*Note: This is the
traditional, evangelical Christian understanding of hell. We too were
taught this when we were Christians, and this is the definition of hell
we address on our site. We present it here for your reference. This article
was written by Don Whitney, assistant professor of spiritual formation
at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.
Midwestern Seminary is "an integrated auxiliary of the Southern Baptist
Convention", and we found this article by doing a search for "Hell"
on the Southern Baptist Convention's
Reality of Hell*
by Don Whitney
Used by permission
Those who are not church-goers believe that men who preach from the Bible
are always preaching about hell. Those who are church-goers but
who are not Southern Baptists typically believe Southern Baptist preachers
frequently preach about hell. However, regardless of your denominational
background, can you remember the last time you heard an entire sermon
One of the reasons for that is that hell has become an embarrassment to
many preachers, even to many conservative preachers. There are many
so-called evangelical preacherseven Southern Baptist preacherswho
no longer believe in hell. Indeed, there are not only preachers
but entire denominations that are beginning to deny the orthodox view
A January 28, 1996, article in the Chicago Tribune interviewed the two
editors of a new book entitled More Than One Way? Four Views of
Salvation in a Pluralistic World (Dennis L. Okholm and Timothy R. Phillips,
eds., Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1995). The two men, who
were professors at Wheaton College, were dealing with the fact that in
churches now there are different views of salvation. The article
closed with the editors saying that evangelicals are now moving more toward
an inclusive position on how people get to heaven. That is, that
the gates of heaven are opening wider to people of other faiths and that
hell is less of a threat than previously preached for Jews, Muslims, Hindus
and others. For professing Christians who are not evangelicals,
the consensus is fast becoming that in the end almost no one will go to
In January of that same year, the Church of England and its American counterpart,
the Episcopal church, officially rejected the traditional view of hell
and embraced what is known as annihiliationism, or the view that those
who arent allowed into heaven will be annihilated, or cease to exist.
They said that the orthodox view of hell implies that God is a sadistic
monster who consigned millions to eternal torment. (Chicago Tribune,
January 28, 1996.)
So you dont hear about hell as much any more because even many so-called
evangelical preachers are denying it. Entire denominations are rejecting
it, and its no surprise that the general public isnt too fond
of the doctrine, either. Just last October, on the front of USA
Today, the question was Is there a hell? and forty eight percent,
or almost half, of American adults said no, there is no hell.
But we need to remember that the idea of hell wasnt developed by
the Christian church and developed for the purpose of manipulating people.
There is more about hell from the lips of Jesus Christ Himself than from
all of the rest of the Bible put together. And if you look in a
concordance, youll find that the rest of the Bible is far from silent
on the subject. Jesus repeatedly and sternly warned people of hell
as an act of mercy. He warned people because He wanted them to know
that hell is real and because he didnt want them to go there.
One of the places He warns about hell is in Matthew chapter 25, verses
31 and following. The central verse of Jesus warning about
hell is in verse 41: Then He will also say to those on His
left, Depart from Me, accursed ones, into the eternal fire which
has been prepared for the devil and his angels.
Hell Is Real
Jesus tells us several things about hell in this passage. The first
is that hell is real. While the Anglican and Episcopal churches
now describe hell as nothingness, Jesus describes hell as
an actual place where He will send actual people whom He calls the accursed
Former Beatles band member John Lennons most famous and enduring
song, Imagine, begins with these words:
Imagine there is no heaven.
Its easy if you try.
No hell below us.
Above us, only sky.
Well, you can imagine all you want that hell is not there, but Jesus said
hell is real. Many people have never been to Kansas City.
They may try to imagine that Kansas City doesnt exist, and in their
minds they might make it so. But denying it will not cause it to
go awayits a real place. In the same way, those who
find it unconscionable that a God of love would have a place called hella
place so awful that they cannot bring themselves to think of it, or to
think of people they know there and most of all think of themselves therethey
will choose instead to deny its existence and convince themselves that
it is not real. But Jesus said hell is real.
Hell Is Separation from God
Second, Jesus said hell is separation from God. In verse 41, Jesus
begins by saying, Depart from Me. The Bible also speaks
of these people in 2 Thessalonians 1:9, where it says And these
will pay the penalty of eternal destruction away from the presence of
Hell is separation from God, but it is not separation from God completely.
Because God is everywhere, He is even in helland that is what makes
it so awful. The separation is separation from the love and grace and
mercy and honor of God There is no separation, however, from the
wrath of God, the anger of God, the judgment of God. Thats
the most terrible thing about hell, that God is there.
One writer says,
A breath of relief is usually heard when someone declares
Hell is a symbol for separation from God. To be separated
from God for eternity is no great threat to the impenitent person.
The ungodly want nothing more than to be separated from God. Their
problem in hell will not be separation from God, it will be the presence
of god that will torment them. In hell, God will be present in the
fullness of his divine wrath. He will be there to exercise His just
punishment of the damned. They will know Him as an all consuming
fire. [R.C. Sproul, Essential Truths of the Christian Faith (Wheaton,
IL: Tyndale, 1992), p. 286.]
God is everywhere, even in hell. As Psalm 139:8 says, If I
make my bed in heaven, You are there. If I make my bed in Sheol,
behold, You are there. In some sense, God is everywhere,
in death, in the grave, even in Hell. And that is what makes it
so awful. Those who are there are separated from everything good
of God, but not from the wrath of God.
Imagine being separated from everything good. Everything, even the
smallest thing you would desire. In another place Jesus talks about
the rich man in hell looking up and seeing Lazarus, the poor man, in heaven.
The rich man asks Jesus to send Lazarus to just dip his finger in water
and touch that moist finger to his tongue. But Jesus says, no, you
cant even have that.
You cant even have something that small. If you want light
because it is total darknessif you want to be able to see anything,
just for a momentyoull never see it. If you want relief,
you get pain. If you want water, you get parched thirst. If
you want love, you get wrath.
Whatever you want, you can never have it, no matter how small. I
suffer from kidney stones, and when I do, its awful. But even
in the worse pain, I can have a comfortable bed to lie on, I can have
a glass of water if I want it, I can have the shades drawn if I want that,
I can have someone present if I need them. Even when I am in horrible
pain, I can have many things that I want. But in hell, you cant
have anything you want. Everything good, everything desirable is
goneeven the goodness of God.
Its as though in this life, they said, Jesus, depart from
me. I want to live life my own way. I dont want to be
a dedicated Christian. Thats not for me, thank you.
Just depart from me, and leave me alone to do my thing. So
in eternity, Jesus says to that person, Then you depart from Me.
Hell is separation from God.
Hell Is For All the Accursed Ones
Third, hell is for all the accursed ones. In verse 41, Jesus says
Depart from Me, accursed ones. There are two groups
at the Judgment: the sheep and the goats, those on Jesus right
and those on His left, the righteous and the unrighteous, the blessed
and the accursed ones. And everyone in hell is cursed by Christ.
What does it mean to be cursed by Christ? Theres an illustration
of this from Jesus last days on earth. In Mark 11:13-15, 20-21,
And seeing at a distance a fig tree
in leaf, He went to see if perhaps He would find anything on it; and when
He came to it, He found nothing but leaves, for it was not the season
for figs. And He answered and said to it, May no one ever
eat fruit from you again! And His disciples were listening...
And as they were passing by in the morning, they saw the fig tree withered
from the roots up. And being reminded, Peter said to Him, Rabbi,
behold, the fig tree which you cursed has withered.
This is the kind of curse that a person receives who has no fruit of a
relationship with Christ. Thats what this story is about.
Its not that people who give food to the hungry and care for the
needy go toheaven because they did those things. Rather, these people
did these things as the fruit of their relationship with Christ.
Because they knew Christ, its as if they were giving to Jesusthey
did it because they had a relationship with him. And if a person
does not have the fruit of a relationship with Christ, they will experience
the withering curse of Christ in hell, even though they may have all the
leaves, that is, the appearances of good.
I have had the privilege of preaching the Gospel in several places around
the world. In doing so, I have discovered that people universally
believe the Bible teaches that God weighs your good deeds and your bad
deeds when you die. If your good deeds outweigh your bad, you go
to heaven. Everyone around the world seems to think thats
what it teaches. In fact, today everyone assumes that the good deeds will
always outweigh the bad, and that everyone will make it to heaven.
Its not so much justification by works as it is justification by
deaththat if you die, you go to heaven. Think of how they
spoke of Frank Sinatra and how heaven is going to be so much different
now that he is there. Or watch the political cartoons when a famous
person dies. Within two or three days youll see a cartoon
with them at the pearly gates. It is just assumed today, that unless
youre a Hitler, youre going to heaven. When people die,
thats where they go.
But the Bible says that you dont have to wait to get to the judgment
to find out. You can know now. And the answer is in Galatians
3:10. Hell is for all the accursed ones, remember? Well,
this verse says Cursed is.... Its present tenseright
now. Not will be, cursed is now. Cursed is everyone
who does not abide by all the things written in the book of the Law, to
perform them. And who has done that except Jesus Christ alone?
Only He has done everything the Bible said to do. Only He has never
done the things the Bible says not to do. The Bible says cursed
is, right now, everyone who has not done everything the Bible would have
What do we do? We are already cursed, and hell is for those who
are cursed. Well, Galatians 3:13 says what we must do is believe
that Jesus Christ was made a curse for us, that on the cross God cursed
Jesus that He might give the blessing to others. Jesus deserved
the blessing of God, but He got the curse so that those who deserved the
curse could receive the blessing.
Do you realize that if you had never sinned, you still could not get into
heaven? Do you realize that it takes more than no sin to get into
heaven? Everything we ever say, everything we ever do, every thing we
ever think, every motive we ever have, is touched by sin. Even our
most selfless acts, such as caring for our children, and our best deeds
are to some degree tinged by sin. The Bible says that even our righteousnesses,
our individual acts of righteousness, are as filthy rags. Not just
our open sin, but our best righteousness, in the sight of a holy God,
is filthy rags.
Even if that were wiped clean, however, it would still not be enough for
you to enter heaven. Why? Because the Bible says that not
only must we have no sin, we must also have perfect righteousness.
And we can no more attain perfect righteousness than we can remove our
sins. But what has happened? 2 Corinthians 5:21 says that
on the cross, God made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf that
we might become the righteousness of God in Him. Isnt that
good news? Thats better than saying all of our sins are forgiven.
We can almost refer to the mere forgiveness of sins, because
salvation is so much more than the forgiveness of sins.
Thats what justification isthe declaration that we are not
just forgiven, but that we are righteousness. Jesus didnt
just die for you. If that were the case, He could have just come
from heaven, died on the cross, and risen the third day. No, He
had to do that which was much harderHe also had to live for you,
and it took 33 years to do that. He didnt just die for you,
He lived for you, and in that great exchange that took place on the cross,
He was given credit for having lived our lives and thought our thoughts,
and we are given credit for having lived the life of Christ. Thats
ours in Christ. But those who reject it and will not come to Christ
get the curse.
Hell Is Eternal
Next, Jesus says hell is eternal. In verse 41, Jesus speaks of the
eternal fire, and he describes both heaven and hell as eternal in
verse 46. It is eternal punishment and eternal fire. It is
not annihilation as many hope for. But they cant understand
that. They wonder, Why must I receive eternal punishment for
a limited amount of sin? If I live 70 years, no matter how much
I sin, it stops the day that I die. Why punish me forever?
Why must a person get eternal punishment for 70 years of sin?
Well, this demonstrates a failure to understand two things. First,
they fail to understand the greatness of the Person against whom they
have sinned. If you murder me, you are in trouble and have broken
the law. But if you murder the president, you are in much greater
trouble, because the office of president is much greater than the office
of private citizen. Our sins are not just against private citizens.
We have sinned against the greatest Person in the universe, an infinitely
holy God against whom we cannot comprehend the greatness of our offense.
Furthermore, every time we sin we also break the greatest commandment,
which is to love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
Every sin is double sinits not only a sin in and of itself,
its a failure to keep the greatest of all commandments against the
greatest of all people.
But theres another reason why the punishment in hell never stops.
Its because sin never stops. It doesnt stop at death.
You never read of repentance in hell. The punishment goes on because
the sin goes on. The Bible says that we are by nature enemies of
God, that we are born selfish and are in fact haters of God. Romans
8 says that we hate God with every part of our being every moment of our
lives, unless God gives us a new heart. Some may balk at this and
insist that while they may not want to live a dedicated Christian life,
they certainly do not hate God. But every part of your lifeyour
hands, your mindthat is not in submission to God is in rebellion
against God every moment of your life. And in hell thats all
made clear. In this life, we can go to church and we can say that
we believe in God. But in hell all that veneer is stripped away,
and all that is left is an unvarnished hatred of God.
Jesus says in another place that hell is a place of weeping and gnashing
of teeth. There is weeping over the great torment that is there,
with souls crying out, Oh, I didnt have to come to this place!
I heard a sermon warning me of this, why didnt I listen?
But there is also the gnashing of teetha hatred of God that goes
on forever and ever. So the punishment never stops eternally.
They will groan for annihilation, but it will not come. The sufferings
Hell Is a Fire
Fifth, Jesus says in verse 41 that hell is a fire. God
created us to be creatures with bodies. We are spirits and bodies
unified, and that is the way that we will be in eternity. The Bible
says that we will be given new bodies to live in a new heaven and a new
earth. Those new bodies will be united with our spirits, and I believe
there will be physical enjoyments. In the same way, there are physical
torments in hellit is a fire.
Now, the nature of the fire is uncertain. There are many Bible-believing
men who hold to inerrancy that believe the fire is symbolicsymbolic
of something worse than fire, but symbolic none-the-less. Some think
so because the Bible also describes hell as darkness, and fire and darkness
seem incompatible. It is possible, however, that you can be burned
by radiation in complete darkness. Likewise, I am told by firefighters
that they can go into a house that is completely engulfed in flames but
find the house so full of smoke that there appears to only be a little
glow of fire in the middle of the room surrounded by complete darkness.
With the lake of fire, it may be the same way.
But more significant is that this fire has been prepared for the
devil and his angels. Satan and his demons do not have physical
bodies as we do. Maybe they will be given bodies, as those humans
in hell will be given bodies, but were not told that. Or maybe
fire hurts spirit beings just as it hurts bodies. Or it may be that
the fire is symbolic of the worst pain and punishment possible.
Just as there are no words to describe heaven, so also it is impossible
to adequately describe hell. If the fire and other things are symbolic
of hell, we must remember that reality is always greater than its symbols.
The reality of hell will be worse than any fire.
We cannot overdo images of hell. Just as we cant imagine how
glorious heaven is, so we cant imagine how horrible hell is.
I dont like it when people speak of someone going through
hell on earth. There is no comparison. Of the 5.5 billion
people on the earth, who has the worst lifethe one who is tortured
day and night, or starved, or chained, or beaten? Who has the worst
life in all the world? Well, the person who has the best place in
hell would change places in a heartbeat with the person who has the worst
life on earth.
Hell Is a Prepared Fire
Jesus says not only that hell is a fire, but that it is a prepared
fire. As Jesus said He was going to prepare a place for His people
(John 14:2), so He has also prepared hell, a place for the accursed
The prophet Isaiah, speaking prophetically of hell, wrote that it has
long been ready, indeed it has been prepared...He has made it deep and
large, a pyre of fire with plenty of wood; the breath of the Lord, like
a torrent of brimstone, sets it afire (30:33).
The hottest fire is always the prepared fire. If you are like me,
on Labor Day, yougrill hamburgers. You take your grill, place the
charcoal on it, use the lighter fluid, and the flame leaps up. But
thats not when you put the hamburgers on, is it? No, because
its not hot enoughits not prepared. You wait until
the flames have gone down and the coals are white-hot. Thats
the prepared fire, of which you can say, Yes, its ready now.
Thats how the Bible describes hell, as a prepared fire, meaning
that it could not be any worse.
Hell Is Eternity with the Devil and His Angels
Jesus says that hell is eternity with the devil and his angels.
Again in verse 41, Jesus says Depart from Me, you accursed ones,
into the eternal fire which has been prepared for the devil and his angels.
Those who go there go to be with them.
Incidentally, Jesus also teaches here that Satan is real and that demons
are real. But they dont rule in hell. You may see cartoons
which depict Satan and demons as the administrators in hellthey
rule with pitchforks and torture those who are there. But the truth
is that they do not rule in hell, they suffer there. The ruler in
hell is God Himself. He made it, and He rules it.
Hell is prepared for the devil and his angels, and those who go there
go to be with them. They do not go to be with their friends. Ive
actually talked to people who said, Well, I want to go to hell because
thats where my friends are, and I want to be with my friends.
There is no friendship in hell. For one thing, the Bible describes
hell as a place of total darkness. I think that is one of the understated
horrors of hell, Imagine never seeing anything again, not even the
difference between light and darkness. You cannot see your hand
in front of your face forever and ever. You cannot see anything,
so you will never see your friends again.
Furthermore, when youre in horrible pain, it doesnt matter
who is there. When I am suffering from kidney stones, it doesnt
matter in those moments of writhing in pain if my wife is there.
That doesnt make it feel better. If I were to come to you
with a blow-torch and turn that on you, it would not take the pain away
if you were surrounded by people you know and love. In fact, in
hell you will realize that one of the reasons that you are there is because
of some of the deeds you participated in with your friends, and you will
wish you had never seen your friends in your life.
Hell is Inevitable If You Have Never Come to Jesus Christ
On August 10, 1993, Dion Terres walked into a McDonalds restaurant
in Kenosha, WI during lunchtime and opened fire with a .44-caliber magnum
revolver. He killed two people and wounded a third before killing
himself. The night before the incident he recorded a videotape where
he talked about killing others and then taking his own life. His
last words on the tape were, Good-bye everyone...I am going to be
tormented in hell for eternity (Chicago Tribune, September
As chilling and dramatic as those words are, if you have not come to Jesus
Christ, you might as well save those words and memorize them for your
last words, because hell is inevitable for all who have not come to Christ.
You dont have to wait until the Judgment to find out, and you dont
have to be a murderer like Dion Terres. You can be someone who has
done a great deal for society. Ted Turnerthe owner of CNN
and the Atlanta Bravesgave a billion dollars to the United Nations
for the sake of peace. He said in a now-famous speech to a group
of broadcasters that Christianity is a religion for losers.
He also said, I dont want anybody to die for me. Ive
had a few drinks and a few girlfriends, and if thats going to put
me in hell, then so be it (AFA Journal, no date). You
can be a murderer or you can be a person who has done a great deal for
society. It doesnt matter, because hell is inevitable if you
have never come to Christ.
Hell Is Inescapable Once You Are There
Once the gates of hell open to receive you, they close behind you forever.
Before awakening one Monday morning in February of 1991, I had a dream
that is one of the most vivid Ive ever had. I dont place
any special or prophetic significance on dreams, this one merely
serves to illustrate my point. I cant find any logical explanation
for why I had it, (I know there was a TV movie a few years ago where an
abused woman did this to her husband, but I didnt see that movie)
but it was sobering. In this dream a woman had soaked with gasoline
the bed where her husband lay sleeping. When the woman set the bed
ablaze, immediately there were flames several feet high across the entire
surface of the bed. At once the man woke up, and not knowing at
first what was happening, he started screaming, Oh God, Im
in hell, Im in hell!
The terrifying thing to him was not so much his pain, although that was
obvious. Somehow in my dream I was aware that the main reason he
was screaming was that in an instant he thought he was suddenly in hell,
and also knew that this was his permanent destiny. It was as though
he were saying, Oh God, its all over! My life is over,
and here I am in hell! And Ill be in this unbearable torture
forever! My life is over, there is no other chance, no way out,
I am suddenly in hell and Im here forever!
At the time, there lived across the street from me a man who had been
there for about 10 years. The man hated God, hated the church, and
hated anyone who represented the church. I would go out to the mailbox
and he would be at his mailbox out there at the street. I would
speak to him, but he wouldnt speak to me, although he knew little
about me. Just two months before we moved to Kansas City I got a
phone call from his wife, who was friendly toward us and who would occasionally
come to church. She said that they had been across town visiting
a new grand-baby and on their way home had stopped at the stoplight closest
to our subdivision. They were talking about the grandbaby, and when
they started through the intersection she noticed that the car was swerving.
She looked over and saw that her husband was slumped over the steering
wheel. She was able to guide the car off the road, but he had died
That day he came up to that intersection as he had ten thousand times.
He looked up and saw the light turn as he had ten thousand times.
He put his foot on the accelerator to go through that intersection as
he had ten thousand times. But this time, before he got through
that intersection, he suddenly found himself unexpectedly in eternity.
And wherever he found himself, hes there forever. Once a person
awakens to find himself in hell, he finds it is eternally inescapable.
Hell is Avoidable if You Will Repent and Believe in Jesus Christ
That is the good news, and you may have heard that good news many times.
But often the good news is not good news unless it is first contrasted
with bad news. Ifsomeone says, Heres your child,
thats good news. But if someone has kidnapped your child and
you havent seen her for two weeks, against that bad news its
not just good news, this is the best possible news. Likewise, the
good news that hell is avoidable if you repent and come to faith in Jesus
Christ is good news for some people only when they realize what the bad
And this is good news that Satan and his angels never hear. I used
to sometimes wish Id been created an angel instead of being born
a man. I wouldnt go through the pain that Ive suffered.
I wouldnt endure the agony and the grind of human existence.
I wouldnt have ever sinned against God, hopefully. But what
if I had been created an angel, and I was one of those who fell with Satan,
and I had sinned one time? Thats it. Because we never
read of the cross being offered to angels. We never see forgiveness
being extended to the angels who fell with Satan. One sinthats
it, forever. Praise God, I wasnt created an angel.
I sometimes think of Jesus warnings of hell like this. Imagine
that you are coming home. It is a horribly stormy night. Tornadoes
have been sighted. Hail is pelting on the car. The rain is
coming down in torrents. You are coming across the bridge over the
river, just trying to get home. Then, you can barely make it out, but
there is a rain-soaked man in your headlights trying to flag you down.
You think, Oh, no, I just want to get home. Who is this nut?
Is this a car-jack or what? I dont want to stop and help anybody
in weather like this. I just want to get home.
But every time you swerve to avoid him, he keeps appearing in your headlights. Finally,
you realize that youre either going to have to run him down, or
youre going to have to stop. So you roll to a stop and he
runs up to your window. You crack it just a quarter of an inch,
and he says, The bridge is out! Stop! Twenty cars have
gone past me, and everyone in them is dead. Dont go past me,
Suddenly you realize that this man whose message you didnt want
to hear, who was a nuisance at best, and who was keeping you from going
your way, is in fact a great and merciful friend. I think of Jesus
death on the cross like that. Its as if His arms are outstretched
to say, Dont go past Me. Hell is past Me! Stop!
Stop for Me!
What a great mercy of God it is that Jesus would warn us of hell.
What if we heard of hell only when we stood at the judgment?
In the mercy of God, He has warned us.
The goal of this article is not to create in you a terror of hell, but
rather a love for Jesus Christ. He could have had heaven forever,
but was willing to give it up for 33 years so that He could warn us of
hell and deliver us from hell. Can you not love a Man like that?
Some people talk as though they cant wait for the judgment, as though
they want to stand on the edge of heaven and help push people off into
hell, and rub their hands with glee as they see it happen. Thats
the wrong view. We ought to speak of hell or think of hell only
with weeping in our hearts for the lost and tears of gratitude in our
eyes for Christ, who would come and die to deliver us from such a place.
Will you love Him?