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Christian, tell me why do you tell scare stories about Hell? I don't appreciate being manipulated into buying your "fire insurance"!

Because…Talk of Hell is not just a scare story to manipulate someone into behaving a certain way. It is a “bridge out” warning to let people know that they need to detour to another route.

I didn’t want to write this article. Christians don’t like to talk about Hell. But we have to, because Jesus did, and He did so frequently. It is obviously important that we know the alternative to believing in Him. To reject Jesus will leave no option but to be rejected by God. What will that rejection look like? Is Hell a real physical place, with real physical torment, that lasts forever? If so, how is that reasonable or fair?

What Jesus Said

The Teachings

Looking for words like “hell”, “destruction”, “outer darkness”, “weeping and gnashing of teeth”, and “fire” or “fiery”, I found fourteen teachings in Matthew’s gospel alone (see all of them here), plus another two passages in Luke (13:22-30, 16:19-31). Three of the Matthew passages have counterparts in one of the other gospels: Matthew 10:28 is also in Luke 12:4-5; Matthew 11:20-24 is also in Luke 10:13-15; and Matthew 18:8-9 is also in Mark 9:43-45, where some manuscripts add a quote of Isaiah 66:22-24:

Then they will go forth and look
On the corpses of the men
Who have transgressed against Me.
For their worm will not die
And their fire will not be quenched;
And they will be an abhorrence to all mankind.

Isaiah 66:22-24

I recommend that you take a moment to follow the Matthew link above. Seeing all of Jesus’ teachings about Hell gathered onto the same page gives a fuller picture than reading them individually. For those who don’t want to read the link, here is a quick summary:

  • Even the thought that precedes the sin — not just the action afterward — puts one in danger of Hell.
  • It’s better to lose an eye or a limb than to go to Hell.
  • The way to Hell is wide and easy, compared to the way to Heaven.
  • Even people who talk a good game, have a good pedigree or do good deeds can find themselves in Hell.
  • Hell is to be feared more than physical death.
  • Jesus will sort through all people, separating those for Heaven with Him vs. those for Hell without Him.
  • Hell is a place of eternal punishment for those who betray the trust that God places in them.

The Words and Word Pictures


The Greek word that Jesus used most often, and which is translated as “Hell” in English, is geenna, which means “valley of (or the son of) Hinnom”. Ge-Hinnom, later called Gehenna, is a real historical location, a valley near Jerusalem. Gehenna was NOT a nice place. In the Old Testament, it is called Ben-hinnom, and is a place where horrible things happened. The people, including even Kings Ahaz and Manasseh, burned their own children there in sacrifice to pagan gods (2 Chronicles 28:1-4, 2 Chronicles 33:1-6, Jeremiah 7:30-31, Jeremiah 32:35) even though the good kings Josiah and Hezekiah tried to do away with that practice (2 Kings 23:4-14, 2 Chronicles 31:1).

Since Jesus would not have been warning against a literal location outside of Jerusalem, what did He really mean? To Jesus’ listeners, the valley was readily associated with damnation. They knew He meant a place totally rejected by God. His other references — outer darkness, weeping and gnashing of teeth, eternal punishment, blazing furnace — all also convey that same idea of hopeless abandonment and despair.


The story of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16 is the most prominent place where Jesus describes a man being tormented by fire after death. There, the word used is not geenna/hell; it’s Hades. That word is borrowed from the Greek god who was king of the underworld. Peter uses it in Acts 2:25-27 as a synonym for the Old Testament Hebrew word Sheol, also a place of the dead.

But Hebrew Sheol and Greek Hades were not necessarily places of the kind of punishment that we associate with Hell. Righteous dead were there also, and the place can seem almost neutral…although a bit gloomy. So why was the man in Jesus’ story being tormented there? Are there different areas in the after-death/before-final-judgment place of the dead? Or was this only a parable, not meant as a literal description (although other parables are usually identified as such, and the truth they illustrate is always valid, in any case)?

Lake of Fire

Besides, the final judgment has not happened yet. The new Earth, new Heaven, and new Jerusalem are still being prepared for us. Is the eternal Hell also a place that does not yet exist in its full form? Revelation says that “death and Hades” will give up their dead to be judged, and then will themselves be thrown into the “lake of fire” along with Satan. What does that mean for their current inhabitants?

That same passage in Revelation gives the answer, and is the final word on Hell:

And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

Revelation 20:13-15

Not Originally a Human Place…

Matthew 25:41 says that the eternal fire was not prepared for humans. It was designed for Satan and his angels: “Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels“.

…God did not spare angels when they sinned, but cast them into hell and committed them to pits of darkness, reserved for judgment…

2 Peter 2:4

When Jesus healed the Garasene demoniac (Matthew 8:28-34, Mark 5:1-20, Luke 8:26-39), the demons asked “Have You come here to torment us before the time?” and begged Him “not to command them to go away into the abyss.” Daniel 7:11, Revelation 19:20 and Revelation 20:10 describe the doom of Satan, the Anti-Christ, and the False Prophet who lead the final rebellion against God.

…But Humans Will Go There…

But the same verse in Matthew says that lake is the destination of those who fail when they are judged at the end of time. Revelation 14:9-11 is even more emphatic, specific to those who continue to follow Satan all the way to the end:

If anyone worships the beast and his image, and receives a mark on his forehead or on his hand, he also will drink of the wine of the wrath of God, which is mixed in full strength in the cup of His anger; and he will be tormented with fire and brimstone in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb.

Revelation 14:9-11

Who fails? Anyone whose “name was not found written in the book of life.” It’s not what we do that gets us sent to Hell. It’s what we don’t do, that keeps us continuing on the default path that inevitably ends there.

…If They Face God Without Jesus

How to get into that book? Jesus: “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father but through Me.” (John 14:6)

He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

John 3:18

Hell is Real

I would love to say that all of the above is figurative language, that there is no literal lake of fire with physical pain and anguish. I can’t say that: It reads too realistically, and I can’t take the chance of being wrong.

But even if I could, it wouldn’t matter.

Regardless of physical characteristics, the worst part of Hell is the absence of God. Even in our fallen world, God’s presence is felt everywhere. Every breath, every smile, every joy — they all come from Him. When He no longer allows a person to feel that presence, the emptiness that remains will be devastating. I imagine something like sensory-deprivation torture, where the victim is prevented from receiving any visual, aural or tactile input … only much, much worse.

What bothers me most is the utter finality of it. There’s no do-over, no opportunity to change your mind and decide you’d rather have Jesus after all. The epic poem Divine Comedy by Dante Alighieri (written in the early 1300’s) describes an inscription above the doors of Hell. The most familiar part of that inscription is “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here”. While little of Dante’s description of Hell is Biblical, that phrase is. Hell has no hope of escape or relief…ever.

Hell is Reasonable

We are all sinners, rebels against God. We all have a history of preferring to leave Him out and do life our own way. If we don’t realize that we’re wrong — that we need God, and that He has a right to His authority over us — and accept Jesus’ offer to carry us to Him… Well, then, why would we expect to continue forever to have His presence and live in His home with Him?

To those who are completely resistant, who want to have nothing to do with God because that would mean acknowledging His right to rule over them, Heaven itself would be torture. Imagine living forever in a world saturated with what you hate the most. Heaven will vibrate with God’s presence in ways that we currently cannot imagine. An unrepentant sinner would not be able to stand it!

It’s easy to still think “But eternal, un-ending torture? That’s too much!” To be just, the punishment must be equivalent to the offense. What is equivalent to rejecting God, the Source of all existence? Can anything be too much for that? Remember, the judgment is not just on external deeds; it is also on internal attitudes. Even the best of actions, by those who seem to be good among their peers but not compared to God, don’t negate the inner rebellion.

Our sense of fairness and compassion come from God, and are pale reflections of His own fairness and compassion. When all things are revealed, when we understand more completely than we can see now, we will agree with whatever action He chooses to take (1 Corinthians 13:12, 2 Thessalonians 1:8-10; Romans 2:5-8).

Hell is Avoidable…but there’s only one way.

At the final judgment, each person stands individually, one at a time, before God who knows them inside out. He knows who truly chooses Him as opposed to who just wants the goodies without accepting the Giver.

The Son of God became a man so that He could sacrifice His human life to provide a way of rescue from Hell. God knows who is willing to depend on that rescue and claim Christ’s righteousness instead of their own.

God gives a lifetime of opportunity to make that choice, including right now as you’re reading this article. Will you accept the “get out of Hell free” card that cost Jesus so much? Or do you prefer to spend eternity on your own, separated from God and dealing with the consequences of your decision?

This is not a scare story. It’s a plea for you to detour from the broad way with the bridge missing to the narrow way that leads to life. It’s not manipulating you to behave a certain way; it’s inviting you to trust a certain Person. Please!

Unless otherwise noted, all scripture quotations are taken from the (NASB®) New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1971, 1977, 1995, 2020 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture reference links go to, which defaults to another good translation, the New International Version (NIV).  The site has 20 or more translations available for reference.