It used to be, not so long ago, that preachers would preach “Hell-fire and brimstone” sermons to convert unsaved listeners. Just the possibility of spending an eternity in a fiery place of eternal torment was enough to get lost souls to the altar, praying the sinner’s prayer. That kind of evangelism certainly used to work well. Some unsaved people respond to sermons on the love of God, others need messages a little more potent. But times have changed. Rarely do you hear about Hell from behind the pulpit.

“Hell” was a word that used to incite fear in people, but now when people hear that word, they roll their eyes in disdain and unbelief.

What happened to Hell? Why don’t we hear more about it? Do you know what the Bible really says about Hell? Or what Jesus said about this place?

The Bible hasn’t changed what it says about Hell, so let’s take a look at some Scriptures that shed some light on Hell and the kind of people that will end up there.

Matthew 5:21, 22

“Under the laws of Moses the rule was, ‘If you murder, you must die.’ But I have added to that rule and tell you that if you are only angry, even in your own home, you are in danger of judgment! If you call your friend an idiot, you are in danger of being brought before the court. And if you curse him, you are in danger of the fires of hell.”

It’s important to see these two verses within the overall context of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5 in order to understand what our Lord was getting at. “Living by a higher righteousness” is the over arching theme in this chapter. Beginning with verse 21, Jesus gave six examples of His idea of a higher righteousness, each one introduced by the phrase, “You have heard it said…” In all six examples, Jesus adds the phrase, “…but I say to you…” The Greek is very emphatic, with a strong emphasis on the pronoun, “I.” So Jesus was either proving to His listeners that He was the most arrogant egotist that ever lived or He was proving what He claimed to be: the eternal Son of God, speaking and teaching with divine authority. In the end, it was His authority that came through most of all. Vincent Taylor once wrote of our Lord’s effect on people this way:

Jesus will always remain a challenge to be met rather than a problem to be solved.

Jesus begins with the fifth commandment, a prohibition against murder, and adds the punishment demanded by God. The penalty, God’s idea of capital punishment, was not part of the Ten Commandments but was above and beyond them. And the Pharisees acknowledged the severe nature of the punishment, and were somewhat proud of that. By this time in Jewish history, the idea of taking the life of a willful murder had become a wholly civic law, not a religious one.

The people didn’t connect it with their faith. There was no sense that God was involved in the situation at all.

Jesus began setting them straight using the phrase, “I say to you.” It was His way of not only adding to what they already knew to be true, but distinguishing His higher truth; His higher form of righteousness, which involves sins of the heart; attitudes that may or may not lead to a murder being committed. It’s one thing to be dragged before a human court – that’s all the Pharisees were concerned about – but that only happens if you get caught. God sees into your heart; He doesn’t need a human court to judge that. Our Lord was pointing a shortcoming of the Law of Moses.

Jesus’ higher righteousness focuses on our thoughts and attitudes towards other people. He indicates that when we verbally abuse another person, we are putting our very souls in danger of being judged. Our Lord isn’t teaching that calling somebody a “fool” or “idiot” can send you to Hell, by the way. He is using satire to diminish what the Jewish religious-legal system had degenerated into. In other words, the Pharisees were all about the letter of the Law, not the Spirit behind it.

The final judge is able to determine where a human being will spend eternity, not a human judge. The Pharisees were not final authorities, nor where the civic courts. God is the final judge; He will be the last One a human being sees before entering his eternal destination, Hell. Jesus used Gehenna (the valley of Hinnom), a location south of the walls of Jerusalem where Moloch was worshipped during Old Testament times, and a place where child sacrifice took place to illustrate His idea of Hell. It was deemed an “unclean” location for centuries. During the days of Jesus, this was where trash was taken and burned. Little wonder our Lord used this nasty location as an illustration for the destination of the damned.

Matthew 10:28

Don’t be afraid of those who can kill only your bodies—but can’t touch your souls! Fear only God who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

Here is another verse that points to God as being the final judge. Christians have nothing to fear. This is the second time in this chapter Jesus makes this statement. Christians ought to be fearless in terms of living out their lives in righteousness in whatever culture they may be. There are really two reasons to be fearless. First, the Gospel message can never be suppressed. Even in modern-day America where Christians are almost routinely fined or worse for living and practicing tenets of their faith in the so-called “public square,” we don’t need to fear that the government or any protected group has the ability to stop God’s Word from being proclaimed. Secondly, a human being may be able to kill your body, but he can’t harm your soul. That is, he can’t take your faith from you. As Lenski observed,

To lose the body is to lose little, to lose the soul is to lose all.

Jesus is no way suggesting we should look forward to martyrdom; hopefully it will never come to that for any of us. But He is saying no man can rob you of your faith; of your salvation. A statement like that shows us what Jesus thinks is important. The state may come and take away all your possessions because you took a stand for righteousness, but it can never touch your greatest possession of all: your faith.

In case you’re thinking that’s cold comfort, Jesus adds that it is good (better) to fear the God who is able to destroy your body and your soul than to fear a man who can just harm your physical being. Just like in the previous example, Jesus wants His followers to learn a truth here. God is the final judge. Nobody controls your fate except God. Neither the devil nor another man holds the keys to Hell, only God. No Christian ever needs to fear death.

Matthew 18:7 – 9

Woe upon the world for all its evils. Temptation to do wrong is inevitable, but woe to the man who does the tempting. So if your hand or foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. Better to enter heaven crippled than to be in hell with both of your hands and feet. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. Better to enter heaven with one eye than to be in hell with two.

The world is a dangerous place for the Christian. It always has been, even though it may not seem like it to you. The world is dangerous because of its “evils.” The Greek word is skandalon, a word students of that language hate. It is very difficult to translate, but it is a very, very strong word. It’s much stronger than it’s English counterpart, “scandal,” suggests. The noun skandalon comes from the verb skandalizo and goes way, way beyond the idea of bad moral conduct or stumbling, but always suggests “spiritual destruction.”

Our Lord is teaching that traps or snares always exist in the world. This, of course, means that believers need to be watching out for them lest we get trapped and fall into sin. But as evil as those skandalon(s) may be, the one who is responsible for “setting the trap,” or the one who causes a believer to sin, is worse. Causing someone to sin is portrayed by Christ as being so bad, it’s better to hack off body parts than it is to cause another believer to sin. It’s preferable to enter Heaven with body parts missing than it is to enter Hell whole. Of course, this is a metaphor. What Jesus is getting at is that any friendship or activity that hinders either your relationship with Christ or another’s relationship with Christ must be “cut off.” Failure to do so could result in an eternity spent in Hell. Hell is so bad, all believers must be careful to control what they do (their hand), where they go (their feet), and what they look at (their eyes).

2 Thessalonians 1:8 – 10

They will be punished in everlasting hell, forever separated from the Lord, never to see the glory of his power… (verse 9 TLB)

Those who have rejected Jesus face a very bleak future when He returns. The eternal suffering of those who reject Jesus and persecute believers is used to illustrate the temporary nature of any suffering believers may endure in the here-and-now.

And so I would say to you who are suffering, God will give you rest along with us when the Lord Jesus appears suddenly from heaven in flaming fire with his mighty angels, bringing judgment on those who do not wish to know God and who refuse to accept his plan to save them through our Lord Jesus Christ. (2 Thessalonians 1:7, 8 TLB)

Some of these Thessalonians Paul wrote to were enduring terrible suffering, or had endured awful persecution. What they went through or were going through was the baseline for the eternal suffering those who were inflicting the persecution would endure for all eternity. The righteousness of God would crush those who harm His followers.

Hell is waiting for those who persecute Christians and those who refuse to acknowledge the Lordship of Christ. Paul wrote about the seriousness of ignoring God elsewhere:

So it was that when they gave God up and would not even acknowledge him, God gave them up to doing everything their evil minds could think of. (Romans 1:28 TLB)

Let me say this, then, speaking for the Lord: Live no longer as the unsaved do, for they are blinded and confused. Their closed hearts are full of darkness; they are far away from the life of God because they have shut their minds against him, and they cannot understand his ways. (Ephesians 4:17, 18 TLB)

Their punishment will be “forever.” Literally, it will be “age-long.” The Greek word, aionion, is also used to describe the eternal life of believer. That word, when used of the duration of the punishment of the unsaved means it will be eternal. The consequences of sin, and especially of unbelief, are dire indeed. Paul describes this punishment as being forever banished from God’s presence; an unending existence away from any goodness. It will be the exact opposite of the eternal life promised believers. The fate of the wicked will be infinitely sad, too terrible to comprehend. But their fate is what they deserve. Salvation is theirs to reject.

One commentator observed:

Obey, and you enter into a light in which there is no darkness at all. Disobey, and you will pass eventually into darkness in which there is no light at all. It is not a question of less or more, of sooner or later, of better or worse; what is at stake in our attitude to the Gospel is life or death, heaven or hell, the outer darkness of the glory of Christ.

Revelation 20:14, 15

And Death and Hell were thrown into the Lake of Fire. This is the Second Death—the Lake of Fire. And if anyone’s name was not found recorded in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the Lake of Fire.

These verses take place in Heaven, at the Great White Throne Judgment. The throne is white because it symbolizes the absolute purity of the Judge.

And the Father leaves all judgment of sin to his Son. (John 5:22 TLB)

Given that Jesus also said, “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30), most scholars see God sitting on the throne. There is no escaping the Judgement, unless you are Christian. In that case, you have already been judged in Jesus Christ. But every other man will be judged according to his works.

And just as it is destined that men die only once, and after that comes judgment, so also Christ died only once as an offering for the sins of many people; and he will come again, but not to deal again with our sins. (Hebrews 10:27, 28 TLB)

After so many millennia, death and Hades will be dealt with once and for all: they will be cast into the lake of fire. This strange, fiery lake is known as “the second death.” It’s called that because all those who died without Christ will die again in it. But it is “eternal death,” not annihilation, but a “forever” separation from God and anything good.

John’s final statement is so solemn it’s significance can’t be missed. The passport to Heaven is simply having one’s name written in the Book of Life. This means accepting Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. To make sure your name never gets blotted out of this Book requires being an overcomer – a conquerer – one who has overcome his sins and held steadfastly to his faith.

Everyone who conquers will be clothed in white, and I will not erase his name from the Book of Life, but I will announce before my Father and his angels that he is mine. (Revelation 3:5 TLB)

What is Hell? It’s the place where the unsaved will spend all eternity. It’s a dark, joyless, hopeless place. It’s a place where lost souls will remain for all eternity, with the full realization that had they made the right decision during their lifetime, they would be spending eternity in Heaven, with God and all the saints. Hell is just one decision away for every human being.

Are there literal flames in Hell? Ultimately all we need to know is the only thing that matters is whether or not our names are written in the Book of Life.

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