The Eternal Reality of Hell

The Nature of Hell According to the Bible

Matthew 26:24 Here Jesus declared that it would have been better for Judas “not to have been born.”  Christ was using dramatic language to express the awfulness of hell, and did not mean that it literally would have been better for him not to exist.  Non-being can never be said to be better than being; it is a category mistake to compare them, for they have nothing in common.36 A category mistake is defined as “the error of ascribing to something of one category a feature attributable only to another.”37  An example would be “the chirping of that bird is bluer than the sky.”  The sound a bird makes and the color of the sky cannot be compared, for they have absolutely nothing in common.  Thus non-being simply cannot be compared favorably with existence.  Judas’ destiny of hell, no matter how dreadful, is a testimony to the free will of man and the justice and righteousness of God.  Jesus here merely employs strong and dramatic language to underscore the awfulness of hell, both for Judas and those who will follow him.

Luke 16:19-31 Christ described the opposite fates of two men in this story: the rich man, and the beggar Lazarus who used to beg scraps from his table.  At the conclusion of their lives, the rich man is consigned to torment in Hades, and Lazarus to paradise.  Some general truths may be gleaned from this story without reading too much into the text to make it a complete commentary on the intermediate state. First, the unrighteous experience conscious torment in Hades, exemplified by the rich man being “in agony in this flame” (v. 24).  Secondly, the righteous abide in a state of paradise with the Lord, for Lazarus is reclining with Abraham, the father of the justified.  Lastly, it is impossible for any person to pass across between Hades and paradise, and thus there was no second chance for the rich man or any who leave this life as an unbeliever.

2 Thessalonians 1:9 Paul states that the penalty for “those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (v. 8) will be “eternal destruction” (v. 9).  At first glance, this verse seems to teach that the wicked will be annihilated in hell.  However, Paul describes what the eternal destruction entails: being “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”  To be away from the presence of the Lord implies real existence in another place.  God’s presence reaches to all heights and depths (Ps. 139:7-10), and the wicked will consciously experience the wrath and indignation of God (Dan. 12:2; Rom. 2:6-8), and the Lamb will be present (Rev. 14:10).  This presence is not then his general omnipresence, but describes a complete lack of fellowship with Him.38  The glory of His power will only be present to the saints in heaven in the holy city (Rev 21).  The same idea is present in Jesus’ words in Matthew 10:28, to “fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”  In the parallel passage in Luke 12:4-5, Jesus says to “fear the One who…has authority to cast into hell.”  This destruction involves continuing existence in an eternal place. With a similar meaning, we might say we are “destroyed” if we go bankrupt or loose our house in a fire yet we go on existing in the state of having our lives “destroyed” or ruined. Certainly your life is ruined in hell, even though it is not snuffed out.  Thus, to destroy soul and body is to cast into the ruin of eternal hell.  The eternal destruction of the soul of the unbeliever is destruction “as to the great purposes of its being—its enjoyment, dignity, honor, holiness, happiness,”39 which will never be realized.

Jude 1:7 Sodom and Gomorrah provide an example of God’s disdain for sin.  Although Abraham pleaded with God to spare the city if any righteous were found, only Lot was saved from the destruction (Gen. 18-19).  Unrighteousness completely permeated the city, just as the world will be permeated with wickedness at the end of the age.  God destroyed the cities and all that was in it them with fire and brimstone, and thus neither will He spare any of the unrighteous from their eternal ruin.  The example of Sodom and Gomorrah was used several times as an object-lesson by the prophets in the Old Testament for God’s wrath being poured out on a sinful people:  Deuteronomy 23:29; Isaiah 1:9, 13:19; Jer. 23:14, 49:18, 50:40; Amos 4:11; Zeph. 2:9.40  Peter confirms that this destruction was an example to the ungodly of all generations as to the punishment they could face: “He condemned the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah to destruction by reducing them to ashes, having made them an example to those who would live ungodly lives thereafter” (2 Peter 2:6).  Just as none of the inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah have been spared from hell, neither shall any of the wicked of the subsequent ages be passed over in the judgment.

Jude 1:13 Here the destiny of ungodly men (cf. Jude 1:15) is described as “black darkness…forever.”  This indicates a total absence of God’s glory and presence in hell.  John describes God as light: “That God is Light, and in Him there is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5).  Thus those in hell will have absolutely no part with God.  Although God does not cease to be omnipresent, the benevolent love, His glory revealed in creation (Rom. 1:20) and general merciful care (Matt. 5:45) that He currently shows to the entire world will be completely cut off from hell.  Jude’s use of darkness to describe hell is reminiscent of Jesus’ use of the phrase “outer darkness” in Matthew 8:12, 22:13, 25:30, where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

Revelation 14:9-11 Hell is a result of God’s wrath and anger finally being poured out.  Currently God is patient with those on earth (2 Peter 3:7-8), here in this passage John is describing the time when His patience is finally exhausted.  Again hell is described as torment, with fire and brimstone causing unrest forever and ever.  One who has been annihilated does not experience unrest,41 and John Piper remarks on the duration that “there is no stronger Greek expression for eternity than this one (eis aionas aionon, forever and ever).”42 (Matt. 5:22; Rev. 20:12-14)

Revelation 20:10-15 This is the final judgment of the Lord, both on sin and on His created beings.  The beast and the false prophet have already been in hell for 1,000 years (Rev. 19:20; 20:2), and now the devil joins them.  They and those who shortly follow them (v. 15) will be “tormented day and night forever and ever” (v. 10).  This verse unequivocally speaks of a conscious existence in hell, for without consciousness torment is not punishment.  However, hell is not an elaborate torture chamber that God has been developing with glee.  Geisler notes that “unlike torture which is inflicted from without against one’s will, torment in self-inflicted.  Even atheists [such as Sartre] have suggested that the door of hell is locked from the inside…Torment is living with the consequences of our own bad choices.”43 God will next raise all of the dead with resurrection bodies, whether they died at sea or were buried in the earth.  The intermediate state becomes the final state as “death and Hades” are thrown into the lake of fire.  The first death involved the disembodiment of the soul, but because the resurrection body is indestructible, the second death does not involve an additional soul and body separation.  Rather, since eternal life is fellowship with God (John 17:3), so the second eternal death must be everlasting separation from God.44  Cain alluded to death being a loss of fellowship with God when he stated, “My punishment is too great to bear! Behold, You have driven me this day from the face of the ground; and from Your face I will be hidden, and I will be a vagrant and a wanderer on the earth, and whoever finds me will kill me” (Gen 4:13-14). To be away from God once we have truly seen Him and known Him for who He is in all His glory, may indeed be the most tormenting destiny of all.

36 Geisler, Norman, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 23.
37 Honderich, Ted, The Oxford Companion to Philosophy (New York: Oxford, 1995), 126.
38 Fudge, William; Peterson, Robert, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue, 152.
392 Thess. 1:9 Barnes, Albert, Barnes’ Notes on the New Testament.
40 Fudge, William; Peterson, Robert, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue, 161.
41 Ibid., 161.
42 Piper, John, The Pleasures of God (Sisters: Multnomah, 2000), 171.
43 Geisler, Norman, Baker Encyclopedia of Christian Apologetics, 312.
44 Fudge, William; Peterson, Robert, Two Views of Hell: A Biblical and Theological Dialogue, 165.