The Bible teaching about hell is heart wrenching, painful, and downright depressing. Heaven causes one to emotionally soar, but the malignancy of that other place drives one to their knees in prayer and dismay. At least it does me.
It is impossible to be upbeat when describing that horrific place – which out does the most masterfully produced slimy grotesque monsters slithering through the horror movies created by Hollywood. Fair warning. It’s bad.
But, to be honest, consistent, and fair in teaching the Bible, I must venture into this ugly terrain and explain what is there. Bear with me, and don’t shy away. Several awful factors we examine.
Please remember, I am not making this stuff up to scare you. Actually, I don’t know if there is a hell or not. I have not been there. I don’t even like to talk about it. I am only, with compassion, reporting to you what Jesus and the Bible says. You decide.
That’s right. Hell is a real place. In the New Testament Hades is referred to as a definite place 10 times (Matthew 13:42; 16:18; Revelation 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14; Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31). Hades is probably a temporary holding jail for those awaiting final judgment (Revelation 20:13, 14).
The final place of torment is variously described as “furnace of fire...lake of fire…prison…abyss…tartarus” (Matthew 13:42; Revelation 20:14, 15; 1 Peter 3:19; Luke 8:31; 2 Peter 2:4).
Another word Jesus used to describe the final prison for the Satan, his angels, and all unsaved people is Gehenna. It is used 12 times in the NT. He called it a place of eternal fire, and a fiery hell (Matthew 18:8, 9).
Taken together, all these references indicate a localized place. Hell exists. But, what are the conditions of that wretched place – according to the Bible?
Eternal Fire and Punishment
Jesus made a very somber declaration regarding who would inhabit Hell, the length, and nature of their existence. Jesus said, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life’” (Matthew 25:41, 46).
The Bottomless Pit
Literally, the word is “abyss” which is something of immeasurable depth (cf. Revelation 9:1, 2, 11; 20:1, 3; 11:17; 17:8; Luke 8:31). In Revelation 9:1 the inhabitants are described as “locusts,” which probably refer to demonic beings, and the place belches dark smoke. The picture points to fire, danger, destruction, loss, and heat.
Place of Torment
John describes the experience of many, “and he (they) will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day and night” (Revelation 14:10, 11; cf. 20:10).
Wrath of God
How could a loving God get this angry? I don’t know, but I know He is God, and He can do whatever he wants. I guess another way to look at it is how can a just God not punish sin? Paul said, “You are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath” (Romans 2:5). John echoes the theme, “but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
Hell is a Prison
We are told that, “Satan will be released from his prison” (Revelation 20:7; cf. 20:1-3). In no way can a prison conjure up pleasant images.
John writes, “And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14). It gets worse.
Paul writes, “And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9). Punishment is not temporary, nor annihilation, but eternal and conscious. The impact of destruction, or ruin, could not be eternal if the penalty was merely annihilation. Destruction, in this context, means punishment. The nature of the destruction is defined as being away from the presence of Christ and His power.
Mark wrote, “but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3:29). This speaks of the hopelessness of the place. Never will there be forgiveness. Once there, it is too late.
The Bible states, “but the sons of the kingdom shall be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12; cf. 2 Peter 2:17). Sorrow and pain are pictured here.
Mark records Jesus’ words regarding the denizens who, “go into hell, into the unquenchable fire…where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched. For everyone will be salted with fire” (Mark 9:43, 48, 49). The thought of salt is this: just as salt preserves, so the sinner will be preserved eternally in their punishment.
Vivid imagery. Jesus describes hell as a place, “where their worm does not die” (Mark 9:48). We have before us the scene of Gehenna, the city dump of Jerusalem, with maggots eating the dead bodies of animals and filthy garbage.
Lake of Fire and Brimstone
Let the Bible speak, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone…and if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:10, 15cf. 21:8, 27; 22:11).
According to Jesus (Luke 16:23-31), people will see, hear, talk, understand, feel, and remember. However, the activities will be awful. This is where the character of Satan, demons and the unsaved will be confirmed (Revelation 22:11, 15).
We must know that sinners would be miserable in heaven. In heaven there is no lying, robbery, torture, and raping – bad things. However, this is the constant activity of hell. Killers will still be killers, liars will still lie. Wickedness will reign. The neighbors will be folks like Hitler, Stalin, Satan, and demons. Not a nice neighborhood to live in.
I have used several terms to describe the nature of hell. Question: are these words figures of speech, or, are we to take them literal? It is uncertain. I hope it is literal. Why? Because figurative language is a miniature symbol of what cannot be fully expressed in normal words.
A symbol is less, not greater than the reality pictured. In other words, if these words are only symbols, then the actual reality is far greater.
With these words, Esmie and I urge you to take seriously the biblical teaching of Hell. Take comfort in your position in Christ and its guarantee of Heaven. If you are not a Christian, then please go to the study on salvation (link) and make your decision now.
Dr. Willis and Esmie Newman
BIBLE STUDY QUESTIONS
1. What do you think about hell?
2. Do you think Jesus would lie to us about such a terrible place? Explain.
3. Where do you think the place is?
4. What do you think life would be like with Satan, demons, and wicked people as neighbors?
5. Do you think the descriptive words are to be taken literal, or are they figurative? Explain your position.
6. Would God be just to not punish evil? Explain.
7. How can a loving God punish evil? Explain.
8. According to the evidence presented here, do you think that someday God will forgive everyone, and let them out of that eternal prison? If yes, on what basis could He do that? Explain.
9. If Jesus talked so much about Hell, do you think we should talk about it? Or, should we just emphasize the love of God only? Explain.
10. What stands out to you the most about this Bible teaching about Hell? Explain.