The concept of a person spending an eternity in Hell is so grave to me that I do not believe it is intellectually possible for me to fully conceive it. As a matter of fact—I believe that most Christians live as though there is no Hell, because if we truly believed its existence we would do much more to spread the good news of Jesus.
The debate over the existence of Hell was just made front and center recently when Pope Francis allegedly stated that bad souls just disappear, and Hell does not exist.
To quote the story: Eugenio Scalfari, 93, wrote an article in Thursday’s “La Repubblica”, he asked the pope where “bad souls” go and where they are punished. Scalfari quoted the pope as saying:
“They are not punished. Those who repent obtain God’s forgiveness and take their place among the ranks of those who contemplate him, but those who do not repent and cannot be forgiven disappear. A Hell doesn’t exist, the disappearance of sinning souls exists.”
Whether the pope said this or not is not the concern of this article. My main concern is what the Bible teaches about this grave subject (I believe that Scripture trumps church tradition, creeds, catechisms, church confessions, canon law, and statements or teachings by popes and other prelates).
Truly, if there is a hell, then a wise person would make a lifestyle choice to avoid an eternity in that place; if there is no Hell—or if all people will eventually be reconciled to God irrespective of what they believe—then Jesus died on the cross in vain to save us and or it is not necessary to follow Jesus to reap the benefits of the cross.
What did the Old Testament Jews believe:
Since this is a brief article, I cannot go into detail regarding all the texts about Hell in both testaments. That being said, the Old Testament account of Hell is sparse, however the Jews of antiquity believed in such a place reserved to punish evil doers as noted by the prophet Isaiah (66:24):
“Then they will go forth and look on the corpses of the men who have transgressed against me for their worm will not die and their fire will not be quenched and they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.”
The New Testament teachings of Jesus and the Apostles:
That Jesus believed in the existence of an eternal hell for unbelievers is incontrovertible.
Hence, if a person doesn’t believe it exists—either they think they know more about eternity than Jesus or they think Jesus was mistaken— (I would never bet against Jesus!)
Jesus made it clear there was an eternal state of suffering for unbelievers when He told the story of “the Rich man and Lazarus” (Luke 16:19-21). Although cults like “The Jehovah’s Witnesses” (Watchtower bible and tract society who believe in soul annihilation) wrest the Scriptures and say this was a parable, Luke says “There was a rich man…” If it was a parable, the New Testament writer would have mentioned it was a parable as they did in other passages (see Luke 18:1; 9; Mark 4:2;13;30).
In this sober story, the rich man died and went to a place of torment—being fully conscious while suffering in agony in the flames of hell. Jesus also warned followers to remove everything in their life that causes them to stumble or they risked going to Hell, into the unquenchable fire where their worm does not die and their fire is not quenched (Mark 9:42-49). He also said to the Pharisees “you serpents, you brood of vipers, how will you escape the sentence of Hell” (Matthew 23:33).
The belief in an eternal hell and judgment was carried over by the apostles of Christ. The apostle Paul warned that “we must all appear before the Judgment seat of Christ which should result in the fear of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 5:10,11). The Judgment seat for unbelievers is unpacked more fully by the apostle John as shown in the Book of Revelation (20:11-15).
This eschatological passage regarding the final judgment is worth reading here:
“Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. The earth and the heavens fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what they had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 Anyone whose name was not found written in the book of life was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Notice—there were “books” opened for unbelievers and only one book (The Book of Life) for believers. Why is this? Because all the sins and acts of disobedience against God are recorded and shown to unbelievers to demonstrate the justice of God before their final judgement; and only one book is needed for (perhaps) billions of Christ followers because their sins have been washed away through faith in the blood of Christ’s vicarious death on the cross.
Hence, the only thing recorded in “The Book of Life” are the “names” (not the sins!) of those who have received Jesus as Lord of their life (John 1:12,13; Romans 10:9,10).
Finally, Jesus said that Hell was not created for humanity but for the devil and his angels (Matthew 25:41). God is not willing for any (humans) to perish but all to come to repentance because Jesus did not come to condemn the world but to save it (2 Peter 3:19; John 3:17).
Consequently, the choice of where a person spends eternity is up to them; believe in Jesus and you will not perish but have ever lasting life (John 3:16).
“he who believes in the Son has eternal life but he who does not obey the Son will not see life but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36).
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