What Does the Bible Teach About Hell: Is Hell a Real Place?

Do a quick Twitter search of the word “Hell.” What you will find is that this biblical term, designed to describe a place of conscious, eternal torment under the just weight of God’s wrath, is used with a careless flippancy by most people in the world today – Christians included.

“That was a hell of a game.”

“What the hell are you doing?”

“My boss is making my job a living hell.”

It could easily be argued that the majority of people in our culture no longer believe in a biblical Hell. We can see this by simply examining the casual way it is used in everyday speech. We don’t hear people using the term “concentration camp” in such a relaxed manner. That’s because if one understands the history of concentration camps, a rational person with any sort of conscience would never refer to them with any sort of passive irreverence due to the disturbing nature of what happened in them during the Nazi regime.

Christians must recover the biblical view of Hell.  This is important for two reasons; First, that in rightfully understanding this doctrine, we might more effectively purify our lives before God. And secondly, we would be more apt to warn people not to enter this most dreadful place. To that end, what follows are some basic questions and answers meant to unpack the biblical doctrine of Hell.

Is Hell a Real Place?

And if anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. - Revelation 20:15 ESV

They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might - 2 Thessalonians 1:9 ESV

I once spoke with a man who thought there was no way Heaven could be a real place. “How will you fit all the people? Heaven must be a state of consciousness.” I imagine some believe the same about Hell.

The Bible describes Hell as a real place—just as real as heaven above and the earth below (Philippians 2:10). However, Hell is in a spiritual dimension that can’t be seen or traveled to. You can’t enter Hell into Google Maps, find directions and get an ETA. The only way we can be sure about Hell is from a reliable, objective source, and that’s exactly what we have in the Bible. The Bible is the word of God. Jesus is the Son of God, and both Jesus and the Bible reveal to us the reality of Hell.

Jesus referred to Hell more than He did Heaven, and when He spoke of it, He described it as a place that some will go (Matthew 5:30). Hell is a place where our bodies and souls will be destroyed (Matthew 10:28), and it is away from the presence of the Lord (2nd Thess. 1:9). In Jesus’ story of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man specifically calls Hell, “a place of torment” that he doesn’t want his family to come to (Luke 16:28). Imagine being in a terrible prison where you are tortured night and day. That’s a specific, real location that you wouldn’t want others to visit. That’s how the Bible describes Hell.

What is Hell Like?

Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. – Matthew 25:41 ESV

while the sons of the kingdom will be thrown into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. – Matthew 8:12 ESV

A word often translated into Hell is the Greek term, “Gehenna.” This phrase was first used in the Old Testament to refer to the Valley of Hinnom, a ravine outside of Jerusalem. It was a place of death (Jeremiah 31:40), idolatry, and even child sacrifice (Jeremiah 7:31). King Josiah, however, put an end to these wicked practices (2nd Kings 23:10), and the Valley of Hinnom eventually became a trash and sewage dump where fires burned continually to eliminate the waste.

Jesus used the Valley of Hinnom as an illustration to describe Hell, and for good reason. Hell is a place of eternal fire (Matthew 25:41) and utter darkness (Matthew 8:12). For many, this seems hard to believe. How could a place with eternal flames also be a place of darkness? But with God nothing is impossible. Additionally, Hell is described in Scripture as punishment, everlasting destruction and alienation from God for all eternity (2nd Thessalonians 1:6-9). It’s a place where God’s wrath will be poured out onto those who’ve sinned against Him (Romans 2:8).

Given all these truths, it’s not hard to see why Hell will be a place where there “will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 25:30). Conscious, eternal torment is how some have described it, a place of unending suffering and pain for which there is no escape.

Will Hell Last Forever?

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life. – Matthew 25:46 ESV

And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched. – Mark 9:47-48

With all that’s been said of Hell, one may hope that it doesn’t last forever. Surely, God won’t allow the pain and suffering of the lake of fire to go on for all eternity.

Many look to the prominent 20th century theologian John Stott for comfort. Stott, though mildly, defended the idea of annihilationism—the idea that God, in His mercy, will eliminate the wicked and erase them from existence altogether. “Emotionally” argued Stott, “I find the concept [of Hell] intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain.” Stott contended that annihilationism is at the very least a concept Christians should consider as a biblical alternative to the traditional view of Hell.

The problem with Stott’s position is that it was based more on feelings than Scripture. Nowhere in the Bible will you find the concept of Annihilationism. In fact, the exact opposite is taught. Hell called a place of eternal fire (Jude 7). Jesus said Hell is a place “where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:48). Jesus is speaking about the unending suffering of eternal Hell. People will not cease to exist. They will continue to exist and suffer.

Another view, is that Hell is real, but one day, by the mercies of God, the wicked will have a chance to repent. As a result, all will be reconciled to God and saved. Proponents of such a view argue from texts which state that God is reconciling all things to Himself, or reconciling the world to Himself, to mean this will include all of humanity. 2nd Corinthians 5:19 is a great example, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” This is proof, it is argued, that God is in the process of redeeming every person who ever lived. But this is not what this text is teaching. Often, when the Bible talks about the world, it is referring to the world without distinction; meaning, God is not saving Jews only. He is also saving Gentiles. The Lord is calling His people out from the whole world. When texts like Colossians 1:20 say that God in Christ is reconciling “all things” to Himself, this can’t mean everything ever created. The devil won’t be reconciled. Neither will fallen angels and demons (2nd Peter 2:4, 1st Timothy 5:21). Therefore, it must mean that the redemption Christ achieved has far reaching effects. All things will be redeemed ”whether on earth or in heaven.” The New Jerusalem will be installed on the earth (Revelation 21:1-4). In that day, all will be reconciled to God and restored. But this does not deny the reality of Hell. Hell will still exist even though God has reconciled all things to Himself.

Scripture is clear that Hell is a real, dreadful place of eternal torment. In my next article, I will provide more answers from the Bible about Hell, including:

  • Is Hell a Fair Punishment?
  • Who Will Go to Hell?
  • How Can I Enjoy Heaven If My Loved Ones are in Hell?
  • How Can I Avoid Hell?

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.

 

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