What is hell?

Summary

Hell is a real place of intense pain–the punishment for our sins (II Peter 2:9) and correction for a second chance (I Peter 4:5-6) to get out and live for Jesus Christ (Matthew 5:22,26). Hell is an extremely controversial topic in the church, with many possible interpretations. We aim to answer every thought and topic on hell (I Peter 3:15), and we encourage you to believe not in what your teachers taught you (I John 2:27) but have a personal conviction from the Holy Spirit with a thorough studying of the Bible (Acts 17:11). We also aim to prove that total restoration, also known as total reconciliation or apocatastatis, is the most biblical belief (Colossians 1:20; I Corinthians 15:28), and that Jesus Himself taught that everyone would “get out” of hell (Matthew 5:22,26), just like the Jews taught for 1600 years. You may have been taught that God gives up on you after you die, but this couldn’t be farther from the truth (Psalms 139:7-8).

Endorsements

Most Christians agree that hell is a place of intense pain and punishment. Half of Christians believe sinners’ time in hell is eternal, but we aim to prove that most of the other half, the early church fathers‘, and the Jewish beliefs in purgatory and apocatastatis are right. Great men like C.S. Lewis believe, too. There are also many modern Christians organizations like Rethinking Hell and Patheos who agree that eternal damnation is a heresy, and many organizations like GotQuestions who agree it’s not something Christians should divide over. The following is a list of early church leaders who taught total restoration:

  1. Clement of Alexandria (150-215 AD)–“God’s punishments are saving and disciplinary (in Hades) leading to conversions…”
  2. Theophilus of Antioch (168 AD)–“just as a vessel, when one being fashioned it has some flaw, is remoulded or remade that it may become new and entire”
  3. Origen of Alexandria (184-253 AD)–He is one of the largest proponents of Apocatastasis (Acts 3:21) who actively fought Gnosticism (I Timothy 6:20).
  4. Didymus the Blind (308-395 AD)–“the angels will be reduced to obedience by the correction of their vices”
  5. Even Jerome (340-419 AD)–“The fallen Angel will begin to be that which he was created.” He also said, “I know that MOST persons understand the story of Nineveh and its king, the ultimate forgiveness of the devil and all rational creatures.”
  6. Gregory of Nyssa (335-395 AD)–a protector of the Trinity wrote, “that of all who were made by God, not one shall be excluded from his Kingdom…”
  7. Theodore of Mopsuetia (350-428 AD)–“But the wicked, who have committed evil the whole period of their lives, shall be punished till they learn, that, by continuing in sin, they only continue in misery. And when, by this means, they shall have been brought to fear God, and to regard Him with good-will, they shall obtain the enjoyment of His grace.”
  8. Olnmpiodorus (550 AD)–“Do not suppose that the soul is punished for endless eons (apeirou aionas) in Tartarus. Very properly, the soul is not punished to gratify the revenge of the divinity, but for the sake of healing.”

Reasons

Hell is for those who don’t obey Jesus.

Accepting Jesus as Lord is the only way to escape hell (Matthew 7:21). This is because God knows the only way to have a loving society is with people who forgive (Matthew 6:14-15) and reconcile (Matthew 5:23-24,25) with anyone, and only those regenerated by the Holy Spirit desire complete reconciliation (Titus 3:5). Hell is for those who know what’s right but deliberately choose to sin out of pain or pride (Hebrews 10:26-27), even those who verbally claimed to accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior (Matthew 7:21). This is because they claim to serve the God who created the Law but in reality serve only their feelings, which equates to lawlessness (Matthew 7:23).

Hell is actually Gehenna + the lake of fire.

Many have been taught that you either go to heaven or hell when you die, but the word “hell” isn’t in the original Greek New Testament. It’s derived from the Old English pagan word “hel” around 725 AD. Instead, Jesus talked about Gehenna (Matthew 5:22). Click the next link to see that the original translation of hell is either Geennan or Geenes, a Greek translation of Gehenna. All Christians equate Gehenna with Hades (Luke 16:23), and Paul equates Hades with Sheol (Acts 2:27; Psalms 16:10). Jesus equates Gehenna with “prison” (Matthew 5:22,25). After Judgment Day, Hades will be thrown into the lake of fire (Revelation 20:14-15). Both Gehenna and the lake of fire, though, have the same purpose.

Hell is a place of intense pain.

Most all theologians agree that hell is the worst place imaginable, and you wouldn’t want to spend a single second there. Gehenna is a place where the worms and fires afflicting you do not end (Mark 9:48). There will be weeping and agonizing gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42). The lake of fire is literally that. It feels worse than 3rd-degree sulfuric burns (Revelation 20:10). Christians should understand that whatever our views on the length or nature of hell, no one is saying that hell should be downplayed.

Most go to hell.

Jesus said that most people will go to hell (Matthew 7:13-14). This even includes Christians who think they are obeying God (Matthew 7:21) because they have bad character (Matthew 7:19).

Those you harmed will send you to hell.

Although God is our Judge (Hebrews 12:23), it is actually those you hurt who’ll be sending you to hell (Matthew 5:25). It’s like the court system: someone must accuse someone to be sent to jail. Hell is for those people who know they hurt someone but refuse to reconcile with them out of pain or pride (Matthew 5:22,23-24).

Hell is a place of punishment.

In God’s first covenant with humanity, He said that a person’s punishment for his sins is equivalent to the measure of evil he caused on another (Leviticus 24:17-21). God will pay for your sins if you accept Jesus in faith (Romans 3:25); but otherwise, you’ll have to pay for it yourself in a spiritual prison, not a penny more or less (Matthew 5:25-26). In fact, the degree of your pain is based on your understanding of God (Luke 12:48; most agree).

Hell is temporary, not eternal.

Most have been taught that once you go to hell, “God’s love” is torturing you forever, but this is false. Similar to purgatory, God actually provides a way for you to be saved through fire (I Corinthians 3:15). Jesus literally says that you can “get out” of hell once you’ve paid for your sins (Matthew 5:22,26). He also said a person’s time in hell is temporary, based on how much he has sinned (Matthew 18:34).

Every spirit in hell will repent and choose salvation in Jesus.

Peter, the first pope, literally says that Jesus preaches to the spirits in prison (I Peter 3:19), the same prison of hell (Matthew 5:22,25-26), because they did not obey God in their earthly life (I Peter 3:20). The reason “why the gospel was preached even to those who are dead” is though their soul is lost forever (Matthew 10:28), “they might live in the spirit” (I Peter 4:6). The exception is Satan and his 2 partners (Revelation 20:10). A Catholic Bible verse confirms that God atones for the sins of the dead (2 Maccabees 12:45).

Hell is so God can become “all in all.”

Every knee will bow to Jesus, including those “under the earth” in hell (Philippians 2:10). We know that God never forces anyone to do anything (I Peter 5:2). After God preaches to the dead (I Peter 4:6), all will accept Jesus and have their sins forgiven (Mark 3:28), because Jesus said He can forgive sins in the “age to come” (Matthew 12:32). God said that He saves all people, even those who don’t believe on earth (I Timothy 4:10). He does this because He wills no one to perish (II Peter 3:9), and no one can escape His will (Romans 9:19). One day, “every tongue” shall confess praise to God (Romans 14:11), and this praise proves that they are “from God” (I John 4:2-3). All of this is for the purpose of God becoming “all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28).

Jesus is always with you in hell.

Many have been taught that hell is the absence of God, but this is false. There is no place that you can run from the Spirit of God and that includes Sheol, what we call hell (Psalms 139:7-8). Jesus Himself will be preaching to those in hell (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). This is because death, hell, and our own choices (included in “all of creation”) cannot separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39).

The body and soul are destroyed, but all human spirits will live.

There is a difference between the body, soul, and spirit (I Thessalonians 5:23). Our physical bodies are destroyed once (Hebrews 9:27), but Hades is our second death (Revelation 20:14) where our soul is destroyed (Matthew 10:28). We know, though, that Jesus preaches to those lost in Hades so that each spirit might live (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6) and be returned back to God (Ecclesiastes 12:7).

Examples

Many claim Jesus rescued them from hell.

Many have claimed to have died and gone to hell. These near-death experiences (NDEs) are not biblical, so should be taken lightly. Nonetheless, we believe it’s important to consider the fact that many people claim that Jesus rescued them from the place they deserve after they called out to Him (see video 3:05). That is because Jesus is next to all people in their hellish prison cells (Psalms 139:7-8).

FAQ

Doesn’t the Bible say hell is eternal (Matthew 25:46)?

The words “go away” and “into” tell us that “eternal punishment” and “eternal life” are locations, not the status of a person. A literal reading of the sentence means that the location is a place where punishment does not end. This doesn’t mean your time in hell is eternal. If this was trying to say that a person is eternally dead, it would have compared “eternal life” with “eternal death.” This is further emphasized in Romans 6:23: death is are punishment, not eternal death. “Death” simply means separation from the Father. This is similar to “eternal destruction” (II Thessalonians 1:9): our souls are eternally destroyed but our spirits are saved (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). There isn’t one place in the Bible that says torture or death is forever for anyone except the devil and his partners (Revelation 20:10).

Why would God allow so many to believe in eternal damnation if it was wrong?

For about 1600 years from Moses to Jesus, all Jews believed eternal damnation was a heresy, and the truth is total reconciliation. Either way, God allowed a big lie to proliferate in His people because He allows sinners to sin (Psalms 1:1). In addition, eternal damnation is technically true for those who never believe in Jesus (John 14:6), but all will choose Him (I Peter 4:6; Romans 14:11) besides the unholy trinity (Revelation 20:10).

Could hell just be metaphorical, not real?

Because metaphors are there to help us understand something more complex (John 3:12), the implication is the real thing must be even worse, not better. For example, ripping out your eye is better than living a life of sin (Matthew 5:29). Most would agree, though, that annihilationism is better than hell, so it’s more likely that hell is a literal place where people burn. Also, unlike most of Jesus’ unexplained metaphors which use a singular example, with hell there is many: worms, fire (Mark 9:48), weeping, and gnashing of teeth (Matthew 13:42). It’s unlikely that this is the only case of a multi-object metaphor.

Is universalism true?

The typical foundation of universalism that all religions lead to God is false. All religions, even some forms of Christianity, will lead you to hell because they ignore submission to Jesus. Truths of Jesus can be found in all religions, but only by accepting Jesus can you go to heaven (John 14:6). It is true, though, that all of Hades will eventually praise Jesus as Lord (Philippians 2:10) because Jesus will be preaching to them (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). Jesus will then move their spirits to heaven so that He is “all in all” (I Corinthians 15:28).

Is annihilationism true?

Annihilationism or conditional immortality is true for those souls who don’t accept Jesus: their souls will suffer for a long time and perish into nothingness (Malachi 4:1). Many believe God will give eternal life or immortality to those both living in either heaven or hell, but eternal life is given through the tree of life (Revelation 2:7) only to those who accept Jesus (John 3:16). We know that “eternal salvation” doesn’t mean that Jesus is constantly saving us (Hebrews 5:9); in the same way, “eternal punishment” (II Thessalonians 1:9) means the soul is deemed punished for eternity. Note the soul is destroyed (Matthew 10:28) but the spirit will live (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). The exception is for the devil, beast, and false prophet who will be tormented forever (Revelation 20:10).

Is the word “eternal” properly translated?

Some say the Greek translations of “eternal” as “aionios” or “aionias” really should be translated as “an age of,” but we believe it really means “having no end” or “everlasting” because it’s used in conjunction with “no end” (Luke 1:33).

Are those in hell away from Jesus (II Thessalonians 1:9)?

The Greek translation of “away from” in many footnotes translates it as “comes from.” Looking to the Greek word “apo,” it can mean either one. Even if it means “away from,” it must be talking only about the Rapture because of II Thessalonians 1:10, and we know Jesus will be preaching to those in Hades (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). Alternatively, it means the punishment “comes from the presence of the Lord.”

Wasn’t apocatastatis condemned in a council?

There is currently a debate as to whether apocatastatis and Origen were condemned or not in the Second Council of Constantinople. It’s first worth noting that if you are a Protestant or don’t rely in the authority of others, it doesn’t matter what they said because we believe in sola Scriptura. If you are Catholic or Orthodox, note that most likely the condemnation of Origen was forged, and its authority as a true council is being questioned.

Why is Satan, the beast, and false prophet exceptions to total reconciliation?

Jesus said that blaspheming against the Holy Spirit is unforgivable, while speaking against Him is forgivable (Matthew 12:32). Some believe the unpardonable sin is dying without faith in Jesus, but a literal interpretation is that it’s unforgivable to know the Holy Spirit and reject Him. Only the devil and his 2 partners are beings who really knew the Spirit in full but still rejected Him. All of mankind’s sins will be forgiven (Mark 3:28) because they will be taught in Hades a deeper understanding of the Spirit and choose Him (I Peter 3:18-19; I Peter 4:5-6). The devil, on the other hand, was a murderer and sinner from the beginning, a being without a hint of truth (John 8:44; I John 3:8). Only such a being has the capacity to blaspheme the Holy Spirit. Only a being without any truth can be considered literally pure evil (Matthew 13:38), something to be hated (Proverbs 8:13) and not reconciled with, for light cannot reconcile with dark (II Corinthians 6:14).