Part 3 on Hell! First we looked at why we should talk about hell. Next we looked at why we don’t. This week let’s consider what hell actually is!
Why even consider this topic? Please read on…
So what is hell?
Hell is not that difficult a concept to grasp – but definitely hard to stomach!
Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked.
Most world religions have some concept of hell. But of all the world religions ‘Hell’ is most clearly explained by Jesus – the one who saves us from it.
The Bible says that hell is a real place.
It is not a metaphor, not a symbol, not an expression of discontent, not a state of mind – it is a place created by God.
In Luke 16:28, the rich man who totally ignores the beggar Lazarus, dies and goes to hell where he was in torment and cries out to Abraham to have pity on him, before asking for Abraham to go and tell his five brothers so that they did not also find themselves in hell.
In Acts 1:25 we are told that Judas Iscariot needed to be replaced because, after betraying Jesus and committing suicide, he went to ‘where he belonged’.
In the New Testament there are two key words used to talk about hell.
1. Gehenna – ‘hell’
The idea here being an eternal home for the wicked. It is thought that the word developed to mean ‘hell’ because it was taken from a place south of the city of Jerusalem – the valley of Hinnon which was the place (in the OT) where human sacrifices were offered to false gods (in the time of King Manassah – 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6). In the time of the New Testament, that valley was the place where dead bodies were thrown along with the city’s trash. Fires were set there and kept continually burning to consume the waste. A place of ceaseless anguish. ‘Gehenna’ is mentioned 12 times – only once outside of the gospels.
2. Hades – ‘world of the dead’
The idea here being a place in the underworld – the region of the departed. ‘Hades’ is mentioned 9 times – only once on the lips of someone other than Jesus.
If you turned to the Old Testament you would find the word ‘Sheol’ which parallels the idea of ‘Hades’ and it appears something like 65 times to talk about a place of death.
So the Bible speaks of Hell as a real place.
The Bible says that hell is a place of just and everlasting punishment.
When I say punishment here, I don’t mean a remedial type punishment – that which aims to correct bad behaviour. When one of children clonks the other on the head with some toy – I don’t ‘send them to hell’ to have a good long hard think about what they have done!!
The punishment in hell is not remedial – it is retributive. It is inflicted as recompense for evil done. There is no cleansing involved here. No improving. No opportunity to come back out to apologize to those hurt by bad behaviour or action. There is no future benefit.
And the punishment in hell is just. It is judged by God is be the right judgement for the crime. Unlike our court system, which is effected by sin and may in the course of trying to pronounce judgement get it wrong, God never does. In truth, with full knowledge of all that has occurred, and in all righteousness, God judges justly.
Hell is a place of just punishment. And it is not our place to tell God whether he has got it right or wrong.
The Bible says that hell is a place where different degrees of sufferings exist!
Let me explain that! In scripture is it quite clear that guilt is held to account. The greater the guilt the greater the penalty. Luke 12:47-48 help makes the point.
“That servant who knows his master’s will and does not get ready or does not do what his master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.
In this parable Jesus teaches that a servant who knows his master’s will, will be beaten with many blows whereas the servant who acted in ignorance, still does the wrong thing, but is beaten with fewer blows.
Or look at Matthew 11:21-24
“Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”
Christ gives a strong warning here to the cites of Chorizon and Bethsaida who heard what Jesus taught and saw what Jesus could do. If they did not respond then they would be held as more guilty than that of the legendary Tyre, Sidon and Sodom who were wiped out for their sin and depravity.
Sobering for us to hear – as not only have we heard what Jesus taught, and have records of his miracles – we have his death and resurrection to consider. Those with greater guilt will be held more too account. How much more will we be judged for ignoring Jesus?
Notably, we are not told how the punishment is graded, only that is exists.
The Bible says that hell will be terrible.
Matthew 8: 12 says there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Mark 9:43 says it would be better to cripple yourself and cut off appendages that cause you to sin, than to be thrown into hell. Revelation 14:10 talks about being under God’s wrath and being tormented with burning sulphur for ever and ever. Hell will be terrible.
The Bible says that hell will be everlasting.
This is where our annihilationist friends (refer to ‘O Hell’ – 5pm Update 7th May 2013) have so much difficulty. Scripture quite clearly paints a picture of ongoing, unceasing, everlasting punishment.
Matthew 25:40-41, 46 are extremely helpful here. The context is that Jesus is teaching again in a parable – this time about a king and his subjects. He divides them into two groups, the sheep and goats. The sheep were the ones he says who cared for those in need, the righteous ones. The goats we the ones who did nothing for those in need.
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ “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.
Jesus says to the unrighteous ‘depart from me…into the eternal fire’. Now you could say. like the annihilationist does, that the destruction and the fire that is present in hell consumes those who are thrown there such that they are wiped out and become no more. The problem with that view is addressed in this passage – a few verses down in verse 46.
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Jesus talks of eternal punishment and eternal life. The greek word behind that ‘eternal’ word is the same in both cases – it means, unending, everlasting, for all time. If you want to say that eternal punishment is a wipe out that ceases with annihilation, then you have to re-examine how eternal life is something that goes on and on for all time.
If you want to look further consider how 2 Thess 1:9, Jude 7, 13, and 2 Peter 2:9 talk about the everlasting nature of punishment in hell.
Bear with me just a little longer.
Finally (just when you thought there could be no more), hell is a place for the devil, his angels and the unsaved.
Matthew 25:41 says this eternal fire is prepared for the devil and his angels. The beginning of the Bible introduces us to the devil in the form of the serpent in Genesis 3. The end of the Bible tells us his ultimate fate. Revelation 20:10 sees the devil defeated and thrown into the lake of burning sulphur.
Replacing reality TV with a godly reality check!
We should pay attention! What matters to us, is not where the devil or where his followers might be, but whether we might follow. The end of the Bible tells us about those last things as well.
Revelation 21:8 sends the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderer, the sexually immoral, those who practice the magic arts, the idolaters and all liars into the same fiery lake of burning sulphur that the devil was sent into. Hell is for the notoriously wicked.
Do not be seduced into thinking that this sounds more interesting!
Reality TV has served us badly in this respect (as opposed to where Reality TV has served us well!). On our screens we watch people being sinners – and we call it entertainment. But what is so fun is that we are on this side of the screen. It is their problem not mine. Reality TV makes sin fun but also removed.
So let me tell you your problem with hell – it is same as my problem with hell. We are on the screen. It is not just ‘interesting people’ who will find themselves in hell – it is the outwardly upright, the decent, the good citizens, the diligent uni students, the reliable employees, the good blokes, and the patient parents, who will all find themselves in the same place as the devil and his angels – if we have never trusted Christ as Saviour.
2 Thessalonians 1:8 paints the final picture for us. Jesus returns. He is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels alongside. And he punishes. He punishes those who do not know God and do not obey his gospel.
Will this be you? Do you think yourself to be a reasonable good person? Not guilty of any major crime, never done anything you are greatly ashamed of? Is this you?
How is it that you obey the gospel? I mean, let’s assume that from this point you were never to commit another sin – even if that were possible, you would still be on your way to hell.
But for one thing – Jesus.
‘Whoever believes in the son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the son will not see life for God’s wrath remains on him.’ (John 3:36)
Suck those words in my friends. Feel the weight. Whoever believes in Jesus has eternal life.
Whoever rejects him doesn’t.
Whoever hears the word of Jesus and believes God – puts their trust – puts their life in his hands – has eternal life. They will not be condemned – they have crossed over from death to life.
Friends – hell helps us check our motivations.
And hell helps us appreciate Jesus more than we might.