Burning Questions About Hell
Login or Create an Account
With a UCG.org account you will be able to save items to read and study later!
Burning Questions About Hell
Are you aware that the Bible’s teaching about hell may differ significantly from what you may have always believed?
[Steve Myers] The Bible plainly says that the penalty for sin is death. But what happens next? Is God punishing sinners right now in hell and forever? Let's go to the Bible.
Hell can be a scary subject, sinners tortured in ever-burning fiery torment. Now you might think that some people deserve it. I mean especially the worst people that ever lived. People like Hitler, Osama bin Laden, or Pol Pot. Are they burning forever for their sins? What about your unbelieving relatives? What do you believe when you think of hell? Today I'd like to discuss three burning questions about hell. Now most who claim to be believers, they don't know the answers to these questions. They don't really understand what the Bible actually says. And so let's look at a couple of questions that perhaps you've considered before. Is hell a real place? Now to begin with, some believe that hell is just a superstition. I mean it's just something that's symbolic, isn't it? Or is it reality, or is it just plain fiction? Perhaps it's something altogether different?
Well a recent study found something very interesting. Not only that people believe in hell, but they believe it's a real place where people who have led bad lives and die, they die there without being sorry, they're eternally punished. Fifty-eight percent of people believe that. Now what about you? Perhaps you feel the same. Well as we answer these burning questions, we're going to get to the truth of the Bible. We've got to go to the source. We can't just go to perhaps what we were taught when we were young or what somebody else thinks. We have to go to the absolute source, the truth of God's Word. In fact there are many Christians that might contend that if you have even question this idea of hell, well you are rejecting what the church has always agreed to. Do you think that's true? That is not true.
Did you know the doctrine of eternal torment was not a widely held idea for the first 500 years after Christ? In fact the New Testament Church of God, the early apostles, like Paul, and Peter, and James, true believers, believers like Polycarp, they did not accept the idea of an ever-burning hell. So from where did that concept originate? Now if you look back in history, you can make the case that 4,000 years ago these ideas began. In fact about 100 years after the flood, that would take you to Babylon. Back in Babylon they believed in a land of no return. They called it the House of the Dead. And it was a dark and gloomy place that they believed in and the dead there led a weary and miserable existence. Now that's before Christ. That's before Moses. That's before Abraham. And that's where those false ideas began.
Now if we move ahead to Ancient Greece, 2,300 years ago the philosopher Plato was another one who believed in a place where the wicked are punished. And so when you put these things together it is not an overstatement to say that unchristian teachings, Greek philosophy became the basis for the doctrine of hell. And so as we think about that question, is hell a real place? Well we'd have to say yes, but not the place that you might imagine. Now when we begin to look at the Bible we find the most common Old Testament word that's often translated hell is Sheol. Now do you know what Sheol means? It means the grave. In fact it occurs 65 times in the Old Testament. Thirty-one times it's translated grave, another 31 times it's translated hell, and 3 other times translated the pit.
It's interesting to note that the New International Version of the Bible always translates that word grave, and never hell. And what's interesting about it is that word does not imply a place that's always burning, not eternal torment. So if we were to ask the question, who's burning in Sheol? Who's burning in the grave? We'd have to answer, no one. No one's burning in the ground. That's just not happening.
And so when we look at the Old Testament and even the New Testament, and we'll look at a couple of examples in just a moment, you've probably heard of that New Testament word for hell. It's the Greek word Hades. And oftentimes the translators don't even translate that word. They'll just leave it untranslated. And what you'll find is Hades has the exact same meaning as Sheol. It means the grave or the pit. And yeah the grave is a place but it's not a place of eternal torment. The grave is not a place where people are burning continually. Here's a good example of this. When we look at Sheol and we look at what we find in the New Testament, the word Hades.
Now in the Old Testament there's a passage in Job, Job 14:13 Job 14:13O that you would hide me in the grave, that you would keep me secret, until your wrath be past, that you would appoint me a set time, and remember me!
American King James Version×. Here's what Job wrote. He wrote, "Oh, that You would hide me in the grave, that You would conceal me until Your wrath is passed." Now that word for grave here, that's Sheol. Sometimes translated hell. "Oh, that You would hide me in hell, You'd conceal me until Your wrath is passed." And he goes on, “that You would appoint me a set time and remember me." So here we find Job praying that God would hide him in Sheol until his appointed time. Now what translator would claim that righteous Job went to hell? I mean that's not the case. I mean, it's very clear here, that Job knew he was going to Sheol, he was going to the grave. And in fact he was taking something with him. He was taking hope with him, hope that God would resurrect him later.
In fact a similar thing is found when we look over to the Psalms. There's an interesting example where King David writes about hell, writes about Sheol. And here's what he says in Psalms 49:15 Psalms 49:15But God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave: for he shall receive me. Selah.
American King James Version×. He says, "God will redeem my soul from the power of the grave, for He shall receive me." So here's King David, he's called a man after God's own heart, and he speaks of God redeeming him or restoring his life from the power of Sheol. Well is David, that righteous king, burning in hell? I mean obviously scripture is not saying that at all. He's in the grave.
And in fact when we look at Ecclesiastes, it makes it very clear. Ecclesiastes 9:10 Ecclesiastes 9:10Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might; for there is no work, nor device, nor knowledge, nor wisdom, in the grave, where you go.
American King James Version×, it says, "Whatever your hand finds to do, do it with your might, for there's no work or device, or knowledge, or wisdom in the grave, where you're going." And of course that word for grave, once again, is Sheol, sometimes translated hell, the pit. So in one sense you might say, everyone's going to hell because we are all destined to die and we're all going to the grave. And it's really unfortunate that so many translators were so heavily influenced by human tradition, by Greek philosophy, and just plain misunderstandings. Of course we find too, that it's not just an Old Testament thing.
In fact we find Jesus Christ speaking about this in Matthew 11:23 Matthew 11:23And you, Capernaum, which are exalted to heaven, shall be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in you, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.
American King James Version×. And in the King James Version of the Bible it says this, it says, "Thou Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shall be brought down to hell." That's the King James Version. Well does that mean that the entire city with its people, its animals, the houses, the streets, all went down to hell, and they're being eternally tormented? I mean that's not happening. Of course not. Of course not. If you read it in the New King James, it says, "Hades, the grave," like that Old Testament word Sheol. And so really, what's happening here is Christ is predicting that the city will be destroyed because they won't believe, they won't repent. So what happened? That city was brought down to its own literal grave.
Now don't get me wrong, just because there's not an ever-burning hell doesn't mean that God doesn't punish. And there is a judgment. Everyone must stand before the judgment seat of Christ and take responsibility for his or her actions. But hopefully you can begin to see how misinterpretation and wrong philosophy has affected people's ideas of hell. In fact this Biblical concept of hell, maybe one you haven't heard of before, and maybe it sounds strange, and perhaps it's a little confusing, and maybe you've always wondered about this - how could a good God do something like this? Well don't feel alone because it can be difficult to know exactly where to start.
And so to help you we have a Bible study aid, it's called "Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" if you want to know the truth. And so call us at the number on your screen, and you can get your free copy of this Bible study aid, so you can discover what the Bible teaches for yourself or you can go to beyondtoday.tv. There on our website, you can download a free copy or you can read it right there online. I mean, this guide will really help you to understand the truth of the Bible. In fact all of our publications are free. And this will help you to answer those burning questions that you may have about hell.
And one thing it will certainly help with, it can give you peace of mind that you can understand the truth because sometimes this idea of eternal torment can be scary. It can be frightening. But don't fall for those wrong ideas. Don't fall for those traditional things. You want to get to the truth. So this study aid will certainly help you to do just that. And when you begin to study it you'll find for yourself that it wasn't until 553 AD that the Catholic Council of Constantinople approved the teaching of hell as a literal place of never-ending punishment for wicked people. But we've seen that's not a Biblical thing. And in fact as time went on what really cemented those wrong ideas about hell, something that happened about 1,000 years after that, you've probably heard of “Dante's Inferno."
Well Dante was an Italian poet, and he wrote an imaginary description of hell in his work, "The Divine Comedy," And at the beginning of that story, it's known as “Dante's Inferno." It's fictional. It's not real. It's a made-up story. And in fact that's where so many of these just dreadful, horrific depictions of the fiery torments of suffering of hell come from. Not from the Bible but from these images of the Renaissance painter, Botticelli, and then later the French artist, Gustave Doré. They created these horrific, stunning, really unforgettable images that depicted these horrors of hell. Now the worst part, Dante and these images had a greater impact on the belief of the torments of hell than the truth of the Bible. I mean Dante's vivid imagination, you know it almost has nothing to do with the true teachings of God's Word.
And so, what resulted? Well the concept of hell has become a matter of folklore and philosophy, rather than biblical fact. Unbiblical ideas, they basically replaced biblical truth when it comes to this concept of hell. And you might say, "Well, wait a second. I'm pretty sure Jesus talked about it, didn't He? I mean, didn't Jesus talk about hell?" Well, He did. He spoke of those who don't have a relationship with Him. And in Matthew 25:46 Matthew 25:46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.
American King James Version×, He said something interesting. He said, "These shall go away into everlasting punishment, but the righteous into life eternal." And so Christ is talking about a time of judgment. And at that time there's two options and they're both eternal. Eternal life and punishment that lasts forever. Now you might say, "Well look at that, that supports the idea of hell, doesn't it? Someone being tormented forever and ever, right? There it is." Okay. Let's look exactly what that passage says. It says everlasting punishment. And so Christ was showing that He simply meant the punishment is permanent. The punishment is final. These people will never come back to life again. Everlasting punishment is not everlasting punishing.
So there's a difference. The punishment is final. It's not continual punishing. And so, when you really look at your Bible, there's nowhere, there's no evidence of someone being alive and tortured forever and ever, and ever. In fact another New Testament example we could find in 2 Thessalonians 1:9 2 Thessalonians 1:9Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;
American King James Version×, notice the similarities to what Christ taught. Second Thessalonians says this, "These shall be punished with everlasting destruction, from the presence of the Lord, from the glory of His power," in fact we'll look at a little bit more about this verse in a moment. It talks about everlasting punishment. You see that's not eternal torment. And what's the punishment? It's destruction. Not unending pain, not unending suffering. It's not eternal torment. It's not that at all. The punishment is you're done. It's over. Now some may not see exactly what this is saying and turn to Matthew 18 to try to prove there definitely is a hellfire.
Well let's look at that for just a moment. Now these are the words of Christ once again. Matthew 18:9 Matthew 18:9And if your eye offend you, pluck it out, and cast it from you: it is better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having two eyes to be cast into hell fire.
American King James Version×, here's what Christ says. He says, "If your eye causes you to sin, pluck it out and cast it from you. It's better for you to enter into life with one eye, rather than having to eyes to be cast into hellfire." Yeah Christ said that. In fact He's the one that probably spoke about this kind of hell the most. Well what about this hellfire? That's actually the Greek word Gehenna. And it's derived from a Hebrew expression, Ge Hinnom, which is literally the Valley of Hinnom. It was a real place, a literal place, and it was a valley on the south side of Jerusalem. Now that word Gehenna, it's one that really should have been translated to hellfire or sometimes just the word hell. In this place, that word should have just remained Gehenna. And here's why. In Jesus' day Gehenna was Jerusalem's waste site, what we might call today a toxic dump. It was a horrible place. It was a place that was full of just putrid garbage. I mean it included rotting animals. It was so bad it even included the bodies of executed criminals that were thrown into Gehenna to be burned.
So it was a polluted place. It was full of worms and maggots. And when you study history, you'll find that it was a sulfur fed burning dump. And those sulfur fires continued to burn. They never seemed to go out year after year after year, because they'd throw more garbage, more bodies that were added to the pile all the time. And so those fires kept the filth and the vermin, well at least a little bit under control. And so here's Jesus Christ depicting the ultimate destiny of evil and unrepented people using that imagery of Gehenna. And what's going to happen to those people? They're going to end up like the garbage of Gehenna, finally burned to ash, and they'll become dust. You see with that idea there was no concept of Gehenna being a place of eternal torture. Christ wanted people to understand that fate and if you don't repent and you don't change, there is suffering in the future. Do you think the people of His day understood that? I mean they knew that place. They knew it wasn’t eternally burning. But of course, as you consider that, you may find, "Oh, I've never heard that before." I know when I first learned this, I was surprised what the Bible actually taught about hell and eternal judgment. And you probably have more questions.
We want to help you answer those questions. How do you make sense of it? Get our study aid, "Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" You can call us on the number on your screen and we'll send you a free copy where you can study this, put it next to your Bible, you compare what the Bible is saying to our study aids so that you can really discern the truth. I know you want to know what the Bible really says. In fact maybe you're tired of hearing what others think about it, tired of philosophy if you’ve heard it. Well find out for yourself. Call us at the number here on your screen or go to beyondtoday.tv because there you can begin to read it for yourself and come to what the truth of the Word of God is all about.
Certainly another question that comes to mind is when. That question, when are the wicked punished? I mean God certainly punishes, but when does that punishment take place? Now most people think that happens right when you die. Is that the case? Well before talking about that, we have to recognize the fact there is coming a time that God is going to hold mankind responsible. We all have to take personal responsibility for our actions. And Revelation 21 speaks to that very fact. It reminds us, ultimately those who don't want anything to do with God will have to face judgment. And so it reminds us here the cowardly, the unbelieving, in fact this is Revelation 21:8 Revelation 21:8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and fornicators, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.
American King James Version×, the abominable, the murderers, sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone which is the second death.
And so you might go, "Whoa, is this talking about an ever-burning hellfire?" Well no, what does it say happens to unrepentant sinners? Well it says they die the second death. They burn up in a lake of fire. So people are not suffering everlasting torment. That's just not the case. When God destroys someone in hell, in this lake of fire, what's the result? It's death. It's death that lasts forever. There's no coming back. There's no resurrection from this fate. And that's why it's called the second death because God will destroy, He'll annihilate an unrepentant person in Gehenna fire. And so the Bible is clear. It speaks of the total destruction of those who will not repent, those who are wicked. Malachi 4 also speaks to that very fact. Notice how clear Malachi 4 is right at the very beginning of that chapter. It says, “’For behold, the day is coming, burning like an oven, and all of the proud, yes, all who do wickedly, will be stubble. The day which is coming shall burn them up,’ says the Lord of Hosts. ‘You shall trample the wicked, for they shall be ashes under the soles of your feet on the day I do this,’ says the Lord of Hosts." That's pretty clear, isn't it?
God makes the ultimate fate of unrepentant sinners unmistakable. They will be consumed in the flames of the lake of fire. And what will be left? Ashes. They'll burn up in fire. It's not the mythical hell of torment that so many imagined. You see, God is a God of mercy. He's a God of love. Those who choose to reject God, don't want to follow His way of life, won't obey His law? Ultimately, they'll be consumed by fire and forgotten. They won't be tortured for eternity. And so the plain truth of the Bible teaches that unrepentant sinners are burned up in the lake of fire or Gehenna fire.
Now, when does that happen? Well, the judgment will not take place immediately at death. You don't go to heaven or to a burning hell at death. You go to Sheol or Hades. You go to the grave. In fact Christ Himself verified this in John 5:28 John 5:28Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice,
American King James Version×. And here's what Christ said, "Don't marvel at this. Don't be surprised at this." He said, "The hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice and come forth, those who have done good to the resurrection of life and those who have done evil to the resurrection of condemnation." So there will be judgment for every human being, that's when you'll receive the reward or the punishment. And Christ says don't be surprised. Don't be surprised." You know I've seen some that have taken kind of an inappropriate pleasure believing in hell, believing in hellfire thinking that, "I know evil people that deserve that." But that's not the truth of the Bible. You can know the truth. And God's plan is better than what you may have ever imagined.
So learn about it for yourself, get our free study aid, "Heaven and Hell: What does the Bible Really Teach?" Call us, go to our website at beyondtoday.tv. Don't you want to know what God says on the subject? So get a free copy of our study aid. And you'll be able to know the truth and you'll find that Christ teaches people are not suffering now. And they won't be suffering for eternity. In fact at the return of Christ is when that judgment is finally given, not at death. So as we think about those burning questions, is hell a literal place? Yes. But instead of an ever-burning place of torture, it's simply the grave. It's Sheol. It's Hades. Now we ask the question, did Jesus teach about hell? Yes, He sure did.
He taught about Gehenna fire, where the wicked will be destroyed, and there'll be consumed by the heat of that fire and never live again. The wicked will not live forever burning in hellfire.
And our third burning question, when are the unrepentant punished? Well biblically it tells us not at death. You don't go to heaven or hell at death. Punishment will not take place until after the return of Jesus Christ at the end of the age. And so God's Word is true. It says, "The wages of sin is death, not torture." And so what a blessing to know the truth of God, knowing God Himself. His amazing character, His mercy, and His love, and that He would never treat anyone unfairly. In fact God wants to give you every opportunity to be successful and give you eternal life. He wants eternal life for as many as possible. So I hope you'll get to know him better and learn the truth of His work.
[Narrator] Please call for the booklet offered on today’s program, "Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" This free study aid will help you answer the tough questions such as, “what did Jesus teach happens to you when you die?”, “Is Heaven God’s Reward for the Righteous?”, “Will a loving God punish people forever in Hell?”, and “What Can Be Learned from the Story of Lazarus and the Rich Man?” Order now. Call toll free 1-888-886-8632 or write to the address shown on your screen. You need to base your beliefs on the solid rock of the Bible. Discover exactly what God has to say about heaven and hell. When you order this free study aid, we'll also send you a complimentary one-year subscription to our "Beyond Today" magazine. The Beyond Today magazine brings you understanding of today’s world, and hope for the future. Six times a year, you'll read about current world events in light of Bible prophecy as well as practical knowledge to improve your marriage and family. Call today to receive your free booklet, "Heaven and Hell: What Does the Bible Really Teach?" And your free one-year subscription to "Beyond Today magazine, 1-888-886-8632 or go online to beyondtoday.tv.