Is Hell a real place, or is it just a symbolic representation of a place where bad people should go? Does it really exist, or is the Bible trying to give us some insight into the torment that non-believers have in their final days of existence on earth? Or is it just fantasy put in the Bible to persuade people to believe in God? I once heard a preacher say, “You can believe whatever you want to about whether hell is real or not, but it does not change the fact that it is a real place of torment for non-believers.” Let’s take a look at what the Bible has to say about hell.
By examining the scriptures, we can learn a great deal about the place we call hell. We see that there is going to be everlasting destruction. “…in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power,…” (II Thessalonians 1:8,9) We see in this passage a glimpse of hell. It is for those “who do not know God, and those who do not obey the gospel.” In other word for those people who fit two categories: (1) those who do not know or believe in God, who voluntarily choose not to, and (2) those who profess to believe but by their actions and the way they live their lives, do not follow or obey the gospel.
There are millions of people who have heard the gospel message, some I am sure dozens of times, and reject God and His Son. They do not give their lives to Christ, choosing rather to go their own way or perhaps the way of the world. According to this passage, these people will spend eternity in hell.
I am convinced there is also a large number of people who claim to be Christian and simply go through the motions, never really obeying the gospel or following the teachings of the New Testament. Their lives and hearts were not changed. These too shall spend eternity away from God.
So what is hell? The above passage again gives us a glimpse into this. “These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord…” The fate of those we are speaking of is to be banned eternally from being near God, or to be out of His presence. What is being “destroyed” in the passage is the ability or opportunity to be in the presence of or near God. Death, by spiritual definition, is separation. The first death is when our spirit is separated from our bodies. The second death will be when a person’s spirit is eternally separated from God.
I think we can see from the above passage that hell is a real place. We can also see that it is for certain that it will exist. In the book of Mark we see another glimpse of hell as a terrible place. “And if your hand makes you sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter into life maimed, than having two hands, to go into hell, into the fire that shall never be quenched — where ‘their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.'” (Mark 9:43,44) The last part of this passage, “their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched,”is quoted from Isaiah 66:24. It simply tells us that though the physical body is dead, the spirit is still in existence. The spirit of those going to hell will be an existence as of a worm, or as Isaiah put it, “They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” (Isaiah 66:24) If we “in the flesh” could actually see exactly what hell is like we would truly be horrified. It is a terrible place of eternal existence for those who do not know God and those who will not obey the whole gospel.
Not only is hell a terrible place, but it is also a place of eternal existence. “Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels,…'” (Matthew 25:41) “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into everlasting life.” (Matthew 25:46) The judgement, once pronounced, will be final, irreversible, and unending. For those of us that are obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ the thought of eternal life with God and Jesus is joyous. However, just the thought of eternal existence in hell makes me shutter. I cannot imagine — and I don’t want to — what it would be like to spend eternity in a place where I could not praise and worship my Heavenly Father. That alone, for me, would be terrible.
It is difficult for us to conceptualize what eternity will be like. Everything which we experience here on earth is limited by time. We tend to think of a lifetime as a very long period. In reality, in the frame-work of eternity, a lifetime is but a twinkle of an eye. It is but a fraction of a second in comparison. I like the way the song Amazing Grace phrases it, “When we’ve been there ten thousand years, bright shining as the sun, we’ve no less days to sing God’s praise than when we first begun.” How glorious that will be for us, and how terrible it will be for those in hell.
Specifically, who will be in hell? The Bible tells us exactly who will be in this place of eternal torment. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and the books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead which were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire.” (Revelation 20:11-15) This is a long passage, but it shows clearly that everyone will go through the judgement. Those whose name is found written in the Book of Life will be entering into eternal life with God. Those whose name is not found in the Book of Life will be cast into the lake of fire, or hell. In other words, to put it in simple terms, all who are not saved by the grace of God through the blood of Jesus Christ shall spend eternity in hell.
The Scriptures also show us that hell will be a place where those who are there will be in a state of consciousness. They will be aware of their torment. Jesus in the Parable of the Lost Son illustrates this fact, “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame,…'” (Luke 16:23,24) They will be aware of their existence, condition, and the reason for their torment. I think that this will be especially severe for those who knew Christ, and have fallen away.
I suppose when the average person hears of hell being referred to as the lake of fire, they also picture it as a bright place. After all fire puts off quite a bit of light. But the scriptures also describe hell as a place of darkness. “But the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 8:12) The outer darkness may be a way to contrast the beautiful picture painted for us in Revelation of what heaven will be like. The outer darkness may be an indication that it will be the opposite of the beauty of heaven. It is no doubt a very ugly place. The “outer darkness” could also be literally that; complete and utter darkness. We know that the parable of the lost son indicates that those in hell can see to the other side, but that does not mean that they can see and understand what is going on right next to them. The torment spoken of in the Bible would surely be multiplied if it happened in complete darkness.
Those in hell will be fully aware of what they have missed. It is hard for us to conceptualize the beauty of heaven and the ugliness of hell. But for those who get sent to hell, they will know of both. It will also be a place where those who are there are separated from their Christian loved ones. “There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God, and yourselves thrust out.” (Luke 13:28) What a horrible experience for someone to be able to see their loved ones; mother, father, brothers, sisters, and friends enjoying themselves in heaven and know that they themselves are cast into hell for eternity.
We know that in heaven there will be no pain, no sadness, and no crying. In order for this to be true, we will not be aware of all the sad memories we have today. But that will not be true in hell. There will be memories. The ones which are sad for those hell-bound today will be even more pronounced. And the joyous memories of today will turn to sadness as they realize what could have been.
Have you ever made a poor choice in life and have it “come back to haunt you?” Anyone of any age at all that has not experienced this is truly a unique person. We all make poor choices, and they will usually come back to haunt us in the future. As those in hell are remembering their life on earth, they probably will be also remembering all the opportunities that they had to give their lives to Christ, and didn’t. They will probably remember each excuse that they used. They will remember those things that they did not want to give up to become a Christian, and how little those things eventually meant to them. The memories of all those things will be horrible memories indeed.
And finally we see that hell will be a place of no release. “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46) A few years ago I was lamenting to a friend of mine about some aspect of my life that I was having trouble dealing with. We all go through that, dealing with unpleasant matters. My friend said, “Remember, this too shall pass.” Whereas this is true with everything on earth, the opposite is true in hell. Hell is for eternity, and for those banished there, it will not pass away.
Is hell a real place? Yes, it certainly is. It is a terrible place, and it is a place of eternal punishment. It is for all the unsaved who reject the gospel and turn away from God. It is a place of consciousness, torment, darkness, separation from Christian loved ones, separation from God, a place without any hope of release, and a place of horrible memories.
The unsaved need to know about hell. I hope that this article will help you to be a witness to the lost in your community as well as your friends and loved ones who are without Christ. My prayer is that you will use this information to share with them.
All scriptures quoted are from the New King James Version unless otherwise noted.