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.
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