Is Hell for Real?


We have been going through the foundations series for over twenty weeks now. We have been looking at the doctrines which are foundational to our world and life view; which drive us and motivate us; but which also instruct us for how in the world we are supposed to live in this crazy world. But you might wonder why we would need to include the subject of hell in a series on foundations. Is it really a foundational topic? It's not a subject that is fun to listen to. Nor is it popular. In fact, as people begin to slide down the hill into liberalism, this is the first doctrine that usually goes by the wayside. It's almost always guaranteed to be one of the first doctrines to be openly ditched by pastors. If you want to expose a closet liberal who still preaches in a conservative fashion, ask him if he holds to the doctrine of eternal, conscious torment in hell. It is almost always unthinkable to a liberal. And it is a doctrine that has come under increasing attack in evangelical circles because evangelicalism has been sliding away from the Reformation. One of the things that stunned me back in 1996 was a survey of evangelical leaders at the Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society, and the survey showed that a majority of the members did not believe in hell. So I was planning to do a topical sermon on this important subject today. But providentially, I have been hindered. With the 18 counseling situations and with Presbytery this week, I decided that it would be the better part of valor to pull out an old sermon and adjust it some for today.

We are going to be looking at all kinds of Scriptures on hell this morning. But I thought I would start by reading from Revelation 9, a passage that is often overlooked. This is a description of demons being unleashed from fires of hell, yet without the slightest repentance. Here they have been tortured for who knows how long, yet without repentance – continuing to sin in their rebellion against God. If you ever wondered why hell would have to go on forever, it is because new sin and new rebellion continues to go on forever. Some people have thought that if someone could come back from the grave to explain the tortures they were experiencing that it would immediately lead to the conversions of their relatives. Actually, Dr. Rawlings (a physician who has dealt with many resuscitations) has written a book not only on the good experiences of people who have been near death, but on the screams of people in the resuscitation room saying demons were dragging them into hell; scared to death, yet putting it all behind them when they come out of it. Luke 16:31 denies that coming back from the dead would make any difference.

Anyway, let me read Revelation 9:1-11:

Revelation 9:1 Then the fifth angel sounded: And I saw a star fallen from heaven to the earth. To him was given the key to the bottomless pit.

Revelation 9:2 And he opened the bottomless pit, and smoke arose out of the pit like the smoke of a great furnace. So the sun and the air were darkened because of the smoke of the pit.

Revelation 9:3 Then out of the smoke locusts came upon the earth. And to them was given power, as the scorpions of the earth have power.

Revelation 9:4 They were commanded not to harm the grass of the earth, or any green thing, or any tree, but only those men who do not have the seal of God on their foreheads.

Revelation 9:5 And they were not given authority to kill them, but to torment them for five months. Their torment was like the torment of a scorpion when it strikes a man.

Revelation 9:6 In those days men will seek death and will not find it; they will desire to die, and death will flee from them.

Revelation 9:7 The shape of the locusts was like horses prepared for battle. On their heads were crowns of something like gold, and their faces were like the faces of men.

Revelation 9:8 They had hair like women's hair, and their teeth were like lions' teeth.

Revelation 9:9 And they had breastplates like breastplates of iron, and the sound of their wings was like the sound of chariots with many horses running into battle.

Revelation 9:10 They had tails like scorpions, and there were stings in their tails. Their power was to hurt men five months.

Revelation 9:11 And they had as king over them the angel of the bottomless pit, whose name in Hebrew is Abaddon, but in Greek he has the name Apollyon.

No repentance, despite burning and being released. The same is true of men who are tortured by these demons. Look at verses 20-21:

Revelation 9:20 But the rest of mankind, who were not killed by these plagues, did not repent of the works of their hands, that they should not worship demons, and idols of gold, silver, brass, stone, and wood, which can neither see nor hear nor walk.

Revelation 9:21 And they did not repent of their murders or their sorceries or their sexual immorality or their thefts.

And the question might come, "If the doctrine of hell won't scare people into believing and if it is such a gruesome subject for believers to think about, why should we bother teaching on the subject? Let's avoid the discomfort. And I think that is a reasonable question? Why should we study this doctrine? And I want to begin with several good reasons.

Some Reasons Why We Should Study This Doctrine More

Ministers Who Fail to Warn About Hell Will Have Blood on Their Hands (Ezek. 33:6-7)

The first reason is personal: God says that it's not up to me to make people believe, but I am responsible to preach on judgment. And if I fail to, I will have blood on my hands.

Here's what Ezekiel 33 says:

Ezekiel 33:6 But if the watchman sees the sword coming and does not blow the trumpet, and the people are not warned, and the sword comes and takes any person from among them, he is taken away in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at the watchman's hand.

Ezekiel 33:7 "So you, son of man: I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore you shall hear a word from My mouth and warn them for Me.

Ezekiel 33:8 "When I say to the wicked, ‘O wicked man, you shall surely die!' and you do not speak to warn the wicked from his way, that wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand."

The doctrine of hell is increasingly being denied by pastors and theologians, and like Peter (2 Pet. 3) we need to warn against such false teaching

A second reason is that the doctrine of hell is increasingly being denied. I alluded to JETS, but our own evangelical organization removed the word "conscious" for its doctrinal statement so that it no longer read "eternal conscious punishment" because they wanted to accommodate evangelicals who don't believe in a literal hell.

But let me give you some statistics of why this is a serious problem:

A study that was done by Northwestern University School of Education showed that only 31% of ministers surveyed said they believed in hell, and only 20% of ministers surveyed said they believed that a minister should ever teach on the subject of hell.. Now that was only a sampling of 500 ministers so the margin of error may be greater.

But another larger study was only one percentage point different. Only 30% believed in hell, and 70% said that they did not.

Another study of 7,441 pastors showed the following percentages agreeing with this statement: "Hell does not refer to a special location after death, but to the experience of self-estrangement, guilt, and meaninglessness in this life." Here's the figures of those who agreed: 58 percent of the Methodists, 60 percent of the Episcopalians, 54 percent of the Presbyterians, and 35 percent of the American Baptists agreed. In other words, they do NOT believe in a literal Hell of any sort, even an annihilationist view.1

Martin Luther said, "If I profess with the loudest voice and clearest exposition every portion of the truth of God except precisely that little point which the world and the devil are at that moment attacking, I am not confessing Christ, however boldly I may be professing him. Where the battle rages, there the loyalty of the soldier is proved, and to be steady on all the battlefield besides is mere flight and disgrace if he flinches at that point."2

Christ Taught It (vv. 19-31) and Expects Us To (Matt. 28:20). 70 References in Gospels, 162 in NT.

A third reason is that Christ obviously thought this was a very important topic to teach on. There are 70 references to hell in Christ's teachings in the Gospels. There are 162 references in the New Testament as a whole. That is a huge number. He taught children and He taught adults. HE taught hell to believers and unbelievers. Obviously He considered this to be a very important doctrine. We need to value doctrine by Christ's standards rather than by how popular they are. I have talked to evangelicals who has said that they have gone a lifetime in their church without ever hearing an entire sermon on hell. But Christ valued the topic and taught on it frequently.

Failure to believe in hell reflects a deeper problem (v. 31)

A fourth reason is that failure to believe this doctrine shows a far deeper problem. Luke 16:31 says, If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead. Rebellion against the Scriptures on any point shows a basic underlying spirit of unbelief. And this means that the doctrine of hell can be a wonderful gauge of whether an evangelical pastor is really a closet liberal. This doctrine can reveal underlying problems of unbelief in our own lives. And so it can serve as a guage. If we find our heart lacking faith to believe this doctrine, it means that our worldview is being driven by presuppositions alien to the Scripture.

The doctrine of hell humbles man's pride and gives God His right place

A fifth reason to preach on it is that this is a doctrine that humbles the pride of man because it puts our own judgment of right and wrong and of propriety and impropriety at the feet of Jesus. We like to play judge with our minds many times, and think: "You know, that really is not fair for people to have to burn forever," but Romans 9 says, But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Paul says that the potter has the right to do whatever HE wants with the clay. And so, this is a doctrine that humbles our pride. And we all know that God is in the business of destroying idols and humbling pride. And so this doctrine is a marvelous tool of sanctification.

The doctrine of hell corrects a low view of sin

The sixth point is related to this. It says that the doctrine of hell also reveals and corrects a low view of sin and a low view of God's holiness. It is not by accident that the age that has most ignored the doctrine of hell has also become the age that has least regard for breaking God's law. For many Christians sin is no big deal. "So I sin? I'll ask forgiveness. No big deal." But sin is a big deal or there would be no hell. Sin is a big deal or Christ would not have had to suffer. Studying this doctrine will cause us to flee to God and hunger and thirst after righteousness. You cannot meditate upon the doctrine of hell without sensing how deeply God must hate all sin. The doctrine of hell is a doctrine that helps us to take holiness seriously and to flee from and abhor sin. It reveals and it corrects a low view of sin. People who have a distaste for the subject of hell almost always have a very light view of sin.

It gives us a heightened appreciation for salvation and heaven

Seventh, it will also make us appreciate our salvation all the more. When we realize the terrors that we have been snatched from like a brand snatched from the fire, it will make our hearts melt with gratitude for His mercy. When God saves us from the dominion of sin, He is saving us from something infinitely horrible to God. And the more horrible sin appears to us, the more wonderful salvation and heaven will appear to us. Christ said, "To whom much is forgiven, the same will love much." He is not saying that some people have more sins than others. His point was that some people realize their sins more deeply than others, and it causes them to love more deeply. Our love for God will increase in direct proportion to the impact that this doctrine has upon us. It is a practical doctrine.

It shows the insanity of a present orientation

Eighth, it shows the insanity (the absolute insanity) of a present orientation. You know what present orientation is, don't you? It's the opposite of deferred gratification. Those who advance economically, spiritually, or familially are denying their present comforts now so that they can have more in the future. The future drives them rather than present need. To be willing to risk loss in eternity because of a few pleasures now is the ultimate in present oriented belief. We live in a culture that tends to be present oriented in everything we do. We like to go into debt – sacrificing the future so that we can have leisure now. American politicians don't care about future pain. They care about present pain, and they refuse to engage in the needed deferred gratification to ensure that our future will be better. Deferred gratification says, "I will sacrifice now so that I can have in the future." But here is a doctrine that shows the insanity of a present orientation. It's a great doctrine to confront the welfare society with.

It gives urgency to missions and zeal to our prayers for the lost

If hell is not eternal, then the eternal character of heaven comes into question

Ninth, this doctrine gives to believers a sense of urgency to missions and urgency of prayer for those who are lost. Romans 9 speaks of God's right to reprobate anybody that HE wants, but Paul in that same chapter says that the knowledge of their judgment and the love that God had poured out in his heart made him desirous of laying down his life for the lost. In fact, in the first two verses he makes this amazing testimony, and it never ceases to tug at my heart. He says, I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit [why is he insisting that this is no exageration? He is assuming that what he is about to say is going to sound so crazy, that people are not going to believe him. And here is the unbelievable thing that God's grace has wrought in his heart; "I tell the truth in Christ, I am not lying, my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Spirit] that I have great sorrow and continual grief in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were accursed from Christ for my brethren, my countrymen according to the flesh. He said that he was so burdened for his countrymen that he wished he could go to hell in their place, and he would if he could save them. Now I cannot say that I have ever had that degree of passion for the lost. That is Spirit given. But this doctrine gave him a burning zeal to save some from the flames, as Jude words it. So there is plenty of reason to study this doctrine.

If hell is not eternal, then the eternal character of heaven comes into question and our comfort for all of eternity is robbed, because the eternal character of heaven is couched in the same language that describes the eternal terrors of hell. This is a doctrine which we must study, we must know, we must teach it and we must pray it.

Now with that as a background, let's quickly look at some descriptions of hell that you find in Scripture. And rather than go through the chart that is on your outlines, I think I will try to weave some of that material into the other points. But it is important that we make distinctions in Biblical terms.

What is Hell?

The Biblical Terms Used For Hell

  1. Sheol
  2. Hades

There are several terms in your outline that are used to describe hell. I won't go into all the technical details. It would take me way to long. But there are only two distinctions on hell that are important at this point. And they relate to before the second coming and after the second coming. Before the second coming of Christ, hell is always referred to as being in the heart of the earth. For example, Ezekiel 26:20 says, then I will bring you down with those who descend into the Pit, to the people of old, and I will make you dwell in the lowest part of the earth, in places desolate from antiquity, with those who go down to the Pit… In the Old Testament Sheol is said to be down 62 times. People go down to Sheol. And He's not talking about the grave. That's one of the objections on the chart. The Hebrew word Sheol which is equivalent to the Greek word Hades that was used in Luke 16, never refers to the grave. Let me give you some proofs. King Saul was said to go down to Sheol while his body hung above ground for several days. His body was lifted up, but his soul went down. People talk in Sheol, weep, feel pain. It is described as the lowest parts of Sheol (Deut. 32:22; Ps. 86:13) and "the depths of Sheol" (Prov. 9:18). It is spoken of as being a deep place, an abyss (Luke 8:31), the heart of the earth (Matt. 12:30). And this Sheol (and the Greek term Hades that is used in Luke 16:23 is identical) is spoken of as being a place of pain (Ps. 116:3). That sure doesn't sound like the place of the grave. It is said to be a place of "sorrows" (2 Sam. 22:6) and a place of burning fire. For example, Deuteronomy 32:22 says it shall burn to the lowest Sheol; it shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains. So the fire that is experienced in Sheol has in part something to do with the molten fiery mass that rises up underneath some mountains. They say that the center of the earth (because of the pressure of what is above) is anywhere from 11,000-13,000 degrees Fahrenheit. 212 degrees Fahrenheit is plenty hot, but this is 61 times hotter. That is hotter than the surface of the sun. And so it is a very literal lake of fire in the heart of the earth. So that is hell before the second coming.

At the second coming, Sheol will be emptied out and cast into a lake of fire which in turn will be cast into outer darkness forever and ever. Revelation 20:14 says, Then Death and Hades were cast into the lake of fire. Now we aren't told what shape that lake will take. Will it be similar to the molten lake that they are in under the earth right now? We aren't told. Some have imagined it like a giant sun that is a lake of liquid which burns. Others have likened it to a massive planet, the weight of which would cause unbelievable temperatures at its core and lesser temperatures at higher levels. And if the planet were cast out into space, there would not only be darkness all around, there would be darkness within. But we aren't told the specifics of how God will accomplish it. We are just told that hell will be transferred from within the earth to some other place at the end of earth history.

As far as the other terms are concerned: Tartarus is the lowest part of Sheol where particularly vicious demons have been confined until judgment day.

The pit is another name for Sheol or Hades.

Gehenna is the Greek form of the Hebrew word Hinnom and it was a place name for the refuse area just South West of Jerusalem. And actually, this was one of the grossest terms. Jesus used an illustration that every Jew would have been familiar with and horrified over to give a small glimpse of the kind of suffering that would go on in hell. Originally, this was the place where the Moloch worshippers would sacrifice their children. They would heat a metal idol of Moloch until its outstretched arms were red hot, and then lay their children on the arms to slowly burn. The screaming and agony of victims in that place became a symbol of eternal torment. Later it became a garbage heap where fires were burning and worms would decompose the refuse. Isaiah 66 uses those symbols to point to demonic worms which would torment the reprobate throughout eternity. But Gehenna or Hinnom is the only term that is a symbol. All of the others are literal.

Traditionally theologians have placed Sheol or Hades as the interim place of punishment until the second coming when all would be thrown into another lake of fire.

  1. The pit (Hebrew bod; Greek abyss)
  2. Tartarus
  3. Lake of Fire
  4. Hinnom (Hebrew) Gehenna (Greek)
  5. Blackness of Darkness
  6. Furnace of Fire

Hell's Location

  1. Before the Second Coming - down
  2. After the Second Coming - out, away from presence, outer darkness

God Prepared This Place ("great gulf fixed" with Matt 25:41)

If you would turn back to Luke 16, I want to look at a few other details about hell that we can see in this passage. Every time I preach on hell, my heart melts. And I have to confess, that at times my flesh rises up against the doctrine and reminds me that I need more of God's grace and more of His mind.

Look at verse 26: And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. It is fixed. Now let me clarify something. This was before the ascension of Christ when all saints were taken to heaven. But in the Old Testament, paradise was also in Sheol/Hades. It was described as upper Sheol, and hell as the lowest parts of Sheol. But prior to Christ's resurrection, saints could communicate on occasion with those who were in the lower compartments. And that's what is going on here. There was a huge gulf fixed between the saints and the sinners. God could have unfixed it, but He chose not to. In other words, this is not something which was already out there that God was trying to rescue everyone from. God was the author of hell, and we need to come to grips with this fact. Matthew 25:41 gives us the words that Christ will utter on judgment day to unbelievers: Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Hell is a place prepared by God, not by the devil. God prepared it for the devil. Many times people make hell out to be God's great nemesis and His great grief. If God could have helped it, He would have rescued everyone from hell. Well, that's not what the Scripture says.

Now when the reprobate realize this, it often brings the rebellion sharply to the surface and they begin to resent and even to hate God. When they consider men being tormented day and night forever and ever without end they come to hate God for hell rather than loving Him for offering salvation full and free. And if you are one whose heart rises up against this doctrine, you need to sit down and evaluate whether God's seed resides within you. Those who are born of God justify God rather than themselves. In fact, that's one of the reasons Christ brought this doctrine. In verse 15 Christ told the Pharisees, You are those who justify yourselves before men, but God knows your hearts. For what is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. When we are saved, we let God be true, and every man a liar if it needs to come to that. We become drawn to the things of God. We take God as He is, and He is a God who has willed there to be a hell. We can't change God into something He isn't.

Hell reflects the glory of God's justice. Paul says that it reflects God's indignation and His wrath. Proverbs 16:4 says, The LORD has made all for Himself, Yes, even the wicked for the day of doom. Romans 9 speaks of them as vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, and says that hell makes His wrath and His power known. So don't try to protect God by distancing God from hell. HE made it, and it glorifies Him in the way that He desires to be glorified. Many times we are motivated to be quiet about this doctrine and to soft-pedal it because we want men to think well of Him. But we ought to present the real God of the Scriptures, not the sentimental God of fluff that sweeps our sins under a carpet. No! God's fire burns against all sin.

  1. Prepared for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41)
  2. For the wicked (Rev. 21:8) and disobedient (Rom. 2:8,9)

Repentance and Turning to Christ are the Only Means of Escape from Hell (vv. 28-31)

However, point D shows us that there is no excuse for people being in hell. This balances off the previous point. Even though God prepared such a place, He also made provision to escape hell. And that is by turning from our sins and trusting and following Christ. There will be no one in hell who will be able to honestly say that he didn't deserve it. There will be no one in hell who will be able to honestly say that he did not have an opportunity to escape it. The rich man doesn't utter a word about whether he deserves it or not. He knows God's justice too well. He knows that the only hope for his brothers is if they repent. So even from hell he acknowledges that there is a way to escape from hell. It is while we are here on earth. And so side by side we see God's justice and God's mercy displayed.

A Place of Separation Far Distant From God and His People (vv. 23,26; 2 Thess. 1:9; Matt. 13:49; 25:41,46). What is provisional in history will be made permanent when Hades is cast into the lake of fire (Rev. 20:10,14-15)

Another fact about eternal punishment, is that it is in a place of separation from God and His people. Verse 23 says, And being in torments in Hades, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham afar off... Through the glow of molten lava; through the fire and molten sulfur falling around him he noticed paradise. But it was afar off. And again, verse 26 speaks of a great gulf between paradise and the pit that cannot be crossed. That chasm has greatly widened since Christ took those in Hades paradise into heaven itself. And on judgment day, Hades will be cast into the lake of fire and cast away into outer darkness - away from God, away from creation, away from stars or planets or any outside light.

Some have wondered how there could be a lake of fire and outer darkness. They say that fire and outer darkness is a contradiction. But its not. First of all, fire can be a lake. A sun is literally a lake of fire. And as I have mentioned earlier, the inner earth is literally a liquid lake of fiery metal. And you all know about black holes, which have such gravity that they suck in even light itself. And when sufficient mass is accumulated there can even be nuclear fusion at the core. It is clearly possible to be in outer darkness and be in a fire. God can figure that out in whatever way He chooses. But there is no reason to object to its existence.

But this is a place of separation from Christ. On judgment day Jesus will say, "Depart from Me…" Matthew 25:41 In fact, that is probably the worst feature of hell – being cast away from the fellowship of relatives, saints and Christ.

A Place of Consciousness (vv. 23-24)

But many evangelicals object to point F. They don't believe that it is a place of consciousness. They either believe that people are unconscious and so are not suffering (they are just blobs of indestructible matter in the fire with no consciousness), or they believe that such people are instantly annihilated - but again, not conscious to this eternal fire. I mentioned earlier that CELNet removed the word "conscious" from their doctrinal statement. The statement sounds like it believes in hell, but it makes wiggle room for liberals. Let me read you the statement: "Whosoever is not found written in the Book of Life, together with the devil and his angels will be consigned to everlasting punishment in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Matt. 25:46; Mark 9:43-58; Rev. 19:20; 20:11-15; 21:8). Sounds like a pretty good statement. When I wrote the statement, I had put in the word "conscious" because I knew how many evangelicals claim to believe in hell, but actually believe in annihilation, which means judgment is instantaneous and then they are gone. They took out the word so that such evangelicals (like Stott) could accept it.

Let me read you some of the strong words that some evangelicals have used against the idea of conscious torment. One author said that even if it was written on every page of Scripture he could not believe it; nor could he worship a God who would do such a thing (in Strong's Systematic Theology). You can tell where his presuppositions come from. That's why we say it is either theonomy or autonomy; it is either God's Word or Man's mind that determines reality. But this evangelical said that he couldn't believe the doctrine even if it was written on every page of Scripture. I had a friend in Canada who told me the same thing. And so a denial of conscious torment has been seen everywhere. John R. Stott said, "Well, emotionally, I find the concept intolerable and do not understand how people can live with it without either cauterizing their feelings or cracking under the strain." Well, I'm sorry, but my feelings have nothing to do with whether something is true or not.

Another evangelical, Clark Pinnock, who used to teach up at Regent, in Vancouver, uses even stronger words: He says, "Everlasting torment is intolerable from a moral point of view because it makes God into a bloodthirsty monster who maintains an everlasting Auschwitz for victims whom he does not even allow to die." I'd hate to be near him when the lightning bolt strikes — calling God a monster if He were to do such a thing, and as wicked as Hitler. Such language does not glorify God, and it certainly does not submit to the Scriptures.

Anyone with eyes to see can tell that the rich man was very, very conscious. He is tormented, and torment is an attribute of consciousness. One of the characteristic descriptions of hell is the torment, the anguish, the weeping, the gnashing of teeth that occurs. Scripture speaks of the sorrows of Sheol. They don't just cease to exist like these theologians try to claim. They suffer consciously.

They talk like this rich man talked in Hades. Ezekiel 32 records multitudes who have gone down into Sheol and it says, The strong among the mighty shall speak to him out of the midst of hell [or Sheol] (v. 21). And it goes on three verses later to speak of their shame in the pit. Shame is an attribute of consciousness. In the next verse he says again, yet they bear their shame with those who go down to the Pit. Verse 30 speaks of their terror and their shame. Again, terror is an attribute of consciousness.

But let me give you some other references to consciousness in Hades or Sheol. Isaiah 14 describes the fall of the King of Babylon and of his being sent to hell or Sheol. It says, The denizens of hell crowd to meet you as you enter their domain… [So the kind of dead that are in Sheol are able to crowd together, and are able to move. He goes on.] They shall speak and say to you; (vv 9-10) Here are people in hell or in Sheol who talk to this newly dead king and who indicate that he has become just as vulnerable as they are. That is consciousness.

Some people think that anything that goes down into hell is instantly destroyed, but we started the service reading in Revelation 9 about millions of demons who had been in the bottomless pit for who knows how long, and they aren't brought back to life. They are simply released. And they already had a king who had ruled over them for all of that time in the bottomless pit. If demons aren't destroyed by the fires of the pit, why do we think that people will be? 2 Peter 2:4 says, God did not spare the angels who sinned, but cast them down to hell and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved for judgment. They are very conscious and are chained. Jesus speaks of weeping and gnashing of teeth and wailing (Matt 8:12; 13:42). Only the conscious can do that. Revelation 14:11 says that they have no rest. It would be nice to think that there might be an end to it all and some rest in unconsciousness, but Scripture indicates that these people cannot pass out, cannot sleep, but have no rest forever. Revelation 14:11 says, And the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever; and they have no rest day or night

So to summarize from the Scriptures we have read, people in hell right now can talk, move, are sorrowful, ask questions, weep, and do other things that only conscious people can do.

A Place of Unending Fire (Matt. 25:41; Mark 9:44,46,48; Rev. 20:10,15)

But there is another feature. Point G speaks of it as being a place of unending fire. Verse 24 speaks of the flames in Hades. One ray of hope that some might hold out is that eventually the flames will die out. But Matthew 25:41 speaks of everlasting fire, and three times in Mark 9 Christ says the fire is not quenched (Mark 9:44,46,48). You know what? While it is true that suns will eventually burn out, if there was a massive planet the size of the sun, (I may be wrong on this, but I think that) the sheer weight of the material above pushing down to the core would keep the center super hearted forever, because it is the weight that causes the heat. But even if that is not true, Scripture indicates that flames usher from God's presence Himself to torment the wicked, and God never ends. It's an unending fire.

A Place of Unending Torment (vv. 23,24,25,28; Rev. 14:11; 20:10;

Matt. 25:46)

Some have said that the fire is everlasting, but the people aren't. Some have thought that no one could survive such heat. But notice in verses 23,24,25,28 that the rich man isn't instantly killed in this hot furnace. It is true that Matthew 25:41 speaks of everlasting fire, but Matthew 25:46 speaks of everlasting punishment. The punishment is not everlasting unless the person being punished is everlasting. Otherwise it isn't punishment any longer, is it? Revelation 14:11 says, The smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and they have no rest day or night… Revelation 20:10 says, they will be tormented day and night forever and ever. Tormented forever and ever. That ought to settle the question. No end to the personal torment.

But some people have said that forever could mean that they burn for an age and once the age is done, they will cease to exist. But if the Greek word aionion does not mean everlasting, then there is no proof that heaven is eternal. Secondly, you still have a problem because Scripture adds other words that leave the expression without doubt.

One of the odd expressions of Jesus is this (and I'm kind of taking point K out of order. Here's the expression): For their worm does not die, and their fire is not quenched. When worms eat our body they eventually die, but these worms that torment the wicked never do die. There are different interpretations of what these worms are, but two things we can notice. First, the worm is assigned to us: "their worm," and secondly that it keeps working. If the worm is our conscience, then it keeps working. It never dies. If the worm is a demonic serpent, then it never dies and it never ceases from being our worm. No matter how you interpret it, the fact that it will always be their worm means that they never cease to exist. And so I've just taken point K as a proof for point H.

A Place of Unending Regrets and Painful Memories (v. 25)

Another thing that the rich man experienced was regrets and painful memories. Abraham says, "Son, remember." Remember. Memory will be torment for these people. Thankfully, God will blot out all bad memories that we believers have, and wipe away all tears after judgment day. But that is not the case with the wicked. That's why Scripture twice speaks of the sorrows of Sheol (2 Sam. 22:6; Psalm 18:5) and Daniel 12 speaks of everlasting shame and contempt. Memory will be a terrible enemy. It will be part of the torture.

A Place Where No Mercy is Possible and Without the Slightest Hope of Release (vv. 24-29)

Finally, hell will be a place where there is no mercy possible and without the slightest hope of release. Twice the Scriptures speak of the lost as having no hope. And verses 24-29 dash all hopes in this rich man. He asks for mercy and there is none, he asks for water, and none can be brought. Some people think that once the sins are burnt out of us that we can go to heaven. But verse 26 says it is impossible to cross the gap from heaven to hell or hell to heaven. It is not possible.

This has to be one of the most pitiful cries in all of the Scripture. Then he cried and said, "Father Abraham…" He had been brought up in the church and was used to referring to Abraham as his father. Church members can go to hell. He said, "Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.' But Abraham said, 'Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. And besides all this, between us there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us." Then he said, "I beg you therefore, father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment." Abraham said to him, "They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them." And he said, "No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead they will repent." But he said to him, "If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.

A Place of Torment by Worm-Like Demons

If your heart is not moved by the doctrine of hell, then it has lost all sensitivity. I want to end by drawing some comfort and application from this passage:

First, eternity is where earthly wrongs or injustices are made right. The message to the rich man in verse 25 is, Son, remember that in your lifetime you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things; but now he is comforted and you are tormented. Lazarus faced disease, poverty, pain and ridicule. He was an outcast. When you experience some of these things it is easy to allow them to make you bitter. But we need to remember that all wrongs will be righted in eternity. Our rewards will more than compensate for our pains and frustrations. The fact that there is punishment in an afterlife implies the doctrine of God's justice. And so justice will be done for you. Even the injustices done against you by your enemies are laying up for you an eternal treasure. That's why Christ says you can leap for joy when they persecute you. Because God is a just God, accounts must be settled.

Second, our eternal destiny is not what most people expect. Eternity will come as a shock and a surprise to many, who think that they are going to heaven, and find themselves in hell. In the time of Christ it was popular to think that the poor were not loved by God. Verse 14 says, Now the Pharisees, who were lovers of money, also heard all these things, and they derided Him. They could not believe what Christ was saying. Surely good people will be blessed, now and in eternity. If the Pharisees were to have compared these two people, they would have pronounced the rich man saved and the beggar lost. But Christ made it clear that there will be many surprises in heaven. There are good people in Scripture like Judas that everyone thought would be saved from judgment. No one expected Judas to betray Christ. He seemed like such a generous person. Let's take more offerings for the poor. Of course, he was skimming from the top. On the other hand there are men like Lot whom we might not have guessed were true believers had not the Bible told us so. There are a good many people who will be shocked when they enter eternity. The reason for this is that we are not saved by our good works, but by trusting in Christ alone for our salvation. You need to make sure that you are not one of those who thinks you will be OK based on what you do.

And that brings us to the third point: that our eternal destiny is not determined by those things by which our society measures "success" and "significance." People living at the time of the rich man and Lazarus would have considered Lazarus a failure, and the rich man to have been a success. He had built a great business. He would have been a candidate for elder in many churches. But the rich man realized too late that he couldn't take anything with him. By God's standards it was Lazarus who was the success. We need to look at life with spiritual eyes. Our thinking is backwards to God's in this area because we like our independence. We like to be able to contribute something and not be totally dependent upon God. It is humiliating to admit that we are all deserving of hell, and that salvation is by Christ's goodness alone. But the Bible says in Ephesians 2:8 and 9, For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. God's entrance fee to heaven is perfection, and no one but Christ achieved that.

Fourth, our eternal destiny is sealed by a decision we make in life, and cannot be reversed after death. Verse 26 says, And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. If you are to face eternity with joy, you too must make a decision during life. The rich man said, I beg you father, that you would send him to my father's house, for I have five brothers, that he may testify to them, lest they also come to this place of torment. The decision that affects all of eternity can only be made in time, while you are still alive. If you are a covenant child who has not made profession of faith, do so. Commit yourself to God. Flee from the wrath to come. And find the joy of partaking in communion.

Fifth, the decision involves repentance or turning from our sins, and a willingness to trust Christ alone and follow Him. One Old Testament verse that Lazarus would have known describes the state of all men when it says there is not a man that doeth good and sinneth not. And those sins separate us from God. If we were to liken this book to the account of our sins that are clinging to us, you can see that it separates between the person and God. God is too holy to embrace sin. He would cease to be a holy God if he allowed one sinner into heaven. God's command was, the soul that sinneth, it shall die. But because of God's infinite love for us, He sent His son down in the form of human flesh to be punished for our sins and to credit to us His righteous living. One Old Testament verse that Lazarus would have know from Isaiah says, all we like sheep have gone astray. We have turned each one to his own way. And the Lord has laid on Him, the iniquity of us all. Christ willingly chose to be our substitute, to bear our sins. And to all who cast their sins upon Christ in repentance and put their faith in His salvation, they find that every judgment they could possibly deserve, Christ has already born it for us. In turn, Christ gives us His righteousness and treats us as legally righteous, so that God can embrace us to Himself. Will you repent of your sins, turning from them and casting them upon Christ? If you are to have the comfort of Lazarus, you must. Let's pray.

Children of God, I charge you to be motivated to holiness and also motivated to evangelism by meditating on the doctrine of hell.

False Teachings Refuted

"This is a parable, not history" or "This is a myth"

Now I think you can see why people are troubled with this teaching. They don't like to think about such a terrible place, and there are all kinds of ways people have tried to escape the doctrine of hell. I have listed a few for you in your outlines. The first excuse is given by those who say that this can't be literal history. Surely this is just one of Christ's parables that He was drawing an application from.

I think a good argument can be made that Lazarus was a historical figure, but I don't need to show that. Let's assume that it was a parable. I would agree with my opponents that a parable has only one central application. But what I would also point out is that the details of Christ's parables are taken from real life, believable situations. For example, in the parable of the Good Samaritan, every detail of the parable was taken from that culture, but you wouldn't want to apply every detail. While I would agree that you wouldn't want to claim that Christ was symbolizing the pouring out of the Holy Spirit and joy in our lives, I would insist that the pouring out of oil and wine into wounds was commonplace and real. Though I wouldn't want to say that the denarrii given to the innkeeper symbolizes anything, I would say that innkeepers required their clients to pay money. Though I wouldn't want to say that the thieves were a symbol for Satan, I would insist that Christ knew there were real thieves who plagued the road to Jericho, and that's why He included it in His parable. Do you get what I am driving at?

When opponents of hell say this is a parable, they don't treat it like a parable. They treat it like a mythological story. If it was a parable, then we need to figure out the one central lesson Christ was teaching, but it doesn't annul the details that illustrate that truth. There were real rich men with beggars at their doors. I have personally witnessed dogs licking beggars sores in Ethiopia, and that certainly happened in Israel. All the details, like robes, death, Hades and paradise are true to life. In other words, liberals don't really treat this as a parable. They treat it as myth.

"We can't take this literally because it says disembodied spirits have eyes, fingers, tongues. Furthermore, we have the impossible situation of someone in hell speaking to someone in heaven."

Another objection people have given to saying this truly describes eternal punishment is that these two spirits are said to have eyes, fingers and tongues. They claim that only bodies can have such things, and therefore the rest of the story shouldn't be taken literally either. But how do they know what spirits can and cannot have? Have they seen a spirit? Only the Scripture can tell us that. And every time Scripture describes a spirit, whether man's spirit or an angel's, it describes them as having mouths, hands, feet, etc. Revelation 9:8 even describes demons as having hair.

And as to the second objection, it is sheer presumption to say what people can and cannot do in paradise or Hades, heaven or hell. We must limit ourselves to the Scriptures.

"Hell is a metaphor for sufferings here on earth"

Let's quickly go through some of these other objections. Some say that hell is a metaphor for sufferings on earth. I don't know how many times I have been told by people that they won't go to hell because they have had hell on earth already. Have you heard that? Well, verses 22-23 clearly say that this suffering starts upon death. Hades has nothing to do with life. It is after death. It doesn't say that the poor man suffered hell on earth so he didn't have to after life, nor does it say that the rich man will suffer because he was rich. After all, it is Abraham, the wealthiest man, who is arguing with him here. No, it is a matter of not being right with God.

"People will be annihilated in fire and cease to exist/suffer"

Some people believe in annihilation. They say that they agree that people will be thrown into the fire, but no one could live in that fire forever. It immediately destroys them and they cease to exist and thus experience no suffering. While that may be a nice thought, it ignores not only these verses, but also several that we read earlier about suffering and torment which never ends. Verse 23 says, and being in torments... Verse 24 ends, I am tormented in this flame... Verse 25 says, You are tormented. There was a period of time over which they said that. So Lazarus believes in torment continuing, Christ believes in it and Abraham believes in it. All I can say to such skeptics is what Abraham said in verse 31: If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead. Revelation 20:10 could not be more clear. It says, . And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever

"People are unconscious after death"

We have already dealt with the next objection. People are all too conscious in their eternal torment. verses 23-25

"Suffering will only occur until sins are paid for. They will then go to heaven." (Purgatory View)

For those who believe there can be any escape from purgatory into heaven, verse 26 says, And besides all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed, so that those who want to pass from here to you cannot, nor can those from there pass to us. They cannot pass into heaven.

"I communicated with my dead son. I know he's not in hell."

I have heard people say that they have communicated with the dead and that they are convinced that there is no hell. But verses 26-29 warns us that we better believe Scripture rather than such supposed experiences.

"People will have another chance to repent. They can pray to God."

To those who think the members of hell will be given a second chance, I want you to notice that the rich man prays for mercy in verse 24, and again in verse 27 and again in verse 30, and his prayers are all refused. The prayers of those in hell are not answered. Isn't that an awful thought? Praying with no hope of answer.

"Eternal punishment is inconsistent with God's love."

All of this brings some people to say that hell is inconsistent with God's love. All we can say is that men have a false view of God's love and would rather twist clear Scripture than change their views. Verse 15 says that what is esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God. Verse 25 contrasts God's comfort to Lazarus and His torment of the rich man. Scripture says God hates all workers of iniquity. The only way anyone could be loved by a holy God is as he was seen as perfect in Christ Jesus. God's love is a holy love. To say God loves the devil is blasphemy. But, we can be assured that Scripture says, A broken and a contrite heart, O God, thou wilt not despise.

"Eternal punishment is inconsistent with God's justice."

Another objection is that eternal punishment is inconsistent with God's justice. Why should sinning for 80 years land someone in hell for eternity? That's not fair they say. Read Romans 9 sometime. In response to the person who says it is not fair for God to throw someone into hell, Paul says, But indeed, O man, who are you to reply against God? Will the thing formed say to him who formed it, "Why have you made me like this?" Does not the potter have power over the clay, from the same lump to make one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? Paul basically says that God has the right to do what He wants with His creatures and He certainly doesn't have to answer to us.

But Christ has chosen to answer. Christ says that God defines justice, and justice will be given. Verse 15 says our problem is that we justify ourselves. Verse 17 says that while we ignore God's law, God upholds every detail. Verse 25 says that God will even all scores. But the bottom line is that you know nothing about justice apart from God. God alone defines justice.

"Hades is used in the Bible to mean the grave."

If you want a paper that covers the doctrine of Sheol Hades in detail, I can provide that. But to those who say Hades means the grave, you just have to look at verses 23-25 where it is conscious existence in fire. Or look to verse 26 which describes the impossibility of coming from Hades to heaven. Our dead bodies will certainly go to heaven, and this therefore is not talking about the grave. Or look at verse 28 talks about the possibility of people not coming to this place. No one avoids the grave. But people through repentance can avoid Hades. So it is clearly not the grave.

I hope that this sermon has not only given you ammunition for those who disbelieve this doctrine, but has also stirred up your hearts to submit to God as He is. We get ourselves into trouble when we make a god in our image. It adversely affects our behavior. Hell is a practical doctrine, and I urge you to believe it. Amen.


  1. Data quoted from "Hell You Say!" by C.G.Johnson in the Preface pp. Vii as quoted in

  2. Weimar Ausgabe Briefwechsel 3, 81ff.

Is Hell for Real? is part of the Foundations series published on August 17, 2003

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