The New Testament teaches that the ultimate fate of the disobedient is eternal torment or hell. The teaching is just as plain as that concerning heaven, but becasue of the horribleness of the idea, many religious people refuse to believe that such an actual place exists. I agree that such an idea is horrible, but refusing to believe that it is true is no more logical than refusing to believe my doctor when he tells me I'm dying of cancer. Regardless of how horrible something is, or whether or nto I believe it, a fact is still a fact -- and hell is a fact.
Jesus Himself mentions hell (Greek -- Gehenna) more often than any other New Testament place. He called it "the hell of fire" (Matt. 5:22), "the furnace of fire" (Matt. 13:42), "the eternal fire" (Matt. 18:8), and "the unquenchable fire" (Mk. 9:43). In His parables, Jesus often used fire as an illustration of the final punishment of the wicked (Matt. 13:30,40-43); (Jno. 15:6). The Book of Hebrews warns of "the fury of a fire which will consume the adversaries" (Heb. 10:27). Revelation describes it as "the lake of fire which burns with brimstone" (19:20).
Oddly, this place of fire is also described as a place of gloomy darkness. Jesus called it "outer darkness" (Matt. 8:12). It is elsewhere called "pits of darkness" (2 Pet. 2:4), or "the black darkness" (Jude 13). Hell, then, combines the twin terrors of pain and fear.
Hell is further described as a place "where the worm does not die" (Mk. 9:44), a figure borrowed from the "city dump" of Jerusalem, where maggots were forever feasting on rotting corpses. But the inhabitants of hell are fully conscious of their suffering, for it is also a place of "weeping and gnashing of teeth" (Matt. 13:42). They are "tormented with fire and brimstone...(and) the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever" (Rev. 14:10,11; 20:10). This word for "torment" is equivalent to our word "torture." The citizens of hell live in a state of constant, unbearable torture.
The sufferings of hell will be intensified by the kind of people who will share it. The devil and his angels will be there, along with all the immoral and wicked of mankind (Matt. 25:41; Rev. 21:8). Hell will also be home to all hypocrites (Matt. 24:51) (Which makes the old excuse, "I don't want to associate with that bunch of hypocrites," look foolish). In short, the inhabitants of hell will be surrounded by all the hate, wickedness, cruelty and selfishness of all human history.
Finally, hell is eternal. "The smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; and they have no rest day nor night" (Rev. 14: 11). It is just as eternal as heaven is (Matt. 25:46), and the person who is sentenced there will have no second chance.
The one objection that most people usually make against this doctrine is that it violates God's nature. "God is love," they say. "Surely He wouldn't treat His creatures so horribly." But there is another side of God's nature: "Our God is a consuming fire" (Heb. 12:29; Deut. 4:24). "I the Lord your God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations of those who hate Me, but showing lovingkindness to thousands, to those wholove Me and keep My commandments" (Exo. 20:5,6). It is true that God is love, btu only those who diligently seek that love will find it. The rest will encounter nothing but His wrath -- in hell.
Where is hell? In terms of the physical universe, hell has no specific location. Neither does heaven. Both exist in a time and place totally outside of our dimensions. Both are described in the Bible as spiritual concepts, not physical; and any physical description of them (fire, worms, street of gold, etc.) should be understood merely as illustrations, not literal appearance. But they illustrate things that are still very real!
The saddest fact about hell is that the majority of the human race will end up there. "The gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who find it" (Matt. 7:13). Merely hoping that somehow "it won't happen to me" is a deadly cop-out. If you truly fear the sentence of hell, your only hope is to set your goal on heaven -- and live it.
By David King in Christianity Magazine, Vol. 3, No. 2, Feb. 1986.
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