Hell: It’s Not What You Want (Part 2)

In the Middle Ages, there was an Italian poet whose name was Durante Aligheiri, or as we better know him Dante. He is widely known as the most important writer and poet in Italy’s history and one of the most important figures in the Catholic Church. He composed a work in 1814 entitled Divine Comedy, which is a record of a vision he claims to have had taking him through hell, then purgatory and eventually into heaven.

Those three stages of his journey comprise the three major sections of his book: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The one that has garnered the most attention of the three is the 1st section of his Comedy and has sometimes appeared re-published as a single work is called “Dante’s Inferno.” In all of extra-biblical literature, you will not likely find a more descriptive and imaginative writing on the occupants and description of hell. There are nine circles of suffering in Dante’s hell – each one getting worse and more terrible. Each circle is representative of different sins. So Dante ranks them in order of more or less evil(s).

As Dante journeys through the nine circles of suffering, he comes across some rather bizarre scenes of torture, suffering, hopelessness, etc. Some of the depictions are fairly close to what Scripture informs us about heaven, while other depictions seem to resemble more of Hollywood’s idea of hell gone wild.

eternalBut there is one scene that, really captures the mindset of one who enters hell. As Dante is about to enter hell, he looks above the cave-like entrance and reads the following inscription for those who are about to enter,

“I am the way into the city of woe. I am the way to a forsaken people. I am the way to eternal sorrow. Sacred justice moved my architect. I was raised here by divine omnipotence, primordial love and ultimate intelligence. Only those elements time cannot wear were made before me, and beyond time I stand. Abandon every hope, all you who enter here.”

As he contemplates those words, Dante says, “These wretches have no hope of truly dying, and this blind life they lead is so abject it makes them envy every other fate.”[1] In other words, any fate is better than hell; so abandon hope if you are coming inside.

Hell is the absence of hope. There is no deliverance. There is no 2nd chance. Once you have entered hell, you will never leave.

The Occupants of Hell

Let’s begin by looking at Jesus’ description of everyone’s eternal options. Look with me at the Sermon on the Mount – “Enter by the narrow gate. For the gate is wide and the way is easy that leads to destruction, and those who enter by it are many. For the gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few” (Matt 7:13-14).

Every person goes down one of two paths. The narrow path is accompanied by those who know Christ as their Lord and Savior. The wide path is accompanied by those who have rejected Christ. It is wide to accompany more people. In other words, the population of hell will greatly outnumber the residents of heaven. The road to hell is wide because it needs to accompany more people than the narrow road that leads to heaven that doesn’t have as many occupants. The population of hell will be greater than the population of heaven.

Now back to our question of who is in hell. Besides those who have rejected Christ, will there be others in hell? The answer is, “Yes.” Human-Christ-rejectors are not the only citizens of hell. Consider what we learn from the Gospel of Mark. One of the 1st miracles performed by Jesus is recorded here – “And they went into Capernaum, and immediately on the Sabbath he entered the synagogue and was teaching. And they were astonished at his teaching, for he taught them as one who had authority, and not as the scribes. And immediately there was in their synagogue a man with an unclean spirit. And he cried out, ‘What have you to do with us, Jesus of Nazareth? Have you come to destroy us? I know who you are – the Holy One of God’” (Mark 1:21-24).

Where did these demons get that idea? They knew the consequences of their rebellion against God. They expected to be taken by Jesus into hell. They know there this is all headed for them. They are headed to the same hell the rejectors of Christ are headed.

There are other individuals who will be in hell, along human rejectors of Christ and demons: Following the 1,000 year reign of Christ, John tells us the following: “And when the thousand years are ended, Satan will be released from his prison and will come out to deceive the nations that are at the four corners of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them for battle; their number is like the sand of the sea. And they marched up over the broad plain of the earth and surrounded the camp of the saints and the beloved city, but fire came down from heaven and consumed them, and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev 20:7-10).

Satan, the false prophet and the beast will all join all his servants in hell – demons and those that chose his way over God’s.

So you have quite a cast of characters who will populate hell. If Dante were here this morning, he would say not everyone suffers the same in hell. He would say Satan and Judas Iscariot would suffer a much greater punishment for their obstinate betrayal and rebellion than a fairly good person who simply never came to accept the Gospel.

The Master or Ruler in Hell

It has been said before that God is not present in hell – or that hell is “the nonappearance of God”. But we have a theological problem – God is omnipresent. He is everywhere. David wrote, “Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol you are there! If I take the wings of the morning and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea, even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me” (Ps 139:7-10).

David’s son, Solomon, said heaven and earth cannot contain God (I Kings 8:27), which means He is not just in one place. Willem VanGemeren, who writes in the Expositor’s Bible Commentary, draws this conclusion,

“The presence of God is everywhere; hence he perceives all things in all places. Man cannot hide himself from the all-seeing eye of the Lord, whether in the highest heavens, the deepest recesses of the earth, or in the depths of the sea. The psalmist [referring to Psalm 139] is not trying to evade God, but he further amplifies that God’s knowledge is beyond the ability of humans to grasp. The knowledge or discernment of God can never be limited to any particular place.”[2]

God is everywhere. He is above containment. He fills heaven and earth (Jer 23:24). Omnipresence is God being everywhere at all times with His whole being and all His attributes and not being contained in something or someone. To say God is not in hell in some form or fashion would be to say God is “mostly present” and not “omnipresent.”

So the question is this: how is God present in hell? It could be said that while God never ceases to manifest His attributes, there are times in our lives when some of His attributes are more apparent than others. For example, when a mother gives birth to His child, the compassion and tenderness of God is clear but His wrath is not as apparent. When you come home with a paycheck to deposit into your bank account, the faithfulness of God is clear but His chastising is not as apparent.

Thus, in hell, His wrath and justice are clear, but His mercy and longsuffering is not. It is not that He ceases to be a loving God, but those who suffer in hell are mostly consumed with only the “negative” attributes of God, because they are objects of His justice. They are not thinking about His long-suffering; they are thinking of His wrath. God doesn’t cease to be who He is; people in hell cease to perceive all of who God is.

Hell is a display of God’s justice, and it glorifies God because it is where He fulfills a promise to punish those who reject Him. We shouldn’t be happy that people suffer there, but we should recognize God is glorified in hell because He is able to fulfill His Word. God – and His wrath – is very present in hell. It may appear to those suffering that parts of His person are absent but God is most certainly ruling hell.

In hell, God is the ruler and God is glorified because He is able to keep His word to punish rejecting sinners. Paul wrote in I Corinthians 15:28, “When all things are subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to him who put all things in subjection under him, that God may be all in all.” Thus, hell is ruled by God.

One Scripture that is used to object to this idea that I am presenting to you now is II Thessalonians 1:9 – “They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might.” The phrase “away from the presence of the Lord” seems to suggest banishment from God forever.

The original word means and is better translated “in the face of.” When someone in biblical times referred to being in the face of God, they were not so much as referring to a physical location as they were referring to a status. To be in God’s face is to be an object of His favor. II Thessalonians 1:9 is about being removed from His favor – what hell is.

John reminds us in Revelation 14:9-10 that God is present in hell and those that are there are aware of that fact: “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.” R.C. Sproul, the President of Ligonier Ministries, talks about the presence of God in hell:

“A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares, “Hell is a symbol for separation from God.” To be separated from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person. The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God. Their problem in hell will not be separation from God, it will be the presence of God that will torment them. In hell, God will be present in the fullness of His divine wrath. He will be there to exercise His just punishment of the damned. They will know Him as an all-consuming fire.”[3]

All of this gives a sense of even more terror in hell. To come to the point of understanding that you can never flee His presence and He is ever before you and you perceive a never-ending wrath – that is the deepest of stings. It would seem far more management if He was absent, but He is not absent and He is even sovereign in hell.

Tomorrow, we will wrap up this series by covering these three issues: a description of hell, the duration of hell and the path one takes to hell.


[1] Pg. unknown

[2] VanGemeren, pg. 837

[3] “Hell,” http://www.bible-researcher.com/hell6.html


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