Does Hell Exist and Is it Eternal?

Introduction

Flames of Hell

The question is sometime asked, “Does hell exist?” When answered in the positive, there is usually a follow up question the impugns the character of God.

“If God is a kind, loving, and merciful god, how is it possible that He could possibly allow man to suffer eternal condemnation in hell? How could He allow man to be separated from Him for eternity?” The best way to answer the question is by doing a word search on the word “hell” and other related words. Then we can draw conclusions based on the sum of these verses. Of course, each verse must be interpreted consistently in its context. Therefore, the goal of this article will be to collect and study some of the more conclusive and relevant passages regarding hell. Specifically we are going to look at the ones which relate to the question of hell’s existence and duration.

What Is “Hell”?

Most people are familiar with the idea of hell being a place of eternal punishment, reserved for the wicked. However, it is essential that we turn to the Bible to refine this idea, because the Bible truth is the ultimate reality.

Jesus spoke of the danger of “hell fire” (Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:43-48), which condemnation is depicted in the symbolic account of Judgment Day:
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:12-15).

One of the many points gleaned from these passages is that hell, vividly illustrated as a “lake of fire”, is an undesirable, tortuous place to spend eternity. A second observation is that the basis for this judgment was how they lived their lives – “his works”. However, this passage does not speak of the duration of this punishment. Is it possible that this judgment is temporary? Is the condemnation eternal?

The Duration of Hell

Once again, we should turn to the pages of God’s message for us to learn the answers to our questions.
“Then He will also say to those on His left, ‘Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels…These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life” (Matthew 25:41, 46).

“…in flaming fire,dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 These will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:8-9).

Also, the account in Revelation speaks of the “lake of fire and brimstone” as being a place of eternal torment (Revelation 20:10). Although some of these verses speak of the fire being eternal or everlasting, other verses, such as Matthew 25:46, clearly speak of the punishment itself being eternal. Therefore, it seems that if condemned to hell, one’s judgment would be forever. A natural question would be to wonder if a kind and loving God could sentence any man to eternity in hell. Would God actually do this? Would He issue an eternal condemnation to hell and everlasting separation from Him?

The Possibility of Eternity in Hell

Although it seems clear that God has constructed a place of eternal torment and punishment, the question may yet arise, “Is it possible that God would actually condemn someone to hell?” The answer is provided in the verses that we have already observed. Jesus warned of the danger of “hell fire” (Matthew 5:22; Mark 9:43-48). One necessary inference is; there must be a real possibility each of us could be condemned to hell, else there is no real danger. Would God make empty threats? Would a divine and loving Father warn of things that pose no danger? Clearly, No! The danger is real, unless we are willing to second-guess everything that Jesus said, including the promise of heaven (John 14:2-3).

Sadly, not only does the Bible outline the possibility of condemnation in hell, but it further states that the majority of people will end up there!
“Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it. For the gate is small and the way is narrow that leads to life, and there are few who find it” (Matthew 7:13-14).

Once we reach the unseen realm of the dead, there is no way to “cross sides”. In fact, the Bible symbolically speaks of a “great gulf” that separates the two realms of the dead (Luke 16:19-31). After we die, the next fate-determining event is judgment day (Hebrews 9:27). And as we have previously seen, that judgment is final and the majority of people will find themselves condemned.

Yet someone may ask, “But, how can God let this happen? How can He be a kind and loving god and let any member of His creation spend eternity in hell?”

A Kind and Loving God

It is not God’s wish for anyone of his creation to be lost because of their sins:
“The Lord is not slow about His promise, as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing for any to perish but for all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9).

Elsewhere, we are told that the riches of His goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering is leading us to repentance (Romans 2:4) . Therefore, God is kind, loving, and does not want anyone to be perish. Consequently, He is diligently seeking the repentance of all of mankind over all time. Sadly, as we have already seen (Matthew 7:13-14), many have and will reject His gracious opportunity to repent and be forgiven.

“The LORD, the God of their fathers, sent word to them again and again by His messengers, because He had compassion on His people and on His dwelling place; but they continually mocked the messengers of God, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets, until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, until there was no remedy” (2 Chronicles 36:15-16).

Despite our desires and the will of society that such a judgment scene not occur, we cannot change it. And we should we ignore that a “separation” will occur upon that day (Matthew 25:31-46). This division of all people will be based upon our actions (2 Corinthians 5:10). On that day, the Lord will bless many with eternal life in heaven with God. But He will also reward many more with eternity in hell (Matthew 25:31-46).

As a kind and loving God, He has desperately tried to help mankind repent. But as a just God, He cannot allow willfully, disobedient, and unrepentant people to populate His holy abode. Eventually, His mercy reaches a limit, until there is no longer a remedy – by man’s choice.

Conclusion

The idea of hell is a powerful motivating force that encourages us to obey God. It is not the most noble motivation. However, it reaches the most selfish heart and makes it receptive to the high and transcendent motivations of love and gratitude. We should never deceive ourselves into believing the common notion that we are in no danger of “hell fire”. As we have seen, hell is a real danger and an eternal punishment that awaits the disobedient. Sadly, many people will find themselves there. Dear reader, please do not let this fate befall you. Continue your quest for truth and learn God’s will for you, so that you may be saved from hell.

  • For further study: Please read more passages regarding the danger and duration of hell:
  • Proverbs 27:20
  • Matthew 10:28
  • Mark 3:29
  • 2 Peter 2:4, 17
  • Jude 6-13

Principles & Consequences

Nearly every day we face situations that question and test the principles we believe. We must choose between doing what pleases God and what appeals to our own selfish desires.

Officials of the Government may be tempted to accept bribes and to make dishonest decisions. Employees are sometimes asked to rearrange numbers or falsify reports. Even students face temptations such as cheating and plagiarism.

These “principle-testers” are good indicators of how committed we are to serving God. They help us to see whether we are serious about the truthfulness and reliability God expects of us. We know that choices we make will have good or bad consequences, but the real test comes when we must decide what to do.

How do we protect against making the wrong decision? It is through our faith and trusting God to take care of us as we choose to do what’s right, regardless of the outcome.

In Daniel 3, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abed-nego (friends of Daniel) found themselves in what seemed like an impossible situation. A decree was set that at the dedication of a huge golden image, which Nebuchadnezzar had made, all the people must fall down and worship the image. The consequences of not doing this were for one to be cast into a furnace of blazing fire. What a choice to have to make! Yet, the decision was obvious to them. They were NOT going to bow down to the golden image. They dared to disobey the king because they trusted God. They said, “Our God whom we serve is able to deliver us from the furnace of blazing fire . . . But even if He does not, let it be known to you, O King, that we are not going to serve your gods or worship the golden image that you have set up” (Daniel 3:17-18). The King went on to get angry, heat the furnace seven times more than usual and throw them in it but God delivered them. The point remains clear, however, that the only choice to be made was whether they would follow God or not.

When we face tough choices or matters that test our faith, we too can do the right thing — and leave the consequences with God.

— Shane Williams

Another School Shooting

There was another “mass shooting” at a Florida Junior High School yesterday. It is truly a sad day when we read news stories such as this. Should they happen? What can be done to stop them?
Many will now call for more gun control. Perhaps that may help, I don’t know. But this is not a debate about gun control. I will leave that up to the politicians.
One person asked why God allowed things such as this to happen. I know this is going to sound flippant to many, but perhaps we should look at the fact that God is no longer allowed in schools. Neither is he allowed in many other areas of our society. Perhaps if we look at some of the things God has to say about society when this happens, we can better understand why these things actually happen.
“My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge. Because you have rejected knowledge, I also will reject you from being My priest. Since you have forgotten the law of your God, I also will forget your children. The more they multiplied, the more they sinned against Me; I will change their glory into shame. They feed on the sin of My people And direct their desire toward their iniquity. And it will be, like people, like priest; So I will punish them for their ways And repay them for their deeds” (Hosea 4:6-10 NAS95).
God reprimanded His people for forgetting Him in this passage. While we may debate exactly who His people are, the point of this is that when God is taken out of peoples lives, there is a price to pay. Notice closely what is being said. God is not going to help those who forget Him and leave Him out of their lives.
The Israelite’s were continually turning their back on God and we can over and over again see the results of the disobedience. “Therefore My people go into exile for their lack of knowledge; And their honorable men are famished, And their multitude is parched with thirst. Therefore Sheol has enlarged its throat and opened its mouth without measure; And Jerusalem’s splendor, her multitude, her din of revelry and the jubilant within her, descend into it. So the common man will be humbled and the man of importance abased, The eyes of the proud also will be abased” (Isaiah 5:13-16 NAS95). Should we think God has changed His mind about disobedience?
Society to accepts many things which are disapproved of by God and then wonder where God is. The New Testament also tells us what will happen when we leave God. “For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse. For even though they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks, but they became futile in their speculations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures. Therefore God gave them over in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, so that their bodies would be dishonored among them. For they exchanged the truth of God for a lie, and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this reason God gave them over to degrading passions; for their women exchanged the natural function for that which is unnatural, and in the same way also the men abandoned the natural function of the woman and burned in their desire toward one another, men with men committing indecent acts and receiving in their own persons the due penalty of their error. And just as they did not see fit to acknowledge God any longer, God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do those things which are not proper, being filled with all unrighteousness, wickedness, greed, evil; full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, malice; they are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, arrogant, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, without understanding, untrustworthy, unloving, unmerciful; 32 and although they know the ordinance of God, that those who practice such things are worthy of death, they not only do the same, but also give hearty approval to those who practice them” (Romans 1:20-32 NAS95). Also, consider, “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived; neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor the covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers, will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Corinthians 6:9-10 NAS95).
Understanding society engages in, and approves of, many things God hates and then wonders why so many horrible things that happen in society. Perhaps we need to consider the God is more important than the wisdom of the world (1 Corinthians 1:18-21). We have an obligation to teach our children about God and see that they follow His dictates (Ephesians 6:4).
If we want school shootings (and many other evils) to stop, it is time to put God back in His rightful place.

The Punishment of God

Some teach the all men will be saved by God, regardless of rebellion or righteousness. It seems they believe God is so loving He simply will not punish anyone.
When considering the scriptures, we find many places which indicate this is not true. One such place is Genesis 7:17-24, where the writer says, “Then the flood came upon the earth for forty days, and the water increased and lifted up the ark, so that it rose above the earth. 18 The water prevailed and increased greatly upon the earth, and the ark floated on the surface of the water. 19 The water prevailed more and more upon the earth, so that all the high mountains everywhere under the heavens were covered. 20 The water prevailed fifteen cubits higher, and the mountains were covered. 21 All flesh that moved on the earth perished, birds and cattle and beasts and every swarming thing that swarms upon the earth, and all mankind; 22 of all that was on the dry land, all in whose nostrils was the breath of the spirit of life, died. 23 Thus He blotted out every living thing that was upon the face of the land, from man to animals to creeping things and to birds of the sky, and they were blotted out from the earth; and only Noah was left, together with those that were with him in the ark. 24 The water prevailed upon the earth one hundred and fifty days” (NAS95).
While I realize that the death and destruction portrayed here are physical, this section of scripture continues God’s teaching regarding the consequences of disobedience. This is a shadow of judgment to come (implied by Peter in 1 Pet. 3:20-21). Moses shows the children of Israel that when God says he’ll punish, that that punishment is sure. 2 Thess. 1:7-9 gives a promise of future destruction and vengeance on the disobedient. Matthew 25:46 warns that this punishment is eternal.
When looking at what God can do, we should stand in awe of the absolute power of the Almighty in this passage. His destructive power is matched only by His creative power. His will is indomitable. Yet man chooses to challenge His law. As the rebellious are crushed in the depths of the water in our passage so the rebellious of all time will be cast in to a vast lake of fire, a flood of God’s wrath (Rev. 20:15).
As Noah and his family did, and were safe from harm because of obedience, I urge the reader to accept God’s terms. Peter uses Noah as an illustration showing us how baptism is the that which now saves us (1 Pet. 3:21).