What Does the Bible Say about Hell?
Heaven & Hell
By Heather Riggleman, Crosswalk.com
Is there a hell? Who’s going to hell? These questions secretly linger in our hearts because God stamped eternity into the spirits of every one of us. So, what does the Bible say about hell?
Concerning hell, C. S. Lewis once wrote, “There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this, if it lay in my power.” I agree with him—no Christian likes the idea or the reality of hell. Yet, it was one of the many things Jesus talked about most. While many question what the Bible says about hell, one doesn’t need to look too hard. However, many believe in the existence of heaven, but they don’t believe in the existence of hell. According to the Bible, hell is just as real as heaven.
What Is Hell According to the Bible?
Hell is a place of sorrow and torment. This truth is seen throughout the Bible in the Old and New Testaments. The Bible clearly and explicitly teaches that hell is a real place to which the wicked/unbelieving are sent after death. Hell is this infinite and eternal death that we have earned because of our sin. Christ talked a great deal about this subject. He describes “Gehenna” as a place where “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43-48). He spoke several times about weeping and gnashing of teeth for those who are “cast into outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12, 13:42, 22:13, 24:51, 25:30). He also gives the parable about inhabiting a “place of torment” (Luke 16:28). Jesus spoke about hell more than anyone else in Scripture.
Some people try to avoid the idea of hell by saying that God is a God of love and He won’t let any of us perish. A loving God would not send people to a horrible hell. But God is a just God (Romans 2:11).
Some say not everyone has heard of Christ. But God’s word says they are still held accountable (Romans 1:20).
Some say hell is too severe a punishment for man’s sin or our sin doesn’t merit hell. But God is a holy and perfect God (1 Peter 1:14-15, Romans 1:32).
Some say God doesn’t send people to hell. They choose it (Romans 1:18-25).
Bryan Chapell, president of Covenant Theological Seminary, defines the place of hell as “Hell is a place of total, conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God. And there’s a sense in which hell is people getting exactly what they want which is eternal separation from God because they chose to go their entire lives and into death rejecting God.” Perhaps the best way to define hell is a terrifying place for the soul of extreme suffering, torment, and anguish by being separated from the blessings of God.
As of right now, whether or not you believe in God—you are still experiencing His blessings. Even if your life is less than ideal. Even if you are sick, poor, or suffering in some way. You woke up this morning to the blessing of His breath in your lungs. He is ensuring your needs are met. If you’re alive and living on this planet, you have already benefited from God’s grace and goodness. Every sinner, saint, atheist, agnostic, and doubter have all received His gifts of being alive, witnessing God’s hand-painted sunsets, the breath in their lungs, or the love of a parent. Everyone has benefited from the goodness in this world that God not only created but provided. He’s given you free will and in Him, you live, move, and have your being—mind, body, soul, and spirit.
Where Is Hell Located and How Did it Begin?
Although we can’t be sure exactly where hell is, we can be sure it does exist. In Matthew 12:40, Jesus Christ says: "For as Jonas was three days and three nights in the whale's belly: so shall the Son of man be three days and three nights in the HEART OF THE EARTH." In other passages, such as 1 Samuel 28:13-15, that the medium of Endor sees the spirit of Samuel “coming up out of the ground.” Other passages, like Ephesians 4:9, state that He descended into hell before Jesus ascended into heaven. However, Revelations causes us to speculate that the earth itself is hell once it is turned into a lake of fire (Revelations 20:10-15; 2 Peter 3:10). We may not have the exact physical location, but we do know that hell is a literal place of real torment.
From what we can gather from Scripture, Hell was created for the rebellion of Satan and the angels that followed him (Matthew 25:41; Romans 6:23). Scriptures indicate God never intended Hell and the lake of fire for mankind but that is where all will go who choose not to put their faith in Jesus Christ. The most important question is not where hell is or even when it was created but how to avoid going to hell. We avoid hell when we choose to believe in Jesus Christ—the One who died to pay for your sins and all who choose to put their trust in Him.
Hell began because God is completely righteous and morally perfect. His ways are above our ways (Psalm 18:30). In God, there is absolutely no imperfection, no blemish (1 John 1:5), and God Himself is the standard of what is good, right, and moral. Because of this and because of His righteousness, all fall short of the glory of God. Not one person alive aside from Jesus Christ has or will live up to His standards. This is why Jesus came—He came to die in our place so that we would never be separated from God (Romans 3:23, 5:25). When Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden at the instigation of Satan (Genesis 3), all of mankind was plunged into a state of spiritual death. Even though Adam and Eve were physically alive, they were dead with respect to the Holy God for whom they were created to be in relationship—all because they chose to eat from the tree of life.
God sent them from the Garden because “sin had corrupted everything. If they had been allowed to stay, they would’ve kept eating from the forbidden tree of good and evil; right alongside the Tree of Life, the tree that gave immortality (no disease, no death, no heartbreak, or separation from God). If they had been allowed to stay, it would have been a life of unending shame, a life of carrying all the brokenness that their sin had brought with it. In God’s amazing grace, He shepherded them out of the garden and had a plan to redeem all of humanity so we can all experience the resurrected life His Son Jesus would one day provide.”
Those who go to hell will indeed recognize and acknowledge the perfect justice of God (Psalm 76:10). Those who choose not to accept God’s gift of salvation will go to hell—regardless of how perfect, good, and kind they were on this earth before their death. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 15:6).”
What Is Hell Like?
There are dozens of descriptions of hell but there are four common threads: it’s a place of death, darkness, torment, and being separated from God. It’s being described as:
Gehenna - A Greek term (borrowed from a literal burning garbage dump near Jerusalem) that always refers to hell – a place of torment (Matthew 5:30; 23:33)
Sheol - a Hebrew term simply describing “the grave” or “death.”
Hades - A Greek term that refers to hell as a place of torment (Luke 10:15; 16:23)
“Lake of fire”- the final abode of unbelievers (and the final place for Satan and his followers) after they are resurrected (Revelation 20:14,15, 18, 19:20)
“Realm of darkness or thrown into darkness” (Nahum 1:8; Judge 1:13; Matthew 8:12; 22:13; 25:30; Revelation 16:10).
Who Will Go to Hell?
One day each of us will stand before God and Jesus will say, “Depart from me for I never knew you.” After God’s judgment, seated on the ‘great white throne, (Revelation 20:11), anyone whose name is not found written in the book of life [will be] thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:15). God has been patiently waiting as He does not want any of His children to perish. We can avoid hell by choosing to love God—by accepting His plan of salvation (Mark 1:15). If you are ready to accept Jesus as your Savior, read, “How Can I Have Assurance of Salvation?”
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Photo Credit: ©Getty Images/Brina Bunt
Heather Riggleman is a believer, wife, mom, author, social media consultant, and full-time writer. She lives in Minden, Nebraska with her kids, high school sweetheart, and three cats who are her entourage around the homestead. She is a former award-winning journalist with over 2,000 articles published. She is full of grace and grit, raw honesty, and truly believes tacos can solve just about any situation. You can find her on GodUpdates, iBelieve, Crosswalk, Hello Darling, Focus On The Family, and in Brio Magazine. Connect with her at www.HeatherRiggleman.com or on Facebook.