The Reality of Hell
Dr. Joe Temple


We have been discussing the subject of Hell as part of a series of messages on the main theme which we have labeled Simple Questions Often Asked . The things we have been saying in these messages are not new to a great many of you. You may be inclined to say, “I have known that all along; what is the point of talking about that now?” There are two points. One is that many people don't know what you know, and the other is that no man knows anything as he ought to know it. There is always something that the Holy Spirit can minister to your heart and to your life in relation to these so-called Simple Questions Often Asked .

We are often asked some simple questions about Hell, such as, “Is Hell for real?”, “Where is Hell?”, “How could God send people to Hell?”, “Is Hell consistent with the idea of the love of God?” We said that without answering these questions individually, we were going to look at what the Word of God has to say about Hell; as we understand the Scriptural teaching in relation to Hell, then all these questions will find their answers at the proper time.

Review of Terms

We began this discussion with a review of the terms which are used in the Scripture for Hell. We found that there are four words which are translated by our English word Hell . One of them is a Hebrew word and the other three are Greek words. The Hebrew word is Sheol , and it simply means “the place of the unseen,” or “the place of the dead.” It is a comprehensive word which describes the place where all the dead go, without any reference to their being righteous or unrighteous. The New Testament word which compares with this Old Testament word, the Greek word which compares with the Hebrew word, is Hades , and its connotation is essentially the same—the place of the unseen, a place where people go when they depart this life.

Another Greek word which we found translated by the word Hell is Gehenna , which very literally means “perpetual burning,” and it describes the torment and character of Hell. Then we found another word in Greek that is translated Hell , and that is Tartarus . It may also be translated by the word prison . That reminds us that Hell is a place of imprisonment.

In addition to these four words, there are two phrases which are used in conjunction with this word Hell . One of them is the lake of fire , which speaks for itself, and the other is the second death . The word death means “separation.” If you suffer the second death , not only will your spirit be separated from your body when you die, but you, body and spirit, will be separated for all eternity from God and from loved ones who know Christ.

Reasons for Hell

In further discussion we found that the reason for Hell is found primarily in the fact that it was prepared for the Devil and his angels, and anyone who goes to Hell is an intruder there. As a matter of fact, we pointed out to you that the Scripture indicates that Hell had to enlarge itself to accommodate the people who go there since it was prepared for the Devil and his angels. The secondary reason for Hell, we said, is related to the righteousness and the justice of God, in that God is too holy to look upon sin; if men remain sinners, they must be separated from the righteous and from the presence of God for all eternity.

Reality of Hell

As we continue our discussion of Hell, we want to think with you briefly about the reality of Hell. Is Hell for real? Is the fire real? Is Hell a definite place? We could dismiss the whole question by simply saying, “Hell is real because the Lord Jesus Christ said so.” As a matter of fact, most of what we know about Hell is in the recorded words of the Lord Jesus Christ. If we doubt the reality of Hell, then we doubt the deity of the Lord Jesus Christ, for if the veracity of the Lord Jesus Christ cannot be depended upon, He is not the Son of God. So you see, we could dismiss the question of the reality of Hell by simply saying that a person who rejects the reality of Hell rejects the deity of Christ. It is not a matter of saying, “Oh, I believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, but there are a lot of other things I don't believe in.” You are not consistent if you say you believe in the deity of Jesus Christ, if you refuse to believe the things which He Himself taught. He declared the reality of Hell in no uncertain terms, as we shall see.

We say we could dismiss the questions with that, but that would leave some related questions unanswered. So we are going to suggest that the reality of Hell is seen in the awfulness of the retribution which is related to it. And the reality of Hell is seen in the acknowledgment of its residents. I do not know that we will have time to deal with both of these suggestions, but we will at least start by considering the awfulness of the retribution which is related to Hell.

Awfulness of Retribution in Hell

Open your Bibles, please, to the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 25, as I suggest to you that the Bible very plainly declares that Hell is a place of punishment. That is the reason we use the word retribution . This passage makes the simple statement that Hell is a place of eternal punishment, but it does not describe in any way that kind of punishment that is there. Notice verse 46:

Matthew 25:

46And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal.

May I pause just a moment to say that if you are pinning your hopes on an eternal Heaven, then you should be vitally concerned about an eternal Hell to which the lost will go because if Heaven is eternal, Hell is likewise eternal.

I am going to suggest that we consider the awfulness of this punishment in what I am going to refer to as triads of words . I offer you these triads or trinities of words as an aid to your memory so that if you are discussing this subject with someone, you will be able to call to mind some of these things. Let me suggest to you that the punishment or the retribution of Hell is described as death, darkness, and devastation.

Death in Hell—Eternal Separation

We have already pointed out to you that Hell is described by the phrase, the second death , and we have emphasized to you that death means separation. When we speak of death in relation to Hell, we are speaking of Hell as a place of eternal separation—eternal separation from God, eternal separation from every loved one who has known the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior.

Separation on this earth can oftentimes be a very tortuous thing. We refer to it many times as homesickness . The only problem related to homesickness is that loved ones are separated from the folk you want to be with. But though individuals today may not seem to be very much concerned about their relationship to God, there is every evidence in the Scripture that when men are in Hell, they will long to be where God is; they will long to be with their loved ones who have trusted Jesus Christ as their Savior.

Terrible Darkness in Hell

The second word is darkness . Still in Matthew, chapter 25, notice verse 30:

Matthew 25:

30And cast ye the unprofitable servant into outer darkness: there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

Notice particularly the phrase, “outer darkness.” This is one of the ways in which the Lord Jesus Christ described Hell. Keep in mind that this darkness is not only the absence of light. The word that is translated darkness here is a word that speaks of gloom, of melancholy, of that which is oppressive, of that which is awful. As a matter of fact, Peter describes this darkness as “the mist of darkness” (II Peter 2:17); great clouds of darkness roll in and roll out unceasingly. Jude describes it as “the blackness of darkness” (Jude 13), to indicate how very deep the darkness is. Other Old Testament writers associate this word darkness with such words as horror —the horror of darkness, the fear of darkness—suggesting the uncertainty of what lies out ahead in the midst of it.

Another Old Testament writer combines this word darkness with the word felt . A darkness that may be felt—that is descriptive, is it not? You can feel darkness, it is so intense. Another Old Testament writer describes this darkness as “a thick darkness”—darkness so thick that you feel as if you can cut it with a knife.

All of these words are used by the Holy Spirit, I believe, to indicate that Hell is not one happy dwelling place of a bunch of sinners. How often have I heard people say in jest, “Well, if I go to Hell, there is one thing about it: I'll enjoy all the sin I want to enjoy.” Beloved, that is not the way the Bible speaks about Hell.

I believe that God has used these phrases to describe the darkness to indicate that each person in Hell will be in solitary confinement. I wish you would let that sink in. Every place of imprisonment has some place of solitary confinement. Some are worse than others and some have more horrors related to them than others, but the usual term for a place of solitary confinement is the hole because it is a place where no light is. It is a place where there is no companionship whatsoever. That is Hell, Beloved, and the reality of it is seen in its darkness.

Hopeless Devastation in Hell

I said that the reality of Hell might be described in the three words, death, darkness, and devastation. Turn, please, to the gospel of Matthew, chapter 7, and notice verse 13:

Matthew 7:

13Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat:

Notice particularly the word destruction . I have used the word devastation because it is a better translation of the original word. It may also be translated by the word ruin . We would remind you that Hell is a place of ruin. Nobody in Hell feels that he is a success. He feels that all his hopes and all his aspirations and all his life have ended in ruin and shambles, and they have. There are any number of people today who are giving all their time and all their effort for what they consider success, and they are doing it at the risk of their immortal souls. One day they may wake up in Hell and find that that which they thought was success is ruin. So I say to you that the reality of Hell is seen in its death, in its darkness, and in its devastation.

Worms That Live Forever

The second triad of words I wish to use to aid your memory is worms, wailing and woe. These three words also describe the awfulness of the retribution that is found in Hell. Turn, please, to the gospel of Mark, chapter 9, verse 44, as we see why I have used the word worms to describe the awfulness of Hell:

Mark 9:

44Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Then verse 46:

Mark 9:

46Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Then verse 48:

Mark 9:

48Where their worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched.

Thrice repeated is a statement that Hell is characterized by a worm that does not die. Page after page has been written about what this worm is. Folk have discussed whether it is a literal worm or whether it is a symbol of something. I see no reason we should not accept it as literal because the word worm is translated from the Greek word skolex , which literally translated is maggot . Maggots are related to dead things. Read the story recorded in chapter 12 of the Acts of the Apostles about Herod, who when people were giving glory to God, took that glory to himself, fell over dead, and remained unburied until the worms ate him. You will find this same word worms .

It is a well known fact that after maggots have fed upon dead bodies, they die because there is nothing more for them to eat, but here is a maggot that does not die. That should emphasize to our minds that men are in Hell forever, that they do not die, that they are not annihilated. They do not cease to exist; these maggots feed upon their bodies throughout all eternity.

If that seems a bit gruesome to you, and if you would say, “Well, I just cannot believe that that is real; I believe that it is a symbol of something,” remember that there is a principle related to symbolism: The literal thing is always worse than the symbol. So if you would do away with the symbol, remember that you are asking for something even worse than I am suggesting to you. Hell is a place where the worm does not die. Hell is a place where maggots feed upon bodies throughout all eternity.

Weeping That is Continuous

What did I say the three words are? Worms, wailing and woe. Turn with me, please, to the gospel according to Matthew, chapter 13, and notice verse 42:

Matthew 13:

42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

Again in verse 50:

Matthew 13:

50And shall cast them into the furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

I would like to suggest to you that this word wailing is the translation of a word which elsewhere in the Scripture is translated weeping . Wailing we usually associate with long, drawn-out mournful cries, but this word adds that tears will accompany the wailing. Yes, people in Hell will be crying. People in Hell will be shedding tears. Because our time is limited, I am not going to talk about all the reasons they will be crying; you have a pretty good idea. Some of you have wept for certain periods of time, and what a relief it was when the weeping was over. But in Hell, the time of weeping will never be over. We are told in the Scripture that people who go to Heaven will weep, and there are many suggestions as to why they might weep, but we are told that God Himself will wipe away all tears from their eyes (Revelation 7:17). But in Hell, men will be wailing and weeping throughout all eternity.

Woe of Sinners

What did I say? Worms, wailing and woe. Turn to chapter 11 of the gospel of Matthew, verse 21, where the Lord Jesus Christ said:

Matthew 11:

21Woe unto thee, Chorazin! woe unto thee, Bethsaida! for if the mighty works, which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.
22But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon at the day of judgment, than for you.
23And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell: for if the mighty works, which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day.

If you glance at verse 21 and again at verse 23, you will see that the word woe is related to Hell. This word woe is the translation of a word that is also translated by the word sorrow and by the word grief ; this gives you the reason for the wailing and the tears. No, Hell will not be a grand reunion of sinners like buddies returning to a banquet. Hell will be a place of eternal grief and a place of eternal sorrow.

Gnashing of Teeth in Pain and Anger

The third triad of words that I want to leave with you is teeth, torment, and thoughts. These also describe the retribution there is in Hell. Go back to chapter 13 of the gospel of Matthew, and notice verse 42 again:

Matthew 13:

42And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.

The same thing is repeated in verse 50. Twice in this one paragraph Hell is designated as a place where men will gnash their teeth. This phrase gnashing of teeth is not an unusual one in the Scripture. You will find it several times over, and it is always related to two things. People gnash their teeth in pain or they gnash their teeth in anger, or both. I am going to suggest to you that in Hell people will be gnashing their teeth in pain, and evidence of that will be given in a moment, but the most significant thing is that people will be gnashing their teeth in anger against God because they are there.

If you need additional proof of that, when you have time, read chapter 16 of the book of Revelation, verses 8 through 11. You will notice that during the Tribulation, when men are being punished on this earth, they will gnaw their tongues for pain and will gnash their teeth against God, blaming Him for the condition in which they are. That is typical of sinners, is it not? Sinners are sinners because they want to be, but they always make out that it is someone else's fault and they will still be doing that in Hell.

The Reality of Hell's Torment

The second word of this triad is torments . Turn with me, please, to the familiar story found in chapter 16 of Luke. This is the story which the Lord Jesus Chris told of a man who actually went to Hell. In verse 23, you read these words:

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.

There was no question in Dives' mind that Hell was real. He spoke of it as a place of torment. The word that is translated torment here is a Greek word that elsewhere is translated pain , translated labor , and translated tossing . We use expressions like that, don't we? We speak of an individual with labored breathing if there is something wrong with his breathing apparatus. He has difficulty in breathing, and quite often pain in relation to it. We speak of an individual's tossing on his bed because of the pain that he bears. Hell is that real. Men will spend eternity tossing in pain. If you have any question about whether the flame in Hell is literal, notice that Dives said one of his torments was the flame which he endured. The flame created such a thirst that he would have been willing to receive a drop of water from the dirty finger of the beggar whom he looked upon on the earth as far beneath him. This is the reality of torment.

Tormenting Thoughts in Hell

For this third word in our triad, thoughts , will you notice verse 25 of this chapter. Father Abraham said to Dives, the rich man:

Luke 16:

25But Abraham said, Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things, and likewise Lazarus evil things: but now he is comforted, and thou art tormented.
26And beside all this, between us and you there is a great gulf fixed: so that they which would pass from hence to you cannot; neither can they pass to us, that would come from thence.

“Son, remember that the thoughts of Dives, the rich man, in Hell made his punishment that much greater.” What did he think about? In this passage of Scripture, three things have been suggested. One of the things he thought about was related to the opportunities he had had of which he did not take advantage. If only he had! The other was related to the good things he could have done that he did not do. You say, “Will that matter after I am in Hell?” Yes, there are degrees of punishment in Hell just as there are degrees of rewards in Heaven. If you have to go to Hell, you had better pick out the easiest place you can go. Dives spent all of eternity regretting that he did not do what he ought to have done while he was here on earth.

Then, because any individual goes to Hell as soon as his spirit leaves the body if he is unsaved, Dives was spending his time thinking about his loved ones on the earth. He was filled with horror that they might come to this terrible place. It is true that when death and Hell are cast into the lake of fire, individual's won't be worrying about the danger of their loved ones' coming to Hell because nobody else will be coming there, but men who go to Hell now worry that their loves ones may come, too, and their thought life is a punishment within itself.

I repeat that the reality of Hell is seen in the awfulness of its retribution. The reality of Hell is seen in the awfulness of the punishment that is there.

Exhortation to Accept Christ

Bow your heads, please. I have no way of knowing your relationship to the Lord Jesus Christ. I have presented this information about Hell so that you may be informed, but wouldn't it be a tragedy if a well informed person went to Hell? You see, you can know all about it and still go there because there is only one Person Who will keep you out of Hell, and that is the Lord Jesus Christ.

As we wait quietly before the Lord, I have one question for you: What is your relationship to Jesus Christ? Friend, I would be sure that Jesus Christ is my Savior before leaving this building. If you know He is, then you ought to be greatly burdened when you think of the multitudes of people who are going to wind up in Hell if they don't receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior. If you have never received the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, will you sincerely from your heart acknowledge to God that you are a sinner and that you cannot save yourself, and receive the Lord Jesus Christ as Savior, resting on the promise of God's Word that as many as receive the Lord Jesus Christ, to them gives He the authority to become the sons of God (John 1:12). No, you don't have to walk down the aisle; you don't even have to raise your hand. There in your seat you can receive the Lord Jesus Christ as your Savior. Let me encourage you to do it.

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