Hell is Real


John Hoole – July 6, 2014




How many of you have heard of the writer named DanteDante is his first name – his last is Alighieri.  He lived from 1265 to 1321.






Dante’s Inferno was actually one of three sections of a larger work, called A Divine Comedy.  The three sections of this work are:  Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.  It is most well-known for the Inferno.






Here is another question, that at first may appear to be totally unrelated to Dante’s Inferno.  I will connect it in a few minutes.




                   It is most well-known for its name, The Thinker.”


Are you aware that this sculpture was originally part of another masterpiece by the same sculptor.  Approximately 600 years after Dante, a sculptor by the name of Rodin was commissioned to create a sculpture of what Dante put in his book about hell.  What emerges from Rodin’s skillful hands is a monumental masterpiece both in size and its detailed complexity of this masterpiece.


Once when I made a trip to Washington D.C., I visited the Smithsonian Art Museum.  They had converted a wing of this museum into an exhibition of Rodin’s sculptures.  One was of a lady with a flowing dress, blowing slightly in the wind, made of white marble.  It was so real that I reached out to touch what looked to me to be white chiffon rather than white marble.  Before my hand had reached the piece, I heard a voice saying “don’t touch that.”  I turned to see a security guard standing in the shadows of this room.  I dutifully meandered along the aisles.


But the piece that most captured my eyes and my thoughts, was a piece titled “The Gates of Hell.”  The image stood some 8 feet high and 4½ to 5 feet wide, depicting dozens of images of people imprisoned in various parts of hell.


Rodin was  originally commissioned to create a two-part sculpture – a gate or door, through which people would walk as they came to a performance of The Divine Comedy.”




It is the one image among many that seems to be totally out of place with its setting.  Actually, that image on the “Gates of Hell” was not called “The Thinker.”  It was later that Rodin took several images from this work and created larger stand-alone images.


But, why is this image so out of place with the rest of the Gates of Hell.”  Rodin was really struggling with how best to portray hell.  I don’t know what kind of physique Rodin personally had, but this image represents himself.


What he has done is to insert himself into the sculpture, as one looking over the rest of the sculpture.  It represented himself as thinking, questioning, pondering the real essence of hell.  Rodin never delivered this piece to the ones who commissioned it, because he never really thought he had captured a real picture of hell.


Of all the doctrines of the Christian Faith, the one we feel most uncomfortable discussing, especially with those who are non-believers, is the doctrine of eternal punishment or hell.  And it is not really difficult to understand why this is so.  The doctrine of hell is offensive to unbelievers, and contradicts the whole tenor of our secular society, which puts great emphasis on tolerance of all beliefs.


None of us like to alienate our unbelieving friends by speaking of eternal judgment for sin.  Additionally, the doctrine of hell is difficult for some to reconcile with the love and grace of God.  As I mentioned in an earlier lesson, today only 25% of those surveyed, believe in the existence of hell where people may be sent.  25 years earlier, 70% believe in hell.


In 1989, when Martin Marty, a professor at the University of Chicago Divinity School, was preparing a Harvard lecture on the subject of hell, he consulted the indexes of several scholarly journals dating back over more than 100 years.  He failed to find a single entry in these journals on the topic of hell.  His conclusion:  “Hell disappeared and no one noticed.


This retreat seems to have also found its way into published work on Bible Doctrine.  One volume of Christian Doctrine, with nearly 800 pages, and edited by 3 well-known and highly respected theologians has only 8 lines on hell.  Yet, even this is 8 lines more than another major work – Handbook of Contemporary Theology.


But, does all this matter?  Is it important that we learn the real meaning of hell?  The answer to those questions depend on the answer to many others.


1.      Is hell a fact or fantasy?


2.      Who will go there?


3.      How can a loving God send anyone to hell?


4.      If it is real, is there a second chance after arriving in hell?


5.      Will it last forever, or will a person eventually cease to exist?


6.      Is the reference to fire really literal?


7.      If it is real, where is it located?


8.      What will it really be like in hell?


9.      Are there different degrees of punishment in hell?


The answer to these question will help us understand the importance of the subject of hell.  Unfortunately, not only do non-believers use the word “hell” in manners not at all reflecting its true significance, but there are many religious groups who question the reality of “hell.”


1.      Christian Science.  Founded by Mary Baker Eddy, this group teaches “there is no death.” They believe that “heaven and hell are states of thought, not places.  People experience their own heaven or hell right here on earth.”


2.      The Unification Church – sometimes called Moonies”  Their founder, Sun Myung Moon believes that “God will not desert any person eternally.  By some means…..they will be restored.”


3.      Mormonism – Founder, Joseph Smith, argues, “The false doctrine that the punishment to be visited upon erring souls is endless…..is but a dogma of unauthorized and erring sectaries, at once unscriptural, unreasonable, and revolting.”


4.      Jehovah’s Witnesses – Founded by Charles Taze Russell, they maintain that the wicked are forever annihilated because “the teaching about a fiery hell can rightly be designated as a ‘teaching of demons.”


5.      The Church of the New Jerusalem – also called Swedenborgianism.  Emanuel Swedenborgh emphasizes that God “does not condemn anyone to hell.”


6.      Eckankar – This is a New Age religion, founded by Paul Twitchell and Darwin Gross, who insist that “there is no death”…….and that there is no eternal hell.


7.      Rosicrucianism – an occult philosophy – They declare that “the eternal damnation of those who are not ‘saved’ does not mean destruction nor endless torture,”  and that “the Christian religion did not originally contain any dogmas about Hell.”


8.      Unitarian Universalism – They confess the following:  “It seems safe to say that no Unitarian Universalist believes in a resurrection of the body, a literal heaven or hell, or any kind of eternal punishment.”


9.      The Theosophy Society – founded by Helena P. Blavatsky – She declared, “we positively refuse to accept the …belief in eternal reward or eternal punishment.”  Hence “Death…is not…a cause for fear.”


Most of these organizations call themselves Christian.  What about other religions.  I have been asked, “Why do I have to be a Christian to stay out of hell?”  I can tell you there are distinct differences between these religions.  For one, Christianity is the only belief that claims someone died for them and rose again (See John 3:1; 4:42; Acts 4:12; Romans5:8; 1 Corinthians 15:3-4; Colossians 1:14; 1 John 1:7).  Christianity is not a religion but a relationship.


Billy Graham said, “Most of the world religions are based upon philosophical thought, except for Judaism, Buddhism, Islam, and Christianity. These four are based upon personalities.  Only Christianity claims resurrection for its founder.”


That claim is certain and proven to be true.  Christianity is the only religion that has solved the issue with sin.  Sin is what sentences people to hell, and the only way you can stay out of hell is if you can appear perfect before God in judgment.  The only way this is humanly possible is for us to accept that God the Son, Jesus, came to earth and lived a perfect life as a man.  He along took the punishment for our sins by dying on the cross, and rose again.  We can then be covered by the perfection of Jesus and stand before God blameless.  Only then can we avoid hell.


John G. Lake said:


         “No religion among the religions of the world has ever offered a solution for the sin problem.  Jesus Christ alone has brought the solution.”


In Isaiah 45:21 (NKJV), God says:


There is no other God beside me: a just God and a Savior; there is none beside me.”


The God of the Bible – the only God, is telling you and me clearly that there are no other gods..  God loved you so much that He planned on becoming a man and dying in our place (Rom. 5:8).


Earlier, I mentioned Dante’s Inferno.  Dante Alighieri describes in great detail his imaginary tour through nine different levels of hell.  Dante’s book may make for fascinating reading, and the cults mentioned above make their claims about hell, but to learn what hell is really like, we must turn to another source.  The Bible.  The Bible is easily the clearest authority on hell and the lake of fire.


Hell’s Reality




The answers to this and other questions rests solely in the authority of the Scriptures, because the Bible certainly teaches us  of a very real and very terrible place of punishment for those who keep Christ out of their lives.  When someone questions the fact and reality of Hell, they are questioning the authority of the Bible.




Some pose the question: Since the Bible is a highly symbolic book, how can we be sure that hell is a literal place?


First, the premise that the Bible is a symbolic book, much less a “highly” symbolic one, is a false premise. Yes, the Bible does offer some symbolism, but Satan has deceived people into over-emphasizing biblical symbolism.


Most of the Bible deals with history – the history of man’s relationship to his Creator.  Within that recorded history one can learn of many things about God and His plan.  As He reveals these things to us, He sometimes  uses symbolism, but this doesn’t make the Bible a symbolic book.  It is simply a book that contains some symbolism.


When the Bible uses symbolism, it is quite obvious.  Jesus once said, “I am the door” [John 10:9].  That statement cannot possibly be taken literally, so it must be taken as symbolism.  Jesus was not literally a shepherd, and His followers are not literally sheep.  Those are obviously symbolic terms, not to be taken literally.


According to the Bible, the term “hell” occurs 54 times in the Bible, and never once is it impossible for the word to be taken literally.  Take the very first occurrence of the word “hell” in Deuteronomy 32:22:


Deuteronomy 32:22 NKJV


22     For a fire is kindled in My anger, and shall burn to the lowest hell; It shall consume the earth with her increase, and set on fire the foundations of the mountains.


To say that “hell” in this verse is symbolic would demand further comment regarding the earth and the mountains.  Are they symbolic as well?


Because of the heinous nature of hell, many have decided that it is impossible for a loving God to conceive such a place, much less send His wayward creatures there.  For this reason, they have rejected the idea of an eternal hell.


Many things we don’t know about Hell.  But Jesus and the New Testament writers used every image in their power to emphasize how real hell is.  They spoke of how terrible it is, that it is something to be feared, and something to avoid.


Modern theologian Reinhold Neibuhr wrote:


         “It is unwise for Christians to claim any knowledge of either the furniture of heaven or the temperature of hell.”


Technically speaking, he is correct, yet, though the Bible is somewhat restrained when speaking of life after death it says enough to enable us to come to some settled conclusions.


What then can we know about hell, which someone has called the “ultimate horror of God’s universe?”  To understand either heaven and hell, we are locked into what Scripture says.


Comparatively little of what Scripture says about the eternal destiny of the unbeliever is in the Old Testament.  In an earlier lesson, I mentioned that biblical revelation is progressive.  Some subjects and doctrines mentioned lightly in the Old Testament, become much more clear in the revelation added in the New Testament.  This is certainly true with the subject of hell.


We need to take note of several items.


1.      Most of the teachings on eternal hell comes from the lips of Jesus.


This may come as a surprise to those who think of the teachings of Jesus as only loving and tolerant.  As I said last week, it has been calculated that of the 1,870 verses which record the words of Jesus, some 13% of them are about judgment and hell.  Jesus spoke more on these two subjects than about any other.  Angels came in second.  Love was third.


Also, of the about 40 parables spoken by Jesus, more than half of them related to God’s eternal judgment of sinners.  The strongest Greek word for Hell is Gehenna.  And, again, of its uses, all but one were spoken by Jesus himself.


Why did Jesus speak so much on this subject?


        A.      He believed in Hell’s reality.


        B.      He warned mankind about Hell because He did not want them to go there.


Here is another thing that needs to be noted.


2.      Those who reject the harsh God of the O.T. with preference to the teachings of Jesus are on shaky ground.


Over the years, I have had people say to me that they don’t accept the harsh God of the Old Testament. They say, “My idea of Christianity is the teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.”  Such statements show they have not really taken a close look of the Sermon on the Mount for it provides no escape whatever from the thought of an eternal hell.


In Matthew 5:22, Christ says that a person who says to another person “You fool”, is in danger of “hell fire” (Gehenna).


In Matthew 5:29, (NIV) we are told


         It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell (Gehenna).


Later in the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:13, Jesus doesn’t use the word Gehenna, but taught of the need to turn from “the road that leads to destruction.”


Yes, some critics of a literal eternal hell say that biblical references to hell are merely metaphorical.  By that, they were implying that the references in the Bible to hell and the lake of fire were simply symbolic, certainly not real.  While there were a few, in early church history, who denied a literal eternal hell, it was almost unanimous among church scholars that hell is real and eternal.


Hell was preached as a permanent part of theology, and most early Christians understood all life in terms of their ultimate destination.  Men and women longed for heaven and feared hell.  It is here that biblical eschatology becomes personal.  Theologically speaking, the doctrine of heaven and hell relates to our personal eschatology.  While eschatology is popularly known as a study of end-time events, it also encompasses what may be termed the “final state of individual souls.”


Unfortunately, today many believe that by remaining neutral in regards to a decision for Christ, one would still be in safe harbor.  Since they have not rejected the idea of the acceptance of Jesus, they feel a decision has not been made – and heaven still their destination.


However, that is not the case.


John 3:18 NKJV


18     He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.


By not choosing life, we are already on the road that leads to destruction (Matthew 7:13-14).  A lack of a decision is in fact a decision.  All are on their way to hell until we choose to follow Christ.  It is only then that we get off that road to destruction.  God has given us clear instructions on how to get off that road. I pray that all who hear my voice today have made that decision.  It is so very important to make a decision while we have the chance.  Those in hell have an eternity to regret their hesitation as they too thought they would have more time in this life to think about it.  They thought they were still safe.  Unfortunately they were wrong, and only one second after they were dead, it was then too late.




Jesus Christ taught that hell is real.  Contrary to philosopher Bertrand Russell’s view that life after death is unlikely, there is an afterlife, and all who die unforgiven will experience God’s awful judgment in hell.


Jesus also contradicts John Hick’s universalism.  It simply is not true that ultimately all will belong to the kingdom of heaven.  Many people, even religious people, will be “thrown in hell” by almighty God (Matt. 5:29).


When liberal theologian Nels Ferre suggested that “whether Jesus taught eternal hell or not is uncertain,” he is at odds with the evidence --- or he’s reading a different Bible than I.  It is impossible to read the New Testament in general, and the words of Jesus in particular, without facing the fact that hell is not a figment of religious imagination.  It is a terrifying reality.  There are just too many specific references to hell as an actual place, with detailed descriptions of the suffering that will occur there.  Hell will not be a symbolic separation from God.  There will be actual agony and torment for all of its inhabitants.