What About Hell? - Part I
Dr. Joe Temple


We are going to think together about a subject which is not inspirational, not by the farthest stretch of the imagination, but it is an exceedingly important subject. This is one in the series of messages which we have been bringing on the theme, Simple Questions Often Asked . We have tried to answer some of these so-called simple questions and some of them have proven to be rather profound.

Questions Asked About Hell

I have often been asked, “Why does God send people to Hell?” I have been asked, “Is Hell for real?” I have been asked, “Does it last forever?” I have been asked, “Is it true that there is a way out of Hell after you have been there for a while?” I could go on listing numerous other questions which have been asked me concerning Hell. I am not surprised that these questions are asked because there is very little preaching on Hell. If I were to ask you to tell me how long it has been since you have heard any discussion of this subject, you might remember that it has been quite some time. Sometimes in an evangelistic meeting, we may hear some sermon on Hell, but I am talking about a discussion that delves down into the Scriptural basis for the doctrine of Hell.

As we examine what the Word of God has to say about Hell, I think we will find an answer to all of these questions which I have suggested and to others that you have perhaps been asked at some time or other. As we pursue this study on Hell, I suggest that we consider first a review of the terms related to the subject. We will consider the reason for Hell, we will consider the reality of Hell, and we will consider the release from Hell as it is described in the Word of God.

Term Sheol Used

In order for us to understand what we are talking about, we need to review the terms which are used in the Scripture to describe Hell. May we begin by suggesting to you that in the Old Testament there is one Hebrew word which is used sixty-five times and which is translated by our English word Hell . It is a word that you sometimes see in italics in your translations. Sometimes you see it in the margins of your Bibles or in the center column reference. So it is reasonably familiar—more so than many other Hebrew words. The word of which I speak is the word Sheol , which is a comprehensive word which means very literally “the place of the dead.” When it is used in this comprehensive way, it makes no distinction between the saved and the unsaved. It is simply a place of the dead, without any reference to their spiritual condition. It is used some thirteen times in this general way.

An example of its use in this fashion will be found in the book of Psalms. As a matter of fact, we are going to find most of our references in the book of Psalms, not because that is the only place they are found, but because it will be a bit easier to find there those which will illustrate our points. So will you turn to Psalm 16, verse 10, which proves to be the words of the Lord Jesus Christ as He was talking to His Father. He said to Him:

Psalm 16:

10For thou wilt not leave my soul in hell; neither wilt thou suffer thine Holy One to see corruption.

Notice the word Hell . It is the translation of the Hebrew word Sheol , and it refers simply to the place where dead people go. The Lord Jesus Christ asked God not to leave Him dead when He died on the Cross, but to raise Him from the dead. Of course our God did that, proving that the Lord Jesus Christ is indeed the Son of the living God.

The word Hell is used some eighteen times of the sixty-five to which we have referred as a place where wicked people go when they forget God. Turn, please, to Psalm 9, verse 17:

Psalm 9:

17The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God.

Other Translations of Sheol

Thirty-one times in the Old Testament this word Sheol is translated by the word grave , as it is in Psalm 6:5:

Psalm 6:

5For in death there is no remembrance of thee: in the grave who shall give thee thanks?

I would like to pause long enough to emphasize that these thirty-one references to Hell as the grave are worthy of your attention because there are a number of people who teach what is known as soul sleeping , especially for the wicked. They say that the soul remains in the grave until the day of resurrection as does the body, and they use these passages of Scripture to prove their point. We would suggest to you that if they and we would remember that the word grave is the translation of the word Sheol , which is the place of the departed dead, a spirit world as we shall see before we are through with this discussion, we would understand that it could not possibly refer to the grave as we know it.

This word Sheol is translated by the word Hell, by the word grave, and by the word pit . Three times it is translated as the pit , as in the book of Numbers, chapter 16. Korah had led a rebellion against Moses, you will recall, and God's judgment was to be visited upon him. In order to verify the authority of Moses as against the pseudo authority of Korah, Moses said, “If in a few moments nothing happens, then you can believe that Korah is God's appointed authority; but if something happens, then you will know that God has appointed me to lead you as a people.” We take up the story in verse 30:

Numbers 16:

30But if the Lord make a new thing, and the earth open her mouth, and swallow them up, with all that appertain unto them, and they go down quick into the pit; then ye shall understand that these men have provoked the Lord.
31And it came to pass, as he had made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground clave asunder that was under them:
32And the earth opened her mouth, and swallowed them up, and their houses, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods.
33They, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit, and the earth closed upon them: and they perished from among the congregation.

Get the picture. These men who had rebelled against God went down alive into Hell. This is the only record in the Scripture of any persons' going body and soul into Hell without benefit of death except the Antichrist and the False Prophet (Revelation 19:20). Everybody else dies. If they do not know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, their spirit goes to Hell and their body is placed in a grave. This is an exceptional case, but the word that is translated pit is the word hebrew , which is also translated Hell and which is also translated grave .

New Testament Word Transliterated Hades

In the New Testament, there are three words which are translated by our English word Hell . One of them is the transliterated word Hades . When the translators came to that word, they did not translate it; they simply spelled the Greek word with the English equivalents. The reason was that Hades is a comprehensive term in Greek, as Sheol is a comprehensive term in Hebrew. It refers to the place where disembodied spirits go between death and resurrection, without any reference to their spiritual condition, whether they are saved or lost. When you find mention of Hades and people there, you may be talking about Christians. When you find mention of Hades and people there, you may be talking about unsaved people. You can know from the context which class of people the Scripture is discussing.

The word Hades is found eleven times in the New Testament, and it is translated by the word grave one time. If you will turn, please, to I Corinthians, chapter 15, you will find it thus translated. In that marvelous resurrection chapter, notice verse 55:

I Corinthians 15:

55O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory?

Notice the word grave . It is the translation of the Greek word Hades . We mention that because this passage of Scripture also is used to indicate that body and soul stay in the grave until the time of resurrection. The grave in this English text does not refer to that hole in the ground where you place the body of your loved one. It refers to the spirit world where in Old Testament days spirits remained until they were released at the proper time (Ephesians 4:8-10). One time the word Hades is translated grave , ten times it is translated Hell —in most instances a reference to a place where the wicked dead go.

Chapter 16 of the gospel of Luke gives us one of the most interesting stories of Hell found in the Word of God. We look at verse 23 for verification of our present remarks:

Luke 16:

23And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom.
24And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.

Notice the word Hell in verse 23. It is a translation of the Greek word Hades , which is described as a place of torment.

Valley of Hinnom

Another Greek word in the New Testament which is translated by our English word Hell is the word Gehenna . Very literally translated, it is the valley of Hinnom. There was such a place a little bit to the south of Jerusalem, a valley that belonged to a man by the name of Hinnom. In the days of Israel's idolatry, this valley was used as a place to sacrifice young children to the fire god, Molech, so fires were continuously burning there. When King Josiah brought about his reforms by way of revival, he ordered that the valley of Hinnom or Gehenna would be used only to burn dead bodies, but the fires continued to burn there. In the days when the Lord Jesus Christ was upon the earth, that valley came to be a garbage dump in which garbage was constantly burned. Hence the valley of Hinnom, or the Greek Gehenna, became a symbol of the abode of the damned.

Because it provided a living illustration of the torments of Hell, the Lord Jesus Christ used this word Gehenna to describe Hell. You find it translated in that fashion in such passages as the gospel of Luke, chapter 12. Whenever you find the word Gehenna in the original text, you can be sure that it is not a symbolic place. You can also be sure that it is not a pleasant place; you can be sure that it is a place of torment. In verse 5 the Lord Jesus Christ said:

Luke 12:

5But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

Of course He is speaking of God, Who has the power to take physical life. God does this sometimes when men persist in constant rebellion, and then He casts them into Hell. This is the word Gehenna , which is used some twelve times in the Scripture as a place of torment.


Another word which is used in the New Testament to describe Hell—it is used only one time—is the Greek word Tartaros . This word means simply “a place of imprisonment.” It is used in the second epistle of Peter, chapter 2. When Peter was warning men concerning the dangers of playing fast and loose with the truth of God, he reminded them that God did not hesitate to deal with the angels which sinned one time:

II Peter 2:

4For if God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and delivered them into chains of darkness, to be reserved unto judgment;

God can visit judgment today. You will notice in verse 4 the word Hell . It is the translation of the Greek word Tartaros ; the angels are imprisoned, awaiting the day of judgment.

Other New Testament Terms

In addition to these four words in the Bible, there are two phrases that are always related to Hell that we need to consider if we are going to understand the real significance of the word. These two phrases are found in the same verses of Scripture. Turn, please, to the book of Revelation, chapter 20, verse 14. Here is the record of God's dealing with mankind in the end of time as He winds up the whole program and ties together all the loose strings:

Revelation 20:

1And I saw an angel come down from heaven, having the key of the bottomless pit and a great chain in his hand.
2And he laid hold on the dragon, that old serpent, which is the Devil, and Satan, and bound him a thousand years,
3And cast him into the bottomless pit, and shut him up, and set a seal upon him, that he should deceive the nations no more, till the thousand years should be fulfilled: and after that he must be loosed a little season.
4And I saw thrones, and they sat upon them, and judgment was given unto them: and I saw the souls of them that were beheaded for the witness of Jesus, and for the word of God, and which had not worshipped the beast, neither his image, neither had received his mark upon their foreheads, or in their hands; and they lived and reigned with Christ a thousand years.
5But the rest of the dead lived not again until the thousand years were finished. This is the first resurrection.
6Blessed and holy is he that hath part in the first resurrection: on such the second death hath no power, but they shall be priests of God and of Christ, and shall reign with him a thousand years.
7And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison,
8And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog, and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea.
9And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.
10And the devil that deceived them was cast into the lake of fire and brimstone, where the beast and the false prophet are, and shall be tormented day and night for ever and ever.
11And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them.
12And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works.
13And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.
14And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.
15And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire.

These phrases are found again in chapter 21, verse 8:

Revelation 21:

8But the fearful, and unbelieving, and abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.

The phrases to which we refer are, the lake of fire , or the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone , and the second death . These phrases are used to describe Hell. The Lake of Fire is used because fire, as we shall see when we discuss the reality of Hell, is one of its specific ingredients. The second death is used to describe Hell because every man must die once if the Lord Jesus Christ tarries. It is appointed unto men once to die (Hebrews 9:27). The second death awaits only those who have refused to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, for those who have refused to receive the Lord Jesus Christ are eternally separated from God. Keep in mind that the word death does not mean the cessation of life; it means “separation.” Men who die without Christ are not annihilated; they are very much alive, but they are separated from God for all eternity.

Life Continues After Physical Death

When physical death occurs in your family, you speak of it as the end of life, but it is not. It is only the separation of the spirit from the body because that spirit will live on somewhere, in Heaven or in Hell. If the individual is unsaved, he must face another separation, and that separation is from God, from the Lord Jesus Christ, from all of his loved ones who have come to know the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

I trust you have been able to see, as we summarize what we have considered thus far, that the Bible describes Hell in a very general way as the abode of disembodied spirits between the time of death and resurrection. In a specific way, it describes Hell as the abode of disembodied spirits of the unsaved between death and the resurrection. In a still more specific way, Hell is described as the abode of both the soul and body of the unsaved forever and ever.

I said this is not an inspiring subject, and it is not, but I want to strike a note of inspiration and blessing in these last few moments. That note of inspiration is that though Hell is real, you don't have to go there. Though Hell is real, an escape has been provided through the Lord Jesus Christ.

Those Destined For Hell

You recall that we read together in the book of Revelation about some people upon whom society frowns—whoremongers, abominables, murderers, kinds of people whom you would not want to invite into your home, kinds of people with whom you would not want to associate. Did you notice in that list one word that could describe even someone in this place where we consider ourselves somewhat respectable? It is the unbelieving . For you see, it is not adultery that sends you to Hell. It is not the abominable practices that send you to Hell. It is the fact that you fail to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. Are you noticing what I am saying? It is the fact that you now fail to believe—not the fact that in the future you will not, but the fact that right now you are neglecting to receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. Keep in mind that an unbeliever is not going to be lost; he is lost if he has not received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

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