A strong reason that this article was written was to provide biblical truth to motivate people to evangelism. So, why write a document about Hell?
Whenever you read the Scriptures that teach about Hell or hear someone accurately explain them, at least two things should happen: (1) if you are saved then you should have a great feeling of gratitude towards God because He rescued you from it and (2) you should be cut very deep and feel great pain for the lost, because you know that Hell is where they will spend eternity. The reality of Hell is one of the greatest motivations for evangelism.
This article doesn’t contain everything about Hell that the Bible contains. I would recommend Grudem’s or Geisler’s Systematic Theology for more information (or you can feel free to ask me questions). Much of the information here is from Grudem’s book. I will try to give some useful points that hopefully teach enough so you can understand what the Bible says about Hell and some useful responses to it.
For the purpose of this study, we will use Grudem’s definition of Hell: “Hell is a place of eternal conscious punishment for the wicked.” That definition contains several words that are important to understanding the biblical teachings about Hell: it is “eternal,” “conscious,” and it is “punishment.”
The Scriptural Evidence and Teachings About Hell
There are several Scriptures that affirm all of those realities about Hell, in both the Old and New Testaments.
“And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt.” (Daniel 12:2) “The angels will come out and separate the evil from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 13:49-50) At the end of the parable of the talents, the master says, “cast the worthless servant into the outer darkness. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew 25:30) Later when Jesus is speaking of the final judgment, He says, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matthew 25:41), and then Jesus says of those condemned that they “will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:46). “It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, ‘where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched.’” (Mark 9:47-48) In Luke the detailed story of the rich man and Lazarus shows conscious punishment, for the rich man dies and is in Hades, and then says, “Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.” (Luke 16:24) He then begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his father’s house, “for I have five brothers – so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.” (Luke 16:28) The book of Revelation very explicitly tells of eternal punishment:
“If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name.” (Revelation 14:9-11)
From these few passages we can see realities about eternal punishment. Hell is described as the “outer darkness,” a place where the “fire is not quenched,” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth,” where people experience “anguish in this flame,” and a place where “the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night.”
Hell is complete separation from God for all eternity. God is life, light, and love. To be separated from Him in Hell means to have no life or love or the joy that comes in having a relationship with Him, and having no more opportunities to have a relationship, forever.
When we are faced with this reality, we should feel deep pain for those we know will experience eternity in Hell. And that is appropriate, because God created us with the capacity to love and Himself desires that no one should perish. We should love people made in His image just as He does, and so should pursue them with the gospel of Jesus Christ. We should desire that they not perish, but that they experience the full joy and fulfillment of having a relationship with their loving Creator.
We must also be careful that we do not rebel against or ignore the teachings of God’s Word about Hell. Often there is a hesitance to speak plainly about what the Bible says concerning Hell or to truly think about it and consider its reality in our personal lives. We must acknowledge that whatever God teaches in His Word is right, and there is no unrighteousness in God, and He is perfect in all of His ways. Therefore, think about Hell, and let it affect how you view the lost.
Objections and False Teachings Concerning the Doctrine of Hell
Objection 1: How Can God Be Loving and Yet Send People to Hell?
To begin with, I should note that this question is usually asked because people think that hell is unjust, which would actually make this objection more about God’s righteousness and not His love or His goodness. However, for the sake of being thorough, here is an answer.
God is patient with the human beings He created in His image, desiring that none of them should perish (2 Peter 3:9). God desires all to be saved and have an intimate relationship with Him. But God gives people the ability to choose, and some choose to not be in a relationship with God. All people are guilty of having knowledge of God but rejecting Him regardless (Romans 1:18-23). Therefore, from the inerrant Word of God’s perspective, the reality is that people have been given opportunity after opportunity to repent and worship God like they were created to do but have consistently rejected Him. God extends the offer of forgiveness daily, yet people continue to reject. In other words, the only people spending eternity in Hell are the people who are unrepentant in their sin and want nothing to do with God.
This objection grows out of theology that is centered on man, not God. It says that Hell is unloving because it starts with man and how he thinks he should be loved, not with God and His holiness. In any comparable situation where one individual is undeniably guilty before another and yet is offered time after time forgiveness and reconciliation but refuses to accept it and all the while offending their adversary even more, people would wonder why the offended person did not act sooner in dealing out justice. In relation to Hell, however, people wonder why it is so in the first place. Pride is the root cause of this objection.
Objection 2: Eternal Damnation for Temporary Sins is Overkill
Perhaps the most common objection to the Bible’s teachings on Hell is that it is considered unjust. However, putting things into their proper perspective shows that Hell is both just and necessary.
The severity of an offense is determined in part by the worth and honor of the person being offended. Imagine, therefore, how severe an offense sin is against God. God is infinite in His holiness and in His worth, which means that sin is infinitely evil. Further, because God is eternal, sin will be offensive to Him for all eternity, and it would be unjust to punish eternal offenses with a temporary punishment. Infinitely evil and eternal transgressions deserve eternal punishment.
When we see God in His holiness, we understand why Hell is just. If we start with man and our sinfully distorted view of love and justice (as it was stated above), then we conclude that Hell is unjust.
False Teaching: Annihilationism
Annihilationism is the belief that the wicked will not experience eternal conscious punishment. For many, the biblical teachings on Hell have brought strong emotional reactions by unbelievers and believers. Some consider it cruel and outrageous. People who hold that the punishment of unbelievers is not eternal often hold to annihilationism. Annihilationism teaches that the wicked will experience God’s wrath for a time but will then be “annihilated” and cease to exist. Therefore, while the punishment is conscious, it is not believed to be eternal.
Eternal conscious punishment of unbelievers has been denied recently by some theologians and has previously been denied by the Seventh Day Adventist Church and various individuals throughout church history. However, the truth of the Bible is not compatible with annihilationism, and the teaching has been rightly condemned as false by many.
In the passages above we see that the Bible clearly speaks of the punishment of the wicked being eternal and conscious. The passages speaking of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” and having “no rest, day or night” in an “eternal fire” speak plainly. To weep, one must be conscious. To have no rest and experience torment, one must be conscious. And to say that Hell is “eternal” leaves no place for uncertainty concerning the duration of Hell.