. Our sins don't disappear altogether, they only disappear from OUR lives, and get placed on Jesus at the cross who pays for them. The true believer doesn't cling to God out of fear, but out of gratitude, understanding the necessity to punish evil, the reality that we were evil and deserved that punishment, and the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ who undeservedly paid the penalty for our sin. God satisfied his justice, exercised his mercy, and gained for himself the worship of those who love him. 
                Be glad that there is a hell, for that means we have a God who does not tolerate evil, but upholds perfect good. And rejoice over every sinner who repents and is saved into the kingdom of light. Balancing the understanding of the two is essential to keeping sound doctrine and avoiding dangerous gospel heresies.

I'm so scared of Hell.  Isn't God a god of love?

                Yes, God is a God of love.
                Hell is for people who reject that love--the kind of love that doesn't spoil His children by letting them do whatever they want, regardless of how it may hurt them or others, but rather instructs them to understand His grace and embrace His holiness and demonstrate to a world that's fallen away.
                You have no need to fear Hell if you love God. You love God if you understand and obey His grace and instruction (1 John 1:8-2:6).

 

What’s the point of God judging the people who go to hell since they’ll all end up there and no one will get first class treatment?

            Everyone who goes to hell will be punished according to what their sins deserve. Romans 2:5 and Revelation 20:12-13 are very clear verses that tell us how the punishment will fit the crime. Notice how Jesus even talks about how some people are punished more severely than others: he tells Korazin and Bethsaida that their punishment would be even more unbearable than the punishment for Tyre and Sidon, and Capernaum will be punished more severely than Sodom (Matthew 11:20-24). In Luke 12:47-48, Jesus describes punishments as being scaled to the magnitude of the crime. In John 19:11, Jesus talks about a sin that is a "greater sin" than another, which implies that if there are degrees of sin, there should be degrees of punishment for proper justice. Again, Hebrews 10:26-31 talks about how God will punish more greatly for those who deserve greater punishment. 2 Peter 2:20-21 says this too, asserting that it's better to never have heard the gospel than to have heard it and tried it and turned away from it. James tells us God judges teachers more strictly than other church members (James 3:1).

            The point of God judging the people who go to hell is for them to receive just punishment for their sin. Yes, they all end up in heaven, and it's true that there is no first class treatment, but that doesn't mean everyone gets the exact same degree of penalty. 

 

What is your opinion on people saying they have seen/visited Hell? 

                That's always a tough call. We don't have ANY precedence of that ever happening in the Bible. John gets a vision of heaven in Revelation 4, and so does Paul in 2 Corinthians 12:2 (he refers to himself in the third person there). The theological problem I have with people who say they visited hell is that hell isn't really fully made yet. Hell is a lake of fire that is created at the time of judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. Right now, those who are destined for hell are still in a place of separation from God in some way, but it's not in its final state. I don't see any reason for God to give a man a vision of hell. That kind of nightmare was specifically for Christ when He was separated from God (Mark 15:34).
                Personally, I disregard those stories. They're not founded on any biblical corroboration for that kind of event, and my faith doesn't need to be scared into believing God. I don't have to be reminded of eternal torment (which He already paid for on my behalf) to get me to trust God. I trust Him because He is trustworthy.