by. Dr. C. Matthew McMahon
Hell is becoming a byword. The concept of the eternal torment of the damned is something people do not care to teach, talk about, preach about, or believe. (Even by Christians!) Hell has come to take on many different meanings. Some people believe this world is our own "hell." There are those who believe hell is a state of mind. Some people associate hell with the river Styx and the boat-keeper Charron of Greek mythology, a place fairy tales are made of. The philosopher Sartre thought "Hell is people." But what does the Bible say concerning hell, and what does Jesus Christ, the Almighty God, say about it?
Jesus Christ taught about the reality of a literal hell. What do we mean when we say "literal?" Hell is a real place, with real fire, and real darkness, and the utterly real wrath of God. It is the eternal abode where imperfect, sinful souls reside when they die. The wicked are those who have not been redeemed by the blood of Jesus Christ. They are those who will forever spend eternity under the torment of the judgment and wrath of God because of their sin and rebellion against Him. Sin against an infinite God deserves infinite justice. The eternal locality of God’s justice is called hell. Hell is the spiritual and material lake of fire where the never dying souls of men are unspeakably tormented in their minds, bodies and souls according to their just measure by the wrath of God’s eternal justice, the presence of wicked men and devils, the worm of their conscience, without any hope of relief, pity, compassion, mercy or help from God. This is the place those who rebel against God and die in their sins reside for eternity.
The Bible is dreadfully explicit about reality of a literal hell. The Bible tells us that hell has an appetite, and its appetite is never ending. Proverbs 27:20 states, "Hell and Destruction are never full..." The Bible describes hell as a dark place. Jude v. 13 says, "for whom blackest darkness is reserved forever." The Bible describes hell as a place of anguish and incredible torment. Matthew 8:12 says that the torment is so great, that "…there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth." The Bible depicts hell as a place of intense fire, likened to a great furnace. Matthew 13:42 declares, "...and will cast them into the furnace of fire." The Bible says that the fire in hell is a means of great pain and sorrow; Matthew 13:50, "The angels will come forth and separate the wicked from the just and cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth." The Bible reveals that hell is a place of eternal, or never ending torment. Revelation 20:10 states, "And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever." Hell is filled with destruction and wrath as 2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 states, "These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power." It is impossible to go away from the Bible without a clear and precise picture of the torment of the never-dying souls in hell. Hell is the place of the damned where God’s justice perfectly executes the necessity of eternal wrath and torment, for all eternity, upon the souls and bodies of all unsaved people who are judged in their sin.
One of the most graphic illustrations of hell is a parable that Jesus gave entitled The Rich Man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. The rich man enjoyed all the riches of this world; a fancy house, exquisite food and the like. Lazarus on the other hand, begged at the step of the rich man and never received anything; not even scraps from the rich man's table. Jesus says, "So it was that the beggar died and was carried to Abraham's Bosom (heaven). The rich man also died and was buried. And being in the torments of hell, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried, "father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame." Jesus demonstrates that the rich man experienced 1) no mercy (for later we find that Lazarus was not allowed to dip his finger in the water and cool the rich man's tongue), 2) excruciating torment, and 3) hell-fire. The rich man experienced a real hell with real flames and real torment without mercy. Why was he there? "But Abraham said, "Son, remember that in your lifetime you received good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented."" The life we live determines where we will end up. I am not saying that if we are "good" we go to heaven, and if we are "bad" we go to hell. Rather, God says that unless we are perfectly holy as He is, then we will reside in hell for all eternity. The only means of escape is through the Savior Jesus Christ. Through His work on the cross men may be born again by the Spirit of God. Christ and the transforming power of the cross must cover the soul with His blood. Only by the power of Jesus' shed blood may we escape the torments of hell. However, not everyone has obtained this redemption through the blood of Christ. As a matter of fact the road to destruction is very wide, and its end leads into the gaping mouth and hearty appetite of hell. Narrow is road that lead to life, and there are few who find it.
Jesus also another term for hell; Gehenna. The reason this term is important is because of the significance of its origin. Christ says in Luke 12:4-5, "And I say to you, My friends, do not be afraid of those who kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do. But I will show you whom you should fear; Fear Him, who after He has killed, has the power to cast into hell [Gehenna]; yes I say to you fear Him." The word "Gehenna," here translated "hell," is from the Hebrew word "Gihinom" which signifies the valley of Hinnom just outside of Jerusalem. Now many people will say that Jesus uses this picture word because the valley was the town garbage dump where worms do not die, and the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:35). But Jesus' illustration goes much farther. In Joshua 15:8 and Nehemiah 11:30 this valley was owned by Hinnom, or possibly his son. Hell has the allusion to this place because in this valley the idolatrous Jews set up an idol called Molech which was made of brass in the form of a man. It was hollow so that the people could stoke wood in it and make a raging fire burn within. The brass would grow to be incredibly hot, as you would imagine; metal becomes red and glowing under an intense flame and heat. The Jews then took their children, and offered them to this idol by placing them in its hands and burned them to death. The Jews thought that if a father sacrificed a child as an offering to this "god", then the rest of his house and family prospered. They set a continual fire in the idol, and thus a continual shrieking and crying of burning children being sacrificed could be heared from the valley. The wailing and screaming of the children was so horrific and disturbing that the Jews rang bells and played music to drown out the noise of burning children. (See 2 Chronicles 33:6; 2 kings 16:3; Jeremiah 7:31; 32:35; Leviticus 18:21.) From this picture the Greek word Gehenna comes. Jesus' words are no doubt unreservedly explicit and awfully disturbing. But his intention was to screw the truth of the reality of hell into the minds of those who listened to him. Hell is not a place where people have parties, or where all the bad guys hang out together and have barbecues. Hell is the eternal residence of the tormented wicked. It is the place where unending suffering is poured out on the souls and bodies of all the damned of God.
There are many questions people have concerning the doctrine of endless punishment. One of the most common is this, "If people live 80 years on earth and commit 80 years worth of sin, then why do they have to spend eternity in hell for only committing 80 years worth?" The Bible is very clear on why people spend eternity in hell. God requires that we be as holy as He is - that means we are to be perfect (Leviticus 19:20). Since we are born in sin, we are not perfect (Psalm 51:5). And because sin reigns in us, we are punished for it (Romans 6:23a); and we are punished only if Jesus Christ does not save us. Because of our sin nature, we sin. Each sin we commit, is a sin that is committed against an infinitely Holy God. God is infinite which means He is without bounds in any way. So God, who is holy, and opposes all sin because sin is the opposite of His holiness, must hate the sin we commit infinitely and must punish that sin infinitely because we sin against His infinitely holy character. 80 years does not matter. All that means is we have accumulated 80 years worth of sins which are in rebellion of God's infinitely holy character. These sins must be dealt by an infinitely just standard. If we die in our sin without the salvation of Christ, our sins have offended a holy God who is limitless, and thus, He must punish those sins completely which means infinitely, or for eternity.
Another question arises from God's attributes. People ask, "If God is love, why would He send people to hell?" God is love (1 John 4:8), no doubt about it. But that is not all He is. God is also Just (Deuteronomy 32:4), Wrathful (Psalm 88:16), Holy (Isaiah 6:3ff), Jealous (Exodus 20:5), Angry (Psalm 7:11) and the like. God has many attributes. He is love, but not just love. He loves the righteous whom He saves, and hates the wicked who are in sin (Romans 9:13). God would be an unjust God if He didn't punish sin. God must punish sin and send people into hell under his wrath. God is love, but He is also wrath. God is who He is in Himself. He is not made up of parts. God must punish the wicked because God is God.
Many have questioned God’s own presence in hell. Some think that hell is horrible because of the absence of God’s presence. Hell is hell, i.e. tormenting, dark, painful, fiery, and the like, because God is not there. But if we were to say that God is not in hell, then we must say that God is not Omnipresent - or “everywhere present”. That would limit God’s omnipresence by saying He is not in hell. That produces another question, "If God is love, how can a loving God be in hell? I always thought those in hell wanted God to be present there since they are "separated" from Him?" The Scriptures show that God on His judgment seat, says this in sending wicked rebellious sinners to hell, "Depart from Me you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared or the devil and his angels...(Matthew 25:41)" Some attempt to interpret the word depart as, "depart from my very presence because I am not there." But the Bible does not interpret itself in that same way. Psalm 139:8 states, "If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there." God is in hell. How can we reconcile this? Matthew 25:41, in its proper context, means, "departing" from the blessing and glorious presence of God in eternal bliss, not "departing" from God all together. God is in hell at this very moment eternally tormenting the damned. Hell is hell because the wrath of God is being poured out on the wicked. Hell is hell because God is there. The eternally damned would do anything have 5 seconds of relief from the presence of God. They would give anything for God to depart from them for a moment so they could rest from their eternal pains. The reason hell is hell is because God is presently pouring out the cup of His wrath upon the sinful and disobedient. All those in hell deserve every measure of destruction, every measure of torment, every flame, every spark of His wrath.
Not only will the eternally tormented souls of the damned be under the most excruciating pains of God’s wrath, but they also have other wicked men to deal with, as well as the devil and his demons. Imagine the resentment and anger of the devil, demons and other wicked men scratching at one another for all eternity. Though they be tormented themselves in that fiery furnace, their presence will make the damned even more terrible. They will hate God more and more as eternity stretches forth, and their hatred will be expressive. God’s judgment on that expressive sin will grow and ripen them more and more for further judgment under His wrath. It will be a never ending cycle of ripening in sin and wickedness, and being eternally condemned for it.
This should come as a grave warning to everyone who reads this tract. Hell should have an effect upon both the redeemed and the lost. For the redeemed of God, you should be eternally grateful and exceedingly humbled before God's throne for His mercy towards you. It was in no way obligatory. It was in no way deserved. You were once children of wrath. You were once enemies of God. Your mind and heart were like the wicked’s in hell, but God saved and changed you through Jesus Christ. If you were, this very day, exuberant in thanking, praising, and blessing Him for rescuing you from such a horror for the rest of eternity, you would not thank, praise or extol Him enough. You could not cry enough tears of joy or praise him with enough song. God did not have to save you through the blood of Jesus Christ, but He chose to do so. How does being delivered from hell's terror cause you great joy? Hell makes heaven more sweet for the saint. How sweet is the prospect of heaven to you? Those in heaven gaze over to that place of wrath and torment and they rejoice over the Lamb of God all the more. The saints know the wicked are fitted as vessels of wrath and they are damned according to their fittings. But the elect-redeemed of Christ gaze upon their due course and they rejoice that God’s mercy is so great and so wonderful; they extol the Living God all the more. Higher praise should be heard blessing the One who saved you from death and hell!
And what of the wicked? What of the lost? What of you who reject Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior? What of you who despise the richness of God’s willing grace to save sinners from such a torment? As it stand now, you are the ones for whom blackest darkness is reserved forever. It is a wonder to me why anyone would desire to go to hell. Men must be masochists to do so. They must desire death and love death and crave eternal death as something great. But how can this be? Hell is no safe haven or resting place. It is not a place where you will love the friends you are with. On the contrary it is the place where you will hate them for distracting you from considering salvation in Jesus Christ. You should consider your life here if you are without Christ. Every rejection of God’s good gifts to you is another stripe of justice treasured up for you when you reach hell. Your sins will exact a warrant for justice which equals your offense against the One true God. He gives you children, friends, a place to live, food to eat and the like, but you spit in His face and hate Him for it all. You suppress the truth that He exists and you wallow like a pig in your sin and unrighteousness before Him. You think judgment will never come because it has not come yet. But you are only ripening yourself for hell. You are storing up the wrath of Him who will exact it upon you perfectly. There is a day that is appointed just for you, a day of judgment, to die and face the Creator. Why will you stay in your sin and wait for a such a day? That day could be in 5 minutes, or in an hour, or in the morning or the evening. There is no telling when it may be. That thought alone ought to prick your conscience that men die and you may be next. It may \very well be that by the time you finish reading this tract, you may be standing before the judgment seat of God. God’s finger is never too far from any soul. With a single touch He could require your life. Your heart could stop beating, your breath would leave you, and off before the seat of the Judgment. He will condemn you, and cast you into a hell which is just and right. It will be an eternal torment fitted just for you. You who are reading this tract, hell should cause you to shudder uncontrollably. It should force you to throw yourself upon the mercy of Christ and call out before Him that He would save you from the torment that awaits you. If you do not repent of your wicked ways, and if you do not turn from your sin through the power of the Spirit of God who may be pulling at your heart and pricking your conscience right now, then you will spend eternity in the flames of everlasting pain and torment. God's cup of wrath will be poured out upon you and you will share the pit of hell with demons and devils. You may be taken from this earth at any moment. You may stand before God in judgment to give an account. If you are not saved, you will be tormented in hell forever: always burning but never being consumed.