Is Hell Really Happening?
The eternal torment you don’t want for yourself or anyone
Unbelievers deny its existence, and uninformed believers doubt its reality. It has been called cruel, inhumane, and barbarous. Many mock you for believing it’s true. It seems too harsh a punishment for merely failing to believe. But the reality of Hell stares at us from the pages of Scripture, and for most it’s like a rabid dog we want to avoid or a crazy homeless person we steer clear of. Hell is a topic you avoid and a place you rarely consider anyone will actually go.
So do Christians have to believe in Hell? The answer is yes. We live in a day when unbelievers deny it and believers doubt it, but my family–our Savior, Jesus Christ, teaches more about Hell than any other subject in the New Testament. If you’re born again, if you follow Christ, if you’re going to Heaven for eternity then you must believe in a literal, physical, eternal Hell for those without Christ.
#1 All genuine Christians BELIEVE in Hell
There is eternal punishment. Why?
First Because the Bible TEACHES a literal Hell
Jesus taught a future, forever torment for those not in Christ. Luke 16:22 to 24, “’The rich man … died and was buried. 23In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. 24And he cried out and said, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.”’”
Parable or not, in Luke 16 our Lord clearly points to a future, eternal torment, with flames. But if you have doubts about this passage, our loving Savior makes certain you know He believes in a place of forever punishment. And He urges you n at ot to go there, at all costs, with these words. Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 25:41, “Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.’”
The rest of the New Testament also agrees with Christ–there are only two eternal destinations, and the one you do not want to end up in is Hell, Hotel California. Revelation 20:15, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Second Thessalonians 1:7b to 9, “The Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, 8dealing out retribution to who? those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
If you believe the Bible, if you trust the Scriptures as God’s never wrong Word, if you cling to Christ as the way, the truth and the life–then you must believe in a physical, literal, place of forever torment where most people will spend eternity. The Bible teaches Hell is a real place and all non-Christians will go there after death. Why must you believe in Hell?
Second Because God’s CHARACTER demands a Hell
God’s LOVE even demands Hell
Think about it–true biblical love cannot act coercively, only persuasively. God will never force His creation to worship Him. So those who ultimately desire not to love Christ must be allowed to stay distant. Those who do not wish to be with Christ forever will experience eternal separation and abandonment. There will one day be no more wooing or opportunity to change–only a final confirmation of their decision.
Love requires those who reject Christ be allowed to. There are two kinds of people–those who say to God, “Thy will be done,” and those to whom God says, “Thy will be done.” Forcing people to go to Heaven against their will would turn Heaven into Hell.
God’s JUSTICE insists on Hell
You intrinsically know, when a policeman rescues children, justice demands a reward. When a criminal murders a child, justice requires a punishment. God’s justice also demands a reward for good and a punishment for evil. Because the Lord has chosen not to finalize judgment in this life, we live on a planet where injustice reigns–both in reward for good and punishment for evil. Since every single human being, saved and unsaved, has committed sin, has done evil, has missed God’s perfect character and has intentionally violated God’s law, it is correct to say this life is not fair. But with this twist–if life were fair, every person alive right now would be in Hell, punished for sin. That would be just.
The reason you believers are so thankful is because He first loved us, then saved His children. Christians don’t receive justice, they receive mercy. The reason why Christ followers can be thankful on their worst day is that any day you’re not in Hell is a pretty good day. In the future, God has determined two places to accomplish His justice–one for the reward for goodness and the other for the punishment of sin. God’s justice demands Hell. Why must you believe in Hell?
Third Because the CROSS presupposes Hell
The cross is the center of Christianity. The cross is the means of salvation. Jesus endured great physical suffering–but far greater, all the punishment, all of God’s wrath for the sin of His children was poured out on Christ on the cross. It was a dirty agony for the holy, righteous, sinless God the Son to bear our sin and suffer the wrath you deserved for all eternity. But if there is no Hell, then why did Jesus die? If there is no Hell, the pain of suffering and ultimate death of the cross is a sham–a complete waste. There is no significance to the cross of Christ if there is no eternal punishment and no separation from God.
As difficult as it is to comprehend, Jesus taught, Christ’s character demands, and the work of the cross requires an eternal Hell for those who do not follow Christ. As one friend told me, it is better for you to prepare to avoid Hell then find it doesn’t exist, than to find it does exist when you are not prepared to avoid it.
#2 The DETAILS of eternal Hell
Hell is a real place. It is called by different names and has different parts, but it is a place designed for the eternal torment of Christ rejecters. Matthew 25:30, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Luke 16:28, “Lest they also come to this place of torment.” What terms does the Bible use to describe Hell?
SHEOL Psalm 139:8, “If I ascend to heaven, You are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, You are there.” In his incredible theology, Bible Doctrine, John MacArthur says, “The Hebrew term Sheol is found 65 times in the OT. Depending on the context, the term is translated as grave, pit or hell. In general, Sheol refers to the abode of the dead.” Whether saved or unsaved, Sheol was the place of the dead.
TARTARUS used in 2 Peter 2:4, “For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment.” The phrase, “cast them into hell”, is misleading. This is not Hell–Gehenna or Hades, but the place in Hell where the fallen angels were sent, the lowest part of Hell, the deepest pit, and the most terrible place of torture.
ABYSS may be another name for Tartarus. It is the prison for fallen angels that halts them from having any access to Earth or any influence on Earth. As Jesus was about to cast out demons from a man, Luke 8:31 reports that the demons were imploring Him not to command them to go away into the abyss. Revelation 9 and then 20 also mention the Abyss as the place where demons are released from during the Tribulation to torment humanity, and ultimately Satan will be locked into the Abyss after the Second Coming of Christ. Once incarcerated, the Abyss will be shut and sealed over him so Satan cannot deceive the nations for a thousand years.
HADES Before the Second Coming of Christ, before the resurrection of the dead, all unbelievers at death immediately experience conscious torment in a place called Hades. In the Old Testament, sometimes Hades was used interchangeably with Sheol as the place of the dead. But in the New Testament, Hades always refers to the temporary place for the conscious torment of the non-Christian. The most explicit discussion of Hades is found in Luke 16, which describes the rich man and Lazarus. Verse 23, “In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, … ‘I am in agony in this flame.’”
The rich man retained his memory, since he recalled Lazarus and his five brothers. The rich man also fully knew that his presence in Hades was deserved. Jesus told us the people of His day will end up in Hades. Matthew 11:23, “’And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades.’” But Hades one day will be emptied and all those in it will face final judgment–and at that time, the place Hades and all who were in it will be dropped into the lake of fire.
Revelation 20:13 and 14, “Death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 14Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” Hell–the lake of fire, is not open for business yet. But Hades is. The moment an unbeliever dies, he or she will find themselves in a place of continual torment called Hades.
GEHENNA There is no question the Bible presents the eternal reality of Hell–the lake of fire. This is defined by the term Gehenna–a real place of fiery torment for the unrepentant that lasts forever. Of the twelve references to Gehenna in the Bible, the majority of them come from our Savior’s own mouth. Loving, gracious, merciful Jesus believed in Hell.
Matthew 5:22, “Whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell.” Matthew 23:33, “You serpents, … how will you escape the sentence of hell?” Mark 9:43, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire.”
Jesus uses the term Gehenna here–this term comes from the Valley of Hinnom–Ge-henna–literally of Hinnom, the valley with a horrible history and a disgusting use. Hell is not a Far Side comic. Hell is not a joke. Hell is not a place you can hang out with friends. Hell is not a place where Satan rules with a pitchfork. No, he’ll suffer in chains, and Revelation 20:15 says, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” No matter how many names are used to describe Hell, or what parts of Hell are highlighted, Hell is still a place of fiery torment for the unrepentant that lasts forever.
#3 DEATH is the doorway to Hell
Once you die, you’re headed for torment in Hades or blessing in Heaven–only two options. Hebrews 9:27 declares, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment.” Every single one of you will die once (unless raptured) and every one of you, saved and unsaved, will experience a resurrection–a restoration of physical life. Both saved and unsaved are resurrected. Daniel 12:2, “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt.” John 5:29, “Come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.”
The Bible is clear–those in Christ and those not in Christ will be resurrected and given an eternal body. The body the lost receive is suited to experience the eternal lake of fire. Remember the three types of death.
1 PHYSICAL death, which is the separation of the immaterial part of man from the material body
2 SPIRITUAL death, which is the separation of the created being from the Creator Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins”
3 ETERNAL death, which is the final, permanent separation of an unsaved person from God Revelation 20:14b, “This is the second death, the lake of fire.”
SECOND DEATH is used four times in Scripture and is another term used for eternal death. It’s a living death. You say, “There is no such thing.” My friends, everyone you know who is not in Christ is spiritually dead. They’re living, but dead. They have a living death. It is the same with eternal death, except now they exist in an eternal body which will live forever in a form of death. This second death does not cause people to cease to exist–no, just the opposite. This eternal second death is a kind of death which involves everlasting ruin, punishment for sin and separation from God’s blessed presence.
And this second death awaits all those who physically die while being spiritually dead. Only those who are delivered by the gracious salvation of the Lord Jesus escape eternal second death. Revelation 20:6 declares, “Blessed and holy is the one who has a part in the first resurrection; over these the second death has no power.” This eternal second death is the final, permanent separation of an unsaved person from God. And the doorway into this living, eternal torment is your physical death. Which means you must listen to 2 Corinthians 6:2, “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold, now is the day of salvation.”
What will Hell be like? What do the unredeemed wicked experience in Hell?
#4 The experience of HELL is TORMENT
There will be physical suffering in a resurrected eternal body–who for? Truly those who lived wickedly on Earth–but also for all who rejected Christ, and those who thought they were saved but practiced lawlessness. And those who were Christian in name only–they will all be punished in torment, and exist eternally under the weight of the wrath of God.
Matthew 25:46, “These will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” Punishment means pain, toil, torment, and loss. Revelation 14:11, “The smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” Torment is also translated torture–literally a state of great suffering and distress.
Revelation 14:10, “He himself shall also drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is poured out full strength into the cup of His indignation. He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.” Indignation is bigger than anger–it is anger that has been brewing a long time, resulting in the punitive outworking of God’s righteous hatred of sin. God will physically punish, and the pain will be real, righteous and forever. And along with physical suffering, there will be spiritual and emotional suffering.
Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
Listen to how the Jewish leaders responded to Stephen with their teeth in Acts 7:51 to 56. “’You stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears! You always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you. 52Which of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? And they killed those who foretold the coming of the Just One, of whom you now have become the betrayers and murderers, 53who have received the law by the direction of angels and have not kept it.’ 54When they heard these things they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed at him with their teeth. 55But he, being full of the Holy Spirit, gazed into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God, 56and said, ‘Look! I see the heavens opened and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God!’”
What do some of you do at night which concerns your dentist? You grind your teeth. They were convicted–but instead of repentance, they responded in violent anger at Stephen for exposing their sin for all to see. So they react emotionally and violently by clenching their teeth together in anger–like a dog, hair up and ready to bite. Their anger is so intense, they’re clenching their teeth. They’re grinding their teeth together. And this is what all Christ rejecters will do for all eternity. In Matthew 13:42, Jesus will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Plus they will experience . . .
Matthew 8:12, “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness.” Matthew 25:30, “Cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness.” Those without Christ will be forced into darkness. This is the sphere dominated by evil, sinfulness and ignorance of God and His ways– clearly marked by the absence of light. They will also be punished by . . .
A Condemning Conscience
Salvation in Christ offers us deliverance from a dirty, evil, accusing conscience. Those who suffer in Hell will know no such freedom from guilt. Hebrews 9:14 speaks of “cleanse your conscience”
Hebrews 10:22, “an evil conscience”
Romans 2:15, “an accusing conscience”
The painful burning of Hell may include horrific accusations of conscience for eternity. Of all the sad words of tongue or pen, the saddest are these–“It might have been.” For all eternity, the pain of regret for indifference or rejection of Christ. The darkness of Hell could be literal or painting a picture of exclusion from the light of God’s presence forever. An eternal loneliness, suffering under complete hopelessness.
The lost are without hope now–it is difficult to imagine the hopelessness they will experience in an eternity without Christ. Hell is not a place you want to go. Remember, it is not a matter of how bad you are, it’s a matter of whose righteousness you wear. To go to Heaven, you have to be perfect–and you’re not even close. But Christ is perfect, and when He saves you, He covers you in His righteousness and you become perfect in God’s eyes. And He gives you a heart that wants to now live righteously. But what about people who were and are really evil–are they punished differently? Yes they are–those such as Hitler. There are . . .
Degrees of Punishment in Hell
There is justice. All will suffer greatly in Hell, but those who lived more wickedly on Earth will suffer in greater torment in Hell. There are degrees of punishment, since the dead are judged by what they’ve done. Judgment according to deeds, on logical grounds, demands grades and degrees of punishment.
Revelation 18:7 to 8, “In the measure that she glorified herself and lived luxuriously, in the same measure give her torment and sorrow; ….for strong is the Lord God who judges her.” Romans 2:5, “But because of your stubbornness and unrepentant heart you are storing up wrath for yourself in the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God.” Matthew 11:22 to 24, “But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you.” Luke 20:47, “Who devour widows’ houses, and for appearance’s sake offer long prayers. These will receive greater condemnation.”
Jesus measures our wickedness, people store up wrath, judgment will be easier for some while others receive greater condemnation–there are degrees of punishment. In fact, Wayne Grudem says, “Every wrong deed done will be remembered and taken into account, in the punishment meted out.” Matthew 12:36 declares, “Every careless word that people speak, they shall give an accounting for it in the day of judgment.” Every word spoken will be brought to light and judged. Ecclesiastes 12:14, “God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.” Even the secrets of your heart will be revealed and made public. In Romans 2:16 Paul speaks of the day when, “According to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus.” And Jesus is even more specific in Luke 12:2 and 3, “There is nothing covered up that will not be revealed, and hidden that will not be known. 3Accordingly, whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops.”
Those who do great evil will suffer greater torment than those who don’t–but every sin, every word, every thought, every motive will be judged. And only those covered in the righteousness of Jesus Christ will satisfy the righteous judge. A Christian’s deeds can be acceptable because the Spirit can empower a believer to serve to the glory of God. But a non-Christian’s deeds are like filthy rags and can never be acceptable to God, no matter how nice or noble. How long is eternal punishment?
#5 The Duration of HELL is FOREVER
The Lord Jesus in His Word speaks of eternal salvation, eternal redemption, He will live forever, and they will reign forever and ever. Those are the very same expressions used by Scripture to describe the everlasting duration of the punishment of the unsaved. How long will the suffering last? It never, ever, ever, ever ends!
Matthew 25:46, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment.” Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night.” Mark 9:43 to 48, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, rather than having two hands, to go to hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched 44where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” The Scriptures emphasize that Hell is eternal, forever, and ever, everlasting. There are some who believe . . .
Universalism–that somehow everyone will be saved. But Jesus says some sins, Matthew 12:32, “will not be forgiven him, either in this age or in the age to come.” Others believe . . .
Annihilationism–that somehow you just go out of existence after you die. They say that a few verses describe eternal punishment as destruction, like Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” But the word destroy does not mean annihilate, but ruin. And 2 Thessalonians 1:9 clarifies the truth by calling the destruction everlasting. “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction.” Some also believe in . . .
Purgatory–that those in Hell get a second chance. But God’s Word says in Hebrews 9:27, “As it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment.” And 1 Thessalonians 4:13 makes certain you know that those who die without Christ “have no hope.” The truth is, Hell is eternal, forever and ever, everlasting torment.
#6 The only rescue from HELL is found in CHRIST
When God became a man, Jesus Christ lived a perfect life, then offered Himself as a substitute on the cross, to suffer and die for the sins of His children. His was a perfect life and a perfect sacrifice. Being God, His death could satisfy the Father. And being man, His death could be in our place. But at what cost? Christ literally experienced all the torments of Hell on the cross when He bore your sin. Not only for every one of your sins, past, present and future. But all the wrath that you deserved for all eternity forever, was poured out on Christ on your behalf. The only way God the Father could be satisfied, was for Christ to suffer your Hell in its fullness. And Christ bore that forever wrath for sin for every one of His chosen children who has ever lived–all of it!
Now you can begin to understand the agony of Matthew 27:45 to 46, “From the sixth hour until the ninth hour there was darkness over all the land. 46And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, ‘Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?’ that is, ‘My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?’” That is why Jesus prayed earlier in Matthew 26:38 to 39, “Then He said to them, ‘My soul is exceedingly sorrowful, even to death. Stay here and watch with Me.’ 39He went a little farther and fell on His face, and prayed, saying, ‘O My Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from Me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as You will.’”
When someone says, “Hell is unjust”–I just point them to the sacrifice of the perfect and innocent Son of God, our Lord Jesus Christ, who bore the wrath of Hell so you would not have to. This is what God did for you. At the highest price that has ever been paid, God loved you enough to provide one way of escape. To turn from your sin and depend on Christ by faith, putting your life and all your hope in Christ alone. Hell is happening. Do not play with your eternity, friends–Hell is not a game.
A study of Hell from the scriptures will EXPOSE YOU
It’ll expose a weak view of sin, a low view of God, and expose any issue you have with the exclusivity of the Gospel.
A study of Hell from the Scriptures will CHANGE YOU
Hell will change your MOTIVATION–from unconcerned to unsurpassed
Hell will change your MOUTH–from silent to sharing
Hell will change your HANDS–from dabbling to doing
Hell will change your WALLET–from grudging to giving
Hell will change your HEART–from unsure to unstoppable
A study of Hell from the Scriptures will DEMAND of YOU
Hell will demand you embrace the Gospel–that submission to Christ is your only hope
Hell will demand you grow in your fear of God and not fear man
Hell will demand you follow Christ by living a fruitful lifestyle which is assured of salvation