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The Doctrine of Hell

Landon Thurman

Table of Contents

Life After Death

Life after death refers to the state that follows physical death. This article will examine four false teachings about the soul’s destination after death and compare them to what the Bible teaches on the doctrine of hell.

Soul Sleep

According to the belief of “Soul Sleep,” both saved and unsaved souls enter a state of unconsciousness after death, and they remain there until the return of Jesus.

Annihilationism

Annihilationism teaches that nonbelievers cease to exist after death.

Universalism

Universalism believes that in the end, God will save and redeem everyone. Hell is only for the devil and his angels.

Inclusivism

Inclusivism teaches that some individuals will go to hell. According to this belief, only those who have heard the gospel and rejected it will go to hell, while for those who have never heard the gospel, God will save them. The idea is that those who have never heard the gospel are not responsible for their lack of knowledge and will not suffer punishment.

These Views Are Unbiblical

There are many different opinions about life after death, but we must base our understanding on the biblical standard. Some views, such as “Soul Sleep,” lack a solid foundation in scripture. The Bible clearly states that our spirit does not lose consciousness at death. In 2 Corinthians 5:8, Paul says he would prefer to be “absent from the body and at home with the Lord.” Philippians 1:21 states, “for me to live is Christ and to die is gain.” He then adds in verse 23 that his desire is “to depart and be with Christ.” These passages indicate that Paul did not expect to be in a state of unconsciousness after death. If our spirits retain their consciousness after death, where do they go?

The Biblical Standard

The Bible teaches that before the resurrection of Jesus, the spirits of the dead went to a place called Hades (“Sheol” in the Old Testament). These spirits consciously existed in one of two compartments: Paradise or Torments. We can find this illustration in the story Jesus spoke of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31. When Jesus neared death, He said, “It is finished” (John 19:30), indicating that His suffering in our place was complete, and He paid the payment for sin in full for His people. After Jesus’ death on the cross, He descended into Hades and declared His triumph over Satan to all the spirits there (1 Peter 3:18-19; 4:6). He then rose again on the third day, and His body returned to glory in His ascension.

After Jesus’ resurrection, He ascended into Heaven, taking Paradise with Him, transferring the spirits of dead saints from Hades to Heaven (Ephesians 4:8-9; 2 Corinthians 12:1-4). These spirits are now in Heaven before the throne of God (Revelation 6:9; 7:9). Before the cross, the souls of the righteous dead could not go directly to Heaven because their sins were dependent on the completed work of Christ. The forgiveness of their sins had to await the shed blood of Christ (Leviticus 17:11; Romans 5:8-9; Hebrews 9:22).

The state of humanity after death will end up in one of two places, either with God or separated from God. The bodies of those who have died return to dust and undergo decay, and their souls, which have an immortal character, immediately return to God and stand before Him as their judge. The righteous souls, who are made perfect by faith in Christ’s holiness, are transferred to paradise, where they are with Christ and behold the face of God in light and glory while awaiting the full redemption of their bodies. Those that God casts into hell are the souls of the wicked, who have sinned against Him and rejected Christ, separated from God’s goodness, left to remain in torment and utter darkness, reserved for the judgment of the great day.

On the last day, those saints found alive at the second coming of Christ will be changed into a glorified state clothed in the righteousness of Christ. Everyone that has died will rise with the same bodies they lived in, though they will have different qualities. Their souls will reunite with their bodies forever (1 Corinthians 15:51-52; 1 Thessalonians 4:17; Job 19:26-27; 1 Corinthians 15:42-43). Christ will raise the bodies of the unjust to dishonor, and the righteous will rise to honor, transformed to be like Christ’s own glorious body (Acts 24:15; John 5:28-29; Philippians 3:21).

Hell in the Old and New Testaments

The Old Testament makes it clear that hell, or Sheol, exists as the place of the dead. Depending on the context, it can mean grave, pit, or the abode of the dead below the earth. Sheol is translated as “grave” 31 times and “hell” 31 times in the Old Testament.

There is an argument that the concept of hell was not understood or taught until modern times. Still, we must remember that the Bible is a progressive revelation, with more details and information revealed over time. The New Testament explains hell in further detail and describes it as a place of punishment and suffering for the wicked.

Understanding the teachings on hell in the Old and New Testaments is essential to grasp the biblical view entirely.

Looking At Old Testament Precepts

  • Deuteronomy 32:22 says, “For a fire is kindled in My anger, and shall burn to the lowest hell; it shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.” 
  • Job 26:5-6, “The dead tremble, those under the wäters no and those inhabiting them. Sheol is naked before Him, and destruction has no covering. 
  • Psalms 9:5, You have rebuked the nations, You have destroyed the wicked; you have blotted out their name forever and ever. 
  • Psalms 9:17, “The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.” 
  • Psalms 21:8 9, “Your hand will find all Your enemies: Your right hand will find those who hate You. You shall make them as a fiery oven in the time of Your anger; the Lord shall swallow them up in His wrath, and the fire shall devour them. 
  • Psalms 37:38, But transgressors will be altogether destroyed; the posterity of the wicked will be cut off. 
  • Psalms 92:7, That when the wicked sprouted up like grass and all who did iniquity flourished, it was only that they might be destroyed forevermore. 
  • Psalms 139:8, “If I ascend into Heaven, You are there; If I make my bed in hell, behold, You are there. 
  • Proverbs 15:24, “The way of life winds upward for the that he may turn away from hell below. 
  • Proverbs 27:20, Hell and Destruction are never full; so the eyes of man are never satisfied.” 
  • Isaiah 1:31, “The strong shall be as tinder, and the work of it as a spark; both will burn together, and no one shall quench them.” 
  • Isaiah 5:14, “Therefore Sheol has enlarged itself and opened its mouth beyond measure; their glory and their multitude and their pomp, and he who is jubilant, shall descend into it.” 
  • Isaiah 10:17-19, And the light of Israel will become a fire and his Holy One a flame, and it will burn and devour his thorns and his briars in a single day. And He will destroy the glory of his forest and of his fruitful garden, both soul and body, and it will be as when a sick man wastes away. And the rest of the trees of his forest will be so small in number that a child could write them down. 
  • Isaiah 14:9, “Hell from beneath is excited about you, to meet you at your coming; it stirs up the dead for you, all the chief ones of the earth; it has raised up from their thrones all the kings of the nations.” 
  • Isaiah 14:15, “Nevertheless you will be thrust down to Sheol, to the recesses of the pit. 
  • Isaiah. 26:19, Your dead will live; their corpses will rise. You who lie in the dust, awake and shout for joy, for your dew is as the dew of the dawn, and the earth will give birth to the departed spirits. 
  • Isaiah 33:11-12, “You shall conceive chaff, you shall bring forth stubble; your breath, as fire, shall devour you. And the people shall be like the burnings of lime; like thorns cut up they shall be burned in the fire.” 
  • Daniel 12:2, “And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, some to shame and everlasting contempt.” 
  • Amos 9:2, “Though they dig into hell, from there My hand shall take them; though they climb up to Heaven, from there I will bring them down.

The Reality of Hell According to Jesus

In Matthew 5:22, Jesus says that anyone angry with their brother will be guilty before the court, and anyone who calls their brother a “good-for-nothing” or “fool” will be guilty before the supreme court and will go to hell, which describes it as a “fiery hell.” In verses 29 and 30, Jesus advises that it is better to remove a body part that causes stumbling rather than risk going to hell. In Matthew 10:28, Jesus instructs not to fear those who can only kill the body but rather to fear God, who can destroy both soul and body in hell. In Matthew 11:20-24, 18:7-11, and 23:13-36, the Pharisees are guilty of producing “sons of hell.” Revelation 21:8 states that unbelievers will have their part in the lake of fire, and in Matthew 12:37, a person’s own words will condemn them if they say they do not believe, and no one can find salvation apart from the name of Christ (Acts 4:12).

Salvation From Eternal Hell According to Jesus

Salvation refers to being rescued or delivered. In this context, it is a rescue from eternal hell, which Jesus spoke about more than anyone else in the Bible. He described hell as a place of conscious, eternal punishment and called on sinners to escape it due to its terrible reality. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:19-31, Jesus tells the story of a man who goes to hell, described as a place of torment, thirst, agony, and fire, where souls remain forever with no escape. Abraham’s bosom, a reference from the Old Testament, is described as a place of comfort and peace where Abraham, the father of faith, resides (which portrays as Heaven). In this parable, Jesus uses actual names, where typically He didn’t, and a great chasm separates Heaven and hell.

The Meaning of the Word ‘Destroy’ in Matthew 10:28

The word “destroy,” which appears in Matthew 10:28, is the Greek word “apollymi.” This word is also used as Satan’s name, “Apollyon,” meaning “destroyer,” in Revelation 9:11. However, “apollymi” is used over 80 times in the New Testament, and its meaning can vary depending on the context. It can mean to kill, drown, render useless in wineskins, or to be lost.

  • Matthew 2:13, Herod was thinking about murdering the Child, not soul annihilation. 
  • Matthew 8:25, the disciples were afraid of drowning in the danger of the storm. Apollymi used here is expressed as drowning. 
  • Luke 5:37, new wine in old wineskins will burst the skins, used to express ruin due to cracks and breaks. 
  • Luke 15, the word translates as lost, speaking of the lost sheep, coin, and a son. 
  • John 6:27, the word refers to food that perishes or corrupts. 
  • John 17:12, Jesus mentioned the fulfillment of the prophecy of the son of perdition in Judas, who perished. This text shows that Judas perished and went to a place reserved for him. He did not go out of existence, nor was he annihilated. 
  • Luke 21:18 refers to the loss of hair. 
  • Acts 8:20, the confrontation between Peter and Simon, the magician who tries to buy the power of the Holy Spirit, Peter says may his money perish with him. 
  • Romans 14:15, Do not destroy with your food him for whom Christ died. 
  • Mark 14:4, apōleia is used for the spilled perfume and wasted; some complained about the perfume going to waste. This word can translate to destroy but not as annihilation, obliteration, or nonexistence. 
  • Exodus 12:13, The blood shall be a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood I will pass over you, and no plague will befall you to destroy you when I strike the land of Egypt. The word destroy means to go to ruin. 

What is the contextual reference in Matthew 10:28 for the word destroy?

In Matthew 3:12, the scripture refers to hell as an ‘unquenchable fire’ that will destroy both the soul and body. This fire is never-ending because it always has fuel. Isaiah 9:5 says, ‘For every boot of the booted warrior in the battle tumult, and cloak rolled in blood, will be for burning, fuel for the fire.’ Verses 18-19 continue, stating, ‘For wickedness burns like a fire;
It consumes briars and thorns; It even sets the thickets of the forest aflame, And they roll upward in a column of smoke. By the fury of the LORD of hosts the land is burned up, And the people are like fuel for the fire; No man spares his brother. In Revelation 14:9-11, it says that ‘another angel, a third one, followed them, saying with a loud voice, “If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.” These scriptures present that there will be eternal torment with no rest, which refutes the idea of Annihilationism based on the word ‘Apollymi’ in Matthew 10:28.

The word ‘olethros,’ translated as ‘destruction’ in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, is often used to argue for the idea of Annihilationism, the belief that the soul can be destroyed and cease to exist. However, 1 Corinthians 5:5 uses this word to refer to the ‘destruction of the flesh.” In fact, the word ‘ruin’ in 1 Timothy 6:9, which comes from the Greek word ‘olethron,’ suggests a ruin of the soul in terms of its usefulness rather than its existence. The word ‘Apolomei,’ also translated as ‘destruction,’ refers to the ruination of something, such as ruined wineskins or perishable food. These verses indicate that the destruction or ruination referred to in these passages is not the complete annihilation of the soul but rather its ruin in a specific sense.

Gehenna, A Metaphor for The Lake of Fire

The word ‘Gehenna,’ which refers to the Lake of Fire, comes from the valley of Hinnom, where an ancient city dump was located and a never-ending fire was burning. This place became a metaphor for the Lake of Fire, described as a place of eternal conscious punishment. John 15:6 says that anyone who does not abide in Jesus will be thrown away and burned. In Matthew 26:24, Jesus says that it would have been better for the person who betrayed him if they had never been born due to the consequences that would follow. These passages, along with Matthew 25:46, state that the righteous will go into eternal life and the unrighteous will go into eternal punishment, showing that both Heaven and hell are eternal and there is no way to escape the punishment of hell.

The Rational Perspective on the Punishment of Unbelievers and Fallen Angels

According to the Bible, Satan and the demons (one-third of the angels) will be sent to the Lake of Fire forever because they rebelled against God. Likewise, unbelievers in the family of Satan described in John 8:44 also rebel against God and deserve the same punishment. Furthermore, Ephesians 2:3 states that we are, by nature, children of wrath, meaning that we are prone to rebellion against God. As such, we deserve the same kind and duration of punishment as the rebellious angels because we have committed the same crimes. In other words, sinners and fallen angels share the same guilt and will receive the same punishment for their rebellion against God.

  • Revelation 19:20 says, “And the beast was seized, and with him the false prophet who performed the signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who had received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image; these two were thrown alive into the lake of fire which burns with brimstone.”
  • Revelation 20:10, “And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” 
  • Revelation 20:14-15, Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. 
  • Revelation 21:8 says, “But for the cowardly and unbelieving and abominable and murderers and immoral persons and sorcerers and idolaters and all liars, their part will be in the lake that burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death.”

Eternal Punishment for Temporal Sins: Understanding God’s Judgment

As the lawgiver, God determines the punishment for crimes, and the written law determines the extent of the crime. Some may struggle to understand how a temporal sin, or a sin committed in this lifetime, can result in eternal punishment. However, the number of times a sinner breaks God’s laws is irrelevant regarding a crime against an infinitely holy and exalted God. Romans 2:5 states that stubborn and unrepentant people are storing up wrath for themselves on the day of judgment. Therefore, any sin against God’s moral law, or His standard of righteousness, is infinitely wicked and deserving of infinite punishment. In other words, infinite crimes against an infinite God warrant an infinite punishment.

Those whom God sends to hell never have the opportunity for repentance.

People in hell are stuck in a rebellious state and will never repent and believe in Christ because it takes the regenerative work of the Holy Spirit to bring life to a dead soul. According to Matthew 4:17, Jesus preached about repentance and the nearness of the kingdom of Heaven. Every Bible description indicates that hell is a place of retributive justice rather than a remedial experience. Mark 3:29 mentions an eternal sin, and Jude 7 states that people in hell suffer a punishment of eternal fire. Luke 13:28 also speaks of people thrown out of the kingdom of God and experiencing weeping and gnashing of teeth. These passages show that hell is a place of judgment where the ungodly are punished for their ungodly deeds.

The Importance of Punishing Sin for God’s Honor and Glory

The punishment of the wicked is a manifestation of the nature of God’s honor and glory. God must punish sin because He is holy, righteous, and just. This punishment is for those who refuse to give Him honor and glory.  

  • Isaiah 66:22-24 “For just as the new heavens and the new earth which I make will endure before Me,” declares the LORD, “So your offspring and your name will endure. “And it shall be from new moon to new moon and from sabbath to sabbath, all mankind will come to bow down before Me,” says the LORD. “Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against Me. For their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched, and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.” 
  • Daniel 12:2, Many of those who sleep in the dust of the ground will awake, these to everlasting life, but the others to disgrace and everlasting contempt. 
  • Matthew 18:7-11 calls it an eternal fire and a fiery hell. 
  • Matthew 25:41-46 calls it an eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels and eternal punishment.
  • Acts 17:30-31, Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all people everywhere should repent, because He has fixed a day in which He will judge the world in righteousness through a Man whom He has appointed, having furnished proof to all men by raising Him from the dead.” 

Eternal condemnation awaits those who have sinned against God unless they are covered and redeemed by the eternal blood of Christ through His finished work on the cross. According to 1 Corinthians 15:56, “The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law; but thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” The law serves as a tutor, teaching us to love God with all our heart, soul, and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. If God separates someone from Himself, they can’t obey the law and love the Lord our God.

  • Isaiah 50:11, Behold, all you who kindle a fire, who encircle yourselves with firebrands, walk in the light of your fire and among the brands you have set ablaze. This you will have from My hand: you will lie down in torment. 
  • Isaiah 48:22, “There is no peace for the wicked,” says the LORD. 

The concept of “no peace” does not mean non-existence. Phase one of this concept refutes the false idea that nonbelievers cease to exist, as emphasized in Matthew 25:30 (weeping and gnashing of teeth) and Mark 9:48 (worm does not die and the fire is not quenched). Phase two states that the time frame of punishment may end, but there is no appeasement or atonement from an infinite God. Therefore, no one can experience peace outside of Christ. The soul lives forever, as indicated in Psalms 22:26 for those in Christ and Daniel 12:2-3 for souls experiencing disgrace and everlasting contempt. If annihilation were fact, it would not be possible to undergo everlasting contempt or the fire and punishment mentioned in Matthew 25:46.

Hell as a Destination for All Kinds of People Who Are Recognizable

  • Ecclesiastes 9:10, Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with all your might; for there is no activity or planning or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol where you are going. 
  • Job 10:21-22, Before I go—and I shall not return—To the land of darkness and deep shadow, the land of utter gloom as darkness itself, of deep shadow without order, and which shines as the darkness.” 
  • Ezekiel 32:18-32, “Son of man, wail for the hordes of Egypt and bring it down, her and the daughters of the powerful nations, to the nether world, with those who go down to the pit; ‘Whom do you surpass in beauty? Go down and make your bed with the uncircumcised.’ They shall fall in the midst of those who are slain by the sword. She is given over to the sword; they have drawn her and all her hordes away. The strong among the mighty ones shall speak of him and his helpers from the midst of Sheol, ‘They have gone down, they lie still, the uncircumcised, slain by the sword.’ “Assyria is there and all her company; her graves are round about her. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword, whose graves are set in the remotest parts of the pit and her company is round about her grave. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword, who spread terror in the land of the living. “Elam is there and all her hordes around her grave; all of them slain, fallen by the sword, who went down uncircumcised to the lower parts of the earth, who instilled their terror in the land of the living and bore their disgrace with those who went down to the pit. They have made a bed for her among the slain with all her hordes. Her graves are around it, they are all uncircumcised, slain by the sword (although their terror was instilled in the land of the living), and they bore their disgrace with those who go down to the pit; they were put in the midst of the slain. “Meshech, Tubal and all their hordes are there; their graves surround them. All of them were slain by the sword uncircumcised, though they instilled their terror in the land of the living. Nor do they lie beside the fallen heroes of the uncircumcised, who went down to Sheol with their weapons of war and whose swords were laid under their heads; but the punishment for their iniquity rested on their bones, though the terror of these heroes was once in the land of the living. But in the midst of the uncircumcised you will be broken and lie with those slain by the sword. “There also is Edom, its kings and all its princes, who for all their might are laid with those slain by the sword; they will lie with the uncircumcised and with those who go down to the pit. “There also are the chiefs of the north, all of them, and all the Sidonians, who in spite of the terror resulting from their might, in shame went down with the slain. So they lay down uncircumcised with those slain by the sword and bore their disgrace with those who go down to the pit. “These Pharaoh will see, and he will be comforted for all his hordes slain by the sword, even Pharaoh and all his army,” declares the Lord GOD. “Though I instilled a terror of him in the land of the living, yet he will be made to lie down among the uncircumcised along with those slain by the sword, even Pharaoh and all his hordes,” declares the Lord GOD.” 

These verses suggest that both Jews and Gentiles, as well as all those mentioned, will ultimately end up in hell. It is a vivid depiction of a reality in which everyone will be recognizable, as the text states that they will see Pharaoh arrive there.

The Bible Speaks of Hell in Definite Adjectives & Descriptives

Agony, banishment, brimstone, curse, darkness, deprivation, destruction, distress, fire, teeth grinding, guilt, hopelessness, loneliness, pain, suffering, pressure, prison, punishment, ruin, separation, shame, contempt, smokes, sulfur, torment, trouble, trash heap, and weeping are all eternal experiences in hell. Many paths lead to hell, as every sin creates a road there. However, there is only one way to avoid hell: to believe in Jesus. John 3:16 states, ‘For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.’ Jesus, Himself says in John 14:6, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.’ 1 Thessalonians 1:10 adds, ‘and to wait for His Son from Heaven, whom He raised from the dead, that is Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath to come.’ According to the parable in Luke 16:27-31, even if someone were to rise from the dead, those who do not listen to Moses and the Prophets will not be persuaded to repent. In Matthew 13:41-43, The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place, there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then THE RIGHTEOUS WILL SHINE FORTH AS THE SUN in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

  • Jeremiah 21:8-10 “And to this people you shall say: Thus says the LORD: Behold, I set before you the way of life and the way of death. He who stays in this city shall die by the sword, by famine, and by pestilence, but he who goes out and surrenders to the Chaldeans who are besieging you shall live and shall have his life as a prize of war. For I have set my face against this city for harm and not for good, declares the LORD: it shall be given into the hand of the king of Babylon, and he shall burn it with fire.’

God presents two options: to remain in pride and reject the warning, resulting in death, or to humble oneself, heed the warning, and live. This foreshadows the necessity of repentance and faith in Christ in order to live, while those who reject it demonstrate that a fiery expectation awaits them, similar to the way the King of Babylon burned the city with fire.

Conclusion

How should we evangelize people? By leading them to the Holy Scriptures. Some may believe they can persuade or influence those headed for hell to change through expressive means or the environments they create, but this is foolish thinking. Those who do not listen to scripture will never adjust and turn away from their ways. Only through the Holy Spirit and the biblical gospel, which includes the bad news of the law and the good news of Christ’s payment on behalf of sinners, can souls be regenerated and rescued from hell. The Gospel is the only method we should use to guide people to Christ and away from sin.

Source references compiled from The Holy Scriptures and teachings on the Doctrine of Hell from Dr. David R. Reagan, John MacArthur, Todd Friel, and the 1689 Baptist Confession of Faith.

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Testimonies Of God seeks to empower and encourage the members of Christ’s Body in the principles of biblical evangelism and to provide them with practical tools to proclaim the gospel.