The Reality of a Real Hell
Gregory D. Davidson, D.D.
I apologize for such a stern title, but I wanted to get your attention. Has anyone besides me noticed how mainstream Christianity has gotten away from teaching about the place of eternal torment. Where are the messages that teach of eternal seperation from our creator? It seems that our churches today want to stay politically correct and not offend anyone. Consider these facts:
*The results of a poll of thousands of Protestant ministers revealed that 35% of Baptist ministers, 54% of Presbyterian ministers, 58% of Methodist ministers, and upwards of 60% of Episcopalian ministers did not believe in a literal Hell. (George Gallup, Hell you say! Timothy Books)
*A number of years ago Louis Harris and associates polled ministerial students at eight leading theological schools. 71% of them did not believe in a literal Heaven or Hell.
This is unacceptable. Dr. A.C. Dixon once said, ” If we had more preaching of Hell in the pulpit, we might have less Hell in the community.”
As a result of this lack of teaching on the place of eternal punishment, few people have an understanding of its meaning in Scripture. Lets take a brief look at its usage in the New Testament.
The New Testament uses three Greek words that are translated into English by the word “hell”: tartarus, hades, and gehenna.
Tartarus is used only once in 2 Peter 2:4: “For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness…” (emphasis mine) Here it refers to a pit of darkness that serves as a prison for angels who have rebelled against God. Jude 6 also explains their habitation as they await their final judgement.
In the sixteenth chapter of Luke, Jesus tells the story of the rich man and Lazarus who had died and went to hades, which at that time was split into two compartments. One was a place of torment (16:23,24,28) and the other was a place of comfort (16:25). A ‘great gulf’ was between them (16:26), and although they could see each other, the people in each section could not pass from one section to the other.
The section that the righteous dead went to was called “Abraham’s bosom” and “Paradise”. Remember that Jesus told the thief on the cross beside Him that, “Today shalt thou be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43) This indicates that at death, Jesus went to paradise, which at that time was in the heart of the earth. (Matthew 12:40)
But when our Savior rose from the dead, He opened the Paradise section and led the Old Testament saints into Heaven. (Read Ephesians 4:8-10)
Please note that sheol is the same as hades.
The last of the three word translated by the English word “hell” is gehenna. This word refers to the final destination of every lost soul. It is found twelve times in the New Testament and of those twelve, Jesus used it eleven times.
Gehenna, the Lake of fire, and the second death are synonymous. The Lake of fire is mentioned five times, all in the book of Revelation. Right now there is no one in this place of torment. The first residents will be the Beast and the false prophet. (Revelation 19:20) The devil and his angels will follow them.
At the Great White Throne Judgement(Revelation 20:11-15), the wicked dead will be cast into the “lake of fire.” Notice in verse 14 that death and hell(hades) will be cast into the “lake of fire.” Death here refers to the grave, which received the body, and hell refers to hades which had received the soul. Both body and soul will be cast into the Lake of Fire.
Jesus told us in Matthew 25:41 that the everlasting fire was prepared for the devil and his angels. This fire was not intended for man. Therefore, if a person goes there it will be because of his own choosing by refusing God’s mercy and grace.
Nobody can ever blame God for sending him to Hell. We have the choice right now. God is very merciful. In fact, He is “not willing that any should perish, but all should come to repentance.” ( 2 Peter 3:9)
We are told again and again that Hell will be a place of torment where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Hell is a very real,literal place that is prepared for those who reject the gracious offer of Jesus Christ. It is a place of eternal punishment where there will be constant pain and agony. Most importantly, it will be a place where we will be seperated from our Creator and Father forever.
America needs to be reaquainted with the prospect of eternal damnation. Revival will come when people are presented with the reality of an eternal, literal Hell. I am afraid that many leaders of our churches and many Christians will stand before the Judgement Seat of Christ ashamed and regretful that we did not speak of the urgency and importance of avoiding eternal seperation from God in constant agony to everyone that we could.
People need to know about Hell, but they also need to know of God’s grace right now. Not only could they avoid Hell, but they could live life more abundantly right now. (John 10:10) This is the great balance of the Christian life—-knowing that we will spend eternity with Him, and knowing that we have Him with us every step right now.