Hell is a controversial topic – seldom spoken of in polite Christian circles and even more seldom preached about. We know, of course, that Jesus spoke about Hell often – more often than he spoke of Heaven. Yet, it is a subject that few today emphasize as a part of the gospel message.
Maybe it’s because the thought of sermons about Hell conjures images of Hellfire preachers bent on condemnation or of charlatans trying to scare their followers into giving money. There are plenty of examples of it being depicted like this in secular culture.
In truth, there could be no question more important to every human being than the question of eternal Hellfire.
Is Hell Real?
It has been argued by liberal theologians that the term 'Hell' isn’t mentioned in the Old Testament and therefore the Old Testament contains no concept of eternal punishment.
While it’s true that the term Hell is used only in the New Testament, equivalent terms such as Sheol appear 89 times in Old Testament scriptures. Job speaks of descending to Sheol, noting the fact that even kings and rulers will eventually go there. (Job 3:13-15) Daniel speaks of those who will awake from death: “Many of those who sleep in the dust of the earth shall awake, some to everlasting life, and some to shame and everlasting contempt” (Daniel 12:2).
The most important declarations of Hell are from Jesus Himself. He describes it as a place where the fire is not quenched and the worm dieth not. A place originally prepared as punishment for the devil and his angels. Jesus clearly taught that Hell is real and was the eternal destiny of lost humanity.
To say there is no Hell is to dismiss the whole purpose of Christ’s incarnation and death – it’s the same as saying that Jesus died for nothing.
Is Hell Eternal?
The Bible uses the same words to describe everlasting life (Heaven) and everlasting torment (Hell). If the definition of one is changed then it effects both equally.
Revelation clearly describes the eternal nature of Hell:
“If anyone worships the beast and its image and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulfur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night, these worshipers of the beast and its image, and whoever receives the mark of its name. (Revelation 14:9–11)
“Oh eternity! If all of earth and sea were turned to sand, and all the air up to the starry heaven were nothing but sand, and a little bird should come every thousand years, and fetch away in her bill but the tenth part of a grain of all that heap of sand, what numberless years would be spent before that vast heap of sand would be fetched away!
Yet, if at the end of all that time, the sinner might come out of hell, there would be some hope; but that word “Forever” breaks the heart. “The smoke of their torment ascendeth up forever and ever.” ~ Thomas Watson
Does this punishment fit the crime?
A crime’s punishment is commensurate with the degree of the offense. A man can commit such gross crimes against his fellow humans that he could earn ten life sentences for ten minutes of mayhem. These are sins against men.
In Genesis we see that a single sin against an infinitely holy God was so earthshaking that it justly plunged all of creation into death and darkness. Can sinning against God — and not only for a moment but for one’s whole lifetime — not merit eternal damnation? (*)
Jesus made it clear that it does. His coming was proof of it. He declared with His very life that the only remedy was eternity's most outrageous act – the infinite God bore our sins in His own body on the cross. He took our punishment.
The terrible truth is that all of us have earned Hell’s eternal death sentence.
The blessed good news is that, for those who accept it, Jesus took that punishment for us!
“But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” John 1:12
What we do with Jesus is the most important decision we will ever make.
(*) Greg Morse, https://www.desiringgod.org/articles/will-hell-really-last-forever