by Roland W. Keith
II Corinthians 5:10: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one of us may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.”
The classical view on the nature of hell is to the modern mind perhaps the most controversial. Throughout the history of the Church it has been the accepted position that hell is a literal place of both fire and darkness. As the eternal address of the condemned it is the most inhospitable and terrifying abode imaginable. Opponents to this view question how a merciful and loving God could subject the condemned to such a punishment for eternity.
To reconcile their concept of a just God with the plight of the condemned on judgment day many deny the existence of such a place altogether, but Jesus Himself says that “The Son of Man will send His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all causes of sin and all law-breakers and throw them into the fiery furnace. In that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:41-42). On another occasion He warned against behavior that would condemn one to hell with these stern words, “And if your hand causes you to sin, cut it off. It is better for you to enter life crippled than with two hands to go to hell, to the unquenchable fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, tear it out. It is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye than with two eyes to be thrown into hell, where their worm does not die and the fire is not quenched” (Mark 9:43, 47-48).
Others concede that God will certainly punish the wicked, but believe that the horrific description of hell is merely symbolic of the tragic state of being separated from God. However, we must not be too quick to ascribe symbolism to every visual description of the afterlife. Remember that most of the bible is literal and hell is described several times outside of the prophetic books, such as Revelation, and yet with much of the same terminology (see Matthew and Mark, above). Even in the prophetic books it is not necessarily true that all that is described by their writers is symbolic rather than literal.
Still others believe that hell may be as terrible as it is described but temper their sensibility of God’s justice by suggesting that the punishment is of limited duration whereupon those punished are either annihilated, or simply serve their sentence before being reconciled to God in heaven. In II Thessalonians 1:7-9, Paul wrote that, “when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.”
The punishment for the wicked is eternal, but is it eternal annihilation or suffering? In Revelation 20:12-15, John wrote, “And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Then another book was opened, which is the book of life. And the dead were judged by what was written in the books, according to what they had done. And the sea gave up the dead who were in it, Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them, and they were judged, each one of them, according to what they had done. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written on the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Jesus describes the suffering of the wicked with these words in the book of Matthew 25:41, 46: “Then He will say to those on His left, ‘depart from Me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels… and these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The Bible does not leave us any room to logically deny the existence of a place called hell. It is clearly described, and the reasons for its existence, as an abode for the wicked, are explained, as are the reasons for how and why one is condemned to it for eternity. Moreover, while some may still wish to complain about the seemingly unfair possibility of ending up there, God in all fairness has left that decision to us. We choose where we will spend eternity. Choose wisely.
Hi! I'm Roland. I began writing after retiring from the Navy in 2015. I believe that we each should strive to learn from one another, by sharing our thoughts and ideas. As a writer my goal is to help other seekers of truth to find and grow in Christ.