Summary: Hell is a real place of real suffering that we should want every person to avoid
Keith Green had a song. It’s the devil’s words:
Well I'm gaining power by the hour
They're falling by the score
You know, it's getting very easy now
Since no one believes in me anymore
I’m afraid that’s where a lot of people are where hell’s concerned. Our concept of hell, and our lack of thinking and talking about it, makes me wonder what Satan would say.
Why do we shy away from it? I think one reason is the way it seems to stand between people and God. The concept of a placed of torment doesn’t fit in with most peoples’ preconceived ideas about what God is supposed to be like. Then, the Church sends out this message that, if you’re not good enough, that’s where you’re going. How judgmental of you! And how unfair of a God Who’s supposed to be fair! So, from pulpits, to books, to the way the average Christian talks with his friend, the whole concept of Hell has been explained away, watered down, or just ignored. After all, we don’t want to put such a negative message between you and God, do we?
But we can’t ignore it. The Bible doesn’t, and to be honest in our reading of the Scriptures and honest in the way we represent God, we have to take an honest look into this subject and understand it better.
So let’s begin by considering…
I. What’s It Like?
Mysticism and peoples’ imaginations have helped us create all kinds of images about hell through the centuries.
Dante Alighieri wrote The Inferno. I had to study it in high school English. Dante had it pictured as a conical shaped place, where the least guilty were punished near the top, and the deeper you went, the worse the punishments got until the very bottom, where Judas Iscariot was, and where Satan was actually frozen into the bottom. All the way in between were all kinds of bazaar punishments that were each designed to match the crime.
Artwork, especially from the church through the ages, has created all kinds of gruesome images in an effort to show how bad hell is.
Honestly, when it comes to something that’s so outside our realm of understanding, I want someone with a more authoritative voice to tell me about it than Dante Alighieri.
And when it comes to descriptions, Jesus had a whole lot more to say about the details of hell than He did about heaven. Most of our true understanding of the nature of hell comes right from the mouth of Jesus – that Hell is a place of...
1. Terrible Suffering
Matthew 5:22 - But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to his brother, 'Raca, ' is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.
The word is Gehena. It’s a valley south of Jerusalem where trash was thrown. In the OT days, it had been the place where children were burned alive as sacrifices to the pagan god Molech. Seems fitting that a place like that would become a garbage dump. It was even worse – bodies of dead animals, and even of criminals, would be thrown there. And as it all rotted, it was burned, and a stinking, putrid smoke would rise up. So, when He describes hell, Jesus says it’s like that place, like the valley of Gehena, the burning trash heap.
John the Baptist also talks about the fire of hell:
Matthew 3:10-12 - The ax is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire. 11 "I baptize you with water for repentance. But after me will come one who is more powerful than I, whose sandals I am not fit to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire. 12 His winnowing fork is in his hand, and he will clear his threshing floor, gathering his wheat into the barn and burning up the chaff with unquenchable fire."
Mark 9:43 - If your hand causes you to sin, 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.
Luke 16:23-24 - In hell, where he was in torment, he looked up and saw Abraham far away, with Lazarus by his side. 24 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.'
Hebrews 10:26-27 - If we deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left, 27 but only a fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God.