Recently, in two completely unrelated incidents, I have heard the Bible doctrine of hell challenged. There are religions today that challenge what the Bible plainly says in regard to one of the two eternal destinations for the soul of man, hell. There are those who believe that all are going to be saved and these strenuously challenge the Bible doctrine regarding hell. There are others who believe that the lost will merely be extinguished and these challenge the Bible doctrine of hell. There are some who believe that God simply would not be the kind of God that he claims to be and allow anyone to go to hell. But the Bible has a clear teaching in regard to the eternal abode of the wicked and as Christians, we have a responsibility to teach and warn regarding this dreaded place. Let's take a few moments and look at what the Bible says regarding hell.
When you mention the word "hell" immediately visions of suffering, pain, anguish, fire, darkness, and torment come to mind. But not every single time the word "hell" is used in the King James Version represents such a place. The word "hell" in the King James version is mentioned some fifty-four (54) times. In the American Standard Version of 1901, it is mentioned only thirteen (13) times. Why the disparity between the two versions? First, the King James translators often translated the word "Sheol" in the Hebrews by the word "hell." The ASV translators chose to transliterate this word because it sometimes means "grave" and they did not want to confuse the two concepts. The word "Sheol" does refer sometimes in a figurative way to the abode of the dead (Proverbs 9:17). Most of the time it is used to refer to the destination of sinful men (Isaiah 14:11), but it is also used in prophecy to refer to the soul of Christ (Psalm 16:10). It was the Hebrew equivalent for what we would think of as "Hades" within the New Testament. The New Testament use of the word hell in the King James Version is also inconsistent with the two Greek words that the word is used to translate. One of those Greek words is "Hades" as we have already mentioned. The other, "Gehenna" is the one which the ASV translators chose to translate as "hell." It is the concept of hell as translated from the word "Gehenna" with which we are peculiarly concerned when studying the eternal place of the wicked.
The Bible definitely teaches an eternal place of destruction for the wicked. In Matthew 25:41 we read Jesus words to those on his left hand: "Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into the eternal fire which is prepared for the devil and his angels." Verse 46 of the same passage states, "And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life." There is a place specially prepared for the Devil and his angels. According to this passage, this is the same place that the "goats" will also inhabit for eternity. In another passage in 2 Peter 2:4 we read that God did not spare the angels that sinned, but cast them down into pits of darkness reserved for judgment. Jude verse 6 also states similar things regarding these fallen angels. What then ultimately awaits them after they are judged? According to Revelation 20:10, "And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever." This is also the same fate of those who were not found written in the book of life (Revelation 20:15). Who are those who were not found written in the book of life? Revelation 21:8 answers that question: "But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death." Now according to verse 10, those who end up here shall be "tormented day and night for ever and ever." This does not sound like a place where one's soul is merely going to be "extinguished." It is a place where there is torment and those who are there are aware of their torment. So what do we see from these passages?
1. The Devil and his "angels" have a special place prepared for them for their eternal habitation (Matthew 25:41). 2. This will also be the same place where the "goats" are sent (Matthew 25:41). 3. It is described as "eternal punishment" (Matthew 25:46). 4. The fallen "angels" are currently waiting judgment in a similar place (2 Peter 2:4; Jude 6). 5. After the judgment, the Devil and his servants will be cast into the lake of fire and tormented day and night forever and ever (Revelation 20:10). 6. Those not written in the book of life will also be in this situation (Revelation 20:15). 7. The fearful, unbelieving, abominable, murderer, whoremonger, sorcerer, idolater, and liar will also be in this situation (Revelation 21:8).
Now, if there is no hell at all, then there will be no place for the "goats" of Matthew 25:41 to be "eternally punished." Neither will there be a place for those of Revelation 21:8. Neither will there be a place for those whose names are not written in the book of life. Neither will there be a place for the "angels" of Satan to be judged. Neither will there be a place for Satan himself to be tormented day and night forever and ever. So you see the ultimate implication of the doctrine that there is no such place as hell. Satan, the source of all evil and wickedness in the world, gets away with everything that he has ever done without any punishment whatsoever. Now what kind of a god would allow someone as evil and wicked as Satan to get away with all of his wicked deeds? Not the God of the Bible. The God of the Bible allows those who make wicked choices to live with the consequences of those wicked choices. Extinguishment from such consequences would be a blessing, not a punishment.
Oh, but many cry today "God would not do such terrible things to the souls of men! Surely the love of God would prevent someone from being tormented in such a horrible place!" The assumption of such reasoning, however, is that it is God that is responsible for such punishment. Such an assumption is false. Those who sin are responsible for their own punishment. God will not punish any more than his own justice demands an individual be punished for their own sins (Luke 12:47, 48), but for them to have absolutely no punishment whatsoever would be inconsistent with the scriptural principle of Galatians 6:7 "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap." We reap what we sow and hereby shall we all be rewarded. It is true that God does not wish that any should perish (2 Peter 3:9) and that God does not take delight in the death of the wicked (Ezekiel 33:11). However, it is equally true that it is man that separates himself from God through his own sin (Isaiah 59:2) and therein merits his own eternal death (Romans 6:23).
It is only out of such a terribly potential place of habitation for the soul that salvation has any meaning at all. From what is one to be saved if there is no hell? From what is one to be saved if the soul is merely extinguished? From what is one to be saved if one is not allowed to live with the consequences of one's own sinful choices? This is why salvation is a gift from God (Ephesians 2:8). This is why being saved is through God's mercy and of His grace (Titus 3:5, 7). This is why it is so very important that we receive not the grace of God in vain (2 Corinthians 6:1), but that we render obedience to the gospel of Christ (Hebrews 5:9). For those who do not obey the gospel will be eternally lost (2 Thessalonians 1:8), but those who believe will have everlasting life (1 John 5:13).
As it is stated in Romans 6:23, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." Have you accepted God's gift into your life today? If you have not done so, then you need to do it before it is everlastingly too late. To accept God's gift of grace you must first hear the message of the gospel, that Jesus came to the earth from heaven as incarnate God, lived a sinless life, died on the cross wherein he shed his blood for the remission of sin, was buried, resurrected, and ascended into heaven to be King of kings and Lord of lords (Romans 10:17). Second, you must believe that message and put your complete trust in it that God will save you through His Son Jesus (Hebrews 11:6). Third you must repent of those things that separated you from God-your sins (Acts 17:30; 2 Peter 3:9). Fourth, you must also confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God before witnesses (1 Timothy 6:12). And at this point, fifth, you must submit to baptism into the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, by the authority of Jesus Christ, for the remission of your sins (Matthew 28:18-20; Mark 16:15, 16; Acts 2:38). And then, based upon your faith in Jesus blood and your obedience to him in baptism, God will cleanse you from your sin through the blood of Christ and you will be forgiven of your sins (Colossians 2:11-13). Hell is real, but through the mercy of God, it doesn't have to be the place where you will eternally dwell. Be saved through Jesus today!