As a pastor, I get lots of questions about hell. Most of them go something like this. Does it exist? What is it like? Surely a loving God wouldn’t send people there right? I have found as I have studied what the Bible teaches about hell that most of us know very little about hell. Furthermore, most people believe things about hell that are taught nowhere in the Bible. If we are honest, most of us have our concept of heaven, hell and the devil formed for us by what we watch on television in general and by cartoons in particular. Most of us imagine something out of the far side comics or from Looney Toons to create our impression of what the afterlife looks like. In those portrayals heaven is portrayed as a place where people play a harp among the clouds and hell is portrayed as a place where Satan rules on a throne and has a bunch of weird torture devices where he tortures humans for all eternity.
It is vital that we base what we know about heaven and hell and on what the Bible teaches instead of what pop culture and cartoons teach us. As we study we find out that God teaches us something very different about what mankind’s destiny is after we die.
I was leading a Bible Study the other day and we were looking at the most famous Bible verse in the world. John 3:16. In it there is a phrase that many people just breeze right over. – that none should perish but all have eternal life. What do you think of when you hear that people can perish? Do you believe it? Do you reject it? Honestly it is the reason why Jesus came to the earth. The concept of Hell is vital to the message of the gospel. If there is not hell there is no need for Jesus to come to earth to pay the price of sin for us. If he died anyway, then he was a fool. Jesus was no fool. He came and died for us because there was no other way to have peace with God. Someone had to pay the price for sin so he took the pain of sin and death for us.
When we get started at looking at what the Bible teaches about Hell we need to go to the source. Here are some Biblical passages to look at: Matthew 8:11-12, Mark 9:42-48, Luke 16:19-31, Jude 1:3-13, Revelation 20:11-15, Revelation 19:20, 21:8. These aren’t all of them but they are some of the main verses. Go ahead and look them up if you want.
When looking at these verses something really stands out. Jesus believed that hell was real. In fact, he gives us more information about hell than anyone else. R.C. Sproul says this: It is so unpopular with us that few would give credence to it at all except that it comes to us from the teaching of Christ Himself.
So lets answer some Frequently Asked Questions:
1. What is hell like?
Jesus says it is a place of torment. He called it a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth. It is fundamentally a place where you are separated from God’s favor.
It is a place where people get to experience the reality of choosing to live a life without God.
Many people think it is a symbol and only a image used to scare people I love what R.C. Sproul says.
I suspect they are symbols, but I find no relief in that. We must not think of them as being merely symbols. It is probable that the sinner in hell would prefer a literal lake of fire as his eternal abode to the reality of hell represented in the lake of fire image. If these images are indeed symbols, then we must conclude that the reality is worse than the symbol suggests. The function of symbols is to point beyond themselves to a higher or more intense state of actuality than the symbol itself can contain. That Jesus used the most awful symbols imaginable to describe hell is no comfort to those who see them simply as symbols.
2. Does Satan live in Hell?
The answer is no. Although the Bible teaches that someday Satan will be thrown into the lake of Fire, there is no evidence that Satan has ever been to hell. In fact the Bible teaches that Satan is the prince, the ruler of this world. Jesus references him as the ruler of this world in John 14:30. You also find that Satan a lot about Satan in the book of Job. Check out this passage from Job 1:6-7 6
6 Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan also came among them. 7 TheLord said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered theLord and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.”
You find that he wanders the world looking for evil to do. He also has access to go to heaven and present himself to God. But you see that he also needs to ask for permission to take action against those who are followers of God.
I believe one of the reasons we like to think that Satan is in hell ruling the underworld is because it is much more frightening to live in the reality that he exists on this terrestrial ball with us. If he is actively at work on this planet then we must be on guard that we will not fall under his influence.
3. How could a loving God send sinners to hell?
He doesn’t. They volunteer. Those who go to hell choose to go there.
How do they choose? People choose hell instead of God whenever they choose to deny him as their Lord and Savior. The most powerful sin in the universe is rejecting Jesus as God and God as the ultimate reality. C.S. Lewis says it this way, “I willingly believe that the damned are in one sense, successful rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.”
The Bible teaches that if you spend your life telling God to be quiet and leave you alone, hell is that place where he honors your request.
I believe we must be careful that our hearts don’t get hardened toward God. Matt 13:14-15 gives a sobering warning:
‘You will indeed hear but never understand,and you will indeed see but never perceive.15 For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed, lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’
4. Why does the topic of hell create such resistance?
The primary reason is because people resist the concept of punishment for sin. People don’t want to think that God could possibly punish people for rejecting him. In doing so they throw out huge portions of scripture in order to make the Bible conform to their image.
I think people really want to just let God off the hook. They want him to be humane and humanitarian God. That God be a being that only exists to ease human pain and not cause any of it. They want him to be a God that looks the other way when people actively hate him by denying who he has revealed himself to be.
Hell is an unpleasant reality of life. Although we may not like the concept, Jesus taught very clearly that hell is a reality and it is the future of those who deny God’s offer of salvation in this life. This is essential to the gospel. Without the doctrine of hell there is no need for a savior. If Hell is not real then Jesus came to this earth and gave himself up as a ransom for us in vain. I hope that this post causes you to think, to explore and to discover what the Bible really says about what happens after death and to consider what the future holds for you.
Trusting Jesus is the most important decision you can ever make. If you need help making it let me know in your comments or can email me at [email protected]
Stay tuned for a future post on what heaven is like.