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Hell Is Real

by Stephen Davey

The theologian John Stott wrote, “If we come to the Scriptures with our minds made up, expecting to hear from it only an echo of our own thoughts and never the thunderclap of God’s thoughts, then He will not speak and we will only be confirmed.” 

It is for this reason that biblical observation must precede biblical interpretation. If we allow ourselves to approach the Bible with our own ideas about what it says—or what it should say—then our interpretation will be limited to our own ideas. 

It is only when we faithfully seek what God wants us to observe that we can fully grasp how He wants us to interpret and apply what He says. 

Stott’s observation helps me understand how many people don’t believe in the reality of an eternal hell because they don’t want to accept it. Their minds are made up that hell cannot—or should not—be real; and they selectively approach the Bible to find a loophole. 

An eternal hell does not emanate from church tradition or imaginative opinion, but biblical exegesis. In fact, the person who spoke the most about hell in Scripture was Jesus Christ. Through His teachings and His parables, Jesus made clear that those who do not come to God the Father through the intermediary of Christ the Son will spend eternity in a place of suffering He characterized as a “lake of fire,” a place with “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 10:28, Mark 9:43). 

Even though the Lord used imagery from the burning of refuse outside the city of Jerusalem, He made this eternal place of torment no less real. God did not intend for hell to be a mystery. Certainly, the reality of hell was not helped by Dante’s imaginative descriptions, much of which are not found in Scripture. Demons are not tormenting the damned, nor is Satan the chief oppressor. According to Scripture, Satan and his demons will not be managing Hell, they will be inmates forever. 

The apostle John, in his Revelation account, describes the end of human history, prior to the remaking of earth and the universe. Jesus will be seated on a Great White Throne and will deliver the eternal verdict to all unbelieving mankind. We’re told in chapter 20 that all the unredeemed will stand before Him to be judged by “the books.” These books have recorded the evidence of their defiance against the law of God, written on their hearts. These books will also testify that they denied His creation and worshipped the creatures instead, like nature, the universe, or animals (Romans 1). 

At the end of this judgment, the absence of their names in the Book of Life will seal their eternal destiny as angels are dispatched to “cast them into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:15). 

Jesus refers to the duration of this final state by using the same word: “eternal” for both references to heaven and hell. In His famous Olivet Discourse, Jesus said, “And these [unbelievers] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” 

By the way, have you ever wondered if God will truly allow believers to live forever in heaven? How do we know that He won’t get tired of us one day, trillions of years from now, and decide we’ve had enough? There is only one reason we know heaven will last forever, because the Bible uses the word “eternal.” Frankly, I’d love to believe that heaven will be forever and that hell will only last a few years. But nowhere does Jesus allow for that consideration. 

Some might turn to Matthew 10:28 which says, “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” This is interpreted to suggest that the immortal soul is extinguished in hell, following—they suppose— the sufficient suffering for their particular sins. Again, the issue must be resolved exegetically, not philosophically. 

What exactly does the word “destroy” mean here in the text? It’s a Greek verb that means to “ruin,” not annihilate. In fact, the verb is used back in Matthew 9:17 to refer to ruined wineskins. Jesus is telling His audience that they shouldn't fear those who can kill the body, but to fear God, who can bring ruin to both the body and soul. Your soul is your mind, emotions and will—it's the real you, inside your body. So Jesus is actually saying here that hell has been designed to bring ruin to both the material body and the immaterial soul. Hell isn’t just a place where the body suffers ruined, but where the soul—the mind, the will, and emotions, the whole person that indwells the body—will suffer torment for having defied their creator God. 

This is the literal interpretation of literal prophecy. This is what it means to interpret the Bible as the authoritative Word of God. We can’t imagine the horror of it, but we must not sugarcoat it, or dilute it, or deny it. In light of the truth about hell, keep these lessons in mind: 

God doesn’t warn us about hell to depress us, but to press us into gospel action. 

Churches who reject the reality of hell will often say that the idea of hell is unloving, and therefore unacceptable. Many will go on to say that because God is loving, He would never send anyone there forever. Actually, there is nothing more unloving than knowing a catastrophe is coming and refusing to warn people or offer them a way of escape. 

Mount Vesuvius is one of the largest active volcanoes in the world. Located in Italy, Vesuvius is the volcano responsible for the destruction of the Roman city Pompeii in the year 79. It would be irresponsible and immoral for the meteorologists and government of Italy to tell their citizens, “Vesuvius will never erupt again; you have nothing to worry about.” Instead, the government has informed every citizen of the danger. In fact, they have informed everyone living in the danger zone of a comprehensive evacuation plan that, if needed, can rescue as many as 700,000 people in a 72-hour period. 

Beloved, if the reality of hell doesn’t stir in us the need to deliver the gospel to our friend, coworkers, neighbors, and family members, we either don’t understand the urgency of hell’s reality, or we simply do not believe it is true. 

The Book of Life isn’t completed yet; there’s still time to be saved. 

If you’re reading this, and you haven’t accepted Jesus Christ as your Redeemer and Savior, it isn’t too late. Your name can still be added to the Book of Life. 

If you’re reading this article, our intention isn’t to scare you, but to warn you. The patience of God will one day end in a divine courtroom of justice. Settle out of court today by trusting in the One who paid the penalty for all your crimes against God. Trust in Christ and receive the pardon that will bring you into the family of God. You will be saved— safe—forever! 

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Mary Dean says:
Thank you for your writing on Hell. This subject is something most will not speak. I truly believe there is a Hell as GOD says there is. In today’s world ( which GOD has overcome ) it is easy to see in the younger generation that most will never believe there is hell as a final destination. It is so so sad. As mentioned before, they do not believe GOD( if they know who GOD is) will allow anyone to suffer. They are in for a Big Surprise. So, thank you for writing on hell. I really like reading your messages.