What Does the Bible Say About Hell: Who Will Be in Hell?
In my last article, Is Hell a Real Place?, I shared what the Bible has to say about Hell. It’s a real, dreadful place, and one believers must warn others about. In this article, I will continue to share about the reality of Hell, particularly about those who will be condemned to occupy it.
Who Will Go to Hell?
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. – Romans 6:23 ESV
Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me. – Psalm 51:5 ESV
Sin brings death—spiritually, physically and eternally (Romans 6:23). We’re born dead in our sins (Psalm 51:5, Ephesians 2:1). We will all die physically. And for those who don’t have their sins forgiven, they will also die eternally. Hell is called the second death (Revelation 20:14). Though the human soul exists forever, it does not live. Life is described as in the presence of God. He gives eternal life. Eternal death awaits those who have failed to place their hope and trust in Christ for salvation.
What about those who have never heard the gospel? They too will perish in everlasting judgment, “for they are without excuse” (Romans 1:20). God doesn’t send people to Hell merely for rejecting Christ. If that were true, we would never send another missionary to a foreign country ever again, because that would only make their listeners culpable before God. If people who never hear the gospel get a free pass to go to Heaven, then we should ensure no one ever hears the gospel again.
But that’s not the message of the Bible. Rather, we are to command all men to repent and believe, because without hearing the message of Christ they cannot be saved (Romans 10:14-17).
To answer the question with zero ambiguity: Who will go to Hell? Sinners. Sinners who have not received forgiveness from God will go to Hell for all eternity.
Is Hell a Fair Punishment?
No one is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God…for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. – Romans 3:10-11, 23 ESV
What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory – Romans 9:22-23 ESV
He will render to each one according to his works: to those who by patience in well-doing seek for glory and honor and immortality, he will give eternal life; but for those who are self-seeking and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, there will be wrath and fury. – Romans 2:6-8
Given the terrifying descriptions of Hell, even many Christians will ask, “Is this fair? Is Hell a just punishment for our sins?” Many people will answer this question with a resounding, “No!” They will contend that the punishment surely does not fit the crime.
This response reveals both a lack of understand of the severity of the crime, and the character of the one against whom the crime has been committed. Such thinking deserves a few responses.
First, God alone has the right to determine what is fair. Justice is not a standard outside of God that He must uphold. Justice has been determined according to God’s holy character. We have standards of justice because God is a righteous God who establishes right and wrong Himself. God Himself is justice personified.
Second, the punishment we receive is in direct proportion to the One we’ve offended. If you kill an ant, no one will care. If you kill a dog, some will care, and you might get arrested. If you kill a man, that’s a real problem, and you’re definitely going to jail—maybe for life. If you kill the President, you’re most likely not going to live past that moment, because the Secret Service will probably respond with lethal force. Just punishment is determined by the value of the one offended. With our sin and rebellion, we have offended the One true Holy God whose value and worth cannot be measured. Hell, therefore, is not only just, it is also right and good.
Still, some will say, “How could a loving God send people to Hell?” The answer is, it’s precisely because God IS loving that He will send some people to Hell. God loves His glory, and He hates when He’s robbed of that glory by man. This is not a selfish love, but a perfect knowledge that anything short of His glory is sin (Romans 3:23). God also loves justice and righteousness, and He hates when His law is broken. God loves to do what is right, which is why a loving God can send sinners to Hell - because it’s the right thing to do given the heinous nature of their crimes against Heaven. Think of it, when a murderer is sentenced for his crime, you rejoice. Why? Because you hate evil and love good. So, it is with God. A loving God is perfectly capable and consistent with His own character, even in sending people to Hell, because of His commitment to righteousness and justice.
I can still hear the objector, “I could never send someone to Hell, no matter how much I hated them, even if they were my worst enemy. Hell is too harsh.” Do you believe that you’re more compassionate than God? Do you think you’re more loving? I hope not!
We must believe what God has decreed and spoken in his Word. He is omnipotent and all-knowing. We are fallible and limited to our own experiences. We must humble ourselves to admit the truth of God’s decrees and His goodness in contrast to our sinfulness and limited understanding.
How Can I Enjoy Heaven if My Loved Ones are in Hell?
He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away. – Revelation 21:4 ESV
Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. – 1 John 3:2 ESV
As a pastor, I have had many people ask me this question. In fact, I baptized a man who was hesitant to become a Christian because he knew that, by admitting the Bible is true, He was also admitting nearly all his family was in Hell.
How, then, could anyone enjoy Heaven knowing they have loved ones in Hell? I have given two answers to this question.
First, it’s possible that they won’t be remembered. In Heaven, “death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away” (Revelation 21:4). No tears or mourning means there is nothing to be sad about. There is no more pain or suffering or tragedy. And the reason such things will be removed is because “the former things have passed away.” One could reason from this text that the former things will include loved ones who are not present with us in Heaven, and the reason we won’t mourn them is because we will have no memory of them.
I tend to lean away from that conclusion and more towards my second proposal. When we get to Heaven, we will be as much like Jesus as creatures can be (1 John 3:2). With glorified bodies, we will also have glorified minds, and we will finally see all things like God sees them now. This means we will see sin and evil for what it is, and we will desire perfect justice. God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11), but He does rejoice in administering justice to sinners. With perfect glorified hearts, minds, and bodies, we will be able to see those we once loved on this earth with the eyes of God and rejoice that God’s holy name is now vindicated through His judgment being poured out.
How Can I Avoid Hell?
There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. – Romans 8:1 ESV
In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace – Ephesians 1:7 ESV
Hell is a terrifying reality. The very thought of it should frighten everyone. I often think how terrible it would be to spend eternity in Hell. I sometimes fear that I might have to—but that’s when I remind myself of these sweet gospel truths. “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). In Christ, I am not condemned and never will be. My sins have been forgiven through His shed blood (Ephesians 1:7) and God will not hold me responsible for my transgressions because “Christ…suffered once for sins, righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God” (1 Peter 3:18). I don’t have to fear death or Hell because Christ “was delivered up for our trespasses and raised for our justification” (Romans 4:25).
You can only avoid the wrath of God in Hell if you trust in the One who absorbed the wrath of God on the cross. “Since, therefore, we have now been justified by his blood, much more shall we be saved by him from the wrath of God” (Romans 5:9). God did not spare His Son on the cross. He will spare the One who finds His refuge in Jesus. Hell is reserved for the enemies of God. In Christ, we are beloved children and friends of God.
Christians, let us warn and let us plead with men and women to run to the Savior and avoid this horrendous place. Hell is awful. It’s terrifying and we need to tell people the full truth as it pertains to Hell. Let us say with Charles Spurgeon, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
Brandon is the Associate Pastor of The Journey Church in Lebanon, TN and leads the Recovery & Redemption ministry for the church. Brandon is married to Sherrie and has a daugher, Emma.
- Learning: Moving From The Shallow End To The Deep Waters Of Theology