Is hell eternal, a question we have all pondered, likely more than once in our lives.
Back in the day preachers who talked exclusively about hell were labeled fire and brimstone preachers, meaning their preaching was centered around the judgment of God. The pendulum has swung, and it seems we have moved away from preaching about hell or God’s judgment. Now you only hear about a God who just loves and accepts everybody and everything. While there are pros and cons in both these approaches, they are incomplete in and of themselves. The reality is we must address the serious nature of hell and God’s judgment. As much as we preach about the grace of God if we are going to be balanced, we must also make people aware of the judgment of God too and hell represents that judgment. Some may even wonder if hell is eternal or temporary and that’s why you must understand this topic and learn the truth of hell.
What Is Hell? And Is Hell Eternal?
In Hebrew the word for hell is Sheol. This word has other meanings such as the pit or the grave. To determine which definition is appropriate you would have to read the context of the verse to understand the meaning. Let me give you an example. Look at these two verses.
"If you take this one from me too and harm comes to him, you will bring my gray head down to the grave in misery." – Genesis 44:29
"Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave." – Proverbs 5:5
When you read them both they both use the same Hebrew word Sheol. In this example, the NIV translates both of these as the grave. Other translations use either Sheol or hell in the Proverbs 5:5 verse. When you read in context, you recognize that one is referring to a place of burial and one is referring to hell itself.
In Greek, there are two words for hell. One is Tartarus which is used only once and refers to a temporary holding place. The other is Gehenna, which is used twelve times in the new testament to describe hell. When you understand Gehenna, which was a small valley in Jerusalem, you will begin to see that hell is not temporary but eternal. One of the things that happened in Gehenna was the burning of sewage. Here is a description of Gehenna.
It is very interesting that Jesus used the word Gehenna to describe hell especially when you consider that the fire in Gehenna burned continually and was never quenched. These are qualities that you will soon discover that describe hell.
Is Hell Eternal or Temporal: Temporary Holding
While God’s final judgment is eternal there is also mention in the new testament of Hades. We see this in the story of the rich man and Lazarus. After they died we see that the rich man went to a place called Hades.
"The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. 23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side." – Luke 16:22-23
The rich man was being tormented in Hades however this is not the final destination of those who reject Christ. To get the full picture we need to move forward into the book of Revelation which talks about something called the lake of fire.
Hell - The Eternal Nature of the Lake of Fire
The lake of fire is an eternal judgment and the indication of this is found in the same chapter of Revelation.
"And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever." – Revelation 20:10
Satan’s ultimate end is the lake of fire where he will be tormented forever. This description is why the word Gehenna is a perfect word and description for hell. It points us to the reality that hell is not temporary, but it is an eternal judgment for those who ultimately choose to reject Christ as Savior.
If you are not aware the Bible speaks about two resurrections. The first one is for those who are resurrected to eternal life. The second resurrection is for those who will be resurrected to face judgment. Consider what you find in Revelation 20.
"Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire." – Revelation 20:11-15
Let Me Point Out a Few Things
1 – There is a final judgment for all unbelievers - The great white throne judgment is reserved for those who have rejected Christ. Believers will not be judged in this judgment. Those who are judged here will be resurrected and then face final judgment. This resurrection is known as the second resurrection. This is not the resurrection you want to be part of because it is a resurrection that leads to the second death.
2 – Death and Hades are thrown into the lake of fire – This ends the temporary judgment that is found in Hades which is where we saw earlier the rich man went. Hades ends after the great white throne judgment and is replaced by the eternal judgment of the lake of fire.
3 – The lake of fire is the second death – When Scripture refers to death it means separation. The first death is when your spirit is separated from your body. The second death is when your spirit is separated from God for all eternity.
4 – The lake of fire is the eternal judgment – When a person is cast into the lake of fire this is a total, permanent and eternal judgment. Once this judgment has been pronounced there is no coming back from this. This is not only sobering but should motivate us to share the love of Jesus because we should not want anyone to experience this.
Is Hell for You?
Is hell eternal? I guess the most important question isn’t really is hell temporary or eternal? The most important question should be is hell for you? Jesus made this statement in Matthew.
"Then he will say to those on his left, ‘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
Hell was never meant for you neither was it prepared for you. It was designed and prepared for Satan and his angels. The reality is that God doesn’t send anyone to hell, they choose to go. The way out is by faith in Jesus as your Savior. This is the hope we have as believers and why we don’t have to worry about the fires of hell. I don’t know where you are today in your relationship with God, but you have two options. You can experience the grace of God through faith in Jesus Christ as your Savior. The other option is to experience the judgment of God. The choice is yours and because of the fact that hell is not temporary but eternal make sure you choose wisely. God is desiring to pour out love and grace on you, but it is up to you to open the door and allow him to do it. My prayer is that would be the choice you make.
Photo credit: ©GettyImages/Brina Bunt
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.
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