What about Hell? 10 things to know


A few people have asked for my views on hell. I have never written on hell before. Like the weather on Uranus, hell is not a subject I think much about. I’m unlikely to come up to you at a party and say, “Hey, what about hell?”

Hell is just not on my radar.

But I appreciate that hell has become something of a “hot” topic lately, another shibboleth if you like. On one side are those who say, “Hell is hell and you’re just have to accept it.” On the other side are those who find it inconceivable that a good God could cook his kids in an eternal roasting pan.

So what is hell? Is hell real? And how does hell fit into the gospel of grace?

To glean some answers I didn’t go to the internet (shock!). Neither did I fish around on Facebook (double-shock!). Instead, I read every scripture on the subject that I could find. This means you can check everything below in your Bible. Don’t take my word for it – see for yourself.

I should warn you upfront that the Bible doesn’t provide all of the answers to your questions about hell. But it surely provides some.

Here’s the first thing you need to know about hell:

1. The meaning of the English word “hell” has changed over the past few hundred years

Read the King James Bible and you may be confused by scriptures like these:

“And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire.” (Rev 20:14, KJV)

How can hell be thrown into hell? That doesn’t make sense. Well it does if you appreciate that the word hell in middle English meant “to hide or conceal.” Today, the word hell means something different:

KJV “hell” = sheol/hades, the abode of the dead
Modern “hell” = the lake of fire, the fiery furnace, “the eternal fire,” etc.

In Biblical times, no one thought the dead went to hell. They went down to sheol (Hebrew) or hades (Greek), which are two names for the same nether region. A more accurate translation of the verse above is: “Then death and hades were thrown into the lake of fire.” One day there will be no more death and no more grave. That’s good news.

So before we proceed, it will help to clarify what I mean by the word “hell.” I’m going to go part company with ye old KJV and go with the modern meaning. Based on my reading of scripture hell is the place of eternal or final condemnation which…

–    Jesus described as a fiery furnace (Matt 13:42,50)
–    Paul described as everlasting destruction when Jesus appears in blazing fire (2 Thes 1:7-9)
–    Hebrews describes as a raging fire that devours the enemies of God (Heb 10:27)
–    James described as a place of fire (Jas 3:6)
–    Peter described as elemental destruction by fire (2 Pet 3:7,10)
–    Jude described as eternal fire (Jude 1:7)
–    John described as a lake of fire (Rev 20:14)

Whether hell is a literal furnace or lake, I can’t say. But the one adjective that most often appears with hell in the Bible is fire. In the New Testament alone the link between hell and fire appears in dozens of verses. Will the fire of hell prove to be real or a metaphor for something else? I don’t know. I don’t want to find out.

2. Hell is not sheol/hades

This point is worth repeating since many commentators think that sheol/hades consists of two compartments – smoking and non-smoking. You may have heard that the good guys go to “Abraham’s bosom” while the bad guys go to the other side. Nah. That’s a bad interpretation that suggests that Judgment Day has taken place already. Yet Jesus said the eternal fire or lake of fire or whatever-hell-is appears at the end of the age when he returns (Matt 25:41). Has Jesus returned? No. Then nobody is yet in hell.

The two-compartment view of hell is based on an over-literal interpretation of the parable of the rich man and Lazarus (Luke 16). It’s a mistake to treat a prophetic parable as a Wikipedia entry for hell, especially when sheol/hades is described nowhere else as a place of fiery torment.

3. Hell is not the devil’s home – it’s his prison or execution chamber

All those cartoons depicting demons running their business from hell give the false impression that they are happy to be there. They are not there yet (Rev 20:10) and they live in terror of the place (Matt 8:29).

4. The Jews had little understanding of hell

Why did Jesus talk about fiery-hell so much? Before Jesus, Jewish people weren’t mindful of hell. What terrified them was death and sheol, the place of the dead (see Ps 18:5-6, Hos 13:14). Just as the modern mind is hell-focused, the Jewish mind was sheol-focused. Read the words of Job and you get the impression that some of these guys even had a romanticized view of sheol (eg: Job 17:13).

Jesus puts things in perspective. “There are worse things than physical death – let me tell you about hell” (see Matt 10:28).

5. Jesus’ descriptions of hell cannot be dismissed as prophecies of Jerusalem’s fall in AD70

Rather, the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans can be interpreted, if you like, as a picture of ultimate and final judgment by God. I’ll talk more about this in a later post. For now, understand that the “Days of Vengeance” (past) ought not to be confused with the coming “Day of Wrath” (future).

6. Hell is the punch-line to the bad news of the law

Jesus typically preached on hell in the context of the law (Matt 5:22, 29, 30 18:9) and when rebuking the Pharisees and law-experts (Matt 23:15, 33). It’s like he was saying:

If you’re going to preach law, make sure you go the whole way and preach hell. If you’re going to preach carrots and sticks, make sure you’ve got the right Stick.

Hell is the cure for a watered-down law. Hell makes the law scary. The condemning ministry of the law reaches its ultimate expression in the eternal condemnation of hell.

Jesus also linked hell with Judgment Day (Matt 25:41, Luke 12:49, 17:29-30, John 16:6). Again, though, there was a strong link with the law. For instance, when explaining the parable of the weeds, those thrown into the fiery furnace are “those doing lawlessness” (Matt 13:42).

Hell - eternal torment?

7. The lake of fire is the second death

What is the lake of fire? There are three interpretations: (1) it is a literal place of eternal, never-ending torment, (2) it is symbolic of the second death, meaning final destruction, (3) it’s a place of purification and rehabilitation.

I find the third interpretation at odds with the Biblical description of the lake of fire as a place of hurt (Rev 2:11) and weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matt 13:42,50). The Bible says nothing good about hell. (More on this in my next post.)

In my view, the Bible is being most clear when it describes the lake of fire as the second death (Rev 20:14). First death is physical death; only the body dies. But second death is the destruction of both body and soul (Matt 10:28).

I may be wrong about this, but I lean towards the view that second death is not eternal suffering but eternal destruction – meaning, those in it are destroyed or “diminished” in some way and that’s it forever. I appreciate there are scriptures that go either way on this point (click on the Table above if you’re interested), but when Hebrews 10 describes the raging fire of judgment “that will consume the enemies of God,” to me that suggests those who experience it are consumed, not tortured. God’s wrath is finite. You may disagree with me on this, and that’s fine. But I hope you agree that whatever hell is, it’s a place to avoid. Happily…

8. Hell is completely unnecessary

Nobody need go there and it is God’s will that nobody does! How do I know? I’ve seen the cross. I’ve seen the great lengths he has gone to make hell unnecessary. Hell is not for people but the devil and his angels (Matt 25:41). Those who choose to follow the devil are breaking their Father’s heart.

Like death in the Garden, hell is not what God wants. It’s something we choose against his most strenuous desires.

9. Hell should not be used as a tool in evangelism

As I mentioned, Jesus preached hell in connection with the law. And those who prefer the bad news of the law to the good news of grace certainly need to hear about hell for it is the baddest news of all.

But to place hell at the center of the gospel is to mischaracterize God as a vengeful punisher who sends people to hell when in truth he is a loving Father who saves us from the hell of our own choices.

God didn’t create us to save us from hell. He made us so that we could share his life and enjoy him and each other. The purpose of life is not “escape hell.” Eternal life is knowing and experiencing God’s love now and for all eternity.

Threatening people with hell is no way to invite them into a relationship with their Father who loves them and yearns for them. When we make hell part of our message, we appeal to people’s worst fears and insecurities. Instead of returning to God like the Prodigal Son they will draw back in fear like the Israelites at Mt. Sinai. Jesus wants no shot-gun weddings.

10. The condemnation of hell has no place in the gospel of grace

Jesus’ gospel was not, “Turn or burn,” but “God’s kingdom is at hand and you can participate in it.” He was not interested in scaring the hell out of people but inviting all to enter the kingdom of heaven.

We haven’t been commissioned to preach the bad news of hell but the good news of the kingdom. As someone once said, “God never delights in people getting what they deserve. He is about saving us from what we deserve.” That’s grace. That’s the good news. And that’s the message the world most needs to hear.



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27 Comments on What about Hell? 10 things to know

  1. Grahame Watts // August 12, 2013 at 7:59 pm // Reply

    Gehenna was created for the devil and his angels not for man. However, God has given man free will because He is Love. Love cannot force obedience, there must always be choice. The second death is the removal of a soul’s resurrected body after the final great white throne judgement. This is actually an act of love by God for those who will not accept His goodness as being the only right way to live. By removing their bodies they have no opportunity to to do harm to others or to themselves but will still have their free will to think and imagine all they want. This may be the “worm that never dies” – wanting to do evil but not being able to, being without a physical body. Sin has a terrible consequence when unchecked. It deadens conscience and perverts desires resulting in a destructive hatred of all that’s good and pure. We see this even in the wicked in this life. I know this is not the answer to every question on eternal judgement but it may help a bit…

  2. Grahame Watts // August 19, 2013 at 12:26 pm // Reply

    ” … Finally, what is the nature of, and reason for Eternal Punishment? The reason for Eternal Punishment is Eternal Sin, “whosoever shall blaspheme against the Holy Spirit hath never forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin” (Mark 3,29 R.V.). It is not the retribution for the comparatively few sins which even the wickedest man is able to commit in the few short years of human life. It is rather the retribution for the eternal determination to go on sinning, if possible, throughout eternity. Just as it is possible for a free will to come to eternal decision never to sin, so it is possible for it to come to an equally eternal decision not to repent: and this calls forth from the Judge of all the earth the equally eternal decision to prevent the sinner putting his desires into action. Over his will, man is sovereign: over his actions, God.” CL Parker from his booklet Original sin & Eternal Judgement.

    I will always remember seeing a programme on TV about a woman in her 30s who had spent her whole life in a hospital and was thought to be in a vegetative state. Her ward was visited by a computer programer who for some reason was drawn to her and became convinced that she knew what was going on around her. He worked out a code that she could respond to by tiny flickers of her eyes. It turned out that she was totally aware of all that was said around her and she was very intelligent. She worked with the programer painstakingly writing the story of her life and torture of being without a working body, of desiring to be known
    and to communicate. She was not filled with evil desires to harm others but it made me appreciate just a little of the torment that those who are determined to be evil will experience when deprived of their bodies at the second death.

    • Some people seem almost eager to consign their fellow man to eternal torture. This staggers me. I have numerous problems with this interpretation of Mark 3:29 but I will limit myself to four: (1) Contrary to Hebrews 9:26 this interpretation suggests Christ’s death on the cross is not the once and final solution for sins and that his perfect work is imperfect and incomplete. (2) It suggests God is in the retribution business which is a very old covenant definition of wrath. “You sin, you get punished.” Sheesh. So much for Romans 8:3. (3) It emphasizes sin, which is never mentioned in Mark 3:29. The actual word used is krisis meaning judgment meaning you won’t receive grace for as long as you resist the spirit of grace. Such a judgment is self-inflicted. (4) There is no hint of punishment in this passage, let alone eternal punishment.

      Jesus is saying absolutely nothing here that hints of eternal torture for sinners. You literally have to rewrite this verse to come to this perverse conclusion. Nor is Jesus is saying your sins won’t be forgiven – they already have been. He’s saying you’ll never experience his forgiveness if you resist the Holy Spirit. As I say elsewhere, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit is refusing to believe what he says about Jesus.

  3. well said, and I read this article again, and I found something, you’re right, because
    when Jesus died, he didn’t get punishment in hell in those three days! 🙂

  4. To believe in a literal place of “eternal torment” OR “eternal annihilation” and NOT teach it at every possible waking moment to those who are supposedly “in danger” of such a fate is just plain ludicrous! It should be the ONLY thing you teach if either were true!

    If you KNEW or BELIEVED that your neighbour was in danger of falling into a 10 foot pit of snakes tomorrow morning at 8AM (a TEMPORARY condition of potential pain mind you), would you not do anything you could to tell her this news so that it would not happen? DUH!

    But, when it comes to “ETERNAL TORMENT” OR “ETERNAL ANNIHILATION”, one should NOT use it as a tool of evangelism? Really??

    Sorry, but my mind is now blown completely! 😦

    PS: No, I do not believe the Scripture speaks of any such fate for anyone 🙂

    • Divorce is a consequence of a bad marriage but the solution to bad marriages isn’t to go around telling people about the dangers of divorce. God draws us with love, not fear.

    • Squawks 5000 // July 25, 2018 at 2:50 am // Reply

      It’s not just hell that nonbelievers face — there is also shame, wasted life, no-purpose-life, and self-inflicted damage of sin that God wants to save us from.

      I used to think that salvation is all about heaven/hell, but God shown that it is more than that.

  5. Hell is very very very real I have literally been there please anyone reading this i beg u keep an open mind live good as well as repent as well as ask jesus n god as ur savior please I beg u to listen to me n that gut feeling between rt n wrong is often a good indicator I love u all take advantage of this beautiful (albiet sometimes beyond difficult) life n choose wisely please

    • ruthless trust rob // April 6, 2014 at 5:34 pm // Reply

      According to the story of Lazurus and the rich man you haven’t. God says he will nit send people back from hell as a warning.

  6. We know our origin is IN HIM before the foundation of the world – a lost coin never lost its value. I believe it would help us solve some of our questions by understanding the origins of darkness, the absence of Light and its reality experienced by spirits described as hell. The fall of Satan and his angels into this sphere of darkness occured before the creation of the world, before man could ever think about it with his fallen mindset. I agree, a gooder than good God could not create, conceive or send any spirit there… but can we only trust this reasoning and way of thinking? He doesn’t send people to hell but embraces the whole human race in Christ. Jesus is the DOOR, He flung the doors wide open for us to enter, walk and live eternally IN the realities of heaven and complete UNION with our Abba. It’s a state of consciousness where it says the the FORMER THINGS (I believe hell included) will not be remembered or come to mind. I don’t see how God could do more for us without violating our majesty of choice. I love Him because I want to. Did God create hell or did it bubble up when iniquity was found in Lucifer’s heart? Was darkness around before Lucifer’s fall and if so how come? Do we need to know all this or simply KNOW THE FATHER? Paul who wrote most of the NT only mentionned it once: “oh death where is your sting? oh grave where is your victory?”
    An answer? Our embracing of Light will TAKE CARE of hell.

  7. ruthless trust rob // April 7, 2014 at 4:24 pm // Reply

    Simply put…it is not god that sends anyone to hell…it is our refusal of john 3 because sin is no longer an issue as mankind has been aquitted according to romans 5…churches just dont preach the simple message because they want control…nuts many churches dont preacb the truth about much of anything…its a waterd down message to keep the pews full…

  8. Hi just come across your site, your ideas and responses to them. Relevant to your table about the nature of hell being either destruction or torment is the Bible’s use of the word torment. Particularly its use in the New Testament. A Greek word, the nearest equivalent of the original Hebrew concept would carry the baggage of the philosophical assumptions of the Greek culture. It has to be defined by the New Testament writers by its context so as to be consistent with the rest of revelation. Therefore read the effect of torment in Revelation 18. Those who suffer torment are progressively reduced in capability until, like Babylon, they are thrown into the depths of the sea (Hebrew representation of the pre-creation chaos) never to be found again. This is disappearance; just like the definition of death in Genesis three, a return to dust. This is consistent with the Hebrew word for torment and its use in the Old Testament which reveals disintegration.
    Revelation 9 also uses torment in an unusual manner, the people didn’t die…but only for a period. The exception proves the rule.
    The rest which is denied those who are thrown into the Lake of Fire in Revelation 14 is the BIblical rest. This is the rest that was achieved for creation on the Seventh day when God rested from his creative work and upheld what he had made by the power of his Word. That rest was lost at the Fall, and the whole of creation now suffers as well as humans. This must be reversed by trusting in Christ in order to be part of the new creation. Otherwise you are consumed and destroyed in the Lake of Fire. You are not sustained in any form of life.
    Effect of this is to make Christ’s death, not just his suffering, the most important aspect of redemption. He suffered death for all. Evangelism then can be confident in establishing the nature of salvation… overcoming death through union with Jesus. God’s judgement on sin was what he said. Death. This is Good News. Folks already know they are going to die. It was the devil’s idea that we would not die. If we think and preach that we remain alive in God’s judgement then we completely overturn the nature of the God and the purpose of Christ’s death. That suits the devil.
    Hope this gives some food for thought.

    • Precicly God has never killed anyone.It is impossible for Jesus to take life he can only give life.Adam and eve did not leave the garden with life.A pause in time and we still have the same choice,life or death.

    • A period of grace then grace upon grace upon grace ending in the judgement.The decision needs to be made out of death before death.

    • The decision is immediate, eternal, irreversible, by its nature.that is why the tree had to be protected that death may come to an end.

  9. Time has no infinite quality, time has been overcome.

  10. My compliments. I have never read a more honest, focused analysis of this most often misunderstood subject. Some things are simply not quantifiable in the scriptures, this is one. When I see ambiguity in the scriptures I am assured that God did not intend for all to be known on the subject……yet. Blessings

  11. EMMANUEL MAKINDE // December 7, 2015 at 8:44 pm // Reply

    I can really see hell is not a place designed for us….

  12. Great topic… If you wanted to stir up the ants nest you certainly did! I love the conversation on all sides. This is a topic that needs to be addressed just for a short time. But needs to be address. I also agree with some that have posted that how can some have such an incredible understanding of Grace and not believe that when Jesus confessed that it is finished, that it was just that “FINISHED”. When I wanted to know the Father of Jesus I looked to Jesus for that answer. One particular story is that Jesus sent his disciples a head to prepare a city for him to visit, but the city refused to receive him. His disciples wanted to rain down fire and brim stone on this city but he rebuked them and said. Do you know what kind of spirit that’s from. I came to save the world not destroy the world. In contrast I bring up Sodom… Where “God” did rain down fire and brim stone… So when I look at Jesus I see the His Father. When I look at the “God” of the OT I don’t see the same characteristics.. A tree can not produce both good and bad fruit… This is just one example. So I think we are missing something here as I do believe in the scriptures but our understanding isn’t clear yet. I have my thoughts on the subject and it has to do with eating from the wrong tree produces these thoughts of God. And they were certainly eating from the tree of law in the OT. I also believe that our English translation maybe skewed. I am not convinced that the word translated for everlasting torment really means forever. I do believe that Jesus paid the price in full and it was accepted by God as He was raised to his right hand. And because he only stayed in Hades for the most 3 1/2 days, which is not forever, and forever is the normal consider punishment that we deserved wouldn’t Jesus have to still be there in order to pay our debt in full?
    And we haven’t even brought up the subject of Eschatology.

  13. Santha Kumar // March 4, 2016 at 10:19 am // Reply

    Very good site.Thanks.

  14. ronportzerbellsouthnet // June 27, 2019 at 4:03 am // Reply

    My favorite movie is “Hell and Mr Fudge” who was hired to find out the nature of God and what the “original” texts indicate. He concluded that the fire consumes and the wicked are remembered no more.

  15. I find a lot of your posts very helpful and encouraging, but I wonder how it is psychologically possible to believe that Hell is real, and yet not be obsessed by it? It is such a terrifying notion (especially if we believe in eternal conscious torment) that it drowns out every other thought. When I was a child, my Sunday-school teachers didn’t talk about Hell all the time, but the way they mentioned it when they did talk about it (‘Tell everyone about Jesus, because if they don’t hear about him, they’ll go to Hell,’) still made me feel that avoiding Hell was the important part, and that Heaven didn’t need to be especially good, as God could motivate people to obedience just by making Heaven slightly less terrible than Hell.

    The fact that Jesus seems to have talked about it a lot makes me feel as if Jesus wanted to motivate people with fear – and then, since he knew that being terrified of the consequences of making a mistake could make people too frightened to do anything at all, just added yet another terrifying story about the dire consequences of this (the Parable of the Talents). This makes me feel as if Jesus either didn’t understand how we feel (unlikely) or didn’t actually want to be helpful and just enjoyed terrorising people. But most Christians do not believe Jesus was like that, so what do you think?

    • You can learn more of my thoughts by checking out the other articles I have written about hell. Find them in the Archives > Subject Index > Hell. I hope they help.

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