In stories or movies you will come across many places that are not real. Of course, we may allow our imaginations to treat it as real while we engage in the story, but at the end of the day, we know that they are simply fictional. Unlike the places of fiction like Oz, the 100 Acre Wood and Willy Wonker’s Chocolate Factory – hell is not something that occurs in fictional literature and therefore is to be dismissed. Nor is it a mere metaphor for discomfort and difficulty. Hell is a real place. Of course if we are going to obtain a right understanding of what it is like we must go to the one authority we can count on, and that is the word of God. In the Scriptures there are numerous names and images used to describe hell. Of these, I will consider the most common ones found in the New Testament.
The word hades appears ten times in the NT (Matt. 11:23; 16:18 Luke 10:15; 16:23; Acts 2:27, 31; Rev. 1:18; 6:8; 20:13, 14). It is used in two ways, a place of punishment (in my opinion the word hell is an appropriate translation) and secondly as the state of death (the transliteration hades is helpful). In reference to it being the place of punishment, it refers to the temporary torment of the wicked (cf. Luke 16:23). Though we may refer it it as hell, it is not the final hell.
Gehenna comes from the Hebrew Ge Hinnom which is a reference to the Valley of Hinnom (located at the south end of Jerusalem). The depraved action of sacrificing infants in the fire to the god of Molech occurred in this valley (2 Kings 16:3; 17:17; 21:6; 2 Chr. 28:3; 33:6). It later on became a place where refuse, waste, the dead bodies of criminals and animals were burned. When referring to the place of punishment and condemnation for the wicked, our Lord referred to it as Gehenna (Matt. 5:22, 29, 30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:15, 33; Mark 9:43, 45, 47; Luke 12:5). Such a name was a vivid picture in the minds of our Lord’s listeners.
Linked with the word hell is the word fire. It is called the “lake of fire” (Rev. 19:20; 20:10, 14, 15), “unquenchable fire” (Matt. 3:12; Mark 9:43, 46, 48), “fiery furnace” (Matt. 13:42, 50) and “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41). It is unknown what this actual fire will be like, it is clear that it is horrifying.
These terms help us identify the reality of hell as an actual place. It is not an illustration nor is it a fictional place – it is real. In my next post I will discuss in greater detail the occupants and the duration of hell. Then I will conclude the series with a post on God’s wonderful grace to all who are in Christ.