Hell is not a popular subject—not even in the church. However, it is a critical subject because the Bible says much about hell. The issue is not if a topic makes us comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s about hard truths that we need to think about constantly—for our own eternal benefit!
J.C. Ryle, a godly preacher from over a century ago, wrote this about hell, “The watchman who keeps silent when he sees a fire is guilty of gross neglect. The doctor who tells us we are getting well when we are dying is a false friend, and the minister who keeps back hell from his people in his sermons is neither a faithful nor a charitable man.”
Since I seek to be both faithful and charitable [loving], I want to address the subject of hell by describing 4 realities of hell and specific implications as a result of these realities.
Reality #1. Hell is a real place.
Just because one does not believe in hell, hell doesn’t cease to exist. Hell is a real place that exists. If hell is not a real place, why in the world would Jesus not only warn us—but come to die for us so that we would not go there? In Matthew 10:28, Jesus warns us, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” These words make no sense if hell does not exist. If we believe in a heaven, we have to believe in a hell too—God’s holy and just nature requires sin to be punished—either on the cross or on individuals.
When we die, we go to 1 of 2 places immediately: The believer goes to heaven; The unbeliever goes to a place called hades [place of suffering] and on the day of judgment is cast into hell. Just like heaven is a real place, hell is also a real place.
Reality #2. Hell is a place of eternal conscious torment.
a. It is an eternal place. In Matthew 25:46, Jesus said, “Then they [i.e., the wicked] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Notice, heaven, and hell are both eternal since the same word is used to describe both places. We cannot say the word “eternal” when it comes to heaven means forever, but when it comes to hell is temporary.
b. It is a place of torment. Hell is described as a fiery furnace. John the Baptist in Matthew 3:12 describes hell as “unquenchable fire.” In Mark 9:43, Jesus said, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out.” A few verses later in Mark 9:47-48, Jesus went on to say, “47 And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, 48 where ‘the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”
Paul wrote in 1 Thessalonians 1:8-9, “8 He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The last book of the Bible describes the final end of all who have rejected the Lord Jesus—a place of torment: “14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death.15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire” [Rev 20:14-15].
All these verses clearly describe hell as a place of torment.
c. It is a place where people are conscious of suffering. Hell is a place where one is conscious of pain. One will have feelings in hell. However, they will only be feelings of pain—constant unending pain. No reprieve whatsoever. No vacations from pain. Jesus said in Matthew 25:30, “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Not only does Jesus describe the continual suffering in hell through the use of terms such as “weeping and gnashing of teeth” he also calls it a place of “darkness” which is symbolic of total despair.
Jesus also told the story [not a parable] about the rich man and Lazarus and how the rich man was conscious of his suffering in Hades. We read in Luke 16:23-24 the horrifying experience of the rich man: “23 In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.'” The rich man was clearly conscious of his suffering.
While the amount of pain will differ from person to person [i.e., those who are more wicked will suffer more], everyone will still experience pain on a constant basis. The Puritan commentator Matthew Henry wrote these sobering words, “Were a man to live as long as Methuselah, and to spend all his days in the highest delights sin can offer, one hour of the anguish and tribulation that must follow, would far outweigh them.” Put it another way, let’s imagine the worst suffering one can think of going through on earth. Now multiply that pain by 1000, no – by 10,0000 – no, by a million, even that amount of pain will not be equal to the pain that will be in hell for all eternity.
In addition to the physical torture, there is the mental torture as well since God will not remove the mind when one is in hell. Jim Elliff in his article titled, “My Darkest Night, Hopefully Not Yours” writes this about the aspect of mental torture,
“It would be a mercy of God to take a man’s mind away in hell, but that surely is the agony of hell. Mercy was for another time, now so long ago. A man must live with himself, without the dignities of feigned kindness and pretended beauty. His mind is the most tortured part of him, regardless of what pains he is afflicted with in the body. Surely this is what is meant by the words, “his worm will not die.” Crawling in and out of his mind is the alarming awareness that he is who he is forever and that he cannot change and therefore cannot have any hope or any relief or any joy or any love ever again. He will always wish to hate, and he can never again wish to love, though he will long for such a desire, and then will hate himself for longing for it because his hatred of God is so great.”
One may feel, “Isn’t it unfair for someone to suffer forever?” Problem is this: Even in hell, people won’t repent of their sins since the time for repentance ends at the time of death. So, they will continue to stay in rebellion which adds up to their sins. And that’s why they will continue to experience eternal torment.
Reality #3. Hell is a place where the utterly wicked and even the decent people will be together.
Paul wrote in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 “9 Or do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men 10 nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.” Paul lists a broad category of sinners who will not inherit the kingdom of God. Thieves and slanderers, sexually immoral with the drunkards will all inhabit hell. In other words, even the so-called morally good person like the rich young ruler [Matt 19:16-22] will be there with the Hitlers and the Stalins!
Jesus himself said, “Broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it” [Matt 7:13]. Not only will hell be a place for the wicked people, but it will also be the place for Satan and his demons [Matt 25:41]! Imagine that for a moment. Not only is it bad enough to be with the wicked people, but one will also have Satan and his demons as a company for all eternity!
Reality #4. Hell is a place of no hope.
People in hell only have feelings of despair. Absolutely no hope of getting out. We read in Luke 16:24-28 these words, “24 So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ 25 “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. 26 And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ 27 “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, 28 for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.'”
Notice, the urgency with which the rich man pleads to Abraham for his family to be spared from coming to where he was. Why? Because he knew once a person got in, there is no escape. Forever in torment. No hope of deliverance whatsoever! Not a minute of joy or relief! How terrible that must be! In fact it is so terrible that even the demons don’t want to go there. That is why they asked Jesus to send them into the pigs rather than into the Abyss [Lk 8:28, 31]!
So, 4 realities of hell: (1) It is a real place; (2) It is a place of eternal conscious torment; (3) It is a place where the utterly wicked and the most decent of people will be together and (4) It is a place of no hope.
While it is hard to be dogmatic as to what descriptions of hell are real or which ones are metaphorical, this reality still remains: Hell is a place of terrible suffering—both mentally and physically! How then should both believers and unbelievers respond to these realities? These will be addressed in the next POST.