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Of all the subjects that I’ve written about in this series of Life After Life, the topic of Hell is the most controversial and sensitive. But it is nevertheless a crucially important biblical doctrine that we mustn’t overlook, whitewash, or candy-coat — doing so benefits no one.

Let’s start with definitions. Hell, as I’ve mentioned in earlier articles, is different from Hades. In the NT, the word translated Hell is Gehenna (referring to the Hinom Valley, south of Jerusalem, the city’s garbage dump, a place of perpetual decay and burning); and it is the place in the Bible of eternal punishment for the sinful. On the other hand, Hades is the realm of the spirits of all the dead, good and evil, with compartments of comfort and compartments of discomfort. These definitions are important to keep straight as you read through the KJV, the NIV, and some other translations which don’t make this distinction. So then, with the preliminaries out of the way, let’s ask a few pertinent questions about Hell.

“Is Hell real?”
Modern popular religionists (and religions) have tried to eliminate Hell from the afterlife, since it is so terrible. To them it simply doesn’t make sense that an all-loving God could send anyone to a place of eternal punishment. But when they argue this, they forget that God is not only a God of love; He is also a God of justice and righteousness (2 Th. 1:6; Heb. 2:2; etc.). Indeed, there is as much or more Biblical proof of Hell as there is of Heaven. Gehenna is used 12 times in the NT, and Hell is referred either directly or indirectly numerous other times (e.g., Mt. 3:11,12; Mt. 7:13,14; Mt. 7:23; Mt. 13:42; Rom. 2:8,9; 2 Th. 1:6-9; Rev. 20:15; etc.) “OK, so what is it exactly?”

Hell is Eternal
Perhaps the most horrifying part of Hell is that it is eternal, never ending. Punishment can be endurable, if we have hope that there is an end; but Hell has no hope, since it forever (Mt. 25:46; Rev. 20:10-15; et al). Some in an attempt to provide some hope have questioned the definition of the Biblical words for eternity — that in Hebrew the word for eternal (olam) can simply mean perpetual. And it can, of course, such as in Ex. 12:24; 29:9; 40:15; and Josh. 14:9. But it more often means “without end”, as in Gen. 21:33; Psa. 90:2; Psa. 102:27; Micah 5:2; and others. The essential meaning is “eternal”, but (just as in English) context makes all the difference (“Oh, I’ve known him forever!”). In Greek the term (aionos) is much clearer. All Greek lexicographers understand the word to mean “unending” or “eternal”. It is used to describe God’s eternal nature (Romans 16:26; 1 Timothy 6:16; Hebrews 9:14), and Mt. 25:46 uses it to describe the duration of both Heaven and Hell. As Lyons and Butt put it in “The Eternity of Hell” (http://www.apologeticspress.org/articles/2669): If God “lives for ever (aion) and ever (aion)” (Revelation 1:18; 10:6; 15:7), and glory is to be given to Him “for ever and ever” (Revelation 1:6; 4:9-10; 5:13; 7:12), and if the saved “shall reign for ever and ever” with the Lord in heaven (Revelation 22:5), then the wicked assuredly “will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10; cf. Revelation 14:11). “Forever and ever” is “the formula of eternity” (Vincent, 1889, 2:418).

Eternal death, Separation from God
As there is an eternal life, so there is also an eternal death; Hell is called the second death (Rev. 20:14). But far from being annihilation (ceasing to exist at all), the second death (eternal death) is like the first death — a separation. Physical death is the separation of body from spirit (e.g., James 2:26), not annihilation; and spiritual death (the second death, eternal death) is separation of spirit from God, not annihilation. For example, we are “dead in our trespasses and sins” (Eph. 2:1), yet we continue to exist. Paul repeats the idea again in Col. 2:13, and yet we continue to exist. Hell is simply the eternal extrapolation of the separation from God that we are responsible for; in the judgment Jesus tells us that His words to the sinful will be “depart from me” (Mt. 7:23; Mt. 24:41). This, then, is the essence of Hell, eternal separation from God, the very source of life itself. Of course, we might rightly ask, “How terrible will that be?” In this physical world we have not yet fully experienced the complete separation from God — He still causes His sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous (Mt. 5:45). But separation from God is terrifying enough that it causes the demons to beg for mercy not to be thrown into the pit before the time (Mt. 8:29). Hell is a spiritual place, and man’s limited physical experiences and vocabulary make it hard to find descriptive words that humans can grasp to describe its terrible nature. Doubtlessly what the Scriptures do is give us human comparisons, metaphors, of the worst things that we can imagine to convey the severity of the punishment of Hell.

Darkness and Fire
Hell punishment is described first of all as a fierce and unquenchable fire (Mt. 25:41; Lk. 3:17; Rev. 20:10,14,15; etc.). It is also described as black darkness (Mt. 8:12; Mt. 22:13; Mt. 25:30; 2 Pet. 2:17; Jude 1:13; etc.). It has been asked before how there could be such a fierce heat and yet have total darkness, and there are two explanations that can be offered. One: if God is the Creator of a “black hole”, a star so dense that not even light can escape its gravity, God can certainly create a spiritual place of fierce heat and deep darkness. Two: perhaps fire and darkness are merely metaphorical for terrifying things that speak to humans the most clearly — saying metaphorically, “It is so bad that you really, really don’t want to be here.” Of course, if Hell’s description is absolutely literal, it will be bad enough; if it is metaphorical, it could be much worse than God can even describe it to human beings. Suffice it to say that, contrary to popular swaggering boasts about Hell being a party place, it may be where the “in crowd” is, but you won’t want to be there.

Who will be there?
Satan and his angels will be inhabitants of Hell: "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." Rev 20:10. Even death and Hades will be in Hell (eternal separation from God) "Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire." Rev 20:14 — “death itself shall die.”

But in terms of humans, lists are found throughout the Scriptures, but let me quote just a few: "Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers…" 1Co 6:9,10; "And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them." Ro 1:28-32; "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." Rev 21.8. Revelation puts it this way, "And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire." Rev. 20:15.

Now, of course, these lists would include everyone in the world who has ever reached the age of accountability, for “all have sinned” (Rom. 3:23), but there is a sweet caveat "Therefore there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus." Rom 8:1.

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