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Hell, Hades, Destruction & Eternal Punishment in the Four Gospels – Part I

C.S. Lewis once said regarding the doctrine of hell in the scriptures, ““There is no doctrine which I would more willingly remove from Christianity than this (hell), if it lay in my power. I would pay any price to be able to say truthfully: ‘All will be saved.’

Many of us who are seeking to know and follow Jesus Christ can readily identify with this sentiment. But this morning as I was walking downstairs to start my day with the Lord, I’m pretty sure He said, “I am not on trial here; man is.”

We cannot afford to be fuzzy or uninformed or “conformed to the world” or deceived when it comes to what the Bible has to say about this most important subject. And it has much to say!

So in this ongoing study, my intent is to merely lay out before us all what Jesus has clearly said, so that we can at least know what He said. What we do with what He said….well may the Lord help us to respond appropriately.

One thing you will notice as you study this subject in the four gospels is that Matthew chose to record far more of Jesus’s teaching and warnings and rebukes regarding Hell, Hades and or Eternal Punishment and Destruction than the other three. Also only Matthew includes this prophetic word from John the Baptist regarding how Jesus would deal with the lost and rebellious, “His winnowing fork is in His hand, and He will thoroughly clear His threshing floor; and He will gather His wheat into the barn, but He will burn up the chaff with unquenchable fire.” (Matthew 3:12). Comment: John minces no words as He proclaims that our Savior Jesus will both gather His children who have believed in and followed Him; and send the lost and rebellious into hell where there is unquenchable, ever burning fire.

The first occurrence of the word hell or hades in the New Testament is found in Matthew 5:22, which says, “But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, ‘You good for nothing,’ shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell (literally, “Gehenna of fire.”). Comment: Jesus is addressing the danger of our words and especially our out of control anger that can cause us to say terrible things about people that He created, and for whom He died. And that can cause us to be thrown into hell.

According to Unger’s Bible Dictionary, “Gehenna (Greek = Geenna; Hebrew = hinnom referring to the Valley of Hinnom),was a deep, narrow glen to the south of Jerusalem where the Jews offered their children to Moloch (see II Kings 23:10; Jer. 7:31; Jer. 19:2-6). In later times it served as a receptacle of all sorts of putrefying matter, and all that defiled the holy city, and so became the representative or image of the place of everlasting punishment, especially on account of its ever-burning fires…”

This passage (above) of course is found in the Sermon on the Mount, wherein Jesus is seeking to call people who would follow Him into true righteousness, as contrasted with the self righteousness of the religious leaders of that day. That’s why Jesus said in vs. 20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.” This verse by the way is the first clear indication from Jesus that not all will enter the kingdom of heaven.

In the context of the seriousness of sexual sin (vs. 27,28), and the extreme (to us) measures that should be taken to get free from such sins, the second and third references to hell appear in Matthew 5:29,30, “If your right eye makes you stumble, tear it out and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. If your right hand make you stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; for it is better for you to lose one of the parts of your body, than for your whole body to go into hell.” Comment: The reason Jesus says why extreme measures should be taken to get free from sin, is the decision to continue walking in them will result in eternal punishment in hell.

While hell is not mentioned specifically in Matthew 7:13-27 we can reasonably deduct that this is what Jesus had in mind when He said first in vs. 13, “Enter through the narrow gate; for the gate is wide and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and there are many who enter through it.” Second towards the end of the passage He warns of those who will mistakenly think they have earned the right to enter heaven. Some of us may even assume they will enter (vs. 21,22). Then He states, “And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; Depart From Me, You Who Practice Lawlessness.’ Comment: Their departure into hell is implied herein. One question that arises from vs. 13 is does this “destruction” speak of annihilation, which would contradict from the idea of eternal punishment? We will deal with that question in another post.

After affirming the great and unusual faith of a Roman Centurion, and making a sharp contrast with the faith (or unbelief) of the people of Israel, Jesus says these words in Matthew 8:11-12 “I say to you that many will come from east and west, and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven (He is affirming that anyone from any tribe, tongue, people and nation who put their trust in Him as Savior and Lord will gain entrance into heaven); but the sons of the kingdom (speaking of the Israelites who refused to put their trust in Him) will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Comment: “outer darkness” we believe is another reference to hell. Weeping and gnashing of teeth implies that there will be ongoing agony, which is one of the reasons why we do not believe in annihilation.

Matthew 10:28 “Do not fear those who kill the body but are unable to kill the soul; but rather fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” Comment: Both the soul and body of all people who refuse to bow the knee to Jesus will be destroyed in hell. Again how this destruction will take place is a question for another time. But it should be noted that once a soul is destroyed, it will never be able to respond to God again.

Matthew 11:23 “And you, Capernaum, will not be exalted to heaven, will you? You will descend to Hades; for if the miracles had occurred in Sodom which occurred in you, it would have remained to this day.” (cf. Luke 10:15) Comment: This is one of several passages in the gospels where Jesus reveals that cities will be judged for how they as an entity have responded to Him. And this is why we believers need to be praying for our cities to repent. “Hades”is a general reference to the “place of the dead”. It is the New Testament equivalent to Sheol in the Old Testament. And it appears to be the place the unredeemed “are reserved in darkness and misery until the great day of judgment” (Unger).

Matthew 13:36-43, 47-50 If all we had was the parable of the tares (see Matthew 13:24-30) then we might wonder at some things. But Jesus clearly explains the parable in vs. 36-43, wherein He clearly states in vs. 40, “So just as the tares are gathered up and burned with fire, so shall it be at the end of the age.” Then He explains how this will happen in vs. 41, 42, “The Son of Man will send forth His angels, and they will gather out of His kingdom all stumbling blocks, and those who commit lawlessness, and will throw them into the furnace of fire; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” Comment: Jesus will send His angels to throw the lost and rebellious into hell.

Matthew 16:18 “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.” Comment: Much could be said about this verse. I’m going to simply say that as awful and real and horrible as hell is, The revelation of the risen Christ and His church is far more powerful and triumphant.

Matthew 18:5-9 “And whoever receives one such child in My name receives Me; but whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to stumble, it would be better for him to have a heavy millstone hung around his neck, and to be drowned in the depth of the sea. Woe to the world because of its stumbling blocks! For it is inevitable that stumbling blocks come; but woe to that man through whom the stumbling block comes! If your hand or your foot cause you to stumble, cut it off and throw it from you; it is better for you to enter life crippled or lame, than to have two hands or two feet and be cast into the eternal fire. (cf. Mark 9:42,48) Comment: In the context of causing children to stumble, Jesus again exhorts that extreme (to us)measures should be taken to overcome and be set free from whatever in our lives (e.g. selfishness, addictions, etc.) could cause a child to stumble. The alternative to taking such measures is being cast into hell!

Matthew 23:15, 33 “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites, because you travel around on sea and land to make one proselyte; and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as yourselves.” Comment: Jesus calls these corrupt religious leaders sons “of hell” because that is their destination and Satan is their father (see John 8).

We will pick up with Matthew 24 in our next post. God bless you and thank you for taking the time to wrestle with these truths.

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