The Hell You Say Doesn’t Exist
Recently I heard two claims about hell. Hell either doesn’t exists or, if it does, that hell doesn’t exist for the eternal punishment of those who reject Jesus. The reasoning behind the desire to say that the unsaved are not damned to spend eternity in hell seemingly boils down to a couple of things: that this would be a sign that God is not love, the teaching of hell isn’t in the Bible, or that hell and eternal punishment is not palatable to the world to whom we are trying to preach the gospel, so it needs a bit of reworking.
Several people brought these claims to the fore in a theological forum I frequent. They were promoting a new book on the subject of hell, entitled, All You Want to Know About Hell: Three Christian Views of Gods Final Solution to the Problem of Sin. The person who began the conversation stated that, “For the first ~600 years, the church did not believe sinners were dammed to suffer in hell for all eternity.” Yet pertinent to this claim, regardless of whether it is factual or not, is the rebuttal: even if the best and brightest theologians or even if everyone who ever lived or will live agreed that hell does not exist, this is not proof that it doesn’t. The only thing that matters is what the Bible says; to claim the Bible doesn’t address this topic or doesn’t say people go to hell for eternity is a horrific misinterpretation of the text.
Is Hell Real?
Jesus had these things to say about hell:
Matthew 5:22, 29 and 30, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good-for-nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. . . If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand makes you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.”
Matthew 10:28, “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Matthew 18:9, “If your eye causes you to stumble, pluck it out and throw it from you. It is better for you to enter life with one eye, than to have two eyes and be cast into the fiery hell.”
Matthew 23:15 and 33, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves. . . You serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of hell?”
Mark 9:43, 45, and 47, “If your hand causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life crippled, than, having your two hands, to go into hell, into the unquenchable fire. . . If your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off; it is better for you to enter life lame, than, having your two feet, to be cast into hell. . . If your eye causes you to stumble, throw it out; it is better for you to enter the kingdom of God with one eye, than, having two eyes, to be cast into hell”
Luke 12:5, “But I will warn you whom to fear: fear the One who, after He has killed, has authority to cast into hell; yes, I tell you, fear Him!”
Who’s It For?
Revelation 21:8, “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
2 Thessalonians 1:8-9 “. . . inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on 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. . .”
Revelation 14:11, “And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever; they have no rest day and night, those who worship the beast and his image, and whoever receives the mark of his name.”
Matthew 25:41 and 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.”
Revelation 20:13-15, “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. 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 in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Matthew 25:46, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
Jude 1:7, “In a similar way, Sodom and Gomorrah and the surrounding towns gave themselves up to sexual immorality and perversion. They serve as an example of those who suffer the punishment of eternal fire.”
Revelation 19:13-15, “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 in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
2 Thessalonians 1:9, “They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord.”
But What About . . .
Some offer up that because God is so loving, He wouldn’t condemn the unbeliever to eternal punishment; others claim there is no hell because the Bible says that God is love not that God is justice. Briefly we will examine these ideas.
Nowhere in the Bible does it say a person doesn’t get to choose life or death; we know this because the Bible is replete with open invitations for salvation. It may not always be an invitation explicitly framed as, “will you accept Me as your Lord and Savior?” though it can be; often it is an invitation implicitly stated, and it is stated numerous times.
Matthew 11:28, “Come unto me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest,”
Luke 9:23, “And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
John 15:4, “Abide in Me, and I in you”
Romans 5:8, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.”
Revelation 3:20, ‘Behold, I stand at the door and knock; if anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and will dine with him, and he with Me.
The objection which claims that because God is love, He couldn’t possibly send anyone to hell has many problems but at its heart is a common misunderstanding having to do with what “love” is and looks like.
God is indeed love and so every attribute and characteristic of love is evident in His actions and His reasons. A loving God flooded the world leaving only eight survivors (Genesis 6-9); a loving God ordered the Israelites to kill every man, woman, and child (Numbers 21:2-3; Deuteronomy 20:17; Joshua 6:17, 21); a loving God struck down Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 15:1-11); a loving God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18-19); a loving God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness (Exodus 16-18), a loving God healed (Matthew 15:29-39) and fed (Matthew 14:13-21) people He didn’t know; a loving God provided water in the desert (Numbers 20:11); a loving God offered the free gift of salvation to each person in the world (Ephesians 2:8); a loving God desires (yet does not make) all to be saved and come to the knowledge of truth (1 Timothy 2:4); and as we saw above, a loving God allows us to choose. We send ourselves to hell.
Some object, claiming that the Bible says that God is love not that God is justice. God, therefore, is not as concerned with whether or not we accept Jesus Christ as much as ensuring that all people go to heaven. I would offer that because the Bible says both: God is love (1 John 4:8) and God is just and loves justice (Isaiah 61:8, Isaiah 30:18, Job 34:12), that His holiness demands either atonement—a washing of our sins unto salvation—or a justice due to us because of our sins and our rejection of Him.
1 John 1:7-9, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”
Revelation 20:12-13, “And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds.”
How to avoid it?
This is the important bit and is why the claim of no hell (or no eternal hell) is so damning—and I do mean damning: to preach or teach in a way that is contrary to the verses below is tantamount to damning people to hell.
The danger of believing or claiming that either there is no hell or that hell is not eternal is that it nullifies the need for a savior and makes moot the Word of God in John 14:6, “No one comes to the Father but by Me,” and also in Acts 4:12, “Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.” Many claim that because the Bible says all things are possible for God, then God can do whatever He wants; if God wants to just save everyone, He can and will. But this ignores the exclusivity found in Romans 10:9, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.”
Salvation is in fact conditional as one of the most well known and beloved verses in the Bible plainly states; John 3:16 is at the same time both an invitation to all to recognize God’s love and sacrifice and also exclusively conditional regarding our future position with Him. It is inclusive in the statement that “God so love the world that He gave His only begotten Son.” This statement applies to every person ever born past, present, and future, yet what immediately follows is the condition a person must meet to enter into His kingdom: “that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life.”
It is not enough that we merely believe that Jesus was an historical figure. We must also place our faith and trust in Jesus as Savior—crucified and raised again on the third day. In other words, we must believe that He is the only way, that no one comes to the Father but by Him, and that without Him we have no hope of salvation; to teach otherwise or to teach anything else is to fill the lost with a false hope and to damn them to an eternity of suffering while we go merrily along our way to the joy of an eternity with God; this is an affront to the Gospel message and the reality of what the phrase God is love means and requires.
John 3:36, “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.”
John 3:18, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
John 3:3, “Jesus answered him, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.’”
1 John 5:11-12, “And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
Romans 10:9-11, “Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, ‘Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.’”
Acts 4:12, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Just because we don’t like the fact that people will go to hell does not imply that hell is not real. Just because we don’t understand why God won’t save everyone does not give us license to teach that hell doesn’t exist. The Bible teaches that hell is an eternal judgement and that it is very real. Instead, God calls us to warn people about hell and preach salvation by grace through faith in Jesus Christ alone.