A lot of debate has encompassed this question due to some misunderstood comments made by the Pope recently.
Here is the short answer to the question: hell is not a fantasy and it is not a fable, and it is not a metaphor. Hell is a real place.
In Matthew 10:26-27, Jesus is talking about the inevitability of persecution. He tells us that every Christian can expect real persecution if they have a real faith. But the Christian should not fear persecution, because man can only change their present. Man cannot change the eternal destiny of Christians. However, Jesus says there are some who have something to fear after death. Jesus says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Now, why would Jesus switch the contrast to something that was not real? Answer: He wouldn’t, unless He is referring to a real hell.
Why would Jesus say real Christians will face real persecution, but those who are persecuting don’t have anything to worry about in hell? He wouldn’t, unless He is referring to a real hell.
The context suggests hell is real and those that hate Christians – or hate God – will go to a real place called hell.
In Mark 9, Jesus taught His disciples a way they could 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. Jesus 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.
Hell is a real place, and it has to be a real place.
Let me illustrate another way. If one of my sons, without provocation, started throwing punches at another brother and broke his nose and knocked out a few teeth, and my wife and I restrained him and then said, “Son, when we get home we are going to give you … a metaphorical spanking,” would our punching-son be afraid of that? Answer: no way!
That son would be thinking, “I could hit him again without punishment.”
Children only fears discipline if they knows it is real.
Hell has to be a real place. To question the reality of hell can give a license to sin without any real or feared punishment.
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; Jesus 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.
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