Is Hell a Literal Place? If so, What’s it Like?
Most people believe we will all be judged and held accountable for our actions. Some will enter into eternal bliss; others will languish eternally in some sort of hell. They believe either because of their faith or simply as a result of their trust in natural law. In other words, most fundamentally accept and expect ultimate justice.I’ll never forget watching an interview with one of the previous mayors of Las Vegas as he emphasized that Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock was in the hottest part of Hell. I doubt that the mayor was a very religious man, but he had no doubt about eternal punishment . . . at least for Paddock.
But since you are asking me the question, and I am a Christian, let me give you four biblical references that tell us all a lot about this subject. Two are from the teachings of Jesus Christ, who is a dependable source, and two are from the Book of Revelation, which describes the end of the world and the end of time as we know it, as well as the eternity that will follow. This, too, is a trustworthy source.
- Jesus taught that Hell is like a Fiery Furnace.
In Matthew 13:37-43 Jesus said,
The Son of Man is the farmer who plants the good seed. The field is the world, and the good seed represents the people of the Kingdom. The weeds are the people who belong to the evil one. The enemy who planted the weeds among the wheat is the devil. The harvest is the end of the world, and the harvesters are the angels.
Just as the weeds are sorted out and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the world. The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom. Anyone with ears to hear should listen and understand!
Jesus often referred to himself as “the Son of Man.” In this parable, Jesus says he plants good seeds in the world, which represent his people. These seeds become wheat, or good fruit. In contrast though, at the same time, and in the very same field, the devil plants weeds, which represent those who reject God and his ways and have a negative influence on others.
According to Jesus’ teaching, the wheat and the weeds grow together until the end of the world, at which time the angels will remove everything that causes sin and all who do evil.Jesus says the angels willthrow them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.The righteous, however, will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom, which describes believers shining in their inheritance; the joy, innocence, and glory of Heaven.
- Jesus taught that Hell is Eternal Fire.
In Matthew 18:2-9 Jesus said,
Jesus called a little child to him and put the child among them. Then he said, “I tell you the truth, unless you turn from your sins and become like little children, you will never get into the Kingdom of Heaven. So anyone who becomes as humble as this little child is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.
“And anyone who welcomes a little child like this on my behalf is welcoming me. But if you cause one of these little ones who trusts in me to fall into sin, it would be better for you to have a large millstone tied around your neck and be drowned in the depths of the sea.
“What sorrow awaits the world, because it tempts people to sin. Temptations are inevitable, but what sorrow awaits the person who does the tempting. So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one hand or one foot than to be thrown into eternal fire with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It’s better to enter eternal life with only one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.
Here Jesus warns again about the significance of our influence on others. He says that if we tempt others to sin, we would be better off dying a brutal death. Then he says that those who cause others to sin will suffer great sorrow in the form of eternal fire.
- The Book of Revelation teaches that Hell is real and is a Fire of Burning Sulfur with no relief.
In Revelation 14:9-11 John writes,
Anyone who worships the beast and his statue or who accepts his mark on the forehead or on the hand must drink the wine of God’s anger. It has been poured full strength into God’s cup of wrath. And they will be tormented with fire and burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and the Lamb. The smoke of their torment will rise forever and ever, and they will have no relief day or night, for they have worshiped the beast and his statue and have accepted the mark of his name.
Here the Lord corrects the misconceptions that he does not care whom we serve or give our affection to while here on the earth. God is jealous for our attention, affection, and friendship, and is not tolerant of us devoting ourselves to others. Many believe the mark on the forehead or on the handis in reference to physical markings showing subservience to ungodly powers; others that it is a metaphor of ungodly thoughts and actions. Here, once again, ungodly thinking and doing results in eternal torment.
- Revelation teaches that at the end of time on Earth as we know it, Eternity will continue with Hell being a Lake of Fire.
In Revelation 20:10-15, 21:8, John writes,
Then the devil, who had deceived them [the nations], was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. And I saw a great white throne and the one sitting on it. The earth and sky fled from his presence, but they found no place to hide. I saw the dead, both great and small, standing before God’s throne. And the books were opened, including the Book of Life. And the dead were judged according to what they had done, as recorded in the books. The sea gave up its dead, and death and the grave gave up their dead. And all were judged according to their deeds. Then death and the grave were thrown into the lake of fire. This lake of fire is the second death. And anyone whose name was not found recorded in the Book of Life was thrown into the lake of fire. . . cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.
Here in the Book of Revelation the Apostle John describes the final judgement.
These four passages of Scripture reveal the reality of eternal judgment and the terror of disobedience to God.
Jesus died a bloody, violent death for all of us in order to passionately relieve us of the penalty of our sins, and to give us the power to overcome the worldly thoughts and actions that would cause us to be “weeds” instead of God’s “wheat.”
After reading these passages, we know that rejecting God, serving ourselves, and living worldly, ungodly lives are obviously the foolish way to go. God is real. God is alive. God has an opinion. And God wants to bless us instead of punish us.
Paul understood this urgency when he wrote Because we understand our fearful responsibility to the Lord, we work hard to persuade others (see 2 Corinthians 5:11). Here Paul is saying that fearful responsibility to the Lord was his motivation to persuade others. That fear is balanced by Paul’s other motivation which is reveled in the same biblical paragraph where he writes, Christ’s love controls us. (see 2 Corinthians 5:14). No doubt, he knew enough about terror and love to be persuaded and to persuade others to believe the Gospel.
Some have strong opinions about God, thinking that their views are the facts. I do not believe that it will serve us well to think we are superior to God or in a position to judge him. God is God, and we are human. As human beings, we have a choice as to whether or not we recognize God as God and respond to him as he is instead of the way we want him to be. We like it when the Lord accepts us like we are, which he does. He also expects us to accept him as he is, which is difficult for many. When we exalt ourselves and think we can create God according to our own liking, we forfeit the benefits of a genuine relationship with him. I recommend that we choose to believe and know God as he is and that we love, honor, and serve Him. The benefits are amazing; and sadly, the alternative is what some think they desire—eternity without the one true God. Or in other words, eternity in Hell.