Death Discussions Part 7: The Hot Topic of Hell
Hell! It’s a terrifying subject. A U.S. News and World Report article entitled “Hell’s Sober Comeback” reported that “Three out of 5 Americans now believe in Hades, but their views on damnation differ sharply”.1 Some teach that Hell simply means ‘separation from God’, that’s it. Others vigorously contend, “It’s not just separation, but fiery separation that lasts forever!” The traditional view is that Hell is a hot, smoky place somewhere beneath our feet where lost souls instantly soar at the moment of death. According to this theology, the damned are sizzling right now, somewhere, consciously, and painfully. A large percentage is convinced that Hell never ends.
To begin with, I believe there is a Hell, that there is a fiery Hell, and that the Bible is true – literally. So don’t worry about this. I’m not a liberal, or a heretic. Yet as we plunge into this controversial topic, my conclusions may shock you. So prepare yourself. As always, I encourage you to pick up a Bible and look up the texts. As you are about to see, what many think about Hell isn’t always exactly what God’s Word really says.
There are three different Greek words that are translated as “Hell” in our English New Testaments. It’s important to know this, for they each mean something different. They are “Tartarus,” “Gehenna,” and “Hades.” Tartarus is used only once in the New Testament, in 2 Peter 2:4. The Scripture says,
God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell [Tartarus], and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment (2 Peter 2:4, KJV).
This verse says that “the angels that sinned” (which would include Lucifer, too) have already been cast down “to hell” by God Himself. Yet they aren’t roasting right now, obviously, and they certainly aren’t suffering somewhere far beneath Los Angeles or Tokyo. Tartarus means “dark abyss” or “place of restraint.” It isn’t a place of punishment either. Look carefully. 2 Peter 2:4 says Satan’s angels are “reserved unto judgment,” which means their punishment is yet future. For Lucifer and his diabolical demons, the fire hasn’t started yet. So much for Tartarus.
Next word: “Gehenna.” All authorities admit this word is derived from the name of the narrow, rocky valley of Hinnom just south of Jerusalem where trash, filth, and the bodies of dead animals were burned up in Bible days. Jesus Christ spoke about Gehenna many times such as in Matthew 5:22, 29 & 30 where He warned about “the danger of hell [Gehenna] fire” (Matthew 5:22). Gehenna definitely suggests real flames. But a key question is: when will this fire burn? In Matthew 13:40-42, in His explanation to His disciples about His parable concerning plants, reapers and a harvest, Jesus provided this definite answer:
The harvest is the end of the world, and the reapers are the angels. As therefore the weeds are gathered and burned in the fire, so shall it be at the end of this world. The Son of Man shall send forth his angels, and they shall gather out of his kingdom all things that offend, and them that do iniquity, and shall cast them into a furnace of fire, and there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth. Then shall the righteous shine forth like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears to hear, let him hear (Matthew 13:40-42, italics added).
“He who has ears to hear, let him hear.” As to when the fire burns, what should we hear? Christ’s direct answer is, “at the end of this world” (verse 40). Amazingly, Peter taught the same thing when he wrote:
But the heavens and the earth, which are now, by the same word are kept in store, reserved unto fire against the day of judgment and perdition of ungodly men (2 Peter 3:7).
Peter’s words may seem radical, but they are the truth of God. By analyzing carefully 2 Peter 3:7, we discover:
- A real fire is coming.
- It will burn “the heavens,” which means the polluted atmosphere we breathe.
- It will burn “the earth,” which means the ground we walk on.
- These flames will blaze on “the day of judgment.”
- “ungodly men” will end up in this fire.
Three verses later, Peter elaborated further,
But the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night; in the which the heavens will pass away with a great noise, and the elements will melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up (2 Peter 3:10).
This passage is crystal clear: At some point in the future the sky above us and the earth beneath will literally catch fire and “melt with fervent heat.” So if you’ve been taught that the sum total of hell-fire is some smoky place beneath the ground, think again. The Bible says our entire sin-polluted planet is destined for the flames. Peter concluded with this comforting assurance:
Nevertheless we, according to his promise, look for new heavens and a new earth, wherein righteousness dwells (2 Peter 3:13).
According to these power-packed verses, God will use fire to cleanse planet Earth of its wickedness, then He will marvelously recreate it entirely. This is His “promise” which “we” should be looking forward to.
The book of Revelation teaches the same message about a future Judgment Day, followed by cleansing fire, followed by a new heaven and earth. Again, look carefully. After every lost soul is “judged… according to their works” (Revelation 20:13), then,
Whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire. And I saw a new heaven and a new earth: for the first heaven and the first earth were passed away… And he that sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new” (Revelation 20:15; 21:1, 5).
Here’s the inspired sequence:
- Judgment Day
- The Lake of Fire
- A New Heaven and Earth
Thus we have seen, so far, that Jesus Christ, Peter, and the book of Revelation teach the same thing. Real fire is coming at the end of this world. It will not only become the place where the lost are punished, but will serve a dual function of purifying our polluted sky and chemically-saturated ground from every vestige of impurity. Then God will make a new heaven and earth to become the eternal home of His saved, blood-bought children.
One frightening thought is that “all liars” will eventually wind up “in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). This should impress us with the importance of knowing and speaking the truth.
We need the truth about Hell.
Above all, we need the truth about Jesus Christ, His love, and His death, burial, and resurrection in our behalf.
May we be washed from our sins by the blood of the Lamb so we can be assured of a place in God’s recreated earth.