The Place Called Hell
Reading Luke 16:19-31
The doctrine of eternal punishment is probably the most unpopular, hated and feared teaching in the entire Bible. The thought of people burning in hell for eternity is most repugnant to the human mind. “It is a doctrine which the natural heart revolts from and struggles against, and to which it submits only under stress of authority. The church believes the doctrine because it must believe it, or renounce faith in the Bible, and give up all the hopes founded upon its promises.”
Yet in spite of the terrifying nature of the doctrine, and in spite of the fact that people find the idea of everlasting torment revolting, the strongest support of the doctrine comes from the lips of Jesus Christ. Think of it: the most terrifying imagery and detailed descriptions of hell are found in the teachings of Jesus! Jesus continually warned men and women of the danger of going to hell. Jesus Christ, who foretold that He would come again to judge the entire human race, spoke more about hell and its terrors than the prophets and apostles combined. To ignore and disregard the clear teaching of Jesus is to deny Christ.
Before the day of judgement, which will occur at the end of human history, those who die who do not believe in Jesus Christ will immediately go to hell. The soul is separated from the body at death and cast into hell. This fact is clearly illustrated in the account of the rich man and Lazarus: “The rich man…died, and was buried; and in hell he [lifted] up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom” (Luke 16:22-23).
On the final day of human history, everyone who ever lived and died will be resurrected and judged by Jesus Christ. “Then I saw a great white throne and Him who sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away. And there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, standing before God, and books were opened. And another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to their works, by the things which were written in the books. The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades delivered up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev.20:11-15).
Hell was created by God for those who are unfit to dwell in His presence. “God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment” (2 Pet. 2:4). “The angels who did not keep their proper domain, but left their own habitation, He has reserved in everlasting chains under darkness for the judgment of the great day” (Jude 6). Hell is an eternal prison of darkness for the angels who rebelled against God. It serves to separate the wicked from God, His people, and the holy angels. Hell is a pit of darkness for those who reject Jesus Christ and His gospel. “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 on him” (John 3:36). Those who try to enter heaven on the basis of their own works-righteousness, rather than Christ’s perfect righteousness, will go to hell (Mt. 22:11-14).
What kind of prison is hell?
Hell is called the “bottomless pit” (literally in Greek, “the pit of the abyss”).
And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace” (Rev.9:2). Hell is a “pit of darkness.” The picture of hell that the Bible presents is not a clean, modern prison but rather a dark, subterranean dungeon. The word translated pit in the language of the New Testament [phrear] was also used to describe a well or cistern. The Bible presents hell as an immeasurably deep pit, very large on the bottom and possibly narrow at the top like a cistern.
The designation “bottomless pit” may be more than just an indication of hell’s immense size, it may also point to the utter despair of those who are trapped in it. Who can escape that which is bottomless? Imagine the total despair the sinner will experience who is separated from God and His saints forever. Imagine the dread of sinking unendingly into the outer darkness. Oh what despair—without hope, going down, down into the darkness, forever!
In hell the wicked suffer the punishment of sense. Those who are not saved by Jesus Christ will suffer eternal torment. “And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. Then he cried and said, ‘…I am tormented in this flame’” (Lk. 16:23-24). The Greek word for torment (basanos) often described hideous instruments of torture used in extracting information from prisoners. The word also depicted the severe pain caused by disease. When used of the torments of hell it is descriptive of the grievous pains of both body and soul in hell. “The master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him and at an hour that he is not aware of, and will cut him in two [lit., torture or severely scourge him] and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites. There shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 24:50-51).
The Bible sets before us many differing aspects of the torments in hell as a warning. The torments of hell help us to understand how much God hates sin. These torments also help us to understand just how precious is the saving, cleansing blood of Jesus Christ:
Hell is a place of eternal destruction. “The Lord Jesus [shall be] revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God, and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. These shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power (2 Th.1:7-9). Unbelievers are “vessels of wrath made for destruction” (Rom. 9:22).
This eternal destruction is illustrated in many ways. One of the most terrifying is the designation Tophet or Gehenna. Tophet was a small valley south to southwest of Jerusalem which belonged to the sons of Hinnom. Tophet and Gehenna came to be designations of hell because of the terrible things which occurred there. The wicked, unbelieving Jews of old would come to Tophet to sacrifice their children to the god Molech (Jer. 7:31).
At Tophet the idolatrous Jews placed a large, bronze statue of Molech, shaped like a man with outstretched arms and hands. A fire would be built within the statue. When the statue was red hot, the idol-worshipers would place their baby sons and daughters onto the outstretched, red-hot arms and hands. Their little infants would die the most painful, excruciating death imaginable: their skin would be seared off their bodies, their flesh would be roasted; they were burned alive. The screams, cries and screeches of their own children’s agony was unbearable, even to these wicked, debauched parents. Therefore, drums were played to drown out the hideous screams of the tortured infants. Hence Tophet, in the Hebrew, signifies the beating of drums. Therefore Tophet is a perfect symbol of hell where “God takes His rebellious children, casts them into the fire, [and] puts them into the arms of destruction” forever away from Christ and His saving blood. Will there be drums to drown out your screams when you sink into the flames of hell—you who reject Christ and His gospel?
Hell is a place of eternal fire, a place where the fire is not quenched. “Therefore as the tares are gathered and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of this age. The Son of Man will send out His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all things that offend, and those who practice lawlessness, and will cast them into the furnace of fire. There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 13:40-42).
Burning to death is a terrifying and excruciating experience. Throughout history, death by burning was reserved for only the most wicked of criminals. Yet the fire in hell is much worse than earthly fire. Earthly fire consumes the flesh of its victims. When the nerve endings are consumed, the pain ceases. But for those in hell, the pain will not cease, because the fire of hell does not consume. Rather than being consumed by it they are preserved to burn and suffer and be tormented on and on, forever and ever. “They are to be tormented with fire and brimstone 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).
The fire of hell, whatever its nature, is much worse than an earthly fire. The fires on earth will someday burn out. The flaming sun and all the stars of the universe will someday spend their fuel. But the flames in hell will continue. “They will be tormented day and night forever and ever” (Rev. 20:10). There will be no rest from the torment of the flame, because it burns “day and night forever and ever.”
Hell is the place of outer darkness. “Cast out the worthless slave into the outer darkness; in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt.25:30). Outer darkness is a just punishment for those who hate the light. “And this is the condemnation, that the light [Jesus Christ] has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. For everyone practicing evil hates the light and does not come to the light lest his deeds should be exposed” (John. 3:19-20).
Those who continue in sin and do not submit to Christ are the children of darkness (1 Th. 5:5). They are full of darkness and they dwell in darkness because they do not obey God’s Word (Ps. 107:10-11; cf. Mt. 6:3). The wicked walk in darkness (Ps. 82:5); therefore, they shall be “familiar with the terrors of thick darkness” in the pit of hell (Job 24:17).
Imagine a darkness so dark and so thick that “it may be felt” (cf. Ex. 10:21). Hell is utter darkness. The Bible says it is “black darkness” (Jude 13). The wicked suffer torment in the flames of hell, yet they do so in total, black, terrifying darkness. “Bind him hand and foot, and cast him into the outer darkness, in that place there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Mt. 22:13). In the outer darkness you will be alone with your thoughts. You will have eternity to dwell upon a life wasted serving your own foolish lusts and vanities rather than Jesus Christ. In the outer darkness “there is no light of comfort, no light of hope, no light of joy,” no light of peace, no light of friendship and no fellowship with Jesus Christ who “is light, and in Him is no darkness at all” (John. 1:5).
One aspect of the torment of hell is the punishment of loss. There is eternal separation from God—the fountain of all blessings—and the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Those in hell are forever separated from perfect love and perfect light. Nothing that a human being can or will experience can compare to being in the presence of Jesus Christ in all His glory. The glorified saints in heaven shall look upon the One who suffered, died and rose for them. They shall dwell forever in His unsurpassable love. They shall cast their crowns of glory at His feet and worship Him (Rev.4:10).
The wicked do not love or delight in Christ; therefore they may not fully comprehend what they are missing by being cast away from God’s presence. Yet one thing is clear: when unbelievers see Christians going into paradise, and themselves going into perdition, they will be filled with the torment of loss. They will suffer great sorrow, envy and anger when they see Christians exalted and themselves thrust out: “But He [Jesus Christ] will say, ‘I tell you I do not know you, where you are from. Depart from Me, all you workers of iniquity.’ 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, and yourselves thrust out” (Luke 13:27-28). Those very people that you considered to be fools, religious fanatics and unscientific morons will be vindicated and exalted before your eyes. “For the Scripture says, ‘whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame’” (Rom. 10:11).
Hell will also involve the loss of all the blessings that you once had upon the earth. Are you a family person? Is your life centred around your family? Do you love and adore your children? If you do not believe in Jesus Christ and obey His Word, then you will die and go to hell and never see your loved ones ever again. You will be tormented day and night, knowing that your children will go to hell because you did not teach them about Christ; because you refused to take them to a Bible-believing church. Or you will suffer eternal pains of conscience because you indoctrinated your children in a false religion. “Then he [the rich man in hell] said, ‘I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father’s house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment.’ Abraham said to him, ‘They have Moses and the prophets [i.e. the Bible]; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ But he said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead’” (Luke 16:27-31). Those who care about their families will long to go back to the earth to warn their loved ones to embrace Jesus Christ before it is too late. But they cannot go back. They are imprisoned in the pit forever.
The most terrifying aspect of the torment in hell is that it never ends. It goes on forever and ever. The words used by Christ and the apostles to describe the duration of the suffering in hell clearly, unambiguously and unequivocally teach that the punishment in hell is eternal, unending and everlasting.
Jesus Christ describes the suffering in hell as: “everlasting punishment” (Matt. 25:46); “everlasting fire” (Matt. 18:8); “the fire that will never be quenched” (Mark 9:45); “the worm that never dies” (Mark 9:46). If Jesus had intended to teach that hell is temporary, or that hell somehow represents the annihilation of the body and soul, then He would have used different images.
The Bible says that those in hell will “have no rest day or night, and the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever” (Rev.14:11). People in hell never rest; they suffer day and night. Why do some people commit suicide? Because they mistakenly believe that death will bring them rest from life’s pain, troubles and torments. But they are wrong. They shall have no rest. Rest and peace can only be obtained through faith in Jesus Christ, not by a bullet, needle or overdose of pills.
Hell is a place of divine retribution, not a place of rehabilitation. When God chastises a Christian, He does it for the Christian’s sanctification (moral improvement) and benefit (Heb.11:6-7). But punishment in hell is pure retribution against breakers of God’s law. Christians are “in Christ” and adopted into God’s own family (Gal. 4:5, Eph. 1:5). The retribution that the Christian deserves for his sins was placed upon Jesus Christ on the cross (cf. Rom. 5:8-10). Jesus Christ received the full penalty, retribution and wrath against sin in His own body for those who believe in Him. Christians stay out of hell and go to heaven solely because of what Jesus Christ has done for them. “A man is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law; for by the works of the law no flesh shall be justified…. Christ has redeemed us from the curse of the law, having become a curse for us” (Gal. 2:16, 3:13). If you do not believe in Jesus Christ, then the cup of God’s wrath is poured out on you eternally in hell, rather than upon Jesus Christ on the cross.
If you die without believing in Christ, then your fate will be eternally sealed, because belief in Christ and the gospel must occur on earth before you die .When you die apart from Christ, your guilt remains forever.
Hell expresses God’s wrath against sin. God created you and gave you life. Everything on earth is a gift from God: the air you breathe, the water you drink, your food, clothing, flowers, beauty, and so on. The most amazing thing that God has done is to send His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, to dwell among filthy sinners. Although Jesus was sinless, perfect, kind and compassionate. He was humiliated, tortured and crucified. God in Christ did all this to save undeserving, ungrateful sinners. “God demonstrates His own love toward us [believers], in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him” (Rom. 5:8-9).
Woe unto you if you reject God’s offer of forgiveness through the blood of Christ! Everyone who tramples the Son of God under foot as worthless, as a myth or fantasy, shall receive the full cup of God’s wrath. “The wrath of God burns against them. Their damnation does not slumber. The pit is prepared. The fire is made ready. The furnace is now hot ready to receive them. The flames do now rage and glow. The glittering sword is whet and held over them, and the pit hath opened its mouth under them…. Oh sinner! Consider the fearful danger you are in: it is a great furnace of wrath that you are held over in the hand of that God, whose wrath is provoked and incensed as much against you, as against many of the damned in hell.”
God’s anger against you increases every day that you live without Christ. Your sins multiply day after day. Every sin is recorded by God. God’s wrath against you continues to grow. You do not know when God’s patience and forbearance will run out. You do not know when you will be cut down and cast into the oven.
When God’s patience runs out, you will be exposed to the fierceness of His unmitigated wrath. “I will tread them in Mine anger, and will trample them in my fury, and their blood shall be sprinkled upon My garments, and I will stain all My raiment” (Isa. 63:3). You will want to hide from the fury of the Lord. You will say “to the mountains and rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb!’” (Rev. 6:16)—but you will not escape.
God has revealed to you the terrifying nature of hell in order that you will turn to Jesus Christ. God’s wrath is great, but it is not greater than His love revealed in Jesus Christ. God has provided only one way to escape eternal torment and obtain eternal life. “Jesus said to him, ‘I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me’” (John 14:6).
Because of your sins you are guilty before God; the wrath of God rests upon you. You are an enemy of God and alienated from Him. You are in bondage to Satan, sin and death. But if you believe in Christ, your sin and guilt are placed upon Him on the cross. God’s righteous wrath and indignation against your sin are appeased and set aside, because Christ bore the full penalty for your sin in your stead. The enmity and alienation from God that you caused by your rebellion against Him are fully absolved by Christ’s death. If you believe in Jesus, you and God are no longer enemies but friends.
Christ restores our friendship and fellowship with God; He reconciles us to God. If you have placed your trust in Jesus Christ, as He is revealed in the Scriptures, then you are completely justified before God and clothed with Christ’s perfect righteousness. True believers show their love and gratitude toward Christ by obeying His revealed will. Jesus said, “If you love Me, keep My commandments” (John. 14:15). True saving faith always issues forth unto a life of obedience sins, or is ever unjust or unrighteous in the way he governs the universe. “The Lord is righteous in all his ways.” (Psalm 145:17).
Never doubt that God is totally for you in Christ. If you trust him with your life, you are in Christ. Never doubt that all the evil that befalls you—even if it takes your life—is God’s loving, purifying, saving, fatherly discipline. It is not an expression of his punishment in wrath. That fell on Jesus Christ our substitute. “The Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives” (Hebrews 12:6).