Is hell a real place?

Robert Ingersoll, an agnostic, began one of his lectures with the words, “I’m going to prove conclusively that hell is a wild dream of some theologians who invented it to terrify credulous people.”

man in the audience, heavily under the influence of alcohol, stood to his feet and said,

“Make it strong, Bob! There’s a lot of us poor fellows depending on you. If you are wrong, we are all lost. Prove it clearly and plainly!”

He could not, of course.

The Bible record leaves no doubt about the certainty of hell.

This doctrine of future punishment stretches from one end of it to the other - from the flaming sword guarding the entrance to Eden in Genesis 3 after the judgment upon Adam and Eve, to the promise of plagues and exclusion from heaven of all those who would tamper with the Word of God in Revelation 22.

The Old Testament teaches it. The New Testament teaches it. Future punishment frequently appears in the sermons of Christ: in fact, Jesus spoke more of hell than He did of heaven (a truth many conveniently ignore)!

What kind of place is hell? Have we any definite information regarding its character? Are there any solid, concrete facts about it?

The Bible clearly reveals:

The equity of hell

Hell is a place where justice is done! “Where is the justice in it all?!” is a cry familiar to earth. Now God is a God of justice - we believe that.

Asaph the psalmist found that to be the case. Psalm 73 records his story:

But verses 16-19 show that he eventually sees the justice of God lurking for the sinner -and what crushing justice it was!

Said Anne of Austria, the Queen of France, to her belligerent enemy, Cardinal Richelieu,

“My lord Cardinal, there is one fact which you seemed to have forgotten. God is a sure paymaster. He may not pay at the end of every week or month or year; but I charge you, remember that He pays in the end.”

Quite simply, all sin must - and shall - be punished. And that is the purpose of hell. Hell is a real place - a place of divine retribution for sins committed in this life (cf. Revelation 21:8, 1 Corinthians 6:9&10, Ephesians 5:5).

The extermity of hell

Hell is described by our Lord as a place and condition of unspeakable and unalleviated torment, misery and woe. He uses two main figures to set forth this truth – outer darkness and unquenchable fire.

1. The figure of OUTER DARKNESS occurs three times in Matthew alone (Matthew 8:11&12; 22:13; 25:30).

These references have interesting settings - one was the feast in the kingdom of heaven; another was a wedding feast on earth: the man who enters without the wedding garment is cast out of the lighted banqueting hall into outer darkness.

To the Oriental mind these words conjured up a very vivid picture.

The book, ‘Strange Manners And Customs Of Bible Lands’ explains:

“Ancient banquets were usually held at night, in rooms that were brilliantly lighted, and anybody who was excluded from the feast was said to be cast out of the lighted room into the outer darkness of the night. This expression “outer darkness” takes on new meaning when it is realised what a dread the Oriental has for the darkness of the night. In the east a lamp is usually kept burning all night in the home. To sleep in the dark as the Westerner usually does would be a terrible experience for the Oriental.”

Because of the fear of the darkness, the Saviour could have chosen no more appropriate words than “outer darkness” to represent the future punishment of the unrighteous.

When these words were used by our Lord, He used them to give some idea of THE PRIVATIVE ASPECTS of the punishment of the wicked; that is, the things that are taken from them as a result of their sin.

2. The second figure our Lord uses to show that hell is a place and condition of torment, misery and woe, is the FURNACE OF FIRE (Matthew 13:49&50; 25:41; 18:8). Just as the concept of outer darkness signifies the privative judgments of hell, (that which the wicked shall be taken away from), so FIRE speaks of the awfulness of the PUNITIVE judgment of hell (that which they shall be given over to).

This is active punishment. Fire has always been the symbol of the active movement of the wrath of God. For instance, the judgments on:

Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 19), those who murmured against Moses (Numbers 11), Achan (Joshua 7), unrepentant sinners at the ending of time (Revelation 14:10&11).

What will THE RESULT of “outer darkness” and “the furnace of fire” be?

In each of the three passages in Matthew, outer darkness will lead to “weeping and gnashing of teeth.” The same result is mentioned for the furnace of fire (Matthew 13:42&50).

It should be noted that our Lord uses the definite article in these cases: it is “THE weeping and THE gnashing of teeth” - emphasising that the agonies of hell are the true weeping and the true gnashing; anything that has caused weeping or gnashing of teeth here on earth is but a preview to the terror of the damned in the awful day of God's wrath.

On one occasion, Jesus hoisted the ‘asbestos shutters’ that hide outer darkness and furnace of fire from our view, and revealed a scene of torment and misery the like of which the eye of man never gazed on before (cf. Luke 16:19-26).

The eternality of hell

How long is heaven? Forever and ever! The same words which are used to express the eternality of heaven are also used with reference to the ‘length of time’ spent in hell. If heaven is eternal, so also is hell (Matthew 25:46, cf. also Mark 9:48, Matthew 25:41, 2 Thessalonians 1:8&9, Revelation 14:11).

Many people dispute the eternal duration of hell, pointing to the fact that the Bible uses words like “second death,” “perish,” and “destruction” to describe the state of lost souls in hell, and concluding that these terms add up to annihilation.

However, these words do not imply non-existence or a ceasing to be, but rather “ruin” - uselessness for the purpose for which they were created.

Thomas Watson made the grim point: “Thus it is in hell; they would die, but they cannot. The wicked shall be always dying but never dead; the smoke of the furnace ascends for ever and ever. Oh! who can endure thus to be ever upon the rack? This word ‘ever’ breaks the heart. Wicked men now think the Sabbaths long, and think a prayer long; but oh! how long will it be to lie in hell for ever and ever?”

The escape from hell

God does not want you to go to hell. In His great love and mercy He has provided a ransom for the sin of your soul; Job 33:24: “Then He is gracious unto him, and saith, ‘Deliver him from going down to the pit: I have found a ransom’.”

That ransom, of course, was the Lord Jesus Christ Himself.

He came down from glory to grief; He took your guilt upon Himself and paid the full price of the penalty of the laws you had broken, so that you, by turning from your sin and trusting only in Him, you might receive salvation and enter heaven.

This is the whole reason for Calvary!

However, if you neglect or reject such great provision as Calvary, then you alone are to blame for ending up in the terrors and tortures of hell. Just as you cannot escape starvation if you neglect food, so you will never escape damnation if you neglect the salvation of your eternal soul.

Hell is a real place - a place:

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