Bible Questions? Hell

Does the Bible teach a literal hell?

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Recently, I had a conversation with someone who has been told the Bible does not teach a literal hell where the wicked are sent for eternal judgment. Let us examine what scriptures teach about a literal hell. 

Firstly, no one likes to think about hell and eternal suffering – or think of God as a remarkably harsh judge in punishing sinners and wickedness. It is critical to understand that the Bible speaks of God’s final wrath as a terrible indescribable pain for eternity. The reality of the punishment of sin is a reflection of the absolute holiness and righteousness of God.

The fact is that Jesus spoke more about hell than anybody else in the Bible. In fact, He talks more about hell than heaven. In the book “Why I’m Not a Christian“, the famous sceptic Bertrand Russell said that the teaching of Jesus on hell is the one profound defect in His character. We can learn from this that even a sceptic such as Bertran Russell can identify the teaching of “hell” by Jesus Christ in the Bible. 

As with many other controversial teachings of Jesus, we usually want to ignore or minimise these teaching and instead want a Jesus who is tolerant, meek, and mild. Unfortunately, this is not the Jesus of the Bible; instead, a Jesus made in the image that is acceptable to man. Some think that the doctrine of hell is incompatible with the way and teaching of Jesus Christ. 

When we read through the gospels, Jesus describes hell in the following ways:

1. Luke 16:23 – a place of eternal torment

2. Mark 9:43 – a place of unquenchable fire

3. Mark 9:48 – a place where the worm does not die

4. Matthew 13:42 – a place where people gnash their teeth in anguish and regret

5. Luke 16:19-31 – a place of no return

6. Matthew 25:30 – a place of outer darkness

There is no doubt that Jesus warned about the reality and the dreadfulness of hell. Since Jesus emphasised the existence of hell and described it as a place of utter suffering, we will do well to take heed of the strong warning repeated by Jesus. If you try to take away the reality of hell in the Bible, then you are also doing away with the nature of God’s justice. 

Jesus in Matthew 5:20-30 contrasts hell with the kingdom of heaven. Jesus warns of the real danger of judgment to unrepentant sinners. It is a place of fire and extreme suffering. We are warned to avoid being cast into it by God. A similar warning is also given in Matthew 7:13-27.

Not only did Jesus speak about hell, but there is ample evidence in other parts of the Bible teaching hell and punishment of the wicked. Here are some examples:

  1. Isaiah 66:24 “They shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” 
  2. Daniel 12:2 “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.”
  3. Romans: 
    1. The wicked are under God’s wrath (Romans 1:18-32)
    2. They are stored for the day of wrath (Romans 9:22)
    3. They can only be saved from wrath by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 5:9-21)
    4. And many more
  4. Hebrews: 
    1. The future judgment of the wicked is eternal (Hebrews 6:1-3)
    2. Judgment is depicted as fearful and dreadful as a raging fire, and it will consume the enemies of God. Hell is a place of punishment, retribution, and judgment (Hebrews 10:27-30)
  5. Peter and Jude:
    1. Hell is described as a place of destruction (2 Peter 2:1, 3, 12; Jude 5, 10, 11). As a place of condemnation hanging over the wicked(2 Peter 2:3; Jude 4)
    2. As a gloomy dungeon where rebellious angels are held for judgment (1 Peter 2:4; Jude 6)
    3. hell as a place of retribution and blackest darkness 2 Peter 2:9, 13, 17, Jude 13)
    4. hell is a punishment of eternal fire (Jude 7,15,23)
  6. Revelation:
    1. A place where God’s fury and wrath are felt in full force (Rev 14:10)
    2. A place of intense suffering filled with fire and sulphur (Rev 14:10, 20:10, 14-15, 21:8)
    3. A place where the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever (Rev 14:11)
    4. Continual suffering where there is no rest day or night and tormented day and night forever (Rev 14:11, 20:10).

The Bible is very clear about the punishment of the wicked. It is clearly taught by Jesus, the Apostles, and the rest of the New Testament. 

Hell is a state of separation from God. Jesus says in Matthew 25:41, “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.” There is a final judgment awaiting those who are not in Jesus Christ. 

To be separated and cast into hell does not mean that a person is totally free of God Rather, it means that person will remain eternally accountable to God. Those in hell are separated from the kindness, mercy, grace, and goodness of God and instead be under the holy wrath of God. 

Jesus says that hell is a place of punishment. The misery and torment of hell point to the wickedness and seriousness of sin. The punishment must fit the crime. Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The Bible is clear that we are eternal beings. Those in Christ go on to an eternal relationship in God’s presence, and all others to eternal damnation and punishment in hell (Daniel 12:2). Some falsely claim that the wicked will cease to exist, but the Bible describes the exact opposite situation. Again in Matthew 25:46, Jesus clearly says that the wicked will go into eternal punishment. If hell is only spiritual and not literal, then why are non-believers resurrected? 

Some may ask, how can God punish someone eternally for a finite sin they have committed? You need to understand the person against whom the sin is committed is infinite. Suppose you have sinned against the infinite God who is infinitely holy, kind, good and the infinitely supreme ruler of all creation. In that case, those who sin against Him deserve eternal, infinite punishment. Not only that, but sin continues even amid their punishment in hell. There is no chance for repenting, and it is impossible for true repentance because of being away from God’s kindness and being under His wrath. 

We can be sure that God is good in all of this, but He must uphold His righteousness by His justice. Even though the concept of hell and eternal punishment may be difficult to grasp, you can fully trust that God is holy and righteous and just, even though our finite minds may not be able to comprehend it. Jesus proved it by coming so humbly into this world, to suffer and die in our place, and to take the wrath of God so that we wouldn’t have to. If you trust Him, then your sins are paid for and no longer require further judgment. 

Friends, I pray that it may cause you to bow down before Him, in awe and wonder, and fear and praise to His name. We do not deserve anything except God’s wrath. Instead, He has given life to those who trust in Him. Now His mercy allows us to enter His presence with all boldness in relationship with Him. He has rescued us from slavery to sin and eternal hellfire. I hope you live in amazement of what He has done and in reverent awe of His holiness. Amen!

In conclusion, the teaching of hell and its dreadfulness must deepen our grateful praise and honour for Jesus Christ, through whom we have salvation. Jesus experienced agony and suffering on the cross in our place. The reality of hell must push us to evangelise and to persuade others to be reconciled with God. Understanding this eternal punishment and what Jesus did for us so that we do not have to go through it will give us a greater appreciation for God and love Him more than ever. 

If you are not a believer in Jesus and His sacrifice, I urge you to come to Him in repentance and trust in His sacrifice for your sins. Give your life to God and love Him with your entire being. By doing so, you will be delivered from the coming eternal damnation to hell and be transferred to His Kingdom, having eternal fellowship and life in Christ. Amen!

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