Our culture seems to have an obsession with Hell and what it is like. It works its way into books and movies. Even non-Christians wonder what hell is like.
Does the Bible talk about hell? The Bible does talk about Hell. However, our current cultural understanding of Hell comes from bits and pieces of leftover Medieval theology, epic poems, and people like Dante Alighieri and is not true to the Biblical understanding of this place. We do know that it exists, it is not a good place, and it was designed as a place of punishment for Satan and his followers.
With this deep obsession with Hell and the demonic in our culture, it is important that we have a strong understanding of what the Bible actually has to say about it, and that is what we will explore in this post.
What is Hell?
Hell, as described in the Bible, is a place of torment intended for Satan and his followers.
It is also the final resting place for people who showed loyalty to God’s enemy during their lifetime. It is often depicted as a lake of fire in Scripture and is not a place you want to find yourself.
What Does it Mean to “Go to Hell?”
It is important to understand that the biblical understanding of Hell and the current cultural understanding of Hell are two very different things.
Our culture has borrowed our understanding of Hell from Medieval theology, epic poems, and people like Dante Alighieri. The biblical reality is quite different.
According to the cultural understanding of Hell, it is a place that non-believers go after they die. There they will stay for eternity.
The Bible’s understanding of Hell is that it is the place where Satan and his followers will be punished at the final judgement.
Until the final judgement, nonbelievers descend into what the Bible refers to as Sheol, or Hades and what in modern jargon we refer to as Abraham’s Bosom, or the intermediate state.
This place is described in Luke 16:
“There was a rich man who was clothed in purple and fine linen and who feasted sumptuously every day. And at his gate was laid a poor man named Lazarus, covered with sores, who desired to be fed with what fell from the rich man’s table. Moreover, even the dogs came and licked his sores.
The poor man died and was carried by the angels to Abraham’s side. The rich man also died and was buried, and in Hades, being in torment, he lifted up his eyes and saw Abraham far off and Lazarus at his side.
And he called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the end of his finger in water and cool my tongue, for I am in anguish in this flame.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that you in your lifetime received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner bad things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in anguish. And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, in order that those who would pass from here to you may not be able, and none may cross from there to us.’
And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, to send him to my father’s house— for I have five brothers—so that he may warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment.’ But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’ And he said, ‘
No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not hear Moses and the Prophets, neither will they be convinced if someone should rise from the dead.’”Luke 16:19-31 ESV
This picture depicts a place, “heaven” as our culture refers to it, in which part of that place is reserved for those who were non-believers.
This place as a whole is the Intermediate State, or Abraham’s bosom, and the place within it reserved for non-believers is “Hell,” Sheol, or Hades.
It is not until the final judgement that anyone actually “goes to hell.” And, conversely, that is when those who did remain loyal to God and his Son will “go to heaven.”
Again, this statement has also been misconstrued. Believers don’t “go to heaven” after judgement. They become part of the New Heavens and New Earth that God is instituting here.
What is Hell Like?
While Scripture doesn’t have much to say about what Hell is like, it doesn’t take much to know that it is not a nice place.
The most popular image associated with hell is the lake of fire. However, there is disagreement about whether the lake of fire exists in reality. Some think that it is a metaphor to describe how terrible hell is going to be.
Regardless of whether the lake of fire exists in reality or it is a metaphor, it communicates the point. Hell is a terrible, painful place. A place that you want to avoid at all costs.
So, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what it looks like as long as you recognize that you don’t want to go there and are willing to seek the solution – repentance and belief in Jesus Christ.
And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.Revelation 20:15 ESV
What is the Purpose of Hell?
Hell was not a place intended for humans. In fact, death wasn’t even part of the original design but a result of the fall when sin entered the world.
Hell was created as a place to punish Satan and his followers after he was cast out of Heaven. When the final judgment comes, God will banish Satan, his demons, the beast, the false prophet, sin, and death to dwell there forever. This is their reward for their rebellion against God.
When people reject God and refuse to give their loyalty to him, they are automatically choosing loyalty to Satan, and at the final judgement they will also be banished to Hell as one of his followers.
…and the devil who had deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and sulfur where the beast and the false prophet were, and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.Revelation 20:10 ESV
Is God Present in Hell?
There are two sides to this debate, one is biblical, and the other is heresy.
This debate revolves around one question, where does the torment in Hell come from? Some would say that hell is evil and torment because it is entirely devoid of God’s presence. Others would say it is his wrath being poured out over those who rejected him.
The first view is heresy because it denies one of God’s attributes. God is omnipresent. He is present in all places simultaneously and it is therefore present in Hell.
As a result, we must understand hell as an outpouring of God’s wrath over those who have rejected him. A wrath that comes from his love for all people, both to honor those who made their decision to follow Satan, and those who chose loyalty to Jesus.
What Hell is Not
I want to take a moment to note what Hell is not. Some have an incorrect assumption that Hell is a place where Satan is “king” and rules over those condemned to live out their days there. This is simply not true.
It is a place of torment after the final judgment for Satan and his followers. It is punishment, not governance.
Ultimately, it is not super important whether the lake of fire is real or metaphorical as long as we understand how terrible Hell is.
Our culture has a tendency to obsess over these things and it is important that we guard our hearts against that kind of obsession.
The reason we talk about hell to begin with is to praise the one who rescued us from that fate, and has commissioned us to go and make disciples so that they can be saved from that fate too.
Hell is not a fantasy and it should motivate us all the more to see the gospel preached in every nation.