The question of the future state of the wicked has caused considerable debate and controversy through the years. Such discussion not only exists between Christians and nonbelievers, but surprisingly, there is considerable difference of opinion even within the evangelical community. There are basically five major opinions. Let me clarify each position and give a biblical response.
This belief proposes that the unsaved are punished in Hell for an established period of time. The duration of one’s sentence is determined by the seriousness and frequency of one’s sins while on earth. The individual then experiences the “second death” and ceases to exist at all in any form.
The simple truth is that there is no clear Bible verse that teaches that man will one day cease to exist. To the contrary, man’s soul was made to exist forever. Man’s choice to rebel against God did not condemn Him to a temporary existence, but rather to an eternal existence separated from God. The same words that are used to describe the believer’s eternal existence in heaven are used to describe man’s eternal existence in Hell (Compare John 3:15 with Hebrews 6:2).
Universalism is the belief that all men will eventually be saved. This belief was first proposed by Origin who taught that the unsaved would be tortured in Hell until they are sufficiently cleansed and then accepted into heaven. This belief was condemned as heretical in the Fifth Ecumenical Council in 553 AD. Most importantly, though, the Bible clearly refutes this belief.
Ezekiel 18:4 – Behold, all souls are mine; the soul of the father as well as the soul of the son is mine: the soul who sins shall die.
II Thessalonians 1:9 – They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His might.
Revelation 20:15 – And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.
A view that is similar to Origin’s is the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory, which basically teaches the reality of a temporary Hell. Proponents of this view believe that some are so wicked that they will be sent directly to eternal condemnation. Many, though, are allowed into heaven after a period of punishment.
There is not a clear biblical passage that supports this view. If not interpreted correctly passages such as Matthew 5:26; Luke 12:59, I Corinthians 3:12-15 could be understood to teach the existence of purgatory. But in each case the context clearly shows that is not the truth that is being conveyed. Additionally, the Bible teaches the fact that at death the believer is immediately transported into the presence of the Lord (II Corinthians 5:8).
- Metaphorical View
The metaphorical view teaches that Hell is a real place, but that the pain and the horrific conditions are not to be interpreted literally. In other words, the biblical descriptions of heat, bondage, darkness, thirst, worms, pain, flogging, fire, etc. are all symbolic and do not refer to literal suffering.
For many pastors and Bible teachers this is a much more palatable view. Billy Graham once said, “I have often wondered if Hell is a terrible burning in our hearts for God, a fellowship with God, a fire that can never be quenched.” Many, myself included, would love for the biblical descriptions of Hell to be symbolic. Unfortunately though, there is way too much evidence for a literal interpretation.
- Literal View
John MacArthur says, “Though every New Testament author acknowledges the doctrine of hell, Jesus has the most to say about it. The existence of Hell wasn’t something He questioned, debated, or defended, and He certainly didn’t apologize for it. He assumed the reality of hell just as much as He did the resurrection (John 5:28, 29). Jesus viewed hell as a real place, a certainty, and so should you.”
According to Jesus, Hell is a place of unquenchable fires (Mark 9:48,49), of complete darkness (Matthew 22:13) and of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 8:12). Jesus further describes it as a place of never-ending torment (Luke 16:23, 24). Jesus’ teaching about Hell is frequent and clear. He had no reason to exaggerate and He had plenty of opportunities to clarify His teaching if He felt that it was unclear. Yet, His message remained the same – Hell is a horrific place where tormenting conditions exist.
That truth should be a challenge to us. Who do you know that is not a Christ follower? Let me challenge you to do everything that you can to share the Gospel with them. Quite frankly, the reality of Hell should drive us to share the love of Jesus with everyone!