“Resolution 55: Resolved, to endeavor to my utmost to act as I can think I should do, if I had already seen the happiness of heaven, and hell torments. July 8, 1723.”
As I’ve recently re-read more of Jonathan Edwards, I am amazed at the man’s focus on eternity and his diligence to live in light of it. Both heaven and hell, at age 18, occupied him.
As Edwards pursued holiness in his life, he purposed to listen with one ear to the hallelujahs of heaven and the other ear to the shrieks and groans of tormented souls in hell. Such a sober estimation and meditation on these souls gave Edwards an eternal perspective that marked his life’s every step.
If we are to teach and preach like Jesus, we must address the subject of hell. Here are fifteen biblical truths about hell as we consider eternity and our ministry in these days. After reading these, I will offer some practical pastoral faith lessons and application.
1. Hell is a real place on God’s map (Matt. 8:12; Luke 16:28).
Hell isn’t just a nightmare in someone’s mind. Those who go to hell go to a very real geographical place.
2. Hell is absolutely necessary.
There has to be hell. The very attributes of God necessitate that it be so. God’s holiness (Hab. 2:4 – no sin can be in the presence of God), God’s righteousness (Heb. 2:2 – every sin shall receive a just punishment.), God’s love (Eph. 1 – God loves his own people so much that he wants to protect them from all kind of vile people in this world), and God’s wrath (Psalms 5, 7, 11, etc. – God is angry with the wicked every day) show us more than “Smile, God loves you” is worth considering.
3. Hell is heavily populated.
More people will go to hell than heaven. Broad is the way to destruction (Matt. 7.13). Hell will be filled with the worst people and the best people (1 Cor. 6:9ff). Even those people who think they are serving God in the church—but who are never truly saved—will be in the bowels of hell (Matt. 7:21-23). There are many roads to hell, but only one narrow road to heaven (Pro. 14:12).
4. Hell is eternal separation.
Hell isn’t a separation from God. Perhaps shockingly, God will be in hell and the One inflicting the wrath. God will be in hell because he is omnipresent (Psalm 139, etc.). There’s no square inch where God is not and hell is created by his hand. Also, those in hell won’t be inflicting punishment, nor will the devil. The One who can administer the wrath of God will be doing it directly in hell (Rev. 14:12).
5. Hell is a fiery furnace.
This speaks of severe, intense heat of those being baked alive (Matt. 13:42). Frankly, it is graphic: Those in hell are roasted alive but never able to die. The resurrected body will be perfectly suited for their new environment in hell. Likewise, those in heaven, who have repented and believed the biblical Gospel (1 Cor. 15:1-18), will never grow tired, serve Christ, and worship him forever. Damned souls will be encased in fire and there will never be any relief outside of the fire (Dan 12:2; Mk. 9:44-49, etc.).
6. Hell is a lake of fire.
Everything about hell is fire (Rev. 19:20). There’s no unconscious state or “soul sleep” in hell. All there are fully awake, alert, and in conscious existence. People are, literally, immersed in fire and engulfed in fire and unable to swim out of the lake of fire. In other words, they’re drowning in fire. This isn’t symbolic—it is literal. The picture never fully represents the reality of what it portrays (Matt. 25:41).
7. Hell is unquenchable fire.
This fire is never to be put out or turned down (Matt. 3:12). This eternal God will maintain the eternal fire by his eternal wrath forever and ever (Mk. 9:43).
8. Hell is eternal fire.
This is similar to the previous point. However, there is no end to it in the ages to come—it will go on forever (Matt. 25:41; Jude 7). Hell will be as long as heaven exists. Some teach “annihilationism” that posits a God of love will only keep those in hell for a brief moment and will eventually “snuff” them out. The problem with that is that same Greek words used to describe the length of heaven is used to describe hell.
9. Hell is day and night.
Revelation 14:11 states that there is “no rest day and night.” Revelation 20:10 says those in hell will be “tormented day and night.” There’s no vacation day or an easy button.
10. Hell is unmitigated.
That is, it is never moderated, for it is always severe and intense. Matthew 13:42 and 50 tell us that hell is “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” All the weeping in the history of the world (wars, families, deaths, etc.) doesn’t begin to compare to those who are in hell. People in hell aren’t repenting for their sin. Rather, they’re angrier at God than when they were alive on earth. They are to the breaking point…but never breaking (Lk. 16:28; Rev. 14:10-11). Everyone is screaming and crying out. This is God’s Word.
11. Hell is outer darkness.
The panic of being blind and not being able to see is one thing. Those in hell will live in existence of outer darkness. They will never again be able to see anything with their eyes (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30). R.C. Sproul noted: “You can’t think about hell for long without almost going insane.”
12. Hell is conscious awareness.
One’s mind will never be more active, alert, and sharp than when he/she is in hell. Forever in their minds, those in hell will be replaying the torment of their memory of rejecting the Gospel (Lk. 16:25). God will able give them the ability, it seems, to retrace their steps of how he brought people to share the gospel. Such opportunities will haunt them for ages to come (Rev. 20:19-20).
13. Hell is an inescapable pit (Rev. 9:2).
Hell is so deep one can’t crawl out or find the bottom flames of it. There are many roads that lead to hell but none that lead out. Doors are locked in hell and the key is thrown away. There’s no parole, no time off, and no weekend leave. Again, one is there forever.
14. Hell is easily accessed.
You have to strive to go through the narrow gate to heaven (Lk. 13:24). Yet, it is easy to go to hell. What do you do? Nothing. Just remain where you are. If you are an unbeliever, you are already headed that way when you refuse to believe Jesus alone is Lord, Savior, Judge, and Redeemer.
15. Hell must be avoided (Matt. 5:22, 28-29).
Such truths about hell call for dealing with sin in a dramatic way. It is better to lose a part of your body now than your whole body in hell. Once you’re in, you can’t come out.
As we consider this biblical doctrine, what are some faith lessons for our life and ministry?
1. If you did not wake up in hell this morning, or in a thousand miseries that befell the world last night, there is great reason for thanks.
Reflecting on the loss Christians often sustain in this world, Richard Sibbes said, “It is better to limp to heaven than dance to hell.”
2. If there’s no sin, wrath, and hell in what you teach, there’s no gospel in what you preach.
If you always talk about grace but never talk about law, sin, or hell, you’re actually never really talking about grace. When the church caters to a godless culture to keep it within the fold, the gospel is lost, God isn’t honored, and the culture goes to hell.
3. God’s glory would not be diminished and creation would suffer no loss if he let us run our course into hell without the slightest intervention.
If we don’t know we deserve hell, we don’t know Christ. If you want to know how much God hates sin, look only at the cross of Christ and the reality of hell.
4. I want to be more concerned about my neighbor’s eternal condemnation in hell than I am about my own embarrassment in telling him about it.
Charles Spurgeon has famously said: “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies.”
5. The ethnic diversity of hell is a crucial doctrine.
No ethnic group can boast of exclusion. All deserve condemnation.
6. Every sin, every crime will be punished—either in hell or on the cross.
No one anywhere at any time gets away with anything. Trust in the Lord’s justice as you walk on this unjust earth.