This is the final section of “The Nature of Hell” series. In this article we are going to look at scriptures that tell us what Jesus taught about hell. This might get a little redundant because we are going to look at some of the scriptures we have already visited, just to be thorough. Within these, the translations of “hell” are noted. For more information, refer to Parts 1-3 of this series.
- The Nature of Hell (Part 1) – Hell Lost in Translation
- The Nature of Hell (Part 2) – Does God Subject People to Never-Ending Torture?
- The Nature of Hell (Part 3) – The Lake of Fire and The Second Death
What Did Jesus Say About Hell?
Below is a list of scriptures that are generally regarded to be the words of Jesus about hell. Make note of the translation of the words in bold (to the right), and refer to Part 1 for more information about the meaning.
|Mat 5:22||But I say unto you, That whosoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment: and whosoever shall say to his brother, Raca, shall be in danger of the council: but whosoever shall say, Thou fool, shall be in danger of hell fire.||Gehenna|
|Mat 5:29||And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.||Gehenna|
|Mat 5:30||And if thy right hand offend thee, cut it off, and cast it from thee: for it is profitable for thee that one of thy members should perish, and not that thy whole body should be cast into hell.||Gehenna|
|Mat 11:23||And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.||Hades|
|Mat:16:18||And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.||Hades|
|Mat 18:9||And if thine eye offend thee, pluck it out, and cast it from thee: it is better for thee to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.||Gehenna|
|Mat 23:15||Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye compass sea and land to make one proselyte, and when he is made, ye make him twofold more the child of hell than yourselves.||Gehenna|
|Mat 23:33||Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell||Gehenna|
|Luke 12:5||But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.||Gehenna|
What Can We Say So Far?
When considering the scriptures above along with what has been proposed so far in previous articles within this series, we can see that Jesus’s statements possibly line up with the proposed ideas concerning the places of hell and their natures. These ideas are:
- Hell as interpreted from the word hades means “the grave” which is a state of unconscious death.
- Hell as interpreted from the word gehenna means “the valley of the sons of Hinnom” which was proposed as an Old Testament shadow of the lake of fire.
- The lake of fire is a place of total annihilation that occurs during a set point in time that will eventually come to an end.
For further clarification and a well-rounded interpretation, let’s consider a few specific ideas that Jesus taught about the nature of hell:
There Shall be Weeping and Gnashing of Teeth
Some suggest that if hell is a place of annihilation, then there is no punishment. It is made clear that hell is not a pleasant place. Though “the dead know not a thing” when in the state of “the grave,” being cast into the lake of fire (Gehenna) will fill many with fear, anger, and grief.
|Mat 8:10-12||When Jesus heard this, he was amazed and said to those following him, “Truly I tell you, I have not found anyone in Israel with such great faith. I say to you that many will come from the east and the west, and will take their places at the feast with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven. But the subjects of the kingdom will be thrown outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”|
|Mat 13:50||And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.|
|Mat 24:48-51||But and if that evil servant shall say in his heart, My lord delayeth his coming; And shall begin to smite his fellowservants, and to eat and drink with the drunken; The lord of that servant shall come in a day when he looketh not for him, and in an hour that he is not aware of, and shall cut him asunder, and appoint him his portion with the hypocrites: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.|
|Mat 25:30||And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.|
We should make note of a few things here. For one, we see that the place of “weeping and gnashing of teeth” is not for unbelievers in the strict sense. This is also a place for unprofitable and evil servants. These are those who honor God with their lips, but do not lay hold of their salvation and grow in the things of the kingdom of God. There will be many “subjects of the kingdom” that are thrown down.
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matthew 7:21-23).
Secondly, we do not have to interpret this as never-ending torment. It is a final destruction from which there is no return. Being faced with such a destruction will be fearsome and many will not see it coming. That is the interpretation here.
Their Worm Dies Not and the Fire is Not Quenched
When we read about fire that is not quenched, everlasting punishment, and other such ideas, it is easy to assume that hell is a place of never-ending, conscious torment. However, in Part 2 we took a look at these scriptures, considered some definitions, and compared these ideas to their Old Testament references. In doing so, we discovered that the lake of fire is a place of future judgment in which the wicked are destroyed, and all torment will eventually come to an end.
When looking at the following scriptures, notice the bold words and the translation definition given to the right. Note that “everlasting” and “eternal” are translated from the same word, aionios, meaning “age-long.”
Mark Chapter 9:43-50
And if thy hand offend thee, cut it off: it is better for thee to enter into life maimed, than having two hands to go into hell (Gehenna), into the fire that never shall be quenched:
What is Jesus teaching here? Is he suggesting that if we do evil with one of our body members, then we are better off cutting that part off than burning in hell forever? For example, if we have a lustful eye, should we pluck out our eye? I don’t view this as something to be taken literally, and I think most would agree. To do so does not line up with the teachings of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Here are my thoughts. This is not about our bodies on an individual level, but the body of Christ. If one of our “members” offends little ones of the flock who believe in Jesus, they are going to be “cut off” and “cast into hell.” We should be careful when considering this idea, however, always remembering the patience and mercy Jesus expects us to show others. It would require a very grievous offense that goes unrepentant for us to warrant removing other Christians from our fellowship.
What about “where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched?” As mentioned in Part 1, this is reference to Gehenna (The Valley of the Sons of Hinnom), which was a place in the Old Testament in which dead bodies of criminals were thrown into a continually-burning pit.
When weighing all of the information provided, it is my belief that the lake of fire is a place in which those who transgress against God without repentance are destroyed, not a place in which they will remain alive and in torment forever. It might also be that subjects of the kingdom of God will be able to look at this place as a memorial to the events that occurred during the age of God’s wrath on the earth.
And they shall go forth, and look upon the dead carcases of the men that have transgressed against me: for their worm shall not die, neither shall their fire be quenched; and they shall be an abhorring to all flesh (Isaiah 66:24).
Lazarus and the Rich Man
One of the most common arguments for the traditional Christian views of hell come from the story of Lazarus and the rich man. It is my belief that this story is a parable, therefore we are not to take the ideas here literally. These are fictional characters meant to teach us something, so we should consider the spirit of what Jesus is communicating. Let’s take a look.
Luke Chapter 16:19-31
First, what can we see about Lazarus and the rich man? You might recall the lesson surrounding the scripture cited above (Matthew 25:40-41) in which Jesus tells us that if we do not take care of the needy, then we are not caring for him and we will be cast into the lake of fire. Did the rich man care about Lazarus? No. We might also remember that Jesus teaches us that we should lay up for ourselves treasures in heaven, not treasures in this world.
What is Abraham’s bosom? The first thing that comes to mind is this scriptural reference:
They answered and said unto him, Abraham is our father. Jesus saith unto them, If ye were Abraham’s children, ye would do the works of Abraham (John 8:39). You might also consider Matthew Chapter 3. This can be linked to the kingdom of God, and those who do the will of the Father are those who will reside in the kingdom that is now and is to come—a kingdom for the humble and obedient, not the proud and wicked.
We read that the rich man is tormented by flames and he can see Lazarus afar off. This might be in-line with the idea that the subjects of God’s kingdom will be able to see the lake of fire and “look upon the carcasses of the men who have transgressed” against God. This does not mean the tormented will be alive in this place forever. Let’s read on.
Notice how Lazarus is speaking to father Abraham. Again, consider what Jesus said. If we are of God and of the seed of Abraham, we will hear the voice of Jesus and we will obey. Are we Christians in word only, or do we seek to obey the teachings of Jesus Christ?
We have so much opportunity to learn of the things of God and the gospel of Jesus Christ. Beginning with Moses and the prophets, and now as Christians, we have the resurrection, the bible, and the Holy Spirit. Yet, many are not persuaded. We reject the power of the resurrection, even today. In so doing, it begs the question: are we the seed of father Abraham, or are we the children of Satan? The Lord’s Day will reveal it.
This has been a long study, and I hope it will lay to rest some of the myths we commonly hold regarding the Christian views of hell and encourage readers to consider the gospel more fully. In a nutshell, we have learned the following:
- There are Three Distinct Places of Hell:
There are three words in the New Testament that were grouped together and translated as hell, each of which is actually a distinct place or state of being, depending on how you want to look at it.
There is the grave (translated as hell from the word hades), which is a place of unconscious death that all of us experience. The dead are not in heaven or hell at this time. All are sleeping in their graves and awaiting the judgment. This will be discussed in further detail when we consider the false rapture doctrine.
The second place of hell is called the pit (translated from the word tartaturas), which we supposed is the same as outer darkness and the deep. Not much is known about this, but it was suggested that this is a holding place or realm of existence for devils.
The third place of hell is the lake of fire (translated from the word gehenna), which is an OT reference of a place that foreshadows the lake of fire. This is the place of punishment for all who bring death. This is the second death.
- The Torment Will Not Last Forever:
We considered scriptures that suggest never-ending torment and discovered that in-fact, this is an age-long event that will come to an end. However, the punishment is forever because unlike the first death, none will return from the second death.
- All Death is Destroyed:
The purpose of the lake of fire is to destroy all things that bring death. To sin is to bring death to this world in a multitude of ways, and those who continue in wanton sin without regard for the gospel of the kingdom of Jesus Christ will be destroyed along with devils, Satan, and his prophets.
- Jesus is The Remedy for Death:
There is an essential and misunderstood aspect of the gospel. As Christians, we are forgiven of our sins. We are also promised a new nature as the laws of the kingdom of God are written in our hearts, changing us over time from those who bring death to those who bring life.
If we neglect so great a salvation, we are as the wicked servants who will find themselves cut off and cast into the lake of fire—no matter how much we honor God with our lips. This is a serious matter. We should “watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man (Luke 21:36).”
All this aside, I don’t view hell as a means of effective Christian motivation — regardless of what we believe about it. We should follow Jesus because of who he is, what he stands for, and the forgiveness and freedom he provides — not to save our own skins. Such a reason is very fragile and easily overthrown.
This article is part four of the series “The Nature of Hell.” This entire series is a sub-series within “Building Upon the Living Rock,” which is a look at basic Christian doctrines. Questions and comments are welcome below. Subscribe if you would like email notifications of future publications.