[an extract from the book, Bible Nuts & Bolts]
Perhaps you imagine hell to be something resembling a deep, dark, dismal cavern illuminated by a pool of bubbling lava.
According to the Bible, the place for the unsaved will be something like that.
Something like that,…
But not yet,…
When hell is mentioned throughout the English translations of the Bible, it isn’t always referring to the same place or condition of suffering for human souls.
In fact, the word hell isn’t even a biblical word.
Hell is an old pagan European word for a ‘covered place’ or ‘hidden place’; but the word hell has been adopted by many of the English translators of the Bible.
Throughout the Old Testament, references to hell are made in the original Hebrew language of the Bible using the word Sheol.
Some Bible translations don’t use the word hell in their Old Testament translations: the underworld (NLT); the realm of the dead (NIV); Sheol (ESV).
In the Old Testament, when an ungodly person died, their soul separated from their body: their dead body was put into a grave, and their soul went to this place called Sheol.
Sheol is the place of the dead.
Sheol is a hopeless place of emptiness.
Sheol is a place of complete separation from God.
In the world-weary book of Ecclesiastes, the preacher says: ‘Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there is no work or thought or knowledge or wisdom in Sheol, to which you are going.’ (Ecclesiastes chapter 9 verse 10 – ESV)
The souls of all people who have died without asking God to forgive their sins, go to Sheol.
In the book of Psalms, David praises God saying: ‘Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption.’ (Psalm 16 verses 9 and 10 – ESV)
The New Testament references to hell are different.
Hell is referred to in two separate contexts: –
Context 1: Hell is written in the original language of the Bible as Hades.
Hades is the same place as Sheol.
The reason for using a different word for the same place is because the Old Testament was written in Hebrew, and the New Testament was written in Greek. Hades is the Greek word for Sheol – it is the same word in a different language.
As with Sheol in the Old Testament, Hades is the place where your soul goes when your body dies. Hades is a hopeless place of emptiness where the souls of unbelievers are completely separated from God.
Context 2: Hell is written in the original language of the New Testament as, Gehenna.
Gehenna probably resembles the popular image of hell.
Gehenna was a hopeless place of perpetual fire and suffering.
Quite literally, Gehenna was the place where all the rubbish and waste from the city of Jerusalem was taken to be dumped and burnt.
Gehenna was situated outside the city walls of Jerusalem, in the Valley of Hinnom; it is where some of the kings of Judah had sacrificed their children by fire, which is described in the book of Jeremiah, when God complains that the people of Judah, ‘have built pagan shrines at Topheth, the garbage dump in the valley of Ben-Hinnom, and there they burn their sons and daughters in the fire.’ (Jeremiah chapter 7 verse 31 – NLT)
God complained that: “Israel has forsaken me and turned this valley into a place of wickedness. The people burn incense to foreign gods—idols never before acknowledged by this generation, by their ancestors, or by the kings of Judah. And they have filled this place with the blood of innocent children. They have built pagan shrines to Baal, and there they burn their sons as sacrifices to Baal. I have never commanded such a horrible deed; it never even crossed my mind to command such a thing! So beware, for the time is coming, says the Lord, when this garbage dump will no longer be called Topheth or the valley of Ben-Hinnom, but the Valley of Slaughter.’ (Jeremiah chapter 19 verses 4 to 6 – NLT)
Here, in the book of Jeremiah, God has cursed this place called Gehenna in the Hinnon Valley; and centuries later in the time of Jesus, it is being used as the appropriate location for the city dump.
Jesus Christ used Gehenna as a metaphor for what will happen to the souls of those who mislead people from God’s truth; Jesus scolds them, saying, “Snakes! Sons of vipers! How will you escape the judgment of hell? [Gehenna]” (Matthew chapter 23 verse 33 – NLT)
Again in the Gospel of Mark, Jesus explained to his disciples about the dangers of being led into sin: “So if your hand makes you lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life without a hand than to keep both hands and go off to hell [Gehenna], to the fire that never goes out. And if your foot makes you lose your faith, cut it off! It is better for you to enter life without a foot than to keep both feet and be thrown into hell [Gehenna]. And if your eye makes you lose your faith, take it out! It is better for you to enter the Kingdom of God with only one eye than to keep both eyes and be thrown into hell [Gehenna].” (Mark chapter 9 verses 43 to 47 – NLT)
In each of these references to hell, Jesus uses the word Gehenna, which is the name of the Jerusalem city dump where all the rubbish was tossed and burnt.
“There ‘the worms that eat them never die, and the fire that burns them is never put out.’”(Mark chapter 9 verse 48 – NLT)
What Jesus said here in verse 48, is a direct quotation from the book of Isaiah, when God told Isaiah what the future will be like when God judges the world: “And they will go out and look on the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; the worms that eat them will not die, the fire that burns them will not be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.” (Isaiah chapter 66 verse 24 – NIV)
So, there appear to be two places for the souls of people who do not believe in God: –
- Sheol/Hades, which is a hopeless place of emptiness and complete separation from God.
- The fire, which Jesus likened to the unending fires of the Jerusalem city dump.
When Jesus used the comparison of the city dump for the place where unrighteous souls are thrown, you can really appreciate what a horrible fate this is for your soul.
Not only will your soul be completely separated from God and cast into the dump with all the other rubbish, but your soul will also suffer the agony of burning in a fire that never goes out.
Which place do the souls of unsaved people go to?
To the place of emptiness and hopelessness and complete separation from God?
Or, the place that resembles the hopelessness, suffering and perpetual fires of the Jerusalem city dump?
Unfortunately: both places!
This truth is clarified in the last book of the Bible, when John describes what Jesus Christ reveals to him.
‘I saw a Great White Throne and the One Enthroned. Nothing could stand before or against the Presence, nothing in Heaven, nothing on earth. And then I saw all the dead, great and small, standing there—before the Throne! And books were opened. Then another book was opened: the Book of Life. The dead were judged by what was written in the books, by the way they had lived. Sea released its dead, Death and Hell turned in their dead. Each man and woman was judged by the way he or she had lived. Then Death and Hell were hurled into Lake Fire. This is the second death—Lake Fire. Anyone whose name was not found inscribed in the Book of Life was hurled into Lake Fire.” (Revelation chapter 20 verses 11 to 15 – MSG)
This revelation should make you sit up and pay attention. Because if you die in your sinful condition your soul will go to the hopeless place of emptiness and complete separation from God.
And ultimately, there will be a Judgment.
At the Judgment, all the souls that have been waiting in the hopeless place of emptiness and complete separation from God, whose names are not written in the Book of Life, will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
Jesus explained to his disciples what will happen at the end of the world: “The Son of Man will send his angels, and they will remove from his Kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. And the angels will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s Kingdom.” (Matthew chapter 13 verses 41 to 43 – NLT)
And a few verses later, Jesus repeats his warning, stating: “The angels will come and separate the wicked people from the righteous, throwing the wicked into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (Matthew chapter 13 verses 49 and 50 – NLT)
In both of these statements, Jesus does not use the word Sheol, or Hades, or Gehenna: Jesus states very clearly that the souls of people who are not righteous will be thrown into the fire.
“But as for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.” (Revelation chapter 21 verse 8 – ESV)
Don’t be thinking that the Lake of Fire will be the end of the matter, that your soul will finally be burnt up, and your suffering finally extinguished to nothingness.
I’m afraid that’s not the end of your misery.
‘Then the devil, who had deceived them, was thrown into the fiery lake of burning sulfur, joining the beast and the false prophet. There they will be tormented day and night forever and ever.” (Revelation chapter 20 verse 10 – NLT)
Forever and ever! that’s an eternity of suffering.
Why risk eternal suffering, when God freely offers you salvation?
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him” (John chapter 3 verses 16 and 17 – ESV)
I know that when I die, my soul will not end up in the Lake of Fire. I know this because when I asked God to forgive my sins, he forgave me: I have been saved from that destiny: this is the good message that the New Testament makes this perfectly clear many times over.
“The message is very close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart.” And that message is the very message about faith that we preach: If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved.’ (Romans chapter 10 verses 8 to 10 – NLT)