Erasing Hell

People don’t want to believe that Hell is a real place. Who can blame them? After all, we probably all have loved ones or friends who, by all indications, weren’t saved before they died. The thought that someone we deeply care about could go to a place of torment and even worse spend eternity it is hard for us to accept.

There are many popular beliefs going around today about hell. I’ve met many people, who don’t believe Hell is a real place. I’ve even met people who think they’ll get a second chance after death to work out their sins and get right with God. Some people chose to believe that Hell isn’t a real place because they can’t bring themselves to believe that God would punish people who don’t believe Jesus is who He claimed to be.

I was astounded to learn that a 2014 Pew Research poll reported that half of Evangelical Christians don’t believe in Hell. This is based on a sample size of 947 men and woman who say they believe Jesus is the son of God, and that He was crucified, and rose again on the 3rd day. How could Evangelical Christians not believe in hell? I can understand people of a different religion or people who have no religion at all not believing hell is real. But Evangelical Christians who are supposed to know the Word of God?! It turns out that a Pew Research poll seven years earlier reported about the same result.

I grew up in a Bible-believing church that taught Hell is a real place and that the unsaved would end up there forever. But today we have leaders in the church saying that Hell doesn’t exist. No wonder we have evangelical Christians who are confused. This makes me sad.

I understand that some people interpret scripture differently. But this is a doctrine we absolutely have to get right. We need to know what scripture says.
I love what Francis Chan says about the importance of this subject:
If I say there is no hell, and it turns out that there is a hell, I may lead people into the very place I convinced them did not exist! If I say there is a hell, and I’m wrong, I may persuade people to spend their lives frantically warning loved ones about a terrifying place that isn’t real! When it comes to hell, we can’t afford to be wrong.
—Francis Chan, from the book “Erasing Hell”
I think that these are the key questions that need to be answered if you want a Biblical understanding of Hell:
  • What is hell?
  • Is hell a real place?
  • Are hades, sheol, and hell the same place?
  • Do people go to hell or is it just for fallen angels?
  • Will those who go to hell suffer forever?
  • Will anyone get out of hell?

What is hell?

Over the past 2 centuries, there have been very diverse opinions about what hell is like. In his book, “Erasing Hell”, Francis Chan writes:
The question “what is hell?” has spawned many answers over the years. For Origen, hell was a place where the souls of the wicked were purified so they could find their way back to God. Dante depicted hell as a place under the earth’s surface with nine levels of suffering, where sinners were bitten by snakes, tormented by beasts, showered with icy rain, and trapped in rivers of blood or flaming tombs; some were even steeped in huge pools of human excrement. C. S. Lewis’s portrayal of hell was significantly less creepy. For Lewis, it was kind of like a dark, gloomy city, or a place where “being fades away into nonentity.” A happier portrait of hell was painted by the band AC/DC, who said that “hell ain’t a bad place to be”—it’s where all our friends are.
—Francis Chan, from the book “Erasing hell”
That’s a pretty diverse smattering of opinions. Now contrast those opinions with what Jesus taught, which, by the way, is what the Jews of His day believed about hell.
  1. Hell is a place of punishment after judgment.
  2. Hell is described in the imagery of fire and darkness, where people lament.
  3. Hell is a place of annihilation or never-ending punishment.

Is hell a real place?

Jesus talked about hell more often than He talked about heaven. He chose strong and terrifying language when He spoke about it. The reason is simply that God doesn’t want anyone to go there. Jesus referred to Hell as a place of outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. That doesn’t sound like a place you’d want a loved one to go, does it? It certainly doesn’t sound like the party that the rock band, AC/DC described.

So the next time someone accuses you of trying to scare them into hell, just remember that Jesus modeled that approach for us.

In fact, there are seven passages in the new testament that record Jesus referring to hell as “a dark place where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth”. Two of them referred to people who thought they were righteous but were not. Their fate was to be thrown into hell (Matthew 8:12 and Luke 13:28). The last five passages were told as parables:
  • The parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30)
  • The parable of the tares (Matthew 13:24-30 and verses 36-42)
  • The parable of the dragnet (Matthew 13:47-50)
  • The parable of the wedding feast (Matthew 22:1-13)
  • The parable of the faithful and evil servant (Matthew 24:45-51)
Paul referred to the fate of the wicked more than any other New Testament writer did. Though he never used the actual word hell, he did speak of death as the result of sin, whereby the wicked would perish or be destroyed by the wrath of God. Paul described the fate of the wicked with words such as perish, destroy, wrath, punish, and others more than eighty times in his thirteen letters.

Are Hades, Sheol, and Hell the same place?

Sheol, sometimes called Hades is mentioned sixty-five times in the Old Testament, and it describes the place where both the righteous and the wicked go after death. In some Bible translations, it’s referred to as the grave or the pit. It isn’t hell and it isn’t the mythical place called purgatory, either. Sheol is a place where the unsaved await judgment before they’re cast into hell. Most biblical scholars teach that the souls of the saved go to heaven immediately after death while their bodies remain in the grave until the resurrection at the rapture.
And many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake,
Some to everlasting life,
Some to shame and everlasting contempt.
—Daniel 12:2

Do people go to hell or is it just for fallen angels?

Some have argued that God created hell for the fallen angels only. But the Bible teaches otherwise. After the great tribulation, the righteous people who died after the rapture, as well as the wicked people, will be resurrected from their graves to face judgment. He will separate the righteous from the wicked and place the righteous on the right and the wicked on the left (see Matthew 25:31-33). The righteous will receive their eternal inheritance. The wicked did not fare so well.

Jesus foretold what would befall the wicked:
Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels
Matthew 25:41

Will those who go to hell suffer forever or will they be destroyed?

I was surprised to learn that there’s some controversy over this question. That’s understandable because there seems to be scripture supporting both sides of this question. As I mentioned earlier, I had been taught and always believed that people who go to hell will be tormented forever. Let’s see what scripture says about it.

Scripture that speaks of eternal punishment

In Matthew 18:8, Jesus said “the wicked will be thrown into “everlasting fire”. You might assume this implies that because the fire is everlasting that the suffering will be everlasting as well. But that could be a wrong assumption.

The longest and clearest example is Jesus’ account of the judgment that follows his second coming (see Matthew 25:31–46). Verse 46 of this passage makes it clear that the wicked will suffer eternal punishment.
And these will go away into everlasting punishment,
but the righteous into eternal life.
Matthew 25:46 (NKJV)
An important thing to note about this verse is that the words “everlasting” and “eternal” are translated from the same Greek word, which means everlasting or forever. So, if believers have eternal life, then it would follow that the wicked will have eternal punishment, right?

Then Revelation 20:10 says “The devil, who deceived them, was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone where the beast and the false prophet are. And they will be tormented day and night forever and ever”. This seems like the silver bullet in the argument for eternal suffering.

Scripture that speaks of the destruction of the condemned

Matthew 10:28, Jesus says “And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell”.

Jesus also warns us to “Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it” (Matthew 7:13 NKJV).

The obvious question is this. If the body and soul of people are destroyed, can they still suffer?

You could go either way on this one, but even if you knew you’d be eventually destroyed (so that you have no consciousness), after a period of horrible suffering, would you risk going to hell? It seems to me that would be a foolish risk. Even if you were right, and there would eventually be an end to your suffering, just stop and think about the eternal rewards you could have enjoyed from Jesus. As if eternal life with the Lord wasn’t enough of an incentive!

Will anyone get out of hell?

Many believe that people will have to stay in a place of torment until their sins are paid and only then can they can go to heaven. Let me be clear: There’s no place on Earth or under the Earth where you can pay for your sins and then get a ticket to paradise. The only one who can pay for your sins is Jesus. And the only time you can accept His free gift of salvation is while you are still alive in your mortal body.

In the parable of Lazarus and the Rich man (Luke 16:19–31 NKJV), Jesus taught that no one will be able to cross-over from the place of torment to heaven.

Summing up

I think that we’ve seen that:
  • Sheol and Hades are two names used that refer to the grave
  • Hell is a real place and unsaved people will go there
  • No one can get out of hell and then go to heaven
The good news is that you can avoid hell altogether by accepting the free gift of Salvation. If you haven’t made a decision to follow Jesus, please do so today. If you have friends and loved ones who aren’t saved, please share the gospel with them (see 1 Corinthians 15:1-4) and pray for them.

Much of my research on this subject came from the book “Erasing Hell” by Francis Chan and Preston Sprinkle. Francis is a former pastor and currently an evangelist, speaker, and author. Preston is a seminary professor who’s done a great deal of research on the topic of Hell. What’s great about the book, is that unlike other books on this subject (and there are many), Francis has taken Preston’s scholarly research and turned it into a book that’s easy to understand and read. I promise I don’t have any financial connections to this book whatsoever. I just want you to know that if you want a deeper understanding of this subject than I was able to cover here, I encourage you to read his book.

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