Is Hell a Literal Place?
In the New Testament, Jesus spoke more on the subject of hell than He did on Heaven. The Bible mentions the word hell 23 times in the King James version and 13 times in NKJV, NIV and NASB. The English word for hell is actually derived from three Greek words; Gehenna, tartaros, and hades. The word Hades corresponds with the Old Testament word “Sheol” and is referencing the place of the dead or the grave.
With that being said, is Hell a literal place or is it a symbolic word for death? Will unbelievers go to an eternal place of torment, or will they simply be annihilated and cease to exist?
When God created man, the Bible tells us that He formed man out of dust and breathed the breath of life into him. It was at this point that man became a living being and can never cease to exist because he has the very breath of God in him. Human beings will without question always exist, whether it be eternally in Heaven with God, or eternally separated from God in Hell.
There are numerous Biblical examples that prove beyond question that hell is a literal lake of fire. For example, when Jesus spoke of the rich man and Lazarus in Luke 16:22 he describes a man who is in conscious torment.
In Matthew Jesus refers to hell as a place where there is weeping and gnashing of teeth. This of course does not happen to someone who is simply annihilated.
The book of Revelation speaks of the Beast and the False Prophet being in the Lake of Fire for a thousand years before the Devil is cast in with them. After a thousand years, they are still there, alive and in torment.
Some argue that Hell cannot be real, because God is love and it would not be loving to send people to eternal torment. The problem with this view, is that God is both loving and just. Nahum 1:3a states “The LORD is slow to anger, and great in power, and will not at all acquit the wicked:” The perfect justice of God demands that sin be punished. When we die, we will either be with a perfect God in a sinless Heaven, or we will be separated from God in a place of eternal punishment. God would not be Just if He simply dismissed the fact that we sinned or just annihilated us. Annihilationism isn’t punishment, it is escaping punishment.
The Bible tells us in Romans 3:23 that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s glory. Romans 6:23 goes on to explain that the wages of our sin are death. God would be totally just in letting us die in our sins. Because He is a good God if we die in our sin, He will punish us. The good news is that God has no desire to punish us for our sins. In fact, God actually made a way for us to be totally forgiven by sending His only Son Jesus who lived a perfect life, and willingly died on the cross to be punished in our place. The very sins we should have been punished for; Jesus died for instead. Jesus’s last words on the cross were “It is finished.” This meant, “the debt is paid.” Anyone who places their faith in Jesus and personally trusts that what He did on the cross was enough to satisfy the wrath of God and is enough for them to be forgiven will be saved. God will totally forgive all our sins and you will never end up in the very awful very real hell that the Bible clearly speaks of. God has made a way for everyone to be forgiven and avoid hell. Most people simply reject that offer and choose sin and hell instead.