Hell and a Holy God
Introduction: The Bible Teaches Hell's Reality
On an American troopship during the Second World War, the soldiers crowded around their chaplain, asking, `Do you believe in hell?' He answered, 'I do not.'
`Well, then,' they said, 'will you please resign, for if there is no hell we do not need you; and if there is a hell we do not want to be led astray.'
Hell, as a place of eternal torment for sinners is not something that people like to discuss. Of course, the word is used often in other ways by this world. But the Bible sees Hell as an actual place, where real beings will go when they die. It is seen as a place of punishment and Scripture tells us that, just like Heaven is eternal, so is Hell.
Many who hear what Scripture has to say about this subject will ask the question: "Why would a loving God send people to Hell?" Others will try to lessen what the Bible says about it and say that it is not a place of eternal torment and separation from a Holy God. Rather it is the annihilation of those who don't accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. Rather than spending eternity in punishment, they simply are destroyed so that they cease to exist.
Further, some say that they don't want to go to Heaven because all of their friends are in Hell and they want to be with them. They see it as a kind of alternative place to exist in order to enjoy for eternity the carousing and "fun" that they and their friends had on earth.
What we need to do is to clear up these faulty conceptions, both of God and of the real place called Hell. We must get back to the true biblical understanding of this horrible place in order to be able to preach the good news that, though all are born in sin and bound for Hell, no one has to end up there.
To accomplish this, we must look at three questions. First we have to ask: "What are the biblical words to describe Hell? Secondly we have to know "What Hell is?" And finally we'll answer the ultimate question: "Why Does it exist?"
I. Biblical Words for Hell
First of all, what are the words that the Bible uses to describe what we know in English as Hell? There are several terms that we must define.
The word Sheol occurs 65 times in the Old Testament. It is often translated as 'the grave', 'death', 'destruction', and 'the pit.' It defines the general abode of the dead, or a place where life no longer exists. The Old Testament specifically uses this term as the abode of the unrighteous dead (Psalm 49:13-14).
The New Testament Greek equivalent of Sheol is Hades. It is also often associated with the torment of the wicked. Hades is described as a prison with gates, bars and locks. And its location is downward.
Another Greek word used in the New Testament is Gehenna. This term was originally derived from the Valley of Hinnom. It expresses the place of final judgment and punishment for sinners. In the Old Testament, the Hinnom Valley, South of Jerusalem, became a place of child sacrifice to the pagan god Molech. Later the Jewish people used this as a dumping ground for garbage, dead animal carcasses, as well as executed criminals. Fires continually burned there in order to consume the garbage and dead bodies.
Eventually Gehenna became associated with the place where the wicked suffer in death.
According to many theologians the term "Lake of Fire" found in the book of Revelation in 5 places, and "Outer Darkness", spoken of by Jesus in Matthew 8:12; Matthew 22:13 and Matthew 25:30, are synonymous with this place called Gehenna. If that is the case, then these terms are all references to the ultimate Hell to which unbelievers are cast after the Great White Throne Judgment in Revelation 20:11-15. We see in verse 14 of Revelation 20 that "death and Hades" were cast into the Lake of Fire. And it is referred to as the "second death."
There is some discussion amongst evangelicals as to whether the flames are symbolic of God's judgment here or actual fire. But no matter where you stand, the worst thing about Hell is that it is a place of complete conscious, guilty, shameful separation from God and all that is good and holy. And because of this it is the worst experience anyone can imagine.
A final word that is translated as hell in the Bible is the Greek term Tartarus. Tartarus also designates a location of eternal punishment. In the secular Greek world, they viewed it as a place where rebellious gods and wicked humans were punished.
The New Testament only uses this term once in II Peter 2:4 where it talks about God casting the angels who sinned into hell or Tartarus and committed them to chains of gloomy darkness to be kept until the day of judgment."
So those are the words. Now that we have an idea of what vocabulary that the Bible uses to describe this terrible place of punishment called Hell, lets see what is actually said of it by Scripture.
II. What is Hell?
In order to understand Hell properly, let us ask a question? What would you think of a judge who refused to sentence those who broke the law? How about if you heard about a judge who had people come into his courtroom over and over again for all sorts of crimes, from misdemeanors to murder and just let them all off with a light slap on the wrist, and simply said: "Hey, don't do that again!" What would you call such a judge. Well, I'd call him unemployed.
And yet some of the same people who would run that imaginary judge out of town on a rail, would look at God and ask Him why there needs to be a Hell. They want Him to just overlook those who would break His holy laws, and refuse to repent and accept His sovereignty over the universe. They'd prefer a God of love, who was not also a God of justice.
My question to these people is: Do you really want that? Do you want a God who will look over the most heinous of sins and just say: "Oh well!" Most of us think that there have been major miscarriages of justice that have taken place in history. And all us would agree that there have been people that have lived that have committed such major atrocities that they deserve something more than what they got; (Adolf Hitler, just to name one). And if there is no Hell, that will never happen. They will have literally gotten away with murder, or torture, or rape or any number of major sins that you can think of.
Hell is necessary, because it demonstrates the holiness and justice of God. It is the ultimate place that beings go who will not follow the God of the universe.
And the Bible paints a sad picture of this abode that any person should want to avoid. It is seen as a place of conscious torment. Jesus himself believed in a literal hell and anytime he spoke of it there was a consciousness of the persons there.
The belief by some that people simply are annihilated and cease to exist.is not what Jesus taught. He spoke of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:50). And in his story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:14-31, the rich man was consciously suffering in hell as he spoke to father Abraham who was with Lazarus in paradise, or Abraham's bosom, as it is called there.
And he implied that Hell was both eternal and irreversible after death. Jesus taught that hell was a place:
"where their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched" in Mark 9:48.
Further, He actually referred to it as the place of eternal punishment for the unrighteous in Matthew 25:46 as opposed to the place for the righteous which would be the enjoyment of eternal life. This verse tells us:
"Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life."
Also, according to Scripture, Hell is a place of fire where the unrighteous will be gathered and thrown into. (Matthew 3:12; Matthew 13:41,42; 13:50).
As unpleasant as it may sound this shows the horror of being in Hell and the need for us to tell others about it before it is too late.
Finally, Hell is the abode of those who have rejected God's rule. Those who go there will be separated from the Lord for eternity.
II Thessalonians 1:9 says::
."They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the LORD and from the glory of his might."
Now that we know what Hell is, let us look at why it is there in the first place.
III. Why Does Hell Exist?
I. Hell was Created for Satan and His Angels
According to the Bible, Hell was not originally created for the punishment of men. Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself said that it was prepared for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41). It was made because Satan rebelled against a holy God and wanted to be a god himself. Remember the five "I wills" of Satan recorded in Isaiah 14:12-14. These verses show us His arrogance. They tell us:
"How have you fallen from heaven, O star of the morning, son of the dawn. You have been cut down to the earth, you who have weakened the nations! But you said in your heart, 'I will ascend to heaven, I will raise my throne above the stars of God, and I will sit on the mount of assembly in the recesses of the north. I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High."
Hell was originally created for a creature, and his followers, who was so arrogant and prideful that He actually believed that he could be like the maker and sustainer of the universe. The creature who was made was saying to the creator: "I'm better than You and refuse to listen to You. I will take your place!"
II. Mankind Has Also Rebelled Against God
The interesting thing is that the same sin that was the downfall of Satan is what he tempted Eve with in the Garden of Eden. In trying to get her to eat fruit from the forbidden tree and openly rebel against God in Genesis 3:5 he told her:
"For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil."
Scripture tells us that Eve was deceived and ate. Adam, on the other hand, ate with full knowledge of what he was doing. And in Romans 5:12, it says that by one man sin entered into the world.
Man has been in open rebellion against the living God ever since. Romans 1 records the depth of their depravity. And that depravity came from that rebellion. Let's look at a few verses:
"For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because that which is known about God is evident within them, for God made it evident to them. For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man, and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. (18-23)."
God allowed His creatures free will. He allowed them to openly rebel. The next verse states that He "gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity" (24). However, because He is a Holy and just God, He cannot allow this rebellion to go unpunished. Ultimately, sin is rebellion and an open defiance of God. And there must come a day when He makes things right again.
III. Man Chooses Hell Over God
I like the words of C.S. Lewis because I believe that they sum up why anyone goes to Hell. He states:
"There are two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, "Thy will be done" and those to whom God says, in the end, "Thy will be done." All that are in Hell choose it. Without that self-choice there could be no Hell. No soul that seriously and consciously desires joy will ever miss it. Those who seek find. Those who knock it is opened."
I saw recently a picture on Facebook of a group of youths who appeared to be teenagers. And there was one smiling while holding up a sign that read: "Going to Hell and Proud of it!" That is the sad reality for many people. They are in open rebellion against the God of the universe and choose Hell over Him.
And as long as anyone refuses to come to God in faith, acknowledging his or her sin and rebellion against a holy God, they will remain in their sins. They won't have any hope of heaven, and are bound for a godless eternity, separated from the one that they refuse to acknowledge.
The bottom line is that everyone will exist in one of two places in eternity: Heaven or Hell. And we all have one life to determine our destiny. That destiny is determined by whether or not a person places their trust in Christ alone to save them.
John 3:36 says it quite clearly:
"He that believes on the Son has everlasting life. And he that believes not the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him."
The Lord has provided a way of escape from Hell. Jesus Christ, the eternal Son of God, came to earth, and lived the righteous life we could not live. And He died on the cross as punishment for the sins we couldn't pay (II Corinthians 5:21).
But He rose from the grave as proof that God the Father accepted His sacrifice on our behalf. And all who believe in Him have life through His name.
One day Christ will return as King of Kings and Lord of Lords, and He'll take all who have trusted Him to live with Him forever in the place He has prepared.
The question in your mind should not be: "Why is there a Hell?" The question should be: "Why should I choose Hell, when the Lord has graciously provided a way of escape?" I pray that you'll choose Heaven.
The choice is for each of us to make while we live on this earth. May we all choose wisely!.
© 2012 Jeff Shirley