Is Hell For Real?

By Bruce Reeves

The March 25, 1991 issue of the U.S. News and World Report devoted several pages to the subject of hell. Some statements from the article are significant: “By most accounts hell has all but disappeared from the pulpit rhetoric of mainline Protestantism” (U.S. News and World Report, March 25, 1991, 56).

Martin Marty, University of Chicago professor, said: “Hell has disappeared and no one noticed . . . if people really believed in hell, they would not be . . . watching t.v. preachers, they would be out rescuing the lost.”

In an article entitled, “Hell Is Still On Fire,” Helen T. Gray of the Kansas City Star quoted from Robert Collins a Southern Baptist preacher of the area as follows: “. . . Even among conservatives, hell in the last decade has undergone a gradual cooling. Some church leaders no longer preach or teach about it . . . It has become land of a silent doctrine in the church . . . This has been done to make the church more acceptable to the baby boomers and generation X, which I think is tragic” (Kansas City Star, January 30, 1996).

It is important for us to recognize the truth that we must accept all of Jesus or we cannot have any part of him. The same Jesus that offers us the great and precious promises of heaven is the same Jesus that said: “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear Him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt. 10:28). The apostle Paul wrote the following: “. . . the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven . . . in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and the glory of His power” (2 Thess. 1:7-9). Let us notice what the Bible has to say about the subject of hell.

Why Does Hell Exist?

Sir William Blackstone said, “Law is a rule of action. In the fourth or vindicatory part of law consists the main strength or force. Where there is no law there can be no violation; where there is no penalty the law is null and void. The principles of right and justice must have a penalty behind them.”

Why is there a hell? (1) If there is no hell or penalty, there is no law. (2) If there is no law, there can be no sin. (3) If there is no sin, there is no moral or spiritual responsibility.

Many in our time feel that the Bible’s teaching about hell is antiquated and such teaching, quite frankly, is met with a certain amount of disdain and abhorrence. Yet, if there is such a place, we are compelled as Christians to warn the lost of their condition outside of Christ. We can, however, receive great consolation in the realization that none of us has to go to this awful torment. Every sinner who is lost to hell walks over the crucified body of Jesus and tramples the “blood of the covenant” with no concern for his own soul. Everything that divine love and human suffering could do to redeem a lost people has been done (John 3:16). 

The Nature of Hell

Hell Will Be Eternal. The same word that describes the existence of God and the Holy Spirit describes the duration of hell (Matt. 25:46). This will not be temporary torment, but everlasting.

Hell Will Be Dark. Hell will be dark because God will not be there. There will be no hope for the future and no opportunity for change, for our destinies will be sealed (Matt. 25:30). Hell will be a place of darkness because it will be the abode of sinners (1 John 1:5; Rev. 21:8).

Hell Will Be A Place Of Fire. “And the smoke of their torment will ascend up forever and ever: and they have no rest day or night, who worship the beast and his image, and whoso ever receiveth the mark of his name” (Rev. 14:11). 

Why Is Hell Decribed As It Is?

These are all descriptive terms to represent to the human perception and mind the awfulness and terror of the punishment awaiting those who do not obey Jesus Christ.  The Bible describes heaven as having “streets of gold” and “gates of pearl.” Certainly, we understand that this is figurative language of heaven. In like manner, God is unsparing in his use of every concept and term possible to describe the terror of hell.

The term “Gehenna” in the Greek is used to describe this place, but why? The valley of Hinnom, or Gehenna, bounds Jerusalem on the south below Mount Zion, and is the place which is so often mentioned as the setting of the awful idolatrous rites practiced by the apostate kings before the idol Moloch. When King Josiah at last succeeded in overthrowing the idolatry, he defiled the valley by casting into it the bones of the dead, the greatest of all pollutions among the Jews. From this time on, all the dead refuse of Jerusalem was cast into it and the combustible parts of it destroyed by fire, which was kept forever burning.

In the time of Christ, the festering bodies of criminals according to the barbarous fashion of execution then prevalent, were cast into this terrible valley and the smoke of their ever burning fires carried this horrid stench mingled with the smell of dead swine. To the Jew the name “Gehenna” would provoke within him the most profound sensations of disgust. Jesus is using the term to express the nature of the place for which the lost are destined.

Who Can Save Us?

It is true that each of us deserves hell because of our sins against the Lord (Rom. 3:23; 6:23), but the wonderful truth is that no one has to go to hell. We can lay hold on eternal life through faith in the divine Son of God, Jesus Christ. God is gracious and merciful and wants to save us, but he gives us the choice! Listen to the apostle Paul: “For when we were without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die: yet perhaps for a good man some would even dare to die. But God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners Christ died for us. Much more then being now justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him.”

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Truth Magazine Vol. XLV: 6  p21  March 15, 2001