Vance Havner told the story about a church member who didn’t like the sermons he preached about hell. “Preach about the meek and lowly Jesus,” this member told him. Havner’s reply: “That’s where I got my information about hell.”
It’s true—much of what we know about hell comes from the mouth of Jesus. In fact, Jesus said more about hell than did any other biblical figure. Our understanding of hell ultimately derives from Him. So what can we know about hell from the teachings of Jesus?
Hell is a real place.
“Don’t fear those who kill the body,” Jesus said, “rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell” (Matt 10:28; see also 5:29-30; 23:15,33; Luke 10:15; 16:23). Commenting on Jesus’ teaching about an “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46), John Broadus wrote: “It is to the last degree improbable that the Great Teacher would have used an expression so inevitably suggesting a great doctrine he did not mean to teach.” According to Jesus, hell is real.
Hell is a place of judgment.
In numerous parables, Jesus clearly and emphatically taught of a final judgment and the separation of the righteous from the unrighteous. The unrighteous will be condemned to a place of blazing fire and utter darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. (See Matt. 13:24-30,36-43, 47-50; 22:1-14; 25:14-46.) Jesus called this place “the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels” (Matt. 25:41). Hell is not a place where people are tormented by the devil; it is where those who reject God will suffer the same fate as the devil and his demons. It is the place of final judgment.
Hell is forever.
Jesus spoke of hell as “eternal fire” (Matt. 25:41) and “eternal punishment” (Matt. 25:46). In Matthew 25:46, the same word—eternal—is used to describe eternal life for the righteous and the eternal punishment of hell for the unrighteous. According to Jesus, hell will be eternal.
Hell is more terrible than we can imagine.
The images of fire (Matt. 25:41), darkness (Matt. 8:12; 22:13; 25:30), the weeping and gnashing of teeth ” (Matt. 8:12; 13:42,50; 22:13; 24:51; 25:30; Luke 13:28), and being cut into pieces speak of the horror of hell.
Are these vivid images of hell Jesus literal or figurative? If they are meant to be figurative, then the imagery is pointing beyond what human language can convey. In other words, hell—if not a literal fire and literal darkness—is immeasurably worse than those images and inexpressibly worse than we can even imagine or describe. As heaven is more wonderful than our finite minds can comprehend, hell is more horrible than we can comprehend.
So what are we to do with Jesus’ teaching about hell? For believers, the reality of hell is an impetus to evangelism and missions; it is a reminder to us of what is at stake with the gospel. Praise God “there is now no condemnation for those in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1), but may we as believers be gripped with the urgency of the gospel message. I pray we’ll be like Spurgeon, who said, “If sinners be damned, at least let them leap to hell over our bodies. If they will perish, let them perish with our arms about their knees. Let no one go there unwarned and unprayed for.”
Mike Livingstone is a content editor at Lifeway for Explore the Bible resources.