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"Hell - Eternal Punishment

John Hoole May 4, 2003

How many of you have heard of the writer named Dante. 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 the 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 4˝ 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 represent a 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 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.

A poll was taken in the United States in 1978 that revealed over 70% of those interviewed believed in hell. Eleven years later - 1989 - a Newsweek survey produced a figure of just 58%. At that time, only 4% believed that was where they were headed. As I mentioned last week, today only 25% of those surveyed, believe in the existence of hell where people may be sent.

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.

And yet, if hell no longer exists in the minds of some, or is on its deathbed, the word hell may never have been more active or popular in its usage than today. If you work or live with non-believers, you probably hear the use of the word "hell" in a variety of forms.

Images of violence and aggression. Hell is often conveyed in this manner. In WWII, the 2nd Armored Division, let by General George Patten, was nicknamed "hell on wheels" because of the havoc it caused on it way to Berlin. When 15 people were killed and 186 injured in a collision involving 75 vehicles near Chattanooga, in December 1990, a fireman described the scene as "three miles of hell."

For Emphasis

All of these phrases are pretty clear in their meaning, even if "hell" is a rather crude expression of emphasis One person was commenting at his 50th birthday, "my father was 56 when he died. I certainly hope to hell that I will be around beyond 56." What does "hell" mean in such a statement? Why not "I hope to Outer Mongolia," or "I hope to lumbago."

When we were in South Africa earlier this year, they were holding there the World Championship in the sport of Cricket. When the British team defeated the team from Australia, the team captain said, "winning sure beats the hell out of losing." Again, what does "hell" mean in such a context. Why not "Winning beats the wheelbarrow out of losing.?"

Hell in idioms

And yet, with these examples, I have hardly dented the mass of idioms that make use of the word "hell." To move "like a bat out of hell" is to move very quickly. But "hell bent for leather" means much the same thing. To have a "snowball's chance in hell" is to have no chance at all. To "raise hell" is to cause trouble. To say, "there will be hell to pay," means that there will be serious trouble later on. To be as "angry as hell" is to be furious.

This all goes to show that we have reached the stage where the word "hell" has as many meanings as people want to give it. It is spread so thinly over the English language that for most people it has lost most or all of its original significance.

But even then, there are times when glimpses of its come through. When a jilted wife had taken revenge on her husband by setting fire to his new home, she telephoned him and called it "a wee bit of roasting just to give you a taste of what hell is like."

Other phrases also show traces of its real meaning, like:

o "as sure a hell."
o or "as hot as hell,"
o or "it hurts like hell,"
o or "until hell freezes over."

But, by and large, the word "hell" has been watered down so much that it has almost totally lost its impact upon our mind. It certainly hardly affects how people live.

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. What about the person that says they want to go to hell because all their friends will be there?

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

9. What will it really be like in hell?

10. 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 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 leader, 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. The Love Family - also known as Children of God."

Founded by spiritist David Berg, they view hell as a temporal purgatory. "The Lake of Fire is where the wicked go to get purged from their sins…..to let them eventually come……out."

8. 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."

9. 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."

10. 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."

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




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?" With both 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. 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?

1. He believed in Hell's reality.

2. 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."

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. If the fire spoken of as one of the qualities of hell is only symbolic, this fact must be kept in mind. It is an accepted law of language that a figure is speech is less intense than the reality it is picturing. If the "fire" mentioned is a figurative expression, and if the reality is more intense that the figure, what an awful thing the punishment symbolized by fire must be. Those objecting to a literal fire really have not gained the critic anything.

Fire is evidently the only word in human language which can suggest the anguish of hell. In the parable of the wheat and tares (Matthew 13:36-43), Christ interpreted for us every part except the fire. The only reasonable explanation is that fire is not a symbol needing interpretation. It perfectly describes the reality of the eternal torment.

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.

Hell's Duration


The doctrine of hell is undoubtedly the most disturbing subject in the Bible. And the most disturbing truth about hell is its duration. The idea of people being punished for their sins and misdeeds doesn't bother most people. But the notion that hell will last forever is totally repugnant. For this reason, many have tried to soften this truth by adopting a kinder, gentler view of hell.

Some put reason before revelation and dismiss the whole idea of hell because they reject the authority of the Bible. Sir Arthur Conan Doyle is a good example:

"Hell, I may say….has long dropped out of the thoughts of every reasonable man."

Unfortunately, there are those who claim to take the Bible as their starting point, but mix its teachings with their own religious or philosophical ideas. This is the typical approach of various cults or the occult. I mentioned the theologian Nels Ferre earlier. Here is another quote of his. He claims that the doctrine of eternal punishment is "subjustice and sublove," and that by believing it, "God's name is libeled beyond belief."

Another theologian, David Edwards, comes at it from another angle.

"I would rather be an atheist than believe in a god who accepts it as inevitable that hell (however conceived) is the inescapable destiny of many, or of any of his children, even when they are prepared to accept 'all the blame'."

I can certainly understand people not wanting to believe in the severity of hell, but any approach to Scripture which picks and chooses which parts to believe is not only unbiblical and dishonest; it also leave us without any assurance that any other part of Scripture is God's word. If we reject the Bible's teaching about hell, how can we trust what it says about the love of God, or the offer of forgiveness, or the hope of heaven?

One erroneous view about hell, taught by some, is what is called "Annihilationism." The view teaches that all souls are immortal, but the wicked lose their immortality on the day of final judgment. God just extinguishes them. While this view may be more appealing to the human mind, the Bible clearly teaches that punishment in hell will last forever.

On numerous occasions Jesus underlined the fact that hell is eternal. For example, in Matthew 18:8, He describes an "everlasting fire".

There are four English words that are important here.

o everlasting
o eternal
o forever
o forevermore

All four of these words are used to describe hell. The first two word - everlasting and eternal - are adjectives. The other two words - forever and forevermore - are adverbs. The importance of taking note of these words is that all four come from the same Greek root word. That Greek word is AION. The adjectival form is aionios.

Jesus repeatedly stressed the idea that the souls of the wicked will have to endure "everlasting punishment." In probably the best known passage on hell, Jesus twice affirms the duration as being eternal.

First, in Matthew 25:41, Jesus expels evildoers to "the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels."

Second, five verses later, Jesus places the fate of the wicked and the righteous side by side.

In Matthew 25:46, (NASU) Jesus said, "These will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."

Did you notice that the word "eternal" was used twice in this verse? The same Greek word - Aionios - is used in both places. That means that the word that is applied to the punishment of the unbelievers is the same word that is applied to the life possessed by believers.

If the words "eternal" or "everlasting" do not mean everlasting when applied to the wicked in hell, then what security do we believers have that it means everlasting when speaking of our time in heaven? The same word "aionios" is applied to a number of other things.

o 2 Cor. 4:17 speaks of the eternal glory to which believers look forward.

o 2 Cor. 5:1 tells us about those eternal mansions in which Christians will dwell.

o 1 Timothy 1:17 tells about the King eternal.

o Hebrews 13:8 exalts Christ by saying He is the same yesterday, today and forever.

If aionios in these verses is not speaking of that which never end, then what encouragement do we gain from knowing these verses. No, the only understanding of the word "aionios" that gives these and other verses real meaning is to accept it to mean "never ending."

Regardless of what we might think of the theological errors in Dante's Inferno, the most famous words Dante ever wrote are very accurate theologically. In his writing, the words he placed over the gate of hell said: "Abandon all hope ye who enter here."

Jesus said to those who are cast into hell: "Their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched." (Mark 9:44)

In Revelation 14:11, Jjesus says of the ungodly: "And the smoke of their torment rises forever and ever. There is no rest day or night." If there is no rest day or night, it implies their ongoing existence.

One more passage should add to the weight of evidence in support of punishment that does not end is found in Revelation 20.

Revelation 20:10 NAS

10 And the devil who deceived them was thrown into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are also; and they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.


The Antichrist and the False Prophet


Revelation 19:20 (NKJV)

20 Then the beast was captured, and with him the false prophet who worked signs in his presence, by which he deceived those who received the mark of the beast and those who worshiped his image. These two were cast alive into the lake of fire burning with brimstone.


At the 2nd coming of Christ.


More than 1000 years. And yet, the Antichrist and False Prophet are still alive after 1,000 years.

I copied the words from a sermon by Charles Spurgeon many years ago. They powerfully express the terror and heart-wrenching despair of the eternalness of hell.

"In hell there is no hope. They have not even the hope of dying; the hope of being annihilated. They are forever, forever, forever lost. On every chain in hell is written 'forever.' Up above their heads they read 'forever.' Their eyes are galled and their hearts pained with the thought that it is 'forever.' Oh, if I could tell you tonight that hell would one day be burned out, and that those who were lost might be save, there would be a jubilee in hell at the very thought of it. But it cannot be. It is forever. They are cast into outer darkness."

J. I. Packer

> "The insistence [of Scripture] that the fire, punishment and destruction are eternal….would be pointless and inappropriate if all that is envisaged is momentary extinction;……Either these words indicate the endlessness of torment, or they are superfluous and misleading."
Augustine (over 1500 years ago)
"To say that life eternal shall be endless [but that] punishment eternal shall come to an end is the height of absurdity."

J. C. Ryle

"It is clearly revealed in Scripture: the eternity of God, and heaven and hell, all stand on the same foundation. As surely as God is eternal, so surely is heaven an endless day without night, and hell and endless night without day."

A. H. Strong

"If, when used to describe the future punishment of the wicked, they do not declare the endlessness of that punishment, there are no words in the Greek language which could express that meaning."

Alec Motyer

"The notion of eternity, in so far as it is revealed to us by the New Testament use of the words excluded the idea of termination."

J. I. Packer (again)

"An endless hell can no more be removed from the New Testament than an endless heaven can be."

I believe it is obvious, from the Scriptures, that an unbeliever's sentence to hell is not only irreversible, it is also one that lasts forever. It is a death sentence that does not end with death. Jesus, Paul, Jude and John confess in unison that the duration of hell is endless.


Several years ago a book was published entitled "Looking Out for Number One." On the dedication page, the author wrote: "Dedicated to the hope that somewhere in our universe there exists a civilization where the inhabitants possess sole dominion over their own lives."

There is such a place. It's called hell.

Yes, according to the Bible, hell is real. This thought should cause us to make sure of heaven and to help others escape hell's terrors.

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