By Gary Ray Branscome


The words, “These shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal,” make it clear that at the last judgment there will be a complete and eternal separation of those who are saved from those who are lost (Matthew 25:46). And, the words, “He who believes on the Son has everlasting life: and he who does not believe the Son will not see life; but God’s wrath remains on him,” tell us that it is faith in Christ, not works, that determines where we will spend eternity (John 3:36).

          As to the lost, the words, “The wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men… Because that which may be known of God is known to them; for God has shown it to them,” make it clear that the lost are without excuse, “For the invisible things of Him from the creation of the world are clearly seen, being understood by the things that are made, even His eternal power and Godhead” (Romans 1:18-20). So, “When the Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, they… show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts meanwhile accusing or else excusing one another” (Romans 2:14-15). Yet, instead of being sorry for their sins, repenting of those sins and seeking God’s forgiveness, they “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). And, “knowing the judgment of God, that those who commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in those who do them” (Romans 1:32).

          Now even though those words tell us that the lost know of the existence of God, and that their conscience warns them of God’s judgment, the natural knowledge of God alone is not enough to save, because it tells them nothing about Christ and the forgiveness available through His death and resurrection (1Corithiians 15:3-4). And, while God can reveal that to them, because “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked,” the natural knowledge of God is easily denied and perverted by man’s sinful imagination (Jeremiah 17:9).


A Place of Torment

          The Bible makes it clear that those who have rejected the Gospel will, “Be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power” (2Thessalonians 1:9). That punishment is elsewhere described as, “everlasting fire” (Matthew 18:8), a fire that will never be “put out” (Isaiah 66:24), where, “they will be tormented day and night for ever and ever” (Revelation 20:10).

While the terms “Sheol” (Hebrew) and “hades” (Greek) may denote the “grave,” the “hereafter” or “the place of the dead,” they are general terms, not the names of specific places. In contrast, our English word “hell” is the name we give to the place where the lost suffer eternal torment. And, that torment is very real. The words, “Jesus, Son of God have you come here to torment us before the time?” tell us that the demons who followed Satan will be tormented (Matthew 8:29). And, the words, “I am tormented in this flame,” and “I have five brothers; [send Lazarus] that he may testify to them, lest they also come into this place of torment,” tell us that the lost will also suffer torment (Luke 16:24 and 28).


At the time of Christ, the residents of Jerusalem dumped their refuse into the valley of Hinnom (Gehenna). The perpetually burning fires in that valley led some New Testament writers to use the name “Gehenna” as a synonym for hell. [See Matthew 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5; and James 3:6.]

          The words, “Depart from me, you cursed,” tell us that the damned are separated from God (Matthew 25:41). The words, “Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord,” tell us that separation from God will be eternal (2Thessalonians 1:9). The words, “Cast out into outer darkness: where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth,” tell us that the lost will be totally cut off from the light of God’s presence – including all of the joy and beauty that is ours through faith in Christ (Matthew 8:12). And, the words, “He also proclaimed His victory to the spirits in prison, who were disobedient, long ago,” tell us that the lost are prisoners, and prisoners have no control over what they are allowed to do (1Peter 3:19-20).

          In addition to this separation from God, the Bible also describes the suffering of the damned as, “tribulation and anguish” (Romans 2:9, “being in torments” (Luke 16:23), “tormented in this flame” (Luke 16:24), “where their worm does not die, and the fire is never put out” (Mark 9:43-46), “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 8:12), “wailing and grinding of teeth” (Matthew 13:50), and so forth. Moreover, the words, “the rich man also died, and was buried, and in hell he lifted up his eyes, being in torment,” tell us that the lost begin to experience the torment of hell as soon as they die (Luke 16:22-23). In short, the Bible uses the strongest language to warn people of the horror of hell.

In addition, the words, “I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house,” tell us that those in hell will remember their former life, and that memory will carry with it all of condemnation and guilt that goes with knowing the reason they are cursed by God and in hell (Luke 16:27). [See Galatians 3:13.] Whether the fire of hell is physical or spiritual does not matter. If the Bible uses the word “fire” to describe the torment of hell, it does so because that is the most accurate way to describe it. Therefore, those who deny the reality of hell, or try to convince themselves that it is not as horrible as the Bible says, are deluding themselves. Instead of trying to downplay what the Bible says about hell, they ought to seek God’s mercy so that they do not wind up there.


Since much of the suffering that we endure in this world is caused by sin and the harm that men do to other men, some wonder if those in hell will continue to sin. That may be the case since they will not have the Holy Spirit. And, the fact that their punishment never ends tells us that they will not be improved by punishment. Therefore, if they do sin they will suffer torment because of it, and nothing they do will be acceptable to God (Isaiah 64:6). If they refrain from sin they will do so only under coercion in endless agony.

          The words, “That servant, who knew his lord’s will… and did not do what his master wanted, will be beaten with many lashes, but the one who does not know, and committed deeds worthy of flogging, will be beaten with few lashes,” seem to indicate that there will be degrees of punishment in hell (Luke 12:47-48). Hell will still be horrible for everyone who is there, but certain passages make it clear that it will be far worse for those who knew God’s word and rejected the gospel. That is why we read, “And you, Capernaum… it will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you” (Matthew 11:23-24), or “Woe to you, Chorazin, woe to you, Bethsaida… I tell you, It will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment, than for you” (Matthew 11:21-22).


The words, “Warn them, lest they also come into this place of torment,” tell us that hell is a place (Luke 16:28). Peter describes that place as a “prison” (1Peter 3:19). However, the fact that those passages are talking about disembodied spirits indicates that they are in a spiritual place, not a physical place. That place is just as real to them as our world is to us, and the torment is very real, but we should not expect to find it anywhere in the physical realm. In fact the words, “We look for a new heavens and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells,” indicate that hell (which is full of unrighteousness) will not be a part of the new universe [i.e. the new heaven and new earth] (2Peter 3:13). The words, “Outside of it are dogs, and sorcerers, and whoremongers, and murderers, and idolaters, and whoever loves and makes a lie,” tell us the same thing (Revelation 22:15). That being the case, hell may exist in a different plain of existence, a different dimension.

          While the lost need to be warned of God’s coming judgment, and of hell, they also need to know that God offers them forgiveness in Christ. Without God’s promise of forgiveness, a terror of hell may only lead them to close their mind to God’s Word and try to shut it out of their thinking.