The Reality Of Hell

by Douglas Hoff


The concept of some kind of universal judgment is common to every major religion.  The Bible teaches God will judge every person according to how they lived.  Jesus Christ warned his followers that the majority of mankind will choose the easy road of sin.  He described this path as the broad way that leads to destruction.  Only a small number will make the right choice of following the narrow way that leads to eternal life (Matthew 7:13-14).

Most people do not like to think about what may await them beyond the grave.  As a result, it becomes fashionable either to deny the reality of hell or redefine it in less upsetting terms.  Years ago a well known British philosopher, Bertrand Russell, wrote an essay entitled, “Why I Am Not A Christian.”  One of the reasons he cited was that Jesus taught eternal punishment for the wicked.

Americans are also rejecting the Biblical concept of hell.  Nine years ago the cover of U.S. News & World Report carried a drawing depicting hell as a place of flames.  However, the title proclaimed “Hell—A new vision of the netherworld.”  For the Bible believer, there is something terribly wrong with the picture.  Instead of being the domain of the damned writhing in torment it shows the “lost” as though they were at a beach party.  Smiles abound. The “wicked” are relaxing on lounge chairs while a demon serves drinks to the scantily clad.

Our enlightened age sees no need for archaic notions like a lake that burns with fire and brimstone designed to torment day and night forever (Revelation 14:11; 21:6).  Many American churches of the twentieth century largely ignored the Biblical teaching of hell as a real place where unforgiven sinners will receive the penalty for their deeds.  Though the majority of Americans polled claim to believe in hell; almost no one thinks he will go there. Some people I have known admitted their lives were far from righteous but the idea of going to hell did not bother them.  Some jokingly said they did not want to go to heaven because all their friends were going to hell!  This attitude reveals a tragic ignorance about punishment in hell.  Perhaps we should not be too surprised by this carefree spirit in a society where blatant criminal offenses are excused or barely punished.

People who believe the Bible must accept the reality of hell.  Jesus spoke plainly and often about hell but scoffers tell us his words do not mean what he said.  Instead, they say Jesus was only speaking figuratively.  Others would have us accept the view that hell is merely being separated from God.  It is just a state of mind, not a real place, they say.  Still others try to convince us that, yes, hell is real and, yes, there are flames there but the suffering is only temporary.  They argue that sinners could not possibly suffer eternally since they are in flames. After a brief period of punishment they are consumed by the fire.  This is the false doctrine of annihilation.  Some reason that since God is love he could never punish anyone eternally.  One “theologian” even went so far as to say that inflicting everlasting torment sounds more like Satan’s nature than God’s! Ignorance or rejection of the scriptures is never a good thing (Hosea 4:6; 2 Thessalonians 2:10).

So, what does the Bible say about this vital subject?  Here are some basic facts gleaned from various passages.  First, hell is real.  It exists and is not some mythical place created by man to scare others into submission.  The Bible speaks of it in a literal sense.  It is just as real as heaven is (Mark 9:47).  In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus spoke about some who would go away into everlasting punishment while others would be rewarded by entering into eternal life.  Clearly, we are to understand that if heaven is real and eternal, then hell also must be real and likewise everlasting.

Sometimes, people get confused because hell will not be a physical place. They wrongly conclude that if it is not physical it cannot be real.  However, let’s apply the same thinking to heaven.  Will heaven be a physical place?  Of course not!  If in doubt, just read 1 Corinthians 15:50-54.  However, does that make it any less real?  No, At the end of this age physical things (including this Earth and the present heavens) will be done away (2 Peter 3:10-12).  From that time forward we shall exist in our eternal and spiritual forms in a spiritual place called heaven.

Second, hell is a place of continual torment and agony.  The book of Revelation describes it as the “lake of fire” (Revelation 20:14-15).  Jesus warned his followers to fear God since He is able to “destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).  Once again, people sometimes get confused on this point.  Some wonder how the torment can go on forever and ever if they have been destroyed.  Remember that the body which shall be destroyed will not have a physical form.  Like the saints who ascended to heaven, those souls that are cast into the lake of fire will have had their bodies changed in the twinkling of an eye (John 5:28-29; cf. 1 Corinthians 15:51-52).

The destruction will not be done in a physical sense.  In 2 Peter 3:7 the Bible speaks of the perdition of ungodly men on the day of judgment.  Perdition literally means complete and irreparable loss or ruin.  Souls in hell will indeed suffer eternal loss since they will be cut off from every good thing (2 Thessalonians 1:9). “For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26).  This loss of the soul includes punishment for the evil done in this life.  Paul said every soul shall be repaid for the things done in the body [i.e. the earthly life] (2 Corinthians 5:10). When Jesus comes again with his mighty angels he will begin this repayment (2 Thessalonians 1:6-9).

Third, hell will be inhabited by wicked and horrible inhabitants of all the ages.  Who will be there?  Jesus said hell was prepared for the Devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41).  However, when man chooses sin and refuses to repent, he has consigned himself to the devil’s abode.  Some have the mistaken notion that Satan will have charge of hell and that he will be the one to inflict torment on the lost.  According to the Revelation, this is false (Revelation 20:10). God will cast the devil into the lake of fire and will torment him.  All who deserve to be punished will be there including sinners of all time (Romans 2:8-9). Sadly, this will include unfaithful members of the Lord’s church (2 Peter 2:20-22).

Fourth, hell is the place of absolute justice minus any mercy (Matthew 18:34-35; cf. Hebrews 10:28-29).  There will be no second chances to escape the wrath of God once a soul is in this awful place (Luke 16:26).  Everyone needs to be warned of the horrors of this terrible place in hopes that they will choose to avoid that destiny.  Unfortunately, the majority of mankind is on the broad path that leads straight to hell (Matthew 7:13-14).

God has good reasons for having a place called hell.  If hell were not real, sinners would go unpunished.  Who would want to go to a heaven that was populated with the wicked?   Many will go to hell but they want to believe otherwise.  Some exclaim, “My life is hell.”  This is not true since life will be over one day — and then comes judgment (Hebrews 9:27). As Paul wrote, “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad.  Knowing, therefore, the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” (2 Corinthians 5:10-11a).


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