What about Hell?

Editor's Note: For a more detailed examination of the afterlife and the specific English term "hell", see this related article.

Some people like to believe that Hell is just an idea that was thought up to scare people into being good. Perhaps it's merely symbolic, others say. A look through the Bible shows that Hell was spoken of in both the Old and New Testaments. Examining how God speaks of this place will help us understand what Hell is all about. What God has said about it, rather than opinion and traditions, should be our only guide...

Is Hell a real place? According to the Bible it is. Jesus spoke more about Hell than Heaven, and few would suggest that Heaven is just a myth. In response to those that say the language may only be figurative, consider the purpose of the passages being referenced. God wanted us to understand, in human terms, the awesome terribleness of this spiritual thing. If the wording is figurative, using terms equated to earthly things to allow us to understand it, consider how much worse the real place must be.

    Mark 9:48
    If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where "`their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'" (NIV)

Admittedly, this passage in Mark 9 is at least partially figurative. Jesus was saying to stop doing what will cause you to sin, or going to where you'll sin, or filling your mind with what causes you to sin – rather than literally disfiguring your body. Where Jesus' words take on a literal sense is in regards to the possible outcomes, namely the kingdom of God or Hell. In regards to the latter one He even quotes an important phrase... "their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched." Notably, this phrase is taken directly from the Old Testament...

    Isaiah 66:24
    "As the new heavens and the new earth that I make will endure before me," declares the LORD, "so will your name and descendants endure. From one New Moon to another and from one Sabbath to another, all mankind will come and bow down before me," says the LORD. "And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind."

The prophecy of Isaiah was directly dealing with a contrast between two possible states in the end of this world and the beginning of the "new heavens and new earth." Does the worm have to be literal to show that this place of hell is vile? Or the unquenchable fire literal to say that the pain is beyond imagination? And this is not to say that they couldn't be literal. Real engulfing flames and worms sounds pretty bad by themselves – how much more if they are merely an earthly representation of spiritual torments.

What is Hell like? Unquenchable fire and worms that never die (Isaiah 66:24; Mark 9:48) are only a part. Physical suffering is bad, but there is a worse suffering than that. Notice that when Jesus was spit on, mocked, lashed, and nailed on a cross – unbelievable physical pain and disfigurement (Isaiah 52:14) – He silently bore that pain (Mark 14:61; Matthew 26:63; Acts 8:32). What pain caused Him to cry out?...

    Matthew 27:46
    "My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?"

The worst suffering Jesus experienced was to be God-forsaken. Every resident of Hell will experience that kind of suffering. Here on earth, while there is much suffering and pain through being in a fallen state, there is still some good as God's presence is still here.

2 Thessalonians 1:9
They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power... (NIV)

Every good thing that ever happens on earth comes from God (James 1:17). Hell has absolutely no good as God has removed His presence from that place. Occupants of hell will never see another act of good, or display of the power of God. [Christian, consider that Jesus bore even that punishment of separation from God on your behalf, that you so justly deserved to experience for all eternity. Consider 1 Peter 3:24.]

Matthew 13:40-43
"As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (NIV)

"Weeping and gnashing of teeth" speaks of unstopping mental anguish. Hell is the home of all regrets, sorrow, endless tears, and every worst fear forever. Jesus quoted the phrase about "weeping and gnashing of teeth" seven times in the gospels. Yes, in Matthew 13:40-43 the fiery nature of hell is spoken of, but in another occurrence Jesus points out another fact of Hell.

Matthew 25:30
And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.' (NIV)

Darkness. Since "God is light and in him there is no darkness at all. (1 John 1:5)", it makes sense that Hell would be a place of darkness (Jude 6), as God is not there. Spiritual darkness, physical darkness, the result is aloneness. For all the people that think Hell will be one big party, consider what it feels like to be lost in the darkness even here on earth. Feelings of terror, aloneness, and helplessness are a constant part of Hell. Spiritual darkness mean 100% evil, 100% of the time, with never a glimmer of good. Jesus' account of the events of Lazarus' life and death illustrates still more about Hell...

Luke 16:19-31
"There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man's table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. "The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham's side. The rich man also died and was buried. In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, `Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'

"But Abraham replied, `Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.'

"He answered, `Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my father's house, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.' "Abraham replied, `They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.' "`No, father Abraham,' he said, `but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.' "He said to him, `If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.'" (NIV)

Notice that the rich man was not only in torment physically (wanting cool water), he was plagued by the knowledge that his family could end up there as well. And also notice, the rich man never once asked to get out. Why? Because there is no hope in Hell. He knew that he justly deserved to be in this place he described as a "place of torment." No hope and lots of memories. Memories of what he had done and never done. Memories of people, without a conclusion or a remedy. Mental anguish. There can be no rest, or sleep, in hell...

Revelation 14:9-11
A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: "If anyone worships the beast and his image and receives his mark on the forehead or on the hand, 10 he, too, will drink of the wine of God's fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. He will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. 11 And the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image, or for anyone who receives the mark of his name." (NIV)

Why was Hell created? Jesus answered that question directly...

Matthew 25:41
"Then he (Jesus) will say to those on his left, `Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. (NIV)

God created Hell for the Devil, that fallen angel sometimes known as Lucifer, whose rebellion led to a third of the angels of heaven being cast down (Revelation 12:4). Hell was a place prepared for those who rebelled against God. The Devil and his fallen angels (demons) were the first, yet mankind followed in their arrogant and prideful ways in rebelling against their Creator. For this reason, Hell becomes a place for everyone that stays in rebellion against God – God's enemies. Unlike mankind, there is absolutely no indication in Scripture that fallen angels have any possibility of redemption. Apart from the grace of God in becoming a believer in Jesus Christ, experiencing the forgiveness and declared righteousness of His salvation, all people would remain enemies of God.

Isaiah 26:11
... let the fire reserved for your enemies consume them. (NIV)

Who will go there? Getting back to why hell was created, every one who is in rebellion against God, who is God's enemy, will go there. While the Devil is often portrayed in popular media (especially cartoons and horror films) as ruling over hell, the Bible says something totally different. The Devil is called the prince of the power of the air (Ephesians 2:2), cast down to the earth (Luke 10:18, Revelation 12:9-10), where he wanders seeking to steal kill and destroy (John 10:10, 1 Peter 5:8). The Devil knows his time is short (Revelation 12:12) and that he was been defeated by Jesus Christ (1 John 3:8). He will end up in the final place of Hell, the Lake of Fire, not to rule over it but to be tormented for ever as well (Revelation 20:9).

Some of the fallen angels have already been condemned to hell, not being allowed to continue their earthly rebellion. God has merely allowed the others, including the Devil himself, a measure of freedom -- for a purpose -- before their ultimate fate.

2 Peter 2:4
For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment... (NASU) [Consider also Jude 6]

Mankind too, has the appearance of freedom in our natural slavery to sin (Romans 6:17-18), but it is also only for a time. To die in that sin is to experience the same fate as the rebellious angels. Everyone, no matter how religious or good they try to be (Isaiah 64:6), who has never put their faith and trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will have hell, and subsequently the lake of fire, as their ultimate destination.

John 14:6
Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (NIV)

Matthew 7:21-23
"Not everyone who says to me, `Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, `Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?' Then I will tell them plainly, `I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!' (NIV)

It is only those who have found salvation in Jesus Christ that have found pardon for sins (their rebellion) and have had their names written in the Lamb's Book of Life. The sins of every unrepentant person that ever lived are written in the books of God, to show that God is just in sentencing them by their deeds, motives, and thoughts. To His praise – by the blood of Jesus Christ – every sin of the past, present, and future, of those who turn in faith to Jesus for salvation has been forever blotted (wiped) out of the books forever.

Revelation 20:9-15
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. (NIV)

Acts 3:18-19
Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out... (NKJV)

Revelation 21:7-8
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars-their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death." (NIV)

While the Lake of Fire referenced in Revelation 20 is not technically "Hell," as the final destination for the current place of Hell and all its' occupants it is justifiable to refer to both by the generic designation of Hell.

Since we were all enemies of God at one time (Ephesians 2:1-10), it shows how awesome God is in forgiving all those who turn to Him. We all deserve Hell. Praise God, through Jesus Christ, Christians don't get what they deserve. That the angels who rebelled get what they deserve shows that God could have justly condemned all mankind in the same way; showing how amazing His grace is in providing salvation to any!

Is Hell forever?

John 3:16
"For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. (NIV)

The same Greek word translated "eternal" in John 3:16 is used just as frequently to refer to the state of existence in Hell. If we believe eternal life in heaven is forever, than one must also believe that eternal damnation is also forever. The clear meaning of the words themselves can be taken no other way. In this same verse God refers to the saved and unsaved using the same term...

Matthew 25:46
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (NIV)

Notice the following passage in Revelation...

Revelation 20:9-10
And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever. (NIV)

The false prophet and beast had been thrown into the lake of fire well before the Devil, yet the text states that "they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." The first ones were already there and being tormented, the devil came later. All three continue on.

One cannot take the words found in Ezekiel 18:4, "The soul who sins will die," or other like passages, to say that Hell (or the Lake of Fire) will be annihilation, or the ceasing of existence of the soul. In the same way that God told Adam and Eve that they would "surely die" for rebellion against Him, we must understand what death was being spoken of. Sin brought about both physical death (Romans 5:12) and spiritual death. Even as physical death is not entering a state of non-existence, neither is spiritual death...

— Physical death is a separation of the soul from the body. (2 Corinthians 5:6-8)
— Spiritual death is a separation of the soul from God. (Matthew 25:41)

In contrast...

— Eternal life is the soul being given a new physical body (1 Corinthians 15:50-55)
— Eternal life is the soul forever being in the presence of God, both now and forever. (John 14:23, Hebrews 13:5, Revelation 21:3)

As much as some would like to explain away Hell's existence, torments, or eternal state, the Bible clearly teaches it and so should we.


(c) 2003/2004 Brent MacDonald, LTM. Version 2