I have been reading a book by John Blanchard entitled Whatever Happened to Hell. It has taught me quite a few things about what Scripture promises for those who do not believe as well as for those of us who do believe in the Lordship of Jesus Christ. We often use hell in every day speech. We say war is hell or my life is a living hell. We may have had hard experiences in life but I assure you they are nothing like hell.
The Bible talks about hell under several different terms. It is often translated with the word Sheol in the Old Testament. Experts are not sure about the origins of this particular word. It may come from a verb meaning “to demand” which could be linked to the ancient practice of people trying to contact the dead and ask them questions. In the Old Testatment Sheol is translated hell 31 times, grave 31 times and the pit three times. The Bible indicates that God’s people would be delivered from Sheol.
The second term is the Greek word Hades. In the parable of the rich man and Lazarus, Lazarus went to Abraham’s side but the rich man went to Hades. Therefore, Hades is in direct contrast to heaven.
The third word for hell is Gehenna. About 750 BC, King Ahaz was ruler of Judah. He adopted revolting heathen practices. Among the worst was the offering of human sacrifices. These atrocities were carried out in the valley of Ben Hinnom. From being a place of idol worship righteous king Josiah turned it into a public rubbish dump into which all of the filth of Jerusalem was poured. The bodies of animals and even the corpses of criminals were flung there and left to rot or to be consumed by the fire that was kept constantly burning to dispose of the stinking mass of garbage. The Hebrew place name was originally Ge(ben)hinnom (the valley of the sons of Hinnom). The shortened form of the name was Ge-hinnom of which the Greek translation became Gehenna. It has thus become a picture of shame, disgrace, sin and guilt, judgment and punishment or hell. Therefore, the Bible paints a very unpleasant picture of hell.
These terms all refer to what is known as the intermediate state, the place where unbelievers go until the second coming of Christ. After that time, they go to hell. This is what Jesus refers to in Matthew 25.
In Matthew 25:30 Jesus said: “And cast the unprofitable servant into the outer darkness. There will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Verse 41: “Depart from me, you cursed into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” In Verse 46 Jesus said: “And these will go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.” What do we learn from this? Is hell to be feared? Or do we shrug it off as a joke? In Verse 41 Jesus said hell is total separation from God. Hell is also, according to Verse 41 a place of bad association. It is the home of the devil and his angels. Some people think of hell as a place where the devils torment sinners. Jesus pictures hell as a place where fallen angels and rebellious human beings are together in their suffering. Hell is also a place of suffering. In Verse 41 Jesus referred to hell as “everlasting fire” and in Revelation 30:10 John said “burning sulphur”. If a literal burning by fire is bad, the reality of hell’s suffering must be immeasurably and inexpressibly worse. Even if the suffering is only mental, internal, or psychological it is something that produces an eternal weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 25:30).
J.C. Ryle said: “Who shall describe the misery of eternal punishment? It is something utterly indescribable and inconceivable. The eternal pain of body, the eternal sting of an accusing conscience, the eternal society of none but the wicked, the devil and his angels, the eternal remembrance of opportunities neglected and Christ despised, the eternal prospect of a weary, hopeless future—all this is misery indeed: it is enough to make our ears tingle and our blood run cold.”
What is the future of believers? The Bible talks about the intermediate state of believers before Christ’s second coming. The author of Hebrews talks about the intermediate state of the righteous as “the spirits of just men made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). The souls of the righteous are not wondering around in space. They are alive and well and living in God’s presence. In Paul’s phrase they are “away from the body” and “at home wit the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:8). This emphasizes not only that death being separation, but that the souls of the righteous go immediately into God’s presence—and as nothing unholy can exist in God’s company, we can be sure that they are morally perfect. Our joy is not complete but in the words of J. C. Ryle we are “in happiness and safekeeping”. After the general resurrection at the last day, believers will enjoy the blessings of heaven. This we read about in Revelation 1 and 2. What do we do in the meantime? Among other things Peter said: “Therefore brethren be even more diligent to make your calling and election sure…” (2 Peter 1:10)
We’ll talk more on this next week but I want you to see the realities of not only hell but the blessings of heaven for those of us who are called by God and seek to do His will daily.
See you Sunday.