The Reality of Hell

Revelation 20:13-15 The sea gave up the dead who 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.”

“The biblical teaching on hell is a reflection of the infinite worth of God and the outrage of scorning it”

John Piper

The topic of Hell is one that is quite broad and can be quite depressing. The thought of a place of eternal torment is one that people don’t like to dwell upon. There are questions of whether Hell is eternal, it’s hard for people to imagine how someone they loved who rejected Christ might be suffering in Hell. Others believe that because God is good and loving, Hell could not be possible.

One solution for many is to ignore the prospect of Hell and give everyone a free pass to heaven. If they deem someone as having done more good than bad, well, they qualify. Some believe that the tormented will confess their sins in Hell and then be removed once they recognize the error of their ways. There are those who remove themselves from biblical truth and believe If a person does something that is evil (according to their standards), then no matter what reparations they make their fate is sealed. But if a person is generally nice and does a “good deed”, then they will be angels in Heaven.

Many want to dictate their own reality based off what suits them, rather than accept what is.

When examining God’s Word we find many descriptions of Hell that reveal what can be expected.

The Depths of Sheol

The first mention of Hell can be found in the book of Job.

Job 11:7-8 Can you search out the deep things of God?
Can you find out the limits of the Almighty?
They are higher than heaven—what can you do?
Deeper than Sheol—what can you know?

  • An initial observation indicates that Hell does not exist outside the sphere of God’s influence, but rather because of God’s nature. As John Piper indicated, the existence of Hell is for those who fight against an infinitely good God.

The name ‘Sheol’, is a term often synonymous with Hell. It was associated with the valley of Gei Ben Hinnom, an area southwest of Jerusalem that was once a dump, an area of waste that continuously burned, emitting a sulfurous stench. It later became a place of child sacrifice and idolatry, where the wicked would dwell. The reference to the underworld is mentioned many times in the Old Testament and Gei Ben Hinnom or Gehenna became a symbol of where the wicked would dwell.

Psalm 49:13-15 “This is the way of those who are foolish,
And of their posterity who approve their sayings. Selah
Like sheep they are laid in the grave(Sheol);
Death shall feed on them;
The upright shall have dominion over them in the morning;
And their beauty shall be consumed in the grave, far from their dwelling.
But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave(Sheol),
For He shall receive me
. Selah

Certain principles of Hell have been illustrated in scripture.

  • Hell is reserved for the foolish. Those who qualify for dwelling there have very specific criteria they meet.
  • What was made beautiful is made corrupt in Hell. God formed mankind in perfection and beauty, sin corrupted God’s creation and Satan help spread this disease.
  • There is a way to escape the fires of judgement. For those who are living, there yet remains a hope.

Hell is worth avoiding, if punishment is the motivator for following Jesus then consider what qualifies for being a fool.

Psalm 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, “There is no God.” They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is none who does good.”

The Bible characterizes fools with many descriptives but every fool begins with a denial of God in their hearts. The depth of Hells reality mirrors the depth of a fools denial of God’s goodness and love. God’s love for the world is expressed through the cross of Christ. To spurn God’s love is to place oneself into a position of separation from God and Hell becomes that final reality.

Let’s be perfectly clear–God doesn’t want people to go to Hell.

Hell–Eternal or Not?

When examining scripture you’ll see what seems like a contradiction of sorts. David reflected on the reality of Sheol by indicating that his time there would only be temporary.

Psalm 16:9-10 “Therefore my heart is glad, and my glory rejoices;
My flesh also will rest in hope.
For You will not leave my soul in Sheol,
Nor will You allow Your Holy One to see corruption.

While Jesus and others mention it as a place of eternal torment.

Jude 1:7 “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.”

Matthew 25:46 “And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Jesus revealed that one part of Hell was only temporary while another was eternal. Until Jesus fulfilled His mission as the Lamb of God, at a very specific time in history, people could not be in the presence of God.

David who was described as a man after God’s own heart dwelled in Sheol as well as every other person before Jesus arrived on Earth.

In Luke 16, Jesus relates a parable that reflects on the status of those who went before His death and resurrection.

Verses 16-23 : “There was a certain rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and fared sumptuously every day. But there was a certain beggar named Lazarus, full of sores, who was laid at his gate, desiring to be fed with the crumbs which fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover the dogs came and licked his sores. So it was that the beggar died, and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s bosom. The rich man also died and was buried. And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.

When Jesus told a parable He didn’t mention specific names of people, especially people that everyone was very familiar with. The parable of the Samaritan and prodigal son, the parable of the vineyard and workers, etc., were examples made for spiritual principles to be understood, not necessarily factual information of people or places. In Luke 16, Jesus specifically mentions Abraham dwelling in Sheol, but in an area of non-torment. {This is significant}, when the man who is recognized as the patriarch of all Jews and spiritual patriarch of all believers is mentioned in Sheol, it is meant to be taken literally.

In verses 24-26 we see more details of what that place looked like:

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.’But Abraham said, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us.’

This area of non-torment is where David prayed that God would not leave his soul. Even if there was no agony, it still was not a place you wanted to spend eternity. Apparently people could see across a great divide and witness the agony of those who were tormented day and night, this must have been difficult to see.

So why were these great men of God relegated to this place, men such as Adam, Noah, Enoch, Isaiah, Elijah, Jonah and every other person who died in their sin?

Because they had not yet received the promise of the Messiah.

Hebrews 11:13, 39-40 “These all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth. “And all these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promise, God having provided something better for us, that they should not be made perfect apart from us.

All who died before Christ completed His work on the cross did not receive the promise of God, they could only see Him from afar—-yet they were assured of a future hope through prophecy and embraced the promise that would one day be fulfilled.

So where was Sheol?

Ezekiel 31:14 “Let the tree of no other nation proudly exult in its own prosperity, though it be higher than the clouds and it be watered from the depths. For all are doomed to die, to go down to the depths of the earth. They will land in the pit along with everyone else on earth.”

I believe scripture reveals that Hell currently exists at or near the core of the Earth. Many scriptures indicate that Hell is down in the depths. Jonah 2:2, Psalm 86:13, Amos 9:2, Job 11:8, Isaiah 5:14, 1 Samuel 2:6, Isaiah 14:15, Psalm 30:3, Job 17:16.

When Jesus died upon the cross, by His perfection attained the keys of Hell and death (Rev. 1:18). Jesus did not have to suffer for sin but instead took upon Himself our punishment. When Jesus was in the tomb for three days after His crucifixion, He went to this place of non-torment and preached to those who where there, giving them opportunity to confess and believe that the Messiah had finally come.

1 Peter 3:18-20 “For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit, in which he went and proclaimed to the spirits in prison, because they formerly did not obey, when God’s patience waited in the days of Noah, while the ark was being prepared, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through water.”

The patriarch’s loved the Lord but could not obey the law of the Lord perfectly. Sin still existed and thus the sacrifice for sin was incomplete over these people.

The hope of Jonah, David, Job, and all who prophetically mentioned that God would not leave their souls in Sheol was completed when Jesus died upon the cross. Imagine the joy of being released from that place– how I wish people could understand that God redeems people from such hopelessness today.

Isaiah 44:23 “Sing, O heavens, for the LORD has done it; shout, O depths of the earth; break forth into singing, O mountains, O forest, and every tree in it! For the LORD has redeemed Jacob, and will be glorified in Israel.”

We who believe in Christ and accept His freewill offering of salvation have been imparted with the righteousness of Christ. God’s righteousness is the perfection of His nature. We have been made perfect because Jesus was perfect on our behalf and we are now identified with Him in His death.

The followers of old could only look forward with eager anticipation for His coming and it was the temple sacrifice that foreshadowed a coming Messiah. The animals that were sacrificed were incomplete in their sanctifying work, they were only a foreshadow of what was to come….the Lamb of God became the perfect sacrifice for the sins of the world.

The Lake of Fire

Hell is only temporary. The region of non-torment in Sheol no longer exists, torment in Hell is the reality for people until the end of the age. After the final judgement, Hell will be thrown into the Lake of Fire. Revelation 2, 20 and 21 remind us of the second death that occurs when all fools will realize their reward for rejecting the only hope for salvation.

It is appointed for people to die once and then face judgement (Heb 9:27). Those justified are the ones who have been made right in the eyes of God, only by the perfect sacrifice of Jesus at Calvary. For one to avoid the scourge of Sheol, accepting this sacrifice is required.

Titus 3:4-5 But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior,”

When we see the signs hanging on street corners, neon billboards or placards at games…Jesus saves….it is from Hell He has saved us. When sin rules in the hearts of people, they are bound to the conviction of their sin. Like chains weighing down a prisoner who commits an offense, sin weighs down and enslaves its captors.

Hebrews 3:15 “As it is said, “Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as in the rebellion.”

When a person admits their guilt, confesses and turns from sin, God forgives their sin and the Spirit of God fills their hearts and cleanses them of all unrighteousness. The sins of a believer are remembered no more after salvation occurs, they stand justified before a Holy and Just God and are made righteous.

It is sin that condemns the guilty of their offenses and their position before God cannot be remedied by any good works or by begging for forgiveness. God’s love was expressed by Christ on the cross, and it is by accepting His expression of love that we can enter into His presence.

When Jesus arose from the grave, He released the captives in Sheol who were awaiting His arrival and took them with Him into Heaven. The reunion day for all saints will be glorious, we will receive new bodies that will not perish and we will dwell in the presence of the Lord forever.

Sheol as it is known now will be thrown into the Lake of Fire, joined by Satan and all the angels who fell with him. The torment will be comparative to their offenses against a just and holy God.

Hell has many descriptives, and just as Jesus reflected on the various degrees of reward, He likewise alluded to degrees of suffering or punishment in Matthew 11:24 and John 19:11. As God rewards His people in Heaven, so the reward for causing ruin in others lives will be paid out.

If you aren’t a follower of Jesus, what’s holding you back? Is a deathbed confession or some good deed your plan? The stakes are too high and the nature of this decision is far too great to wait.

Revelation 21:1,3-4 “And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away; and there was no more sea.” And I heard a loud voice from heaven saying, “Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and He will dwell with them, and they shall be His people. God Himself will be with them and be their God. And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.”

This is the future of the redeemed. Place your trust in Jesus today and be counted among the righteous, you’ll never regret it.

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