This is the first of my series titled, “The Mexican Standoff”. For those wondering where I got the title and the purpose this series, please read this first
“He who overcomes will inherit these things, and I will be his God and he will be My son. But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.” ~ Revelation 21:7-8
Charles Spurgeon once said “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to Hell over our dead bodies. And if they perish, let them perish with our arms wrapped about their knees, imploring them to stay. If Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.”
There aren’t many subjects of Biblical doctrine that modern Christians will attempt to avoid more than the one of everlasting torment. No true child of God could speak on the horrors that await the unsaved without pain in their heart and tears in their eyes, however it cannot be avoided, it cannot be diluted…..it must not be distorted.
For the purpose of this introduction I will approach the doctrine of Hell using the same methods that are generally used in journalistic or police investigations. Commonly referred to as the “5 Ws” Who, What, Where, When and Why. I’ll begin with the most straightforward one:
What is Hell?
The word Hell has become a common word in the world nowadays, “War is Hell”, “Hell is a state of mind” and even Bart Simpson quips “Who the Hell are you?”
Personally I do not like the word Hell, it originally comes from the old English, German and Dutch word ‘hel’ meaning a covered or hidden place. At the time of translating the King James Bible in the late 16th and early 17th century this word Hell had become synonymous with pagan practices and places of evil, therefore the translators used it to describe the place that unbelievers, Satan and his angels would be sent after judgement by Christ. In actual fact there are 4 different Hebrew and Greek words, with different meanings which were collectively translated as “Hell” in both Old and New Testaments. The King James Version is an excellent translation (and one that I use regularly) considering it is over 400 years old, but it is still just that, a translation several times over with a few minor errors which have not carried on from the original languages to English very well, one of these is the word “Hell”.
These four words translated collectively as Hell are Sheol, Hades, Gehenna and Tartarus. I’ll explain these words briefly in this introduction as they’ll be described in depth as this series progresses.
- Sheol – (שְׁאוֹל – Hebrew) is translated as Hell, the grave and the pit throughout the Old Testament. The word itself refers to a place where the soul or spirit of the dead descend to, an invisible underworld. There is no distinction to whether only the wicked or the righteous went here after death and it can be deduced that Sheol is a sort of temporary holding place for all who died before Christ’s crucifixion. Although it is clear from Scripture that there is a clear division between the conditions experienced there; to the righteous dead Sheol is a paradise but to unrighteous dead it a place of torment as they await final judgement.
- Hades – (Ἅιδης – Greek) is the New Testament equivalent of Sheol. Again it has two separate compartments; one for the righteous and one for the unrighteous. The place where the saints went to at death prior to Christ’s crucifixion is also referred to as paradise and Abrahams bosom in the New Testament. Hades is still the temporary holding place where the unrighteous/wicked/unsaved are currently awaiting judgement, while the righteous now go to be with the Lord at death.
- Gehenna – (γέεννα – Greek) is the closest word to what we as Christians would call “Hell”, a place of fire and everlasting torment. Gehenna is actually a literal place just outside Jerusalem, also referred to as the Valley of the Son of Hinnom it was an area where worshippers of pagan gods such as Ba’al and Molech sacrificed their children by burning them. When Jesus and the apostles used the name Gehenna to describe the everlasting punishment that awaited the unsaved it would have had a very strong symbolism for the people of Jerusalem in the first century, as the “Valley of Hinnom” was considered to be cursed ground. Gehenna is currently empty but the unsaved will be sent there forever after being judged by Jesus.
- Tartarus– (ταρταρόω – Greek) is only used once the New Testament by Peter in 2 Peter 2:4 to describe the place where the fallen angels who rebelled with Satan will be cast into before judgement. The word Tartarus itself is also used in Greek mythology, describing the place where divine being (or Titans) were imprisoned. It is possible that Peter was writing to some Greek gentile converts to Christianity and used this term as they would have been familiar with its meaning rather than Gehenna whose history may not have been known outside of Israel. Some Biblical scholars believe that Tartarus is the place designated for Satan and his fallen angels only while Gehenna is reserved for human beings who reject Jesus Christ as Lord.
Many of our common views on Hell do not come from Scripture but from fictional works such as Dante’s Divine Comedy, art and false religions such as Roman Catholicism or Universalism. Sadly these depictions have crept into Christianity leading to distorted interpretations and in some cases dismissal of it altogether; one thing that all false teachings within Christianity have in common is a twisted view on Hell (this will be covered later in the series), but when we use the Bible alone to study Hell it becomes a lot clearer and will allow the true Christian to view the doctrine of Hell as it should be seen.
Where is Hell?
This is a more difficult one to answer, there are speculations that it is at the centre of the earth, that it is located on another planet or it exists in a different dimension which cannot be seen, there are even theories that this current earth itself will become the “lake of fire” described in 2 Peter 3:10 and Revelation 20:14-15 and the new earth will be a new separate planet. I cannot answer this question clearly as I do not know where Hell is, Scripture doesn’t give us a definitive answer, it’s not something we should spend our time dwelling on as the location is not as important as the reality of it.
Who goes to Hell?
Sadly many people will not like this question, they like the answer even less. In a time where political correctness and liberal Christianity have tried to stifle the Truth of Gods Word at every opportunity, there are too many ignorant, deluded or deceived people out there who believe that nobody will go to Hell forever. However unlike the “Where?” question, the “Who?” is much easier to answer using Scripture. I will not add commentary to the following verses as they are unambiguous and cannot be argued against by anyone who claims that the Bible is Gods Word.
Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” ~ John 3:3
“He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” ~ John 3:18
“..dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” ~ 2 Thessalonians 1:8-9
“Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God.” ~ 1 Corinthians 6:9-10
” Outside are the dogs and the sorcerers and the sexually immoral persons and the murderers and the idolaters, and everyone who loves and practices lying.” ~ Revelation 22:15
“..the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” ~ Revelation 20:10
” if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” ~ Revelation 20:15
These verses show that it is those who have rejected Jesus Christ as Lord and continue to live in sin and rebellion against God will go to Hell forever. For those of us who are truly born again we should be thanking God daily for His love towards us, saving us from this fate, one which we all deserved.
When will people go to Hell?
Unrepentant sinners have been going to Sheol/Hades ever since it was created by God sometime after the creation of Adam but before he first sinned, however all of those who have died throughout the centuries from the beginning are still awaiting their final judgement in Hades. Once the Lord returns as described in Revelation 19 and has finished His thousand year reign upon the earth, judgement of the unsaved at the throne of God begins. In Revelation 20 this final judgement is described where Hades itself, including all of those are held in it are thrown into the lake of fire forever. This is when people will go to everlasting Hell.
“I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire”. ~ Revelation 20:12-15
Why do people go to Hell?
This is the most difficult one to answer, no human being with any sort of heart cannot speak of Hell without a great sadness and to question why people go there is one reason which has led to many departing this doctrine altogether, either because of their own fear of everlasting Hell or their low view on the seriousness of sin and the holiness of God. The simple answer is this; people are sent to Hell because they reject Christ, to reject the gift of salvation is the ultimate sin against almighty God, an eternal God demands everlasting justice. God is a God of great love as well as justice. To reject eternal life must result in death, believe that Jesus Christ is Lord and you will be saved, however the one who does not believe will be condemned.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” ~ Romans 6:23
Jesus Himself spoke of the “narrow way” and few there are who would find it (Matthew 7:14), He also spoke about division, specifically two groups; sheep and goats, wheat and tares, saved and unsaved. It is clear from Scripture that there are only two possible destinations when we die, eternal life or everlasting punishment (Matthew 25:46). The sad fact is that most people do not find this narrow way and will end up cast into this lake of fire, many claim that it’s unfair that God punishes people forever for not worshipping Him; however when we begin to realise how Holy and Perfect God actually is, that without holiness no one will see the Lord, how wicked and depraved man actually is and how vile sin is in the sight of God… Hell is not only fair, it is all we truly deserve.
That’s why we as Christians have such joy, to know that we deserve nothing but through Christ’s ultimate sacrifice at Calvary, God has redeemed us and saved us from this horrid end, that’s why we preach the Gospel, teaching others of Gods grace and mercy but we must never ignore teaching on this subject of Hell, to warn others of the dangers of sin and the dangers of false teaching regarding Hell, there is too great a cost to reject the doctrine of everlasting punishment while the unsaved continue to perish all around us. Let us be more like Christ, the Apostles and the true men of God throughout the centuries who have preached the full undiluted Gospel; if Hell must be filled, let it be filled in the teeth of our exertions, and let not one go unwarned and unprayed for.
Parts Two and Three will cover the teachings of Annihilation and Universalism