What did Jesus teach about Hell?

Category: The End Times 369 6

Charles Lutwidge Dodgson. Many of you know who this man is, but maybe not his name. Dodgson was the real name of Lewis Carroll, the author of Alice in Wonderland (Carroll was his pen name). He was the son of an Anglican minister, served as an Anglican deacon, and was (as I already hinted at) a popular author. However, it was his views on hell that gets his name mentioned in this article. In fact, his thoughts on Christianity’s teaching on hell are very common among people today. He hated the idea of hell so much that he said that any acceptance of an eternal punishment after death required “the abandonment of the belief in a God, and the acceptance of Atheism.”[1]

Hell is simply dying among Christians, and has become virtually non-existent in the modern world. More and more believers, and a vast majority of people in other religions, believe some other form of punishment, or no punishment, after death. The most popular version is universalism. This is the belief that everyone will go to heaven. All religions lead to God, and if hell does exist, then it will only last for a very short time.

This belief is so strong that it is endorsed by many popular figures in the media and in Christianity. In the book The Seven Wonders That Will Change Your Life, popular radio talk show host, Glenn Beck, and his co-author, Keith Ablow, say:

“Latter-day Saints do not believe that your chances ever cease, even with death. They end only with the full understanding and denial of truth by your own exercise of real free will. And even then there is no ‘lake of fire.’”[2]

Rob Bell, one of America’s most popular pastors, wrote in his book Love Wins that no one will go to hell. Universalism, however, is not the only option that critics of hell choose to explain what happens to “sinners” when they die. Conditional Immortality, or Annihilationism, is the teaching that those who are not saved will go to hell, suffer for a short time, and then be completely destroyed, thus making them nonexistent. Clark Pinnock, an advocate for this belief, criticizes the traditional view of hell, a place of eternal torment, by saying:

“According to the larger picture, we are asked to believe that God endlessly tortures sinners by the million, sinners who perish because the Father has decided not to elect them to salvation, though he could have done so, and whose torments are supposed to gladden the hearts of believers in heaven.”[3]

John Loftus, a former preacher turned atheist, sums up the modern belief of hell very well when he says, “The notion of a punishment after we die is sick and barbaric.”[4] Throughout this series on hell, I will discuss the criticisms of it and will examine the alternative views to punishment after death. However, to begin this series, I wish to start with the basics: the teachings of Jesus. In fact, what Christians believe about hell is almost entirely constructed out of Jesus’ teachings on this very important topic.

What did Jesus teach about hell?

Jesus teaches more about hell than any other individual in the Bible. In fact, the Greek words for “hell” do not even appear in the letters of Paul (more on this in another article). Jesus begins his teaching on hell early in his ministry. In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus warns his listeners against hateful anger when he says, “anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matthew 5:22). He continues in verses 27-30 of the same chapter when he warns against lustful thoughts:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell.

Jesus is teaching that it is better to go through temporary discomfort in this world rather than face permanent calamity in the age to come.[5] Jesus repeats these warnings later in his ministry. In Matthew 18:7-9:

“Woe to the world because of the things that cause people to stumble! Such things must come, but woe to the person through whom they come! If your hand or your foot causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.

Jesus used hell as a motivation for people to take painful measures now to avoid facing a fate far much worse than physical death. (As a side note, Jesus is not saying literally cut out your eye or cut off you hand. He is using powerful imagery to get his point across to his listeners. Remember that the disciples themselves were sinners, yet they didn’t literally gouge out one of their eyes).

Jesus’ teachings on hell continue. Matthew 10:28 says, “Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.”[6] In Luke 16:19-31 Jesus teaches about Lazarus and the rich man (not the same Lazarus that Jesus brought back to life in John 11:38-44). In this parable, the rich man and Lazarus die. Lazarus is taken to heaven to be by the side of Abraham. The rich man is thrown into hell and is in agony. This passage gives us a clear picture of people in hell being conscious and suffering torment.

Jesus teaches in Mark 9:43 that hell’s fire will never go out. He then quotes from Isaiah 66:24 which says that “their worm does not die, and the fire is not quenched.” He then says, “Everything will be salted with fire” (verse 49).

The Gospel of John does not contain the Greek word for “hell.” However, the teaching of it is present. Jesus says in John 3:36 that “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” It is clear that eternal life is forever, yet many want to shorten God’s wrath to something that will only last for a short time. The Greek word for “remains” seems to be best understood as eternal in other passages in John, so why would it not mean eternal in this verse.[7]

Let me end this article with Matthew 25:46. This verse is very important to get a good understanding that Jesus taught that hell is forever. This verse says, “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” It is very simple to understand. If hell is to only last for a short time, so heaven will last for only a short time. If heaven will last forever, then hell will last forever. The two are parallel with each other. They stand or fall together. As Moses Stuart once said, “WE MUST EITHER ADMIT THE ENDLESS MISERY OF HELL, OR GIVE UP THE ENDLESS HAPPINESS OF HEAVEN.”[8]

Jesus taught that hell was a real place where those who reject him will suffer eternal torment. Jesus didn’t rationalize anything, or tell his followers that “don’t worry, everyone will go to heaven.” Jesus was very up front with his listeners: believe in the Son of God, or spend an eternity in hell. This should cause every single Christian to tell everyone they know about Jesus Christ and the salvation that he offers to all people.

What do you think? Do the teachings of Jesus on hell matter to Christians? Leave a comment below, follow us on Twitter, and like us on Facebook.

[1] Lewis Carroll, “Eternal Punishment,” in the Lewis Carroll Picture Book. Quoted in R. Albert Mohler Jr., “Modern Theology: The Disappearance of Hell,” in Hell Under Fire, eds. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004, Pg. 22.

[2] Pg. 149.

[3] Clark H. Pinnock, “The Conditional View,” in Four Views on Hell, eds. Stanley N. Gundry and William Crockett. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1996, Pg. 136.

[4] John Loftus, Why I Became an Atheist. Amherst: Prometheus Books, 2008. Pg. 394.

[5] Robert W. Yarbrough, “Jesus on Hell,” in Hell Under Fire, eds. Christopher W. Morgan and Robert A. Peterson. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2004. Pg. 73.

[6] See also Luke 12:5

[7] See for example: John 6:27, 56; 8:35; 12:34. Yarbrough, 74-75.

[8] Moses Stuart, Exegetical Essays on Several Words Relating to Future Punishment. Quoted in Yarbrough, 76.

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6 thoughts on “What did Jesus teach about Hell?

  1. Chris Date

    “The rich man is thrown into hell and is in agony. This passage gives us a clear picture of people in hell being conscious and suffering torment.”

    This isn’t accurate. The setting of the parable is in Hades–the grave, the intermediate state–not hell, where traditionalists allege that eternal torment awaits the risen wicked.

    Actually, Mark 9:43-48, Isaiah 66:24, Matthew 25:46, and other passages typically cited in support of the traditional view prove upon closer examination to be better support for annihilationism. I don’t want to hijack your comments thread, so I won’t say more without your permission first. But I’d encourage you to check out http://www.rethinkinghell.com.

  2. mmcclellan2

    Thanks for the comment Chris. I agree with you that Luke 16:19-31 is teaching about the rich man in the intermediate state. I brought up the passage to show that Jesus taught that those people who die without faith in him will suffer conscious torment after death. However, I do not agree with annihilationism. I’m not going to go into depth right now with that topic because I will be doing a short series on universalism and annihilationism in the near future. Keep your eyes open for it and when I have published it (probably in late September or sometime in October) we can go into a lengthy discussion on the topic in the comments section if you wish. Thanks again.

    Edit (10-28-13): Due to my recent schedule being so busy, the publication of my article(s) on annihilationism will be pushed back. I’ll get it on the site as soon as I can.

  3. Chris Date

    It would be awesome if you could notify me via email, or by commenting here, when your series on annihilationism begins. You don’t owe me anything, of course, and if you are unable to notify me that’s OK. But I may miss it if you don’t.

  4. Guglielmo Marinaro

    Do you mean to say that some people actually think that no-one will be in torment for ever and ever? OMG, how shocking.

  5. mmcclellan2

    Chris (and whoever else has read my comment on writing on the topic of Annihilationism),

    I apologize for not publishing a series on Annihilationism as of yet. I said back in September that I would have it done no later than October, but as anyone can see, that never happened. At the time that I said this, I was working only one job. However, by the beginning of October, I had left that job for another one, and had started a second job in the evening. As you can probably guess, I have not had much time to research and write since then. Considering that I was finishing up a big project around that time, and have had very little time to complete the articles that I wrote from October to January, I have had no time to finish my planned series on Annihilationism. If I had only worked on it I would have gone a month or two without publishing a single article, and I did not want to do that. I will publish my articles on Annihilationism as soon as I can, but I am not going to give a deadline (I learned my lesson on that). I am currently working on an article for an academic journal, writing other articles for my site, and still working two jobs, so I’ll get it done when I can. Thanks.

  6. SourDove

    Apparently He preferred people who only do right to win a prize or avoid a penalty.

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