Does Hell Exist?
Text: Mark 9:42-48
I. Generally people prefer to think upon pleasant things, so when talking to people about the need to become a Christian, we put emphasis on reaching heaven.
A. People focus on the love of God - Romans 5:8
1. But they don’t want to think about the other side of God - Romans 11:22
2. In fact, a number of denominations deny the concept of hell and eternal punishment
B. “Episcopalians do not believe in a physical heaven or hell; these are "states of being." The departed in whom there is some possibility of goodness are prepared for full enjoyment of God by such cleansing and purifying as they may require--in a way, this resembles the idea of "purgatory." But Episcopalians do not use the term in the official teaching because they feel that it is often associated with crude ideas of payment and penalty and the like.” [W. Norman Pittenger, Religions in America, p.73]
C. “The doctrine of a burning hell where the wicked are tortured eternally after death cannot be true, mainly for four reasons: (1) It is wholly unscriptural, (2) it is unreasonable, (3) it is contrary to God’s love, (4) it is repugnant to justice.” [Let God be True, Watchtower Society, Second Edition, p. 99]
D. What is most fascinating is that the ones who argue the hardest against hell are the atheists and former believers in Christianity. To them talking about hell is just a scare tactic, as if being afraid of something is not a good motivator.
II. Is hell unscriptural?
A. There is a problem with the old King James Version. It used the terms “hades” and “hell” interchangeably. As a result, many people get confused ideas regarding about the nature of hell.
1. But what we are talking about is a place of eternal punishment.
2. Does the Bible teach such a thing?
B. Some sample passages:
1. Matthew 25:41-46
a. Notice that two places are described. The wicked are sent to eternal punishment in a place with eternal fire and the righteous to a place of eternal life.
b. If heaven exists, then hell must also exist
2. Mark 9:43-48
a. Notice the terms of eternity: “their worm dies not” and “the fire that shall never be quenched”
b. It also implies that the body never decays since their worm does not die.
c. The word translated “hell” is gehenna, which literally means the valley of Hinnom.
(1) Jesus alludes to Josiah’s defilement of the valley of Hinnom - II Kings 23:10
(2) Some try to explain away hell by saying gehenna was only a reference to the city dump.
(a) “No remains, such as thick layers of ashes or charred bones, have been found in the Valley of Hinnom to indicate the existence of an ancient city dump where refuse was incinerated.” [John J. Rousseau, Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary, p. 145].
(b) “Some commentators endeavor to make this third punishment a temporal one, and assert that fires were kept burning in the valley of Hinnom, and that as an extreme punishment the bodies of criminals were cast into those fires. But there is not the slightest authentic evidence that any fire was kept burning there; nor is there any evidence at all that casting a criminal into the fire was ever employed by the Jews as a punishment. It was the fire of idolatrous worship in the offering of human sacrifice which had given the valley its bad name. This caused it to be associated in the mind of the Jews with sin and suffering, and led to the application of its name, in the Greek form of it, to the place of final and eternal punishment. When the conception of such a place as hell was formed, it was necessary to give it a name, and there was no word in the Jewish language more appropriate for the purpose than the name of this hideous valley.” [J. W. McGarvey, The Fourfold Gospel].
(c) Basically, people argue that the dump must be there in order to explain their view of Jesus’ statement. The logic is backwards and unsupportable.
(d) Even if such a dump existed, Jesus wasn’t referring to it because he refers to it as eternal. Since we can’t find traces of it, then the dump’s fires and worms obviously came to an end, if it ever existed in the first place.
3. Revelation 20:10
a. Again, there are terms of eternity: “tormented for ever and ever”
b. The same term is used for God’s existence - Revelation 4:9
c. And of the saints reigning in heaven - Revelation 22:5
4. Revelation 21:8
a. A place of fiery punishment
C. So the contention that it is unscriptural, that is not mentioned in the Bible, is false.
III. Is hell unreasonable?
A. “Imperfect man does not torture even a mad dog, but kills it. And yet the clergymen attribute to God, who is love, the wicked crime of torturing human creatures merely because they had the misfortune to be born sinners.” [Watchtower Society, Let God be True,” p. 98].
B. Man’s problem is that he doesn’t accept the gravity of his crime. The murder in prison thinks he doesn’t deserve to be there and that his time is too long.
1. How serious is the crime of sin? - Hebrews 10:26-31
2. Sin deserves death - Romans 6:23
3. But man has been created in the image of God. His spirit is eternal.
C. But because man claims that it doesn’t make sense to him, does it follow that it is truly unreasonable? - Isaiah 55:8-9
1. As an example, atheists claim that the scheme of redemption is unreasonable.
2. “The whole scheme of redemption is foolishness to me. Because our parents and forefathers disobeyed God, he would not be on good terms with us until his son was nailed on a cross. This is not reasonable.” [Oliphant - Smith Debate, p. 61]
3. I Corinthians 1:18-21
IV. Is hell contrary to God’s love?
A. Man tends to shape God in his image - Psalm 50:21
B. God is love, but He is also just - Romans 11:22
C. The need for punishment doesn’t show a lack of love on God’s part, but a lack of love on the wicked’s part - John 14:23-24
1. God doesn’t want any to perish - II Peter 3:9
2. But man must repent or perish - Luke 13:3
3. There isn’t a reason from God’s view to remain in sin - Ezekiel 18:21-23
D. Rather than eternal torment, what is argued is that God must mean permanent destruction
1. “Since God destroys soul and body in Gehenna, this is conclusive proof that Gehenna, or the valley of the son of Hinnom, is a picture or symbol of complete annihilation, and not of eternal torment.” [Watchtower Society, Let God be True, p. 97]
2. The verse referred to is Matthew 10:28.
a. The Greek word is apollumi, It means destruction or ruin.
3. Another favored verse is II Thessalonians 1:9
a. The Greek word is olethros. It means prolonged destruction, ruin.
4. “Apoleia, used in conjunction with apollunai (apollumi) and olethros, has the double idea of (1) “loss, to be lost, to disappear, destruction,” and (2) “corruption, destruction, death, ruin.” Apoleia is so rich in meaning that it would be impossible to convey its definition in a single English word or expression. ... But the fact that perdition can be understood as “destruction” and “ruin” does not imply that it involves the annihilation or destruction of the personality. When Jesus said that no one fills old wineskins with new wine because it will cause the skins to burst (apoleia), the idea is that they would break, be ripped. In a similar way men can also be destroyed and corrupted without being totally obliterated. That which is esteemed worthy, beautiful, and mighty is lost. What remains is corrupt, reduced to a pitiful caricature of the original, and it falls short of that which it was destined to become.” [Complete Biblical Library]
5. How is it used in regards to hell?
a. Matthew 25:46 - everlasting punishment
b. Romans 2:8-9 - tribulation and anguish
c. Revelation 14:11 - torment without rest
d. That which does not exist cannot be tormented, punished, or have anguish.
V. Is hell unjust?
A. Justice is the idea of a fair and impartial reward or punishment as a person deserves.
B. When the Watchtower Society says hell is unjust, they are saying eternal punishment is wrong because it is contradictory or inconsistent to the quality of being righteous or impartial.
C. God argues that His way is just - Ezekiel 18:25-32
D. God fairly bases His judgment on our deeds - Romans 2:2-11
E. It is only the inmates who are saying the penalty isn’t fair.
F. If hell is unjust, then heaven is too good for us as well.
VI. No one has to go to hell. God doesn’t want anyone in hell. But justice demands that a fair punishment be given for the heinous crime of sin.
A. The solution is to caste off the fetters of sin
B. Ezekiel 18:30-32
Based on a lesson by David J. Riggs