A Brief Study of Hell

December 4, 2017 — Leave a comment

I have worked hard during the last year and a half to provide a verse-by-verse teaching through the book of Revelation. There are a few sections of the book that I skipped which I hope to teach on in the future. Throughout a study in the book of Revelation the topic of “hell” comes up a lot. Here I wanted to provide a short summary of what the Bible says about hell and the different views about hell. 

A Brief Study of Hell

Photo Credit: Viktor Vasnetsov (1848-1926)

I. A BIBLICAL DESCRIPTION OF HELL

Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment. Worms which will “never die” devour people and the fire that devours people will “never go out” (Isa 66:22-24; Mark 9:48). At the end times many bodies will rise up to “everlasting life” or to shame and “everlasting disgrace” (Dan 12:2-3). Hell is also described as an “eternal fire” (Matt 18:6-9; 25:4; Jude 7). The smoke of this fire that torments unbelievers in hell will rise “forever and ever” (Rev 14:9-11).

Likewise, the Devil, False Prophet, and the Beast will be tormented “day and night forever and ever” in hell (Rev 20:10, 14-15). In the New Testament letters unbelievers will receive “eternal destruction” (2 Thess 1:9), will “forever be separated” from the Lord (2 Thes 1:9), and are “doomed forever” to the blackest darkness (Jude 13).

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II. THOSE WHO DON’T ACCEPT CHRIST

It is only through Jesus Christ that a person can be saved; therefore those who reject him suffer eternal punishment (Gal 1:6; Rom 9:22-23). Those who have rejected Jesus Christ will experience condemnation and eternal conscious punishment in hell.

The Bible describes hell as:

  • a place of physical torment with burning fire (Mark 9:43, 48; Jude 7: Rev 21:8),
  • a fiery furnace (Matt 13:41-42), a place of flames (Luke 16:24),
  • a place of darkness (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 13),
  • a place banished from God’s presence (1 Thess 1:9; Matt 24:51; 22:13; 7:23),
  • and it is described as a place of death and destruction (Rev 2:11; 20:6, 14; 21:8; Matt 7:13; Luke 6:49; Rom 9:22; Phil 3:19).

III. MODERN VIEWS ON HELL

A. Literal

1. Description

The literal view of hell includes physical, psychological, and spiritual punishment. Based on Rev 20:15, “And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire” (NLT) Thomas comments, “Language like this leaves no room for universalism, soul sleep, an intermediate state, a second change, or annihilation of the wicked” (Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 434).

Furthermore, this appears to be an eternal state of punishment. People who go there stay there forever. Evidence of this is seen in the descriptions in Rev 19-20 about the beast and false prophet. In Rev 19:20 the beast and false prophet are thrown into the lake of fire. One thousand years later Satan is thrown into the same lake of fire where he joins the beast and the false prophet (Rev 20:10). As Walvoord explains, “Many have attempted to find some escape for the wicked so that they would not be the objects of eternal punishment. From a human viewpoint, this may be desired, but the Bible never suggests that the punishment of the wicked continues only for a time” (Walvoord, End Times Prophesy, 161).

2. Scriptural Support

Pss 16:10; 30:3; 55:15; 88:11; Prov 9:18; 15:11; 27:20; Job 26:6; 28:22; 31:12; 33:24; Ecc 12:14; Ezek 28:8; 31:14; Matt 5:29-30; 8:12; 12:36; 13:42, 50; 22:13; 25:30; Luke 12:2-3, 47-48; 20:47; Rom 2:5; 1 Peter 4:12; Rev 14:10; 19:20; 20:14-15; 21:8.

3. Historical Support

Most of traditional Christianity has seen hell as a real place of physical punishment that lasts forever. Among those are Ignatius, The Epistle of Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Ireneaus, Tertullian, Jerome, Basil, and Chrysostom.

Modern Scholars. Thomas, Revelation 8-22, 434; Walvoord, Revelation, 320-321; Osborne, Revelation, 724; Walvoord, “The Literal View” in 4 Views on Hell, 9-39

Metaphorical

1. Description

The metaphorical view of hell believes the Bible uses “Hades” and “Death” to describe graphic imagery for spiritual suffering. This is based on the idea that certain descriptions in the Bible appear to clash (fire vs. darkness; destruction vs. non-destruction). Because of this, some have said that the imagery is figurative. In this view hell is a spiritual description of alienation from God. The main weakness of this view is that it has to ignore the numerous descriptions of hell that cause it to appear to be a real place.

2. Scriptural Support

Sees “fire” as metaphorical in Matt 3:12. Sees the “darkness” as contradictory to “fire” in Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; 2 Peter 2:17; Jude 14.

3. Modern Scholars

William Crockett, “The Metaphorical View” in 4 Views on Hell, 41-88.

C. Purgatorial

1. Description

Some sectors of protestant Christianity and most Catholics believe in “purgatory.” Purgatory is a state, place, or condition in the next world between heaven and hell. It is a state of purifying suffering for those who have died but still need purification (Zachary Hayes, “The Purgatorial View” in 4 Views on Hell, 93)

2. Scriptural Support

Uses “diminished shades” in Gen 37:35; Pss 6:5 and sees a distinguishment between reward and punishment in Dan 12:1-2. Most important texts are 2 Maccabees 12:41-46 (a second century B.C. apocryphal book); Matt 12:31-32; 1 Cor 3:11-15.

3. Modern Scholars

Zachary Hayes, “The Purgatorial View” in 4 Views on Hell, 89-131.

D. Conditional and Annihilation

1. Description

In stead of broadly describing the conditional view of hell (meaning annihilation or universalism) I would like to list the strenths and weaknesses of this view. Because this view is becoming more and more common in our world today, I feel a more throughout examiniation of this view is needed.

Strengths. First, is the language of destruction. The terms of “perish,” “destroy,” and “die” (Phil 3:19; 1 Thess 5:3; 2 Thes 1:9; 2 Peter 3:7) seem to indicate that a person ceases to exist. Second, is the imagery of hell because fire destroys what it touches (Matt 25:46; Mark 9:48; Luke 16:23-24, 28; Isa 66:24; Rev 14:10; 20:10). Third, is the biblical vision of justice. Is it a logical conclusion that those are punished for what they have done (Rev 20:12)? Fourth, are Scripture related to universalism. Everyone might not be “saved” but there is a possibility that everyone has victory over evil (John 12:32; 1 Cor 15:28; Eph 1:10; Col 1:20; Phil 2:10-11)

Weaknesses. First, is the term eternal. Annihilationists say that for the unsaved “eternal” means “cessation.” But, the same word, “eternal” is also used to described the destiny of the “saved.” Interestingly, “eternal” is used to describe the saved and unsaved in the same verse (Mark 25:46). It is terrible exegesis to use the same word in different ways in the same book, written by the same author, in the same verse. Second, Satan and his angels have the same destiny as the wicked. Satan and his demons are supposed to have future torment (Matt 8:29; Mark 5:7; Rev 14:10; 18:7-8). Furthermore, a similar future suffering awaits Satan and his angels (Isa 66:24; Matt 25:30, 41, 46; Luke 16:22-24, 28; Rev 14:9-11; Rev 20:10; 12-13. Third, varying levels of punishment. If the New Testament teaches different levels of punishment for the unrighteous (Matt 10:15; 11:20-24; Luke 11:47-48), but how can there be different levels of punishment if everyone just ceases to exist? Fourth, annihilation is too simple. If someone can say that a loving God would not cause someone to suffer in hell forever, how then can a just God allow someone like Hitler to simply cease to exist? Fifth, too much of Scripture describes this place for it not to be real. Examples: unquenchable fire (Isa 66:24; Matt 3:12; 9:43, 45; Luke 3:17); the undying worm (Isa 66:24; Mark 9:44, 46, 48); the wrath of God (John 3:3). Additionally, Jesus talks about the like of fire—Gehenna—eleven times (out of the twelve uses in the NT).

3. Historical Support

Started with Origen.

4. Modern Scholars

Sectarian theologies of Seventh-Day Adventists; Jehovah’s Witnesses; John Stott (Evangelical Essentials, 314-320); Clark Pinnock, “The Conditional View” in 4 Views on Hell, 133-178.

IV. SOME RECOMMEND RESOURCES ABOUT HELL

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Christopher L. Scott

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Christopher Scott is Small Groups Pastor at Rocky Hilly Community Church in Exeter, CA. He has more than ten years of experience leading volunteers, running nonprofit programs, and teaching the Bible in small group settings. He holds a bachelor’s degree from Fresno Pacific University and master’s degree from Dallas Theological Seminary.

Disclosure of Material Connection: Some of the links in the post above may be "affiliate links." This means if you click on the link and purchase the item, I will receive an affiliate commission. I also may have received one or more of the products or services mentioned above for free in the hope that I would mention it on my blog. Regardless, I only recommend products or services I use personally and believe will add value to my readers. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."