Back to Basics: What is hell?

By Elizabeth Prata

This "Back to Basics" series explores some of the more basic doctrines of the Bible Believing faith of Christianity. After the rapture there will be millions of new believers who must come to grips, and quickly, with the basic tenets of our faith. This series is a primer. Other entries in the series are

Hello, Holy Spirit!
What does it mean to be born again?
What's the Gospel?
What is prayer?

Hell is real. The current American culture doesn't want to believe that hell is real. Liberal Christians all around the world don't believe it is real either. Rob Bell recently wrote a book called "Love Wins" in which he says "A staggering number of people have been taught that a select few Christians will spend forever in a peaceful, joyous place called heaven, while the rest of humanity spends forever in torment and punishment in hell with no chance for anything better…. This is misguided and toxic and ultimately subverts the contagious spread of Jesus’ message of love, peace, forgiveness, and joy that our world desperately needs to hear."

Of course, Mr Bell is completely wrong, at least about the doctrine of hell being a misguided teaching. Jesus taught it. Was Jesus misguided? Certainly not.

Of course, atheists deny hell, but they deny heaven, too. As the famous and recently deceased Mr Christopher Hitchens has said in his book The Portable Atheist, "The only position that leaves me with no cognitive dissonance is atheism. It is not a creed. Death is certain, replacing both the siren-song of Paradise and the dread of Hell." Unfortunately he, like all atheists, found out too late that God is very real, and so is hell. He is right, death is certain, but after that, the judgment. (Hebrews 9:27).

Some believe that only the fallen angels go there, not us human sinners. After all, God did make hell for the devil and his angels. (Matthew 25:41)

The Catholics believe in a mid-hell or waystation hell called purgatory. They think that you can buy your way out (indulgences) or be prayed out after your final purification is accomplished, because Jesus' sacrifice was not enough, obviously. Annihilationists believe that your body is just destroyed after death.

Even for Bible believers, there are a few different terms for hell that are confusing. There's  Sheol, Hades, Hell, the lake of fire, Paradise, and Abraham’s bosom? And don't forget Gehenna and Tartarus.

Abraham's bosom / Paradise . (2 Corinthians 12:4; Revelation 2:7). Jesus said to the thief on the cross that this day he would dwell with Him in Paradise. It could also mean the place that was inside the earth on the other side of Hades with the great gulf between them, known to both Lazarus on the pleasant side and the rich man in the torment side. (Luke 16:23-31).

Abraham's bosom is a Jewish/Hebrew term for heaven, the place where faithful Israelites went after death. It is typically thought to have been inside the earth and when Jesus ascended to heaven, took all the ones in Abraham's bosom with Him. He did descend to hell (1 Peter 3:19) after His death to preach to the spirits jailed there, which could be a reference to the lowest dungeons of hell where the sinning angels are being kept. This lowest depth of hell is mentioned in 2 Peter 2:4, For God did not spare angels when they had sinned, but hurling them down to Tartarus consigned them to caves of darkness, keeping them in readiness for judgement.

Gehenna is another New Testament word for hell Gehenna is from the Hebrew ge hinnom or the "valley of Hinnom." Hinnom might have been the name of a person in ancient Israel. The valley of Hinnom is a deep narrow gorge outside of Jerusalem. Jeremiah called it Tophet, or the valley of dead bones. They sacrificed children there in the fires of Moloch.

Sheol is a Hebrew word for the grave.

The Lake of Fire is the final place where all people after the final judgment at the end of time receive their new bodies and are thrown into the Lake, along with death, the devil and his angels, and hades itself. (Revelation 20:14). And there the smoke of their fires go up night and day. (Revelation 14:11).

It is thought that Jesus emptied Abraham's bosom, or Paradise and took the righteous to heaven with Him when He went up.

With all these names for the place(s) we go to after death and all the confusion about who goes there and why, we can ask, what IS hell? I can answer that. Hell is a place you don't want to go.

Better than that, hell is a place you don't have to go!

Hell is a place that is very real. Jesus preached on it more than He preached on heaven. It is an eternal place. Matthew 18:8 speaks of the eternal fire. Matthew 25:46 records Jesus saying that the righteous will go to eternal life and the unrighteous into eternal punishment. There is no escaping the doctrine that hell is forever--

"... the penalty of eternal destruction... (2 Thess. 1:9).
"...the punishment of eternal fire..." (Jude 7).
"... the black darkness has been reserved forever.." (Jude 12-13).
"...and there the smoke of their fires go up night and day..." (Revelation 14:11).
"...everlasting burnings..." (Isaiah 33:14)

Who goes there? Sinners. Now, if you know Romans 3:10 you know that Paul said there is none righteous, no, not one. We are all sinners. So does that mean we all go to hell? In a sense, yes. It is the default condition of every person on this earth who is ever born. It is where we all could go and where we all should go. But it is not where we all have to go.

The glory that is our God is that He made a way for us to escape that eternal fire, that everlasting punishment, that black darkness. He sent Jesus to earth, who came to die as the sacrifice for our sins. His death satisfied the justice required from God to punish sin. His resurrection proves He is God and now He reigns as Savior and Lord. All a person must do is understand this, and repent of our sins. Understand that we sin, we deserve hell, Jesus died to make a way for us to escape it, His sacrifice and resurrection is that Way. He "is the Way, the Truth, and the Life, no one comes to the Father but by Me," He said in John 14:6.

That verse means that no matter how many ways and how many times a person scrambles the scriptures, hell is a real place. It is the destiny of all people who reject Jesus and remain in their sins.

In the Luke verse it said that between heaven and hell there is a great gulf fixed and no one passes from one to the other. Therefore the Catholic doctrine of Purgatory is false. The only opportunity people have to go to heaven or hell is in this life. You can't be prayed out later. The Universalists and Liberal Christians who believe that all paths lead to heaven are wrong. Jesus is the way, no one comes to heaven except through Him. The atheists who think that there will be no accountability to a Holy God for their sins against Him are incorrect. There will be a court and there will be justice: Divine, Holy justice. And then hell after.

It is all in the Bible. If you believe the Bible that is good. It means you likely believe the Good News, which is that Jesus came to make a way for us to be with Him in heaven instead of hell. If you believe the Good News then act upon it, now, because that means hell is real too.

"The way of life is above to the wise, that he may depart from hell beneath." Proverbs 15:24


  1. It is one of the enemies first lies, You won't die.
    1Now the serpent was more subtil than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?

    2And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:

    3But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.

    4And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:

    5For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.

    So, Mr. Bell and any who side with this heresy, if God does not plan to hold those who sin accountable as he says clearly in His Word.
    Then why did he send His only begotten to die such a horrible death and be a sacrifice for many? He wouldn't have done that. I think there is a lot more in the parable with Lazarus and the rich man. Abraham say's they have Jonah and the Prophet's that is enough. If they don't believe them they won't believe if someone goes back from the dead. I broke fellowship with some who follow such heresy. They, across the board, were not willing to be accountable in any way. Jesus said plainly: If you won't give up everything and follow me you can't be my disciple. He said if you deny me I will deny you before my Father in heaven. Sounds pretty clear and permanent to me.
    You've done a good job of making it clear Elizabeth.
    Our Father in heaven, provide hearing ears.

  2. Speaking of hell, I think this the place to post this link, and ask if you've seen it and maybe you could do a post on it. I am so disgusted and appalled both on the focus of the article and on the other apparent programs, mentioned at the end of the article.

  3. Hi JL,

    I've seen the headline before, and I won't be doing a post on it. I have a hard time with certain subjects and I won't dwell on deeply or at all. Bestiality, child molestation and cannibalism are some of those.

  4. I understand. I usually stay away from even reading such headlines, but not always sure if something is just a false headline to grab attention, I will sometimes check certain ones to see if it's true and thus another sign of how depraved this world is.


  5. JL, I'm so mournful of the depraved state of man in these days. I cannot believe things like this happen, but the bible says they will. And they will get *worse* when the Spirit ceases striving with man (Gen 6:3) after the Rapture and there is no restraint (2 Thess 2:6). It truly will be a living hell on earth (Rev 9:1-5). With news like the one you pointed out happening today, can the rapture be far behind? How much less restraint can the Spirit offer and yet we remain under His covering? It seems with headlines like that one as an examplar, not much. We are hanging by a thread.

  6. you do realize that you cant use the OT to prove hell right....or else why wouldnt the Jews believe in it

    1. Anonymous, ALL of the bible is the Word of God. Picking and choosing verses from one Book or another to the exclusion of the other is a terrible way to "prove" a doctrine or to attempt to disprove it. If it is in the bible, it is the word of God and profitable for us to be educated by. (2 Tim 3:16)

      The Old Testament teaches life after death, and that all people went to a place of conscious existence called Sheol. The wicked were there (Psalm 9:17; 31:17; 49:14; Isaiah 5:14), and so were the righteous (Genesis 37:35; Job 14:13; Psalm 6:5; 16:10; 88:3; Isaiah 38:10).

      The Jews believed in Gehenna and Sheol, Hebrew words for the abodes of the dead. You can learn more about what they believed here

    2. well then tell me why dont jews believe in hell if that was the case....the word sheol actually has the root in the hebrew word you cant really prove hell with only the OT

    3. Hmmm...I thought I answered this already. Anonymous, you can read the link I offered you of you're sincere about wanting to know what the Jews belieed. But it likely will not help you if you already disbelieve the Old testament is the word of GOD.

  7. but the thing is that you cant KNOW if athiest Christopher Hitchens is in hell, you cant KNOW if hell is real until you die, you can BELIEVE if hell is real but you cant KNOW

    1. That is the beauty of Christ and being born again in Him. You CAN know. I know for certain that Jesus is resurrected, on His throne, and governing the entire universe. I know that I will go to heaven when I die and be with Him forever. I know that if I had rejected Him and had refused to repent, I'd be in hell forever. I know that each and every person on this planet who ever lived, if they did not believe in the Messiah Jesus who atones for their sins before they died, is in hell. I know Hitchens is in hell at this moment because he rejected Jesus. You CAN know. Once you believe in Jesus He sends the Holy Spirit to drop the scales from your eyes, and you know. You go from spiritually dead to alive in Christ!

  8. you said that the death of Jesus Satsified the justice of God, but one problem is that God is omnipotent, an omnipotent being does not NEED anything, to say that he dooes would be a slap in the face to the idea of omnipotence, and you people complain that the religon of the Aztecs was insane and barbaric because they sacrtifced people, but havent you looked at your own God, he claims to be all-loving, but cannot forgive people with out shedding blood!
    But at the same time the Jews claim that sacrtfice is not needed to forgive sins, because rembember the book of Jonah, God forgave all the bad people with put ANY blood shed!

    1. Here is a definition of omnipotence, just so we make sure we both are on the same page:

      "Omnipotence is an attribute of God alone. It is the quality of having all power (Psalm 115:3). He can do all things that do not conflict with his holy nature. God has the power to do anything he wants to do. However, God cannot do that which is contrary to his nature. For example, God cannot lie (Titus 1:2)."

      We don't know why God set it up this way, but the shedding of blood is the central action in making atonement for sin. This is stated in many scriptures, such as in the Old Testament:

      Leviticus 17:11 For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life."

      And in the New Testament, Hebrews 9:22, "Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins."

      God doesn't "claim" to be all-loving. He IS all loving. One of His loving attributes is that He will not accept sinners into heaven. That is not love nor is it justice.

      Jonah was called to preach to the Ninevites and tell them God wanted them to repent or be judged. They repented. Take a look at Matthew 12:41. He forgave them. He will forgive you as well, if you repent and ask Jesus who sacrificed Himself for you, to do so.

      There is no comparison between the Aztecs and God. God called for the sacrifice of animals, not people. Until Jesus, that is, and then He became the once for all sacrifice. Now you can simply repent and claim Jesus' blood as the atonement and enter heaven cleansed from your sins and pardoned under God's law.

      God is the only God. He is holy. He created the universe and He will judge it. Satan made up the Aztec religion. God gives you a choice: repent to Jesus for your sins and be saved, or rebel against God in your sins and be lost.

  9. funny i thought its not man(or woman)s job to judge the souls of others

    1. It isn't. Only God judges. However the bible declares that all who die in their sins go to hell. (John 3:16, 36, etc.) Jesus is the Way (to heaven), the Truth and the Life, (John 14:6). If someone dies apart from Jesus, they go to hell. It is a fact, a simple declaration, and a warning to you and others who mock and try to wriggle away from this stark future. As a matter of fact, Christians are called to tell people the Good News that you do not have to go to hell if you repent and believe on the resurrected Jesus. That's why it is Good News!

  10. another thing is that the Eastern Orthodox Church, whom claims to be the "one true church" of Jesus Christ and that they claim no one can go to heaven outside of their church does not DARE make a claim about where anybody's soul is going(well,at least not offcially), so if an organzation who makes that big of a claim, does not DARE make claims about people outside of their church going to hell or not, why would you?

    1. Because the bible tells us that hell is a person's fate if they reject Jesus.

    2. so you claim even greater authrotiy than the EO....but than again unlike you, the Orthodox CHurch is a very big organization and that at least have to be PC (sort of)

    3. Yes, I claim that there is a greater authority than the Eastern Orthodox Church: GOD and His Holy Word. And God is not "politically correct." He is God and there is no other. He said, "For he says to Moses, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.” Romans 9:15. He said later in Romans 9:19-24:

      "You will say to me then, “Why does he still find fault? For who can resist his will?” 20But who are you, O man, to answer back to God? Will what is molded say to its molder, “Why have you made me like this?” 21Has the potter no right over the clay, to make out of the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for dishonorable use? 22What if God, desiring to show his wrath and to make known his power, has endured with much patience vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, 23in order to make known the riches of his glory for vessels of mercy, which he has prepared beforehand for glory— 24even us whom he has called, not from the Jews only but also from the Gentiles? "

      We are not fooling around here, nor do I sugar coat the news, Anonymous. Rejecting Jesus means you go to hell for all eternity.

    4. That hopefully got him thinking!


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