A Description of Hell
Hell is real (Matt 10:28; Mark 9:47-48; Luke 16:23-24). Hell is not a fantasy or fable; it is not a metaphor or temporary. It is a real place, as you will see in these biblical accounts where it is contrasted with a real heaven.
In Mark 9, Jesus is teaching his disciples one of the ways they can mortify sin – by cutting off sin at its source – plucking your eye out or cutting your foot off. Jesus says, “And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. 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). Why would Jesus say the person who deals with sin righteously can go to a real heaven, but the one who doesn’t isn’t going to a real hell? He wouldn’t, unless He is referring to a real hell. He references hell as an alternative to heaven because they are both real places.
In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31), the rich man is in a real place of torment and he is looking into a real place of bliss as he sees Lazarus. Even though, this is a parable, these are real places, real locations, and real eternities.
The apostles didn’t make up hell to scare people into heaven; they got hell from Jesus. Jesus didn’t make up hell to make His cross have purpose and because He doesn’t lie; He got hell from the Father and because He is equal to God and knows hell exists. If the Bible teaches hell exists, then it exists. It is a real place.
Hell is painfully loud (Matt 8:11-12; 13:40-42, 49-50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28; 16:23; Rev 14:10-11; 20:10). Jesus told a Roman centurion that hell will be filled with people experiencing a “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matt 8:12). To gnash one’s teeth is more than just a teeth grinding but refers to a biting down on an object when one is in an extreme amount of pain. It is a forceful tightening and rubbing of one’s grinders that tries to mask the pain elsewhere in one’s body.
When partnered with “weeping,” you get the idea of torment being inconsolable. Now multiply the sound one person may be emitting from such an experience to the billionth degree. Imagine a place where billions of people are “weeping and gnashing.” Jesus echoes that reality in Matthew 13:42, 50; 22:13; 24:51 and Luke 13:28.
Jesus and John says those in hell will be “in torment” (Luke 16:23; Rev 20:10). It will be the worst form of torture. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, the rich man so desperately wanted a drop of water for relief from the excruciating pain (Luke 16:24). How excruciating does it need to get for a single droplet of water to bring relief?
John adds, “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, …” (Rev 14:10-11). The continual smoke is continual torment. The pain from the first moments in hell will be as intense 1,000 years later. It is unending, which explains why it will be painfully loud in hell. Nothing on earth will hurt like hell.
Hell is dark (Matt 8:11-12; 22:13; 25:30; II Thess 1:9; Jude 13). Jesus says those in hell will be in “outer darkness” (Matt 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). How fire and “darkness” can co-exist doesn’t reconcile in my human mind, but I am of the opinion that if God wants to make fire black or darkened in some way, He could. Somehow and someway, hell will have both “darkness” and fire present. The gloom of utter darkness awaits (Jude 13).
The “darkness” could communicate that feeling of separation from God’s mercy. When someone is in a “dark place,” they are saying they are in place where it would appear God is not showing them any favor. So it could be that to be cast into “darkness” would also feel as if God is removing your awareness of His forgiveness and long-suffering and all other related attributes, which is what we see in 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.”
Hell is fiery (Matt 5:21-22; 13:40-42, 49-50; 18:8-9; 25:41; Mark 9:48; Rev 14:10-11; 20:10, 14-15). Jesus refers to hell as “hell fire” (Matt 5:22; 25:41; Mark 9:48). The Greek word is “Gehenna” – the English equivalent of Hinnom. In biblical times, the Hinnom Valley was located SW of Jerusalem. Criminals were buried there; witchcraft happened there; sorcery occurred there. In Jesus’ day, it became a place of burning trash and human excrement – a public incinerator. To read of hell is to read of a place of endless fire (Rev 14:10-11; 20:10, 14-15).
The Duration of Hell
This is clear in the Bible: the duration of hell, like heaven, is eternal (Matt 18:8-9; II Thess 1:9; Jude 7, 13; Rev 20:10). At the end of the parable of the sheep and the goats, Jesus said, “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt 25:46). John says, “He who believes in the son has everlasting life; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides in him” (John 3:36). One of the most important arguments here is the contrast with heaven. We cannot conclude, as some do, that heaven is eternal but hell has an end in sight.
God’s wrath will not cease on such a man; it remains. This may be the worst thing about hell – it is forever. If you knew there was an end, there could be some hope in that, but hell lasts for all time. It will not fade away with the passage of time. Those who do not believe in Him will see nothing more than the persisting wrath of God. They will live continually in this state.
Now, this truth does raise a question: is it fair for God to punish sins eternally if they are only committed in a small space of time or life-span? Here are a few responses or support to why it is more than fair.
- Even a finite amount of sin is committed against an infinite God. We sin against an eternal, infinite God who isn’t measured or governed by times or spans.
- People are not likely to become sinless in hell. Who is to say that people don’t remain in hell because they continue to sin in hell and rebel against God?
- The consequences of one’s rejection of Christ are known before eternity is a reality. We all know “the rules of the game” and we cannot complain or get upset them “after the fact.”
With everything we know about hell, it boggles the mind how anyone could wish someone went to hell. We have that response in our culture to people who upset or anger us; we tell them to “go to ______.” The person who says this has no idea what hell is actually like, because if they did they wouldn’t wish that on their worst enemy.
The Path One Takes to Hell
John writes, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God” (John 3:18). We all have that option of escaping hell, but it is an option that requires faith and obedience to the Lord who created hell. It involves believing in His deity, His redemption, etc. You see, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice. C.S Lewis famously wrote, “I willingly believe that the damned are, in one sense, successful, rebels to the end; that the doors of hell are locked on the inside.” The occupants of hell are there because it is ultimately their decision to be there.
Those that choose anything or anyone but Christ as Lord and Savior will see Revelation 14:10-11 in a real way: “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.”
The choice is simple: you can choose to follow after Christ who took the wrath for you on the cross or you could choose to drink the cup of God’s wrath yourself and waste the cross.
Hell is a tribute to human freedom, because all have the choice or ability to stay clear from there for all eternity.
I want to close our series with a warning from the lips of Jesus. If there is one word that should summarize our response to all of this it is this: urgency. This comes from Luke 11:22-28 –
“He went on his way through towns and villages, teaching and journeying toward Jerusalem. And someone said to him, ‘Lord, will those who are saved be few?’
“And he said to them, ‘Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth, when you see Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and all the prophets in the kingdom of God but you yourselves cast out.”
In the passage we just read, the question was about how many people would be saved. Rather than talking about numbers, Jesus confronted the crowd with their own need to find the one narrow door to salvation. He didn’t give them a numerical value or the population of either heaven or hell. He simply said, “Be urgent.” What he especially emphasized was the need to find that door before it is too late. Don’t worry about how many people will go through the door; worry about the door closing.
Listen, time is running out. There is a time limit on the free offer of salvation. As J.C. Ryle once wrote, hell is truth known too late. Hell is a place of lost opportunity.
 The Problem of Pain, Ch. 8