At this point, naysayers are quick to say that I’m building a theology off a metaphor. He was using the term Gehenna—which is the burning the trash heap outside of Jerusalem; he was not using the term Sheol. To which the response is, obviously longer in the last post that Christ added details that had nothing to do with Gehenna and usually with the point that this was something to be avoided because of where it resided and its duration. Plus, Christ was using a metaphor that was already being used by Isaiah 30:33. And one must be careful. The word Hades winds up being used in the New Testament (for example, in the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man) and the word Sheol in the LXX is translated to that word. Does that mean that Abraham’s Bosom is in Hades? Like I said in the post on Sheol, the word has a semantic range but it definitely has a negative part and a positive part. The fact that Christ gives further details helps us understand what is going on, even if the details are sparse.
The Naysayers would point out that Isaiah was using a metaphor too: for a funeral pyre. The wicked king was dead and was about to be burned. But the point of that passage is not only that the king is dead but that the pyre is prepared by the Lord. Each time that fire comes out from the Lord in Scripture it is to consume. Sometimes it’s to consume an offering. But the rest of the times it is a sign of divine judgment (1 Kgs 18:38). The Lord is deciding something. So why is the Lord setting fire to a lifeless corpse? If the man is dead, hasn’t the point been made? Why is this pyre long prepared? Why does the Lord’s breath come out to ignite it? Simply saying it’s a degrading death doesn’t do justice to what’s going on: God is doing something that he prepared before to a wicked person who deserved it—after they are dead.
Skipping from that the naysayer would point out that my use of Revelation 20 ignores the fact that death, hell and Satan were all thrown into the lake of fire: the second death. This indicates that hell isn’t eternal but that it ends when consumed by the Lake of Fire and the second death. I can’t make that claim. The preponderance of passages point to hell being eternal, the smoke of the judgment of God going up before him as an eternal testimonial, as the duration being unending (Rev 14:11)—then we get a picture of something else happening. There’s no indication that this is an ending to hell. For all we know it’s a change of location pushing things further away so that they don’t see the saints in glory. We don’t know. But what we can’t say is because it happens it automatically means hell is destroyed.
The Nay-Hellsayers would point out that God is not willing that any will perish and that he offers a chance to repent after death. Here they might cite 1 Peter 3:18-20 or 1 Peter 4:6 where Christ preaches to the dead spirits who are imprisoned.
But we hear in the book of Hebrews that it is appointed for men once to die and then comes judgment (Heb 9:27). The judging of the living and the dead is of works that they have done in the past—not what they have done now that they’ve been dead (Matt 25:31-46). It seems like death is the end-line for division. Plus we also have the problem of Jesus’ own understanding. When He spoke the parable of Lazarus and the Rich Man he explained that it was impossible for those on one side of the chasm to cross to the other side (Luke 16:24-26). Sure, it’s a parable (maybe…it’s debatable) but even so it affirmed certain things that couldn’t happen within the story. What was the point of that?
We also forget that Christ also had a very hard line as to what constituted condemnation. He says he didn’t come into the world to condemn it but to save it but people are condemned already because they don’t believe (John 3:18). So although they haven’t arrived at the final judgment, unbelievers stand in a state of having—in Old Testament language—Sheol under their feet already gripping them.
Other folk say that the fires of hell are purifying fires. But the image is never solely fire. It is also a place of darkness, undying worms, a place to be rejected, a place that has no ending, a place reserved for the Devil, his angels and the wicked. Merely corrective purification?
Lastly, some Christians are just embarrassed by this doctrine. Here we have the world’s greatest message: God, condescension to save fallen humans—and then we have this bit of eternal separation and sorrow that sounds strange to the modern mind. Angels? Demons? Spirits? Possessions? All of it can be very strange to us but Scripture steps forward believing it no problem.
But we have to be careful with cultural bigotry. Just because they were back then and we are now, in the Age of Computers, doesn’t make what they believed less real. It might just mean that what is real is less believable to us who try to explain things away. We need to be careful with this.
The amount of Scripture, the explanation by the prophets, the revelation of the Incarnate God just point out with no doubt that there is a hell to be avoided and that it’s condemnation there is permanent. The naysayers really have to reach around to try to make passages say something else, but the evidence is just too weighty.
Hell is serious, found in both Testaments (with further details in the New) and we should be careful about giving folk a false sense of hope when we don’t have any reason to encourage it.