What Is Hell?

August 24, 1997 / No. 2851

We are finding biblical answers to some of the most basic questions a person could ever ask.

The first question we asked was, What is heaven? Turning to the Word of God, the Bible, we learned that heaven is the dwelling place of God with His people. It is the place where God’s people shall have perfect communion with their God and where salvation will be perfected. We saw, too, that heaven is a place of everlasting rest for the saints, where sin and sorrow and struggle will be forever gone, and God’s people shall enjoy the perfect work and salvation of Christ. Still more, we saw that heaven was the ardent hope of every believer. A believer lives now in the hope of heaven. He looks for, yearns after, and sets his heart upon the hope of eternal glory.

Then we asked the question, Who are going to go to heaven? We stressed the importance at that time that the answer must come from God’s Word. So we limited ourselves exclusively to the Word of God to answer that question. From the book of Revelation we answered in four statements. We saw from the book of Revelation that only those who are written in the Lamb’s book of life go to heaven, that is, those whom God chooses and gives to Jesus Christ, a choice that He made before He created the world, a choice He made in free grace and love. We saw, more, that those who go to heaven must be washed from the filth of their sins in the blood of Jesus Christ; that of ourselves we are corrupt and filthy sinners, and before we could ever appear before God’s presence in heaven we must be washed clean from our sins. Still more, we saw that the answer to the question of who is going to heaven was that one must be freed from the power of sin in his life, one must be made a servant of Jesus Christ who desires, already now, to serve Him and obey His Word. Finally, we learned that the answer to: Who are going to heaven? is that only those will enter heaven who overcome, by the strength of Jesus Christ, everything that would keep them away from Christ and from heaven.

So we have answered two of the most important questions a person could ever ask: What is heaven, and who are going to heaven?

Today we will ask another important question: What is hell?

Can you conceive of a more sobering thought than hell-hell which, the Bible says, is everlasting torment of the body and soul in the lake of fire, prepared for the devil and all who do not repent? My heart trembles over the truth of hell.

The world today mocks hell. They make it an object of their ridicule and laughter. In fact, they even challenge God to cast them into hell. Other people imagine hell to be something in this life. They say that their life is a living hell, referring to all the suffering and miseries that they have had. There are others who readily tell other people to go to hell. Or, the moment they hurt themselves, they say, “Oh, hell.” They use it as a curse-word.

When one comes before the Bible, one finds that the truth of hell is the most sobering truth we could imagine. It is the truth of God’s Word which wakes the child of God out of the daze and stupor of this world. The devil seeks to have the children of unbelief, the children of the world, deceived. He seeks to keep them in blindness and darkness to the reality of the fact that eternal hell awaits all who do not repent and believe in Jesus Christ.

A believing child of God stirs up his mind over the subject of hell. He sees the reality, not the myth, of the place Jesus called outer darkness, where there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth. We see the seriousness of our sins. And we understand that sin is not a plaything, sin is not an excusable thing. Sin is a horrendous thing that deserves eternal punishment in hell.

Still more, we see the wonder of belonging to Jesus Christ who has delivered us from hell.

If the truth of hell does not produce in your heart trembling, if, perhaps, there is just a little, fleeting trembling, but you have never contemplated the truth of hell and never truly fled for refuge to Jesus Christ, then the Word of God to you right now is: Repent. If your life is only one of hypocrisy, if your confession of Christ is only outward, and if, in all seriousness, you have no foundation under you, no foundation to keep you from the flames of hell, then the Word of the gospel to you now is: Repent! Jesus said, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.” The sober reality of hell is used of God to bring His children to the wonderful reality of belonging to the Savior Jesus Christ.

If heaven were the only eternal state that God tells us of in His Word, we could stop our series on heaven. But the Word of God makes very plain that there is not only a heaven but also a hell. If it were true that a soul could be annihilated, simply cease to exist; or if it were true that we could hold out the possibility of amnesty (that a person, at death, would get another chance), or somehow receive a pardon, or that there would be a period of probation-then, too, perhaps, the human mind could have peace apart from Christ. But the Word of God speaks very solemnly of the truth of eternal hell.

Most people choose not to believe in hell. They say that death is the end, or the great unknown (we don’t know what happens after death). So they try to push death and hell out of their daily consciousness. There are many who call themselves Christians and do not believe in hell. They say, “My God would never send anyone to eternal torment.” In fact, it is commonly believed today that a Christian, by definition, is one who rejects the truth of hell. Scarcely anyone believes that he is going to go to hell. Man insulates himself from the reality of eternal punishment.

Yet the Bible is plain for any who will read it. God’s Word speaks of hell. And hell is not, as many modern Bible expositors teach, a garbage pit outside of Jerusalem. That is the way it is presented by many Bible expositors. No, the Bible says that hell is a bottomless pit (Rev. 9:1), it is a lake of fire, burning with brimstone (Rev. 19:20). It is the place where men and women are tormented, held in chains of darkness, where the smoke of their torment ascendeth up for ever and they have no rest day nor night (Rev. 14:11).

Do you believe that hell exists?

The question really is this: Do you believe the Bible? Do you subject yourself to the truth of God’s Word?

Of all the testimony that is found in the Bible concerning hell, there was one who spoke more of hell than any other, and warned of it, and lived in the consciousness that impenitent sinners go to hell. That One was Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ was the One who told us (Matt. 10:28) that we must not fear those who killed the body and after that have nothing more they can do. But He told us whom we should fear. Fear Him who could cast body and soul into hell fire. It was Jesus Christ who described (Matt. 8:11, 12) hell as a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth, of the place where the worm dieth not and the fire is not quenched. It was Jesus Christ who said ( Matt. 22) that those who would not be found in the last day in the garment of His righteousness would be cast out into outer darkness. It was Jesus Christ ( Luke 13) who warned that a failure to repent meant that one would perish forever in the damnation of hell. Jesus Christ talked of hell with His disciples. He brought it up when He spoke of our personal relationships. He warned us that whoever calls another person a fool would be in danger of hell fire. He spoke of the fact that when we refuse to forgive one another we would be held over in the prison of death.

Then Jesus Christ said ( Matt. 11) that it would be more tolerable for Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgment than for those who heard His word and did it not. Sodom and Gomorrah, you may remember, were cities in the Old Testament which were destroyed by fire and brimstone for their sin against God. Jesus said, in the day of judgment it will be better for Sodom and Gomorrah, men who were filled with wickedness, than for those who heard His Word and did not repent. He said to the cities of Chorazin and Bethsaida, where He had done His mighty works and preached His wonderful sermons, “Woe unto you, Chorazin and Bethsaida.”

Hear now the word of God. Repent. Go to your house, by faith, confident of refuge-refuge that is found in belonging to Jesus Christ, the only One who can deliver and has delivered His people from so great a death as eternal hell.

Jesus spoke of hell so often. He spoke of it very pointedly in Matthew 25. In verse 41 we read, “Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels.” There Jesus describes hell as the place where the curse of God is inflicted upon a person to be endured for ever and ever. He says that hell is where the wicked are shut up under the curse of God in everlasting misery, with the company of the devil and his angels. The time will come when men will hear the words, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Jesus, in Matthew 25, was speaking of the final judgment, when all men will be gathered before Him. And He says that He will divide them as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats.

Just as the Bible teaches that at death the soul of a believer goes up to heaven and his body goes to the grave to await the resurrection day when the body will be raised to go into final glory, so also does the Bible teach that the soul of an unbeliever at death goes to hell. Jesus taught in Luke 16:24 that a man who did not believe or repent awoke in death to the torments of flame in hell. Further, the Bible teaches that the body of an unbeliever will also be raised up at Christ’s return. In John 5:29 we read of the resurrection of the good and of the evil, a resurrection unto life and unto death. So, body and soul, a person will go into everlasting punishment, where all the haters of the Lord, all who despise His Word, all the unbelieving, are damned under the curse of God.

What is the curse of God?

When Jesus spoke of the curse of God He was referring to the just penalty of the holy God for the breaking of His law. We read in Galatians 3:10, “Cursed is every one that continueth not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them.” The law of God, the Ten Commandments, express the will of the holy God for the life of men and women, boys and girls-of all men and all women of every age and every place. The curse is the infliction of God’s wrath upon those who would presumptuously stand in defiance of His law and transgress that law.

The Word of God says to us in Galatians 3 that that was the curse that was also due unto believers. It was the curse that Christ redeemed us from when He was made accursed for us upon the cross of Calvary. To be cursed, then, is to appear before the face of God, before the face of the eternal Judge, to stand before the judgment seat of Christ as a transgressor, as one who has broken the law of God. Not having faith in Jesus Christ, not belonging to a Christ who has delivered you from that curse, but rather, in your heart agreeing with your transgression. Standing before the holy God in enmity and saying in your heart to His law, “I will not, I never will bow to that holy law.” Then to hear the words of holy indignation, the most horrible words that a soul could ever hear: “Depart from me, ye cursed.” To have the full penalty of a holy God’s wrath fall down upon a person, pressing him down to the pit for an eternity in suffering-that is hell.

Let all who now curse inwardly, let all who in the pride of their heart set themselves up over against God’s law, let all whose mouths are filled with cursing and bitterness repent and flee to Jesus Christ in faith. Let all who would, in the words of Psalm 50, imagine that, after all, a little transgression will never hurt a person, all who are willing to consent with the thief and with those who curse and swear and say, “Well, it’s all right to sin”-let all such hear the Word of God: Repent, lest God descend upon you and tear you in pieces.

I said that this was the curse from which Jesus Christ has delivered believers, the penalty for our rebellion and sin against God, the penalty for our repeated offenses against God. Jesus Christ has delivered us from this curse because this curse was actually inflicted upon Jesus in our place. So we know how dreadful this curse is. We know how dreadful it is from what it did to our Savior upon the cross. Our Savior upon the cross was banished from the smile of God. He was lashed with all the blows of God’s holy wrath which should have been directed against us. Paul says, in II Corinthians 5:11, “Knowing therefore the terror of the Lord, we persuade men.” Those who are confident of their deliverance from sin in Jesus Christ, but who know how terrible is the judgment that their sins deserve, do not simply go out and forget the penalty that their sins deserve. Rather, they go out, says Paul, and persuade men, they urge men, “Are you going to go on in the way of sin and rebellion and clothe yourself with the curse of God?”

Although our society professes widespread belief in God, yet the knowledge of the curse of the holy God against those who break His holy law does not exist for our culture. That is evidenced, for example, in homosexuality. Romans 1 says that homosexuality is the depths of breaking God’s law. Yes, homosexuality is a sin that Jesus Christ delivers from, that the grace of God pardons from. He takes us out of that sin. But that very act of homosexuality today is promoted as being right. It is condoned by the church, so that, if we listen to much of the church which claims that it has the gospel, we would conclude that God ought to apologize for what He did to Sodom and Gomorrah, for He destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah for the sin of homosexuality. Today, salvation is no longer declared as deliverance from the curse of God against sin. Today, salvation is simply freedom from frustration. Jesus has come to remove our frustrations, to save us from anxieties, to teach us to live with our doubts and our fears. The curse of God? Threatened upon a man or woman for breaking His law? That is no longer declared.

But let it be heard today! The Bible, the truth, is this: Salvation is to be delivered from the curse which was due to us. Christ hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us. That is salvation! And hell is when that curse is inflicted upon you.

Hear the Word of God. Repent. Forsake your sins. Go to Jesus Christ in the gift of faith. For there alone is refuge.

Let us pray.

Our Father, we pray that Thy Word may enter into our hearts. By the power of Thy Spirit, turn us unto Jesus Christ. Amen.