Before we get to the common questions about hell, it is important to first look at what the Bible teaches about the subject. Other related issues are the Bible’s teachings about heaven and the human condition. Today we will lay the groundwork by discussing all of these. We cannot make criticisms or answer questions until we have a common understanding of what is taught. Just so we’re clear that we’re not making this stuff up, we will include the source quotes from the bible. These are important, and the future answers will depend on these concepts.
(Note: some Christian teachers make a distinction between different places that damned people experience in the afterlife. For our general purposes, we are lumping everything under the one heading of hell.)
First, the key Bible verses that describe hell:
- And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt. (Daniel 12:2)
- And they shall go out and look on the dead bodies of the men who have rebelled against me. For their worm shall not die, their fire shall not be quenched, and they shall be an abhorrence to all flesh. (Isaiah 66:24)
- It is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. (Matthew 5:29)
- Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. (Matthew 10:28)
- So it will be at the end of the age; the angels will come forth and take out the wicked from among the righteous, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 13:49-50)
- In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. ‘And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’ (Luke 16:23-26)
- . . . when the Lord Jesus will be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power . . . (2 Thessalonians 1:7-9)
- But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death. (Revelation 21:8)
- But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (Matthew 8:12)
From these passages, we can safely come to the following conclusions:
- The Bible teaches hell is real, not figurative or symbolic of something completely different.
- This unpleasant afterlife will be everlasting (Dan.12:2; Is.66:24; 2 Thess.1). At least in the end, some will be thrown into a lake of fire (Rev.21:8). Those in hell are permanently separated from those in God’s blessings (Luke 16)
- Physical bodies will encounter eternal destruction, not merely spiritual (Dan. 12:2; Is. 66:24; Matt. 5:29; Matt. 10:28)
- The place is described in several ways: worm-ridden, unquenchable fire, flame, darkness, and burning sulfur. It is a place of eternal destruction. It is a place “away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1).
- The experiences people in hell will encounter will be shame and contempt, weeping, gnashing of teeth, agony, torment, and burning.
- There is a day of judgement (Matt. 11:22) where people’s destiny is decided.
These teachings will be critical in explaining the questions that are brought up about hell. But before we can answer these questions, we must also look at what the Bible teaches about heaven.
The Bible gives us a good description of heaven:
- Then I looked, and I heard around the throne and the living creatures and the elders the voice of many angels, numbering myriads of myriads and thousands of thousands, saying with a loud voice, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and might and honor and glory and blessing!”
And I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and in the sea, and all that is in them, saying, “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb
be blessing and honor and glory and might forever and ever!” And the four living creatures said, “Amen!” and the elders fell down and worshiped. (Revelation 5:11-14)
- No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him. They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 22:3-5)
From these and other similar passages, we can learn several things about heaven:
- People in heaven are not in a general, non-specific sense of bliss, but are doing something specific.
- Heaven is in the presence of the Lamb, Jesus.
- People in heaven will be saying praises to Jesus and worshiping Him.
- People in heaven will take the name of the Lamb, Jesus, and spend time seeing his face.
- People in heaven will always be in the light of God.
Also important in the discussion is what the bible and our experience tells us about people.
- For although they knew God, they did not honor him as God or give thanks to him . . .(Romans 1:21)
- When one of those who reclined at table with [Jesus] heard these things, he said to him, “Blessed is everyone who will eat bread in the kingdom of God!” But he said to him, “A man once gave a great banquet and invited many. And at the time for the banquet he sent his servant to say to those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’ But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said to him, ‘I have bought a field, and I must go out and see it. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have bought five yoke of oxen, and I go to examine them. Please have me excused.’ And another said, ‘I have married a wife, and therefore I cannot come.’” (Luke 14:16-20)
- And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.” (John 3:19-21)
- [Jesus] came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God . . .(John 1:11-12)
From these verses, we can make the following conclusions about people:
- People do not honor God.
- People are invited into the presence of God, but give reasons of why they do not want to go.
- Some people hate the light of Jesus and will not come into the light.
Even from our experience, we see this to be true. Many people today do not want to talk about Jesus, or God’s words, or spiritual things at all. At the idea of talking about heaven, God, and biblical things, many people become irritated and angry. Very many people today are not interested in any of these things, and find it unpleasant or even painful to be around Christian things.
Regardless of what we personally might think of heaven, hell, people, or the bible, we should recognize that this is what is taught by the bible. So far, in brief, we learned the following things:
- Hell is described as dark, in flames, and people there are crying, are in agony and torment. It is for those who will not take the name of Jesus.
- Heaven is described as singing Godly songs, worshiping Jesus, and spending time being in the presence of God. It is only for those who take the name of Jesus.
- Many people reject Jesus and find the whole idea of worshiping Jesus to be detestable.
From these, we can begin to answer the common criticisms of hell, which will be in future posts. As we said, subsequent responses to common criticisms will depend on the biblical concepts presented here.