The idea of heaven entices and encourages believers and non-believers alike. It is enjoyable to envision a place of eternal rest and relaxation, in the presence of God and loved ones. Heaven does exist according to the Bible, and is the destination of the believer in Jesus Christ at the completion of life on this earth. What is not encouraging is the fact that there is a place for those whom God chooses will not inherit everlasting life. This place is commonly referred to in the English language as hell. It is not metaphorical nor is it mythological, it is real in every sense of the word; a true literal hell. It is a time as Guthrie says in New Testament Theology, “ to inquire about the state of the lost, a subject which tends to be neglected or else glossed over…..the final state of those who are not in the book of life” (Guthrie p. 887). This will be the focus of this discussion, the eternal state of those individuals whose name will not be found in the book of life.
To fully understand the implications of the declaration of a place of eternal damnation, one must first understand what that place is. The common use of the word “Hell” is considered colloquial and comical to some. In the bible, the idea of the term ‘hell’ is expressed in more ways than one. The terms Gehenna (Matthew 5:22), Hades (Matthew 11:23), and Lake of Fire (Revelation 20:15) are terms that have been interpreted to believe as hell.
The term ‘Gehenna’ occurs twelve times in the King James version of the bible. It occurs in all three of the synoptic gospels, but most notably in the book of Matthew in which it occurs seven times. Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible defines Gehenna as “ A name for the place (or state) of everlasting punishment:-hell” (Strong’s p. 19). Jesus Christ spoke of Gehenna and warned people of it. Jesus said in Matthew chapter five verse thirty, “ for it is better for you that one of the parts of your body perish, than for your whole body to go to hell”. It is as Guthrie says, “ There is no way of avoiding the conclusion that Jesus firmly accepted that there was a counterpart to heaven for those who were condemned before God “ (Guthrie p.888). It is clear that Guthrie believes that there is an eternal and literal hell. Therefore, because Jesus stated it, and Guthrie supported it, shows that it must have a certain importance about it.
In Mark chapter nine verses forty-two through fifty, Jesus is talking about the importance of understanding of the implications of a sinful life and where it will lead. In the following passage, the usage of the word ‘hell’ is interpreted as the Greek word ‘Gehenna’ and Jesus says, “If your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out” (Mark 9:43). It can be construed from this statement that Jesus is adamant about the reality of the conditions in hell. It can be assumed that Jesus is not advocating the actual removal of the hand, but is speaking about the horrifying reality of hell. He is admonishing those who are listening to understand that theoretically, not having one of your hands would be better than spending eternity in hell. As Stamps says in the notes of the Full Life Study Bible, “ the place of unquenchable fire is so terrible that every influence of sin must be opposed and rejected no matter what the cost “(Stamps p. 1497). Clearly, hell is an eternal existence that would be far worse than a missing limb.
Next, Stagg states in The Broadman Bible Commentary that Gehenna was a term that “came to symbolize the place of judgment for the wicked” (Stagg p. 109). Furthermore, Stagg declares that Gehenna is derived from Hinnom, a valley west of Jerusalem, where the garbage was burned from the city (Stagg p. 109). The aforementioned passages reinforce the idea that hell is not a rhetorical or spiritual existence but a real place. It is not a heap of figurative ‘burning garbage’ or a place of eternal rest, it is hell. It is as Finis Dake in God’s Plan for man states, “ There is no statement in Scripture that even hints of a spiritual fire that will torment people; so even to question the reality and literalness of Hell is showing opposition to the Bible” (Dake p. 185).
Hell does exist according to the bible. Stamps says, “ Jesus teaches that there is a place of eternal punishment for those condemned before God” (Stamps p. 1425). In many passages in the synoptics, Jesus states the reality about hell and describes it. It is a terrifying reality to think about a place that has a “Fire that never goes out” (Mark 9:43), with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mark 13:42, 50). Hell cannot be understood to be a place for the proverbial horned man with the hoofed feet, red body and trident staff. Neither Satan nor his demons rule hell, or perform any acts of destruction from there. It is a place of eternal torment, where souls and demons reside in an eternal fire. There is no end or rest to the horrific torment they receive. It is as Guthrie states, “ the message is unmistakable that hell and torment are inseparable” (Guthrie p. 889).
The terms ‘Gehenna’ and ‘hell’ are not an idea of annihilation, either spiritual or physical. Hell was not intended to be understood as a complete end to existence for the non-believer. Guthrie states, “ those who dislike the whole idea of eternal punishment either regard both heaven and hell as mythological or else dismiss the sayings by assigning them to church tradition” (Guthrie p. 888).For support, Matthew chapter twenty-five verse forty-one states “ Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”. Furthermore, Jesus says that those who are not accepted by the Lord will be condemned to an ‘eternal fire’. In addition, in verse forty-six, he states, “They will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life”. It can be concluded from the reading of these two verses that the term ‘eternal’ is meant as such. Also, Jesus speaks about those who are condemned to the fire, and that their existence is eternal. He continues to say that the dispensation of the believer, who has eternal life, is the same. Strong’s definition is the same for both verses. “Eternal” is defined as “eternal, forever, everlasting” (Strong’s p. 3), which reinforces the fact that hell is not a temporary existence, but an eternal one. In the book Kingdom of the Cults, Walter Martin is refuting the Jehovah’s Witness’s idea of the non-existence of eternal damnation. Martin says, “ Death is not extinction, hell is not an illusion, and everlasting conscious punishment is a terrifying reality of God’s infinite justice upon the souls of unbelieving men” (Martin p.92). There is no end to hell or the existence thereof. It is as Guthrie says an “undeniable fact that judgment is eternal” (Guthrie p. 892). Furthermore, Stamps says, “ The wicked will not be allowed to enter Christ’s kingdom, but will go into eternal punishment” (Stamps p. 1461). To reiterate the point further, Finis Dake in God’s Plan for Man, says that “ The argument that Hell is not eternal and that it will come to an end is a mere invention of demons and of humanity” (Dake p. 111). Theologians and the text of the synoptics agree that hell is an eternal and continual torment for those who are sentenced to reside there. Hell does exist and is a place of eternal torment and misery.
From the above discussion, it is clear that Jesus believed in a literal hell. He spoke on it, and discussed it with his followers. Also, The apostle Paul discusses the truth about hell. Guthrie says, “ The apostle is specific when he says that they will ‘suffer the punishment of eternal destruction’”(Guthrie p. 890). Paul is very clear about the state of the wicked when they perish from this earth. In Philippians 3:19 Paul said, “ Their destiny is their destruction”. It is as Guthrie says, “ There is no doubt that he (Paul) recognized the certainty and seriousness of the coming judgment, although he did not dwell on the details” (Guthrie p. 891). Richard’s says in the Complete Bible Handbook, “There is no attempt to obscure the fact that “wrath and fury” await evildoers when they face God the Judge” (Richards p. 531). Again, it is very clear that theologians and apostles alike agree with the idea of hell.
The most shocking of all the New Testament letter writers is that of 2 Peter chapter 2. In verses four through ten, Peter outlines those who have been found in judgment of God and the means in which he uses to deal with them. Verse 4 says, “ For God did not spare angels when they sinned, but sent them to hell, putting them into gloomy dungeons to be held for judgment” (2 Peter 2:4). Peter is speaking of those angels who joined a rebellion with Satan and attempted to exalt themselves (Ezekiel 28:12). When these angels attempted to rise up, God created hell to put them there. Peter is admonishing the readers that as God has dealt with the angels when they sinned, how much more will he deal with his children as they sin against him. God is not a respecter of persons, He shows no favoritism. Everyone is treated the same. This is the point that Peter is attempting to get across, the righteous judgment of those who sin and the consequences thereof. They will be sent to hell.
Furthermore, Guthrie says, “In Revelation there is a more graphic representation of hell” (Guthrie p. 891), and this is true. For example, Revelation says, “ and the smoke of their torment rises for ever and ever. There is no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and his image” (Revelation 14:11). This smoke should be taken in a literal sense, because it goes hand in hand with the statements which Jesus made. Jesus spoke of a lake of fire, an eternal place, and this passage continues with that thought. The smoke could be understood as coming from the fire, and “no rest” means just that; there will be no rest for those who are condemned to hell. It will be an eternal state in which they will not be able to escape. Guthrie writes on this verse and says, “ There is no question about the severity of this judgment” (Guthrie p. 891). Also, Revelation chapter twenty verse ten, speaks of “ burning sulphur’ and that “they will be tormented both day and night” (Revelation 20:10) which reiterates the aforementioned scripture. Hell is a place of eternal torment and destruction, and in the end, it will be filled with those souls who choose to reject God.
Since God created hell to house Satan and the other fallen angels (Ezekiel 28), it should be construed that it was not created for the believer. God’s will is that none would perish, but have everlasting life (John 3:16). The term perish as Stamps says, “is the forgotten word of verse 16. It points not to physical death, but to the dreadful reality of eternal punishment” (Stamps p. 1588). God’s will is not to create beings to try and follow a bunch of regulations so that he can send them to hell. His will is that He loves all of creation, and he offers them the gift of eternal life, and if they choose life, they may have it. Those that choose to reject God will live in a state of eternal separation from Him. Not because he has chosen to send them there, but because they have chosen to not choose everlasting life.
Jesus said, “ Not everyone who says unto me ‘Lord Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21)and he concludes this passage with “ Then I will tell them plainly, I never knew you, away from me you evil doers” (Matthew 7:23). Jesus makes a bold statement that those who do not choose to have a relationship with him will find themselves eternally cast away from the presence of God. Guthrie supports this by saying, “to be excluded from God’s presence is the real meaning of hell” (Guthrie p. 890). When speaking of separation from God in the lake of fire, Dake says “there is nothing mysterious about it as some make believer” (Dake p. 752). So, in addition to being in the lake of fire, the unrepentant person will be eternally separated from God; no longer able to feel his wind or his grace, or to call out and have him hear. They are eternally damned to the lake of fire to spend eternity in the burning sulphur.
In Matthew chapter twenty-five verses thirty-one through forty-six, Jesus is telling the parable of the sheep and the goats. He explains that those who are not in a right relationship with God, and do not show their love for their neighbor, will not be allowed to enter into eternal life. It can be concluded from this passage that Jesus is speaking about those who choose to not show hospitality to either God, or their fellow man. He says, “ I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these you did not do for me, then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life” (Matthew 25:45-46). It must be understood that those who do not maintain a right relationship with God, cannot inherit eternal life.
Also, Revelation reads, “If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). Jesus said, “ He who overcomes will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out his name from the book of life” (Revelation 3:5). Stamps says, “To have ones name blotted out of the book of life is to lose eternal life itself, and to be condemned to the lake of fire” (Stamps p. 2011). That lake of fire will be the destination of those who do not overcome, who do not know Jesus and have relationship with him. Which brings us back to our original focus: The state of those whose name will not be found the book of life. Those names who do not appear in the book of life will be sent to hell, a real tangible hell that is described by Jesus himself as a lake of fire that burns. It will be a horrific place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, and there will be no end to it. It is eternal in every sense of the word, and those who are condemned to it will spend eternity there. There will be no second chance for them. The dispensation of those who choose to separate themselves from God will be separated, separated eternally to the point of destruction.
Likewise, Dake says, “There is nothing to be gained by denying that there is a real hell (Dake p.752). Guthrie says, “ The doctrine of eternal punishment is not an attractive doctrine and the desire to substitute it for the view that, at the judgment, the souls of the wicked will cease to exist, is understandable” (Guthrie p. 892). Hell is real, and those who choose to deny the real existence of it, could quite possibly find themselves there. If one denies that there is no hell, they better hope not, because the Creator of the universe knows the hearts of all His creation and holds the future of the earth.
In conclusion, it has been discovered what hell is, and what hell is not. Hell is not a mythological place, but an actual literal place of eternal torment and suffering. It exists to hold those souls who are sent there, by their own choice, because they did not choose God. Hell is an eternal place that will never cease to exist. It will remain permanent and those who are sent there will spend eternity in the lake of fire, where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. Those whose names are not found in the book of life will be sent there, and remain there forever. There are two places where people will go when their physical body ceases to breathe; one is heaven and the other is hell. If one’s name is in the book of life, heaven is their inheritance; if one’s name is not, then they will literally go to hell.
Dake, Finis Jennings. God’s Plan for Man. Lawrenceville, Georgia: Dake Publishing Incorporated, 1977.
Guthrie, Donald. New Testament Theology. Downers Grove, Illinois: Inter-Varsity Press, 1981.
Martin, Walter R. The Kingdom of the Cults. Minneapolis, Minnesota: Bethany Fellowship Inc., 1977.
Richards, Lawrence O. Complete Bible Handbook. Dallas, Texas: Word Incorporated, 1987
Ryrie, Charles Caldwell. The Ryrie Study Bible. Chicago, Illinois: Moody Press, 1978
Stagg, Frank, Editor. The Broadman Bible Commentary. Nashville, Tennessee: Broadman Press, 1969.
Stamps, Donald C., Editor. The Full Life Study Bible. Grand Rapids, Michigan: The Zondervan Corporation, 1992.
Strong, James. The New Strong’s Exhaustive Concordance of the Bible. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc., 1995.