Today, we continue our series on “Fundamentals of the Faith,” and today’s topic is one that a lot of people really don’t like to think about–Hell.
Wouldn’t it be nice if we could take all the uncomfortable parts out of the Bible? You know, things like be thou faithful unto death? Things like, all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution? Or what about hell?
What about hell?
Does hell really exist? If so, does it last forever or is it only temporary? Would a loving God punish someone eternally for a comparatively short life of sin? How is hell described in the Bible?
These are questions that people have about hell, and it’s up to us to be ready to show them what the Bible has to say on the matter.
Does Hell Really Exist?
Sadly, the reality of hell–which was once almost universally believed–is being rejected by many people in many religious groups.
The Jehovah’s Witnesses all deny hell exists. Their doctrine is that all evil people simply cease to exist when they die. Thus, you can live your life as evil as you want, and when you die there is no punishment at all.
There are even those within the church who deny the existence of hell. This isn’t limited to liberal or conservative either, as there are those on both sides who hold this view. We’ll consider some of the arguments they use a bit later in the lesson.
The most important thing we need to remember when discussing any Bible topic is this: it doesn’t matter who believes it or how widespread that belief is; what matters is what the Bible says about it.
Acts 17:11-12a – These were more noble than they of Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so. Therefore many of them believed…
It is also extremely important that if we believe something, we know why we believe it.
“Because that’s what my preacher said” isn’t good enough.
“Because that’s what mom and dad believed” isn’t good enough.
We need to be able to show from the Bible why we believe what we believe.
So, you may believe there is a hell—but can you prove it from the Bible?
Hell is not always called hell in the Bible.
In fact, if you (like me) use the King James Version, you could get confused pretty quickly, because the word hell in the KJV doesn’t always mean hell.
- Acts 2:27 (KJV) says that Jesus’ soul went to hell.
- Revelation 20:14 (KJV) tells us that hell was cast into the lake of fire…which generally speaking is believed to be hell.
So, hell was destroyed in hell? That makes no sense.
So, we need to make some observations before we get too far into this discussion.
In the Old Testament, the word “hell” is always the Hebrew word Sheol. Some translations actually just render it Sheol. It means “the abode of the dead” (Thayer). Sometimes it refers to a place of torment, other times not. Without considering the context of each section, we cannot gain much insight on the topic of “hell” from these passages.
In the New Testament, there are two words translated hell. One is Gehenna (see Matthew 5:22, 29-30). This word is a reference to a place of fire and torment, as is obvious from the passages mentioned.
The other is Hades (see Matthew 11:23, 16:18). This is the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew word Sheol. This word simply means the unseen realm, or the abode of the dead, and is used ten times in the New Testament. Though it can include the idea of a place of torment (Luke 16:23), it also describes where Jesus’ soul went after His crucifixion (Acts 2:27, 31). It is a general word that includes all the unseen realm—including a place of paradise and a place of torment.
Hell is a place of torment reserved for the wicked after their time on earth.
Though the word hell isn’t always used, the concept of a place of punishment after death is clearly taught in the New Testament.
Luke 16:19-31 tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus. They both died, and the rich man awoke in torment—conscious torment (16:23). While in torment, he was conscious, proven by the fact that he was able to hold a conversation. It was a place of flame (16:24).
“You can’t use that passage, preacher! It’s a parable, not a real story.”
It doesn’t say it’s a parable, and even if it was, Jesus never gave a parable that described things that didn’t actually happen.
“Well, you can’t use that passage because it’s speaking of Hades, not hell.”
I say that the man has obviously been judged because he is now in torment. But if you want to discard that passage, we’ll just have to go somewhere else.
Matthew 25:41-46 describes the judgment scene. Jesus calls the ones on his left “cursed” and sends them into “everlasting fire” (24:41). He doesn’t use the term “hell,” but this is a description of the same place.
Mark 9:43-48 describes hell as a place of punishment for those who sin. Jesus uses the word “hell” (Gehenna, the place of fiery torment) in verses 43, 45, and 47. He describes it as a place “where the worm dies not and the fire is not quenched” (verses 44, 46, 48).
Revelation 14:11 speaks of some who were condemned, and says of them “the smoke of their torment ascends up for ever and ever, and they have no rest day nor night…” This, again, is a description of hell.
Jude 7 describes the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrha as “suffering the vengeance of eternal fire.” Literally, it means they have suffered and continue to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire.
So, the question now is this: does the Bible describe a place of torment for the wicked after their death?
Without a doubt, such a place is described in the Bible.
How long does hell last?
Some people, when faced with the reality of hell, try to soften the impact of it by declaring that it is only temporary. Some people say that it’s a place of torment until judgment day, and then all those who were in hell will simply be destroyed and cease to exist.
Others say that hell is a place of torment after judgment day, but that each person will be punished for a specific period of time based on their sins, and then they will be put in heaven after they’ve learned their lesson.
The problem with both of these theories is that neither one of them is found in the Bible.
As we’ve already seen from several passages, hell is a place of “everlasting” torment. It’s a place where torment lasts “for ever and ever.” It’s a place where the fire is never quenched (Mark 9:43-48).
If hell ceases to exist at any point, then the Bible has just lied! You hear me? If hell ceases to exist—ever—then the fires were quenched, and the Bible has lied.
Think about that carefully, and understand what that means.
If you say that hell is a temporary place, then you are calling God a liar.
It is a place that is every bit as eternal and everlasting as heaven itself.
Matthew 25:46 says “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.” The words “everlasting” and “eternal” in that verse are the EXACT SAME WORD in Greek.
So, however long “life eternal” is, that’s the same length of time “everlasting punishment” is. So, if hell is temporary, then so is heaven. If hell will have an end, so will heaven. If heaven is eternal, so is hell.
Hell is a place of unending torment reserved for the wicked.
But a loving God would not punish someone eternally for a short time of sinning!–Right?
That’s the argument, and it’s a very emotional one.
A 20-year old lives a life of fun and pleasure, never giving any thought to religion, and he’s hit and killed by a drunk driver. Is a loving God really going to torment him eternally for what amounts to only about 10-12 years of sin? (because when he’s a small child, he has no clue what sin is).
A preacher that I know, called me one evening, struggling with this question. He said, “Brad, I know what we’ve always taught, and what the church believes, but someone hit me with this question, and I’m at a loss.” He expressed that he was having a very difficult time rectifying the idea of a loving God and eternal punishment.
And I’ll tell you the same thing I told him.
If a loving God will not punish someone eternally for a short life of sin, then a just God will not reward someone eternally for a short life of obedience.
Did you get that?
The logic works both ways. A just God will not reward someone eternally when they’ve only spent a few years in His service, right?
Do we call the justice system unfair because it punishes someone for the rest of their life for a one-time action? Someone intentionally shoots an innocent person—something that takes less than a second—yet we punish them for perhaps 60 years! The punishment is absolutely deserved.
If you go to hell, it’s because you deserve to go there!
Whoa! Isn’t that a bit harsh? No, it’s not. It’s the Bible.
All of us deserve to go to hell because of our sins. However, those who take advantage of the blood of Christ can avoid hell and all its terrible torment.
If you don’t take advantage of it, whose fault is it?
But let’s dig a bit deeper into this idea of deserving to go to hell. Ecclesiastes 12:13 says, “Let us hear the conclusion of the whole matter: fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.” The whole duty of man. The whole purpose of man. This is the meaning of life. This is the entire reason man was put on this planet was to fear God and keep His commandments.
When you look at Job 1-2, you see God and Satan at war. The individual battles are waged in the lives of humans. In these chapters, Job is the battlefield.
You are the battlefield between God and Satan. You determine who wins and who loses in your life. We were designed and put here as the instruments by which God defeats Satan.
Fear God and keep His commandments, for this is the whole duty of man.
If you have a tool, designed for a specific purpose, and it won’t do what it’s supposed to do, you get rid of it. Now, imagine that your tool can talk, and that it says to you, “I know what you want me to do, what I’m designed to do, but I don’t want to, and I’m not going to do it.”
You beg and plead with it, and still it indignantly refuses, and tries to keep other tools from working for you. Eventually, you’re going to destroy that tool; and it will deserve it.
As humans, whose entire purpose is serving God and keeping His commandments, what do we deserve if we refuse to obey Him?
Yes, we deserve hell.
How is hell described in the Bible?
If we could just for 5 seconds peel back the lid on hell and experience it for just that short amount of time, I am convinced that we would serve God and never look back.
Hell is a place that God has created to torment Satan and his messengers forever (Matthew 25:41).
You know what Satan deserves because of his opposition to God. Satan deserves the worst possible torment imaginable.
And if you aren’t a faithful Christian, you will be joining him forever.
Hell is a place of fire.
Mark 9:43-48 describes it as the place where the fire is never quenched. Revelation 20:14-15 calls hell “the lake of fire.”
Ten years ago, a man was clearing out trash that was on the edge of his back yard. He starts a small burn pile to get rid of the trash and leaves. And being the guy that he is, he adds more and more, trying to get it done quicker (that, and he likes seeing the fire).
Then came an extremely loud pop! Something in the fire shoots out and lands on the man’s hand, and he looks on in horror as he sees his skin literally start to melt. The searing pain rushes through his whole body, and he screams.
He grabs something and as quick as he possibly can, he scrapes the burning material off his hand (causing even more pain in the process). He grabs his hand, trying to stop the pain, but nothing works—in fact, if anything, it gets worse.
Slowly, he removes his grip and looks at his hand, and at the place that was tormenting his entire body. The spot of pain was less than half the size of an M&M, but the burning tormented his entire body.
That was me.
But the fires of hell are not confined to one small part of you. It’s not just a spot on your hand. It’s not just a finger or a toe.
If you go to hell, you are in the lake of fire. Imagine yourself in the middle of a lake of water, and you’re drowning, thrashing around trying to stay afloat.
Now, as you have that image in your head, watch as the water turns to flames, and you are completely immersed in fire, thrashing about, trying in vain to escape the pain. Is it any wonder that john the Baptist promised that Jesus would baptize some people in unquenchable fire? (Matthew 3:10-12)
You know the pain of fire when you get burned on one part of your body. Now imagine it continually burning every part of you.
Hell is a place of darkness.
To the person trapped in an underground cave with no light, even a small speck of light is a sign of hope. But with no light, living in complete darkness, there is no way to see what might be around you—what could be trying to attack you.
Paranoia can easily creep in when someone is in complete blackness. Mentally, being in complete darkness for an extended period of time can actually drive someone insane.
You are thrown into a coffin, the lid shut, and then you are put in the ground and covered in earth…and you’re still alive. It’s completely black and you’re freaking out, hyperventilating, sweating, and the heat inside the coffin is quickly rising.
Then you find a flashlight and turn it on. Instantly, things have improved because there is some light—even though your condition hasn’t improved, the light has a somewhat calming effect.
In hell, there is no light.
Hell is called the place of “outer darkness.”
- Matthew 8:12 – the children of the kingdom shall be cast into outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.
- Matthew 22:13, 25:30 both describe hell in the same way.
- I Peter 2:9 may have this idea in mind as well, God “hath called you out of darkness” [perhaps, freed you from the punishment of hell].
- Jude 13 describes the fate of false teachers as “the blackness of darkness forever.”
Hell is not just a place of pain, but of mental anguish as well.
There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30). There will be anguish because each person in hell will understand that they brought it on themselves.
There will be anguish over lost opportunities to obey the gospel.
There will be anguish over each and every sin committed.
Hell is described as a place with a foul stench.
Worms (literally, we’re talking about maggots) thrive there (“where the worm dieth not”). Maggots are found around rotted meat–and you probably know that smell well.
It is a place of fire and brimstone. If you’ve smelled sulphur, you know how nauseating the stench is.
Some experts believe Gehenna (the Greek word for hell) was also the name of a continually burning garbage dump outside Jerusalem. It would have had dead animals, rancid meat, human waste, and many other foul odors constantly going through the air.
The smells of hell will attack your senses to the point where you can hardly breathe, causing you to hyperventilate, taking quick, shallow breaths in an attempt to keep from being as affected.
And as the smells get through, your stomach is turned and you’re not just fighting the smell, you’re fighting not to throw up. All of this horrid stench is attacking you, and you can’t see where its coming from because it is completely black.
And there’s no way to get away from it.
And the black flames burn over your entire body, and no matter how you move, you can’t stop the pain even for a moment.
And there’s no getting out of it.
Today is the day, and now is your chance. You can avoid the fires of hell by becoming a Christian. Do it now, before it’s too late!