Is there such a place as hell that is described in the Bible? Why do more people believe in heaven than they do in hell? How can heaven exist and not hell? What does the Bible say about hell being a real place?
What is Hell?
Jesus actually spoke more about hell than He ever did about heaven. Jesus spoke about hell as a literal place of torment that is never ending. What are the three different types of hell that are mentioned in the Bible? Some believe that there are different levels of hell where suffering is worse than other levels. To a degree, the torment someone will suffer in hell is determined by the works of the unsaved person. One of the hells mentioned in the Old Testament and New is the grave itself. The word “hell” is actually an old English word that originally meant just a hole in the ground and can be thought of as a grave. The English used to keep their potatoes in “hell” or in the ground cellar that they used for storing them. The term hell can also mean a place of the deceased or dead and merely described the abode of the dead. Since Jesus spoke more about hell than heaven, we know that this place must be real and that there are also different degrees of punishment and torment in hell (Luke 12:47-48).
Hades is referred to as the place where the dead go and is not necessarily a place of torment for the wicked. This Greek term was used in the New Testament to mean the grave. It can also refer to death as it does in 1 Corinthians 15:55, in the King James Version, “O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?” Jesus used it in this context in Matthew 16:18 saying, “upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell (Hades) shall not prevail against it.” Hades also appears to be a place of refuse and is not normally associated with a place of torment. The one exception is where it is used in reference to Lazarus and the rich man (Luke 16:23).
Another term for hell that is used is Gehenna. This refers to a place that was called Valley of the Sons of Hinnom. In the New Testament it is referred to as being a place of fire (Matt 23:15, 33; Mk 9:43, 45, 47; Lk 12:5, Matt 5: 29, 30; Matt 10:28; Matt 18:9). This valley was a place where refuse and sometimes dead bodies were thrown and the fire never went out because it was continually being added to. It is much like a city dump that is constantly being burned to keep it from piling up to unmanageable size.
The word Sheol is a Hebrew word that means much the same as the word Hades does. It is a grave or place where the dead abide. It is described as the common grave of all of mankind who have died. Job describes it as a place where the righteous and unrighteous go (Job 3:11-19). The old Italian proverb describes Sheol perfectly: “After the game, the pawn and the king go into the same box.” This means that the rich and mighty go the same way and to the same place as the poor and powerless – the grave.
Lazarus and the Rich Man
When we read about hell, most people that know the Bible think of Lazarus and the rich man. It appears that this is not an analogy or parable that Jesus spoke about since Jesus used a name of a known figure in the New Testament – Lazarus – and he spoke about a rich young ruler that came to Jesus (Luke 18:18-23). Is this the same young rich ruler who came to Jesus? It is entirely possible. Whatever the case may be, Jesus is telling us what happens to the unrepentant and what happens to the believer after death. This picture of the afterlife is in Luke 16:19-31:
“There was a rich man who was dressed in purple and fine linen and lived in luxury every day. At his gate was laid a beggar named Lazarus, covered with sores and longing to eat what fell from the rich man’s table. Even the dogs came and licked his sores. “The time came when the beggar died and the angels carried him to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried. In Hades, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. So he called to him, ‘Father Abraham, have pity on me and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue, because I am in agony in this fire.’ “But Abraham replied, ‘Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, while Lazarus received bad things, but now he is comforted here and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been set in place, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us.’ “He answered, ‘Then I beg you, father, send Lazarus to my family, for I have five brothers. Let him warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’ “Abraham replied, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them listen to them.’ “‘No, father Abraham,’ he said, ‘but if someone from the dead goes to them, they will repent.’ “He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’”
One thing we see is that once a person dies without Christ, they are separated from any possibility of being saved from the fires of hell. You might notice that Abraham said that no one can cross over from their place in agony or expect to receive any relief. Once a person has been judged, they cannot cross over or go back to warn their friends or their family. Neither will any relief come from their torment or even a quenching of their severe thirst. It is described as a place of torment that is the result of fiery flames. It is no wonder then that Jesus spoke more about it and warned more people more often about hell than any other subject in the New Testament.
Description of Hell
Certainly no one needs to go to hell and into eternal punishment. The eternal torment of hell was created not for man but for Satan and the fallen angels or demons (Matt 25:41, Rev 20:10). Here is what hell is described to be like from the Holy Scriptures and many of these come directly from Jesus Christ‘s own lips:
Matthew 13:49-50 “This is how it will be at the end of the age. The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 13:41-42 “The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Mark 9:43-48 “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life maimed than with two hands to go into hell, where the fire never goes out. And if your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than to have two feet and be thrown into hell. And if your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into hell, where the worms that eat them do not die, and the fire is not quenched.”
Matthew 25:30 “And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Matthew 25:46 “And these shall go away into everlasting punishment.”
Revelation 19:3b “The smoke from her goes up for ever and ever.”
Revelation 14:9-11 “A third angel followed them and said in a loud voice: “If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives its mark on their forehead or on their hand, they, too, will drink the wine of God’s fury, which has been poured full strength into the cup of his wrath. They will be tormented with burning sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment will rise for ever and ever. There will be no rest day or night for those who worship the beast and its image, or for anyone who receives the mark of its name.”
Hell and the Five Senses
According to the Scriptures above and according to the account of Lazarus and the rich man, people in hell will experience:
- Utter darkness (blackness)
- Burning fire (agonizing pain)
- Weeping (regret)
- Gnashing of teeth (anger)
- Smoke (utter thirst)
- Blazing furnace (torturous heat)
- Screaming (continuous noise of your own agony)
- Unbridgeable gap (eternal separation)
- Loss of human contact (family, friends – severe loneliness)
- Mental anguish (memory of rejecting the gospel from friends, family, acquaintances)
So you can see that all five senses will be involved: Smell, sight, touch, hearing, and tasting. In addition and perhaps worse of all memories happen in hell too. The rich man still knew about his unsaved family members. The rich man knew about Lazarus who was then being eternally comforted and had eternal rewards and everlasting life. Some teach that those who are lost will have a second chance and that they will be offered another opportunity for eternal life after Christ returns again, but I cannot find Scriptural support for this belief. Jesus never mentioned anything about another opportunity after judgment. That is why He spoke so often of hell and gave some of the most serious warnings in the Bible, like in Matthew 7: 21-23, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” There can be nothing more terrifying than to discover on the day of Christ’s return that you thought you were on your way to heaven but Jesus doesn’t recognize you and tells you to go the way of all evildoers.
Revelation 20:15 says this: “Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.” The only way your name gets written in the book of life is when you believe in what Jesus did on the cross for you. If you do not believe then it is still not too late. I pray that today will be your day of salvation (Heb 4:7). Jesus could return at any moment. Will you be headed to heaven or to hell? The choice is yours. Heaven is for real but so is hell. Please choose life – eternal life in Jesus Christ (John 3:16-17). And do it today while it is still called today (2 Cor 6:2).