A Description of Hell
The Bible describes Hell in several different ways.
Hell is like a garbage dump
The word that is often translated “hell” in the New Testament is Gehenna. This was a place where the garbage was dumped in New Testament times. Every kind of garbage was thrown there, including the corpses of criminals. Worms bred and fed in the filth while smoke filled the place due to continually burning fires.
“Serpents, brood of vipers! How can you escape the condemnation of Hell?” (Matthew 23:33)
Jesus, warning His disciples of the opposition they would face, added the encouragement, “Do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. But rather, fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in Hell” (Matthew 10:28).
Hell is like a prison
One of the clearest pictures Jesus gave of Hell was that of a prison. He told a parable of a king’s servant who was sent to jail for cruel and unforgiving behavior, then adding this warning, “So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:35).
Hell Is a Place of Complete Darkness
Jesus spoke of those who would be “cast out into outer darkness” (Matthew 8:12). Jesus does not merely describe Hell as darkness but as “the darkness,” as if to emphasize that it will be infinitely worse than any physical, moral, mental, or spiritual darkness ever experienced here on earth.
Elsewhere, Peter writes of those who “have eyes full of adultery” and “are trained in covetous practices,” and then pronounces their doom: “blackest darkness is reserved for them” (2 Peter 2:14, 17).
The unquenchable fire
More than any other picture used of Hell is the one of an unquenchable fire.
Jesus often spoke in parables. However, in Luke 16:19–31 He is relating a true story! Here is an incredible, behind-the-scenes glimpse into the invisible world. When Jesus related the story about the rich ruler and Lazarus, the beggar, he was addressing it to people who were obsessed with greed and materialism, people who were possessed by possessions.
The story in Luke is one of two men. The one who owned everything ended up with nothing, while the other owned nothing but inherited everything. One went to eternal comfort and the other to torment.
The rich man – A man of means, with considerable resources at his disposal, the rich man was clothed in purple, signifying royalty. However, the rich man’s sin was not wealth but his disregard for spiritual values which revealed itself in his prideful flaunting of resources and his neglect of a starving disabled man at his door.
Lazarus – While the rich man lived in splendor, Lazarus ate the crumbs from this man’s table. We also read that Lazarus was carried and laid at the gate, possibly indicating that he was crippled also. When Lazarus died, the angels carried him to Heaven; however the rich man didn’t get the same treatment.
Death is the great equalizer. The rich man died, just as Lazarus did, but rather than being carried to Heaven, he speaks of torment.
Prior to the death of Jesus, Hades had two sections:
- Abraham’s Bosom: a place of comfort for the believers, those who died in faith.
- Torment: a place of suffering reserved for nonbelievers.
When Jesus died on the cross, He went to Hades to take those to glory who were waiting for the Messiah.
In Hades, people are fully conscious. There is an ability to communicate, but it is a place of great pain. Hell consists of torture, suffering, and eternal separation from God. Eventually, Hades will be emptied of its occupants who will stand before God at the Great White Throne Judgment.
“The sea gave up the dead who were in it, and Death and Hades gave up the dead who were in them. And they were judged, each one according to his works. Then Death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And anyone not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire” (Revelation 20:13–15).
The rich man had five brothers he wanted to warn about the torment of Hades. He thought that if someone came back from the dead, his brothers would believe.
However, Scriptures detail the resurrection of another Lazarus (not the same one as in this story) who rose from the dead only to be pursued by the religious authorities who wanted to eliminate him because he was living evidence of the power of God. And of course, our Lord Jesus rose from the dead, but that did not turn the hearts of all nonbelievers back to God.