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The Reality of Hell

"Save some, O Christians! By all means, save some. From yonder flames and outer darkness, and the weeping, wailing, and gnashing of teeth, seek to save some! Let this, as in the case of the apostle, be your great, ruling object in life, that by all means you might save some."

Charles Spurgeon


Some who are enjoying the pleasures of sin for a season will brush off thoughts of God's eternal justice by joking, "I don't mind going to hell. All my friends will be there." Obviously, those who flippantly say such things don't believe in the biblical concept of hell. They are like a slow-witted criminal who thinks that the electric chair is a place to put up his feet for a while and relax. Their understanding of the nature of God is erroneous, so it may be wise to speak for a few moments about the reasonableness of hell. Explain that the Bible tells us that God will punish murderers and rapists, and the place of punishment-the "prison" God will send them to-is a place called "hell." However, God is so good, He will also punish thieves, liars, adulterers, fornicators, and blasphemers. He will even punish those who desired to murder and rape but never took the opportunity. He warns that if we hate someone, we commit murder in our hearts. If we lust, we commit adultery in the heart, etc. All are sins that will send us to hell.

C. S. Lewis summed up all the terrors of hell when he said, "There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than the doctrine of hell, if it lay in my power. But it has the full support of Scripture and, especially, of our Lord's own words; it has always been held by the Christian Church, and it has the support of reason."

Take the time to tell people of the reality of hell and its biblical description. Some sinners like to picture hell as a fun, hedonistic, pleasure-filled place where they can engage in all the sensual sins that are forbidden here. Others accept that hell is a place of punishment, but believe that the punishment is to be annihilated-to cease conscious existence. Because they can't conceive that a loving God would punish people in eternal torment, they believe hell is just a metaphor for the grave. If they are correct, then a man like Adolph Hitler, who was responsible for the death of millions, is being "punished" merely with eternal sleep. His fate is simply to return to the non-existent state he was in before he was born, where he doesn't even know that he is being punished.

While it is true that God is love (1 John 4:8), He is also just (Nehemiah 9:32, 33; 2 Thessalonians 1:6) and eternal (Psalm 90:2; 1 Timothy 1:17). God will therefore punish the evil doer (Isaiah 13:11) and this punishment will be eternal. It will also be conscious. Scripture tells us of the rich man who found himself in hell (Luke 16:19-31). He was conscious and was able to feel pain, to thirst, and to experience remorse. He wasn't asleep in the grave; he was in a place of "torment."

We tend to forget what pain is like when we don't have it. Can you imagine how terrible it would be to be in agony, with no hope of relief? Many human beings go insane if they are merely isolated for a long time from other people. Imagine how terrible it would be if God simply withdrew all the things we hold so dear-friendship, love, color, light, peace, joy, laughter. Hell isn't just a place with an absence of God's blessings; it is punishment for sin. It is literal torment, forever. That's why the Bible warns that it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. The fate of the unsaved is described with such fearful words as the following:

  • "Shame and everlasting contempt" (Daniel 12:2)
  • "Everlasting punishment" (Matthew 25:46)
  • "Weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matthew 24:51)
  • "Fire unquenchable" (Luke 3:17)
  • "Indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish" (Romans 2:8, 9)
  • "Everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord" (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
  • "Eternal fire ... the blackness of darkness for ever" (Jude 7, 13)

Revelation 14:10, 11 tells us the final, eternal destiny of the sinner: "He shall be tormented with fire and brimstone ... the smoke of their torment ascended up for ever and ever: and they have no rest day or night."

Scripture is quite clear: hell is a real place. It is not mere unconsciousness. It is not temporal. It is eternal torment. If hell is a place of knowing nothing or a reference to the grave into which we go at death, Jesus' statements about hell make no sense. He said that if your hand, foot, or eye causes you to sin, it would be better to remove it than to "go into hell, into the fire that never shall be quenched: where their worm dies not, and the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:43-48). Jesus spoke more of hell than of heaven and spent much time warning people not to go there. After all, if people just stopped existing, why warn them? If hell were temporal, they'd get out in a while. But because it is eternal and conscious, we must do everything we can to warn them.

However, a sinner won't see that hell is his eternal destiny unless he is convinced by the Law that he has sinned against God. He may consider hell a fit place for others, but not for himself. That's why we must not hesitate to open up the Law and show that each individual is personally responsible for his sin, and that God's wrath abides on him because of it.[1]

[1] Cameron, K., & Comfort, R. (2004). The school of biblical evangelism: 101 lessons: how to share your faith simply, effectively, biblically-the way Jesus did (pp. 154-158). Gainesville, FL: Bridge-Logos Publishers.