What Is Hell? A Biblical Guide of Its Existence
- Christianity.com Editorial Staff
- 2019 15 Apr
“Hell is a place of total, conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God,” Bryan Chapell, president of Covenant Theological Seminary, said in the video below. “And there’s a sense in which hell is people getting exactly what they want.” In that if a person rejects God all throughout life, never submitting to him in repentance, then the person will enter eternity after death without God.
What is Hell?
Transcribed from the video above by Bryan Chapell:
Hell is total, conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God. People think of it as a lake of fire and that certainly is a biblical image. Also, the Bible describes hell as lashing or scorpions or darkness where there's great gnashing of teeth. There's not just one biblical image of hell. Hell is a place for the soul of extreme torment by being separated from the blessings of God.
The questions we always struggle with is Hell fair? That's a harder question. I think one way theologians have dealt with that is, it's fair in this regard: people get what they deserve. They don't want to be with God, and so God at some point says, fine, you'll be without me. Now, pride keeps you not wanting God around and there's a sense in which hell, if it's not just described by the images, but by theological understanding, total conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God and there's a sense in which hell is people getting exactly what they want, (they say) "I didn't want God."
At some point, God says, okay, I have shown you my goodness and my grace, and you don't want that. So you get exactly what you want. The Bible warns that that's great pain. That's great hardship to the soul to be without God. But at some point, God says, okay, I'll give you what you want. Those who want me, they get me. That's Heaven. Those who don't want me, they don't get me. They get what they want, and that's how when it's ultimately taken to its foundational, meaning.
What Happens after Death?
We know from Romans 3:23 that everyone has sinned and therefore stand condemned before a holy God. But John 3:16-17 tells us that because of God’s great love for the whole world, he stepped in to rescue people from this helpless trajectory, if they only trust in Christ Jesus – the Messiah (John 20:31), God incarnate (Matthew 1:23; John 1:1-3; John 1:14). This rescue is not forced but received by grace through faith. And should someone die without faith in God, the Bible says their sin has condemned them to hell.
The Bible does not indicate further opportunity to receive salvation after a person dies (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus told a parable illustrating this in Luke 16:19-31. Verse 26 describes “a great chasm” between heaven and hades (meaning: place of the dead) that is “set in place,” so that no one can cross from one side to the other.
Does Hell Exist?
Alistair Begg posed the question “Is Jesus Christ true in what he says?” in the video below. “If Jesus Christ is Lord, then I have to believe exactly what he taught,” Begg said. “If we start from that premise, then we can’t simply excise the hard parts out of it. We’ve got to take him at his word. The most loving person who has ever lived spoke so straightforwardly about the awfulness of hell.”
Hell Meaning: The Difference Between Gehenna, Sheol, and Hades
In the New Testament, the word hell is translated from the Greek word, Gehenna, which is Hebrew for the “Valley of Hinnom” (Strong’s 1067). This is a place southwest of Jerusalem where, years before the Jews inhabited Israel, pagans in the land would worship Molek by sacrificing children (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31).
“This was a place outside Jerusalem’s walls desecrated by Molech worship and human sacrifice, thus turned into the dump where rubbish and refuse were burned. The smoldering fires and festering worms made it a graphic and effective picture of the fate of the damned,” according to David Guzik.
In the Old Testament, the King James Version translates שְׁאוֹל as hell, but this is more appropriately translated by most other versions as sheol, meaning underworld or “place to which people descend at death” (Strong’s 7585).
In the New Testament, this word is translated as hades in Greek, which also refers to the place of the dead.
“In Hades, where he was in torment…he called, ‘…I am in agony in this flame’” (Luke 16:23-24).
In this passage we find the term hades, which is the invisible world of the dead (Strong’s 86).
“The New Testament use of Hades builds on its Hebrew parallel, Sheol, which was the preferred translation in the Septuagint,” according to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary.
Hell Described in the Bible
The word of God warns about hell describing it with images of darkness, gnashing of teeth, fire, and complete separation from God.
From the oldest book of the Bible (Job) to the last book (Revelation), darkness is consistently associated with hell. Job writes of a “land of deepest night, of utter darkness and disorder,” (Job 10:21-22) a “realm of darkness” (Job 17:13), even a “day of darkness” (Job 15:23). Other references throughout the Bible include:
- “Realm of darkness” (Nahum 1:8)
- “Thrown outside into the darkness” (Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13; Matthew 25:30)
- “Blackest darkness” (Jude 1:13)
- “Plunged into darkness” (Revelation 16:10)
2. Gnashing of Teeth
Jesus, who spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, used this phrase to describe the intense suffering in hell. According to Strong’s 1030, gnashing means binding or grinding.
Isaiah in the Old Testament prophesied about hell as the place where “the fire that burns them will not be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24). This unquenchable fire is also referenced in Mark 9:43 and Mark 9:48.
Other fire references throughout the Bible include:
- “Blazing furnace” (Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50)
- “Fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 18:9)
- “Eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8; Matthew 25:41)
- “Tormented with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 14:10)
4. Separation from God
Often without knowing it, both the redeemed and the unrepentant experience God’s blessings on earth (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35; Romans 2:4). Hell, however, is eternal separation from God’s presence, love, and other blessings.
Here are Bible passages describing the reality of hell as separation from God:
- “Shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
- “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41)
- “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46)
This section was adapted from “What is Hell Like?” on Christianity.com.
Why Is Hell Eternal?
“Scripture is quite clear that hell is indeed everlasting. Yes, Scripture speaks of hell as ‘death’ and ‘destruction’ but defines these in terms of a place where ‘they will be tormented day and night forever and ever’ (Revelation 20:10). Why must this go on forever?” Russel Moore asked in his article.
He then offered two reasons why hell is eternal.
1. Sin is more serious than we realize.
Humanity’s rebellion against God is more serious than we realize. An insurrection against an infinitely holy and worthy Creator is an infinitely heinous offense.
2. Sin does not disappear.
Those in hell do not love the Lord their God with all their heart, souls, and mind (Matthew 22:37), but are completely handed over to the fullness of human nature without God’s grace. The condemnation continues for eternity because the sin does too. Hell is the final “handing over” (Romans 1) of the rebel to who he wants to be, and it’s awful.
This section was adapted from “Why Is Hell Eternal?” on Christianity.com.
What Is the Lake of Fire?
The “lake of fire” is mentioned throughout Revelation (Revelation 19:20; Revelation 20:10, Revelation 20:14-15; Revelation 21:8). It’s described as “the second death” in Revelation 21:8, where all the unrighteous will be consigned. Revelation 19:20 tells us “the beast” and its “false prophet” (the antichrist) will be thrown into the lake of fire for final punishment of evil.
And after God’s judgement, seated on a “great white throne” (Revelation 20:11), “anyone whose name [is] not found written in the book of life [will be] thrown in to the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15).
This is a place is reserved for Satan and his demons, not intended for God’s beloved creation (John 3:16-17, John 10:10). 2 Peter 3:9 confirms that the Lord does not want anyone to perish in this final judgement but wants everyone to repent from sin and follow Jesus.
“’The time has come,’ [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15)
Read “How Can I Have Assurance of Salvation?” for how God himself made a way able to prevent anyone from the fate of hell.
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