If there is one difficult thing to talk about it our culture today, it’s the topic of hell. No one wants to hear about “right and wrong” or moral absolutes. And when a God-fearing pastor that wants to share the biblical view of hell people refuse to listen. Instead, they say he “only focuses on punishment” and he’s “unloving.”
I once was facilitating a small group that was doing a verse-by-verse study of the book of Revelation. It was difficult for one lady because she did not believe in the idea of a literal hell. I am not sure if she thought everyone goes to heaven regardless of their faith or if people just get “destroyed,” but she did not believe there is “hell” that people go to. Yet, she did not really have a solid biblical reason that she didn’t believe in hell, she just did not like the idea of people going to a place to “suffer for eternity.” And let me tell you, doing a verse-by-verse study of the book of Revelation is difficult if you don’t believe in hell.
With that said, let’s take a look at the home of those who reject Christ: hell.
The Home of Those Who Reject Christ
I. REJECTION OF CHRIST EQUALS PUNISHMENT
In the most thorough and clear explanation of the Gospel message (the book of Romans), Paul told them,
22In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction. 23He does this to make the riches of his glory shine even brighter on those to whom he shows mercy, who were prepared in advance for glory. (Rom (9:22-23)[ref]Unless otherwise noted, all references are from the New Living Translation[/ref]
One commentator says that Romans 9:22 is perhaps the most difficult verse to interpret in the entire letter to the Romans (Roger Mohrlang, “Romans” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 14, p. 149). Why is it difficult? Part of the reason it is difficult is because it tells us something about God and the state of people who don’t know him which we find hard to accept. Verse 22 states that some people are “destined for destruction.” These are the unsaved people Paul had talked about earlier in his letter (Rom 1:18; 2:5) and who will suffer judgment (John 3:36). They are headed for hell and God seems to know that. Verse 23 states that God chooses “to whom he shows mercy” as the people who were “prepared in advance for glory.” (For more on this see my post on the Book of Life.) So God has chosen some people to be part of his family, and those who he has not shown are sent to hell.
The thing I want us to focus on with this verse is that if someone decides he or she does not want to follow God, then that person is headed for destruction where God will show his anger and power. Also see Gal 1:6.
While Romans 9:22-23 talks about those “headed for destruction” does the Bible talk about hell? Most people have heard a pastor at a local church or on the radio or on TV talk about “hell,” but is it really something that is described in the Bible? Let’s take a look at what the Bible says about hell.
II. HELL IS TERRIBLE AND PAINFUL
First, I want to show you what the Bible describes as the conditions of hell. These passages describe what it will be like for the people that are in hell.
A. Physical Torment with Burning Fire
In Jude’s letter he’s trying to remind his readers about people throughout the Bible that did not remain faithful to God. Jude first references how God destroyed Egypt because they did not remain faithful (v. 5), second he references the angels that have not stayed within the bounds God gave them (v. 6), then Jude moves on to another example in verse seven.
And don’t forget Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighboring towns, which were filled with immorality and every kind of sexual perversion. Those cities were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment. (Jude 7, emphasis added)
The eternal fire that Jude is talking about here is the eternal fire that will be present with unbelievers in hell.
Jesus talks about the fire in hell when warning his disciples about being led astray,
If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand than to go into the unquenchable fires of hell with two hands. (Mark 9:43, emphasis added)
From Jude 7 and Mark 9:43 (as well as others I will show below), it seems clear that there will be physical torment with burning fire in hell. Also see Rev 21:8.
B. A Fiery Furnace
In Matthew’s gospel Jesus tells a story about “weeds in the field” (Matt 13:24-30), but the disciples don’t quite understand the story about the workers who plant wheat seeds and about the enemy who plants weeds among the wheat. Jesus explains his story saying,
The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matt 13:41-42, emphasis added)
The “fiery furnace” is a way to describe hell that unbelievers go to, and in which the angels will throw unbelievers into. This likely is occurring between the time of Christ’s first coming to earth (as described in the Gospels) until Christ begins his Millennial reign (as described in Rev 20).
C. A Place of Flames
One of the more difficult passages to interpret in the Gospels is about the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. There was a poor man named Lazarus who was covered with sores (Luke 16:20) and spent his days near the gate of a rich man and asked for scraps from the rich man (Luke 16:20-21). Lazarus died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom (Luke 16:22) and the rich man died and his soul was sent to Hades[ref]”hades is the temporary jail, and the suffering . . . is very real” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Courageous, p. 54)[/ref] (Luke 16:23). The rich man was being tormented and saw Abraham in the far distance with Lazarus (Luke 16:23) and shouted,
“Father Abraham, have some pity! Send Lazarus over here to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue. I am in anguish in these flames.” (Luke 16:24)
One commentary shares, “God had pronounced judgment on the destinies of the two men; it was final and irreversible” (Allison Trites, “Luke” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 12, p. 231)
The Bible often uses light and dark to contrast Godliness (light) and evil (dark). Hell is a place full of darkness. In one of Jesus’s stories about the Kingdom of Heaven a man is said to have been thrown into “outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 22:13). Later in the story of the three servants, one of the servants is said to have been thrown “into outer darkness, where there will be weeping an gnashing of teeth” (Matt 25:30).[ref]There is some debate if this “outer darkness” is describing “hell.” Warren Wiersbe writes that this man was a true believer and because of that, “The ‘out darkness’ of Matthew 25:30 need not refer to hell, even though that is often the case in the Gospels (Matt. 8:12; 22:13). It is dangerous to build theology on parables, for parables illustrate truth in vivid ways. The main was dealt with by the Lord, he lost his opportunity for services, and he gained no praise or reward. To me, that is out darkness” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Loyal, p. 231).[/ref] Peter talks about the false teachers that teach destructive heresies, deny God (2 Peter 2:1), follow immortality (2 Peter 2:2), are greedy liars (2 Peter 2:3, 13), lead other people into sin (2 Peter 2:14), and because of this they will be destroyed (2 Peter 2:12-13) and are “doomed to blackest darkness” (2 Peter 2:17). Commenting on this verse Warren Wiersbe writes, “These apostates promise to lead people into the light, but they themselves end up in the darkest part of the darkness (see Jude 6 and 13)! The atmosphere of hell is not uniform; Some places will be darker than others. How tragic that innocent people will be led astray by these apostates and possibly end up in hell with them” (Warren Wiersbe, Be Alert, 81).
E. Banished from God’s Presence
Part of the terrible and painful experience of hell is that people will be banished from God’s presence. To the Thessalonians Paul wrote that unbelievers will be “forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power” (2 Thess 1:9). To unbelievers on judgement day Jesus will tell them, “Get away from me” (Matt 7:23). Also see Matt 22:13; 24:51.
F. A Place of Death and Destruction
Death and destruction are some of the main descriptions of the home of those who reject Christ. When describing salvation Jesus said, “Enter through the narrow gate [salvation], because the gate is wide and the way is spacious that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it” (Matt 7:13, NET, emphasis added).
In Paul’s magnificent letter to the Romans he tells of destruction this way, “In the same way, even though God has the right to show his anger and his power, he is very patient with those on whom his anger falls, who are destined for destruction” (Rom 9:22, emphasis added). These people that Paul speaks of are the unsaved (see Rom 1:18) who will suffer judgment (John 3:36) and “destruction.”
In Paul’s letter to the believers in Philippi he talked about people whose lives showed that they were enemies of Christ (Phil 3:18). Paul told the believers that these “enemies of Christ” were “headed for destruction” (Phil 3:19).
Lastly, the most clear description of the place of nonbelievers being death and destruction is in the book of Revelation. To the Christians at the church in Smyrna Jesus said, “Anyone with ears to hear must listen to the Spirit and understand what he is saying to the churches. Whoever is victorious will not be harmed by the second death” (Rev 2:11). This second death is the death described in Revelation 20. “Blessed and holy are those who share in the first resurrection. For them the second death holds no power” (Rev 20:6). The “first resurrection” is the resurrection of believers that get to reign with Christ for 1,000 years on earth. The second resurrection is of unbelievers that have to face a “second death.” That second death is hell, “Death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death” (Rev 20:14). And a little later described further, “Cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars–their fate is the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Rev 21:8).
Also see Luke 6:49.
G. Worms and Fire
At the end of Isaiah’s book he gives a picture of the New Heavens and New Earth along with a description of what the people experience who are not believers and who are not part of the New Heavens and New Earth.
“As surely as my new heavens and earth will remain,
so will you always be my people,
with a name that will never disappear,”
says the Lord.
“All humanity will come to worship me
from week to week
and from month to month.
And as they go out, they will see
the dead bodies of those who have rebelled against me.
For the worms that devour them will never die,
and the fire that burns them will never go out.
All who pass by
will view them with utter horror.”[ref]”The Heb. word der’on, here translated ‘horror,’ is translated as ‘contempt’ in Dan 12:2, where the picture is of unbelievers being raised from the dead, but excluded forever from the city of God. Isaiah is clear about the existence of such a place. A comparison with Jer 7:32-8:3 suggests that the background imagery is of the Valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna (cf. Mark 9:48)” Larry Walker, “Isaiah” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 8, p. 283[/ref] (Isa 66:22-24)
It’s clear that God “will gather believers from all nations to worship him and create a new heaven and a new earth. All people who trust God will enjoy the destiny of living with him, rather than enduring the terrible wrath that will fall on the wicked” (Smith, Interpreting the Prophetic Books, 64). These worms that Isaiah describes will devour the dead and the worms will never die. The fire that burns the dead will never go out (which is what Jesus described in Mark 9:48).
III. HELL IS PERMANENT AND ETERNAL
While doing some reading on this topic I found Grant Osborne’s comments on hell profound, “While the idea of God condemning sinners to eternal torment is offensive to many today, we must be cognizant that this is partly because we do not understand how God detests sin. The laws of clean and unclean and the sacrificial system developed because people did not see how they could approach God and come back alive. God must punish sin. He is not just a loving God, he is a holy God. His holiness is expressed in his love and his justice; these are interchangeable aspects of his being” (Grant Osborne, “Jude” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 18, p. 374).
In the first section above I showed you what the conditions of hell will be like for the people sent there. The conditions were terrible and painful. In this section I want to show you how hell is permanent and eternal.
A. Bodies Rise to “Everlasting”
The final chapter of the book of Daniel describes the end times events. Two of those end times events is the resurrection of believers (first at the beginning of the Millennium) and the resurrection unbelievers (second at the end of the 1,000 year Millennium). Daniel describes it as,
Many of those whose bodies lie dead and buried will rise up, some to everlasting life and some to shame and everlasting disgrace. (Dan 12:2)
Those who are risen to everlasting disgrace and shame are the unbelievers who have died and have been buried. The point here is that while followers of Jesus Christ are given eternal life (John 3:16), the unbelievers also get something that is “eternal” but theirs is punishment that never ends.
B. An “Eternal Fire”
In Jude’s letter he’s writing about ungodly false teachers that had “wormed” their way into the churches (Jude 4). For illustrations of people that did not remain faithful to God and his teachings Jude gives the examples of how God led the nation of Israel out of Egypt and how God destroyed the people that did not remain faithful (Jude 5), how the angels that did not obey God are chained and awaiting judgement (Jude 6), and lastly Jude gives the example of Sodom and Gomorrah who were punished. Jude writes,
“Those cities [Sodom & Gomorrah] were destroyed by fire and serve as a warning of the eternal fire of God’s judgment” (Jude 7, emphasis added)
The judgment here is an “eternal fire.” When commenting on Jude 7 Grant Osborne writes, “The message on the danger of eternal punishment in the lake of fire is incredibly plentiful in the New Testament” (Grant Osborne, “Jude” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 18, p. 374).
Matthew also talks about this “eternal fire” when he records Jesus saying that our conduct needs to be clean and pure (not sinful) and if we can live clean lives we won’t be thrown into the “eternal fire” (Matt 18:6-9).
C. Smoke Rises “Forever and Ever”
The Great White Throne Judgement is the clearest picture of the final judgment and destination of unbelievers. John describes the scene he sees saying,
Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. (Rev 20:10, emphasis added)
The false trinity of Satan, the beast, and the false prophet are thrown into hell and will be there “forever and ever.”
Believers have already been judged and reigned with Christ 1,000 years. Now, it’s time for the eternal location of unbelievers.
Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. (Rev 20:14-15)
Unbelievers face a “second death” which means that they go to hell forever. In this way, they join the false trinity in hell where they too will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:10).
D. “Eternal” Destruction
One of Paul’s verses in his second letter to the Thessalonian believers reveals about the time people will be spending in hell.
They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. (2 Thess 1:9, emphasis added)
Paul tells them that they will experience “eternal” destruction. Thomas Constable comments on this verse, “The punishment of the wicked will be neither temporary nor will it be annihilation, but it will continue throughout eternity and those being punished will be conscious” (Constable, “2 Thessalonians” in Bible Knowledge Commentary, vol. 2, p. 716).
E. “Forever” Separated from God
In addition to the destruction that unbelievers have to face in hell, there also is a relationship that they do not get to enjoy.
They will be punished with eternal destruction, forever separated from the Lord and from his glorious power. (2 Thess 1:9, emphasis added)
There will be no relationship with God and that lack of relationship will last forever.
F. Doomed “Forever”
Back to Jude who has more to say on those “false teachers” that I referenced earlier in this blog post. These false teachers,
“They [the false teachers] are like wandering stars, doomed forever to blackest darkness” (Jude 13)
Here “the image of ‘darkness’ is not a temporary but an eternal place of punishment” (Grant Osborne, “Jude” in Cornerstone Biblical Commentary, vol. 18, p. 381). As Warren Wiersbe writes, “Beware of following a falling star! It will lead you into eternal blackness!” (Wiersbe, Be Alert, p. 180). And that darkness lasts forever!
IV. CONCLUSION AND APPLICATION
A. My faith in Christ guarantees I won’t experience hell.
One of my favorite doctrines of Christianity is the doctrines of eternal security. It’s basis is this: once you believe in Christ you can have the assurance that you are saved and will spend eternity with him forever. Is that assurance based on anything we do? No, not really. It’s basis is the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and our faith in him.
B. I will passionately and lovingly share Jesus with people who don’t know him.
If there is one thing that motivates us to share the Gospel, it should be the motivation to keep people from experiencing the terrible and painful things of hell that will last forever. If that doesn’t motivate someone to share the Gospel, I am not sure what will.