By Frank Jamerson
The subject of hell is shunned by many preachers. It is considered distasteful and, I suppose some think that if we will ignore it, it will go away.
Recently, while preparing a lesson on the subject, I looked through several bound volumes of periodicals and did not find a single article on it. It made me wonder if our writing reflects our preaching on the subject!
False teachers try to evade the Bible teaching on the subject and give false consolation by such statements as: “Hell is what you go through on the earth,” or “Hell is only temporary.” Even some who claim to be Christians reveal a lack of conviction about hell by their preparations to go there. When you hear a brother say: “If I go, I will not be by myself,” or “If I go, you will be on the front row,” you are listening to one who does not truly believe what the Bible teaches about hell.
Some of the confusion on the subject comes from translation. The word hades is translated “hell” in some versions, but these are from two different words and do not refer to the same place. The Greek word hades and the Hebrew word sheol refer to the abiding place of spirits between death and the resurrection. The spirit of Jesus went to hades (Acts 2:25-27), not to “hell.” Jesus told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him in “paradise” (Lk. 23:43). We conclude from this that a part of the hadean world is “paradise.” But the rich man of Luke 16 also went to hades and was in torment (v. 23). So, the hadean world is divided by a “great gulf” into paradise and torment.
The Greek word gehenna (hell) refers to the eternal abiding place of the wicked, after judgment. The word is used twelve times in the New Testament, and is always spoken by Jesus Himself, except in James 3:6 (see Matt. 5:22,29,30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15,33; Mk. 9:43,45,47; Lk. 12:5). This is the place of eternal punishment, which implies eternal existence, for you cannot punish what does not exist!
Some say that since hell is called the “second death,” this proves that it means non-existence. The truth is that “death” never means non-existence. It means separation. When it refers to physical death it means that the body is separated from the spirit. When it refers to spiritual death it means that man is separated from the spirit. When it refers to spiritual death it means that man is separated from God. Isaiah said, “Your iniquities have separated between you and your God. . . ” (Isa. 59:2). When Jesus said, “Let the dead bury the dead” (Matt. 8:22), He was not saying that those who do not exist can bury those who do not exist! He was saying that those who were spiritually separated from God (dead) could bury those who were physically dead. Paul said that the widow who gives herself to pleasure “is dead (spiritually) while she lives (physically)” (1 Tim. 5:6).
The word “death” is used to refer to hell, because it is eternal separation from God. “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone; which is the second death” (Rev. 21:8). This does not mean “second non-existence,” but second separation. All men die physically (Heb. 9:27), but the unsaved will experience another death – eternal separation from God.
What does the Bible say about the condition of those who go there? It calls it “a lake of fire” (Matt. 13:42), and “outer
darkness” (Matt. 25:30). But, some ask, “How can it be fire and darkness at the same time?” God has used terms with which we are familiar to present a picture to our minds of a terrible place, a place where there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” It does not have to be understood literally in order to get the picture of a place that we should avoid at all cost.
The same Bible that says that heaven is eternal says that hell is eternal. Any argument that will shorten the time in one will do so in the other. “And these shall go away into eternal punishment: but the righteous into eternal life” (Matt. 25:46).
Guardian of Truth XXX: 10, pp. 291, 310
May 15, 1986