I had a conversation with a pastor friend of mine recently who had been challenged by another local pastor regarding his “questionable” views of Hell; the local pastor was surprised that my friend believed in Hell; the fiery place where God’s wrath against sin is expressed via everlasting punishment . It turns out that in “conservative” circles, I’ve encountered more than a little confusion about Hell and a lot of people out there are really uncomfortable with teaching on the doctrine of Hell, so they simply ignore it and entertain a bunch of bizarre and unbiblical ideas about Hell.
So, let’s see a little of what the Bible says about Hell?
1. Does the Old Testament talk about Hell?
Actually, Yes. The Old Testament contains two stories about swift, intense judgment that is delivered by God against sinners: The Flood in Genesis 6 and the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah in Genesis 19. So those two stories are connected to Hell?
Well, yes. Jesus thought so:
“Just as it was in the days of Noah, so will it be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day when Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed them all. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot—they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day when Lot went out from Sodom, fire and sulfur rained from heaven and destroyed them all—so will it be on the day when the Son of Man is revealed.” – Luke 17:26-30
Jesus spoke of his own coming in judgment as a time of the destruction of all the wicked (“destroyed them all”), and it’s interesting how Christ points out that “fire and sulfur rained from heaven” on Sodom.
Is that it? That only seems to suggest that the coming of the Son of Man will be a time of intense judgment.
Well, Peter and Jude both saw the Flood and the destruction of Sodom as examples of what will happen to the wicked in the future:
“For if God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the judgment; if he did not spare the ancient world, but preserved Noah, a herald of righteousness, with seven others, when he brought a flood upon the world of the ungodly; if by turning the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to ashes he condemned them to extinction, making them an example of what is going to happen to the ungodly; and if he rescued righteous Lot, greatly distressed by the sensual conduct of the wicked (for as that righteous man lived among them day after day, he was tormenting his righteous soul over their lawless deeds that he saw and heard); then the Lord knows how to rescue the godly from trials, and to keep the unrighteous under punishment until the day of judgment” – 2 Peter 2:4-9
“And the angels who did not stay within their own position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day— just as Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding cities, which likewise indulged in sexual immorality and pursued unnatural desire, serve as an example by undergoing a punishment of eternal fire.” – Jude 6-7
Jude makes the connection of Sodom and Gomorrah being an example of undergoing a punishment of eternal fire…and yet those cities were destroyed in one evening and all that was left in the morning was a smoking plain (Gen. 19:28).
What else talks about Hell in the OT?
Well, Isaiah closes off his prophecy with some extended talk about the day of the Lord. Isaiah 66:15-16 say:
“For behold, the Lord will come in fire,
and his chariots like the whirlwind,
to render his anger in fury,
and his rebuke with flames of fire.
For by fire will the Lord enter into judgment,
and by his sword, with all flesh;
and those slain by the Lord shall be many.
This is the description of the Day of the Lord. “Fire” is mentioned three times in two verses, and it is a time where the Lord delivers his anger as manifested in fury; his rebuke of sinners will come in the form of “flames of fire”. The Lord will execute his judgment “by fire” and it will be “with all flesh”. It will be a time where the Lord slays his enemies.
Does “all flesh” mean everyone?
No. Isaiah 66:17 clarifies who’s being talked about in terms of receiving the sword and the fire and the anger and the judgment:
“Those who sanctify and purify themselves to go into the gardens, following one in the midst, eating pig’s flesh and the abomination and mice, shall come to an end together, declares the Lord.”
Isaiah 66:18-23 comments on how all nations will come and offer sacrifices to the Lord, and how nations will all come and worship the Lord. Part of this worship will be witnessing the dishonored bodies of the Lord’s enemies:
“And 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.” – Isaiah 66:24
Wait a minute. “their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched”? That sounds familiar…
Yeah, it should. Jesus quotes this passage in the New Testament and adds some clarification to what is being talked about by Isaiah.
2. What did Jesus say about Hell?
Jesus actually discussed Hell quite a bit.
Right at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus says:
“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder; and whoever murders will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment; whoever insults his brother will be liable to the council; and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ will be liable to the hell of fire.” – Matt. 5:21-22
Jesus clearly says in Matt. 5:21-22 that Hell is a place of fire.
Now, right away when we have the word “hell” come up in the NT, we run into a common objection related to the Greek word Gehenna; namely that Gehenna was simply the town dump and Jesus was talking about the town dump when he mentioned Gehenna, but he wasn’t talking about an other-worldly place of suffering. Blatantly put, that whole idea is a disproved myth. Gehenna is the Greek rendering of the Hebrew phrase Ge Hinnom, which means “Valley of Hinnom”. The Valley of Hinnom was a valley, most likely west of the old walls Jerusalem, where human sacrifices to Molech were made during the reigns of Ahaz and Manasseh (2 Kin. 16:3; 21:6). The valley was completely desecrated during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 23:10). In Jeremiah 7:30-8:3, the prophet Jeremiah talks of a coming future day where the valley of Hinnom will no longer be called “Topheth” or “the valley of the Son of Hinnom”, but rather “the Valley of Slaughter” (Jer. 7:32). In the days of Jesus Gehenna was not the city dump with a continual fire, though the idea is a common”urban legend” among evangelicalism (for a full and scholarly refutation of this myth, see Gehenna: The Topography of Hell by Lloyd R. Bailey in the September 1986 issue of Biblical Archeologist, specifically pages 187 & 188). Gehenna was known as a place of destruction and shame, and it was known as a place of future defilement and desecration…but it wasn’t the burning town dump.
What else did Jesus say about Hell? Let’s just toss out all the references Christ makes to Hell and draw some simple conclusions.
a. “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell.” – Matt 5:29-30
– Hell is a place where people will be bodily.
– Causing intense physical pain to yourself now will be better than what lies ahead for you in Hell. (insinuating physical suffering)
– Hell is a place where people are thrown. (People don’t go there on their own, all cocky and giving God the middle finger).
b. “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” – Matt. 10:28
– Hell will be a place of torment of both the body and the soul. (Just an FYI for the liberally lobotomized: that’s not the “city dump”.)
c. “And if your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life crippled or lame than with two hands or two feet to be thrown into the eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into the hell of fire.” – Matt. 18:8-9
– Again, Hell is a place where people are thrown.
– Hell is a place of eternal fire.
– Crippling & dismembering yourself now will be better than what lies ahead for you in Hell. (again insinuating physical suffering)
d. “But woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you shut the kingdom of heaven in people’s faces. For you neither enter yourselves nor allow those who would enter to go in. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you travel across sea and land to make a single proselyte, and when he becomes a proselyte, you make him twice as much a child of hell as yourselves.” – Matt 23:13-15
– Passing reference insinuating that Hell is the opposite of the kingdom and the Pharisees, in not entering the kingdom, are headed to enter Hell.
e. “ Fill up, then, the measure of your fathers. You serpents, you brood of vipers, how are you to escape being sentenced to hell?” – Matt. 23:32-33
– Passing reference insinuating that the Pharisees, as being the brood of vipers (or the offspring of Satan), can not possibly escape being sentenced to Hell.
f. “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’ For everyone will be salted with fire.” – Mark 9:43-49
– This is a parallel to Matt. 18:8-9, but Jesus states some more points about Hell:
– Hell is a place of unquenchable fire. That’s not saying that the fire is everlasting, but rather that it cannot be put out.
– Jesus quotes Isaiah 66:24 and connects the Gehenna that he’s talking about with the place of the dead mentioned buy Isaiah. (Again, an FYI for the liberally lobotomized: the “city dump” doesn’t have immortal worms and unquenchable fire)
– Everyone in Hell “will be salted with fire”. This isn’t talking about table salt, but the way that salt is rubbed into meat as a preservative. This means that the fire will be basically rubbed into a person’s flesh like when one seasons a piece of meat. Yikes.
g. “I tell you, my friends, do not fear those who kill the body, and after that have nothing more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear: fear him who, after he has killed, has authority to cast into hell. Yes, I tell you, fear him!” – Luke 12:4-5
– God will kill the sinner and then, after their physical death, will cast them into Hell.
Jesus actually said a lot more than these 6 references suggest. These are just the mentions that Christ makes of Gehenna, but he also talked about Hell without using the term Gehenna. For some further mentions of Hell by Christ, consider Matt. 7:19, 8:11-12, 13:30, 13:40-42, 13:49-50, 22:7, 22:12-13, 24:50-51, 25:30, 25:41-46; Luke 12:45-48, 13:25-28, 16:19-31, 17:28-29; John 15:6. See what else Christ says about Hell. I’d go through all those passages, but I’m not going to make this a 40 page systematic theology on Hell.
There is one final objection that I’ve encountered a fair bit which I will engage:
3. Is God present in Hell?
Some confused theologians give the following objection:
If “Satan and all those who have rejected Christ will be condemned to eternal punishment in hell, forever separated from the presence of God”, “How can there be life in a place separated from the presence of an omnipresent God?”
Well, this objection wrongfully assumes that Hell is separation from God. Hell isn’t separation from God, but the manifestation of all his virtues as they can only manifest against unrepentant sinners. That, and the Bible clearly says that God is present in Hell:
– “If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there!” (Ps. 139:8).
WHAT? Isn’t “Sheol” just the Hebrew word for “the grave”?
Well, no. Words have a semantic range (possible range of meanings), and the meaning of biblical words is derived from the context of the passage in which they’re found. In Psalm 139, “Sheol” is juxtaposed against “heaven”, clearly indicated a contrast that only has one option; if “heaven” is the place of blessing, “Sheol” is the place of suffering (like in Job 26:6 or Prov. 27:20, where “Sheol” appears alongside “Abbadon”, which means “destruction” and “Sheol” is the place of destruction, not the place where people go when they die…).
Okay, whatever. So does God go to Hell?
Not in the sense that he get’s sent there; he’s already there. God is there in all his attributes, but he cannot manifest his attributes towards sinners as he can manifest them toward the righteous. What do I mean?
– God’s love is expressed in Hell; his love for his own holiness and justice, as expressed in his unmitigated wrath against sin. God shows his love in making much of himself and his own glory, not making much of unrepentant sinners.
– God’s justice is expressed in Hell; his perfectly right treatment of those who spent their lives rebelling against the Lord will be seen as the upright conduct that it is and sinners will be seen as getting what they rightly deserve. The magnitude of their punishment will be perfectly suited to the magnitude of the one that they have sinned against.
Okay. That’s enough for now. I’ve been working on this post for the last 2 days off and on as my health has allowed, and I’m now going to go and get something to eat and then go to bed. I’ve learned something about Hell and I hope I’ve helped you learn something too, although the main response to such a somber and sobering topic is a renewed burden for those whose fate is the Hell that Christ describes.
Praise the Lord right now if you have heard and believed the Gospel, and plead with sinners to turn from their perilous path today.
Until Next Time,
Lyndon “Go to the Highways and Byways” Unger