Blog #292 – What is Hell?
The Christianity.com Editorial Staff have posted a video of Bryan Chapell, president of Covenant Theological Seminary, speaking to the topic of “What is Hell? A Biblical Response.” People today (including the pope) speak of living in one’s own personal “hell” or of the terrible thing they are going through as being “hell on earth”. As the tenets of historical Christianity are increasing dismissed and as universalism becomes the standardized belief in our society (the belief that everyone is “saved” after death and that there is no place known as “hell”) it seems to be the right time to hear Chapell’s message. Below is a partial transcript of what he had to say.
Hell is total, conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God. People think of it as a lake of fire and that certainly is a biblical image. Also, the Bible describes hell as lashing or scorpions or darkness where there’s great gnashing of teeth. There’s not just one biblical image of hell. Hell is a place for the soul of extreme torment by being separated from the blessings of God.
The questions we always struggle with is Hell fair? That’s a harder question. I think one way theologians have dealt with that is, it’s fair in this regard: people get what they deserve. They don’t want to be with God, and so God at some point says, fine, you’ll be without me. Now, pride keeps you not wanting God around and there’s a sense in which hell, if it’s not just described by the images, but by theological understanding, total conscious, eternal separation from the blessings of God and there’s a sense in which hell is people getting exactly what they want, (they say) “I didn’t want God.”
At some point, God says, okay, I have shown you my goodness and my grace, and you don’t want that. So, you get exactly what you want. The Bible warns that that’s great pain. That’s great hardship to the soul to be without God. But at some point, God says, okay, I’ll give you what you want. Those who want me, they get me. That’s Heaven. Those who don’t want me, they don’t get me. They get what they want, and that’s how when it’s ultimately taken to its foundational, meaning.
What happens after death? We know from Romans 3:23 that everyone has sinned and therefore stand condemned before a holy God. But John 3:16-17 tells us that because of God’s great love for the whole world, he stepped in to rescue people from this helpless trajectory, if they only trust in Christ Jesus – the Messiah (John 20:31), God incarnate (Matthew 1:23; John 1:1-3; John 1:14). This rescue is not forced but received by grace through faith. And should someone die without faith in God, the Bible says their sin has condemned them to hell.
The Bible does not indicate further opportunity to receive salvation after a person dies (Hebrews 9:27). Jesus told a parable illustrating this in Luke 16:19-31. Verse 26 describes “a great chasm” between heaven and hades (meaning: place of the dead) that is “set in place,” so that no one can cross from one side to the other.
Does hell exist? Alistair Begg posed the question “Is Jesus Christ true in what he says?” in the video below. “If Jesus Christ is Lord, then I have to believe exactly what he taught,” Begg said. “If we start from that premise, then we can’t simply excise the hard parts out of it. We’ve got to take him at his word. The most loving person who has ever lived spoke so straightforwardly about the awfulness of hell.”
Hell Meaning: The Difference Between Gehenna, Sheol, and Hades.
Gehenna: In the New Testament, the word hell is translated from the Greek word, Gehenna, which is Hebrew for the “Valley of Hinnom”. This is a place southwest of Jerusalem where, years before the Jews inhabited Israel, pagans in the land would worship Molech by sacrificing children (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31). This was a place outside Jerusalem’s walls desecrated by Molech worship and human sacrifice, thus turned into the dump where rubbish and refuse were burned. The smoldering fires and festering worms made it a graphic and effective picture of the fate of the damned,” according to David Guzik.
Sheol: In the Old Testament, the King James Version translates שְׁאוֹל as hell, but this is more appropriately translated by most other versions as Sheol, meaning underworld or “place to which people descend at death”. In the New Testament, this word is translated as hades in Greek, which also refers to the place of the dead.
Hades: “In Hades, where he was in torment…he called, ‘…I am in agony in this flame’” (Luke 16:23-24). In this passage, we find the term hades, which is the invisible world of the dead. “The New Testament use of Hades builds on its Hebrew parallel, Sheol, which was the preferred translation in the Septuagint,” according to Baker’s Evangelical Dictionary.
Hell Described in the Bible. The word of God warns about hell describing it with images of darkness, gnashing of teeth, fire, and complete separation from God.
1.Darkness: From the oldest book of the Bible (Job) to the last book (Revelation), darkness is consistently associated with hell. Job writes of a “land of deepest night, of utter darkness and disorder,” (Job 10:21-22) a “realm of darkness” (Job 17:13), even a “day of darkness” (Job 15:23). Other references throughout the Bible include:
· “Realm of darkness” (Nahum 1:8)
· “Thrown outside into the darkness” (Matthew 8:
· 12; 22:13; 25:30)
· “Blackest darkness” (Jude 1:13)
· “Plunged into darkness” (Revelation 16:10)
- Gnashing of Teeth: Jesus, who spoke about hell more than anyone else in the Bible, used this phrase to describe the intense suffering in hell. Gnashing means binding or grinding. Here is where Jesus warned people about the place “where there will be gnashing of teeth”: Matthew 8:12; 13:41-43; 13:50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; and, Luke 13:28.
3.Fire: Isaiah in the Old Testament prophesied about hell as the place where “the fire that burns them will not be quenched” (Isaiah 66:24). This unquenchable fire is also referenced in Mark 9:43 and Mark 9:48.
Other fire references throughout the Bible include:
· “Blazing furnace” (Matthew 13:42; Matthew 13:50)
· “Fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22; Matthew 18:9)
· “Eternal fire” (Matthew 18:8; Matthew 25:41)
· “Tormented with fire and brimstone” (Revelation 14:10)
- Separation from God: Often without knowing it, both the redeemed and the unrepentant experience God’s blessings on earth (Matthew 5:45; Luke 6:35; Romans 2:4). Hell, however, is eternal separation from God’s presence, love, and other blessings. Here are Bible passages describing the reality of hell as separation from God:
· “Shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might” (2 Thessalonians 1:9)
· “‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’” (Matthew 25:41)
· “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” (Matthew 25:46).
Bryan Chapell finished his talk with four points: Hell is eternal, sin is more serious than we realize, sin does not disappear, the “lake of fire” is mentioned throughout Revelation is a place intended and reserved for Satan and his demons and not intended for God’s beloved creation. However, 2 Peter 3:9 confirms that the Lord does not want anyone to perish in this final judgment but wants everyone to repent from sin and follow Jesus. “’The time has come,’ [Jesus] said. ‘The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!’” (Mark 1:15).