For those of you who follow my blog, the title of this week’s post is probably no surprise. Last week I wrote about heaven, so this week, I’m writing about the other place–the one that people don’t like to talk or write about. However, given that the decision about your eternal destination is the most important one you will ever make, it’s vital to understand what the Bible teaches about hell.
Perhaps the images you have about hell include Satan as a ruler over the demons and people there, perhaps holding a pitchfork and standing in a barren cavern with fire all around. Here is what Revelation 20:10 says: “And the devil, who deceived them, was thrown into the lake of burning sulfur, where the beast and the false prophet had been thrown. They will be tormented day and night for ever and ever.” It is clear that Satan will not be the ruler in hell, but the image of fire is quite clear. I have recently read other opinions about hell which include ideas like, “Well, Satan and his demons will be in hell, but not people.” Here’s what Matthew says in Chapter 13 verses 49-50: “The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Take a look at verse 7 in the book of Jude: “Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.” Mark 9:43-48 also tells us about hell. In verse 43, the phrase “where the fire never goes out” is used to describe hell. The second part of verse 47 and verse 48 say this: “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where ‘their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.'”
The image of fire is pervasive in these verses; it is also clear that people who did not put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ will be in hell forever. The idea that Rob Bell popularized in 2011, that hell is a temporary place for people because everyone will eventually get to heaven, is clearly not Biblical. Matthew 25:46 is another verse that teaches hell is permanent: “Then they [the goats, who are unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
There is another image used in the Bible to refer to hell. Three verses in Matthew refer to “darkness” (NIV) or “outer darkness” (ESV). Here’s one of them: “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” This is at the end of the parable of the talents; notice the phrase “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” which is also used in Matthew 13:50 in relation to hell. Verse 13 in Jude is particularly striking in its imagery: “They [godless men] are wild waves of the sea, foaming up their shame; wandering stars, for whom blackest darkness has been reserved forever.”
I don’t consider this an important question, but someone reading this might, so: how can hell be a place of both fire and darkness? Let me answer it this way: have you ever made a campfire at night? If so, this is not hard to picture. You have fire shooting up several feet into the air and providing illumination, but except for other campfires and other small sources of light here and there, the campground is still enveloped in darkness. It’s also possible that fire and darkness in these Bible verses about hell are meant to be taken figuratively rather than literally. Regardless, it is a place of torment. How much of it is physical and how much is mental/emotional, I don’t know.
In summary, the Bible tells us that hell is at least three things: a place of fire; a place of darkness; and a place of eternal torment because it is separation from God. So far, I have only implied that very last part, but 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 makes this eternal separation from God explicit: “He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” Notice the phrase “shut out from the presence of the Lord.” Do you remember when Jesus was on the cross and He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus was on the cross for about six hours; Matthew, Mark, and Luke all tell us that darkness came over the whole land for the last three hours. It was during these three hours that Jesus endured hell, or separation from the Father, so that we don’t have to. If you are reading this and don’t have saving faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, I pray that will change today.