Defend The Faith Ministry

Is Hell Real?

A few weeks ago, I came across an article by a someone claiming to be a Christian who cast some doubt on the existence of hell. And by that I mean, he writes, “There isn’t a hell.” Although admittedly, it is unclear from the article whether this author really considers himself to be a Christian. Oftentimes his statements refer to Christians in a third-person perspective, as if he is outside of that group, but then there are parts where he appears try to include himself in the identification as a Christian.

Regardless of his personal convictions though, the larger concern is that he defends this position about hell not existing by using Scripture – and many people following his article agree with him. However, we would do well to remember that just because someone has referenced Scripture to defend their position, it doesn’t make their position Scriptural. In fact, Satan himself references Scripture when he tempts Jesus in the wilderness. In Matthew 3:5-6, Satan quotes from Psalm 91:11-12 when he says, “For he will command his angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways. On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.”

But clearly, Satan is using this Scripture out of context and for his own benefit. Therefore, we must check the Scripture being referenced to make sure it is being used in the right way and in the right context. We must ensure our interpretation is consistent with the rest of Scripture as well. I remember seeing a daily devotional with a verse, “You were the signet of perfection, full of wisdom and perfect in beauty.” Very inspirational…until you realize that is describing Lucifer before he rebelled against God (Ezekiel 28:12). Therefore, we must pay close attention to how we use Scripture.

While this particular article used Scripture in a way to claim that hell does not exist, that position is oddly not an unusual one to hold now. Many people have raised this question as to whether hell really exists or what hell must actually be like. Some people claim that those who would be sent to hell simply cease to exist rather than spend an eternity in torment (something known as annihilationism).

However, this stance on hell is a clear separation from the stance of the early church fathers. While their writings are not part of Scripture, they do provide insight into what their interpretation of Scripture was. For example, Ignatius of Antioch, a student of John and successor of Peter as the Bishop of Antioch, wrote in the year 110 AD, “Corrupters of families will not inherit the kingdom of God. And if they who do these things according to the flesh suffer death, how much more if a man corrupt by evil teaching the faith of God for the sake of which Jesus Christ was crucified? A man become so foul will depart into unquenchable fire: and so will anyone who listens to him.”

Clement, Bishop of Rome from 88 to 98 AD wrote, “But when they see how those who have sinned and who have denied Jesus by their words or by their deeds are punished with terrible torture in unquenchable fire.” Clement of Alexandria derived his view on hell from the Scriptures and wrote in 195 AD, “All souls are immortal, even those of the wicked. Yet, it would be better for them if they were not deathless. For they are punished with the endless vengeance of quenchless fire. Since they do not die, it is impossible for them to have an end put to their misery.” In addition, the writings from Barnabas, Justin Martyr, Tatian, Athenagoras, Theophilus of Antioch, Irenaeus, and many others all include references to an “everlasting fire” for those who reject God.

If the early church fathers reached the conclusion that hell is not only a real place, but a place of eternal, unquenchable fire for the souls of those who denied God, then where did they get that idea? From the Scriptures. While the concept of judgment, eternal fire, and hell is used throughout Scripture, the most important source we could turn to would be the words of Jesus Himself. What did Jesus have to say about the subject of hell?

In the Gospel accounts, Jesus refers to hell using two different Greek terms. The first, Hades, is used only in four places. It means a “place of departed souls, the grave, hell.” Jesus uses this term in Matthew 16:18 when He announces that the gates of “hell,” or Hades, will not prevail against the church.

Jesus refers to “Hades” in both Matthew 11:23-24 and in Luke 10:14-15 as He is pronouncing judgment on Capernaum for their rejection of Him. Jesus states that if His mighty deeds and miracles had been done in Tyre, Sidon, or even Sodom, they would have repented. But since Capernaum had witnessed the works of Jesus and had still rejected Him, they would be brought down to Hades. Jesus proclaims, “I tell you that it will be more tolerable on the day of judgment for the land of Sodom than for you.” There is clearly a place for those judged as rejecting God, and it is not pleasurable,

In Luke 16, Jesus gives the parable of Lazarus and the rich man. In this account, the rich man died and descended to Hades, a place of torment and eternal flame, while the poor beggar Lazarus died and reached “Abraham’s bosom,” a Talmudic reference to heaven. Lazarus received rest and comfort while the rich man lay in torture, so much so that he begged to go back and warn others so they would not receive the same fate. While many may parse through what the terms “Hades” and “Abraham’s bosom” mean and represent, we can rightfully conclude that the place being described is one of torment that does not end and where the rich man is fully aware of his horrible condition. If hell were not real, why would Jesus relate such a parable? If the wicked souls were annihilated, why would Jesus include that the wicked soul was aware of his tormented condition?

The second term, hell, is used around eleven times. The Greek word used here means “Gehenna” or “the Valley of Hinnom.” This was a valley in Jerusalem that was a garbage dump where fires constantly and continuously burned. In the passages where Jesus refers to “Gehenna,” He is painting a picture of what hell would be like. When Jesus warns in Matthew 10:28, “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,” He is not trying to save us from being literally put in the garbage dump outside of Jerusalem. Rather, He is warning us from the eternal spiritual fate that would be like that eternally burning fire that is found in Gehenna. Those who say hell is not real because that word refers to a garbage dump are overlooking the fact that this garbage dump was the image of what the real place of hell would be like. It was something the people knew and could visualize the torment of being in a place where fires continually burned.

While giving the Sermon on the Mount in Galilee, as recorded by Matthew in chapter 5, Jesus tells us that it is better to cut off a body part that causes us to sin and enter into heaven maimed than to have “your whole body thrown into hell.” Jesus reiterates that same thing in Matthew 18 when He is speaking in Capernaum. He again underscores the fate that awaits those who persist in sin and in rebellion against God. It would be better to go through this life with physical deformities if it meant our soul would be saved, rather than be whole here in this life and be cast into the eternally burning fire like what is found in Gehenna.

In Mark’s account of what Matthew records in Matthew 18, Jesus gives a clear picture of what hell will be like: “It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your foot causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life lame than with two feet to be thrown into hell. 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 9:42-48).

Jesus affirms that hell is an “unquenchable fire” where the “worm does not die.” This phrase actually comes from Isaiah 66:24 where the end times is described by God through Isaiah. Those who come to worship the Lord will then “go back and forth and look upon the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me for their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. They shall be an abhorrence to all flesh.” It creates an image of continual burning and eternal torment, a terrible consequence for persisting in rebellion against God.

Jesus describes the conditions of hell further in Matthew 13:41-42: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” In Luke 13:24 uses the same phrase of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” as the place for those who are unable to enter into the kingdom of God. From this description, hell is a real place of torment.

In Matthew 25:31-46 Jesus depicts the judgment to come where God will separate the sheep (believers) from the goats (unbelievers) where in verse 41 Jesus states, “Then He will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’…And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” This depicts hell as an eternal fire and eternal punishment, not something that is temporary or non-existent.

Many of the warnings about the consequence of hell were given by Jesus to the Pharisees. In Matthew 23, Jesus declares that the converts of the Pharisees are made “twice as much a child of hell” as the Pharisees were. He even asked how the Pharisees could “escape the condemnation of hell.” He warns all people that not everyone who says “Lord” to Him will enter the kingdom of heaven, only those who do the will of God the Father. Jesus reiterates that point on the night of the Last Supper. In John 15:6, He tells the disciples, “If anyone does not abide in me, he is thrown away like a branch and withers; and the branches are gathered, thrown into the fire, and burned.” Again, Jesus is referring to this burning in the fire of those who live in rebellion to God.

The amount of time Jesus spends describing and giving warnings about hell clearly portrays that hell is a reality for those who do not walk in obedience to God. The very word that Jesus chooses to define hell is one of an eternally burning garbage dump. Jesus describes it as an “unquenchable fire” where there is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” He tells us that it is an eternal fire, originally prepared for the devil, but now also for the eternal punishment for those who cannot enter the kingdom of God.

Jesus found great importance in warning us about the eternal consequences of rebellion against God because hell is a real place of torment. If hell were not real, there would be no need for a warning. If hell were not real, Jesus, who is Truth, would not be describing this place as real, eternal, and horrible. More importantly, if hell were not real, there would be no need for Jesus to die on the cross. The entire reason Jesus descended down to earth to suffer, to be crucified, and to die was to save us from this very real consequence for our sins. 

If hell were not real, then what is Jesus saving us from? We not only have Jesus’ description of this eternal punishment for those who reject God, we have Jesus’ sacrifice of His life as a testimony to what He is saving us from.

Cathryn Sterling

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4 thoughts on “Is Hell Real?”

  1. That was great. Thank you for all of your hard work. If this message reaches one person and turns them from such a horrible eternal future, then it has been worth all of your time and expense. One soul saved from that place, that ever burning garbage dump, is worth the price.

  2. Satan’s greatest accomplishments were convincing many that he, and Hell, do not exist.

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