The very idea of a literal place called hell has always puzzled people, but the Bible makes it clear that hell is a real place.  Equally true is the fact that God never intended for people to go to hell.  Hell was created for the devil and the fallen angels. The Bible makes it clear that it is not God’s will that any perish.  So, why will people end up in hell?  Simply put, hell will be occupied by people who totally resisted the Holy Spirit and rejected Jesus Christ.

Perhaps we need to clear up any misinformation about hell to fully understand its reason for being.  To do this I’m going to introduce five words or phrases found in the Bible that many either misunderstand or use interchangeably, but not without problems!  These words or phrases include: Hades, Sheol, Hell, Gehenna, and the Lake of Fire.  Any discussion on hell needs to define these words.  Let’s begin.

Hell–A term that designates the place of future punishment for the wicked.  Many times this word is used as a synonym for other closely related terms in the Scriptures, but we must be careful to specify.

Sheol–This is primarily understood in light of Old Testament teachings.  It is translated 31 times as the “grave,” and three times as “pit.”  The general idea encompasses a “holding place of the dead.”  This does not refer to the grave as we think of graves, but rather as a place for those who departed from this life.  Sheol is used as a departing or holding place for both the righteous and the wicked (Psalm 16:10; 30:3; Isaiah 38:10; and Numbers 16:33; Job 24:19; Psalm 9:17) After Jesus’ death on the Cross and His subsequent resurrection, Sheol no longer existed.  After the Cross, the wicked dead went to Hades and the righteous dead went to heaven.

Hades–It is rendered hell and refers to the underworld, or region of the wicked departed between death and the Great White Throne Judgment, which is discussed in Revelation 20:11-14.  It is definitely described as a place of torment.  Do you remember the story of the rich man and Lazarus found in Luke 16:19-31?  Verse 23 employs the term hades, which is also translated “hell.”  This passage describes hades or hell as a place of torment.  An aforementioned term used in this passage is “Abraham’s bosom,” which is where the beggar went when he died.  This term is defined as a “place of bliss.”  This term comes from Jewish thought of that day.

Hades then, is the New Testament counterpart of the Old Testament word Sheol.  Both were intermediary places.  Hades is the place to where Christ descended sometime between the crucifixion and His resurrection.  After the Cross and resurrection, the righteous dead went immediately into the presence of the Lord in heaven.  “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8).  Now the wicked dead go directly to Hell upon their deaths.  This is so heart breaking and unpleasant to think about!  It should make us go tell everyone about the saving grace of Jesus Christ!

Gehenna–We gather our teaching on the fires of hell from this important term.  Gehenna, or the Valley of Hinnom, was a place where the rites of the pagan god Molech were celebrated. King Josiah later converted it into a place of abomination, where dead bodies were thrown and burned (2 Kings 23:13,14).  This valley served as a symbolic place, and the name was appropriated to designate the abode of lost spirits.  The word occurs 12 times in the New Testament, and in every case it is properly translated “eternal hell.”

Lake of Fire–This term is found in Revelation 20:14-15.  “Then death and Hell were thrown into the lade of fire.  The lake of fire is the second death.  If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”  Verse 10 tells us the devil, the beast and the false prophet were previously thrown into the lake of fire.  To date, the Lake of Fire is unoccupied.

Any discussion on hell is incomplete unless we mention other biblical phrases that describe and coincide with this place of torment: “unquenchable fire,” the “blackness of darkness,” “furnace of fire,” “torment in fire and brimstone,” the “smoke of their torment,” “where the worm dies not,” etc.  There is no doubt that the Scriptures require us to believe in a properly so-called place of punishment.  Biblical accuracy calls for these terms and phrases to be interpreted literally, not as mere imagery or symbolism.  We must be true to the biblical texts!

Obviously, I’ve given you a very general and perhaps over-simplified view of hell’s reality; however, always remember, our loving God made a way through His Son Jesus Christ so we do not have to go to hell.  He has made a way of escape.  Surely God’s heart must break when people, the crowing glory of His creation, choose to reject Jesus Christ.  We, not God, seal our own fate when it comes to our eternal destination.  

Why not stop this very moment if you’re saved and give God praise for your salvation?  If you’re not saved, why not stop where you are and confess the Lord Jesus with your mouth, and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead.  “For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved” (Romans 10:9,10).

Jesus came to bring you heaven, not hell.



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