Jesus spoke of hell more than any other character in the Bible. It is almost as if the subject of hell was such a serious matter that God only entrusted His Son to expound upon, and warn about, it.
Matthew 10:28, “And fear not them which kill the body, but are not able to kill the soul: but rather fear him which is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.”
Matthew 22:13, “Then said the king to the servants, Bind him hand and foot, and take him away, and cast him into outer darkness, there shall be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
The word behind the word, “hell” that Jesus sometimes used is the Aramaic word, “gehenna.” Gehenna is a valley south of Jerusalem where idolatrous Israelites had previously sacrificed their children (2 Chronicles 28:3; 33:6; Jeremiah 7:31; 19:2–6). Later it was renamed, “Tophet” and used as a burning place for garbage (Isaiah 30:33).
This garbage dump remained in Jesus’ day. It had a consuming fire that was never extinguished and was constantly fed household garbage, dead animals, the corpses of criminals, and any other worthless thing. It was a smelly, disgusting, horrible place and everything that went in was consumed.
Jesus often spoke in parables and used literal examples to portray spiritual truths (“I AM the Bread of Life … the Living Water etc.). Jesus used the literal place of Gehenna, which all of His hearers were familiar with, as a picture of the lake of fire where all who die in their sin go for eternity (Revelation 21.8). Though the lake of fire is literal, none are there yet, so it was not known at that time, nor is it known today.
Revelation 21.8, “But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the 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.”
If God is good how could He send people to an eternal lake of fire?
This question stems from a fundamental misunderstanding of two things:
1. Man’s badness
2. God’s goodness
Man’s badness: It’s easy to see badness in mankind. Just look at the holocaust. Look at the approximately 40 murders that take place every single day in the U.S. alone. Look at the many acts of hate done in the name of religion (whether the religion of atheism, Islam or even so-called “Christianity”). There is a seemingly unending list of examples of hate, greed and general wickedness that comes from mankind.
These things are easy to see. Most will not deny these instances of wickedness. But we seem to have more trouble in seeing ourselves as bad. If you ask the average person, “are you a good person?” most will say, “Yes, I try to be.” But as Ray Comfort often does when witnessing, if you ask someone simple questions like those below, they will have to admit they are not as good as they thought they were.
Have you ever told a lie (even a “little white lie”)?
Have you ever taken something that didn’t belong to you (even something small … something from a hotel room … as a child)?
Have you ever used the Lord’s name in vain (“oh my G–” or using Jesus’ name as a curse word)?
Have you ever had sexual thoughts about someone you were not married to?
If you answered yes to these questions you would have to admit to yourself that you are a liar, a thief, an adulterer, and a blasphemer. Keep in mind, we’ve only listed four of God’s commandments.
So you see, we often times measure our own “goodness” with a crooked ruler. A ruler made crooked by our own sinful nature.
When we see most of mankind, including ourselves, as “generally good” it seems unfair, and just plain wrong, that God would send any more than a handful of people (like Hitler) to hell. But when we measure ourselves with God’s perfect ruler (His law), we quickly see that this idea of general goodness is not true at all.
God’s goodness: The definition of the word, “good” is often distorted. Most would agree that someone who commits a crime must receive punishment. If a criminal stands before a judge and that judge rules rightly the criminal would be punished. If the criminal were set free without being punished, justice would not be served. The judge would be bad, as well as the criminal.
God is just and in His courtroom justice is always served. All sin is ultimately against Holy God (Genesis 39:9) who created us to love us and for us to love Him. The punishment for sin (all sin) is death (Romans 6:23). The word, “death” in the Bible always refers to separation. All of mankind has already received this death. We were born separated from God. That’s why we don’t see Him with our eyes or hear Him with our ears.
This death is why bad things happen. The end of this death is hell. Our current existence on this earth, and the comforts and luxuries we have, is the result of God’s grace. Our existence on this earth is a free gift that God has given us. The end of this existence for all who die in their sin, is hell. This is not because God is bad. On the contrary it is because God is good!
So you see, God sending people to hell would only be bad and unfair if those people were good. But no good person will ever go to hell. When we see ourselves in God’s light, as we’ve briefly done in this article, we see that we aren’t good. The Bible specifically states this:
Romans 3:12, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one”
Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God”
There’s good news though. The good news is that the same Jesus Christ who warned so adamantly of the horrible place of hell, also provided a path of escape!
He came and lived a perfect life without sin. Then he offered Himself up on a cross to receive the penalty for sin that we deserved. He died physically on the cross, and spiritually as well as the Father forsook Him (Matthew 27:46).
Without Christ’s sacrifice, only those who are without sin could escape God’s judgement (hell). But because Jesus Christ came and died in your place, God the Father accepts Him as your substitute!
How do you qualify for this forgiveness? Through faith. Biblical faith is comprised of two things:
- You agree with God about your sin in your heart. When you truly agree with Him about your sin in your heart (and not just your head) you will think differently about your sin. Just imagine if a tornado was coming right at you. If you really believe that tornado is coming at you, you will run from it! In the same way, if you really believe that you are headed to hell because of your sin, you will run from your sin. This doesn’t mean you will be sinless. But it does meant that you will want to be sinless. Repentance is not about perfect. It’s about a change of heart.
- You trust in Jesus Christ. You just give up on yourself. You give up on your own “goodness.” You quit trying to work your way to God. You look to Jesus. You receive Him. You call upon Him. You come to Him. You trust in Him.
Matthew 11:28-29, “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls.”
All who trust in Christ as their Savior, pass from spiritual death to life.
John 5:24, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.”